Travelling – Raw power and subtle beauty of coastal Outback

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A raptor perches on its monstrous nest protecting its offspring from spray as a backdrop of waves bounce with a thunderous roar, just metres from reach. Its mate returns to relieve her from nest duties, food in claws for their young.

‘Powerful’. That would be the word that dominates. Raw, uncontrollable power of the sea. Mountains of white spray bursting from the ocean, exploding, reaching high into the blueness of the sky for a brief moment of splendor, only to collapse at the feet of the jagged rocky coastline into a churning whirlpool. Repeat. I watched the awesome sight in absolute wonder.

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Coastal Outback north of Carnarvon (Western Australia) was a change from the wildflower-dusted inland we’d been exploring. Harsh, but with a discernible serenity. Hard, but with a subtle softness. Captivating beauty.

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The people who historically attempted to tame and farm this land held a misplaced vision. This is wild land. It belongs to Nature alone.

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No grazing stock in sight, decommissioned windmills taken over by nesting ravens – the station now hosts tourists: game fishing, surfing, diving and camping. I feel privileged to have access to this magnificent stretch of coastal outback.

Looking for shade to sit and make a cuppa, there were no trees, only low acacia woodland, saltbush and samphire, and mounds of dead and broken shrubbery. The Outback. But we found a patch of shade by a wet saltpan, made a cup of tea and enjoyed watching Red-capped Plovers dart in random zig-zagging patterns through the shallow pools. Intense red sand contrasted brilliantly against the shimmering patches of moisture and the blue desert sky.

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Songs of Pied Honey-eaters and Blue-winged Fairy-wrens entertained us. Such delicate creatures make their home in harsh and unforgiving country. And we are reminded of the harshness by bleached bones of a beast lying alone on the silent sand. Today there is water. Yesterday and tomorrow are different stories again.

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Travelling – it’s not just about seeing

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For me, a place doesn’t need to be spectacular to have a breathtaking affect upon me.

Wind howled around the caravan yesterday from dawn til dark, forcing me indoors for the day, so I was out walking on the beach first thing this morning in the stillness of the early light. It was spectacular in a simple, ordinary way.

Time enough had not elapsed to putrefy the weedy mat that yesterday’s storms had dumped on the beach. A day of sunshine would bring out the stench, so then the beauty will be much diminished. Strangely, the sound of the waves was muted by the cushion of weed. Although the waves were breaking right at my feet, they sounded way off in the distance.

I walked to the sandy peninsular, free of marine grass where the waves were given free reign to tumble and roll – translucent green falling onto white sand with a scattering of seashell fragments. The sky was grey, but many delicate shades from violet to blue to grey and back to white. Such elegance.

An old man exercised his dog. A young man stood in the water, fishing. Terns and gulls claimed their patch of sand to rest. Rays of sun occasionally cast golden light on the many jagged limestone rocky outcrops in the ocean. And windswept clumps of dune-grass still holding droplets of rain looked, to me, as splendid as any wildflowers.

My connection to the landscape and every component of this scene was automatic and strong. Nature touched my soul, uplifted me, and left me with a feeling of  wholeness and gratitude.

In contrast, we then visited the Pinnacles Desert – a truly spectacular and astounding ancient natural site. And although I was suitably impressed, little emotion was evoked.

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And that’s an integral part of me. It doesn’t take some monumental icon or tourist attraction to wow me. For me, it’s all about what moves me emotionally, what touches my heart and soul, a connection, a feeling of being nurtured and of belonging – not me belonging to a particular place or a place being somehow mine simply because I’m a citizen of this country, but a merging: a feeling of oneness. A beauty and serenity that is within and around me. Something subtle yet obvious, to me. Yes, a feeling, a connection, an awareness.

Often, a fantastic attraction that sees hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of tourists or visitors annually, leaves me dulled, presumably by the massive whirlpool of energy that remains – in comparison, a simple natural place that is only visited by those who are delighted by solitude and understated beauty can be spiritually awesome, for me. Today, the two separate places left me mulling over the unmistakable difference that grand and simple can often affect upon me, and why, and I am more aware of me as a result.

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Travelling – Sitting on a mountain

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A mountain only by Australian standards. Elsewhere in the world it would be classed as a rocky hill. East Mount Barren in Fitzgerald National Park on the southern coast of Western Australia.

And it doesn’t matter that I only made it to the foothills. Size and scale don’t equate to success or notoriety in my world, for my soul has been touched by the magic of nature. That’s a beautiful and all powerful experience.

I’m perched on a chunk of granite with a splendid view of ocean, beach, mountains and bushland, all bathed in brilliant early-morning sunshine. A gentle breeze whispers to me. The solitude is precious. Birdsong, waves rolling in to the beach – no human-made sounds. Sunshine is warm on my back. The moment is perfect, and this moment is all there is.

I put my pen down and soak in the tranquility and beauty. It is now a part of me.

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Travelling – Vineyards and orchards, Mallee and saltbush

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Dry, dusty inland Australia – the sky belongs to raptors and ravens. The land ‘belongs’ to humans to do with as ‘they’ see fit.

