My god, Lake Eyre

Work? What work? Today was about taking in more beauty and wonder and marvels than my brain and heart and soul could possibly digest.

But first our guide, Reg Dodd of Arabunna Tours, showed us an ex-Dead Finish tree near the roadside, which some person(?) had recently taken a chainsaw to for firewood. There are almost none of the small trees, like Dead Finish and Mulga, left on these plains. Surely they would have been a scattered feature of the landscape not too long ago. And seashells in their millions, interspersed with the occasional fish vertebra where an ancient seashore was to become a borrow pit for road works until the local people stopped that atrocity.


On to Lake Eyre south. Not the lookout far from the shoreline but into an area known to Reg, and a lucky few, right next to the shore.


Down the short cliff across a mottled salty plane we walked. Then gingerly across plates cracked from the salty layer  – some brittle, some firm – to the thicker crust of white, white salt extending, it seemed, forever.


Travelling away, I could almost convince myself that the cracked plates were gentle waves and the salt behind was water rippling with a non-existent breeze.

How to top that off? How about some cooking mounds that would escape the western eye but were verified by ash underneath the gibber, and fossil bivalves and trees. Not quite but …


And the occasional flower (without my flora, a pelargonium and a chenopod)


Island to Outback is supported by the Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund through Country Arts SA



Brand new day at Coward Springs

Waking up in the desert is an altogether different experience from your own familiar bed at home. It’s cold, the birds are yelling it’s a brand new day, and no household chores are niggling at you to be done. Sounds like a template for inspiration and creativity.

This is my first morning at the Island to Outback, Kangaroo Island artists’ camp at Coward Springs. The others woke here two mornings ago when I was just setting out from Kangaroo Island.

But here we all are now: Artists Deb Sleeman, Janine Mackintosh, Kenita Williamson, Maggie Welz, Nicholas Burness Pike, Quentin Chester, Ria Byass, Prue Coulls; filmmakers Dave Foreman and Ruth de La Lande; sound whizz Gethin Creagh; writer Kathie Stove; and supporters Dale Arnott, Holger Welz and Greg Emmett.

Island to Outback is supported by the Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund through Country Arts SA

Have we won yet?

Southern Ocean coast near Pennington Bay, Kangaroo Island. Photo: Quentin Chester

Earlier this year, the environment minister in South Australia declined to sell some coastal crown land that developers wanted for part of a golf course. It was a big win by a community who fought an intense campaign within a short time window. And we still really don’t know whether the win is real or token. We’ll see.

Read it here on the Live Encounters website

Art Museum of Kangaroo Island

AMKI_logoThat sound’s good doesn’t it?

Art Museum of Kangaroo Island – an inspiring building housing the art of Kangaroo Island, displaying travelling and temporary exhibitions, and hosting visiting artists.

A group of brave Kangaroo Island women – Deb, Janine, Kathie, Ria and Sarah – have set out to build this place. I count myself (Kathie) among the brave, that’s when I’m not feeling terrified of the task we have set ourselves.

We are not thinking small. We want a regional gallery worthy of the artists of Kangaroo Island today and yesterday, and of the landscape and beauty of Kangaroo Island.

Our first task is to set up a funding base so that we can operate and look for the kind of big bucks that we will need to plan and build the Art Museum of Kangaroo Island.

Our crowdfunding campaign has 11 days to run. We are almost at our stretch target of $20,000. But whether we reach it or exceed it all funds raised will be put to building a case and an organisation that can make the Art Museum Kangaroo Island deserves.  Please help with even a small amount.

See our local member Rebekha Sharkie speak for us in the Australian Parliament.


Penguin poster Christmas present?

Looking for the perfect gift for the children in your life (or your penguin-loving self)?

How about this gorgeous poster of all the penguins of the world? It’s printed from original artwork by award-winning wildlife artist Nicholas Burness Pike.


The 130 x 32 cm poster is printed on high quality glossy stock and is yours for $15 in a mailing tube plus postage and handling ($18 overseas; $10 in Australia). Order 4 posters and they are $12 each.

Order now to be sure of delivery before Christmas.

Vote for art

You can help promote the artists and art of Kangaroo Island by voting for the ‘Welcome to Kangaroo Island’ art fence at the ferry entrance to Kangaroo Island, Penneshaw. Please vote before 5pm on Monday 20 November.

The project will also employ two of our fine local artists, Deb Sleeman and Dave Clarke.

Artist concept by Deb Sleeman

Please vote at It’s a little bit complicated but not too difficult.

