Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rain, Rocks and Aboriginal Art

It’s raining and it has been all day. The sky is grey and damp and to make it worse it is cold. How did this happen? I came to Oz for the better weather. At least it is 2010 and I can put on my woolly jumper and fluffy slippers and sit in front of the heater.

I am still in Mudgee, three hours from Sydney and between the two are the beautiful Blue Mountains. There are some marvellous Rocky Outcrops in the Blue Mountains and some beautiful views over the great canyon like chasms. There is also an exquisite collection of cathedral like caves about an hour from Katoomba. These caves are one of Australia’s biggest tour attractions and house a thriving industry. Each cave costs at least $20 to visit and there are day tours of underground caves that cost $200, but even for the cheapskate like me it is worth a visit. Earlier this year, I explored the surrounding ponds and walkways and marvelled at the road that runs through a natural cave like tunnel under the mountain. It is an unusual feature of the attraction, and quite breath-taking.

Last week I found out that Mudgee has some lovely features of its own and went exploring with my partner. About thirty minutes out of town there is a huge curved wall of damp and striated rock called The Drip and nearby another rock wall of Aboriginal art called “Hands on Rock”.

The walk to The Drip is one of the prettiest I have ever seen. It follows the channel made by a small river over many years. The rocks are stunning all along the way and in several spots it seems like huge blocks have been hewn from the rock by giants and thrown down in a fit of temper. There are amazing patterns rippled through the rock and one wall is deeply pockmarked like a giant Swiss cheese. We wondered if it is where small crustaceans were buried in ancient times leaving a softer spot that dissolved over the centuries.

The drip itself is a long curved wall of rock and damp with a green tinge from the some sort of moss. There is greenish water in ponds at the base but friends tell us then when it has been raining, the pools get much larger and more beautiful.

It takes a while for the GPS to kick in, but when it does we find the small round container hidden on top of a nearby rock that we came to find. I love finding these little treasures. It feels like I am in on a secret. Although many thousands of them are placed across Australia, most people are totally unaware that they even exist and walk right on by. Looking for them is also a marvellous excuse to visit these wonderful areas. I wouldn’t even have known about these beautiful formations if I wasn’t hunting for geocaches.

The walk into the Hands on Rock is shorter and although it is only a few kilometres away the scenery is very different. As we arrive I glimpse a large grey kangaroo and a marvellous formation of rocks like a collection of castle turrets. The path wanders through a bush area full of those marvellous straggly looking trees with crooked limbs and woody undergrowth. It had a silent sort of sombre feel and I am deeply affected. Apparently the dry and tangled bush here is, much as it would have been when the original artists lived here.

The pictures were made by the Wiradjuri people by spraying a mixture of ochre and liquid over their hands as a record of their visit. It is not known how long ago this artwork was made but it is very old. Barriers have been erected to keep people back but I wonder whether it will be enough to protect it. The Maori rock carving I saw in New Zealand had little neon graffiti marks in amongst the art.

On the way home we find Frog Rock. This is a feature I have wanted to see since I arrived in Mudgee as it is a well known landmark. It turns out I have passed it several times without realising it was there. It was just on dusk when we arrived so the photo does not do it justice but it does look a bit like a frog if you squint your eyes… and if you have a good imagination. I put the photo together with another unusual rock formation we have christened Hippo Rock.

I am amazed by the wonderful features tucked away in the Australian bush and the small unobtrusive signs that point the way. Phil has lived in Australia all his life and says that there are many places as beautiful.

It is my lifes goal to see as many as I can.

To see my Unique Mudgee T-Shirt that you can buy online, check out my Australia Blue Store Here

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T-shirt available at the Australia Blue Store

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mary St. Clair - A Bizarre Story from Mudgees History

I am enjoying Mudgee, and while reading about its rich history I found the following strange tale of robbery, accusations and intrigue.

In 1874 Mary was a middle aged woman living in a nice home in Gulgong near Mudgee. Marys husband had deserted her; so she went to work for other people and in five years had managed to save up £60 which was a large sum of money in those days.

Subsequently, her husband returned to the neighbourhood and, Mary came home one day and found that all her money had been stolen.

Mary must have been very angry. Possibly swearing, shouting and tear your hair out angry.

The local constable was called. She tried to explain what had happened but he didn’t believe her story and arrested her for swearing. As if that wasn’t bad enough, things got even worse. The constable then decided from her attitude, that she was mentally ill. He believed she was suffering an attack of “Lunacy “ and from a “disordered intellect” and sent her off to Mudgee Gaol.

Mudgee Gaol has been dismantled but I have seen the nearby Dubbo Gaol. It is dark, damp and depressing and the amenities in those days were sparse. The bed was a mat on a board with one blanket, and the cell was cramped and dark with one tiny window up high and a peephole in the door. There is also a padded cell, with no windows. I suspect you could develop a mental disorder if you spent any time in there.

Mary spent several weeks in Gaol, but fortunately, the gaol medical officer and another “medical gentleman” were sent to examine her and when she was finally seen by the magistrate she was declared sane and able to go home.
It was only then that the authorities finally listened to her story and found her money. It had been deposited in a bank in the nearby town of Dubbo but the bank manager would not say who had banked it. It sounds like it was never recovered.

I can only imagine the disruption this was to her life. Perhaps she was a woman with a history of causing trouble and the officer was an unsympathetic and harsh man who was quick to judge and slow to listen. She could also have been a decent woman who had a perfectly justified fit of anger over losing money and the constable was trying to do his best to resolve the situation.

