This post is specifically to show our lap of the Mount Panorama motor racing circuit (see lower down). But first a bit of background info…
On our way back from the trip to Lightning Ridge we stopped off at Bathurst. Famous for being the oldest inland settlement in Australia, Bathurst is also home to the world famous motor racing circuit, Mount Panorama. It is referred to as Australia’s spiritual home of motor racing. And better still, they let you drive around the circuit. With strict speed limits of course…
Naturally the speed limits for members of the public are to prevent complete carnage. This is especially true on the second half of the circuit as the track descends down the side of the ‘mount’ like a classic winding mountain road. When you drive this section you soon appreciate how good the drivers are that race here, with no speed limits and lots of other cars jostling for position. As far as I know there is no Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit that comes close to comparison with this particular section. Over the years sixteen competitors have died racing this circuit and two spectators were killed by a crashing car in 1955. They used to have motorbike racing also (since the 1930s) but that was deemed too dangerous. The last motorcycle race here was in 2000.
There is a 174-metre (571 ft) vertical difference between its highest and lowest points, and grades as steep as 1:6.13. The track is a 6.2 km (3.8 miles) long. The track is normally used as a public road (when no racing is on) and there are even quite a few residences which can only be accessed from the circuit.
Our Lap Video
OK, many of you ‘motor heads’ out there will know all about this circuit already. But for all you non ‘motor heads’ (as well as the keen ‘motor heads’) see for yourselves…
[Tip: Turn the sound up!]
After the post I wrote about Dani’s school swimming carnival way back last February (read it here) we then had all the covid crap. Finally the swimming pools re-opened and – with this year’s school swim carnival fast approaching – we managed to get him booked into a swimming class. But all is not what it seems…
First a little swimming brand background
From as far back as I can remember whenever you saw an Olympic swimming champion or any world record swim the chances are that the swimmer was wearing Speedo swimwear. Back in the day there were only two companies really. Speedo and Arena. These days of course all the big sportswear companies are into swimwear also, like Adidas and Nike etc… Speedo are the sports brand associated with the famous (or infamous) “budgie smuggler” style of swimming trunks. Generally, Speedo = Swimming!
How bad can it be?
In Australia, of all places, you would expect the swimming lessons for kids to be 100% spot on right? If I told you that the swimming classes Dani had been having were held at a Speedo owned pool and swimming school you would expect everything to be perfect right? Wrong. Double WRONG!
In fact you could not be more wrong. In five weeks of “lessons” (and I use that word very loosely) I would say that they almost undid two years of swimming lessons he had in Madrid. At the risk of sounding libellous I would say it was some kind of fraud. Certainly getting people to part with money for what they have the nerve to call “swimming lessons”.
Five weeks of nothing…
I let the first two weeks go as it was explained to me that they were assessing Dani’s ability. Fine. Then it became apparent that they were not really teaching him anything. Not even allowing him to try to swim further than a few metres. Honestly. I am not making this shit up. I can hardly believe it myself as I type. In fact, after the fifth “teacher” in five weeks I actually felt nauseous and could not bear to watch. What a bloody rip-off! I was fuming.
Over That Biggest Hurdle
At least he still has that eagerness to jump in and have a go. That fear of water and dread of pushing off into the open pool to try and swim is not there. He overcame that first (and definitely biggest) hurdle some time ago. So he is ready to actually swim properly.
As far back as last February in his school swimming carnival he had no problem jumping in an Olympic sized 50 metre long pool. His technique was rubbish but he did not have that fear that still stops many adults from swimming. Now we have just paid for these idiots to only allow him to “swim” a few metres and not give him hardly (and I mean almost zero!) any instruction or tips.
Vote with your feet…
As always it was time to vote with our feet. I arranged lessons in another location (actually closer to his school). Initially they seemed a lot better but more recently he has had a different “teacher” every week. And they are not letting them swim far enough. he needs to be doing full lengths of the pool now in order to improve. Little or no continuity and definitely not pushing him hard enough.
I fear the only way may be private tailor-made lessons and not some swim school’s dragged-out method. But then you still need a pool eh? Private lessons (in the same place he goes now) may be a little better but only if they allow him more space.
