Sunday, 7 September 2008

Geraldton

5/09/08 Kalbarri – Gregory – Northampton – Geraldton 155(11494) kms

No blog today.

6/09/08

Departing Geraldton for the Abrollhos
We arrived in Geraldton yesterday. Our park is situated right behind the beach which is adjacent to the Chapman River. We had visited Northampton earlier in the day and had been excited by the sunflowers and colourful weeds (Pattison's Curse) which filled many of the paddocks around the town. We also organised our flight to the Abrolhos Islands, against the odds a few weeks ago when I failed to make the flight over the Bungle Bungles. We woke this morning to a strong south easterly and I was feeling pretty nervous by the time I reached the airport but tried to consider my nervous reaction to the flight as being like preparing on a big match day. Our young pilot filled me with confidence and before I knew it we were rolling down the runway with our survival jackets strapped to our waists and cameras at the ready.

Wow! What a flight. We flew to the islands with Geraldton Air Charter, only 760 meters above the white caps and covered the 60 km stretch of ocean to the west of Geraldton in only 15 minutes thanks to favourable winds. Once over the southern group, we descended to 150 metres for flybys of the southern group of islands and then across to the Easter group. It was around the Easter group that the saga of the Batavia unfolded more than three hundred years ago. The Batavia was attempting to sail through the middle channel when it ran aground on a reef. The captain sailed off for help leaving the way open for a member of the crew to launch his plans for takeover. He sent the military off on a wild goose chase to another island and talked them into leaving their weapons behind. In the meantime, 130 passengers who disagreed with him - men, women and children - were murdered, if they were lucky. He then moved against the military but was unsuccessful. When the captain returned, he took charge thanks to a tip off from a survivor left for dead who swam several kilometres through shark-infested waters to raise the alarm. The leading mutineers were executed (hanged and beheaded) on one of the islands. Its an amazing story.

Part of our day was one of incredible visual experiences at low level from the plane. The reefs and shallow bays between islands, the white sand and the low islands and all those brilliant blues and yellows and greens you associate with the Bahamas or West Indies. That would have been enough but then a brilliant four hours was spent on one of the islands - West Wallabi Island - where we walked and saw a 70 year old Osprey nest and its inhabitants and all manner of gulls and sandpipers. The Osprey sighting was spectacular as she flew overhead with a freshly caught fish and then landed on the nest to feed her babies. We were no more than forty metres away. Rich blues and white sands and low shrubs ... are you getting the picture?

The magnificent Abrollhos
The islands are low coral quays and many have permanent dwellings on them occupied for only part of the year by fishermen who seek the lucrative crayfish which have been abundant in these waters. Our pilot host provided morning tea and lunch beside a beautiful beach and after an interesting discussion on a variety of topics, Sue and I donned the wetsuits in preparation for a snorkeling session. A few short minutes of instruction later and Sue and I were gradually ranging ourselves across the shallow sandy bay in front of our lunch spot, exploring the new environment below us. As we became gamer, we worked our way out to the small patches of coral and seagrass where excitement beat strongly in our chests at the sight of a variety of fish swimming languidly in and out of the foliage in their stripped or spotted suits of blue and yellow and red and silver. This achieved, we then had to consider the further swim out to the reef, a distance of another thirty metres. We returned to the shore for more information but our pilot Dan informed us that to see the good coral would mean passing to the seaward side of the reef where water depths started at thirty metres. He offered to swim with us but neither of us felt confident enough to take that on nor the sharks that lurked there. Visions of Green Turtles and Tiger Sharks came too easily to mind.

Sue's bandaged bonce
We left the beach mid afternoon and walked back to the airstrip, where we put most of our gear back on the plane in preparation for a walk up to an old jetty at the other end of the strip. We hadn't walked far when Sue remembered she had left the video camera behind on the plane and went back to retrieve it. As Dan and I waited, we heard a cry and turned to see Sue staggering from under the left wing. In the moments it took for me to cover the fifty metres back to the plane, blood was flowing down across her face from a wound at the point where the forehead meets the scalp. She had walked into the wing strut under the left wing of the Airvan. Some quick first aid and we had her bundled back into the plane and Dan was taking us back to Geraldton. On the way we had multiple whale sightings as the big fellas of the sea breached and rolled and played below us, as ignorant of our existence as we were in awe of theirs.

Unfortunately, all the whales appeared on Sue's side of the plane, my only bad luck of the day but a handy distraction for the girl with the roller bandage headband and increasing headache.

