P for Point Nepean

PEver since I wrote in the 2017 A to Z about John’s great-great-grandparents’ experience at the Quarantine Station in Melbourne we have both been keen to see it for ourselves. Here is an extract from the blog:

The ship’s record on the “Percy” shows John aged 39, a miner, Margaret aged 42, Andrew 17, Ellen Curry 14 (listed as a servant), James 12 and John aged 9.
There had been nine deaths on the voyage from suspected typhus, fever and the effects of overcrowding.  The ship was placed in Quarantine at the Sanitary Station on arrival in Melbourne on 17th April 1870 until 25th April.
We noted on the shipping list that four people were detained for another week after the rest of the passengers were towed on board the ship to Hobson’s Bay. Two of those were Margaret and John Curry!  We found from other sources that on the 21st April Margaret gave birth to a baby girl, Margaret.  I wonder what happened to the rest of the family while the parents stayed at the Sanitary Station?

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It was Sunday, 10th February 2019 when we arrived in Rosebud, on the Mornington Peninsula. The Foreshore Camping Office gave us two options for our campsite in the bayside town of Rye. As we were reversing onto a flat area in amongst stunted gums and banksias, three men came over and demanded we move as we were on their access road. Moving to the second site before an argument broke out we found a reasonably flat area surrounded by less hostile campers. It seemed that people camped here for months every summer and were very possessive of their piece of dirt.

Beach at Sorrento

The next day we set off for Point Nepean National Park, not quite sure what we would see. On the way, we passed the historic seaside town of Sorrento, with an ocean beach on one side and Port Phillip Bay on the other. Next town was Portsea was where our former Prime Minister Harold Holt once lived (more about him later). We pulled into the carpark at the Quarantine Station and spoke to the ranger at the Tourist Information Centre.

We were told it is the second oldest permanent quarantine station in Australia (1852 – 1980). In amongst the 50 plus heritage listed buildings, we were able to identify where John Curry and his family would have slept and even where the baby would have been born. We saw the outside kitchens where the family would have prepared their own meals.

The accommodation used by the Curry family in 1870
Kitchen building out the back
Inside the hospital


Standing on the beach we imagined them being rowed ashore from the “Percy” and feeling dry land under their feet after three months at sea. Margaret would have been pleased she was to give birth in a hospital instead of a lurching, damp and smelly ship.

The beach where they landed

Eighteen years before the Currys arrived, a notorious ship called the Ticonderoga appeared off the heads of Port Phillip Bay, flying the yellow quarantine flag. It had left Liverpool with 795 passengers and 48 crew. During the voyage around 100 passengers died of typhus. As the ship was moored off Point Nepean, the headland was turned into a makeshift quarantine station with 70 more dying after they reached the land.

Michael Veitch wrote the book Hell Ship – The true story of the plague ship Ticonderoga, one of the most calamitous voyages in Australian history, in 2018, and developed a one-person play from it.

Fumigation of belongings
Boiler for sterilizing clothes

Construction of the Quarantine Station proper began not long after the Ticonderoga incident. Five large accommodation blocks were constructed in 1858-59, one for sick passengers and four for those unaffected but quarantined none the less. Following Federation in 1901 control passed to the Commonwealth Government. In the period November 1918 to August 1919 almost 12,000 passengers were quarantined here during the worldwide Spanish flu pandemic.

With advances in modern medicine, the need for a Quarantine Station declined and in 1952 the Department of Defence took over some of the buildings. Nowadays it is a popular tourist destination.

IMG_2587We noticed that a bus left for Fort Nepean every hour. After exploring the Quarantine Station for several hours and eating our picnic lunch (there is no food available there) we paid our $10 and set off on a further adventure. Not knowing what to expect we learnt the fort had been built in 1878 to guard against enemy attack.

Above and below ground we found gun emplacements, barracks, tunnels, ammunition magazines, an engine house and a bomb-proof room. I liked the story about the first shot of the British Empire in WWI coming from here.


The first shot fired after WW1 was declared
Fort Queenscliff at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay

On 5 August 1914, the German ship SS Pfalz attempted to escape from Port Phillip. Within minutes of being notified that war had been declared, Lieutenant-Colonel Sandford at Fort Queenscliff gave an order to Lieutenant C Morris, the Fire Commander at Fort Nepean, to “stop her or sink her”. After the Pfalz ignored signals to halt, the B1 gun fired across her bow. The Pfalz then turned around and the crew was arrested at Portsea. I wondered what happened to the German crew after their arrest. Apparently, they were released into the community, with the condition that they register at a police station once a week.

In March 1915 they were interned in camps with other Germans and German Australians.  The officers were sent to the old Berrima Gaol and the crew sent to Holsworthy near Liverpool, NSW. (More on that in Y for Yerrinbool)

Fort Nepean

In World War 2 Point Nepean made another first. At 1.30am on 4 September 1939, within hours of war being declared, the A1 gun fired across the bow of a ship which failed to identify itself. The ship then identified as the Australian freighter SS Woniora. I would think the crew would have reacted very quickly after that lapse of protocol.

John and I were thinking we would get off the bus at the Harold Holt Memorial and then wait for the next one but our driver anticipated our thoughts. He announced he would stop for fifteen minutes to allow people to walk to the site, take a few photos and wonder, “What did happen to Harold Holt?”

Cheviot Beach where Harold Holt drowned

It was December 1967. I was in 5th year at High School. We all tuned in to the television to hear the news that our 59-year-old Prime Minister had gone swimming in the treacherous waters at Cheviot Beach and drowned.

Soon, the conspiracy theories began to fly. Had Mr Holt been assassinated by the CIA because he intended to pull Australian troops out of Vietnam? Had he committed suicide? Had he been spirited away by a Russian submarine because he was a spy for Moscow? Or had he faked his drowning – as the former British MP John Stonehouse did in 1974 – to join a lover in the south of France?

