Monday, 28 January 2013

28 January – 2 February 2013 Albany WA

During the final 50km drive into Albany Larry noticed one wheel on the van was much hotter than the other three wheels.  This prompted us to check into a caravan park, rather than free camp, so we could hopefully arrange a mobile caravan mechanic to visit us.  After spending over $100 for two nights, we vacated and managed to find a lay by about 10km out of town which became our home for the next 4 nights.

A well known landmark in Albany is 'Dog Rock'
We took the van into a caravan workshop and $500 later came out with all wheels bearings checked and a number of faults with our electric brakes rectified.  After picking up the van and driving for 15 minutes, the same wheel was still far hotter than the others.  Back to the workshop. The mechanics thought it might need the attention of a brake specialist so we drove around speaking to a number of them. 

Van having all brakes serviced.
Of course they couldn’t fit us in until Monday so our stay in Albany was extended a few days.  Not such a curse, as Albany has a number of interesting sites and activities including Strawberry Farm, one of the earliest residences and market gardens in Albany and now a National Trust property.

Strawberry Farm, now a National Trust property

If you ever see one of these - please purchase for me! Any price! It's an early
mix master!! Would go perfectly with my collection of 30+ egg beaters!!
There is a replica (constructed in 1975) of the first European boat to land in 1826.  Panicking that the French might get to the unsettled lands of Western Australia first and stake a claim, the British Government arranged for The Amity to bring the first group of European settlers to establish a military post.
The Amity which arrived in 1826

After an arduous six week journey from Sydney, The Amity anchored on 26 December 1826.  On board were 19 soldiers, 23 convicts and the ship’s crew and staff.  The settlement was initially called Fredericktown and in 1832 renamed Albany, but for decades it continued to be known as King George Sound.
On board The Amity
There was another branch of the Museum of Western Australia which included an art exhibition and play area the girls enjoyed.  Outside the museum, which used to be the commandant's residence and later a gaol, was a huge fig tree that was planted when Albany was first settled.  Possibly the best climbing tree we had come across and not a sign in sight saying it was out of bounds!

The root system of a gigantic and very old Moreton Bay fig tree

Kate in the pink in the centre of the tree - fantastic climbing opportunities for the girls

Albany was also the last shore leave allowed to the solders travelling overseas in WW1, including Gallipoli solders and others destined for France and the Middle East.  It was the first town in Australia to conduct a dawn service on ANZAC day.  During our visit there was a lot of local discussion about an ANZAC interpretive centre being constructed in time for the 2015 centenary of Gallipoli.
On the nearby peninsular a number of well-visited natural attractions were worth seeing for ourselves.

The Bridge

The Gap - matches perfectly with an outcrop of rock on the
northern edge of Antarctica.

Kate above The Gap

On the Saturday night we all spruced up and went to the Albany Entertainment Centre (AEC) to watch a live simulcast from Perth of the Opera Rigoletto.  This was the first opera for the girls and Larry and I hadn’t been to one since we attended the Vienna Opera (in the standing room only backpacker section) over 25 years ago.  The fact that it’s been over 25 years since we’ve been to the opera tells you something of our experience in Vienna!! 

Anyway, in Albany it was free so we thought we were on safe grounds and could always leave at half time if it was too dull.  However the story, written about 150 years ago, was set in the 1950’s and while it was sung in Italian, the theatre screen had English subtitles so we could follow the storyline.  It was quite dramatic, involving quite a few characters, a love story and a death.  At half time, both Elizabeth and Kate wanted to stay to see how the story ended, so we considered the night a success.  I don’t know that I’d fork out $150 for all of us to see an opera, but as far as exposing the girls to this genre and having a night out (very rare these days), it served its purpose and got us inside the magnificent AEC building.

This building has the most amazing architecture.  I can fully appreciate why it was so controversial when constructed in 2010, but I loved it - it's so starkly modern and futuristic compared with The Amity, which is so traditional and historic and only about 200m away.  There is no way the convicts, settlers and crew of the The Amity could ever in their wildest dreams envisage a building such as the entertainment centre!

Albany 1 MG 7804
A stunning location like no other in the region.Verdent grassland carpet outside The Centre.