You may be wondering why I don’t teach him myself. Good point, because I could certainly do it. No problem in knowing and passing on the techniques required. The answer is simple. He will not listen to me. Nor his mum. Otherwise, trust me, that is what I would do. He responds much better to a third party “teacher”.
So Here’s a Question: How the hell does Australia produce so many great swimmers with so called “lessons” like these? (Of course I know part of the answer…)
The town of Berry is only about 140km south of Sydney but is a world away. Still with all the modern conveniences of course.
The town was originally called Broughton Creek but the name was changed by an Act of Parliament in 1890 to Berry in honour of Alexander Berry who had established the nearby Coolangatta Estate in the 1820s. The estate (later run by Alexander’s brother David) spawned the town.
It is one of those places that everyone says is “nice”. (That word you were told not to use by your English teacher. Well, at least that was the case in my day.) It certainly is a nice pleasant little town.
The town seems to be thriving with many boutique and specialist shops. There are plenty of good restaurants too. The only problem – with anywhere like this – is the traffic and the crowds. I think a sunny Sunday is probably the worst time to visit such places but it is the weekend… I read recently that there are plans to make the centre of town around Queen Street) ‘pedestrian friendly’. That would be a great improvement on busy (touristy) days like this one.
We saw a long goods train, coming from the south, passing through the station. I have no idea where it came from as the passenger service doesn’t really go much further. Maybe the line runs all the way to Melbourne? Does anyone know?
Seven Mile Beach
Berry, which is only 10 m above sea level and only (just over) 8 km to the east lies the magnificent Seven Mile Beach.
There are main entries to the beach at either end with the urbanisations/towns of Shoalhaven Heads at the south and Gerroa to the north. There are one or two small tracks leading through to the beach between those two spots. It is yet another huge beach in New South Wales. Seven miles is just over eleven kilometres. It is enormous so finding a quiet space on the beach is easy. Even given the size of the beach it still seemed unusually quiet. The car park we used was not even full. No complaints from me though…
Between the beach and the road sits the heavily forested Seven Mile Beach National Park. The density of trees in these places never ceases to amaze me. I am sure you could fence these places off and many endangered species would thrive in there.
This week, for the first time ever, the top three box office movies in Australia were all Australian films. Those movies are: #1 The Dry, #2 Penguin Bloom and #3 High Ground. Today I went to see The Dry and I can start this review with the conclusion. This is a very good movie.
The movie stars Eric Bana as Federal Agent Aaron Falk. He returns to his remote home town Kiewarra after living in the big city over twenty years to attend the funeral of his old school mate, Luke. It hasn’t rained in almost one full year in Kiewarra and everyone is tense. But Luke had seemingly shot his wife Karen and child Billy (but thankfully not their baby daughter) before turning the gun on himself. Aaron is set to return to the city after the funeral but Luke’s parents ask him to stay and investigate the circumstances of the crime.
Falk is continuously harassed by the people of the town. It turns out that in the past he and his father were forced to leave the town when Ellie (a friend he was romantically involved with) died in the river. A river which is now completely dry.
Faulk is guilt ridden as he lied about his whereabouts all those years ago. The story jumps back to that time throughout the movie as the pieces finally start to come together.
I will not spoil it, but I will say that the ending was a little surprising. Then just when you thought it was over there is a final twist. Several people fall under suspicion including Gretchen the fourth of the close school friends. One obvious suspect is eliminated only when Faulk recognises the final and main clue.
This is a murder/mystery/thriller/drama – all in one. It is not fast paced but it still manages to keep you on the edge of your seat. The Dry is an excellent example of a low budget movie that require zero special effects. What makes this a such good film is the excellent story. Not too complicated but intricate enough. On the 5 star system I would give it 4 out of 5.
Even the corny scene I was half expecting, never came. The one where the skies open up with a torrent of rain towards the end of the movie breaking the drought just as the crime is solved.
I can definitely recommend The Dry. This is the best movie I have seen at the cinema for some time.
As mentioned in previous posts, artists seem to be drawn to these remote and sometimes desolate places. Desolate they may appear, but there are many underlying factors in these outback towns that inspire artwork. One man only began his artistic journey after working an opal mine. This is his story.
