ABC Saturday Breakfast welcomes Santa Claus!

For the final program for 2021, Hidden Treasures on ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast went further than we’ve ever been before and brought in the biggest guest (sorry Ben Carlish) we’ve ever had … Santa Claus!

Santa left the studio very quickly when he heard the reindeers on the roof getting restless. In fact, he left so quickly that he left behind his notes about why the North Pole is a hidden treasure. It makes some interesting reading…

  • Mrs Claus’ Roadside Diner:

Come and do the all-you-can-eat buffet, Covid safe of course, with free iceberg slushies or marvel at Mrs Claus’ special menu low calorie oat milk eggnog and brown rice sushi that I’ll be tucking into on Christmas Day because Santa needs to get down a notch or two on his belt. 

  • Polar Bear Safari:

Fun Fact! Sir David Attenborough told me this one. Do you know why the polar bear won’t attack an Emperor penguin? Because the polar bear lives in the North Pole and Emperor penguin lives in the South Pole! Come aboard a Tundra Buggy which is like a donga on big wheels and gets up close and safely to these bears that sometimes put snow on their noses to let them sneak up to seals, or Santa Claus, and go ‘Boo!’.

  • World’s Best Disco:

The Northern Lights, or as my Elf Chief Scientist likes to remind me, the Aurora Borealis.  These are a spectacular natural phenomenon that science says are particles from the sun striking atoms in the atmosphere blah, blah, blah, but the Ancient Greeks say and that they are made by Aurora, the sister of Helios and Seline (the sun and the moon) and she is racing across the sky in her multi coloured chariot alerting her lazy siblings to get up for the new day!

  • Reindeer Ranch:

Just down the road from my village is where you’ll find the Reindeer Ranch, including the Reindeer Top Gun flying school and after their flight debriefing they like to come out and meet people and do hoof print autographs for a small fee of one fresh carrot.

  • Santa’s Workshop:

Come and do the workshop tour that is very reasonably priced and comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by the Elf-In-Chief. This is my official residence and assembly line for all the toys that the elves still manufacture, although many are now outsourced to parents with wonderfully small font instructions in many languages, on how to assemble them in only 4-6 hours.

The North Pole is a hidden treasure because while the biggest land predator on Earth might be stalking you at any moment with teeth like the saw of a timber mill, there is vibrant and mesmerising colour in the sky better than any kaleidoscope you’ll get in your stocking and there is the most wonderful magic and spirit you’ll find in the world, the magic and spirit of Christmas!

Ro and I were so excited to meet Santa. Merry Christmas! Let’s do it all again in 2022, after a little rest.

ABC Saturday Breakfast Discovers Karrinyup and Gwelup

Last week for Hidden Treasure I explored Scarborough and promised something more about the area that make it a hidden treasure and perhaps the opportunity of a staycation to enjoy the sunset coast for longer than a day trip.

Earlier this year, Molly gave me some homework, made me read a book, and I think I met the challenge of studying about staycations and just how close they could be to home when we explored Innaloo as a Hidden Treasure.

I think she gave me a B+ on my assignment so I’m seeking permission to resubmit my assessment in the hope of attaining my first ever A.

Karrinyup and Gwelup.  Enjoy the audio link below, reading the story and looking at a few pics as well.

These are suburbs that many of us are familiar with.  Gwelup is a suburb you might travel through on the way to Karrinyup which has a shopping centre that was always big and has just emerged from a cocoon of scaffolding and is now even bigger and even has a mini golf course and bumper cars. 

The Only Lego Store in Western Australia

But while the shopping centre is Karrinyup’s known treasure there is hidden treasure in both Karrinyup and Gwelup.

There’s a place to stay in Karrinyup called Karrinyup Waters Resort that until a few weeks ago I’d never heard of and is where you go when you’re on L plates for camping and caravanning. There are very comfortable chalets if you don’t like the idea of reversing your caravan while every grown-up, child and resident duck watches you but that’s what staying here is all about. It’s like walking through an Anaconda catalogue. 

Karrinyup Waters Resort, a Camping World in our City

Wherever you look there’s sparkling off-road rigs and camper vans and 4WDs and tongs being flourished for bbqs that have the look and gleam of King Arthurs sword Excalibur.  This is where people come to learn how to reverse, set up and pack up all of this wonderful equipment before they venture into the world of regional Western Australia.

Plenty of Room for Every Size of Vehicle and Van

There are resort style pools that are as good as any of those we’re dreaming about when we can return to Bali and beyond and designed to be the reward for setting up camp successfully.  There’s a café that even locals sneak into for breakfast because the mushrooms they serve are as big as my hand and the range for pizzas is great for everyone in the family.

A Bit of Bali in Karrinyup

Careiniup Reserve runs alongside the Karrinyup Waters Resort and you can walk along the edge of the Reserve and there’s a little grassed area and gazebo on the western side that’s wonderful to sit and watch the bird life and because there’s a bit of water from a local brook, there are great photographic opportunities in a small reserve that is genuinely a little green oasis in the middle of suburbia.

Now Molly has been wanting to me to try and do a Hidden Treasure on flower vans and I haven’t quite got around to it but I did recently visit The Karrinyup Flower Shed is an operating vegetable and flower farm that is a reminder of what these suburbs once were, full of operating farms, many by migrant families, growing all sorts of produce. 

