Thursday, June 24, 2010

Telstra: Better Coverage in More Places

That's what Telstra advertises, isn't it? Better coverage in more places.

This is me getting reception so I can use my phone as a modem for my laptop. Yup. My phone is dangling from the gas light pole above my head.

Tomorrow we return to Broome for a quick supermarket re-stock before starting out on the Gibb River Road. Although the road can be traversed in two days, we met people today who had done that, it is better to spend a little time to see the sights. There is little to be seen from the road, most of the good stuff like the gorges and swimming holes are located a little way off the road. Four wheel drive country (and yes still Croc Country). We are planning ten days to two weeks, including a trip up to Mitchell Plateau and Mitchell Falls, said to be the most spectacular falls in Australia. This is also a period of no mobile reception, so no phone or email access.

Welcome to Croc Country

"You can swim at the beach," said our campground host, "no crocs here." Ok, cool. But there are stories of salties swimming past in the sea beside the beaches. Harmless enough, moving from one creek to another. Just last week, Cable Beach at Broome was cleared after a croc sighting.

Dampier Peninsula, north of Broome

Beach swimming, maybe it is over now, I thought. North of Broome is Croc Country: beware the Saltie. The signs at the start of the Cape Leveque, Dampier Peninsula road confirmed it. At our first campsite though, "You can swim at the beach," said our campground host, "no crocs here." Just as well, Middle Lagoon was a spectacular beach. Three beaches, a small lagoon in the middle. Good snorkelling, swimming, beach chilling, the beaches interspersed with rocky reefs and cliffs. As the sun set, the yellow rock in the cliff face turned the brightest orange.

In Broome I met a German backpacker, Beni, who I had met online earlier in the week. He would be sharing the ride with me up to Cape Leveque, along the Gibb River Road and onto Darwin. A keen photographer and fisherman he has made good company. On the second night on Dampier Peninsula we brainstormed how he could watch or listen to the Germany vs Ghana football match for the World Cup. No tv here, but we had phone service. From this we could determine it would be also be broadcast on SBS radio from Broome, but alas, no reception. He could have listened to streaming radio on my iPhone, but it is my last day of the billing cycle and my data allocation was almost all used up. The final solution? Someone from home in Germany phoned his mobile and set the phone by a radio which was broadcasting the game. It didn't work too well, so in the end he got a running commentary from a cousin who was watching it live on tv.

This peninsula, a little strange. Entry is by permit, it is Aboriginal land. The road from Broome to the start of the Lands, about 100km, is a rough 4WD road. In the Lands though, the 100km main road to Cape Leveque is bitumen. Figure that one out. Tracks to many campsites though are still 4WD. I think in 10-20 years though this could be a very different place. It is not so hard to seal the gap between Broome and the Lands, seal a couple of side tracks and suddenly the place is 2WD accessible. Could change the whole vibe I think.

There are many Aboriginal communities here, offering various tours and accommodation options. Kooljaman is downright resort-like (too high-brow for us), visitors flying in and out, most others though quite basic and affordable camping or beach huts. Lots of entry fees, albeit small, to enter communities.

A trip to the peninsula couldn't be complete without a visit to James Price Point, the proposed site of the Kimberley gas plant processing offshore gas. Quite a controversial proposal, the WA Govt has been spruking the wonderful benefits to the local Aboriginal community - improved healthcare and education - apparently something not every Australian is automatically entitled to. Some local Aboriginal people though claim to have not been consulted in the deal, and are launching legal challenges. The development threatens the habitat at the point, said to be a unique habitat for turtles. Even while we were there, we could see a boat conducting seabed surveys - this I was reliably informed of by a gas plant worker from Darwin.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Driving to Broome

Port Hedland is an ugly bastard - a convergence of huge power lines, mining railways, roads, gas pipelines, mixed in with industrial processing plants and slag heaps. All covered in a coat of thin red dust.

