13 December 2009

From Ocean to Outback

30 August 2009

Today we were going to see the Indian Ocean!  Somehow, it didn't occur to me before we got here that we would get to see a 'new' ocean - I was just thinking of Australia as being in the middle of the Pacific.  Duh.  Anyway, our awesome hosts Jenny and Bob got us properly warmed up with a hot brekky (more Vegemite!) and a cuppa, and off we went for another exciting day full of new experiences.  Geraldton is right on the west coast of Australia about 263 miles north of Perth.  It's a city of a little over 30,000 people - you can read about it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geraldton,_Western_Australia and here's a map to give you an idea about its location:

After a quick run through at a local grocery store to pick up some sausages for our barbie in the bush, as advertised, our first stop was the Indian Ocean, and what a smashing sight it was!  The waves were crashing in and the sun was sparkling off the water.  In one small cove, we saw a man riding a horse in the water, evidently a common practice around here.  Geraldton is home to a horse racing industry, too!  Good exercise and therapy I reckon.

We even got a pretty good shot of the two of us, and even though it was a bit chilly to put our feet in the water, I did go down and stick my hands in.  The colors of the water ranged from a really deep blue to dark teal to aqua - I could get used to seeing this every day!  We had stopped at one of the many surf clubs, and then we went across the street to see the newly refurbished Point Moore lighthouse.  At 34 metres high, it is the tallest metal lighthouse in Australia.
We made a swing past the Geraldton Fisherman's Co-op, where the famous Geraldton lobsters (aka crayfish, aka rock lobsters) are processed.  Rex could not wait until tonight's dinner when he could order one and we could see what we would call it in the states!  From here we stopped to see the Yellow Submarine, which was located in a waterfront park across the street from a KFC!  This submarine, 8.4 m long, had been invented by Geraldton native Severn Graham as a prototype cray fishing submarine for a local fishing group.  It was designed to test the feasibility of establishing a nearby fishery for green crayfish; however, when it was discovered that emissions from the batteries caused major technical difficulties, the sub was never made operational.  I'm thinking any two men who might have been its occupants can't be too sorry it didn't work!  Right next to the Yellow Submarine was a HUGE tree with a merry-go-round swing hung under it.  Jenny told us she remembered swinging in it as a child!

From here, we hustled up the hill to the HMAS Sydney Memorial, where we had a tour appointment.  This memorial is one of the coolest I've ever seen!  Every single detail had been thought out, and every piece of the memorial was there for a specific reason.  I really encourage you to visit this website and learn about the Sydney, its sinking off the coast near here, its discovery (it was not found until 2008!) and the memorial to it - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMAS_Sydney_(1934) - the story is quite fascinating!

To me, one of the coolest things about the memorial is the stele that is the same size and shape as the ship's prow.  What is odd about it is that when the ship was finally found, long after the memorial was dedicated and finished, is that the only part of the ship that was missing was its prow!  Kind of freaky.  The dome (The Dome of Souls) that you see in the picture is comprised of 645 free form seagulls, one for each life lost on the Sydney.  The inspiration for the dome came from a flock of seagulls which flew in formation out to sea during a Remembrance service in 1998 when this permanent memorial was just in its planning stages.  There is also a statue of a waiting woman looking out to sea and the wall surrounding the memorial lists the names of all the men lost.  It's a lovely, sobering reminder of the costs of war.

Our next stop was St. Francis Xavier Catholic Cathedral, which was designed by Monsignor John Hawes (same as the church we saw yesterday).  Monsignor Hawes was a priest and an architect.  The construction of this church began in 1916 but was not finished until 1938.  I've never seen a church quite like this one - very interesting and most beautiful.  I'm afraid I would not pay much attention during Mass as there would be so many things to distract me!  Jenny serves as a docent here, so she was full of fun facts.

Now that we had seen the major cultural attractions in Geraldton, we were off for a day in the outback!  Bob drove us north, where our windscreen was attacked by a huge flock of insects - the windscreen won, but the casualties were great...  Soon we were at Munga Gabbe, another spectacular vista! 

