Monday, January 18, 2021

Oh, Barmah! Tales from the riverbanks of the mighty Murray River (Dhungala) in Yorta Yorta country

We're in Victoria's Sun Country region at Barmah, looking at maps showing off-road tracks, significant wetlands and camping spots along Dhungala, the Murray River, Australia's longest and the third longest navigable river in the world. With or without the impressive statistics, this particular area is quite simply stunning, too good not to share. 

Dhungala, the mighty Murray River

This is an assignment that's brought us to the wider region without a fixed prior plan and it's a luxury to go as we please, choosing accommodation to suit. Barmah, the only Victorian town north of the Murray (I still haven't worked that out!) is on our radar as it is beside the river with a connecting bridge to NSW.  The Barmah Bridge Caravan Park has cabins and the kind owners give us the spotless Cockatoo cabin a short walk from both the riverside and the Barmah Hotel –  we're just in time for dinner at 6pm. The hotel bar/dining room has historic photos around the walls and it seems that bushranger Ned Kelly played cards here. We're masked up because of Covid – maybe cause for a philosophical discussion with Ned here?

There's hardly anyone about as the VIC/NSW border only opened the day before we arrived so we're beating the crowds, lucky to find this place to stay ahead of what is shaping up to be a huge weekend for camp grounds and accommodation along the river. Nine hours' drive from Sydney via Wagga Wagga and along back roads through plains of golden wheat fields –  it's been long day reaching the heartland of Yorta Yorta country, but there's still time to wander by the river at dusk, to the tune of a cacophony of corellas!

Pre-dawn we're heading in to the Barmah National Park where the Barmah-Millewa river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) forests meet the Moira and Barmah Lakes systems.  There's movement in the trees and a group of brumbies appears, ghostly shapes blending effortlessly into the setting, as do the kangaroos and emus we see along the way. The brumbies have a reprieve from the muster due to take place the following weekend, cancelled due to Covid. The Heritage listed Muster Yards stand empty. 

Tracks to the left lead to flooded areas but we hope to drive the loop road without incident. No such luck, the road ahead is closed, even to our rugged 4x4 with an intrepid driver! Backtracking we follow loops and turns to the river, where camp sites beckon and the idea of settling in to camp for a few nights is extremely tempting. There are huge trees and everywhere a sense of calm, as if every part of this place is sacred and protected, which it obviously is. There are canoe and shield trees, scarred trees, markers, cooking mounds and ceremonial and burial grounds –  signs for an interpretive walking track from the Dharnya Aboriginal Centre (closed) help visitors focus on details it would be easy to overlook, such as how the burls on the huge river red gums are formed.

Brumbies and burls
Self-guided trails

Still looking for the lake system we try several tracks, finding car parks on the edge of the river but still no lake. Parts of the forest are flooded, the dark waters reflecting the trees in a mesmerising fashion, like a mystical/magical film setting. Backtracking again we follow another side road and find a large group of fishermen poised to launch their boats. This is Barmah Lake and it's sensational, the river widening, lined with beaches and reed beds, reflecting the clouds from its calm surface. 

Stunning Barmah Lake

Following tracks back beside the river we pass named points that are obviously favourite camping spots, a few occupied with campers looking decidedly happy and relaxed. No doubt they'll have the luxury of time to experience the fascinating features of these significant freshwater wetlands, recognised under the international Ramsar convention and home to around 550 plant species, more than 200 species of birds including Superb Parrots, mammals, frogs, native fish, turtles and much more. 

Reluctantly we leave the park for our next location at Moama in NSW opposite the historic VIC river port of Echuca. Our choice for the next two nights is a yurt at the eco-friendly Talo Retreat, the glamping section of the large Moama on Murray Resort offering, the Talo Retreat video says, an experience you will never forget. Biking and canoeing are options or just lazing, swinging in a hammock, looking out for parrots and kangaroos. But there's no relaxing for us today as we must be elsewhere and leave as the place fills up with a film crew and two media groups. Luxury glamping facilities are among the future plans for the resort, we're told.
Yurt at Talo Retreat

Barmah Hotel
After a busy couple of days we're due to head north again, but somehow we're drawn back to the Barmah National Park and happily there's a vacancy for one more night at Cockatoo cabin! I'm not sure why I feel so elated but we'll have another opportunity to enjoy the great bacon and egg rolls at the Barmah Post Office/store and it's like going home for a meal again at the Barmah Hotel, experiencing that timeless sense of reality that country Australia has to offer if you can slow down a bit and tune in to the surroundings. It's all so uncomplicated, very simple and very real. 

