Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The HIGHEST Tide in OZ! Derby, Western Australia

Sunset over King Sound from Derby Jetty, Western Australia


The splendiferous sun sank into the shadowy waters on this balmy OZ winter's evening with a sensational splash of colour.

The superb sunset would make a good stand-alone shot. But a prop or two would turn it into a GREAT one!

Watching the sunset, Derby Jetty, Western Australia


Luckily for me, this July 2012 Derby sunset over stunning King Sound in Australia's North West had three: 
  • The Tide comes in over the mangroves, Derby, Western Australia
    a massive jetty;
  • lots of people; AND
  • street lamps!

My shutter finger itched wildly so I let it have its way.

It wasn't every day I got to photograph a sunset like this behind a jetty like that with people like those under perfectly placed photogenic street lamps! AND all against the swirling waters of Australia's highest tide!

With a range of up to 12 metres (39 feet), the tidal phenomenon is best viewed against the backdrop of Derby Jetty – and its street lamps – while crocodiles and sharks lurk in the muddied waters below.
 
High Tide at Derby Jetty, Western Australia
Influenced by the funnel-shaped coastline, as well as the normal tidal action of sun and moon, the extraordinary volume of water moving into and out of the Sound stirs up the mud deposited there during the wet season.
Even a high tide of only 10.83 metres (35.5 feet) – like the first macro tide we saw at Derby – is a sea of brownish water lapping gently just below the jetty.


The Tide goes out ... Derby Jetty, Western Australia



So imagine how the King Tides that flood the whole car park would look!

But low tide is a whole different story.

Low Tide at Derby Jetty, Western Australia

It's a LONG way down! Derby Jetty at Low Tide!
The signs warning against falling from the wharf don't detail the selection of fates that await – at low tide, there's only the mud many metres below to break your fall.

At high tide, you're MUCH more likely to survive the plunge – but the strong currents are waiting to carry you off to the crocodiles!

It's no surprise the last passenger ship visited in 1973 - berthing a boat in conditions like these must be a logistical nightmare!

But on Derby Jetty as the sun sinks below the crocodile infested waters and a lone council worker with the unenviable task of moving the vehicles off the wharf before lock up starts his lonely rounds, the sky's like a painting above us as the highest tide in Australia roars in and the stars come out.

Sunset, Street Lamps and King Sound, Derby, Western Australia
And the street lamps light up!

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Street Lamps ON at Derby Jetty, Western Australia

Monday, July 29, 2013

Postcard from … Nimbin, New South Wales!


Cullen Street, Nimbin, New South Wales
Hi There!

Amongst Nimbin's main street throng of weekend hippy trippers, bong-brain backpackers and Rainbow Region locals I stood out like a tourist.

The specially chosen bright orange chain store T-shirt I'd worn to Australia's alternative lifestyle capital just didn't stack up against the psychedelia of wildly experimental natural-dyed organic hand-woven fibre in daring and cutting edge styles.

The locals who stayed on after Nimbin's 1973 Aquarius Festival and transformed this small dairying community 30 km north of Lismore forever have had a massive head start on me …

But the REAL proof that Nimbin personifies life OFF the grid wasn't the Rainbow Power Company on Alternative Way; the Hemp Embassy; or the Nimbin Candle Company's use of medieval monk technology to produce its all-natural product.

It was the artist WAAAAAY younger than me who refused to own a mobile phone!

Later, Red x

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Cosmic Combi at Nimbin Museum entrance, New South Wales

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Controversial Crustacean! Big Prawn, Ballina, New South Wales


Good enough to EAT!  Big Prawn, Ballina, New South Wales
Once upon a time – WAAAAAAY back in the dim, distant world of 1989 – Ballina's tail-less BIG Prawn sat atop the West Ballina transit centre and restaurant. Inside, visitors could climb up into its head and view a distorted world through the thick perspex of its concave eye. Over time, as businesses came and went below, the passive prawn's exotic colouring faded from the original cooked-prawn red to pink, then finally a ghastly, ghostly white.

The Big Prawn in the Good Old Days ... early 1990's
20 years later, after reports it was suffering from crustacean concrete cancer, the local council approved its demolition.

What were they thinking??

Yet, while some – especially those with good taste and refinement – see Australia's notorious Big Things as trashy and tacky kitsch, for better or worse they're a part of the Aussie culture.

Which should give non-Australians a disturbing idea of our national condition … but I digress!

