Two Peoples Bay

The world has gone mad. An earthquake has rattled the buildings of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, a flower grower in Kenyan Rift Valley has had to destroy 6 tonnes of roses returned from the airport as the ash cloud continues to spread across Europe and a Melbourne drug baron is bludgeoned to death in Victoria’s highest security prison…. but I am very lucky to have had a near perfect day and a retreat from the craziness for a short while.

A sleep in…yeah…with no little wet nose and beady brown eyes a centimetre from my face at 6 am willing the morning walk to happen. Jeep loaded, water battles filled, map at hand…there are a few scarily large roundabouts in Albany, and NO traffic lights…and a route planned that will take me around the top of Oyster Harbour, across the bridge over the Kaglan River and then to Two Peoples Bay.  Initially named Baie de Deux Nations, a French Lieutenant exploring the coast from Nicholas Boudin’s ship Geographe caught sight of an American sealing ship the American brig Union captained by James Pendleton…oh this was in 1802…and after having a chin wag the bay was named in honour of the meeting and the two peoples of the new republics, America and France.

By the 1830s the American, British and Eastern Australian whaling ships flocked to the southwest coast from the overfished Pacific Ocean…mmm we still haven’t  learned the overfishing lesson then..and set up a whaling industry producing whale oil as Western Australia’s main export until the new settlers got a handle on farming this very different land. The aboriginal people, the Minang who called the bay Yilbering, were employed as workers, gatherers and seamen. Nebinyan was a whaler for 20 years and also the chief songmaker of the region, a role of great importance and his whaling songs tell of the story of the whale chase and the sorrow of leaving the home fires to hunt the whale.

The area has a story of twos. The two nations and then the rediscovery of a bird and a marsupial thought to be extinct.

 The Noisy Scrub Bird, first discovered…by Europeans anyway, the Minang knew the bird as Jeemaluk …by naturalist John Gilbert, one of John Gould’s explorers and collectors in the mid 1800s was last collected as a specimen in 1889 and then seemingly it was, all over red rover for the noisy scrub bird. Astonishingly, rediscovered in 1961 100 birds were counted in the gullies of Mt Gardner. This is beginning to read like a biology ramble but the NSB is an intriguing little bird. Small, well disguised and with a song repertoire  both in variety and volume  Gilbert  described it ‘without exception the loudest ‘ of any WA songbird. The NSB is part of a small but ancient family of scrub and lyrebirds with a simpler voicebox than most songbirds belying the volume and complexity of it’s trilling ability…and an ancestry possibly going back 35m years. The female is a dowdy little soul, now there’s a surprise and usually silent apart from an alarm or distress call. Not surprising really as she brings up the babes as a single mum…and they take almost twice as long to develop in  the egg as most small songbirds..and when they do arrive with a shock of punkrock black down they can leave the nest within 3 to 4 weeks but often chose to hang around with mum for several months …mmmm !!! Not only this but she has a huge building effort to make the nest in the first place, not a scruffy little arrangement of twigs on the ground but a woven nest, close to the ground about the size of a football. Sedge leaves and twigs are covered with an outer layer of paperbark and made snug and warm with a shredded material from decayed wood….and she has to protect the nest from lizards, goannas and carpet pythons.

And now onto Gilbert’s Poteroo, Ngilgite to the Minang, discovered by John Gilbert…he of NSB fame. A rabbit sized marsupial destined to feared extinction by land clearing for the new settlement the last one was officially recorded in 1879. Some 100 +years later, a research team trapping Quokkas in the area trapped a GP, once again near Mt Gardner, and along with the re establishment of the GP in the area lots of other work on their diet…primarily underground fungi…has unearthed, literally, over 400 species at Two People’s Bay many unique to the area including one which is green from a chlorophyll component, virtually unheard of in underground species.

Ok I hear anyone who may be reading this, ENOUGH. What about the beaches. And yes, Little Beach is about as perfect as a beach can be, surely. A crescent of white sand, crystal clear turquoise and lapis water lapping and grumbling in waves on the beach and a perfectly placed big lumpy granite boulder that the water froths around, occasionally crashing in a big fountain spray. Back dropped by vegetated sand dunes and granite headlands sloping smooth to the ocean storms at sea have brought in a catch of dead fish ad a bird, feathers flopping in the surf breastbone exposed in a perfect wishbone of white..perhaps nibbled by fish or crabs as it tumbled to the sand. The sand glistens with fish scales and cuttlefish.

