To Murramarang National Park

Having a week to ourselves, John and I decided to go on a few days holiday down the South Coast of NSW.  We were curious about Murramarang National Park, which lies north of Batemans Bay, a small fishing town sitting on the banks of the Clyde River.  So John booked a cabin at the adjacent Murramarang Nature Resort, we packed our bags and left at a leisurely late time of the morning for the long car trip down south.

Tree with red blossoms in street

Illawarra Flame Tree

Past Wollongong, the landscape was, as it usually is, green and lush looking with the native Illawarra Flame tree at its peak flowering putting out a burst of magnificent red here and there.

It was an unusually hot day and when we got to the quaint old, over-loved town of Berry (which is always crowded with bloody tourists) for lunch, the heat hit us like a furnace when we got out of the air-conditioned car.

Nevertheless, Berry radiates peace and serenity as this country

Country town lane with trees

Berry back street

lane shows.  However with these lovely old towns there always seems to be a ghost of the marauding white settler in hob-nailed boots whose grave lies somewhere in the gently whispering cemetery – someone not quite ever aligned with this much harsher and wider country than from whence he or she came.

The gloriously purple Jacarandas are still flowering along with

Two flowering trees by roadside

Flame and Jacaranda tree

the magnificent red Flame Trees, but it was hard to get the two of them together.  When I did see one such duo growing wild by the side of the road, I clambered up the slope and found myself plunged knee-deep in grass and was too terrified of snakes to wander further and find a better camera view.  So this was the best I could get.

When we got to the Resort, fairly late in the afternoon, we exclaimed in pleasure at the pretty and very spacious villa that we had, overlooking a charming garden courtyard with native palms and a barbeque.  Later on, the

garden with palms and kangaroo

View from the Forest Villa

 resident kangaroos that grazed lazily around the resort moved to our courtyard and were busily chomping the grass.  Apparently the staff never need to mow the lawns, due to these insatiable herbivores and even have a problem with the outsides of the lawns being eaten out of existence.

Actually the occasional wallaby, darker more chocolate brown, smaller and of more curvaceous build was much more timid, bounding off into the bush almost as soon as they were noticed.

I spent the first full day lazing on the beach, where I saw a majestic White-bellied Sea Eagle bursting out of the nearby forest and flying far over the bay pursued by two aggressive Ravens, who soon lost pace.

Large tree trunk in eucalypt forest.

Trunk of Large Tree

The afternoon John and I went on a walk in the forest, following a trail that led to reputedly the second-largest tree in NSW.

Branches of large eucalyptus tree.

Top of large tree

 And here it is with its massive trunk and tall, twisted arms.  The forest trees were a kind of spotted gum, the blackbutt and the occasional stringybark.

Eucalypt forest with vines

Eucalypt forest with vines

It was a dry, dusty kind of forest with open glades, some mossy logs and vines that from time to time festooned themselves on trees.  Resident birds ranged from

Eucalypt forest

Eucalypt forest

finches and wagtails to wattle-birds, whip-birds, pigeons and kookaburras.

Forest glade in eucalypt forest

Antipodean forest glade

When one speaks of open forest glades, it kind of conjures up the sort of pretty clearings with green sward that happen in English and European forests, so beloved of medieval knights and ladies of yore.

Ferns and mossy log in eucalypt forest

Ferns and mossy log

But glades in Australian forests can be enchanting too, especially in the manner of its botanical diversity and its lone, wild beauty, untouched by civilised history.  Apparently when the Europeans first arrived, the forests were kept in a park-like state with myriads of diverse native rodents.  But

Ground cover in eucalypt forest with small yellow and white flowers

Ground cover with small flowers

unfortunately they have mostly disappeared due to the depredations of

Large Eucalypt tree with boles on trunk

Boles on Eucalypt tree

introduced species like dogs, cats, foxes and prolific rabbits and these days the eucalypt forests are much more prone to destructive bush fires.

The next sunny day in Murramarang (Paradise), after another dip in the ocean and appreciating the fresh air and crystal clear waters, I went for a short walk along bush trail down to the rocky southern headland and into the National Park.

Honey-comb weathering at Wasp Head

Honey-comb weathering at Wasp Head

I arrived at a place called Wasp Head, which probably got its name from the intricate honey-comb weathering covering all its sandstone rocks.  Further out at sea was Wasp Island, which apparently is haven to much bird-life including, Terns, Mutton-birds (Shearwaters) and even a colony of Little Penguins.

