Uluru- the Aborigine’s land.

One of the main benefits of an organised tour such as this, is not just the organisation and efficiency by the tigress but the knowledge and experience of the guides selected to drive us around. Our trip to Uluru was always going to be a highlight but the driver/guide for the 4 days we were in the Outback was exceptional. The Koala wore stereotypical Australian attire, I have no doubt to add authenticity to the tourist experience; bush hat, boots, shorts and khaki shirt, but it was his passion, love and knowledge for all things outback that provided the trip with real integrity.

We flew from Melbourne to Uluru in a tightly packed flight that took about 2 hours. The arrivals hall was tiny, in comparison to some airports we have been through, it had one luggage belt reflecting the number of visitors actually arriving here by plane. It is best to go to the toilet on the flight since the toilets at the airport consist of half a dozen chemical cubicles placed outside the actual terminal. I abstained but those who did go quickly turned green after the visit. As an alternative method of travel you can of course take the train to Alice Springs from Adelaide followed by a 6 hour drive to Uluru or if you fancy it take a camel. Camels were introduced to the outback in the 1860’s but having been set free when the railway was complete between Darwin and Alice Springs this short sightedness led to around 200 000 non native animals roaming freely and destroying everything in their wake.

Many tourists never really get to this part of Australia and you can understand why. The heat, the flies, the desolate landscape might not offer you the kind of tourist experience you are after. However the regal beauty and majesty of the Uluru and Kata-Tjuta mountains in the National Park are truly breathtaking worthy of worldwide appreciation. I have to admit that although Uluru was well known to me, the other, and arguably more interesting, Olga’s (aboriginal name is Kata-Tjuta) was completely new to me.

The new town of Yulara was created in 1976 to provide a corralled resort outside the National Park, primarily to counter environmental damage being caused by the unmonitored tourism near Uluru. Now under single ownership the facilities there became fully operational in 1980 and in addition to a shopping mall (more of a mini-market) post office, bank and restaurants it includes a range of accommodation from backpackers hostels to the five star Sails of the Desert. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to where we stayed. It was around this time (1980) the government handed the land back to the indigenous people after a toughly contested fight through the courts. These famous landmarks now reinstated to their original names, the government retain their support through its status as a National Park. Yulara , the new town in the desert with a population of 1.9 thousand, was our home for the next few days.

The koala collected us from the airport and took us directly to Uluru, as we circled the rock slowly he informed us of the history of its ‘discovery’ by the English and the Dutch. How the intrepid explorers claimed the land as theirs and named the rocks after Henry Ayers in 1873 and The Olga’s after Tsar Nicholas 1st’ daughter paying back their financial backers. Not only was the Koala knowledgable about the rock he told us about the desert heath myrtle carpeting the desert with amazing fire retardant qualities so valuable in halting the spread of bush fires here. About the spinifex grass that drew silicone from the earth into its blades, making it sharp and uncomfortable to sit on but invaluable to the aborigine people who thrashed it to release its resin to use as glue. Tall and withered looking desert oaks might be thin and scrawny in appearance but they survived in the dry, hot desert through a tap root drawing water deep down from what they call upside down rivers in the area.

The rock looks so different up close, pictures don’t really do it any justice, and most of it is underground. It is an inselberg, we were advised, an isolated rock hill that rises abruptly from the ground. Bit like a pimple on your face. It does change colour too, we saw that happening, a true chameleon in action especially during our sunset viewing. Although that viewing was made quite difficult by the fly nets we had to adorn to be able to spend any time whatsoever outside. Incredibly at this isolated location the tigress laid on Prosecco and nibbles with little portable seats to line up as we watched the infamous sunset. This event made all the more romantic by 10 000 flies trying to scurry up your nose, scramble into your ears and slide into your mouth. I was considerably challenged when it came to drinking my Prosecco through the fly net. I frequently forgot to lift it up only for more flies to detect the sudden moisture and surround me. The net had the effect of a cheese grater when you tried to force food through it, once more sending the flies into ecstasy and leaving me starving in the desert in the process.

