Thursday 1 December 2011

Rail Trails of Melbourne

In the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, the ghosts of steam trains pull their carriages along rails long-vanished.

But not entirely forgotten. Along the route of old suburban train lines lie fascinating walking trails and linear parks, each an insight into the city’s hidden charms.

Inner Circle

The most accessible is the rail trail along the former Inner Circle line, which runs from Rushall Station in North Fitzroy to Royal Park.

Originally this took suburban trains directly to Spencer Street in the city centre. Later, the station were closed and goods trains chugged along it.

Finally, the rails were removed and the reserve threatened with development. After an epic battle involving locals, unions and government, the route became a linear park, a long thin thread of green meandering across tram tracks and behind terrace houses.

It makes a charming walk. At Rushall Station, you can hear the gentle murmur of Merri Creek below. Then the trail curves through the patterned brick homes of North Fitzroy, built in the late 19th century.

Follow the track west and cross tram line after tram line as they head north out of the city. It’s fascinating to be walking along a walking trail which is so urban; light industry vies with Victorian homes and modern buildings, just a few metres from the former track.

The queen of the route is the former North Carlton railway station, now the home of a community centre. Though lacking a railway, the building is recognisably a former station, with its distinctive red brick structure. Then it’s on to Melbourne Zoo, passing beneath old railway bridges as you head west.

Outer Circle

The Outer Circle rail trail in the middle suburbs is a more challenging walk. Developed in the 1890s by land speculators, the railway line closed down almost as soon as it opened.

Reopened as a mix of passenger and goods lines, it was gradually removed during the 20th century.

It originally ran all the way from Fairfield Station to Hughesdale Station. All that remains now is the section known as the Alamein line, but the railway reserve is still accessible for most of the route.

The best section to walk or cycle is from Kew to East Malvern. Staring from the corner of High Street and Harp Road, look for the woodpile that’s been there since Victorian times.

Behind it you’ll find the trail, a surprisingly broad expanse of parkland running between houses, with signs marking the original locations of stations. It’s hard to imagine steam trains running through this green space.

Not so the section beyond Whitehorse Road. Here the trail runs through a narrow cutting, often deep below street level and crossed by a series of iron road bridges. It’s cold in the shade but quite beautiful, with ferns and vines growing down the cutting’s face. You half expect to have to dive out of the way of a train coming round the bend.

Once past East Camberwell, the trail follows the Alamein line; you can always cheat at this point by catching a train.

If you do, keep an eye out for Hartwell Station, which was once the railway station for the country town of Walhalla. It was relocated here in 1938 as the former gold mining town subsided into a ghost town.

Another station on the Alamein line, Willison, was opened in 1908 as Golf Links Station, serving the nearby Riversdale Golf Club. The club eventually moved away and the station was renamed in 1936.

Then the trail continues onward from Alamein station, crossing Gardiners Creek. It’s important to go straight on here; a left turn will have you walking across the golfing greens of the Malvern Valley Public Golf Course, interrupting shots. A walkbridge crosses a freeway and lowers the walker gently into East Malvern Station.

From here, a real train will take you back to the city - and the all too solid 21st century world.

This post was sponsored by Check out its site for golfing news and resources from around the world, including a golf course directory.

[With this 50th post for the year, Aerohaveno is taking a break until mid-January 2012. See you then... and happy travels in the meantime!]

Thursday 24 November 2011

Street Art à la Cockatoo

This week's guest post is from Julia Hilton, who recently visited the Outpost exhibition of street art in Sydney...

This inaugural exhibition of street art was being held on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour; an easy journey by ferry from Circular Quay for a $10.20 return ticket that included free entry.

Cockatoo Island had been used by the military since 1839. It was built by convicts as a prison and then developed into naval shipyards, which it remained until 1992. Surprisingly the government didn't sell it to developers, leading to its new life as an entertainment and exhibition centre.

As I entered via a very '40s government office archway the island revealed itself, shaped rather like a top hat. The sheer side cliffs at the centre of the island led the eye to a number of pleasant houses on its top, while the brim constituted the main dock and grassed areas.

I was immediately drawn to walls bearing massive paintings of Australian wildlife; murals made of cyclone fencing and coloured plastic cups; a bus in progress of being graffitied by two young men with spray cans; and large groups of children and adults getting down to a session of pavement decorating with chalks provided.

