This is the last post I wrote about Western Australia, a part of the continent that often escapes the tourist traffic thanks to its distance from the East Coast. It is definitely worth an extended stay.

Down Under

The morning of our return flight from Exmouth to Perth, I got a text message followed by a call on my mobile (cell phone).  The departure was going to be delayed by four hours.  We had planned to arrive at Perth airport at 3:30 in the afternoon, allowing us enough time to pick up our rental car and drive to Margaret River before dark.

When we drove past the airport on our way into Exmouth to gas up, I saw the plane on the tarmac.  There had been no explanation for the delay, but I would not be surprised if it had something to do with a certain offshore oil rig.  I phoned the owner of the B&B in Margaret River and the car rental company about the delay, but when we finally arrived in Perth, the Thrifty agent had disappeared.  It took a good half hour to round her…

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Down Under

When we booked our flight to Exmouth, I assumed we would be boarding a small plane.  I was hoping the aircraft would be post WW II, and that the pilot wouldn’t have to start the engine by spinning the propeller.  My error was in assuming that tourists would make up the majority of the passengers.  It turned out the SkyWest flight was a shuttle service for off-shore oil workers. In the two hours it took our packed plane to reach its destination, I learned more about tools for oil rig work than I ever wished to know.  The airport for the town is located 37 kms south of town, which makes the drive south to Coral Bay a reasonable two hour run.

I was dismayed to discover that I would have return the car with something approaching a full tank of petrol.  This meant driving back past the airport and…

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I wrote this up in 2009, but it is mostly history, so I doubt if any of it will seem dated seven years later.

Down Under

The notion of returning to Western Australia one month after my trip to the Kimberly seemed crazy on the face of it, but my wife had vacation time coming and she had been impressed by my enthusiasm for W.A., as it is called here.  She was keen to see the Margaret River area just south of Perth, the state capital.  It is renowned for its wineries, tall trees and a spectacular coastline.

When I began putting the trip together, we toyed with several side trips, narrowing it down in the end to Perth, Margaret River and the Ningaloo Reef up north.  We would fly to Perth, stay a couple of days, then catch a local airline up to Exmouth to snorkel in the Indian Ocean at a place called Coral Bay.  A mid afternoon flight back to Perth would give us just enough time to drive down to Margaret River…

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The last of the Kimberley posts. I’m sorry to leave this particular landscape behind. I wish I had plugged more pics into the text, but at the time, the pics on Flickr (to the left of the text) all corresponded to the words.

Down Under

The Great Northern Highway is the longest road in Australia.  It extends from the small port of Wyndham (now eclipsed by Kununurra) in a westerly direction to Broome, then south all the way to Perth, a distance of 3200 kilometers (1990 miles.)  The  Gibb River Road  intersects the highway about 60 kms south of Wyndham.  The Gibb began life as a route to drive cattle into the port town of Derby.  Today, cattle are loaded on road trains, giant trucks with double trailers that can top out at 200 tons.  The cattle are driven to Broome for shipping to markets in Asia.

After a two-hour, bone-jarring trip from the heart of the Bungle Bungles, we reconnect with the Great Northern highway for our long journey back to Broome, the end of a 2500 km loop. We are still roughly 700 kms (437 miles) away and there are only two towns…

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Some landscapes seem so alien as to belong to another age and even another planet. This is one of them.

Down Under

Given the size and significance of the Bungle Bungles, it is astonishing that this prehistoric formation was not on anyone’s radar screen until it was rediscovered from the air in 1983.  The Kimberley is large and desolate, so perhaps it is not too surprising that the beautiful mountains got lost for awhile.  There are plenty of other attractions in the area– Lake Argyle, the largest man-made lake in Australia, and the Argyle Diamond Mine, the largest diamond mine in the world.

The mountains are only 56 kms (35 miles) from the Great Northern Highway, but the road is difficult, and the journey takes two hours.  The Bungle Bungles are in what is now called Purnululu National Park.  It is remote and still inaccessible to anything but 4 wheel drive vehicles, small airplanes and helicopters.

Prospectors probably discovered the Bungle Bungles in the 1880’s, but they passed on through.