Kata-Tjuta was a larger collection of different sized rocks; around 36 to be exact. Considered to be a sacred men’s area this is thought to be the reason for so little to be known about its history and the folklore that the aboriginal people associate with this area, unlike Uluru. However at least you could get out and walk through the magnificent Walpa gorge with the heads of mount Luru and Walpa stretching to the sky on either side. Along the gorge we saw camel droppings, tadpoles swimming a rock pool, grass growing and flowers blooming despite the arid conditions. The wind howled around us at one point, a warning from the spirits to tread carefully along the rough terrain. When you stopped looking down at where to place your next step the mighty rock face, smooth yet grainy, closed out the sunlight as they towered high into the skyline. Flies, despite the nets, buzzed incessantly around the orifices and we showed reducing tolerance for this pest seeking refuge in the bus at the earliest opportunity.

Our final night was spent having bush tucker at a remote barbecue where we were served best steak, baked tattles, salad and copious amounts of red wine while the band played Waltzing Matilda. Later I was part of a skiffle band arrangement of ‘I come from a land down under’ by Men at work largely uninhibited by the flies (or the red wine) who are adverse to the dark. Boomerang shows, bread making for bush bakers and bonding among the best group ever we trundled off to bed sozzled and satisfied.

Uluru-a poem

Desert heath myrtle carpets the red sand. Lone desert Oaks look so barren where they stand.

Spinifex with silicone tips seem almost out of place among the vast red desert that could be in outer space.

Uluru standing stoic amidst the desert sands, chameleon in the daylight and certainly never bland. The desolate unforgiving rock back in Aboriginal hands.

Awed by its majesty,the colours and its grace carving out the stories that give mystery to this place. Blowing gentle breezes that cool the sweltering brow, calling out like spirits voices to whom aborigines must kow tow.

Blistering heat aside, the beauty cannot hide, the rock of Uluru.

Adelaide- The wildlife experience

One of the highlights of the Very Best of Australia promised to be the trip to Kangaroo Island. It involved 2 days there with lunch on one of the visits. It was highly recommended and one of the places we were looking forward to; the bushfires soon put paid to that.

No-one could have predicted at the time of our booking that the seasonal bushfires would impact on Kangaroo Island to the extent that they did. As the Australian summer placed the thermometer into overdrive the bushfires were out of control in some areas. Global reports commented not only on the human cost but the wildlife too. One of the most heart-warming stories reported was that of the woman taking her shirt off and running toward the flames to rescue a Koala. It’s little squeals, perhaps of pain perhaps of relief at being saved, were one of my permanent memories of the devastating fires. That and a family hosing their home, hanging on for dear life to save everything they had, spraying the flames was futile but massively fuelled by hope.

So Kangaroo Island, as the world was to learn, was unable to host any visitors. Our trip was in jeapordy and if this was a key visit what would take it’s place? Distant Journeys are an experienced outfit in this regard and did all they could to appease our concerns, but they were clear from the beginning we would not be going to this island. Missing this was threatening our trip but a quick check with our insurance company soon quashed any ideas about cancelling so we awaited with interest what would happen next. And that was an additional day in Adelaide with a visit to a vineyard and an extra day in Melbourne. The wine tour was pleasing but neither seemed promising but I should have had more faith in the organisers behind our trip.

Our visit to Adelaide started with a panoramic view of the city from Mount Lofty then we were transported to Cleland Wildlife National Park. While not Kangaroo Island, this hidden gem was to delight those with animals in their heart over and above our expectations. We were handed a little bag of food pellets which promised the exciting prospect of getting up close and personal with all of the major Australian mammals, animals and marsupials. We entered the park with the complete freedom to wander aimlessly and explore these animals in their own environment.

