Tag Archive for 'Australia'

Living on Gwion Time

Expedition cruiser, Roderick Eime, comes face-to-face with an ancient hunter born before the ice age.

Wanjina

Blank faced and expressionless, he stood there staring at me. His slender arms adorned with intricate tassels hold a clutch of boomerangs as if inviting me to hunt with him. Literally frozen in time, this ancient gent has held this pose for perhaps 20,000 years.

I sat there staring back with the sort of spine-tingling sensation one experiences when confronted by the alien and inexplicable. He was not alone. Surrounding him were lesser, fainter figures, some dancing, some apparently paying homage, others plain and nude. What does this gathering mean? What is their message?

The Gwion Gwion people of Australia’s Kimberley are long gone, but their art remains in abundance, decorating sheltered rock caves and overhangs, lookouts and frescos throughout an area twice the size of Victoria. Often referred to as ‘Bradshaw Art’, these finely detailed and intricate figures remain a mystery to researchers and academics, fuelling vigorous debate about their origins and meaning.

Some explain them simply as the earliest examples of Australian Aboriginal art, transitioning through several periods over tens of thousands of years. Others, like lifelong researcher Grahame Walsh, believe they belong to a race long since vanished from our shores, even pre-dating current Aboriginal settlement. He draws comparisons with art and cultures as far afield as Papua New Guinea and Africa, but carefully stops short of making the claim as to their origins.

Beyond debate is their obvious contrast to the more modern ‘Wandjina’ art typified by the mouthless, ethereal figures representing the Aboriginal creators and controllers of all earthly things. At many sites the two art forms collide in an uncomfortable jostle that clearly demonstrates the contempt modern Aboriginals held for the Gwion Gwion. Heads of the delicate tasselled men are hammered and defaced in some cases, while elsewhere they are painted over by sprawling murals of the omnipotent Wandjinas.

The pigment used to create the beautiful Gwion Gwion is extremely resilient, so much so that C14 radiocarbon and other scientific dating methods cannot differentiate between it and the rock canvas. An indicator of their age was determined by a fossilised wasp nest built by the insects on top of a Bradshaw figure. It was reckoned to be at least 17,000 years old, placing the art beneath an indeterminate age beyond.

A shrill whistle from Gavin, our guide, interrupted my stupor and signalled time for an urgent return to the tender before the rapidly falling tide stranded us all. I scrambled down the escarpment and across the greedy mud bank, my feet disappearing beyond my knees in my haste to meet the outstretched arms frantically beckoning me aboard. Gavin engaged the outboard and immediately threw up a ‘rooster tail’ of grey-brown muck in an attempt to extricate the struggling craft. Kimberley tides are notoriously treacherous, rising and falling at the rate of over a metre an hour and swinging between ten metre extremes.

Man-handled back aboard, puffing and wheezing from the combined effects of excitement and exertion, Gavin smiles benevolently down on me from the pulpit of the centre-console runabout. “How was that?” he asks plainly as we make our way back to our 1000 tonne mother ship, True North, across the choppy Prince Regent River. “Lost for words?” For once, I was.

Gavin is the chief mate and expedition leader aboard the 36-passenger luxury adventure yacht and has spent most of his working life amongst the billion year old landscape of the Kimberleys. An expert fisherman, boat handler and unrepentant conservationist, Gavin rarely shares his most coveted Bradshaw art sites with guests.

“If people show a genuine interest in seeing some Braddies,” says Gavin, “we can usually find something on short notice. You and a handful of others are the only ones who’ve ever seen that site.” Yet his extensive catalogue of cave art sites is not recorded anywhere, instead the locations are closely guarded secrets entrusted to a few of the North Star Cruises masters and senior guides alone. “They’re up here,” he replies, pointing a finger purposefully to his temple.

I glance back across the wake of the dinghy trying to spot the high outcrop I had just scaled for my teasing glimpse of the most ancient Australians, but it’s quickly consumed by the enormity of my surroundings. The ship’s Bell jet helicopter races above us, ferrying goggle-eyed passengers back from a swim and frolic in a crystal clear, spring-fed water hole miles inland. Precipitous, golden-hued sandstone cliffs, vast mud banks and mangrove forests typify the landscape that has remained unchanged since before the time of the dinosaurs. Our brief incursion is but a minute speck of time in this geological calendar.

Regardless of your stance on the Bradshaw/Gwion Gwion debate, it’s abundantly clear that my handsome, lithesome hunter, having survived at least two ice ages, will be around long after my entire generation has departed. Perhaps his cryptic code will only be revealed by the next civilisation – if they can even find him again.

Fact File:

North Star Cruises operate the 50 metre, 36-passenger luxury expedition vessel, True North II on six and 12 night itineraries throughout the Kimberley region. Their twenty-plus year experience and intimate knowledge of the largely uncharted river and inlet system sets them apart from other similar operators in Australia’s remote North West.

Prices start from $8995 per person twin share for the six night expedition and $13,995 for twelve nights. Includes all meals, transfers and water-based excursions. Helicopter excursions separate.

For further information contact North Star Cruises on 08 9192 1829 or visit www.northstarcruises.com.au

Melbourne – Intriguing City Precincts

Just as the great sporting nations enjoy a healthy rivalry, so too does Melbourne enjoy a respect among the great city destinations of the world.

