Nullarbor ….. been there done that

Nullarbor. It sounds like it should be an Aboriginal name  but actually it is a Latin word  meaning “a plain with no trees”. It is part of the area of flat, and I mean flat flat flat, almost treeless, arid or semi-arid country of southern Australia, located on the Great Australian Bight coast with the Great Victorian Desert to its north. It is the world’s largest single exposure of limestone bedrock,  and occupies an area of about 200,000 square kilometres (77,000 sq mi). At its widest point, it stretches about 1,100 kilometres (684 mi) from east to west across the border between South Australia and Western Australia. In the true meaning of the word it is the Australian Outback.

Below is a short YouTube animated video that captures the essence of the area.

To view the video click on the image below……..

For me, my “Nullarbor Year” was 1969 when, for want of a bit of adventure, I decided to hitchhike from Sydney, N.S.W. to Perth, Western Australia. I had two to  three weeks vacation so I figured I could get there and  back in that time. If not I could jump a plane or a train and come in under the wire and save my job. A  lot of the trip would be through settled areas of NSW, Victoria and South Australia where there was lots of traffic. Western Australia was a different story for right in the middle of the Nullarbor there was a huge gap in the pavement. No real road just bull dust and rubble.  On a trip to the Flinders Ranges in South Australia the previous year I had already experienced the bone chattering, teeth rattling rigors of driving on outback roads. I don’t know how I thought I could avoid that experience simply by hitch hiking  but I knew that the second hand VW Beetle that I owned at the time was unlikely to complete the trip in one piece. The planned trip would be around 4,000k one way – give or take a few hundred kilometers. I didn’t keep a journal of the trip but I do remember that the summer was over so I guess I set out around some time in April. I drove to my parents house on the outskirts of Sydney, said my goodbyes,  left my car in their driveway, walked the hundred yards up the suburban street to  Pacific Highway 31, stuck out my thumb and, the rest as they say, is history.

The initial plan was to travel down Highway 31 to Albury on the NSW- Victoria Border, then along the Murray Valley to South Australia, cut north across that state to Port Augusta, then all points west to Perth.


The first day went smoothly and  apart from a short stop over at Gundagai to visit friends I made it down to Albury on the NSW – Victoria border in good time, hung a hard right and by late afternoon was well on my way along the Murray River Valley.  In those days I did have a sleeping bag but I had no tent. So It was a case of sleeping rough. When evening fell it was over the nearest fence, roll out the sleeping bag and settle down for the night. I made no plans for inclement weather. I was relying on the benevolence of Mother Nature. As it turned out I don’t think  it rained on me at any time while on the road. I do recall a shower in Kalgoolie, WA but at the time  I was in town so no worries. Crossing into South Australia the days went smoothly with good weather and lots of rides with pleasant company. The only potential misadventure was a ride with a macho driver who insisting on seeing how fast his machine could go. I think we clocked 100 mph. Apart from that he was a reasonable fellow, maybe just a little crazy, who originally was from just down the road from where I lived in Sydney. The overnight stop was either in Eucla just over the border into Western Australia, or Ceduna  still in South Australia. My memory is a little fuzzy on that but I do remember a great night in the local Greek club. I was into Greek food, Greek wine and Greek music at the time.  I hooked up with some engineers who were working on building microwave towers across the Australian west. One guy was ex-British army. In those days British youth were conscripted into the army for two years National Service. He had spent the better part of his service in Eden, then as now, a political hot spot. He was now out of the army and was spending his new found freedom in the desert country of Western Australia. “Where was he going next?” His company was sending him to Nigeria to work on microwave towers in Biafra. Another notorious political hot spot that at the time was in the middle of a civil war. Some guys just can’t catch a break.

Up until Eucla  the country so far traversed was mostly civilized and pastoral. Beyond the wheat belt there were some arid areas but, so far the road was paved and looking good.  Once over the border into  Western Australia then it was true blue Australian “Outback” dry, dusty desert country. This is the land of “the Aussie Salute” – a characteristic swish of the hand to keep the millions of moisture seeking flies away from your mouth an eyes. Just as I hit the unpaved section of the Nullarbor plain I hooked up with a convoy of two New Zealand families out to see the world. They wanted company and I needed a lift. The road was barely a road. It was  packed earth overlaid with a thick helping of “bull dust”. The road just kept getting wider and wider as drivers tried to seek out the best part of the road. Here are  some old photos from that section of road.

This is the New Zealander’s convoy.  That hole in the foreground is a sink hole that leads to an underground system of caves that ran all the way south under the plain to the limestone cliffs overlooking the Great Southern Ocean. By dropping down into this sink hole one can get the benefit of the cool ocean air funneled all the way from the ocean. A little touch of cool relief in a very hot landscape.

When we finally arrived back on paved highway we parted ways. The “Kiwis” wanted to take some time to clean out some of the dust before continuing. I managed a little side trip into Coolgardie and Kalgoolie. In its heyday this was one of the world’s richest gold mining areas. Mining is still the economic driver of the area and at the time of my visit it was in the midst of a huge scramble for nickel. Back east stock prices in WA nickel claims were going through the roof. 80 cent shares went as high as $280 before the bubble finally burst a year or so later.

