I remember a book that my Dad had on the shelf when I was a kid. I’m not entirely sure if it is still there, but if it is it would be on the verge of falling apart. Anyway, the book was about Australia, or more specifically about the natural wonders that you can find scattered across the continent. Actually, unless you like tacky, artificial attractions, there is probably not all that much to Australia than the natural wonders. Well, considering that pretty much 90% of nature is attempting to kill you (which makes the place sound like it comes straight out of an Alien movie) also suggests that maybe coming here (if you can get in that is) to see the natural wonders may not be the safest of things to do, but then again I do have a habit of exaggerating (I’ve only ever seen two snakes in my entire life that weren’t in glass aquariums at a zoo).
Anyway, on the cover of this book was a rock that was shaped like a wave, and that rock had been sticking in my mind for quite a while. In fact when a couple of friends headed off to Perth for a holiday I suggested that go and visit Wave Rock. Mind you, after reading a Bill Bryson book on Australia I discovered that there were other wonderful places in Western Australia to visit, it is just you either need a car, or be willing to pay a decent amount of money to book a tour. So, with the limited time, and the fact that when I was planning the trip I had not head of the Valley of the Giants (though it turns out that there is a smaller one in the Western Australian Botanical Gardens) and decided that I would go and check this rock shaped like a wave.
A rock shaped like a wave – sounds rather dull doesn’t it. Well, honestly, it is a rock shaped like a wave, and is out in the middle of nowhere. Not quite because it takes about half a day to travel out into where the rock is located, and when we return it is somewhere around 8:00 pm at night. Also, there are a couple of stops along the way to break up the monotony, and you also have the bus driver giving you a commentary of, well, basically nothing all that important, but unless you are focused on doing something (such as reading a book) then it also kills the time because once you leave the city, you then basically hit endless wheatfields, and then endless flat plains that slowly turn into desert.
Into the Country
I’m not sure if I can really refer to the Western Australian country as bush because in my mind bush conjures up images of low lying trees. Okay, we in Australia refer to the country as ‘out bush’, and I have to admit that it gets a bit tricky when I’m overseas because I automatically want to refer to the English and French countryside as the bush, but when I think about it I realise that it isn’t really the same as the Australian bush. I would suggest that there actually isn’t anyplace in the world quite like Australia (maybe Southern California), but Australia does have a unique feel about it.
Anyway, we have the country, which is sort of the region immediately around the outskirts of the city – it is where the public transport finishes off (in come cases), and is also where the cheap houses are. There are towns scattered about in a reasonable density, and not hugely remote. Then you have the bush, which is still inhabited but the population is somewhat sparser, and unless you have a car you’re not going to be in a position to move about. Finally we have the outback, which is basically the desert, and you are unlikely to encounter another human being for hours, and when you hit a town it is usually a very good idea to fill up with petrol because you really don’t want to get stuck out there by yourself.
The thing with Western Australia is that there are two adjectives that describe it: big and empty. It took us half a day to get to the town of Hyden and that isn’t even close to a quarter of the way across the state. In fact the state is so big that it pretty much takes up a third of the continent. However, Hyden is basically sitting on the edge of what you could consider the bush because while there are towns further to the east, they become further and further apart the more you travel to the east. If you head north, well, then you might be in trouble because, with the exception of the coast, there is absolutely nothing in the interior. Well, there is the Canning Stock Route, and the Gunbarrel Hwy, but they aren’t even legitimate roads (well, they are, but I wouldn’t recommend you drive your BMW along them). The start of the Canning Stock Route reminds you that there is absolutely no petrol stations, and in fact no people, for the entire length so if you plan on traveling along it you need to make sure that you don’t get stuck out there, because if you do then you are going to be in trouble.
So, at about 8:00 am in the morning we were picked up from our hotel (or at least the one around the corner) and taken to the casino (where I was bugged by some guy that the security guards had kicked out the night before). I even stooped so low as to have a McDonald’s breakfast, namely because I hadn’t had an opportunity to eat previously. After mulling around outside the casino for a while, we then jumped onto the bus and headed out of town. The commentary started off with your typical ‘this is Perth, and this is the history of Perth, and we have this huge park in the middle of the city which is bigger than Central Park in New York City’. Well, it is a little more than that, particularly when we were shown the eastern edge of the city of Perth (which is the outer limit of the public transport system as well).
The Great Eastern Highway is the major road to the east, and pretty much the rest of Australia (though only the truly brave are willing to drive back across the continent – though it is nowhere near as bad as some parts of Australia). After a short while the bus turned off onto the country roads where the driver began to tell us about how Western Australia has a wheat belt, and that a lot of land was given to soldiers who had returned from fighting in Europe. Mind you, he had no idea about the Great Emu War, which would have made an interesting addition to his commentary.
Anyway, our first stop was the town of York because, well, just because. Maybe it was a good opportunity to get off the bus and go for a bit of a stretch and grab a coffee (or in my case some tea). Actually, I was hoping to duck into the pub for a beer (and my brother would have followed me) but it turned out that we had arrived far too early for any of the pubs to be open. That was a bit of a shame because it meant that I wasn’t able to mark off a couple of my pubs in my adventures.
I suspect that most Australian states have a town like York. It was the first settlement established outside of Perth and is one of those places people go for daytrips. The town does have some rustic charm about it, including a couple of pubs, a motor museum, and of course a coffee shop that happened to be incredibly crowded at the time. Actually, I’m not all that surprised that it was crowded considering that two bus loads of people had been dropped off to stretch their legs.
