While Alex has been holding the fort admirably online I've been away on a sneaky trip to the golden land of parrots,pouches and giant cuttlefish.
The last time I visited Australia to see my sister and her then, young family ,was in 1978 although she and they have been back to Scotland several times since then I've only made that one lone visit all those years ago.
So...high time for another visit while we are both still able to get around a bit and see something of the natural wonders of Australia.
As I stayed with my sister in Whyalla to keep things in order we should begin there.
A brief history. The city of Whyalla sits near the top of the blue and placid Spencer Gulf, 394 kilometers north of Adelaide, South Australia`s largest city.With its near neighbours Port Augusta and Port Pirie it forms the Iron Triangle,hence its proud nickname..Steeltown.
It was here the Australian steel industry and the BHP shipyards were founded around a hundred years ago due to the presence of high grade iron ore in the Middleback Range nearby.Unlike Scotland nowadays Whyalla still earns much of its living from its heavy industry with a range of processing operations going on near the outskirts including the massive one steel plant, (the former BHP shipyards) producing railway lines and steel sleepers
With a population of 23,000 thousand its a town by UK standards but it certainly feels like a city when you try to walk across it as I did on several occasions.Land being readily available here everything is low rise and well spread out with houses containing large back and front gardens,many with swimming pools.
I was dropped off here down at the beach on a typical sunny morning and walked back through the beautiful Ada Ryan gardens full of spicy scented trees,then the downtown shopping area then the wide rolling streets of palm fringed suburban neatness......and was still walking back to my sisters house on the outskirts 3 hours later when I gave up and had to be picked up in her car.That's a city!!!
Being the largest regional population in South Australia,a state much greater in size than the entire British isles but with under 2 million population Whyalla acts as a service hub to a wide surrounding area .As a result it also has its own small airport,low rise university,theater, and cinema,a large range of sporting clubs and activities (Aussies love their sports) the biggest industrial estate in the state and a large selection of shops.Interestingly, Woolworths is still thriving here but it operates as a major supermarket with its own garage as well.Like a Large Tesco or Asda here.Great own brand crisps and cornflakes!A bargain! Kept me going on my travels.
With 300 days of sunshine a year and low rainfall its a good place to find the sun even in the depths of winter although it got pretty chilly at night.Some of the folks I went to visit. They know who they are.Howdy!!
The Adelaide area for example, surrounded by hills got a lot more rain and mist going by the forecast while we seemed to bask in sunny days mainly at just a nice temperature for walking.
The Whyalla sign refers to the surprising fact that offshore from the one steel plant lies the spawning grounds of the Giant Australian Cuttlefish.Every winter a growing number of snorkelers,divers and even occasionally documentary film crews can be found enjoying an undersea spectacle of flashing lights and rippling colours as these chameleons of the ocean put on their pulsing mating displays.
I was too busy on land to sample any of these underwater treats.A comprehensive tour of Australia would be like a grand tour of Europe distance,time and money wise so I decided instead to concentrate on the area I was already in.With the much appreciated help of family and friends however I managed to get about a fair bit and see a good chunk of South Australia,spending time at Victor Harbour,Port Lincoln,the Flinders Ranges and several other juicy spots,each will get a separate posting later on as I have an abundance of good images.
Imagine a green Australia. It did occur.
Three valuable things I learned on that first visit to Oz in 1978,essential to having a good time in Australia.
1.Don't stick your finger down dark holes in the ground.Scary things might come out and stick you instead.
2 Don`t drink out of the Murray River (middle tap in kitchens),not unless you want your scrotum severely sliced,diced,drained of pus,stuffed and stitched back together again.An interesting and novel experience for me!
3 In the outback keep to any path available and never sit on the ground next to big ants,snakes or spiders.They seem to get very peeved by that,don't know why?
I could add a number 4 here.Don't go walking in a mangrove swamp without a boardwalk under your feet.
After visiting the Maritime Museum,worth a visit with a landlocked ship and a great well laid out miniature railway, I visited the...
Wetlands...,really good after heavy rains
A Stilt. And the beach and nearby Ada Ryan gardens
After 3 hours of hard tramping,where I spotted numerous slow flying birds,several faster moving fish and thousands of pesky mosquitoes I came to a considered conclusion.
Man cannot flourish here,nor hoofed beast nor pawed creature long abide!
Even though it was winter and too cold for snakes I was still bitten pulpy and progress through the swamp was really slow.How Bogart pulled a boat through this sort of territory in the "African Queen" I`ll never know. Must be the magic of film!
Still, it was a new experience and I,m all for that. Mossies were not a problem elsewhere in Whyalla or Oz while I was there in case your wondering,only here.
To sum up I found Whyalla a friendly and fairly prosperous place with most people enjoying a good standard of living which,like elsewhere, they worked hard to maintain.A nice climate (certainly for nine months of the year,it can get really hot mid summer) good beach and parks surrounded by real semi desert terrain.A lush oasis nestling in the salt bush and a good base for exploring the surrounding area.
Two to three hours drive in each direction took me to 3000 foot mountains,vast salt lakes,sand seas,wild coastlines and mighty cliffs.
I was lucky with the timing of my visit as a prolonged several years drought had just ended over much of Australia.Abundant rains followed and I got caught up a hill in my first flash flood though it was back down in the city streets that I had to wade home through knee deep floods.
The massive inland salt lakes were filled for the first time in years and it was a strange sight seeing people with canoes and boats lashed to their vehicles driving into the desert to go exploring.A large area of coastal South Australia- the driest state, on the driest Continent on earth, looked very green indeed.An excellent time for a visit.