Book Review – Down Under by Bill Bryson

I absolutely loved this book. I took loads of books away with me on the trip, mainly cricket related, and finished them all but this stands head and shoulders above the other books. Reading it was an absolute joy. I remember loving Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Small Island” about his travels round the UK which I read this many moons ago and “Down Under” was no different. What made reading this book particularly timely for me was reading about Bryson’s travels round Australia after I had recently spent considerable time there myself. “Down Under” was published quite a few years ago in 2000 but I felt that many of his observations about places that I had also visited were similar to my own. Bryson is a fantastic storyteller and brings out some great humour into his writing. There were times I laughed out loud particularly when he told of his experience of getting terrible sunburn in Perth and how people reacted to him afterwards.

I think one place that Bryson really enjoyed that to some degree passed me by was Adelaide. I do not really think my time there did the place justice and next time I visit there I need to check out North Adelaide, the extensive parklands and some wineries. Australia is of course an unbelievably vast country and so much of it is still relatively unexplored. Bryson went to lots of places that I didn’t manage to get to such as Darwin and the Great Barrier Reef. If anything the book has made me more determined to go back to Australia and visit more of this fascinating country. Bryson spent some time travelling across Australia by train and this sounded a great way to see the country.

One area that Bryson explored in some detail was that of Aboriginal Australians. I encountered very few on my travels round Australia. The total Aboriginal population is around 700,000 or 3% of the total Australian population. However in the Northern Territory they are much more commonplace. I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs that I found the episode of Australian history relating to colonisation and the treatment of the indigenous Australians very troubling. Bryson detailed massacres of Aborigines that took place in the years of colonisation and in particular the Myall Creek Massacre of 1838. This is notable not so much from the fact that there was terrible loss of life – 28 Aboriginal men, women and children were murdered – but that for the first time in Australian history the killers were brought to trial and hanged. After arriving in the new colony some of the early settlers pushed into inland Australia with the aim of seizing Aboriginal land which the indigenous population had looked after and had sustained them for tens of thousands of years. Of course the Aborginal population would not give up this land without a fight. The scale of the massacres which took place is shocking and perhaps has received relatively little publicity. The journalist John Pilger is quoted as saying “More first Australians were killed than Native Americans on the American frontier and Maoris in New Zealand. The state of Queensland was a slaughterhouse”.

I am left with the feeling that for the indigenous Australians the impact of the arrival of settlers into their world has been like a huge nightmare. Their whole world.was thrown upside down and they are still recovering from this. Bryson detailed his experience at Todd Street Mall in Alice Springs on a Saturday morning. “The people on the street were overwhelmingly white Australian but there were Aborigines about, too – not great numbers but always there, on the edges of the frame, unobtrusive, nearly always silent, peripheral. The white people never looked at the Aborigines, and the Aborigines never looked at the white people. The two races seemed to inhabit separate but parallel universes. I felt as if I was the only person who could see both races at first. It was very strange. A very high proportion of the Aborigines looked beaten up”. Having visited Alice Springs well over a decade later I can say that little has changed. The scene which Bryson witnessed was identical to my own experience. Bryson did say that ” The most ruined Aborigines are those you see in towns”. In Perth I saw a number of Aborigines hanging around on the streets and in one instance a couple of them being bundled into a police van in the main shopping mall late in the afternoon. So there is a big problem in Australia here that needs addressing but I fear the solution is very very difficult. I hope it is high on Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s priority list.

I can’t recommend Down Under more highly and it inspires me to check out more of Bryson’s work.

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Ashes Second Test Day 5 + touristy stuff…..

Overnight I received an email from Phil from Sheffield. He’s a guy I had met in Alice Springs who is following the England cricket team. He is a member of the South Australian Cricket Association. It’s a way he gets to watch the cricket at Adelaide from the best seats. He had a guest pass going for Day 5 with my name on it! There was a dress code – shirt with a collar, smart shorts which I passed. The facilities here for members are superb. A real cut above the bars and food outlets I had experienced for this test match. It also gave me the opportunity to see the cricket from a different vantage point. I joined Phil and his wife Rachel in the Sir Edwin Smith stand.

The view of the South Stand from the Sir Edwin Smith stand

The view of the South Stand from the Sir Edwin Smith stand

Despite it being very overcast and there being rain in Adelaide before play, the cricket started only 10 minutes late. Resuming overnight on 247-6 I had expected England to make the Aussies work really hard for their wickets. Instead England set off as if they had a really important lunch date! On the 3rd ball of the day, Broad hit Siddle for 6 over mid wicket. On the 4th ball he tried the same shot and got caught out. Another wicket given away! Will they never learn? The one plus point of the day is Matt Prior returning to form with a 50 but he also got out playing an unnecessary hook shot. In less than an hour England are all out for 312. The Aussies win by 218 runs and go 2 nil up in the series.