As for us, after silently bemoaning the fact that there were no pubs for me to visit and have a beer, we simply walked up the street and back again, grabbed a cup of tea, and then headed down to the park where were spent some more time wandering around. We then made our way back to the bus where we headed deeper into the wheatbelt to another interesting side note at the rural hamlet of Corrigin.
The further east we went the sparser the land become. Okay, a part of that happened to do with the farmers indescriminantly ripping all of the trees out to turn the area in the farmland. This caused a problem because what happens is that the trees actually balance out the water tables, in particular preventing the water from becoming too salty. However, without the trees to drink the water, the water has nowhere to go, and not only does the water table rise, but it also becomes quite salty, meaning that it really isn’t good for anything. However, as is the case with many of us, we basically didn’t pay attention to the warnings, and the Western Australians have found themselves with a salinity problem.
So we arrived at the town of Corrigin, or at least just outside of it. You know how I said that in Australia the natural wonders are more impressive than the artificial wonders, well that isn’t quite correct. One thing that I have discovered is that a lot of the towns will have some little quirky feature designed to draw the tourists in to spend some time there. Okay, a lot of them happen to be big fibre glass models of things such as sheep, lobsters, koala’s and such things, but this is not always the case. In fact a number of them will have quirky museums for you to waste some time in.
Corrigin is a small town with one of those quirks. Well, it doesn’t have a giant fibreglass monster, but there is a random museum which we didn’t get to visit (and I didn’t get an opportunity to go into the pub either). However, it isn’t the random museum but rather a odd little cemetery just outside of town. Okay, a cemetery is a cemetery, and it isn’t like the one in Paris where you will stumble across the grave of Moliere, Edith Piaf, or Jim Morrison, but it is interesting nonetheless. That is because the cemetery is dedicated to man’s best friend – the dog.
Okay the farm dog is as common as the farm cat, but out bush the cats exist simply to catch mice, whereas the dog is much more useful. While us city folk are not adverse to including the cat into the family, it is much more the case with the dog out on the farm (well, okay, dog owners in the city also include dogs in the family). As such, when a farmer’s faithful dog died he approached the council to ask for some land to bury him in. The council agreed, and started a tradition in Corrigin where all of the local farmers would bury their faithful friends there, and some of them even erected some pretty impressive grave stones.
An thus we arrived at Wave Rock National Park. Not surprisingly we passed straight through the town of Hyden which meant that we didn’t get to go to the pub, and into the national park. We didn’t go straight to the rock, instead we went to another spot called Hippo’s Yawn. It is actually a part of the same rock, the entire edifice called Hyden Rock – Wave Rock is only one part of it. Hippo’s Yawn is, not surprisingly, a rock that looks like a Hippo yawning. So we spent a few minutes looking at it before heading back to the kiosk for some lunch. Then we went to look at the rock.
Well, it is a rock that looks like a wave, though it wasn’t anywhere near as big as what I was expecting it to be. While the signs suggest that it has nothing to do with water, I’m going to have to disagree – the reason it looks like it does is because of the water. Basically over centuries (or even millenia), the water would hit the rock and seep into the dirt. The dirt, being rather salty, would cause the rock to start eroding, though the section of dirt at the top would dry out much quicker than that below, which is why we have this wave structure.
If you look closely at the rock you will notice a low wall running along the top, which I have to admit completely spoils to natural beauty of the location. This wall was built back in the 1920s to divert the water into a dam which is nearby. The thing with Western Australia (and most of Australia for that matter) is the lack of rain, and thus of water, so they needed to make sure the water would go to where they could use it.
The other thing about Western Australia in particular is the fact that it is an incredibly arid environment. That means that the diversity in regards to plants and animals is huge. In a temperate environment you basically get plants that are boring, and pretty much all the same. However, the harsh conditions of an arid environment means that the diversity is huge. So, while the rock is impressive, the plants, and if you can find them, animals, is even more so.
Which leads me to another point. Being a major tourist attraction, there is more to do here than simply look at a rock. Actually, that isn’t surprising because while a lot of people come here to see the rock, there is only so much time you can spend looking at a rock. So, the curators of the park decided to throw in a few extra things, including a model soldier museum, a lace museum, and an animal sanctuary.
An Aboriginal Tragedy
The history of the aboriginals since European (or should I say British) settlement is one of ongoing tragedy, but this is a story that happened long before the British arrived. Interestingly they date the story to around 1600, but it is a story that has been passed down through generations of the Noorgar people (the inhabitants of the region). One thing that has stood out is how there are similarties between European and Aboriginal cultures.
The story goes that a woman and a man were in love, but the relationship was forbidden (possibly because it was incestuous, but this is speculation), Anyway, they had a child, Mulga, who was illegitimate. He was really strong, a colossus of a man, but he was cross eyed which meant he could not aim a spear. As such he fed on the children of the tribe. When his mother approached him to rebuke him, he killed her, and earned the enmity of the tribe. He was hunted down and killed, and left to be eaten by the ants. This aspect reminds me of the Greek stories of people who were exposed because their crimes denied them a decent burial.
The cave itself is said to be where Mulka’s tribe lived, and is a few kilometres north of Wave Rock. Inside there are lots and lots of hand prints. Honestly, nobody actually knows what the hand prints mean, or what they represent, but it is a site of significance since these hand prints are said to be over 500 years old. In a way it is much more impressive than a rock that looks like a wave, and it is probably a good thing that we finished our tour at this spot.
Well, not quite, we finished our tour at Stumpy’s Roadhouse, but that is beside the point. However, they did have a pretty decent vindaloo.