To us Aussies, it's quite normal to wander through a landscape awash with giant fibreglass and concrete objects that almost – but not quite – represent actual fruit, animals and people.
 
But to actually destroy one?
 
Our inbuilt nationalistic tendency to defend the underdog kicks in!

That's possibly why nearby coastal town Yamba's 2012 takeover bid was thwarted and the shrinking shrimp received a stay of execution demolition order!

Locals from Ballina, in Northern New South Wales and an hour's drive south of the Queensland border, weren't going to give up their placid prawn without a fight.
 
After all, watching the Prawn Trawlers head down the Richmond River, across the churning waters of its treacherous Bar and out through its mouth to sea for a night of fishing is one of the joys of walking Ballina's twin breakwalls. It's even more exciting watching the trawlers return to cross the bar through a mountainous swell in seas so heavy I'll never to complain about the price of seafood again!

Prawn trawler heading down the Richmond River at Ballina, New South Wales


With Ballina's inaugural Prawn festival date of November 2013 fast approaching, it somehow seems right for the Big Prawn to remain.

So when hardware giant Bunnings tapped into the community outrage with a masterful blend of goodwill, expedience and positive publicity by writing a new lease of life for the controversial crustacean into its development proposal for the site on which it stood, the shiftless shrimp's future was assured.

Big Prawn MAGIC!  Ballina, New South Wales
And in a lucky break for the Big Thing loving public – and quite possibly Ballina's international tourist industry – Ballina's Big Prawn has not only been preserved, but given a makeover.

Now, after being moved to it's final resting spot, raised 3 metres so its brand-new tail would fit underneath, and repainted to a mouth-watering shade of cooked-crustacean salmon pink, the Big Prawn is BACK!

And although the finishing touches were still being applied on this rare rain-free Northern Rivers afternoon, the pulchritudinous prawn looks better than ever!

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why Tom Price is a TOP Aussie Town!

Mt Nameless, Tom Price, Western Australia

I had no idea that at 747 metres (2450 ft) above sea level Tom Price is the highest town in Western Australia. I had no idea Tom Price is at the foot of the highest Western Australian mountain with a summit accessible by road. And I had no idea that the town was named for American geologist ThomasMoore Price, instrumental in founding the area's mining industry.

Who tragically died only two hours after being told that a rich ore deposit had been discovered in the area. But that's a story for another day …
 
Tom Price Township ... and Mt Nameless, Western Australia

I didn't know any of this before driving into Tom Price after camping in nearby Karijini National Park for a few days.

And I didn't care.

RED Dust at Karijini
All I cared about after driving through the endless RED Pilbara dust was finding a washing machine.

Preferably one with a built in RED DUST removal filter.

But finding the unlikely oasis of Tom Price in the red – actually, make that BEYOND red – heart of the Pilbara region in the Western Australian Outback was a bonus.
 
And even though we spent less than 24 hours in this top little town we found at least 6 reasons to come back for more one day!


No, I haven't forgotten the name of the impressive peak that looms 1128 metres (3700 ft) above the town and manages to find its way into virtually every photo …

Mt Nameless, Tom Price, Western Australia

… It really IS called Mt Nameless. By non-Indigenous people, anyway. The local Indigenous people know it as Jardrunmunhna, or 'place of rock wallabies'.

It's a 30 minute 4WD drive to the top on gravel roads OR a 3 hour return walk for views of the ranges, the Tom Price mine site and the town of Tom Price. Or so they tell me … visiting the summit is something that is SO on the list for next time!


Tom Price Tourist Park in the shadow of Mt Nameless

After spending our first few hours in Tom Price removing red dust from all exposed surfaces of the car and camper trailer; much of our clothing; and ourselves, we had time to admire the stupendous setting of this excellent Caravan park.

A short walk from the back of the camping area ascends to a viewing area just perfect for both sunset AND sunrise.
 
Mt Nameless on the one hand; the extraordinary Hamersley ranges that dominate the Pilbara on the other.
 
All under a sky so archetypally outback it immediately turns one's photos into cliché shots ...

Hamersley Range from Tom Price Tourist Park, Pilbara, Western Australia

3 The Wildflowers:

I don't know what they're all called. And I don't care! But these are just a few of the remarkable array of flowers growing in the iron-rich soil of the Pilbara within cooee of the caravan park.

Tom Price Wildflowers, Western Australia

All that red dust removal and jaw-dropping scenery admiration can work up a healthy appetite. And during our August 2012 visit, the Moon Palace Chinese restaurant delivered the goods with one of the best meals of our trip!