The scoreboard at the end of the second test....

The scoreboard at the end of the second test….

For England, another disappointing day, of a disappointing test, of a disappointing series. We have to play better in Perth, surely?

I have revisited the team I suggested for Perth in the aftermath of the capitulation to Mitchell Johnson on day 3. I have reprieved Root and Prior based on their much improved performances with the bat in the second innings. My team for Perth is Cook, Carberry, Root, Pietersen, Bell, Prior (wk), Stokes, Bresnan, Broad, Tremlett, Andersen. The only potential change to this is if England can find a genuinely quick fast bowler to rival Johnson. Finn and Rankin are in the squad but they didn’t impress when I saw them at Alice Springs. If one of them gets their act together then I would pick him ahead of Tremlett.

Given the game was over so quickly this gave me an opportunity to get down to the beach. A number of people had recommended Glenelg as being a good place to visit. I caught the tram from North Terrace. It was packed! I wasn’t the only cricket fan with this idea. On arrival at Glenelg I walked to the end of the jetty. It was really cold! It felt more like a summers day in the UK than Australia. The beach was deserted. Glenelg is a lovely place. It’s where the first settlers to South Australia landed in 1836. Unlike other parts of Australia, South Australia was not a convict colony and the locals are quick to tell you this! I visited the museum that told the story of the early days here. There was also a tribute to the Aussie flying ace Jimmy Melrose who was from Glenelg and died tragically at a very young age. When aged just 21, in 1935, he flew solo from Australia to London in 8 days. I walked along the marina which has lots of drinking and eating outlets.

The beach at Glenelg

The beach at Glenelg

Glenelg jetty. The original jetty was twice as long and was destroyed in a storm in 1948.

Glenelg jetty. The original jetty was twice as long and was destroyed in a storm in 1948.

Glenelg toen hall which houses the museum I visited

Glenelg toen hall which houses the museum I visited

Glenelg is on Holdfast Bay where the original settlers from England landed in 1836.

Glenelg is on Holdfast Bay where the original settlers from England landed in 1836.

Park in Glenelg named after flying ace Jimmy Melrose

Park in Glenelg named after flying ace Jimmy Melrose

Glenelg Marina

Glenelg Marina

After a couple of hours in Glenelg I caught the tram back to Adelaide. I have seen little of the city since arriving so this was a good opportunity to explore. I got off the tram at South Terrace and walked north up King William street. My general impression of Adelaide is that it’s very nice, very pleasant but lacking the wow factor that I found in Brisbane. It’s all laid out very symmetrically, there are some nice buildings and parks but I am not sure it will stick long in the memory. The most impressive structures are to be found at the Adelaide Oval which South Australians are rightly very proud of as the modernised stadium comes to fruition. I also like the Railway Station possibly because it’s a place I have spent quite a lot of time in….. I walked on Gouger Street which had been recommended to me as a good place to eat out. There is an impressive Chinatown area there.

Chinatown on Gouger Street

Chinatown on Gouger Street

Entrance for Adelaide railway station

Entrance for Adelaide railway station

Adelaide oval viewed from the other side of the River Torrens

Adelaide oval viewed from the other side of the River Torrens

So farewell to Adelaide, next Perth!!

Ashes Second Test at Adelaide – Day 1

Following a fabulous 3 days in the Red Centre I caught a flight from Alice Springs to Adelaide. My focus was moving back to the Ashes Series and my hopes to a much better performance by England.

On arrival in Adelaide it was immediately apparent that there was a big temperature difference here to what I had experienced up at Uluru. It felt freezing in comparison – with temperatures below 20 degrees.

My travel agent had difficulty finding decent accommodation in the centre of Adelaide so I am staying out of town in Mawson Lakes. It’s a new suburb of Adelaide and encompasses a campus of the university of south Australia, a technology park, a high street containing shops and restaurants, and residential accommodation. I’m staying in a very nice serviced apartment. Mawson Lakes is around 12km from the centre of Adelaide and I am commuting by train. There is an excellent train service from here and the station in Adelaide is right next to the new bridge over the River Torrens to the Adelaide Oval.

View of Adelaide oval from the new bridge

View of Adelaide oval from the new bridge

I had to collect my tickets for the second test from the cricket tour company rep at a hotel in Central Adelaide. I was in plenty of time and walked across the bridge to the cricket ground before retracing my steps and heading into the city centre. I picked up the tickets and got to meet Simon Jones, the former England fast bowler who was part of the team when England regained the Ashes in 2005. Simon is working for the cricket tour company for both the Adelaide and Perth tests.

