Monday, 1 September 2008

Denham

31/08/08 Carnarvon – Wooramel Roadhouse – Denham 329(10844) kms

A travel day today but not before we could meet a few of the locals at St George's Anglican Church of Carnarvon. The building is 101 years old, made from red brick sourced from the local soil - yes, its still red dirt - and complete with buttressing at the corners and sides of the building that have been cement rendered. It was fairly quiet by St Pete's standards (about 12 people) and made Sue and I glad that our services have kids and live music and great singing and colour and movement. During the service, the minister issued a plea to the congregation to find some children to attend church so they could run Sunday School. Still, the welcome from the small gathering was genuine and the message from John 15 was a cracker and one I could relate to. We stayed for a cuppa afterwards and were able to confirm what we already guessed about the couple sitting in front of us. Would you believe we the bread and wine with the parents of our old friend Rick Maude. Rick was one of our ministers at Tambar Springs. His olds, Michael and Joan, moved to the West seven years ago and after four years in Broome, they are now living and serving in Carnarvon. Small world, eh?

Our drive south was through more of those established long sand dunes that we have been seeing since before Exmouth and a stop for a lunch at a refurbished Wooramel Roadhouse (under new management … it was noticeable!). Sue had a hamburger and I had a vegetarian burger – in case Sarah was watching - and both were delicious and free of the sorts of things that are often smeared on your food in these places.

The countryside had taken on that flat appeal again when suddenly, a few jump-ups appeared in our path in order to break the boredom. Just before the 26th parallel, one of them gave us the option of a steep climb to a lookout which we took and were afforded our first peek of Shark Bay - specifically, looking northwest along Disappointment Reach. That trademark light blue water against red and yellow soils and with the added attraction of a carpet of wildflowers in yellows, several shades of purples and reds. Very pretty and very unexpected.

We hurtled down the highway and made the turn west for Denham and then ticked of the attractions as we headed north and over the relatively narrow isthmus which leads you there. We arrived in Denham at 3:30pm, checked in and went straight to the Shark Bay World Heritage Information Centre where Sue did her thing. The displays they have there are World Heritage listed and are outstanding. We'll look at them again tomorrow.

It’s very windy. In fact, half of Denham’s power provisions are met from the four wind generators on the outskirts of town. It this afternoon is any indication, its little wonder. Blowing like a gale as I write this but couldn't be happier!

Off to Monkey Mia (half an hour away) early in the morning, to watch and possibly feed the dolphins. Word is they have a baby among the crew at the moment so that will be worth seeing. We are also hoping to catch an indigenous tour which has won many awards. We heard the guide talking this afternoon in the Info Centre and he sounds fantastic.

Sue and I are having a great time and thanks to all of you for your support. In particular, thanks to our brilliant kids for allowing us to be who we are and encouraging us all the way. My Dad deserves a special mention for being so unselfish and my brother Art for continuing to be the solid, sane backdrop who stands behind me in everything without ever trying to change me.

1/09/08 Denham (Shark Bay)

Happy bottle nosed dolphins at
Monkey Mia
Some of you - if your name is Peter Costello or Paul Keating - will not have experienced it but I increasingly do - those moments in life when you have been sure you were right but suddenly realise you're wrong. I'm not talking about those embarrassing points in time when the whole world knows you're wrong but those quiet moments when you realise you have been holding the bull by the horns, BUT HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO GET AWAY WITH IT! It happened to me this morning watching the feeding of the dolphins at Monkey Mia, near Denham, about half way up the west coast. I was convinced that this was exploitation of the animal kingdom and manipulation of nature for man's ends. It’s the sort of thing which might have seen me dive into the water and stand between the crowd of tourists and Flipper's cousins. Then I had that moment of suspicion which told me I should find out more information and speak with these animal abusers in the guise of national park marine biologists.

Glad I did. Far from abusing the dolphins, they are providing the best defence the creatures have had since they first took an interest in man - woman actually - 40 years ago on this then deserted beach in Shark Bay. Tourist interest being what it is, the former practice of everyone standing in the water and feeding any dolphin who was passing has been stamped out and the feeding procedure is carefully controlled. Volunteers monitor the dolphins daily, in a behavioural project which extends back to those first meetings in the 1960's and is under the direction of National Parks rangers with marine biology as a starting point in their knowledge base.

Feeding the dolphins
Only five females considered the most needy are fed three times a day, at times the dolphins dictate but before 12:00pm. This makes the other dolphins continue in their usual hunting habits and removes dependency. As a result, the talk to tourists about the dolphins takes twenty minutes and the actual feeding about five. There are strict controls over who feeds and how - no touching being the golden rule. Today, everyone had to be out of the water and the feeding was even more truncated to ensure no stress would come to 32yo Nicky and her four day old calf. Nicky has lost seven of her previous eight calves.

These stipulations don't please everyone and we overheard complaints being made about the strictness of the procedures and lack of access. "I came all this way and didn't even get a decent photo," was one loud complaint we heard. Bye a postcard! My gut feeling is the day will come when all visitors will be behind barriers and have no access and I don't see it too distant into the future when the event will be ended. The biggest thorns in the side of the event are commercial operators who still have access to a jetty which runs beside the communion area with the dolphins. Heavy fines exist for people who swim in the area and even larger fines for owners of boats who breech the exclusion zone. Boat tours - sightseeing and fishing - still moor at the jetty and pay no regard for the dolphins other than leaving their moorings slowly. We watched one operator leave dock today at a crucial time in the visit by the dolphins when the new baby was swimming with its mother and the boat skipper paid no heed and left the dock, scattering half of the visiting pod.

Monkey Mia itself has many people making good money from the visitation of the dolphins. Cafe, restaurants, gift shops, dive operators, boat tours ... endless opportunity to print money. The entrance fee is poured back into the volunteer program and the research into dolphin behaviour but it’s the peripheral jackasses I abhor.

Eagle Bluff south of Denham
Soap box removed, we returned to Denham and then south along the main access road to the town, to Eagle Bluff, where the national parks have erected a boardwalk along the cliff edge adjacent to a spectacular section of Shark Bay. A shallow underwater ledge below a cliff top fifty metres high provides you with the vantage point of an eagle and when the water is warmer, sharks, dugong, dolphins and smaller fish species are regularly sighted. A marvellous view, despite the exposure to that ever-present lazy southerly which rockets through Denham and environs 24/7.

From here, we drove closer to town and stopped at Ocean World, a fledgling marine zoo for fish of the area. They are gradually building the facility as money becomes available and already have a fully established shark pool and several large aquariums and tanks. The aim here is to take sick and/or injured fish and provide them with sanctuary until they are well enough to return to the sea. As such, they never have animals for more than four months. There are two marine biologists and others who make up for a lack of learning at university with youthful enthusiasm and leaning about their work underwater. We had a fabulous 90 minute tour with loads of information. I now know how to treat a stone fish sting! This will be an amazing facility if they ever finish it.
SHARK BAY PHOTOS

The rest of the afternoon was wasted in the frivolous.

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