NEWSFLASH! My book hits the road! Did you miss my Channel 7 Weekend Sunrise 'Downunder Dunnies' appearance? Watch the Video HERE!

Friday

Aussie Icons #3 - The Red Devil

According to my train buddy* G, the longest ever recorded chicken flight lasted for 13 seconds. Ironic then, that one of Australia's most unsung aviators drew his early inspiration from experiments with measuring chook** wingspan relative to their flight!

A world exclusive wasn't what I expected when I saw this sign at Minlaton on South Australia's York Peninsula. But the Red Devil, a Bristol M.1C Military Monoplane from a limited 1918 run of only 125 fast fighter planes designed to assist the Allies during World War I is believed to be the only one left of its kind. In the WORLD!


The Red Devil
Even more amazing, however, is that Henry 'Harry' John Butler, a Koolywurtie*** lad born in 1889, became a prominent Australian aviation pioneer in an environment where the chooks were virtually his only aviatory (? is that a word??) influence! Until his 20's, that is, when a regular 400km weekend round trip to Adelaide where he learned to fly with Carl William 'Bill' Wittber, another Aussie aviation pioneer. How? Well, after making the first Australian powered flight, Bill built his own plane from scratch. As you do. And this was the aircraft in which Harry first experienced the joys of flight!

Young Harry flew to England at his own expense to join the Royal Flying Corps following the outbreak of World War I, and was soon regularly flying air raids to France before becoming Captain, Flight Commander then instructor and decorated war hero****.

So I reckon Captain Harry's reported 1919 statement that the Red Devil was one of the three fastest in the world is made on pretty good authority!

Captain Butler's triumphant – and now legendary - return to Minlaton in the Red Devil on 6th August 1919 in a 110 kmh gale wearing an inflated tyre tube in lieu of life-jacket is also believed to be the first airmail delivery over water in the Southern Hemisphere.

A Scale Model of the Red Devil
Harry and the Red Devil, cornerstone of his Aviation company, continued to entertain, amuse and educate Australians over the next few years – aeronautical displays, joy flights, airmail deliveries (including a mail drop to his childhood school at Koolywurtie), promotional stunts and winning the inaugural Aerial Derby. A complete change of pace for this little aircraft, whose logbook contains entries for 'Fighting Practice' – but the speed (209 kph/130 mph) that made it an invaluable addition to the Allied cause, also made it the perfect plane to showcase Captain Butler's considerable aviation expertise.


The Crash Site
Harry wasn't in his beloved Red Devil on 11th January 1922 when engine failure at low altitude and the ensuing crash into a field just outside Minlaton left him critically injured and unable to continue to fly professionally. An undiagnosed cerebral abscess finally caused his death on 29 July 1924. 

After languishing in an Adelaide shed for a number of years, the Red Devil was sold by Mrs Butler to Mr C Miller – who, after extensive restoration, attended a number of races and exhibitions. Only one other pilot – a Mr C Kleinig – ever flew the Red Devil, which was never involved in an accident.


Memorial Plaque at Crash Site
The fully restored Red Devil is housed on Minlaton's main street in a protective hangar - a must-see for those, who like me, find this forgotten chapter of Australia's aviation history fascinating. And just up the road, if you can tear yourself away from exhibits such as the Rocking Bath and Magic Flute – fit over the nose to play – a whole room at the Minlaton National Trust Museum is dedicated to Captain Harry Butler. A small booklet – 'The Harry Butler Story'- to which I am indebted for much of the information in this story, is available for purchase.

But the Red Devil remains a tangible link to another time and place – a place where aviation was in its infancy, a war changed the world forever, and a boy from Koolywurtie became a hero.


*train buddy – best friend fellow commuter
**chook = chicken. Is it just us Aussies who call them chooks??
***Koolywurtie – a small Yorke Peninsula farming locality near Minlaton
****Captain Harry was awarded the Airforce Cross in 1918

Tuesday

Signs #13 - 'Droughts and Flooding Rains ...'*


The Mid Murray Council 's having one of those years.  Years of drought (and arguably a bit of un-Australian upstream behaviour!) has seen the Murray River, lifeblood to South Australia's fruit bowl the Riverland, fall to the lowest levels in decades. 