Walking on towards the dockside workshops, I passed a mythic temple-cum-teepee and a sinister hot air balloon whose evil face seemed to watch my progress. Each of the workshops housed a different type of art show, including work from projects such as the Project Ugly and May Lane Project, which aim to direct talented spray can artists to creating art experiences in urban environments.

It might seem paradoxical that you could host a street art exhibition off the street; but the cluster of sheds, workshops, warehouses, open spaces and even a couple of caves proved ideal for the purpose and concentrated the experience of these art forms.

My favourite part of the exhibition was the huge painted mural of Australian animals by a Belgian artist called ROA. They all seemed dead and this made for an uneasy reminder of how fragile our wildlife is. This painting was executed in black and white paint, stark and beautiful.

Then it was on to the Banksy exhibit in a double storey workshop which was once the machine-making shop. For those who have never seen a Banksy stencil art work - you actually probably have, down an alley or on a wall where you've come across an outline of a rat with a crown, or a policemen giving flowers to a child. This highly secretive UK street artist has become very collectable. There were 20 prints made from stencils by him, a great selection.

Some of the larger projects included a house painted with a lifelike skull on its front by Kid Zoom (an Oz artist working in New York) with three wrecked cars outside. Inside the back of the house you could watch an audio visual presentation of the wrecking procedure by the artist.

Nothing in the exhibition was without message and attitude. These could be very confronting and often quite obtuse; but street art is not for silent contemplation, it’s in your face and you can’t help but share it with those around you. I found myself discussing some of the works with complete strangers and feeling more connected to the works as a result.

There was so much to see that after three hours, visual indigestion and sore feet set in. So I made my way to an open-air bar and sat watching the chalk artists in action with a cold beer in my hand. Heaven!

The Outpost exhibition continues to 11 December 2011; more details at Julia Hilton recommends the Doc Rat comic strip by Jenner for your daily entertainment:

Friday 11 November 2011

Burgers of the North

Ever since The Age ran a piece on the new wave of pop-up food vans in Melbourne, I've been meaning to check one out.

This is how it works. Each day the van's operators tweet its planned location that night. It might be placed next to a park or on a main street, but either way it'll be in an inner-city location near public transport.

For some reason the two I'm following, Beatbox Kitchen and Taco Truck, seem to hug the inner north rather than crossing the Yarra River. Presumably the grungy streetscapes of Brunswick are a better fit than the delicate facades of Albert Park, and I suspect the local councils in the north are more relaxed about permits for that reason.

Yesterday afternoon the call came, or in fact the tweet: "@beatboxkitchen: Dinner outside mr wilkinson, lygon st east Brunswick from 6pm". A little cryptic, but it turned out Mr Wilkinson was a bar at 295 Lygon St, East Brunswick.

I was slightly puzzled by this location - it was on a tram route, so easy to get to. However, I knew the footpaths there were average width and lined by shop fronts. Where would people eat, exactly?

The answer turned out to be quite clever. When I got to the burger truck's serving window, I saw this:

As people ordered, they were asked "Are you eating in the bar?" The van had formed a friendly arrangement with Mr Wilkinson - burger buyers could sit in the bar if they liked; and naturally, they tended to buy a drink while there.

This was the same methodology I followed. After placing my order, I went in and bought a schooner of Kirin ($5), then took it outside and used it to save a spot at the bar's narrow streetside stools while I waited for my burger. The resulting combination of beer and food looked like this:

My verdict? Very tasty. It was a simple burger ($11) but better quality than you might expect from a roadside van, with cos lettuce, a spicy meat pattie, crunchy onion, tomato and cheese. And the bread roll was soft, but not sweet and unyielding like a mass-produced hamburger bun - it had some welcome density.

The fries ($5) went cold too quickly, but that's always the danger with fries rather than thicker chips. The spicy mayo that came with them was good.

As for the atmosphere, it was a great vibe on a balmy spring evening, with people spread between the van and the bar and in a burger-induced good mood.

My next assignment - if I choose to accept it - is to track down the Taco Truck.

