Each of us has the right and the responsibility to assess the roads which lie ahead, and those over which we have traveled, and if the future road looms ominous or unpromising, and the roads back uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and, carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. -Maya Angelou

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Journey's End?

Uluru -Moon rising
Think with awe on the slow and quiet power of time.

                                                    Friedrich Schiller

The road to Uluru took us through groves of dusty desert oaks before opening out to the vast empty ochre plains of the Red Center. No matter how many pictures you have seen, nothing can prepare you for your first view of Uluru or Ayers Rock. It rises above the surrounding desert like a huge slumbering beast and its ancient spirit overwhelms you. Its not the worlds largest monolith, just the most famous but when you stand at its base and touch the rusty pockmarked surface, the sheer scale of it fills you with awe. It  rises 348 metres, is 9 km around the base,and it is estimated that at least two thirds of this weathered rock lies below the surface.   You have to look at it through the eyes of the traditional owners, the Anangu to fully appreciate its significance. It is sacred to them, the essence of Tjukurpa, the ancient and traditional law that moves through all mankind linking us to nature. They ask you not to climb the rock as it disturbs their sacred sites and a path of spiritual significance taken by a only few aboriginal men on special occasions That does not deter the thousands of  tourists that travel miles just to climb it. This tortuous climb,as high as a 9 storey building up the sheer rock face with only a chain to hold onto, has claimed many lives. Bronze memorial plagues at the base of the climb bear testimony to the recent casualties,the 35 that died ,mostly from heart attacks or by being swept off the summit by the high winds. This was one controversy I was happy to avoid.........climbing was not an option. Vertigo or Vino?.  I choose the later..........no contest! To watch the ever changing colours of the Rock as the sun set was a magical moment and as the moon rose over the horizon I took my final shot of Uluru . It was a fitting end to a memorable love affair with the Northern Territory and one I will never forget.

Ant Heaps at Coober Pedy Opal Mines

The next day we set off down the Stuart Highway to Coober Pedy, Opal capital of the world, and our first stop in South Australia. Opals were first discovered here in 1915. Mullock hills of gravel that the miners have cast aside in their search for the rainbow coloured gemstones look like giant ant heaps It seems unbelievable that anyone would want to live in such a desolate, and treeless hellhole. But Coober Pedy exists for only one reason, Opals, and when the opal fever strikes you, you never escape. Out of the resident population of 4,000 at least half live underground in dugouts or "kupa-piti" (white men holes) to escape the fierce summer temperatures of 60C.These are no ordinary holes mind you, four bed roomed luxury homes some even have swimming pools.Apart from the miners homes,there are bars, restaurants, hotels and churches all underground. There is even a golf course, above ground,without a blade of grass, but golfers carry a small square of astro turf around on which to tee off. This apocalyptic lunar landscape has been used to great effect in films like Mad Max-Beyond Thunder dome, Red Planet and my favorite Priscilla Queen of the Desert. All water has to be imported here and you pay dearly for it...........oh take me back to Mataranka!  A couple of days here and you feel " as dry as a kangaroo's paw ". A week here and you would have severe case of " a few kangaroos loose in your top paddock" and risk going totally loopy. It was fascinating but I was happy to see the back of the place.

Underground Greek Orthodox Church
It didn't get much better further south. We drove for hours through endless dry and barren flat lands covered in saltbush with only the occasional salt lake to break the horizon . Lake Hart is situated on the edge of the Woomera Prohibited Area. One eighth of South Australia or an area twice the size of Tasmania is a no-go zone.  In the post WW11  era of the Cold War secret military testing of more than 4,000 rockets and at least nine devastating atomic bombs took place here. Some areas are still radio active to this day and in one area the tremendous temperatures have fused the sand into shiny bomb glaze.The WPA was also home to a controversial detention center and joint defence projects with Britain involving long range weapons. Conveniently the distance between Woomera and the Pilbara  was the same as London and Moscow! You need numerous permits from the Department of Defense to enter the area but the town of Woomera near Lake Hart is now a tourist destination filled with rocket memorabilia. When we visited it was like a ghost town,never saw a soul, but at least 300 people live here with a cinema, a school which could cater for 1000 students, a bowling alley, huge swimming pool and other essentials that the Americans needed to function when they occupied the town in the 1970's.