The Adelaide Oval is undergoing redevelopment which is not quite finished. It’s an impressive stadium with 2 huge completed sides and one side which is still being finished off. on the 4th side there is uncovered seating, the old scoreboard and there are trees in the background. It’s in that area they are trying to keep the feel of the old Adelaide Oval. For day 1 I had seats in the South Stand around 10 rows from the front. I had been upgraded to Gold tickets for Adelaide so I had an excellent view.

Stand at Adelaide oval under construction

Stand at Adelaide oval under construction

Impressive new stands at the Adelaide Oval

Impressive new stands at the Adelaide Oval

A view of the action with the Barmy Army in the background.

A view of the action with the Barmy Army in the background.

Australia won the toss and chose to bat. England made two changes. Panesar in for Tremlett. All rounder Ben stokes made his England debut to replace the absent Trott. The Aussie team was unchanged. Adelaide has a new “drop in” wicket which is expected to favour the batsmen. As expected the pitch was slow with little in it for the bowlers. David Warner raced away with 29 quick runs before giving his wicket away after playing a poor shot. A wicket for Broad. In the morning session we had 3 rain delays. It felt really cold! I wore a jacket and jeans for day 1. Because of the rain an early lunch was taken.

After lunch Australia were in control. Watson and Rogers enjoyed a century partnership. After the drinks interval there was a sudden flurry of wickets. Watson out for 51, Rogers for 72 and then Smith fell cheaply. 174-4. England were suddenly in control.

In the final session there was an excellent partnership between Clarke and Bailey. Bailey finally fell for 53. A good catch by Swann from the bowling of Broad. Right towards the end of the play there was an incident which could be highly significant. Micheal Carberry is an excellent fielder but he dropped an absolute dolly catch off Panesar. The Aussies around me were saying “he’s just dropped the Ashes”. We shall have to wait and see…

The media seem to think it was an evenly matched day. I’m not so sure as England haven’t batted yet and I’m still scarred by our batting performance in Brisbane. For me it was marginally Australia’s day.

Australia’s Red Centre – Day 3

After being late for the bus the previous day I was determined not to make the same mistake again. It was a 4am pick up this time and I needed to pack and check out so I set my alarm at the unbelievably early time of 2.45am. I made the bus comfortably….

In my last day in the Red Centre I was visiting Kings Canyon. This necessitated a circa 4 hour coach journey. I felt shattered and tried to catch some sleep on the bus before sunset. We made a brief breakfast stop at Kings Creek Station before arriving at the Kings Canyon car park. I ordered a bacon sandwich and a flat white.

the tour guide presented us with two options. Option 1. A 3 hour walk around the rim of Kings Canyon. The walk started with a 500 step climb and those wishing to participate were required to sign a disclaimer. Although the walk started at around 9am when it was relatively cool it was forecast to reach circa 40 degrees C by midday. Option 2. A shorter and easier walk within the Canyon itself. Following which was the possibility of a helicopter flight….. Now since a misjudged appearance in a 5 a side football match back in early October I have been nursing a sore achilles. It has improved but is still not right so I went for Option 2. It was a lovely walk into the canyon with nice scenery. 3 of the party who had gone for the rim walk option reconsidered after attempting 200 out of the 500 steps and joined us. It was obviously pretty tough going….

The start of the Kings Canyon Rim walk

The start of the Kings Canyon Rim walk

Inside kings canyon

Inside kings canyon

Viewing platform looking towards the "Garden of Eden"

Viewing platform looking towards the “Garden of Eden”

After finishing the walk we were driven into Kings Canyon Resort. Me and 2 others from our party were keen to go on the helicopter flight. we plumped for the 15 minute flight option which took us over Kings Canyon, Kings Creek and over to Carmichael Crag. It was my first time in a helicopter. I was excited if a little apprehensive. It was absolutely fantastic. An exhilarating experience with amazing views. I can’t wait for my next helicopter flight.

Does it look like I'm the pilot or what?

Does it look like I’m the pilot or what?

The view over Carmichael Crag.

The view over Carmichael Crag.

Kings canyon from the air

Kings canyon from the air

The chopper. It's a Robinson R-44 apparently...

The chopper. It’s a Robinson R-44 apparently…

After the exhilaration of the flight I needed a beer and headed off to the bar with Julie who I shared the helicopter flight with. Julie is from Grantham, works in Paediatrics, and had been staying with friends in Sydney before flying into The Red Centre. We enjoyed a Victoria Bitter or 2…. and then lunch before it was time to get back on the bus.

