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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A Road Trip from Sydney to Uluru – Day 1

Before I stopped doing regular Bobby Dazzler trips, I was a bit reticent about giving a detailed account of my itineraries for fear that lots of people would start using them, and the splendid isolation of travelling on lonely Outback roads would be lost. I probably needn’t have worried.

Anyway, there’s no longer need for that concern, so here are a few of my Sydney to Uluru secrets – feel free to take advantage of them. Bear in mind that there are all manner of options and alternatives that might make the trip more enjoyable for your particular set of circumstances, personnel and interests. I am writing about a trip for four adults in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

For readers who have no expectations of ever getting to Australia, this account may be the closest you’ll get to ever doing a road trip to Uluru. Enjoy!

Day 1: Sydney to Parkes (370 km)

I’ve found it helpful to make the first day a bit leisurely, to allow time for picking up passengers, packing the car, etc. We follow the Great Western Highway (A32) as far as Orange. If passengers are for any reason unfamiliar with the route we are taking, they will probably enjoy some detours along the way, Katoomba in the Blue Mountains (first crossed by Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson in 1813, maximum height about 1200 metres) being a must. Echo Point on a fine day is breath-taking, and riding the Scenic Railway likewise (but maybe daunting for some). Unfortunately “The Edge”, a famous giant-screen movie about the Blue Mountains, which was for many years screened every day in Katoomba, is no longer showing.

Blackheath’s a good spot for morning tea – turn right into the main street, and try the Victory Theatre Antique Centre and Café (the collection of antiques and all manner of old things is enormous!) Also “Trains, Planes & Automobiles” if you’ve got any interest in toys, especially toy trains, is a fascinating shop. And just 2.5km out of the town is the famous Govett’s Leap — not to be missed. “A story, almost certainly apocryphal, recounts how a bushranger named Govett was being pursued by the police. Determined not to be taken alive, Govett spurred his horse over the cliff and dropped 450 m to his death on the rocks below.”

Govetts Leap

Back on the highway, just as you approach the steep descent of the Victoria Pass, there’s a dirt road turnoff on the left to a lookout – well worth a squiz at the spectacular views.

Then on across the Central Tablelands of NSW to Bathurst, the oldest inland town in Australia, and site of the famous Mt Panorama motor racetrack. (If you’re a petrol-head, you can drive around it when there are no races on.) Turn left into William Street, the main street, where there are some attractive old buildings, then right into Russell St to see the magnificent Court House. And did you know that in 1836, Charles Darwin was visiting Australia, and “hired a man & two horses to take [him] to Bathurst…to get a general idea of the country”? Even today, by the time we reach Bathurst, city dwellers are starting to feel they’ve shaken off the urban shackles. Continue on Russell St to rejoin the Highway.

It’s a pleasant run through gold-fields country (see the evidence in the village of Lucknow) from there to Orange, which is maybe time for a lunch stop – plenty of options available. (Maybe get some take-away food, and eat it in the beautiful Cook Park in the main street.) It’s worth taking a run through a few of the side streets (particularly on the northern side of the main street) to see some very elegant old country houses. Just as you’re leaving the town, veer left off the highway onto the Escort Way, then 27 km later, turn right onto Henry Parkes Way. You’ll notice at that junction a stone monument marking a significant point for Sir Thomas Mitchell’s early exploratory expeditions.

Mitchell monument

The inscription reads:

From this vicinity Sir Thomas Mitchell`s Second Expedition proceeded on April 7, 1835 to the Darling River,
His Third Expedition on March 19, 1836 to Australia Felix (Western Victoria),
And his Fourth Expedition on December 15, 1845 to Tropical Australia (Central Queensland).

As you pass through Manildra, you’ll become aware you’re now in wheat country – the silos totally dominate the town!

Parkes is a pleasant country town, named after Sir Henry Parkes, the “Father of Federation”, whose statue graces the main street. If you need to book accommodation, I recommend the Clarinda Motel, 72 Clarinda St, on your left as you’re coming into town. The phone number is (02) 6862 1655. For your evening meal, there are a number of dining options in town, but we often go to the Parkes Leagues Club in the main street.

Although Day 1 has not even taken us off the bitumen, most people find it an interesting and enjoyable start. Tomorrow we hit some dirt roads on the Western Plains, so get a good night’s sleep, and be ready for adventure.

To be continued.

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Try Some Exploring

This blog has been running for more than six years, and contains more than 220 posts (articles), mostly about the Australian Outback. If you haven’t been a regular reader, I can tell you it would take you quite a while to scan through them all.