A view of Wasp Island from Wasp Head

Wasp Island

 On the lonely head (which I had all to myself), I saw a Pied Cormorant preening its drenched feathers in the sun and two Sooty Oyster-catchers with their long, thin, vermilion beaks and red legs.

Emily Miller Beach

Emily Miller Beach

Further southwards stretched a lovely little bay known as Emily Miller Beach, which I again had the luxury of having all to myself.

Cave at Emily Miller Beach

Emily Miller Beach cave

The colour of the water was a beautiful turquoise green and there was even a cave among the rocks.

The next day was Monday, some clouds had blown over and the weather was cool and breezy.  Some gentle rain set in

Coastal headland

Headland at South Durras

as we walked Northwards up the beach where the small village of South Durras nestled.  There was supposed to be an Aboriginal midden near the cliffs of this headland but we could not see anything of it amongst the graffiti-scrawled rocks and caves at the foot of the beach.

Sandstone rock weathering at South Durras headland

Sandstone rock weathering

We saw some Cormorants and a black little Egret fishing along the sandstone rocks, which bore some very interesting weathering, a series of rounded smooth holes through which you could see the waves threshing under.

That night we went to nearby Bateman’s Bay for fish and chips, eating our takeaway at the quay and trying to avoid the greedy seagulls.  The place is a little fishing town presiding over a pretty bay and the mouth of the Clyde River.

The late afternoon deepens into evening and a rich blue-black inky cloak of night falls gracefully over the scene.  The yellow and white lights of the bridge, jetties and houses enliven the black waters with glistening, moving, coalescing towers.  It is quiet except for the sometime cars and the occasional road train chugging over the bridge.  A number of small fishing boats and yachts are moored in the quay, silent and barely moving with the lapping tide.

Later on at night when we got back to our cabin, some

Mother and baby possum

Mother and baby possum

uninvited guests in the shape of possums dropped in hoping for some of our food.  However we do not feed wild animals, particularly as doing so makes them more aggressive.  The possums and kangaroos at the resort seem quite used to humans and they can be quite bold and difficult to shoo away, especially where there is a prospect of getting some food scraps.

The following Tuesday morning, we reluctantly packed and said our goodbyes to this utterly salubrious place.  We headed for Mt Pigeonhouse, near Ulladulla, on the way back home to Sydney.

Fortunately, the weather was a mild and sunny one tempered

Mountain track with surrounding trees

The track to the top

with a cool breeze.  At a turn-off from the Highway, we drove for about 30 kilometres along a mostly rough, dusty, unsealed road to the foot of the mountain we intended to climb.

First there was a stiff climb up dry Eucalypt woodland like spotted gum and Stringybark.  Then an easy stroll through a kind of heath where we saw quite a few honey-eaters feasting on the red flowers of the prickly Mountain Devil bushes.

Then we neared the last part, the great crop of sandstone rocks that formed the citadel of the summit.  Extremely tired from the continuous uphill climb, I felt so slight and frail against the onslaught of mighty rock that it seemed that getting to the top was impossible.  But I did it with small, patient steps, stopping every now and then to rest and catch my breath and climbing carefully up the perpendicular steel ladders.

Then we got to the summit of Mount Pigeonhouse, where our

View of mountain plateaus

Summit, North view

panoramic reward awaited us.  To the North stretches a stunning view of plateau mountains, clothed in dusty, khaki coloured trees.  They raise their solemn, rocky slopes clear from their forest skirts among the deep u-shaped valleys.

To the West, there are an interlacing network of ululating hills lying like a crumpled, grey-blue blanket under the heavy cloud covering of that part of the sky.  I see trees from that distance like bronze-green cauliflowers clothing the gentle swell of the hillsides.

South and East, sweeps the undulating hills and plains to the coast and beyond.  And the summit holds sway over this inviolate, fecund last great domain of wild forest woodlands, rainforest and heath that hugs its gullies and slopes.

View of mountain plateaus

Further View of plateaus

No-one knows what goes on in that expanse of uninhabited country, lying peacefully under the shadows of clouds, warmed by the late spring sunshine and enlivened by a fresh, cool North East breeze.

Grasses on mountain summit

Summit life

After observing some birds like a green Wompoo pigeon and a small, tan-breasted Origma (similar to a Wagtail) on the rarified environment on the summit, we made our way down and got into the car for the long trip back to Sydney.  And that was the end of our lovely trip.

Rouen Cathedral, France, 12 November, 1994

Was lucky enough to get to a Monet exhibition of Rouen Cathedral which was travelling around at Rouen Musee de Beaux Arts –

Rouen is not a large or seemingly terribly imposing cathedral – it has none of the vast Romanesque spell of faery world of endless beauty and play of Chartres – It has been ravaged by the 2nd World War.  Most of the stained glass is modern or donated, or just plain glass.  But walking around the church there is a mistiness and it has a certain grey mysteriousness.

