One Year In Australia

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of our arrival in Australia. Hardly a great year for most people around the globe was it? Yet on reflection I think we have managed to see and do as much as possible. All in New South Wales though, not the rest of the country. That still gives us plenty of scope though.

Bathurst and Surrounds

Right now we are staying in the town of Bathurst where we will be for Australia Day (26th Jan.). There will be blog posts to come about this place and the surrounding area as well as catching up on the other adventures we have had during Dani’s long school summer holiday. Then of course there is his return to school coming up at the end of the week.

A Year of Lockdowns etc…

In Australia we certainly seem to have escaped the worst of the dreaded “lockdowns” and other virus related nonsense (unless you were in Melbourne). .There is still plenty I don’t agree with in the handling of all that but in New South Wales I think we have been lucky (if that is the correct word to use?). That said, I am still not a fan of Sydney and would much prefer to live outside of the city.

Whichever way I look at it though, that year definitely went bloody quick

Who Were The Banana Splits?

I was reading an old blog post the other day that mentioned The Banana Splits. I have been meaning to write about the characters in those whacky shows ever since, so here goes…

The Show

The Banana Splits Show ran from 1968 to 1970 but was repeated countless times on TV stations around the world. Especially through the 1970s. The show was a Hanna-Barbera production but instead of their usual cartoons it featured live scenes with actors in funny animal costumes playing in a fictional rock band called The Banana Splits. The show centred around the Splits’ clubhouse and was interspersed with a mix of cartoons and live action series. The Banana Splits band were; Fleagle (Guitar and singer), Bingo (drums), Drooper (bass guitar) and Snorky (keyboards). They played a type of bubble-gum rock as well as the instantly recognisable theme tune. The show was fast paced, slapstick with some decent tunes. It was exactly as it sounds – Completely Nuts!

The Banana Splits was a landmark moment in children’s TV; the show was the start of a whole new genre of youth TV and helped shape an entire generation. The first generation of TV kids. My generation in fact!

The Cast

The show’s catchy theme tune (the Tra-La-La song) was written by Nelson Winkless. He managed to get his sons to play three of the Banana Splits characters although their names were changed for the credits to avoid any suggestions of nepotism. Here is a rundown of the people who played the costumed characters and those who did the voices.

Fleagle (the dog) was played by Jeffery Winkless (credited as Jeffery Brock) and voiced by Paul Winchell. Winkless died in 2006 of a brain tumour aged 65 while Winchell died a year earlier of natural causes aged 82. Winchell voiced many Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters including Dick Dastardly. He also was the voice of Tigger the tiger in the Winnie the Pooh movies.

Bingo (the gorilla) was played by Jeffery’s brother Terence (credited as Terence Henry) and voiced by Charles Dawson Butler. Terence Winkless is still alive, but Charles Dawson died in 1988 of a heart attack aged 71. He was also the voice of Yogi Bear, Huckleberry hound and Elroy Jetson among many others.

Drooper (the lion) was played by the third Winkless brother Daniel (billed as Daniel Owen). The voice of Drooper was Allan Melvin who played Sergeant Bilko’s sidekick Corporal Steve Henshaw in ‘Sgt. Bilko’ (aka The Phil Silvers Show) that ran for 5 years and 143 episodes between 1955-1959. ‘Bilko’ remains one of the most well known and loved TV shows of all time – and still very funny, over 60 years later. Melvin also voiced many Hanna-Barbara cartoon characters. He was also the voice of The Banana Splits show’s unseen announcer. He died in 2008 from cancer aged 84.

Snork/Snorky (the elephant) had a slightly more chequered career. He was initially suited by James Dove but only in the first season’s song segments. He was replaced by Robert Towers for most of the other parts of the shows. It is not clear why, but a third actor (Jay Larremore) is also credited with playing Snorky. I read some time ago that one of the actors playing Snorky was doing so much cocaine that they called him Snorty – but I think that was just a rumour. But who knows? The way they all ran around the stage they could have all been on it!