But if you’d like to get a feeling for some of the interesting material the blog contains, why not try using the “Search for a subject” facility in the column on the right to find things. For example, click in the Search box, then type “boab” and then click on “Search”, and you’ll find an article about the mysterious boab trees found in the Kimberley region of north-west Australia.

Here are some other suggestions to get you interested:

  1. Search for “anzac biscuits”. Did you know that Australia has a national biscuit? And why it’s called “anzac”?
  2. Search for “Len Beadell”, and find out about the last Australian explorer.
  3. Search for “dunedoo”, and discover a town that wanted to create a surprising “big thing”.
  4. Search for “betoota”, and find out about a town with an unusual population.
  5. Search for “outbackistan” – one of the least known of the “stans”.
  6. Search for “dog fence”, and read about why Australia built the world’s longest fence to try to keep the dogs out.
  7. Search for “Ogden Nash”, and find out why he gets mentioned in a blog about the Outback.
  8. Search for “greatest drover”. Do you know who is regarded as the holder of this title in Australia?
  9. Search for “Eddie Mabo”, and read about an unusual angle on the court case which made Eddie Mabo a household name in Australia.
  10. Search for “speewah”. Whereabouts in Australia would you expect to find it?

And there are dozens of other things you could read about:   bulldust, yuppies, bunyips, Mario’s Palace, bush retread, Clancy@TheOverflow, quandongs, willy willy, Talc Alf, brolgas, gibbers, bower birds, poetry wars, emu whispering, Lasseter, glamping, The Big Worm, brolgas, Outback Wave …….

Why not take half an hour and find out a few things you didn’t know about the Australian Outback?

And to be notified by email every time there’s a new post, just click on “Follow Blog via Email” in the panel on the right, and supply your email address.

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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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It’s Different in the Outback

I recently came across the word “Outbackistan”. It was on the ABC’s Conversation Hour, in which Richard Fidler interviewed Gav Dear, songwriter and frontman for “The Roadtrippers”. “Outbackistan” is the title of their most recent album. The album is described as “a remote far-out Australian outback mix of country folk and tumbling rock’n’roll written and played by genuine black and white dwellers of the northern reaches of Outbackistan.”

The term “Outbackistan” was coined to make the point that the Australian Outback is in some ways like a country in its own right, just as different and even mysterious as some of the Central Asian “Stans” like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The rather amazing Gav Dear interview can be heard at:


Talking to an Outback farmer a week ago brought to light an example of just how different life in the Outback can be. This chap had had some medical tests which brought to light PSA levels in his blood which would normally be regarded as a sign of prostate cancer. There was plenty of work waiting to be done on the farm, and the treatment options offered by the doctor sounded uncomfortable, time-consuming and expensive – and even then without any guarantee of success.

A fellow Outback farmer suggested there was a much easier approach, and he wouldn’t even have to make the 240 kilometre round-trip drive into town to buy the medicine – he’d have it right there in the shed. And sure enough he did:

Bruce medicine.jpg

He didn’t take much, he assured me – just a few drops – but it seemed to do the job, and his PSA levels are now back to normal.

The product he took is normally used for “drenching” sheep and cattle, which means forcibly administering it to deal with internal parasites of various kinds. The container is clearly marked: “DANGEROUS POISON    Not to be taken     For animal treatment only    TOXIC”.

Things are different in Outbackistan.


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Don’t Fence Me In

Australia has had three major fences:

1. The Western Australian Rabbit-Proof Fence

Completed in 1907, this fence runs roughly north-south from near Port Hedland to the Great Australian Bight, and was originally 1800 km long. It was intended to keep rabbits on the eastern side, but was generally regarded as a failure. Some 1100 km remain, mainly as a discouragement to emus moving from Central Australia to the greener pastures of the far west during drought times.

2. The Queensland Rabbit-Proof Fence

At its best, this fence ran from near Haddon Corner in the south-west of Queensland to Mungindi on the NSW border, and was mostly constructed before 1900. The intention was to keep the rabbits on the south side, but, like the WA fence, was not markedly successful. About 555 km of it remain, parts having been made dingo-proof.

3. The Dog Fence, also known as the Dingo Fence or the Wild Dog Fence

It runs from the Great Australian Bight to a little north-west of Brisbane, some 5400 km, and is one of the longest man-made structures in the world. It was constructed in piece-meal fashion over several decades from about 1947, using existing property fences where practical. It averages about 1.8 metres in height, including a section beneath the ground. It is well maintained by a series of maintenance crews who spend their time driving back and forth along the fence checking for problems, such as breaks, burnt posts, sand drifts, etc.

dog fence 2

The general idea is to keep dingos to the north of the fence, which is cattle country. Very few sheep live north of the fence. Kangaroo and emu populations are also smaller on the north side of the fence.