Also located about 15 km from Albany is the former Cheynes whaling station, now known as Whale World.  We visited thinking we’d be there about an hour, but 4 hours later we were still looking at the exhibits.  It is an actual former whaling station, the last in Australia, complete with whale oil tanks (now theatres), cookers, boilers and work sheds.  It’s not for the feint hearted, as there are many displays and graphic photographs showing the whale killing and processing. 

Whale tusks outside one of the exhibit halls
Basically, the whales were dragged onto the Flensing (skinning) deck, where the blubber was removed. 
Flensing deck then

Flensing deck today
The whale was then dragged onto the cutting deck, where men (generally wearing boots and stubby shorts and singlets), chopped the whale into smaller parts that could be fed to cookers.  Every part of the whale except the jaw and teeth were cooked and reduced to oil.   The smell must have been indescribable and apparently sharks surrounded the landing area. 

Cutting up deck then - note the workers wearing shorts, singlets
and rubber boots.  The steam is coming up from the cookers below.
Cutting up decks today.  The circles provide access to the cookers below,
so once cut up, the whale meat was pushed into the cookers

Open cooker hole today.  The safety barriers were not erected during the time
the deck was in use.  A number of workers slipped into the cookers.

While we were aware whale oil was a common fuel used for lamps before electricity, we didn’t know it was also used in paints, cosmetics, medicines, soap and detergents. 

A boiler operating the cookers below the cutting deck.
Behind Kate, the large storage tanks held the whale oil.  They are
now used as theatres and display areas.

The last operating whaling boat, Cheynes IV, was berthed there and we could go into and onto the boat and see the harpoon used and how the crew members lived on board during the whaling season. 
On the harpoon ramp on the Cheynes IV

The harpoon used to kill the whales.

This whale station only ceased operation in 1978, not because of public pressure but because the demand for oil had reduced due to the development of synthetic replacements and also the cost of fuel for the whaling ships tripled.  As the station was a major employer in Albany, it took the town about 10 years to recover from its closure.  In addition, as it was the last operating whale station in the country, the Australian government took the opportunity to implement the ban on all whaling in Australian waters. 
Skeleton of blue whale

Whale World certainly didn’t glorify whaling and it was easy to feel sickened by the exhibits, but, as we explained to the girls, it was a factory processing whale meat in the same way as an abattoir processes cattle, pigs and chickens.  Just on a much larger scale due to the size of the animals.  In its day, it met a demand for whale oil, primarily as a source of lighting.  Ultimately however, we were all pleased to know we lived in a country where the whale populations continue to grow and thrive and the only thing shooting them is a camera.  Albany, 40 years later, has a thriving industry again based on whales as a tourism enterprise.

Tourists overlooking the cutting deck.

Close up of the school group (from the photo above) visiting the whale station in 1976. 
Note many are holding their noses.
Travellers Tips: Expect to pay $55+ for a caravan park for 2A+2C. We located a free camp about 10km east of Albany, nothing flash, just a large lay by area.  The Amity Brig was excellent value at $10 a family, WA Museum gold coin donation, Whale World $59 family.  Farmers markets every Saturday morning.  All the major supermarket chains are represented and there is an extensive retail area.  Cameron Caravans were professional if you need caravan work.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

19-26 January 2013 - Lucky Bay, Cape le Grand National Park WA

This entry is mostly just a showcase of photos of the stunning beach that is Lucky Bay and some nearby beaches in Cape le Grand National Park. 

Beaches in Cape Le Grand NP, WA

Driving into Lucky Bay

Some gangham style dancing at Lucky Bay!

We managed to get a spot in the campground, which even had a solar hot water shower.  What a luxury for a national park campground. 

Our campsite at Lucky Bay
Keeping cool in our campground at Lucky Bay

We decided to start school work a week before the official start on 27 January, so we did some work in the mornings and then explored in the afternoons.  Lucky Bay is a huge bay with a fair bit of seaweed washed up near the main campground, but further around, it was white sand, unusual two toned sea water and most days, beautiful clear blue skies.
An example of the two-toned blue water in the national park

At the lookout at the end of Lucky Bay
The kids used their boogie boards and we realised it was probably the most ocean swimming they’d ever done and it was great to see them enjoying the ocean so much.  At one beach they did get severely dumped.   Kate was left in tears and had her board snapped in half.  The dumping however, also gave them a dose of reality too.  I said it was a good example of the need to respect the ocean, but they couldn’t get the concept of ‘respect’ in relation to the ocean at all.   They think of ‘respect’ as being polite, well-mannered etc.  After much explaining I still don’t think they got it, but they certainly could understand that the ocean is more powerful than they are.
The sand was white and look at the line up of 4WD on the beach!

