Australia 3

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.

Australia 2

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.

Australia 1

Short story:  I’m in Perth and I’ve just had fish and chips and mushy peas…

Long(er) story…

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

I’ll be exhibiting some of my work in the Phoenix Cafe Bar in Exeter from July 19 – August 14.

National Museum of Scotland

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.

Anyone up there, please go and have a look!

Redearth Summer Exhibition

I’ll be exhibiting some of my most recent work at Redearth Gallery in their Summer exhibition from June 18th to July 10th.

Cloud-spotting at the Met Office

Thanks to my lovely friends at the Met Office, I will be setting up a small exhibition on 8,9,10 March in ‘The Street’.  It’s a little exclusive, I’m afraid, as you have to pass all sorts of security checks to get in, but my little cloud postcards need to start somewhere.  15% of sales going to Shelterbox, the rest going to fund my growing cloud addiction.  Staring out of the window has become an all-consuming pastime.


Tossed in the wind, providing winter food for the teams of goldfinches, the birch, planted in just the wrong place in my garden is winning me over.  The paper peels to reveal pure white bark, the leaves flash and dance against the sun.

Tropical palm

Spring is hurling rain, wind and hail at us, but the blossom and the frogs are steadfastly ignoring the onslaught.  In between the storms, the sun pierces the palms at the end of the garden, reminding me of Mission Beach.

Exeter Open Studios

November 5th – 7th…. come to the new studios at EVA, Alphinbrook Road, Marsh Barton, EX2 8TH and see the wonderful facilities and some of my new work….

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