Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Croom in Broome

Knowing how much we love our jollies and hate working, it was high time for some adventure. So hold onto your hats dears- we're off on an epic journey right now! Exmouth, some few hundred miles up the coast from cold and rainy Perth (we have 60 days of gloomy weather a year here, life can be hard) was our first destination. The only real reason to go to Exmouth is to try your luck at swimming with a whale shark. These mighty beasts grow 5-12 metres on average, with the largest one on record measuring 17 metres! Fortunately, they are harmless to us humans and most other aquatic life as they are plankton- feeders and have a massive mouth to filter all the krill as the cruise along. They are officially the largest fish in the sea (they are sharks, not whales) and frequent these waters from March- June each year. Humans pose more of a threat to these amazing creatures as, unbelievably, they also
fall prey to the evils of shark-finning. This diabolical trade has reached gargantuan proportions and is currently one of the biggest threats to our ecosystem. For more info, go and see Sharkwater and whatever you do, do not patronise (Chinese) restaurants serving shark fin soup, or buy any other shark products. Without sharks, the top predators are removed from the equation, which is creating environmental chaos in our oceans. Sea Shepherd do a fantastic job of frightening away all the bad people who would rather earn their money slicing fins off live sharks before throwing them back in the ocean only to be eaten slowly by other fish. So, rather than send us any money for Christmas, please make a donation to Sea Shepherd instead!

Now it's still rather chilly up in Exmouth this time of year, but the good people at Ningaloo Reef Dreaming don't believe in giving you a wet suit as it can slow you down in the water when you are hot-finning after a shark. Setting out on boat, the calm water twinkling in the sunshine and the spotter plane above us, we knew we were in for a wonderous time. Perfect conditions and almost three weeks away from work! It wasn't too long before the pilot noticed a shark, and radioed the skipper. The boat then positions itself in front of the whale shark, everyone jumps in the sea and waits for its enormous mouth to loom towards you. As soon as you see it, you have to move to the side so you can all swim along together marveling in the wonder of nature.

It can be very scary waiting for something whose size you can't quite comprehend to find you. Suddenly, there she was - a 6.5 metre female, gliding majestically through the water as if expending no energy at all. We, on the other hand, had to swim as fast as our little Croom legs could go, just to keep up for five minutes. After this time, the shark was pretty much out of sight and so the next group jump in the their turn and so the cycle repeats for as long as the shark wants to stay with you. We managed to swim with her for a full hour - the maximum time the allow you by law. Lunching on the boat, two humpback whales decided to play near the boat just to add to our already amazing day. Another couple of days spent exploring Cape Range National Park, enjoying the nightlife of Exmouth (bars:2, restaurants:3, luxury accommodation:1). But really, why stay in the Novotel Resort when you can have Ningaloo Lodge complete with baby cockroaches to keep you company?

Broome is the gateway to the Kimberley region of NW Australia and lies another few hundred miles up the coast from Exmouth. July marks the beginning of the dry season in the Kimberley, making it the only sane time to visit. As the plane touched down from Exmouth, picture-postcard colours of the region - bright red pindan earth, white sand beaches and aquamarine sea struck us instantly. Established by Japanese entrepreneurs in the 1880's, Broome's main industry was pearling, and the town remains strongly influenced by it's Asian connections. Malay and Chinese joined forces with Aboriginal divers to man the lucrative but dangerous trade. Many divers died from decompression sickness as primitive dive equipment was used. The breathing apparatus consisted of a long tube leading up to the boat and the diver communicated with the boatman with a series of tugs on the rope. Many others were eaten by sharks or got Beri Beri, but somehow amongst the 400 peal-luggers, 80% of the world's mother-of-pearl originated from these waters.

Our first night in Broome consisted of us staying in yet more luxury accommodation. This time it was my doing, some dodgy backpacker place we could not escape quick enough from. So we headed straight out to Gauntethaume Point. Home to the best collection of dinosaur footprints in the world (apparently eight different types), we were more inspired by the beautiful sunset over the red rocks (see third picture) as the tide was in and most footprints obscured. We have since learnt that this spot is a sacred Aboriginal site and you aren't supposed to climb on the rocks. So sorry about that. Also sorry about the bottle of wine and cheese nibbles consumed in celebration of the next leg of the holiday...

Broome is famous for it's iconic white sand Cable Beach. It is actually closer in proximity to Indonesia than any other Australian state and it's sense of isolation is palpable. A must-do is a sunset camel-ride and a must-have photo is the camel train plodding along the beach. Our camel was called 'Rusty,' a wayward creature who didn't like to be stroked (as he was likely to give you a nasty nip) and he did a lot of wailing. So we trotted up and down the beach for an hour, with some poor girl whose job it was to pick up all the camel poo as we went along (bare hands!)

