ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast: Hidden Treasures goes up, up and away in the Avon Valley

Giant Man and Tiny Balloon

For ABC Saturday Breakfast Hidden Treasures, Ro and I went somewhere we haven’t been before … beyond Perth! Up and over the escarpment and east to the Avon Valley.

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 of the classics inspired by the feeling of being up there, where the air is rarefied.

Let’s have an adventure that is 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.

Dark Shadows Welcome a New Day

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.”

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 sites and 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.

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.

A Collective Noun for Hot Air Balloons is a … Drift

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 in the north to Beverley in the south, 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 seems to be on the bucket lists of many people but keeps getting pushed down the list not from the fear of hanging from a basket but from getting up so early.  Get over the time thing and get it done. It’s just an hour away and you’ll be up, up and away. 

Windward Balloon Adventures in the Avon Valley

Special Tip:  The National Ballooning Championships will be held in the Avon Valley between 30 August and 4 September, with lots of opportunities to be a spectator and a participant. 

Giant Man in Tiny ABC Studio

Heeding the call for the Rottnest ANZAC Day Dawn Service: as published by Rottnest Fast Ferries

But the band plays Waltzing Matilda, and the old men still answer the call,
but as year follows year, more old men disappear, someday no one will march there at all.


The line above is taken from the Eric Bogle song, ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’.

I remember a time in the 1980’s when there seemed to be a popular sentiment that ANZAC
Day would fade away when there were no more old Diggers to march.

It didn’t work out that way. Across Australia, ANZAC ceremonies continue to grow and the
sense of importance it has in our communities is encouraging people to travel to ANZAC
services in communities abroad.

Maybe not quite ‘abroad’ but one of the dawn services in Western Australia that is increasingly
resonating as a remarkable experience, beyond just the significance of the event, is the
Rottnest Island ANZAC Day Dawn Service.

One of the best characteristics of a dawn service is that it takes a small level of commitment
to get up at a time when you would rather be sleeping. There’s a feeling that the small effort
you have to make to attend the service is part of the respect you are paying.

As a family, we arrive at Hillarys at 4:00am for the departure of the 4:30am ferry. The queue
is noticeably different for a Rottnest bound ferry. There is no tangled pile of bikes being hoisted
in cages aboard the boat. There are no fishing rods, eskies and towels slung over shoulders.
It is also very quiet.

Speaking to people on board, it’s apparent that most of us are attending the Rottnest Dawn
Service for the first time. Dawn, a rather apt name, remembers her father who had been in
the merchant navy always saying he would have liked to have been out at sea and seen the
sun come up over Australia on ANZAC Day. Merv, a Rottnest Volunteer Guide, is looking
forward to preparing our Gunfire Breakfast after the service.

I haven’t been on a sea in darkness for many years. Standing at the stern of the ferry and
looking down at the churning white wake and then looking up at the stars I thought I was about
to reminisce about my younger days on sailing ships but with the moment at hand and on my
mind I thought about the ANZAC’s making their way ashore in a variety of small craft, ill
designed for the landing. At that moment, I thought what it must have been like to be heading
towards an enemy shore, not just running around Blackboy Hill at the foot of the Darling
Ranges.

A ships modern radar that may have been helpful at the Dardenelles in 1915

It is the first time Rottnest Fast Ferries have taken a ferry from Hillarys for the Rottnest Dawn
Service. Up in the wheelhouse I meet James, the skipper, and in between safely navigating
in the darkness around bulk cargo carriers and cruise ships we talk about the appropriateness
of Rottnest Island for a Dawn Service. In 1915, the first ships from the first convoy from
Australia left Fremantle a day before the ships in Albany. Their last look at Australia was
Rottnest Island.

Our Rottnest Fast Ferries skipper guiding us in to Thomson Bay on Rottnest Island

Arriving at Rottnest just before 5:30am, we were directed to Thomson Bay beach where the
service was due to commence. On cue, the first hues of orange began to rise from the east,
backlighting the Perth city skyline, across the sea and land, 30km away.

While the roar of a crowd can be uplifting, the silence of a crowd can be more inspiring. I
remember as a kid the Narrogin ANZAC Day Dawn Service, dark and cold, frost crackling
under feet as we would make our way across the grass to the memorial, towards the orange
glow of cigarettes being drawn on by old diggers, followed by a few raking coughs up and
down the line.

The lack of banter, the lack of chat. The will to gather in a silence that says so
much.

All over the world, as the sun rises, those of us at ANZAC Day Dawn Services are quiet.
The service is held under the protection of flights of pelicans that glide overhead. The wreath
laying includes representation from the Beaconsfield Primary School Rottnest Island Campus,
9 students who attend school on the island and who have also made a paper poppy display
in the Old Salt Store.

With the growing light I am able to look around at the crowd and I am stunned. I had thought
that gathered around my family was about 500 people but clearly there is a crowd of at least
1500.

