The glories of Renner Springs: travelling south mid-June

Sunset at Renner SpringsWell those who’ve ever been to Renner Springs will find that description to be rather strange, but having said that, we saw some beautiful things when we overnighted on our way south recently. Where is Renner Springs? Well it’s about 820kms south of Darwin down the Track or Stuart Highway. Not much there except the roadhouse and outlying properties. But have a look at these photos and see whether you agree we saw lovely things from sundown to sunup.  The poor little night heron was not too amused by being pursued by a woman with a long camera lens. The empty cattle road train was evocative given the recent embargo on live cattle export to Indonesia.

A night heron looking for dinner - and trying to avoid me.

Having been on the go with house events were blissfully unaware that we were going to be in prime viewing position for the lunar eclipse so when we woke up early that morning we were a bit befuddled by the disappearing moon. As we couldn’t get on the road until there was some light I took some dawn photos with the partial eclipse. It looks rather pretty.

Sunrise and the lunar eclipse at Renner Springs mid-June 2011

An empty cattle road-train heading north early in the live-cattle embargo.

Bagpipe Appreciation Day

Darwin & Districts Pipes and Drums: Harmony Day festivities, Darwin, March 2011

Geneabloggers tells us that today is Bagpipe Appreciation Day so with bagpipes in my blood stream how could I let this go. I’ve posted before about my McCorkindale pipers, my grandmother’s brothers ..if you missed that post please have a look at the photos which I think are so evocative.  But to branch out today I thought I’d give you some photos of pipers from recent events. The first is the Darwin & Districts Pipes & Drums at the Harmony Day festivities at the Darwin Waterfront a few months ago. The others are from the recent International Tartan Daycelebrations in Brisbane

This bonnie wee tartan-clad bairn enjoyed every moment of the afternoon.

in early July. The bonnie wee lassie in the tartan absolutely loved her day and was enjoying the pipes as much as any of us. If you have bagpipes in your blood stream it’s just something you love while others find they sound like crazed cats. I can hear the pipes from a great distance and they call me in. They are stirring and can be melancholic, celebratory, or a call to arms, claymore in hand. Flower of Scotland!

The massed pipes included some very young pipers from the Queensland Police Juvenile Pipes and Drums (Cops in the slogan!)

Beauty & the Beast, united in death

Beauty and the Beast: the night heron and the cane toad.

I think this image speak volumes of the march of the cane toad into the Northern Territory (apart from all those shades of brown).  We stopped to look at some brolgas near a waterway on our drive home from down south, and happened to see this tableau.

It may not be the case, but it looked to me like the night heron had possibly pecked at the toad, killing it, only to die itself from the toad’s poison. It certainly reminds us that the cane toad migration is in full force and has a substantial impact on the native wildlife. This is the first year we’ve had them on our suburban block. Call in Toadbusters and the toad traps.

For those unfamiliar with cane toads, some bright spark brought them in the 1930s to combat the cane beatle which was affecting crops. Like so many introduced species it then went crazy and has had a terrible effect on native animals. Unfortunately there’s also a native frog in the Top End which at a casual glance looks similar to a cane toad -those we don’t want to destroy!

BTW I am not a bird expert so if my bird identification is incorrect please leave a comment and set me straight.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History for Week 30 is Employment – working at Pellegrini’s Bookstore

A book label for Pellegrini & Co from the virtual collection at Seven Roads on

The topic for Week 30 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is Employment. Describe your first job. What did you do? Were you saving for something in particular, or just trying to make a living? Did that first job provide skills and make an impact on your life today?

My first job was selling school books at Pellegrini’s[i], a Catholic supplies and educational book store in Queen Street in Brisbane. This was a school/uni holiday job in January, the time when Aussie parents have to restock their children’s school books and supplies. Pellegrini’s was the main supplier of texts to schools within the Catholic education system.