You can find Beatbox Kitchen's latest location at

Friday 4 November 2011

Melbourne Art Deco

This week's guest blogger is fantasy novelist Narrelle M Harris, author of the acclaimed vampire novel The Opposite of Life and the Melbourne Literary app for the iPhone and iPad.

It was all in the detail.

There’s something about Art Deco design which never ceases to delight me. Maybe it’s the combination of geometry and colour. Maybe it’s the frescoes in which 20th century technology looks decorative and classical. Maybe it’s just the way I associate Deco with PG Wodehouse and his Jeeves and Wooster books.

Whatever the reason, the Melbourne Art Deco Architecture Tour provided the requisite delight as I walked around the city under the guidance of guide Robin Grow. Some of Melbourne’s Deco architecture was already known to me, but Grow revealed a few secrets as well (the secret, guys, is to look up!)

The Manchester Unity Building was the logical start for our walk. Although I’m very familiar with the elegant sweep of this 1932 building, I hadn’t really stopped to look within its interior. How had I not seen the picture of the grieving woman near the Collins Street entrance? The curve of her back, the image of Death in the corner. The art is blocky but eloquent:

Further along I noticed the lovely stained glass highlights under the walkway to the Capitol Theatre for the first time:

Then, after spotting the little K on the former Kodak House, I got a better look at the mosaic on Newspaper House. I’ve always seen it from the other side of the road, but up close, I could see the dates and strange little designs on the insets of the windows:

It’s strange to think you know a city well, only to discover you really haven’t been looking at it properly. The Aztec influence in Harry Norris’s floor design for Block Court was obvious once it was pointed out to me. Howey House’s musicians were a surprise, as were the fish forming what I thought was a floral design on the Majorca Building:

I hadn’t expected the strange combination of images at the top of the Theosophical Building on Collins Street. The design is a combination of the six pointed star, a cross that looks a bit like an ankh, a swastika (the peaceful Indian one,  not the reversed Nazi one) and the ouroboros (the snake eating its own tail):

My favourite surprise, though, was the Egyptian motif on a building on Bourke Street. The winged sun and lotus columns reminded me of the time I lived in Egypt. The Egyptian craze in design that followed the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb reached even our far shores and this elegant decoration represented a bridge between Melbourne’s history and my own:

Robin Grow knows a lot about the architectural history of Melbourne, helping you see the parts of the city you never noticed before; but it was the tour's interaction with my personal history that added detail to the experience.

The MELTours Melbourne Art Deco Architecture Tour takes place on the second Sunday of each month. Cost $49. Bookings via +61 407 380969 or

Narrelle M Harris was a guest of MELTours. You can find details of Narrelle's vampire novel The Opposite of Life at her website, along with details of her Melbourne Literary app and other published work.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Christchurch: A City on the Mend

I've spent the past week in New Zealand, and my first stop was Christchurch as part of a group of journalists invited by Tourism New Zealand.

It's been a mere eight months since the major earthquake which devastated its historic city centre, so I was interested to see what the situation was like now, especially for travellers who might like to visit. 

There was little visible evidence of quake damage on the way from the airport through the Christchurch suburbs, but as we reached the centre we started to notice buildings which had bracing applied to their exteriors to stabilise them, awaiting repair.

Here's an example, a building in the Arts Centre which was once part of a university campus (you can see one of its spires sitting on the ground on the right):

Further on, we reached the edge of the 'Red Zone' to which entry is not possible, dotted with buildings awaiting demolition. Here the vista was more startling, with half-collapsed shops in the foreground and the ominous leaning tower of the former Hotel Grand Chancellor at the rear:

However, among the wreckage there are already green buds of hope and renewal. Just after we left Christchurch, a section of shopping mall was reopened in an ingenious set of shipping containers re-engineered as temporary shops. And over the coming months the Red Zone will steadily shrink, to be replaced by a proposed new city centre with a pedestrian-friendly layout and better integration of the Avon River.