Due to…

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This place still looks enticing after all this time. Put the Kimberley on your list and give yourself the time to get immersed in the land and culture. The Kimberley is stunning and, as per usual with places this spectacular, always under threat from those who want the resources or wish to put in a huge port.

Down Under

Our route through this parched region seems to lead us from gorge to gorge, pool to pool.  In reality, these oases would be far apart without a vehicle. This is a frighteningly inhospitable land, plagued by extreme heat during the dry season and downpours during the “wet” that fill the rivers and flood vast areas, rendering the Gibb River Road and even the sealed (paved) Great Northern Highway impassable in places.

There are lightning storms and cyclones, wild asses and rogue bulls.  If you were trapped out here without shade and water during the dry season you would die in a day or two. It is not a comforting thought.  There is safety in numbers for those of us who are ill-equipped to survive in the outback.  It helps to have a well maintained 4 wheel drive vehicle as well as an experienced guide with a SAT phone.  The aboriginals…

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I am currently visiting the sedate city of The Hague in The Netherlands, but the Kimberley region of western Australia seduced the wild side of me.

Down Under

My pickup for the eight-day Kimberley Wild loop trip was intended to be early, before eight, so I dropped my motel key in the box outside the office and ambled out to the main road to await the vehicle.  A call on my mobile phone came about half an hour later.  I was beginning to wonder if I had misunderstood the pickup time.

There would be a short delay.  It wasn’t short, as it turned out, but I wasn’t in any hurry. Our frazzled guide and driver pulled up about an hour late.  He had made his first (and only) mistake of the trip.  He had forgotten to close the back door 0f the monster bus and knocked it off its hinges.  After a few more pickups, we were on our way.

There were a baker’s dozen of us, including Anthony, our guide, driver, cook and mentor for the journey. …

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I suspect my population numbers are quite out-of-date since I wrote this back in 2009, but the rest of the piece is probably close enough to call it non-fiction.

Down Under

I have seen only a tiny portion of this immense continent–  a small part of Victoria, a stretch of Queensland from Cairns north to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree rainforest, a larger part of Tasmania.  During the last two weeks I have added an area of the northwest to my geographic portfolio– the Kimberley.

It is as large as Germany with a permanent population of about 45,000.  Paved highways are the exception rather than the rule, so when you travel on one you see virtually everyone moving along the same direction in the outback.  The region was featured in the film “Australia,” which took some hits for its script and direction but not for its scenery.  The Kimberley is spectacular.   At this time of year, it is also very hot.  The day before my departure from the region, I woke in the hottest place in Australia–  Fitzroy…

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Even though I penned these words seven years ago, I don’t think all that much has changed in any fundamental way. They are just beginning to deal with the issues here in Canada, so it is not surprising that Australia has shown a similar reluctance to deal with the first migrants to Australia– the Aboriginals.

Down Under

There are a number of myths which appear to have captured the collective imagination here in Australia. The idea behind the slogan in the title is that all newcomers get an equal opportunity to make something of themselves in this, the “lucky” land.  It is not dissimilar to the notion that drives the dreams of Americans.  Mark Watson, a historian from this country who spent a long time in America, found it deeply embedded in the psyche of just about every individual he met there. It amazed him that someone living inside a box on Broadway could still believe in the American dream, and tout the glorious opportunities at hand in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The mythology is a little more mundane here.  Perhaps the lack of a Hollywood dream factory, Silicon Valley phenomenon, or “Horatio Alger” myth (Australian readers will have to…

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It is seven years later and not much has changed in the financial world. The next financial crisis will be worse. Happy New Year!

Down Under

Wall street’s implosion has brought an economic thinker by the name of Nassim Nicholas Taleb back in the news.  A little over a year ago, his book, “The Black Swan:  The Impact of the Highly Improbable”  garnered a certain amount of attention in North America because of its startling implications on an American mental landscape dominated by ideology.  Taleb’s thesis was that we humans are highly susceptible to getting caught out by random events because we have such a strong tendency to discount their existence.

If you have spent your entire life in the northern hemisphere, you will conclude that swans are white.  And that will be true as long as you never go to Australia, where swans are black.  The difficulty is that we seem to be psychologically programmed to confuse improbability with impossibility.  Taleb suggests that this may be because evolution does not favor probabilistic thinking.  Not every…

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