Harold Holt on the beach with his daughters-in-law, circa 1966.
Photograph: Evening Standard/Getty Images

As a Prime Minister, he is remembered not for what he achieved but for getting himself drowned. John was in England at the time and recalls the newspapers featuring Holt and his three bikini-clad daughters-in-law standing on a beach.

Now we were able to stand on a cliff overlooking Cheviot Beach where all those years ago Harold dived into the surf and was swept away, never to be found.

It was the end of another amazing day in our search for the stories that make up the history of our land.

O for Olgas

OKata Tjuta (The Olgas) is part of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and is often overlooked when considering a visit to the big red rock in Central Australia known as Ayers Rock or Uluru.

Kata Tjuta

It was way back in 1969 that I first set eyes on the 36 conglomerate domes that make up Kata Tjuta.  All I said in my diary was that after climbing Ayers Rock we travelled to the Olgas, ate lunch and wandered around for a bit.  I can still recall wanting to explore the paths winding in amongst the domes but instead, we all piled into the bus and travelled the 25 kilometres back to the base of Ayers Rock which we then circumnavigated on foot.

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In 2001 we were back, this time with the A-Van.  Our son was on a university vacation so he flew into Alice Springs, where we met him and travelled the 360 kilometres to the Ayers Rock Campground.  It had changed considerably in the intervening years.  In 1969 we pitched our tents at the base of the rock and had no qualms about climbing to the top.  Now, in 2001, the campground had been moved 15 kilometres from its former location and was part of a larger resort featuring some very expensive accommodation.  Climbing the rock was a hotly debated issue as the wishes of the local Aboriginal people were being taken into consideration for the first time.

Although I had no desire to climb the rock again my son ran to the top and back like a young gazelle and begged us to join him.  At 50 years of age, I found this a lot more difficult than when I was 18.  There are some chains attached to the rock for the first part of the steep climb but when they abruptly stop it as if the rock is saying, “go back”.  There are broken white lines to follow so one doesn’t get hopelessly lost and some steep sections where I required some pushing from behind.

Looking down from Uluru

Getting down again was tricky as it would be easy to go rolling down the side of the rock.  I slid on my bottom in a rather undignified way and was very pleased to be on flat land.  Back in ’69, we signed a visitor’s book at the top of the rock, kept in a covered box.  There was no sign of that 32 years later as the number of visitors climbing the rock had increased exponentially.  Although no thought was given to the Aboriginal significance of the area we were given a lesson in geology by our Teachers College lecturers.  As I wrote in my diary:

Once upon a time, there was a large mountain range in Central Australia which was weathered away completely.  These pieces were deposited as sediment when there was a great inland sea.  The subsequent rock formed was again weathered away over time, leaving Ayers Rock and the Olgas, the latter being composed of much coarser particles.

In 2001 I hoped to explore the Olgas more thoroughly but wildfires totally blocked the road to Kata Tjuta.  We returned to Alice Springs and explored the West McDonnell Ranges before our son flew back home.

It was 2013 when we arrived with our second Toyota Prado and Lotus Caravan. We were travelling with friends and had spent considerable time on the east coast of Australia.  Last stop was King’s Canyon and we were hoping to finally make it to Kata Tjuta this time.  The diary tells the rest.

Mt Connor Wikipedia

The journey from Kings Canyon to Yulara was just over 300 kilometres but seemed longer because we were keen to get to our new destination. The first stop was Curtin Springs where we bought 50 litres of fuel at the incredible price of $2.26 a litre. An eye-catching purple mountain came into view. It was Mount Connor and is often confused with Uluru by those who first see it. It is a Mesa and the sides flare out about halfway down so it is quite different to The Rock.


The first glimpse of Uluru still brought a lump to my throat. The fact that we were playing “I am Australian” on the CD player added to the fervour of the moment.

“We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We’ll share a dream and sing with one voice
I am, you are, we are Australian”

Songwriters: Bruce Woodley / Dobe Newton

Soon we were passing the various types of accommodation in the Ayers Rock Resort Complex. At the bottom end of the pecking order is the campsite but it quite a pleasant caravan park. There is no grass as it is surrounded by red sandhills but we are parked by a small cement slab which is a bonus.

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Ayers Rock campground

After food shopping at the reasonably priced supermarket, we prepared for Happy Hour at the sunset viewing area. We paid our $25 a head park entry fee arriving at four in the afternoon only to find we were almost the only ones there. Eventually, the area filled up and we took photos, drank bubbly and made lots of new friends. Back to the camp for sausages and mashed potato we retired early in preparation for the day ahead.

Sunset at the Rock

Friday, 26/7/13

It was still hovering around zero at dawn although the forecast was for 23 degrees. We dressed appropriately in shorts and t-shirts with some warm layers over the top. Today was the culmination of a desire at the age of 18 to walk through The Olgas as they were called in 1969. This time I was determined to do the full 7.6 kilometre walk through The Valley of the Winds. It doesn’t sound like much but it was a Grade 4 walk and rated difficult so we were not sure what to expect.

Valley of the Winds walk

It wasn’t much more difficult than the Kings Canyon Rim Walk but the rocky terrain made walking and climbing harder. The wonderful thing about it was that it was just so different from all the other walks we have done. The variety at every turn made the walk interesting so my advice to all who go to Kata Tjuta is to do the whole walk. Don’t turn back at the second lookout because by then you have done all the hard work.

The last half of the walk is the easy part and is also the best because you are alone, away from the crowds, surrounded by the towering “heads” of conglomerate rock and walking through a green valley full of wildflowers.