Speaking of which, just a short walk from the Red Zone, the famous punting on the river continues to be a popular attraction. We joined a boat, and passed the happy punters you can see below:

Our next stop was the Banks Peninsula, an oval-shaped promontory which juts into the Pacific from the eastern coast of the South Island. On the way we stopped at She Chocolat, a chocolate-making business with a restaurant in a beautiful setting overlooking Governors Bay. Its timber premises had stood up remarkably well to the force of the quake. Here's a (tasty) selection of their output:

The Banks Peninsula is a collection of ancient volcanic craters, smoothed by the passage of time and with some very attractive scenery. Here I am at a popular lookout point:

In the centre of the peninsula, on a long harbour which stretches in from the Pacific, is the town of Akaroa. A beautiful holiday village, it was founded by French settlers in 1840, at almost the same moment that New Zealand was claimed by the British. They stayed on under British rule, and you can still see some French elements about the town:

The next day we headed into the harbour on a dolphin-spotting cruise. As we located them outside the harbour mouth in rougher seas, it was a somewhat queasy experience for me. But hey, the diminutive and rare Hector's Dolphins were cool:

Finally, we climed the hills behind the town to visit the 19th century Giant's House, originally a grand residence for the first bank manager in Akaroa. Over the past few decades its gardens have been transformed by a local artist into a riot of colourful statues with a mosaic finish. It's an amazing place, popular for weekend visits and B&B stays:

Overall it was an interesting few days in and around the quake-rocked city. As the aftershocks have subsided, the city is tackling the damage with great heart; and with less affected places such as Akaroa within reach, Christchurch does seem like a place that travellers can now visit and thus contribute to its return to normality.

Disclosure time... on this trip I travelled courtesy of Tourism New Zealand.

Friday 21 October 2011

The Alphabet Dinners: I is for I Carusi

In The Alphabet Dinners series, I review the cheap restaurants of Melbourne... In alphabetical order.

It's been a while since I reviewed a cheap Melbourne restaurant taken from the Age Cheap Eats guide. That's partly because I was up to the letter I, and there weren't many choices.

Last night, however, I was on my way to sample the wares of the Taco Truck which pops up around suburban Melbourne - yesterday it was parked in North Carlton. But as I boarded the number 1 tram, the rain started falling, and I stayed on past my intended stop to find myself at I Carusi in East Brunswick.

According to the guide, this place has been doing pizzas with "all class but no frills" for over a decade. That said, I'm not surprised I haven't come across it before - its located within an old shopfront on Holmes St, just after the tram does a quick dogleg from the top end of Lygon St. It's a quiet stretch at night, and the lit-up restaurant stood out like a beacon on an overcast evening.

It looked like there were no free tables and I'd be out of luck, but then I was summoned through to the back room, to a little table by the rear door. Not a bad spot really, and the back room was buzzing with a big group at one long table and some smaller groups at others.

It was a pretty simple menu - a long list of pizzas in big and small sizes, with salads and desserts on a blackboard.

First to arrive was my glass of Cavallino Syrah Sicilia, the house red, served in a straightforward glass:

Next, the pizza arrived, breathtakingly quickly given how busy the restaurant was. The menu was replete with arty pizza variants including ones involving broccoli and gorgonzola, but I went for a classic - a small capricciosa with tomato, fiore di latte cheese, ham, mushrooms, olives and anchovies.

It was excellent, a beautiful balance of flavours and textures - a light crisp base, flavoursome tomato, fresh tasty toppings. Apologies for the blurry photo by the way, I'm still getting the hang of the camera on the new iPhone and didn't want to bother fellow diners by using the flash too much:

Alongside the pizza was this salad, with fiore di latte, basil and tomato. Excellent, though it did mean a very cheesy meal (my fault):

All up, the service was friendly and efficient, and the food was excellent. In fact I couldn't help thinking how much better the experience was compared to that at my 'B' restaurant Bande à Part, which isn't far away geographically and offers similar food.

The Bill: $29.50
The Restaurant: 46a Holmes St, East Brunswick; Ph: 03 9386 5522

Thursday 20 October 2011

Melbourne's Angels & Demons

We're in the last week of the Melbourne Festival, the city's annual big-budget celebration of the arts. Coming hot on the heels of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, it showcases impressive and challenging productions from around the world, as well as locally produced shows of distinction.

Beyond the usual formal venues, the festival usually has one or two outdoor fixtures which grab the populace's attention for the run of the event. This year the standout example is Angels-Demons Parade from Russia. This consists of several bizarre and enormous glossy black statues, which appear to represent babies with the wings and tails of reptilian demons.

