Apart from this blog, I write The Bobby Dazzler Newsletter (BDN) which is mostly about the Australian Outback, but sometimes wanders off the Outback track a bit. It comes out by email every two months, and produces some interesting responses, so I decided to start this blog where these responses could be discussed, plus other odds and ends which don’t fit into the newsletter. There are now more than 200 articles (“posts”) below, most of which have not appeared in the Newsletter.

Please feel free to add a comment to any of the posts, and also to suggest new topics which may be of interest (by adding a comment to this post). By the way, you don’t have to use your real name.

To subscribe to the Newsletter, and for more details about how to use this blog, click on “About this Blog” above.

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Outback Oddities #1

camel carrying pianola 2

The first camels were brought to Australia in 1840, but a total of only seven prior to 1860, when 24 were brought to be used in the Burke and Wills Expedition. Nearly all the camels brought here have been dromedaries, ie. the single-humped kind.

There were used by exploring parties, and, as remote areas started to be settled by non-indigenous people, for transporting goods before the advent of trains and trucks. As you can imagine, a heavily loaded camel does not travel at 100 miles an hour, and hence a lengthy trip could take many days. The camels would have to be unloaded each evening, and then reloaded the following morning to resume the trip.

And when the load included a piano, this was no easy matter! Imagine the scene: the camel is comfortably sitting down on its haunches after a pleasant night’s sleep, when three or four blokes manoeuvre the piano crate over next to it, tie it onto the camel, and then start making noises in camel talk which mean “Come on, get up, you lazy brute. It’s time to go.” “Easier said than done” thinks the camel. I’m glad I wasn’t born a camel!

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Big Living Things

Earlier this year, my daughter Kate walked the Bibbulmun Track, a 1000-kilometre walking track stretching through the forest from Kalamunda, an eastern suburb of Perth, to Albany on the south coast of Western Australia. It took her 63 days. She wrote about her experience in this month’s issue of the “Bobby Dazzler Newsletter”. If you’d like a free email subscription to the six-issues-a-year newsletter – which is mainly about the Australian Outback – just email me at brennan@bba.com.au. Mention Kate, and I’ll make sure you get a copy of the issue about Kate’s adventure.

big tree

The “Bibb” as the track is called takes you through some of the mighty forest lands of south-west Western Australia, home of the jarrah and karri trees, among the world’s tallest trees.

The picture above shows Kate and a burnt out karri tree. Karris (eucalyptus diversicolor) can grow to over 90 metres (300 feet). The jarrah (eucalyptus marginata) manages only about 45 metres (147 feet), but its timber is regarded as one of the best general purpose hardwoods in the world. The figure of the man standing beside the jarrah tree gives you an idea of its height. It is claimed that jarrah wood contains a high level of alcohol – which can somehow be extracted. Australian bush poet Dryblower Murphy wrote a poem called “Comeanavajarrah”.

jarrah tree 2

Construction of the railway line from Port Augusta to the north (which began in 1878) used some one and a half million karri and jarrah sleepers from Western Australia. Some of them can still be seen beside the long abandoned line.

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Just a Decade Ago

This has nothing in particular to do with the Outback, but I thought it was worth drawing attention to the fact that today marks exactly ten years since the first Apple iPhone was sold in 2007.

There were of course already other mobile phones in use — some almost as big as a house brick — with brand names such as Blackberry and Nokia.

iPhone and Jobs

But the iPhone was different. Steve Jobs likened it to an iPod together with a touch screen, a revolutionary phone, and an internet connection capability. A “smart phone” indeed!

It had no games, no GPS, no front camera, no flash. Imagine — you could not take a video, or a selfie! There was no Facebook! And now, just ten years later, any teenager in the land who had to get by with the original iPhone would feel massively disadvantaged.

Have smart phones made the world a better place? Have we become better communicators, or worse? Would you feel lost without your smart phone? Please share your thoughts in a comment.


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Under the Influence

A recent post on this blog titled “Big is Beautiful?” (June 2) led to some interesting points being made in the comments from various readers. I suspect that not all readers bother looking at the comments (which can be viewed by clicking on the place right at the bottom of a post where it says for example “7 comments”). Sometimes there are real gems to be found there.