Back on the tracks, driving through the river red gum forest beside the Murray, we again experience the sense of peace and presence and an atmosphere of wellbeing that will definitely not be forgotten.

All words, photos and video © Alison Plummer. 

The annual World Wetlands Day on 2 February celebrates extraordinary places like this.

Up close:

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Hairy clairy and Christmas bush put on a spectacular show in Wollombi NSW

Christmas bush. © Alison Plummer
Angophora and Christmas bush. ©AP

Spring has been beautiful at our place in Wollombi NSW and we've spent time documenting plants here and in the neighbourhood, continuing our ongoing study begun in the year 2000. In all that time we haven't seen flannel flowers as prolific as they have been this year or Christmas bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum) which has been extraordinary with red trees dotting the landscape around the ridges and cliffs. We have clerodendrum tomentosum,  too, covered in creamy white blossom followed by green berries surrounded by red – the berries turn black in yet another photogenic colour combination. The leaves are hairy underneath and the common name is hairy clairy or hairy lollybush!

Clerodendrum and scarlet honeyeater. © Alison Plummer
Clerodendrum and scarlet honeyeater, above.
Clerodendrum berries, below. ©AP/KPM

Clerodendrum berries.©Ken Martin

Things to do and places to stay in Wollombi/Laguna:

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Sandstone springwatch 2020, Wollombi Valley

Patersonia sericea©AP

People often ask about our place in the Australian bush in the Wollombi Valley. In contrast to my beloved English cottage garden, this wide treescape with its soaring sandstone ridges and deep valleys is a little harder to explain, especially when I talk about the plants.

Sandstone cliffs, our place. ©AP

While the wider view is fabulous, hidden here in the woods are treasures that are often hard to spot. I've been cataloguing the native plants and wildlife here since we came in the 1990s, always particularly excited about orchids and the beautiful carpets of Patersonia (flag irises) that appear in spring.  I have a ton of reference books, but some of the plants come in many varieties ... !

The irises like certain parts of the property and knowing if they are flowering takes a little guesswork – they like a warm sunny morning so it's not hard to harness the energy and take off for the 30-minute walk around the ridge to see if they are flowering. I thought the anomalies between one area and another were solely the shade or the soil, then I realised there were two varieties. The first to show is Patersonia glabrata, usually standing shoulder-to-shoulder on tufted stems, but razed to the ground by a very hot fire (aided and abetted by the dropping of incendiaries!) three years ago this spring. While the ground is still barren, the irises have re-appeared and I hope will thicken out to cover the hillside as before. This is the first of the 2020 season - a little early?  They are on a very sheltered, north-facing sandy slope. I don't think it is Patersonia fragilis as that's rare.

Patersonia glabrata, Leafy Purple Flag. ©AP

The top block is flat and the irises bloom later there. On closer inspection in other years I found that they are a different type, patersonia sericea. These aren't out yet, but hopefully soon. Note the tufted stem:

Patersonia sericea.  Photo: October 2016. ©AP

Meanwhile  I've seen tiny Pterostylis – greenhood orchids again for the first time since our fire. Over the years I've seen several different varieties and they are notoriously similar so difficult to pin down. As a friend said, they resemble little triffids and it's hard to think of them as orchids. These have little 'waists' and are green and white.

Pterostylis, Greenhoods, July 2020. ©AP

Next to erupt throughout the bush has been the Hardenbergia vine, a vivid purple people pleaser, seen here blooming over a burnt area that's still struggling to recover even after three years.

Hardenbergia. ©AP
There are more plants in bud and the birds are gathering. So thrilled to have seen the white goshawk again today for the first time for years! Also spied this Wonga vine, Pandorea pandorana:

Pandorea pandorana, Wonga vine. August 2020. ©AP

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Revving up for 'The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire' at QAGOMA.

Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art
28 November-26 April, 2021

Featuring over 100 motorcycles from treasures of the past to the electric bikes of the future, this summer exhibition is world exclusive curated by US-based design curator/physicist Professor Charles M. Falco and writer/filmmaker Ultan Guilfoyle in collaboration with Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA).

 Indian Scout Streamliner 1920. Courtesy Clyde Crouch Collection.
Photograph: Robert Laprelle.

The exhibition explores pioneering motorcycles including the steam-powered 1870 Perreaux Vélocipède à vapeur, on loan from Paris, classic commuters, off-road bikes, custom creations and futuristic designs such as the Savic C-Series Alpha 2020 release from Australian Dennis Savic.

