South Australia and West Victoria
Volcanoes and caves. That seemed to be the main theme for the rest of South Australia. Perhaps they stuck in my mind because they were a bit different. I mean; volcanoes in Australia?
I had seen sand dunes and magnificent endless beaches before; I had seen little touristy seaside towns like Robe before. Lighthouses, fishermen’s cottages, yachts, boat ramps, fish and chip shops, Norfolk Pines and seagulls.
I had even seen lots of caves before, similar to the ones at Naracoorte. Stalactites, stalagmites, collapsed roofs and chambers that run for hundreds of meters. But these were different for two reasons.
The first [and the reason I had come to see them], was that they contained fossils of Megafauna, giant marsupials and other large animals that roamed Australia recently enough to be depicted on Aboriginal rock art. In fact there are speculations that the Indigenous tribes may have contributed to their disappearance.
These animals would fall down into the caves through sink holes hidden by the dense bush, or they would live in the caves, leaving the remains of their prey scattered around for little intense palaeontologists to scratch their heads about. The fossils and remains revealed much more than animal species. They were also indicators of climate and habitat changes over a long period of time. Imagine the Petrushka doll like stomach contents of a predator-prey food chain. The different ages were revealed as the floors of the caves were excavated.
There were no large fossils to see in the caves I visited; a tour for these would have to be booked in advance, but I amused myself by scrutinising some diggings and visiting the Megafauna display which was fun although geared perhaps towards children or the average tourist. [Snob, you say?]
The caves held another interesting surprise; a colony of endangered Southern Bent-winged Bats which was being intensively studied by scientists to try and save them from extinction. A group of us were led into a study centre where we could watch the bats by means of infrared video cameras. It was truly delightful to learn so much about them from Carole the enthusiastic ranger while we watched the pups being fed by their mums [they seemed to be able to pick their own young from a heaving cluster of hundreds of bald minibats].
Hyperboles and cones
Down through the Coonawarra region, through Penola “Home of the first Australian Saint” Mary McKilloch, officially voted “in” by the Vatican only a week previously. Already the tourist industry is cashing in on her renown. This is another huge wine producing region. No wonder there is a wine glut; half of South Australia is planted with vines.
I was pleasantly shocked when the Blue Lake in Mount Gambier really did turn out to be bright blue. Tourist literature often gets a bit carried away with hype so I am becoming very sceptical about it. Large glossy brochures are produced with descriptions of every little town. Here is a sample:
Today, M.... is the perfect spot to unwind. Fishing, boating, skiing, relaxing, strolls along the foreshore and fabulous sunsets are just a handful of the treats awaiting visitors to this idyllic country town.
I have learned to steer clear of towns like this because translated that means there is nothing to see here but you can go out on the lake if you have a boat and if there is water in the lake. [In this case not for the last 5 years].
The brochures are full of it; sure there is something nice about relaxing in a sleepy country town. Simple pleasures; ‘nuff said. And when a town is the “Home of the big lobster”, avoid it unless you feel sorry for the place. Why do you think they built it?
But really; the Blue Lake and a couple of limestone sink holes were all there was to see in Mount Gambier and they were somewhat tourist worn. Enough to merit a visit and bike ride around the craters.
I fitted in a couple of movies as I nearly always miss new releases around Christmas. Harry Potter and the....whatever” was only half a movie. “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” was much better and although obviously for children, it did have deeper messages about courage, duty, self belief and religion. I must admit I was emotionally manipulated by the mouse’s final journey and had to avoid people’s knowing smiles on the way out. In my embarrassment I had forgotten that my bladder was bursting during the final scene and had to run the gauntlet for a second time on my way to the loo. My eyes were horribly red when I looked in the mirror.
Best performance goes to... Eustace [the nuisance].
Mount Schanck, south of Mount Gambier is another volcanic cone. This one, being in the middle of flat farmland was more impressive, a perfect volcano in miniature; Australia’s own cuddly cone.
It was Christmas Eve and I could have driven 400 km to a friend’s house where I had been invited for dinner but it was just too far. Thousands of Australians would not have bentwing batted an eyelid at such a trip and were packing the roads to get to their loved ones. I was almost on my own, camping at the base of the volcano. The others were some young Europeans in a whizz-bang, engaged in serious drinking well into the wee hours of Christmas Day.
The Europeans were still asleep, so I went for a snorkel in a limestone pond.
The water that is collected on the limestone plateau of South Australia soon sinks below the surface and forms a series of underground streams which emerge near the coast. The water is crystal clear and bubbles up through springs in the bottom of sink holes then runs a few kilometres to the ocean.
From my journal
I don wetsuit and flippers and lower myself into the icy cold water. My hands soon become numb and I clasp them behind my back where they can benefit from the heat of the sun. A rippling carpet of bright green weed and delicate, tiny plants unfold beneath me as I head downstream gently borne on the current. I pass through a channel between rushes to the next pool and then the next and cannot believe my eyes when a large freshwater crayfish waves his antennae at me, stands to attention and raises his claws ready to fend off this large intruder.
I could have plucked him from the gravelly bed and had a wonderful Christmas feast but did the right thing; this is a nature reserve and taking anything from here would be illegal. Besides he looked great in his own element, much better than in my billycan. Later I learn that these large crayfish are becoming quite rare.
The whole snorkel took about 15 minutes but by then my head was achingly cold and I suffered pain for days afterwards. This sunny day was not over and I drove across the border into Victoria stopping briefly at Nelson, a quiet hamlet on the Glenelg River mouth.
That evening I camped by the river and had a Christmas dinner of sorts after all. There were five of us drifters, all without family or friends nearby and we shared a simple meal in front of a campfire. I had bought a small Christmas cake, some-one opened a bottle of sparkly and we clicked our plastic cups together for a toast; “To new adventures on the road.”
But this season always makes me feel depressed and the following day when I moved on I felt really bad. Anxious, with heart palpitations and panic. My self esteem very low. Sure, I’ve felt like this before but this was the first time I was really aware of it and took note of the physical and mental manifestations.
How little I have achieved in my life. Failed marriages, failed relationships, failed careers, failed at just about everything I have attempted. Paintings, writings, keeping in touch with friends and family. I’m not determined enough, too lazy, always taking the easy way out.
The anxiety has gone, the physical depression; but the vision of myself has lingered. It will not go away. Do I accept it and continue the rest of my life without being able to say I achieved something; that there was a purpose?
I could make excuses, like a therapist trying to prop up my ego but the vision will not go away. I still feel it is my fault and I’m too weak to remedy it. I know what I could and should do but I don’t. My marriages and relationships could have been saved if I had been more sensitive to my partners’ feelings and acted accordingly. If I had pursued a career I would have been in a more secure position now. If I had been more prolific and dedicated to my Art I would have been happier about my creative legacy. Even in my writing I’m not trying hard enough, I know I could do better. Just cannot be bothered, it’s easier writing blogs like this; taking the easy way out; will never be good enough anyway. Nobody will want to read it; friends are just being nice.
To those few of you who are reading this, I wish you a happy life without regrets; although that may not exist.
Feeling blue? Take a good look at yourself.