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Monday, 19 June 2017

First Visit to Australia, Pt 3: Out West


It has taken me a ridiculous amount of time to get around to this. My excuse is that over the past few weeks I have completed a new book, edited and sold another one, and struggled manfully to get two allotments into shape at a time of year when vegetables, fruit and weeds are growing, visibly, every day - and in our part of the country, if there's no cloud cover, a day lasts around 20 hours.

Our camper-van, parked, with great skill, in a cousin's garden
 
From Tasmania we flew into Perth and picked up a rather splendid motor caravan. This was a first for both of us, but don’t run away with the idea that we have crossed some kind of age divide. The fact is, that with eight cousins to visit, some of whom A hadn’t seen in 50+ years, we were in for a lot of travelling, would be visiting several scattered towns around W.A., and we wanted to ensure that we could get out into the country as much as time allowed. However, we enjoyed the van, and indeed it did feel a little like proper camping, at times.

We didn’t linger in Perth, but headed east intro true WA country. Our destination was Kellaberrin, where A’s cousin has run a bush hospital for thirty-odd years. We were treated to a tour of the place, a highlight being the room in which patients who might be traumatised in a road traffic accident can be treated under the direction of surgeons 300 miles away in Perth through the medium of two CCTV cameras. The equipment has enabled them to save a number of lives that might have been lost in earlier times.

Western Australia is a dry country, and we were to discover that many of the towns along the highway that links Perth and Kalgoorlie are only viable thanks to the remarkable Goldfields and Agricultural Region Water Supply Scheme. The man behind it – and the big, fat pipe that carries water hundreds of miles east from the Mundaring Weir near Perth, and the lesser pipes that run to smaller towns – was C.Y. O’Connor. Sadly – tragically – he didn’t live to see his vision implemented. For some time it was mocked as delusory and impracticable; and it seems that the final straw for him was a newspaper accusation of corruption. He took his own life in march 1902, shortly before the scheme was completed. And it worked: many towns and settlements in that part of the state rely entirely on his scheme for their survival.

The old pumping station at Cunderdin, now replaced by an electric motor...

...and its identifying sign

From Kelleberrin we drove down to Wave Rock, a wonderful natural formation:

 

It's part of a huge outcrop of granite. As well as being a scenic wonder it is used to collect water, via a series of crude rock walls that direct the flow into a sizeable lagoon:  


 

Our next stop was at one of the family farms, down near Mount Barker. We stayed there three nights and got a thorough immersion in the day-to-day running of the place. They grow canola, wheat and clover (as a a fallow crop, to plough into a soil that basically consists of granite-based gravel and an inch or two of sand), as well as sheep – for meat and wool.

 
Hard to believe that this "soil" yields an excellent crop of wheat or canola

We arrived after harvesting, and right after the stubble-burning - the peaks of the Stirling Range in the background
 
After our tour of the farm we had a day of in the nearby Stirling Range, climbing to the top of the highest peak, from where we had a view, in the far distance, of our next destination, Albany
 
Not exactly a view of Albany, but we were able to see ships at anchor outside the harbour
 
At Albany, as in a number of places we visited, we dedicated time to catching up with relatives and weren't able to do more than capture a flavour of the town.

It was almost impossible to get the whole of Albany in a single shot, but this gives you an idea - of a modest sized place scattered around a series of natural harbours 

From Albany we returned to the Stirling Range for a couple of days' rest in a beautiful, peaceful camping ground. Our aim was to climb Bluff Knoll: not a great height, but one of those walks which offers very little in the way of resting-places. You just keep climbing and climbing for three hours or so and there you are, at the top. A picnic, a few photos and then it's time for the long, non-stop descent.

We got lucky at Bluff Knoll. The peak was obscured all morning, but as we made the last few hundred yards the clouds were swept away, leaving us with superb views
  
From Bluff Knoll we made our way to the coast again, at Bunbury. More cousins, more stories of the old days, and a memorable evening stroll along a huge deserted beach lapped by warm waves.  


 
We were due to fly home from Perth, after rounding up a couple more cousins who took us out to the Botanic Gardens, from where you get a wonderful view of the city.

 



And then  it was off to the airport and home. A wonderful holiday, during which we were blessed with kind weather - never too hot or too cool - magnificent natural surroundings, and good company.