“I care not for the trials of the flesh” says an agonised Joan of Arc in her chapel.  Here I am surrounded by colour in the exhibition.  Monet has captured some of that mistiness and a human pain of an intimate knowledge.  The facades shimmer and seems to be made of light not jewels in any way.

Etude Portal vu du Face

Etude Portal vu du Face

Monet “Etude pour portal vu de face” – scumbling muted greens browns and blues – light chocolately and never muddy – lines of colour sketched with a grave attention to freedom, a graceful (exclusion/exision) of all unnecessary lines & details.  Rouen’s elaborate spires – as in his freehand sketches also shown, shiver, waver but like flames always decisively towards the heavens.

 

 

“Effet de Soleil Fin de Jounee” – finish of the afternoon?  The west front is clad in a soft

Sunset

Sunset

apricot mantle, clear cobalt blue resting in the hollows of “our Lady’s” form.  In the square the blue shadows deepen at the bottom of the painting.  While the top of the portal blazes with yellow lights which reflects itself – over and above.

 

 

 

“le portail” – fine blue day, Plein Soliel his most famous shimmers – as I had long suspected – although not one soul shadows the sunshine.  Are they all alseep at lunch?  While the sun rides high?  except the clock, tinged with red spot blood colour, ticks on to tell the time.  The effect of the sun pales the cathedral rather than reflects the long yellow rays – which shine at the either side of each day,

“Fin Apres midi”  Apricot & pale blue hues cream & honey “the late after noon” fires embers of yellow sunlight glowing in the portals are dying into ashes – only the door seems to hold a palpitating heart and the clock swathed in blue with a yellow centre – keeps a flowery counsel.

Light Blue-green sky le portail “Brouillard Martinal” sea of blue & green – the fine boned face of the portal is graced with a white light and some yellow/sunlight, tinged with red/orange climbs some of the towers.  Strokes of freely dashed paint like elegant handwriting.  Pale patch of sky.

“Effet du Matin” golden green shadows pale reddish face – blue spires rise coldly awakening faint flushed the sky.  fingers of sunlight barely touching barely transmitting their warmth

“le portail et la tour d’Albane” temps gris captures much of the mistiness of Rouen which

Facade et Tour D'Albane

Facade et Tour D’Albane

rises swirling into the air – surprising the traveller myself, who expected this from a surely more imposing looking building.  Not so – many ghosts throughout time live their spirit life peacefully in Rouen cathedral

 

 

 

“la cour d’Albane Apres-midi” wonderful blue sky.  The houses are awake it the sunlight – all the colours are dark blue, pale mauve, gold, green, hues of red & yellows all dancing in their outlines of blue – Beside the wall of the church a jumble of buildings with light-jewels for casements – a reddish brown passageway burns – Nobody is there.  Also not on a grey day.  16 paintings in all.  Have no more time –

Towers of light, of glowing embers, of muted sculpted grey – sketched in faces – in all kinds of weather & time & the clock strikes on…

Letter from Hue, Vietnam – April 2013

View of city of Hue from hotel

View of Hue from our hotel.

Just around bedtime, last Monday, we were holed up in our beautiful 4star hotel after an exhausting day of exploring the old Forbidden City that lies at the heart of this large provincial town. Having had visions of cycling through wide, peaceful, tree-lined streets, we hired bikes for the day.

Uh uh! Traffic was just as abysmally bad as at Hanoi with millions of motorcycles, and cars, other bicycles, trucks and people all going wherever they chose, luckily though at about 40kph. It took us quite some time to get into something like the right Zen headspace and just relax and let them all flow around you.

Hue used to be the political epicentre of Vietnam, the place of dynastic kings, until Ho Chi Minh rose to power in 1945. Thenceforth government wielded power from Hanoi. And indeed it seems like a place that Time has passed by and in doing so has imbued the place with a rich, fantastic and melancholy beauty.

The walled fortress, citadels and Forbidden City complex is incredibly vast, filled with gardens, canals, artificial lakes with lotuses and fringed with graceful trees, temples, all kinds of buildings such as the rich carmine red and gold interior end throne room, the theatre, the luxurious residence of the Queen Mother and much much more… Anyway we took loads of photos, which you can see when we get back!

The Royal Palace complex with its surrounding fortress walls and citadels lie on the banks of the beautiful, wide, swirling, moss green waters of the Perfume River, above which scores of dragonflies hover in the warm, heavy, humid air.