Upside down plant


On the way back we stopped at a viewing platform where we had good views of both Kata Tjuta and Uluru. The most interesting thing I saw was an upside-down plant where the red flowers were under the plant instead of on top, I suppose for protection from the sun. I also learnt that the desert cedar, a funny little tree shaped like a feather duster, is able to channel every drop of water into its root system. When its roots reach the water table below it branches out and becomes a more regular shaped tree

Saturday, 27/7/13

Our last day at Uluru was restful. We drove around the Rock, taking a side trip out to the new 4.5 million dollar sunrise and sunset viewing platform. It is huge, with parking for hundreds of vehicles. We were the only ones there but it must get busier at dawn and dusk. There is a pleasant walk through the dunes with information signs along the way. The views of Uluru and Kata Tjuta are interesting because they can both be viewed together. 

People climbing Uluru in 2001

I have heard this year that the climb to the top of Uluru is to be closed permanently in November, 2019. This is for many reasons.  One is recognising the cultural traditions of the Aboriginal people of the area and respecting their wishes. Another is safety, as 35 people have died on the rock since climbing records began.

There is still much to see and do in the area without climbing the rock but secretly I still am glad I have done it (twice).

N for New Italy

AtoZ2019NWe have been driving north to Queensland as the weather cools down in the Illawarra for as long as we can remember.  The first night is often spent around Woolgoolga on the NSW north coast and then on the second day, we are usually passing New Italy just about morning coffee time.  The first time we stopped here I wandered around the museum reading the story of the early settlers in the area.  I came out with tears prickling my eyes as the enormity of their struggle sunk in.  The wickedness of those who seek to profit from the gullibility of the poor and desperate is no more evident than in the story of the founders of “New Italy”.

Screen Shot 2019-04-01 at 10.20.12 amIt all began in 1880. A Frenchman of noble rank, Charles Marie Bonaventure du Breil, Marquis de Rays was living in genteel poverty after the revolution had deprived him of the family riches.  He decided to regain his fortune by establishing a colony northeast of Australia to be called La Nouvelle France.  A number of impoverished families in northern Italy were attracted by the appealing advertising.  Each settler was to be given twenty acres of land with a four-room house of wood, stone or brick, free transport to the colony and six months of provisions if they paid the required 1800 francs of gold.  For those unable to afford the total amount they could pay 250 francs and achieve ownership of their land after five years.

The French government was suspicious of de Ray’s scheme almost at once.  The Italian government also tried to deter would-be settlers by refusing passports.  Fifty families persevered and made their way to Marseilles where they were transported to Barcelona by sea.  So determined were they to leave that the Italian government issued passports and washed its hands of the whole affair.  On the 8th July 1880, 317 people left Barcelona on the India bound for a colony called New Breton.  On the 14th October, the ship arrived at the new settlement, situated on the shores of New Ireland (near New Guinea).  There was nothing there.  Dense tropical forest grew down to the sea with no sign of houses or arable land.



The new settlers decided to stay on board the ship, going ashore each day to clear the land and plant seeds.  The HMS Beagle called in from Australia to check on their welfare and also a Wesleyan minister from nearby Duke of York Island expressed serious doubts about the future of the settlement. 

The lack of food and tropical climate began to take its toll as the very young and very old began to die.  Once the monsoons set in the position became intolerable and it was decided to sail for Sydney, Australia.  The captain of the ship preferred to sail to Noumea, a French colony, although the settlers protested violently with deaths occurring every day. 

In Noumea, the passengers were given food but they refused to leave the ship, demanding that they go to Australia.  A request was sent to Sir Henry Parkes, Colonial Secretary of New South Wales.  He replied that they were welcome to come to Australia as “Shipwrecked mariners”.  Fifteen of the former settlers stayed in Noumea because of ill health or bereavement but 217 arrived in Sydney on the 7th April 1881.  Funds, food and clothing were collected and the group was housed in the Agricultural Hall of the Exhibition Building in the Domain. 

The New Italy Settlers    Photograph by Joseph Check, courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

Parkes was keen for them to assimilate and so had no qualms about breaking up friendship and family groups.  With little understanding of their need to stay together after such a traumatic experience, it looked as though the group would be dispersed across the state.  The desire to regroup remained strong and luck came their way when an Italian named Rocco Caminotti noticed that land was available in Northern NSW.  He had met some of the New Breton settlers and knew they wanted to be together.  He and Antonio Pezutti chose a selection of gently undulating land, covered with stringybarks, ironbarks and she-oak trees on Bungawalbyn Creek, a tributary of the much larger Richmond River.

Early days in New Italy

First seven and then another thirteen of the Italian settlers arrived at “La Cella Venezia”.  More kept coming while on the other side of the world, de Rays was sentenced to prison. The group became self-sufficient, growing all the food they need to survive.  The men went out to work in the timber industry to bring in much needed cash.  For three decades timber remained the main industry in New Italy. Sugar cane harvesting was another income producer.  A silk industry began in the 1880s but Depression and fire put an end to that enterprise.  Dairying became lucrative in the 1890s and the settlement provided cream to the local butter factory. 

Some of the original residents of New Italy

The once thriving settlement gradually declined as children grew up and moved elsewhere.  In 1933 the school closed and the only remaining residents were the elderly.  The settlement remained inhabited until 1955 but its disintegration can be attributed to the assimilation of the descendants of the original settlers with other Australians, a result of which Sir Henry Parkes would have heartily approved.

M for Maria Island

AtoZ2019M-to find a gaol

in one of the loveliest spots

formed by the hand of nature

in one of her loneliest solitudes

creates a revulsion of feeling

I cannot describe…

William Smith O’Brien

A day trip to Maria Island on a glorious sunny day is a far cry from the various incarnations of this beautiful but blighted island. As my diary shows, we were happy and excited to visit on February 18, 2010.

