Woods, Waves, Wars and Whales

Perth, WA. 8th January 2016
An easy flight back to Perth, a quick taxi ride back to David’s house. Into bed for a few hours sleep. Then, some jobs to do.
I rode across town to a bike shop that sold Forma boots, an Italian company whose Adventure Rider model had received good reviews. I’d been interested in them for a while and had tried on Paul’s pair. They seem well made, have a waterproof ‘sock’ inside and aren’t too clunky for walking in. I was tempted because my Altberg boots, which had served me well over the previous 70,000kms, had worn out soles. But you know how it is with boots. They have to be just right and these weren’t, so no deal. I’ll just have to get my old ones repaired when I get to a city where I’ll be staying long enough to manage without them for a week or so.




…. and after.

I wasn’t able to get myself a Christmas present but I got some for Doris. I mentioned buying the new screen, before I left for Bali. That got fitted. Sad to see the other one go in many ways, we’d shared some tough times together. But it definitely wasn’t going to survive another tumble on the gravel so it had to go. The other present, courtesy of my friend Paul, from Australind, was a new set of petrol tank pannier bags. He has a friend at work whose wife is clever with canvas and cotton and she made up some replacements for the originals, which had survived many a scrape. And I have to say she did a fantastic job. A Christmas present for me and Doris from Paul. Thanks mate, and just in time as the others were falling apart. Lastly, I replaced the number plate, broken when I came off on the Gibb River Road. Is Australia slowly eating my bike??


Old and every so slightly worn out.

Bright and shiny new. Thanks Paul!

Bright and shiny new. Thanks Paul!

Before I left Perth I sorted out some wiring on David’s Yamaha SR400 and tried to diagnose why it wouldn’t start. There was no spark and some investigation with the multi meter suggests it’s a faulty CDI unit. $200 for a new one, from a supplier in Europe. Ouch! I suggested he get a second opinion before spending that kind of money. Before I left he put me in touch with one of his friends in Malaysia, a potentially useful contact in a country where labour rates are low and a top end rebuild might be on the cards.
But, as always, the time comes to leave behind new friends and move on.
I was heading back to Australind, to stay at Paul’s place for a few days. The problem was going to be getting there. I’d come back to find severe bush fires raging across the countryside south of Perth. As I rode down the freeway I came to a closure and was diverted off. I couldn’t see any diversion signs at the top of the slip road so I went west, towards the coast, as I’d heard the fires were more inland. Thirty kilometres later I came to another closure and had no choice but to turn back. I had a coffee first and chatted to the locals, who told me of a clear route. Once I was on it, I saw diversion signs!


Yarloop blaze

This gets to be serious!

Yarloop fire

An aerial view of Yarloop, once the fire was out.

The route took me through an area I’d ridden before and turned out to be a nice ride, although a long one. It was eerie to see drifting smoke laying in the hollows, just above the ground. Eventually I made it to Paul’s house, several hours and 250kms later than expected. But I was lucky. I’d merely been inconvenienced. Over 120 families had lost their homes and possessions in the town of Yarloop, with over two hundred buildings destroyed in total – the whole town, in effect. These fires stop for nothing, once they get a hold.


The police had closed the road and while I was drinking coffee these guys headed out.

Paul was away on holiday but I was able to stay at his house for a few days while I caught up on some writing, bike maintenance and equipment repairs. Paul is a terrific guy and has been a really good friend to me. How many other people would give you the run of their house while they’re not there? Fortunately I had plans to meet him down on the coast so would be able to thank him then.
On the way south I met up with Gilda, my favourite radiologist, in Manjimup. There’s lots of towns around this area whose names end in ‘up’ and I discovered it’s a local Aboriginal word for ‘place’. Manjin is the name of a reed that was important to them, hence the name. I wonder if the good citizens of Yallingup know it means ‘place of love’?


Doris and Gilda. One dumped me and the other mended me.