 Alone for an hour or so, a sprightly octogenarian skips down the steps to the beach and with her friend strides purposefully along the beach to clamber up the granite and bask on the rocks, seal like for a while. Walking back after their swim and bake she is lean and brown, the skin on her thighs wrinkled like seersucker and glistening with salt, health and vitality.

Stay with me folks, can it get better?? Well yes, this really is a classically brilliant day. Hazelnut and chocolate meringue with fresh berries and a bowl full of apples, carrots and corn to feed the birds and animals at the Albany  Marron, Bird and Animal Park. A free fly aviary with parrots, love birds, cockatiels and a very coy pheasant , donkeys, chickens, two very agile Nubian goats, a hairy, tusked pig Percy who loves a scratch and even more a carrot or ten and guinea pigs for Africa!!

And yes here is the piece de resistance. At Nornalup Beach where a river creeps out to the ocean and four wheel drives don’t creep on the beach but leave big tracks everywhere, a blonde, turquoise bathing suited woman is taking her three…………miniature horses!!!!…for a walk in the surf. One being led the other two are ambling along. We talk as she returns back to the little horsebox attached to a ute and parked on the sand. These are three of six she and her husband have along with five rescued dogs and a paddock full of kangaroos! Retired beef farmers, her day now starts with a swim in a natural pool by the beach and ends with two trips to the sea with her horses. When the surf is low they swim in the ocean and when not they paddle in the estuary and as they get deeper they swim and ‘sigh loudly’ with bliss followed by a roll in the sand, soft as talcum and squeaky underfoot.

What an end to a great day. Am writing this in a comfy chair in the bar at the hotel. People watching is glorious and a little voyeurstic but hey. Willow, her siblings and ugg booted mum have arrived for dinner with threats of no pudding and definitely no soft drinks if they don’t behave. Willow has bounced her way to the table and a younger brother has bounced even higher.

Dinner is finished and am having a coffee and glass of a local cab sav. Willow hasn’t demolished the restaurant yet, a table of eight grey nomads at the next table at dinner are talking about orgasms and sex on the beach, well the girls are…cocktails apparently….. and the blokes are muttering about caravans and debating the merits of full strength and mid strength beer. Now , where am sipping coffee a couple are sitting talking about ear candles, candle and ear wax and orgasms again!! This time relating to ears!!  …and now they’re onto emerging naked girls from oceans and the mermaid thing… and now the  ‘ I’m not gay’ and abstinence thing!! What am I missing out on??… no don’t answer that. Seeing three tiny, woolly horses wandering down the beach has been just the most amazing experience and a perfect way to end this little trip itwby.

Next time it may well be the  Great Northern Highway, New Norcia, Mt Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra. Lots of mining stuff and potentially cool, if different, accommodation.

To escape is the greatest of pleasures

‘To escape is the greatest of pleasures’ wrote Virginia Woolf and Willy Nelson sings of being ‘on the road again’’…..yeehah. Well perhaps not the yeehah from the pen of either Willy or Virginia but it’s lovely back on a little adventure itwby.

How does Colin Thubron do it though. Heading off on the Silk Road he packs a note book, passport , some cash and ONE change of clothes, and he travels for months. The Jeep is stuffed to the gunwales and the excuse is of course that it is seasons change and it could be freezing cold…hence all the thermals, big woolly grey jumper…or still warm, hence the boardies and T shirts. This combined with a wedding, the initial reason for this trip south, back pack, cameras and moleskins, water bottles and the bag with the latest edition to the travel paraphernalia, Freda, a very cute little Toshiba netbook. About the size of a large paperback and a casing that looks like carbon fibre..according to the materials expert  in the house…am very chuffed to add her to the travelling family. Freda by the way is in honour of Freda du Fauer, Australia’s great female mountaineer who climbed Mt Cook in New Zealand with two guides in the early 1900s, brothers, one of whom was there to chaperone!! Dressed in long skirt, button up blouse and high topped laced and buttoned boots, she saw, she climbed and she conquered, … a truly amazing woman, hardly known in Australia but adored by the Kiwi mountaineering fraternity who have almost claimed her as their own. Now there’s a surprise!  The boot (mountaineering that is)is on the other foot… Aussies have snaffled Russell Crowe and the Flinn boys so welcome back Freda.