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After arriving at Triabunna on Tasmania’s east coast, we walked around the waterfront to the Information Bureau to check on departure times for the Maria Island ferry.  It leaves at 9.30 tomorrow and we think we will take our bikes.  It will be $50 each plus $10 for the bikes.  We will have to take morning tea, lunch, fruit, water, bikes, helmets and suncream…

Another wonderful day.  The weather was perfect for our trip to Maria Island.  We rode the bikes to the jetty and paid for our tickets. Once on the island, our first stop was the commissariat store which is an attractive brick building containing information about the island.  It is one of the few remaining buildings from Maria Island’s first period of European occupation.



Fifty convicts arrived with their military escorts.  They were light offenders, many of whom had already completed service on farms.  It was easy to escape as the mainland was only four kilometres away.  Discipline was considered lax but trades and skills were taught in an effort to reform the prisoners.  The closure in 1832 was a result of the success of the more productive and disciplined settlement at Macquarie Harbour.


The Maria Island settlement of Darlington became a Convict Probation Station and most convicts were employed in agricultural tasks. However, in 1847, Darlington was cleared of all convicts to receive 369 prisoners, directly from England, under a new development in the convict system known as Task Work. Early in November 1849, the Irish political prisoner, William Smith O’Brien (convicted of High Treason) was sent to the island. A friendship developed between the Assistant Superintendent-in-Charge, Samuel Lapham, his daughter and O’Brien resulting in scandal, especially when O’Brien made an unsuccessful attempt to escape to the United States in an American whaler.


On 17 April 1884, an Italian entrepreneur, Diego Bernacchi arrived with a vision to develop the island.  By October 1886 thousands of vines and hundreds of mulberry plants were thriving. The Maria Island Company was floated in 1887 to add agriculture, cement, timber and fishery to the enterprises already undertaken. Signor Bernacchi was resident Managing Director, and Darlington was renamed San Diego. The bustling township of over 250 people had a school, shops, butcher, baker, blacksmith, shoemaker, post office, etc. Then, in 1892 the company went into liquidation and Bernacchi departed for London.


Bernacchi didn’t give up.  After WWI he was back, forming a small company which resulted in a Cement Works opening in 1924.  He died a year later believing his pioneering dreams were realised.  However, the Great Depression put an end to the enterprise in 1930.

Properties were gradually acquired so that in 1971 the island was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary and in 1972 it became a National Park. 

Back to the diary.

Armed with maps of cycling tracks we decided to head off to French’s Farm and hopefully further on to McRae’s Isthmus and Ocean Beach which was supposed to rival Freycinet’s Wineglass Bay.  The first stop was Darlington Township.  It is a mixture of convict buildings and a number of additions by Bernacchi including the Coffee Palace, the front of which is open to tourists.  What we would have given for a coffee!  Unfortunately, there is no food or drink on the island except water.

Coffee Palace (I wish!)

We only rode far as the turnoff to Return Point as the road became sandy and difficult to negotiate.  We probably only had about three kilometres to go to French’s Farm.  When the track was not sandy or uphill it was very rocky. 

IMG_6675I didn’t fall off but it was close a few times.  On the way back we stopped for lunch overlooking Four Mile Beach.  At the Painted Cliffs we left the bikes and walked along the edge of the sandstone exposing layers of gold, bronze and cream. The patterns are caused by groundwater percolating through the sandstone and leaving traces of iron oxide. Weathering in honeycomb patterns and undercutting by the action of the sea have created a photographer’s paradise.


On the way back we called into the Darlington township again, this time to read about William Smith O’Brien, a political prisoner from Ireland who lived in one of the cottages in the convict settlement for two years.  It appears he was quite an honourable character, trying to right the wrongs of the political and social mess that was Ireland.


Back at the Store we ate our apples and considered the next walk/ride.  This was to the Fossil Cliffs.  We left the backpacks in the store and just took our cameras and bikes.  John had brought a heavy bike lock which we didn’t use and cursed it all day.


The fossil cliffs are made of shell and coral fossils which are 290 million years old.  The cliff exposure is recognised as one of the best examples of lower Permian strata in the world.  Bernacchi used them as a source of material for his cement works which operated until 1930.  From the quarry on the edge of the ocean, we had a good view of Mt Bishop and Clerk and saw kangaroos and Cape Barren Geese.  We could see Schouten Island to the North and beyond that, Freycinet Peninsula.

Returning to the store, we collapsed exhausted on the comfy lounges.  I thought I would just lie there and never get up.


L for Lark Quarry

AtoZ2019LThe year was 2007.  We were at a friend’s 70th birthday party and I was deep in conversation with a rather eccentric economics lecturer from the University of Wollongong.

“There are two great natural wonders of the world in Australia,” he announced.  “One is the Great Barrier Reef and the other is Lark Quarry.”

We all know of the Great Barrier Reef but I had never heard of Lark Quarry. He told me that 95 million years ago it was part of a great river plain with a rainfall of over a metre a year.  The surrounding forest was lush and green.  The day of the event, herds of small two-legged dinosaurs came to drink at a lake.  There were carnivorous coelurosaurs about the size of chickens and larger plant-eating ornithopods. A huge meat-eating theropod, smaller than a Tyrannosaurus, was stalking the smaller dinosaurs and then suddenly charged.  The stampeding herd left a mass of footprints as they ran to escape.

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My first thoughts were, “how come the footprints are still there?”  Sun, wind and rain would normally destroy them.  However, the footprints were made in half-dried mud and then it began to rain so that the lake rose, covering the tracks with sandy sediments.  Subsequent floods buried the prints below sand and mud.  Over millions of years, the sediment layers were compressed to form rock.