Anyone for salt?
We spent two nights bush camping at Lake Hart, it had a stark beauty. At night the desert sky seemed so low , the Milky Way stretching over us like a shimmering gossamer shawl of stars.You felt you could just reach up and grab a fistful .

It was another long haul down to Port Augusta on the Eyre Peninsular and our first glimpse of the Spencer Gulf. We had two choices. Turn right down the peninsular with its picturesque fishing ports along the coast or left into the Clare Valley. We choose the latter and it proved to be a wise choice. With a blustery wind behind us we drove into an area of outstanding pastoral beauty. Fresh spring green acres of barley and wheat, as smooth as billiard tables stretched out to the horizon.  Sheep grazed between chrome yellow seas of canola and fields of purple Salvation Jane. The closer we got to the town of Clare the countryside became softer with rolling hills and under the groves of gum trees splashes of wild white iris and lavender. The hedgerows were full of olive trees laden with fruit and a profusion of pink and white dog roses. After the desert the joy of seeing grass again was like an aphrodisiac to the eyes, and then it started to rain..........

 Yellow seas of canola
We have been here a month now camping next to fields of neat corduroy vines. This valley which has a rich history of first copper mining and then wine making has become a wonderful  place of rest. We have only sampled a few of the delicious wines from some of the 36 wineries but we intend to savour more! We love this beautiful valley, the people are welcoming, and it has a real spirit of creativity . This could well be the place where we will settle and cease our travels. We have made an offer on a small cottage with 2 acres in historical Penwortham and only time will tell if this is "Journey's End"
 Iris Woodland

Soul Food Kitchen

Olive oil and Almond Tart

We tasted this delicious dessert at a local resturant. It makes good use of all the beautiful local produce of this area and is a taste of heaven!

Sweet Pastry
250g plain flour
150g cold butter grated
60g icing sugar
1 egg yolk

Grease a 30 cm flan tin lightly with butter.Mix flour, butter and icing sugar and egg yolk ,bring together to form a dough. Wrap in plastic film and rest in fridge for 30 minutes. Roll out on a floured board to about 3mm thickness. Line flan tin with pastry and rest in fridge for a further 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 160C.

Olive Oil and Almond Filling
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup local olive oil
1/4 cup Annies Lane Botrytis Reisling ( a sweet dessert wine will do)
1/2 cup plain flour
1 cup almond meal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups poached fruit of choice ,drained (tinned raspberrieswould be delicious)
3 egg whites
1/4 cup caster sugar

Cream yolks, sugar and zest until light and fluffy. Slowly add oil, then wine and beat until just combined.Fold through flour, almond meal and baking powder.Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, add sugar and beat till glossy.Fold into the almond mix. Pour into prepared tin and arrange fruit on top. Bake for 40-45 minutes until cooked.

Serve a slice on a plate dusted with icing sugar, a fresh sprig of lavender and a generous dollop of whipped cream.
Almost too pretty to eat.............almost!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

We of the Never Never

Behind the Back of Beyond, in the Land of the Never Never;
a land that bewitches her people.
Called the Never Never  because those who have lived in it , and loved it, Never Never voluntarily leave it.
But those who do leave know that their hearts will Never Never  rest away from it.
                                                          Jeannie Gunn 

We headed down into the Never Never under a pall of smoke. Down into the "Woop Woop, Way out back, Beyond the black stump, to the Red Center.".................... but which ever way you say it its still a long 3,033 ks down the middle of Oz from Darwin to Adelaide. The fires went before us leaving only termite mounds as tombstones in a blackened landscape. We found another Eden at Mataranka, birthplace of Jeannie Gunn's great Australian classic novel We of the Never Never .  Having a hot bath was taken to another level, as we floated serenely downstream on our noodles with the steam rising gently from the thermal springs amid the lush tropical vegetation and bright blue kingfishers. We were only going to stay for a day ......it turned into a week of baths.

