On a recent trip to Tasmania, on Eaglehawk Neck, at the northern end of Pirate’s Bay Beach, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Looking down, it was as if some ambitious giant had decided to lay a walkway of rectangular tiles between the beach and the water. This phenomenon is called the Tessellated Pavement. Although this extremely rare geological formation appears to be manmade, it’s in fact created by erosion.
The erosion causes what are called “pans” and “loaves.” The pans occur on the shore, where high tides leave salt behind on the rockface. The rock at low tides dries out for longer before being immersed again. Salt crystals develop, which erode the rock surface more quickly than the joints, resulting in concave depressions.
In contrast, the rock surface closest to the water is wet much of the time. Salt crystals don’t have an opportunity to develop. Erosion results from the sand carried in the water, which tends to flow through channels in the rock. The edges of the rock erode faster than the surface. The results are formations that look like loaves of rising bread.
The depressions in the rockface create tidal pools, a haven for many kinds of sea life, and birds are attracted to the plentiful pickings.
This type of geological wonder is found in only a few places in the world, so I feel fortunate to have seen it.
On this ANZAC Day, I think I’ll go to ANZAC Parade, Canberra’s major ceremonial avenue, which opened in 1965 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ANZAC landing in Gallipoli. ANZAC refers to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers who landed at Gallipoli in the First World War.
Although more than a dozen memorials stand on ANZAC Parade, there’s a special one I’d like to revisit: the Kemal Ataturk Memorial. This memorial honors Kemal Ataturk, who commanded the Turkish forces at Gallipoli and later became the first president of Turkey. It also honors both the ANZAC and Turkish soldiers in the long, hard Gallipoli campaign. Soil from ANZAC Cove in Turkey lays underneath the dedication plaque.
It may seem odd to honor one’s enemy in a capital city, but Turkey and Australia agreed to recognize the bravery and heroism of soldiers on both sides to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing.
The aim of the Gallipoli campaign was to gain control of the straits of the Dardanelles, which would allow Great Britain and France to directly attack Constantinople, thus forcing the Turks out of the war. The ANZACS landed at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, a mile away from the intended landing. The soldiers met sharp cliffs and deep ravines, which came as a surprise since they had the wrong maps for the location. The ANZACs faced Turks fighting for their homeland led by the capable and determined commander Kemal. Conditions were harsh: poor food, water shortages, and flies led to disease. The temperature extremes over the eight-month campaign caused sunstroke and frostbite.
Although the Turks eventually forced a withdrawal, the cost was enormous: they had lost more than 80,000 troops, while Australia had lost more than 8,000. For both, the punishing campaign helped to forge national identities.
The combatants came to respect their adversaries. There are tales of soldiers going over to enemy trenches to exchange supplies during lulls in fighting. When the ANZACs withdrew, they left notes for the Turks, thanking them for a fair fight and assuring them that the food left behind wasn’t poisoned.
Later, long after the war ended, this tribute to the ANZAC soldiers buried at Gallipoli was often (and perhaps erroneously) attributed to Kemal Ataturk:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives ... you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
The Kemal Ataturk Memorial recalls the heroism and sacrifices made by soldiers on both sides. Rather than demeaning adversaries or seeing them somehow as less than human, it asks us to instead acknowledge our shared humanity—a worthwhile thing to do on ANZAC day.
In Australia, you won’t find much cooing over rabbits as cute Easter bunnies. Here, they are an invasive pest. Introduced in 1788 for their meat and bred in enclosures, they were then released into the wild by at least one English settler in the mid-1800s for hunting. They multiplied, well, like rabbits. The warmer weather in Australia allowed them to breed year-round, and they could eat almost any part of any plant: leaves, bark, and twigs. With few native predators, rabbits flourished.
By the late 1800s, rabbits had ruined much of the farmable land in the southeast by eating and burrowing . Their spread west was uncontrollable; trapping, shooting, poisoning, and warren destruction all failed to permanently reduce the population. Not that the farmers cared, but rabbits were also pushing out native species like the bilby.
The solution was to build a so-called rabbit-proof fence in Western Australia. From 1901 to 1907, three intersecting fence lines were surveyed and built to keep rabbits out of the western part of the continent. The fences stretched from the northern coastline to the southern one for an astounding 2,023 miles.
Unfortunately, the massive undertaking was a failure from the start. Even during construction, rabbits hopped around the fence, moving ever farther west. While the rabbit-proof fence may have been ineffective at stopping rabbits, it did serve as a landmark for three girls trying to find their way home.