I’m not too sure how I came by the job. I suspect that these holiday jobs were offered primarily to my school with which the owner had an affiliation as I have no recollection of having been interviewed for the job. The front-of-shop casual staff in the bookshop were all female students while the behind-the-scenes storage and sorting (a storeman’s job really) was done by seminarians (trainee priests) from Banyo Seminary. I guess I did this job for about four Christmas holidays and the money I earned was useful to supplement my school/university scholarship and paid for some “extras”. Like all teenagers the opportunity to have some discretionary money was much appreciated even though I never felt I lacked anything I needed: it’s just that you’ve earned it yourself!

We casuals used to have a good time even though we were kept very busy during the day with the back-to-school rush. We’d have quick chats with the blokes when we went out the back to restock the front bookshelves and after work, probably once a week, we’d all go bowling or go to the movies. It was good fun all round.

What did I learn from this job apart from knowing all the school books in use around Brisbane? Well I got to pack a pretty mean box of books, a skill I’ve kept to this day…probably because I get plenty of practice with all our books when we move and pack up. Books do fall into the category of be careful what you wish for as there’s a tendency for our books to be like the sorcerer’s apprentice’s broom in Fantasia..they breed and run amok.

The other thing I learnt very quickly was never to refer to a customer as “the man”. I was very firmly told by the manager that I had to call them “the gentleman”. To this day in any work situation I will refer to some unknown/unidentified person as “a gentleman” or “a lady”. Sadly I’m nowhere near as particular in private life.

Another outcome from this employment was that one of the seminarians, one year off becoming a priest, assisted at our wedding ceremony. It was nice to have a friendly face behind the altar as our parish priest could be very fierce and particular about the rules he applied to any church event, even (especially?) a wedding.

[i] Apparently officially Pellegrini & Co, which had branches in the eastern Australian states.

Happy 150th Birthday, All Hallows’ School

All Hallows' School badge and crest

This weekend my Alma Mater, All Hallows’ School (AHS), has celebrated its 150th anniversary. This may not seem much to those in the northern hemisphere but it remains one of Queensland’s oldest schools. The school was established by the Sisters of Mercy, led by Mother Vincent Whitty and five young nuns, who arrived on the Donald McKay with Bishop Quinn in 1861, having had only FOUR days to prepare for this amazing journey around the world. I read, to my surprise, that one of the nuns on this voyage was Sister Mary Benedict, the name of my own excellent science teacher in the final years of high school. The Sisters of Mercy hold as one of their precepts, service to the less advantaged, and in fact the school has always had a diversity of pupils. The example of the nuns has always included one of role modelling strong women’s leadership.

While the school is often thought of locally as a school for the wealthy or in the vernacular, a “snob” school, this is definitely not the case. My family is/was definitely not wealthy yet three generations have benefitted from the wonderful educational opportunities provided by All Hallows’.

The facilities have always been avant garde though perhaps they would not choose to describe them this way. Cutting edge language and science laboratories and a reference library were among the resources we had at our disposal. Of course there was always a strong emphasis on culture, music and theatre ie the art of being a young lady. I wonder how many schools produce their own classical music vinyl record? Unfortunately I was never talented at music though I notice a photo on the school’s pages of our senior year play includes one of the Shakespeare play we did. Of course there were also all sorts of strictures on appropriate behaviour which could generate an enormous kerfuffle when they were breached eg eating in public, not wearing hat and gloves etc.

View over All Hallows' from nearby rental accommodation.

However I can honestly say that my four years at All Hallows’ were a critical and wonderful part of my education as well as a pivotal part of my life’s experiences. Retrospectively I’d like to thank all those nuns, and they were pretty much all nuns, for the superb education they gave all of us. In particular Sr Mary Benedict for her excellent teaching in science and Sr Mary Borgia for German, even though science took precedence. Not to mention Sr Mary Marguerite, the school’s Principal during my era, who could bring you into line just by looking at you and not even raising her voice, but who was always incredibly fair.