Gilda and I wandered around the local timber museum then went for a delicious woodfired pizza meal at a local pub. These are something that Australia does really well and this one was both cooked and served by Italians, probably accounting for the unusual choice in toppings. Gilda is stuck there for a few weeks as she’s on an assignment there but she’ll be in Adelaide after that and I hope to see her there.
Paul and I had already ridden some of this area, and visited some of the very tall trees there. But I was planning to go to the Tree Top Walk and the Ancient Empire Trail. Both were at the same location, deep in the Karri and Tingle forests near the small town of Walpole. But first, taking the advice of the pleasant guy at the visitor centre, I took a roundabout route, through some beautiful forest, to the small town of Northcliffe. Here I learned more about something I’d first heard of in the WA museum in Perth, the Group Settlement Scheme.


Just to give an idea of the size of these trees. Clearing these from the land must have been a job and a half.

A joint enterprise between the Western Australian, Federal and British governments, the scheme encouraged migrants to the area for the purpose of establishing dairy farms. The idea was heavily promoted in Britain by press magnate Viscount Northcliffe’s newspapers, hence the name of the town. Begun in 1921, it was seen as an answer to three problems: high post war unemployment in both Britain and Australia; a way of opening up land in south WA and establishing a dairy industry in the area; reducing reliance on produce imported from other parts of Australia. It was open to Australian and British applicants and was heavily subsidised by the WA state government.
Groups of about twenty men, and their families if they had them, had their passage paid and after a few days of acclimatisation in Perth, were taken out to the area. The ‘Groupies’ from the UK often came out together on the same boat. But far from the cleared land and house they were promised, what they got was around one hundred and fifty acres of virgin forest and tents. They were paid to clear the land, given a grant to buy household equipment and loaned money which, when paid off, would leave them as owners of the land. The idea of setting up groups was to provide the labour needed to clear the land and set up the farms. Over the years the state paid for roads and railways, and provided one teacher schools for the children. But the scheme was considered to be a huge failure and had been abandoned by 1930. The land was poor, extremely difficult to clear and dairy prices were too low to enable the farmers to pay back the loans. Many walked off the land, giving up their entitlement, although those who had nowhere else to go stuck it out. Conditions were harsh, especially before roads and railways were built, and many families suffered deprivation. But the scheme did lay the foundations for the successful dairy industry the region currently has, as well as establishing many towns in the area, although the cost to the state was huge, around £6,500,000.


Eventually, the Groupies had reasonable homes. But it was a long, hard slog to get to this stage.

There were some winners though. The small museum in Northcliffe told the story of a local man who won the contract to supply the timber for the settlers’ houses. There’s a fascinating story about the transportation of a huge steam engine and whim (windlass), needed to power the saw mill. It took up to twenty eight bullocks fourteen days to haul the engine out to the mill from the nearest railhead, and this included building a temporary bridge across one of the rivers. Stirring stuff, and a perfect example of the ingenuity and determination needed to open up new territory.


The thirteen tonne Robey steam engine. Modern technology of its time but hauled in by old style bulls and bullock teams.

On the way to Walpole I stopped at a lookout and bumped into Wayne and Denise, a fifty-something couple who had rented out their house and were touring around Aus with their caravan and two dogs. Wayne is a mechanic and driver and they’d pick up work where they could to fund their travels. They both ride bikes and one of Wayne’s is a Moto Guzzi, so we were happy to talk about Italian V Twins for a while. When I stopped for a coffee in Walpole, I saw them again.
At the Valley of the Giants I was looking forward to walking among some ancient trees and tangling with a Tingle. These trees are found in Red or Yellow varieties and are very tall. They are part of ancient forests which date back to before Gondwanaland separated from Pangaea, around fifty million years ago. Because the climate in this area hasn’t changed as much as in other parts of Australia, many species of flora and fauna have an evolutionary history directly from those times.


They meant it when they said they are big.