The Karrinyup Flower Shed is one of the few remaining small farms in the metropolitan area and as well as growing and selling more than 10,000 sunflowers every year they also sell the most bizarre multicolour flowers that are more like a kaleidoscope than a flower. 

A Sunflower Hours Away From Opening

Lake Gwelup has a boardwalk that winds its way over a mangrove style environment and you can spot tortoises and all sorts of birds, including perhaps the Rainbow Bee-Eater. 

Rainbow Bee-Eaters at Lake Gwelup

This migratory bird flies down from the highlands of Papua New Guinea just to breed at Lake Gwelup, although if there’s no room at the inn and all the sexy nests have the sign up that says ‘If This Nest Is Rockin’ Don’t Bother Knockin’ sign they will find another lake elsewhere in Perth to get down to business. 

Lake Gwelup also has a great trail around the lake that is about 2.5km and takes you past suburban cricket grounds with suburban champions at their best and through the wetlands.

Lake Gwelup Boardwalk

There’s also another trail that’s just a kilometre in length that makes its way through the native bushland in the north of the reserve and if driving to our regional areas to find wildflowers is all a bit hard then this patch of bushland always has a great range of wildflowers.

Jackson Wilding is a really good, simple park that is just full of logs and branches. I love this park because it’s a small and safe space with a very random feel to it. There’s no colourful slides or swings, just logs to climb and clamber over and branches to mount up into piles or make patterns in the dirt with.  It’s a park designed to let you get a bit dusty and maybe even a scratch or two if you’re a bit uncoordinated like me.

Now for sport, the Lake Karrinyup Country Club is on the other side of the road from the Karrinyup Waters Resort and if you are a member of an affiliated club or get special permission, you can relax on one of the great courses not just in Western Australia but in Australia. There’s even some resident and very judgemental big grey spectators!   

Karrinyup and Gwelup is a worthy Hidden Treasure of Perth because you can find yourself part of a camping community you might not have experienced before that is not far from home and get you thinking about familiar destinations as a traveller does, with fresh eyes for adventure.  

Always remember that what you spend on holidays, even a staycation, is outside your normal budget, it’s holiday spending. Karrinyup and Gwelup are also floral hidden treasures with a flower farm and natural bushland to explore. Do I get an A?

As Published in Just Urbane: Just like James Bond, My Happy Heart Sings to be in Matera

What great timing to have the release of the latest James Bond movie, No Time To Die, coincide with publication of my Just Urbane story about Matera, in Italy.

Matera features at the beginning of the movie and how cool is it to see places you’ve been to on the big screen?

Below is a link to the story, I hope it takes you to Matera as you read it and takes you there when it’s safe to travel the world again.

If you like this story, have a look at Just Urbane on Magster and take out a subscription. Every month Just Urbane comes out with great stories from around India and the world, and a contribution from me.

Matera
Ancient and Glorious

ABC Saturday Breakfast: Exploring and Reminiscing About North Fremantle

What a fantastic discussion with Ro and Molly! Crowded houses, Greek cliffs, dingoes, Frida Kahlo and stubborn cottages surrounded by an industrial tetris like world. Enjoy listening to the audio and reading a few words as well:

The dingo.  It’s a landmark.  The flour mill is heritage listed and the famous logo was first painted on the side in 1940 and famously repainted by a young Alan Bond. 

Do you ever think to yourself, I wish Perth had a giant Frida Kahlo mural?  Well now it does!  Once you’ve taken your pics of the big red dingo, step across the road and fill your camera lens with the joyous colours of the Plata Bonito mural of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.  She doesn’t smile much but you will once you get inside the building. I came away with giant brightly coloured rosary beads that for a non-catholic I’m still wondering what I should do with them.

The Biggest Frida Kahlo Mural in the World

At Rocky Bay there is deep water which means you get a lot of party boats dropping anchor to let people jump off into the deep, protected waters of the bay.  There’s also a really interesting clifftop walk with beautiful views of the bay and river traffic coming and going and also a very cool tree that is perched on the cliff and grown sideways, making a great cubby spot for kids. There’s also an old tunnel from the days of the soap factory and an even older cave from the days of the wagyl.

Molly says the Rocky Bay Cliffs Remind Her of Greece

It doesn’t get much quieter than Gilbert Fraser Reserve on the banks of the Swan and where a little grandstand, in fact so small it has been referred to as a pavilion, but it’s spectator architecture at its best. Sit up in the stand and you can watch cricket and beyond the match just over the boundary rope are the lapping waters of the river with sometimes bigger lappings as the big boats chug past.

A Baby Grandstand

Mojos is famous in my family and will be famous for generations of music lovers to come.  Not only has it been a North Fremantle institution for live music for 50 years and modestly claims to be the best live music venue in the world, it is where Matilda first performed as lead singer of Dog Food, an all-girl band formed through a great music program called Girls Rock WA and that’s what sets Mojos feet firmly in their community.  It’s not just the biggest acts that attract an audience, it’s about new acts and opportunities.

Mojos

The North Fremantle war memorial reminds us of the contribution and sacrifice of our small communities.  North Fremantle had so many of its players killed and injured during World War I, including at Gallipoli, that they relinquished their WAFL licence.

North Fremantle had a WAFL Team, before World War I

“I wasn’t keen on letting my house go – I’d worked for it” is a wonderful quote from an ABC story a couple of years ago, by Carmel Mullally.

Here is a cottage that is more Castle than The Castle.

As they say in The Castle, “It’s not a house. It’s a home.”

