25 July 2011
I’m running a few drawing workshops on Saturday 6th August, Wednesday 10th August and Saturday 13th August from 10am to 12noon at Hope Hall, Hope Road, Exeter, EX2 5HS. It’s a beautiful wooden building on a quiet little side street – come and see! Cost is £12, materials included, but bring your own if you would like. Booking essential, 6 is the maximum size of the group. Send me a message on the contact page on this website if you are interested.
15 June 2011
Tired but happy…
We are both deep-down tired… we passed the 10,000km mark yesterday and camping every single day with all its loveliness and awkwardnesses ultimately wears you down. Jen is also battling possibly some local mosquito-borne disease or maybe just utter fatigue. Only the stunning landscapes, remarkable flora and fauna and fascinating people keep us going…
We had to leave the Kimberley (I believe someone has already written the song ‘I left my heart in Fitzroy Crossing’) with its art and colours and endless landscapes and strange animals. We headed down via Port Hedland, crossing the line which carried the world’s longest train in ?2007? – 7 miles long – carrying iron ore out of the heart of Australia to the world. The town is entirely about iron and salt and testosterone. There are apparently some 10,000 year old rock carvings in the middle of the iron ore plant which you can obtain a key to see, but several attempts to gain access to the key proved futile.
On into Karijini National Park – we camped 20 minutes’ walk from a spectacular gorge and waterfall and I spotted a red roo and various birds on my morning walks, but not the 5.5 metre olive python which had been removed from another gorge last year after biting off the hairband of a tourist who surprised it.
We are now on the home stretch. Having fallen in love with the coast on the way up, we returned to Coral Bay, and I tried yet again to swim with Manta rays. Twice thwarted, I finally managed to get on a tour, to be rewarded with a white-tipped reef shark just sitting on the bottom staring at me, a turtle who settled on some green antler coral, tips of his flippers just balanced on the bottom, as we observed each other for a full five minutes. Slowly he swam away, using the coral to push himself and steer, and I followed for a while until I saw the dark shape of a much larger shark in the distance, and suddenly realised I was several metres away from anyone else. Back in the boat to search for Mantas – and finally we spot several right in shallow water by the beach. The first group go in and are heads down in the water watching one when a rarer black manta nearly ploughs into them. Another manta right beside the boat and we are allowed in too. I slide into the water, following the pointing fingers and look down: there, beneath me, close enough to touch, a manta ray as big as a car, wings outstretched, rolling over and over as it feeds on the rich waters coming in from beyond the reef. All black on its back with a big grey diamond shape, pure white on its front, flying through the water as if oblivious to everything around it.
Another hard drive down to Kalbarri, through rain, past strange pink clouds in amongst the grey storm clouds at midday over the ominously dark green bush and the pink-orange floodplains which were dry as desert sand when we drove up. We stop at Overlander Roadhouse for lunch, sat inside Troopy to avoid the red mud and puddles and fearing the huge boats and trailers being parked, seemingly at random in the entrances and exits.
Back to Kalbarri, hot and airless on our way up, now cool and breezy, but the rain which stretched for most of our 600km drive had already passed, and we could put our tent and swag up in the dry. A lazy Sunday morning of journals and fried breakfast, then a slow drive a few miles down the coast just to see the cliffs. We had barely arrived when two humpback whales start breaching and blowing off the coast. Right in on the huge booming surf, a manta ray calmly navigates the great waves and then a pod of twenty dolphin swims slowly northwards.
Devon may feel rather tame after this.
We hope to arrive back in Perth in two days’ time, then Jen goes off to a conference and I spend a few days in the south before I have to give back Troopy. There are things I am looking forward to, like making a cup of tea, without having to unpack and construct a kitchen, but Troopy has been magnificent and I am really going to miss it.
This will probably be the last road report, for more info check the website in a few months’ time, and I’ll let you know about any exhibitions. I’ve got enough material to last me a lifetime.
Much love to you all,
29 May 2011
Despite hiccups, which are just too tedious to go into in detail, ask if you want to know, we are seeing vast swathes of the Kimberley and falling in love with all of it.