I haven’t mentioned the religious elements of our education but for me that’s encapsulated in one thing. The atmosphere in the school chapel can send goosebumps up an “old girl’s” arms: the place is redolent with the spirits of generations of nuns and pupils past and present and is a truly special place.

The front altar of the All Hallows' Chapel

So many memories: friends’ birthday morning teas, cousins, parades, charity work, sports days, theatre outings, ecumenical events, oh yes, and learning. Of relevance to no one who hasn’t “lived” there yet with its position above the bridge and the river it has been part of Brisbane’s history for nearly 150 years (the first school was near the present cathedral). My own AHS-related memories include two of my earliest family history colleagues with whom I shared and learned research strategies and discoveries.

I’m proud to be an All Hallows’ girl  as the boarders’ song goes, though for me the school anthem, Angeli Archangeli is more emotional:  it’s bizarre how quickly the Latin words come back to you.

Oh, and for those who know Brisbane, no, the school walls weren’t built by convicts.

Top End Open Gardens: Jade Vine is this week’s star

The spectacular jade vine in all its glory taken at Anthill Gardens today.

One of the joys of the Top End in the Dry Season is the array of gardens which are open and visiting them is part of our “social” agenda. Unfortunately due to our interstate trip we’ve missed a few but last week’s garden and this week’s have been delightful. I loved the intimacy of last week’s garden with its many rooms, lush foliage, fun mosaics and absolute privacy. This week, the feature plant at today’s garden, Anthill Gardens, was the Jade vine. Apparently the combination of a heavy Wet Season and a chilly spell in the Dry has produced a good flowering season. I thought you might like to see some images of this vine which is native to the Philippines but don’t get too carried away and plant it in your own garden unless you have lots of space. Apparently it has a tendency to take over. This garden (with which I have no connection) is about to be a commercial tourist attraction in the Top End as Tropical Display Gardens.If you’re travelling around it will be worth a look. The front of the property has some fairly spectacular termite mounds too. In fact, if you’re touring the Top End and enjoy gardens, keeping an eye out for the Open Garden information is well worth while for a pleasant outing….it’s unlikely you’d be disappointed.

A glade of jade vine flowers

Heritage Pie: a slice or two of ancestral places

Randy Seaver’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun included making a “Heritage Pie” chart for the country of origin (birth place) for these 16 ancestors. [Hint: you could use the  chart generator from Kid Zone for this.] [Note: Thank you to Sheri Fenley for the “Heritage Pie” chart idea.]

For a bit of light relief I thought I’d bake a birth pie for my great-great grandparents and their place of origin. This involves a little creative licence as I still have no information on the county of origin of my Sherry ancestor or anything really for my Callaghan g-g-grandparents but I think I’m fairly confident that they were born in Ireland. So here’s my slices of heritage pie. Sorry I didn’t quite get the colour right for my Queensland marriages -it should be maroon! The residual deaths overseas reflects the fact that two branches of my famillies were late arrivals (1883 and 1910). No wonder I identify so readily with the Irish and the Scots.

The Heritage Pie of Deaths: the unknowns probably include two Irish but the third, my James McSharry could be anywhere. The swathe of Queensland deaths shows how embedded my families were in Queensland history. The Netherlands death is that of an ancestor who was a seaman and died on a voyage.

The Heritage Pie of Ancestral Marriages: the pale green was probably Irish but is not certain. The reddish colour here should be maroon for Queensland!

Places of birth for my great-greats.

Battle of Fromelles: In Memoriam L/Cpl James Augustus Gavin KIA

Last night most of us slept peacefully in our beds, but ninety-five years ago a fierce and bloody battle was raging in France. That night Australia suffered a truly terrible loss of its young men akin to that at Gallipoli. Among the Australians readying for action on the evening of 19 July 1916 were my grandfather’s cousin, 30-year old, Lance Corporal James Gavin of the 31stBattalion and Lieutenant Colonel Walter Edmund Hutchinson Cass (54th Battalion), my husband’s grandfather’s brother (ie his great-uncle). Before the night was over James Augustus Gavin would be dead and Walter Cass would be emotionally damaged by all he’d seen, despite being a professional soldier and survivor of Gallipoli.