There’s not a lot of serenity in a land dominated by a Tetris-like skyline of sea containers and rumbling trucks and bustling forklifts competing for who can be the loudest but it does feel quintessentially Australian that no only is life from another time hanging on in an industrial jungle but that it has also been allowed to survive and hasn’t just been squashed by dropping a sea container on it.

It’s not a house. It’s a home.

Over 800,000 sea containers were handled at Fremantle Harbour in the past year and if you’re not buying local for your Christmas presents I’d be getting those online orders in quickly.  I’m not into train spotting but I do like a bit of big industry spotting.  Here are logistics in action; shifting, lifting, scraping and storing. 

Fremantle Harbour is One Big Tetris Game

Why is the North Mole Lighthouse Red? It’s over 115 years old and is a great spot for some big rod fishing or quiet sitting at sunset.

Port Beach has reopened after the horrific shark attack last weekend.  I was down there and saw the incredible efforts of police and rescue agencies to use every resource they had.  If you’re not sure about getting back into the water, it’s a beautiful beach for sitting on the sand or in the waterfront café which looks out to a view that extends to South Africa.

North Fremantle offers you the opportunity to immerse yourself in an experience of sea, river, music and mooching.  It’s definitely worth an afternoon wander that perhaps turns into sitting on Port Beach or standing at the North Mole Lighthouse to watch the sun go down before watching the lights comes up at a live venue for an act that, if you’re lucky, might be my daughter!

ABC Perth visits Kwinana … still a bit of industry but there’s a lot more to take a look at.

For ABC Saturday Breakfast, Hidden Treasures often finds itself in the job of discovering suburbs we normally just drive through on the way to somewhere else, or suburbs that just seem to be too suburban to be of interest.

Our next Hidden Treasure is a lot more.  Our next Hidden Treasure challenges a perception that’s been around since the 1970’s.  Our next Hidden Treasure challenges you to stop awhile in a part of Perth that’s far from suburbia but still part of the metropolitan area.

When I was a kid, I’d listen to the stories my dad and his mates would tell on the veranda of our little holiday house in Shoalwater Bay.  From Japanese Army Helmets found on the end of Garden Island to giant sharks off Woodman Point, these stories always seemed to be something they’d overheard on the boat ramp.

Fun Fact: Boat ramps were the internet of the day.

One of the stories I remember hearing, when I was dragging a Jatz cracker through the French Onion dip, was how fish caught in Cockburn Sound would arc when cooked in microwave ovens because of the metal content caused by industry pollutants.

Irrespective of the truth and accuracy of this story, it’s a bit metaphoric for how we felt about Cockburn Sound in the 1970’s, and the area we know as … Kwinana.

Well, most of the industry is still there but there’s also a lot more in Kwinana, including a strong sense of community that is proud of new facilities, old heritage and even older culture.

Let’s start with a remarkable wetland and bush walk experience that is ridiculously close to the Kwinana Freeway but you wouldn’t know it.

The Spectacles Wetlands is named for its aerial view which shows two circular lakes joined by a narrow drain, making it look like a pair of spectacles. 

The Spectacles are spectacular

The Spectacles is 360 hectares and part of the wider Beeliar Regional Park and has great Noongar interpretative signage along a 5km heritage walk trail and explains the perspective and special importance of the area to Noongar Elder Joe Walley.

As well as the Aboriginal Heritage Walk Trail, there’s a boardwalk over the wetlands which feature a paperbark forest and lead you to the Biara Lookout which is the perfect location to sit quietly and watch the lakes resident birdlife.

Aboriginal Heritage Walk Trail signage

This is the reason why I’d do a day out in Kwinana.  Come to the Spectacles and then do the other things we’re going to talk about but come for the trails and boardwalk, the wetlands, Aboriginal stories and big spiders in big webs and a paperbark forest partly submerged in wetlands that provide amazing reflections from the still water.

Chalk Hill has a panoramic view to Rockingham, Wadjemup and the Darling Escarpment. It’s also where local Aboriginal people who worked at the nearby refineries used to live because prior to the 1967 Referendum, Aboriginal people didn’t qualify for housing. Going further back in time the hill was used by local Aboriginal groups to light signal fires. It’s a nice steep walk up a sealed path and short dirt track.

Sitting at the bottom of Chalk Hill is Smirk Cottage. This small, two bedroom cottage built in the 1900’s, cared for by the Kwinana Heritage Group and around the grounds are lots of examples of old agricultural machinery and equipment and who doesn’t love sitting on an old tractor.

Just four years ago the Adventure Park won best park in Australia.  It’s got boardwalks, flying foxes, climbing nets, a tree maze, water play, squirting pelicans, great birthday party facilities that you can hire, including one with a kitchen! If you’ve got a kid that is too cool for playgrounds there’s a huge skate park next door.

Adventure Park, Kwinana

For walkers and cyclists and with multiple entry and exit points along the 21 kilometre route try the Kwinana Loop Trail.  Look for the Aboriginal heritage signs along the route to get a better understanding and connection with the bushland you’re travelling through.

Amongst the smoke stacks, desalination plant and refineries is a pristine beach for horses. In summer there can be dozens of good looking horses splashing about, lying back on a blanket reading the form guide or playing volleyball like Tom Cruise in Top Gun.  On my visit I met a champion of WA trotting, Mighty Conqueror.  It may sound like an ambitious name but he’s got the wins and the prize money to make him worthy of the name.

