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The town of Rugby produced a game a while back played with a wobbly ball. Somewhat surprisingly this curious invention has wobbled its way around the world. We are now tracking down two of Rugby's more recent wobblesome exports Alaistair and Nigel Roberts, brothers of Viv, but now naturalised Australians. Thankfully for us they live at opposite sides of Australia which gives us the perfect opportunity to explore the wet 'n' wild wonderland of the Great Barrier Reef; the wet & hot tropical rainforest and the very, very hot Kata Tjutas/Uluru on a boomerang shaped sweep through this awesome country from Sydney to Perth via Cairns and Ayer's Rock. Dunc(an Mackay) was tempted by Dunk Island and disappointed to miss Mackay but he has already tracked down a long lost relative at Kuranda. Not put off by the deadly 'stingers', blue box jellyfish, killer coconuts & crocs, countless lethal sharks, snakes, spiders, ticks and mozzies we aim to be enthralled by the World Heritage Sites and the National Parks as well as the chilled out ozzy lifestyle and cultural diversity. We have pledged never to whinge and have learned the unofficial Australian anthem off by heart: "This here's the wattle the emblem of our land; you can stick it in a bottle or hold it in your hand". We leave the damp, cold and grey January murk of Britain and hope you will enjoy following our journey into light, colour and vibrancy. Heading south for the winter? Going down under...make up your own jokes!

Diary Entries

Saturday, 28 January 2006

Location: Singapore to London, Singapore

Exotic breakfast of aloe vera cubes, coconut jelly cubes, dragon fruit, papaya, guava, passion fruit and melon. Definitely a first in the fruit section of my life. Could have had Indian, Japanese, Chinese or 'American' breakfast...Viv had a poached egg on toast her 16th of the trip.

Had to visit Chinatown on such a day (Chinese New Year Eve) and before we set out for the 'tube' we were warned that after 11.30 it would get very busy in the streets. Walked to Orchard St MRT station and negotiated the superb mass transit system. It's clean and easy and you get a rebate on your ticket when you re-cycle it. It's also safe, fast and well designed. Hello Transport for London! Singapore is a city that feels comfortably familiar as all the road signs are in English and so are many of the shop fronts and notices...bizarre really for the malay and chinese speakers. Chinatown tube ststion was suitably adorned but slickly modern and we came out of the air con european style station into a street of hot oriental exhuberance. Loads of New Year stuff being enthusiastically bought; from red lucky lanterns to waving cat models via anything red, gold and gaudy. Colourful enough to burst your retinas and we shuffled in and out of several stall/shops to buy foldable chinese lanterns and fulfill one of Viv's childhood dreams (brought on by too much Rupert the Bear at an impressionable age). Elsewhere fruit stalls dominated with huge green pomelos, exotic gourds, bitter gourds, melons, sugar cane and thousands of mandarin oranges, either in heaps or doubles as special presents or on minature bush trees in pots covered in tiny fruits. Lucky 'jade', stones, coins or cash, bonbons, sweets, dried foods, herbs, teas, gingseng things, shoes, skirts, suits and blouses of silk and watermark inlays. Left the traders of Sago Street agog with images and visual burn out to visit some temples. There's one of everything from ornate Chinese Buddhist, Confucist, Hindu and Islamist the latter being shut up for Saturday although Friday night prayers were broadcast live on Malay TV. Lots of people offering incence to the gods of Chinese commerce and luck in business but no queues for the god of administration and public order. Had the fortune to be approached on the street by a trader who spotted my antique Nikon Coolpix and said he could fit a wide angle optical lens to it with macro lens fiiting...then we bought a 1GB compact flash card for Bex..both relative bargains.

