Category Archives: Photography

Arnhem Land…July 2019 Part 3.

To reach Seven Spirit Bay we travelled north up the Cobourg Peninsula about 350 km east of Darwin. The Peninsula covers a land area of about 2,100 km².  It is virtually uninhabited country with a population ranging from about 20 to 30 in five clans living in outstations; the same language, Iwaidja, is spoken by all.

It is estimated that 250 Aboriginal people were living here prior to the arrival of Europeans, In the 1940s and 50s, the whole population was moved to nearby Croker Island. By 1974 the peoples were allowed to return and in 1981 the National Park was declared, leased from the traditional owners.

Garig Gunak Barlu National Park is a protected area on the Cobourg and some adjoining waters.


Arriving at Port Essington, we stopped at the Black Point Culture Centre located at the Black Point Ranger Station which seems a million miles from anywhere.  Exhibits showcase the rich history of Aboriginal people, Macassan traders and European pioneers.  Displays include traditional Aboriginal bush tucker, history and artefacts, evidence of Macassan trading and a history of the failed Victoria Settlement. A display on some recent history shows how an Indonesian fisherman was blown across from the Indonesian islands in his canoe, which is now in the museum.

Out timing at Black Point was short as it was critical we catch the tide. Seven Spirit Bay wilderness lodge had sent it posh new boat to take us across the Port to the glamourous  resort which can be reached only by boat or by air via the resort’s private airstrip. Port Essington is so big that apparently the British boasted it could hold all the boats in the world. After more than a week travelling through such remote country, the luxury of the resort was welcome.



But least you think it too friendly, there were warnings:


The Aboriginal calendar is not divided into the Wet and the Dry, as Europeans divide the weather in the topics. The indigenous people have seven seasons and each of the seasons has seven spirits. Presumably the genesis of the name.

The next day it was back to the boats as we travelled across the Port to reach Victoria Settlement; on a cliff overlooking a white sand beach, are the stone ruins of the settlement a small group of British marines called home from 1838 to 1849.



The Port Essington settlement was the third attempt to establish British sovereignty in the region. This outpost of Empire was meant to show every other European navel power, including the Dutch and the French, that Britain controlled the north of this land.  Aboriginal ownership to them, was and continued to be, irrelevant until the last quarter of the next century.

Besides establishing sovereignty, the British wanted to cash in on the trade route to Asia. They also hoped to benefit from the lucrative trade in trepang, or sea cucumber, which had brought Macassan fishermen from modern day Indonesia to Port Essington for centuries.

In October 1838, 36 Royal Marines, and a few of their wives and children, sailed into Port Essington. At its height 300 people are said to have lived here; ruins indicate  24 houses and a hospital.

The settlement was plagued by disease, and many marines unaccustomed to the climate or the landscape, died of malaria and fever. And yet it wasn’t until late 1849 that the settlement was finally abandoned.

The ruins of the settlement especially the old graves in a bush setting are sad, veering on the eerie.


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Yet in the surrounding bush, there was beauty:



The next day in the resort’s new fishing boats we explored the mangroves of Trepang Bay and chased the elusive catch though not for sustenance.

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Not only was there an elegant lunch spot prepared for us, the lodge boasts great culinary skills generally, the highlight being a degustation dinner.

Who would think that here in the remote wilderness, we would options like:

  • cured fish, wasabi sorbet, soy meringue and pickled ginger; or
  • kangaroo fillet, crumbed pork head, fennel and caper salad?

There were equally grand beef and chicken choices on the same menu.

The final afternoon we drove around the National Park looking for buffalo. Here there were bloodwoods, ironbarks and stringy gums as well as the palms;




Here also can be found Bypa, the mangrove palm in one of its 3 only global habitats.


On the final day of the Arnhem Land journey we waited at this remote bush airstrip = Seven Spirit Bay International – for the Cessna Gran Caravan  which would take us on the 45 minute flight across van Diemen Gulf to Darwin


And to Arnhem Land, I say farewellDSC09591



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Arnhem Land…August 2019 Part2

The dreaded Covid-19 lockdown has opened up time for all those things I never got around to but meant to finish one day. It has taken so long to return to this blog I have mislaid my notes and rely on memory.

My discursive narrative does no justice to the rich cultural homelands where Australian First Peoples have lived for 10s of thousands of years. It is extraordinary to hear that here in Central Arnhem Land there are more language groups than in any other region in the world.

This part of the trip I travel west to Murwangi onto Barramundi Lodge ending up at Mount Borradaile, six days of very different experiences and different landscapes.

Perhaps I chose the wrong month to visit as this week coincided with the Gamma festival out of Gove plus a few funeral ceremonies so that many were away on sorry business. Added to that, the Art Centres were being run with few people because the upcoming Art Fair in Darwin and a print exhibition in Paris meant that many people who might have been in the galleries for discussion were not available.

Our first 2-night stop was at the elegant Murwangi Safari Lodge. (Murwangi was once a failed European cattle station and now under the control of an Aboriginal pastoral company).


From there we explored a corner of the 1,300 sq kilometre wooded Arafura Swamp an important Aboriginal cultural area.