As tourism grew it became clear these forests were under threat of damage because the roots of tingle trees do not go very deep. Disturbance of the topsoil has a greater effect than with others so in 1995 construction of a tree top walkway began. A design competition was held, with entries from across Australia and the winning design was fittingly inspired by two of the local plants. It was installed without use of cranes or helicopters so as to minimise its environmental impact. The see through steel decking reinforces the sensation of height – forty metres above the forest floor. Access to this relatively small (6,000 hectare) and unique forest is limited and controlled as part of the preservation plan.
When I bought my entry ticket the woman asked where I was from. I told her London. ‘How long will you be in Australia for?’ she asked. ‘Until I get fed up with you lot’ I replied. She thought that was really funny, as I’d sensed she would. I then added, ‘Which is likely to take a very long time.’ Which is very true. Aussies are great people.


Treetop walkway. A fantastic way to view these giants of the forest.

The walk among the tree tops was interesting, of course. It’s a unique way of looking at trees. It was odd to see how some had trunks that suddenly stopped, but with new trunks and crowns growing alongside. Fire is the reason, the one element that probably shapes Australia’s landscape more than any other. When a tingle tree suffers fire damage to its crown it grows a new one. It has to, otherwise it would die. They live for up to four hundred years and can reach a height of eighty metres in the case of the Red Tingle, the Yellow Tingle a little less.
The Ancient Empire boardwalk takes you through the forest at ground level. There’s plenty of info boards about the trees and other plants, as well as the animals that live among them. The older tingles often have holes at the base of the trunk, started out by insect activity and accelerated by fire. The base can be twenty metres in circumference, because of the buttressed root system. The V shaped holes in some trees were easily big enough to walk through and, in some cases, to drive through. Despite this seemingly life threatening damage, the tree will still be growing.
Back at the ticket office I bumped into Wayne and Denise again and, having already chatted to one of the wardens who owned several Moto Guzzis, we enjoyed an impromptu owners club meeting. On many different levels, this is a most excellent place.


Wayne and Denise. Like many others, touring and enjoying their country.

The final part of my day had me riding down to the seaside town of Denmark, and to the Ocean Beach caravan park to join Paul and his family. He had talked to reception about my arrival and they were happy for me to pay the extra person fee and camp on Paul’s site, which saved me the full camping fee. Their friends Stuart, Jenny and daughters were camped alongside them and I was welcomed by all.
It’s sometimes tempting to do things the easy way, get lazy and bask in other people’s hospitality. But I was concious of how easy it is to overdo that. So although I spent evenings with my friends I made sure I left them to enjoy their family time during the day, while I went off and explored the area. This part of WA’s south coast has some beautiful bays and natural features, as well as the usual touristic venues, so it wasn’t difficult to plan a day out. The weather was a bit mixed but I wasn’t planning to sunbathe anyway, so it suited me. My first port of call was Greens Pool and next to that, Elephant Rocks.


Green’s Pool. Great for seaside holiday fun.

Greens Pool is a nice circular bay, with low level rocks scattered in the shallows, just right for the kids to swim out to and play on. There were plenty of families having fun on the busy beach. A short walk over a low cliff brought me to Elephant Cove, a much smaller bay also with plenty of rocks to clamber over. The main feature here was the collection of large rocks which looked, not surprisingly, a bit like a herd of elephants! Plenty of people here too and I sometimes wonder what they make of me as I wander around, obviously alone.


You can see how they got their name of Elephant Rocks.

Next I went inland a bit, to the Alpaca Farm, a great place for kids, and goats too. The farm is slowly building up enough of a herd to consider selling the alpaca wool commercially, although they’re not there yet. But a comparison between a newly shorn alpaca and its friends suggests they deliver a fair bit. There are ponies, donkeys and a camel too, along with various small animals. I met Eleanor, a biology graduate from Devon, who has been working and volunteering enough to have earned her residency permit. She’s not sure what she’ll do next. When I’d arrived I’d been given a bag of food and was able to go into the alpaca and goat pens to have fun feeding them, as well as the child inside.