Dog Fence

The Dog Fence now runs through the village of Hungerford on the NSW/Queensland border. Back in 1892, there was already a section of the Queensland Rabbit-Proof Fence there. Hungerford was made famous by poet Henry Lawson’s short story “While the Billy Boils”, which you can read at https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lawson/henry/while_the_billy_boils/book1.6.html .
He wrote the story after walking the 220 kms from Bourke to Hungerford, and made fun of his observation that there were numerous rabbits on both sides of the fence.

In 2002, a film called Rabbit-Proof Fence came out, portraying the story of three young aboriginal girls taken from their homes in Western Australia to be trained in “white” ways, who escape and walk home through hundreds of miles of bush and desert country, using the Fence as their guide. Highly recommended if you haven’t already seen it!

Many Australians were rather vague at the time as to where the Rabbit-Proof Fence was, and for that matter, whether it was something separate from the Dingo Fence. It was of course the WA Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Australia being a geographically large country, it’s not surprising that fences play a significant part in its history.

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Eagles and Duty

(This article originally appeared in the Bobby Dazzler Newsletter #10 in May 2004. To subscribe to the free six-times-a-year Newsletter, send a request to brennan@bba.com.au).

Ogden Nash, in his wonderful poem, Kind of an Ode to Duty, wrote:

O Duty,
Why hast thou not the visage of a sweetie or a cutie?
Why glitter thy spectacles so ominously?
Why art thou clad so abominously?
Why art thou so different from Venus
And why do thou and I have so few interests mutually in common between us?
Why art thou fifty per cent martyr
And fifty-one per cent Tartar?

[Apart from abominously, this poem also includes such wonderful words as albatrossly and forbiddinger. See the full text at  https://poetrymehfil.wordpress.com/2010/01/15/ode-to-duty/ ]

I was thinking about eagles when that poem came to mind.

eagle and roadkill

The wedge-tailed eagle (aquila audax, or “wedgie”) is common in the Australian Outback, and is always exciting to see. Fully grown, it has a wing span of about 2.3 metres (over 7 ft), and is one of the largest eagles in the world. It is a dark blackish brown in colour, and has distinctive “trousers” – feathers all the way down its legs.

Since early European settlers cleverly introduced rabbits into Australia, the wedgies have had a convenient and plentiful source of food. But the calici virus (which “escaped” from experimental use in 1995) dramatically reduced the rabbit population, particularly in the Outback. As inevitably seems to be the case when we try to “adjust” nature, there are undesirable side effects. In this instance, eagles had to look elsewhere for food, and it is said that their numbers declined significantly.

The most common place to see wedgies is feeding on road kill – usually kangaroos or emus. Caution is needed, since they sometimes become so engorged that they have trouble lifting off as a vehicle approaches. I’m told that having a wedge-tailed eagle crash through your windscreen and end up on your lap is not a fun experience for either party!

The nesting habits of wedgies are interesting. The nest is usually in a position to give a good view of the surrounding area, although in the desert, this may mean in a low tree. It is built of dead sticks, loosely stacked.

No two nests are usually closer than about 2.5 kms, thus ensuring a sizable “territory” for each pair of birds.

An eagle will use the same nest year after year, usually adding an extra layer of sticks each season. An old nest can be close to two metres wide and up to three metres deep. There are reports of trees collapsing under the weight of a single nest, which can be as much as 400 kgs. (Pictured is an eagle’s nest in the Strzelecki Desert – with glamour provided by Raylene Ogilvy of Lindon Station).eagles nest

I was thinking of wedgies being “dutiful” – sticking with the same nest (and the same mate) throughout their life, and adding more sticks each year. It almost evokes an image of the suburban couple, working hard to put food on the table, adding a room or two to the cottage as the family grows, and finally ending their days in the same suburban cottage.

Such people can be “salt of the earth” types, and yet some would think of them as “boring”. Attention to duty, a life of routine – these things have come to have a negative connotation for many, in a world where excitement, drama, action, adventure, and the thrill of the new are what it’s all about.