Almost instantly we were drawn over to a collection of Kangaroos nibbling on the grass. They seemed unperturbed by our approach their ears the only signal that they had already heard the rustling of the little food bag. I was astonished to be able to walk directly up to the Kangaroo. I noticed a rather long bony leg protruding from her pouch, suggesting a joey might be in there and would come out. The mother bent down inserting her head inside as if coaxing her offspring out to see the visitors. But she was a little shy, I started up the video in anticipation. Then the little legs started to emerge in slow motion, followed by a head, its little body and long tail, she slowly edged out to see what all the fuss was about. A few moments glare in the cameras was enough for this reluctant visitor as she prepared to return to the cosy protection of her mother’s pouch. To those Australians that saw this video the size of the joey appeared unusual to still be reliant on her mother’s pouch. And I’m glad as a mother we don’t have that with our children. It was an incredible catch on camera.

The Lion extended his hand with food and the Kangaroo came forward gently nibbling the food from his palm and pausing while it was replenished. She had soft downy fur, her forelegs scrawny and her tail long, powerful and stabilising. Most of the females ventured toward us but the larger sandy coloured male scowled mistrustfully as we billed and cooed at the ladies. If it was to stand tall with it’s ears back we had to run like hell; thankfully he stayed disinterested but watchful nonetheless.

With the wonder and awe of the Kangaroo still seducing our senses we headed around the path to see the remainder of the park. The Emu’s rarely looked up and were unresponsive to bag shaking or the throwing of pellets, although others were more successful and had managed to feed them. Their feathery coats were brown and black with the appearance of being wet or waxy and they had two white marks with blue spots giving the impression of eyes at ether side of its head but which were actually located nearer the beak. We were mesmerised as they moved graciously amongst the grass.

Next the Tasmanian Devil scurried along the edge of the area it was contained within, looking nothing like its cartoon caricature this little creature had a bright flash of colour from its head to its tail. The Avery with native birds were largely unremarkable until the vibrantly coloured budgies caught our attention hopping from tree to tree and a parakeet waddled over to see what all the fuss was about. The large wombat, similar in size to the badger, with a wide square face was sleeping, laconically stretched out in the sunlight she roused to the the shake of the bag but clearly had little interest in food as she failed to move. The Dingos were of a similar disposition, sheltering from the strong sunshine against a large tree, viewing the visitors with little more than a passing interest. All of these animals had huge areas of a natural environment to thrive within. The park was silent, other than the calls of the animals periodically piercing the quite stillness of the place.

At 11am we were to make our way to the Koala sanctuary where we could get up close to the Koalas. The park had 28 rescued Koalas from Kangaroo Island but we were unlikely to see any of those. While we waited information about other animals we might see and on the Koalas helped to dampen the impatience to get the visit started. Two Koalas were meeting and greeting, one quite large and robust, clung to the tree and munched confidently on eucalyptus almost ignoring the visitors and their cameras. The handler was able to provide answers to questions while the Koala appeared totally unfazed by the whole thing. Our Koala was a little timid, reluctant to leave the arms of the handler, she was placed on the tree but almost immediately tried to reach out to the Lion before being taken back by the handler. Her furry, punk style hair over her ears were tinged with white were larger than expected, this is to compensate for poor sight. Their eyes like small beads of hazel were narrow and almond shaped. Unlike the Kangaroo her fur was dense and wiry with downy softness underneath, if you were able to get into the lower layers. Lily had had enough as she scrambled back into the handlers arms and we were left in awe at the friendliness of this little creature despite her timid character.

Our wildlife visit completed with wallabies, rock wallabies, possums, storks, pelicans, swans and even the dolphins in the Swan River in Perth was more than we could have hoped for. The regret at not visiting Kangaroo Island was forgotten as we delighted in sharing our photos, videos and experiences of the park with our fellow travellers. This was one of the highlights of the tour so far. You will realise this when you remember I was looking forward to the wine tour and have not even mentioned it.