We took a tour in to Purnululu (the Bungle Bungles) and the first creek crossing confirmed why we did… pretty sure we could have bogged the Troopy within a few metres of entering. The tour group was small and they were all lovely people, Purnululu deserves its World Heritage status. The rocks are stunning. The orange is pinky orange, the black-grey is crisscrossed, greying (where blue-green algae live and protect the rock from rust), curving mounds waving in and out, up and down. Shadows depict the curves and cast fresh curves on the neighbouring mound. Sensuous, moving, wriggling across the flat red plains. Old creek beds, layered rock, worn smooth. Pebbles, white sand. Piccaninny creek with its sand ripples carved into rock, potholes like whirlpools ground out and down; a hundred shades of white. Long ripples echoed by the long shadows of the sinking winter sun. The rock begins to glow like fire. From the lookout you see the flat green plain with rippling muscles of rock bubbling up under the surface, molten metal settling into grey hardened steel as the sun sinks.
In Kununarra we got lucky again. We had to stay in town, but thanks to a tip-off found Hidden Valley caravan park, and thanks to good luck and talking nicely to the staff found a corner of the campground where no-one else dared come, my swag 3 feet away from Mirima National Park, more beautiful rocks, boab trees and our friends the wallabies. All the other campers seemed far, far away and we ate dinner under the stars every night.
Finally the Gibb River road is sort-of open… We made it as far as El Questro and Home Valley Station (where they filmed the rather schmaltzy ‘Australia’) with smaller creek crossings to prepare us for the mighty Pentecost River. The official measurement was 450mm of water – well up Troopy’s tyres and pretty scary, but we got good advice and managed to tag onto a Tagalong (guided 4 wheel drive) so got through safe and sound. Only afterwards we discovered they measure at the shallowest point….
Hot springs, palm groves in arid bush, frogs the size of my fingernail, crocodile infested rivers, then Parry Creek farm which is set around a lagoon and nature reserve. One of the only places where Gouldian finches are still found – there are only 2000 left in the wild (I didn’t see one). A walk in the morning took in pied heron, egret, kookaburra and 3 types of kingfisher, double barred finches and gerygones and a whole valley full of boab trees which kept Jen happy.
We are now back in Fitzroy, contemplating a trip into Windjana Gorge and slowly back to Broome to meet up with some of Jen’s interviewees who seem fast to be turning into friends. I force her into every indigenous art centre we pass – schools, halls, purpose built studios and galleries full of dots, stripes, whirls of all colours of country.
Now it’s cloudy and last night it even rained a few spots (stop laughing David and Peggy) which relieves the 30+ heat, and to be quite honest the nights have been cold enough for 3season sleeping bags and pyjamas. I don’t think I will ever understand this country..
much love, and bananas at $20 a kilo (they now count as treats).
15 May 2011
Pink and grey galahs, red and green parrots, rainbow bee-eaters, red and yellow ochre, red dragonflies…
The trip has gradually turned from a simple, rather touristy, roadtrip into a cultural adventure.
Thanks mostly to Jen’s research, which meant she interviewed half of Broome in about 6 days, we are getting tips of where to go, people to see, invitations to dinner… this part of Australia has a far stronger indigenous identity. We have stayed in indigenous run campsites on the Ardi (Dampier) peninsular and Jen’s search for a contact she wanted to interview turned into a drive around the corner (several miles, but it’s all relative) and a fascinating local man who has set up a whale research centre in the bush, right on a bay which is one of the world’s most important calving grounds for humpback whales. He singlehandedly managed to dissuade the government from building a gas hub there, but they are trying again a few miles down the coast as that apparently won’t affect the whales… He took us for a drive to ‘the creek’, which in my book is a small rocky stream. This one was several miles along the largest, most beautiful white sand beach, where he stopped off to do some net-fishing, to a vast, pristine, silent estuary, stretching for tens of miles. He took us to see the mangrove forest, we agreed politely, both having seen mangroves, but not mangroves the size of two-storey houses. He encouraged us to slide down the dune ‘you have to see it from the bottom, but don’t go into the mud’. Nothing on earth would have persuaded me onto the mud – the forest seemed primeval: I am sure dragons and pterodactyls live in there still. It was eerie, quiet, shafts of golden setting sun tried to penetrate a few feet into the gloom and there was a sweet, rotten smell of mud and the cries of distant birds.
We drove back along the beach with the sun setting purple and red and gold over the smoke-blue sea. Fish leapt in shoals out of the water, oystercatchers and plovers raced our vehicle and then veered off across the silky water.
