Sunday, July 20, 2008

10 Minutes From Home

Where does a 10 minute drive get you these days?

Living at Warabrook a 10 minute drive will get you to the Lee Wharf precinct on Newcastle Harbour. Lee Wharf is currently under going a massive redevelopment & will soon complete the 'missing link' between Carrington & Honeysuckle. When that is completed Newcastle Harbour will be the best harbour in Australia, bar none, including the iconic Sydney Harbour!

Anyway, today after parking at Lee Wharf, I grabbed my trusty Canon 400D & decided to go for a walk up to the recently refurbished Fort Scratchley. It's an easy walk & today it was a real pleasure to soak up the late afternoon winter sunshine, although a light north westerly did keep the day brisk.

The construction of Fort Scratchley on what was known as Signal Hill, was commenced in 1881 & completed in 1882. The site has been, since 1866, the site of gun emplacements to protect the entrance to the harbour & earlier than that, the site of Australia's first coal mine. It was also the site from which, in 1942, the guns fired on Japanese submarine I-21, which makes the guns on Fort Scratchley the only guns on the Australian mainland to successfully engage the Japanese Navy during WW2! The Fort stayed under the control of the Australian Federal Government until June this year, then after refurbishment, which cost around $10 million, it was handed over to the Newcastle City Council.

Fort Scratchley is the perfect place to while away the hours, watching ships work the harbour, to observe the whales on their yearly migrations, to marvel at the sets rolling off the Pacific Ocean & the best best part ... its FREE.

Yes, 10 minutes from home can land you in a million dollar paradise .... that's Newcastle. Don't believe me, come & see for yourself one day.
Exif data:
Picture 1 - Eating Out - focal length 95mm, exposure 1/320 ,aperture f/8, ISO 100
Picture 2 - Leaving Nobbys - focal length 75mm, exposure 1/320, aperture f/8, ISO 100
Picture 3 - Afternoon Fair - focal length 75mm, exposure 1/200, aperture f/6.3, ISO 100

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Lesson Learned

It was my first day back at work today (not counting my O/T shift yesterday) & it was sort of comforting to see that it was cold, wet & miserable in the morning. However, it was because of the weather that I didn't take my 400D, even though I would be having my meal break in Swansea (NSW, not Wales!), which is a very, very picturesque part of the NSW coast & always worth a picture or two.

A bad, bad mistake!

As it was, I had 30mins to kill, so I thought I'd head over to Redhead Beach, take in the scenery & read a magazine ... as you do, lol.

Anyway, just as I was doing that, not 10mins prior, a car had plunged off a cliff & plummeted to the rocks below. This was unbeknown to me at the time, so as I drove up to Redhead Bluff I came across this scene of chaos & of emergency services everywhere!

As all this was happening, the Westpac Rescue helicopter came in to land to assist with the attempted rescue & here I was sitting around WITHOUT my trusty 400D, however, I did have my dependable Nokia 6120 (with movie mode!) to capture the action.

Sadly, it was a fatal accident & while I respect the pain suffered by those affected by this horrible event ... why oh why didn't I have my camera!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Way We Were

One of the highlights of driving around the bush is the amount of old vehicles & buildings that you see scattered around the countryside. All have had their day ... but I bet they all would have a tale or two to tell!

Bottle & Can House (Lightning Ridge) - This unique building is located up at Nettletons first shaft. What makes it a stand out is that it is made out of not only bottles, but steel beer cans as well. The cans & bottles were all held together by a rough mortar. I don't know if the house was ever finished, but by the looks of it, it wasn't. I don't know if the change to aluminium cans or liver failure was the cause of the non-completion, but at least some parts of it are still standing today!

FJ Holden Ute (Lightning Ridge) - How this old stager has managed to remain in the Ridge after all these years is truly remarkable. A fully restored FJ ute would fetch many, many thousands of dollars in today's market. I really do hope that the old girl does remain in situ as a reminder of the halcyon days of the past.

Old Service Station (Cumborah) - This old servo is located at Cumborah which is at the T - Section between Walgett, Lightning Ridge & Coocoran opal fields . The extensive use of corrugated iron is typical of these type of buildings out west. Notice in the foreground that someone once tried to beautify the area with a rock garden. However, the garden, like the servo has seen better days.