’Twas not always thus. In earlier times, the exigencies of survival occupied pretty much every waking hour. The Christian Church indeed saw such routine as an aid to holiness. John Keble (1792-1866), English clergyman and Professor of Poetry at Oxford, wrote in 1827:

The trivial round, the common task,
Would furnish all we ought to ask;
Room to deny ourselves; a road
To bring us, daily, nearer God.

These days, most of us have at least a degree of choice as to how much routine we follow, and how much adventure and unpredictability we “allow” into our lives. To a certain extent, our upbringing and past life will have formed our attitudes to these things. Routine can be a source of security, or it can feel like a prelude to death. Some are hooked on adrenaline, others feel very distressed by unpredictability and change.

And yet, we can never be certain about the future. We might think we have tomorrow mapped out pretty neatly, but a thousand different things can come along to change it completely. A reluctance to break out of a comfortable and familiar routine can be a refusal to embrace the very nature of life itself, and a rejection of the potential inherent in every step into the unknown future.

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The Barkly Tableland

The Barkly Tableland is a large plain stretching from the middle of the Northern Territory across to the western edge of Queensland. It was encountered by explorer William Landsborough in 1862, while he was leading a party in search of Burke and Wills, who had both perished after being the first non-indigenous people to cross the continent from south to north in the previous year. Landsborough named the plain after Sir Henry Barkly, the then governor of Victoria. Incidentally, here’s one for the trivia buffs: Landsborough was the first non-indigenous person to cross the continent from north to south.

And here’s another trivia gem: In later life, Landsborough and his wife Carolyn settled on Sweers Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, where they had a child which they named Sweersena. “And why” I hear you ask “was the island called Sweers in the first place, causing the poor child to end up with such a name?” Just don’t you worry about that.

Now, back to the Tableland: In 1877, Nat Buchanan, widely regarded as Australia’s greatest drover, started exploring the Barkly Tableland for its potential to become cattle country, and subsequently moved large herds of up to 20,000 cattle through the region. In 1883, Harry Readford, the cattle duffer immortalised as “Captain Starlight” in Rolph Boldrewood’s book “Robbery Under Arms”, drove cattle up through the Barkly area to establish Brunette Downs Station, which at 12,200 square miles in area, is still the ninth largest cattle station in Australia.

 The Tableland is a vast stretch of semi-arid plains, with Mitchell grass the predominant vegetation. There’s not much natural wildlife, apart from possums, snakes and lizards. The Spencer’s goanna (pictured) can be up to 120 cm long, and it’s said can knock people out by using its large muscular tail.


The drive east along the Barkly Highway from Tennant Creek on the Stuart Highway across the Tableland to Camooweal just over the Queensland border is a run of 450 kms, with great views of the Tableland, but not a lot else to see. The Barkly Homestead roadhouse appears at about the 190 kms mark. I couldn’t resist buying a postcard there showing an aerial view of the roadhouse and station buildings, the air strip, and a long straight stretch of road. It would have been harder for Landsborough.



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Terra Nullius

In the Bobby Dazzler Newsletter* #78 (December 2016), I wrote a review of Bruce Pascoe’s book “Dark Emu”. In it, Pascoe describes how Aboriginal people, despite common perceptions to the contrary, did build houses, did build dams, did sow, irrigate and till the land, did alter the course of rivers, did sew their clothes, and did construct a system of pan-continental government that generated peace and prosperity.

I went on to say that I was taught at school that aboriginal people were hunter-gatherers, naked nomads who were most of the time on “walkabout”, who didn’t build “proper” houses, etc. And I’m sure the words “primitive” and “uncivilised” came into it somewhere. It suited my British forebears to regard the country as “terra nullius” – “nobody’s land” – and thus legitimise their claiming of the country as a British possession, just waiting to be occupied and put to some worthwhile use by “civilised” people.

In British common law, terra nullius referred to land which had been neither occupied nor otherwise utilised for a certain period of time, and a court could assign or change ownership of that land to a suitable applicant. An article about the term terra nullius and its use in Australia can be found here.

In 1992, the Mabo case handed down by the High Court of Australia was a landmark case recognising native title in Australia for the first time. The Wikipedia article on “Mabo v Queensland (No. 2)” says that “The High Court held that the doctrine of terra nullius, which imported all laws of England to a new land, did not apply in circumstances where there were already inhabitants present – even if those inhabitants had been regarded at the time as “uncivilized”.