Eleanor and her babies.


Paul, Jo, Connor and Jordan. Lovely people and so very kind to me.

A nice ride down a gravel trail through a forest got me back to the coast where I admired a couple more places of note, Conspicuous Point and Parry Bay. The last visit before heading back to camp was to the fish and chip shop in Denmark. The fresh Red Snapper was delicious and the chips plentiful. Then a nice evening chatting with my friends. Stuart and family were leaving the next morning.
Once Stuart had packed up and left Paul, Jo and their boys went off for some surfing while I planned out the next few days and wrote a bit. We went out later to the Boston Brewery where I ate probably the best meal I’ve had since arriving in Australia. It was a Beer Cured Ham Steak and was as big as it was delicious. Tender, tasty and big enough for two people. I managed it though, of course.


Paul, Jo, Connor and Jordan. Lovely people and so very kind to me.

Paul, Jo and the boys were leaving next day so our last evening was good although tinged with sadness. We’ve become very good friends and I’ll miss them. Just to emphasise the point the rain started hammering down in the early hours and was still going strong while hey were packing their gear away in the morning. Everyone got wet, although needless to say the rain stopped once everything was stowed. Paul has a camping trailer with a large, fold-out tent and I was impressed by how everything went back neatly into it, although it will all have to come back out to be dried off when the sun returns. They had a five hour drive back to Australind and set off as soon as they could, leaving me behind to get myself packed and organised. I was very sorry to see them go and although I hope to meet up with Paul again, It’s unlikely I’ll ever see Jo, Connor or Jordan any more. It’s great to make friends when you travel, but always sad to say goodbye, and a little bit of my heart went north with them.
A couple of hours riding got me to Albany, the next town eastwards along the coast, and quite a big one. I arrived at the same time as the next batch of rain. Albany has several claims to fame in Australia and WA’s history. It was the first town settled in the state and was, until Fremantle took over, the busiest port. It was the departure point for the ANZAC fleet that sailed to Egypt and then Gallipoli, delivering thousands of Diggers and Kiwis to those fields of slaughter. This relationship between the town and the departing ANZACs led to the National ANZAC Centre being sited there. More on that later.
So, plenty to see in Albany. Enough to keep me there five days though? Let’s see.


The Brig Amity.

On a cloudy morning I walked down towards the seafront to take a look at the full sized replica of the brig Amity. This ship brought the first Western Australian settlers to King George Sound from Sydney, a mixture of soldiers, convicts and support staff. Up to this point the only visitors had been sealers and whalers. Several explorers had mapped the coast but it was the arrival of the French explorer, Dumont D’Urville, which made the authorities in Sydney appreciate the risk of France claiming the south west coast. When Perth was established in 1829 it was a non-convict settlement and the city objected to Albany having convicts and also to having a town within the new state being run as a military establishment by New South Wales. Relations between states often involved a degree of rivalry. The governor of NSW was happy to hand it over as it was a costly exercise anyway, so Albany officially became part of the Swan River Colony (later WA).
The town slowly grew and benefited from being WA’s only deep water harbour. Settlers from other parts of Australia, and from abroad, landed there and in the late 19th C gold rush the port became very busy. The harbour was important enough to warrant the building of the Princess Royal Fort in the 1890s, with funding from all Australian states, and guns supplied by the British military. Australia’s first example of federated action even though the federation was yet to be set up.


Albany’s famous Dog Rock.

Albany never really became a big commercial centre, more of a stepping off point to the inland regions and a supply point for pastoralists. The one exception to that is the whaling industry, with a factory being established in 1952 but closing in 1978. Today it is more about tourism and good living although the port is still busy. The population is over 30,000 now.
After looking over the Amity I visited the local museum, very much enjoying the photographic exhibition in the upstairs gallery. There were some stunning wildlife pictures there. While in an arty mood I went to the Vancouver Art Centre and enjoyed their display, particularly the paintings with an indigenous theme. Gilda had recommended the nearby Vancouver Street café, so I checked them out too.


