Arnhem Land… August 2019 Part 1

Arnhem Land is in the northeast corner of the Northern Territory of Australia. It is First Nations’ country.


Covering approximately 98,000 sq kilometres, Arnhem Land Reserve was proclaimed in 1931. The first public political action by the local community was in 1963 when the Yirrkala people concerned about land rights and the incursion of mining, presented the Australian parliament with the now famed Bark Petition which gave Aboriginal peoples hunting rights and the right to protection of sacred and other sites. In  1977, the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 was proclaimed.

Arnhem Land is under Northern Land Council control and the Council issues permits for entry. Unless you have business there such as servicing and supporting the 12,000 indigenous people who live in small settlements and outstations, you are unlikely to get a permit for anywhere but peripheral areas.

I chose to travel with a travel company since they are the only ones with a special arrangement to drive across the country and stay at specific camps; as the driver kept telling us, the conditions attached to the permit were stringent. On some sections of the main earth road (travelling from Katherine to Nhulunbuy) you must conclude your travel within eight hours; on others, there is no stopping at all, even for a cup of tea.

The driver told us more than once that we should think of this as another country, one that required a visa.

Apart from the 12,000 indigenous people who live here, there are an additional 4,000 people many of whom work for the large bauxite mine on the Gove peninsula, adjoining the town of Nhulunbuy, our starting off town.

Mining in Gove has long been contested. In 1971, the Yolngu people took court action against the Commonwealth of Australia and Nabalco, and lost. In 2002 the alumina refinery had a major expansion and Rio Tinto took over.

Mining is contracting substantially. Nhulunbuy had a population of 4000 in the 1970’s; it is now 2,500. The week I was there the Arnhem Club shut its doors. The town is looking to diversify in the chase for future employment.

The first full day we took a look at the old works where bauxite had been refined to alumina. Now closed they present a huge industrial landscape, eerie in this remote corner, sunk capital in a wasteland of useless infrastructure.




Right now other miners, specifically the frackers, are reported to be sniffing around Arnhem Land

I joined a tour— 10 couples, a single bloke and me. (Having a different lifestyle, I had forgotten how all encompassing coupledom was). We were to travel from east to west, from the Gove peninsula across the top to what is almost the top tip of Australia at Seven Spirits Bay northwest of Darwin. (See map on part 2.)

We moved in a huge Mercedes transport. The company takes a transport through ever 2 days in the season. There are 5 stops on the 12 day tour.

First stop: Gove Peninsula

I flew into Gove airport and stayed in Nhulunbuy, which services mine workers, tourists and local Aboriginal communities. Eighteen ks south is the town of Yirrkala with a population of 809. The Yolngu people have lived here for some 60,000 or more years and have given Australia artists, a famous model and footballer, not to forget the rock band Youthu Yindi or members of the Yunupingu clan, Mandaway the musician and Galarrwuy a political leader.

Yirrkala is home to a number of leading artists whose work, primarily bark paintings, are in galleries around the world

Welcome to country

Our visit to Yirrkala started with a set piece welcome to country at Wirrwawuy beach enacted by members of the Galpu clan. I wondered whether they got tired of the repetition every second day from early May to late September but then I figured it is really just their job.  First there were a number of short dances followed at another beach by a demonstration of traditional healing where women poured a special boiled leaf liquid over ageing tourist bodies.

The whole troupe was not there because some had travelled days away to attend a ceremonial funeral.


Men sang and played the digeridoo and clapsticks while other members of the clan danced. The women dressed in rainbow colours to honour their totem, the rainbow serpent


How could anyone resist the youngest of the dancers?

Best of the welcome was meeting 89-year-old Djalu Gurruwiwi a traditional custodian of the yikadi (didgeridoo) for all of Australia. This gentleman has played the didgeridoo for many eminent people including the English Queen. The didgeridoo is made from the trunk of the stringy bark gum that has been hollowed out by termites. The stringy bark is shallow rooted and when water logged hollow trunks fall over in the wind.


This gentleman, as the Custodian of the didgeridoo, has meet the English Queen.

We finish the visit to Yirraka with a visit to the art centre. Art is integral to cultural tradition and its maintenance and is now a generator of employment in remote outstations and towns.


