Beyond the Black Stump and Back o’Bourke: Back in the Outback

After the fleshpots of Sydney, we are happy to be back in the outback again.

back in the outback
Iconic bottle trees

The northwest of Australia is known for its picturesque bottle trees. Essentially  baobabs, like in Africa.

The endless vistas and empty roads suit us down to the ground.

The wide, brown land for me

After returning from Sydney, we spend a last evening with Lauretta at Darwin’s  Deck Chair Cinema. While lounging on beanbags at the front, one of the DCC’s famous possums casually strolls over Lauretta’s pillow and finishes off her dish of Middle Eastern salad – mere centimetres away – with the aplomb and casualness of a house cat.

We stop at Victoria River, NT overnight before arriving in the state of Western Australia the next day. One of the first roadhouses we come to has a chute for disposing of live cane toads, a real pest here.

back in the outback
Toad in the hole

We flee Hall’s Creek early in the morning of my birthday after – barely – escaping the predations of larcenous locals around the caravan park. We stop for breakfast at a roadside halt that is covered with corella parrots.

back in the outback
Carpet of corellas

We never tire of seeing parrots everywhere here; we’re such tourists. There’s something uplifting about parrots.

We arrive in Broome, WA, a relaxed sort of town.

back in the outback
Breakfast on the Bay, Broome

After learning about local history at the Broome Museum – the pearl industry, dinosaur footprints, and aircraft relics from WWII Japanese air raids – we head to Cable Beach.

back in the outback
Seaside park at Cable Beach
back in the outback
Cable Beach

The next day, we spend an unexpected night at the Roebuck Plains roadhouse caravan park when the road south to Port Hedland is closed because of a bushfire.

Beyond the black stump

Eventually, we carry on to Eighty Mile Beach.

back in the outback
The road to Eighty Mile Beach

Like the beaches of Broome, the waters of Eighty Mile Beach are a lovely turquoise.

back in the outback
Eighty Mile Beach caravan park
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Sundown on Eighty Mile Beach
On the way south again. We stop for coffee at the Whim Creek Pub.
back in the outback
Whim Creek pub

I recall stopping at this pub my previous time in Australia. I got a multi-day lift with someone named Risto (a Finnish name). He worked at the Goldsworthy iron ore mine. He drove a green VW 1600 fastback. It never ceases to amaze how the brain retains such trivia when sometimes I can’t remember which day of the week it is.

back in the outback
Peacocks at the Whim Creek Pub

Sight or Insight of the Day – Back in the Outback

We see a shark. Close up.

While at Eighty-Mile Beach, Maria wants to go swimming. The caravan park management suggests she does not. A few hours later, we watch the sun go down and see a shark not ten metres away in the improbably shallow water offshore. He must be at least two metres long – his dorsal fin and tail fin stick out of the water as he cruises up and down the beach. That was really cool!
Maria manages to get this fuzzy photo of me in the foreground and the shark nearby. It’s quite dark by this time, so the performance of our little camera is impressive.
back in the outback
Cue the theme music from ‘Jaws’


Interlude in Sydney

Just when we are finally reveling in the the tropical heat of Darwin, it’s time for an 11-day Sydney interlude. We reluctantly leave Matilda in the long-term parking at Darwin airport and fly across the country to the still-wintry urban frenzy of Sydney. Our niece, Julia, is visiting from Canada.

We look forward to seeing Julia again. After she spends a few days in Hong Kong and Macao, we arrange to meet in Sydney. Julia is always good at scouting out excellent Airbnb properties. This time is no exception – we move into a quaint renovated old home in the gentrified neighbourhood of Pyrmount.

Our little house in Little Mount Street, Pyrmount

Maria and Julia go out on the town.

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Maria and Julia enjoy some seafood
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On the Pyrmont Bridge

The Sydney Fish Market is a few minutes walk from our place.

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Boy meets gill

Julia really, really wants to interact with some koalas. We attend a ‘breakfast with the koalas’ event at Wild Life Sydney Zoo.

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Cora the koala leans in

There are lots of koalas. They’re all predictably adorable. You just want to squish them. But no touching allowed.

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The mother and child reunion is only a motion away

I can cross ‘pet a wombat’ off my bucket list.

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The word ‘porcine’ comes to mind

Julia and I clown around at the wombat enclosure.

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Sydney interlude

Fun fact: wombat dung is cube-shaped.

Julia and a wallaby share highlighting secrets.

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Mr. Gorbachev – tear down this wallaby

We rent a car and drive to the viniferous Hunter Valley. We visit half a dozen wineries by bike.

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Bicycles built for two
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I bring up the rear
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Kangaroos among the vines – spring time?

Back in Sydney, we decide to eat in one evening for a change. Maria prepares some kangaroo steaks.

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….accompanied by a fine Hunter Valley red

One night, we go to the Sydney Opera House to see…an opera! Rossini’s The Turk in Italy, with the setting delightfully transposed to 1950’s Italy.

Everyone has a good time. This production is very colourful.

On another day, we rent a car and go for an overnight trip to the Blue Mountains.

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On the way to Wentworth Falls
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In the Blue Mountains
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Yes, it’s cold. Very cold.

Julia finds us a four-bedroom house in Katoomba on Airbnb. It’s a bargain at 94 AUD per night.

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The Blue House

Next day, we walk the misty Jamison Valley at the foot of the Three Sisters.

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Rain, forest
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Waterfall in the Jamison Valley

Back in Sydney the next day just in time to see a pop-up Globe production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Unlike the real reconstructed Globe in London – which we have had the good fortune to attend – this one is not permanent. Hence, pop-up.

