Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

Sat at Sydney Airport’s business club lounge, drink in one hand, wireless internet in the other, an hour and a half to go before we’re in the air.

God knows what we’re going to be greated with when we get back, last news I had was that Manchester Airport had reopened, but big problems on the road with Rochdale Council due to run out of grit before we get back (not that they do any but the main roads anymore so my estate will be treacherous.)

Also got to hope that the car will start after a month sat in the dismal British weather. (Granted we had thunderstorms last night, when we got here there were warnings of fire risks, now parts of NSW are flooded)

Nothing to say, these three views say it all

Built in the 1860s to connect the eastern plains to the capital of NSW (Sydney), the topography of the area required a series of “zig-zag” descents to allow the trains of the day to navigate the descent from the Blue Mountains to Lithgow.

Built using the technology of the day (a couple of Irish navies and a wheelbarrow) the construction included four large rock cuttings, three fine stone viaducts with 30-foot semi-circular arches  and a short tunnel. In the descent of the middle road, the line dropped 101 feet between the reversing points, being part of the 550 foot descent from Clarence. The whole route had a ruling grade of 1:42.

By 1910, with more advanced technology and growing traffic on the line, a new route through the mountains using ten tunnels was constructed (which still follows the bottom line of the zig-zag), with no ceremony the old line was decomissioned and the new one put into use.

The line was restored as a heritage railway in 1975.

Unfortunatly due to a locomotive failure the steam loco wasn’t available so we had to make do with diesel.

If you’re in Sydney on a Sunday it’s worth adopting some children for the day as travelling with them entitles you to day ticket that covers you for busses, ferries and trains in the area for A$2.5 each! (The usual adult return fare to Manly being A$27.60)

For Christmas we’d bought Sheldon a voucher to try parasailing with a company based at Manly at the entrance to Sydney Harbour, so the six of us set off on train and ferry to let him try it out.

First day of the new-year and I went out on a guided walk through the bush with

The original Aboriginal clan from this area was rapidly wiped out with the arrival of European settlers and the smallpox that arrived with them, but our guide Evan Yanna Muru has worked as an Aboriginal Discovery Ranger, going out into the bush searching for ancient sites and the song-lines that connect them.

The walkabout is a right of passage to the Aboriginal people, a rebirth from one part of your life to the next where the initiates would be taught the stories that impart the rules and traditions of the clan, so the start of the new-year seemed a very appropriate time to take this journey.

We left Faulconbridge railway station at 10:45 and a few minutes later stepped off the path and into the bush. With a guide it was very easy to see the trail we were following, but on your own I doubt that you would be able to find the route for yourself or recognise it as anything other than an animal run.

The start of our journey came with our first taste of bush tucker, a sweet violet berry growing by the side of the trail.

As we went along Evan pointed out plant and their uses, a tree with black bark that can be used to cover wounds, the bark having anti-septic properties, and the gum from another tree that would be used to stick the bark to your skin – the gum itself having anti-septic and pain relieving properties.

With the Aboriginal lifestyle, it was important (and reinforced with their rituals) to leave all negetivity behind and be at one with the land, to feel the energies of the rainbow serpent all around and within yourself, to listen to those energies and let them guide you. There were some harsh punishments for those rare clan members who couldn’t release themselves from negitivity.

Being at one with the land was the theme of the first spiritual site we visited, an ancient rock carving depicting a wallaby who ignores this message and concentrates on something in the bush, with her awareness focused, she doesn’t see that the rainbow serpent has stalked her young  joey and taken it away.

 Our second stop was an amazing sandstone cave, where the bones of the earth, surreal natural rock formations, were exposed. At thes stop Evan showed us some of the leaves that could be crushed, roled and placed up each nostril to allow the menthol vapours to clear your breathing, and also the tea tree leaves the oil of which has a huge variety of uses.

The walk so far had been accompanied by the shrill calls of cicadas, especially noisy this year, in ancient times this increase of numbers and the food source it provided would have prompted a great corroboree, a large meeting uniting various clans to exchange songs, perform ritual dances, have ceremonial battles, arrange marriages and suchlike.

 As we descended into the rainforest, we left this cacophony behind and after a long challenging section arrive at our spot for lunch, a sheltered billabong under a waterfall. Evan explained to us the sybolism used in Aboriginal art and how to grind ocres to make paints for traditional art, giving us chance to experiment on park and leaves that we had collected on our journey.

After lunch we started the more strenuous ascent out of the valley we had come down in the morning. As we re-entered the realm of the cicadas, we came to the final site of the tour a rock cave featuring handprints from ancient Aboriginies including one from a “clever man” (spiritual doctor) recognisable as it also shows his arm. Whereas women would complete 5 rituals during their lives and men 10, the cever men would complete 15 walkabouts, some taking over a year and covering great distances, their apprenticeship could take up to 30 years.

11 hours ahead of the UK, the New Year came to Oz.

Compared to the UK, a more refined affair out here in the suburbs since private firwork displays are banned. Even still there were two displays visible from where we are.

Anyway, at the stroke of midnight the three of us who were brave (or stupid) enough dived into the pool, OK for me used to UK temperatures, a bit chilly for Sheldon and Helen.

We’d planned to go out into the Blue Mountains, but our planned stops (Wentworth Falls and Echo Point) were far busier than the previous times we had been there. Finding nowhere practical to park we decided to go back down to the Megalong Valley for lunch at the tea-rooms.

Checking out a map, we decided to follow the Great Wetern Highway up to Mount Victoria and turn north coming back through the national park on a parallel route along Bells Line of Road.

The difference between the two routes is spectacular, the windy mountain roads of the Great Western Highway and Darling Causeway give way to farmland, orchards and ranches along the more northerly route and as you get towards Richmond, the panorama opens up across the low lands towards Sydney.

This route took us past Mount Tomah and the Botanic Gardens there, a pleasant break on the drive.

It’s A$10 to get to Sydney and back by train, but for an extra A$7 you can buy a ticket that gives you unlimited travel on busses, trains and ferry services throughout Sydney.

With this in mind we caught the train to Parramatta the furthest reach of Sydney Harbour and the ferry from there to Circular Quay (the part of Sydney Harbour that everyone is familiar with.)

The Parramatta river once polluted by industry is now clear and as we passed down the river we saw ibis, pelicans, egrets and most suprisingly a solitary penguin on the bank.

We were hoping to get down to the harbour for the new year fireworks, but having seen all the run up to it on the news it doesn’t seem like that good an idea.

Basically the whole of Sydney will be stuffed shoulder to shoulder with people. I remember a Billy Connolly monologue where he goes on about the stambede out of the shipyards at the end of the day and hoping that the rush wasn’t being led by someone heading for a cliff, this seems like the same sort of situation.

Rather damp here, the remains of Cyclone Lawrence that hit the North West coast last week has brought a constant rainshower for Christmas day.

We’ve been to Helen’s parents up in Faulconbridge and even with 16 of us there we still didn’t make it through all the food, the ham had to be seen to be believed, not the usual Sunday joint we get back home but geting close to half a full grown pig! The sort of thing that Obelix used to carry around as a light snack in the comics. One thing I’m going to have to remember to make when I get back home is the balsamic cherries, a great alternative to cranberry sauce.

Even with the rain it was still good to go swimming at 11pm, although the local residents were considering it (at 24°C) a bit chilly.