Snorky of course had no voice as he only honked. Apparently James Dove, the original Snorky, was previously a voice-over artist. He also once stated that he was fired as a result of not being able to get along with the Winkless “kids”.

Unfortunately for the actors anyone could wear those furry suits. When the show did nationwide tours they ended up hiring locals to fill the suits, hence saving on expenses. One of the Winkless brothers (Terence) later starred in a few films and later produced and directed. Robert Towers went on to play an alien of sorts in a Star Trek spin-off. Other than that the acting careers of the furry suit wearers never really took off.

Well that was the suits and the voices. what about the actual band who played the instruments and sang the songs? Nobody seems to know. It’s all a bit of  mystery.

Music and Buggies

‘Over Hill and Highway the Banana Buggies Go…’

Apart from the catchy Banana Splits (Tra-La-La) title song the show featured the Splits playing various tracks in keeping with the music of the time. The songs were written by well known or soon to be known artists.

Songwriter and musician Al Kooper who was in the band Blood Sweat & Tears and later played with and produced Lynyrd Skynyrd also wrote a song for the show. This track, “You’re the Lovin’ End”, is one of Kooper’s creations:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjiaafdbL1E

You can find another groovy tune, “I’m Gonna Find a Cave”, here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cfHKmQ2ZzI

One of the shows featured the funky “Doin’ the Banana Split”. It was written by the upcoming soul icon Barry White.

The Splits darted around in their cool Banana Buggies, (mentioned in the title song) and there wasn’t a single kid in the world who didn’t want one of those Banana Buggies. They were modified versions of the amphibious six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle known as the Amphicat. The Amphicat also appeared as a ‘moon buggy’ on the cult sci-fi series Space: 1999.

I can still remember watching the live action sequences that were filmed in the amusement parks at Six Flags Over Texas (in Arlington, Texas) and Coney Island (in Cincinnati, Ohio). They looked great to me when I was only 7 or 8 years old. I so wanted to visit those parks.

Years Later…

There was a cartoon version years later and in 2008 the show was introduced to a new audience in the original costumed format. But only for a few shows on the Cartoon Network. Nothing ever got near the popularity of the original series however and few if any shows have ever had the same impact.

For some inexplicable reason the Banana Splits were revived in 2019 through a feature-length comedy/horror film. It is called The Banana Splits Movie (no real thought gone into that one eh?), rated MA15+, and is definitely not aimed at the same audience as the original TV show. Our four heroes are turned into animatronic robot killers. I have absolutely no idea why they decided to make the Banana Splits into a gory slasher body count movie. But I intend to find out and will post a movie review, as and when I get to watch it.

Ned Kelly Fascination

My son has recently taken an interest in one of Australia’s most famous (or should that be infamous?) historical characters. Ned Kelly.

He spent a lot of time during our recent road trip asking me questions about the late 19th century outlaw/bushranger. Most of them I am unable to answer so I told him he would have to find a book at the library and read about Kelly for himself.

Where and how?

I am not really sure what sparked this sudden thirst for Ned Kelly knowledge. It may be that in many of the places we have visited they sell Ned Kelly memorabilia, usually images of him in that home-made suit of armour. That classic image of Kelly. It has certainly captured my boy’s attention.

What do I know?

My knowledge of Ned Kelly is minimal. Basically what most people know. He lived in the late 1800s had a small gang that included his younger brother and of course fought the law wearing that home made armour.

The only other thing I knew for sure about Kelly was that he was hanged by the neck in the Old Melbourne Gaol. I know this because I visited that gaol when I first came to Australia way back in the early 1990s.

Ah, and THAT movie…

Then of course whenever I think of Ned Kelly I instantly have this image of an old 1970 movie about the outlaw. Disastrously played by one Michael (aka Mick) Jagger in one of the worst acting performances I think I ever saw. Sorry Mick. You are a talented songwriter and excellent frontman for a great band – possibly even the best ever performer on stage. But acting? Nah. On the strength of that Ned Kelly performance it’s hard to believe anyone took him seriously afterwards. Yet I think he has recently appeared in a new movie.