So low, in fact, that parts of the river banks are seeing the light of day and they don't like it!  Without the water, they're in danger of collapse.  So what's a litigation-savvy Council to do?

Put up warning signs, of course!  Like this one at Blanchetown.

But then, damned if the drought doesn't break with a vengeance!  Unprecedented rains and severe flooding across much of the Murray-Darling Basin catchment area mean heavier downstream flows into the Murray and rising water levels.  Blanchtown's Lock Number 1 can hardly be seen for the water flowing over it.

And before you've got time to contact a signwriter, the sign's out of date!

But luckily, the rising river has obscured the critical point - so the punters can no longer tell what it is they should be taking care over.  No harm done, right?

But if you think this river's in full flood, think again.

The flood meter upstream at the old ferry crossing at Morgan puts it in perspective.


On our March 2011 visit, the river was running high but had peaked the previous day.  But the current level is still well below other floods - as shown by the markers on the right.

Why is the meter so high?  Well ... the September 1956 flood is the benchmark against which all other floods are measured.  And yes, it's there on the marker - way up past 11 metres!!

If it reaches those levels again , the Mid Murray Council would have a lot more than a few out of date signs to worry about, wouldn't they?!?!?!

Stay dry!!

* From classic Australian poem 'My Country' by Dorothea Mackellar

Saturday

Only in OZ #13 - The Whispering Wall, Adelaide, South Australia

Compared with other states, South Australia works hard to preserve the sanctity of its reservoirs. Their waters are generally unsullied by boating, skiing, fishing or swimming activities - and poorly maintained facilities tend to discourage visitors from lingering.

But the Whispering Wall is an exception.

A short drive past Williamstown, north of Adelaide, the outlook from the recently renovated picnic area offers superb views over the water. If you can overlook the absence of chairs or benches accompanying the picnic tables, that is. A nearby shelter shed has both – although the logic behind the picnic table's ultra-low benches is too esoteric for me, as I have no wish to sit with my chin on the table.

But you don't need picnic facilities to enjoy the Whispering Wall's delights - the real entertainment is provided by the dam wall itself. 

An amazing acoustic phenomenon, the innovative design of the curve of the wall allows a whisper at one end of the wall to clearly be heard at the other, a concept visitors frequently put to the test.

It's also an inadvertent test of the relative profundity – or banality – of general conversation. And that's where the REAL entertainment lies ...

OK. Here you are at the Whispering Wall. You've been nominated by your group to trek the 144 metres across the top of the dam wall to the other side to 'say something'. SO … what do you say?

First-time visitors often show their doubt of the validity of the wall's claim to fame with questions like 'Can you hear me?' Or – more inanely - 'Are you there?' The unimaginative say 'Hello' or 'G'day'. And true disbelievers immediately self-identify by shouting their remarks. 

And then there are those who prefer to test the wall's powers with linguistic tricks like kissing noises, burping – or worse!

So what DO you say? Any sound – verbal or otherwise - will be heard by all listeners at the other end. So why not make their visit memorable by whispering comments like these? 
  • 'Can you see that crack in the wall about half-way across?'
  • 'Hey! Put your clothes back on!'
  • 'Let's all meet back here in 5 years time!'
  • 'Whoops! There go the car keys!!'
  • 'There was an American, an Englishman and an Australian ...'
  • 'What? I can't hear you! No, still can't hear - speak up!'
  • 'AAARRRGGGH! I've got vertigo!'

The Vertigo Shot ...
Yeah, OK.  I accept that MY suggestions might also be asinine.
 
So ... what would YOU say at the Whispering Wall?
 
Go on!  Tell me in the comments below ...

Wednesday

Aussie ABC - C is for Crocodile!

Books of etiquette and protocol offer no guidance on what to wear to a crocodile viewing. So who's to say that the young woman outfitted as the diabolical love child of Heidi and Morticia Addams was dressed inappropriately for our Adelaide River 'Jumping Croc' tour near Darwin?