Melbourne- another city new friends

The trip from Adelaide to Melbourne was by air and took around 1 hour, the shortest transfer yet. Moving around Australia with a relatively large number of people on the trip is made all the easier with a tigeress in charge. Every detail of the journey is explicitly planned with no margin for error such is the confidence of our tigress in her mission. And we are truly grateful. I cannot be easy manoeuvring 28 grown ups in and out of hotels, onto buses and into airports with the minimal of fuss and precision timing. Our Tigress is experienced and it shows. She has perfected the snarl of a mother herding her cubs who means business at the first baring of her teeth and they respond as they know what’s good for them. We have quickly recognised leadership when we see it and acquiesce to her demands with all the respect her position commands.

Our first stop in Melbourne, a city where the tigress now lives, was to commemorate the war dead at the Anzac shrine. An imposing building holding the respect of a nation for its fallen soldiers, particularly at Gallipoli. Many were lost that day. It is a moving place, emotion screams at you from the walls in silent passage as you move through the various exhibits, uniforms, pictures and stories. The most moving of all is within the shrine where a pyramidic structure in the roof topped off with a window allows the sunlight to stream through and move across the words at the 11th hour of the day. To accommodate the visitor needs, beyond that the rest of the time, a light is shone instead every half hour. So it was that we were assembled ready for the last post playing as the light moved across the inscription hovering over the word love.

Following this visit we moved on to see the newly erected Formula 1 track and even got the opportunity to drive around it. Not being a petrol head I didn’t get off to view the starting grid, but found the experience worthwhile all the same. It was then the intention to move us around the City had it not been for Shimon Perez we may well have achieved it. The federal police stopped us at the bridge over the Yarra next to the Rod Laver stadium for almost 20 minutes as the convoy carrying Mr Perez to its final destination had its own tour of the city. Hum drum as it was this caught even the tigress out as she had not really considered this might happen. The city tour abandoned we were despatched to our hotel to get on with the washing.

We wandered around the banks of the Yarra river the next day, having been recommended a bar floating on a pontoon on the river we climbed underneath the bridge just in time to escape the deluge of rain. Laughing at our good fortune the wind turned suddenly blowing the rain straight at us and we got soaked. Unperturbed by this “shower” we considered it safe to continue our walk along the river banks only to be caught once again. We huddled under a tree as the rain stoated (great Scottish word) off the sandy gravel, my feet turned golden not with the sun but the mud we were swilling about in. After 20 minutes we had reached the point of making a run for it, through the puddles and dodging trams and cars back to the hotel drookit (another great word) from all the rain. Somehow the weather from Scotland had sneaked here with us in our case. We experience a lot of rain in Scotland hence the great range of descriptors we have to cover our weather.

On the last night in Melbourne we stopped at the bar before heading out for a sedate evening meal, early night, limited alcohol, scratch that we never made it. Almost the last men standing we joined a few of our fellow travellers who had the same idea, in the bar. This being a Wednesday the hotel puts on bar nibbles and so it was that samosas, arancini, potato wedges and chicken pies were being shared around and this seemed to satisfy the immediate hunger. Thrown together through fate we were now a few days into the trip and names and faces were becoming familiar. Conversations were friendly and upbeat, people were breathing new life into old tales as we established links and experiences that signalled shared opinions and values secreted within the stories that were being regaled. Wine and beer fuelled the chatter which was cheerful and effusive. A new respect and early friendships were beginning to emerge as information flowed and was digested saved to the memory of a truly wonderful holiday and lovely night.

Melbourne was more about people for me, the city itself was not the main attraction of my visit. Meeting new friends and old family was the key to making this stop extremely memorable. I know we have never fought in a war but in Melbourne we have a shrine to our memories.

Melbourne, city of family.

If you’re looking for a City that buzzes, then Melbourne is for you. A population of 4.5 million, construction cranes and boring drills reflects a city that has no intention of staying static. We stayed on William Street at the Carlton Suites Gateway just on the banks of the Yarra River. The thing that many of us were anticipating most about this city visit, wasn’t the historic sites, the museums, the sporting arenas. No this visit promised us the sheer unadulterated pleasure that only the presence of washing machines in our rooms can bring to errant and sweaty travellers. Although only 10 days into our 4 week trip this was a critical requirement.

