In the UK, Australian art is flavour of the autumn with the exhibition “Australia” opening this weekend at the Royal Academy, covering 200 years of landscape art. Some fabulous works include spectacular Aboriginal paintings, so if you’re in London don’t miss it (Sept 21 – Dec 8). However in Melbourne landscape art has become exactly that – moving outdoors to take on the form of urban murals. As a result, street art is a flourishing art form in itself.
Who would have guessed it, the far-flung Aussie city of Melbourne claims the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the Western World. I certainly became convinced a week or so ago while staying in the heart of said Chinatown, in Little Bourke Street. Exit the cossetting yet funky Ovolo hotel, look left, and there’s a sea of ideograms, banners and red lanterns, with a few pagoda-style arches thrown in. Not least, the aromas matched the view, 24/7. I was in gastro-heaven, even more so when it turned out my visit coincided with the Asian Food Festival – so Spring rolls (according to the downunder seasons at least), pedicabs and all.
For the aboriginals of the Top End, the sounds made by cicadas resemble nit nit – hence the name of the national park, Nitmiluk, which I visited last week. Tooling down the Stuart Highway from Darwin, my visual overdose of Aussie bush was luckily interspersed by gigantic termite mounds, ancient cycads and outback pit-stops. The coffee wasn’t great, nor was the grub, but at one of them I visited a surprisingly moving ‘bush’ cemetery. Then, about 4 hours later, I entered Jawoyn country, the park and finally the electronic gates of Cicada Lodge.
Have you ever slept in the same hotel room in two different places? No, I`m not talking about tedious hotel chains where identical, characterless furnishings crop up continents apart, but about the exact same room. More precisely, a chic cabin in an individually designed `boutique` (not too keen on that word) lodge that somehow shifted a few thousand kilometres. Here`s the baby…
Billabongs, buffalo, wallabies, giant termite mounds, crocodiles, all against a backdrop of immense craggy outcrops, lotus-clad floodplains and lofty eucalypts and paperbark trees – all quite a change from the sweet summer green of Blighty. Here it`s raw and primeval – bleached by the sun, and I love it.
I am in the remote Wildman Wilderness Lodge on the edge of Kakadu National Park, in the just categorised national park of Mary River. Read more about the actual lodge in my other post here.
Here’s a quick window on life in the southern hemisphere where, while we in the UK & Europe hear only about cutbacks, they are sitting on a gold-mine – literally. You can add to the gold a bit of copper and zinc, as well as the odd diamond. I’m talking about Western Australia and its booming capital, Perth, reaping the benefits of the Kimberly mines (a harshly beautiful region that bowled me over when I visited three years ago). But as last week’s trip was to the green south-western corner that peers out at Antartica, we were treated to a spectacle of unadulterated farmland and wilderness.
With too much to write for work, the easiest way to capture some highlights of this trip to Australia is by lazily posting a few snapshots. To kick off, here’s a slice of paradise up on the north coast overlooking the Timor Sea, at Faraway Bay.
A pretty eccentric, very hands-on set-up, divine food, superlative views and a mixed bag of Aussie guests – plus a barefoot bushman who took us way out into the bush to some extraordinary rock art sites. Then came a boat-trip along the spectacular King George’s Gorge, one of those red sandstone marvels of the Kimberley region, rich in minerals like silica, manganese, potassium and iron ore, and about 350 million years old. That’s peanuts for Oz.
As dawn cracked through the clouds drifting across the southern hemisphere, the flight from London finally landed in Melbourne. That was several hours ago. A strange time of year for such a jaunt you might think, as downunder it’s pretty grey and drizzly, but I was lured to this side of the world to take part in the first edition of the Melbourne Festival of Travel Writing.