Wednesday, November 18, 2009


In an attempt to dress up its decision to allow mining exploration to proceed in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary the SA Government has produced a glossy document 'Seeking a Balance.'

It makes for depressing reading.

Not only is the document afflicted with bureacratic waffle -  "the need to further refine the existing management and regulatory framework for ongoing resource activities" - its core premise is also deeply flawed. The notion that there is some happy point of balance to be found between uranium mining and conservation within a Wilderness Sanctuary, reflects a profund misunderstanding of wilderness concepts and practise.

In the case of Arkaroola this mythical balance point is magically created by fragmenting the landscape into four different categories of 'access zones.' Of these there are more than 30 different zones marked on the map. The zones don't correspond to any natural or cultural divisions in the landscape. In truth they are simply a device to allow the discredited Marathon Resources to set up shop in the very heart of Arkaroola's spectacular highlands. By splodging some bright colours on a map to represent the various zones, the Government would have us believe they are simply trying to be 'balanced.'

This, of course, is rubbish. The reality is that the eventual mine site would be smack bang on the path of Arkaroola's acclaimed Ridgetop Tour. It would destroy the vistor experience and the integrity of the region as a declared wilderness sanctuary - a status it has enjoyed for more than 40 years. Wilderness, by it's very nature is an entity; something that can't be hacked into little pieces. To do so would be like saying 'here's the MCG - we'll just take away this back pocket and that forward flank and give you the rest."

Any argument that, because mining exploration has happened here deep in the past it should be allowed to continue, ignores the many changes of recent decades. Not just the changing attitudes to conservation. Or even the hard-won efforts of the Sprigg family - and others - to protect Arkaroola. But most of all the changing community involvement with this landscape, it's history and culture, the way it has been embraced as a region to explore and cherish.

Not that 'Seeking a Balance' gives much weight to the richness of the experiences enjoyed by thousands of overseas and Australian visitors. There's no mention of people as such or campers or bushwalkers or families. Instead, the document reduces the discussion to souless, dehumanising  terminology like "landscape values."

Even on economic grounds, it can be argued that the long-term benefit of preserving Arkaroola as tourism destination, community employer, scientific resource and wilderness drawcard far outweigh any short-term gains from yet another mine. SA already has two uranium mines and many others soon to start - but there will only ever be one Arkaroola.

Now is the time to have your say. Public comment is required by 19 December and can be addressed to:

And here's the plea from Marg & Doug Sprigg:

"We are appealing to all Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary friends and supporters to please examine this document very closely and to note that whilst some areas of the northern Flinders Ranges, in particular Mawson Plateau, are being afforded total protection, the majority of important Arkaroola sites are not.
We only have until 19 December 2009 by which to submit objections / suggestions to this proposal.  This could be our last chance to save the Arkaroola Sanctuary from mining and we ask everyone to carefully consider the matter and to please make written submissions in accordance with page 18 of this report."

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Huge skies, endless space, rocks and granite ranges - the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands abound in many things. Among all the other reports we hear about this northwestern chunk of SA, it's worth noting the place is achingly beautiful, in that vivid, arid kind of way. One of the bumps on this horizon is Ngarutjara, the State's highest peak and just one crest on the mighty Musgrave Ranges.

Friday, November 6, 2009


Meet Sang, one of the 19 camels who were with me in the Simpson Desert in July. Unlike the other camels - who held their heads upright when 'hooshed' down - Sang would rest his head quietly on the ground at the end of each walking day. This made it especially easy for us to give him a rub down. He seemed appreciative of the attention, which, in turn, made him a favourite among our party.
Unfortunately at the end of this year's trekking season, (his 11th in the Simpson), a vet diagonosed an inoperable tumor that had spread across Sang's jaw. Sadly, he had to be put down a couple of weeks ago.
Even though it's nearly four months since I was in the Simpson, the memories of the trip and the the special experience of sharing the desert with the camels still stop me in my tracks. Like the needle-sharp burs I inadvertently collected in the soles of my Croc sandals - and that still jab me in the foot when I walk on gravel - some of of these flashbacks feel particularly pointed.
None more so than trying to reconcile the unforced communal feeling that presided between us and each of the camels, with the knowledge that- for sound ecological reasons - a million of their wild kind need to be 'culled' from Central Australia.
In this context it seems lopsided to single out Sang's passing as noteworthy. Yet, as we all have to discover, everything can change when we come to know and respect our fellow travellers.

(For more on the Simpson experience see my stories in the latest Australian Geographic [Issue 96] and next month's issue of Wild [Issue 115].)

