South Western Australia – awesome beaches and ANZAC stories

Driftwood on Mutton Bird beach

A few days after I arrived down under, we set of on our road trip to the South coast of Western Australia. Heading South here, is obviously the same as heading North in the Northern Hemisphere, ergo, it gets a bit cooler. Summer in Perth, where I am staying with my friends, is a guaranteed roasting toasting experience. Lots of folk head South for their festive break where the temperature drops by about 10 degrees.It’s still as hot as it ever gets on the North East coast of England where I’m from of course, so no worries!

Surfer girl

Our first stop was near to Albany, where we stayed in a cottage called the Rooster Retreat in the tiny hamlet of Elleker. Close by was the stunning Mutton Bird beach (or Muffin Top beach as I christened it) with the most beautiful protected bay and a small central island (sheltered island) which creates a very picturesque cove with lots on interesting rock formations.

Orangutan rock

This beach isn’t so crowded as some of them get at this time of year and in the wintertime the bay is frequented by breeding humpback whales who swim in with their babies and use it as a kind of nursery. Anyway it is a very lovely place to while away a few hours. The Southern Ocean stretches away into the horizon and the next land you would reach from here is Antarctica. It also has very good sandcastle sand. One chap was making a kind of fantasy castle with a large moat, ostensibly for his small children’s enjoyment, but I reckon he’d been watching too much Game of Thrones..

Is it Casterly Rock?

Later that afternoon we visited the coastline’s newest attraction the National ANZAC centre(Australia, New Zealand Army Corps) This modern cantilevered building is built high on the cliff, overlooking the bay of King George Sound. It has a panoramic view of where the ships sailed from in 1914 carrying 40,000 Australians and New Zealanders off to the great war. This is as much a memorial as it is a  museum and although only 300 sqm in size – there is an awful lot packed into that space. It uses state of the art devices with video and microphone pens which you draw across various points and then listen to the actual words of the person in the picture telling you their tales of life in the trenches or some other hideous experience.

ANZAC lads in the trenches

Another uniquely personal viewpoint is given to each visitor as they are allocated a  picture card of one real person involved in the war with a digital reference, and at each stage of the conflict you can check in with your particular chap and see what happened to him. At the end of the tour, you reach the memorial wall and find out if your soldier survived the war, and what happened to them afterwards if they did. My man was Major Alan Stitt from the 1st Battalion, Canterbury Infantry Regiment NZEF and he did survive the war and was decorated for great bravery, becoming a Major aged only 23.

For those who were lost

In my experience, this type of attraction (not mentioning the Imperial War museum in Salford here) can risk sacrificing content for trendy ‘interactivity.’ The ANZAC centre triumphs on both fronts and the deeply personal stories really bring the whole thing to life in a powerful way. There is an artwork at the edge of the building with the names of all those who died reeling off into the distance over the edge of the cliff underneath a shallow shelf of water which is beautifully done. This small museum is proving very popular and opened on the 100th anniversary of the troops sailing out on their perilous journey. 30% of the ANZACs were killed in the theatre of war and another 30% died as result of their experiences there – a terrible toll of young men from these underpopulated countries who took more than their share of casualties.

Memorial Malamute

The ANZAC centre gives you a real sense of how global this war really was, bringing so many countries into play as it did through the complicated system of allies. This event which led to the greatest human toll of any conflict, will never be forgotten but for now we can enjoy the beautiful beaches and coastline without fear for our lives. Apart from the sharks that is..