The tale of The Chambers of The Black Hand.
Ron Canlin, a former Royal Marine originally from the UK, came to Australia in 1982 and bought an unwanted mine and tried his hand at opal mining. He only managed to eek out a basic living from the mine but is a classic example of those who came and stayed. Then one day while working in the mine he began to carve into the relatively soft sandstone rocks with an old butter knife. He soon discovered that the rock was easy to work with and so kept carving until he had produced his first sculpture.
The whole thing just mushroomed from there. Ron managed to turn his relatively worthless mine into a most unusual underground art gallery, full of sculptures. The result is The Chambers of the Black Hand. A series of rooms, nooks and crannies where you can find dinosaurs, famous actors and singers as well as three dimensional copy of well known works of art such as the Sistene chapel and Last Supper. Everywhere you look these creations leap out of the walls.
They have added a number of “Where’s Wally” characters for the kids to try and find. You can clearly see one with the Beatles above. Some carvings are large and grand, copying the originals they were obviously based on. Others are tiny. Then there are plenty in between covering a full range of topics from animals, cartoon characters, super heroes and celebrities of stage and screen.
For me there are obvious similarities with the salt mine near Krakow in Poland. I still think that was one of the most incredible places I have ever visited. Now I can add this one to that list.
Due to this covid thing the self-guided tour was basically a one way walk through. But once you have stood in awe at the sheer number and variety of carvings you are sure to want to go around several times, as there are bound to be things that you missed. I took loads of photos as I walked through. Some a little too hastily that ended up too blurred. The ones in this post are just a sample…
The possibilities are endless and the underground gallery is forever expanding. Canlin looks for inspiration in pictures from books and newspapers. He then digs out a new space in his mine with a jackhammer, renders a wall and then begins carving the new exhibit. The working sandstone surface is perfect. Stable but easy to carve.
I have been lucky enough to travel to some great places. Dani has been even more lucky to do some of these trips at such a young age. Some places, often well trodden tourist spots, really grab your attention through their sheer beauty or magnificent scale. Places with huge rivers, mountains and waterfalls, beautiful unspoilt beaches, or wild dense forests or jungle teeming with wildlife.
Then there are places you visit that can give you the similar feelings or even a sense of belonging, without having anything you can physically relate to. Lightning Ridge, this tiny pioneer mining town, is one of those places.
There is definitely something about ‘The Ridge’, that attracts so many from lots of different places. Some arrive planning a short stay and end up staying there for the rest of their lives. Others decide to come to live and work here having only read about the place. Ask them to explain why and they will struggle to tell you. But there they stay.
Artists tend to be drawn to such places. John Murray is one such artist. Creator of Stanley the Emu and famous local painter of outback scenes. He has a gallery in the town and it is well worth a visit…
We will see more of John Murray’s work on various walls in other outback towns. Once you have seen his work some of it is instantly recognisable.
Other artists leave their mark on big outside walls. The mural painter is as much a part of Australian outback life as the miner or the farmer. Here are some examples from the Ridge…
Where Mining meets Art
There is another incredible place to see some local artwork. Hundreds of sculptures carved into the rockface of an opal mine. It is called (somewhat mysteriously) The Chambers of the Black Hand Mine. But I think that warrants its own post… So more on that one to come later.
We stayed in a motel right opposite the Lightning Ridge Bowling Club. It’s a great place to get a refreshing drink and has an extensive menu with some great value for money meals. Dani also wanted to try his hand at outdoor bowling. SO I asked if we could borrow some bowls…
The locals are so friendly they were almost falling over themselves to find a set of bowls that we could use. We played for a while (in the hot sun) and Dani was hooked. At least until I beat him convincingly hahaa…
They say that a trip to the Ridge would not be complete without a visit to the Artesian Bore Baths. The baths are located on the wonderfully named Pandora Street and entry is free. What’s not to like?
This naturally heated thermal baths gets its hot water from the great artesian basin, the largest underground water source in the world. It stretches across much of northern NSW most of western Queensland and into parts of Northern Territory and South Australia. The water can be found at depths between 100 metres and up to 2000 metres down. The temperatures range from 30 to 100 degrees C! At Lighting Ridge the bore water is a constant 41.5°C. That’s fairly warm!