Driving from Port Hedland to Broome

I've met four people who say Pt Hedland is: a dump; a dive; a shit hole. It's uglier than Port Augusta which at least benefits from some history and a scenic backdrop. Pt Hedland is isolated, bloody ugly and coated with red dust.

Stop for a scenic photo of Pt Hedland's power lines, railway lines, industrial facilities or it's slag heaps? Anyone?

Eighty Mile Beach, on the other hand, is a welcome respite

Mt Meharry - WA's highest peak

Mt Meharry is a relatively recent newcomer to the State 8 - the highest peak in each of Australia's states and territories. Mt Bruce was discovered by Europeans in 1861. Over a hundred years later, in 1967, detailed surveys were done of the area. A surveyor discovered a strange anomaly, 20 kilometres south east of Mt Bruce, the tallest mountain in Western Australia, lay an unnamed somewhat indistinct mountain which was 13 metres taller.

I have set myself the goal of climbing the State 8, although in no particular rush or timeline. So far the only peak I have climbed is Mt Ossa in Tasmania. South Australia's Mt Woodrooffe could arguably be the most logistically difficult, as I need to be Very Best Friends with Vicki, who in turn needs to be Very Best Friends with someone working in Ernabella, or that person being Very Best Friends with someone working there, and that person being Very Best Friends with a local, who is Very Best Friends with an elder. It quite isolated, some 300 kilometres off the bitumen road in a remote Aboriginal community in the state's north, near the border of the Northern Territory. From Uluru one can see Mt Woodroofe.

Mt Meharry is a strange one to access. Although in Karijini National Park, it can only be accessed from roads outside the park. I had read some magazine articles and online forums, it seemed an easy enough climb. Access was via some dirt roads off the Great Northern Highway. As a matter of courtesy, I asked at the national park visitor centre for the best way to access the peak. Contact the nearby pastoral station, they said, as you will need to cross their property. Armed with their phone number, but with limited phone reception, I managed to get their answering machine. At my chosen campsite, a rest area off the Great Northern Highway, I overhead some other campers talking about Mt Meharry. I sidled over to question them. They had already been up there today, having driven their 4WDs to the very top. They had asked no permission, they had followed the trip notes in a 4WD magazine. Having copied some of the details down, I could rest easy confident I was still able to do the climb the following day.

The road leading off the Great Northern Highway is a public road, but it is gated. There are no signs indicating Mt Meharry lies down this road. Hidden in the dry grass is a discarded sign stating that the road was only for access to the pastoral station, yet a sign beyond the gate had been erected by the local council warning of the road's poor condition. Deflating my tyres for dirt road driving, a mine worker pulled up. Yep, no worries, just don't get caught beyond the railway line. Rio Tinto's land, my advice, just don't get caught there.

Some 16 kilometres down this well made dirt road, shared by road trains and mine workers, is a simple sign indicating the track to Mt Meharry, to be tackled by 4WDs only. Carefully following the trip notes I had copied the previous night from the magazine, I proceeded down a series of roads. All 4WD but pretty easy going. I had no intention of driving to the summit, I am a bushwalker, not a four wheel driver. I drove to the base of the mountain, perhaps some two kilometres closer than what a 2WD vehicle could brave. I climbed the steep 4WD track, a 380 metre ascent, but an easy one. 45 minutes to the peak, a cairn marking the summit. Littered with trophies so easily brought here by 4WD, and a logbook buried in the stone cairn. Not much mention of people walking up here, but it was a lovely walk. The 4WD track immediately after the plain gets nasty quick, perhaps only negotiable by raised 4WDs.

Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit

Karijini National Park

Jaw dropping. Gob smacking. This park is simply stunning: it's deep gorges, it's cool permanent swimming holes, it's coloured shaped rock.

My introduction to Karijini National Park was Hammersley Gorge. "Going to a swim at the bottom, " asked a woman in the car park as I was getting ready for the short hike. Oh my goodness yes I am! The pools are refreshingly cool in the heat of the day, nestled in a gorge lined with the most beautiful rock.