Mid 60's Commer Tipper (Lightning Ridge) - It may be hard to believe now, but the mighty Commer was once the mainstay of the Australian trucking industry, We imported thousands of this type of truck when the trucking industry was British to the bootstraps & bloody well proud of it! If you notice this model had the 'knocker' engine (see below) & not the Perkins diesel engine in it, a rare find in this vintage of Commer.

Rootes Diesel (Lightning Ridge) - The TS3 was 2-stroke 3-cylinder engine of 3.25 litre engine capacity developed 90 hp (67 kW), equivalent to contemporary 4-stroke diesel engines of more than twice the capacity. This engine was used in Commer trucks & was known as a 'knocker' due to its distinctive sound. The badge featured to the left would have to be worth a small fortune to collectors from the Mother Country.

Ford Tipper (Glengarry) - This is a pic of an old Ford tipper abandoned on the Glengarry opal fields. With the additional 'hungry boards' on the tipper body, I would assume that this truck would have always exceeded its axle weights ALL the time! Any info on the exact year & model would be most appreciated :)

Miners Cottage (Lightning Ridge) -This is a fine example of the type of miners cottages that used to be quite common around the Ridge, this one is heritage protected & is on Morilla St, entry is free. Usually these humble dwelling were made of corrugated iron & many just had earthen floors. These cottages are a long way from the McMansions of today.

Morris WE Tipper (Lightning Ridge) - The Morris tipper & its variants were the mainstay of many Australian local & shire councils throughout the 60's & 70's. These were great little trucks & a real pleasure to drive (showing my age here). Once again this little truck should be recognized & saved 'in situ' from any future treasure hunters. Even today, they still look cute!

Old Dwelling (Drake) - Unlike other old buildings I have placed on this site, this one isn't made of corrugated iron! However, it is an old timber structure from what I guess, was made in the 40's 0r 50's. It has now been deserted & left to the elements in the township of Drake, about 50klms east from Tenterfield. Gold was discovered in the Drake area in 1858 & proved a real bonus for Tenterfield. However, the gold mining days are long gone & when the strike faded so did the town of Drake.

Old Tractor (Lightning Ridge) -This old girl was spotted sitting forlornly along the Lorne Rd next to the 'Red Car Door' opal field road. She was fairly ratted for parts & I was unable to ascertain what make she was in the short time I had to investigate, however next time I'm in the Ridge, I'll do a proper forensic investigation, lol

General Store & Butcher Shop (Telegraph Point) - Located just 20klms north of Port Macquarie, just off the Pacific Hwy on the Wilson River is the sleepy little village of Telegraph Point. It is so named because in 1869 it was where the telegraph line crossed the river. Telegraph Point was also an important hub in the timber getting industry that flourished in the area in the late 19th century. In 1902 a bridge was completed that replaced the original punt & then that was replaced in 1974 by the current bridge. When the 'new' bridge was opened the road was diverted away from the town & as a result that would have caused an economic downturn that eventually closed many of the existing business's in that small community. These two buildings look like they may date from the 1920's or 30's & although the butcher shop may have traded until recently, the march of time finally caught up with it as well.

Commer QX TS3 Tipper (Glengarry) - This old tipper was a real joy to find deserted on the Glengarry opal fields. Judging by the way it was left, it looks like the men may have just gone down the pub & will be returning later, well that was probably 20yrs ago! But, given the pace of life out on the fields it could still be the case. Whilst researching these photo's it is apparent that these old vehicles are keenly sought after by collectors. I do hope that they leave them alone, for they give the area a rustic feel.

Milking Shed (Ulmarra) - As you drive south along the Pacific Hwy from Murwillumbah you'll noticed scattered beside the highway these quaint little milking sheds. All are mostly of corrugated iron & timber construction , although there are a few brick ones as well, but all seem to follow the same design principles of the one pictured opposite. I suppose with new 'agri' business models, over time, these quaint little farm buildings will slowly disappear from the Australian landscape.

1959 Holden FC (Lightning Ridge) - Would you believe I actually owned an FC exactly like this one located at Lightning Ridges Historical Societies Cottage on Morilla Street. Yep, the mighty Holden FC, wouldn't steer, wouldn't go, wouldn't stop. Nostalgia is nice to look at, but be thankful we have moved on.