Capt Dexter (left) and Lt Col WEH Cass (right) at Gallipoli. Photo J02530 from Australian War Memorial no longer in copyright. Walter Cass looks remarkably like my brother-in-law in this photo (or vice versa).

This battle on 19th/20th July 1916 became known as the Battle of Fromelles. This quote from HR Williams of the 56th Battalion is indicative of this battle’s ferocity in which 5533 men were killed, wounded or missing:

“Men who had fought on Gallipoli from the Landing to the Evacuation, admitted freely that Fromelles was the severest test they had seen.”[i]

James Augustus Gavin was 29 years and 3 months and a stockman when he enlisted on 9 July 1915. He was 5 feet 11 inches with a dark complexion, gray eyes and dark hair. He was the son of James Gavin and Mary Elizabeth Drift and was born at Jondaryan on the Darling Downs on 20 March 1886. Five of their sons, including James, joined up and served in World War I, along with four of the boys’ cousins from the Kunkel family. Four of the younger cousins (Stephen & Patrick Gavin and John & Ken Kunkel) travelled together to Europe on the same ship the Port Sydney in 1917. This family seemed to have good networks with the newspapers and snippets would regularly appear in The Toowoomba Chronicle or the Darling Downs Gazette.

Enlistment photo of Photograph of James Gavin in The Queenslander of 2 October 1915, page 24.

Disembarking in Marseilles only a month earlier, Fromelles was to be James’s first and last battle: his service record lists him as “Killed in action” in the field, France. His family was perhaps fortunate that his body was recovered unlike many in massed graves whose names are only now being identified through DNA. James Gavin was buried in the Rue Petillon cemetery by Rev James Green, a Methodist chaplain attached to the 14th Brigade (of which Cass was part). Although coming from a staunchly Catholic family it’s likely his parents would have been grateful that his interment was prayerful and blessed.

Captain Green referred to the Battle of Fleurbaix (his name) saying it “will probably be found to be the most expensive battle ever fought by the AIF and the most desperate”. He describes the 20th July as follows: “our bearers at the risk of their lives, were bringing in our men…we had a sad day of helping the wounded and burying the dead”. It seems likely that James Gavin’s body was among those recovered and interred that day.[iii]

Trove has again revealed the news in The Brisbane Courier 12 August 1916, page 7: CROW’S NEST, August 11. Cablegrams have been received through the Defence Department stating that Private Eddy Richardson, of Glenaven, was killed in France on July 6, and Private James Gavin, of Pechey, near Crow’s Nest, was also killed. Both lads were well known and most popular in the district. The late Private Gavin was one of three brothers who enlisted.

 The local newspaper published this telegram under “obituary”: Died Flanders: On 19 July No 482, Lance Corporal J Gavin, 31st Battalion. Please break news through Roman Catholic clergyman to Mr J Gavin at Pechey and convey deepest sympathy King, Queen and Commonwealth Government on loss the relatives and army have sustained”. Major Darcy.[iv]

After the war, families were asked to nominate what they wanted on their son’s gravestone. James Gavin senior’s initial nomination was[v]:

L/Cpl James Gavin's gravestone in Rue Petillon cemetery: the family's inscription can be read.

A sorrowing people cried aloud

That they were of their hero proud

He helped to build his country’s name

And died in bringing her to fame.

As this exceeded the army’s maximum letters, the family then nominated:

Though nothing can the loss replace

A dear one taken from our side

Rest in peace.

Even this exceeded the army’s limit so “rest in peace” was removed and the final inscription resolved.

