This little Piggy went to Market?

“This is a tale about an unprejudiced heart, and how it changed our valley forever.”
from the movie Babe

We have visited markets while traveling in Egypt, Africa and South America.

An important feature of every market is food. This market happens to be in Cairo and features fresh fruit,

something which seems to be in short supply at Mindil Beach.

Thursday in Darwin in Market Day at Mindil Beach and it seems to be where everybody goes – that is our impression from the 5000 cars in the car park, the buses that run from caravan park and the stream of people walking towards the beach from town.

Markets everywhere have in common: sales; people; craft; food; colour; action; excitement.

All kinds of entertainment are found at the markets as well as selling things.

Singers, bands, even a cattle dog demonstration but one place to get to sit down is to have your future predicted by the fall of the Tarot cards.


I guess the things that made this market different were the fact that it is once a week only, operating after working hours, with lots of entertainment and in a spectacular setting, with the sun setting directly over the beach. Thousands stood and sat on the sand watching the sun slowly dip towards the horizon and then with a rush to be extinguished by the ocean. I’d say 25% of those watching had cameras, trying to capture the amazing colours, which actually improve as the sunsets and the colours fade from red through blue and purple in the sky. Interestingly there was a round of applause when the sun disappeared and then the audience disappeared back into the stalls, looking for food, drink and entertainment.

There were lots of art and craft on display as well and we spent a lot of time looking at the aboriginal art. Many stands actually had the artists present, often working and prepared to explain the symbolism in the paintings, talk about the techniques they used and their experience in becoming traditional artists.

The art is amazing but so is the artist whose passion to tell her story is obvious to anyone with ears to listen

We have been looking for some aboriginal art for our home for three years. Around the Camooweal region there is no long tradition of art – it has been more a natural part of the culture in the Northern Territory, Central Australia and Western Desert country. We watched an amazing woman artist, Sondra working on a massive canvas so quickly and confidently placing the dots while explaining the message in her art. My photograph deliberately does not include the art but pays homage to her enthusiasm to pass on her culture and art to anyone interested to speak to her. She was very excited, when I spoke to her to tell me of trip to Italy in the next month, where she has been invited to demonstrate her painting techniques and talk about her art. Her paintings would be worth vastly more than we could afford and are also of a scale too large for a normal house – they need a very large blank wall to do them justice so we chose a small piece by Reggie Sultan, a Kaytety Aboriginal artist from Barrow Creek, in Central Australia painting in the non-naturalistic or non-figurative styles made up of geometric patterns.


How’s it going

Traveling technology has changed the way we keep in touch. Once upon a time when the likes of Dick Whittington left his village for the big city he was never heard from again. The “penny post” was extremely expensive and anyway, most people were illiterate. Until the overland telegraph reached Darwin it took months for a message to come by very slow ship to Australia.

On our first trip overseas for 4 weeks in 2004 overseas calls were so expensive we never made any ,while finding what was happening in Australia was really hard. When local media was in English there was never any mention of Australia. We sent postcards back, but couldn’t get messages sent to us unless it was an emergency, which, thankfully there wasn’t. Traveling overseas teaches you that we might be a big country but to the rest of the world we aren’t very significant. Coming home always teaches you that you wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, however!

In 2007 when we traveled to South America there was widespread availability of the Internet in hotels, and we could exchange emails and even read the Sydney Morning Herald online before your time ran out. Sometimes it is nice to know stuff that’s happened at home, even if it was my eldest son writing his bike off in an accident but thankfully with only minor injuries. In 2010 it is so easy to travel with a computer, little net books are small enough and cheap enough to carry in a backpack on a plane and a USB modem allows you relatively cheap access to Internet.

Enter the traveling blog, like this one, PassingTime. Neither of us have ever been regular diarists but I have always valued those who keep a journal not just for the record of what you are doing, saying and especially feeling but also for the value of reflection. Taking the time to consider each day what you have done and plan for what you do is something that many creative people do as a matter of course as part of their daily outing. Actually publishing what you produce is possibly a bit of an affectation but one of the advantages of today is that almost everyone can be a Boswell, living an ordinary life but documenting the life going on around them.