The park really is a series of jaw dropping, gob smacking moments as one sets eyes on each gorge or it's cool swimming hole. Deep gorges, maybe over a hundred metres deep. The day I hiked up Mt Meharry, I was able to come into the park in the afternoon and have not one but two gorgeous swims in pools, each at opposite ends of a gorge. A short half hour walk along the gorge between them. A peak climb, a gorge walk and refreshingly cool swims! The best day ever!

Cape Rain

Cape Rain National Park, oops, sorry, my mistake, Cape Range National Park, is spectacular. The rains fell endlessly. The range meets the reef in the rain.

A sign at the Visitor Centre in Exmouth announced that all campsites in the national park were full for the night. How did they know that when you cant book campsites? I drove out to the park anyway, keen to see the sights, albeit in rain. At the entrance station I was told there were a couple of sites at one of the camp grounds, so I hurried set out to check the situation. Sure enough, there was one free. Delighted with my find, I busied myself setting up the tent. A thought passed through my head, Robin Ide wouldn't set up tent here, this is a shit camp site. Most of the site is rocky, the sandy bit is the lowest part - it will fill with water. Nah, she'll be right, I'm so pleased I can camp in the national park!

I ventured off into the wider park, doing some hikes in the rain and exploring some beaches. Returning to the campsite at dusk, I found the tent in a large pool of water. Oops. Lucky it was an empty tent. I moved it to higher ground, but immediately realised this would be no better, if the rain continued, this too would fill with water. Almost instantly after that thought, heavy rain fell again. Sitting in the car, I realised I would be spending a second night trapped in my car, although I could sleep in it's dryness and comfort.

The following morning, my tent and car were in a large pool of water. Much of the camp ground was in water. Mmm.

During a small break in the rain I managed to swim out into the warm ocean waters and view the fish of Ningaloo Reef.

When I had driven towards the peninsula town of Exmouth, I had wondered if this was a wise move. With all this rain the roads could close and I could be stuck out here. Driving back from the national park and Exmouth there was standing water everywhere. Rivers and creeks had flooded, water covered much of the road in many places, and sometimes the road was more of a causeway across an lake.

Poor Timing

It was time for a rest up, restock, a visit to a local doctor, and a car service. Why, oh why, do I always seem to arrive in towns on the weekend and not a weekday?


I stayed two nights in the caravan park, a rarity for me, a double night. Caravan parks are too much money. Regardless, I had things to do in town. It was here in the caravan park that I met the Dodgy Van People - Sarah and Mike. Having just emigrated to Australia from the UK (and Mike formerly the Netherlands) they were travelling around a bit before Sarah commenced her Perth job. Dodgy van? Yeah, they had lots of trouble starting it each morning, and no shortage of advice from other campers at the caravan park.

Carnarvon itself, an oasis in a desert thanks to the Gascoyne River, isn't much special. A jetty you need to pay to walk along, shit beaches and some overpriced rotten food (this from the alleged fruit & vegie food bowl of the state). The Gascoyne River is a dry riverbed, but the river flows deep below the sand. Lots of water is pumped out and used to irrigate the many market gardens in the region.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Nothing but Red Dirt

"Mate, there is nothing but red dirt north of Perth. Trust me, I lived up there for 15 years. Nothing but red dirt and old farts driving around oversized caravans."

Perth to Carnarvon

Why does everyone want to go up there (north of Perth)? Nothing but red dirt. So I was told by a local I met in the Perth.

Well I guess they were right, as the following photos show:

Red cliffs

Red rocks

Red sand dunes

Shells cemented in red soil

Not to mention the red artesian bore fed spa I enjoyed at Francois Peron National Park homestead. Red water, but at 40 degrees so very nice!