Daly Waters

On the road again we had a pitstop at the famous Daly Waters Pub. it was started in the 1930's to service the crews and passengers of Qantas as a refuelling stop. Its walls are festooned with anything the weary traveller can leave as a memento after that ice cold "stubby" Bras, panties, T shirts, foreign currency and more are pinned to every surface. We had a delicious "snag and bum nut toastie" aka sausage and egg toasted sandwich, very tasty. The curio shop  across the road was doing a brisk trade in real kangaroo paw "back scratchers" and stuffed cane toads.......NASTY!  Then it was on to a quick detour round the Devil's Marbles, bum nutts of a more generous size. Huge granite boulders which the local aboriginals claim are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent.
Devils marbles
We have reached the center of OZ and its almost a year since we started our Great Lap. I had heard of,  read about and seen the movie, but was enchanted by the real Alice Springs. The Alice as she is affectionately known by her locals, seems to be the destination of choice for every man and his dog. Over 350,000 visitors a year at the last count, and that's not counting the dogs. Nestled between the scenic Mac Donnell Ranges its a neat town with a strong aboriginal flavour. Shops full of aboriginal art and didgeridoos ,and a strong cultural presence that I hadn't felt before. The air was like champagne ,crisp and clean and a welcomed relief after the humidity and smog of the top end. It was cold! The first few nights we snuggled under double duvets and blankets and took advantage of the camp fires which were lit every night in the caravan park. We explored the surrounding countryside and went to markets where there was some exceptional beautiful aboriginal artwork, full of vibrant colour and quite different to the traditional dot paintings I had seen before.



We spent our last evening huddled next to a roaring fire with other campers singing along  with a local troubadour . We all joined in with those well known Aussie favorites"The pub with no beer"  and "Give me a home among the gumtrees' What talent we lacked we made up with enthusiasm. Besides after a couple of drinks everyone thinks they sing like Freddie.  As the night grew colder ,the southern cross shone brighter , and our songs more sentimental. As  the last strains of "I am, you are, we are Australian" there wasn't a dry eye, even the good old bastard was brushing his cheek.

I came upon the prison ship bowed down by iron chains.
I cleared the land, endured the lash and waited for the rains.
I'm a settler.
I'm a farmer's wife on a dry and barren run
A convict then a free man I became Australian.

I'm the daughter of a digger who sought the mother lode
The girl became a woman on the long and dusty road
I'm a child of the depression
I saw the good times come
I'm a bushy, I'm a battler
I am Australian

I'm a teller of stories
I'm a singer of songs
I am Albert Namatjira
I paint the ghostly gums
I am Clancy on his horse
I'm Ned Kelly on the run
I'm the one who waltzed Matilda
I am Australian

I came from the dream time from the dusty red soil plains
I am the ancient heart, the keeper of the flame
I stood upon the rocky shore
I watched the tall ships come
For forty thousand years I'd been the first Australian.

I'm the hot wind from the desert
I'm the black soil of the plains
I'm the mountains and the valleys
I'm the drought and flooding rains
I am the rock, I am the sky
The rivers when they run
The spirit of this great land
I am Australian

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

Soul Food Kitchen

Red Center Soup. This is a quick and easy recipe to keep you warm on those cold outback nights.

1 x410g tin of Tomato soup
1x210g tin crab meat, drained
1/2 teaspoon dill
1/4 cup cream
salt and pepper
dash of Tabasco

Prepare soup according to directions on tin using milk not water as the liquid. Heat through then add the crab meat and dill. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper and a dash of Tabasco. Swirl through the cream before serving with some warm crusty bread or damper.
"It will warm the cockles of your heart, it will!"