A local station manager discovered the Dinosaur Trackways in the 1960s  He thought they were fossilised bird tracks.  However, what he was looking at was the world’s only recorded evidence of a dinosaur stampede.

The day after the party we were heading off with our A-van to Queensland and the Northern Territory with the intention of visiting Kakadu National Park, Litchfield National Park, Darwin and now, of course,  Lark Quarry.

On night two of our journey, we set up in a caravan park, meeting up with a friend who taught at the local high school in a small country town.  It was almost school holidays and she brought along a few other members of staff to the club where we had dinner.  They were feeling cheerful at the thought of the two-week break where they would all return to Sydney for a taste of “civilisation”.

That night was windy and the noise from the palm trees deafened our ears as we went to sleep.  I woke in the early morning, feeling excited that we would be crossing the border into Queensland.  John stepped out of the van and called out anxiously, (polite version) “Where’s the car?”

To cut a long, sad story short, it had been stolen.  After being taken on a joy ride it was stripped and totally burnt out.  We caught a ride with the holidaying teachers to a bigger town where we hired a car and drove home.  The van arrived on a truck a week later.

So it was not until 2017, ten years later, that we finally reached Lark Quarry.  With a different car and a different van we set up camp in Winton and drove the 110 kilometres (65 km unsealed) to the Dinosaur Stampede National Monument.  For 95 million years the fossils were sealed underground but exposure to sun, rain, people and wildlife was taking its toll.  A building was constructed to stabilise the temperature and humidity and to keep water, animals and humans off the fragile Trackways.


Did it live up to expectations?  Well, it depends on what one was expecting.  I looked at those footprints, large and small,  and tried to imagine the scene 95 million years ago.  Just getting my head around the timeframe was impossible.  That it was there in front of us, recorded for eternity, made our time on earth seem monumentally insignificant.


K for Kununurra

AtoZ2019KK brings to mind such a list of wonderful places: Kakadu, Katherine, Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta, Kimberley, Kangaroo Island, Kununurra. It is hard to choose just one.  I will settle on Kununurra.  Strictly speaking, it is part of the Kimberley but so are some of the other places I am going to write about further down the track. Like most Australians, I knew Kununurra was somewhere near Lake Argyle, a massive dam constructed to capture the tropical summer rains and irrigate the crops in the dry winters.  I also knew that various crops had been tried and failed.  Sugar cane, cotton and tropical fruits and vegetables succumbed to pests or could not survive the huge distances required to reach a market.

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On our trip around Australia, Kununurra was a totally new experience for us.  Firstly, we had never taken the caravan to Western Australia.  Secondly, I was eager to find out whether the Ord River Scheme had been a success.  Imagine my surprise when I found the most successful crop to date was – Indian Sandalwood!

There are two sandalwood plantations in Kununurra.  My knowledge of sandalwood is limited to a glory box made for my grandmother by her father.  It must have been an old tree to make such a large box because they take many years to grow and are now quite rare.  I didn’t realise the parasitic trees are prized for their aromatic wood and essential oil used in perfumes, cosmetics and medicines.

Sandalwood Plantation TFS Corporation

A kilogram of Indian sandalwood oil now sells for about $3,000, or about five times as much as silver, and prices are rising by at least 20 to 25 per cent a year.  The greatest demand is in China and the traditional source of India is unable to keep up with demand.  The trees take 12 to 15 years to mature and in Kununurra have now reached the stage where they can be harvested.


Before reaching Kununurra we stayed at Lake Argyle Caravan Park.  It was there that we cruised the lake which is 1,000 square kilometres in size and holds up to 10,000 gigalitres.  I made a list of the “big five” in the lake. Fish (catfish and cobbler), freshies (freshwater crocodiles), the agile wallaby, the orb-weaving spider and the jabiru (a bird).  We landed on an island covered in spiders and I assure you we beat a hasty retreat to eat lunch on the boat.  Our guide told us amusing stories of being bitten by a freshie.  They don’t normally bite but she was swinging it by its tail.  The wound got infected and it took a while to recover.  She didn’t recommend that we follow her example.

Back to Kununurra.  The Hidden Valley Caravan Park is surrounded by red cliffs. At sunset they were glowing as of they were on fire.  We climbed Knobby’s Lookout and looked out over the town.  A memorial to three young women, none older than 20, stopped us in our tracks.  They and the pilot had died on a helicopter flight to the Bungle Bungles.  That was where we were going but in an aeroplane, not a helicopter.


However, before we risked life and limb flying to the Bungles, we drove the 105 kilometres to Wyndham.  Established in 1886 it was a port on the way to a short-lived Gold Rush.  Then it serviced the beef industry and from 1919 the meat works exported beef to Britain.  That closed in 1985.  It was also part of the Overland Telegraph and played a part in WW1. In the 1930s it was the Australian landing point for aviators seeking to establish new solo flying records between England and Australia. In 1935 the Royal Flying Doctor Service (remember John Flynn?) was established in Wyndham.

Crocodile at Wyndham

Today, Wyndham has a population of just 900 people and operates as a working port, servicing the cattle export industry, the mining and tourism industries and the Ord River Project.

Which brings us to mining.  Pink diamonds! Before the discovery of the Argyle diamond, pink diamonds were a scarce resource, emerging only occasionally from a few mines in the world. The subsequent discovery of a volcanic pipe near Lake Argyle has since changed the world of coloured diamonds. Today, this mine is the source of about 90% of the pink diamonds sold worldwide. However, the rarest of all diamonds is set to become even rarer still as this treasured source is limited! It is estimated that by the year 2020 the mine will yield no more.

A selection of Argyle pink diamonds

The day we flew over the Bungle Bungles we saw the diamond mine below us.  The massive Lake Argyle stretched in all directions. 