I had mentioned that most people can recall books which have been influential at particular stages of their life, and readers responded with their own influential books. Here’s a list of the books they told us about:

As children:

The “Just William” books by Richmal Crompton. These were a favourite of mine. I have to confess that I have just discovered in the process of writing these notes, that Richmal Crompton was a woman! I had just assumed that a person who wrote many books about schoolboys and their exploits, and who had a name like “Richmal”, was a man. Her first book in the series, titled “Just William”, gets 4½ stars on Amazon.

Reach for the Sky” by Paul Brickhill is the story of Douglas Bader, the legless hero of the Battle of Britain. Reader Ken Hungerford particularly remembers Bader quoting the saying “Rules were made for the obedience of fools and guidance of wise men”. 4½ stars on Amazon.

My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George. About a city boy who runs away from home to live alone in a hollowed-out tree in the mountains. 4½ stars on Amazon.

As adults:

Small is Beautiful” by E F Schumacher. Subtitled “Economics as if People Mattered”, and, although first published in 1973, is still very relevant for today’s world. 4½ stars on Amazon.

A Fortunate Life” by A B Facey. The classic autobiography of an Australian who faced enormous hardship, but continued to regard himself as “fortunate”. 5 stars on Amazon.

The Dunny Man” by John D Gardner. Subtitled “Taking Care of Business”, this is the story of the men who provided this important service in Australia until less than 50 years ago. Described by reader Richard Kessling as not so much influential as “diverting”. Not stocked by Amazon.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey” by Thornton Wilder. This novel is a classic enquiry into the “why” of events involving human tragedy. 4 stars on Amazon.

Germinal” by Émile Zola. This novel is centred around the exploitation of the many by the few, but also shows humanity’s capacity for compassion and hope. 4½ stars on Amazon.

Interesting I think that the predominant theme in most of these books is not the “cheerful Charlie” side of life, but rather the difficulties and hardships that many experience. Maybe that’s what inspires people, and influences them to strive to do their best in spite of the roadblocks put in their way. As someone said, “Aim for the stars. Even if you don’t make it, you may land on a mountain top.”

How about telling us (in a comment) about one or more books which have been particularly influential in your life? Your fellow readers will be grateful (in a world where there are literally millions of books to choose from) for some clues about which ones to read in the limited time available.

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Any Kangatarians Here?

Need something to talk about at the next cocktail party? How about trying this line:

            “Anyone here a kangatarian?”

Of course, you’ll need to know what a kangatarian is, and that’s where Bobby Dazzler’s Blog comes to your aid. A kangatarian is a person who will not eat meat except for kangaroo meat. You could say it’s a vegetarian who will also eat kangaroo meat.

I came across this when the Australian National University in conjunction with Oxford University Press (Oz & NZ division) announced that the “Oxford Word of the Month” for June is indeed “kangatarian”. And that both “kangatarian” and “kangatarianism” are being considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary. Pretty exciting stuff – unless you’re a kangaroo.

They tell us that “some of the appeal of eating kangaroo meat in preference to other meat is because it is thought to be healthier (it is a naturally lean meat), but kangatarians chiefly find the diet appealing on environmental grounds, because it does not rely on large-scale husbandry practices as other meat production does. Attempts to encourage a reluctant Australian public to eat more kangaroo meat, however, would probably entail the adoption of some of these practices.”

Kangaroo meat

Kangaroo meat is available in many Australian supermarkets, and is generally cheaper than beef.

I can remember having trouble convincing some overseas visitors that there is such a thing as kangaroo tail soup, and I take this opportunity to present convincing evidence that there is. Just try doing a Google search on “kangaroo tail soup recipe” or “canned kangaroo tail soup”.

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Big is Beautiful?

I sometimes think that one could write an autobiography based on books that have had a significant influence at various points along the way in one’s life. For example, my years from about 9 to 12 were influenced by reading several of the “William” books by Richmal Crompton. (I just looked up William books in Wikipedia, and learnt that William possessed an “unfailing belief in his own ingenuity and righteousness”! I’ll have to think about that!)

