Christmas memories from Western Australia

Christmas crowds at South Beach

Christmas in Australia has many features in common with the UK version. We had a tree and presents and Christmas pudding and crackers. The Queen’s speech was on TV, albeit we had it four  hours earlier than at home and so I was able to tweet a sneak preview of her lilac frock ( I didn’t realise it wasn’t live!)

The Queen speaks to the Aussies

However, there are also a number of notable differences. First of all, it is hot and sunny all day and everyone is down at the beach. Secondly, instead of being slumped on the sofa watching Carry On Christmas and eating your own weight in chocolate, people are throwing things on the Barbie and jumping into to the Indian Ocean.

Christmas dinner

Our post Christmas road trip to the South West coast showcased a necklace of secluded coves strung around the edge of this largest of Australia’s states.  Magnificent rock formations and turquoise waters fringed with frothy surf greeted us. Beach after beach of fine white sand and rippling glass green pools are there to explore. This coast used to be big whaling waters and Australia’s last whaling station is now a museum at Discovery Bay. Many of the ships which brought convicts in to the colony were also whaling ships and it was very big business here. They killed Humpback whales, Sperm whales, Southern Right whales and basically any sort of whale unlucky enough to come within range of their harpoons.

Cheynes IV – used to have a whale of a time

Thankfully the killing of these whales was outlawed in 1963 and their numbers have slowly recovered. There are sharks in these waters too. I overheard a chap asking one of the staff about local shark activity. The lady replied ‘Sure we’ve had a nine metre Great White here but you know, it’s a bit like crossing the road – you’ve got to watch where you’re going!’ Her words were rather prophetic as a couple of days later a 17 year old boy, out spearfishing from a nearby beach, was taken and killed by a Great White shark. You’ve got to look where you’re going alright.

Not looking out for sharks

There are quite a few wineries here too, and I enjoyed sampling a rather chewy Rose worthy of French vintage, at Wignall’s winery and then buying some lovely Sandalwood products at the Australian Sandalwood factory. Sandalwood used to be Australia’s no 1 export (until they chopped all the trees down)  and it is still a very valuable product indeed, used to produce aromatic oils for incense and perfumes. Albany is the unlikely location of sophisticated Sandalwood oil extraction and cosmetic production plant.

Superior Sandalwood stuff

We went all hippy chic mooching around the boat shed markets at the Albany port and then drove on to the town of Denmark on the Blackwood river. We then wound our way up to stay the night at the little town of Nannup. You can’t really say that Nannup (which means a place to rest) is a one horse town as there were quite a lot of horses in evidence there,  but it is quite a small place where the liquor store sells meat from the local farm, birthday cards and just about anything else you might require.  We stayed with Kerry and Mercer Laidley at the Riverwood Retreat which is a charming bed and breakfast in the woods, with a large balcony overlooking the bush. We saw kangaroos at dusk and a tame Possum which comes up to a tree near the house to be fed after nightfall.

I’ve always got on well with inflatables

The local newsletter – the Nannup Telegraph – gave us a glimpse into life in Nannup for the residents. ‘Better Internet from 1st July!’ ‘News from the Bush Fire planning risk project!’ Lots of community classes were on offer including the ‘Thump’ Boxercise class which I quite fancied. Every one of these little towns has a rather dinky Police station and Nannup was no exception. In Nannup Police News, a decrease of 25% in crime for the last year was recorded. Probably down from four crimes to three we surmised. The back page of the newsletter proudly declared the three things every man should own.
1. A pair of thongs (flip flops to UK readers)
2. A fully stocked tool shed
3. A sea faring vessel.
This is Australia after all.

 

Stunning sandy vista