On Safari in The Australian Outback: Day One

As part of our visit to Alice Springs, we were treated to a three day safari by District 9500. The trip was made possible through the Peter Sutton Memorial GSE Safari Trust. The fund was established in honor of Peter Sutton, who tragically died in an airplane crash a number of years ago. The trust gives in-bound VTT/GSE teams an opportunity to experience and explore the outback country.

Kate, a.k.a "Cyclone", with Wayoutback Tours

Kate, a.k.a “Cyclone”, with Wayoutback Tours

The trip was with Wayoutback Tours, a respected and accredited local tour company with trained, environmentally conscious staff. All tour guides have a sound knowledge of the area history, Aboriginal culture, geology and the natural environment. Our three-day tour was the Goanna Dreaming Red Centre 4WD Tour, though I think it could just be called “A Rip Roaring Outback Adventure!”

We were picked up at the hotel around 6:00 a.m. Jumping out of the massive tour rig was Kate, a 26 year old singing bundle of energy aptly nicknamed “Cyclone”. And off we went, the big rig rumbling and lurching as Kate sang along to her music. Beside our team of four, there was a couple from France, another from Holland plus an elderly mother and adult son from Australia.


Lynn and Jim go for a camel ride

First stop was a camel farm for a break and an optional camel ride.  All of our team took a turn around the paddock. It was a fast and bumpy ride!

About two hours in to the trip Kate pulled over because the rig was not shifting into higher gears. Luckily, another tour company caravan came along and stopped and after a few minutes of conversation, they took us along while Kate stayed and waited for a team to come replace her rig. I was impressed with the ease in which the other company brought us along and incorporated us into their group. Guess it’s the professional ‘rule of the road’ in the outback. So we dubbed ourselves “The Orphans”.

Kate tells a story of the Aboriginal peoples in a wind carved cave at Uluru

Kate tells a story of the Aboriginal peoples in a wind carved cave at Uluru


Cave paintings at Uluru

We arrived at the base camp at Uluru (Ayers Rock) in time for lunch and a pass off to another Wayoutback guide on site, who took us to the base of the massive rock. When people think of Australia, undoubtedly ‘the rock’ is one of the icons that comes to mind. Uluru is sacred to the Anangu, the Aboriginal people of the region. The area around the sandstone rock surprising has an abundance of springs, waterholes, rock caves, and Aboriginal paintings, things you do not see from the traditional far away shots of the rock at sunset. Uluru stands 348 m (1,142 ft) high, slightly higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and has a total circumference of 9.4 km (5.8 mi). The rock is like an iceberg in that most of its bulk is underground. Kate soon joined us with the new rig and she shared with us the fascinating flora, fauna, history and cultural significance of Uluru.

By now it was late afternoon and after getting settled at our camp, we journeyed to a look out point to see the rock at sunset and to toast our adventure with sparkling wine and biscuits, then back for a full camp style dinner and time around the camp fire.


Uluru up close during our walk

Next up: Day Two, when we travel to Kata Tjuta(or colloquially referred to as The Olgas).

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More of Alice Springs

Experimental date farm at AZRI

Experimental date farm at AZRI

Day two: Tuesday April 5th was a more leisurely scheduled day for our team. On our way to our first stop we had a half hour to kill. Our guide for the day, future District Governor Peter Schaffer, took us up into the hills for a view of the region on a rugged four wheel track. Actually, the trail more resembled a dry, cascading creek bed with gullies, ridges and bumps all cascading down the red rock and hills. Great fun.  After that it was a tour of the Arid Zone Research Institute, commonly called AZRI. It was a fascinating visit to learn how they are working to bring sustainable agriculture and range management to this arid region. We toured their date production area, table grape plot then took a drive out to the cattle station to learn how they are using remote monitoring technology to manage cattle and range land. This is particularly important given the massive size of the stations in Australia and dwindling labor.

Watching how the School of Air works

Watching how the School of Air works

After lunch we took in the Alice Springs School of the Air (ASSOA). Since 1951, this innovative school has brought education to the children spread over the vast regions of Australia. School of the Air has been bridging education gaps caused by remote locations and providing schooling to children at cattle stations, roadhouses, Aboriginal communities and national parks with daily lessons via satellite broadband to children aged 4 to 13 years. In the early days it was done by radio, but with the internet and broadcast technologies of today, their service area covers 1.3 million square kilometres (50,000 square miles, about the size of Louisiana). From their interactive live television studios in Alice Springs teachers lead children through their lessons. Unfortunately it was spring break so no live sessions were underway, but we did see a recorded version to get an idea on how the program works. I bought and donated back a book for kids to enjoy.

Rotary District 9500 Governor 2017-2018 Peter Schaffer and team leader John Cooper

Rotary District 9500 Governor 2017-2018 Peter Schaffer and team leader John Cot, that evening we were the guests and program for a joint meeting of the Rotary Clubs of Alice Springs and Stuart. Great group of folks.

That evening we were hosts and presenters at the Alice Springs and Stuart Rotary Clubs.