To answer the question above. We are our second last day in Darwin just doing the tourist thing. It has been over 35 degrees every day since we have been here, and it is still midwinter! It is too hot to sleep comfortably at night and we appreciate the air conditioning in our van. We are one month into our trip with four to go. Five thousand Km traveled and fifteen to go. Everyday we speak to someone different at the pool, laundry and hear a different story from somewhere else. In some ways these interactions are shallow in that we will probably never meet or speak to them again but new places, people and experiences certainly are a spice to life if you can afford them

A Walk to Mataranka Falls


Don’t ever change your ways

Fall with me for a million days

Oh, my waterfall Waterfall

Don’t ever change your ways

Fall with me for a million days

Oh, my waterfall

Jimi Hendrix » May This Be Love (Waterfall)

Well Julie has given it away now! I like to take photos and am prepared to go to some extremes to get a better one. Then Gemma lets everyone know that it must be genetic because Simon is just as bad at losing things while chasing images. Actually, I think it must be nurture not nature because I started photographing with a Kodak Box Brownie at the age of 12 because my father wouldn’t and my mothers pictures always had the heads cutoff. Simon just likes to take photographs too.

Most of the landscape pictures shown so far have been taken in the “golden light” time half an hour before sunrise but on our last day here I decided to do the walk to from 12 Mile Yards to Mataranka Falls. I have previously photographed the odd waterfall – oops it slipped in!

Gary and Julie at Victoria Falls in 2004

In Australia with a mature (i.e. read old and flat) landscape you don’t expect big waterfalls, but I had a free afternoon so set out to drive the eighteen Km to the start of the 4km walking track to the falls on the Roper River. I left at 1.30 with the temperature 32 degrees C and getting hotter. A lot of the path was through thick sand and the rest rocky and undulating but I strode out the distance in 50 minutes, resisting the temptation to photograph the fairly impressive emerald-green river so I could spend more time at the falls. Here they are.


Geologically interesting (the high calcium content of the water deposits on obstructions like logs) but not scenically impressive by world standards

The river with its beautiful colour and the tropical vegetation were much more picturesque so I clicked away, trying to overcome the handicap of photographing landscapes in the “worst light” – the harsh, contrasty overhead light of midday – afternoon. Here is a sample.

The walk back was even hotter but a pontoon in the river provided the opportunity for a wonderful swim before driving back to camp to pack for the morrow’s drive to next stop Darwin


This tropical vegetation surrounds the Roper River in many ways – the banks, the reflections and the submerged trunks and branches left by last years floods.

Mataranka Springs

“There’s time enough for everything in the Never-Never.”

Mrs Aeneas Gunn – We of the Never-Never

Mataranka is an oasis a little more than halfway between Tennant Creek and Darwin. Halfway is about 550 km from Darwin. Mataranka is well-known as the capital of the Never Never country.

Throughout the Elsey National Park are a number of permanent thermal pools where the crystal clear mineral water remains at 33 degrees year round.  This water flows to the Roper River where fresh water crocs are regular inhabitants but their salty brothers are only irregular visitors.

Dawn at Bitter Springs, near Mataranka

Bitter Springs, where we are currently spending three nights, has a large natural pool were you can swim and float the 100 or so meters with the current to an exit, walk back and then do it all again.  The large pandanus and cabbage tree palms complete the oasis picture.

Mataranka Thermal Pool, where we stayed nearly 30 years ago, is similar in size but without the floating option.  It has also been concreted around the edges thus removing some of its natural appearance.  Both are beautiful.

Anyone acquainted with Gary will know that to get that special photo he will; stand on the very edge of a cliff, be in the mud at the edge of the water hole, on his stomach or back for the right angle or be out of hearing when called back at the end of the photo opportunity stop on tour.

Today he was at the bottom of the steps leading into the Roper River up from the Mataranka Thermal Pool when his glasses, sitting on his cap, floated gracefully two meters down to the bottom of the river.  After stripping down to undies and attempting to find them in the murky water, we borrowed a set of goggles from a young girl and Gary continued to dive.  Still no glasses, so off we went the 12 km back to Bitter Springs to pick up the prescription goggles and try again.  Having all but given up Gary dived under for one last attempt.  Up came the glasses and Gary whooping for joy.

Was this image nearly worth $600 (or being eaten by a crocodile)? You be the judge.

This is just one example of God’s gracious care for us on this trip.

Gary’s addition – because he does the posting he gets the last say!