It is hard to believe that shortly after recording the album Let it Bleed which features classics such as Gimme Shelter, Midnight Rambler and You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Jagger went and made that crap movie. Then shortly after making that movie he re-joined his band and made the classic Sticky Fingers album. Apologies, I am getting carried away with that dreadful acting and forgetting what this post is really about. This is not about Jagger this is about Kelly…

Ned Kelly for kids…

Surprisingly there were quite a few books on Ned Kelly in the kids’ section of the library – as well as a few more about bushrangers in general. Dani chose one and off we went. Now he can read up on his new found interest and tell me a thing or two about Mr. Ned Kelly.

Should I mention the Jagger movie? I see it is freely available online. Maybe I will keep that one to myself until he asks… As he will expect me to sit and watch it with him. Not sure I could suffer that torment…

Here is the Ned Kelly book that Dani is reading

The Avalon Cluster (and more)

We got out of Sydney just before they more or less put the place on lockdown. Not a UK style china/stasi lockdown but still a big pain in the backside for anyone living there. Apparently – and this is the part I just have to laugh at – there is a new mutated covid virus strain and it came from the UK. One Aussie returning home so they say… The media love it of course and constantly refer to it as “the more highly contagious UK strain” (or words to that effect). Hilarious. Yeah mate. It’s flu season in the UK so if anything this “new strain” is the 202/21 winter flu you fools! It more or less  happens every year. 

If you think back to exactly one year ago when the “Chinese” coronavirus was first being talked about they made similar claims. “It is highly contagious” or “It’s deadly”. Both of which have proven to be completely false. Yet here they are again reeling out the same old lines for this so called “UK strain”. What a joke!

The Avalon Cluster

No, not a name of a new band . Or even an album. Although any kids starting a rock band living in the northern beaches should use that name. I have no intention of copyrighting it. Hang on. Could I? Hmm… Remember folks, if you buy an album by The Avalon Cluster in the future you heard the name here first.

Apparently all the panic in Sydney started after they had been testing people in the northern beaches area of Sydney and found a few “cases”. The “cluster” of “cases” was supposedly around the Avalon Beach area. Hence “The Avalon Cluster” was a term the media lapped up with gusto. Then along came the new UK variant strain. You would struggle to make this shit up. Really. 

I think maybe they just felt that New South Wales got off too lightly in all the covid hype and lockdown panic. Well, that’s my take on it anyway. . But I still think it is a great name for a band.

Problems – other than Covid…

Meanwhile all this has not had much of an impact on places and things we want to see. The biggest problem so far has been that we are outside of the “visitors season”. Whereas places have been closed “due to covid” on some of our previous trips, this time we had simply missed the boat. Crazy eh? Despite being the middle of the school summer holidays this port of the world was not expecting many tourists. Usually because the temperatures are too high for most people . The main season for visitors we were told finishes at the end of November / start of December. Also for things like river boat trips the water level was simply too low right now so they shut up shop…

Worse still – and those in the middle of a northern hemisphere winter right now may find this hard to believe – too much rain has prevented us from going to some places. Roads, either unsealed gravel or simply dirt roads, have been closed because of the weather. Even to four wheel drive vehicles. I guess the authorities don’t want to go through all the hassle of having to pull people out of the mud so they close the roads. It makes sense to me. 

More to come, Soon…

Despite all this we soldiered on and made the most of what there was to see and do. In the coming weeks there will be plenty of posts about the places we visited and the things we saw.

Taronga Western Plains Zoo

Just outside Dubbo, where there is so much open space, sits the Taronga Western Plains zoo. It is more like a cross between a zoo and what in the UK (at least) would be called a ‘safari park’.

The ticket allows you access into the zoo for two consecutive days so there is not necessarily any rush to get around and see everything on the one day. Also it gives you a second chance to see some of the more shy or just plain lazy animals. How many times have you been to a zoo trying to spot an animal only to be told it is sleeping inside or under something and well out of sight?

