In search of chert


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It’s a wild and windy Thursday, too wild for J to contemplate burning off, so we go in search of definitive recognition of Narooma chert.  We’ve decided to leave geological processes for now and concentrate on the naming of parts. Chert is a great choice, because there are a few large formations about 20 km from home and we know we’ll know what we’re looking at without any need for debate or any room for doubt.

First we visit Australia Rock near the Narooma breakwater. The blackish-grey rock looms above us out of an untidy rubble of huge squared granite lumps, presumably doing something breakwatery, but spoiling the majesty of the chert, which is  precisely where it ought to be. It was deposited on the Pacific Ocean floor over a period of 50 million years (from Late Cambrian to Ordovician period) and moved westward to its present location with the Pacific plate. When its carrier collided with Gondwana its journey ended and here it is. 

As we scrutinise the rock and mumble about its characteristics the gentle waves sussurrate the pebbles on patches of beach and the wind howls. The sun of course is behind the rocks, so photography is challenging, although far more familiarly so than geology.

After a half hour of scrutiny we drive to the headland cemetery and go down the track to a chert wonderland unfolding (not a word I should use in view of its geological meaning) as we stroll towards and beyond Glasshouse Rocks. The tide is low and the beach goes on, around headlands to yet another vista of islets and sand and bush-crowned cliffs, and we finally reach the pair of chert spires that has tantalised us ever since we began walking on this beach.

Maybe I have chert nailed, at least until I have to identify it somewhere else.

In our ramblings we encounter a recent acquaintance. Parading along the middle of the beach in an isolated formation, and lurking in the cliffs, is block in matrix mélange, which we now take the liberty of calling BIM.

Post-walk research – by J: I fell into a deep sun-filled sleep – suggests that we also saw mylonite. Wikipedia informs me that “as dislocations are added to subgrain boundaries, the misorientation across that subgrain boundary will increase until the boundary becomes a high-angle boundary and the subgrain effectively becomes a new grain.” Forget that, if you like, and just admire the outcome.

 Having identified chert, BIM and mylonite, we find we have a new mystery to solve. What is the origin of these swirls?

As we’re leaving the beach we encounter the chevrons we tracked down on our first geological foray, some years ago now,  glorious as the light moves and showcases their unmistakable detail. They are a comforting reminder that we have made some geological progress.

RegularRandom: 5 minutes with a cork tree


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I nearly miss the greatest delight of my day in Tenterfield. Why would I want to visit a cork tree? Is this just another attempt by a rural community to lay claim to fame? But my car is pointing in the right direction, and I think “Why not?” Here’s what I nearly missed.

Take yourself back to 1861. Pack a cork seedling in a jam tin. Submit yourself to a long voyage by tumultuous boat from the other side of the world. Arrive in Tenterfield, and plant your precious seedling. That’s how this tree arrived.

This is my contribution to DesleyJane’s RegularRandom which challenges you to spend 5 minutes with something, seeing it in many different ways: in her case, this week, a perfect ranunculus photographed perfectly.

Under full moon: a memoir 


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The moon and sun are travelers through eternity. Even the years wander on. Whether drifting through life on a boat or climbing toward old age leading a horse, each day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

– from Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North), Matsuo Basho – translation on Goodreads
This quotation begins Suzanne’s “On the road” post “Travelling with the moon.” As I read the post my mind starts spinning out memories and suddenly it seems that the full moon was a participant at many important moments in my life. For these brief moments I join the moon as it travels through its eternity and I journey through my mortality.

NB None of the photos are mine, unfortunately. Night photography skills continue to evade me. Thank you to more skilled photographers and Google image.

If you want a musical accompaniment, try this

Looking for … goodness knows quite what 


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And more particularly quite where. 

We think we’ve struck gold when we find “Field geology of NSW” by Branagan and Packham, and use it to shape a Sunday explore in search of aspects of Narooma Terrane (aka Narooma Accretionary Complex) that we haven’t been aware of before. Specifically, we’re hunting for BIM mélange. Wikipedia provides us with a photo (no scale) and some basic information. I’m most struck by the fact that this mélange probably rode the Pacific tectonic plate at least part of its 2500 km journey towards the east coast of Gondwana some considerable time ago. 

At this point we have a vague unformed idea of what we’re looking for. The next thing we need to know is where to find it. And that’s when local knowledge and the handbook come to the parting of the ways. We know exactly where pillow lava is, one of our few certainties in this geology game. But the headland nomenclature, always a bit shaky, doesn’t match. We follow written directions like good little students and although we find fascinating rockfaces that raise another lot of questions (Does that look like chert? Do you reckon this could be basalt? Is this side of this headland the same as the other side, only differently weathered?) we don’t find any sign of the imbricate stack. So we go a couple of beaches south to the patch of known pillow lava, and poke around muttering imprecations and mumbling interrogatively. We scurry around a headland between waves, and find what we’re looking for in Smugglers Cove.

Mind you, we were looking for a neat imbricate stack (don’t ask!), but we find BIM mélange that perfectly matches the Wikipedia photo (the first in the pairing below), the bottom layer of the imbricate stack sequence – if we’ve got it right. We give ourselves 50% for the morning’s work, and head home sun-soaked and weary.

