Monday, August 25, 2014

The Amazing Daintree Discovery Centre

Christina outside the Daintree Discovery Centre
 As a young boy living at Tennant Creek in Central Australia, I was an habitual and invariable fossil collector. Most of the fossils I found were those of trilobites, one of the earliest creatures that had lived in the oceans 600 million years ago. It always enthralled me to know that at age 11 I was holding the fossilised image of something that had lived so much longer ago than I could imagine. And there were thousands of them spread from one end of the outback to the other, many fragmented, others whole.

Christina on the aerial walk
When I visited the Daintree Discovery Centre, I was astonished to know that the rain forest is estimated at 110 million years old, 40 million years older than the Amazon. Trees I touched and photographed had ancestors that evolved all that long ago - before we animals arrived - and lived inordinately long lives before dying, degrading and eventually returning to Mother Earth as is the destiny of all living things.

The Daintree Discovery Centre is a privately owned business that consists of a coffee, food and souvenirs shop with a ticket-selling desk included. It's just a short distance from parking near the main road.  After you buy your entrance ticket, you walk onto an above ground footway (the Daintree  Aerial Walk) that leads to a large interpretive centre and a huge Canopy Tower with several platforms on which you can sit and soak your senses in the peace, tranquillity and greenness of the forest

Tickets, even without a senior's concession are reasonably priced and come with a nicely produced A5 booklet with extensive information about the forest, it's trees, plants and vines, animal life including birds and the elusive cassowary. It has a special section with photos and explanatory text about those fruits, roots etc that the first Australians used before Caucasian, Asian and other African settlers arrived.

The ticket cost includes use of an audio device to listen to descriptions of the different aspects of the forest as you wander around. Each point of interest is numbered and you simply press the number on the audio device and hold it near your ear for the description. The devices have six or seven different language options.

Just the forest
There were far more tourists than birds and hardly any other animal life at all excluding two small skink lizards that scurried across the pathway in front us. Many of the forest inhabitants are, of course, nocturnal and hide during the day, but the absence of birds was disappointing . The most obvious creatures we spotted were butterflies while we were at the top of the tower in the canopy where they can find sunlight. They flitted about but didn't sit long enough to identify their type or to get a decent photo of them.

The Daintree Discovery Centre is only 20-30 km from the Pinnacle Village Caravan Park, Wonga Beach where we stayed. The drive through rain forest is very pleasant and one needs to take a short ferry ride across the Daintree River that costs $13 AUD each way. We returned late afternoon. I don't know about you, but I can only take in so much awe inspiring beauty in a day, so I was pleased to return to the Pinnacles to shower, have dinner and take it easy for the rest of the evening.

The Daintree Discovery Centre, Aerial Walk and Canopy Tower should have a place on everyone's Bucket List. I've added it to mine and ticked it off.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Discovering Mossman Gorge - A Refreshing Interlude

Chris took this photo of me in a strangler fig

Well, there are gorges and gorges. Most times I have seen a sign saying "This or That Gorge", I drive in the direction and there's a fence and lookout overseeing a lovely bit of scenery that takes five minutes to see and photograph.

Mossman Gorge is a whole different ball game.

Mossman Gorge isn't just a fence overlooking something wonderful. It is a whole establishment and national park consisting of the usual main building with coffee shop, clothing, tourist pens, mugs, post cards etc and for a very reasonable fee, you can do a walk alone or pay a bit more and do a guided tour with a genuine part-Aboriginal person.

The whole establishment is an Aboriginal venture, no doubt funded by the Federal and Queensland State Government to provide an employment and income source for local indigenes. Everyone working at Mossman Gorge was an Aboriginal or at least part-Aboriginal. It was good to see so many indigenous people employed and apparently contributing to the tax system instead of sitting around on welfare as so many unfortunately do.

This is one government project that seems to have been highly successful thanks to the high levels of tourism in this region.