Though they may look like diabolical half-breeds, the angel-demon babies appear to be innocents, with playful expressions and postures. They're disturbingly interesting, prompting me to reflect that what we assume to be good or evil, may simply be "other".

I took these photos at night, walking southward from the Melbourne Town Hall, stopping at City Square, St Paul's Cathedral and Federation Square, ending at the Arts Centre where three of the creatures are in residence.

Another less-publicised outdoor event of the festival is Cacophony: The Art of Conflict. It consists of a series of images projected across the external walls of the main Arts Centre building and Hamer Hall (the concert hall), viewed from the square between them.

The 12-minute performance is a lot of fun - the buildings come to life, interacting with each other via music and imagery. My favourite bit is when they carry out a little war, flinging virtual paint bombs at each other. The curved concrete surface of Hamer Hall even dons armour plating before rolling out its cannons...

Angels-Demons Parade and Cacophony: The Art of Conflict continue to Saturday 22 October. See the Melbourne Festival website for more details.

Monday 10 October 2011

The Unpublished 11: St Kilda by the Bay

I just stumbled across a trial guidebook entry about the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda, which I wrote in 2005. 

It was created as part of my application to be included in Lonely Planet's pool of authors; ultimately successful therefore, but never published. 

Here it is now, an overview of the bayside locality's charms...

From the moment an 1841 party of picnickers named St Kilda after their offshore yacht, the Melbourne bayside suburb has been a place devoted to fun. Loved for its entertainment and damned for its vice, it’s never ceased attracting pleasure-seekers.

Despite recent gentrification, St Kilda’s edgier side survives, resulting in bohemian types rubbing shoulders with suited professionals, prostitutes, new-agers, teenagers, tourists and ultra-permed old ladies wedded to Acland St’s famous cake shops.

Its seaside resort history lives on via its entertainment options and classic structures like Luna Park, the St Kilda Sea Baths, and St Kilda Pier, as well as sandy St Kilda Beach with its trademark backdrop of palm trees.

Before that fateful picnic, St Kilda was the home of an indigenous coastal tribe known as the Yalukit-willam, one of the five clans of the Bunurong. They roamed the area between St Kilda and Port Melbourne, and knew the St Kilda area as “Euro-Yroke”, their name for the red-brown sandstone found along the beach.

It wasn’t long, of course, before the bay views attracted another kind of “Euro” altogether: newly-arrived settlers from Britain and beyond. They created a fashionable suburb which quickly acquired mansions, churches, a synagogue, sea baths and posh hotels.

With the advent of the tramways in the 1880s, St Kilda took another dramatic shift. With thousands of everyday people having access to its attractions, it became a bustling seaside town, and the rich folk fled to the greener pastures of South Yarra and Toorak.

They may have tut-tutted at the perceived lowering of tone, but it’s true that St Kilda had its seedier side. The early 20th century saw the building of great entertainment venues like Luna Park, the Palais Theatre and the St Moritz ice-skating rink, but also witnessed a boom in brothels and street prostitution. St Kilda was one of the first Melbourne suburbs to have an apartment boom, with many flats constructed in the 1930s.

World War II brought an invasion of American military personnel in search of a good time, an era captured in local painter Albert Tucker’s moody modernist paintings of soldiers and local girls on a big night out.

After the war, an influx of European migrants added a distinctive flavour to St Kilda’s population and cuisine, the spectacular cake shops of Acland St their most visually appealing legacy.

In the 1960s and '70s, there was growing concern about St Kilda’s illicit massage parlours, drug trafficking and street kids. However, from the 1980s a wave of gentrification began to sweep the area, as house-hunters began to appreciate anew the suburb’s unique bohemian atmosphere and natural advantages.

Luckily, gentrification and increasingly expensive property hasn’t extinguished St Kilda’s raffish charms, and visitors from Melbourne and beyond still flock to its entertainments and attractions year-round. 


Luna Park
Lower Esplanade

This venerable amusement park is the symbol of St Kilda as holiday playground, and was based on the funfairs of the USA’s Coney Island. Though Luna Park is showing its age in places, it still fulfils its function of amusing kids and adults via its various rides. A highlight is the Scenic Railway rollercoaster, the oldest still operating in the world, with impressive views of the bay (if you can concentrate on the horizon while you’re going up and down!).