The fitted black stretch shrug over the tight black lace top tucked into the low-rise denim crotch-hugger shorts held up by a cartridge belt fastened with a Beatles belt buckle was certainly striking. And perfectly matched with the the thick flaxen plaits just a little too platinum to be real – like the large petalled flower tucked into the Paris Hilton sunnies that completed her look.

If I'd had a fashion infringement notice I would've issued it on the spot.

Difficult though it was to fight my way through the flocks of young males surrounding her, I gave Pilchard every opportunity to capture this vision on film by standing next to her. BUT … Pilchard was one of the few males aboard actually photographing the crocodiles we'd come to see.

With so many 'Jumping Croc' tours, I don't recall the name of this one – well, it WAS almost 3 years ago – but their popularity underlines our fascination with this prehistoric predator. Although the ethics of pimping them to tourists in return for an easy feed is debatable ...

While not exclusive to OZ, Australia is arguably the crocodile's spiritual home – with the discovery of Isisfordia duncani, the 'mother of all crocodiles' near Isisford in Queensland. But in the flesh – actually the fossilised skeleton – what's believed to be the antecedent of all modern crocodilians is unremarkable.

Not so 'Krys', the Big Crocodile at Normanton, Queensland. Yes, this whopper – bigger than JAWS at 8.63 metres long (28' 4") – is often mistaken for one of Australia's notorious Big Things. But unlike other big things that are several times bigger than their real life counterparts, Krys is actually a life size replica of the largest crocodile ever 'taken' in the world.


No, that's NOT a tyre in the water ...

'Taken' is, of course, a euphemism for 'shot the crap out of' – because the female shooter (Krystina Pawlowski for whom the crocodile was named) had little choice for survival other than to shoot it. Still, you'd need a strong nerve and steady aim to stay alive if this prehistoric predator was heading your way!

Australia is home to only two species of the world's largest reptile with crocodylus porosus (also known as the saltwater crocodile or 'saltie') the most common - and dangerous! The warnings by almost every Northern OZ waterway aren't just there for decoration – and Crocodile Dundee won't be around to bail you out!

And something tells me a hungry crocodile won't give a damn what you're wearing!

Sunday

Only in OZ #12 - Driver Reviver Rest Stop, Coober Pedy, South Australia


South Australian traveller 'Rest' stops are a perfect amalgam of political correctness, public safety and parsimony.  Endless signs lining outback highways encourage drivers to stop, take a break and revive - and to facilitate the traveller take-up rate, rest stops like this one are provided!  Just the inducement needed to pull over and break ones journey, don't you think???

There's a bin - but no shade, nowhere to sit and no toilet!!

Inviting, isn't it?

BUT ... hunger and fatigue overcame our reluctance at this rest stop just north of Coober Pedy, and we pulled in for lunch...

... and a short while later, this road train emeged from a cloud of dust to park alongside us - and inadvertently provide this great outback shot!!  And far better to meet it here than on a one-lane bitumen road with knee-deep bulldust on each side and outback protocol (and safety) dictating we pull over to let it past ...

By Australian standards, this is a pretty big rig.  But not the biggest by a long way!  The current world road train record was set in 2006, when a Mack Truck towed 112 semitrailers - a total length of over 1,474 metres (4,836 feet) - for 100 metres (328 feet) in Clifton, Queensland!

As it turned out, we're parked in a truckies rest stop - although it wasn't marked as such on our map.  Now, I'm sure you'll agree that with enticements like these, truckies will be begging to take more regular breaks - and our outback roads will be so much safer!!

Thursday

OMIGOD!!! MY FIRST GUEST POST!!!!

Apologies for the excess of capitals and exclamation marks in the title - but this SO EXCITING!!!  (whoops, there I go again ...)  For me, anyway!

It's kind of spooky that my guest gig would otherwise have been my 13th scenic public toilet post!  Not that I'm superstitious or anything, but if there's bad luck to be had by use of the Number #13, then better that it falls elsewhere than on MY blog ...