The location of James Gavin's grave in Rue Petillon cemetery November 1992.

In November 1992 my husband and I made a pilgrimage to see the graves of the two family members killed on the Western Front: James Gavin at Fleurbaix and James Paterson remembered on the  Villers Brettoneux memorial. James Gavin’s grave is situated in the Rue Petillon cemetery (formerly called Eaton Hall cemetery) amidst tranquil rural French farms. A farmer passing by nodded as we looked through the cemetery, perhaps an informal acknowledgement of the Australian contribution. Although the location is now so peaceful, the glutinous dirt in the adjacent fields provided an insight into the horrendous conditions the soldiers fought through in many battles. I don’t know whether any of his direct family have had the opportunity to visit his grave but it was a privilege for us to remember him in this way.

James had left his meagre possessions to his sister in a basic army will. When returned to Australia via the Beltana in 1917, his belongings were his identity disc, wallet, photo, metal wrist watch and strap, and a religious book. His mother seemed to be under the impression it had been sent to her as she mentions “a mother is always anxious to fit (?) any little token to remind them of the lost one”. Similarly the family had to follow up the medals which had been issued to James posthumously: the Victory Medal, the 1914-15 Star and the British War medal.

James and his brothers are remembered on the Crows Nest memorial in Queensland. Like many other World War I soldiers from Queensland, his photo was included among those in The Queenslander newspaper (John Oxley library now has an index of these but I don’t believe it’s online).

For many years the Battle of Fromelles was comparatively unknown by the Australian public, perhaps seen as a defeat because of the necessary withdrawal, however over the past twenty or so years I’ve seen it gain a higher profile. Now that DNA is being used to identify the bodies of Australian soldiers in massed graves and they are being laid to rest, it is gaining its rightful place in Australia’s ANZAC history. Anyone with an interest in this battle will gain many insights from Corfield’s book Don’t forget me, cobber with its warts and all analysis.

I haven’t done much on this family for a while and have only just discovered a reference to these brothers on the archived Australian Light Horse forum. Posted by Louise Gavin it says “I have photos of George, James -also of the 5th light horse on the move in Egypt, captured turkish gun and a few more. I also have a print (60 x 40 cm) my

In Memoriam: Crows Nest Memorial to those who gave their lives in World War I.

great uncle George brought back in 1919 of the Shellal Mosaic. I have a War Relatives medal as displayed on the AWM website of the WW1 badge and four bars for the five brothers also- presented to my great grandmother on the Prince of Wales visit to Toowoomba in 1920.” Louise if you’re out there please get in touch, I’d love to make contact and hear more from your side of the family. I have a large group photo which I suspect includes Gavin family members but I can’t identify them though my grandfather, Denis Kunkel, is one of the people in the image.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again,
They sit no more at familiar tables of home,
They have no lot in our labour of the daytime,
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires and hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the night.

As the stars shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are stary in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

                                             Laurence Binyon

Quoted on

[i]From his book, The Gallant Company 1933, referenced in Don’t Forget Me Cobber, page 127.

[ii] Australian War Memorial, War Diary 31st Battalion, 8th Brigade, Appendix D, page 9.

[iii] R S Corfield, Don’t forget me Cobber: the Battle of Fromelles 19/20 July 1916: An Inquiry, page 361.

[iv] Darling Downs Gazette 15 August 1916, page 4, column 6.

An Object-ive view of family history: It’s not just “stuff” or junk

An extract from George Paterson's school exercise book from 1899, kindly donated to me by a relative.