Anyway, loaded up, the Jeep and I head out of Lesmurdie and within minutes are in orchard country. Glowing red apples clump on espaliered trees, the country  green and fresh after recent rains  and peppered with little road stalls selling  apples, pears, avocados and chestnuts. Oh and ‘Special Offer, Today only…Prices Slashed, 5 icebergs for $50.00’….roses! I forget how close we are in the hills suburbs to such a productive area, wine, fruit, honey ,chocolate and more pickles and jams than you can poke a stick at .                                                        

 I forget until driving the winding road edged by tight packed trees  this is also a sad and gloomy little corner of the world, dark and wounded bush where frustrated dads take themselves and their access denied children to die.  Starkly white and simple along the road too are white crosses. Small and large, ornate and simple, singular and grouped, shrines of remembrance of lives lost on these roads, symbols and pictures pinned and nailed to trees all untouched, undisturbed by the graffitiers who have tagged the next bus stop.                                                                                                                   A side road leads to a prison farm and Buddhist Monastery, the rodeo paddock with bull runs, bunting and fenced ring stands empty waiting for next event  and red haltered glossy thoroughbreds, mares and foals chew on scattered hay behind the safe white picket fences of Heytesbury stud.

Pinjarra, some 86km south of Perth sits on the banks of the Murray River, established in 1834 and in the same year the site of a massacre…or battle, depending on which  historical side you take. When the British established the Swan River Colony in 1829 settlers were granted land further south, home of the Binjareb Nyungars who had lived on the land for thousands of years. Thomas Peel, after whom the shire is now named, intended to develop the area for farming and the Bindjareb Nyungars objected to this invasion of their land, boodjar. They speared cattle, destroyed crops and torched buildings and machinery. To cut a long and sad story short a Captain Ellis  (who died of his injuries and was the sole British casualty)  was part of a group with a detachment of mounted police and soldiers who  crossed the Murray River and was sent to ‘ascertain whether they were the offending tribe’. Surprising the Nyungars, a number were killed and eventually ‘between 25 and 30 were left dead on the field and in the river’, a number considered very conservative even by British eye witnesses . Nyungar oral history places a death toll as possibly hundreds including families of women and children as being consistent with the eye witness accounts from those who returned to survey the scene later. Walking the massacre site is a sobering experience and the river, on this day at least, moves brown tinged and slow, breathlessly quiet, dipped by blue winged dragonflies and ochre winged butterflies. The trees are barked peeled and draped with cobweb thin trails of dried thread lichen jostling for space in the gloom with broad spread figs.

The town has a subdued solemnity about it regardless of the shiny, sunny day. The ladies at the quilting group are up to their eyes in tiny squares of coloured cloth and the cafe pours coffee in a golden froth but the checked blanket draped over a drooping bough by the river and the glass and sharp pointed debris of a big night out scattered below speak of  still dark times.

On to Denmark and  a route through Donnybrook…home of the Granny Smith apple, Manjimup… home of the cherry, Bridgetown…blues country and big blue shelled marron, Walpole…HUGE trees, the tingles, marris and karris and finally to Denmark. Winding, slow roads through tall timber with the sun setting, a real threat of a big roo leaping in front of the jeep, a fuel gauge that is dropping faster than the night and finally Walpole on the horizon where  thankfully a petrol station is  still open.

Get into Denmark with no roo damage and directions from the pizza takeaway in a very quiet and dark town centre it’s dinner and day 1  itwby ends in a very dark night.  The room is tad weary and like old bread curling, crisping and curling at the edge. A handful of for every night here??…and an erratic bedside light are home up for the evening. The heater blasts out arctic air while the electric blanket positively glows.

 Big day tomorrow. Fred and Eloise get married.