Western Australia has some of the racial and redneck proclivities of the southern states of the USA. I saw aboriginal families on the street in Kalgoolie in pitiful condition. Mum and dad were drunk and kids were snot-faced, barefooted and in threadbare clothes.   One white old timer who gave me a lift from Kalgoolie back to Coolgardie and related stories from his youth when he was a boundary rider on the big cattle ranches. In those early days of the twentieth century, as a boundary rider, he was under orders to shoot “wild blacks”.

The westering desert highway ends in Perth. This is the capital city of the largest state in Australia and it perches on the south western edge of Australia. Some say that “as the crow flies” Perth is closer to Durban, South Africa than Sydney, Australia. In distance and philosophy that is probably true. Western Australia (WA) is the state least committed to the Australian Commonwealth and at the time of Australia’s independence it resisted overtures to join the proposed Commonwealth of Australia. It was only the huge influx of miners from the Eastern States to the Kalgoolie goldfields  that swung the vote. In Western Australia there is always something afoot in favor of succession from the Commonwealth. In a referendum in April 1933, 68% of voters voted for the state to leave the Commonwealth of Australia with the aim of returning to the British Empire as an autonomous territory. The WA State Government sent a delegation to Westminister to try and achieve that aim but the British Government refused to intervene.  Over the years a number of movements, usually funded by big mining interests, have tried to foster succession. In setting up the Commonwealth at the time of independence the constitution was framed in such a way to prevent any state seceding from the Commonwealth. To a Canadian ear the WA rhetoric for secession is much the same as that voiced by the Canadian province of Alberta. “It is the abundant natural resources of the west that keeps the country afloat, we are underappreciated, it’s those Eastern plutocrats and  bureaucrats that keep us down”.  The big difference between the Canadian and Australian experiences is that Alberta is land locked and as an independent Alberta it would have to deal with that as an issue. WA does not have that problem. On every side but one  the state is lapped by the ocean. It certainly makes it easy to export abundant resources. The mining companies literally shovel raw material onto conveyor belts for transport to a convenient port,  dump it into the holds of huge bulk carriers for shipment to overseas markets.

After the desert of Western Australia the local YMCA with hot showers, laundromat and a regular bed with sheets was a welcome opportunity to clean up, rest up, do some sight seeing  around nearby Freemantle and contemplate how to get back home. Hitch hiking back across the Nullarbor had lost its appeal. A journey aboard the iconic Indian Pacific Train seemed like the best option. Train travels between Perth, Adelaide and Sydney on a spectacular 4352km crossing. I don’t recall what the cost was back in 1969 but I have noted that today that trip would cost you around $2,000. I had no intentions of taking it all the way to Sydney but crossing the Nullarbor to Port Augusta in the lap of luxury seemed like the way to go. The  day and a half trip sure beat the hell out of another trip through all that dust. Port Augusta was as I remembered from my previous trip to the Flinders Ranges last year. Nothing special, just an industrial port on the edge of the desert at the head of Spencer’s Gulf. I didn’t retrace my previous  steps across South Australia. It was a case of just heading due south, through Adelaide down to the South Australian / Victorian border then east along the Great Ocean Road.  

I did some sight seeing around Mount Gambier but, unfortunately, missed some of the grander ocean views of the Great Ocean Road. I was starting to run out of time.

The final leg of the trip was through Melbourne then all points north to arrive back in Sydney in time to go back to work. In summary it turned out to be a worth while adventure. My only complaint was my lack of decent hiking boots. Back in the day no such thing existed in  Australia. I did the trip wearing “desert boots”. Not really a boot, rather , a  light weight suede shoe with Crepe rubber soles. The problem was that the desert boot had great ” boot to road traction” but there was a tendency for your foot to continually  slip back and forth inside the shoe. The end result of a lot of walking was that the soles of my feet were on fire and towards the end of the trip it was “a bit of a pain”.

So what did my trip have to do with the YouTube video?. Well as a graphic representation of the Nullarbor section of the trip it is pretty accurate. The only thing missing is the heat, flies and the bull dust that got into everything. The only inaccuracy that I can detect is the scene where the parked car rolls away and plunges over the cliff. The Nullarbor is so flat that there is zero chance of a vehicle rolling anywhere.


POSTSCRIPT: Australia is a big country of vast distances over challenging terrain that has resulted in a number of unique routes across the country/