For me Melbourne was all about people; meeting up with family whom we hadn’t seen for over 50 years. Two members of my fathers family emigrated to Australia in the 1960’s; the Hastie’s and the Cruickshanks relocated to the suburbs of Victoria but close enough to retain contact with each other. Our visit to the area reflected a lot of Scottish heritage in the Victoria address book but there were also elements of Irish, Dutch and Aboriginal names on the roads and highways we travelled. Melbourne was a penal colony built by convicts, unlike the free settlers of Adelaide and Perth. The £10 fares encouraged many hard working honest people to relocate to the area. This included my family.

I was excited to be able to catch up with the Hastie’s on our first night in Melbourne. Only 3 of the original 4 who arrived in 1964 remained, but they had added 6 children and 3 grandchildren to the brood in the interim years. My Aunt, now in her 86th year had not lost one ounce of her West Lothian accent, other than her grey hair she had the same smile and was instantly recognisable when I emerged from the elevator. Both of her children, my cousins, had Australian accents but proudly claimed they still had British Passports. My eldest cousin, a tall, beautiful woman with golden brown hair and instantly recognisable eyes, I had not seen for over 56 years. She had never been back home. Married now to an Australian with 3 children and 2 grandchildren. She was a bit of an enigma to me when we were small, I was always looking up to her. My lasting memory of her was playing on the swings the week she was leaving for a better life and how I cried. Behind her beautiful blue eyes, however there dances a dark shadow, a heartbreaking loss so raw and so personal it threatened to destroy her family.

At the age of 19 her daughter Brodie took her own life, subjected to workplace bullying. This tragedy, when it happened was a mystery to us in Scotland since no-one could articulate the story without a guttural pain chocking back the words and us too polite to probe. Since that time my cousin has campaigned for Brodie’s law to make bullying a criminal offence. And she has achieved it, now running the Brodie’s Law foundation she tirelessly works to improve organisations and highlight the impact of workplace bullying. If I looked up to her as a child, I was even more impressed now with the strong, powerful woman before me.

My other cousin, her brother, bore an incredible resemblance to his dad, even as a baby I’m sure he had a moustache, I can hardly recall seeing him without it. He struck me as the one holding the family together, stepping into his father’s shoes. He held family dear in his heart and had organised this reunion, despite being awful at managing messages the importance of maintaining links was not lost on him. He clearly played a role when he lost his niece; the entire family had been impacted. And he was also out to see the newest Hastie currently residing in Brisbane when she arrived to cement the family ties so necessary when you first move here.

The Cruickshanks, dad’s sister and her family moved here from East Lothian in the 1960’s too. My cousin, his wife and their daughter met up with us in the Yarra Valley. My cousin and one of his son’s had visited Scotland recently but it was still great to meet his wife and daughter. Still resident in the same place they arrived to all those years ago they took us out to the Dandenong’s to provide us with an ariel view of Melbourne’s skyline. However the poor weather put paid to that as the mountain was swathed in mist and rain. We needed umbrellas for our visit and for a bit it felt just like being at home. Once the mist cleared however, we had an amazing panorama of the central business district’s high rise blocks in Melbourne.

The Sky Centre also boasts an English garden and play area for kids with a restaurant and banners celebrating the location as a wedding venue. Large totemic sculptures by the famous artist William Ricketts stand proudly around the gardens and are truly stunning examples of what you can do with a chainsaw. On our drive out to the Sky Centre the depth and sheer density of the woodland was a stark reminder about the threat my family live with at the time of fires. My cousin pointed out homes within the forest with debris on the roofs that made them vulnerable to fire. He explained that you need to put a tennis ball in the gutter to block the down pipe and fill the gutter with water to stop fire spreading.