After the service I speak to Penni Fletcher-Hughes from the Rottnest Island Authority. We
stand in the Gunfire Breakfast queue and after discussing the numbers of people who have
attended we both agree to just enjoy what is unfolding around us. People are standing at the
shore of Thomson Bay, hugging each other and looking out to the rising sun over Perth, others
are capturing photos of the Australian flag with the dawn sky behind and in the long breakfast
queue a bracing breeze passes over us, carrying with it on the air the promise of bacon, eggs
and onion in a warm roll.

Gunfire Breakfast

I also speak to the Chairman of the Rottnest Island Authority Board, John Driscoll, who was
the Master of Ceremonies for the service. John makes the comment that the wreath laying in
particular is an example of the deep and broad community feeling for ANZAC Day on Rottnest
with a wide variety of government agencies and volunteer groups represented.

We depart the island for the trip back to the mainland at midday. As always, when it’s time to
leave Rottnest it’s not the happiest trudge down the jetty to board the ferry. This time it’s a bit
different. I feel connected to a new story, a new perspective and a new community of people
so passionate about this remarkable event.

Rottnest has given my family an engaging and enduring experience. It always does, but this is different. We are all a bit tired but more than a bit proud to have been a part of a spectacular Centenary ANZAC Day Dawn Service that the Rottnest community made a lot of effort to deliver.

Also from ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’;

And the young people ask, what are they marching for? And I ask myself the same question.

I think we’re all marching. We’re all marching to ANZAC services all over the world. We’re all
marching to remember.

ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast: Hidden Treasures discovers Bicton, a very green riverside suburb.

Bicton is south of the river and it runs right alongside it.

It’s east of Fremantle and nearly a third of the suburb is dedicated to a green belt of bushland, parkland and outdoor activities that is just as important to families today as it was to Aboriginal women and children before the Swan River Colony, when the men hunted and hung out on the Mosman Park side, while the women and kids got to hang out at Jennalup, what we now call Blackwall Reach.

The hidden treasure of Bicton is its access to the river and how it has retained its pristine riverside bushland while providing open spaces for picnics, concerts and beaches for sandcastles and swimming. And it has jetties.

It’s a tradition with Hidden Treasures that we start by meeting Ro’s requirement for “What’s there for sport?”

When we spoke about Midland a few weeks ago I encouraged people to get out there and watch baseball as something a bit different to the footy, basketball and cricket.

Bicton is home in WA to a sport that is worth watching and has tamed down a bit since the infamous 1956 Melbourne Olympics clash between Hungary and Russia.  Have you guessed it?

Water Polo!  At the Bicton Pool you can watch the home games in the Australian Water Polo League for the Fremantle Mens Mariners and the Fremantle Womens Marlins and they’re the most successful teams in the competition, kind of natural for Western Australian sport.  It’s a great spectator sport and I wish other sports could start off as exciting as the ‘swim off’ where both teams swim furiously to get the ball first. And those little caps are kind of cool as well.

Next to the Bicton Pool you’ll find Freestyle (pic above), a very popular meeting point sculpture that is part of the City of Melville We Love Art Project. 

Also next to the Bicton Pool and the Freestyle sculpture you’ll find the Bicton Baths which is almost unique in Perth now for being fully enclosed by a jetty that is perfect for jumping off or fishing for big bream and even bigger flathead.

Incredibly, this little area has more!  It’s also the location, in the adjacent Quarantine Park, for the annual Broome to Bicton Concert featuring the greatest band in the world, the Pigram Brothers. It’s a popular park all year long with families and for this reason Mr Whippy makes regular visits.

Continuing north along the river foreshore you get to the slightly controversial Blackwall Reach limestone cliffs.  Whether it’s just for the adventure, a rite of passage or reckless tomfoolery, it’s a long standing activity to jump off the 10 metre high limestone cliffs into water that can reach 25 metres deep and where scuba divers can discover an old barge at 14 metres and is the most intact wreck site in the Swan River, and populated by all sorts of fish, including sea horses. 

This area is actually an underwater tidal gorge and probably the most diverse and highly populated area of the river for underwater life which makes it popular with humans and dolphins for fishing and is one of the best spots on the Swan River to watch dolphins.

On land at Blackwall Reach is the Jenna Biddi Yorga (Womens Feet Walking) walking trail, described by Trails WA as Grade 1. It’s 2km in length and is one of the most scenic, peaceful and bird filled walks in Perth. 

Continuing our way north we find ourselves at one of Perth’s best family spots, Point Walter, with its rite of passage walk on the sandbar, great BBQ facilities, little beaches, public art, including the famous Habibi sculpture, and another jetty!

The joy of Point Walter is how perfect it is for everyone to learn their water activity.  It’s perfect for learning to swim or use a stand-up paddleboard, fish off the jetty, or do bombies onto big brown jellyfish.

Each year (though currently paused for Covid) there is one of the best outdoor family concerts held in Perth, the Point Walter Concert. It’s currently scheduled by the City of Melville for January 2022.

If you decide not to take a picnic, there is a very good café, although I much prefer to call it a kiosk! Order up some milkshakes and some hot chips and a day at Point Walter with the sun setting behind the western suburbs can’t get any better. 