  • Australia’s Highway 1 is a network of highways that circumnavigate the country, joining all mainland state capitals and Darwin. At a total length of approximately 14,500 km (9,000 mi) it is the longest national highway in the world, surpassing the Trans-Siberian Highway (over 11,000 km or 6,800 mi) and the Trans-Canada Highway (8,030 km or 4,990 mi). A part of the highway network is traversed by over a million people every day. Highway 1 was created as part of the National Route Numbering System, adopted in 1955. Although there are many scenic spots along the highway it should be remembered that Australia is one of the driest continents on the planet and the vast majority of the highway system is across arid and semi-arid desert.
  • Major Rail Routes. There are three major long distance routes in Australia. The Indian Pacific crosses the country from Sydney to Broken Hill, to Adelaide, to Kalgoolie to Perth. It is one of the few truly transcontinental trains in the world and includes the world’s longest straight stretch of railway track, a 478-kilometre (297 mi) stretch of the Trans-Australian Railway across the Nullarbor Plain. A one-way trip takes between 70.5 and 75 hours, depending on scheduling and daylight saving periods. For motorist not wishing to face the rigors of the Nullarbor a motorail service conveys passengers’ motor vehicles between between Adelaide and Perth. The Ghan – originally named the Afghan Express in honor of the early camel drivers who the crossed the deserts of Australia. This is a rail service that crosses the continent North-South and links the cities of Adelaide, Alice Springs and Darwin. Its scheduled traveling time, including extended stops for passengers to do off-train tours, is 53 hours 15 minutes to travel the 2,979 kilometres (1,851 mi). The Ghan has been described as one of the world’s great passenger train​. The Spirit of Queensland  is a Queensland Rail long distance passenger rail service. It is operated by a diesel powered Tilt Train that runs five times a week on the North coast line between Brisbane and Cairns, a distance of 1,681 kilometres (1,045 miles).


Read any Good Books lately? (#18) – The North-West Is Our Mother

The North-West Is Our Mother: The Story of Louis Riel’s People, the Métis Nation  

by Jean Teillet

There is a missing chapter in the narrative of Canada’s Indigenous peoples—the story of the Métis Nation, a new Indigenous people descended from both First Nations and Europeans

Their story begins in the last decade of the eighteenth century in the Canadian North-West. Within twenty years the Métis proclaimed themselves a nation and won their first battle. Within forty years they were famous throughout North America for their military skills, their nomadic life and their buffalo hunts.

The Métis Nation didn’t just drift slowly into the Canadian consciousness in the early 1800s; it burst onto the scene fully formed. The Métis were flamboyant, defiant, loud and definitely not noble savages. They were nomads with a very different way of being in the world—always on the move, very much in the moment, passionate and fierce. They were romantics and visionaries with big dreams. They battled continuously—for recognition, for their lands and for their rights and freedoms. In 1870 and 1885, led by the iconic Louis Riel, they fought back when Canada took their lands. These acts of resistance became defining moments in Canadian history, with implications that reverberate to this day: Western alienation, Indigenous rights and the French/English divide.

After being defeated at the Battle of Batoche in 1885, the Métis lived in hiding for twenty years. But early in the twentieth century, they determined to hide no more and began a long, successful fight back into the Canadian consciousness. The Métis people are now recognized in Canada as a distinct Indigenous nation. Written by the great-grandniece of Louis Riel, this popular and engaging history of “forgotten people” tells the story up to the present era of national reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

2019 marks the 175th anniversary of Louis Riel’s birthday (October 22, 1844)

Torn Screen Door

Canada has a strong tradition of Singer / Songwriters. Gordon Lightfoot, Stan Rogers, Ian and Sylvia, Murray McLauglin, James Keelaghan, Fred Eaglesmith, and Ron Hynes are just few that can be mentioned. If he isn’t already there then  David Francy  should be added to the list . He is the recipient of three Juno Awards and three Canadian Folk Music awards.  Francey was born in Ayrshire, Scotland  in 1954 and immigrated to Canada with his family at age 12. In his selection of subject material, use of language, imagery and melody he demonstrates evidence of his Scottish heritage, all the while he is telling Canadian stories.  He has worked as a rail yard worker and a carpenter for 20 years and , of course,  this has informed his music. At age 45, he began a career in folk music, finding success on the folk festival circuit. His debut album, Torn Screen Door, was released in 1999. The title track of Torn Screen Door is a fine narrative song that Francy delivered in an unaccompanied “hands in the pocket” style that pretty well set the pattern for the numerous cover versions that are out there.

In much the same way the Australian Celtic group Co-cheòl offers an unaccompanied version.

Similarly, the Canadian Folk / Harmony  group  The Good Lovelies,  consisting of Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough and Sue Passmore perform the song in an accompanied  style.

Canadian, and Australian songs, have a habit of crossing the water to Scotland and Ireland. I once heard Stan Roger’s song Field Behind the Plough over the PA system in a shop in Dublin. As time goes by good songs have a habit of evolving, sometimes in unexpected ways. Here is a version by the Irish Singer Ger O’Donnell. The tempo has been stepped up with some driving instrumental accompaniments on guitar and Irish Bouzouki.This would be my favorite version. I don’t know the name of the Irish Bouzouki player.

Last, but not least the Irish / Scottish / German Celtic band CARA gives the song the full on driving Celtic treatment with Button accordion, flute, fiddle, bodhran, guitar and Uilleann pipes.

There you have it. Torn Screen Door in various shades of Canadian Green.