Watching the women paint, weave, screen print across Arnhem land impresses with its complexity, skill and dedication



Great painting on the side of a building

Makassan trade

The day concluded with a visit to the Makassan Beach Interpretative walk. Yolngu traded with the Makassan people from Sulawesi (and possibly from as nearby as Timor) in return for their right to fish for trepang (sea cucumbers). Trade was happening in the mid 1700s while some historians say it started as early as 1640; some rock art carbon dating supports even earlier visits. Trepang was prized for its culinary and medicinal values. About 1,000 Makassans arrived with the northwest monsoon each December; trade only stopped towards the end of the 19thcentury when the English authorities began to impose custom duties. Crews set up on beaches where they boiled and dried the trepang to enable it to be transported for sale to Chinese merchants.

The exchange involved the trade of cloth, tobacco, metal axes and knives, rice and gin. The Yolgnu also traded turtle-shell, pearls and cypress pine and some were employed as trepangers.


Helpful signage on the interpretative walk

On the road

Leaving the Gove Peninsula we drove for more than half a day on the Central Arnhem road through my first exposure to country.

First impressions were of the clean sharpness of the colours, the spearmint green of new gum growth, the bauxite red of the road, the cobalt blue of the seas, the strong green of the red gums.

Eventually the roadsides became lined with fairly standard wooded acres.


Hour after hour, the road is ochre and sometimes red ochre


Lunch on a barrel by a peaceful creek

For four hours all we saw were a few work trucks on the road and a landscape punctured with large, maybe 6 foot, termite nests. In the last hour trees, blown down by a previous cyclone, lay end to end, their dead skeletal trunks resonant of sculptural shapes.

DSC09149 2

Next stop Murwangi – the Arafura floodplains


















































Arnhe land

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Back to Berlin…again….June 2018

This city is a magnet for me. Three times in four years.

First to the Adina Apartments in Hackescher Makt which is beginning to feel like home. Even the same good morning coffee in the unprepossessing café in the square around the corner. But at cocktail hour there is this great number waiting at the  Adina: – a Rufftime Margarita made from triple sec, lime juice, mescal and agave syrup



How good to feel I’ve mastered the trains and know the neighbourhood. These are a few scenes within a couple of hundred metres of where I stay:




So what was new? How can I recall anything I did not take a note of, given a year has passed? The photos will help. Each time in Berlin, I find something new.  Perhaps not a new layer but new corners. Maybe you have to live here to unravel the marble cake of layers and the impact history has in creating them?

This time I stumbled on a new corner close by – the courtyards of Heckmann Hofe, About 50 yards beyond the New Synagogue and less than a k from Museum Island, these courtyards date back to 1799. In 1905 industrialist Heckmann made the Hof the HQ of his business; in 1950 it became the “property of the people”. After unification the delapidated courtyards became the home of the creative community and in 2000 the area was restored; since  2004, cafes, restaurants , small design and craft shops have revitalised the Hof. I have spelt this out because in some way the adaptations of the buildings reflect the changes of Berlin’s fortunes and focus.


So what are the memories?

Firstly this time I walked the length of the Tiergarten. That’s a Bucket List Tick. Maybe more of the Teacup List Tick!


I bought more acrylic jewellery at my favourite shop in Hackescher Hof and lunched at a Vietnamese Kitchen in Rosa Luxemburg Strasse –  because of Rosa. Wandered the galleries along my favourite street, Auguststrasse. Went to the Biennale at the great KW gallery.

The photo below is similar to a reflection taken on my first tip in 2014 in the same courtyard of KW gallery:


There were many favourites revisited too.

  • The Sony centre


  • The German History Museum with its gossamer glass addition by IM Pei,


  • Kathy Kollwitz’s Mother and her Dead Son in Schinkel’s NeueWache,
  • The socialist mural on what was the Luftwaffe building but is now the tax office (o, sweet irony).


  • And on the High Culture front… the Berlin Philharmonic yet again, this time to hear the orchestra under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle in one of his final concerts.


  • Then there was a night at the wonderfully restored Opera House on Unter den Linden to see a performance of Tosca and marvel not only at the performances but also at the orchestra being conducted by Simone Young.



  • No performance but an inspection of the spiral theatre designed by  Frank Gehry, for Daniel Barenboim as part of the new Barenboim-Said Academy.


A tour

A highlight of the trip was a half day spent in a special arrangement with Thomas Abbott, such a Berlin expert that the top travel companies and the NSW Art gallery engage him to escort their tours.