If you head into the streets of Bicton check out the iconic Leopold Hotel which revels in its link to AC/DC (although these days you’re more likely to find families playing Jenga in the big sofas than screaming lead singers doing stage dives). Also seek out Little Stove, a little café that is a big meeting point for those in the community who need coffee to survive. It has local produce, including honey, giftcards and eggs from their own chickens.

Bicton is a hidden treasure next to known treasure.  Next door to Bicton are the flashy lights and attractions of the Fremantle district with its heritage and café culture to lure us in. 

If you cast your net a bit wider though you’ll find that Bicton is a treasure trove of riverside activities to explore or just relax in.  Bicton rivals Kings Park for its ability to provide bushland activities in the metropolitan area that appeal to all ages and abilities.  In some ways it’s better than Kings Park because Bicton has jetties!

ABC Saturday Breakfast: Hidden Treasures discovers a shipwreck and how many rocks it takes to name a suburb

King Neptune from Perth’s iconic past … the Atlantis Marine Park

Click on the link below for a Hidden Treasures discussion about unexploded ordnance, a shipwreck, an icon and a suburb that’s more like a town:

https://www.abc.net.au/radio/perth/programs/saturdaybreakfast/hidden-treasures-chris-parry/13365360

Hidden Treasures recently crossed the fine line that exists between a ‘Sunday drive’ and a ‘road trip’. 

On this episode of Hidden Treasures on ABC Saturday Breakfast, Ro and I walked up and down dunes and along windswept beaches to find a shipwreck, find lost statues from Perth’s iconic past and find out how many rocks it takes to name a suburb.

How many suburbs in Perth would you find an internet description that says; 

“Large sections of the suburb are fenced off due to unexploded ordnance left behind from past military activity in the area.” 

How many Perth beachside suburbs would have a beach sign at a prominent lookout spot that warns of;

“No lifesaving service, steep stairs, dangerous current, submerged rocks, dumping waves and snakes.”

Welcome to Two Rocks. Perth ends here.

Two Rocks is the furthest northern extent of the Perth metropolitan area.  It’s over 60 kilometres from the Swan River.  Its better-known neighbour, Yanchep, is 7 kilometres to the south.

It’s a big suburb, more than 50 square kilometres with the suburb’s population living in just 2.3 square kilometres.

Two Rocks has a distinct feel.  It’s more like a seaside town than a suburb.  There are dinghy’s on street verges.  Flotsam and jetsam gathered after storms adorn the verandas of houses like some sort of trophy collection. In the southern suburbs we hang Christmas lights. Up here, they hang what the sea has hurled at them.

The adorning doesn’t stop there.  To complete the seaside town impression, many of the street poles have opportunistic handwritten signs selling a local service or seasonal produce.  Octopus is a current favourite for $20kg! I’m sure when the time is right there are signs that say, “Crays 4 Sale”.  Not lobsters.  Crays.

Not a bad price. I think it would be better to just say ‘Occy’

As you head up Two Rocks Road turn left at ‘The Spot’.  It’s a sandy track to the best left-hand break surf spot we’re allowed to talk about.  It takes a bit of paddling to get out to the break and if the waves are more than a metre there’s normally a rip.

As I drive into carpark at ‘The Spot’ I feel like a new cowboy in town swinging open the saloon doors.  All heads turn to look at this Narrogin plated vehicle that takes the last bay at the end of the line.  Tying my car up to the rail I turn and see that the faces are all still turned towards me.  Not only do I have Narrogin number plates but I’m wearing a flannelette shirt.

The black steamer wet suit clad lads give me a “G’Day” and I give one back and then we’re all friends, talking about the conditions and which way I need to trek to find the Alex T Brown, a shipwreck that reveals herself differently each season, depending on the wind and tides. 

The track from the car park to the shipwreck of the Alex T Brown

The Alex T Brown was a 65m, four masted schooner that blew ashore on this day(29 May) in 1917. Many parts of its hull and rigging can be found in Two Rocks and Yanchep, including the Yanchep Inn.  For my visit, I found a long line of metal rivets attached to a beam, possibly the backbone of the hull.  I sat next to the wreck, looking out to sea for a while before the trudge back to my mates in the carpark, a round trip of about 700 metres through up and down dunes and very soft beach.

A schooner lies here, the Alex T Brown

From the history of the sea to the history of iconic Perth let’s head to the lightly wooded and weed entangled paths of the old Atlantis Marine Park and make our way to King Neptune who sits on top of a small hill with a big smile and an impressive trident held in his mighty limestone hands.

Atlantis Marine Park was the place to go throughout the 1980’s.  Built at the beginning of the 80’s and closed at the end of them.  There were dolphin shows and lots of water related adventures that involved tubes, mats and slides while wearing a pair of stubbies, a terry towelling hat and no sunscreen.

These days the remains of the park rival anything you’ll find in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.  As well as King Neptune you can be an amateur Perth cultural icon archaeologist and discover statues of dugongs, narwhales and elephant seals and if that’s not enough statue action for you, head up to the gardens at the local tavern and you’ll find many other marine themed statues that were in the park.