At Clarke Quay it was time for chilli crab! Found a restaurant with lots of Chinese customers in it and dived in to a giant bowl of chilli sauce with a mud crab sat in the middle. Messy horror show but you have to get your hands in there and wrestle the meat out, and, despite wearing a white T shirt there was very little spillage. Viv chose more wisely on the garment angle but couldn't face her dried baby squid cooked crispy and just had some asparagus and rice...because she's turning vegetarian! Had a big wash and a bucket of jasmine tea to follow. Then jumped on a bum boat for a trip down the Singapore river spoiled by a ghastly American voice over tape but OK in the quiet bits. Spotted a park done up with red lanterns so we had to go and investigate...and yes it was getting ready for New Year so we just cruised around what we would miss later and went to check out our birth animals. I knew I was a horse but Viv thought she was a goat but it turns out she's a monkey. I think I intuitively realised that...Anyway we both seemed to be heading for awful years ahead...terrific news. All of this was in a square painted pink with a giant statue of a mandarin chap at one end and stalls selling everything from motorised massaging recliner chairs to on the spot head & foot massages and Tiger Balm. Stocked up with 2 varieties and headed back to the hotel via the MRT and a drink in the Singapore Hard Rock cafe where I had to buy a T shirt as all my other ones are now in the smelly bag.

The taxi to Changi airport was enlivened by our chatty English speaking Malay driver who made the connection between where we lived and Reading FC being top of the First Division then he got onto his diabetes and his treatments for high blood pressure and taking bitter gourd juice as a local Malay traditional cure. He chatted so much that we missed the turn off and we were heading back to the city. Interesting medical banter but not for another $8.

The plane was full to heaving and the BA crew were not as attentive as Qantas crew and although it was a 12 hour continuous night flight sleep was hard to come by given all the shuffling about and light going on and off through the mess curtains. Then it was a grey cold Heathrow dawn and we were back in Blighty.

Friday, 27 January 2006

Location: Perth to Singapore, Australia

Shower, coffee, case cramming and ready for a groggy start to the airport whilst most of Australia slept off the effects of the night before. Said goodbyes and observed the vast spreading suburbs for the last time...Perth airport was quiet and the flight only one third full...Aussie Day hangover. Followed the coastline up to Shark Bay famous at least to me for its living stromatolites (its a fossil thing...) and observed that the west coast is just one great long ribbon of a beach. I'm concerned that Australia will just keep on developing along its coastlines and end up with a strung out 'Eastbourne' in a few years time or worse still Gold Coast Torremolinos. Fell asleep over the Java Sea (again).

Singapore was hot and cloudy but we managed to secure a $7 ride in a shared taxi to our hotel off Cuscaden Road. Pleasant enough hotel in a nest of hotels, embassies, retail and yet being built stuff and surrounded by trees and plants. Had no set plan but thought a trip to the night safari at the zoo might be fun. And so it was...hopped into a taxi that drove Italian Job style by weaving in and out of as many lanes of traffic as possible without touching the brakes; a minuet at speed along the motorway to the causeway. The zoo was wonderfully lit up outside with internally illuminated animals like the crazy Christmas sheep and cows display in the square in Brussels. Well met by enthusiastic young zoo helpers who guided us to food, tickets and entrances in English, Malay or Chinese. The night safari is a ride in a road train that tours the enclosures of the most nocturnally active animals and under either infra red of subdued lighting you get to see what they are up to...very animated hyenas, otters and leopards but fairly static hippopotami, deer, ankole cattle, cranes and storks. The stars of the show were undoubtedly the giant flying squirrels who were very big and furry...and flying! Thanks to Ian & Lori for telling us about it. Finished the night with a couple of Singapore Slings...what else could we drink.