However, a letter from Newsletter reader Rob French tells of an occasion when he was lecturing students at the University of New England in Armidale, and had invited a surveyor to be a guest lecturer on the legalities of land ownership in Australia. The surveyor told the story of “a Tasmanian farmer who had asked his neighbour across the road if he could graze his cows on a triangle of his neighbour’s land which he wasn’t using. ‘Sure’ was the reply, so that’s what happened. I can’t remember how or why, but I suspect that the grazier, as part of the grazing deal, paid the small taxes and rates on behalf of the owner. Quite a fair deal, wouldn’t you think? But one day the grazier turned up to the Tasmanian Lands Department and said ‘I have been producing from that land for over the required number of years and I have been paying the rates and taxes as an obedient servant of the Crown, so gimme.’ And he got the land, much to the chagrin of the former owner. He had used terra nullius to dud an honest farmer out of his land!”

The story continued that “It was the same terra nullius law that got Eddie Mabo his island back. While a terra nullius appeal was unique and frightening to the Queensland Government, the ten years of slowly grinding wheels of English-type law finally found in favour of the appellants. Why? Hidden amongst all the fluff and legal jargon and ideas of native title was the fundamental that, although the ownership of Murray (Mer) Island had been legally assumed by the Crown in the 18th or 19th century on the basis of terra nullius, it was shown in court that no Queensland Government development work had taken place for more than enough years for it to become terra nullius once again. That is, anybody could claim possession of the island, and Eddie Mabo did just that. Not a lease or aboriginal title but straight-up ownership. So if it hadn’t been for the terra nullius doctrine, Eddie Mabo’s mob would NOT have gained title to their island and would have had to negotiate some lease agreement or other form of title.”

Rob French concludes: “This info might start a stimulating discussion around a campfire, especially if you have a lawyer involved. If you look at websites, they usually say the common law doctrine of terra nullius was overturned. It looks like it was overturned to the untrained legal eye because ownership was returned to the Torres Strait Islander. My information is that, on the contrary, it was upheld.”

*If you’d like to receive the (free) Bobby Dazzler Newsletter about the Australian Outback by email every two months, just send a request to brennan@bba.com.au

PS: A reader sent a comment about the tone of this article, and my reason for writing it, and I have responded to that in my own comment. To see the comments, just click on “Comments” below.

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Ow yu goin mate orright?

Being myself an Aussie bloke, I can walk up to another bloke and say that. If the other bloke is a true blue Aussie, he can ignore the questioning aspect, and simply reply “G’day mate.” And thus it is established that we are indeed mates, and if one or the other of us happens to be in a spot of bother, there is a fair chance that the other will try to be of assistance.

At least this is the theory as clearly set out in Mateship 101.

Although the task of defining a national character for the people of any country is fraught with difficulties and subtle pitfalls, for Australians, mateship cannot be ignored, and even today most of us would include it somewhere in our description of what it means to be Australian.


I’ve just read “Mateship – A Very Australian History” by Nick Dyrenfurth (Scribe 2015). I regard it as a must read for anyone seeking to get a handle on the Australian character. It provides a thoroughly researched account of how the concept of mateship had its genesis among the early rural and sometimes ex-convict workers of Australia, and was then refined and developed in the gold rushes of the latter half of the nineteenth century, the growth of the union movement, and the involvement of Australians in the two World Wars. The author provides a rich mix of references to mateship by Australians of all ranks, from prime ministers on down, as they have sought to redefine it to suit their various purposes, and take advantage of the broad approval of the concept, notwithstanding its fuzziness in areas such as its lack of applicability to women.

Which begs the question, what if I say “Ow yu goin mate orright?” to a woman, in particular an Aussie woman other than my partner?  I stand a fair chance of a reply along the lines of “I’m not your mate, and with a bit of luck, I never will be.” Of course, she would be taking the option of interpreting “mate” as meaning “intimate partner”, and drawing on the fact that, notwithstanding some strenuous efforts over the years, mateship has never been unambiguously extended to include the fairer sex.

In 1999, when some amendments to the Australian constitution were being considered, the then Prime Minister John Howard proposed the inclusion of a reference to mateship in the preamble, as follows:

“Australians are free to be proud of their country and heritage, free to realise themselves as individuals, and free to pursue their hopes and ideals. We value excellence as well as fairness, independence as dearly as mateship.

However, the idea was dropped, largely due to opposition from the poet Les Murray (who said that the term “mateship” was “blokish” and “not a real word”), and also the Australian Democratic Party.

I guess you could say we’re a weird mob. Although I must add that I’ve been deeply grateful on a couple of occasions when having car problems in some remote Outback spot, and a bloke arrived in another vehicle, and although I’d never met him before, turned out to be my mate, and helped me sort out the problem and get going again. True mateship!

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