Kwinana Horse Beach, where all the good looking horses hang out

The SS Kwinana shipwreck is a big cargo and passenger steamship that ran aground in the 1920’s onto what we now call Kwinana Beach. In the 1960’s, inspired by South Fremantle Oval, it was filled with concrete.  It’s good to walk the length of an old ship and imagine where the bow was and the bridge and the boilers, and on the sides you can still see rusty steel plates and rivets. 

For a day trip feast, whether you like it greasy by the beach or grilled at a table there are plenty of great fish and chip shops in Kwinana.

Kwinana is a hidden treasure not because it’s reinvented itself but because its learned to live with itself and tell a bigger, better story. 

The industry is still there but look closer and you’ll find ancient stories, wetlands, views, shipwrecks, beaches for long legged champions and adventure parks for little legged champions.

Lots of adventures to be found and enjoyed in Kwinana

ABC on Grand Final Weekend! Sports! Let’s look for some sporting hidden treasure … you never know what you might find.

For Hidden Treasures on ABC Saturday Breakfast I’m rising up, I’m back on the street, did my time, took my chances, went the distance now I’m back on my feet, just a man and his will to survive.

Listen to audio below of my discussion with Ro for ABC Saturday Breakfast and also enjoy reading the story below …

That’s what it’s all about!  Having the eye of the tiger! Having the guts to get out there!

What’s the great quote from Hawthorn coach John Kennedy? “Don’t think! Do! Do something.”

That’s our hidden treasures mantra, don’t think about it, get out there and do something.

For Hidden Treasure Sport, it is about participation without white line fever and being a weekend warrior.

Some of it is also about connecting with your community and being part of a tribe. Just sitting on the sidelines, or high up in an old grandstand or at the bar with people you don’t know but whose company you enjoy.

Our love of watching sport or playing sport is there to be found all over WA.  Sometimes it’s big, like historic WAFL grounds, sometimes it’s visible from the air, like Champion Lakes, and sometimes you just come across it on a good walk around your suburb, like the water polo competition that is run alongside the river in Bicton. 

I bet our list of sports includes at least one you’ve never heard of and at least one you can’t believe is a sport.

The Wadjemup Cup!  You might think the footy season has all dried up but there is another opportunity! You can watch a carnival of WA’s best young Aboriginal players from Clontarf.  The Wadjemup Cup is on Saturday 6 of November and features over 120 Aboriginal boys from Carnarvon all the way down to Esperance and across to the Goldfields. Get across to Wadjemup and pick a team to support.  The boys will be doing a cultural experience tour that is the same tour all visitors to the island can experience.

The Wadjemup Cup combines great sport with great culture on our favourite island destination

Kabaddi is an ancient Indian martial arts sport that works in teams to protect and defend each other and is about strategy as much as it is about strength.  They have tournaments attracting 1500 people.  (This sport is the worst nightmare for those who don’t like workplace team building exercises).

Get to Lake Monger Primary School on a Sunday morning with your flagon with a dragon and cheer on knights of olde at the Barony of Aneala, described as Perth’s largest medieval group. Combat archery sees participants wear their finest armour in what is described as medieval paint ball…with arrows.

With thanks to the very combative ex-Docker player Antoni Grover, let’s get some people into some bruising encounters with combat sports.  In October and November, Muay Thai tournaments will be held at Curtin Stadium, HBF Stadium and the Perth Convention Centre. This is a sport that relies on stand-up physical strength and much like the Grand Final tonight, is all about attrition.  Last the longest and you win. 

Combat Sports, like Muay Thai, draw big crowds across Perth

Table Tennis but not just ‘table tennis’.  This is table tennis in Mirrabooka with Vietnamese Senior Citizens.  This was a story broken by Molly during the Mirrabooka special a few months ago.  Molly discovered that the Vietnamese Citizens Group needed something active and competitive to participate in, and found that table tennis formed friendships and rivalry. Molly even risked the wrath of the local champion by pulling her away from a winning lead to do an interview. 

There are nine croquet clubs tucked away in Perth on quiet streets with quiet participants who enjoy the clink of wooden mallets gently caressing wooden balls through little hoops.  It’s a sport that is best undertaken if you enjoy making conversation because it’s a gentle sport without a lot of controversy to generate discussion. For a try before you buy experience, contact the Forrest Park club in Mount Lawley who have some introductory courses available in October.

Petanque! It’s French for ‘feet together’ and is similar to lawn bowls and normally played on sandy ground with very shiny, metal balls.  There are five clubs in WA, all petanquing with all ages and an emphasis on supporting players with disability.

Padel is like the creative offspring of tennis and squash this is huge sport in Spain that has been launched in Perth by two Spanish twin sisters and courts are available at Reabold Tennis Club in Floreat.  The social side to Padel is so important that there is a coffee shop on site, alongside the courts.  Literally, you can sip and serve!

In the Pilbara, a Dragon Boat carnival is being held at the historic old port town of Cossak, just a rock of iron ores throw away from Roebourne.  There are boats still looking to fill crews so if you like a high pressure paddle in a sport that began in southern China over 2000 years ago get into it.

Dragon boat racing is taking off in the Pilbara

A big thank you to the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries for helping me pull this story together.