As is my way, I am generally only updating my blog once a week when I go seek out a town with a caravan park for a shower, a proper meal with red meat, a laundry and cheap internet access. Soooo, this week there are seven different blog entries covering the last nine days, it seemed the best way to sort it:

Four Wheel Drive Tracks

It was time to put this 4WD to use. Since Memory Cove on SA's Eyre Peninsula, I could have undertaken much of this journey with a conventional 2WD vehicle. A national park and a private park, each accessible only by high-clearance conventional 4WD vehicles - not all-wheel-drive vehicles or caravans.

Francois Peron National Park and Steep Point, Shark Bay

Francios Peron National Park lies in Shark Bay. Project Eden has been established to take advantage of this peninsula's narrow isthmus. Just 3.5 kilometres wide, an electric fence has been constructed to isolate the peninsula so a comprehensive feral eradication program can be undertaken, and native species can be reintroduced.

Hamelin Pool, a shallow lagoon of hyper-saline water cut off from the main bay by a sand bank is home to some stromatolites.These stromatolites don't appear significant. Blue-green algae flourish in shallow waters trapping floating sediments and building these stromatolite rocks. These rocks though are thought to have been the very first bacteria on earth, forming extensive reefs and dominating all life forms on the planet for two billion years. They released oxygen raising the oxygen levels of our atmosphere to 20% which allowed other lifeforms to develop. As plants and animals evolved competition reduced stromatolite populations, today only a few areas remain. They are regarded as the oldest fossils (the dead rocks left behind when sea levels fell)) and the oldest living fossils (being some 3.5 billion years old). I had seen similar bacteria rocks - thormbolites - in Lake Clifton north of Bunbury, but they were of so little interest I they didn't make it to my blog. These stromatolites though have been signposted with much more informative and interesting display signs.

Just inside the electric fence marking the beginning of Project Eden is Shell Beach. Despite widespread occurrences of place names like Shell Beach, this is one of only two beaches in the world comprised entirely of shell fragments. Depending on which information board you choose to read or believe, the beach is up to five metres or up to ten metres deep.

The 4WD tracks in Francios Peron National Park are either sandy and sometimes deeply rutted, or solid claypan. There were plenty of travellers around in Francios Peron National Park to help out if I got stuck so I didn't need to worry too much. I thought that driving through the 120 kilometres or so in this park would be good confidence boasting training for what lay ahead at not-yet national park Steep Point. However, the opposite was true, although since I entered Steep Point after Francios Peron National Park I guess that cant be so. The tracks in Steep Point were much easier to negotiate and the speeds greater than those in Francios Peron National Park. The tracks in Francios Peron National Park were particularly bad in the north of the park.

In Francios Peron National Park I camped at Bottle Bay where the red sand dunes met the white beach sand. Easily the most picturesque of the campsites. Further north at Cape Peron there are red sand dunes and red cliffs which abruptly meet the white beach sand. The red sand and cliffs are quartz sandstone with an iron oxide content formed in ancient sand dunes. This red sandstone underlies much of Shark Bay but is only exposed here on Peron Peninsular and Faure Island. The white beach sand is Tamala Limestone, formed from shells and other marine skeletons. It younger than the Peron Sandstone but is far more common being widespread in Western Australia.

On the second night I camped at Big Lagoon, a picturesque lagoon. This lagoon is a gypsum claypan known as a birrdas. There are numerous birradas throughout the peninsula and most are landlocked saline lakes. Some, however, like the Big Lagoon, the sea has invaded to form a shallow inland bay.

Steep Point is now managed by government department responsible for national parks, the nearby station having recently relinquished their pastoral lease upon it. It is soon to be declared Edel Land National Park. The property is popular with fishers, it is claimed to be the best land fishing spot in Australia. I'm no fisherman but I have only heard that said here, so am not quite sure about their claim. Steep Point is also the most western point of the Australian mainland, the point plunging abruptly into the sea below due to the Zuytdorp cliffs. The other extreme points of the mainland are Byron Bay in the east, Wilsons Promontory in the south, the southern point only being accessible by walking in and out for two days, and the tip of Cape York in the north, accessible by ferry or a five day 4WD trek.