Lake Argyle

The beehive-shaped towers of the Bungles finally appeared.  They are made up of sandstone and conglomerate rock deposited 375 to 350 million years ago.  The weathering effects of wind and rain have resulted in an awe-inspiring landscape covering 450 square kilometres.

Bungle Bungles

The unusual orange and dark grey banding on the conical rock formations is caused by differences in the layers of sandstone. The darker bands are on the layers of rock which hold more moisture and are a dark algal growth. The orange coloured layers are stained with iron and manganese mineral deposits contained within the sandstone.

Back at the camp, we explored our own Mini Bungles.  Known as Mirimar National Park the rock formations are similar to the Bungles but on a much smaller scale.

Mirimar National Park

After an exciting week in Kununurra, we left our caravan at the Hidden Valley and drove onto the Gibb River Road with a tent and sleeping bags ready to explore the Kimberley.  More of that later in Z for Zebedee.

J for Jerilderie

AtoZ2019JJerilderie seems to be one of those towns you pass through on the way to somewhere else.  It is 674 kilometres from Sydney, 328 km from Melbourne and 735 km from Adelaide.  We have passed through with our caravan many times on the way to or from South Australia.  Sometimes we have stopped for fuel or to eat lunch in our van.  Rarely have we taken the time to look at the town because we are always on the way to somewhere else or in a hurry to get home.

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Jerilderie is probably an approximation of the Jeithi Aboriginal word ‘Djirrildhuray’ which is thought to mean ‘with reeds’ or ‘reedy place’ and probably referred to the banks of Billabong Creek. The first squatters brought their cattle and settled along the creek in the 1840s. From there the town slowly grew, with a few stores, an inn, a post office, school and most importantly for this story, the Bank of New South Wales.

Ned Kelly Australian News and Information Bureau, CanberraNational Archives of Austrailia

The gang – comprising Ned and Dan Kelly, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne – arrived in Jerilderie with £1,000 on their heads. They had killed three policemen and successfully robbed a bank. The date was on Saturday 8 February 1879.

During the evening, after dining at the Woolshed Inn, the gang went to the local police station. Ned yelled out that there had been a murder at the inn. The two officers on duty, Sergeant Devine and Constable Richards, rushed out and were grabbed by the gang and locked up in their own cells.



The robbery took place on the Monday. Around 10.00 am Dan Kelly and Joe Byrne rode to the Royal Hotel. At one end of the building, the Bank of New South Wales had its premises. There were about 30 people in the building and they were all herded at gunpoint into the hotel.  Kelly managed to steal £2,140. He also burned records of the mortgages and planned to return the deeds to the locals.

It was while holding up the bank that Kelly passed the famous “Jerilderie Letter” to the teller. It explains his actions and recounts his deep hatred for the Victorian police. It can be read in its entirety at http://www.nma.gov.au/interactives/jerilderie/home.html.  Its most famous quote is:

And are all my brothers and sisters, and my mother, not to be pitied also, who have no alternative but to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big ugly fat necked wombat headed, big-bellied, magpie legged, narrow hipped, splay-footed sons of Irish bailiffs or English landlords, known as ‘officers of justice’ or ‘Victorian Police’?

Post and Telegraph Station        aussietowns.com

Samuel Gill, who owned the local printery and newspaper office, managed to escape and headed off to raise the alarm. Steve Hart rode to the post and telegraph office where he tried to cut the wires preventing the robbery being reported outside the town. Kelly and Hart headed south into the bush. The reward for the capture of the two Kellys, Byrne and Hart was raised to £2000 per individual. £8,000 for all four.

Jerilderie Courthouse   aussietowns.com

Many of the buildings which existed in 1879 are still standing.  You can still see the Royal Mail Hotel where the Bank of NSW used to occupy one end.  The Jerilderie Courthouse stands opposite the police station where Kelly locked up the two policemen. The tiny Post and Telegraph Station is still there where Hart tried to sever the wires.  The Blacksmith Shop, where the gang had their horses shod, charging it to the police department, is still much as it was 140 years ago.

Blacksmith Shop   aussietowns.com

What of Ned Kelly and his gang?  They all came to a violent end, which is to be expected, and Ned himself was hanged on 11th November 1880.  He was considered a “Robin Hood” character by many and a cold-blooded murderer by others.  An Australian cultural icon, he has inspired the artistic world in every imaginable way.  Next time I pass through Jerilderie I am going to stop a while and recall that fateful weekend in 1879.

I for Illawarra

AtoZ2019IThe Illawarra is where the Lotus lives when she’s not travelling.  She is perched at the top of a steep back yard with access from the street behind.  When it’s time to go travelling she comes down to the front driveway and is packed ready for a life on the road.


The name is given to the region south of Sydney and north of the Shoalhaven, the three main cities being Wollongong, Shellharbour and the town of Kiama. The word Illawarra is derived from the Aboriginal Tharawal word Allowrie. The word is variously translated as “pleasant place near the sea” or “high place near the sea”.


It is a very pleasant place, consisting of a coastal plain, narrow in the north and wider in the south, bounded by the Tasman Sea on the east and the mountainous Illawarra escarpment to the west. In the middle of the region is Lake Illawarra, a shallow lake formed when sediment built up at the entrance to a bay.

Gymea lilies and a view of Wollongong

The traditional industries were coal, steel and farming but in recent times these have become less important with education and health care being the biggest two employers.

When I arrived in the city of Wollongong 50 years ago it was not by choice but because my scholarship to Wagga Wagga Teacher’s College did not meet with my mother’s approval.  She felt she would never see me so she marched into the Department of Education in Sydney and demanded I be moved closer to home and surprisingly they agreed.  Every Friday I was able to catch the little rail motor up the mountain to Moss Vale where my mother would be waiting.  Fate (or the Teachers College) can be blamed for my second-year practice teaching placement when I met my husband. Fate again intervened when my first teaching appointment was in a Wollongong suburb.  It seems I was meant to live here.

