The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Going Wood Down Under

I've been on the road for the past three weeks, including twelve days down in Australia. I was there on three different missions: 1) to participate in the annual meeting of the International Forestry Quarantine and Research Group (IFQRG) in Canberra; 2) to tour the laboratory and port facilities of AQUIS, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service; and 3) to visit various Australian wood industries, galleries, and attractions.

In so doing, I was able to take literally hundreds of photos and videos...most, unfortunately, don't precisely capture the essence of what I was trying to convey.  Those of you who've been to Australia will understand what I mean. But in my next few posts I'll try to organize the images and topics into something that makes a little sense for purposes of sharing perspectives of wood-related issues down under.

Before getting into the wood, though, I must share with you something of my base of operations while I was there. I knew I would be working in a rough triangle between Sydney, Canberra, and the southern coast of New South Wales, so I found myself a place to stay near the middle of the triangle...a place that was either the middle of nowhere, or Brigadoon, depending on one's perspective.

The actual name of the place was Araluen, a small town of about 200 inhabitants roughly halfway between Bateman's Bay on the coast and Canberra. Araluen today is a smattering of houses, a few sheep farms, an abandoned old Catholic chapel, a hotel/pub, and an old courthouse that has been converted to a bed and breakfast. It was at this last that I spent 7 of my 8 nights in Australia.

I had hoped I would be getting some of the flavor of authentic Australia by staying in the country, with real folks...and so I did. Dave and Pauline, my host and hostess at the Old Courthouse made me feel almost like one of the family during the stay, and even their dog took me in after a few days. And as I frequently found myself winding my way down into the valley near sunset or later, I found the dinners and the company at the local pub to be delicious. Here's a shot I had to take of my dinner one night...a mouth-watering medley of fried lamb cutlets, topped by "chips" and a salad, and washed down with a real Australian beer, Carlton draught. (A secret they don't want you to know...they don't drink Foster's Lager in's made for Americans who want to feel like Crocodile Dundee as we dine at The Outback.)

The lamb was from the local fields via the butcher shop up in Braidwood, and it really tasted fresh off the hoof. I had some great meals in Australia, but that one above was the best. Steve, the hotel and pub owner, did all the cooking, and he really knew his way around a grill...and made the best secret brown gravy, that after I had tried it, wound up dipping everything I ate into it.

The Araluen valley (seen here from an overlook on the road down from the plateau above) was a booming goldfield in the 1850's, and had grown to more than 20 pubs and dance halls by 1860. The wealth of the area naturally attracted its share of bad characters, and that era of Australian history had a great catalog of guys known as "bush rangers"; guys like Ned Kelly, Ben Hall, and even some local talent, the Clarke brothers, Thomas and John, who with their gang, became to be known as "the bloodiest bushrangers". The locals will still happily ply you with stories of these colorful characters and their run-ins with the law, and some of them are fairly gruesome details, but they make for great stories in later pub hours. One might get worried that their ancestors are still sipping suds down the bar from you, waiting to jump you on your walk back down the dark road to your lodgings; but I found modern-day Australians a bit tamer and a lot more friendly than their historic cousins.

To close out my description of the countryside of New South Wales, and in order to better give you a flavor of Australia in general, I'll just list a few observations and then close with a video of sunrise behind the courthouse one morning. It's not exactly exciting, but I think it conveys pretty well the feeling one gets, that you are definitely not in Kansas, Toto.

  • Every wild animal seems to be different than what we have in North America. Instead of dead deer and skunks on the side of the road, are dead kangaroos and wombats. (A wombat is a weird marsupial that looks to me like a cross between a pig and a bear, and about that size.)
  • If you studied dendrology in North America, forget it. I recognized Monterrey Pine, which is a non-native species to Australia, but everything else was very strange to me. One place even looked like a scene from Lord of the Rings.
  • The nighttime sky is unbelievable in the valley, and completely Big Dipper up there.
  • The birds have to be seen to be believed...think of the prettiest pet shop birds you've ever seen, and then imagine them twice as large, random colors, and flying around in huge flocks. Pictures can't convey the sense of wonder.
  • Eucalyptus trees are everywhere in the wild, and when you stop to walk around you're overwhelmed by the smell of Vicks VapoRub, in its natural state.
  • Santa comes in the middle of summer there, and for some reason still wears the furry suit. Guess he doesn't have time to change.
  • Solar panels face north.
  • Australians drive the speed limit, exactly. When they pass the sign, they speed up, or slow down. Not before. Maybe because they have speed cameras everywhere...gave me the Big Brother creeps.
  • Woods in Australia are different than we're used to, and can be fantastic in figuring in depth. More on that in following posts.
Enjoy the sunrise and sounds of the Araluen valley in springtime.

But if it's a hair-raising pursuit through the Australian bush you want, then catch my episode with the Wallaby (which I thought at the time to be a kangaroo, but was later corrected by natives.) Those with heart conditions, be warned...


s johnson said...

I kept expecting to all of a sudden hear a wild turkey gobble in the early dawn !!

Jane L said...

I'm not a bird song expert but did hear a magpie halfway through your lovely video