Julie nearly has it right. Not only was the water so murky you would never see the crocodile, but it was filled with large sunken tree limbs, so every time I ran out of air and surfaced I bashed my head. I was exhausted and ready to give up when Julie suggested that I feel with my toes. The snorkel still had to go under and I made another dozen attempts but was on my way out when she, the dry encouraging one, suggested one more try closer to the steel ladder. I have picked up my glasses with my toes thousands of times in the past and the recognition was immediate as was the transfer to hand then to wife. I am not sure whether I yelled “eureka” (very scientific) or hallelujah (more spiritual) but I know I swan a victory lap across the Roper River

Two Cattle Stations – Banka Banka NT

Less the two km from Banka Banka is Cutjenbra waterhole, which for thousands of years before white men bought their cattle, provided all the local inhabitants needed to survive.

‘Youngsters on this station look the picture of health, and this is entirely due to the unremitting personal care and attention given by Mrs Ward’. Statement in the 1950s by a native affairs branch inspector


This Cattle station, 100 km north of Tennant Creek, was the first operational pastoral station established in the Northern Territory. It was first settled soon after John McDougall Stuart’s epic successful crossing of the continent from Adelaide to Darwin, on his sixth attempt in 1861. On his 4th attempt in 1860, just 25 km south of Banka Banka, at Attack Creek, his party were forced to retreat south by very hostile members of the Warramunga Aboriginal people. They raided his camp, threw boomerangs at the horses and used fired to drive them back. Stuart had usually been able to negotiate with aboriginal people and got on well with them previously but on this occasion he was forced to retreat the 2400 km to Adelaide.

Isolation from markets meant that, despite the grasses on the Barkley Tableland being perfect for producing cattle, mustering the cattle all the way to Markets thousands of kilometers was not economic until WW 11 changed that, with improvement in roads and railheads. The development of the “road train” (reputably first used by Philip Ward on Banka Banka station) meant that stock could be moved to wherever feed was plentiful and to markets and abattoirs.

Modern road trains like this  can carry hundreds of cattle enormous distances to abattoirs, changed the entire economic basis of the cattle industry

The most successful station owners, Philip & Mary Ward ran the station from 1941 to 1970. During this time they employed up to 300 aboriginal people on the station. . Mary Ward was passionate to see the local people educated, and first funded personally a private school on the property and made attendance compulsory for the aboriginal children.She and her husband did not agree with the policy of removing part-Aborigines from their mothers. They sent children to school at Alice Springs at their own expense until 1961, when due to her efforts a government school opened at Banka Banka. She also provided scholarships for older children who wanted to continue their education in Adelaide and housing in Tennant Creek for sick aboriginal people who needed Hospital treatment. These “indulgences” were not at all common at the time and Mary’s actions were disapproved of by many local white folk. Forty years after their deaths, local people still speak highly of the Wards – they were renowned as “good bosses”.

When Mary, who had run the station for 11 years after her husband’s death became too ill, she sold the station to the American silver billionaire, Howard Hunt, with the proviso that all aboriginals continue to be employed. When he became bankrupt and sold the property, this policy was abandoned. The property now belongs to the Kidman Company, the largest pastoral company in Australia and employs no aboriginal workers locally. The Caravan Park which occupies the site of the restored original homestead continues to honour the memories of the pioneering Ward family.

Two Cattle Stations – Lake Nash

Human relationships are vast as deserts: they demand all daring.

Patrick White (Voss)

In 2008, with my friend Jono Wright, I visited the village known both as Lake Nash and it’s aboriginal name of Alpurrurulam. Lake Nash is an enormous cattle property, just inside the Northern Territory border with Queensland, on the Sandover Highway leading to Alice Springs. Photos show some of the people who I met there and something of the local environment.

Gary and Jono enjoying breakfast at White Dam, close to the Lake Nash community. In the background are some of Lake Nash’s cattle.

For generations, aboriginals largely staffed stations like this. The men worked as drovers with the cattle, while women and young people worked as gardeners and housekeepers. Unlike white workers they were paid in rations of food, clothing and accommodation – they received no wages directly – sometimes money was kept “in trust” for them by the government but they had no access to it. The reason for this policy was to “protect” the indigenous people, who were considered not sophisticated enough to handle their own affairs.It also had enormous economic advantages for the property owners, who had a cheap labour force with no rights to move jobs or control their own futures.