We made up for the delay in commencing our sight seeing caused by the weather by sharing family stories, of our grandparents, aunties and uncles and cousins now living elsewhere in Australia; Newcastle, Airlie beach and Rockhampton. This cousin played Australian rules football and was good at it, we had newspaper cuttings to prove it, sent by a proud mother to my father over 50 years before. I had intended to bring them with me on this visit but forgot them. As his wife and daughter are currently logging the club’s history they were delighted we had kept these and I have promised to send them on. My second cousin I had already met through Facebook so it was wonderful to meet her in the flesh, say what you like about this form of social media but the connectivity to family across the globe is a truly wonderful thing. I knew what her son looked like, how he was doing in school, the family time they spent together. We bonded over a short ride to a local village and she filled me in on the family and how they were all doing. Proud of her roots she had wonderful stories about her grandmother (my aunt) and the close bond they shared, we drove past their old home in Coldstream and I could imagine them living there. We took a stroll to Olinda where the shops and restaurants are individual, quirky but friendly. The Lion, overhearing a Scottish Accent stopped to speak to the gentlemen only to discover that he was from Edinburgh and his brother lived in our town!

Melbourne gave me a great feeling of belonging, not so much with the city. It did however give me family time, so precious on this trip and it’s also the place where I made new friends……………

Adelaide, Queen of King William.

After Perth our next stop was Adelaide, the city of churches. Called after King William’s wife, Queen Adelaide, We learned it was noted for its religious tolerance at a time where tolerance was hardly invented. Adelaide had welcomed the Lutheran followers from Germany who were escaping religious persecution in the 1870’s. At a time when benevolence wasn’t high on the agenda in many places, Australian’s in Adelaide were welcoming everyone to join them and live harmoniously. We didn’t get to church in Adelaide and if it is a city with many churches we did not see too many of them. Having said that the liberal feeling here was evident, the welcome and warmth of this quirky city apparent on our three days living here.

Adelaide is a lot different from Perth it is not dominated by Glass and Steel columns and Corporate buildings. It does have a more colonial feel and is the capital of Southern Australia, becoming so when the country was initially divided into South and North. The city itself is contained within 1 square mile, surrounded by trees that are quite distinctive if viewed from the local panoramic viewing station for the city; Mount Lofty. Of course there are suburbs beyond the city boundary that Adelaide incorporates but the city itself is distinctive and contained within that one square mile. The general surveyor in the early 19th century, William Light, was responsible for the development of Adelaide and it was his vision that was responsible for the city layout as it is now. He is buried beneath his theodolite in the central area of the city reflecting his influence and standing. Well William, thank you I thought you did a pretty amazing job.

As with other major cities, there is a Chinatown here, albeit a bit small in size, but providing the city with the must do touristy bit (although I must admit we didn’t do it). Most of the restaurants are on Gouger Street where you can wander among the aromas of fusion spices and Italian garlic, enticed in by flickering candles, white linen silver cutlery and the forlorn empty wine glass, all the while containing the grumbling of a very hungry stomach as you try to agree on where to eat that evening. A vibrant market where fruit, vegetables, wine, cheese and cakes were aplenty, was located on Victoria Square. This is a spot where you can buy most things including fly nets, a must for the outback. They are cheaper here than they were in Perth where we paid almost $11 Australian.

The excellent thing about a lot of cities in Australia is that the trams in the city are free and Adelaide is no different. This is a huge bonus in searing temperatures but the Lion does like to walk so it was highly unlikely that we would even use the tram on any of the trip. Never the less you can take the tram all the way to Glenelg beach or if you prefer you could cycle there, its a short journey outside the city. The free trams are plentiful and easy to identify. There are also lots of places where you might board and disembark as you navigate this tight little city.

Glenelg beach on the city limits, was a vibrant seaside town, with a funfair, big wheel and lots of children. Along the esplanade there was a flume swimming pool and arcade accommodating the number of children visiting so they were at least contained. Volleyball nets lined the beach near the entrance with several young men playing giving the tourist without purpose something to focus on. We took off our shoes and sat on the sand watching over 30 kids of all ages learning to surf. One of the team, obviously with some kind of responsibility, had ‘Age Group Manager’ emblazoned on his back suggesting this was an organised tournament perhaps. Kids as small as 3 were participating. I couldn’t really see this working on Portobello Beach, Edinburgh- the temperature would be an inhibitor for a start. One of our fellow travellers, braved the waves and went in for a swim. We looked on enviously as the warm sea swept its waves over the golden sand and we wished we had brought our swimmies. Actually I wished, the Lion would not contemplate any activity that might involve getting wet. He didn’t even paddle.