If You Could Paint A Picture - 1 July 2008

Have you ever had one of those days when you walk around & the day can actually take your breath away?

Well today was just one of those magical days, the temperature was 24 deg., a light zephyr of a breeze was blowing from the north, the ocean glittered like a million diamonds, whales on their migration northward frolicked off the coast & this was all on the first day of July!

After of breakfast we went for a quick walk to the lagoon situated just behind the park & I was able to get some great shots of the early morning stillness.

After a quick morning tea with the locals (we scored free coffee cups!) we headed out to the Trial Bay Gaol located about 2klms from where we were staying & because it was close we left the car & enjoyed the walk in the sunshine. The old gaol wasn't a convict garrison, but it was built in the late 19th century to house 'good conduct' prisoners & use their labour to build a breakwall into Trial Bay. In 1903 that project was abandoned & the gaol lay dormant until 1915, when the government decided to intern male German civilians during WWI. This lasted until the end of the war & then, during the 1920's anything that could be unbolted & sold as scrap was achieved, till all that left was basically the building shell. In 1965 the area came under the control the Arakoon State Rec Area & since then rehabilitation works have been in progress to maintain this unique piece of our early penal history.

We also made the trek up to the monument that was erected for the German internee's that died whilst in captivity at the gaol & then down through the coastal heath to Little Beach. Every step you took presented another photographic opportunity & I was amply rewarded, although my photo's could never do justice to the beauty on display.

Later that afternoon, we went over to the Smoky Cape Lighthouse to see the beauty of the late afternoon playing upon the white starkness of the lighthouse & marvel once again at the whales migrating northward. Smoky Cape was actually named by Captain Cook on his discovery voyage in the Endeavour in 1770. If he'd had any sense he'd have stop & built a house there! With the last gasps of sunlight receding away, I once again headed back down to the lagoon & was able to capture the stunning beauty of sunset over a pristine coastal wetland.

This was such a special day, but unfortunately it was our last hurrah .... our next stop was Newcastle. Our 3,000klm holiday was over, but it will always be remembered as a stunning, relaxing & wonderful way to see NSW.

The Road Home - 30 June 2008

The worst part about holidays is heading home & with this trip it was no different! The only thing is this time there was no need to rush, so we planned to stop off along the coast for a couple of days & just try to put off the envitable, the day we cross the Hunter River!

Unfortunately the Pacific Hwy is now a rat-race, with full on traffic & road works all the way down. We had intended to stop at Coffs Harbour, but the traffic 5klms out from the CBD was bumper to bumper & this was on a Monday! So we hastily did a quick re-assesment & decided to head 110klms south to South West Rocks.

We arrived in South West Rocks around 3pm, so it was quickly unpack, do some shopping, then grab the camera & head down to the beach to capture the last rays of a beautiful winters day.

Country To The Coast - 29 June 2008

After the mild weather we had become acustomed to over the past week, it was a real shock to wake up & find the car covered in ice! Yes, the New England Tablelands do get bloody cold during the winter!

Inverell is pretty town located on the banks of the McIntyre River with plenty of beautiful buildings from the late 19th & early 20th century to give the town a real heritage feeling. Inverell was also the spiritual home of The Kurrajongs. The Kurrajongs were a group of 112 volunteers that enlisted in Inverell in January 1916 & along with a second contingent of 47 (in February) left for the battlefields of France & Belgium in WWI. All up the Inverell district sent over 800 men to serve with distinction on those far off battlefields ... a high price to pay indeed for many of these small communities & it always makes me humble when I read of their sacrifices. So when in Inverell take the time out to marvel at the heritage & give thanks for the efforts that so many gave so long ago.

Another interesting & controversial part of Australian history can also be found at Bluff Rock on the New England Highway 10klms south of Tenterfield. This is where in 1844 a posse of white settlers sought to avenge the murder of a shepherd, by driving an entire tribe of aborigines to the top of the bluff & then throwing them off onto the rocks below, women & children included. While Bluff Rocks reputation has been stained by this incident, the rock itself is a perfect example of the forces that shaped this wonderful country 225 million years ago by the cooling of molten lava beneath the earth & then the forces of erosion that have now exposed it for us to marvel at.