Check out the local bakery and cafes that overlook the marina.  It’s a great spot to hold a coffee in one hand, pastie in the other and watch boats being launched and retrieved, old hulls being sanded and kids fishing from the marina jetty.

From the Tavern, cafes or bakery, it’s a great view of the action in the marina

Are there two rocks in Two Rocks?

There are definitely a couple of very impressive rocks that are at either end of the beach that begins at Wreck Point and then further up the beach at the Marina end.  The rock off Wreck Point has a raggedy hole that is a photographers dream in any weather.  The beach allows dogs and it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to walk to the other end where this bigger rock is a bit like a bridge with a tunnel at the bottom, that allows the breaking waves to impressively spray from. 

One rock
The other rock

Two Rocks is a hidden treasure because it’s a suburb that doesn’t feel like a suburb. It feels like the seaside town you used to visit and wish you could get back to.  You can.  It’s called Two Rocks. Perth ends here.

How to Turn a Pinnacles Weekender into a Cut-Down Day Trip, as published by the West Australian.

As published in the West Australian weekend travel supplement, West Travel.

So Chris Parry has packed the car and the kids, and headed north. Not really north. But still north.

In an article some time ago, Travel Editor for the West Australian, Stephen Scourfield, showed how to do the Pinnacles area as a weekender. Now for the cut-down version, designed to tick the box on a great experience and demonstrate great parenting by me.

School holidays should be relaxing but the pressure as a parent to deliver new experiences and encounters can become a quest. “Not another playground!” was the despairing exclamation the night before. Inspired by Stephen’s article, I thought I could do a version that would be cheaper and maybe leave the kids exhausted the next day (and on the following day there was cricket on the TV).

Stephen had left home at 10.30am on Saturday. Scratch that. Get up at sparrows, wrap some toast in some Alfoil for the kids and hit the road.

The Pinnacles in Nambung National Park is about 250km north of Perth and a trip is made all the more enjoyable since the 2010 opening of the Indian Ocean Drive. Trying to enjoy a northbound day trip on the heavily trucked inland Brand Highway is near impossible.

How good is the Indian Ocean Drive? If you ever spin a bottle to work out what direction you’re going to head for a day trip out of Perth, make sure the bottle points north. Indian Ocean Drive offers a great driving experience. It is scenic which is enough to tick the boxes of all the occupants in my car.

Looking at Stephen’s itinerary, we are experiencing the wonder of the Pinnacles just after he has left home. It’s a summer’s day and by 10.45am it’s warm but the Kids’ Driving Songs CD still hasn’t melted on the dashboard from my apparent carelessness. Yes we still like a good compact disc in the domain of my car.

While Stephen is still on Wanneroo Road, I have paid my $12 entry per vehicle and begun the 4km Pinnacles loop in my seldom-tested four-wheel drive.

Here’s a photography and driving tip in one: you don’t need a 4WD for the Pinnacles loop but your photos will look better with a rugged vehicle to match the landscape.

As Stephen explains, the Pinnacles are “limestone pillars thought to represent the remains of a forest covered by moving sand dunes and petrified”. Alternative suggestions for their creation include the raw material for the limestone coming from seashells that broke down over time into lime-rich sands and then a bit of research adds some descriptions none of us are going to remember, such as “vegetation forming acidic layers of soil and humus” and “precipitation of indurated calcrete with subsequent erosion of the aelolianite”.

The Pinnacles Discovery Centre has now taken it under my advisement that my kids’ explanation deserves a display board. According to them, the Pinnacles were formed in ancient times by a group of children competing in a sand castle competition.

All of the children coincidently built the same style of structure that we now know as the Pinnacles. To celebrate this coincidence, it was decided not to smash the sand castles at the end of the day and let them stay there forever.

While we’re at the Pinnacles Discovery Centre, I reckon on Stephen’s trip you would probably be somewhere around Seabird, a small community 100km north of Perth. The Seabird community of the 1960s rejected the proposed name of Chalon and chose the name Seabird after a schooner of that name wrecked nearby in 1874.

The Pinnacles Discovery Centre is a very well articulated display of history and local flora and fauna. While the displays of snakes and lizards easily impress, it is noticeable how intrigued people are by the display of sandgropers. All I’ve ever known about this elusive insect is that it is the colloquialism for West Australians.

The sandgroper is subterranean and occurs widely across Australia in sandy soils. In WA it was available in the 1970s as a soft toy to raise money for Telethon.

After stocking up on some cold drinks, snacks and other essential items, such as glow-in-the-dark tshirts at the Pinnacles Discovery Centre shop, we make our back to the now suitably dusty 4WD and back on to Indian Ocean Drive, but only for a minute.

Spying a track on the coast side of the road, I pull into it and we make our way along a suitably narrow, sandy track, a genuine air of concern in the car. Surrounded by scrub with just a narrow band of white sand ahead of us, we round a bend and there’s a vehicle in trouble, spinning sand like a sprinting sandgroper.