Savic 2020. Courtesy Savic Motorcycles.
Photograph: Jason Lau.

QAGOMA Director Chris Saines says, ‘The Motorcycle’ offers multiple interactive experiences for visitors of all ages and it includes a green screen motorcycle riding experience, a motorcycle design studio where you can build and customise your own virtual bike and a mobile companion site to help you navigate 150 years of motorcycle design history and learn the stories behind each of the bikes on display.'

Harley-Davidson Chopper c. 1973 (engine 1941). Private collection, Mackay.
Photograph: Andrew Beavis.

Highlights will include:

A rare 1906 Spencer, one of the very earliest Australian motorcycles designed and manufactured in Auchenflower, Brisbane;

A 1920 Indian Scout “Munro Special” created by the legendary NZ rider Burt Munro;

A 1927 Harley-Davidson FHA 8-valve speedway racer with sidecar;

The 1951 Vincent Black Lightning that set an Australian land speed record in its day and more recently a world record for the highest price paid at auction for a motorcycle;

Impressive speed machines such as a 1916 Indian 8-valve board track racer, a 1974 Ducati 750SS and a 1994 Britten V1000, created by New Zealand design engineer, John Britten;

The 2016 Dakar winning KTM Rally 450 motorcycle ridden by celebrated Australian motorsport champion Toby Price;

Accompanying the exhibition is a major film program screening in the Gallery’s Australian Cinémathèque that includes classics such as The Great Escape 1963 starring Steve McQueen and contemporary interpretations of motorcycle culture captured in films such as Akira 1988, The Motorcycle Diaries 2004 and Finke: There and Back 2018.

‘The Motorcycle’ is accompanied by a hardcover 320 page book co-published with Phaidon. Celebrating the history and future of the motorcycle, the book includes images of the motorcycles featured in the exhibition and essays from the exhibition co-curators. Purchase at GOMA store or online at

Tickets to 'The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire' are now on sale at

'The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire' is supported by the Queensland Government through Tourism and Events Queensland and features on the It's Live! in Queensland events calendar.

Source: QAGOMA media news release.

Vespa GS150 1960. Courtesy Vespa House and Frank Tonon.
Photograph: Anne -Marie de Boni.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Janet Luxton Online Exhibition, Paintings & Works on Paper, Australian Galleries

Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo 2019 by Janet Luxton ©
Oil on Belgian linen, 120cm x 175cm
One of my favourite artists is Janet Luxton and I'm excited to see her current online exhibition with Australian Galleries. I often look at Janet's art and love her animals, cockatoos and other birds, not to mention the detail of works such as these lobsters.
Lobsters 2004 by Janet Luxton©
Etching and aquatint, 59.5cm x 85cm

Fat-Tailed Dunnart – Under Siege 2020 by Janet Luxton ©
Oil on Belgian linen, 150cm x 115cm
Janet studied painting at the San Fransisco Art Institute with photorealist artist Richard McLean and studied etching and other printmaking techniques with Arik Kilemnick at the Jerusalem Print Workshop in Israel.

Yeni Cami, Istanbul, by Janet Luxton ©
Etching and aquatint, 30cm x 30cm

Monday, July 6, 2020

Million Stars Hotel - Forget Counting Sheep

How uplifting! These inspiring images just came through on a release from Switzerland Tourism and I'm in love! Not a great fan of skiing, I get my mountain fixes in the summer and these places look like they tick the boxes. If only I could go now ...!

Summer in Switzerland and reopening borders mean some lucky souls can stay in 50 rooms around the country in amazing locations with uninterrupted sky views!  Named the Million Stars Hotel, locations feature views of the mountains, lakes, rivers, the countryside or cities with accommodation in the likes of gondolas, bubble tents, pods, tree tents, huts, exposed beds, rooftops and more.

Chosen by Switzerland Tourism for their characteristics and exceptional locales, 33 of these “rooms” are situated along the 'Grand Tour of Switzerland'. “Forget about counting sheep,” says Martin Nydegger, CEO of Switzerland Tourism. “During the Swiss summers, people can now enjoy counting stars from the comfort of these cosy rooms instead. This is relaxation at its purest!”

Available from now until end October 2020, the Million Stars Hotel will be open for booking again in summer 2021. Price guide between CFH80 - CHF800 (AUD122-1233), see Bookings.

Source: Press release.