From Tenterfield it was onto the beautiful towns Casino, Kyogle & then to Murwillumbah. Casino & Kyogle are both known as 'volcano towns' due to the fact that they sit over the former massive volcanoes that dominated the east coast of Australia 22 million years ago. As you drive through this escarpment the scenery is spectacular with Mt Warning in the distance & pockets of Gondwana rainforest to be found, so keep your camera handy for shots of this wonderful vista.

The once you reach Kanghur at the foot of the escarpment, you then enter the Tweed Valley, at the head of the Tweed River & into the start of Australia's coastal sugar cane country.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Road To Inverell - 28 June 2008

After having so much fun in Lightning Ridge, for me, it was hard to repack the Kia & head off to other destinations. Jude however was keen to move on, I guess being in dust all the time does wear you down after a while. Anyway, the decision was made for us, our accomodation had been booked out for the weekend, so out we must go!

We were heading over to Murwillumbah, so I decided to head down to Collarenebri then Moree & then work over to the coast. The road from the Ridge to Colly is around 100klm of dirt, but it is fairly good road & I thought the Kia would handle it ok, so off we went. The road was great until around 60klm out from Colly when we were stopped by, of all things, flood water!!! Haven't they heard there is a drought on! This caused a huge reassessment of our day, if we turned around & headed back to the Ridge, then used the black top around to Moree, we would nearly lose a whole day. I then remembered seeing a sign for Mungindi 10klms back along the track, so I said to Jude 'lets go for it!', the worst thing that can happen is we will end up back at the Ridge again. So off we went, 100klms of extra dirt along the black soil plains to Mungindi.

Finally got to Mungindi at lunchtime & after a short break near the river, where I got some wonderful shots, it was back into the car & over to Moree. If I had've used my brains, we should've went to Goondiwindi & across to Murwillumbah, oh well!
Also, here is an important outback driving tip, if you do intend to drive along deserted country roads, the most important thing is to have your camera ready to go at all times, you never know what photographic opportunities you'll see along the way. Oh, I suppose it would also be handy to have fuel, water & food ... but remember, have the camera ready first!

After Moree it was onto Inverell, which was our destination that day. Although we were back in 'civilisation' again, we still came across some amazing sights, like cattle being grazed along the the main road .... only in Australia! After we left Moree it was strange to see hills again, the first time since we left Dubbo, a sign that we were now heading back towards the coast!

Around The Ridge 3 - 27 June 2008

While Lightning Ridge is the most famous of the opal fields in this part of NSW there are also the opal fields of Grawin, Sheepyard, Glengarry & Coocoran, which are about an hours drive away. What really is interesting is that Grawin, Sheepyard & Glengarry all have operating licenced premises.

The first stop was Grawin, the site of the largest opal found in world the 'Light In The World' opal in 1928. It also boast the Club In The Scrub a fully operating licenced club (yes, you do have to sign in!) & an 18 hole black sand golf course. The Club In The Scrub would have to be one of the most remote clubs I have drank in. Unfortunately the locals weren't all that welcoming & treated the tourists with disdain. It was a cold breezy day when we were out there & the locals all stood around hogging the open fire, no 'olde-style' country charm out there!

The next stop on my pub crawl itinerary was The Sheepyard Hotel, out of all the drinking holes in the area this was the most modern, however Jude wasn't keen to visit & so we didn't go in ... but next time!
The last stop was the Glengarry Hilton, another quaint drinking establishment, this time I did get to grace the bar & have a cold one Although the weather wasn't the best for partaking in chilled alcoholic refreshments, I made it my duty to do so!

So if your travels take you out to Lightning Ridge, take your camera, your thirst & go & visit these unique fields in the middle of the scrub.

P.S. One of the things that stuck me about these remote fields, even more so than Lightning Ridge are the amount of old trucks that litter the area, there are hundreds of them in all shapes & sizes, a photographers dream!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Around The Ridge 2 - 26 June 2008

What lies beneath is not just the title of a movie released in 2000 starring Harrison Ford & Michelle Pfeiffer, but could also describe the area around Lightning Ridge. When you see mullock heaps piled around the the entrance of opal mine shifts, giving that 'moonscape' look, it doesn't really relate to the work that is taking place up to 20mtrs below the ground.

And also some of that action, isn't even related to opal mining!

