Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Time Keeps on Slippin'

Today marks five months of being here in Australia. Kind of strange to think about; It feels like it’s been a lifetime, but at the same time it feels like just yesterday that I was hugging my Dad goodbye in the Detroit Airport.

Just yesterday that I was saying goodbye to all my Baldwin family in Washington

Just yesterday that I was exploring the streets of Sydney

Just yesterday I was falling in love with the Merriwa country side…

All of that is gone and passed now, and I've started the next step of my journey. I’m in Albany now, the first proper settlement in Australia, and I've met up with my mom and youngest brother. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me fill in the gaps...


I'll start with some pictures of Perth, though I neglected to take as many as I should have. This is a large park and walk/bike path that runs along the Swan River. A great place to chill out and read a book on the benches.

On one of my walks through the city I took a detour through the Queen's Gardens. There were a number of birds around the gardens, including a black swan that chased off a pelican.

Statue of Peter Pan

Window Seat

I boarded the train in Perth at 9:30 New Year’s Eve morning, to arrive in Walpole at 4:30 later in the afternoon. I had plenty of time to sit and think about the decisions I would have to make in the next few months. I was delighted to see, as I boarded, that I had been assigned a window seat yet again. Somehow I've been fortunate enough to get a window seat on every single train and coach bus that I've been on so far. I much prefer a passing view of the Australian landscapes than the back of people’s heads in front of me.
I arrived in Walpole and waited in the car park for ten minutes or so until my new host Trevor came in his Ute (pick up truck) to pick me up. Trevor actually isn't a helpx host, like all my others have been so far, but rather a friend of the helpx host I was previously planning to stay with. Something came up and he had to delay, so he found a friend, Trevor, to host me in the meantime.
We ran a few quick errands in town, then headed to the local pub for dinner. Walpole is a very small fishing town with a population of only 500. However, it is a huge tourist destination and the town gets flooded with thousands of extra people around Christmas and New Year’s. The Pub’s walls were covered with decorations of local fishing records from over the years, as well as many fishing trophies including, but not limited to: eels preserved in jars, large shark jaws, shells of all sorts and sizes, shark eggs, MASSIVE lobster (or crab) claws, a five foot dried whale’s penis (decorated in holiday tinsel), and a nautilus shell, the size of which put mine to shame (see pic in Bloomfield post). I was treated to a few beers and a steak dinner.

Trevor, like Pooh Bear, lives in the 100 Acre Wood. Quite literally, actually. He’s lives in 100 acres of dense Jarrah forest. I stayed in a caravan a short walk from the house, and I got to share it with a few of these little guys. 

For my first day of work, I went about clearing the very overgrown backyard with a whippersnipper, which is Australian for weed whacker. Trevor suffers from permanent muscle damage from a car accident twenty years ago, making it hard to keep up with maintaining his property by himself. There was plenty of cleaning and upkeep work to do around the house, shed, and property. I've been clearing overgrown brush, organizing the house and work shed (larger than the house), chopping and chainsawing wood, and cutting and burning TONS of blackberry.

Now, let me tell you about the horror of Marsh Flies. These flies, some of which can be as large as a thumbnail, are horrible little bastards. Starting at about ten in the morning they start coming out, and as the day heats up they get more ambitious and come out in greater numbers. They wouldn't be so very bad if they were like other flies and just buzzed around. But no, these things bite, causing pain like a bee sting. Thankfully, they only hurt for a few seconds, and don’t leave an itching mark like a mosquito. You could guess by their name that they flourish around marshy areas and bodies of fresh water, like the stream running through the property. And there is no beating these things. That first day of work, I found that out the hard way. I was out in the backyard whippersnipping in shorts and a t-shirt, obviously, for it was well over one hundred degrees. At first just a few of these flies started coming about. It’s easy enough to kill them when there’s only one or two, because they stall a few seconds on your skin before biting, and they aren't scared away very easily. In fact, you can pick them right off by the wings if you try. Before long, I looked down at my legs (they seem to prefer legs to arms or face) and was shocked to see each leg covered with at least a dozen flies. Trevor came out to check on my progress and I asked him, “These flies don’t give up, do they?”
“Nope. That’s why you wear long pants and sleeved shirts. And they’re attracted to dark colors,” he said, gesturing at my black shorts.
So there I was, in jeans, canvas long sleeve work shirt, hat, and boots sweating buckets while clearing brush on the back slope. Finally it was time for a break, and we went and jumped in the creek. The water was beautifully cold and infinitely refreshing.

The country down here is beautiful. Nearly the entire region is heavily forested with Jarrah, Minjarra, and Karri trees, with some cleared cow or sheep pastures, cut through with rough winding dirt roads, its pattern broken occasionally by a small one street town like Walpole.

On a calm, sunny weekend day, Trevor took me and a couple of his friends out on his 15 foot fishing boat. Walpole is built right on the Nornalup Inlet which exits out into the Southern Ocean. We explored the inlet for a while and went out to see the mouth and the ocean, then docked at a small jetty where a local tour group docks every day. We had perfect timing, and I tagged along with the tour as they walked up the stairs over the dune and onto the ocean beach on the other side. This is one of a few occasions over my trip thus far that I should have brought my camera, but didn’t. I broke off from the tour group and walked down the beach towards a series of shipping container-sized boulders strewn across the shore. In the water there were large smooth rock surfaces, some above but mostly below the water’s surface. I walked across the top of them and became entranced at how the water flowed around, over, and through the formations. At one point I was standing on one rock totally dry, when a few seconds later the waves brought the water up to my thighs, which was then temporarily trapped in the formation before slowly receding through maze of rocks creating eddies and swirling tide pools. Moments later the pattern repeated.
I realized the tour group was gone and slowly made my way back over the dune. When I got back to the jetty, the tour group was gone and a family was fishing. Their young daughter shouted and pointed to a sting ray in the water. I wish I brought my camera.