After all this we finally checked into our hotel, Peppers, located on Waymouth Street and this, to date had the most comfortable of all the beds. I’m slightly behind in my account of all things Australia so have slept in two other hotels since. Adelaide and can say with some confidence that the Peppers bed was by far the most comfortable to date. We have been living out of suitcases so the wardrobe was defunct for the trip and although the bed was comfy, space was limited with all the bags open and spewing outfits onto the floor as we tried to identify suitable attire for the regular evening stroll.

Adelaide also had a festival fringe going on. Now in its 60th year this was identical in spirit to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, in fact many of the acts were advertising the fact that they had been there. Some of the street acts, and notably a Swede, performing juggling and acrobatics, I recall from the High Street in Edinburgh. He was just as pleasing to the crowd here as he was there. The Fringe is free to enter and was teeming with families, friends and participants in full costume wandering aimlessly or with purpose among the lively crowds. The sun was streaming through the leafy glades overarching the grounds as we took in the various street food and free performances.

We watched as young people received a trapeze lesson. I contemplated this for a nano second, that was until I saw that they had to pull their legs up, hang them over the bar and then drop their body and dangle their arms where the more experienced guy would catch them as they swung some 30 feet above ground. The antics of those willing to try it out kept us mesmerised for ages and my initial enthusiasm for trying this out waned as a flurry of participants missed the waiting hands and fell 30 feet into the safety net. Food and drink was on offer everywhere and there were shows for adults and children alike. It was good humoured and fun giving us a warm fuzzy holiday feeling. We left there wandering aimlessly from side street to side street like commandos back to our hotel, dodging buggies and couples unwilling to split the pole. Something to note is that shops don’t open on Sunday, and many restaurants were also closed. So it was good to find some places were open because of the festival.

We only had two full days in Adelaide, but it was a city I felt at home in and welcome. Not as big and bright as Perth, but a warm welcome awaited us and it was certainly a highlight of the tour. But then there were so many of these as we would find as we wandered around Australia.

Perth, the Australian one.

We arrived in the dark of night in Western Australia. The level of excitement at finally getting here was momentous, not dampened in the slightest by the fact that it was at night and we might not actually see anything of the skyline or surrounding landscape. The dimly lit arrival area was host to a plethora of tour operators or drivers waiting a little bit patiently and looking a big bit bored for the passenger arrivals to finally make it out through immigration. Our particular tour guide- the Tigress introduced herself and welcomed us to Australia. I let that welcome sink in for a few minutes, that we were actually here given everything that was going on was truly amazing and I couldn’t help smiling with complete happiness at the reality of this moment. We were directed to a waiting bus and the remaining 17 people who would be joining us. In Singapore we had yet to introduce ourselves widely, so while some faces were familiar we wouldn’t really know anyone until much further on in this tour. In any event those who had also undertaken the tour of New Zealand were joining us in Perth and soon 19 would be 28.

I made a couple of mistakes about Perth, or misplaced assumptions perhaps would be a better way of describing it. I believed Perth was on the southern coast, this particular assumption (despite having a higher Geography I might add) was based on the writing of Perth on the Australian Map, going from left to right, its position was something of a confusion. I thought this positioning of the name placed the location on the south coast, when in actual fact it was on the west. Secondly, I thought it would be a bit of a backwater but once the glimmers of sunrise flickered through the curtains and I looked out on the vista, I realised instantly how wrong I had been. It is a beautiful city, bordered by the river, spotlessly clean, a mixture of old and new and uplifting in every aspect of its being.

The Rough Guide to Australia puts the population of Perth around 1.5 million people. Built along the banks of the Swan River, famous for its black swans and dolphins, early Western Australian settlers arriving here were free, that is they were not criminals, instead these immigrants travelled because they wanted to relocate. The reality of spending 150 days on a boat meant many of these intrepid travellers ditched their hopes of making it to eastern Australia and disembarked in the West as soon as the boat docked here, glad to be free of the confined conditions and squalor.