The water was a little too hot for me and Dani but we tried.
Among the curious attractions in the area is Amigo’s Castle. This amazing place was single-handedly built by an Italian born man.
He was self taught in the art of construction and it took him from 1981 to 2001. It also houses an art gallery with tours but it was closed when we were there. Not sure if that was due to the covid crap or not?
This town gets many of its street names from the its own mining industry. Very similar to Broken Hill in that respect.
If you missed it you can read part one from Lightning Ridge here.
When we arrived in Lightning Ridge it was early evening and very hot. It was immediately obvious that this was a real outback town. We had been to Broken Hill and seen the surrounding area including the ‘ghost town’ of Silverton . But up to now there has been nothing quite like Lightning Ridge.
Back in the 1800s it was merely a farming area. The town is said to have got its name from an early pioneer who discovered the bodies of a famer, his dog and 600 sheep that had been struck by lightning. It is probably an outback myth but soon after the area would no longer be known for farming. In the very late 1800s opals were discovered. In 1905 opal mining started in earnest. Not only is the area rich in opals, Lightning Ridge is the only area in Australia (and one of only a few in the world) known to have the famous and desirable black opal.
From then the place kind of took off, with the help of a largely transient population of would be opal hunters. Well, it expanded a little. Even today it is still a small town. Even compared to Broken Hill this place is tiny.
The Unique Spirit of the place the locals call ‘The Ridge’
Lots of characters have come and gone, some stayed. The folk of Lightning Ridge can be described as inspiring and crazy (in a nice way) but they are definitely very friendly. Many have left their mark in the area which has a unique blend of artistic, surprisingly interesting and eccentric attractions.
Lightning Ridge is as much of an iconic frontier town as you could wish for and we loved it.
Unlike the other major Australian opal centres – Coober Pedy, Andamooka, White Cliffs – it is relatively easy to get to and hence attracts over 80,000 visitors each year. This means that it has a a number of decent motels, a good selection of souvenir and gift shops and a few good places to eat. For a real outback town it has a thin veneer of what city-dwellers might call “civilisation”.
Opal mine experience
Naturally the first thing to do was see what an opal mine looked like and learn a little about how these precious stones are brought from the ground.
The mine trip was interesting if only to see that these places do not need to be deep into the earth. In fact opals can be found only a couple of metres underground and up to about 60 metres. So most mines you can visit are just a flight of steps below the surface.
The area is littered with heaps of white dirt (called mullocks) that has been dug up. There could still be valuable opals amongst it all and some tourists have been lucky enough to find them. We were not so lucky however but Dani still wanted to try his luck. They call it fossicking in this part of the world (and Cornwall, UK I believe). It means rummaging, searching or prospecting.
Car door tours
While ‘The Ridge’ itself is small and compact there are several “Car Door” tours just outside of town. One on each corner of the town plus a fifth one about an hours drive away (more on that one later). The idea is each attraction is marked with a number on a car door (literally) which is coloured according to the route. You have the Red, Blue, Green and Yellow car door routes. Each one takes in different aspects of the town.
The roads are unsealed but OK in a two wheel drive vehicle. That said it helps if your car is not too low to the ground – which ours was. We had recently changed the SUV hire car for a different and lower profile car. Not ideal for these areas but we made the most of it.
There is very little chance of any old car door being thrown away around here. Locals use them as signs to mark their property.
Lightning Ridge Cemetery
OK, I know it may seem that this blog is turning into a morbid tour of graveyards but there is something fascinating about these places; especially in pioneer towns like these. They are historically important places for any town. So please bear with me.
People came here from all over the world once the opals were discovered. The cemetery is testament to that fact. You only have to look at the names on the headstones to see what a universal magnet this place had been for over one hundred years.
Some made their fortune while others made little, if anything. But they kept arriving. All with the same dreams. They all mixed in with those already established in the town and helped make the place what it is – still a fascinating place.
While 2020 may have been a quiet year for most workers, actor Liam Neeson seems to have done quite a lot. It only seems a few weeks ago that I reviewed Honest Thief starring Neeson. Oh; that’s because it was – just over three months ago to be exact.