Post Script: David Francy’s disography

  • Torn Screen Door (1999)
  • Far End of Summer (2001)
  • Skating Rink (2003)
  • The Waking Hour (2004) with Kevin Welch, Kieran Kane and Fats Kaplin
  • The First Set (2006)
  • Carols for a Christmas Eve (2006)
  • Right of Passage (2007)
  • Seaway (2009)[6]
  • Late Edition (2011)[1]
  • So Say We All (2013)
  • Empty Train (2016)
  • The Broken Heart of Everything (2018)[7][8]


Chick Corea (1941-2021)

In the mid 1960s through the 70s Classic Rock and Fusion jazz groups populated the same performance landscapes and often shared the same audiences. Part of the reason for that must be laid at the feet of the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. While electric amplification was part and parcel of rock music of the day Miles and jazz musicians had only recently discovered electricity. Miles was and an avid explorer of new technology, new musical genres, new bands and new musicians. His bands were populated by the brightest and the most technically innovative musicians of the day. Among his brightest stars were the pianists Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. At the age of 80 Herbie Hancock is still musically active; at the age of 76 Keith Jarrett has been sidelined by very significant health issues and is currently no longer performing; At the age of 79 Chick Corea Corea died of cancer at his home in the Tampa Bay area of Florida on February 9, 2021. He had only recently been diagnosed with cancer.   Chick was a prolific composer and performer right up until his death.

His most famous composition  is an Instrumental jazz fusion composition titled Spain. It was composed in 1971 and appeared in its original (and most well-known) rendition on the album Light as a Feather. It featured Chick Corea on Rhodes electric piano, Airto Moreira on drums, Flora Purim on vocals and percussion, Stanley Clarke on bass and Joe Farrell on flute. The introduction used in the song is from the second movement of Joaquin Rodrigo’s  Concierto de Aranjuez guitar concerto. The chord progression for the piece is | Gmaj7 | F#7 | Em7 A7 | Dmaj7 (Gmaj7) | C#7 F#7 | Bm B7 |.

This attached video is a later version recorded in Barcelona, Spain that featured Jorge Pardo (flute, soprano and alto sax) Carles Benavent (bass) Rubem Dantas (percussion) Hossam Ramzy (Egyptian percussion) Tom Brechtlein (drums) Auxi Fernandez (Flamenco dance) Tomasito Moreno (Flamenco dance).

The Jazz world, and the musical world in general, has lost one of the most significant musician of the past 50 years. He will be sorely missed.



“Nineteen years after his long remembered performance with the group Origin and Gary Burton during the second edition of the festival, Jazz San Javier is pleased to present the return of Chick Corea. With a most brilliant career which began in 1966 as leader of his own projects, with 20 Grammy Awards to his name, and 51 Grammy nominations, Chick Corea is one of the top piano players of his generation, alongside Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. An innovator with his electric projects like “Return To Forever” and the “Elektric Band”, he also shows his best facet as brilliant pianist through his acoustic projects, the brightest of which is the Akoustic Band, a meeting which is perceived as the jazz event of the year, with two other jazz greats, John Patitucci and Dave Weckl.”


Floe Lake – Numa Pass – Tumbling Creek – The Rockwall – Goodsir Pass

This is another YouTube video that has hit my nostalgia buttons.

For more info check


When we relocated to the Kootenays in British Columbia in the mid 1970s one of the first things we did was an April road trip into Kootenay Park followed by a circuit through Rogers Pass, Revelstoke and back down though the Arrow Lakes area to our home base in Rossland BC. As it was Easter and there was still lots of snow on the mountains and the scenery was spectacular. One of the most memorable scenes was the views of Mount Verendye and Mount Numa from Highway 93 near Vermillion Crossing. I didn’t realize it at the time that there were numerous trails that led into the area and along, what is described in this video, as the Rockwall Trail.

Over the years we had many road trips though Kootenay and Banff National parks with only a limited number of opportunities to explore the trails. As always time slips quietly by and before you knew it we had been in area nearly twenty years without having explored the potential of the area. I decided in the early nineties to remedy that situation by initiating regular late summer hiking trips into the parks. My son went off to University and my wife Mae, who is a five star hotel type of girl, had no desire to spend two weeks a year sleeping on the hard ground in the Canadian back country. So my my pattern for the next ten to fifteen years was to take two-three weeks each late summer to do solo backpacking trips in the National Parks. Every summer I would do a number of day trips and at least one multiday/7 night trip.

I started these endeavors in the summer of 1991.During that first summer I did a number of day hikes, including the Stanley Glacier Trail and a number of hikes to various destinations on the Rockwall Trail. The trails are very accessible from Highway 93. Often the trail head and the trail end are some distance apart. I solved that problem by leaving my bike at the end of the trail, driving to the trail head, hiking the trails, pick up the bike and cycle back to the trailhead to my vehicle. As a plan it worked well. I was staying at the Marble Canyon campsite on this trip  and used that as a base for the day trips and bike tours to Vermilion Crossing and Lake Louise.

On Thursday, the twenty second of August 1991, I set out on a day trip up to Floe Lake and back down the Numa Falls Trail. As described in my journal “I started out at 8:45am on a beautiful sunny day for the two and three quarter hour, 11k hike and 2,400 elevation gain up to the lake”. It was then just a case of kicking back, eating lunch and enjoying the sun and the spectacular view of 3,000 vertical feet of mountain dropping into a beautiful lake. The black flies were a little pesky and the gophers trying to forage food from inside my backpack were very cheeky. I set out for Numa Falls and the downward trail around three o’clock. All in all it was a 22K round trip of 5 hours of actual hiking. The photos are from the Floe Lake area.