An annoying couple on the camel in front insisted on trying to stroke Rusty, even though they had been told not to with his biting history. I was envisaging the beast becoming enraged and throwing us to the ground in a hilarious but deadly episode of Death-by-Camel-Toe, but all he did was grind his big yellow teeth. Andy almost came a cropper as he was dismounting as unruly Rusty tried to stand up. He managed to regain control and Rusty received a sandy carrot as a treat.

We then headed off in our 4WD camper on our roadtrip. First stop was Cape Leveque, on the Dampier Peninsular (4th picture). Most of this remote region is Aboriginal Land and you need to have permission to be there. Within half an hour of leaving Broome, we found ourselves in the outback. The red, corrugated unsealed roads took some getting used to and driving on them can be quite hazardous. Being the organised (read paranoid) types though, we had about 60 litres of water, two full tanks of fuel and enough food to feed Rusty for a month.

I know I might have a natural tendancy towards drama, but you do still hear of people being found dead in their vehicles, having run out of supplies! Good job we had our satelite phone (scarily complicated to use, would have been no use in a proper emergency), on loan and a couple of mobiles with no reception. Before long we encountered a dead cow lying in the road, it's stomach contents spilled all over the road and in a sorry state of decomposition. Thus began our 3,500km roadtrip, interrupted only by the need to return to Broome to go to the ATM! All that organisation and we hadn't even thought about bringing any money with us. Oh dear...

Derby is famous for it's enormous baob 'prison tree,' used as a lockup for Aboriginal prisoners en-route to The Old Derby Gaol (photo 7). The tree is thought to be over 1,000 years old and measures 17 metres round. Derby also marks the start of the notorious Gibb River Road, a track so lumpy and bumpy, only 4WDs are allowed. Baob trees are synonymous with images of the Kimberley. Found also in Madagascar and Africa, the trees store water in their massive trunks to see them through the dry season. According to Aboriginal folklore, the tree formed too high an opinion of itself, which made the gods angry, causing them to pull the tree out of the ground and throw it back in upside down.

Baobs are used locally for shelter, food, water and medicine. Approaching the prison tree, I noticed a small fire in the bushland nearby. By the time we had taken several photos and had conversations surrounding imagining how horrific it might be to be locked inside a tree in the desert heat with a load of snakes, the small fire had progressed to a massive bush fire (photo 5). It made a very eerie backdrop with lots of crows circling the scene, smoke, red earth. I felt quite eager to escape the scene, rather that be left burning in the middle of a fire, but it seems we had to get sufficient footage of the incident before moving on.

The Kimberley is gorge country, and an area of astounding natural beauty, with each gorge presenting very different geological features. Windjana Gorge, and Tunnel Creek offered our first taste of the gorges. Tunnel Creek is a 750m-long passage which is pitch-dark in places. You have to take a torch and there are bats, so the wade through the icy water is quite scary. This is croc territory, so you have to be careful as some gorges have saltwater crocs ("salties,") i.e. the dangerous ones, some have freshwater crocs ("freshies") i.e. the harmless ones and some have neither. And if you can't see them, it could be that they are waiting on the waterbed for you! Windjana is home to hundreds of freshies, some of them quite big and menacing-looking. Beautiful Bell Gorge (above, right), fortuitously tranquil and devoid of tourists on the way in... shame we encountered a bus-load of Americans on the way out.

Mornington Wilderness Camp had come highly recommended and so we luxuriated in a two-night stay! Normally we move on each and every day, which can be pretty exhausting as you are either driving or walking. The main excitement of Mornington is the presence of a bar, something quite rare in these parts. When I say luxuriated, I mean we stayed in an eco-camp, devoid of flush loos, sat absolutely freezing on a small stool listening to a Sandy Toksvig-lookalike talk about the importance of saving shrews and promptly gave myself food poisoning from a dodgy kangaroo steak. We both ate the same thing, but of course I had to have mine blood-rare and we were cooking by crappy torchlight, so it could have been crawling with maggots for all I could see. Next morning I was feeling rather weak, but my husband being of a caring nature made us go out on a canoing expedition through Dimond gorge (above). Cruising up the mirror-still water, I soon got over myself and we had a great day. All the driving had taken its toll on the van, though as we discovered a flat tyre the following morning. Andy did a great job changing the tyre and the mission to get organise a spare only altered our course slightly.