It turned out he needed some architects sketches of a building on the rocky outcrop above the beach – he could get some money for the building if he could convince investors the place would make a nice area to bring groups of children to teach them about marine science, so the next morning found us back there, him driving us around to viewpoints, me sketching sites and imaginary buildings for him. I don’t pretend to be an architect, but they seemed to be good enough. I hope the project goes through. I was paid in recordings of whalesong from that very bay.
Now in Fitzroy Crossing, we enjoyed a superb indigenous tour of local Devonian Reef cave systems with ancient rock-paintings, snakes, spiders, tea and damper, dreaming stories about the blue-tongued lizard, explanations about bushtucker and the tree with permanently black bark like charcoal which was used both to protect skin from the sun and to blacken the skin of halfcaste children to prevent them being taken away from families.
In my limited understanding of aboriginal culture, I know that they do not usually like photos of themselves or pictures, so I am more than surprised when the guide allows me to include him in one of my sketches – I had just assumed I would draw the scene and leave him out. I am even more suprised when he invites us back to his house and asks if I would draw his portrait for him. I am pretty pleased with the result, since it was midday, 37degrees, and dogs were biting my legs as I sketched.
The north west also has very good local community galleries, full of paintings on the walls, on the floor, unstretched on tables and unfinished in corners, as the artists come to these centres to paint.
The Gibb River Road is slowly opening after the huge flooding this year. The campsite we are on was underwater about one month ago and we are about 8 metres above the current water level. The highway is narrow and rather like an english B-road, the unsurfaced roads demand constant concentration, judging holes, bumps, sand, ruts, animals – the driving is not only physically tiring, but requires continuous decision-making.
I’m well into my second sketchbook, struggling to get down an idea of everything we see. We haven’t had to break into the lentils yet, though the local supermarket up here is staffed entirely by 20 year old chinese people who have only a basic grasp of english, you can buy cheese in kilo blocks and packs of meat to last a month – our fridge just isn’t quite big enough.
The Troopy is doing well, loving our gentle introduction to creek crossings (about 6cm so far) and putting up with the boring miles on the highway.
Much sunny, colourful love to you all, full of strange screeches of birds and buzzing and chirruping of insects.
2 May 2011
Further north, hotter, wilder.. more dangerous animals.
We left the last cabin and drove through Roebourne, once a mining colonial community and now an indigenous town with an art group, a gallery, a post office and a ‘Supply Store’. Being the day after Easter and Anzac Day all of them were closed except the supply store, where I could have bought paints, canvases, giant enamel coffee mugs, food, a luminous green dustbin or a flat-screen TV. I bought none as we have no room in Troopy. It was a dusty ‘wildwest’ kind of town, one street and a few figures wandering through.
On and on up the road to ’80 mile Beach’ where we camped. They advertise shady sites, but the latest cyclone had put paid to half of it. The beach may well have been actually 80 miles of pure, white, soft sand. Lots of people fishing, no-one swimming. We are now in Saltwater croc country and leisure activities change accordingly. I walked along the beach the next morning and could have kept going till I dropped. With no landmarks – the dunes and the sea unchanging on either side – there is no marker to tell you to turn back.
I did, though, and we carried on, stopping at the Sandfire Roadhouse, on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert ( I love Australia’s slightly obvious way of naming things) which seems to burn down regularly but springs up again with a tropical garden and peacocks.. on to Roebuck Roadhouse – mostly a bar serving testosterone – and finally into Broome. I mention the roadhouses (petrol stations) as they really are the ONLY places on the road. Dusty forecourts, sometimes airconditioned inside, selling chips, icecream and engine oil, people stop just for something to do on the hundreds of miles of road.
Broome: tiny town with big aspirations. Founded on pearls and still trading in giant, rather tacky-looking farmed pearls, it sells mango smoothies, imported T-shirts and seemingly little else. There are two tiny universities and a lot of Kimberley tourist ventures, but it remains a bit of a frontier town. The latest idea, probably already being voted for as I write, is to exploit natural gas on the peninsular just north, Cape Leveque, thereby turning the area into another Burrup Peninsular (or Bu-gge-r-ed-up Peninsular as I call it, excuse my French). There is strong feeling on both sides – the area is Indigenous-owned and sacred land… on and on with the constant Australian dilemma..