We sometimes limit ourselves to just following what is easily seen on tv.  Sport is more than that. It’s also about connecting with a tribe. Forget the fitness and health stuff, sport in our suburbs is a hidden treasure because it connects us to other people and is another reason to see what’s out there. It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight.  And it’s the thrill of finding something new to do in our suburbs.

ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast: Cold Country … Dryandra Woodlands Delivers Shivers

It’s time to seize the day and embrace the cold. Really. 

Grab your best flannel shirt and prepare for it to soak up woodfire smoke! For ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast Hidden Treasures let’s drive out of this town and into one of the best woodland adventures you can have in Western Australia. have a listen to the link below of just continue reading:

This is a getaway that will need torches, jaffle irons and ugg boots. 

You’ll even find flowers in winter

The Dryandra Woodlands are less than two hours drive south of Perth, although you may want to stop off at Wandering, Williams or Narrogin, depending on which way you go and whether you need to get supplies.

Dryandra Woodland

In the centre of the 28, 000 hectares is the Lions Dryandra Woodland Village, full of wartime era nissen huts and even earlier, but more recently refurbished, woodcutter cottages of varying sizes and all facing the setting sun with a view of grazing kangaroos in the dying of the light.

The dying of the light in Dryandra

I grew up in the area and it’s fair to say that Dryandra brings out the Les Hiddens Bush Tucker Man in me, or perhaps more accurately the Russell Coight.

My school camps were held at Dryandra and in between kids staking their feet on protruding sticks, eyes being punctured by protruding sticks and kids being impaled on protruding sticks it’s fair to say I’m keen to gather up all the protruding sticks and put them in our fireplace when we arrive.

You’ll need to.  Dryandra is cold.  It’s next door to Wandering which is as cold as cold gets in Western Australia.  I thought I knew what cold was, growing up in Narrogin and playing hockey on a Saturday morning, or more recently hot air ballooning in the Avon Valley, but Dryandra cold is relentless, it keeps shivering itself further inside your skin, deeper, deeper, until it coils itself around your bones and doesn’t let go.

But that’s why you’re here.  To freeze on an afternoon bush walk.  To freeze on an evening discovery tour to see the local wildlife.  To freeze while you’re having a hot shower and to freeze while you sit by the fireplace. 

The bedrooms of the cottages are filled with bunks and, with multiple rooms, there are lots of options for keeping couples and friends together and farters and snorers in their own quarantine. 

There are big sofas and a wood fire and you can use the firewood as it’s provided or chop it into smaller pieces with the axe provided. Wood chopping in a flannel shirt – dreams are made of this.

There’s an inside toilet and there’s an outside toilet for the dads. And there’s a front veranda that looks out over a grass field and the forest.  Perfect for sitting with a cup of tea and a gingernut biscuit while you watch the kangaroos grazing as the sun sets over the woodland.  The caretakers pay the roos well to make their regular appearances.  If you don’t see kangaroos I’ll eat my South Freo beanie and wear a Swan Districts beanie for a week.

Western Grey Kangaroos

There are lots of well-marked walking trails that will last 30 minutes or 4 hours or if you’re worried about drop bears then you can stay in your car for the Darwinia drive trail.

Barna Mia is an unforgettable experience that can be bitterly cold but will warm your heart.  In the middle of Dryandra, as night falls, participate in a nocturnal tour under the guidance of Parks and Wildlife staff and with red light torches spot all sorts threatened and precious animals in our bush, like bilby, woylie, quenda, boodie and maybe even a drop bear.  

Possum spotting can be done from the back porch of your cottage or a short stroll into the surrounding bush.  With an old Dolphin torch, shine it up into the trees like a World War II searchlight and if you see one, hold the light to the side as shining it into their eyes is just as annoying and horrible for their little eyes as it is for us.

Hello possum!

Try some campfire cooking.  Take your trusty, rusty jaffle iron and put some tinned spaghetti between some white bread and stick it on the fire and for sweets wrap a banana with some chocolate in alfoil and stick it on the coals.  Get the kids to make damper balls (as Tom said, “Must have been a big damper.”) and dip them in jam.

Get a local Aboriginal experience.  Have a look at the WAITOC website for Narrogin Aboriginal tour operators or ask the cottage caretakers for advice on who to contact.  I recommend Ross Storey.  Sit on a log around a small fire and listen to Ross talk about his country and he will teach you how to throw a boomerang and he’ll put local ochre on your face, do a smoking ceremony and pass around kangaroo skins and Aboriginal tools from the area, including woomeras and spears.

Ross Storey’s Stories

Do some modern day treasure hunting by locating sneaky geocaches in the bush.

Geocaching is modern day treasure hunting

The nearby Williams Woolshed is another unforgettable experience on your way to Dryandra or on your way back home. They’ve recently set up a drive-thru but sitting inside and being presented with the best sausage roll in the world is worth getting out of your car for.  My dad never allowed food in the car.  Once every three years he’d stop for a drumstick or spearmint milkshake but that was it.  No food in the car.  Ever.  Not even butter menthols.

Dryandra is a Hidden Treasure because it’s not featured in any big tourism campaigns but it’s always big in my annual getaway plans and it’s a getaway that gets you together, whether it’s huddled by the fire telling stories, walking through inspiring bush or waiting for the first person to ruin the ambience and scare the roos as they bite through their gingernut bikky. Soak it in your tea people!