University of Wollongong

The university has changed considerably in 50 years.  It went from a provincial feeder college to the University of NSW with 300 students to an international university with over 30,000 students spread over nine domestic and four international campuses.  It originally served the region’s steel industry with Engineering, Science and Metallurgy Faculties.  Some Arts and Commerce were squeezed in somewhere. On the other side of a hockey field was the Teachers College with state of the art gymnasium, library, music auditorium and lecture block.  When I arrived it was already overcrowded so we were bussed to the local Technical College for some of our lectures.  Two years after our arrival we were out in the world teaching children full time.  The pay was lousy but the bond system meant we were guaranteed a job on graduation.  The Teachers’ College has now been absorbed into the university and is no longer detectable in the mass of construction.

For those who live nearby the parking issue is a popular bone of contention but to me, the assets outweigh the inconvenience.  Not everyone can walk to a heated outdoor swimming pool which operates summer and winter or has access to a fully equipped gymnasium.

Wollongong Botanic Gardens

On the other side of the university is the Wollongong Botanic Garden.  It was just getting started when I arrived and I recall being underwhelmed by its lack of maturity but it has transformed into a peaceful and colourful oasis over the past 50 years.

Wedding at Gleniffer Brae

In 1939 the Hoskin’s family home ‘Gleniffer Brae Manor’ was built and still sits on a hill overlooking the Gardens.  Now owned by Wollongong Council and housing the Conservatorium of Music it has also been used as a reception centre and hopefully will be again.  It was a perfect venue for my daughter’s wedding in 2007.


The Illawarra is famed for its Sea Cliff Bridge which leaves the cliffs and winds out over rock platforms to the edge of the sea.  Built to avoid rock falls it is part of a picturesque coastal road once lined with miner’s cottages and now the setting for far grander homes. 

Hang glider and the Seacliff Bridge

Thirty three beaches (with twenty one patrolled) give the locals plenty of choice. For those who would rather avoid the waves, there are the ocean pools, many cut out of the rock by local miners over 100 years ago.  As I child I recall holidaying at Coalcliff where my grandmother had a shack on the hillside above the beach.  It remains my ideal beach, with a rock platform at one end, lots of rocks to clamber on at the other, a lagoon fed by a small rock strewn creek, a crashing surf and an ocean pool.

Our closest beach is North Wollongong where coffee shops and cafes abound.  The Continental Baths is a far cry from Coal Cliff’s rock pool but is still fed by the briny water 0f the sea. 

Belmore Basin on Australia Day, 2005

The Blue Mile draws you along its path until you reach Flagstaff Hill where you can view the two lighthouses.  Wollongong is the only point on the eastern coast of Australia which has two lighthouses.  The Breakwater Lighthouse was built in 1871 and has been inactive since 1974.  The Flagstaff Hill Lighthouse is active.  Restoration work on the former has made it operable once again so that it is used on special occasions.

It takes 40 minutes to walk to the beach from home or about 15 minutes to ride a bike.  There is also a free shuttle bus which travels in a circular direction passing key points such as the University, the Innovation Campus, North Beach, the main shopping centre and Wollongong Hospital.

The two lighthouses

The Illawarra once had a reputation for pollution from its steelworks and associated industries.  One of the biggest emitters of acid and related gases was the ER&S Copper Smelter.  Built in 1909 and predating Hoskin’s steelworks by 19 years, it endeavoured to reduce pollution by constructing the 198 metre Stack in 1965.  The plan was to limit ground-level sulphur dioxide concentrations to acceptable levels.  Public outcry gradually increased and in 2000 the government spent five million dollars moving the Port Kembla School to a safer location.  It was the beginning of the end for the copper smelter due to an ongoing dogged campaign by local residents.


Six years after it closed in 2008  the stack was demolished using explosives.  We were among the thousands of people who waited patiently for the Stack to fall on February 20 2014.   From Flagstaff Hill to Port Kembla people watched, some rejoicing and some nostalgic for former times.

The closure resulted in the loss of around 290 manufacturing jobs.  To put this in context, the Port Kembla steelworks employed around 29,000 during its peak in the 1970s with that number now pared back to around 6,000.  With public sentiment strongly supporting Australian made steel the future of the steelworks is looking reasonably secure.  The spectacular collapse of a local sports stadium during construction, made from imported steel, caused a sudden realisation that Australia must retain its few remaining steel mills.

Further south of Port Kembla is the Shellharbour Marina.  Or almost.  The concept began in the 1980s and yet now in 2019 there is still no water in the marina.  That is not to say it won’t happen. 

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Not long to go now – THE WATERFRONT, Shellcove

A huge housing development with the promise of a boat harbour with 300 wet berths and associated harbourside development and facilities has been very successful.  As the final Waterfront Development takes place, the houses on medium sized blocks give way to townhouses and finally home units.  Over the hill is a glorious beach renowned by surfers called The Farm and behind that is a large State Park called Killalea.  From here you can see the pretty town of Kiama, with its Blowhole and row of historic terrace houses once built for quarry workers but now housing cafes and shops.

Sailing on Lake Illawarra


I have just scraped the surface of the Illawarra so if you are visiting Sydney remember we are only 90 kilometres away.  Just one last photo of the Wollongong Breakwater on a particularly wild day.


H for Horizontal Waterfall

AtoZ2019HThe idea of a Horizontal Waterfall sounds preposterous so of course, we had to see it for ourselves.  We were camped in Derby for a week and investigated the best way to get to what David Attenborough calls “Australia’s most unusual natural wonder.”  It is 110 km north of Derby but can only be accessed by air or sea.  We opted for a seaplane flight and an overnight stay on a houseboat.


