Saturday, October 22, 2005


The smell of water

In New Zealand it would never occur to me to smell for rain, mostly because in New Zealand there's always water around, rain or not. Here in Australia I've gotten quite into the habit of having a sniff for incoming rain, and it's usually possible to smell it before you see it. I find still this quite an interesting novelty...

This was something I experienced in a more startling way last year, when I helped out a friend on a field-trip to North Queensland. We travelled up the inland route (to be said in broad Strine, as in "thin land root"). Basically, if you look at a map of Australia and draw a straight line up from Sydney to Cairns, you'll see the way we went. This route cuts quite a long way inland, including going inland of all the coastal hills, mountains and plateau type things. As a consequence most of the country is rather dry, to put it mildly.

When we came back to the coast we pretty much cut around the corner of some hills and straight down to the coast road. The smell of the sea was amazing -- salt, iodine and water, totally immediate and unmistakable. You couldn't fail to notice it after a week having your nose dried out and smelling mostly dust and dry grass. It was probably the first time in my life I've been far enough from the sea (or at least, large bodies of water) to come back to it as something startling and fresh. We wound down the windows and breathed it in like we were driving through a field of flowers.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Dear me, it's been weeks since I started this blog and I haven't posted again once. I don't want it to turn into a ghost page, even if I did only start it right now partly to nab the name. Part of my excuse is that I've been busy, firstly gallivanting up to Port Macquarie for a few days to look for cane toads (still too cold by the looks), then writing a talk and winging off to Fremantle to present it at the meeting of the Australasian Evolution society. I can now report back from Western Australia... Fascinating place. We only had a few days to spare after the conference ended, so we hired a car and headed south into the jarrah forest. My conference-rain-god attributes were at full strength, so of course the famously dry region turned on several days of intermittent showers. The rain wasn't an entirely bad thing, because it made everything nice and green, especially compared to Sydney. The jarrah forests turned out to have a somewhat different feel to eucalyptus forests in the east -- more open, with a lower and herbier understorey. And a scattering of rather large fallen trunks. Some of the tree species have gum-nuts of singularly large dimensions, they look more like conkers. It's particularly striking when you see one of those species on the side of the road, with a pile of the things underneath them. You wouldn't want to drive over them, it'd be like hitting a patch of ball bearings (especially in a Toyota hirecar with chassis technology reminiscent of a 70s Honda Civic). It probably goes without saying that a couple of days is not nearly enough in which to explore WA. The place is big. We made it as far south as Margaret River, or more accurately Privelly Beach. If you're ever in that vicinity, don't stay at the caravan park -- it's a bit of a ripoff. The coast itself is quite reminiscent of New Zealand's West Coast, wild and rugged with muscular surf. It was my first taste of the Indian Ocean, but after watching the waves for about three seconds I was in no hurry to have a swim. The mouth of the Margaret River is allegedly a popular surfing spot, but there is a break somewhere around there called "the guillotine". While in Dwellingup (there are lots of towns in that part of the world with funky names that end in "up"; we're told told it means "place") we checked out the rainforest resource centre. This was notable on its own for being constructed in rammed earth in the outline of a jarrah leaf, this being actually much cooler and more subtle than it sounds. Surprise highlight there was a pendulum clock made almost entirely of local hardwood, including the mechanism, the pendulum and the weights. No pictures allowed, unfortunately. We shall go back to Western Oz one day, with a lot more time on our hands and a groovier vehicle.

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