With the owner pulling the shirt off his back and kicking his floor mats under the back wheels I ask if he needs some help. I realise immediately it’s the wrong question to ask of a man in trouble being watched by his girlfriend. No man in trouble wants help. I should have said, “I’ve got some gear in the back. Do you wanna use it?” It’s too late. He’s committed to refusing my help. We look at each other, both of us understanding what I must do. Slowly I get back in the car and complete a 15-point turn. As slowly and as quietly as possible, I drive off back the way we came.

The silence in the car doesn’t last long. An even smaller track leads off to a massive sand dune that is crying out to be explored. We leave the car and climb this monster of bright, white sand, surrounded entirely by bush. I remember the kids just running, falling and laughing but my favourite memory is of my boy running off into the distance, at least 150m away, on his own, flat-strap and barefoot.

Back in the car, we continue the drive south, taking in the recommended scenic lookouts until we arrive in Lancelin. At the Endeavour Tavern we grab a massive wooden table outside in the beer garden and order some equally massive pizzas to fill it — and somehow make some space for drinks. The kids run off to explore the expansive lawns and roll down the grassy slope, occasionally colliding with like-minded happy kids.

Looking at Stephen’s itinerary he has checked into the Pinnacles Edge Resort, enjoying his exploration of the surroundings and looking forward to a luxurious evening before taking in more of the area’s sites tomorrow.

At about the time Stephen is slipping easily into the comforts of good service and good food, I’m making my way back down Indian Ocean Drive.

I will be home in a couple of hours, having provided my family with more stories to tell and more adventures to remember, and all done in just one day.

Any angle of a Pinnacle is a good angle but it’s the light you want to wait for. I didn’t have time for that though.

Come And Find A Stunning Display In Your Backyard, as published in the West Australian

As published in the West Australian Saturday edition travel supplement, West Travel:

The Lesmurdie Falls, on the edge of the Darling Escarpment, is one of the best and most easily accessible natural features surrounding Perth.

Remarkably, from entering the Northbridge Tunnel to arriving at Lesmurdie Falls National Park was little more than 30 minutes for my two-car convoy.

The park is small, covering only 56ha, with steep granite terrain that is densely vegetated.

The picnic facilities provide good shade and plenty of room to spread out. Within minutes of settling down, the scurry of movement in the bushes causes great excitement for the kids as moments later two quendas emerge to make enquiries as to our catering. While our group of seven had packed an ample supply of chicken, bread rolls, sausage rolls and salads, we had neglected to bring our friendly arthropods the earthworms and fungi which are the preferred diet of the quenda.

They’re an inquisitive little mammal, quokka-like in their lack of fear in securing the various ‘accidentally’ dropped pieces of food that kept landing between the feet of the kids. Under threat from habitat loss and introduced predators, these quendas are finding ways to survive the best way they can. My species is responsible for introducing the quenda to cats and foxes, so I don’t feel too bad about slipping them a few bits of bread.

The options for bushwalking are extensive throughout the park. During our picnic, there is a constant stream of hikers with tubes in their mouths from their back mounted water bladders, accompanied by the scrape of barely lifted trekking poles as they reach their rest point.

Talking to a few people – after they get their breath back – it’s apparent that many are in training for various legs of the Bibbulmun Track. As a trekker of self-proclaimed renown, I offer my sage advice; “Keep your nose over your toes and with your new boots, wear them in , don’t wear them out.”

From the carpark and adjacent picnic facilities, the Lesmurdie Falls are an easy 10-minute walk away. The path is excellent and capable of accommodating fast kids and slow adults in both directions.

As you approach the Lesmurdie Falls from the carpark and picnic area, you hear the waterfall before you see it. The cascade is a stunning display. It’s white and foamy, splashing and falling over 50m to the bottom of the chasm, flanked by granite cliffs. In the distance and on the flat ground out to the west lies Perth.

If you continue past the viewing platforms you can keep walking down the path to the bottom of the falls or off into the bush for further destinations. The paths continue to be broad, free from trip hazards and have well spaced intervals on the steps. Even carrying tired or just lazy kids is relatively easy. Relatively.

While the park surrounding the falls is the responsibility of the government parks authority, the Lesmurdie community is closely involved in its management. A small group of locals, Friends of Upper Lesmurdie Falls, have set themselves the task of removing weeds growing in the eastern end of the park and are planting native flora sourced from local seed stock.

There’s good shade, public toilets, picnic areas, large viewing platforms, information boards and well-signed and maintained trails with the opportunity to walk for minutes, hours or days.

Lesmurdie National Park is on the edge of the city, but on the other side of the hill is the rest of Australia.

ABC Saturday Breakfast Hidden Treasures: Midland … the end of line and loving it.

The Amazing Ro Edwards on ABC Saturday Breakfast, getting Perth up and about every weekend

Ro Edwards on ABC Saturday Breakfast is getting Perth up and about every weekend and being a part of her show is exciting and a lot of fun. Our program Hidden Treasures is making a habit of discovering places that have always been there but maybe you just haven’t stopped there before.