After a 6 hour journey I was dropped back in Alice Springs. It had been an amazing 3 days and an unforgettable experience.

Australia’s Red Centre – Day 2

I set my alarm at 4am ahead of a 4.30am coach pick up at the hotel. When I appeared at the front of the hotel at 4.32am the bus had already left! Given how ridiculously early in the morning it was I was half tempted to go back to bed! But I didn’t want to miss the sunrise at Uluru! After picking up at my hotel the bus then collects at the other 2 hotels on the resort. I managed to relay a message to the bus driver and they came back round for me…. I was on the receiving end of some ribbing from the bus driver after this though!

The sunrise was a disappointment as the sun rose behind a cloud so the photos I took were nothing like as good as the night before. After the sunset we were driven to the base of the rock and taken on a walk which included the Mutitjulu waterhole and a cave with aboriginal symbols marked within. The waterhole is a beautiful spot. I have to say the tour guides that AAT kings use are absolutely fabulous. We got a fantastically well articulated explanation of the geology of how Uluru and Kata Tjuta were formed.

Me in front of the Mutitjulu waterhole.

Me in front of the Mutitjulu waterhole.

Our guide explaining the aboriginal cave markings

Our guide explaining the aboriginal cave markings

After the walk, back on the bus and a drive round to the Uluru climb. There was a section of Uluru on the way round where photos are not allowed as it’s a very sacred area to the aboriginal owners of the national park. A foreign couple sat in front of me flagrantly disregarded this and I was fuming. So disrespectful. Me and a number of fellow passengers tried to stop them but to no avail….

The climb up Uluru - CLOSED!

The climb up Uluru – CLOSED!

Sign requesting tourists do not climb Uluru

Sign requesting tourists do not climb Uluru

The climb was closed due to the forecast temperature being above 36 degrees and also it had rained the night before making the rock potentially slippery. It can be a dangerous climb. 40 people have died climbing up it. The indigenous tribe. Anangu, do not wish tourists to climb Uluru as it’s such a special and sacred place for them. There are also environmental implications from some tourists going up there and, ahem, relieving themselves… fewer and fewer tourists are doing the climb. It’s likely in a few years time it will be closed.

we spent an hour at the Anangu culutural centre before returning to the hotel. I was starving and luckily breakfast was still going. The Aussie girl who checked me in for breakfast asked if I was going to the cricket in Adelaide. I asked her how she had guessed? Perhaps the Barmy Army tee shirt I was wearing was a clue… She recommended an area in Adelaide for me to go eating out. Googer street? This is just an example of how friendly and helpful the people working in the service sector in Australia seem to be.

during the day a couple of elderly Canadian tourists asked me what the Barmy Army was? They are involved with the Salvation Army. I explained that the Barmy Army was a bit different….

After a kip I headed out for an afternoon/evening tour to Kata Tjuta. It’s another amazing looking rock formation very different to Uluru with 36 different domes. It was red hot at 41 degrees! In these temperatures we did 2 hour long walks. One walk was through the valley of the winds. More spectacular scenery but I got very hot and sweaty! You had to be careful not to get dehydrated and drink lots and lots of water. After the walking, another sunset viewing with wine and nibbles and an excellent sunset!

Sunset at Kata Tjuta

Sunset at Kata Tjuta

Another sunset shot of Kata Tjuta

Another sunset shot of Kata Tjuta

Another fab day!

Alice Springs – England v Chairman’s XI

When I was planning this trip I noticed that England were playing a two day game in Alice Springs. I decided to add this game to my itinerary as it gave me the opportunity to see more cricket and also experience the Australian outback. I leave tomorrow for a 3 day tour to Uluru, Kings Canyon and other Red Centre highlights. The last two days have focused on the cricket.

The match gave the opportunity for England to get some match practice ahead of the second test which starts in Adelaide next Thursday. In particular it gave some of the back up batsmen opportunity to put their name in the spotlight with a good performance. There is now a batting vacancy following Jonathan Trott’s withdrawal from the tour due to a stress related illness.

The match was held at Traeger Park which handily is directly opposite my hotel! the cricket ground is named after Alfred Traeger who is an Australian inventor who invented the pedal wireless used by the flying doctor service. It’s a very different stadium to the one I visited in Brisbane. There is one permanent stand seating 250 people. The remaining spectators sat on grass banking or in temporary stands. I took up a seat at the back of a covered temporary stand. Given temperatures were forecast to reach close to 40 degrees shade would be very welcome.

It really was an idyllic setting with views of the McDonnell ranges.

