Gumeracha Medieval Fair

6 05 2012

I finally made it to the Gumeracha Medieval Fair, after having seen advertisements for many years. Set in scenic Federation Park in Gumeracha in the Adelaide Hills, the themed marquees, the central town square for entertainments and the large number of costumed participants and attendees made this an interesting variation on the town fair. Seeing a monk or a damsel in medieval costume texting on their i-phone made for an interesting look!

Federation Park features some amazingly large gum trees set around a creek. The fair covered both sides of the creek with a wooden foot-bridge to cross from one side to another. The food stalls were themed (sausage rolls became rat in a roll), a central “tavern” tent served spiced Mead and old-fashioned soft drinks, and in addition to the many stalls offering things for sale, there were also displays of wood-carving, knife-sharpening, blacksmithing and spinning. Displays of medieval warcraft including archery, catapults, and knights battling it out in sword-fights to win the hand of a “not-so-fair” maiden (turned out to be a man in drag) were complimented by displays where the exhibitors talked about how various weapons and household implements were made and used. Helmets and chain mail were available to try on – and to buy.

So all in all quite a fun day (it actually ran all weekend), although late afternoon light rain seemed to call the end of the fair slightly before the advertised time.

Want some more photographs of Australia?
St Nicholas comes to Hahndorf
Prehistoric Australia
Prehistoric Australia

Travel places to avoid

30 04 2012

Some people collect countries like scalps. And not every country has the same value. The more touristy, the less value. The more perceived danger, the more value. Even if you missed the “danger” period by a decade or more. And so I claim Egypt, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa – more exotic and exciting than England, New Zealand, Singapore (but no less enjoyable). We did manage to time our visit to Egypt six months after the hand grenade attack on the tourist bus outside the Cairo Museum, and six months before the machine-gun attack on the tomb of Hat-sep-Chut (which I know I have misspelled). The most exciting thing that occurred while we were in Egypt was the 18-year-old armed youth on National Service as tourist police who tried to pick me up in the Cairo Museum (“Come with me and I’ll show you the Tomb of Ramses II” – an original line, if nothing else.) The fact that I was walking with my boyfriend seemed to be irrelevant. (NB: Tourist Police are supposed to guard the tourists – most of them seemed to be 18, carrying loaded weapons and on National Service. Their impressions of western women – and I generalise here – seemed to be somewhat jaundiced. While as Australians, we were somewhat nervous being watched and guarded by armed guards, the South Africans we were travelling with were relieved and said they would be much less comfortable of the guards had not been there.)

The following picture was sent to me at work. I can’t quite work out the “logic” or criteria for allocating each cause of death to each country, but I note that China does not feature as having a notable cause of death. Perhaps the source of their longevity? Not sure the same can be said for much of Central Africa, which also appears not to have any specific notable deaths. And in sheer numbers, shark attacks really do not feature that highly in Australia, despite what we might tell tourists. (Diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and cancer feature more highly, as in many western countries, including England, another notable left off the list.)

And seriously – death by lawnmower in the US? Is that not an episode of Six Feet Under?

Like some more Australian KULCHA (culture) abroad? Try Australians abroad.

Prehistoric Australia

21 04 2012

at the entrance to the Naracoorte Caves National Park - perhaps fossils from the iron age????

Naracoorte is a small town in the south-east of the state of South Australia. It is about four hours drive from Adelaide, so more of an overnight stay than a day-trip, if being attempted with children.

Naracoorte was one of my favourite holiday places as a child – and more specifically, the Naracoorte Caves. These massive caves are naturally formed from the actions of water on limestone, and as well as featuring spectacular stalagmites (from the ground up), stalactites (from the ceiling down) helicotites (sideways!), columns and curtains (as they sound), they also feature fossils from prehistoric animals.

While there are no massive dinosaurs here, there are a large number of smaller fossils ranging from lizards and small rodents up to megafauna – giant prehistoric kangaroos and wombats, and my favourite, thylacaleo carnifex – the marsupial lion. The caves are still under excavation by archeologists so who knows what other animals will be found in the tonnes and tonnes of material yet to be sifted through.

The underground caves have guided tours while a few caves which have larger openings to the surface are self-guide. One of the caves is now home to a large colony of bats.

The rate of petrification in these caves is much (much) slower than the caves we visited in France, where the rate of water flow and the calcium load in the water was such that they could use it to petrify objects for the tourist trade. Here the stalactites, stalagmites etc grow at a miniscule rate.

another "iron age" fossil!

a banksia outside the caves

fairytale castles.....stalactites reflected in a perfectly still pond underground

these stagmites look like a nativity scene

stalactites formed along a crack in the ceiling

stalactites formed along a crack in the cave ceiling

a "curtain" stalactite feature

sink hole to the surface (looking upwards). These sorts of holes were how the animals fell into the caves and then were unable to get out again. Underneath these holes would be large piles of silt and rubble, unless a flood event had washed the rubble further into the cave.

Thylacaleo carnifex (marsupial lion)

Thylacaleo Carnifex (marsupial lion)

archeological dig

"Stanley" - megafauna kangaroo

thylacaleo carnifex - "Leo"

the archeological dig

Wet Cave

thylacaleo carnifex battling a giant snake


megafauna kangaroo (model)

columns in White Cave - look like architectural columns

Flinders University archeology digs in White Cave - each stripe in the soil indicates a different period of time

leaving White Cave

Want more pictures of Australian sites? Try….
Adelaide Botanic Gardens
In the red hot centre
Old Melbourne Jail and the Melbourne Aquarium

Bicentiennial Conservatory

9 04 2012

At the north-eastern end of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens is the Bicentennial Conservatory – a nautilus-shell-shaped glass and steel structure which is visible from certain western facing points of the Adelaide hills. Designed by South Australian architect Guy Maron, it was opened to celebrate the Australian bicentenary in 1988. It is the largest single span glasshouse in the southern hemisphere, and one of the largest in the world.