We stayed up on Cape Leveque – Troopy’s first real unsealed road adventure for a while. Pretty sandy, corrugated, signs of recent rain still visible and vehicles careering towards us or overtaking occasionally, but the reward is incredible. More white sand beaches, aquamarine seas, red, red rocks and blue skies. They have set up small trails with information boards about the aboriginal use of the plants, and I managed to spot a great bower-bird but couldn’t see his bower. Maybe that’s what he was hopping around and squawking about…
The colours all around are incredible – vivid, bright greens, blue-grey greens, strange lilac-blues of dusk skies, red-brown soil, yellow crabs, scarlet flamboyant blossoms…I have paints and colour pencils and I’m still finding it hard to render the colours as I see them.
We hope to travel inland next week – the Gibb River Road is slowly opening, but whole communities have been washed away in the long rains and big floods, so we are having to change plans every day. There is more than enough to see, and several indigenous-owned art centres and tours, so I feel I am getting to see both sides of Australia finally.
Much love to you all. If you are jealous, just remember the mosquitoes, flies, ants, spiders, crocs and sharks, all of which bite.
18 April 2011
Hot, happy and sitting by a pool in Point Samson.
This is the first internet connection we’ve had in a week or so, and unfortunately the best reception is just by the pool… The gardens of the beach chalets (air con, hot showers and an oven) are planted with tropical plants, watered by automatic sprinkler and visited by lizards and small, as-yet-unidentified birds (by me, that is, I’m sure they are not rare, unknown species). This is our ‘compromise’ accommodation as I was happy as a pig in the ‘no water, longdrop toilet, 30 yards from the beach and kangaroos next to the swag’ campsite in Cape Range National Park, but Tim and Jen have this thing about washing…
To fill you in: Jen is a friend from Newcastle days who is doing some research out here, Tim is her partner who is with us for a couple of weeks. After that, Jen and I head into the Kimberley (if it ever dries out) and perhaps, though looking less likely, up to Darwin. We are doing a round trip to Perth, not heading out east or down south, so sorry to all friends who are on the east coast. It seems so close, and yet so very far away.
The first couple of weeks have been a pretty intense drive up the coast. Miles and miles of it is being sold off in ‘Land Sales’, I assume with the intention that in 50 years’ time it looks like the east coast. Personally I find this a shame, but then I like bushcamping.
Carnarvon is trying to big-up its tourism, but the welcome panels are unfortunately sited: ‘Picture perfect’ being set on a bad road, in front of pylons and black smoke from what looked like burning rubber on a hillside. The tourist road takes you past recently flooded mudflats and dead palmtrees. The public toilets in the park area have boxes to get rid of your needles before (or after) you use the facilities. In one of the roadhouses on the journey where we stopped for ‘all day bacon and eggs’ we were confronted with the owner, sitting in the corner of the restaurant smoking a cigarette and moaning about Britain and Australia being invaded by foreigners – he is a self-declared racist, sexist, homophobe and has written a book about it. We left as soon as we could, long before it was polite to.
To counter that, at Coral Bay I swam with whalesharks – magnificent greyblue beasts with white spots in decorative patterns, surrounded by smaller fish seeking protection under their bulk. Small, steady beats of its tailfin needed constant and tiring fin-kicking from me to keep up, but it was worth every second. I saw, but didn’t get to swim with, manta rays, as our boat broke down and we had to be towed to shore by sea-rescue – but at least we were the right way up and dry – a dinghy capsized on the reef about the same time and they got home on the upturned hull, trailing their feet in the water for two hours. We saw reef shark, turtles, rays, indo-pacific humpback and bottlenose dolphin, moray eel, convict surgeon fish (which live in shoals of 300 females, one male: when he dies, the females change sex and fight it out to find another dominant male and then turn back again.. ??!) and so many more I can’t list.
On up to Cape Range which smelt like and looked like Africa – low scrub in sandy soil, real seaweed, rockpools. Here I found living trilobites which hide in hollows in the rocks (not sure what they really are, but they look like pictures of fossils). We scared the crabs, and I came face to face with a five foot reefshark at 6.30am. I don’t know what type, as neither of us stayed around to find out. I have to say that spooked me a bit, so I spent more time on shore, stalking kangaroo. Found a family or two of red kangaroo living just by our campsite. Clearly by this time I smelt like Africa, too, as one kept coming over to my swag at night. The second night I turned over to go to sleep and saw him leap away from his spot, inches from my head.