After reaching the ground in Geraldton, we were off to the hospital and some emergency assessment for Sue which judged the cut superficial. Before long we were laughing about it, especially at the sight of the bandaging she had to wear until morning. She looked like Topo Rodrigez! The irony of me beating a big demon and then not being the one injured in a freak accident wasn't lost on either of us! I sucked on a few Crownies and we watched the WA election coverage and put this great day to bed.

Personally, today was a great triumph, as only a few weeks ago I had been a mess of anxiety after failing to board the small plane in Kununurra. Being able to here and the reward I was handed in return, was remarkable. Despite Sue’s mishap, wow! I say again, Wow! What a brilliant day!

HMAS Sydney Memorial
7/09/08

Father's Day started slowly because I had been up during the night writing and slept in. As our first call for the day was 10:30am, it didn't matter.

On a hill overlooking Geraldton, the HMAS Sydney II Memorial makes a striking impression from a distance and compels the visitor to find their way to the site but if the memorial draws you in close from a distance, it goes well beyond that once you arrive and take in the scope of the symbolism which has been enveloped in the various elements on the site.

The central dome rises above a ships propeller at the centre, with a ship's compass made from tiles on the floor and the name of the Sydney and the instruction for the souls of the lost sailors to not be forgotten. Above this, navigation lights of green (starboard) and red (port) stay perpetually alight after being lit from the eternal flame in the war memorial in Canberra and now are suspended from either spar of a symbolic anchor. The anchor is fixed to the apex of a large dome whose structural outline is formed from 645 silver gulls in massed flight. Each gull symbolises a sailor lost aboard the Sydney following her engagement with the German ship the Cormoran on 19th November, 1941 off the West Australian coast between Carnarvon and Geraldton. The dome is in exact northerly alignment with the walkway up from the entrance and the gap between the two walls which tell the Sydney's story. More importantly, the walls are a template on which are recorded the names lost to this world but inscribed timelessly on a nation's soul on that tragic November night.

Further north on the same axis, the tall reconstruction of the ship's bow towers over everything as it steams back to port. It is ironic, that this piece of the overall memorial was added well before the final discovery of the Sydney in March this year and the realisation that she was limping home after the battle when the front section of her bow broke off, exposing her insides to a sudden and fatal rush of the Indian Ocean which was driven deep into her by her own valiant engines which thrust her forward. She would have sunk in minutes.

A wife searching the horizon
To the east, the life-size sculpture of a lone woman searches the horizon for the sailor who would never come home. Anxiety etched on her face, this is no fair damsel in distress but a real woman of the period, strong and determined but very much in love. The tone of her calves and forearms speak of her strength and the work she is doing to keep the home economy strong.

This is a brilliant memorial, conceptually and visually and it made a powerful impression on both of us. Suffice to say, it is one of those places where people quietly move about, trying to understand, trying to accept, trying to forgive and mostly, trying to say thanks.

After we had lunch at a park to the south of the port area, we returned to the city centre and wandered through the Geraldton Art Gallery and copped a treat as it was the last day for display of the Moran Art Prize finalists in painting and photography. As is often the case, we didn't agree with the judges’ decisions in regard the winners but the standard of the work in both competitions was very high. In a nice surprise, one of Sue's old school mates - Robert Cobcroft - was in the short-listed group in the photography section. It is no wonder Geraldton Gallery has such a high reputation. I had a long and interesting discussion about many things art with the girl working the Sunday shift and found we shared a love of Brett Whiteley. We also squeezed in a short visit to the Geraldton Museum but unfortunately time beat us.

We came back to our cabin and planned the next week of the trip, including booking accommodation and hopefully making contact with Sue's cousin Greg Gibbens, who we hope to see in Perth.

Being Father's Day, the real highlights of my day were firstly speaking with Dad who is spending a few days in Canberra with brother Art to cover today and also tomorrow, which is his 83rd birthday and secondly being able to speak with each of my great kids. It sounds corny but everyday is Father's Day for dads like me because every action between my kids and me reminds again of how much mutual love and respect lives in the in betweens (to quote a Chris’ song “Better Day”). To have it specifically pointed out by them on days like today seems like more good fortune than I deserve but one I'll gladly succour on. Sue and I closed out another wonderful day on the West Coast with adult soft drinks on top of the sand dune behind our cabin and the company of a few like-minded strangers who watched the sun leave us for other customers further west and managed to find romance in astronomy yet again.
GERALDTON PHOTOS

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