Thursday, 26 January 2006

Location: Perth WA, Australia

A perfect day for an 18th birthday and for Australia Day...wall to wall blue skies and hot sunshine! Get in that our for red backs though! Yes there are red back spiders everywhere...but just don't annoy them and they are content to eat insects. The pool was lovely in the heat and spent most of the morning cooling down ahead of the planned trip south of the river to watch the fireworks. Erica and Ashley came over for birthday girl to open her pressies and cards and Roz set about cooking a mountain of delicious picnic food to take with us. At 3 we set off for the WACA stadium and easily got parked and lugged the food and drink to the esplanade by the side of the Swan where crowds were beginning to grab the best bits of river frontage for the fireworks display at sundown. Met lots of Roz's pals and joined forces to make a corral of picnic baskets and sleeping husbands. As the afternoon wore on it became apparent that every club in Perth district that could get in the air or the water had done so and we had flypasts; water displays; kite surfers; skydivers; aerial sign writers, banner flags and messages towed by helicopters and light aircraft and a water sloshing display by the fire brigade heilcopters. On the river police boats were arresting anyone they didn't like the look of in an attempt to keep boats well away from the barges loaded with fireworks. We ate Roz's fantastic indonesian foodie picnic with relish and I managed to keep my prawn level high. Lots of people in high spirits wearing Aussie flags and some even with inflatable kangaroos. Lots of young people but also families of all races and the riot police. An eclectic mix and as the sun pitched perfectly to set between two tower cranes on the far horizon (my bet won) the excitement grew. Stoked, admittedly by the two helicopter flypast with one pulling an Aussie flag the size of a footie pitch and the other shining a searchlight on the flag. Everyone went bonkers and started singing some song that wasn't Walzing Matilda. Impressive but not nearly as impressive as the firework barrage that went on for 30 minutes of constantly huge explosions from 3 barges in the middle of the Swan River. AWESOME...the best fireworks that Viv and I have ever seen so eat your heart out Henley Regatta. What a way to enjoy our last night in Australia!

Wednesday, 25 January 2006

Location: Perth WA, Australia

Last night and evening was a little fuzzy due to lack of sleep and dreams of endless suburbs but I do recall we were met by Nigel and a friendly little fruit police dog at the airport and whisked off to the Indian Ocean to dip our toes in the sea. I remember that it was demonstrably colder than the Pacific!

Today we have again brought rain and cold wuth us and a hefty burst fell overnight which the locals call winter us it seems like England in a good summer! Nigel, Roz & Axel were joined by Erica and Ashley and we all had breakfast under the awning before a trip to Kings Park botanic gardens and a view over the city and Swan River. Not half as many skyscrapers as Brissie or Sydney and the traffic seems less intense. Wattles and banksias seem to be the dominant trees in the gardens and its formal areas although there is a much larger area of scrub and bush. Looked at some of the preparatory work for the Australia Day celebrations tomorrow. After a running debate went out east towards the upper Swan river aiming for the national park or the Swan River wineries but got deflected around Henley Downs to get lunch...Axel enjoying the largest 'kid's meal' that any of us had ever seen!

Tuesday, 24 January 2006

Location: Uluru to Perth, Australia

After a restless night in Yularaville anticipating our early rise we awoke before our 3 alarms...which was just as well because none of them went off! Dawn over Uluru was still 2 hours and 16 minutes away but we were ready. With bags already packed for transfer we took the frozen 'bladder' from the fridge and were outside in the warm dark by 04.30. At 05.30 we were in place for the Uluru dawn in a pleasant 25C without flies. Still no stars visible just a hazy moon and the earliest sliver of daylight in the eastern border of the sky. By 06.00 we were in light and the features of Uluru had appeared but it was not until the first sunlight shone on the big pebble that its texture was revealed and at 06.20 the stratigraphy was being etched by strong rays. Then we had coffee and biscuits and made off to walk the 'cultural walk'. Rangers hung around to ensure that not a scrap of rubbish was discarded and all was as natural as a road full of coaches could be. Justin was our cultural guide; part time didgeridoo player and trainee pithanjaru speaker but otherwise Aussie fella. He explained at length the Anangu creation legends and the story of how Uluru came to be there and why it was sacred to aboriginal peoples not just the local tribes. This is difficult because we have no time for magic, myths and legends in our lives and aborigines have no time for scientific realism. The two cultural views do not cross-match very well and as the aborigines, very sensibly, will not reveal the bulk of their culture and beliefs to 'mingas' (non-aborigines) then nobody is sure what to believe about the translated stories. Justin said he was being told the children's stories because that was all he was trained for and he would have to be initiated to receive more. Whatever view you take it is an awe inspiring place and it is eminently clear why it is culturally important to people who have been living around it for tens of thousands of years. The small grain texture...similar to Millstone Grit from the Pennines of Britain but much more siliceous and red oxidised is overtaken by the gigantic form and curvaceous quality of its onion skin weathering and water scoured grooves. It looks as if it should be breathing and its pores are small holes in its skin that appear as wind worn apertures and caves. Justin and I jousted about its geological explanation but it is clearly not 'floating' in sand but is plainly attached to surrounding softer rock beneath the surface of the desert. The deceptive quality is the almost vertical bedding planes and the absence of other visible strata from adjoining beds. Seeing Uluru from space is interesting and satellite photos on Google Earth can show the relationship with Mount Conner, Kata Tjutas and other geological formations. On the ground just suspend belief and enjoy the spellbinding mystique.