Four or fiver days later I decided to do the Tumbling Creek trail. The logistics of the trip included leaving my pack at the Paint Pots trail head, driving to the Numa Falls trail head and cycling back to the Paint Pots, hiding the bike in the bushes and doing the hike. This was done to avoid a five kilometer walk from the end of the trail back the trailhead. I was on the trail earlier enough to make it to the pass by 1315hrs. Highlights of the trip up the pass were the wild flowers,  massive avalanche damage, Tumbling Creek, a scenic suspension bridge and a spectacular view looking north along the Rock Wall to Woverine Pass. Looking south there was the views of Mount Verendye and Mount Numa. The weather was a little cool after lunch when I headed off south down a very steep series of switch backs on the trail that joined up with the Numa Creek trail at Numa Pass junction. I made it to the parking lot around 16:45hrs and drove to Paint Pots trail head to pick up the bike. . All in all a 25K round trip of around 5.5 to 6 hours hiking. The guide book specifies an elevation gain of 2,700 feet and a max. elevation of 7,500 feet.


I ended that the 1991 summer vacation without accomplishing  an extended overnight back packing trip. At the time I was  insufficiently equipped to attempt an extended back packing trip. This was may first solo foray into the National Parks. I hiked a total of 60k and cycled 100k.

In the late summer of 1992, with the purchases of a new sleeping bag, portable stove, an upscale backpack and a  warm black toque for those cold evenings I corrected some of last summers deficiencies. Once again I camped at  Marble Canyon Camp Ground in Kootenay Park. To get in shape I did a number of day kikes that included the Chephen Lake  / Cirque Lake trail. This is a very short easy trail in the shadow of Howse Peak (3,295 metres – 10,810 feet). This is a very spectacular, formidable mountain that, on 16 April 2019 took the lives of three of the most talented international climbers of their generation. David Lama, Jess Roskelley and Hansjorg Auer, after climbing  a new route on the east face they were killed in an avalanche during their descent. That was way in the future and an endeavor that was way above my pay grade. I also did a 20 K / 5 hour day hike into the Yoho Park’s Yoho Glacier.

This year’s plan for the multi-day hike was to start from Marble Canyon Information Center parking lot and hike into the northern section of the Rockwall, with an overnight at the Ochre Camp Site, Helmet Creek, Mount Goodsir Pass into Yoho National Park,  McArthur Pass and another overnight at Lake O’Hara. I am not sure of the total distance but I suspected it would be around 52k. There were some significant logistical planning required. First of all a stop to park my gear at the information center and obtain permits for the overnight camp sites. Then a drive to park the car at the end of the trail at Lake O’Harra. At 12:30 I pulled the bike out of the car and cycled the the 52k back to Castle Junction, up and over Storm Mountain and down to Marble Canyon. The climb up Storm Mountain was pretty taxing and I ended up walking the the last  kilometer over the pass. I did it in pretty good time – 2hrs 10 minutes. I locked up the bike behind the cabins and was on the trail by 1600hrs

Monday Day 1- The distance to the campsite was only 7k and it only took around two hours. On setting up camp I discovered I was missing my eating utensils, a can opener and my camera. The camera was unfortunate but considering my food supply the rest were pretty essential gear. I made do with a tent peg and and rock hammer. I was the only one in the camp site for the night.

Tuesday Day 2- Despite the heavy frost I was up on the trail by 1030 hrs. Two and half hours and 6.5 k of steep trail later I was at the the Tumbling Pass campsite to have lunch, have a rest and take in the beautiful scenery. Back on the trail again at 1400hrs for the 12.5k hike to Helmet Falls. At the beginning it was steep but eventually it topped out into a beautiful alpine meadow, A short side trip Wolverine Pass gave access to huge mountains stretching away to the west. There were lots of hikers heading the other way but none going in my direction. Because there was bear sign on the trail I kept up some pretty noisy yelling every few minutes. I did not want any surprises and it paid off. While passing through a grove of pines that overhung the trail I heard a rustling in the trees when I looked up I spotted a bear cub about four feet from my head. I took a quick look around for mother bear and pounded on up the trail as fast as my legs could carry me. Thank god there was no sight of mother bear.  Nothing but great views of Helmet Creek Falls. By this time the sun was behind The Rockwall  as I headed down the  steep final section to the Helmut Creek Campsite.  I arrived and set up camp around 1830hr. Supper was a bit of a challenge – eating spaghetti with a tent peg was  an interesting exercise.

Wednesday Day 3- The morning was gloomy with a threat of rain. By 1030hrs I was on the good clean trail  that crossed over the Goodsir Pass and the Kootenay Park / Yoho Park Boundary. My guidebook book appeared to be a little out of date. Suggestions that Goodsir Pass trail was not recommended did not match up with the conditions I experienced. It was a short 4k climb to the top of the pass  for spectacular views of Sentry Peak (3,265 metres)  and the twin spires of Mount Goodsir (3,561 metres). The trail descended down into Goodsir Creek and the Ottertail River. I by passed the trail to the Ottertail falls. I met another camper on the trail and despite light showers we both made it to the McArthur Creek Campsite at 1400hrs. He pushed on but I decided to camp the night. I settled down and read for a while. By the middle of the night the rain was belting down. Tomorrow was going to be another day and I had no rain gear so it would be decision time. Do I push on or sit out a day waiting for better weather?