Getting Around

There is a 6km road circuit weaving around the zoo passing right beside or close by all the animal enclosures. There are four options for getting around. Firstly you can drive your car in and stop off at the many parking spots then checkout the animals nearby.

Second option is to hire a large golf buggy. This costs extra and is really no different than driving your own car through the zoo roads, but there were plenty who thought it was a  good idea. Third option is to rent or use your own bicycle. Lastly of course the oldest form of transportation – walking.

On the first day we chose to walk while Dani rode his own bike. It was hot and sunny and after a while it became quite hard work. Fortunately it was a Friday and many of the schools were still not yet on holidays so it was very quiet. At times we had whole sections of the zoo to ourselves as we strolled/pedalled around.

An alternative way of getting around the zoo…

Dingo

Animals

The wildlife (or should that be ‘captive’ life?) is made up mainly of Australian and African animals who are used to the same temperatures that Dubbo experiences. As you wander around the roads and paths you quickly notice that it has been carefully created to give the feel of a real safari. The animals are mostly separated by moats and/or fences that lie low and basically well out of eyeshot.

The beautiful and endangered Bongo.

Is that a pair of Bongos?

The vast spaces they have to roam also makes it feel a lot more like the wild than a zoo. There is even an actual safari section where you board a bus/lorry hybrid with open windows, just like on some real African safaris, and venture into a huge enclosure where the giraffes, zebras and several other non-meat-eating animals are free to roam. That part costs an extra $10 each but for someone of Dani’s age it really is like a proper safari.

Asian elephant

Timing. Hippos spend a great deal of time under water. But they do come up for air…

Cheetahs are fast but there is not enough space for them to stretch their legs here even though this is a large zoo.

There are several species of rhino, lion, giraffe and Sumatran tigers. Elephants and various types of large antelope type animals – some of which I had never heard of. These  include the very rare and beautiful bongo, the eland and addax.

Sumatran Tiger

Lion

Magnificent Eland

This zoo has quite a few of them

The Galapagos Giants

 I had seen them on TV wildlife films but never in the flesh/shell. The famous Galapogos tortoise. And they really are huge. The problem is that you do not have anything to reference their size on these photos. Trust me they are big. About the size of a large pig maybe? Yeah, that’s about right.

Giant Galapagos Tortoises

These creatures really are bigger than I thought.

Most of the big land animals are here too. (Asian) Elephants, hippopotamus as well as lions and tigers. However, there was not much in the way of monkeys and apes. Understandable in some ways. The Siamang apes were good entertainment though on our first day. On the second day it rained a lot so they kept themselves well covered in a suitable box…

The mating pair of Siamang apes shelter from the rain

A far more active Siamang Ape when the weather was fine

There are other well known predators like the cheetah and that old favourite the African Wild Dog – aka Painted Dogs. Next to the elusive painted dogs were the ever popular meerkats. At the time we arrived to see them there was a TV crew filming the Australian version of ‘The Farmer Wants a Wife’, with two of the contestants (?) sharing their date with the cute but mischievous meerkats.

The Farmer Wants a Wife. The ‘wife’ wants a pet meerkat…

The ever popular meerkats

How Many Types of Rhino?

I never knew there were so many different types of rhino. This place has three of them. The extremely rare Black rhino, the endangered White rhino (both African) and the largest of them all, the largest of all the (Asian) Greater One Horned rhino.

A pair of White Rhino

The Greater One Horned Rhino. An Asian rhino.

Interesting Fact: There is no colour difference between white and black rhino. The white rhino gets its name form a mutation of the Dutch word for ‘wide’ – “Weit” (pronounced vite? Well, something like that). This is because the white rhino has a wide squared top lip which makes it a great grass mower.

Other things…

Near the centre of the zoo is the Billabong Camp where you can camp out and wake up to the sound of roaring lions. There is also the ‘zoofari lodge’ chalets which sit directly opposite the safari area (see above). With low fences hardly noticeable you can have breakfast with a giraffe leaning over toward your cabin terrace. Needless to say these book up fast and were full when we booked our Dubbo accommodation.