By 'breakfast' (juice and fruit cake) it was getting hotter and by 11.30 when the tour ended it would be boiling so we tanked up on water. The second cultural tour explored the caves, gorges and waterfall waterholes, rock art, sacred places (men's and women's) scattered around the base and we met three aborigines; one leading another tour party and two indulging in discourse under a rock overhang who indicated in pithanjaru that we weren't welcome. It must be hideously difficult when your culture has been hijacked and your most holy of holies turned into a peep show. Can either party be satisfied by this? I feel deeply sad for the aborigines; cultural caretakers of stone age magic and supremely sustainable survivors in one of the world's harshest environments who won't trust the uneducated 'mingas' with their secrets. In turn the mingas seem to regard this as a rocky freak show over which dominion by conquest is an excuse for benign degradation, smart commercial exploitation and cultural voyeurism. Yulara is like a scene from '1984'; Uluru the only rock in the world with its own airport or a sickening desert motel dedicated 24/7 to the desecration of a holy place. I did not like what was being done here nor my part in it. I had seen photographs of 'Ayer's Rock' and as a former geologist I was interested in the rock formation but being there made it clear that this whole landscape was something else entirely in the minds of its caretakers whose common ground it really was and had been for tens of thousands of years. 24 hours in Yulara was more than enough for me to want to tear it down, clear the airport away and make it terribly difficult for anybody to ever reach Uluru without being properly inducted in its cultural significance.

Then we landed in Perth...

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Recent Messages

From Ian, Lori & Kayleigh
Ha! You will never be the same again....and your heart will yearn for another opportunity to see the golden land.....and there is so much of it to see. Next time try the West coast! Glad we got you the Oz calendar so that you can mooch over it when you return. Looking forward to an extravaganza of piccies and biccies when you get back.

Lil, Bro' and the Taiwan Expats!
Response: You should have got that posting to Oz it's fabulous here...even when it rains. Been swimming in the pool here in Perth at Viv's brother Nigel's house and it's her neice's 18th and Australia Day...big event with bbqs and fireworks. Lots of piccies but might have to wait to Singapore to upload as no broadband access. I'm sure everyone is happy to wait...they should be good
From Gordon
G'day Antipodean Adventurers
What a bonzer toime u cobbers r 'avin 'downunder' ! But y wyst ur toime 'n Qnsland?
....among all thay bards 'n bats 'n absos? Git darn t' Sidnay 'n Melbarn -'n meet some bute Ozzie folk - from Ramsey Strayt - loik Lou 'n 'erald - 'n Dizie Oyland!!
L.& B.W.-'n Didgeridoo - 2U2
Yors'n all that, MadadMac
(ongrad Ozieez) Kakabura Uni.