Click HERE to view the post I wrote for the magnificent Stuart Mathieson - well, I actually don't know him personally, but he MUST be to have asked me to guest post, right??

AND ... if you're wanting to skip the post and just head straight for Stuart's fab travel blog - An Ache for the Distance - well take yourself off over there then!!

For those who care, I'll be incommunicado for a week or so ... I'll catch up with you then!!

And for those who don't care?  Well, you can take yourself off too!!!

PS  Later edit - apologies if anyone was offended by my Aussie slang in the first edition of this post - I've updated it to be a bit more socially acceptable ...

Monday

Off the Tourist Trail #6 - Irvinebank, Queensland

As an antidote to the Atherton Tableland mist and drizzle, Irvinebank was working just fine. A few kilometres beyond Herberton, we'd crossed the range to clear skies, warmth, and a spectacular setting – another universe far, far away from yet another day of dampness. Just what Dr Pilchard ordered! Sadly, no bakery but the monster plate of chips accompanying the pub's lunchtime fishburgers sure made up for it.

But that's not what kept us there all day. This semi-ghost town was once so historically significant its influence was felt around Australia - if not the world!

Giving new meaning to 'oral historian', the Loudon House Museum volunteer gave vast historic knowledge 'til it hurt!  Having a low museum tolerance threshhold, I had planned to wander aimlessly, viewing an exhibit here, taking a photo there, pausing to read more about exhibits that caught my eye. Nothing doing. There were stories to be told, and by golly, we were going to hear them!!

Sparing nothing, the volunteer regaled us with historic snippets and fascinating anecdotes not just about Irvinebank, but also John Moffat, controller of up to 25% of Australia's base metal trade in the late 1800's, Irvinebanks founder - and its favourite son in whose home we now stood.  The two are inextricably intertwined, a phrase more commonly encountered in Mills & Boon than serious historical facts.

Owing more to Christopher Robin than the Book of Common Prayer, Irvinebank youngsters routinely asked for God's blessing on John Moffat in their evening prayers. And well they might, given that most of the area's population of 6000 relied on his wellbeing for their livelihood.

After establishing an extensive business empire, this reclusive mining entrpreneur married late in life – which MAY explain the master bedroom's romantic outlook over the mine workings. But I'm betting his wife was unruffled by the continual noise and bustle of work that kept the mine, treatment works and tramway going a few metres from her bedroom window.  Previously employed as John Moffat's housekeeper, she must already have become accustomed to these inconveniences!

But John Moffat's - and hence Irvinebank's - contributions to Australia's fortunes weren't just financial. Previous mine workers included Bill McCormack – former Queensland premier; and 'Red' (YESSSS!) Ted Theodore – former Queensland premier, Federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister. And with John Moffatt's business success – despite his reputation for honesty and integrity – this town was a player in the Australian business scene.   BUT ... a range of factors contributed to the decline of John Moffat's empire - and left the town with the buildings he had contributed.

Tragically, there is no record to definitively state whether the Irvinebank locals preferred the Gladys Moncrieff performance to a live X-ray demonstration at the School of Arts Hall - both are listed on bills of entertainment.  And, as regular readers already know, I'm well versed in the destructive habits of Sulphur-crested Cockatoo - while I can't readily imagine a chain of events allowing them access to valuable books, they nonetheless have virtually destroyed a number of them, now on display at the museum!
Tales of Irvinebank's most famous Swedenborgian are set against the backdrop of the town itself.  But despite heritage listing and the remarkable preservation of many key buildings and features, it's the anecdotes that brought the town to life.   Did I say the volunteer gave til it  hurt?  Yeah, but it was 'good' hurt!

Inexplicably, the free camp area on the town common – complete with toilets and hot showers – was empty during our July 2010 visit. With so much to offer already, the fishing's good too, if the pix at the pub are anything to go by. And as a further inducement, there's an annual John Moffat festival - in 2011, it features the 'Hillbillygoats'!

Now if that's not a drawcard, I don't know what is!
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