I love these Aboriginal inspired paintings, often based on Dreamtime stories.

I’d been to the visitor centre the day before but called by again, only to find it closed. But set up next to it was a van offering hearing tests. I know I’m suffering from age related hearing loss so I thought I’d get checked out. I wasn’t surprised to find my hearing has deteriorated but was surprised by how much worse my right ear is than my left. The tester told me that the psychological effect of it can become chronic if left too long, even if a hearing aid is fitted. Maybe it’s time to do something about it. The only thing that worries me is that I wear ear plugs when I’m riding so how would that work?
The next day it rained, too much to go out in, apart from a walk to the shops. It didn’t matter as I had domestic problems to solve. These things aren’t always easy when you’re a long way from home and with an eight hour time difference. Firstly, the boiler in my house was playing up. Fortunately my very good neighbour, Keith, was able to check it for me, then get an engineer in to assess it and finally organise a replacement. Yes, £2,000, just like that! Happy tenants though, and it is tax deductible, which is some compensation.
Secondly, the clutch on the bike is giving early warning signs of imminent problems. Nothing too drastic yet. I have some spare plates back at base camp but they couldn’t be found, at first. Eventually they revealed themselves and are now in the post, to be collected at Esperance, one of the towns I’m slowly heading to.
Thirdly, I now have a credit card problem. I was trying to top up my international SIM card and between the website and my bank, payment was refused. I suppose I shouldn’t have kept trying it, six times in all, because Visa thought there was something funny going on and decided there was a security risk, and cancelled it. Once they do that there’s no way back and the new one will have to be sent out to me – somewhere! If anyone reading this is planning to go travelling, make sure you have a second credit card and, if you can manage it, a second debit card too. I’m very glad that I do.


Statue of Kemal Attaturk, peacemaker and father of modern Turkey.

Albany is surrounded by national parks and good beaches so, the rain having blown away, I went for a walk along the coastal trail to Middleton Beach, via Ellen Cove, once a popular destination for tourist laden boats. As the cloud slowly cleared I could get good views of King George’s Sound and the Princess Royal Harbour. It was easy to see why ships found it a safe haven. The harbour especially is surrounded on all sides by land, apart from the narrow entry point. There were several look out points placed on the higher part of the path, very useful for whale watching at the right time of year. I read that migrating whales like to linger close to this coast to play around, much to the delight of tourists and the boat skippers who take them out to watch them.
One quite moving exhibit along the track was a statue of Kemnal Attaturk, Turkish Prime Minister from 1923 to 1938. With more relevance though, he was the leader of the Turkish forces at Gallipoli. He is famous for this quote, from 1934, dedicated to the ANZACS: “Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.” The channel his statue overlooks is named after him. I wonder what he would think of those ruling his country now?


Gunner’s eye view of St Georges Sound, from the Princess Royal fort.

On the way back I diverted up the hill to visit the the National ANZAC Centre at the Princess Royal Fortress. Newly built in time for the 1914 centenary, the centre is very interactive and focusses on the personal stories of thirty participants in the battles at Gallipoli, as well as covering activities of the mounted desert forces who later fought in Sinai and Egypt. You get provided with an audio guide and given a card with a soldier’s name on it. At various points around the display you can place this card on a reader and the screen next to it will give you information on ‘your’ soldier and what had happened to him at that point in time. Mine started the war as a corporal, survived, fought in WW2 and was a captain by the end of that. He died of cancer in the 1960s. I guess that most others weren’t so lucky.
ANZAC was a name used by the British army to identify the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). It stuck, and is a badge of honour for both countries. It’s no longer used now that NZ has stopped sending troops abroad to fight foreign wars.
The displays are excellent and there’s a huge amount to read through, and exhibits to examine, all laid out in time order. The centre deliberately overlooks King Georges Sound, which was the gathering place for the Australian and New Zealand fleets prior to their departure in late 1914.