For those of you who don’t know, a swag is like a small, low tent. Mine has a mosquito net inner zip-layer, so I can sleep open to the stars, or protected from mossies, or covered with canvas to keep out the rain. Inside you keep your mattress and bedding and simply roll it all up in one go in the morning.
Point Samson, near Karratha: a tiny community with one shop selling chinese meat cleavers, frozen bait, snorkels and fried food, and a bottle shop the size of the whole of the rest of the store. There are nice beaches, but up here we are in saltwater croc country, so another reason to feel nervy about going in the water. The water is a bit sandy, so not good snorkelling, though apparently the archipelago around Dampier has the most varied marine life this side of Australia, comparable with the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately it has either been nuked by testing on the islands, or poisoned with asbestos or will be mown down by the enormous tankers taking iron ore out from the Pilbara. This is a controversial area with incredible rock art sites on the Burrup Peninsular sitting side by side with a vast, noisy gas plant. Communities are growing around the iron, salt and gas industries, but with shoddy tin housing or dry, hot, unplanned suburbs of towns with no water and no facilities. The petroglyphs I saw yesterday, carved tens of thousands of years ago, depicting strange tailed humans and kangaroos and concentric semicircles, are just about protected by tiny, faded metal signs. The ‘Burrup Peninsular Conservation Area’ sign, placed with the view of the gasworks in the background seems deeply ironic. I know I also use iron, and salt, and gas, but this seems monstrously ignorant.
Tomorrow Eighty Mile Beach, the next day Broome, the day after Kooljaman and an aboriginal owned eco-resort with apparently magically saltwater croc-free beaches.
Troopy the Landcruiser is behaving magnificently, my sketchbook is filling up fast.
Thank you for all your messages. My real apologies that I cannot reply individually, but I am thinking of you all.
9 April 2011
Short story: I’m in Perth and I’ve just had fish and chips and mushy peas…
The first few days have been spent in a mad whirl of shopping for food, shopping for kit and picking up our wonderful Toyota Landcruiser ‘Troopy’, which is a 1993 Diesel engined beast, kitted out for proper outback camping. Troopy will need a little care and attention, a little re-filling on the oil front, but we are assured that there is at least one dent on each panel, so we know she (I’m not sure Troopy isn’t a he?) has seen a bit of life.
I’ve now slept in my new swag, and picked the wettest night in Perth so far. It’s small, easy to set up and roll up, but Troopy’s mattress is very comfortable, so Jen and Tim may have to kick me out to get their breakfast in the morning.
Pigeons are replaced by white cockatoos here, whirling and screeching in great clouds around the campsite. Most of the people I’ve met are French.. (?) and I love being in shorts and sandals all day…
The weather up north (we are headed for Broome, then the Kimberley and maybe Darwin) has been very wet – the longest, wettest wet season for ages, so we will have to see whether our planned route is under water or not, but that’s all part of the adventure. I’ve made one batch of wheat-free bread in a cast-iron pot in a regular gas oven, the next challenge is to get the heat of the coals right.
The connection is poor, and I have to get back to my campsite to get in a good night’s sleep before we start off on our trip tomorrow.
(That message didn’t send, so here’s an update…)
First stop Dongara- utterly beautiful white sand beach with dolphin that popped along just after I got out of the water at 6.30am, looking in on the pinnacles at Cervantes – a whole entrance, pathway and ‘interpretive centre’ have been built since I last came, oh, and a new road which isn’t on our map – then onwards to Kalbarri, kangaroos in the campsite, spectacular sunset and mating butterflies fluttering all around the campsite – and after tomorrow on up towards Ningaloo. It’s now 31 degrees and sunny, we’ve found just about everything we need in Troopy and all is well.
I’ll write when I can.
Sending much love to you all. Sorry in advance if I don’t reply to you: I’ll be a week between internet access at best.
Phoenix Cafe Bar
3 April 2011
National Museum of Scotland
28 March 2011
One of my sandcast bowls has been donated by Dan Klein and Alan J Poole to the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers St, Edinburgh and will be part of the ‘A Passion for glass’ exhibition this summer. http://www.nms.ac.uk/our_museums/national_museum/a_passion_for_glass.aspx
Anyone up there, please go and have a look!
Redearth Summer Exhibition
28 March 2011
I’ll be exhibiting some of my most recent work at Redearth Gallery in their Summer exhibition from June 18th to July 10th. http://www.redearth-art.com/