St Kilda Pier 
Pier Rd

A landmark since 1853, St Kilda Pier stretches into the waters of Port Phillip Bay. At the end was a distinctive century-old kiosk which burned down in 2003, but was rebuilt from the original blueprint. Take a walk along the pier to get a waterside view of the city, and the old port of Williamstown through the forest of nearby yacht masts. From November to April, a daily ferry runs from here to Williamstown and return.

St Kilda Sea Baths
10 Jacka Blvd

Before enclosed public swimming pools existed, the St Kilda Sea Baths were all the rage. After the imposing Moorish structure became run down, it was redeveloped (controversially) as a heath and dining centre. Now it houses a salt water pool, along with a steam room and spa pool.

Catani Gardens 
Beaconsfield Pde

Palm trees were a symbol of the exotic to 19th century folk, and the Catani Gardens are home to dozens of them, lining the gravel paths which lead to a gazebo with an onion-shaped cupola. There's a barbecue and playground at the northern end. On any afternoon you might see people picnicking on the lawns, walking their dogs, or practising their juggling or drumming skills. The park's proximity to busy Fitzroy Street means you can always slip away for a beer once the sunset's been and gone.

The Unpublished is a random series comprising my never-published travel articles. For previous instalments, click on the The Unpublished Topic tag below, then scroll down.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Into the Hills on Puffing Billy

In all my travel writing about Melbourne and its environs, I've rarely written about the iconic Puffing Billy steam train (except for entries in my two iPhone/iPad apps, Melbourne Historical and Melbourne Getaways).

In fact I'd only ever been on the train once, and that was in the dining car for a limited distance. So it was time to enjoy the trip the way the average punter does - in one of the open-sided carriages that are pulled by steam power through the attractive greenery of the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne.

It was pretty chilly when we arrived at the narrow-gauge station at Belgrave, with the cool air highlighting the smoke and vapour from the steam engine:

Here's a shot of me in the engine:

And here's the gent who was actually driving the thing:

And we're off! First challenge was to take a decent snap of the train as it curved around and crossed this trestle bridge:

A brief stop at Menzies Creek meant a photo op for these tourists:

It was a very cold ride that day - but the open-sided carriages were a huge plus for photography (and also meant that kids could sit with their legs hanging out the sides of the train if they wanted to). Some beautiful green scenery on the way:

On our way back from Emerald we got to join the attractive dining carriage which was on the return leg of the daily Steam and Cuisine lunch service. Here's Narrelle:

Back at Belgrave at the end of the trip, I realised the First Class dining carriages were each named after a station on the former Tasmanian mining railway which is now known as the West Coast Wilderness Railway (and you can see my blog post from that journey here):

From Belgrave, it was a short dash up the walkway connecting the narrow gauge station to the mainline Belgrave suburban station, then onto an electric train for the trip back to the centre of Melbourne. Faster, certainly, but not as much fun as Puffing Billy.

Disclosure time: On this trip I was hosted by the Puffing Billy Railway. Find details of its timetable and fares by clicking here.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

William Dampier, Pirate & Explorer

Everyone loves a pirate, so here's a profile of a pirate who gave his name to a Western Australian town. 

I originally wrote it for an ecommerce website many years ago. I think it was meant to accompany a page of pirate-themed toys for sale, but don't hold me to that...

Sometimes a pirate, sometimes an explorer, William Dampier was one of the first Englishmen to set foot in Australia.

Australia is not a place generally associated with pirates. By the time it was settled by Europeans, the great age of piracy had passed it by.

However, one English pirate had a role in our pre-colonial history. William Dampier (1652-1715), a buccaneer for some years in the Caribbean, became the first Englishman to chart the coast of north-western Australia.

Just fill in the map as you go along

How involved he was in piracy is actually an open question. Some have suggested he merely found pirate ships a convenient way to travel. Whatever the truth, he certainly did keep company with pirates and knew their ways well.

He also was an inquisitive explorer. In January 1688, Dampier was one of the first Englishman to set foot on the Australian mainland when his ship, the Cygnet, was beached on the northwest coast near King Sound. The Cygnet carried Dampier to a number of destinations in Asia. Throughout his voyages, he kept well-written notes of his observations.