The waterfalls are formed by intense tidal currents hurtling through two narrow coastal gorges. Massive tidal movements create a waterfall effect as water banks up against one side of the narrow cliff passage, to be repeated again on the turning tide.

The twin gaps are part of the McLarty Ranges, which have two ridges running parallel approximately 300 metres apart. The first gap is about 20 metres wide and the second, most spectacular gap is about 10 metres wide. The tides in this area have a 10-metre variation which occurs over six and a half hours from low tide to high tide and vice versa. 

At 2.15pm  a courtesy bus picked us up from the caravan park and took us to the airport where we boarded a 14 seat turboprop jet seaplane.

  The scenery below changed from mud flats to crystal clear water and then we saw it.  The two narrow gorges with foaming white water rushing through.  After landing beside a long houseboat we watched sharks being fed from the deck while some brave souls sat in a cage to get as close as possible to the experience of being eaten.

Finally, we were off in a 900hp boat to experience the sensation of riding on a waterfall (horizontally).  Maybe it wasn’t quite as amazing or scary as I had imagined but it was still lots of fun.  We then cruised through bays and creeks marvelling at colourful rock strata and observing a helicopter land on the roof of a boat.

It was BYO drinks but they had been chilling in an esky so we sat on the deck watching the sunset across the shining water.  Barramundi was served for dinner and after watching the stars in the night sky and chatting to fellow guests we retired to a small but comfortable cabin.  Next morning we watched the sunrise as some took off on helicopter flights.  We boarded the boat for yet another trip through the Horizontal Falls as the water was flowing in the opposite direction.


The seaplane trip back was spectacular as we flew over the Buccaneer Archipelago and King Sound.  Finally, the grey water of Derby appeared along with its enormous circular jetty.  We were back on dry land ready to turn south on our circumnavigation of Australia.

G for Geraldton

AtoZ2019GYou might think you have already been here on your A to Z journey.  There is so much more to Geraldton than the Abrolhos Islands so  I had to give it its own post.

The evening of our arrival we were drawn to an impressive monument at the top of Mount Scott.  It was the memorial to the HMAS Sydney, sunk in 1941 with the loss of all 645 on board.

The story is surrounded by conspiracy theories and wild conjecture as the loss of every man on board is a mystery.  Books have been written about what may have happened but the facts are that HMAS Sydney was on patrol duty in Australian waters when it observed an unidentified ship.  As it moved to intercept,  the ship identified itself as Straat Malakka, a Dutch merchant.  Suspicious, because it had refused to reply with the secret call sign, the Sydney moved closer.  It was then that the Kormoran, a German auxiliary cruiser, “decamoflaged” and opened fire.


The Sydney was mortally wounded and disappeared in a south-southeasterly direction, sinking almost vertically, her bow torn off.

The Kormoran had also received crippling wounds and the ship was abandoned by the German sailors. 318 out of 399 from the Kormoran survived and were later interred in prisoner-of-war camps in Victoria until 1947.

The wrecks were not found until 2008, although many attempts had been made.  An American shipwreck hunter David Mearns entered into a partnership with not-for-profit company HMAS Sydney Search.  With considerable government grants, they succeeded where others had failed, finding the Kormoran first and later the Sydney.

The first, temporary memorial was installed prior to 19 November 1998 and was used in a remembrance ceremony in that year. During the playing of the Last Post, a large flock of seagulls flew over the participants and headed out to sea in formation.


This inspired part of the permanent memorial.  It has four parts, a stele in the shape of the ship’s prow, a granite wall listing the ship’s company, a bronze statue of a woman looking out to sea and waiting in vain for the cruiser to come home and a dome (of souls) onto which 645 stainless steel seagulls were welded.  The memorial was almost complete by 2001 but it took another 10 years to complete the stele.  A pool of remembrance has also been added showing the position of the wreck on a map.

Before we headed south, we visited the Museum of Geraldton, overlooking the Indian Ocean.  In the Shipwrecks Gallery, we found remains from the ships Batavia, Gilt Dragon, Zuytdorp, and Zeewijk.

As well as the famous Batavia mutiny, there were lesser known tales such as the inspiring saga of the Zeewijk survivors and the unknown fate of other European shipwrecked souls stranded on Western Australian shores.

Like the survivors of the Batavia, it was decided by the Captain of the Zeewijk that a rescue group of eleven of the fittest men and First Mate Pieter Langeweg would take a longboat to Batavia to get help.  They were never heard of again.  Those left behind on Gun Island, on the edge of the Abrolhos, had enough water and food to survive until they built the first European ship ever made in Australia, the Sloepie, 20 metres by 6 metres.  Of the original 208, 82 made it to Batavia.


The gallery features artefacts, clay pipes, silver coins, cannons and the original stone portico which was used as ballast in the ship and was destined to be used in a building in the city of Batavia. 

Replica of the longboat of the Batavia

From the windows, we could see a full-sized replica of the small long boat used by the group consisting of Captain Jacobsz, Francisco Pelsaert, senior officers, a few crew members, and some passengers.  They left the wreck site in a nine metres (30 ft) longboat, in search of drinking water. After an unsuccessful search for water on the mainland, they abandoned the other survivors and headed north in a danger-fraught voyage to the city of Batavia, now known as Jakarta. Pelsaert was able to return and rescue the survivots as well as punishing the perpetrators.

Something I find fascinating is that after the trials and executions, Wouter Loos and a cabin boy, Jan Pelgrom de By, considered only minor offenders, were marooned on mainland Australia, never to be heard of again.  Many theories abound, including that they were taken in by the Aboriginal people, that they had children and that their descendents still live in Australia today.