This gave us the opportunity to take a flight over the Mitchell Falls from Drysdale Station. Personally, I had more fun experiencing life in the outback than I did on the scenic flight... there are some strange people who choose to live in absolute isolation from the rest of the world. But the beer was cold, they had a spare tyre and they were a very friendly bunch, if a little scary. Andy was in his element, humming the tune from Deliverance at every opportunity. Not the best way to make friends.

Beautiful Galvans Gorge (left) proved to be a hidden beauty and revealed our only glimpse of Aborignal Rock art. Nestled underneath a stunning waterfall the safe swimming hole was only really safe if you pretended not to notice the spiders sitting in massive webs over the water. Of course, I'd left my bikini in the van and was boiling hot so had to swim in my pants. We then got chatting to an old couple who were, surprise surprise from Brighton. Of course I couldn't exit the water until Andy had finished his 40 minute conversation with them as I was partially-clothed, but perhaps I shoudln't have been so prudish as the old boy stripped off completely and dried himself in front of us! This is when the training comes in handy and I managed not to drown with fright, having seen many such beauties in my time. I'm sure Kununurra would've been nice but we were so tired by this point, it was all we could do to collapse in the campsite with a bottle of wine and our books. The Mirima National Park remained unexplored and we conserved our energy for the final leg of the tour...

The Bungle Bungles, within Purnululu National Park is probably one of the biggest drawcards of the region. The orange-striped limestone domes stand in their thousands and resemble huge beehives. They are the result of millions of years' weathering and are one of Australia's most distinctive landscapes. A World Heritage Area, the grey and orange bands are the result of iron oxide and blue-green algae. We had been told that the road to Purnululu was horrendous, but we weren't to be outdone. Our bushcamper van was tiny for living and sleeping in, but did the job required on the pretty awful unsealed roads. So while it was only a 52km journey, it took us 3 hour to reach the national park.

A series of different walks take you to the main sites; Echidna Chasm, Cathedral Gorge, and Piccaninny Gorge. The Mini Palms Track, featuring tall palm trees protruding from sheer rock faces and dramatic scenery. Termite mounds are a feature all over the Kimberley and are seen clinging in precarious places over the Bungles Bungles. Weaving through the tight crevasses of Echidna Chasm, where the steep walls obscure the sky, we wondered if Purnululu might have been better observed from the sky, just to appreciate the size of the place. There was much excitement to be had when Andy spotted a large snake in the road. Closer inspection revealed it to be deceased, the victim of a hit-and-run escapade. Referring to our invaluable Snake Guide, I decided it was a non-venemous, much to Andy's disappointment.

The disappointment continued when it became apparent that the 7 hour side-trip to Wolfe Creek was not going to be possible due to time constraints. But really, it would have been far less a terrifying ordeal than spending the night at
Halls Creek. The campsite was totally feral and lacking any green at all. We only stayed there because we were too knackered to drive onto Fitzroy Crossing. There we were, sat wrapped all cosy in our sleeping bags watching a film on the laptop, when we became increasingly aware of a disturbance in the park next door. There was a huge row going on and lots of barking feral dogs. It was kind of distracting as we were trying to watch the film, but the ranting became louder and louder. Next thing we know, a group of blokes start throwing stones into the campsite and for some reason seemed very cross. We locked ourselves in the camper and turned the lights out to observe a young bloke running for his life past the van. It turn out they had been taking photos of some locals having a fight. I mean, and this had started all the drama. How stupid can you be?!!? Suffice to say, we were very glad to leave Halls Creek bight and early the following morning, even if we were camping next door to a bull mastif and an old feller who owned a double-barelled shotgun!!! After a few more gorges thrown in for good measure it was thankfully time to return to Perth for a good rest. Next time it's 5* luxury the whole way and I am doing the planning!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Surfing in Lancelin

Hi all, yes we've survived the Outback and have been back swaning about Perth for 3 weeks now. I'm gonna have to relay holiday vids and photos another time, but heres a nice high definition vid of us and our mates doing some surfing, well actually its our mates Dan, Helen, John and Gisele doing the surfing, cause it was too cold for us to get in the water, but we do appear in the vid, I spent the whole time taking the video with John's camcorder and he edited it. It might play a bit slow on some connections, cause it's high def footage, so patience...