An impromptu swim without togs!

Apparently the beaches in and around Esperance are rated amongst some of the world's most beautiful beaches and we believe it.   The colours of the water and the sand are difficult to do justice using photography.  Simply gorgeous!

From Lucky Bay we drove into Esperance to celebrate Australia Day at a local Rotary market and fair before beginning the almost 500km drive west to Albany.

Our Australia Day 2013 cake, Esperance, WA

Our route thus far.....
Traveller’s Tips:  Cape le Grand camping $9 adult, $6 concession, $2 per child.  Ranger will collect fees.  Untreated water is available.  Flush toilets and solar showers.  Cape le Grand and Hellfire Beach are good for family swimming. Telstra reception is only available near Frenchman’s’ Peak or at Cape le Grand car park.  Esperance is 50 km away with a  Woolworths supermarket, Woolies and Coles Express service stations.

Friday, 11 January 2013

11-18 January 2013 – Kalgoorlie WA

I loved Kalgoorlie! I think it’s all the history that is everywhere you look, the main street, Hannan Street is simply superb, just one ornate building after another for two large blocks, all with overhanging balconies on extra wide footpaths.  Given most of the buildings were constructed over 100 years ago when the average citizen was still living in basic tents and canvas houses, you can just sense the wealth that these buildings represented.  Apparently there were originally 63 pubs and many are still standing.  The population at its gold mining peak was about 30,000, which is pretty close to the current population.

Overlooking Kalgoorlie.  Town Hall clock tower is painted with
gold leaf.

Most of the dozens of individual mines were amalgamated in the 1980’s in a process that was commenced by Alan Bond.  Thirty years later, they are all owned by one parent company and all the separate mines are now one enormous mine, known as the ‘Superpit’.  There is a large viewing area overlooking the Superpit and I found myself mesmerised by the tiny yellow specks in the pit moving backwards and forwards.  They were actually huge earthmoving trucks.  Not sure why, as I’m not overly interested in mining.  I think it was just the sheer scale of the pit.  I’m not sure if it’s smaller or larger than the pit we saw at Tom Price, but both were impressive.   You can take a tour down into the pit and into the gold processing areas, but I knew there’d be a riot if I even suggested another mine tour.  Fortunately, it was quite expensive ($70 adult, $40 child), so I didn’t mind either.  Seen one mine, seen ‘em all’ has even overtaken me!
The massive 'superpit'

We did visit on another day and see an actual blast take place, which, even though it was in the distance, was quite exciting.  Just like in the movies, you can see the ground lift up when the explosives first went off, rubble falling down the sides of the pit and then a huge cloud of dust.
You can just make out the mine vehicles top centre, setting explosives

The blast

The family didn’t escape a visit to the local museum which was a branch of the Western Australian museum (there are branches in Perth, Geraldton, Fremantle and Albany).  I thought I’d encounter some resistance to stepping foot inside another museum, but they all followed without a whimper!  Maybe they knew it was pointless to object.  But seriously, why visit such a fascinating town and not learn all you can about it?  That’s my perspective anyway.  In addition, it was only a gold coin donation entry – bargain! 
Inside a mine scooper.

Furniture made from explosive boxes
Main headframe, now the entrance to the museum
Bicycle made entirely of wood.
We had bizarre weather during our stay in Kalgoorlie.  The whole country has been in the grip of a heat wave, with uncontrolled fires everywhere and we’ve been experiencing 40+ days since Christmas.  Then Cyclone Narelle developed off the coast of Exmouth and turned into a rain depression reaching as far as Kalgoorlie, so suddenly the temperature dropped and the skies opened.  Our first visit to the museum had us in jeans, hoodies and scarves.  The second visit had us hankering after the air-conditioning.  Ah ha, maybe that’s why the family was happy to visit a second time!