Help i have just had to type in Gpa's rubbish never mind Abos Maybe an A.S.B.O is called for, for grandad!
Hope you are both having a fantastic time ...wish we were with you take care, keep safe can't wait to see you both with all the photo's. Lots of love Ruth XXX
Response: Australia Day here in Perth after 24 hours in Uluru. Lots of burbs but soon out to either beaches or the bush with wineries. We have brought rain wherever we have made landfall including the desert! Hot and sunny now and one last day before we leave for Singapore
From Helene
The bird life sounds amazing. I knew I should have stowed away in your suitcase! How was the tall ship experience? Thank you for the postcard - the Queensland rainforest looks as good as the Amazon. Enjoy your last week and all that wonderful sunshine. xxx
Response: It was brill and it is only just slightly different in the red centre...more flies than birds! The Kata Tjutas and Uluru were better than any postcard close up. Only 24 hours there but a full on experience. Now in Perth celebrating Australia Day...just off for a picnic above the foreshore with fireworks!
From Sally J
Had looked in here briefly, but now had time to have a good look through all the photos etc. Sounds fantastic (fruitbats & all!) & like you are really making the most of it. Have popped in on Becky, offered Sunday dinner but she was revising - she is fine, not creating any havoc (that we have noticed) and seems quite happy! (Becky - that's what we agreed I would say?... - okay Viv, only joking!!). Have to agree with Jeff - not TOO much topless Duncan, please..!! Anyway, love from us Jones's. XX
Response: Topless...bottomless...the possibilities are endless here. Spent the day on a dreamy coconut palm fringed beach of white sand and exotic sea shells and bits of coral...oh and floating nuts of various types. As we are not allowed to export anything we've been taking photos of them for our virtual rock pile in the back garden. Just had dinner...I won't describe each exquisite mouthful...and then after a cold beer we're off to do some star gazing from the illuminated rock pools. Ah... Twyford is not going to be the same after this!! Pleased that all is quiet on the western front and that the Biscuit delivery boys are not competing for parking space with the Stella Artois men. Only one week to go now and a month to recover from the shock.
love D&V
PS Hope the leg is still bendy and the London Marathon registration is in the post
From adam W
Looks pretty ordinary if you ask me, its got nothing on NE corp planning and service design, yes yes yes!!