Surf School at Lancelin from John Eustace on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Oz Tv

After a hard day in workhouse Australia, my wife and I retire to the drawing room to peruse the local Tv stations. As at home, there's a lot of crap on, but here there's even more. We don't watch tons of telly, but what we mainly end up watching are British shows. Kitchen Nightmares, BBC documentaries, there's one on at the mo called Wild China, which is pretty cool, Ladette to Lady (Genius). There's not a lot of good Oz-made Tv, everyone seems to love a program called 'Good News Week', which is a rip off of Have I got News for You, but without the humour, I've actually been accused of not understanding Ozzie humour, but the sad truth is that its too mild for me. When they show films here, which is most nights, they fill them full of adverts, at least every 15 minutes, it drives you mad. They have got the weather here, but I'll take good old British Tv back any time. In watching all those adverts, we've spotted an absolute corker and I don't know if its on at home, so at the risk of becoming Chris Tarrent, please enjoy this little beaut :)

Thursday, June 05, 2008

West Coast Eagles

Winter has officially arrived down under and is thankfully nothing like it is at home. It is certainly raining more, usually on a Wednesday night when I play Tennis...but the sun seems to be out fairly often and it remains tee-shirt winter!!
With the arrival of winter comes AFL, otherwise known as Ozzie Rules Football. Its been running for a few weeks now and I've made a vague attempt to follow the fortunes of Perths 2 sides, the West Coast Eagles and the Freemantle Dockers. Both teams are playing like a bag of shite and are routed to the bottom of the table, Freemantle have won 1 match out of 10, although htis 1 match was against the Eagles and being a derby win counts for alot in bragging rights. Perth (Eagles) have won 2 games and I was fortunate enough to have attended their second game and bring them some good old fashioned Pommie luck. My mate Joel had season tickets and took me along and was good enough to answer my foolish Pom questions throughout the game.
Its a game of 4 quarters, each about 25 minutes long and about a 20 minute break at halftime. The pitch is a massive oval shape, a fair bit bigger than a normal footaball pitch and there are 18 players a side. Their is a goal at either end that has 4 posts, the 2 middle posts are the main goal and you get 6 points if you kick the ball through them, however if the ball hits a post or goes through the other smaller posts then its 1 point. You can chuck the ball to each other, but you have to punch the ball, whilst doing this anyone can tackle you. You can also kick the ball with the object of kicking it to a team mate and him catching it without it touching th pitch. If this happens, its called a 'mark' and the player cannot be tackled and so had a kind of a free kick. Yes it is a bit confusing, but like most thigs, pretty exciting when watched live. Theres a crowd of 40,000 and a decent atmosphere to boot.
One of the stranger things about the game, is the sheer amount of people on the pitch at any one time. 18 players a side, then 3 refs + I think 2 linesmen, also and this is odd, at any time in the game 'Runners' can come onto the pitch, 1 a side I think and just have a chat with the players, you know give them a bit of encourement, pass on some tactics, very wierd. When a goal is scored, loads of people run on the pitch to dosh out water and its just gets plain silly. Oh and its quite violent as well, some decent punches and shoulder barging going on :)

Before I go, another thing that has returned with the coming of winter, is whales!
I love a whale me and its one of many brilliant things about this country to enjoy. There we were having a nice stroll along the beach, on our way to get some beer and oysters at a bar, a bar called 'The Oyster Bar' on Port beach, near Freo when we noticed some funny black fin shapes and alot of splashing. Only about 150 meters off shore were 2-3 Southern Right Whales lolling about, slowly cruising along, how cool is that??!!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

I love my Life and I love my Wife!!!!

Yes it's true, life is great (I'm not including work) here, the temperature has cooled by a few degrees and now we're not sweating constantly, which is nice. I seem to have developed green fingers and have turned our little patio into a mini garden center, after going to a Chilli festival and ended up buying 5 chilli plants, I've also added a tomato plant, corriander, rosemary, parsley, mint, oregano and a roquet plant. Each day I water them and demand that my tomato plant produce tomatos, but still waiting, the chilli plants have gone mad and we can't eat enough of them!
We've booked up our winter holiday, we're going to the Kimberleys in June, this is where Wolf Creek is and loads of incredible scenery, we're also stopping on route to swim with a Whale Shark, at last!! It looks like we're staying here for a couple of years at the mo and so we're planning on visiting the Uk for Xmas this year, can't wait to see you all!
Here's some recent pics of us at the Zoo :)

PS: Have been doing some Remixes of Josh and Roger's new band 'This Mono Galaxy', you can have a listen here, any comments welcome!

chem7 (me)