Midland was originally proclaimed and named as Midland Junction in 1891 because it is the junction of major roads leading to Perth from the north and east.

Midland is the suburb where many adventures begin as travellers head east on Great Eastern Highway, or north on the Great Northern Highway, and it’s where travellers to Perth give a big sigh and say, “We’ve made it.”

Midland is the end of the line.  Literally.  The eastern metropolitan train line starts from Perth and finishes in Midland. Although I reckon that most Midland locals are adamant that the train line actually starts in Midland and finishes in Perth, making Perth the end of the line.

It’s the railway that is as connected to the community and history of Midland as a carriage on the tracks. 

I once had a conversation with the Sultan of Johor about his favourite town in Johor, called Muar.  He wanted Muar to be like Melacca, just up the road to the north.

I said ‘I’ve been to Melacca. I’ve been to Muar. They are both great.  Why do you want Muar to be like another town just up the road?  Why would you go to the trouble of becoming like something else that you then have to compete with anyway? Be yourself.  Be known for your history and build on that.’

I thought it was pretty good advice and so did he.

Midland is a bit like Muar. It’s not the best house in the street but it’s got really good residents who are really proud of showing off what they’ve got. Up the road there’s the historical glitz and glamour of Guildford, off to the north there’s the Swan Valley vineyards to sozzle your senses and over the back fence to the east are the hills of the escarpment, overlooking Midland.

Like so many of our Hidden Treasures, it’s not that you have to dig deep to find the treasure, you just have to know where to look.

Let’s stick with the history bit first, move through what you can do now, eat out of an old lunchbox and finish with a sport that’s huge in Midland and America.

For history, anyone who has driven out that way would know about the Midland Town Hall. 

Midland Town Hall

It’s impressive and always feels like you’re going to drive into it as you head along Great Eastern Highway which takes a gentle curve to the right as you drive past this great building is Midlands most recognisable building. Just like the road in front of it, it’s got a gorgeous curve to it that makes it not just impressive as Federation architecture but it’s charming and elegant.  With the addition of the clock atop its dome serving as a memorial to local men who lost their lives in war, it’s also a reminder of the sacrifice made by those men and their loss to the community.

After a Mayoral Ball to mark completion of renovations, it’s now a popular cabaret venue and hall for hire (which isn’t as dodgy as it sounds).

The Midland Railway Workshops were the burning, molten metal heart of Midland.  You could hear the work being done for nearly a hundred years by a workforce that came from all over Perth but mostly came from the surrounding streets of Midland.  These days, a walk through and around the sheds is remarkable. 

Midland Railway Sheds

They are towering buildings with big industrial doors and windows and while they’re industrial buildings they are beautiful, magnificent and inspiring.  In the years ahead they may become spaces for sport, for the arts, for movie studios, for many things but for now just get out there and enjoy exploring these big buildings that built trains and rolling stock are also a photographers dream in any light.

Midland Railway Sheds

Trillion Trees partners with the ABC tv series Fight for Planet A and the nursery grows more than 200,000 seedlings each year and is a great oasis to wander around and purchase some native plants from volunteers from a range of diverse backgrounds and employment training programs. They’re also working with local schools, including Woodbridge Primary School and Moorditj Noongar College, teaching the kids about cultural ecology.

The Midland Junction Arts Centre is the cultural heart of Midland provides workshops for all ages, has three galleries, workspaces for artists and want-to-be artists and works really hard to engage the community in creative ways.  A huge range of workshops are available including after school ceramics for the kids, life drawing for the adults and tactile tours for participants with disability to experience the arts through discussion and touch.

Blue Beautiful Exhibition at the Midland Junction Arts Centre (Yes you can have a slushy! Beat that Banksy!)

The Robot Bun Factory is an example of the quirky cafes springing up all over Midland, some selling records and bric-a-brac, others selling local art but when a café gets you coming back you know it’s not just about the robots and free board games, it’s about bao buns served in 1950’s style tin lunch boxes and a local crew doing their best to put a funky pin in the map of Midland.

There’s always action at the Robot Bun Factory Cafe

The Midland Farmers Markets are one of the oldest markets with the freshest fruit and vege produce alongside live music and pickles, cakes and jams. The next one is tomorrow and its out the front of the City of Swan offices on Market Square.

While Guildford has the antique shops, Midland has second hand shops and charity shops that are a rummagers delight and my teenage daughter Matilda’s obsession as she searches high and low for clothes or diligently and silently flicks her way through boxes of old records.

Watch some baseball or teeball at Charlie Hodder Baseball Field.  Baseball has a rich history going back to the 1940s and a rich competition that is great fun to watch in the stands with a hot dog.

Photo courtesy of the Swan District Baseball Club

Midland is a hidden treasure because it’s not trying to be like something else.  Surrounded by glamourous neighbours, it has dug its heels in and supported by a rich rail history, they are building a community and attracting visitors for the art and culture, fresh produce, funky cafes, collections of charity shops and sport you might have only seen before in the movies and on tv.