What exactly is block in matrix mélange? As I search for an easy definition I’m back in the realm of every second word a mystery that needs to be solved. Breccia, tectonic accretionary prisms, olistostromal action, orogeny, boudinage, dilational veins, mylonite, imbricate stack. Talk about an accretionary zone in vocabularics! It’s a relief to meet a few old familiars, even if I’m not completely certain of their meaning: Lachlan Fold Belt, subduction, turbidites, chert. They’re like old friends spotted at a party filled with strangers.

Oh, and BIM mélange? A sedimentary deposit composed of a chaotic mass of mixed material turned to stone. I think.

The gateway to Wellington



Usually the term “gateway” is used metaphorically. Not so with the gateway to Wellington in inland NSW. This gateway is a very substantial work of community art. I leave my cabin near the caves late on a grey afternoon to investigate and photograph it, and find a grand design reminiscent of Gaudi’s masterpiece in Barcelona, although admittedly on a considerably smaller scale.

Attributions first: the overall design was created by sculptor Frances Ferguson and nine artists from the Orana Aboriginal Corporation; stonework is by Ken Done, metalwork by David Hobba, glasswork by Brian Hurst, mosaic designs by local schoolchildren. It’s constructed from the girders of the old Wellington bridge which collapsed in 1989. A sign at the site explains the symbolism. It’s shaped like a seed pod, representing the fertility of the valley and the future potential of the town. The chimes are the stalactites in the caves. The pool is the junction of the two local rivers and is encircled by words in Wiradjuri: Wirrum-wirrum ngina omeo warra ay bila-bila nyn (Wellington. Here mountains stand, rivers join.) metal and mosaic plants grow out of the pod: kangaroo grass, a native grass now replaced by European grasses, and purple Paterson’s Curse, colourful, a bit prickly but tough and enduring. On top of the dome a young seedling of the native orchid Diuris althoferi, a new species discovered by the local botanist, George Althofer (founder of the Burrendong botanical gardens) symbolises the ongoing unfolding of connection to this place.

I circle the gateway as two men exercise their greyhound across the road and a small boy takes a break from “are we nearly there yet?” to climb all over the rusty metal.

The next morning I visit again in totally different light. Since I’m not a studio photographer who manipulates light, I have to depend on the diurnal movement of the sun, which has disobligingly placed itself just where I don’t want it to be. However this forces me into different perspectives, rather than following last evening’s as I intended. The colour of the mosaic plants twining around the pod, are clear and vibrant and I focus on things yesterday’s silhouettes didn’t reveal.

Sandstone caves


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My journey back to Potato Point – an otherwise crazy-looking route into the central west of NSW – is determined by a desire to visit Sculptures in the Scrub near Baradine. As it happens, that doesn’t happen. It rains and I’m advised not to take the Yaris along the 30 kilometres of dirt. An extraordinarily helpful woman at the Pilliga Discovery Centre tells me about an alternative, and assures me I won’t be disappointed. It means a detour of 70 kilometres, but who’s counting kilometres on this particular adventure?

So I head up the Newell Highway, something I usually avoid like poison, and take a turnoff along a sandy track. The local Aboriginal community doesn’t advertise these special caves by a highway sign, but I have a brochure with directions.

I walk along well-marked and easy path, through burnt out bush where wildflowers are beginning to flower and young leaves are backed by black stumps.

The path slopes gently upwards until I have a view across the Pilliga Scrub. And then the rocks appear. For about a kilometre I’m walking around a massive outcrop of sandstone, lost for words in the face of the beauty of pattern and variety, as I was in the immensity of Wadi Rum, and at Wasp Head near home.

There are signs of the Ancestors, caged behind steel bars to protect them from vandals, who have already damaged a grinding rock by trying to mimic the action, and carted away a piece of rock with peckings. The horizontal gap in the cage is a doorway for bats.

The white rock shows grinding grooves where Gamilaraay people shaped and sharpened stone axes and other tools against the sandstone.

The second cage encloses pecked etchings of emu and kangaroo footprints that may be 12 000 years old, and more grinding grooves.

I sit for a moment on a convenient bench and look out over the Pilliga, as the Ancestors must have done for thousands of years without the intrusion of farmland …

… and then return to intent perusal of unremitting beauty.

Journey home


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I leave my daughter’s after melting the ice from the windscreen, and begin the journey home apprehensively. The hundred kilometres to Texas is notorious for macropods courting death: pretty faces they’re called and they don’t have much sense of self-preservation. I see a few hopping oblivious along the road, and plenty of carnage beside the road: I swerve frequently to avoid a body in the middle of the road. I crawl along at 70 kph, reaching Texas without causing damage – and then pull out in front of an oncoming car.

In Warialda I’m very specific about what I want for breakfast, and a young man directs me to Carole’s Cafe. It’s obviously a favourite haunt of locals: oldish women sit around talking about the ills and activities of friends and relations, and enter into a discussion about youth suicide with a solitary man who is obviously on a mission to prevent it. Carole brings me my hot chocolate and raisin toast and I concentrate on eating.
Just out of Warialda, I decide to stop for a landscape shot every 30 minutes: the stops do double duty, keeping me alert. I’d forgotten how soporific driving in the sun on these out-west roads can be.