At the lookout above Princess Royal fort. It’s not difficult to visualise those ships lined up, ready to sail to Egypt, then Gallipoli. Only about a third of the ANZACS on board returned uninjured.

Outside is the fortress, with guns still in place, and a collection of weaponry from ships and submarines. Albany was also a WW2 American submarine base and there’s plenty of information relating to that too. On the hill top is a viewpoint which has info boards showing all the ships that gathered in the sound below and their names. The whole set up must be quite a moving place for Aussies and Kiwis who had relatives involved in the war. Full of history and moving stories, a fantastic place.
My last day in Albany saw me riding out to Frenchman Bay to visit a more recent part of the town’s history and also one of its technical triumphs. The first place was the wind farm, high on the cliff that overlooks the bay. There are eighteen turbines spread out along the cliff top turning fresh air into useful power. There’s lots of info about their history, cost, how they work etc. I think they look wonderful, as they spin around providing up to eighty percent of the town’s power needs. Well done Albany for having the foresight to install them.


Coastal breezes powering toasters and freezers. Elegant and essential.

I called in to see the blow holes, which give a spectacular display of foaming sea power, provided there’s enough swell in the incoming tide. Fortunately I asked someone coming back up the path whether they were blowing and he said no. That question usefully saved me a 1.6km walk and 78 steps, down then back up,. I got back on the bike and rode round to the Discovery Centre, at Frenchman Bay.
There are several attractions here but I was only interested in the old Whaling Station. It’s one of those places that’s horribly fascinating. It all looks very innocent now, with one of the old whale chasing ships in dry dock, so people can clamber over it. Flensing is the Norwegian word used to describe the removal of the blubber from the whale.The wooden flensing deck and associated saws, winches and equipment are on view, all tidy and clean. The large sheds where blubber was boiled down for oil and fertiliser, along with the giant stoves and drying machines, can be walked around. But the reality, as shown in photos and exhibits, was a bloody, stinking, horrendous horror story, which was played out day after day at this site for twenty six years. It was a severe shortage of lubricating oil, post WW2, which made whale hunting commercially viable once more and these whale filled waters made rich hunting grounds. The company bought whale chasers, powerful boats with harpoon guns and sonar. They were aided by spotter planes and developed very effective methods of hunting and killing. The harpoons had grenades mounted on the end and, if well aimed, would kill the whale instantly.


The whale chaser Cheyne IV, with whale oil storage tanks behind it.

Our guide took us round the station, explaining all the activities and processes. The photos were very gory and the whole process seems repugnant. But, to be fair, a need was being met and the oil was in much demand. We humans will use animals to enable us to live our comfortable lives. I’m a meat eater and I don’t suppose a slaughterhouse is a very nice place to be either. All the same, I’m very pleased we don’t do it any more. The end came for the station as various species were banned from being hunted, due to the threat of extinction, and demand dropped as alternatives were found to the whale products. Conservationist pressure helped things along too. These days there is no need to hunt whales at all. Are you listening, Japan?? Norway???


Large, powered saw.


And this is what it does. Yes, that is a whale’s head.

Inside one of the sheds were some whale skeletons. They are HUGE animals, and it’s strange to see how their flippers contain an arm with exactly the same bone structure as humans. No surprise really, they’re mammals after all, but it kind of brings it home.


A big beast.

One piece of very useful information given to me by the VC was a list of films showing at the town cinema. The Revenant, Star Wars in 3D and the Hateful Eight. I’d been starved of film going since I left home and decided this was too good an opportunity to miss. In the end I didn’t see Star Wars but thoroughly enjoyed the Hateful Eight, well worth seeing if you like Tarrantino’s work. I didn’t like the Revenant quite so much. A good film, great acting, stunning locations and a good story, but somehow it just didn’t grab me.
Time to leave Albany and head north to the Kalgoorlie goldfields. But I had one last place to call into. Near the small town of Hyden is a geological feature called Wave Rock. What is it? A very strange looking rock, shaped like a wave. To be more accurate, it’s a large rocky outcrop and one side of it is shaped like a wave.
It was a pleasant ride up there, past several large salt pans. The ground water in southern WA is very salty, a big concern to wheat growers in the area. The removal of the native bush and trees has allowed the water table to gradually rise, which in turn is affecting the ability to grow wheat. The natural balance of the land is very fine and upsetting it isn’t difficult. Many areas have been replanted with a fast growing variety of gum tree in an attempt to redress it. I rode through the wheat belt and seeing the size of the fields made the problem clear.