Sunday, November 1, 2009


For those who may not of caught up with the news, mild-mannered author Alasdair McGregor - seen here 'at large' in the Gammon Ranges - recently published his bio of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. Certainly worth a look for anyone interested in Canberra's troubled birth, political intrigues and a life-long creative partnership with few equals. To catch Alasdair and ye olde Phillip Adams yacking about "Grand Obsessions" visit here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Among the rewards of our Adelaide Hills are the tasty treats grown/made hereabouts. Crunchy apples. Gooey goaty cheese. Wunderbar wursty things. And some rather agreeable wines. As well as being eminently slurpable, these local brews allow one to purchase direct from the grower - and that's always a good thing. The canny grower/maker returns the favour with exceptional value wines. No one does this better than Mike Press. A former senior plonkie at the Mildara Blass Behemoth, Mike's been making wine for decades. For the past four years or so he's been turning a range of straight varietals from his own vines under his very own label - to the delight of hardened cheapskates and picky wine buffs in equal measure. His Cab Savvie and Shiraz are extraordinary for the price. Worth tracking down.

Friday, July 24, 2009


The biggest floods - in terms of extent and duration - since 1974 have wrought dramatic changes along the floodplain corridors of the eastern Simpson Desert. It was a rare privilege to witness the flush of new growth and animal life. The just completed Eyre Creek Ornithological Trek recorded 100 bird species in its 11 day camel odyssey. Organised by Australian Desert Expeditions, our party covered more than 150km, crossing high dunes to reach Eyre Creek and neighbouring billabongs. Walking the long floodplains carpeted with fragrant native cammomile and the shrubby forests of tall verbine more than 2m high was a ravishing experience for camels and humans alike - and another reminder of this mighty desert's mercurial powers.
Photos: (top) Cameleer extraordinaire Andrew Harper leading TC and the other camels on the Eyre Creek Ornithological Trek. (centre) The eastern-most of the floodplains graced by the 2009 flows. (below) Much-travelled Morgan treats the Simpson to another of his morning serenades.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Wet trees. Mist-heavy cloud. Showers spattering into the gorges. So much water - so many reflections.
It's more than a decade since the Flinders Ranges had an average year of rainfall. And it's been especially bad in the north.
Now, after a few good falls in recent months, the country is rebounding. A week of walking in the Vulkathunha-Gammons Ranges NP revealed lots of handy waterholes and new growth everywhere. A reminder that boom and bust- a natural form of climate change - is a fact of life in arid parts.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Perhaps it marks a new age of austerity. Or maybe just a sudden retro vibe. Anyway, for the first time ever Wild magazine features a black and white cover. In fact issue 113 features one of the better recent upfront pics - a shot that manages to capture that stirring, rueful 'what-am-I-doing-here' feeling you get in the back of beyond. Inside is equally provocative, with thoughtful pieces about the Victorian fires and other stories that go to the heart of being in distant - and often difficult - places. For my 'The Wild Life' column I've strayed into the delicate subject of the things we souvenir from nature.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


pic courtesy Auscape International

Spikey but gentle monotremes seem to be turning up everywhere just lately. I've seen them in various places on each of my past three trips to Kangaroo Island. A week ago there was a phone message from a friend who'd met one wandering along a track in his olive grove. The other day I also spotted another sauntering among the stringybarks across the valley from our place. Then this morning in the New York Times, of all places, there's the rather different looking character you see above. It's worth checking out the story - and KI's very own echidna emissary Peggy Rismiller even gets in a good word or two on their behalf.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Having snapped up Balquhidder Station in 2007, it was always on the cards that billionaire businessman Kerry Stokes would top the bids for neighbouring Mt Scrub. As well as a few extra paddocks for his cattle to munch on, Kez is now the laird of an 11km stretch of beaches and headlands along the Fleurieu Peninsula's south coast. See the story here. Fingers crossed Kezza - one of Australia's most noted art buffs and philanthropists - will see fit to add these 'hidden' shores to the walking trail that honours the vision of painter extraordinaire, Sir Hans Heysen.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