Kalgoorlie sunset

Other interesting tidbits about Kalgoorlie is that Howard Hoover, 31st President of the US, worked as a mine engineer and later as mine manager in the area between 1897 and 1907 and later was involved as an investor in mines in Broken Hill.  He became US President in 1929.

Coolgardie court house, 40km from Kalgoorlie and location of the original gold strike.

A second interesting tidbit, but once again, not taught as part of Australian history, is that the Kalgoorlie goldfields is responsible for the ultimate Federation of Australia. 

When the separate colonies were discussing Federation to become one country rather than separate colonies, Western Australia was suspicious of the Eastern colonies and feared it would lose the benefit of its mineral resources to the other colonies and refused to conduct a referendum regarding Federation.  Without the agreement of all colonies to conduct a referendum, Federation was not feasible. 

Around this same time, the goldfields wanted to form a separate colony called ‘Auralia’.  They wrote to Queen Victoria to make this request.  The Queen wrote back to the Premier of the Western Australia colony advising receipt of the request and that she would grant the request unless WA agreed to conduct the referendum on Federation.  Basically, the WA government had no choice but to participate or risk losing this resource rich part of the WA colony.  On 31 July 1900 Western Australia became the final Australian colony to vote for Federation.  An overwhelming majority of voters were in favour of joining the eastern states to become the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901.   The desire of the goldfields to form ‘Auralia’ therefore led to the formation of Australia as we know it.   A fact most Australians would be completely unaware of.
An unusual front garden in Coolgardie WA

A gold miners hut - lived in until 1971!  Directly opposite is an open cut gold mine
discovered in the 1990's.

Rear view of the miners hut.  The whole structure is from reused and scavenged materials.

Photo of the gold miner, Jim Carins, sitting outside the hut.

Kalgoorlie is also the location of our only car trouble in almost two years and 70,000 km of travelling. Larry had noticed the battery wasn’t holding its usual charge the day before we arrived in ‘Kal’ (as the locals call it), but we were able to start and drive into first Coolgardie (38km from Kalgoorlie) and then into Kalgoorlie itself.  Just as we sighted the 24 hour stopping area on the western outskirts of town, we moved into the right lane to turn right across the highway.  Then the windshield wipers slowed right down, then the indicators wouldn’t work, then we lost power steering and the whole car just rolled to a gentle stop.  No sooner had Larry got out of the car (in the rain) than a stranger pulled up to help, and then another stopped.  One of them had a tow ball so they unhitched our van, attached it to their vehicle and drove it across the highway to the stopping area.  The other fellow and Larry then pushed the Landcruiser off to the side of the road.  Meanwhile I’m on the phone to the RACQ but due to the rain, it’d be at least another 90 minutes before roadside assistance was available.  The stranger then drove home, found a snatch strap, came back, attached our car and towed it to where the van was.   What a fabulous introduction to the town!

Long and short of it was that the alternator had died, and cooked a 3 month old battery at the same time.  RACQ then towed us to a caravan park and arranged a car hire for us.  In the end, we were in the van park 4 days, which was quite a treat, even though it rained for two days, but in the end I could get all the washing done (we have a washing machine in the van, but need access to water) and the girls got to swim in the pool when it turned warm again.  And it did!  Back up to 40C. 

We actually already had the Landcruiser booked in at Toyota for a service which was quoted around $1000 (seems to be the average service price we’ve noticed!), so we then had to fork out another $500 for the alternator.  Fortunately, the battery survived. Still, as I said earlier, it’s the first mechanical issue we’ve had towing the van and driving in some dodgy, isolated areas, so we are not complaining.

My only regret is that due to the wet weather, many of the surrounding roads were closed or impassable as there are a number of old mining towns, now uninhabited, that would have been worth exploring.  Next time!
Just south of Kalgoorlie we came across a kettle/coffee cup tree and added our own cup.

Travellers Tip: Try to avoid visiting in the middle of summer.  If you are interested in the architecture, you can do a self-guided audio tour for $10.  There is a $50 deposit for the headset. WA Museum is gold coin donation and excellent value.  Oasis Recreation Park has a great pool and a couple of water slides.  Coles, Woolies, 24hr IGA. Fuel discounts available. 24 hr free camp on western entrance to town and you can also free camp at Douglas Reserve, approx 12 km towards Perth. Caravan Parks $50+ for family of 4.  All cabin accommodation is booked out by miners.