Next up: Our adventures in Uluru (Ayers Rock), the Kata Tjuta National Park (the Olgas) and Kings Canyon of the Watarrka National Park.


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Hello Alice Springs!

We sure had a great time on the Yorke Peninsula, but alas, we had to move on. Our hosts from the peninsula took us in to Adelaide for an overnight stay at a hotel plus a farewell dinner. Then we were off on a two hour Qantas flight to Alice Springs yesterday (Sunday Aussie time). We arrived to sunny skies and a warm day (some 80 plus degrees).

Jim arrives at Alice Springs

Jim arrives at Alice Springs

After a quick settle in, our local Rotarian hosts had a get together at one of their homes. Then it was bright and early for the sunrise breakfast meeting with the Rotary Club of Mbantua. Our host for today was Rotarian (and future RI District 9500 Governor) Peter Schaffer. After the meeting we headed out to Undoolya Station to visit Richie Hayes with his Rockyhill Table Grapes operation.

IMGP3342Yes, here in the searing heat of Alice Springs you can grow grapes: All it takes is water and the right care. As Richie pointed out, the red like clay/sandy soil can be quite productive, as evidenced by the healthy vines plus the other crops he grows including experimental plots of yams and peanuts. He also has a good amount of clover in production and had been cutting it when we arrived. Luckily he has invested in a well that is tapped into a regional aquifer that allows him to irrigate his fields. While learning about his agriculture adventures was fun, our afternoon tea and coffee allowed him to share his exploits as a young man traveling across American in the 1980s in a Cadillac he picked up in Bakersfield, California. His retelling of being pulled over in Tennessee by a good ‘ole boy sheriff and their adventures together that night had us all in stitches.

Richie and his wife Lee Anne bid us farewell at their ranch/farm

Richie and his wife Lee Anne bid us farewell at their ranch/farm

Lynne makes a friend at the Reptile Centre

Lynn makes a friend at the Reptile Centre

Next we ventured to the Alice Springs Reptile Centre. This small facility packs in some 100 reptiles of 60 species providing a great perspective of the critters that roam the Northern Territory and beyond. First up was a presentation with various reptiles and snakes plus a little education of how to deal (or basically stay away from) snakes in the wild. Then they gave willing participants a chance to hold a few of the reptiles in their collection including a boa and a couple of lizards. Finally we toured their grounds to see adders, tree frogs, goannas, skinks, turtles plus one stealthy looking crocodile that thankfully was well protected(or was it that we were well protected?)

Afterwards, we enjoyed a visit to the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS), not because we needed help after handling the snakes but because they are renowned and conveniently across the street from the reptile centre.  Started in 1928, this non-profit entity is one of the largest and most comprehensive aeromedical organizations in the world. RFDS provides emergency and health care services for folks living in remote areas of Australia.

Following that we had free time to stroll downtown and stop in at various galleries exhibiting Aboriginal art or to get some basic necessities (like flip flops!)  I capped off the night with an outdoor dinner under the stars at the local casino with our local hosts. Had an Aussie burger which is basically like an American burger but also comes with with beetroot and a fried egg. They are great, try one sometime!

All in all, a great first day in Alice Springs.



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Down on the farm in Australia

Our group is at the two week mark down under. It’s amazing to review all the things we have done so far. We are now on the Yorke Peninsula, some two hours by car from Adelaide in South Australia. This sparsely populated peninsula is about 25 miles wide and some 100 miles long. Its scenic coastal communities are popular holiday getaways for urban folks and have been fishing towns for years.

maxresdefaultBut the wide open and relatively flat fields beyond the coastline is where the real economic engine lives. The peninsula is a major producer of grains and other products, including wheat, lentils, canola and barley. These crops are worth more than $290 million annually. The farms are massive and the fields spread for miles to the horizon, broken by patches of Eucalyptus trees and shrubs. I am staying as the guests of family farmers Paul and Julie Davey. Paul leases his some 3,400 acres and remains active in the business but is also busy as President of the Maitland Rotary and other interests. Their home sits in a cluster of trees and buildings, surrounded by golden colored fields.


Yesterday we had a fascinating visit to the sole winery on the peninsula, Barley Stacks Wine. Located down a somewhat isolated gravel road in the heart of wheat fields this winery works hard to make a mark. An estate winery, their 25 acres of vineyards struggle in just about 5 inches of soil with a limestone subsurface below. The owners main livelihood is their other crops but they are making a strong effort to build up the winery. For example, they have converted a utility equipment building into a very functional event hall where they stage events and welcome bookings including weddings and private parties.

pikes-logo.jpgToday we took a journey back to nearby Clare Valley, an important wine region that is home to some 40 wineries and renown for Riesling wines. Our first stop was the impressive Pike’s Winery and Brewery. Though young by the valley standards (started in 1984) they have roots in the wine and beverage industry dating back to 1886 when Henry Pike, an emigrate from Dorset in England, established a family business called Pikes Dorset Brewery. The Pikes became known throughout South Australia for quality beer, ales, soft drinks and its famous Tonic Ale. Though that enterprise folded in the early 1970’s, Henry’s great great grandsons Andrew and Neil, started the modern day enterprise after graduating from Roseworthy Agricultural College. Today the operation produces more than 80,000 cases of wine annually and has been widely recognized for their wines. In 1996, Pikes beer was reintroduced and with an on-site brewery and tasting room.

jbwinedinnerThat was followed by a visit to another institutional wineries in the Clare, Jim Barry Wines. Jim was an institution in the wine industry of Australia. He was the first qualified winemaker in the Clare Valley, graduating as the 17th student to get a Degree in Oenology at Roseworthy Agricultural College in 1947. He worked for 22 years as winemaker at the Clarevale Co-operative and and helped to establish Taylors Wines in 1969. In the early days, the industry in the region focused on fortified wines like port, but Jim was credited as a pioneer of Australian table wines.