Thursday  Day 4- A soul searching decision was not required. There was mist over the creek with blue sky and brilliant sunshine overhead.I was on the trail by 10:30 am. It was a very pleasant gradually ascending trail until the new bridge  then it got steeper, then steeper and steeper until it topped out a little after 1400hrs. On the way to Lake O’Hara the trail passed by Schaffer Lake. I completed the 13.5k at the campsite by 1500hrs. The park warden briefed the campers on the rules. The area has a bad bear problem so the rules needed to be followed. I had plans for a nice meal at the lodge but no luck. I figured I was too dirty and unkept for a sit down meal so after a snack and a stroll around the lake I set up camp turned in for the night around 200hrs.

Friday Day 5- Heavy rain  with thunder and lightning woke me up in the early hours of the Morning, It was right on schedule. The weather forecast called for a thunderstorm around 6am and it arrived right on schedule. As the storm progressed the rain changed to a rustling sound that puzzled me until my tent collapsed under the weight of accumulated snow. There wasn’t sense in trying to get things back to normal and going back to bed. I packed up my gear and headed to the cooking shed to meet the 7:30am bus that was leaving for  the Lake O’hara parking Lot. We reached the parking lot by 08:30 It was another beautiful sunny day pretty. In summary it was a 52k hike with four overnights on the trail. It was a good introduction to extended back packing in the park. I learnt I needed to continue to improve my gear. Reduce the weight, a better tent that didn’t collapse under the weight of snow; and some rain gear would be a good start for the following year. And don’t forget the camera next time. I picked up the car from the parking lot and drove back to Marble Canyon to pick up the bike before heading back to Cranbrook. I had hiked a total of 85k, cycled 52k.


Postscript: Some time in the future I would have liked to redo an extended repeat of the Rockwall Trail by starting at the Floe Lake Trail and continuing all the way through to Lake O’Hara with lots of overnights on the way. Or even better start at Lake O’Hara hike all the way through to Floe Lake then hike all the way back and take lots of photos. That was not to be …. Bear activity closed the  Goodsir Pass – Lake O’Hara section for a number of years. Instead I went on to work my way through a list of many of the other backpacking trips and solo day hikes in the parks.



Unusual Musical Instruments – The Haken Continuum

Specifications and Description: The Continuum Fingerboard or Haken Continuum is a music performance controller and synesizer developed by Lippold Haken, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois, and sold by Haken Audio, located in Champaign Illinois.This a a modern electronic instrument initially developed between 1983 and 1998. It features a touch-sensitive neoprene playing surface measuring approximately 19 centimetres (7.5 in) high by either 137 centimetres (54 in) long for a full-size instrument, or 72 centimetres (28 in) long for a half-size instrument. The surface allows a pitch range of 9350 cents (about 7.79 octaves) for the full-size instrument, and 4610 cents (about 3.84 octaves) for the half-size instrument. The instrument has a response time of 0.33 ms. was initially developed from 1983 to 1998

Sensors under the playing surface respond to finger position and pressure in three dimensions and provide pitch resolution of one-tenth cent along the length of the scale (the X dimension), allowing essentially continuous pitch control for portamento effects and notes that are not in the chromatic scale, and allowing for the application of vibrato or pitch bend to a note. A software “rounding” feature enables pitch to be quantized to the notes of a traditional equal-tempered scale, just scale or other scale to facilitate in-tune performance, with the amount and duration of the “rounding” controllable in real time.

The Continuum also provides two additional parameters for the sound: it is able to transmit the finger pressure on the board as a MIDI value, as well as the finger’s vertical position on the key. These parameters are independently programmable; a standard configuration is where position on the X-Axis (lengthwise) on the instrument corresponds to pitch, position on the Y-Axis (widthwise) corresponds to a timbre shift, and position on the Z-Axis (vertically) corresponds to a change in amplitude. The Continuum is capable of polyphonic performance, with up to 16 simultaneous voices. Each recent revision has brought more features and sound diversity to the internal synthesizer in the Continuum Fingerboard. As such, the instrument can now be considered both a controller and a stand-alone instrument.

I became aware of the instrument when I stumbled on the following YouTube video of the Berklee Indian Ensemble. To my ear the sound is very much like the traditional Indian Veena and I can see (hear) that its use in traditional Traditional North Indian Classical music would not require much of a leap.

Over the last twenty years the instrument has found a place with  a  number of contemporary composers and is featured in a significant number of film and TV scores (including Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull).

They are pretty pricey so don’t go looking for one in your local music store.