The Zuytdorp cliffs that stretch from here south to Kalbarri. Named after the Dutch ship the Zyutdorp which was last seen sailing from the Cape of Good Hope in 1712 headed for Java. There were no survivors to tell their story, the fate of the ship was a mystery until 1958 when parts of the wreckage were found at the base of these high cliffs. Objects found on the clifftop show that a number of people, possibly 30, survived here for some time. They had salvaged parts of the wreck to build tents and signal fires at the top of the cliffs, even trying to raise a cannon hoping to signal passing ships. It's possible survivors were absorbed by the local Aboriginal people, relics from the wreck have been found at Aboriginal campsites and wells in the regions to the north and inland of the wreck. Mysterious rock paintings have been found at Walga Rock which might indicate Dutch castaways.

I camped a night out on a beach near Steep Point between the fishie people. I could smell it, their fish cleaning. Mind you, I wouldn't be all roses to smell either since I haven't showered in a week. Behind me lay the highest sand dune, so I spent I night listening to people's strained conversations on their mobile phones, the high dune providing the best reception. "Hi there, it's mum. Yes, mum. I SAID IT'S MUM. MUUUUM. YEES. CALLING FROM STEEP POINT. WHAATT. MUUUM. STEEEEEP POOOINT. YEEESSS. HANG ON... (moving two steps) is that better? I SAID, ISS THAT BETTER?" The campsites all have intriguing names and are quite spread out, so the sound of the waves gently lapping on the shore drowned out the sound of distant generators.

Don't Feed the Wildlife

"Wild dolphins have visited the beach at Monkey Mia since the early 1960s." This little statement sidesteps an important issue here. Why have the wild dolphins visited the beach here every morning at 7.30am for the benefit of tourists. Um, maybe cos someone is feeding them?

Monkey Mia

It's true, I really don't think wildlife should be fed. In a national park this is especially so, except here at Monkey Mia an exception seems to have been made, simply because of the tourists it brings in. Sure, someone started in the 1960s, they probably shouldn't have. What is certain though is they probably shouldn't continue to feed them, they could ween them off.

I know, I know, I here you say it. Party pooper. So what. Wildlife shouldn't be fed, they become dependent and it reduces their hunting skills. It's not a beautiful thing to wildlife dependent on being fed by humans.

So I missed Monkey Mia. I had swam with Dolphins in Port Craig in New Zealand. Perfectly wild and natural, I did not have to feed them for them to come over to play.

Speaking with some travellers later, they saw the pod of dolphins herding salmon into the beach so they could feed upon them, and the mother dolphins were teaching the calf dolphins how to do it. That, I think, is a truly special thing to see.

Seaside Towns beside Pink Seas

Yep, a pink sea lagoon, caused by the naturally occurring beta-carotene bacteria, harvested to produce vitamin A and as a food colouring.

A lovely lunch stop at another seaside town. None of the beaches north of Perth seem particularly nice. Most are infested with seaweed or the water is hyper-saline.

I met some lovely people this week, from the three stranded backpackers with a broken- down van to a Dutch family who did know how to drive a 4WD vehicle. The backpackers I met at Greenough, I just had to ask why they were camping here, were they crazy? The locals wouldn't like them camping here in the park adjacent a museum town (for there is no current town, just a ghost town of sorts). Ah, their van had broken down, it was a long weekend in WA and yes, the shop keeper across the road was quite happy for the stranded backpackers to camp here. They asked me if I had any tools, yeah, one or two I said. I had done a quick trip to Bunnings to pick up some cheap tools I thought might be handy. I helped them replace a headlight assembly which they had been unable to do. Their serious oil leak though, that would need a mechanic. I camped with them, since the shop and museum town were closed for the day. Two Frenchies and an Italian, they had been on the road together for just three days, having met online in Perth.