Our team has been blessed by the hospitality of our hosts from the Maitland Rotary Club. They have welcomed us with great joy and shared so much about their community. Leaving them will be hard.


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How to Speak Australian- The Abbreviated Version

I guess all languages have their abbreviations and slang. It makes talking simpler. Not sure what linguists would call it but it happens. Here in Australia it seems to happen a lot. Here’s a fun video to help you navigate the maze of Aussie speak.


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Sports in Australia


Australians love their sports.  Pick up any daily and the front page invariably has a huge picture of yesterday’s match or event. Based on attendance figures, their top two sports are Australian Rules Football and horse racing. We were lucky to do both this weekend and they were great fun while very different.


Women’s best dressed contest at the Clare Races


On Saturday we journeyed under the crisp fall sun to Clare Valley to the relatively small Clare Racing Club. The horses were fast and the races short. In between they had various events like best dressed contests for kids, men and women.

Truth is, there was another sport underway off the field that day. Well over 75% of the attendees were under the age of 25, all dressed to impress in style and flirty outfits.  Trust me, the young men were checking out the girls and vice versa.

12496097_1104451356244657_4708990187770971641_oFor Easter Sunday we took the train into Adelaide and watched the Port Adelaide Power take on St. Kilda. Home team Port Adelaide won 133 to 100 in their opening match of the season. As one who is used to U.S. football the two sports have little in common. ‘Footy’ (as they call it here) is faster paced, very different in play, high scoring and quite athletic. While the rules take some learning, it is a great spectacle and frankly, more exciting to watch than soccer or a number of other field sports. But I still prefer college football (GO DUCKS). If you’ve never seen Aussie Rules Football in action, check this video for a sample of what it’s like.


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On to Gawler, Dead Man’s Pass and beyond

First off, we now have Facebook Page so check it here and like it! Reto is updating it with lots of photos.

Joint meeting of Gawler Rotary Clubs with mayor

Meeting with Mayor Redman (center) and Presidents of local Rotary clubs.

This past week we’ve been the guests of the Rotary Club of Gawler and Rotary Club of Gawler Light. Our first evening we were the guests and program at a joint meeting of both clubs at the beautiful Hewett Centre. Prior to the meeting we attended a reception with Gawler Mayor Karen Redman, a charming women who was very keen to hear our views and share updates on her community.

As with last week, our hosts here have us busy each day! One enlightening session was meeting the family farmers of Pareta Farms and hear their story of how they dodged the devastating Pinery Fire from last November. In total, the deadly fire burnt approximately 85,000 hectares (210,000 acres) of land in the Balaklava / Roseworthy area of Southern Australia. Owner Peter Heinjus showed us their operations and how a row of native Melaleuca helped to suppress the fire from advancing into their main living and work compound. Less than four months later, new shoots were popping up from the root stock where the charred remains of the shrub like trees stood. Nearby Eucalyptus trees were aso greening again and the charred dry crop fields were greening up from recent rains.

Reto and KoalaUndoubtedly a highlight for the group was our visit at the Gorge Wildlife Park. Spread through this compact gorge like reserve are more than 50 species of wildlife from alligators to Capuchin monkeys. We were able to mingle with and feed small kangaroos (including some albino ones) and wallabies. And then there were the koalas. A few times each day they bring koalas out for guests to briefly hold. For their sie they were heavier than we would think but very calm with the whole experience.

Today we took in Gawler’s Farmer’s Market, a band competition marching through the downtown and some serious people watching at the Clare Racing Club, where the horse races seemed to take a back seat to the ‘see and be seen’ scene of the masses of 20 somethings wearing their ‘going to races togs’. Also enjoyed a our of the historic Sevenhill Cellars, the first winery established in the Clare Valley. Sevenhill was settled by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1851 to produce sacramental wine. While that tradition continues, Sevenhill is also highly regarded for its premium wines.

Oh and about the title for this blog, Dead Man’s Pass is named after an unidentified dead man found in 1837, for which a road pass is named. When the Gawler Light Rotary Club was formed there was talk of calling it Dead Man’s Pass Rotary of Gawler or the like, but alas, they opted to recognize William Light, who planned the layout of the City of Gawler. Frankly, Ithink it would be great fun to do a Rotary make up meeting at Dead Man’s Pass…imagine what the club banner would look like?


Sevenhill cellar room (photo from Sevenhill)





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