Generations of aboriginal people worked at Lake Nash. Generations still live there now.

Aboriginal elders have often chosen to return to their traditional ways rather than seeing their people destroyed by some aspects of modern Australian culture

A campaign for equal wages in the 1960s contributed to a 1968 decision by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission ruling on equal wages in the cattle industry. The achievement of equal wages in the pastoral industry, however was a hollow victory as ‘families and whole communities were turned off properties where they had worked for generations. People drifted into towns and were given ‘sit down’ money (unemployment benefits). They were no longer able to fulfil obligations to their country.’

The reaction of the owners of Lake Nash and many other stations was to lock the aboriginal workers off the properties and to refuse to employ them. They moved down the road to one of their traditional places at Lake Nash waterhole and camped there.

They were later given title over this land, and houses and facilities were provided for them to continue to stay there. More than 400 people are still there more than 40 years later.

The problems of living in Lake Nash relate to its isolation and how that impacts on employment, education and health. It is 170 km over unsealed roads to Mount Isa, the closest large country town.

Lake Nash is a voluntarily dry (alcohol free) community with houses and buildings that look well cared for. There is a Primary School, Police Station, General Store, and Medical Centre with a Community Nurse. There is an airstrip allowing daily contact with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. There is little work for adults and no schooling for teenagers. Many adults do volunteer community work to satisfy Government policy and receive unemployment benefits. If children are to continue to secondary school they must move to hostels in faraway places like Mount Isa or Darwin or do correspondence lessons that are difficult without support.

In Northern Australia, even if a building is available, many aboriginal people choose to meet outdoors. It suits the climate and they way they live

Why do people choose to live in isolated places like this, in hostile environments and why do governments support them in this decision?

Firstly, for the people, this is their land, their place, where they feel at home. Here they have access to traditional foods and cultural practices and are in contact with their wider families and groups.

Secondly, they feel safe here. Many  have tried living in townships and have seen the effect of alcohol and drugs on their friends and the young people. Anyone who has traveled through Western NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory, or watched documentaries on TV will have seen the aspects of modern Australian these people have voluntarily withdrawn themselves from.

Governments since the 1970’s have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into such communities, supporting the people who live here in their right to live a more traditional lifestyle. Despite the money spent on housing, education and health, the distances involved still mean that people living in Lake Nash have less access to employment, and education and much poorer health than the average Australian.

This is a situation as complicated as the desert that Patrick White described and needs more wisdom and goodwill than money to deal with it satisfactorily.

Some callings that require patience

I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.

So then neither is he that plants any thing, neither he that waters; but God that gives the increase.

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 Bible

Before the Sunday Evening Service the small congregation in Camooweal gather together for a BBQ

Working as a Missionary is not like an ordinary job – the kind that earned my living as a teacher for 44 years. It has more in common with being a farmer or a fisherman. This might be why Jesus encouraged His followers to be “fishers of men”. Fishermen depend on the fish being there for the net or taking the bait.  Jesus also used analogies from the land like planting, watering and reaping crops. Farmers like my friends the Horsboroughs in Tullamore, can do everything right, yet the weather or a locust plague can leave them with nothing for a year’s efforts.

While in most jobs hard work and talent reap rewards, many Missionaries, spiritual men with talents as teachers, pastors and leaders, work for years with little apparent, measurable impact.

It is like this in Camooweal, a small village on the border between Queensland and the Northern Territory where my friend Jono Wright, with his wife Grace and children Elijah, Tjanarah and Manoah, preach the Word of God to the local aboriginal people.

A few of his flock live in Camooweal but most are found in tiny settlements along the Sandover and Plenty Highways, 4 wheel drive tracks that lead through the wilderness to Alice Springs.

Talent and hard work are not sufficient in convincing people that they are sinners and require salvation – that change needs the hand of God through His Holy Spirit. Jono has worked patiently with these people for more than 5 years now, is well accepted and respected by this community but has not seen new and younger people seeing any need for a change in their lives.

I admire men like Jono for many things, but most of all for the patience they display in relying on God rather than their own strength.

While Camooweal is isolated, the Wrights have plenty of visitors offering support.

l to r  Alison Muller, Bob & Norma Wright, Tjanara, Julie Lawrence, Elijah, Peter Muller, Manoah & Grace