Just what I needed

As published in Just Urbane (June/July Issue): Pullman Bunker Bay Resort has Luxury, Landscapes and Culture

Beautiful by day and by night

For the June/July issue of Just Urbane I contributed a story about one of Western Australia’s best and most loved resorts, the Pullman Bunker Bay Resort. Below is a pdf of the story published in Just Urbane:

Writing about resorts is always interesting.  I’ve just realised how much has changed for me in recent years when I’m looking for a resort.  Firstly, they’re usually overseas.

In the Age of Coronavirus I’ve had to look closer to home for the resort experience and I found one that is not only in my backyard but has developed a reputation for more than luxury, it is being acknowledged for including the history of Indigenous people in their story in an environment that feels like the resort is part of the local bushland.  It’s not about keeping the bush out; it’s about fitting in with the land how it’s always been.

Pullman Bunker Bay Resort is just over three hours drive from Perth and sits at the top of one of the greatest wine growing areas anywhere on Earth; the Margaret River Region.  These days it’s also world renowned for it’s other produce, including everything from cheese to truffles and steaks to ice-cream. There’s also world class surfing and fishing that can be experienced on a coastline that is both rugged and beautiful and if getting wet isn’t your thing, you can trek the coastline along the Cape to Cape Walk, an unforgettable journey through national parks alongside coves and cliffs for a distance of around 120 kilometres.

Hang on.  This is meant to be a story about a resort.  Well I promise you it is but it’s nice to know that you’ll be staying in a region that should be on the bucket list of anyone who loves good wine, great food, amazing adventures and awesome scenery.

But let’s get back to the resort and just relax, maybe planning a few short trips around the region but also taking the time to adjust to the time you’re in, resort time. 

It’s almost underwhelming when you arrive.  It’s not that it’s not sophisticated.  It’s just not grand.  You know when you arrive at the big resorts and there are long, wide steps leading up to the huge atrium style space for the reception and the concierge area and there’s also a community of staff to open doors, take your bags, offer you a refreshing drink and maybe there’s even a local cultural performance going on, or local musicians? That’s not the Pullman Bunker Bay way.  There’s lots of natural stone, a water feature, a simple driveway and an entrance that leads to a small reception counter.

But as I smile at the receptionist, I get distracted.  Peripherally my vision is being pulled to the left and my mind is telling me to forget about checking in and to check out the view.

This is why Pullman Bunker Bay Resort exists.  Bunker Bay.

Nestled just to the east of Cape Naturaliste, this small bay is extraordinary for being a sanctuary of shelter from the wild winds that batter nearby Cape Naturaliste to such an extent that a limestone lighthouse has been there for over a hundred years, warning ships from its rocky shores.

Bunker Bay is an aquatic paradise but probably not for those who seek the thrill of surfing.  There’s a lot of surf to be found in the region but this little bay is for those who want to dip a toe in the water, maybe do some paddling or snorkelling but whatever it is you choose to do your heart rate won’t take much of a jolt as this peaceful stretch of perfect sand and water immerse and calm you.

The resort is slightly elevated above the beach and the restaurant and pool have a view of Bunker Bay that is probably the only frustrating aspect of the resort.  I don’t know which way to look.

Is this enough blue for you?

This is a resort that provides meals that source produce locally and present it in a style that will make you regret leaving your phone in your room.  The view needs photos.  The food needs photos.  I need to lie down.

Ideal, comfortable and despite what’s outside, I don’t want to leave it

The resort has a community feel about it as you walk around.  There are no hallways or corridors, just open paths and vegetation between small blocks of earthy toned rooms that feature massive floor to high ceiling windows that allow the light and colours of blue sky and green trees to pour in throughout the day before being replaced by the brilliant starlight of a night sky that you only see when you’re away from the city.

So what has really changed for me in what I look for in a resort has probably been connected to the growing age and expectations of my children but it’s also linked to what we all have to learn when we start travelling widely again; thinking about out footprints and the footprints of the airlines, accommodation and travel services and experiences we all use. 

Beyond good sustainability and waste management, I’m looking for opportunities to engage with local culture as part of my luxury experience.  I want local art in the rooms that are available to purchase to support local communities, I want to contribute in a way that’s more than just coming to the area and staying, eating and drinking for a few days.  I want to meet local people and learn why their world is even more amazing than the most instagramable drone photo of yet another beach.

Pullman Bunker Bay does this.  I came home with local art, I came home having met local Indigenous Elders and having participated in a tour of the resort that opened my eyes not just to the worlds longest surviving culture but to what the plants outside my room could do for my health, why the coastal plants down by the beach were so delicious, how to find frogs on trees and lizards in rocks, how to speak local language and why the six seasons of the Wadandi people make so much more sense than our western understanding of the weather in Australia. 

This is a resort that is more than a base while you tour the Margaret River Region.  It’s more than a family vacation or honeymoon destination.  This is a resort that is like the best teacher you ever had.  Remember those teachers who inspired you and made you forget to look at the classroom clock and as you made your way home at the end of the day you were thinking about what you had learned in that lesson?  That’s what Pullman Bunker Bay Resort does for you.  Sure, you’ll swim in the pool, play at the beach, and groan with delight at the end of every meal but somewhere along the way you will also learn something about a beautiful culture and a remarkable landscape.  Best lesson I’ve had in a long time. 

Escape Plan

Covid-19:  While vaccination programs continue to roll out across the world and Australia has a program in place to vaccinate its population by the end of 2021 international travel is still not likely to resume until 2022. Check regularly with police, health and customs authorities before travelling.