This Mono Galaxy

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Our fortunes in OZ seemed to have changed for the better and we are now both having a rather spiffing time. Inbetween Tennis, the Gym, getting down with the kids at Krafty Kuts, weekending down south visiting the Wineries, flopping about on the gorgeous beaches of Perth, checking out the Surf action, climbing artificial rock faces theres little time to write the blog, so a few words and some pics might suffice.
Been having a great time remixing Josh and Rogers new 80's pop hits 'This Mono Galaxy' which you can have a listen to here, the original mucis that is.
Also on a musical note, this is the Krafty Kuts Remix of Bitter Sweet Symphony, mmmmm, its lovely :)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Happy New 2008

Happy New Year to you all. Hope you all had a lovely Chrsitmas. It goes without saying that we missed you all dearly, but fortunately we were unable to dwell on this issue as it was 45 degrees on Christmas Day and Boxing Day was 46. That's centigrade, making Perth officially the hottest place on the planet at that time! Having only experienced 42 degrees before, that little bit extra does make a difference, believe me. Horrific, it even hurt to breathe. But we had to join in with tradition, so on Christmas morning after opening our prezzies, we headed to the beach wth our new friends (see, we can do it) Orla & Lucy for champagne & strawberries. Yum. At 9:30am it was already packed, so everybody could bag some shade and set their picnics out. I was the Designated Driver, an honour which was to prove fairly short-lived. So Andy got quite drunk. By 10am he was leaping into the sea as if he weren't scared of cold water and frolicking with strangers wearing santa hats.

After a few hours of chilling out and reading my Harold Shipman biography (a festive treat!), we headed over to another friends house for a Barbie. Hilary & Matthew are very nice people because they have lived in Brighton. They have just bought a lovley house, but in keeping with the rest of Aussie society, it's in the middle of nowhere and getting there involves some planning. Especially since I'd ditched the whole driving idea by now and decided I needed wine to survive the heat. So we walked to the station and then had to walk to their house from the station. That's a 30 minute total walk in 45 degrees with a drunken husband who kept laughing at me for being so hot and bothered. After passing several skeletons along the side of the road, we got there absolutely dying. I collapsed with a bottle of wine and two rather perky Burmese cats, while the boys actually went OUTSIDE to BBQ! By this point, the outside temperature had reached 47 degrees and with everybody caning the A/C across the city, several hundreds of homes had a power cut and were without electricity for a few hours. Can you imagine?!?!

Boxing day we knew was going to be just as bad, so we headed for the beach and just stayed there all day. Andy isn't one for sitting in the shade, so we just kept running into the sea every 20 minutes to cool off. It's probably the best place to be when it's that hot as at least there is a breeze, which the locals call the Freemantle Doctor. Our Christmas prezzie to ourselves was our car. I was so excited to finally have a means to go exploring, as so far we've only been away for the day once since we arrived here 3 months ago.

So I let Andy have sole control over the project and off he went. He decided to buy a little Dihatsu Charade, which turns out to be an apt name for the thing. He bought it for $2,000 (our last $2,000) from a 'very trustworthy' doctor who was returning to Sri Lanka after working here for a while. We had it a week and it seemed fine running about town- until we took it on a longer venture. We were heading South to Cape Naturaliste and were almost at Bunbury when I said "I can smell something funny." At about the same time Andy said "Shit, the temperature gauge is on red!" and about now, we saw smoke and steam billowing from the bonnet. As we pulled over onto the snake-infested roadside, we could actually hear the water boiling in the radiator. I truly believed the thing was about to explode and knew instantly we had made a grave error. I swear you could even see spiders sat in their humongous webs abut 20 metres away, just waiting for something like this to happen. Andy, the eternal optomist said we should just wait until it cooled down. Me, knowing we were doomed, said we should just call the RAC and be done with it. It was at this point I realised Andy had used the last of our drinking water to fill up the radiator. I mean, what sort of madness leads to such foolishness! Has he not listened to a word Bear Grills has said?

Several rows and about an hour later, it seems evident that the car isn't cooling down, so we call the RAC man. An old lady who is quite clearly a serial killer stops and gives us some water. Obviously the water was poisonous, so I only had a sip and then the RAC arrives and says he can either tow us back to Perth at $3.5/km or, we can try to get back ourselves, which in his opinion, he seriously doubted we could manage. So of course I am persuaded to try drivng back. We stop every half hour to top op the cooling fluid and miraculously we make it back home in one piece. Five hours later and all we have seen is the kangaroo sculpure at Mandurah station. My optimism is shattered and Andy has to take me to see Ratatouille at the open-air cinema to calm me down. It worked temporarily, but now we are waiting for the car to be fixed. The head gasket has blown and apparently the cylinder has a big crack down it which had been subjected to a temporary welding job, so it turns out the good doctor may have been pulling a fast one after all. On the plus side, my husband now has muscles.