I had searched out Thomas because after my first 2 trips, trying to understand the interplay between history and twentieth century architecture in Berlin was bedevilling me. What was genuine? What was restored? What was a new build, for example, in the former East Berlin? What were the clues?

Perhaps the original trigger for this  was my failure to understand the “big” ideas of the old GDR, having previously only seen the period under the shadow of the evil Stasi. When I first saw the Frankfurter Tor and Karl Marx Allee with its Stalin baroque style I was drawn in. As I found in Dresden, the GDR Government did much to rebuild post-war Germany. On the human side, much of the construction occurred over 6 years and in 1953 workers in Berlin revolted.

One thing Thomas pointed out here was the towers in Frankfurter Tor referenced those at Charlotte Schloss and a theme of Berlin restoration was the repeated referencing to earlier styles/times.


We could not have asked for a tutor with a more detailed knowledge and thoughtful presentation to teach us changes from  the pure, elegant, new dawn of Gropius to the 21st Century Bekini Berlin shopping centre.

The tour was detailed and the architectural idiosyncrasies so complex that I make no attempt to flesh them out with words though I can’t resist including some streetscape/architectural photos that appealed to my compare and contrast eye:




There were though some small facts which I had not known before and while disconnected trivia to some, added to my knowledge of Berlin:

  • Since 2010 700 people a week have moved to Berlin hence the pressure on rental accommodation. This has caused much discontent and rioting including the burning of cars in the gentrifying Kreuzberg. (see later reference)
  • Since Allied bombers flew only using landmarks for navigation and they used the church at Ku’dam as a reference point, the bombing drops followed one pathway in a line from Potsdam Platz which saw the heaviest of the damage. This of course was close to the target of the Hitler administrative buildings
  • During the GDR control of the East, around 1967, many men from the then communist Vietnam were brought in as guest workers and were responsible for much of the construction of the railway in that sector including in Alexander Platz
  • Much of the money for Berlin including the reconstruction of the Prussian Place has been by way of subsidy from the wealthier  Bavaria.

Looking at the photos has stirred in me many reasons Berlin continues to beckon:

The history

  • Every visit I see the Jewish memorial from a new perspective:



  • Another memorial unveiled at the Breitscheidplatz Christmas Market on the one year anniversary of the terror attack shows a crack in the pavement, filled in with a gold-colored alloy made of bronze. The names of the 12 victims are engraved into the steps leading up to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The crack is a symbol for the crack that ran through society on December 19, 2016.

“By filling it in, we try to cure this crack,” said Frankenberg, a designer of the memorial. “We try to still let it be visible, still show it, still show the injuries that still remain after the attacks, but we wanted to show that our society is stronger than that. That by looking at what happened, then we can be stronger than terrorism.”


The politics of protest

  • In a recent article in the New Yorker Elisabeth Zerofsky lists some of the data causing urban friction: “ten years ago, the city was still recovering from decades of abandonment; there was a housing surplus, and vacant industrial buildings were still being taken over by artists, dj.s, and squatters. But, since 2004, property prices have more than doubled; in 2017 alone, they increased by 20.5 per cent……..Moving into the city, as nearly fifty thousand people did last year, and finding an apartment is becoming as exasperating as it is in New York. Rents are rising, but not as quickly as property values: rents rose fifty-six per cent between 2009 and 2014; purchase prices rose seventy per cent. That’s the definition of a bubble.”


  • There’s always a protest in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Last one I went to in 2016 was against Brexit. This time I caught a group of Palestinian men standing up for their fellow countrymen seeking German citizenship in the light of the oppression and apartheid in their birth country. This was indeed a cause close to my heart given my recent trip to Israel.


  • One of the fun demonstrations I witnessed were these pro Russian people arguing back with the red haired women in front of them. She, a clerk in the police force, deplored what the communists had done in Germany and could hardly wait to go home and tell her daughter what she had done that day for freedom, ie., challenge the pro Russian demonstrators.


  • And finally this poster speaks for itself!!



The art




And the interactive piece below with the following instruction.




The graffiti







The people 








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A weekend in Dresden…for Rafi…June 2018

I knew of Dresden because of the bombing.

In the last months of World War 2 the Allies bombed this city to a pile of rubble…. 15 square miles of a 800 year old grand city were wiped out and 25,000 people killed.

The bombing remains controversial because it seems to have been nothing more than a threatening show of strength to demonstrate to Germany the might of the English. How could it have taken so many civilian lives to make the point? Numbers of the injured are unknown.