Neeson stars as Jim Hanson, an ex Marine who now runs a ranch on the Arizona-Mexico border. Not just near the border mind. Oh no. His property runs right along part of the large fence where drug cartels regularly break through to smuggle people, drugs and weapons.
Plot (as much as there is one)
One day while out driving the fence line he finds Rosa and her son Miguel who have just climbed through a hole in the fence. (If only there was a big wall I hear you cry!) It turns out that Rosa’s brother had stolen money from one of the drug cartels and so to really punish him (even after already killing him) they intend to make examples out of members of his family. Before they catch up to him he phones Rosa and basically tells her to run for it.
Back to the border fence. Cartel members headed by Maurico (well played by Juan Pablo Raba) are close behind and approach the fence. Jim Hanson fends them off but in the shootout Rosa is killed. Her dying words are basically you can take everything I have (handing a bag full of money to Hanson) but please take my son to my family in Chicago.
Jim then reluctantly tries to do just that. However, the drug gang enter the USA and are in hot pursuit. One of the gang’s properties in the USA is equipped with high tech monitoring equipment and they manage to track Hanson by following his credit card payments. Meanwhile Maurico and his henchmen follow the leads across the highways.
The rest of the movie is basically a game of cat and mouse where Hanson and Miguel keep just one step ahead. The film’s ending is fairly predictable – so no spoiler alert needed and none given.
OK there is not much different or great about this movie. In fact nothing. That said it is a typical Liam Neeson easy watch action thriller. Nothing complex going on just basic baddies after some innocent child. While I always prefer more thought provoking movies I also like this genre at times and on that note I give the film two and a half out of five (stars?)
But what about the cartel’s super computer that can seemingly track someone just like the FBI can? And why didn’t they know that Rosa and Miguel had family in Chicago? Come on!!! Please! That’s weak story writing to say the least.
Even worse than that, near the climax to the film, the gang calls what must be their affiliate members in Chicago to look out for Hanson and the kid. These guys then set up lookouts over the main highways into Chicago and when they spot Hanson’s pick-up truck they call Maurico telling him which exit Hanson left the highway. Then they are done? Then they play no more part in the film? Oh nooooo…..
You have to be kidding me. In real life I would like to think that the drug cartels cannot track people’s credit card transactions – although I suspect they may have enough power to access such information. But I also think they would know that Rosa had family in Chicago and would have had their local people camped outside that house waiting.
Not to worry. These type of movies do not really require you to think that deeply. Just sit back and enjoy the ride (so to speak). And on that basis it was an acceptable, and now fast becoming typical, Liam Neeson action movie.
I just found out that Neeson has been filming a new movie here in Australia. It’s called Blacklight and also stars Aussie actor – and one of my favourites – Guy Pearce. I look forward to it; but there is another point to all this. While people like us can’t go back to Europe to visit family (or they come here to visit us) it seems that movie stars, cricket players and tennis players can come and go. Anyone not think there are double standards at play here?
Today, February 5th, this blog is five years old. Five years! Where the hell did that time go?
I wasn’t sure of the exact day so had to check. So when I found it, I also read the first blog post I wrote. It seems to have stood the test of those five years. It was true then and true now. (You can see that first post here.) The main difference now is that we are living on the other side of the world.
Sadly however, it is quickly turning into a completely different world from that one of five years ago. Or even one year ago!
And the year ahead?…
Normally around this time of year I would do a quick review of the previous year. But with all this covid nonsense that’s gone on I really couldn’t be bothered. And as for what’s to come this year I really do not want to speculate. For all those who said farewell to 2020 and welcomed 2021 as if things would suddenly be so much better (as in, how could they be worse than 202?) I have this to say. Some things in 2021 are already worse than 2020 and they will not get better. I am afraid that I have to agree with some of the covid sceptics who have written about what is going on from an angle other than the main stream media’s view. This covid lockdown/rubbish/loss-of-freedom will not stop until we the people say it stops. There seems to be no sign of our wonderful leaders giving us back all those freedoms that were fought for so hard by my grandparent’s and great grandparent’s generations. Freedoms we all took for granted didn’t we?