Another group of backpackers I camped with had only met that morning, two of them placing an ad on Gumtree and when the third rang to enquire about their trip they replied they were leaving that day! That night they sliced some oranges and placed them into a pan with red goon and heated it until almost boiling point. Gotta say, gross wine, but not a bad way to have it.

The Dutch I came across - let's call them the Screaming Dutchies for reasons that became apparent later that night (oh my goodness - they have two small children in their tent!) - on a four-wheel-drive track, driving perilously slow. Trying to dodge the main ruts, it was clear they neither knew how to drive a 4WD nor how much to lower their tyre pressure. Talking with them they were running their tyre pressure for sand driving at higher than I run my tyre pressure for bitumen road driving! They had lowered their pressure to 35psi from 45psi. My tyres, at least, have a warning written on them in fine print that says "Do not exceed 40psi, risk of tyre blowout." A mere 20psi is often recommended for sand driving, and they can be dropped to 10psi to get you unbogged. No wonder they were having such trouble negotiating the track. Their car is also an old-model Pajero, the fully loaded tyre pressure ratings are 35psi at the rear and 29psi at the front - never a whopping 45psi.

Kalbarri National Park

The Murchison River finishes it's long journey at Kalbarri. In the national park, the river winds it's way through deep gorges, seemingly in a series of straight lines.

Kalbarri National Park

The red Tumblagooda Sandstone that makes up much of this area has a series of straight fractures running through it. These straight, vertical joints allowed the Murchison River to deeply incise the rock layers and form straight river segments. At times the river is up to 170 metres below the cliff tops. Wherever the joints intersected the river could change it's course.

It was here that I could do a short 10 kilometre circuit hike, aptly named The Loop. The river here loops back on itself, separated by a narrow cliffline. The walk starts from a place called Natures Window, a high cliff featuring a prominent arch within the cliff, and follows the clifftop east before descending down into the sandy riverbed to loop back to Natures Window. The layers of rock within the cliffs form striking bands of stone in contrasting brownish reds, purples and whites.

I drove down the road to access The Loop and the Z Bend - a road to rival any of Kangaroo Island's dirt roads. I thought I had set out early, but when I arrived in the carpark I found half a dozen cars already there. Doh. When I completed the hike though, I discovered that it had been an early start, the day was getting hot by now but the carpark was full. This was no time to set out on a hike!

Download kml file to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit

The Shifting Sands have Revealed...

Hidden from view for the past 6000 years, the shifting sands of the desert have revealed the remarkable limestone Pinnacles.

The Pinnacles, Nambung National Park

Exactly how they are formed is a bit of a mystery, one theory suggests they are the eroded remains of a sand dune layer thick with the roots, the other theory suggests they are a petrified forest.

Archaeological evidence suggests the Aboriginals were here around 6000 years ago, but there is no evidence of their presence since this time. Mapping the coast in the 17th century, the Dutch made no note of the Pinnacles, but did note the two low hill ranges either side of the Pinnacles desert. All this suggests they have been hidden and recently revealed again.

They are quite awe inspiring. Aside from the family of four Asian tourists, including two children, all armed with their own camera pointed at each other and arguing as to who was going to take the photo of the other three beside one of the Pinnacles, it is quite an interesting drive and walk. The rocks vary in height and some take on animalistic shapes.

The Dutchman Said

"Strewth mate, this land is a bloody ripper. Bugger me, there's no water here, not even any grog," said the 17th century Dutchman.

Shipwreck Museum, Geraldton

I had to stifle some laughs and giggles, I could not take this museum documentary seriously. All the actors, playing Dutch sailors wrecked in 1629, are speaking with Australian accents. They are not even trying to disguise their accents. Nothing sounds right. They could have found some Dutch actors, surely.