ABC Perth Saturday Breakfast: Hidden Treasures Visits Coogee

The Coogee Hotel … now the Coogee Common

Coogee was a great suburb to explore and discuss on Hidden Treasures for ABC Saturday Breakfast. Ro and I flicked back and forth between the then and the now and it’s what I love most about Coogee because what was once horrible is now wonderful.

ABC Saturday Breakfast with Roanna Edwards

Coogee is a coastal suburb just to south of Fremantle and north of Kwinana and is very small for suburban Perth, just over 3sqm which makes it smaller than its northern coastal strip suburban cousin, Cottesloe.

If you’d been driving through Coogee on Cockburn Road in the 1970’s and even the 1980’s and someone in the car had said, “You know, all this will be a hidden treasure one day”, you most likely would have laughed and said they were crazy. 

Driving along Cockburn Road in 2021 and it’s a very different story.  From shipwrecks to colonial remnants this is a suburb that has gone from the need to quickly wind up your car window (remember those?!) to block the smell of Robbs Jetty and the skin drying sheds, to walking through fragrant vegetable gardens and olive trees and being welcomed by bees more interested in pollinating carrot and caper bush flowers than angrily protecting their domain.

Let’s start with the best shed in Perth. Technically it’s in neighbouring Munster but its such a great place to start and is just off Stock Road.  It’s called Barn Finds and is a big rusty shed full of everything old you ever imagined could ever have been made.  From a huge World War Two floating mine, to kids tricycles, cool drink signs, tools and toys it is packed and time here to explore and rummage is recommended along with the consideration of a tetanus booster but we’re all used to a jab to protect us these days!

Barn Finds in Munster, just off Stock Road

Lake Coogee between Stock Road and Cockburn Road has good walking tracks around the lake and there are also some interesting remnants of two Pensioner Guards cottages and a well, from where many of the Pensioner Guards settled around 1876 after their service to their colony.

Sticking with the remnant part historic Coogee are the limestone kilns on Cockburn Road that were built around 1900 when the thriving industry of extracting lime for building and agriculture purposes was good work for most men in the district.

Lake Coogee
Historic Lime Kilns

The Coogee coast has always been pristine and from Woodman Point right up to the border with South Fremantle where the old power station is, you’ll find great beach fishing, great picnic facilities and tuck shops, jetty’s for jumping off, a shipwreck called the Omeo and the adjacent snorkelling trail that is just a twenty meters off shore and Perth’s best and most accessible snorkelling attraction, and a stretch of brilliant white beach and calm water that is perfect for a day of sunbathing or swimming until the sun goes down behind Garden Island on the horizon.

Steps to the Omeo, just 20 metres offshore

Just a couple of minutes walk from the Omeo is the marina with a series of boardwalk style cafes where you can sit and play, “I’d have that one” as you point at a boat you like the most.

The Coogee lookout has one of the best vantage points in Perth and on the clear day that I was there recently I could see Rottnest, Carnac and Garden Island, down to Rockingham, across to the hills of the escarpment, up to the Perth CBD and across to the harbour cranes of Fremantle.

Finally, I want to take you to the Coogee Hotel, built and completed in the early 1900’s and from being a local watering hole it later became a orphanage before lying derelict for the second half of the 20th Century.

It’s now heritage listed and been renovated and operates as the proud, beating heart of Coogee, the Coogee Common.

There’s a restaurant and lounge bar and private dining rooms that are decorated in the style of days gone by but it’s the gardens that are the star of Coogee Common.  Not only will you see the staff wandering around the garden snipping and picking bits and pieces for your brunch or lunch but you can wander the gardens or if you’re lucky, get a tour with Scott the owner. 

He showed me rows of veges and creeping caper bushes, he helped Tom overcome his fear of bees by showing him their hives, nestled in amongst a row of olive trees and rosemary bushes.  He showed me barrels of olives, stalks of kale, the fruit of the prickly pear which I remember fondly from trips to Puglia in Italy and he showed me a loofah which I just thought was a bath sponge but is a species of cucumber.  He gave Tom some seeds so as well as Toms passion for companion planting he can now grow his own bath sponges which I’m hoping may encourage him to bathe more often.

Coogee Common garden
The garden is full of hard workers
Wherever you look there is produce ready for your plate

Coogee Common is one of those places that during it, you’re already planning your next visit.

Vegetarian options are the standout meals because of the fresh produce from the garden but being presented with Fremantle sardines and the option of fish of the day caught off Rottnest earlier in the morning just puts a smile on your face.

So there you have it.  What was once a horror drive through smells and sights that aren’t easily forgotten have been beaten into submission by the new smells and sights of Coogee. 

I also learnt from Tom, who must have learnt it from Scott at Coogee Common about companion planting.  Evidently there are good planting companions like apples and chives or sunflowers and cucumbers but there are also bad companions like wormwood which doesn’t like all other plants.