"Azure Kingfishers" Oil on Canvas 77 x 84cm, 2007
Anyone with an eye for nature, painterly wonders, things creatural and the life of art has no choice but to visit the exhibition Rita Hall Museum Studies 1969 - 2009 that's just opened at the SA Museum.
Retrospectives are always among the most fascinating of shows and this one is no exception. The range of work on display, the mastery in so many different mediums, and the lineaments of style and subject are all there enjoy.
Rita's great gift is to reveal the 'innerness' and 'otherness' of things that are everywhere around us - be they birds, stones or even blow flies. She doesn't do birds cutely perched or jaunty on the wing. Instead they are lifted into the orbit of art by graphic and compositional verve. At one level, the birds simply are what they are, rendered with fidelity to their characteristics and circumstance. In her most recent paintings they are humble bird 'skins' exhumed from drawers in the museum collection and presented singly and in groups.
At the same time however, the birds serve as meditative objects, poised in their anonymous pictorial space. Thus the paintings present formal arrangements but with many teasing twists. 'It's still-life Jim - but not as we know it.'
Tenderly realised, bright and beautiful - but somehow also shadowy and quirkily disturbing, these birds are always goading us with questions about mortality and the way we see things and 'collect' the world around us as we go. In their purity and sense of purpose the paintings carry echoes of the great Italian modernist Giorgio Morandi.
To be able to view Rita's works arrayed together - and with so many of their antecedents - is a rare thrill. The other moving aspect to the exhibition is the opportunity to bear witness to a lifetime of devoted work. Morandi said "Nothing is more abstract than reality." For more than 40 years Rita has been helping us celebrate this exquisite truth.
"White Browed Wood Swallow"  2006 Oil on Canvas 55 x 60cm

Monday, June 1, 2009


Five days picking olives under big skies in the late Autumn sun might just be the ultimate cure-all - especially if you happen to be in the southern Flinders Ranges. The Beetaloo Valley is a lost world kind of place, tucked away in the ranges above Laura and Crystal Brook. One of my most favourite places of all. Here the olive groves, orchards and farm paddocks are interspersed with bushland and scrub-lined creeks. It's part of an appealing - and productive - stretch of country along the eastern flanks of the ranges to Melrose. The olives and olive oils from this neck of the woods are very special. It's also worth checking out the Wirrabara Farmer's Market (third Sunday of the month).

Friday, May 22, 2009


Two brothers, one island and 500km of coastline. Well, it started as two brothers, but Jake Giles had to pull out because of illness. Follow the final stages here as brother Tom becomes the first person to complete a lap of KI on foot.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


No, not the stockmarket meltdown. We're talking the real thing. Glaciers and the like. Only in the land that brought you Sarah Palin would evidence of looming global eco-trauma become a story about new golf course opportunities. The New York Times has the story.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Now we know for sure: money doesn't grow on trees. As foreshadowed last week, the receivers moved in yesterday to try to sort out the mess that is Great Southern. The company's debt stands at $826 million. The environmental costs to us all are probably incalculable. And another 240,000 hectares of Blue Gum plantation ends up . . . going nowhere?

UPDATE: Here's a Kangaroo Island perspective. And then there's this prescient Stateline KI report from 2006. No doubt there will be a lot more fallout nation-wide. But, in the confined spaces of KI, the long-term loss of good farm country and the sorry tale of such schemes are starkly revealed.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


The whole 'cabin in the woods' thing is very American, very ye olde frontier spirit. But if you're into the simple verities of solitude, nature and escape it can still be a compelling fantasy - wherever you live. All those timber interiors, the cosy wood fire and a big wild world just beyond the door . . .
Boston-based journalism teacher Lou Ureneck has an interesting blog running in the New York Times about a place in Stoneham, Maine he's building with the help of his brother. They've nearly got the roof on so you'll have to backtrack to see the progress.
On the subject of cabins, you might want to check out this one on Martha's Vineyard used by Livingston Taylor (brother of James).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


In WA they've got a Great Southern wine region. Here in SA there is a Great Southern Railway. And there's another mob called Great Southern who look after investment schemes in assorted corners of 'rural' Australia. The schemes include timber plantations that have gobbled up big chunks country everywhere from WA to NSW and the Tiwi Islands to Kangaroo Island. According to some observers the fate of some of these tax minimisation cum investment outfits doesn't look too flash. Businesses come and go. Nothing new there. But if these schemes fail, what happens to the trees in the ground? What about the productive land covered in Blue Gums busily sucking the water table dry? On what balance sheet do the losses to nature and the community appear?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


For the latest non-news in the unconscionable treatment of Arkaroola and its natural wonders see here. That the SA Government and it's Minister for Mineral Resources should dither around for so long betrays a crippling failure of leadership, vision and basic logic.
Paul Holloway talks legal argy bargy when what's needed is a clear decision to protect one of the State's most significant environmental and tourism assets. Not just that but he also goes for a gold medal in duck shoving: "The challenge for Marathon Resources—in fact, for all explorers in this region—is to show how the mineral and energy resources can be extracted from this region in a manner that preserves the environmental and scenic values."
No, sorry Minister, the real challenge here is for the SA Government is to carry out its duty to defend a properly established and internationally acclaimed wilderness santuary. The idea that any mine could be put within Arkaroola's highlands without affecting their integrity is simply laughable. And besides, don't we in SA already have more than enough mines, alternative uranium deposits, geothermal projects etc, etc to be going on with?
For more on the whole fandango see Bill Doyle's site.