  • At the website, you need to register, so click on Register in top RH corner and follow the prompts including verifying.
  • Once that’s done, set your location which gives you an area you can vote in. Set Penneshaw South Australia and save the location (doesn’t matter where you actually are). You’ll then see the projects in the area (under Ideas on LH side). You have to vote for at least 3 and up to 5 projects (to even out voting so projects in low population areas (like ours) and with a small support base have a chance).
  • Please vote for ‘Welcome to Kangaroo Island’ and, if I may suggest, other worthwhile projects are Our Kitchen Sux for Kangaroo Island Gallery, Enviroshed (the local school – so we can recycle soft plastic), and Revitalising Community Radio.
  • You’ll have to verify who you are with a code they send as a text (so you can vote only once).
  • Vote before 5pm, Monday 20 November.
  • And please pass on to friends who you think would also support this art initiative.



Trains, buses and planes, part 4 (in a car)

The new Pacific Highway along the northern east coast of NSW will soon be a continuous 4-lane gash pushing traffic past scenic bliss.

I tried to shut my eyes (figuratively – I was driving!) to the destructiveness of the roadworks, and ventured down many smaller roads to rediscover coastal villages, beaches and lighthouses. It was reassuring to see that many people still ‘go camping’ and I came to think that the organised, fenced parks are a good idea – they stop people from spreading willy-nilly across the fragile coastal areas. We have to find some comfort in the ever diminishing natural spaces and fight to keep the little that’s left.

Mouth of Nambucca River, NSW

First stop Murwillumbah and Tweed Regional Gallery with re-created rooms from Margaret Olley’s last home. The tour by one of the Friends of the gallery was a treat. I also visited regional art galleries in Armidale, Taree and Maitland. Each a gem in its own right but Maitland was the standout – top class art, varied, buzzing with life.

To the highlands, and gorge country of my life in Armidale in the 1970s. Dangars Falls and Dangar Falls (yes, they are different), Ebor Falls, Wollomombi Falls, the church at Gostwyck. (My one and only attempt at rock climbing, up the 120 metre Dangars Falls cliff, ended 2 metres off the ground with knees too shaky to continue.) Lovely lunch with Nick and Jackie at Booloominbah the old house at UNE. The old Teachers College where I worked (and my great uncle David taught) is now home to the New England Conservatorium of Music, and local history and archives. It’s still a grand building overlooking the much-grown town. And I found the first flat I lived in when I moved there.

The strangler fig has almost finished the job. Dorrigo rainforest

The Dorrigo Heritage Hotel, with french doors out to the wide verandah, was a perfect central point for exploring. The drive up the mountain lets you know you are alive. Past super-groovy Bellingen, the road narrows to one lane in some places and curves around magnificent rainforest monsters. Eyes definitely open on that road.

Dorrigo was where the reality of the twenty-first century climate became far too obvious. It was 33C in town when I arrived, in September! And the Wonga walk in the Dorrigo National Park, fabulous at it is, is accompanied by traffic noise and reveals far too much light reaching the valley floors.

To Dondingalong near Kempsey to visit Stuart and enjoy the most delightful lunch with Sally and Marcus, and their friends.

Woolgoolga, Nambucca Heads, Crescent Head, Crowdy Head and more, revisited. And especially Seal Rocks, the Blow Hole and Treachery Beach, holiday places of my youth, and the scene of my first memory at age three.

Good choice for a drive Kathie.






Trains, buses and planes, part 3

It’s a plane: Alice Springs to Brisbane without a camera. I love a window seat on a plane, as long as it’s not above the wing.

Lines of sand dunes with and without vegetation. It’s the Simpson Desert. It’s an Aboriginal dot painting. How do they see the landscape from the ground? No planes, satellites or virtual reality. Extraordinary. I’m reminded of Yami Lester at Mimili in 1979 when the flowers were blooming in abundance. He saw, he knew, despite his blind eyes.

Plains rutted and lined. It’s Channel Country. It’s a Maggie Welz ink drawing on paper. Which way do these streams run? It’s impossible to tell from up here.

All too soon, roads appear. They’re easy to see because they are straight and everything else is randomly curved and fluid. At first not many but then more and more they break up the landscape, along with paddocks defined by fences.

The dots reduce to just along the watercourses and then disappear altogether. Green circles created by centre pivots leap out of the landscape. It’s the Darling Downs. The bush reappears ordered into blocks, 5 acres maybe, each with an access road to a cleared area. They aren’t the dams I at first think; they are cleared house sites. They are like a grid across my window view.

