Saturday, 28 September 2013

Darwin Aviation Heritage Museum

Darwin's history is inextricably linked to aviation.

As a recognition of this, the aviation heritage centre has been set up and is a must see for anyone interested in aircraft.

That includes me, and my bride and I spent a couple of hours there yesterday. My bride was less keen than I, but we'd spent the morning at the NT museum looking at cultural artifacts, so it was fair.

There is a B-52 on display. It dominates the whole museum. I'm not sure how they got it into the hangar. Some dismantling was no doubt necessary.

I've seen B-52s before, (from the ground in Townsville), and heard the sound of their raids in SVN over. 40 years ago, but had never seen one up close. As the cliche goes, they're big and ugly.

There's also a Mirage (or actually one and a half Mirages) on display. The one illustrated above was retrieved from mudflats where it crashed in the eighties. The pilot bailed out, but the thing ended up coming in at a shallow angle so didn't end up as melted aluminum in a crater.

The half Mirage is outside with no signage, so I'm not sure of the story. I'll find out. Whatever happened to it, the front half is missing.

Fighters displayed include the Avon Sabre above.

These things were hot rods, equipped with a British Rolls Royce engine which made them the most powerful example of the Sabre in their day.

The prize for the ugliest aircraft on display goes to the Huey Cobra. These things were useful in Vietnam, but only operated by the Yanks.

The RAAF used a cobbled up Iroquois, which was christened "Bushranger" and had much the same effect.

Friday, 27 September 2013


Yesterday we visited Litchfield national park, South West of Darwin, administered by the NT parks and wildlife people.

It's dry tropics country, crossed by a well-watered gorge system similar in many ways to Carnarvon gorge in Queensland, except that Carnarvon lacks crocs.

The flood plain country near the gorge is notable for termite mounds, many of which are built by termites with built-in compasses. These critters build their nests on a magnetic north-south alignment, which ensures that they take maximum advantage of the movement of the sun to keep things at optimum temperature, especially during the wet when the sun is on holiday.

This is more than theory, as scientists have exposed termites to powerful magnetic fields contradicting the natural ones. The termites will always build in the same alignment north-south to a powerful simulated field if it is stronger than the natural one.

If you look closely at the pic above you will see a dark blue bird sitting on a nest. This is a Shining Flycatcher. He wasn't catching flies when I snapped him. Like most of the wildlife he was having a kip, as it was too hot for much activity.

There are some spectular falls at Litchfield that flow all year round. These are Wangi Falls.

You can swim here. The crocs are rostered off.

Update - This is for Cav, who had trouble seeing the Flycatcher -


Katherine Gorge

Whilst I'm not a scenery tragic, Katherine is spectacular, and worth blogging.
We were shoveled into buses when we detrained, and driven the short distance to the gorge. Our bus was a "Higer", made in China, and like most Chinese made vehicles imported to this country, equipped with leather upholstery.

The cows supplying the hide must be a special oriental breed, fed on artificial grass, as the leather seemed less than kosher.

There has been a particularly dry year, so the punt that took us up the gorge could navigate only as far as the end of the first section. Both rocks and vegetation are interesting, but the vegetation more so, in my opinion.

Once you seen a rock, you've seen them all, and they don't change. The vegetation, on the other hand, is ever changing. There are trees described as calendar trees because you can tell what time of the year it is by looking at the state of the vegetation. The crocs (both freshwater and estuarine) apparently time their egg-laying according to these trees.

Clever critters, crocs, but we didn't see any. The guide claimed that it was too hot for them to come out of the water. Some of my fellow travelers were disappointed. Can't say I was - after reading the local rag (NT News) I'm crocced out.

Once back on dry land we were treated to buffalo and camel meat, crocodile fritters and soup, and watermelon, washed down with a glass of bubbly.

I'd rate the buffalo meat edible but chewy, the crocodile fritters tasty, and the soup delicious. I don't recommend the camel.

I'm not sure they are meant to be tucker except in the direst of circumstances.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

View from the Centre

This view from the war memorial lookout in Alice is popular with travelers, so why should I be any different? It was a pretty swift visit, just long enough to take the shot, given that the temperature was in the high thirties. It looks as if the dry is ending with a bit of a bang.

The last time I was in the Alice was in 1972, on a camping trip with some teaching friends. That was August, and as coastal Queenslanders we were unconscious of the freezing temperatures at night. After our first night in the tent in Alice Springs, our next stop was a clothing store.

The other popular spot - particularly for photographers, is the old telegraph station. Now, I'm no photographer, but I enjoy using a camera, and the old station is indeed photogenic. These thick-walled  buildings are cool, and they look as if they would be proof against nuclear attack.

Nuclear attack wasn't an issue when they were constructed, but communication was, and the completion of the overland telegraph line in 1872 opened the country up to contact with the outside world. Information that took months to travel from the old country to Australia, now took hours by morse transmission.

The site has not always been a telegraph station. Between the twenties and thirties it became a residential for mixed race kids removed from their parents by the Protector of Aborigines - you know, those children that Andrew Bolt says don't exist.

Back then, the place rejoiced in the name of the "Bungalow".