Sydney interlude
A Midsummer Night’s Dream

It’s a New Zealand troupe performing. Shakespeare’s ‘rude mechanicals’ are dressed as tradies (Australian for ‘tradespersons’). The fairies are Maori warriors, delivering most of their lines in Maori.

It is hilarious. Just like 400 years ago.

Maria and Julia spend an afternoon at Bondi Beach while I stay home and binge on Netflix movies.

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Bondi Beach in winter
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Expensive Bondi real estate

That evening, we meet at a Malaysian restaurant and walk home.

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Darling Harbour at night.

Maria and Julia surprise me one night with a slightly early birthday celebration.

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Birthday gelato

We visit the Museum of Contemporary Arts. We see a retrospective of works  by John Mawurndjul.

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John Mawurndjul exhibit

All are on bark.

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All have unbelievably fine cross-hatching work that we learn is known as ‘rarrk‘. Try using that in your next game of Scrabble.

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Rarrk patterns

Alas, the day arrives when Julia flies home. We really enjoy spending time with her.

Maria and I have one more evening in Sydney to see The Comedy of Errors at the pop-up Globe.
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Our revels now are ended

The next day – our last in Sydney for now – is sunny and warm, the first Spring-like day so far here.

Sydney interlude
Sydney landmarks
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We visit Luna Park – another Sydney landmark

It’s been fun, Sydney, but we’ll be happy to get back to the wide open spaces again.

Sight or Insight of the Day – Sydney interlude

We mention several times that one thing we enjoy about traveling is discovering new things. This happens again when we re-visit the Museum of Sydney. There is a wonderful temporary exhibit: Bohemian Harbour; Artists of Lavender Bay‘.

Chief among these is Brett Whiteley, well-known in Australia but a new name for us.

We spend our last morning visiting his studio in the neighbourhood of Surry Hills.

Sydney interlude
This matches the address we have

The lower level contains one of his masterworks, the multi-panel piece ‘Alchemy‘.

The upper level is much as he left it. A nice touch is the music playing throughout the studio, selections from Whiteley’s collection. Most of it is familiar from my own music-listening era.

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Brett Whiteley Studio

I flip through his CDs and LPs. One album makes me look twice – the Dire Straits live album ‘Alchemy’.

Sure enough, the cover art is the work ‘Alchemy’ that we just examined downstairs.

Heroin was Whiteley’s eventual downfall. This work of his sums up nicely what heroin can do to your sense of perception.

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Whiteley’s heroin clock

In the afternoon, we visit Lavender Bay itself.

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Lavender Bay view

It’s definitely not cheap any more. Sydney suffers from the same pathologically overinflated real estate prices as Toronto and Vancouver, for much the same reasons.

Whiteley’s ex-wife Wendy still lives at 1 Walker Street. She has spent a quarter century building a beautiful garden – open to all – below her house.

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1 Walker Street, from Wendy’s Garden
The neighbourhood is much more sedate compared to the drug- and alcohol-fuelled bacchanalias described in the Museum of Sydney exhibit.
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1 Walker Street – circa 1974, party central

Darwin, at Australia’s Top End

Now, where did we leave off? Oh yes, in Kakadu National Park, on our way to Darwin.

We see more rock art and stunning formations at Ubirr.

Every picture tells a story
Looking out over Arnhem Land

It’s a short drive up to Darwin.

Darwin, like other places I remember, is much less of a frontier town than it used to be.

Darwin’s modern redeveloped harbour

We visit the Flying Doctor museum.


These days, the majority of its fleet of aircraft are Pilatus, of Swiss manufacture.

Stoke’s Hill Wharf is a popular place to hang out.

Wharf speed

I look forward to reaching Darwin to reconnect with an old friend, Lauretta. I first met Lauretta on a kibbutz in Israel. She was influential in my decision to visit Australia many years ago. A few years later, she convinced me to go to Africa for the first time, where she worked as a teacher in Selebe Phikwe, Botswana.

Long time, no see

Lauretta – originally from Sydney –  is now a long-time resident of Darwin. She owns and manages a very successful shop selling aboriginal art and used books.

One reason for its success, I’m sure, is that Lauretta is very simpatico with aboriginal people. (She’s always had this gift, which is probably why she’s been comfortable living in remote places for much of her life.)

Maria watches Sonda Turner Nambitjinpa painting in front of Lauretta’s shop

We go for dinner and watch the sundown on Stoke’s Hill Wharf.

Sea, food

At Mindil Beach, there’s a popular sundown market twice a week.

Mindil Beach

Lauretta has a regular stall here as well. We stand amazed at how busy Lauretta’s stall is. At one point, the transactions are non-stop. Still, she makes time to socialize.

Lauretta chats with local kids
Lauretta chats with friends
Lauretta chats with old white guy

Hundreds gather to watch the sun go down.

Sunset in Fannie Bay

When in Rome…

Mindil Beach tourists
We visit the excellent Darwin Aviation Museum. It’s across the road from our caravan park.

The prize exhibit is a B-52 bomber, one of the few on display outside of the United States.

‘I’m guided by the beauty of our weapons…’
– Leonard Cohen

It takes up most of the interior. It is gigantic.


Sight or Insight of the Day – Darwin

Lauretta mentions that she has a friend nearby with a wallaby joey in her care. This we have to see.

Lauretta’s friend brings him out nestled in a cloth pouch, where he spends most of his time.

This is Freddy

His mother was struck and killed by a car. Someone checked the mother’s pouch and Freddy was still alive inside.

Lauretta’s friend is a certified wildlife carer, not an eccentric amateur animal rescuer. Still, she admits it’ll be hard to pass him on to the next phase of rehabilitation back to the wild.

Cutest. Thing. Ever.

He is unbelievably cute. We spend ten or fifteen minutes fussing over him, which he clearly likes.