Dampier had his share of adventures as well. When he separated from his shipmates in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), he took seven crewmen on a small boat through a hurricane to Sumatra. Exploring the area, he kept adding to his journals.

A huge rollercoaster of a tale

He published his work in 1697 as New Voyage Round the World, and it became a best-seller. His work caught the eye of the Admiralty. In 1699 they equipped him with HMS Roebuck, a slightly leaky cast-off, and set him off the explore the coast of Australia (then known as New Holland).

This was no joy-trip. Aside from the suspect nature of the boat’s structure, the captain and crew were of a headstrong buccaneer background. Nevertheless, they reached the west coast safely, and Dampier got to name Shark Bay for the sensible reason that it was a bay with lots of sharks in it.

A cunning plan

Proceeding along the coast to the northeast, Dampier’s urgent need was to find fresh water for the crew. Previous maps of the area were full of gaps, and he felt sure he would come across a river at some point. In an echo of the search for the Northwest Passage in the northern hemisphere, he also believed there must be a Southeast Passage that would lead to the Pacific.

He was right, of course, as the Timor Sea and Torres Strait would have led him there. Unfortunately, the need for water grew too great, and the Roebuck had to leave to resupply in Timor.

This was the end of Dampier’s exploration of the Australian coast, though he did continue on to chart New Guinea and New Britain (now the Solomon Islands). On the Roebuck’s return to England, its planking finally gave way and the ship was lost in the Atlantic. Amazingly, the crew made it to a nearby island with some supplies, and were rescued by passing ships.

Two schools of thought

Although he had achieved some remarkable seamanship and expanded the store of human knowledge with his explorations, Dampier’s voyage had an unhappy ending in England. A former crewman, Fisher, had spread malicious information about him through the Admiralty and, with the loss of the Roebuck, Dampier was barred from commanding future naval vessels.

This didn’t stop him making a career as a privateer, a kind of semi-official pirate. He became a privateer later in his life, earning a commission from the English government to harass Spanish shipping.

He’s an interesting figure, an adventurer who steered a difficult course between official honour and the reckless freedom of pirates. With an Australian town and archipelago named after him on the coast he once explored, it’s worth remembering this early explorer and sometime pirate.

(Public domain image of William Dampier is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Project Gutenberg)

Monday 19 September 2011

A Festival Like Alice 2

As I mentioned in the previous post, I'm currently in Alice Springs for the annual Alice Desert Festival. I'd already done some dot painting and taken in an outdoor premiere of a new play; now here's what happened the next day.

Music in the gorge

The dry weather around Alice obviously makes it easy to schedule outdoor events. Match it with the Territorians' willingness to drive long distances for a day trip, and you have a 272km round trip to Ormiston Gorge to see the local choir Asante Sana perform in a spectacular location.

It was well worth the drive. The gorge is a fantastic place, with a sheer wall of craggy red rock looming over a watercourse lined by a broad stretch of sand on each side. The effect is that of an inland beach in a larger than life setting.

The choir were good too, starting off with a brace of African songs and then heading into more general material.

The highlight of the afternoon, though, was the cameo appearance of tenor Boyd Owen, who performed a powerful operatic aria which resounded through the beautiful space. And he did it in bare feet too, something he noted as a personal first.

Bush food on the menu

Back in Alice that evening, the Wild Bushfoods Gala Dinner featured the skills of chef Andrew Fielke, cooking several courses composed of bush foods presented in a modern style.

Outside the ballroom of the Crowne Plaza, we sampled canapes including crocodile spare ribs, and saltbush and whiting fritters.

Then, seated at the tables within, we were served dishes such as yabby bisque with coconut lemon myrtle foam; barramundi with pencil yam and leek gratin; slow roast camel scotch fillet with pepperleaf potato gnocchi; and this dish, braised kangaroo tail and seared kangaroo filet mignon with bush banana and brown butter:

Dessert, in case you're wondering, was sugar bag honey parfait and coolamon tuile, with wattleseed and Ferrero Rocher ripple gelato. Sweet.

[Read the previous Alice Desert Festival instalment here]

For more details of the Alice Desert Festival, click here. Disclosure time: On this trip I was hosted by Tourism NT.