Doug & Marg Sprigg, operators of Arkaroola Sanctuary with a geological mosaic put together by their father and sanctuary founder, the late Reg Sprigg.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Cliff-top Sugar Gums, Cape Torrens Wilderness Protection Area

Every visit to Kangaroo Island adds another twist to my sense of the place. Out west near Cape Torrens we were confronted by a gutsy coastline. Giant cliffs. A vastness of sea and sky. Waves bashing onto the rocks below. But all I wanted to look at were the trees. In most parts of the island the shoreline is wind-blasted and shrubby at best. Here, just metres from the cliff edge, there were stately gums and broad bushy sheoaks. By some quirk of topography these trees are sheltered from the worst of the winds from the south and west, though the prevailing breezes have nevertheless done some fine sculpting. (Above)
This alertness to things arboral was perhaps prompted a friend's win in the Penneshaw Easter Art Show. Michele Lane's painting of Pink Bay is as much a study of passing light as anything else. But the other star of the picture is the dense canopy of narrow-leafed mallee, a species that covers many parts of the island like plush rug. How rich and wondrous are the island's diverse native habitats. With every passing year these expanses of native veg grow in significance. Meanwhile the dreary local tassie blue gum plantations seem more and more problematic.

Evening light, Island Beach

Thursday, March 19, 2009


How about 660 hectares on the southern side of the Fleurieu Peninsula? There's some impressive creeks and scrub, your own stretch of the Heysen Trail, plus a couple of k's of coastline in the backyard. All this, just an hour and a bit's drive south of Adelaide. We're talking here about the western chunk of Mt Scrub, a grazing property that last changed hands in 1895. If you have a few mill' lying around, it could all be yours.

Parsons Beach, looking west towards Mt Scrub

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Artist, writer, photographer, Antarctician, friend, comrade-in-authorship and all-round polymath Alasdair McGregor has just launched his own website. It gives a quick sample of his endeavours in many disciplines. Those who admire Alasdair's preternatural gifts as a painter will be especially interested to see a cross-section of major works on show. A computer screen doesn't really do justice to his big, radiant oil paintings - but it's great to have the opportunity to see so many of them again and reconnect with their scope and verve. Later in 2009 Penguin will be publishing Alasdair's next biographical opus: Grand Obsessions: The life and work of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, as well as bringing out a paperback edition of his acclaimed earlier biography: Frank Hurley: A photographer's life.

Alasdair McGregor: Grass Trees Northern Flinders Ranges, South Australia, oil and acrylic on canvas, 107 x 91cms

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


I would never admit it publicly, of course, but given my vocation there are times when going bush can begin to feel like work. So where does a fresh-air fiend go to frolic? In my case it's occasionally onto the water. And to be specific - given an aversion to getting wet - onto a boat on the water. Accordingly, four day's sailing on Boston Bay at Port Lincoln comes very close to being a holiday. It was race week in Lincoln, which meant my contribution was as moveable ballast. In between all the leaping about there were stints on the gunwale when I could enjoy the scenery.
The bay is a terrific place to sail - four times the size of Sydney Harbour - and though we never left its surrounds I was reminded of the times past when I'd sailed out of the bay to cruise the gulf beyond. On the longer beats to windward I had time to stare down into the deep green waters of the bay and dream innocent, carbon-neutral dreams about sailing to the distant islands.
However, even in sunny, far-flung Port Lincoln, there are reminders of the world we have created and the kind of thoughts that, for me at least, begin to feel like work. In our races we were often passed by large fishing boats ferrying pallet-loads of frozen pilchards to the tuna farms beyond the bay. A fellow crew member reckons that 5,000 tonnes of pilchards a week are used here fatten up the tuna ready for export. 5,000 tonnes every week. And I couldn't help thinking to myself that a downturn in the Japanese economy and a little less demand for our tuna might not be such a bad thing for the planet.