I don’t agree that particularly thirsty crops like cotton and rice have a place in Australian agriculture, but, I do appreciate the expertise, employment, and economic value and sense of pride that goes with these industries in rural communities. Travelling west from Hay in the Riverina, vast paddocks of cotton spread across the landscape, giving way to even bigger paddocks of wheat stubble. Not a tree in sight. Wait. There’s one. Just imagine the noisy scuffles in those branches when the whole bird kingdom feels the urge to nest at once.

Murrumbidgee River irrigation gives way to Murray River irrigation as we drive into the Riverland district of Renmark and Berri. Acres of quality vineyards and citrus orchards butt up to parched Mallee and saltbush country. The strategic placement of dripping water produces lush and bountiful fruit crops, not a drop goes elsewhere.

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Citrus orchards butt right up to parched natural Mallee and saltbush country

The might River Murray, according to records, is apparently nowhere as mighty as it once was. Over use and mis-use. I can’t verify that, but to my eyes, the Murray is still a splendid river, running wide and clean, lined with grand River Red Gums and weeping Willows. But I am just an on-looker.

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And, I was overjoyed to see for myself that water is being allocated to maintain wetlands vital to water-birds’ health and wellbeing. What progress it is to see Murray River water diverted into wetlands surrounded by saltbush and sun-baked earth. Governmental view of environmental needs is finally making some slim changes that evoke hope.

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As we prepare to leave the Murray River, I feel sure we won’t find another that can stand anywhere near its grandeur until we trip around Australia and find ourselves back here.

 

Travelling – From tropical coast to dry inland

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Thousands of mangled kangaroo carcasses litter the roadside – some desiccated fur and bleached bones, others fresh and being devoured by ravens and raptors. A ghastly sight, but not much is wasted.

Mobs of kangaroos suffer the midday sun, searching out a morsel of grass worth eating. As brutal as it might sound, motorists unintentionally running the roos down are doing them and their kind a favour. The drought is harsh.

Creeks are bone-dry, rivers reduced to chains of stagnant puddles, farm dams are not much better. Emus wander aimlessly across abandoned paddocks, camouflaged against the grey bushland.

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Acacias are beginning to bloom – today is national Wattle Day. Occasional thickets of cypress and weeping wilga share the landscape with the wattle and eucalypts. Hundreds of kilometres of the grey semi-arid vegetation and dusty earth becomes monotonous, so we pull over to rest and watch the birdlife. It’s only when you stop and take the time to observe the land that the birds reveal themselves.

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Varied Sittella
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White-plumed Honeyeaters

We left the tropical Queensland coast and mountains behind a few days ago. Instead of sandy beaches lined with palms, we now have sandy plains, bull dust swirling as a willy-willy whips up the bare ground, and scrub struggling to survive.

The further west we travel, the less traffic we encounter. An occasional caravanner dodging road-kill, like us, and road trains ploughing through them. Australia is a vast and diverse country and I feel fortunate to travel in comfort and safety, and although the scenery is dull in colour and sparse in density, there is beauty all around for those who appreciate the details of nature.

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A storm on the beach

With just enough light to find my way along the track, I headed to the beach at dawn. What a contrast to yesterday’s scene. An enormous bank of cloud towered above the outlying  islands. Black and threatening. Lightning flashed, and rain was falling way out at sea.

Again, I sat on a pillow  of sea-grass, watching the weather spectacle unfold, feeling blessed for this special encounter. A swathe of rain moved closer to shore, so I took a brisk walk off the beach, to be taken by surprise at the speed the rain arrived. On impulse, I popped into the beach-side restaurant for breakfast. I would weather the storm, dry and comfortable. From a window seat I enjoyed the changing patterns and colours of the sky.

Eerie muted yellow light filtered out as the sun rose. The rain didn’t amount to much, but the impromptu omelette and mushrooms was delicious.

I soaked up all the blessings of the moment.

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Travelling – The tranquillity of The Coorong

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Two ferry crossings, samphire/farming/lake scenery and a short stretch of corrugated track took us to Long Point on The Coorong (southern coast of South Australia). Grey sky didn’t detract from the absolute tranquillity of this special place.

Pelicans, terns and water-fowl preened themselves as they perched on exposed rocks. Watching birds preening is such a charming sight. They all have their own specialised techniques of cleaning and smoothing feathers, drawing oils down the precious plumes so that everything works perfectly. Then with heads tucked under wings, they become statues.

A lone seal basked on the jetty in the practically non-existent late autumn sun, standing to attention as I approached. The huge animal plopped into the water with barely a splash.

It was the most delightful, laugh-out-loud experience to witness the sleek and agile seal bath and play. Both front flippers rubbed the face with attention to detail that any mother would applaud, then rolled over and over, rubbed its belly, and finally lay on its back with flippers waving in the air like semaphore flags. And then it appeared to just zone out as it floated, arms on belly, eyes closed.

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I could hear the faint crash of surf, hidden on the far side of the dunes. The occasional cry of gulls was the only other sound across the expanse of glassy water. Harmony – that’s what it felt like, with human and nature as one.

Rippling water announced the seal’s return to the jetty. After one final wipe of the nose and rub of the belly, it  hauled itself onto the step, took a breather, then dragged its bulk onto the platform, where it promptly settled down to snooze.

A cold wind whipped up and drizzling rain moved across the sand hills towards us. We’d had the best the morning had to offer, so we took to the road again, finding a lakeside restaurant with a pleasant sheltered garden eatery, and ordered a Sunday roast lunch and pot of tea. More special memories.

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