Getting There:  From Perth, the Pullman Bunker Bay Resort is an easy drive of just over three hours, all of it on good highway roads with regular service stations and the regional cities of Bunbury and Busselton along the way. 

Visit the following websites for more information:

www.pullmanbunkerbayresort.com.au

www.margaretriver.com

www.westernaustralia.com

ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast: Aboriginal Tourism around Perth and a bit further.

Beyond stories, Aboriginal tourism is about tangible opportunities to feel ochre on your face, touch kangaroo skins, dance and have some fun.

For ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast, Ro and I thought that we should do something to be a part of NAIDOC Week, which celebrates the culture and contribution of Aboriginal people in Western Australia. Below is a link to our discussion about Aboriginal tourism experiences in Perth and down the road.

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/perth/programs/saturdaybreakfast/naidoc-hidden-treasures/13449400

I thought we’d look at just a few of the immersive experiences that are available to learn and understand more about Aboriginal culture and just to enjoy and have fun.

As a local, it’s a great time to be exploring tourism opportunities.  Without the international tourists crowding the scene our world is our oyster and our world has the oldest and most remarkable living culture in the world. 

Whether you’re after education or entertainment the opportunities to immerse yourself in an Aboriginal Tour and Experience aren’t just limited to the great red dirt northern expanses of the state, they’re right here in your backyard and in your neighbour’s backyard.

They’re even increasingly around where you’ve always walked and cycled or gone to the footy.  Keep a look out for signage, statues and sculptures at your favourite spots, particularly for interpretive signs giving new life and understanding about where we live and who has lived here before us.

Here are a few of my favourite Aboriginal Tours and Experiences that are here in Perth and just a couple that are a little bit down the road.

All of them are accredited tour operators and are members of the WA Indigenous Tourism Operators Council who have the coolest corporate values you’ll find; 1) Connection to Country 2) Welcome to Country 3) Have Corroborees … to share and learn!

No buzz words.  They’re real words.

Let’s start in Mandurah and welcome you to Mandjoogoordap Dreaming. Anyone who has taken the Freeway and Forrest Highway down south has seen the longest name sign Main Roads has ever had to install.  The ‘Mandjoo’ means ‘meeting place’ and the ‘goordap’ means ‘of the heart’.  George at Mandjoogoordap Dreaming will teach you how to make bush twine and forage for bush tucker and learn the bushcraft of the region during walks along the Mandurah foreshore and estuary and a little bit on a bus for little legs and older legs.

Let’s keep going a bit further down the road but only as far Bunker Bay just to the west of Dunsborough.  Pullman Bunker Bay have partnered with local Elders to give guests the opportunity to do a Six Seasons Tour by exploring the gardens at the resort.  When I did the tour with my kids, Elder Nina Webb showed them the plants that could be eaten, used for medicine, and showed me what ones just look good as a bouquet for.  We found frogs behind leaves and lizards on rocks. 

This is one tour that showcases not just the flora and fauna but also the culture and language of the local Wardandi people and are showing how to work alongside a modern hospitality experience to include some authentic culture in your resort getaway.

Wardandi Elder Nina Webb takes resort guests at Pullman Bunker Bay on a tour of what is right before their eyes … and opens them!

We’ll stay south for another experience but head east to Kojonup to the Kodja Place.  It’s with great sadness that my friend and local legend Jack Cox passed away in March and I wish to thank his family for letting me mention his name today.  Jack used to greet visitors with a bush tea that was actually bought at the Kojonup IGA and he used to tell international visitors that he needed their help to find lost sheep in the gardens surrounding Kodja Place. The Kodja Place will continue to tell stories about his remarkable life and his family who lived in the area.  If you are putting together a bucket list of Western Australian cultural travel experiences, make sure the Kodja Place in Kojonup is on it because it’s a complete tapestry of stories from Noongar life to settler life in the area.

On our way back up to Perth let’s stop near Narrogin and go into Dryandra to meet my friends Ross Storey and Marcelle Riley.  As part of the Narrogin Noongar Ranger Tours and Experiences these guys tell beautiful stories through the use of dollmaking and in bush walks. I grew up with Ross and if you’ve ever wondered if anyone can talk more than me then just listen Ross talk about his country.

Ross Storey, based in Narrogin and telling stories about the Wheatbelt
Ross makes sure that all ages can participate, learn and have a lot of fun

Back in Perth let’s look at some tours that will be so immersive you’ll no longer see the land around you as a city landscape, you’ll see and feel the land the way it was.  Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours and Experiences will walk you around the city, the river, and even on Wadjemup and get you singing songs, touching kangaroo skins, using tapping sticks and smelling ochre and crushed leaves in your fingers.  This is storytelling with knowledge, passion and fun and have you smiling all the way home.

Deadly Diva Experiences for Women is an experience I wish they’d let me participate in.  Tahn tells campfire stories and does wildflower walkabouts and it’s all for the ladies. It’s inspiring and intriguing and let’s use my favourite word of the day … immersive.  She is now looking at a once a year tour for the curious fellas so watch this space very carefully.

Get up to Kings Park as a family and participate in the Kings Park special events program that focuses on local Aboriginal culture and takes kids into the world of Kings Park before roads and playgrounds.