Lake Knox, Tom Price, Western Australia
At the back of the town, we got all excited about the outdoor cinema – until we discovered to our horror that it looked to be tragically destined to become a caravan parking area with a dump point for travellers passing through. Why? WHY????
 
 Above the town, the lookout gives an interesting perspective. And just down the road amidst all the RED, Lake Knox provides an unexpectedly cool, green picnic area. But no swimming – the pond is part of the sewage filtration network ...


5 Karijini National Park

Gateway to Karijini, Tom Price makes a fine base from which to explore what is arguably Australia's most dramatic National Park with the closest entry point only 50 km (31 miles) east.

And Karijini is well worth visiting with some of the most spectacular scenery, gob-smacking gorges, RED rocks and magnificent mountains in the country.

Like THIS:

Dales Gorge and Fortescue Falls, Karijini National Park, Western Australia
 
But … Tom Price makes an even finer staging post for the RED and filthy campers who emerge from a few days at Karijini looking for a pleasant spot to clean up, hole up, rest up and eat up! (See #2 above … the Tom Price Tourist Park!!)
 
6 But Wait!  There's MORE ...

Tom Price has more to offer those who, unlike us, are able to extend their stay. So here's what we'll be doing next time!


Town Lookout, Tom Price
A drive (or walk!) to the Mt Nameless summit is a must, and what adventurer could pass up the opportunity to take a Tom Price mine tour to one of the biggest mine sites in the world? Out of town is the Kings Lake recreation area and Mt Sheila Lookout. And a number of tour operators offering Karijini and Aboriginal Cultural tours are based in the town.

But I'll just be happy for the chance to prove I'll never get tired of admiring Mt Nameless and the extraordinary Hamersley Ranges!

 
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View from Caravan Park Lookout, Tom Price, Western Australia


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Beauty and the Bridge!

Waterfall at Natural Bridge, Springbrook National Park, Queensland
Although it's the bird du jour around almost any given sub-tropical picnic area and car park, my shots of Australian Brush-turkey in the dark depths of Natural Bridge*, in Springbrook National Park's lushly magnificent rainforest, all had something missing.

Now you see it ... Australian Brush-turkey at Natural Bridge
Clarity.

But that's what you get for driving up the impossibly steep Border Ranges from New South Wales across the Queensland Border, into Springbrook National Park and under a rainforest canopy so dense the temperature drops several degrees and you're instantly transported into the twilight zone.

Rainforest Rocks, Natural Bridge, Springbrook National Park, Queensland
All very moody and atmospheric, but for the photographically challenged? Well, check out my turkey shots for yourself ...


Rainforest Ferns
And although it was mid-afternoon this warm and sunny July day, the sun had already well and truly set at the bottom of the valley to which we descended on the 1 km circuit trail, and the dank chill was rising from the rushing stream below. 
 
Maybe we'd arrived too late. Or maybe the sun NEVER descended down this far …

In the gloom, the Brush-turkeys scuttled through the undergrowth like a pack of giant winged rats at the end of a hunger strike.

Personally, I blame the school holidays.

The unhappy July 2013 conjunction of both the Queensland AND New South Wales winter break had swollen the already high number of tourists gravitating to Natural Arch, a mere 4 km from the border shared by the two states.
 
Mossy Logs at Natural Bridge
As opportunistic as anything I've seen in the birding world, the turkeys had – perhaps inadvertently – exploited the social media driven urge to post 100 random photos a day by willingly posing for countless photo shoots of 'me feeding wild birds'!

Dull though these postings may be to the uninterested (and perhaps uncool!), many turkeys (like their human counterparts) had now adapted to all the worst elements of a Standard Australian Diet.
 
And 'hunting and gathering' had taken on a whole new first world problem meaning!

The Natural Bridge section of Springbrook National Park preserves a small sample of the rainforest native to this area and is part of the 0.3% of Australian rainforest left after 'civilisation'.
 
Rainforest Vines
So wandering through this rare fragment of magnificent rainforest can be awe-inspiring – when not dodging errant school holidaymakers, wannabe sporting superheroes defying the warning signs and running amok in the creek and losers getting in my way taking up all of the narrow track to the Arch, that is.

Sadly, in the absence of a camera-wielding Steve Parish**, I was forced to take my own rainforest shots of the green mossy logs, streams running over rocks, trailing vines and epiphytic ferns.