One thing is for sure, I am so glad I didn’t live in those days. In the late 1800’s the law was harsh and unyeilding. The constables, magistrates and prison warders had a lot of power and prisoners could be flogged, isolated in black cells, chained or beaten and for many years, hangings were held in the gaol grounds.
Luckily for Mary her story didn’t end there.
In a final bizarre twist, while Mary was at court before her release, the magistrate pulled her aside and asked her if she knew that she had inherited £1,000 from a relative who had passed away in England. From the reports it seems that Mary was not surprised and continued to press for the return of her money.
I would like to know what happened to Mary. She sounds like quite a character.
You can find the original newspaper account by clicking the link below

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When is a Cemetery not a Cemetery?

This is a cemetery

And this is a park

But there is no one buried in the first, it is just a display of headstones, and there are graves under the grass in the park.

The first is the memorial cemetery I found in Mudgee yesterday. The headstones were removed from the park area so it would be a neighbourhood rest area.

It is now a large flat "rest area" bordered by unremarkable homes. It is one of the less attractive parks I have seen and there is nothing there but a few pieces of play equipment, some rather ordinary looking trees and one large concrete memorial surrounded by an unfriendly looking fence.

James Blackman is believed to be the first European Settler to find the land around Mudgee, so his family memorial has not been removed out of respect. If I was him I would rather have had my memorial removed.

The new memorial is clean, orderly and clearly a cemetery, even though there are no graves here, just headstones and memorials.

The reclaimed park area seems desolate. It has too many trees to be a sports ground, and too few to be a nice picnic or play area. The trees are unremarkable, even straggly and the grass doesn’t seem healthy. Knowing that the Blackman family is buried here, and that other bones must lie under the ground I am walking on, seems creepy. Isn’t it still a cemetery even though most of the headstones have been removed?

I think they should have left the stones where they were. The memorial is only a few streets from where the stones used to lie. It seems like an unnecessary intrusion for little gain.

What do you think?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Padded Swords and Goat Skulls

Recently I took a ferry trip down the beautiful Brisbane river to New Farm, a riverside suburb between the city and the airport.

I stepped off the ferry to the sound of a band playing “singing in the rain” and people absolutely everywhere. The winter sky was overcast and threatened a little rain, but mild temperatures mean people here can enjoy the outdoors all year around. There were people picnicking, relaxing, smelling the roses, celebrating birthdays, sleeping and hundreds more playing sports from Frisbee to soccer and rugby, and in a small field at the back where the trees are ringed by fences, they were trying to place a goat skull on a stick.

I have never seen this game before and found it on the Internet. It is called “Jugger” and is a medieval game where two teams of five battle it out with padded weapons and a plastic ball on a chain and try to get their goat head onto a stake at the other end of the field to score a point.

It looks like a lot of fun.

The hits are intended to be touches (not great wallops) and the game lasts as long as it takes for someone to throw 100 stones against a gong. When players are hit they then kneel down for a predetermined number of gong hits.

Apparently it has been played in four major Australian cities since 2001, we sent teams to Berlin in 2008 and the team will return to Germany this year to play the Germans, Spanish, Irish, Americans and Dutch. . How cool is that?

Once I could tear myself away from the people whacking each other with great big padded weapons, I continued to explore the surrounding park and found;
A huge fenced area just for dogs. (The land here has to be worth million dollars easy)

A wonderful, (and fun for kids), way to show the river flood level.

An Ibis looking for a cigarette butt.

And a notice worth noticing

It’s a wonderful and magnificent world with still so much to learn.

If you haven’t subscribed to my blog yet, please do so because I can bet you anything there are many, many more surprising things for me to write about yet. Or leave a comment. I would love to hear about your most surprising find.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Highways in the Sky and Fluffy Toys that Attack

I look after two little Maltese Terriers and we go walking twice each day. They look like little fluffy toys but they are very fierce little fluffy toys. They have that mighty dog attitude common to little terriers that makes them feel invincible, particularly with dogs behind fences. When we go the park, the owners of big dogs have to put their animals on a leash, presumably to stop them tearing my dogs to pieces. I have some sympathy. My little girls race in like they own the place, all excited and yapping loudly. Last time we went into the dog park, there were four dogs in the park when we arrived, and they were all gone within five minutes.

But I like taking the dogs when I go walking, particularly if it is after dark. I might be more prone to a dog attack but I feel less likely to be bothered by smaller animals. The other night I saw a lump on the power line. It was too solid and low to be a bird. It looked like a rat. I stared for some minutes and it didn’t move so I decided it was one of those lumpy things that seem to connect the power lines in places. Only the next night it wasn’t there.

I found out why tonight.

There are no footpaths here and the trees hang over the road. They look pretty in the day time and like something from a horror movie at night. Something bulky rustles the trees as I go by and makes me jump. They are probably crows but I wish I had the dogs with me.

I am walking in the middle of the road to avoid the tree things and watching the sky for the lump things and suddenly I see a long dark shape on the power lines and this time it is definitely moving. There is more light than last night and I can not only see clearly that it is a rat, but I can see the light shine off its fur. I try desperately to make out that it is something more acceptable, like a squirrel (do they have those here?) or even a possum, but the animal in question definitely has the shape and long tail of a rat.
I grab my phone camera and try to get evidence. The rat like thing takes its time and meanders along as if I am not there, but by the time I have taken the camera off video mode, taken a flash photo of the air half way up to the power lines, turned off the flash and then decided video would be best after all, the rat has disappeared out of sight and I have no evidence.

I am disturbed by the fact that the power lines must be a sort of highway in the sky for wandering rat like things; and they lead into every home in the neighbourhood, including mine. I only hope that should a rat invade my place, the little dogs will treat it the way they treat big dogs and annoy it to death.

And next time I go out after dark, I am taking the dogs.

New - Now available a mouse pad featuring the attack dogs themselves. It makes a great present for Maltese Terrier owners (or those who wish they were). :-)