I remember visiting it shortly after it opened, when most of the plants were not much more than seedlings. Twenty-four years later and I have to ask….what are they going to do with the trees that are now touching the roof?

No pictures of the outside of the shell – but some of the detail of the rainforest within.

The (rather civilised) way into the jungle…

More pictures from Australia? Try
Melbourne Jail and the Melbourne Aquarium
In the red hot centre
South Australian Museum

Adelaide Botanic Gardens

9 04 2012

In the parklands across the road from the northern entrance.

The Adelaide Botanic Gardens sit on the eastern end of North Terrace adjacent to the Royal Adelaide Hospital and forming part of the Parklands which ring the city. A wide variety of mature trees, native and exotic as well as formal and informal plantings form a number of different “chambers” within the park, so that you can picnic or play within the park without being aware of everybody. A number of truly novel plants, including the Amazonian Waterlily – Amazonian in proportions – make this an interesting day out, particularly if you are accompanied by children who need to be exercised!

There are also a number of public arts dotted throughout the gardens – some in the classic style, others more modern. A formal rose garden is popular for weddings, as is the Botanic Gardens restaurant, set in the centre of the gardens near the lake. The Santos Museum of Economic Botany also boasts a cafe and decking which can be used for functions – but I have never been there when the museum was open so I have no idea what it is like inside! Presumably economic botany is about using plants for profit – medicines, agriculture and the like?

On the north-eastern corner of the gardens is a giant glass dome – the Bicentennial Conservatory, featuring an indoor rain-forest.



Amazonian Waterlily

emblem of the Amazonian Waterlily, etched onto the conservatory glass

More pictures from Australia? Try
Melbourne Jail and the Melbourne Aquarium
In the red hot centre
South Australian Museum

South Australian Museum

9 04 2012

A trip to the South Australian Museum, on North Terrace in Adelaide. A few photographs of the Pacific Islander collection and the building, the war memorial and an abandoned building on North Terrace that has fallen “victim” to some street art.

breast decorations made from shell

Fiji Times declares peace in the Pacific (WWII)

Pacific Islander mask

the War Memorial, North Terrace, Adelaide

an attractive but abandoned building on North Terrace, Adelaide

faces at the window (detail)

ornate plaque

In the red hot centre

1 04 2012

waiting for sunset at Uluru

Despite having lived in Australia almost my entire life, I had never been to the Northern Territory prior to 2008. My family, as English immigrants, had spent every school holiday for my entire childhood driving about the countryside visiting almost everywhere except the Northern Territory and Tasmania. So when my then-workplace sent me to Alice Springs for a conference, I was thrilled!

I took the opportunity to visit Uluru (formerly called Ayres Rock) and Kata-Tjuta (formerly the Olgas), as well as attending the conference. Uluru-Kata-Tjuta National Park is 461km from Alice Springs – you can get there by flight, bus or driving – I opted for bus, which was a whole-day experience, leaving very early in the morning and getting back about midnight (because of course you have to stay and see the sunset over Uluru).

The Centre lived up to its reputation. In Alice Springs, don’t forget to pop into the bar Bojangles which is a tourist icon – every spare piece of wall or ceiling has something nailed to it – old farming implements, hats, horse-shoes, whips, animal skulls, skins etc. I suggest going early in the evening as it has a reputation for getting a bit rough later at night. And there are many galleries selling original Aboriginal artworks ranging from about $40 to $40,000 – a price for every pocket! Make sure you get authentication papers with whatever you buy.


Table-top mountain on the way to Uluru - flat horizon

Singing (and piano-playing) Dingo at a road-house on the way to Uluru

first sighting of Uluru from the bus

rock formations that look like faces in profile, carved into Uluru

The following photographs are of Kata Tjuta – a rock formation consisting of 36 “forms”, approximately 50km from Uluru.

Kata-Tjuta on the horizon (from the bus)

the flat horizon from a gorge in Kata-Tjuta

from the bus - farewelling Kata-Tjuta

Then we headed back to Uluru to wait for sunset. The rock is reputed to change colour several times during sunset. The postcards you can buy display these changes very effectively. The colours were not so strong when I was there (no bright rose-red or blood-red). No filters or effects have been used on this photographs.

waiting for sunset at Uluru

"not alone" waiting for sunset at Uluru. We were in fact parked at a bus carpark and lookout, surrounded by other buses and barbecues as we all enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine and a sausage, while setting up our camera shots.

the horizon glows...

almost dark

The conference dinner was set up at a venue slightly outside Alice Springs as a venue called Ooraminna Station Homestead (thanks to Shelley for reminding me of the name). The venue had buildings around the edge built like farm out-houses but were actually the kitchen, bar, shelter for the band and the toilets. It was surrounded by some high-land which protected it from the wind, but it was still freezing cold at night, as deserts are. However, set up for a silver service dinner setting and with candles and fairy-lights, it was an amazing venue.

Conference dinner venue - near Alice Springs, under the stars

Comedian Anh Do, his brother and former Young Australian of the Year (2005) Khoa Do and my friend Shelley. The Do brothers talked about their journey from Vietnam to Australia as refugees and making their lives here.

Like some more photos of Australia? Try…
At the Edge of the Ocean

Life is a Beach

Melbourne Jail and the Melbourne Aquarium