The mountains reach towards the plane and then the announcement to prepare the cabin for landing as we pass Toowoomba.

Welcome to Brisbane, the building site.

Trains, buses and planes, Part 2

Group tours are not my usual choice when I’m travelling. I do like to take the solo route. But my recent visit to Uluru showed me that the group choice can be a good experience.
I travelled from Alice Springs to Ayres Rock Resort on the daily bus run by AAT-Kings.

I’d had an awful night at the Mercure Hotel where another guest had access to my room because the electronic lock failed. It was several hours before the lock was fixed. This unnerving experience was topped off by the table I’d booked for dinner not being allocated and when I was plonked next to a large group of tour guides getting training, I declined to stay.

But, back to the positive. The AAT-Kings bus driver from AS gave informed, interesting and appropriate commentary. Best of all he actually talked about the vegetation. Impressive.

I booked in at the Desert Gardens Hotels. Such good service, explanation of what was on offer by the trainee. The resort aims to have 40% indigenous employment soon and are working solidly towards that aim. The whole complex with accommodation from high-end to camping is cleverly set out and maintained. It has a town centre, supermarket, bank, and all the services you could need.

Encouraged by the trip to the resort, I booked a Valley of the Winds walking tour to Kata Tjuta with AAT-Kings. Jackpot.

Guide Geoff was terrific. Very clear on instructions, very knowledgeable but didn’t go on for too long about anything; kept us away from other groups so we didn’t feel crowded and could enjoy the majesty of the surrounds in peace and quiet. I was utterly fascinated by the diversity and abundance of the flowers. Geoff had the local field guide and a bit of knowledge of his own, and he encouraged me to take my time for photos. Alas no macro lens but plenty to see – probably more than 100 species in 4 days.

The next day, I took the resort bus to Uluru for dawn and a solitary walk around the base. Oh dear. Yes, the group of 10 were horrible people but the bus driver lost the plot. Get me out of here. And there’s no way to walk around the base alone. And Segways are for hire. Seriously? I now know they are remarkably noisy machines – and far too wide for parts of the path. Nonetheless a wonderful experience and plenty of places to be alone with the rock.

Back to AAT-Kings for the return to Alice via Kings Canyon rim walk. We lucked out again with Geoff. I had no idea – spectacular scenery all round, cycads in the canyon floor, geology that seems to be mini-Bungle Bungle (but Geoff said is quite different) and cliffs that look like they are sliced crème caramel.

Back in Alice, the Mercure offered me, for my previous inconvenience, $6 off an overpriced breakfast. Wow, why don’t you try to insult me?
But not to finish a fabulous red centre experience on a sour note, I had just enough time before I hopped on my plane to Brisbane to take a quick scan of Desert Mob 2017 at the Araluen Regional Art Gallery. Not nearly enough time to do this excellent exhibition justice.

Desert Mob 2017 at Araluen Regional Gallery Alice Springs


Trains, buses and planes, part 1

The almost one-kilometre-long Ghan, travelling twice a week in each direction from Adelaide to Darwin, might incline you to think that train travel has returned to its rightful place as preferred mode of travel. It’s comforting to know that so many people want to take the train through the desert but in truth, the comfort element is a big part of the attraction.

I like to travel by rail as much as I can, and actually see the country I’m travelling though even if it’s flashing by. And I have the most appropriate back up of Don Watson’s The Bush, though not much gets read on the train during daylight.


Before darkness descends we cross Goyder’s Line and enter saltbush-bluebush-Western Myall country. Happy memories of Rangelands Ecology on Middleback Station in January.

Next thing I know is sunrise at Marla Siding. Everybody off the train for breakfast. So many people taking photos of sunrise as if it didn’t happen every day – perhaps not in the desert and unimpeded by anything except other people taking photos.


Now we are in mulga country, an occasional white-trunked gum, quite a few shrubs I can’t identify and, was that a Callitris?

Then we get to my favourite tree, the desert oak Allocasuarina decaisneana and I can revel in it for days through to Uluru.


We are well into the NT before I see the first lumps of the ubiquitous grass of the Australian centre, Triodia irritans. I remember driving over hundreds of miles of the stuff in the APY lands in 1979. It looks invitingly lemony soft with spiky vertical hair but it is (I know) impossibly ‘irritans’.

In places the country is so flogged there’s barely a green/grey leaf; in some areas the small size of the veg looks like it’s returning after being given a severe thrashing.

The land is almost never flat. Relief might be a rocky outcrop, a gentle rise of a sand dune, a distant hill. It is always changing. I sip my beer, look out the window. I am in heaven.