It's no contest as to who is the better photographer … but does Pilchard the secret ingredient in my shots perhaps give me a unique edge?
 
I'll leave that judgement to you ...


Pilchard at Natural Bridge
 

Formed by erosion and weathering from the full force of the creek as it descends into the valley, Natural Bridge is actually a hole in the rock where water rushes into a grotto below. 
 
Natural Bridge Waterfall - and a sense of scale for SFlaGuy!
Although its resident glow worms weren't lighting up the darkness of the cave yet, the unearthly glow from light above the hole through which the water fell created a splash of colour in the gloom.
 
Thankfully, its roar also drowned out the background noise for a rare moment of solitude before the climb back up the creek gorge to a vantage point overlooking the top of the arch, now well below us.

Back in the car park and in increasing darkness, we extricated our car with some difficulty from vehicles parked too close, backpackers preparing dinner and the rampaging turkeys on their never-ending quest for food.


Natural Bridge from above, Springbrook National Park, Queensland
As we left the National Park, the otherworldly gloom of this abundant and spectacular rainforest reserve fell behind us as we emerged onto the New South Wales road – aglow with bright, late-afternoon sunlight.

And not a Brush-turkey in sight!!

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* Natural Bridge is also known as 'Natural Arch'

** Steve Parish: Australian award-winning photographer whose images of rainforests (among other things) adorn his eponymous collection of Aussie books and products
 
Creek at Natural Bridge through the Rainforest
 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Australia's Scenic Public Toilets #36 – Compact Array, Narrabri, NSW

Radio Telescope #1, Australia Telescope Compact Array, via Narrabri, New South Wales

The future of Southern Hemispheric radio astronomy was in my hands, at least for the next 30 minutes or so. 

Is that a telescope I see before me?  Australia Telescope Compact Array, Narrabri
The staggering advances in technology that channel radio signals from deep, DEEP space through the 6-Dish Australia Telescope Compact Array working together to simulate a much larger antenna were apparently not quite advanced enough to drown out the rather weak signal emitted by my mobile phone.

Strangely appealing though the thought of death by Optus* was to whatever radio signal data was filtering its lonely way across the aeons of light years separating earth from the nebulae and galaxies behind the sheltering sky above, I made an uncharacteristic decision to play nice.

I switched the mobile off. Danged thing wasn't receiving a signal anyway.

And, more importantly, who knew if any of the ~400 astronomers who use the Compact Array and other Australian radio telescopes each year were lurking over in the unmistakeably government-issue buildings behind me?

The sinking sun silhouetted five of the massive parabolic dishes, each 22 metres (~72 feet) in diameter and weighing 270 tonnes, against the clear evening sky. They could just as easily have been in a different configuration anywhere along the 3 km (1.86 miles) of track separating them from the 6th dish, fixed in position at its western end.



Five!  Count 'em,FIVE!!  Australia Telescope Compact Array, Narrabri, New South Wales

I lined them up for a full-frontal Compact Array shot. Sweet.

Yes, size DOES matter!

But the thrill of nailing a rare** 5-dishes-in-a-Compact-Array-at-the-end-of-the-universe shot ALMOST distracted me from the unobtrusive white structure between the Car Park and the Visitor Centre.


Australia Telescope Compact Array Visitor Conveniences, via Narrabri, New South Wales

Way back in the dim, distant past when this blog was taking its first uncertain steps towards the fame and fortune that still eludes it, I naively dubbed Scenic Public Toilet #4 'The Little Public Toilet at the End of the Universe'.

But ... I was wrong.

Even if it does resemble a moonscape, how can a remote Outback spot compete with an obscure New South Wales location in the Namoi Valley's agricultural belt near Narrabri in the ancient and mystical land of OZ on an unimportant planet in an off-the-beaten-track galaxy hidden in an out-of-the-way corner of the universe??


View from the Australia Telescope Compact Array Loo!  via Narrabri, New South Wales

Putting aside all thoughts of black holes – and other unsavoury astronomic phenomena – I couldn't help appreciating the contrast between the symbols of humanity's lowly response to nature's call and the ultimate pinnacle of humanity's search for meaning in the universe.

Compact Array Loo and friend ...
As the afternoon light faded and the stars began to appear, we left the Compact Array Visitor Centre for nearby Narrabri.

And I turned my mobile back on.

* An Australian mobile phone network carrier
** Well, do YOU have one??

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Sunset at the Australia Telescope Compact Array, Narrabri, New South Wales
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