Radio Melayu: Exploring Singapore and Sarawak with DJ Wan and special guest the Consul General of Malaysia, Mr Ahmad Fikri

Kuching murals are a great reason to walk around the city

Having just returned from Singapore and Sarawak I was given a great opportunity to talk fast and furiously with DJ Wan on Radio Melayu about my experiences.

We also had the Consul General of Malaysia, Mr Ahmad Fikri, come on the show and talk about his experiences of Sarawak and what we had spoken about together at a recent Tourism Malaysia event.

From some destinations in Singapore you might not be aware of to Sarawak, a land of constant activity by day and night, it was a wonderful opportunity to describe my adventures and encourage listeners to book their flights!

The Vagabond Club in Singapore is small in size but enormous in luxury and intrigue

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

6PR Interview: Forget Broome Time, Try Rockingham Time

Enjoy listening to the 6PR radio story below on just how Rockingham demands that you stay and play for more than a day:


Fresh and friendly at Quest Apartments Rockingham

Shoalwater Bay Dolphins on the Rockingham Wild Encounter Cruise

The West Australian newspaper: Wildlife Interests Put At Risk …By Us

Originally published by the West Australian and also by the United Nations Indian Ocean South East Asian Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding.

I enjoy travelling for the experiences I give my children. To see them wide eyed and able to have sensory encounters is remarkable for the influence it has on their confidence with animals, their imagination when drawing, telling stories and their understanding of the world around them.

I am torn now. I don’t even want them to read this article. Our most recent animal experience may not have been in the best interests of the animal. Our most recent animal experience may not have been in the best interests of the participants, including my son and daughter who received a certificate to acknowledge their achievement.

They had very proudly and reverently each released a baby turtle.

After recently returning from an overseas holiday I had some niggling curiosity, not yet concern, about a turtle release we had participated in.

It’s not important where we did the release, I don’t want to shine a light on the resort or even the country. There are numerous countries world-wide that are offering tourists the opportunity to release a turtle from a beach.

I was curious about what I had been brought up to believe about turtles; that the mature females return to the beach where they were hatched to lay their eggs. If this beach was particularly rocky, or strewn with drunken tourists like some turtle release beaches are, what chance was there of a fully grown female turtle returning to this beach and successfully laying her eggs and what were the chances of survival for any hatchlings?

I mentioned earlier that I don’t want to shine a light on a particular resort or country. I have to make my point by shining a light somewhere though. Let’s start with myself, a tourist.

Over the years my family has experienced close encounters with orangutans, elephants, bears, lions, tigers and even attended a piranha feeding where my children were ushered to the front and invited to pour in a container of live goldfish for the piranha to shred before our eyes, for our …eco education.

I am laying myself wide open by declaring what my family has participated in. I’m not calling for a campaign to save the animals by not participating in eco-tourism activities. I’m not saying all experiences are wrong. I’m not saying eco-experiences can’t have great worth for knowledge, understanding and appreciation for life itself.

I am saying that we need to understand that what we are doing, in some instances, may be wrong.

I have been able to contact marine biologists specialising in turtles in Australia and around the world. I’m writing this article because it was at this point that my curiosity became concern.

I spoke with Dr Colin Limpus, the Chief Scientist for the Threatened Species Unit at the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection in Queensland.

Dr Limpus explained that these release programs contravene the biological rule of operation for hatchling turtles.

There can’t be many people who haven’t seen a wildlife documentary showing the plight of little turtles scuttling to the sea. The narrator’s voice informs us of the dreadful survival rate which always seems to be something like, “8 out of 10 hatchlings won’t make it to the water’s edge.” We flinch as various predators pluck them off the sand.

For many cultures, turtles and their eggs are traditional food. As suitable nesting areas continue to decrease this has created an egg poaching industry and black market for turtle eggs and meat. Removing the eggs to a hatchery is certainly reducing the poaching and black market activity.

One turtle release program website says that in the past two years they have taken 50,000 eggs from beach nests and have an 80% hatch and release rate.

So we think that by taking the eggs to a hatchery and releasing the hatchlings at the water’s edge, free from poaching and predation, that we are definitely increasing their rate of survival. It’s what makes this experience feel wonderful. We believe we are helping!

I think we’re wrong.

In my discussion with Dr Limpus he tells me how the hatchling comes out of the nest with an internalised yolk sack that it feeds off for energy over the first three or so days of its life. It’s like an inbuilt can of Red Bull, powering the little turtle down the beach and then swimming nonstop out to sea, maybe as far as 80km before it hits the currents, where it drifts and feeds on jellyfish and other little bits and pieces it finds on the seas highways.

With a scheduled tourist activity like releasing a turtle, the hatchlings are held for a few days to build up enough numbers for the booked participants. By the time they are released the effects of their little Red Bull have worn off and they no longer have the energy to swim the required distance offshore. This means they tend to stay close inshore where they are not exposed to the food they require and may be at increased risk of predation by fish and birds.

By now I was in touch with marine turtle experts from around the world, all responding to my curiosity with photos, essays and opinions.

From the University College of Cork in Ireland, Emeritus Professor John Davenport supported Dr Limpus’ comments, adding that his worldwide marine turtle studies show that most ecotourism interactions with turtles are poor and actually exploit them. Positively, he added that conservation education for children usually leads children to remain conservation conscious for life.

Dr Mark Hamann from James Cook University says that as a parent he understands the conflict between animal welfare, ecological benefit and education. Professor Hamann sees that clearly there are ecological concerns but rarely have the educational benefits of this interaction been examined.

For the Indian Ocean, there is a South-East Asian Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding. This is an intergovernmental agreement that aims to protect marine turtles and monitor their habitats.

The Coordinator in Thailand for this group, Douglas Hykle, described to me how a better starting point for our awareness and contribution to the survival of turtles should be with an activity that doesn’t depart from something that occurs naturally.

This is because any change is less likely to be as good as what nature intended. Maybe we should be keeping the nests intact and sitting quietly in our huddled masses as we watch the hatchlings emerge and begin their trek to the water.

My network of marine turtle experts all offered comments to a similar affect; if we teach our children to question and learn from these types of experiences then long term conservation might be in a better place. The resort where my family participated in a turtle release has a strong community focus, employing local people and supporting local conservation programs.  Just like the experts I’ve spoken to, the resort believes in the importance of children having educational conservation experiences.

The relationship we all have with wildlife has come a long way. We now all agree that you can’t have a circus anymore with bears on bikes and whips cracking to goad lions to jump through fiery hoops.

We need to learn more about how we can best have an experience with a baby turtle that is meaningful to us, particularly our children, but more importantly doesn’t upset the balance of a process that’s been around a lot longer than we have.