“They ” are already planning to keep this going…
Everyone thought the vaccine would be the answer but no. Now they are saying that you can still catch or spread “the virus” if you have had the disease already and even had the vaccine. They are also talking about (at least) two new strains or “variants” of the covid crap. One is hilariously called “the UK variant”. Then just recently they have started talking about “the South African variant”. Not that we were allowed to call the original virus the “Chinese virus”, or “kung flu”, or any other thing – even as a light hearted joke in times of depressing lockdowns. Oh no. That sort of talk is frowned upon. Anyway the point is none of this is going to get any better until people make some sort of a mass protest/stand. And don’t ask me when that might happen as I have absolutely no idea.
So after looking back on early blog posts where I wrote about wanting to capture my hopes and fears for my young son; what do I tell him? I tell him what I really think of the politicians who behave like headless chickens. I tell him what I think of the so called “experts” and their “science” and of course all the complete contradictions than can easily be seen when they change the rules from one day to the next.
Why? Because at the moment I am still free to do so…
Flashing back to our first trip of the school summer holidays. After Dubbo, Dani and myself continued on to Lightning Ridge… Heading to the far north of NSW just short of the Queensland border…
The Drive from Dubbo to Lightning Ridge
The road from Dubbo to Lightning Ridge passes through huge areas of farmland and several small towns. First we passed through Gilgandra, a pleasant little town but not much in the way of enticing tourists to stay. Then after miles of open road we passed through another sleepy little town, Gulargamone. Further north we passed through the larger and oddly named (for recent generations at least) Coonamble – which they pronounce “cun-amble”. Yeah right. Maybe now…
The Castlereagh river cuts right through the town of Coonamble. As it is larger than the previous two towns and there seems to be more going on. But not much more. One thing all three places have is painted water towers. They refer to it as Silo Art in Australia (more on that to come). Coonamble’s silo art was done by artist John Murray (of Stanley the Emu and Lightning Ridge fame). Although the only water tower I took a photo of was further north at Walgett.
Grain production – wheat – plays a huge part in the economy in this part of the world. You can see huge piles of the stuff, kept dry by enormous blue plastic sheets, waiting to be transported to the cities and ports. Some of these massive heaps of grain can be seen from miles away in this mainly flat landscape – if the sky is not the same shade of blue that is.
Walgett is now a crossroads town. Literally. The main roads (‘main’ for this part of the world) of B76 and B55 cross at Walgett. Before there were cars the town was a paddle boat steamer port for the Murray and Darling rivers routes. The B76 stretches from the Pacific Highway in the East to Bourke in the far west of the state, winding some 800km along the way. The B55 runs for 632km. It links the western side of the Blue Mountains, starting at Lithgow, with the north of NSW, passing through (or by) Lightning Ridge and on into Queensland.
The town is the meeting point for two rivers the Barwon and Namoi. Walgett takes its name from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘the meeting place of two rivers’. The Barwon river merges with the Culgoa river less than 200km west (as the crow flies) to form the Darling River, Australia’s 3rd longest.
Similarities to USA
Impossibly long roads and totally flat scenary to both sides. Reminded me of the Prairies in USA once you drive west of St. Louis that is all you see for a day or two until you reach the start of the Rocky Mountains. This was similar – at least the scenery. The only break from the flat lands I noticed were a fair way to the east not long after leaving Dubbo behind. I think it was the Warrumbungle Range. The peaks looked quite high and impressive even from that great distance. Yes. I found out later that it is the Warrumbugle National Park and from what I have seen online, it deserves a separate visit.
There are other similarities with the USA around these parts. This is cowboy country. Well there are probably more sheep than cattle but there are still cattle. And they have rodeo competitions. Although yet again, that bloody “virus” put a stop to any rodeo fun this/last year. Places like this need those events to draw in some tourists.
The real problem with places like Walgett is that there is virtually nothing to do there if you stopped over. There is no decent place to eat out, no decent pubs. Which is all a bit of a shame really as they miss out on tourists who just pass through – like us! It is a sad statement to make but unless there was a country fair or rodeo in town nobody is going to stop there.
From Walgett it was not too far to our destination, Lightning Ridge. After passing Stanley the Emu of course (see previous blog post on Stanley here.) More on that to come…