Take for instance the unique art gallery that local miner Ron Canlin has created 11mtrs underground. His carvings into the beautiful cream & pink sandstone will totally aastound you. Not only does he use the the natural stone to maximum advantage, but some of his carvings are beautifully highlighted by judicious use of paint. Then on the next level, another 11mtrs below, Ron has left some of the original diggings in place to give visitors a realistic look into how hard the early miners of this exotic stone toiled. It was in this environment that I was able to use the skills I had learnt earlier in the year on photographing in low light conditions came to the fore & assisted me in capturing the beauty of Rons work, without the colour being washed out by over-use of the flash. His attraction is called 'Chambers Of The Black Hand' & is a must see attraction.
Another insight into life underground can be found on the Outback Opal Tours operation ( ) in which includes a visit to Lightning Ridges famous Walk In Mine takes visitors on a tour of how opals are mined & the history of opal mining in the district.

Both these guided tours provide outstanding photographic opportunities for all photographers, no matter what your skill level is.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Around The Ridge 1 - 25 June 2008

You know you can spend hundreds of hours & take thousands of shots, then when you least expect it, wham, you jag the perfect shot. The shot taken above was initially uncomposed & in my opinion, is the best I have ever achieved so far in my short time as an amateur photographer.

We had settled into our new digs at the Chasin' Opal holiday cabins the previous day & so the first thing on the agenda after breakfast was to head to Hebel (which is actually in Queensland) on the recommendation of the cabins' operator & go have a feed at the historic Hebel Hotel. So we jumped back into the car & drove the 65klms into Queensland. The town of Hebel , is a one horse town, that is apparently kept alive because it is a changeover point for trucks heading between FNQ & Melbourne. Unfortunately we arrived too early for lunch, so instead of hanging around for an hour, we decided to go to the cafe across the road, grab a coffee (International Roast ... yuk!) & work out our next move.

Our next move was to actually head out across the black soil plains towards Goodooga, only because I had seen that the Post Office is up for sale (only $165,000, but I couldn't convince Jude to commit, lol). What I love about our adventures, is we get to appreciate just how lucky we are to live in the cities, especially when you see these isolated rural communities out in the middle of our rugged country. E.g. the nearest Big W is at Dubbo an 820klm round trip, even for the kids to go to high school or TAFE, its a 100klm trip!

That afternoon we decided to observe the sunset from the lookout at Nettletons First Shaft, located just west of the town on the Green Door self drive tour (it's a local thing, lol). When I was just about finished shooting a 4WD turned up & a young woman got out, unloaded a professional camcorder & proceeded to film the last rays of sunset. It turned out that they (Monica & Sophie) were from Imparja Television & were on assignment. Monica asked me if she could film me taking some shots of the sunset & so I said no prob. After the that was done, I was heading back to the car & I turned around to see this wonderful shot of Monica on the ridge, silhouetted against the dusk skyline, it was perfect.

A perfect end, to a perfect day.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Road To The Ridge - 24 June 2008

Colin Buchanan once sung -
"Coz once you've crossed the
the North Bourke Bridge
& stood on the dust of an
ancient red ridge
Oh the locals know
The outback calls you back
They knew that I'd be back"

I've been to Bourke before & like the song, I had to return. I don't know if its the Darling River, the wonderful scenery, the history, or just because it has the cheapest beer in NSW (no joke, $3.00 a schooner!), but I had to make another visit to this magical spot with my trusty 400D. Unfortunately we only spent the morning in Bourke, which we spent 2hrs on the Jandra paddle boat cruising down the mighty Darling River.

After that, it was back in the car & heading off to Lightning Ridge, a trip of around 300klms. The major towns that we passed through were Brewarrina & Walgett. Being out on our unfenced country roads it is an opportunity to see an abundance of our wildlife, including roo's, emu's, goats & wedge-tail eagles. It is really quite spectacular, as long as they stay well into the paddocks & don't stray onto the road! It may be worth noting here, that if travelling in outback Australia, it is always advisable to stop travelling 2 hrs prior to sunset & make camp, look what happened to Joanne Lees & Peter Falconio ... !

Arrived at Lightning Ridge around 3pm & was immediately impressed by this wonderful town on the edge of Australia's harsh arid outback.