Another book that I can remember being impressed by in the 1970s was “Small is Beautiful” by E F Schumacher. It was subtitled “A Study of Economics as if People Mattered”. In 1995, it was included in a list of “The 100 Most Influential Books Published since World War 2”, published in The Times Literary Supplement.

And here I am about to talk about Australians’ love for BIG THINGS. There are more than 200 big things, located all around the country. People have even been known to plan a road trip to take in as many big things as possible, with a photo taken at each one.

Big Axe

I was prompted to write about Big Things by two events:

1.       I was recently in Tasmania, and visiting the Longley International Hotel near Hobart, when I suddenly found myself confronted by a Big Thing, in this instance a Big Axe. Impressive!

2.      Returning from a recent trip to Quilpie in south-west Queensland (see Bobby Dazzler Newsletter #81), we passed through the small town of Dunedoo, about 60 km north of Mudgee in New South Wales. When later reading up about Dunedoo, I discovered that in the early 2000s, there was a proposal put to the good folk of Dunedoo to ginger up the flow of tourists to the town by building the “Big Dunny” there. (If you don’t know what Aussies mean by “dunny”, you can Google it.) It was to be a three-story building, featuring five-star toilets, a visitors’ centre, and even a radio station. But some po-faced locals thought it would be an embarrassment, and it was never built.

Some of Australia’s impressive Big Things are:

  •    The Big Cane Toad (Sarina, Qld)
  •    The Big Slide Rule (University of Tasmania, Hobart)
  •    The Big Worm (250 metres! Bass, Victoria)
  •    The Big Ugg Boots (Thornton, NSW)
  •    The Big Wheelbarrow (Port Hedland, WA)
  •    The Big Hat (Cradock, SA)

You can see a reasonably comprehensive list by going to Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org ) and searching on “Australia’s Big Things”. Sure makes you feel proud to be an Aussie!

PS: How about writing a comment below to tell us about a book that’s been very influential in your life.

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Getting Away From The Crowds

Anyone who’s travelled around the Outback more than a bit will be aware that it can be a very lonely part of the world. To travel 100 kms without seeing any sign of a house or a person is not unusual – and maybe not even to see another car on the road in that time. Of course, if your vehicle has broken down and you’re waiting for someone to come along who may be able to help you, it can feel as if you’re on the moon.

I was recently travelling with friends in south west Queensland, in particular attending some events celebrating the centenary of when Quilpie was officially proclaimed a town back in 1917. (Quilpie’s about 120 kms west of Charleville, and 980 kms west of Brisbane.) I picked up a brochure along the way, entitled “Outback Queensland Travellers’ Guide 2017/18”, which enthusiastically classifies about two thirds of Queensland as “outback”.

It describes the Queensland Outback shire by shire, and lists the “communities” within each shire, and their population. For example, Quilpie Shire contains the communities of Toompine (pop. 2) and Cheepie (pop. 1). The Longreach Region contains the community of Emmet (pop. 2). Diamantina Shire contains Betoota (pop. 0), and Cloncurry Shire contains Duchess (pop. 2) and Quamby (pop. 0).

You’d think a place with population zero would be somewhat lacking as far as a sense of community was concerned. Hence it seems remarkable that although no-one lives there, Quamby is the home of the Quamby Rodeo, where hundreds come each July to enjoy the thrills and spills. Betoota (pop. 0) for many years had a population of 1, namely Simon Rimienko, the publican, who became famous for having been stuck on the Birdsville Track for 18 weeks with his truckload of 8 tons of beer. Now that Simon’s no longer around and the population has plummeted to zero, Betoota still apparently has what it takes to stage an annual Horse and Motorbike Gymkhana, and also an annual Race Meeting.

Betoota’s remarkable social program might incline to think that a place like Cheepie – which has one actual live resident – would put on all manner of special events to pull in the crowds, but no, nothing much happens in Cheepie.  Maybe the person who lives there just prefers a quiet life.

It’s interesting to note that the Federal Electorate of Maranoa, which takes in 40% of Queensland including much of this Outback area, occupies 731,000 square kms, and averages one person on the electoral roll per seven square kms. One can easily get the feeling that the Outback gives you a chance to escape from the traffic jams and the crowds of city life. And you’d be right!


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