See you soonish, have fun looks fab. Adam
Response: Sadly there is no hint of anything at all serious in OZ...I think it must be my natural home. No worries mate is the national work ethic but its all done so charmingly well and so good naturedly. Everything is brill so many more thanks for keeping the great ship of state affloat back in UK Dunc
From Becky
Hey guys!
Looks like you're having a fab time! looks a bit wet and windy though... chose the wrong time to go
The house is fine and i am fine, surviving on stella and biscuits haha just joking... sort of hahaha!
Hope you are well anyway!
Lots of Love
Response: We are we are! A great place to come when you go on your world tour with your camera...there is so much to photograph with a proper camera rather than our titchy one. Today we went to the outer great barrier reef and saw amazing fish life including a giant potato cod. The rest of the trip has been wonderful too. Now at Thala Beach south of Port Douglas and we have fantastic sea views of rainforested mountains reaching to the sea. On to Uncle Nigel soon via Ayers Rock. Mum says steady on the Stella! Much love Mum & Dad
From Maggie(Mum)
Hi Dunc& Viv
Thanks to Pete & Roo we are able to share your progress through Australia.
It all sounds and looks wonderful, but dont know how you both managed to keep awake the first few days.
I phoned Beckey she's OK and sounds happy. xxx
Response: You would not believe it! Made landfall in the land of Oz and its just been a blast ever since we got here. Margaret & Jack in Kuranda send their regards!! We had a wonderful day with them up in the hills above Cairns and they live in an awesome house wafted by cool mountain breezes and surrounded by fruit gardens of every description with hot and cold running birdlife...a most excellent meeting and Margaret's artwork derived from Papua New Guinea is wonderful and their house is a tresure trove of art
From Ali Roberts
Hope the sailing is going good.
excellent to catch up. Hope to see you again sooner than later.
Response: Sailing was EXCELLENT on the Solway Lass and they even let me steer it! Snorkelling wirth turtles, giant wrasse, killer jellyfish, crocs and the rest! Viv is missing you and says you should have come with us! Next time!!! AND answer your b@%$#& telephone!Thanks for a great time in Cape Byron shire D&V
From Jeff Manning
No more shots of Dunc eating things please - puts me off my beer! (and no more Dunc topless shots please!) Hope you are having a great time and the rain stops sometimes. Best pic for me is opera house steps at 01.00 - like it!
Response: Lots more to follow Jeff I'm afraid as we are eating our way through Australian wildlife with a big emphasis on fish and fruit...but Viv is thinking of turning vegetarian! The topless numbers are increasing as the wet bit really takes hold. A small problem of access to photo uploading facilities means no more pics until Perth but then you'll all get a deluge of wet stuff from the Whitsunday Islands with me sailing a proper Tall Ship (somewhat erratically!) and today's adventure on the outer GBR Dunc
From gareth
Wow. Jealous or what!!
From Pete & Ruth
Wow looks fantastic so far enjoy the rest of your trip.
Look forward to more pictures.
It may be wet out there but it's freezing and grim up here in't north.
Ay up's always grim up north except in Australia where it's hot and wet. Living on the coast means that there is always lots of fish and many unusual ways of cooking it Pete!! Pacific whiting is very popular but so is mud crab etc. Not yet been fishing but the next phase from Saturday around the Whitsundays might offer opportunities outside the protected reef areas. The whole ocean is wondrously warm.
From Duncan
Sorry to all visitors who expected instant images of the Land of Plenty...but we've had a few IT problems. Hope you can all now enjoy the pics and commentary. Those who got this far will know that the '.html' bit causes confusion in the software so just go to
Response: No more pics until Perth as there are no upload facilities on the road we travel...but then you'll hopefully get loads...sun still shining and not yet been eaten by crocs, jellyfish, sharks, spiders or mosquitoes.
From Rhiannon
how is it going?hope you are haveing a great time so far!!please send some more photo's
Response: Annie, thanks for your bit of encouragement...hope you like the photos...many more to follow I hope
From Jeff
Hope its warmer there than it is here, working hard on the AGM stuff, looking forward to your next posting! Cheers.
Jeff, it's hotter than Norway following a night on the Gjetost and Aquavit...all the telecom men have to wear little hats with neck flaps to protect them from the sun or as they say here 'Slip, Slap, Slop'...slip on a shirt, slap on some suncream and slop on a hat.
From gareth
Well, hope you got there safely!
Response: We did and it is paradise although a bit humid at the moment...thank goodness we have a pool, the Pacific, 4 showers and unlimited Aussie beer!
From Garry T & C0
Jammy buggers........Just what we should all be doing! But, I've got an orchard to plant so, Down Unda will just have to wait.
Happy New Year and Bon Voyage....

Response: Give the tinies a big hug and we'll send em some Balmain bugs to throw on the barbie
From Bevan and Diane
Lots of Town Criers in Ossieland so if you see any give 'em a shout from me!

I have a birding friend in Queensland (President of the Queensland Bird Club) so give Julian Bielewicz a whistle as you pass him by. (He's ex Rugeley and into Local History, especially Cannock Chase).

And we shipped a birder to downunder many years ago from the Midlands - name of Clive Minton. He invented Canon Netting waders for ringing purposes. Now travels around Australia catching and ringing thousands of waders that winter and migrate to Australian shores from Eastern Siberia and the Far East.

Will look out for you on Google Earth so wear something bright and shiny.

Have you written that book yet? You can Skype the answer to: Townbellman.

Kookaburra Craddock
I'm gobsmacked this is birder heaven! It's hot and cold parrot city with noisy mynahs, magpies, lorikeets, parakeets, cockatoos, kookaburras, ibis, yellow faced plovers, gullahs and unknown beasts waking us up at dawn and then thrashing through the sky all day. Can I get hold of a pocket guide to Aus wildlife anywhere? What's Julian's contact details? We're up to Q tomorrow and for the whole of next week.