On day one I met two Aussie guys – Jim and Chris who lived in the northern territory. They were great company and treated me to a sausage sandwich. Thanks guys! They are keen cricket fans and along with many other Aussies living out in the northern territory were very excited that England had come to town. The local paper “Centralian Advocate” had published a souvenir edition to mark the occasion. As the day commenced i became increasingly distracted/entertained by a group of Aussie guys who had travelled here mostly from Sydney for a lads weekend. The volume level increased in line with number of tinnies of Carlton cold that they had consumed. It was all in good humour though.

Back to the cricket……. England batted. The Australian chairman XI consisted of state players who in most instances were second XI players. They were far from household names. On paper England had by far the stronger side. A succession of England batsmen got in and then got themselves out. The main player to do himself justice was Zimbabwean born Gary Ballance who scored a confident 55 before being run out after a mix up with Ian Bell. England declared at 212-7. The Chairman’s xi reached 16 without loss at close of play.

On day 2 I resumed my seat. It was going to be another hot one! I was sat with a couple, Phil and Rachel, from Sheffield. Phil had been out on the ashes tour starting with the warm up games and had been joined in Brisbane by Rachel. Phil had taken redundancy from a job as a civil servant. Rachel is a part time GP. Following redundancy, Phil had essentially retired and handed me a business card which stated “Sheffield United and Yorkshire Cricket fan. England Football & cricket tourist”.Phil and Rachel had seen England play cricket in Australia, South Africa and India. I must admit to being very envious of Phil’s lifestyle apart from Sheffield Utd bit!

The Chairman’s XI managed to score 254-8 before declaring. England’s seam bowlers Finn, Rankin and Stokes didnt impress but the spinners Swann and Panesar took 7 wickets between them.

England then batted for an hour to reach 47-1 at close. The match was drawn.

the barmy army used the day to try out some new songs. my favourite was “Carberry fields forever” although the Ben stokes song “hokey stokey” needs more work…

England failed to impress with a number of players still clearly off form. I do not feel particularly optimistic for our chances in the second test but England do have a history of underperforming at the start of a tour before turning things around. My team for the second test is Cook, Carberry, Bell, Pietersen, Root, Bairstow, Prior, Broad, Swann, Bresnan ( if fit enough), Anderson.

I have brought loads of books with me on this trip. Many given as gifts. By the time I get to India I need to be travelling light. So as I finish a book I will be leaving it behind. I hope those giving these as gifts dont mind too much…. The first book I have finished was Simon Briggs’ “stiff upper lips and baggy green caps”. It is a really entertaining history of the ashes with some great stories and characterisation. I highly recommend it.

So tomorrow I go to Uluru. Am very excited!

Traeger park with the McDonnell range in the background

Traeger park with the McDonnell range in the background

My vantage point for the match

My vantage point for the match

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Mike Atherton being interviewed by sky sport's Tim Abraham

Mike Atherton being interviewed by sky sport’s Tim Abraham

My new t shirt!

My new t shirt!

A red gum tree near my hotel in Alice

A red gum tree near my hotel in Alice

into the outback!

Today started with a 4.15 alarm call. After being on an extended holiday since mid October this came as a shock! I needed to be at Brisbane airport for a 7am flight to Cairns. After a couple of hours in the departure lounge in Cairns I would then board a flight to Alice Springs. Having consulted a map I was perplexed as to the flight arrangements my travel agent had made given that the distance between Brisbane and Alice is not that different to that from Cairns to Alice. Each flight was a little over 2 hours. The reason was later explained by there only being a couple of direct flights each week between Brisbane and Alice Springs.

I was amused to find the Qantas cabin crew serving me breakfast on the first flight bore more than passing resemblances to ex Aussie fast bowler Merv Hughes and Madge Bishop from Neighbours!

On the second flight I was sat with a great Aussie guy who grew up at Waikerie near Adelaide. Jason now ran a mobile phone business near Cairns and was going to Alice for a reunion with some mates who he used to play cricket with in Alice Springs. Jason had heard of my home town, Barnsley, as one of his Aussie cricketing mates played there one summer.

looking out of the window i got a real appreciation as to the vastness and remoteness of Australia. the scenery got desertlike. I was entering the Red Centre. I expected Alice Springs to be like a furnace. Recent temperatures have been reaching around 40 degrees. However when the flight landed it was relatively cool due to wind and cloud. It had rained earlier that day. The first meaningful rain for around 14 months.

Bizarrely I had to adjust my watch by 30 minutes on arriving here. Brisbane is half an hour ahead. A 30 minutes adjustment, what’s the point?!?!

i am here for England’s tour match against an Australian XI which starts tomorrow. The locals are worried that the weather may spoil their big day. It’s not every week that the England Cricket team come to town.