The Aborigines Act of 1905 allowed the Australian government to forcibly remove indigenous children from their families and resettle them to assimilate into white culture. These children became known as the stolen generations. In 1931, Dolly and her younger cousins Gracie and Daisy lived in Jigalong, a settlement that had been established to maintain the rabbit-proof fence. The three girls had white fathers, and the government’s removal policy focused on "helping" those that were part-white by moving them away to assimilate quicker. The three girls were torn from their families and moved to Moore River Native Settlement, around 1000 miles away from Jigalong. Dolly soon decided to escape, trusting in her bushcraft and ability to follow the fence to lead her and her cousins back home.
Author Doris Pilkington Garimara recounts the story of her mother Dolly’s epic trek in the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. The book was later made into an award-winning 2002 movie by Phillip Noyce.
Today, sections of the original fence still exist. They're maintained by landholders and regional councils to keep dingos, emus, kangaroos and goats from entering farming country. Western Australia has included and extended some of the original rabbit-proof fence into the State Barrier Fence.
The Rabbit-Proof Fence Walk in 2017 commemorated the girls' journey. It was a chance for women to connect with each other and understand their roles in reconciliation.
The rabbit-proof fence may have been a utter failure at stopping rabbits, but at least it helped guide some stolen children home.
In the recent Inked exhibition at the National Library of Australia, I discovered the weird and wonderful work of Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig. Typically referred to as just “Leunig,” he was declared an Australian Living Treasure by the National Trust of Australia in 1999.
Born in 1945, Leunig attended Melbourne’s Monash University and worked on the student paper. From there he moved to the new Nation Review, a satirical magazine that began publishing in 1972. When that magazine closed, he went to the Melbourne Age. For more than 40 years, his cartoons observed politics, culture, and the emotional life of Australia. His work appears in the Melbourne Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.
Leunig collaborated with animators Andrew Horne and Deborah Szapiro to produce a series of short films based on his cartoons.
Leunig describes his approach to his work as “regressive, humorous, messy, mystical, primal, and vaudevillian.” The result—full of curly people and birds—is odd, whimsical, and always thought-provoking.
In societies where making sharp observations about one's leaders or protesting policies in writing landed you in trouble, in prison, or worse, cartoonists soon learned to express all that with images. The National Library of Australia's collection contains more than 14,000 editorial cartoons, and the best of them are on exhibit now. Running from 7 March to 21 July, the exhibition is called Inked: Australian Cartoons.
As an American in Australia, it was a chance to learn more about a culture by understanding its cartoons. The exhibition includes cartoons that capture the beginnings of Australia at Botany Bay all the way up to those that comment on current events. Wandering through the galleries, I felt like an anthropologist happening upon dozens of tiny time capsules.
Early cartoons explored Great Britain's relationship with this exotic new land. In the cartoon on the left, British cartoonist John Boyne suggests in 1786 that the planned penal colony would be a fitting home for the Prince of Wales. Notice that the prince wears a jester’s cap and sits on a barrel of tokay, a sweet fortified wine. His mistress and two moneylenders bid him farewell. In one image, Boyne suggests the prince’s crimes: drunkenness and promiscuity with both women and money. In a later cartoon from 1868, William Wyatt memorializes the arrival of an important visitor to Australia. Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, was the first member of the royal family to visit. A bevy of exotic animals greet him, including a kangaroo, wombat, wallaby, and an emu. The British Lion stands behind the prince.
After Federation on 1 January 1901, with a new constitution and federal government, the young nation struggled to establish its identity on the world stage. During the World Wars, the new country identified with the image that was developing of the Australian soldier: brave, practical, down to earth, and suspicious of authority.
In more modern times, Australian cartoonists have covered many political and social issues. Below, the cartoon on the left shows a Sydney police officer reporting on young peace protesters. The center cartoon by Alan Moir shows Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam, leaders of the Liberal and Labor Parties, in their 1975 standoff following the Liberals' decision to block supply (the funding of the government), resulting in Australia's one and only government shutdown. The cartoon on the right by Geoff Pryor comments on how race became an issue in elections in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He shows the spectre of White Australia policy breaking out of its grave to haunt the country again.
In the second row above, cartoons comment on our obsession with technology, approaches to global warming, and the referendum on same sex marriage. Cartoonist David Pope found signs of life and optimism when Australia voted "yes" for same sex marriage late in 2017.