Monday, February 16, 2009


It just so happens that as my hometown recently endured day after day of 40 degree temperatures, photographer Warren Field and I slunk down to the south coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula. The beaches and headlands were great, but the thing that I'll never forget is the afternoon arrival of the south-easterly ocean breeze. Some days it was a gentle but persistent waft of cool air weaving up the gullies. Other times it arrived with a big roll of moist cloud that unfurled through the scrub and snagged in the old ridgetop pine trees - much to the delight of the yellow-tailed black cockatoos. I doubt that the temperature ever got above the high 20's the whole week, and by nightfall, after the ocean had done its thing, I guess was maybe 17 or 18 degrees. Often we were out on a ridge when the southerly airs turned up and after a few days we started to look for the breezes riffling in across the surface of sea, and we waited as the coolness brushed over us, all salty and dank, and tinged with that hint of wet straw, and every time it felt like the best thing ever and for that moment there was nowhere else we'd rather be.

photo Warren Field

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Even though I profess no special acquaintence with the fiction of the recently late, and long-time great, American writer John Updike, I did enjoy his literary presence and his collections of reviews and essays like Hugging the Shore and Odd Jobs. I liked the idea of his durability as a writer and that famously precise prose style. Two essays - 'At War with My Skin' and 'Getting the Words Out' - from his memoirs Self-Consciousness are wonderful examples of his probing, confessional brilliance.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


You've got to wonder what kind of Kool-Aid they serve in the Marathon Resources lunch room. As if the cack-handed attempts to explore for uranium - and dump exploration waste - at Mt Gee were not bad enough, this mob are now trying to bumble their way back into Arkaroola on various pretexts, sending out assorted notices , press releases etc. The whole sorry saga is shaping as a text book case of how not to conduct yourself professionally with Governments, Ministers of the Crown, Government agencies, the mining industry, landholders, the media, conservation groups, shareholders and members of the public. For the full story visit Bill Doyle's extensive summary at UnknownSA or Mike Parnell's site.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New Wings Over Waitpinga

Walking the Heysen Trail along the Waitpinga Cliffs -see new pic at top - a couple of weekends back, I was surprised to see a young sea eagle on the wing. (Unlike the adult bird shown above the fledgling is a mottled brown with white 'windows' on its wings) It turns out this fledgling is the first in six years to the only breeding pair of these endangered sea eagles on the mainland coast between Eyre Peninsula and Central Victoria. Hard to believe I spent so much of my youth wandering nearby - mostly about Kings Head and then rock climbing at Waitpinga - without having a clue what was really happening here. And there's a whole story about the efforts to protect this strip of coastal habitat and it's birdlife. For more info about the work to lend the eagles a hand you could send an email to

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Last week, in the midst of Adelaide's record heatwave, I spent a day with a south coast farmer whose family have worked their patch of country for three or four generations. Over the years they've seen pretty much everything - droughts, floods, fires, the works. But after the experience of the past 5 years they are having to radically rethink how they look after the farm and how they keep water up to their stock. They will need - at considerable cost - to install a whole new regime to secure their water supply and keep the farm going.
One of the key points about climate change is not just the computer predications about gradual global warming by a degree here or there, or sea level rises over decade or three. The other dimension to climate change is that our seasons will turn ever more unpredictable. So even when farmers get a year of 'average rainfall', the rains come in a brief flurry, followed by several dry months which means there's no decent growing season for crops or pastures.
At the same time, this more erratic climate hits us with more frequent and severe events like floods and storms and sudden bursts of wild weather - including extreme temperatures and winds, akin to those that drove the current fires in Victoria.
Everyone suddenly wants answers to questions about natural catastrophes. People want to know how we can learn from what has happened. All the usual responses are there - who to blame, what went wrong, why did this happen and so on.
No one can say for certain that the severity of the weather that fuelled what happened in Victoria was due to man-made climate change - although some commentators are ready to beat that drum. Given the huge grief process that's unfolding - with all the natural numbness, anger, despair etc - trying to fit in a public argument about the role of climate change does seem premature.
That said, you have to wonder, at least in private.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


A week ago I was pulling up some weeds in our garden when I had a sensation that something was behind me - that I was being watched. I turned around and looked up into one of our apple trees to see a very plump owl, a Boobook and staring at me with the stern expression perfected by hawk owls. It is yet another instance of the way birds have inveigled their way into my life. As I've mentioned before ("Away with the Birds") I am not a bird watcher, but year by year I seem to be noticing birds more and more. They seem to be always there, catching me unawares, jolting me out of other tasks to wonder about their lives. Like the white-faced heron I glimpsed stabbing at gold fish in our pond by the back door. Or looking up from my lounge chair to see a red-browed finch flying into our patio wisteria with long threads of grass for a spot of nest weaving. Who needs TV when you've got such unbidden sights to behold and such stories to follow.