The Hill

After days of riding across an interminable flatness, it loomed up on the horizon: a pile of large weathered boulders 180 meters high. 

Our eyes, adjusted to immense spaces devoid of the slightest rise, the slightest dip, caught sight of that pile of rocks and magnified it out of all proportion, so that the molehill looked almost like a mountain.  

In 1836, Major Mitchell, leading a British expedition of ‘discovery’ fell prey to the same distortion, the same mirage. With horse drawn carts and a retinue of retainers in tow, he must have been moving far slower than Anya and I were on our bikes, enduring the flatness for weeks, if not months. All the while no doubt dreaming of the sweet green hills of England. 

Then one day, peering through his telescope, he saw it, that same pile of rocks and struck by its shape gave it a nameas if it didn’t already have a name – ‘Pyramid Hill’. 

Over the following decades, after the original inhabitants were driven off or shot, a  town was established nearby and imaginatively called Pyramid Hill and as for the original name given to the pile of rocks by Mitchell, that became known simply as ‘The Hill’.

So that was our landmark and we rode towards it,  only to discover that the closer we got, the further away it seemed …..

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Songs of Central Australia Part 1

It took two men, father and son, and the passing of almost eighty years to write it: ‘Songs of Central Australia’, one the greatest non-fiction books ever written and a precursor to the revolution in attitudes towards the original inhabitants of Australia.

The story behind the writing of Songs in Central Australia is no less remarkable than the book itself…….

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Evening Shadows

 

I must have been 5 or 6 the first time I saw the painting ‘Evening Shadows’ at the South Australian Art Gallery.

I didn´t like it and for a good reason. 

I was with my grandfather from my mother´s side.

Karl Wurfel was a devout Christian of the Old Testament kind. His god was a stern disciplinarian and a hard task master. He thought nothing of beating a young kid with a length of cane. I had experienced that and I hated him.

Why my mother ever left me with he and his neurotic wife was a mystery. She knew what her father was like. Karl had regularly beaten her and her sister. Then again, she was suffering from undiagnosed depression and making a bad job of caring for me and my younger sister.

Thankfully my relationship with the Wurfels didn’t last long because my father, who was in the Air Force, was posted out of Adelaide.

So there I was standing next to that tyrant looking up at ‘Evening Shadows’.

What did grandfather see in that painting?

He must have seen something because at one point, he seemed to be in a trance……

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Songs of Central Australia Part 2

 

 

Carl Strehlow died in the blistering heat of a desert, a great man lost to posterity.

The sole inheritance bequeathed to his young son Theodore – or as he was known ‘Ted’ – were tens of thousands of words written in German about the language, culture and beliefs of the Aranda people of Central Australia.

It was a meagre inheritance in monetary terms; a hidden wealth for someone fluent in German and Aranda.

And for the 14 year old Ted that was given having grown up as an only child on a remote  mission station and been educated by his parents – and spent his childhood with Aranda kids of his own age.

After the death of his father, Ted, accompanied by his mother Frieda travelled south to Adelaide to start a new life. Few would have predicted that Ted would adapt as successfully as he did. When he arrived in Adelaide he had never attended a school, rarely worn shoes, and never been in the company of white people. Yet he finished High School by topping the state in German, Greek and Latin and winning a scholarship to attend Adelaide University. In 1931, he gained a Masters’ degree with distinction. 

He seemed destined for a solid and secure career as an academic. But the bequest of his father proved far more powerful…….  Read more

Supermoon! Part 1

In March, 2020, two months after Anya and I arrived in Australia, I bought a pair of astronomical binoculars.

In other words: binoculars meant for stargazing.

Star gazing binoculars are heavy because their viewing lens – the lens at the end of the binoculars as it were – must have a wide diameter in order to let in enough light on nights when there is no moon and its only on moonless nights that serious star gazing  is possible.

Because of their weight, star gazing binoculars are not the sort of thing to just pop into your rucksack  – and until February that year, Anya and I had been living out of our rucksacks: crossing borders and experiencing different places and cultures.

Then came The Virus…….

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