The film, The Ten Canoes, the only film made in an indigenous language, was shot here and went on to win a number of Australian Film Industry awards. Unfortunately, because of sorry business or illness the local indigenous guides weren’t available but a guide from the camp took us to the swamp billabongs left when the Clyde River evaporates in the dry months.




He pointed out special flora used for food and medicine or for stripping and twining to be used for weaving. The Milkwood  was traditionally used for body paint or for preparing adhesive for rock art. And the pandanus here was used for basket weaving.




Grooves in the rocks showed where food had been pounded for thousands of years.


This country has two main types of  termite formations.There are thousands and thousands of termite mounds across the Top End. Termites came to Australia 100 million years  ago and were originally found at the tops of trees. Across the world there are 250 species of termite and 150 of them are found in Australia. Only 7 species eat wood and generally all are part of the natural cycle providing food for birds and insects.

My favourite was the Cathedral mound said to grow as tall as 9 metres and reminiscent of eerie and grand shapes from childhood stories.


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The shorter Magnetic termite hills with the razor sharp edges and thin profile are also impressive en masse. Were life long enough, the study of termites would be fascinating.


Later we went boating and  luckily there was a generous twitcher with us who over the days took trouble to point out some of the hundreds of birds I sometimes glimpsed – including the jabiru, whistling kite, kingfisher, the blue winged kookas, egrets, brolgas and the tiny Jesus bird. This last is so called because s/he walks from lily pad to lily pad so that it appears to be walking  on water,


The next day we visited the Bula’bula Art Centre in Ramingining and I was struck, as so often on this trip, by how central these art centres are to the economic wellbeing and cultural preservation of local communities. While we were able to visit the Centre and look at some of the delicate, intricate work being created, here as in all other stops in communities, we were not allowed to wander into or around the townships – just into and out of the cultural centres.



On the road again driving west; by the road I noticed a sign saying we were passing a ceremony site and the fine for being there without permission was $30,000.

And there were palms:


Our next two-night stay was at Barramundi Lodge. The Lodge is apparently a premier fishing destination and indeed the next day loaded boats took off to cast tourist lines into the Liverpool River. Some were experts in the making and others landed their fish. I was hopeless and didn’t enjoy being so.


Some distance from the Lodge is the township of Maringrida home to about 4,000 people and servicing around 30 outstations. The catalyst for the town was trade. It was a trading post in the 1930s when local goods such as turtle shells were exchanged. By the 1950s people started trading bark paintings and a township developed.

The Maringrida Art and Cultural Centre, the Djomi Museum of traditional craft and history and the Barbara Women’s Centre were some of the highlights of the trip. To my delight I found that the 8-foot weaved piece in my Sydney hallway called The Mermaid, came from here. This intricate open weaving is the local signature style. Maringrida has produced a number of well-known artists. In 2004 John Mawurndjui was one of a number of Aboriginal artists commission by Musee de Quai Branly in Paris.




The newly opened Djomi Museum is a gem with some exquisite examples of traditional craft and culture.


Unfortunately, the Women’s Centre where some impressive stencilled fabric is produced was not a hive of activity for the women were off preparing either for an exhibition in Paris or the Darwin Art Fair.



The next day we drove to Mt Borradaile leaving green landscape for stone country. On the trip we passed a number of variations in landscape including some wonderful – and my favourite – termite hills.


Mt Borradaile was, for me, the highlight of the trip because of the wonder -full rock galleries.

The sunset cruise on Coopers Creek nearby was second on the list of memorables for the peace, the beauty and the birds:






And, of course, there’s this fella and his mates…


Some of the country we walked through to get to the rock galleries


Mount Borradaile is a rock shelf 1.4 to 1.6 billion years old. In 1875, the first European explorer saw the castle rocks with their painting and parcels of bones wrapped in bark from the melaleuca.





In1975 Max Davidson, buffalo shooter, came across the spectacular art galleries. The Mount Borradaile sites are classified under the aboriginal Sacred Sites Act,1978.

Habitation in the catacomb caves range from 500 to40,000 years. We were told the white/yellow echres in the paintings could be 200 years old while the red ochres could be 40,000.


These galleries have the largest painting of the rainbow serpent (below) recorded anywhere.


It filled me with awe to see the ash from old, old cooking fires on the floor of the caves and the grinding stones that may have been in use thousands of years ago.


The final in the Arnhem Land blogs will be a short one – the last stop, Seven Spirit Bay.



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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? I had realised how superficial my knowledge of the physical city was.

Basically I knew about  the original Prussian Palace dating from the 1400s, and e with Gendarmenmarkt with French and German churches from 1700; Schinkel’s buildings including the Altes Museum, Neue Wache and the Koncerthaus from the beginning of the 1800s.

In the 1920s, there was Gropius with the new modernist architecture signifying the new Germany; Berlin was booming and that was when the underground was commenced.

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/time.


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’quarters and administrative buildings.
  • The Luftwaffe building survived because it has a steel reinforced roof
  • The Soviets knocked down all Hitler’s buildings in the 1950s
  • 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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