Jenny and I went off exploring while Rex and Bob (mostly Bob) set up the barbie and started cooking.  She and I had just started down an embankment, sort of steep and rocky, when we both heard this very loud buzzing sound.  It sounded really ominous, and we didn't wait to see how many bees might come after us if we had the misfortune to disturb them!  We just skedaddled back up that hill, lickety split!  We were content to just take a walk on the flat ground and take more wildflower photos.  Before long, Bob was whistling for us and we sat down to enjoy our lunch and a cold beer.

After we cleaned up, we were back on the road, and of course, Jenny and I felt the need for a little sweet to go with our meal!

Here are some pix of things we saw along the way:  This first shot is sort of a memorial to a man near Lynton Station, which was a convict hiring station near Port Gregory.  The man on the bike is a replica of the late Ron Simkin high on the hill overlooking his property.

This is the Pink Lake - isn't it different?

This is a memorial to Jenny's father, Charles Thomas Cripps who was a man for all seasons and a great fisherman, and was awarded the Order of Australia Medal.  Here's what Jenny had to say: "It's quite ironic, although he was my Dad, I didn't realise all the good things he'd done and was appreciated for until he was awarded the OAM in 2000 for the Queen's Australia Day Honours. It was short lived unfortunately as Dad passed away in October the same year. This memorial is a dedication to his work for local charities and just being a genuine good bloke!!"

Our ultimate destination for the day was the sheep station that Jenny's brother and his wife run, but Jenny was dead set that we would find some kangaroo paws along the way.  Before you get too upset, a kangaroo paw is the state flower of WA (Western Australia) and it should just be blooming.  So we were on the lookout!  Of course, Rex and I had NO CLUE what we were looking for, so were we ever surprised to see this!

Isn't it great?!?!  I thought they'd make wonderful Christmas flowers!  We also saw these lamb's wool that I really loved.

 I can't say much for the scenery along this drive, except that I have a new admiration for all the farmers who are brave enough to work the land here.

It is not a very forgiving climate, and Jenny and her family told us stories of the horrible drought of recent years that were unbelievable - except that her brother showed us pictures of it.  But the most unbelievable part of all, too me, is that Jenny's brother's sheep station is 15,000 acres, and he and his wife do ALL of the work!  There is no hired help!  They raise sheep and care for other assorted animals, and grow all kinds of crops - alfala, canola, etc., and grow their own vegetables.  They are out in TRULY the middle of nowhere and so they have to be self-sufficient, as do all of their 'neighbors'.  I vividly remember studying Australia and sheep stations in fourth or fifth grade social studies, but seeing one up close and personal put a whole new spin on things for me!

Here are Bob and Jenny MacKay and Jenny's brother and his wife, Peter and Ann.  Jenny said she had not seen Peter in a while and didn't know that he had a beard - she thought it was her dad walking toward her!
I loved this fence at the farm!  Peter and Ann were so gracious - of course, we had afternoon tea around their kitchen table, complete with several different kinds of slices - as they shared with us a little about life on their farm.  But when Peter showed us photos of the farm a few years ago, during the drought, I was almost in tears.  It looked like the Sahara desert, only the sand was red.  Dunes piled high, covering cars, fences, and farm machinery.  They lost most of their sheep, as there was nothing for them to eat.  It is a testament to the human spirit that they are still here and still farming!  I am quite sure I would have given up!

On the drive home, we passed the home where Jenny grew up, Mumby Farm, which was established in 1867, but we didn't make many stops.  Bob wanted to make sure we got to see the sun set on the Indian Ocean!  We did have to stop though, when Jenny spotted an emu in someone's yard.  And she really had wanted us to see a kangaroo, since Rex missed the one that the girls' car saw yesterday.  So while we were looking at the emu, look what was right across the street!

And still, we got to the beach in time to see this:

and then...

And yet, the day was not over!  We raced back to Jenny and Bob's, cleaned up, changed clothes, and made it downtown in time for dinner at Skeeta's with the whole gang!  And Rex got his lobster, which I think we would call a rock lobster or spiny lobster - definitely not a crayfish (or crawdad, as we say down South) or a regular lobster, because it didn't have claws, but Rex said it was delicious!

So what more could we have asked for or done? I think Jenny, Bob, and friends showed us the very best of Geraldton and Western Australia, and we are so grateful for their generosity and hospitality!  It was so worth it to come all the way across the country - thanks for having us!!

Counting sheep,


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