The exhibition was eye-opening. I could definitely do worse than studying cartoons to try to understand a country and its culture.
Before moving to Australia, I visited the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. I marvelled at the captive rainbow lorikeets, thrilled that I would soon be seeing them in the wild. When I arrived in Canberra, I shared my neighborhood with many colorful, interesting birds, but no rainbow lorikeets. Only when traveling to Sydney, Queensland, or South Australia did I spot them. Then, a few days ago, I saw three rainbow lorikeets in my community. Over the last 18 months, my feelings about these birds have changed. I looked at them now with something approaching dread.
The natural range of rainbow lorikeets is broad, including the northern coasts of Australia, parts of eastern Australia and South Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Timor-Leste, and Indonesia. They have been introduced to Perth, Hong Kong, Singapore, and New Zealand, and a few vagrants have found their way to Tasmania.
As cities and suburbs grow, bird populations have winners and losers. Some birds struggle with habitat loss, while others adapt readily to urban development and a year-round food supply from suburban gardens. Rainbow lorikeets are one of the big winners. Loud, aggressive, and traveling together in large flocks, they compete for available food and nesting trees, driving out local birds. They are prodigious breeders, producing up to three broods a season. Efficient eaters, their tongues are like bristle brushes, well adapted to reach deep within native flowers to extract their preferred food: nectar and pollen. They also eat insects and seeds and they LOVE fruit. And therein lies a problem.
The rainbow lorikeet is a menace to fruit. In Perth’s suburbs in Western Australia, lorikeets feed on figs, pears, apricots, nectarines, loquats, mulberries, mangoes, passionfruit, cherries, apples, peaches, plums, and guavas. In commercial fruit-growing areas, they have decimated table grapes and a range of other fruits. The bird is considered either an agricultural pest or an unwanted organism in New Zealand, Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania.
New Zealand’s problems with lorikeets began in Auckland in the 1990s when a few dozen birds were deliberately (and illegally) released into the wild. Ten years later, the population had grown to 200 birds. They were successfully removed, mainly by live capture, by 2002.
Tasmania is especially concerned by new sightings and the risk to its fruit-growing industry. Rainbow lorikeets also pose a threat to native Tasmanian parrots as they compete for food and resources. The birds carry Psittacine beak and feather disease, further threatening native parrots. The Tasmanian Government noted the cautionary example of Western Australia. Fewer than 10 rainbow lorikeets had been introduced in the 1960s. By 2006, the population was estimated to be as many as 20,000 birds. Seeking to avoid Western Australia’s fate, Tasmania is considering eradication measures to keep rainbow lorikeets from getting fully established.
What do rainbow lorikeets mean for Canberra? The Canberra Ornithologists Group observed that the resident population of rainbow lorikeets is gradually spreading south. Reported sightings climbed to 7.6%, which is 17% higher than last year and three times the 30-year average. Naturalist Ian Fraser commented in an article that the numbers of rainbow lorikeets (along with another parrot, the little corella) are steadily increasing: "Most people don't notice it yet, they're still relatively restricted, but they're starting to breed in the nature reserves. They're going to be all over Canberra in the next couple of decades I think."
Birders have begun observing the pressure on local birds. The photo below shows a lorikeet driving away a pair of eastern rosellas from their nesting hollow.
The photo was posted to Canberra Nature Map, and a commenter expressed concern for rosellas and other local birds, considering the dramatic growth of the rainbow lorikeet population in recent years.
I imagine my neighbor’s small fruit orchard will suffer along with the local birds. And did I mention how noisy rainbow lorikeets are? While feeding flocks are generally fewer than 50 birds, they can contain more than 1,000. Here’s what a flock of 30 sounds like. Now imagine hundreds in a swarm.
Hard to believe these active, beautiful birds can cause so many problems. Orchard destroyers, disease carriers, threat to local birds, and noisy as well. This is one new bird that I'm not excited about welcoming to the neighborhood.
For nine days in March, Canberra holds an annual hot air balloon festival. Balloons come from all over Australia and around the world. They launch from the lawns of Old Parliament House and drift over the lake and city. What started as a one-time event in 1988 has grown to be one of the world’s biggest and longest-running hot air balloon festivals.
More than 30 balloons launch daily if conditions are right. The weather has to be calm, but not too calm, or the balloons won’t have enough lift to launch. Because the weather is often calmest early in the morning, we waited out in the cold, just before dawn, for the announcement. At 6:15am, the word came that, yes, they would fly.