I was in Geraldton, at the museum. This one, like the museum in Perth, has an exhibition on the 1629 Dutch East India Company wreck of the Batavia. They have a stone portico erected, part of the cargo on board bound for the castle at Java. Sound familiar? Yes, two museums, two porticos, but only one castle for the portico and only one wreck. Mmm. One of these is a replica. I think the Geraldton one might be the real thing, the Fremantle one the replica. Not that either museum seems keen to comment on that.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Rottnest Island

Listen up class, repeat after me. "Tourists, where ever they may be, do not rise before nine, and do not leave their accommodation until after 10. Therefore, tourist crowds will only be seen sometime after 11."

Rottnest Island, 30km west of Fremantle port

I thought I had the island to myself, until after eleven when other tourists arrived on the beaches by bike or by bus. I, of course, as are my ways, had started cycling the 30 kilometre circuit around the island at eight am. In that time time I saw almost no-one, beach after beach was all mine.

Little Salmon Bay was the pick of the beaches, small, white sand, light blue water, contained by limestone headlands. Complete with a snorkeling trail. Perfect. As I pulled up on my bike, a guy rode in from the opposite direction, my first sighting of anyone else today. He had his snorkeling gear out in no time and was prepping up in the water. It was all the encouragement I needed, I'm not always the keenest to set out snorkeling. Thankful for my wetsuit, I headed out, the other guy still messing about in the shallows. Following the underwater snorkeling trail, I saw many different fish, including salmon of course. Lots of colours and stripes, this area of Western Australia attracts tropical fish due to the southerly currents. Glancing back at the shore, the guy was still messing around on the shore, next time I glanced back he was back on his bike, the water must have been too cold for him. Having talked to him on the beach he seemed pretty keen, perhaps in him encouraging me into the water I discouraged him out of it.

Sitting back on the beach in the warm sun, the bikes and busloads soon turned up. Alas, it had been all mine for awhile there. Later in the day I found myself another deserted beach to call my own, up near the World War II ruins.

Rottnest Island is a curious one. For one thing, it must have little less than 1,000 holiday units, most seemingly identical built over a couple of generations. Almost all empty, indeed, the island is pretty deserted overall. It's not tourist season here anymore, in the unpredictable winter weather. For me though it was nothing but three days of beautiful clear sunny skies.

In amongst the holiday units are some much older buildings, some from the time of either of the prisons built here, others from later tourist development or war use. Many fascinating historical buildings. The general store and mall form part of the original prison. Much of the complex has been destroyed by fire or demolished so it is hardly recognisable as one. The second prison remains, although is a hotel now so cant be toured.

The original cottages are fascinating. Built of local limestone, they were rendered in the early 1900s and painted a cream colour to reduce the sun glare. The colour and building material theme has been maintained throughout the two major accommodation areas. The cottages originally had near-flat roofs, limestone supported by timber trusses. The timber trusses were each made from a single piece of timber, ingenious. Tiles were too expensive to bring in from Fremantle, but in time corrugated iron replaced the roofs as they were difficult to keep watertight.

The museum was interesting, detailing the many shipwrecks and the dark history of the island. The two prisons were built by and detained Aboriginal people, many of whom were sent here for the European laws that had been imposed upon them. Many prisoners came from the far north of the state, the cold weather must have been quite a shock. The conditions were cramped and the inmates mistreated. One prison governor though allowed them to leave the prison each Sunday between nine am and four pm. They were provided with no lunch or dinner, but instead could roam the island and catch their dinner, quokkas, snakes or whatever.

After my cycling tour of the island it occurred to me that this island was missing a cemetery. I found a reference to one on the map, but could find little sign of it in reality. The cemetery was only used for the Aboriginal prisoners, and none of the graves is marked. Buildings and houses have been built over some of it, worse still, some of the cemetery has been used as the main camping ground. I had wondered why the camping ground, often called a Tent City, could only consist of 20 marked sites. No tent city that one. But it isn't the original camping ground, but a new one constructed in the last few years. I found the original sprawling camping ground, much of it on the cemetery. The only sign it is a burial ground is two signs near the township end, noting the site's importance and the future plans for removing all buildings and creating a memorial garden and marking the known burial areas.

