Tour de Force of Nature

Gary Muir's
WOW Wilderness Cruise
Walpole Inlet,
southwest Western Australia
Tuesday 24 October 2006


It is very difficult to describe something so original, so unexpected,
so intelligent and funny, powerful but unassuming and genre-defiant.

"He ought to be on Australian story," said Ev, "but then again, Australian story is too serious."

"He ought to be in a movie," said Dennis, "no, he ought to be a movie!"

There's a
Muir Family saying
said Gary Muir,
the barefoot guide,
as he showed us
a picture of his
barefooted grandfather:

For people
who wear shoes,
the world is made of socks.


He was barefoot, he was our guide, but he is also pure, bright theatre. We had gone along on this cruise on recommendation that it was not to be missed. Though to be told he was a stange and funny man who played an organ on the boat did not sound encouraging. People spoke positively of the trip, though vague about it.

We had gone with expectations: perhaps of an explanation of the things of nature, of their beauty or photographability, or of the gravity of environmental issues. But the touristical faculty was taken for granted, we were never told how we should see things, as so much nature interpretation presumes to do. Over two and a half hours, with a break for a walk to the sea and for morning tea, we got a barrage of history, of ideas, of information, all deliriously first hand, from primary source and with relentless precision. Gary Muir sets out a view of the world from Walpole at once bucolic and poetic, intellectual, scientific, historical... and deliriously entertaining.

Had we had a movie camera or tape recorder or if we had even had paper to take notes, we might have told you some of the science, the history, the family, the places, but that would spoil the opportunity to tell you simply this:

There is, at Walpole, in the bottom of Western Australia, a man with a boat which he uses as a theatre, for which you have to book at the Walpole Tourist Centre, paying $35. Going to attend a performance is sufficient justification alone for flying to Western Australia from far away. Do it.

You can take it all in at many levels. Telling genteel paying tourists that neither did your grandfather wear socks may be done in a light comic way, as might a crocodile man if he were not one to jump about in heavy boots.

But behind the family saying about socks is a ferocious ripping determination, at 200 words a minute, to rip not only into an account of the things of nature, but to subversively account for the nature of things without socks on: with irony, imagination, wit, pride, self-deprecation... and no heavy boots at all.

Engagement with the audience begins with the roll-call on shore, flows swiftly into adrenalin-lifting mock muffled anxiety about the skipper backing our vessel out from shore while a fishing boat is also moving off...adding urgency and tension to a comic life jacket instruction routine, with defiant refusal to provide a parachute briefing, despite his having experienced a life jacket training session on an airline flight from Perth to Alice Springs.

Engagement with all.

Ev: I'm not sure he's not making that up about the fish...

What if there were Greeks aboard? Would it be a Greek fish then?

That's OK, I don't mind...

How delicious to be swept up!

The west coast Canadians are reminded that, before he got to Vancouver, George Vancouver discovered this and that around here.

The Swiss were asked about a fish found only in a Swiss lake; Gary Muir produced from his rumpled briefing papers a picture of the fish and an account of its closest relative, living in Walpole. This of course, required or enabled an account of the whole history of Gondwandaland [see Gary's comment on that below] and Laurasia, necessarily illustrated or demonstrated with stuffed toys, which led just as naturally to other things such as stuffed toy demonstration of the courtship and mating of echidnas.

Passing an island famous for its black snakes enabled an account of many things, including a more accurate scientific account of the presence of the lethal sodium monfluoroacetate, the active chemical in the poison 1080, in Gastrolobia (a genus of the pea family locally). Telling us that the name 1080 was the Laboratory Assessment Number of the chemical as earlier developed in the US. And the nature of 1080's action — by interfering, as the wrong acetate, in the Krebs cycle, thus shutting down mitochondrial respiration.

All this process is done with audience participation, in question and answer. We also got local history and ecology, tied back always to the settler Muir family (even the Southwest Highway down to this coast is known also as the Muir Highway). While also linking seamlessly to a limitless and alarmingly factual connectivity with such as the Light Horse and its horses, George Bernard Shaw's father's optometrist, the second trial of Alfred Dreyfus ... and the King of Norway's gift of a gold watch accompanying payment of twelve pounds for the loss of a cow and the fact that phytophera [mis-spelled, see Gary's comment in box below], the organism causing dieback in forests is not a fungus but a member of a new biological kingdom little understood.

Walpole is in your gardens, fellow Australians and many beyond... the red flowering gum trees Eucalyptus ficifolia come from here. All the treetop walks and the ecological wisdom of their use derive from here: "We've been over to discuss it with them."

There is a mountain of serious stuff imparted, discursively, relentlessly, partly subliminally. A wash of wonder. No more will be revealed on this page. Go and be entertained, life is otherwise too confined and if not immediately amused, remove thy socks.

As we hit the shore back in Walpole, young women rushed aboard with fresh sandwiches and cakes, a lunch looking more than enticing, all produced by Garys' mum, the gentle beautiful Englishwoman brought decades ago into the wilderness as a ten pound Pom, present with others in Gary's gallery of achievers, in so many stories. The next tour group and their air-conditioned coach standing in the car park. Tours and shows seven days a week. Perhaps Gary has a twin or a clone, but he's not in the family history....

Gary sent me on 31 October 2006 an email with these wonderful corrections and amplifications to my text above:

Hi Big Den!!

Hey…Great article, thank you and it was a great trip with you and the rest of the crew! And I have changed the website – thanks (the other one also come back to me anyway)…

Just a couple of small changes needed:

Gondwandaland to Gondwanaland (actually it is now Gondwana - changed in at the international Symposium in NZ in the '80's I think. The continent was originally named by "Gondwanaland" by Eduard Suess after the Gondi people and the area they lived in became known as Gondaranya (or Gondwana - meaning "land of the Gonds" - this therefore made Gondwanaland tautological and why the "land" was removed - however some Indians don't agree and what the "land" back!) The reginon of the Gonds is in central India. Near here is where a fossil of the Glossopteris rain forest fern was found and begun the jigsaw puzzle as the Glossopteris fossils were found in the other Gondwanian landmasses. (Dr Wilson - with Rob Falcon Scott also had one with his frozen body in Antarctica though Eduard did not know this.)

phytophera to Phytophthora - (greek for plant destroyer now in the new ancestral Kingdom: Chromista)

Thanks again and hope to see you back in the Belly Button (North Pole, South Pole who is in the middle?) to see what fluff has been found since and see if we can knock your socks off next time you come!


WOW Wilderness

Thanks Gazza ...strangely, Dr Seuss had also been in my mind this week... see the end of this page

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