Rod and BMW, sheltering from the rain on the patio of the camp kitchen.

At the reception of the camp site next to wave rock I bumped into Rod, who was enjoying an Australia Day weekend break on his BMW800GS. The reception staff suggested we share a pitch, to save a bit of money, an excellent idea. We soon hit it off and rode back into town for a meal, kindly bought by Rod. So I bought the beer!
Rod owns his own plumbing business and has only been riding about six years, and wonders why he took so long to learn. He went on an orginsed tour in Africa, led by Charlie Boorman, no less, and unfortunately had a bad accident when a car pulled across him. So what did he do? He went back the following year for another go. Well done Rod, I’d like to think I’d have done the same. He wants to go off touring, when commitments allow, and says that I’m inspiring him to make it happen. I’m not too sure how I feel about inspiring anyone, I feel it’s a big responsibility. But I’m very happy if someone dreams about a long trip and is encouraged enough by what I’m doing to have a go themselves. That’s good enough for me.


‘Bailing out’ was almost literal .

About 4am the heavens opened up. Rob was sleeping in a swag, small enough to pack on his bike but not big enough for torrential rain. So he moved himself, his gear and his bike over to the camp kitchen where there was a verandah big enough to put everything under. At about 7am I bailed out too, although I left my tent and bike where they were. The rain persisted most of the day but eventually I moved everything under shelter. Neither of us felt like leaving and we booked another night. The campsite owner very kindly let us sleep on the verandahs of a couple of unoccupied self contained units. It was lucky the campsite was fairly empty. My riding gear got wet, despite being in one of the tent porches, and the weather was so damp it took until the second day, and some sunshine, to dry out.


Here’s why.


No suggestion of the downpour to come in that sunset.

The rain did pause enough to allow us a chance to look at Wave Rock, which is one of those geographical oddities that I like so much. The wave shape was formed millions of years ago when all but the top of the rock was underground. Rainwater containing salts and other minerals attacked the underground section of it, slowly softening the rock. As erosion exposed more of the rock the softened parts broke off, leaving the overhang that can be seen today. Wind and rain smoothed it out and it really does look like a giant wave. The staining on it is from moss and lichen. It’s fifteen metres high and over one hundred metres long, and looks amazing.


Wave Rock. The dark staining is moss and lichen.

But that isn’t the rock’s only trick. When the town of Hyden was settled they needed a water supply so had the bright idea of creating a dam at one end. The run-off water from the rock is diverted by a wall into it. A clever idea, although no longer relied on since piped water arrived. At the other end is a strange collection of tumbled and eroded rocks named the Hippo’s Yawn. The picture makes clear the reason why.

Hippo's Yawn

Hippo’s Yawn

A little further along is Mulka’s Cave. There is an Aboriginal legend attached to this place. The cave is full of hand prints, stencilled onto the walls. Some of them are much higher than others, as if belonging to a giant. He is Mulka, a huge man who was the progeny of a forbidden marriage and was cross eyed, so couldn’t hunt. Rather than starve, he took to eating children. A tale of caution to keep little ones in line. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of these delightful places throughout Australia. I keep reading about them and visit as many as I can.


Hand print covered cave walls.

But the time had come to say goodbye and good luck to Rod, and to head up Emu Fence Road – what a great name – towards Kalgoorlie and the northern goldfields. And maybe, just maybe, to trip over a nugget or two.


Jo and Andrew, with their very smart VW camper.