So Coogee makes it as one of my favourite hidden treasures because it has transformed itself and I want to go back with family and friends and do it all again.

ABC Saturday Breakfast: Hidden Treasures in Mirrabooka

The Shaping Futures Mural

For Hidden Treasures on ABC Saturday Breakfast, Ro and I discussed Mirrabooka. While it was sad to have to phone in for the show, rather than the scheduled Outside Broadcast at Mirrabooka Square, it was a good opportunity to share with listeners just what a great community and range of activities, and food, can be found in Mirrabooka.

Mirrabooka is only around 12 kilometres north of the Perth CBD.  At its core is a population that makes it one of Australia’s most culturally diverse areas with more than 50 nationalities calling Mirrabooka home.

Mirrabooka doesn’t have an iconic pub or historical landmark and there isn’t a drawcard that is likely to feature on a postcard but that’s not what a hidden treasure is.  A hidden treasure is something you need to discover that you value and want others to value.

I haven’t spent enough time in Mirrabooka to know if cultural diversity is what best defines the community but I know from growing up in a small regional community and working in regional communities across Western Australia what to look for when I’m trying to find a heartbeat, searching for a soul and finding stuff to do.

Let me tell you a little story of a recent Mirrabooka experience.  My son Tom and I visited a local treasure last weekend, the Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant.  It’s run by a family and we met the father who greeted us and the daughter who served us and here’s the point;  when we left an hour later we knew all about the family who worked in the restaurant, we knew that the restaurant is named after a town in Ethiopia that is renowned for its churches that are cut into the rocky ground and often joined by tunnels and trenches.  We learnt about Ethiopia’s great coffee, the amazing national dish which is a bread called injera and filled with the health benefits Teff flour and we even had a discussion about Ethiopia’s former Emperor, Haile Selassie.  Here was a family filled with passion for their homeland and their new land.  That’s a hidden treasure.

Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant

Mirrabooka is part of the Bush Forever Project, that seeks to protect significant plant and animal populations in the Swan Coastal Plain.  The Bush Forever Conservation Area in Mirrabooka is a beautiful 130 hectares of banksia and wallaby filled wilderness that you can walk through and feel connected to, even though it’s bordered by major roads, including Reid Highway.  Like its famous cousin Kings Park though, it’s big enough to not hear the traffic and small enough that you won’t get lost.

Beautiful Banksia’s in the Bush Forever Project

Mirrabooka has a Harmony Art Trail that celebrates and is inspired by the different cultures that live in Mirrabooka. 

Murals abound throughout the area including the Harmony Mural on the walls of this shopping centre, featuring Indian style Mandalas which traditionally signify unity and across the road from the shopping centre is the famous Shaping The Future mural, first painted by artist Steve Cross nearly 30 years ago and given a facelift just a few years ago.  Shaping The Future features faces from many backgrounds, including Syrian, Filipino, Greek, Vietnamese and Aboriginal.  The central character is the laughing face of local legend and Noongar Ballardong Elder Doolan-Leisha Eatts.

The Shaping Futures Mural

Mirrabooka is held together by a community that comes together and does stuff well.  There are regular community markets but it’s more than a place to find some cheap toys for the kids or some plants for the garden.  The stallholders are encouraged to participate in a program run by Mercycare and the City of Stirling to learn how to run a stall like a business; including customer service skills, hygiene when preparing and serving food and marketing what is being sold.

Finally, Mirrabooka has an ongoing program that has flourished since it was launched by the City of Stirling and the State Government.  The Mirrabooka Library resources and the people who work there are treasured by the community. In 2017 the Mirrabooka Community Hub was launched with a range of services that focus on youth development, multicultural women’s health, craft clubs and newcomer tours but it’s the Innovations Lab I want to tell you about this morning.

The Innovations Lab is a space that provides resources for community members to explore new technologies, invent new technologies and make community connections through the exploration of ideas in the world of 3d printing, laser cutting, computer coding, making robots and opportunities through the use of Virtual Reality and using bananas to make keyboards and play tunes on it using an electronics kit called Makey Makey.

Visit Mirrabooka and enjoy a bushwalk, a cultural art trail walk, great local markets with lots of craft and food, great food from a range of very authentic and passionate cafes and restaurants and try out your skills in the Innovations Lab and keep an eye out with what’s always happening in the Mirrabooka Regional Open Space which has regular events that include lots of family activities including animal farms and you wouldn’t believe it … even more local food.

If Mirrabooka had one of those number plate slogans that regional communities love to have it would have to be, “A community thrives here” or maybe “We have lots of food”.

Exotic, authentic and exciting food at the Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant and many other culturally diverse restaurants throughout Mirrabooka

Have A Go News Newspaper: Dolphins Play More Than Us

Open the link above and enjoy reading about my experience with Perth Wildlife Encounters down at Rockingham, swimming with dolphins in the wild. Real dolphins in the real wild.

Have A Go News now has a circulation of 80,000 hard copy newspapers and can be found in recreation centres, local councils, community centres, libraries and government agencies throughout Western Australia. Their website is very cool as well.