Close encounters from the safari truck

Safari truck/bus

Giraffe, zebra, ostrich, blackbuck and white rhino free to roam together just as they would in Africa.

Animals mix close to the safari cabins

Curious giraffe

The rare Push me-Pull you Rhino

Zebras mix with other animals in this part of the zoo

On the second day we drove through the zoo. It was a shorter visit to catch up on the animals we missed the first day and to see a few favourites once again. It was a Saturday, it rained and it was (relatively) very crowded – enough reasons for making our second visit a quick one…

Then a Thought Occurred to me…

While I was reading the information about how endangered some of the animals are I had a moment of inspiration. A bright idea, a brainwave or light bulb moment if you will. Have a read and tell me. What do you think?

Australia is huge and in places, very sparsely populated. With so much open land there is no reason why some of the animals could not be introduced into the open/wild. Without the same threats of human encroachment and poaching/hunting they would surely thrive. Look at how the camel population in Australia has rocketed. Once they were let go after being used as beasts of burden (just as they are in their native middle east and North Africa) they have settled into their new environment and their numbers have soared.

Could a similar thing be done with some of the planet’s endangered species like rhino? A safe and huge country like Australia is the perfect place to save them in the wild.

Can Australia save these endangered animals?

There is far more space in this country for rhino than this zoo

This little fella was free to just fly off…

The Big NSW Outback Adventure

It is the first day of 2021 and we are packing for our summer holiday. A two week road trip around the New South Wales Outback.

The planned route is ambitious I will admit. Half the battle is getting out to western NSW. Plus the long haul return back to Sydney of course.

Heading Out to the Outback…

On the way out we intend to go via a part of NSW we haven’t seen yet. Via the north eastern inland area of NSW. Once as far north as Narrabri the route will take us west to Walgett (a town Dani and myself passed through on the way to and from Lightning Ridge). Continuing west as far a Bourke, apparently the quintessential outback town (we shall see).

Outback New South Wales planned route – Part One

From Bourke we will have to play it by ear as the weather will play a big part in which roads (or dirt tracks) we can or can’t take. We do not have a Four-Wheel-Drive vehicle! That said many unsealed roads are passable for two wheel drive cars. It will depend on how much rain there is.

The safer/easier option from Bourke is to head south to Cobar then west again to Wilannia. From Wilcannia it’s north again to White Cliffs. The original trip we wanted to do was in South Australia visiting the famous mining town of Coober Pedy. White Cliffs is meant to be similar in many ways to Coober Pedy with underground dwellings built by the miners so as to avoid the harshness of the outback heat. Again, we shall see.

Return to Broken Hill

For Dani and me the next part of the trip is a return to old ground. Broken Hill. Not that we are too bothered. We both loved it there. For Dani’s mum however it is a first visit to the “Silver City” area.

On our first trip to Broken Hill – by train – we missed the final train stop of Menindee as the sun had set. The Menindee town and area is now on our hitlist.

Then it will be back to Broken Hill and south on the ‘Silver City Highway’ to Wentworth which sits on the meeting point of two of Australia’s most famous rivers the Murray and the Darling. The Murray river in this region also forms the border with the state of Victoria, so a possible visit into Victoria may be on the cards.

Mungo National Park

The Wentworth area is also a launchpad to the Mungo National Park. From what I have read about Mungo it looks and sounds amazing. It is described as one of Australia’s most soulful places and the most accessible slice of the true outback.

Then it is mostly about the long return drive to Sydney. No real route planned yet but probably via a night in Goolgowi. From there on there are a couple of options… But it will be mostly driving.

Outback New South Wales planned route – Part Two (and return)

The big adventure begins tomorrow morning – early (which will no doubt annoy Dani who loves his sleep). As stated above it is an ambitious trip covering well over 3600 kilometres (taking in to account little detours and local routes) and at least 40 hours driving. It will be tough for sure but the rewards should be worth it.