The balloons are brought in by cars and trucks. The first step is to get the basket out and attach the burner system. Next, the balloon is attached to the basket and spread out on the ground. Thousands of square meters of material make up a balloon. It has to be big and strong enough to carry the pilots, any passengers, and the basket.
The crew uses a powerful fan to begin inflating the balloon. Once there’s enough air, the burner flame heats that air, building pressure.
The crew continues to heat the air until the balloon comes up off the ground. A balloon can stand about as tall as a five-story building, while the air inside can weigh up to 20 tons. Once the balloon is up, the crew gets on board. When everything is ready, the ground crew releases the balloon, and the pilot sends up a steady flame into the balloon to keep the air hot. Up it goes!
That process is repeated until all the balloons have been launched.
Part of the fun is keeping an eye out for special shapes. In the past, there have been a Skywhale, Vincent Van Gogh, a Scottish bagpiper, and Yoda. Making a balloon with a special shape can cost about $200,000 AUD (about $142,000 USD).
This year, we saw a space helmet and a balloon called “Beagle Maximus.” Can’t you imagine the song “Up, Up, and Away” playing as the mighty beagle takes to the sky?
The balloons can be seen from spots all over Canberra. Last year, I was at the top of Red Hill.
Speaking of last year, enjoy this time-lapse photography from the 2018 festival.
When my husband and I saw this advertisement in Adelaide, we realized immediately that we were not the target audience. We had no idea what a frog cake was, but we both pictured something like a crab cake, with little frog legs sticking out the sides.
As always, curiosity drove me to do some research. What I discovered was astonishing: the frog cake is a South Australia Heritage icon, listed by the National Trust of South Australia in 2001. Talk about missing a cultural reference!
Frog cake is served for dessert. It is a small cake shaped like a frog’s head, made from sponge cake, jam, and cream with a fondant covering. Balfours Bakery, an Adelaide institution, created the frog cake in 1922 when tea rooms were still very popular. The inspiration reportedly came when a member of the Balfour family visited a confectionary in France. Frog cakes were originally covered in green fondant, but brown and pink versions were introduced later.
The frog cake is the Balfours Bakery mascot, and it has been used to promote both Adelaide and South Australia. While frog cakes traditionally have been sold only in South Australia, now they are sold in Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland as well. The recipes I’ve found all look too fiddly to me, so I hope those frogs will be reaching Canberra sometime soon.
A recent post compared the government shutdown in the United States to Australia’s 1975 crisis over passing an appropriations bill. To resolve the crisis, the Queen’s representative, Sir John Kerr, who served as Governor-General, sacked Australia’s prime minister and put in the opposition leader to pass a bill before the supply (appropriations money) ran out on 27 November. When Parliament sought a no-confidence vote for the new prime minister, Kerr dissolved Parliament and called for elections. Kerr’s actions have remained controversial all the way up to today, and I noted there was a pending court case to make his communications with the Queen public, to determine to what extent Queen Elizabeth II was involved with her Governor-General’s decisions. Buckingham Palace has always maintained she knew nothing at all.
A court recently found that the palace letters between Kerr and Queen Elizabeth II will remain off-limits to the public. The decision has outraged many Australians and prompted more discussion about becoming a republic versus remaining a constitutional monarchy. This article explains the case and the constitutional ramifications of the court’s decision.
Imagine someone with a spray can, painting graffiti on a wall. How do you picture that person? Chances are you envision someone young, in a hoodie, standing in a dark underpass. Last August in Canberra, the Streetwise Project decided to change that perception and transform a drab public place into something more colorful and dramatic.
The call went out to find people, age 55 or older, who wanted to work on an intergenerational street art project. Two professional graffiti and street artists served as mentors and planned to teach their techniques in workshops. The professionals, both younger artists, would then paint murals with the new group of older artists at a bus station.
The Streetwise Project had several goals: to combat ageism, reduce stereotypes about graffiti and street artists, and give an intergenerational experience to older people, to bring them into the community and lessen feelings of isolation.
A few months later, 35 enthusiastic people, all over the age of 55, attended three workshops. Calling themselves the Silver Sprayers, they were passionate and inspired to paint. The result can be seen in the wonderful, quirky murals at the Woden Bus Interchange.
The Silver Sprayers all loved their first experience in making street art, and the public’s reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Since the project is ongoing, the group is hoping to paint more in Narrabundah, another suburb of Canberra. Next stop, Narrabundah!
Rose Ciccarelli is an American writer and editor living in Canberra, Australia.