River with boat before palace

Perfume River, Hue

Above the citadel at the entrance an enormous Vietnamese flag of the yellow star in red background waves. The banks of the river on our side are flanked with beautiful public gardens with trees and modern and ancient sculptures and many fine French colonial style buildings.

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There were always secret little archways leading into gardens,

Archway in Forbidden City, Hue

Archway in Forbidden City, Hue

Courtyard with archway.

One of the many little courtyards in the Forbidden City.

stone dragons winding their ways down staircases, roofs and sitting at the bases of steps

Staircase with stone dragons

Dragon stairs, Forbidden City, Hue

Stone dragon on a wall

A rampant dragon perched atop a wall.

and more buildings, to house all the eunuchs, concubines, royal family, mandarins and other officials.

Palace pavilion with artificial ponds

Dowager Queens pleasure pavilion, Forbidden City, Hue

Altar of worship.

Dowager Queen’s altar of worship.

It suggests an atmosphere heavy with suppressed intrigues and whisperings but also a sense of being a beautiful placid world far removed from the real world of working people outside whose taxes paid for it.

Residences with gardens in Forbidden City, Hue

Residential quarters in Forbidden City, Hue

Ceramic flower shaped tile in wall.

Ceramic tile in wall doing double duty as a peep-hole?

Artificial lakes with waterlilies

Artificial lakes with waterlilies.

Much of it was in ruins and dereliction,

Ruins of stone wall with trees

Bombed wall at Forbidden City, Hue.

especially since the bloody Americans (and sadly I guess we also) bombed the place. However the Vietnamese are busily restoring it with the help of German government funding and have already done some beautiful work, such as the red and gold lacquering on the wooden pillars, walls and casements of a long hall.

Restored open doors of a hallway in the Forbidden City

Part of a restored hallway in the Forbidden City

And I think the Vietnamese have the last laugh, since near the exit was this fenced compound where all these military tanks that stormed the fall of Saigon in 1975 along with a number of captured US bomber planes were proudly displayed for the benefit of the public. So hah!

US Military helicopter

An impounded US military helicopter

Love, Megan, John and Veronique

Pompeii, Italy, 1994

John and I are in Old Pompeii.  The empty town square that tenements of crumbling tan brick surround and on a pedestal Apollo stands, his arm raised to Vesuvius – glistening black metal God of a sun that shone blackly that day.  That terrible day of apocalypse and pyroclastic flow as Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 and killed so many people.

I try to envisage a pair of ancient eyes watching me as I wander aimless amongst the roofless ruins.  But that was all part of the tourist trade, where people flog their business as usual and many guides beckon to reveal behind tawdry curtains, what they know of the real Pompeii:  The love-making room in the town brothel being a climax.

Yes it is all big business, that apocalypse.

Movie extras in costumed togas and rhinestone diadems wander around the old round open theatre at will, pursued by cameras recording that endless fascination with so many violent deaths.  All at once.  And they didn’t know.

Now death agony can be viewed in perfect detail under glass.  The torturous twisted faces of pool attendants in the public baths.  They are somewhat smaller than people today, mouths agape in mid-scream of pain and terror – on that day.  Some day that black will be marble, honed and polished, slabs all ready for sale at the markets.

We wander in the Villa of Mysteries, in what must have been a secluded and affluent kind of cul-de-sac quite some walking distance from the town centre.  Only someone of supreme wealth would have caused such great, beautiful slabs to be laid – like the best playing cards in the deck.  Not showy, but brimming with silent quality and built to last a lifetime memory in an art-lover’s mind.  And that isn’t just the frescos.

But a heart-thumping wall of black earth bearing green weeds rises just behind the back windows and doors.  And on the floor the figure of a broken boy, face dove-peaceful in the greenish light…

Around Old Pompeii lies the tacky modern town feeding from its bones.  It has erected ugly concrete boxes of hotels and neon-lit shops and the main drag boasts cars bumper to bumper, moving at a glacial pace in the warmish early autumn evening.

Mount Vesuvius – imperceptibly massive – had defeated us that day.  It imperiously beckons, but its summit enticingly near, melts further away with each kilometre.  So we had given up and returned to the town debating pizzas for dinner as we griped our way through the evening traffic jam.

It was quite dark when we stopped at a club-house and then, there they all were, the entire town almost.  Men, women, couples, families with children, groups of friends, young, old and middle-aged.  They were all dressed smartly with the women in black and hair done just so, in Saturday night best all promenading the town square.  The people of Old Pompeii still live among us!