The poster below provides an outline -

 From here, it's back to the skinny hotel, and then on to Katherine.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Still in Training

The sun came up this morning revealing a very different vista.
The soft geens and greys were gone, and we were now seeing the vivid light and harsh colours of the desert.

For a while we paralleled the Stuart Highway, and the only wildlife to be seen was a cluster of the grey nomad species camped overnight by the side of the road.
The soil is red,  reminding me of the country around Quilpie, but not much is moving. I saw no roos, pigs,camels or cattle. 
The Finke River (above) is the oldest in the country. It looks like it's also the driest.

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Interior

Sun coming up through lounge car window.

This post is about the interior - not the interior of the wide brown land - but the interior of the train we're using to cross it.

Thinking about it, we're spending 48 hours in a kind of long skinny hotel. Up one end of it (behind me, as we're sitting looking at where we've been, not where we're going) is a 132 tonne diesel electric locomotive.

It hauls us along at between 70 and 80 kph most of the time. The Bullet Train it isn't.

Between Adelaide and Alice Springs there is only one loco. We pick up a second one at the Alice, not because there are hills to climb, but in case one breaks down.

I have no idea why the same precaution isn't taken south of Alice Springs. Let me know when you find out.

The whole shebang is about 800 meters long, as this particular unit is what is referred to as a "double". You can go on a long walk - about 1600 meters there and back, although "there" is moveable if you get my drift.

During that walk you will traverse a number of Gold Twin Sleeper cars, Gold Twin Sleeper cars with superior cabins, Gold Single Seater cars, Red seat carriages, Platinum Sleeper cars (where the hoi poloi hang out), a Gold Outback Explorer lounge car, three Gold Queen Adelaide restaurant cars, and a Red cafe car.

The colors refer to how much you've spent. I don't think I'd like to spend 48 hours in a seater car, but there are plenty on the train who do. There are also crew cars, power vans, luggage vans and a motorail wagon carrying vehicles, but you can't walk to those.

We're in a Gold sleeper car. It is ensuite, with comfy fold-out beds. I think the Platinum wagons have double beds, but not being a member of the hoi poloi, I'm not allowed in to find out. I slept like a log last night, which is unusual in the sense that I don't sleep well in things that move.

The tucker served in the dining car is first class. It would be interesting to get a look inside the kitchen/galley (dunno what you call it on a train).

I took the shots early before most of my fellow travelers were out of bed so I didn't have to dodge around them taking photos.

The altered door button sign indicates the laid back attitude displayed by the staff. They haven't felt the need to restore it to the original.

North by North West

One sure way of understanding the timeless quality and vastness of this country is to cross it slowly - by train.

Traveling this way is also a great deal more comfortable than by aircraft. Sitting in an aluminum tube with your lower limbs confined to the point of slow torture detracts somewhat from any appeal of the vista presented at 38000 feet.

Those who settled the country, especially those parts of it we're traversing at the moment, must have been made of stern stuff. There was no air conditioning, instant communication or swift medical help back t
I have some slight understanding of the third factor, living my early years in relative remoteness in a family where asthma was gifted in our genes, and watching my sister and mum disappear in the local ambulance, most often in the early hours of the morning, down a very poor road on their way to hospital.

The journey took so long that the asthma attack had usually resolved itself by the time the hospital was reached - obviously always positively, as my sister is still hale and hearty, if sixty years older.

Given the aged demographic on this train, the ready availability of the RFDS is a comfort for all.

The laid back nature of this style of travel appeals, I presume to this demographic. One of the advantages of age is the right to refuse to hurried. In TYOOL* 2013, this Zen like state is difficult to achieve.

The train is comfortable, although beginning to show its age. The "new" has well and truly worn off. Everything seems to work however, and the stability on the standard gauge track is superior to what I've become used to on Queensland's 3 foot 6 set up.

Fellow travelers, who have done the same kind of journey in European trains are, however, scathing of the ride. I'm OK with the train moving about a bit. It adds rhythm to the journey.

Evening takes us towards Woomera, after a crew change at Port Augusta. Apparently we took on 4 drivers - 2 who rest and 2 who drive.

I hope they don't get their roles confused.

*The year of our Lord.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Blogging the Ghan

Taken with my iPhone. I have no idea who that is....

Today we (my bride & I) head north from Adelaide, destination Darwin, on the Ghan.

I'll have a go at blogging the journey, but to a large extent, this will be governed by the Telstra network as we head up the line.

The trip takes about 48 hours, so there will be plenty of time to post. It's probably about the most relaxing way to cover the ground, with very little organisation required.

The train is a long one (the season is at it's height), so there will be a long walk to dinner. 

It's interesting to compare Great Southern Rail's staff culture with that off the major airlines. On the whole they're more friendly, perhaps a bit less polished, and they seem to enjoy what they do.

They are certainly more laid back than your average airline steward, and the journey should be better for that.

We've just cleared Parafield, and will be a long time before we swing north to begin to head inland.

That's OK.

There's no hurry......

A Pinch of Common Sense

Courtesy I found this posted in Facebook a few weeks ago, when the faux outrage about mandated vaccination first began to ...