The furthest distance from home.

Cape Leeuwin
Cape Freycinet
Cape Naturaliste
24 to 27 October 2006

 

With a short essay on Getting to the Point
and mention of the War Without Point in Iraq
(also Dr Suess)

In this far southwest corner is 100km of north south coast, jutting out into the Indian Ocean.

Tourists come to Cape Leeuwin to tour the lighthouse and see where oceans meet. We were there in bright cold sunshine, with the wind directly from the south.

I looked in vain for the red line between the oceans, in the water, of which a charming retired Sydney accountant (I've been retired 22 years, I guess that's my career) told me. I guess accountants see red lines better than I.

Some features old, some modern

Further up the coast, at Cape Freycinet, we really did get to
The Point
which seemed a signful sign. We secured some clarification when we drove on to where the track petered out, consulted our map and realised that The Point was really at The Point and the track after that tended downhill and tended to lose its relevance.

... Which, one might observe has meaning at geographic – literal – and also metaphorical levels. We near the end of our journey, we have reached the point, the narrative is downhill, a bit scrappy.

Being members of the same species still, though approaching new states of life after such a time and with some fading of the hat in the wilderness, we look out for something else...

India next? ... or Africa, out there to the west?

or will we stick to the understoreys of life?

there must always be sunsets — this at Cape Naturaliste, in the north
with the red hat further fading...

and pleasure unexpectedly seeing whales,
not to mention seals, far below
here looking north, at Cape Naturaliste,
where the southerly has flattened the sea

There are still surprises if you go and look
if you don't seek 'what you are looking for'
but open up to whatever is there, or here

but we may not always be able to stay at places like the Hamelin Bay caravan park

where the red wattlebirds, parent and child, clean up the cereal bowl

and where the price of everything in this booming state
will force redevelopment whenever property is sold.

It was a nice surprise to find caves,
here a couple of pictures
(hard to get good pictures on a tour underground)
from a one hour guided tour of Jewel Cave, near Leeuwin

and now Ev joins me in a neck ache,
from looking up in caves, up at great Karri forests,
... and standing in the wind to have her photo taken

when there is still so much to look at, at the height of a child's knee, like this sun orchid

But hey? ... and here we come to the essay of the day...

Why these French and Dutch names? Cape Leeuwin, Cape Freycinet and Cape Naturaliste?

What Point to be considered?

The Dutch were coming by here, en route to their Indonesian colony, using the West Australian coast as a point to turn left and go north after sailing east from Africa, intent upon spices — when Amsterdam was at its height of greatness, in the 1600s.

The French were coming here and exploring, at the time of first British settlement in eastern Australia is 1789. The colony in the east and the powers in London didn't worry about claiming this west coast of Australia, until well after the Napoleonic Wars, not until 1826... perhaps it was a matter first of getting over the losses of American colonies, though that whole period involved decade after decade of British wars with France and the Netherlands.

So why didn't the Dutch and French claim the place as they passed by, explored, were shipwrecked upon, these coasts? The answer is perhaps that they didn't see The Point, and indeed, after setting up a tiny colony of prisoners and soldiers in Albany in 1826 (now Britain worrying about the Germans as well as the French), even the British ran away, abandoned settlement in 1831 for a few more years before the settlement in Perth. This coast was largely without water or apparent value, inhabited by people who were not focused on hospitality or tourism (aboriginal and also, in the south, European seal hunters). Western Australia is, as the tourist brochures point out, the size of India, but it is a hard and difficult place to come to terms with.

Nowadays Dutch, German and French persons abound in old vans, new vans and great camping vehicles, all through the forests and coasts. And Western Australia seems to have become The Point for the national economy, when ruralia is in crisis and the great cities of the east are troubled by infrastructure and consumptive problems hard to fix. The WA tail wags the dog; raising interest rates to ease inflationary pressures here will crush many with big mortgages in faltering economies to the east .... how's that for globalisation! The West Australian newspaper says we can (if we have the cash or the desire to borrow, the ability to borrow remains unchecked) buy a house up at Karratha, way up on the Pilbara coast, for $600,000 with rental prospect of $850-950 per week — northwest shelf gas industry.

Who knows at what point the West Australian boom will bust? In a long term the direction of growth will be sustained, for so long as there is (literally) fuel for China to drive it. But at what points will individual investors and ordinary families be gobbled up by the little downswings.

We are not good as a species in seeing The Point. The point at which consumption patterns alter climate and then climate changes and poor agricultural practices end production across swathes of the country. The Point that fussing about climate change will not prevent it now, and that major investment needs to be in very different areas to give people and nations capacities to deal with inevitable climate change.

We have to argue often with people who do not see the point, cannot discern turning points. 25 years ago, delegations of older and wiser Foreign Affairs officers came to make representations to me about the folly of the broader China relationship we were setting out to build, asserting I was succumbing to a trick and an illusion, that China's current modernisation was a short-term diversion as in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. The West Australian reports that China will next year be Western Australia's largest trading partner.

There isn't always a Point of course. It is disastrous though commonplace in our species to assert that there is a Point when there isn't one. In this situation it becomes even more difficult to see the Real Point later. As with the Iraq war, which never had a Point, would never work, as I wrote to the Prime Minister on 17 February 2003. You cannot say now that there is No Point debating the past because the issue is now how to succeed in the present, because The Point is that there never was A Point. Until that first folly of judgement is accepted and recognised, all subsequent assertion and action is a deeper march into folly. It is not in the nature of the species to admit to folly, and so we get stuck in it. Yes, of course failure in Iraq will be a disaster for our strategic interests, but ... hello?? ... that has surely been The Point all along, and it has already happened, it is not something to be avoided but something in which we are enmerded.

I had hoped to write about these broader matters while travelling but it seemed not to be the point. The issues of the world were swallowed up by the beauty of observing nature and communing with ordinary people who feel only distress and disempowerment by such far away issues. And there is also the question of whether just to shut up, as recommended by conservative politicians.

We walked on an indigenous [Nyunga] cultural trail near Wagin, in the southwest. Along that trail there was a shrub with a branch broken over.

That branch, in the wind, had made its mark on the track. So should we all keep making marks, not doubt our abilities to do so.

Perhaps the most elusive thing we have sought, in these past weeks, is to record the voice of the tiny grey bird called a Western Gerygone [Jerr - rig - on - knee], who surely gave master classes to Eric Satie and Arvo Part. Here is a small sample, which, as always, you must strain to hear, behind the sussurations of the casuarinas. We never got to see Gery but a volunteer from Birds Australia conducting tours at the Stirling Range Retreat assured us that this is the voice of a gerygone.

It is possible to be brought to a halt by the smallest voices. We don't know if our friend Gery knows it, but we have become accustomed to stopping in our tracks, every time we think we hear his voice.

Can I suggest that you read to a child (and adults, if they can be asked to sit still for a moment) Dr Suess's Horton Hears a Who.

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