I spend the night in a motel-hotel in Collarenebri. At first sight it looks deserted: gates into the motel area are heavily padlocked.  I wonder where the entry point is,  and reconnoitre to see whether I have any other accommodation options. A clean-cut man in uniform emerges from a battered door, which I go through. The bar smells urinous, but the woman who checks me in is friendly. My room, up a spongy wooden ramp, is faux-panelled and white-painted brick, with rather nice minimalist abstract pictures and sconces containing light bulbs. The town doesn’t invite inspection, so I catch up on phone calls.

At 6, I head across rather hesitantly for dinner. There are eight people at the bar, including a young man intermittently strumming a banjo. When I order a mixed grill, the woman tells me I may not want such a huge meal: steak, rissoles, sausage, egg, chips. I settle for steak and eggs, and retreat to a roomy banquette in one of the dining rooms, which also contains a lounge and two lounge chairs, and a tiny radiator doing a stirling job of warming the room. Even my smaller meal looks huge. But suddenly the plate is empty, and I have a rough itinerary for the rest of the trip. I retreat to my room, past a silent solitary smoker in the yard.

The smoker is less silent this morning. We have a brief chat about what I’m up to and he takes my keys back to my room for me. I snatch a few photos before the next phase of my journey. Swallows have a colony of nests under the eaves and you can just spot one entering.

The country is flat, and the day cloudy. I remember how much I enjoy cloudscapes, when the sky bowls above me, and the land stretches to the flat horizon in every direction. Such cloudscapes were my companions on the many long journeys to the coast and back over my six years in Broken Hill.

At the first 30 minute stop I watch a stately hopping of five macropods ahead of me. Once again the road is littered with the bodies of less lucky cousins. Drivers out west don’t care: they’re intent on eating up the miles.

Eventually a pale line of hills appears far away to disrupt the bowl: the Warrumbungles where my eldest took her first daring steps away from parents when she was two. Little did we know then where this daring would take her.

I arrive in Baradine to find my reason for being here aborted. Rain’s predicted and the helpful ranger at the Pilliga Discovery Centre suggests it’s not a good idea to take the Yaris on the dirt roads. The alternative, sandstone caves with Aboriginal art, is 100 km away, and closer to tomorrow’s route, so I spend an hour prowling round the discovery centre. It covers all aspects of the Pilliga Scrub,  3,000 square kilometres of semi-arid woodland, the largest continuous remnant in NSW, with a history of Aboriginal presence stretching back at least 12000 years, logging, and finally now protection.  You can hear voices of the locals telling Pilliga tales at the listening tree, and meet stuffed versions of the animals who live there. There is also gallery space for local woodworkers and artists.

Checkin at the hotel has to wait while the bar debates the code for the Sydney (or is it the Coffs Harbour?) races so a punter can place a bet. My room opens onto the verandah, where I sit and watch the rain. I don’t think I’ve seen rain since Warsaw. The bathroom tiles are the same as the ones in my childhood bathroom. The intensity of the silence at 1 am is almost frightening: no one else in the hotel, and no sound at all of passing traffic.

I leave Baradine under a blue sky, but soon it clouds over. I’m in flat country, relatively unchanging.

Not a long drive today, after a visit to stunning sandstone caves that will have a post of their own. I negotiate a city with only one wrong turn and arrive at Wellington Caves, where I’ve booked a cabin. A cave tour doesn’t eventuate because I’m the only customer, but an annotated walk amongst fossils on a gloomy hillside does, sea creatures far inland where once were shallow waters.

My cabin is set amongst kangaroos and the grey hillside periodically explodes into macropods. I rather enjoy the space – two unused bunks recall consultancy days when such bunks became my filing cabinet. I’m startled by an agonised noise outside, until I realise it’s just a possum.

In the morning, I walk through the Japanese garden, a gift of Wellington’s sister-city, Osawano. I wonder if that city has a companion Australian garden and I try to envisage what that might be like. This garden features a small symbolic mountain, a spouting fish, a couple of bamboo constructions which act as conduits for water, a thirteen-storey tower representing prosperity, and a red bridge reflected in a pool. All this against a background of eucalypts and very Australian hills, and beneath the raucous squawking of a flock of sulphur crested cockatoos.

I backtrack a bit to visit the Burrendong Botanical Gardens and Arboretum, and the Wellington gate, but those are adventures for other posts.

My last night is in a hotel in Boorowa, where it’s too chilly to sit on the verandah. The pub is the grandest I’ve stayed in, or was once. The midnight trek to the loo which I share with eight bikies and a gentleman I can’t profile is a long one.

I begin my final leisurely drive about 8, and remember my grandaughter’s wail on the way back from a week in Slovakia: “I want to go back to the holiday.” As I cover very familiar ground, I’m looking forward to home, but back on four and half weeks of many pleasures.

Suzanne’s “On the road” blog offers a haiku, haibun prompt. Retrospectively  and serendipitously “You don’t find the path, you make it step by step”  seems to fit this journey beautifully.