With her annual Formula One Grand Prix engaging many millions of television viewers from around the globe, the fast-paced, cosmopolitan face of Melbourne is front-and-centre on the world stage. However, so much of what Melbourne has to offer will always remain hidden from cable channel surfers and TV sports fans. Even Melbournians themselves are only now beginning to uncover some of the secret nooks and crannies of their own city.

To get an idea of this unseen urban terrain, hold your breath as you dangle almost 300 metres above the streetscape from Skydeck on Level 88 of the awe-inspiring Eureka Tower. It’s the highest viewing platform in the Southern Hemisphere and the Edge Experience, where visitors enter a glass-floored chamber, is one of the Melbourne’s home-grown heartstoppers.

Almost straight down and to the immediate north and northwest, you’ll see one of the oldest and least-developed parts of the city starting across from busy Flinders Street Station. Ornate 19th Century Victorian buildings, old warehouses and little shopfronts call back to a time before the growth of the mighty glass and marble monoliths just up the street in the big end of town.

Fiona Sweetman

Fiona Sweetman

To properly explore this historic sandstone-walled, mini-jungle, you can pop into any of the information centres and collect a Melbourne Walks No.4 leaflet. Take a 90-minute self-guided tour into the narrow back-alleys of Degraves Street and into the myriad lanes and arcades, or join the popular Hidden Secrets Tour for a full four hour exposé.

Born-and-bred Melbournian, Fiona Sweetman, is your stylish and vivacious guide. Follow her as she swirls and glides along the narrow courtyards and alleys pointing out the history and significant architectural features of the old buildings and shops now transformed into trendy boutiques and irresistible cafés.

“This started a few years ago as a shopping tour for the girls,” says Fiona, “but it’s just grown as people want more. I also do an Art and Design tour that attracts couples and a few single guys too. Everyone seems to have great fun.”

The tour group assembles at the Melbourne Visitor Centre in Federation Square, the new arts and entertainment hub across from Flinders Street station. Anything but secret, Federation Square was completed in 2002 to celebrate the Australia’s “coming of age” in 1901. It houses the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, the state-of-the-art Australian Centre for the Moving Image plus 20 bars, restaurants and cafes centred around the city’s most vibrant public space.

But we’re about to go underground with Fiona, figuratively and literally. She guides us down a set of stairs that takes us below the pavement of busy Flinders Street. Once virtually abandoned, this pedestrian tunnel is part art-space, part funky retail.

“After languishing for many years, these shops have been reclaimed by some innovative designers and retailers,“ says Fiona pointing to racks of racy vintage wear in the memorably named boutique, Lola von Lixx.

We surface in Degraves Street proper, a typically rejuvenated alleyway, now overflowing with cool chic and the unmistakable aroma of freshly ground coffee. A healthy throng of patrons fills the seats, engaged in animated chatter and obviously enjoying the ambiance. Melbourne is a social city, where people eat out, promenade and engage with a sense of community not so common anymore. Fiona throws waves, kisses and greetings to the shopkeepers and staff like a flower girl throws confetti at a wedding.

Our group ogles shoes, handbags and frocks; many are totally unique creations, handmade by the budding designers and fashionistas that make Melbourne famous. Il Papiro, on the other hand, sells an exquisite assortment of stationery and specialty paper products. This delightful store could be just as much at home in the lanes of Venice.

Beyond Degraves is Union Lane. Upon first inspection, you may recoil at the vast graffiti murals, but in this lane at least, the spraycan artform is celebrated. Artists tag their vivid, oversize and abstract portraiture with their street personas: EFC, FT, Trance, SWB TGC, ID Boys, Siloe, Na, Sub rock and Deb.

Homegrown stores with such evocative names as Aesop, Manvious, Shag and Fat perfectly capture the ingenious and irreverent style that gives their products unique flair. Be sure to stroll through elegant Block Place and Arcade for style and grace, then cross over to the elegant 19th Century Royal Arcade – Australia’s oldest. In the ceiling are Gog and Magog, two giant mythological Britons who have struck their gongs every hour since 1892.

Morning tea is a special event in Melbourne. Rest your tired feet and put down those shopping bags, you’ve earned a treat. We’re heading for Koko Black in the Royal Arcade for a hot chocolate that transcends the senses. Want something to talk about? Try the Chilli Hot Chocolate, perfect for a cold winter’s day. Or true ‘chocophiles’ can indulge themselves with the Traditional Belgian Blend. Those on a diet can watch resident chocolatier, Kim Linssen, through the window as she sculpts her latest creamy creations.

Fiona’s tours culminate in a gourmet lunch at Caboose in City Square. Choose a scrumptious tortellini or risotto, or if you’ve really worked up an appetite, go the 300g Angus sirloin with caramelised onions and pink peppercorn jus. There’s a glass of great Aussie wine on offer too. Oh, my!

[More information: www.hiddensecretstours.com and www.thatsmelbourne.com.au ]

Melbourne rejoices in its many cosmopolitan flavours as much as it does its “dinkum” Aussie fare. There’s a lively Chinatown in Little Bourke Street and a little Athens in Lonsdale Street, while a distinctly Parisian feel pervades the designer boutiques of Collins Street.

Café culture is another highlight of Melbourne and its inner suburbs. With strong Italian and Greek influences throughout the city, great coffee was always a part of life.

Maria Paoli, an accredited barista, coffee judge and trainer, runs The Historical Coffee Trek through central Melbourne, visiting the premium coffee houses and cafés. What’s a perfect extraction? How do you tell a top crema? Spend two hours with Maria and you’ll never drink instant coffee again.

[More information: www.thecoffeeguide.com.au ]