YouTube Picks (#40) – Master Musician: Martin Hayes

Martin Hayes (born 4 July 1962) is an Irish Fiddler from County Clare. Hayes was born into a musical family in Maghera, a village in the parish of Killanena in East Co. Clare. His father, P.J. Hayes, was a noted fiddle player and his grandmother played the concertina.   His father and his uncle Paddy Canny, also an influential fiddler, were among the founders of the Tulla Ceili Band in 1946. P.J. Hayes led the band from 1952 until shortly before his death in 2001. Martin Hayes started playing the fiddle at the age of seven, taught by his father. At 13 he won his first of six All-Ireland Fiddle Competitions. He is one of only three fiddlers ever to be named  All-Ireland Fiddle Champion in the senior division in two consecutive years (1981 and 1982).[2] He joined the Tulla Céilí Band as a teenager and played in the band for seven years. Hayes moved to Chicago in 1985 and became active in the Irish traditional music scene there. He was a regular performer at weekly   jam session organized by Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll, who later described him as belonging to “that very narrow set of performers from any musical genre – not just Irish – whose every note is perfect”.  In 1993 Hayes moved to Seattle , where he lived until 2005. In 1996 Hayes formed an acoustic duo with Dennis Cahill, developing an “unrushed, lyrical, highly expressive interpretation” of traditional Irish music. Hayes and Cahill have released three recordings on the Green Linnet label: The Lonesome Touch (1997), Live in Seattle (1999), and Welcome Here Again (2008)…. Wikipedia

The Lonesome Touch (1997, Green Linnet #1127) This is the recording that first caught my attention with it’s exquisite sound and the magical interplay of Martin’s fiddle and Dennis Cahill’s  guitar accompaniment. This is one of the great musical duos of recent years and here is a clip of the duo in full flight on National Public Radio.

Martin and Denis play music that is solidly in the Irish tradition but it doesn’t stop there. They are continually exploring the boundary’s of their traditions. Here are a couple of examples of recent explorations. The first is an experimental quartet with bass clarinet player  Doug Wieselman and  viola player Liz Knowles.

“Taking leaps into the unknown and relishing their unpredictability: Martin Hayes’s appetite for collaboration with musicians from across the spectrum of the tradition and beyond is insatiable. His latest project is a head-turner. Prick up your ears and you’ll hear bass clarinet sidling up alongside fiddles (and Dennis Cahill’s guitar) so that tunes intimately known become something new. Opener The Boy in the Gap is a masterclass in interpretation that invigorates a familiar reel. American jazz clarinettist Doug Wieselman and American classical violinist and viola player Liz Knowles are Hayes and Cahill’s dance partners, and the four engage in some fine musical moves. Present here in abundance, as it is in The Gloaming and in the duo’s repertoire, is that stealthy building of a tune: unearthing its melodic essence and letting it blossom slowly, with intent. Circling the tunes are the combined forces of Hayes’s deceptively simple fiddle lines and Wieselman’s intuitive embroidering, the bass clarinet amplifying the internal logic of the tune as if they’ve been lifelong bedfellows. Knowles’s mix of playfulness and counterpoint is a delight throughout. It’s yet another thought-provoking escapade to relish from Hayes”

The second clip was recorded on a trip to India with Sarod player Mathew Noone.



Read any Good Books Lately (#17) – Anthony Grey

Anthony Grey OBE (born 5 July 1938) is a British journalist and author. As a journalist for Reuters he was imprisoned by the Chinese government for 27 months from 1967 to 1969.  He has written a series of historical novels and non-fiction books, including several relating to his detention.  Three of his most successful novels are Peking, Saigon, and Tokyo Bay.

Peking: An Epic Novel of Twentieth-Century China (1982)

“This epic novel of a wide-eyed missionary and a rebellious woman thrust into China’s Communist revolution is “an excellent read, panoramic in scope” (Financial Times).

In 1931, young English-born missionary Jakob Kellner brings all the crusading passion of his untried Christian faith to a China racked by famine and bloody civil war. He burns to save the world’s largest nation from Communism.

But when he is swept along on the cold, unforgiving Long March, Jakob becomes entangled with Mei-ling, a beautiful and fervent revolutionary. Soon, powerful new emotions challenge and reshape his faith—and entrap him forever in the vast country’s tortured destiny.

Once held hostage by Red Guards in Peking for more than two years, author Anthony Grey traces the path of China’s Communist party from its covert inception through purge and revolution. He crafts a portrait of China as a land of great beauty and harshness—of triumph and tragedy—in a sweeping narrative, rich in historical and cultural revelations” …… Amazon books

Saigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam (1988)

“An epic saga of love, blood, and destiny in twentieth-century Vietnam: “This superb novel could well be the War and Peace of our age” (San Francisco Chronicle).

Joseph Sherman first visits Saigon—the capital of French colonial Cochin-China—as a young man on his father’s hunting trip in 1925. But the exotic land lures him back again and again as a traveler, soldier, and reporter. He returns because of his fascination for the enchanting city—and for Lan, a mandarin’s daughter he cannot forget.

Over five decades Joseph’s life becomes enmeshed with the political intrigues of two of Saigon’s most influential families, the French colonist Devrauxs, and the native Trans. In this sweeping saga of tragedy and triumph, Joseph witnesses Vietnam’s turbulent, war-torn fate. He is there when millions of coolies rise against the French, and during their bloody last stand at Dien Bien Phu. And he sees US military “advisors” fire their first shots in America’s hopeless war against the Communist revolution.

A story of adventure, love, war, and political power, Saigon presents an enthralling and enlightening depiction of twentieth-century Vietnam.”  …….. Amazon Books

Tokyo Bay: A Novel of Japan (1996)

“This is a thrilling novel of the West’s first journeys to Japan from “a master storyteller” and the acclaimed author of Saigon and Peking (The Kansas City Star).