Chris and I spent a good three hours walking around the tracks and communing with Mother Nature in her natural, pleasant surrounds. Most noticeable were the huge fig trees known as "strangler figs" because they seed from the branches of other trees, dropping long roots into the ground and eventually taking over the host tree.

If you get to Cairns at some time, do the short trip to Mossman and visit Mossman Gorge.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Memories of High School - Charters Towers, Queensland

My high school days were spent at Thornburgh College, Charters Towers. I'd travel to and from home at Peko Mine outside Tennant Creek (Northern Territory) and spend my school terms beavering away with eight subjects intended to make me marketable and useful to society.

Fortunately, despite my high school education, I managed to do okay in both areas ie, being marketable and useful. (Some would probably say otherwise, but don't listen to them).

Charters Towers was, as most Australians would know (or should know), a roaring city full of gold mines and the only stock exchange outside a capital city in Australia. By the time I went to school, mining had stopped and all that was left of it were dozens of mine shafts and piles of mullock. Mullock is the stuff miners dig out of the ground to get to the ore. It's left in piles here and there across the landscape and serves no useful purpose other than by its absence.

Charters Towers also had the distinction of being a huge repository for ammunition and bombs during World War II. Numerous magazines cut into the sides of the local Tower Hill retained supplies for use by our military. Magazines were hidden underground so that, if the Japanese attacked, they would not be able to identify any of the magazines as targets.

Apart from the education I received at Thornburgh, I also saw a memorial provided by past Thornburgh College students for other past students killed in World War II and Korea. One of two people killed in the Korean War whose name appeared on the memorial plaque was "LT Spence, DFC."

As a 12-14 year-old whose father had been in the RAAF (Australian Air Force), this memorial intrigued me and I wondered who LT Spence was, where he came from and how he had died. It seemed to my young mind then that if my father had died during his WWII service in England, I wouldn't have been reading about our fallen ... I would never have been the spermatazoon that won the conception race.

Having visited the memorial on many occasions, I remembered the name LT Spence.

Almost a lifetime later, In 2012 when I visited Busan in Korea, I visited the United Nations War Memorial in Korea and while strolling among the Australian graves, I came across the grave of "Wing Commander Louis Thomas Spence, DFC and Bar" who had died aged 33. Here was the final resting place of one of Australia's heroes, one of the hundreds of thousands of young Australians who gave their lives so that I and other Australians can live free in a decent country with democracy and all that entails.

Here was the grave of a man whose memorial I had visited on dozens of occasions and whose contribution had been tucked away in my mind for over 50 years. I determined then and there that I would find out more about Louis Spence and do everything to make sure he is remembered.
Wing Commander SPENCE has served his country with honour and distinction and has further enhanced the prestige of the Royal Australian Air Force and in particular No 77 Squadron
- Citation on Bar to Distinguished Flying Cross awarded to Spence.
Wing Commander Louis Spence was born at Bundaberg, Queensland on 4 April 1917 and died in Korea on 9 September 1950 just 33 years later. More information is provided about him here in the RAAF database. Every year on 9 September, I will remember Louis Spence, lest we forget.

If you are an Australian, you could remember someone who has made the sacrifice also so that none of our people is every forgotten. I'm setting up a Facebook group called, "Remember Australia's Heroes" and encouraging people to remember one or more of our fallen servicemen and women.

From Charters Towers we headed to Townsville where we stayed several days.


PS: The above memorial has been updated to include two past-students killed in Vietnam. One, Malcolm McConachy was my friend, so I will also include him in my memorial site.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

From Mount Isa to Richmond in Sheep, Cattle and Fossil Country

Christina at entrance to Kronosaurus Korner

Welcome to Australia's Dinosaur Trail

Hundreds of millions of years ago, dinosaurs, fish, turtles, and other sea creatures lived in the western region of Queensland. Ever since humans inhabited the area, they have been finding fossilised evidence to prove it; tiny fossilised teeth from small fish species and huge heads, backbones, tails and limbs that once propelled gigantic sea-dwelling swimmers through the ancient waterways.