One of Richard Reid’s comments during Shamrock was to the effect that family historians search for meaning and information on their ancestors among the documents held in various repositories but ignore the things or objects that may tell us more about their lives. In his paper presented to the 2009 Irish Conference, hosted by the Irish Studies Association of  Australia & New Zealand, he reiterates the same concern and asks of his own immigration: “What ..has survived outside of impersonal government records of my own coming to  Australia? What real, physical object from that Journey from Ireland…remains?”[i]

Generations of baby bonnets, handcrafted crochet, by maternal ancestors

The vast panorama of the Not Just Ned exhibition has highlighted the importance of objects in telling the story of the Irish in Australia. No doubt a similar canvas could be presented for other ethnic groups. Without the objects we’d have had an un-engaging array of documents and images. Some objects illustrated a particular aspect of life (perhaps the work of the immigrants on the Rajah quilt), some illuminated a formerly unknown-to-me event (the breastplate given to the Aborigines who humanely assisted Burke & Wills) and other items serve to remind us of our own experiences (for me, the Child of Mary cloak, Archbishop Duhig and the  Hibernian sashes).

So what does this mean for our family history practice? Do  we adequately consider how things or objects can not only illustrate our family’s  story but also add to it, and possibly to a wider social history?

A number of blogs clearly show the importance of objects and  can profoundly tell us about a particular family’s history as set within a  broader context eg the World  War II diary of a woman in London tells us about her own family and marital  issues, as well as the broader social circumstanc  of living with wartime hazards and restrictions, and over on A Hundred Years Ago, young Helena Muffy’s diary is woven with background research into social history of the time. Charles Fleming’s diary of the voyage of the Eastern Monarch in 1883 not only tells the story of the voyage and its relevance to his family,  but is directly relevant to the family history of all the other immigrants on  that ship. These diaries are certainly valuable objects in highlighting both family and social history of ordinary people.  On the Tree of Me Sharon has shared her family treasures of electors’ rights certificates, illustrating an document, but also an object, that many men would have had at one time.

Smocking and embroidery on a christening robe for a grandchild.

It seems to me that objects are perhaps more telling in the  lives of women and children whose history often goes undocumented in official records such as the documents we so carefully pursue and  trawl. Recipe books, craft, handiwork or special items can illustrate a woman’s life and her work to make our family history richer and more interesting. School exercise books can tell the story not only of an individual but also of changing educational practices. (My Kunkel family history included an example of one such as did the Not Just Ned exhibition).

Having recently been packing and unpacking our house for painting, I’ve been bemoaning the volume of “stuff” that I seem to have despite multiple  efforts at rationalising, weeding out, or trips to Anglicare or Vinnnies. This topic is a salutary reminder that not all our belongings should be categorised as unnecessary stuff or old junk: we throw them out at our family’s peril. If each generation kept at least a small  handful of special objects just imagine how much richer and how precious our family  history collections could be.

I suspect much has been lost in the earlier days before family history and the recording of ordinary lives gained such prominence.Every time I replay in my  mind a conversation with a grandchild of my original Australian couple, George and Mary Kunkel, I could cry as she told of photos that people would laugh at, and other things being burnt! Did this include family portraits from overseas? Naturalisation certificate for my Bavarian-born great-great-grandfather and her grandfather? Letters to or from Ireland or Germany? Truly irreplaceable items for my family history.

Spoons embossed with my great-grandmother’s initials; passed down to her daughter and then to me, and will ulitmately go to my daughters and granddaughter.

How can we stop the same thing happening to the objects which tell our story? How do we convince our descendants that these objects tell their life story as well as ours, or those of earlier ancestors: tangible reminders of lives past? I have photographed important items and plan to write up the short story of each and why it’s important but it’s also critical to ensure we leave these objects in the care of someone who will truly value them. So often they have little financial value but immense personal worth.

What do other people think? What are your strategies? I’d love to hear.

[i] Richard  Reid, “An Impossible Subject, preparing an exhibition on the Irish in Australia”  in Irish and the Irish Antipodes: One  World or Worlds Apart, Australasian Irish Studies Conference Papers, July 2009.

52 weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 29: Water and Hastings Point holidays

View from the hillside at Hastings Point

The topic for Week 29 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Water. Do you have any memories of the sea or another body of water? Did you live there or just visit? What did you do there? You can also describe a body of water by which you live or visit in the present day.