A fleet of ships billowing black smoke steam past Japan’s tributary islands in July 1853, setting off panic among a people who have been sealed off from the rest of the world for over two hundred years. Commodore Matthew Perry has arrived, sent by the US president to open Japan to American ships and trade—by force, if necessary.

Navy lieutenant Robert Eden, an idealistic New Englander, immediately recognizes that the colonial intentions of his countrymen will ignite a violent conflict with the feudal, sword-wielding samurai. Inspired to pursue peace, he jumps ship and finds himself plunged into a world of frightful and noble warriors, artfully exotic geishas, and a distraught populace who view the Americans as monsters.

Eden tries to bridge the divide between two proud, unyielding cultures in the name of morality, but he may not survive to see the lasting harmony he hopes to create.” ….. Amazon Books.


I have read both Peking and Saigon and I can recommend both without  hesitation or reservation. The third novel,  Tokyo Bay is on my must read list. I like historical novels. I suppose it is because of an urge for self improvement. So if it is a good read and I feel that I have learnt something relevant then I am more than happy to enjoy the experience and pass on a recommendation. Both of these novels fall into that category.  Of the two Saigon, for me, is the most rewarding. I have lived through a significant portion of the period portrayed in the  novel. The Vietnam War was a major political event of my youth. I remember the conscription of my buddies into the army. Many of my friends were lucky to survive the war unharmed.  Outside of Australia few people are aware of Australia’s role in the war and the political turmoil and demonstrations associated with the military conscription of Australian youth to fight a war that most Australians did not understand. The American and Vietnamese military causalities were high and as a nation Vietnam was devastated at every level.  America was humiliated and still bears the scars this foolish military and political venture. Every day this horror story was played out before ours eyes on TV and in the newspapers.  Anthony Grey’s novel of the era reflects the issues and emotions of the day. In retrospect it is hard to realize that while I was living a fairly uneventful life in Sydney Australia there was this horror show going on all around us.


Some afterthoughts about the novels. America’s involvement in China and Vietnam demonstrate the uncanny ability the Americans have of “backing the wrong horse”. Despite their revolutionary history, espousal of democratic ideals and ample opportunities to do the “right thing”  the USA seem to be hell bent on making bad decisions. The history of American foreign policy is littered with toppled democratic regimes and gross interference in the domestic affairs of other countries. Here is a short list – Overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy; Annexation of the Philippines; Political interference in Central America; The 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian government; Support for the Shah of Iran; The fall of the Allende government in Chile; The war on the Taliban; and the list just goes on and on. Of course there were success stories. World War II had some good outcomes even if the US was more or less forced to do the right thing. I think Winston Churchill said something like “the Americans will do the right thing, eventually”.



Also well worth reading is Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam : A History – The First Complete Account of Vietnam at War




YouTube Picks (#39) – Celtic Stories

Songs. There are millions of songs out there. There are songs of love and songs of angst. There are political songs and protest songs. Nostalgic songs, songs of humor,  songs of homesickness, confessional songs and songs about every imaginable  nuance of the human condition. For me the most successful songs are those that tell a story and, in my opinion, the most successful songs and song writers are the ones that tell memorable stories. I call them narrative songs and here are a couple of examples. These two performers are musicians of exceptional talent in the Celtic tradition. The accompanying instrument is the Irish Bouzouki. This instrument is a relative newcomer to traditional Irish Music scene. Irish musicians traveling in Easter Europe in the mid sixties became enamored with the Greek Bouzouki and  music from the Balkans. The instrument, and elements of Balkan music, started showing up on the traditional scene. To accommodate the local demand British and Irish Luthiers turned their hand to building instruments and in doing so they made changes to the Greek instrument by building them with a flat back and experimenting with the tuning systems. What emerged at the end of this process was the Irish Bouzouki. Andy Irvine is one of the legends of modern traditional Irish music and was  one of the first traditionally inspired musicians to adopt the Irish Bouzouki. Fortunately for us here in Cranbrook we got to hear Andy perform at the Studio Stage Door way back in the 1990s. The Close Shave is a reworking of one of those traditional songs that relates the misadventures of sailor home from the sea and out on the town.

Daoiri Farrell  is one of the younger musicians that has vitalized the modern Irish music scene. He spent ten years working as an electrician before deciding to pursue his interest in music full-time. He returned to education to gain a Ceoltóir Diploma in Irish Music Performance at Ballfermot College. During this time he released his first album The First Turn in 2009. Farrell continued in education with studies in Applied Music at Dundalk’s Institute of Technology followed followed by an MA in Music Performance at the World Academy of Music in the University of Limerick.

After completing his MA, he returned to touring and recording. He won the All Ireland Champion Singer award at the 2013 Feadh Cheoil. Since 2013, Farrell has also toured as part of the group Four Winds. In 2015, the group won the Danny Kyle Award at Celtic Connections and released their debut album.

In both of these songs the Bouzouki adds a flavor to the music that is unavailable with conventional guitar accompaniments. The rhythm is bouncy and driving and there is lots of neat cross picking and counter melodies.