Around the turn of the century the island started being used for tourism, with a few interludes during war time. During the Second World War several artillery guns were installed, and monitoring towers. 2,500 soldiers were housed here, protecting Fremantle Harbour from invasion by the Japanese.

I cant finish this entry about Rottnest Island though without mentioning the quokkas. I saw my first ones within a two of minutes of landing, and by the end of the third minute I had seen some copulating. Cute as they are they don't seem to sleep, constantly poking around my tent despite my food all being well sealed and isolated.

Download kml file of Rottnest Island circuit to view in Google Earth or adapt to use as a navigational aid in a GPS unit


Rottnest Island circuit
Distance 31km
Moving Duration 2h30m

On this day 381 years ago...

I was especially keen to visit the Shipwrecks Museum for they had part of the wreck of Dutch Batavia ship from 1629. It was closed one day a week, today, Wednesday. I returned again on Friday, the 4th of June, coincidentally 381 years to the day that the Batavia ran aground off the Western Australia shore.


I was in awe when I walked into the Batavia Gallery at the Shipwrecks Museum, towering over me was the reconstructed lower stern of this sailing ship. Wrecked in shallow waters upon a reef, some of it had been preserved by shifting sands. The Dutch East India Company returned sometime after the wrecking to salvage some of the gold bullion, but it was not until the 1970s that the wreck was rediscovered.

It's a sorry story. The Batavia, a magnificent ship of the VOC (Dutch East India Company) was on it's maiden voyage to Batavia, present day Jakarta in Java. Things went awry early though, a mutiny was planned. Before the mutiny was carried out, the ship ran aground, coming too close to Australian shores. In the very early 1600s the VOC had adopted a new route to Java, utilizing the Roaring 40s from the bottom of Africa, the ships sailed west until almost the Australian mainland before turning north. Their distance measurements were crude though, establishing longitude was unreliable, so there were many Dutch ships wrecked along the western Australia coast.

When the Batavia ran aground, it broke up quickly. Little water or food could be salvaged, of the 381 on board 40 drowned, the rest making it to close by islands. With little water to be found, the captain took his senior crew in a small boat and made the perilous journey north to Java, to return some three months later with a ship to collect the survivors. What they found though was very much not what they expected. The mutineers had gruesomely massacred the sick, women and children in order to reduce the numbers from 300 plus to a mere 40 people, in order to survive on the limited water and food resources. A small group had escaped to another island, and where able to warn the captain as he approached with the rescue ship.

Trials were held on the island, some six men had their hands amputated and were hung. Two others were given a small dinghy and limited supplies and exiled to the mainland, never to be heard of again. The remaining mutineers were tried and executed in Java upon their return.

A rare genetic condition affecting children, that was common in the Netherlands in the 1600s has been found in the genetic code of some north western Aboriginal people. There are several words and names in the local dialect which sound remarkably similar to dutch words. I saw a documentary a few months ago, they were searching for more clues in the local Aboriginal population's DNA to link them to the Dutch. There were many shipwrecks along the coast. In one, over two hundred survivors are known to have made it to shore. Remains of extensive fires have been found at the scene, perhaps lit to attract the attention of other passing Dutch ships. But no other trace has ever been found of these people.

Back in the museum, the stone portico that was part of the cargo bound for Java has been constructed. Gruesomely, perhaps, there is a skeleton, recovered from a shallow grave from one of the islands. The victim, a man in his mid 30s, is missing his right foot, has a broken collarbone and suffered a severe head injury.

On Wednesday, on my first visit to Freo, I wandered around the port town, looking at the various historical buildings and sites. The reconstructed beach, the modern apartments, the blended new-old buildings. Old port towns are always fascinating don't you think.

There was however, something underlying all these chic apartments and cafes. I had tried to take photos that somehow captured Freo, until I saw this anyway. Poverty. Alcohol and drug abuse. Homelessness.