Finally, get to the Yagan Square Nyumbi where at 5:30pm every Friday you watch and participate in a smoking ceremony and dance.  The performers change each week.  Some Fridays it’s an Elders group and other times it’s the kids getting up and sharing stories with an audience that includes tourists, office workers and passers-by who never walk by when they see what’s going on. They also love a photo at the end of the performance and some of those kids will give you some cheeky feedback on your own dancing skills.

These are experiences for our community to be proud of and enjoy. Aboriginal tours and experiences are hidden treasures because they’re immersive and substantial on so many levels but most importantly, you can discover, learn, and have fun while you’re doing it.

As Published in Have a Go News newspaper … let’s go where the air is rarefied!

Have a Go News is a Western Australian newspaper with a hardcopy circulation of over 80,000 each month and a very strong online presence.

Click on the link below and hopefully you’ll be whisked away to the July issue of Have a Go News. Scroll through to page 40 and you can read my published story about hot air ballooning in the Avon Valley.

Have a Go News (July 2021)
Mist. And cold. Very cold.

There’s a reason that songs are written about being in the air. 

‘Come Fly With Me’, ‘99 Red Balloon’s, ‘Up, Up and Away’ and ‘Danger Zone’ are just a few classics inspired by the feeling of being up there, where the air is rarefied.

Hidden Treasures is going on a special adventure beyond Perth this weekend.  We’re going further than we’ve travelled before, past Guildford and Midland that we’ve explored before and up and over the hills and out to the Avon Valley.

Our hidden treasure can only be discovered in the darkness but is soon revealed by the dawn of a new day. 

Let’s go hot air ballooning!

The Avon Valley isn’t far from Perth and if it was north or south it would just about qualify as part of the Perth Metropolitan Scheme.  Being just over an hour’s drive away it’s wonderful how easy we can leave the city behind, even if it’s just for a few hours.

Arriving at the Northam Airport I’m the first to arrive and there is nobody at the airport except for the resident cat.  It’s so cold that the cat jumps into my car. 

As other people start to arrive and huddle around the coffee making facilities, I’m taken by news articles on the wall that describe the history of hot air ballooning in the world. This sounds like the beginning of a joke but it’s true, in 1783 a sheep, a duck and a rooster went riding in a hot air balloon in France. 

I had thought that the airport would be our take off point but Damien, our chief pilot, has been letting go of weather balloons and squinting at the night sky like an old sea captain. For this morning’s flight with Windward Balloon Adventures we must head west of Northam.

These guys have all the permissions required from the shire and farmers to access properties, so long as we remember to close the gates.

Still in complete darkness, our pilots inflate the balloons as they lie on the ground and the roar and brightness of the gas burners is a bit like those aerobatic displays of jet planes whooshing over your head. 

After a final briefing we climb into our basket and just like that, we’re away. No seatbelts. No worries.

I’ve done some wonderful air related activities in my life from the fastest and longest zipline in the world with my daughter Matilda down the side of a mountain in South Africa, to twice jumping out of aeroplanes, flying a beautiful Tiger Moth over Perth and the seaplane to Rottnest, and even trekking up mountains and being above clouds.

When I jumped out of an aeroplane I thought about the words of John Magee, a World War II Spitfire pilot who wrote a poem called High Flight with the first line, “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth” and the last line, “Put out my hand and touched the face of God”.

Astronaut Michael Collins died recently, and he once remarked that he wondered what John Magee would have been inspired to write if he could have been in orbit above the Earth. 

As we ascend from the paddock that becomes a mist shrouded valley beneath, I looked to the east and had author Douglas Adams’ words in my head, “There is a moment in every dawn when light floats and there is the possibility of magic.  Creation holds its breath.”

I can tell you I held my breath and it was amazing.  In so many of life’s travels and adventures it’s been the sights that are the most awesome but what was so immersively different about a hot air balloon experience is that sound becomes part of the canvas before you.

There is the possibility of magic ….

It’s mostly silent apart from the whoosh of the gas burners every so often to get some altitude. Looking down and around you’re suddenly struck by the sounds of parrots having an early morning squabble in the trees over who’s sitting on the best branch, sheep all going baa as they move across a paddock far below and even a dog barking from somewhere. 

There are other balloons to help with the perspective of what we’re all a part of this morning.  They drift along as we drift along and we rise and fall and our hearts sing with the joy of witnessing to a new day in a beautiful part of the world.

As we continue to drift, we travel over bushland with granite outcrops beginning to be warmed by the early rays of the sun and kangaroos jumping through the trees and in the distance on hills to the west we can see the shadow of our balloon and directly below us the reflection of the balloon is crystal clear in the river below.

We land in a harvester scarred paddock with a gentle bump and everyone helps roll up the balloon into a bag that is much easier to manage than any sleeping bag.

The Avon Valley stretches from New Norcia to Beverley, with the historic communities of Toodyay, York, and Northam all just a short Spotify playlist of flying tunes away.

Northam has the Avon River running through it and the champagne breakfast after the ballooning is held in a café overlooking the river, complete with white swans and suspension bridge.  During a champagne toast we are all welcomed to the club of Balloonatics.

Hot air ballooning in Northam is a hidden treasure because maybe Northam doesn’t seem far enough for a big adventure.  Also, ballooning may be somewhere on the bucket list but it gets pushed down the list because of the need to get up early. Get over the time thing and get it done. It’s just an hour away and you’ll be up, up and away. 

You don’t have to be religious to feel inspired by creation taking it’s first breath for the day
Coffee and Have a Go News newspaper … a perfect start to your morning (especially on page 40)