As a young girl I’d enjoyed Guide camps so when asked to go camping at the beach with the neighbours I was keen to give it a try, but Mr Cassmob’s camping experience was of Army cadet camps at Canungra in the middle of winter…not positive. However encouragement from our new friends meant that we took the plunge and went camping with them over the border of New South Wales at Hastings Point. Well, that was the start of a love affair with a beautiful place, not just for camping but for day drives and picnics. So many family memories were built up there. Even arriving exhausted from work we would soon unwind and truly relax.

I should describe Hastings Point’s geography a little. The Point is a high ridge line between two superb beaches with vistas in both directions. Below it is a marine park with huge rocks and many little nooks and crannies with shells and sea creatures. To the northern side of the hill a creek runs out to the sea and adjacent to this is a wide flat area that is the open camping area. It had no facilities other than open air cold showers down one end, water on tap and public toilets down near the road and nearby a little shop.

The view south from Hastings Point

It was, and largely still is, a beautiful spot…you can see other images on my Summer post. We were never keen to camp there during peak season at Christmas or Easter and I can’t remember ever doing so. We loved it when we turned up and the camping ground was empty bar one or two other tents. Our favourite site was right near the water, overlooking the mouth of the river where it ran into the sea. Of course this was also the position which got the maximum wind from the ocean so many was the time when we needed tent adjustments in a storm. Not to mention that every one of our tent poles had an impressive bend in it!

Every time we’d visit Hastings the path of the river would have changed with tides or other unknown influences. One time the walk along the creek to the toilets would be wide open sand, the next time it would be pebble or rock-strewn. On one magical night as we walked along it, the fluorescence (I think) sparkled each time we stepped into the sand. It was like sparklers going off….gorgeous.

Another time the river was so shallow we explored little rock pools within it and in one found a myriad of sea creatures: shells, crabs, anenomes etc. It was totally enthralling.

Camping in splendid isolation at Hastings Point...that's our tent.

Hastings was where we went to watch Halley’s Comet pass over in 1986..something I’ll never see again in my lifetime though our children might. The sky was so clear that the stars were always like a light-show so we could see the comet easily. Actually we got the best view of it one night ahead of the “advertised” optimal viewing and saw its movement across the sky.

On Anzac Day one year we were camped there when the Air Force, no doubt from Evans Heads, skimmed the ridge and flew very low over the rocks and water holes giving people something of a fright. As the jets continued on their way towards the Anzac Day ceremony at Tweed Heads or Coolangatta they had to flick a wing over any yacht masts so you see they were definitely flying “mach 2 with their hair on fire” at about 500ft or lower.

Apart from all the little rock pools to be explored for sea creatures (including baby octopus), there were usually a couple of much larger pools formed among the rocks which filled with each high tide. These were perfect for small children (and large adults!) to swim/loll in quite safely. The creek was better for swimming as the kids got bigger and as the flow could be quite fast was great for the boogie boards too. The creek’s only downside was the oyster shells on the rocks at low tide…cuts best avoided. When surfing was required we could swim across the creek to swim on the surf beach across the way. Our children were always fearless and looked set to swim for New  Zealand though the day we saw what initially seemed to be sharks brought them back in with great speed. Turned out to be dolphins but it gave us and them a bit of a start! Another heart-starter moment was coming within inches of a death adder in the nearby bush while in bare feet….luckily it was lazy from sleeping in the sun!

View over Darwin harbour.

Although we now live quite close to the sea and it certainly looks beautiful, it holds less attraction because of the presence, or potential presence, of crocs and stingers which means you can only swim a few months of the year, if you’re game. I think we’ve been in the ocean only two or three times in over a decade…sticking to the pool is safer! Australia has more than its fair share of hazardous creatures but the Top End does it even better.