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I can’t recall the last time I attended a concert in the great outdoors, but it has been quite a number of years since I stood among a throng of people listening to live music. The concert last Friday night was so meaningful to me that I abandoned the comfort of home and whatever was on TV to venture into the City, to get up close and personal with thousands of strangers on a Spring evening. I’m very glad I did.

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The concert was completely free, but the intention behind it was to solicit funds to protect the Kimberley region of western Australia. For those with good memories who have been following this blog for awhile, it will be obvious why I felt the need to be at the concert. The Kimberley is a spectacularly beautiful part of this country with very few people. I went on an eight-day tour of the area three years ago, in addition to spending a couple days in Broome and going up to the Dampier Peninsula, where they want to build the plant. It is hard to spend any time there and not feel, as I did, that the land is truly sacred.

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Naturally, a consortium of companies wants to build a huge gas plant along a pristine part of the coastline, directly across the largest dinosaur footprints in Australia, adjacent to the world’s largest calving area of humpback whales.

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As the proposed gas hub is one of the largest industrial projects in Australia’s history and will become the largest gas hub in the world, one would expect the environmental impact assessment to be well considered, comprehensive, robust and based on sound science. Unfortunately the EPA’s assessment fell far below these expectations. It was, essentially, made by one man. All the other members of the committee had to recuse themselves because of conflicts of interest.

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The area is so ecologically and culturally rich that it was recommended for National Park protection by the Australian Academy of Sciences and the National Parks Board of Western Australia in 1962; the WA Environmental Protection Authority in 1977 and 1993; the WA Department of Conservation and Land Management in 1991; the Broome Shire, Department of Land Administration and WA State Cabinet in 2000; and the Broome Planning Steering Committee in 2005. (Malcolm Lindsay, PHD candidate at the University of Melbourne)

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This is all at odds with the state premier Colin Barnett’s description of the area as an “unremarkable” piece of coastline. The prevailing attitude of those in power in Western Australia is identical to that of the premiers and governors in the Western United States and Canada, it is our right and duty to ravage the land. Animals and natural landforms and archeological sites simply get in the way. The excuse is inevitably that the region needs jobs, money and development. What else could possibly matter?

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I would be very surprised if any more than one in twenty of those attending had actually been to the Kimberley. Australians don’t travel all that much in their own country, since it is a lot cheaper to fly to Bali or Thailand than see the Kimberley or the Ningaloo Reef. But as one of the spokesmen at the concert pointed out, Aussies don’t send postcards of giant holes in the ground or great gas plants to their friends and relatives overseas. Even if they were attending for the free music, they knew their country had to be protected.

Enough damage has been done. It is time to protect the beauty and the wildlife that remain. Check out my Kimberley set of pics on Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/jhalbrook/sets/?&page=2. See if you don’t agree it deserves a chance to stay just the way it is.

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On our previous trip to the Grampians we had been so enchanted we decided to return. It was a last-minute decision and I wasn’t sure we would even find a place to stay since the school holidays have kicked in. In Australia, you are considered somewhat mad to go anyplace that might be attractive to children during the school holidays. The Grampians offer campgrounds, cockatoos and kangaroos, challenging hiking trails and overlooks, beautiful waterfalls and a zoo, so it falls into the category of child magnet.

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Despite the odds we did find a place to stay and I was even able to secure a Victorian Seniors discount. Our new abode was at least three degrees fancier than our previous accommodation, which was little more than a large trailer with amenities. This place had a working wood stove and a DVD player as well as a Queen-size bed, a full kitchen and bath. Even though it was a log cabin, the cabin was roomy and light. Outside, a ten meter stroll toward Fyans creek and you were in the middle of a mob of kangaroos. A couple of youngsters were sparring, an activity I have never witnessed before.

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We packed a dinner to heat up in the cabin rather than attempting to make a reservation at one of the restaurants in Halls Gap during school holidays. On the drive up, I was once again struck by the alarming signs indicating a nation of narcolepts. “A micro sleep can kill in a micro second,” said one. “Don’t sleep and drive,” said another, which seems a little too prosaic for signage. Most of them urged drivers to pull over and have a “power nap.” Not one mentions the Dreaming, but the ubiquity of the signs do make you wonder about the state of your fellow drivers. How far gone are they, a mere microsecond away from oblivion?

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You can never reproduce the magic of seeing a place for the first time, but we did do some things we missed on the last trip. We walked down the steep staircase that leads to the bottom of Mackenzie Falls, hiked the trail to the look-off over Lake Bellfield, followed the loop walk along Fyans Creek and revisited the Botanical Garden, an oasis of peace even during school holidays. Most of the trails in the Park are simply too difficult for someone like my wife, with no depth perception and little ability to deal with high contrast, but the enchantment of the Grampians lies above and beyond spectacular views at the end of a tricky trail.

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Check out the photos by clicking on one of the pics running alongside this post, or plug in http://www.flickr.com/photos/jhalbrook/sets/72157630924994030. All the best pics are on Flickr, user name Red Flier, the Grampians set.

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