Most of the ancient species have become extinct, but a handful has evolved into more modern animals. 

This cornucopia of ancient plant and animal life has sprung into a much needed tourist attraction in numerous regional towns included within a triangular dinosaur trail between Richmond, Hughenden and Winton. Traditionally sheep and cattle country, these regions have undergone a lengthy drought and rely on alternative forms of income to survive ... enter fossil tourism.

Our interest in staying overnight at Richmond was to visit the local dinosaur display called, Kronosauras Korner, a museum of fossil remains. At Kronosaurus we saw the complete fossilised bone remains of several different dinosaurs and various other smaller creatures.

Overhead projection of dinosaur
The road between Mount Isa and Richmond is bituminised (asphalt for Canadians), but isn’t in good repair so our caravan bobbed up and down for much of the journey and I had to travel slowly quite often to make sure our foodstuffs and cupboard contents didn’t get scrambled or worse still, spread all throughout the caravan.

Richmond has a large caravan parking area for overnight stayers. The photo herein shows how popular it is at this time of year because it’s free. It just needs a toilet block to be perfect.
Richmond's free caravan park

After spending some time at Richmond, we headed east towards Charters Towers and 60 km short of our destination decided to do another free camp at a roadside stop (this one with a toilet) called Reid River rest area. 

As it was Sunday, we couldn’t see any reason to continue to Charters Towers when nothing would be open. 

We pulled out our camp chairs and sat around reading until dinner time, watched television for an hour or two and went to bed.

Ah, the life of a frequent traveller.


Saturday, August 02, 2014

Driving East from Central Australia to Mount Isa

Underground Hospital at Mt Isa
After a late departure we headed north along the Stuart Highway towards Tennant Creek which is 500 km from The Alice. Named after explorer, John McDowell Stuart, the highway runs south to Adelaide, South Australia and north to what we call The Top End of the Territory … Darwin.

It was on the Stuart Highway outside Barrow Creek that my brother was born on 13 December 1961. It was a hot and uncomfortable summer event for my mother and the midwife assisting and led to my brother’s name, Kendall Stuart; Kendall after the midwife and Stuart after the highway near which he was born. Unfortunately, my brother died in 1976 and never got to revisit his birthplace. Every time I drive past Barrow Creek, I think of my mother and Kendall as I did on this occasion.

We hadn’t intended to travel as far as Tennant Creek, but wanted to free camp overnight at the Devil’s Marbles. But, times change and now while camping is allowed, caravan parking overnight isn’t allowed. On we drove to a nicely presented road-side stop at Bonney Well where we stayed overnight before heading to Tennant Creek to the north and then branching east towards Mount Isa on day two.

The trip across the Barkly Highway is long and tedious, but we cruised along at 90 km/hr seeing dozens of other caravaners heading in both directions. At this time of year, many people from southern states head north to warmer climates.

Near Camooweal, about 180 km from Mount Isa, we stopped at the edge of the Georgina River where there were large numbers of birds including brolgas, living in proximity to a few pools of water left over from the last rain. The next morning, we drove the final leg to the Silver City, Mount Isa. As we had lived at Mount Isa for four years from July, 1984, it’s a little like coming home when we visit.

We stayed for two nights giving us time to visit some friends, have dinner at the local Irish Club, and check out some of the changes eg, the underground hospital, is now open to the public (see photos).

Towards the entrance door
When I visited Mount Isa enroute to Charters Towers during my high school years, I had heard of the underground hospital that was built during WWII in anticipation of the Japanese advancing south from Darwin. As Mount Isa is a lead and copper producer and produced raw material for ammunition, military planners had considered it may have been a target had our enemy been able to get so far south. As history tells us, this didn’t happen and patients from the Mount Isa hospital never had to be moved into the underground hospital to keep safe during a Japanese aerial bombardment.

We departed on the second morning and headed east to Richmond.