But the indomitable spirit of a defeated nation rose again and Dresden has been in the process of full restoration for the past 70 years.

Some History

My first sight of Dresden on hot blue day was that it was too overwhelmingly dark and Gothic but on the second albeit overcast day I loved it for its architecture and its vast complexity

If I go on about this it is because the sight of the original  old city visible now in its restoration, is remarkable. While this photo does it no justice, light up at night, the skyline is stunningly majestic.




This grand rococo and baroque city emerged under the Ruler of Saxony Frederick Augustus I who converted to Catholicism to became King Augustus the Strong of Poland in 1697. He gathered many of the best musicians, architects and painters from all over Europe to the newly named Royal-Polish Residential City of Dresden. During the reigns of Kings Augustus 2 the Strong and Augustus 3 of Poland i.e. in the first half of the eighteenth century most of the city’s baroque landmarks were built. Augustus 1 takes pride of place at the riverside entrance to the Old City.


But it wasn’t all duty for Augustus. This Bridge of Love, history has it, was built for him to leave the castle and enter the quarters of his mistress:


Old Dresden was an imposing city with its grand distinctive silhouette extending along the River Elbe. It was a centre of art and culture.


The Old City was awarded world Heritage status but lost it (one of two to do so) when they decided to demolish the old bridge over the River Elbe and replace it with a modern one. here’s an old bridge that wasn’t demolished:


Napoleon made it a base of operation winning the famous Battle of Dresden in 1813. In 1831 many Poles, including Chopin, fled here.

Following the Potsdam Conference that divided the spoils of World War 2, Dresden was located in the Russian zone known as the German Democratic Republic (the former communist East Germany).

The restoration begins

For me, who had been subjected to an English based view of history, I saw only the horrors of the Cold War… the Wall, the Stasi etc. So what a surprise it has been in my recent visits to Germany to discover that the GDR was an assiduous builder not only of residential housing but in the case of Dresden, the initiator of restoration of the grand buildings.

Many of the city’s important historic buildings were reconstructed during the time of the communists, including the Semper House and the Zwinger Palace (now a museum  complex) with its faux Versailles Pleasure Gardens. (Some of the ruins were also razed in the 50s and 60s rather than being repaired.)




Some of the statues and details were delightful:


Since unification restoration of the Lutheran Cathedral was completed in 2005, a year before Dresden’s 800th anniversary, notably by privately raised funds. Restoration of Neumarkt Square where the Cathedral is situated will continue for decades. One of the standouts for me was the vast gilt ornamentation in this (I had presumed ‘austere’) Cathedral while the Catholic Dom where I expected the ornate statuary etc. was surprisingly stark, white and elegant with few Gothic touches.


Outside the historic centre

A short bus ride away, unsuccessfully attempting to visit the Museum of the Human Body, we fell across the delightful Grand Garden Palace in the Grosser Gardens;



While it is the old city centre that captures the historical imagination, the aspect of Dresden that struck me was the quite disparate quarters in the wider city, each representing a different time. Dresden seemed many villages in one.

There are the blocks of well laid out low-rise apartment buildings built by the communists; then there are areas with Art Nouveau housing and other ones of grand villas. Across the river from the centre are precincts of elegant 18th century townhouses.The photos below are indicative of the diversity:





We stayed in this last precinct in a fine Relais and Chateaux number a few hundred metres from the bridge. Pictures of the splendid breakfast are below:



Luxury car enthusiasts also liked the hotel:


Across the small square in front to the hotel was the excellent Epiphany Church:


While formerly Dresden was known for porcelain and has a museum to attest that fame, it is now well known for its technology and research clusters; the modern glass VW factory was a sign of that:


The city itself has around 550,000 residents and a large number are skilled workers. Dresden is approximately 143ks from Berlin and 143ks from the nearest Polish city, Wroclaw

Kurt Vonnegut was a prisoner of war here; he survived the bombing in a slaughterhouse meat locker hence the book Slaughter House Five. I have a note that said Rilke, Hess and Kafka all came to the sanatorium here while just last night I saw the film Don’t Look Back about the artist, Gerhard Richter who was born in Dresden. In the movie, the old stone underpass collapsed onto a bus during the bombing:


No matter how grand, and no matter the architectural and heritage vales, a little whimsy in a side street never goes astray:





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