 Flirting with Danger

The next day, after completing the day’s work, Trevor, his girlfriend, his dogs and I went out to peaceful bay where we went kayaking in the ocean.

Jethro, Kelpie x Bordie Collie, was ALWAYS trying to play fetch

Guinness, Black Lab, always trying to ruin Jethro's fetch

 I had never been in a kayak before, let alone on the open ocean. On my first attempt, I boarded the kayak where the water was barely at my shins and tried paddling my way out. Moments later I was flung aside by the breakers and found myself floundering around in the shallow water, nearly losing my glasses. At Trevor’s suggestion, I tried boarding the kayak further out this time. I waded out up to my waist, beyond the breaking waves, and paddled out with ease. I was able to move much faster than I expected, and before I knew it, people and dogs were just ants on the beach behind me. This didn’t bother me; I was having great fun and had no idea of the danger that lay ahead of me. The day wasn’t as clear as the one before, when we were boating, and there was plenty of movement on the water. The rolling swells gradually got bigger until they were over my head before they took the kayak up and over them. Still no fear of danger, they were just swells after all, not breaking waves. The going was easy, and despite the clouds and wind, and even a spittle of rain, it was pleasantly warm. It wasn’t until I saw the tumultuous breaking waves going every which way ahead of me that I decided I should turn back. I knew this action of the waves meant there was something under the surface -rocks or reefs or otherwise- that I probably shouldn’t be paddling over anyway. So I turned back and found that Sara (Trevor’s girlfriend) was trying to flag me down. I just waved back and kept paddling. When I got back to land, they both started telling me how close I had been to getting into real trouble out there and that they were worried they might lose a WWOOFer! Trevor had the number dialed in to his phone to get ready to call the coast guard. He couldn’t believe I just paddled straight out over half a mile. Apparently tons of tourists and out of town-ers get in serious trouble and often drown in that very ocean every year by under estimating the power of the waves and currents. But, you know, whatever. I was just having fun :)

The next day Trevor took me and the dogs out to the local boat launch/park area where we went kayaking some more and practiced ‘ditch-and-recover’, so I knew how to get back onto the kayak in case I actually did get over turned. It was a perfect day for being out on the water; shining sun, not too hot, no wind at all, and pelicans, albatross(es?), and seagulls all over.

One day, walking around Trevor’s property, I thought I spotted a small huntsman spider (‘small’ huntsmans are about as big as your palm) skittering across the dirt. I stopped and looked closer to notice that it was actually dead, being dragged by a very large wasp-like insect. This thing was easily four times the size of any wasp I’d ever seen, with thick, deep orange stripes rather than yellow. Not something I wanted to mess with.

Everyone here is always warning about all the deadly snakes and telling to watch out for them, but I had never had a very close encounter with any of them (besides nearly running one over on motorbike) until Walpole. Previously I hadn't worried at all about snakes or being bitten. Then, when I was least expected any trouble from snakes, Trevor got bitten and had to go to the hospital.
One day while walking through some shin-high grass, clearing black berry, I came within about 6” of stepping on a Dugite (Doo-got) snake. I just happened to look down at the perfect time and froze with my foot above the ground, involuntarily shouting ‘Holy shit!’ as the meter long black snake slithered away into the grass. I stood there for a minute, heart racing, re-evaluating my opinion of the danger of snakes.

Bush fires (wild fires) are a huge threat to basically all of rural Australia, as well as urban. There is a homemade sprinkler system running around the perimeter of the house, and 'fire breaks' strategically placed throughout the property. In case of extreme emergency, Trevor has started to build himself an underground fire shelter, which I thought was pretty neat.

His house

Jethro, of course

Jan’s Place

Three days before leaving to go meet my mom and brother, I finally went to go stay with the host I had originally come to Walpole for. His house was a bit more formal than Trevor’s timber cabin out in the woods, and he had a beautiful view of his dam through his kitchen window. Over the three days I spent here, I did a LOT of chain sawing and hauling logs around in a wheelbarrow. My arms, shoulders, and legs are still sore, but it wasn’t all work and no play. The first day there, after work, we went to Peaceful Bay - the same place I was nearly lost at sea – and went snorkeling in the reef while Jan collected sea weed to use as compost in his garden. The reef wasn’t anything near as colorful and spectacular as what Brian and I had seen in the Great Barrier Reef in our 2011 trip, but it was really cool nonetheless.
The next two days included plenty of mountain biking through the Bibbulman Track, where I ate it pretty hard twice. The bruises and scrapes are still healing. Jan’s cooking was excellent, which included a zucchini soup made with veggies right from his garden, a chicken and spinach curry, and kangaroo steak and roasted pumpkin (all squash in Aus is called pumpkin).

Back of the house

View from the back

Part of the garden

I’ve left Walpole now, and I’m staying in Albany with my mom and Patrick; yet another beautiful town. The suburb that our accommodation is in is built onto the side of a large hill, the peak of which is great for hiking up and catching amazing expansive views. Patrick, who was already familiar with the area after being there for a week, took me up to the top where we spent a couple hours bush bashing and climbing the great boulders. I'll add more content and pictures of Albany in my next post, as plenty more has happened already and it deserves its own post. 

And now we’re up to date! We’re going swimming out in the bay today. Next Saturday is an art workshop run by my mom and the other two artists staying here, and the following Tuesday is my 21st birthday! Pictures of these events and updates will come sometime around then.

Loving living life


  1. Great write up Daniel ..We hope to be over in the SW of WA in June this year.


    cheers Simon

  2. Wow, and I heard it first hand! More wonderous and beautiful reading as well :-)