The large expanse of the Swan River dominates this City, it is perfect for boats, canoeing, fishing and a range of water sports, all of which was regularly going on while we were there. The City, built on a grid system, is easy enough to navigate so a trek around it takes no time really. The newly developed Elizabeth Quay is a popular place for visitors, with play areas for the children and assorted seating, sculptures, cafes and bars for the adults. I loved the design, the views and the welcome of the whole area. The famous Bells of St Martens are housed here, a centre piece of the Quay, that invites you to visit for more information.

We were shown the City by our guide on the bus to help orientate ourselves, then we were driven the short distance to nearby Fremantle. Now this was a hidden gem. Quite hip, a university town, with loads of buildings with iron fret work balconies that reminded me of New Orleans. Beneath were unique little shops, secondhand bookstores and coffee shops. Each one alluring and inviting to everyone, except of course the Lion. Along the front we could take our pick from the coffee shops in Cappuccino Strip and watch the flood of tourists from the nearby Queen Mary swarming the streets and browsing the wares on offer. From Freo, as the locals call it, we boarded the Captain Cook, and headed west back to Perth via the Swan River. No sooner had we moved away from the wharf when two dolphins emerged from the water and tipping their fins playfully in the water. I screeched with delight at their appearance, much to the shock of those seated around me. Seeing these mammals in the wild in the proximity of the boat was truly unexpected, but we were unable to snap them as they caught me off guard. As the boat chugged its way hurriedly back toward Perth I kept my eyes peeled on the River for more Dolphins.

Before Fremantle we stopped momentarily for a paddle in the Indian Ocean at Cottesloe. This small but beautiful sandy beach was littered with families and seniors enjoying the warm weather in the high 30’s. The sea ebbing and flowing on the warm golden sands and me dipping my toes in the Indian Ocean and feeling like I was five years old again. It was idyllic and so far Australia was living up to my expectations.

On our final day in Perth we wandered around the City streets, locating London Court; a shopping precinct with a Tudor facia standing out among the glass and steel of its neighbouring buildings. On exploration this quaint lane was gaily swathed in colourful bunting, covering little shops and coffee houses bringing a little feel of England with a lot of Australia on offer. It was a lovely place to spend an hour or so idling before we set out striding around the grids of Perth looking at the mix of buildings and people before heading back to our hotel. The Tigress had us up early the next morning for the next trip to Adelaide so the cases were packed up, the pictures edited and organised, the family updated and before long we were off on our travels again.

Corona virus- not in my back yard.

In Singapore, Coronavirus was the main topic of concern and just about everyone local acknowledged this by wearing a mask. Whether this was mainly due to the large number of Chinese in the area (somewhat misplaced, but nevertheless that is perception) or not the fact was it was a real and present danger to the people of Singapore at the time of our visit. On our tour some people felt they had to cancel this stopover as the risk, in their opinion, was just too high. It also emerged during our visit that tourism had been hit significantly by the threat of the virus. Those whom we had contact with in Singapore, playing the party line, were at considerable lengths to explain the Government were doing everything in their power to halt the spread into their country. That, at the end of the day, might be futile.

On our arrival into Singapore we were health screened at the Airport. Several university students, presumably having agreed to undertake this onerous role, were masked and seated behind several wires and multiple cameras to initiate mass screening. This involved taking temperature readings. They observed the travellers arriving into the country en masse with microscopic thermometers to identify those individuals with high temperatures while they filtered their way through the airport. Our main purpose as travellers was to move swiftly past this crew without as much as an atichoo or a cough and so continue with our trip.

If you had a cold when you left Scotland (and lets face it who doesn’t) you needed to disguise it. Instead of wiping your mouth after dinner, you had to use the napkin in such a way as to disguise the real reason for its use; to conceal the tissue wiping the stream of snot from your nose. This had to be done surreptitiously in order to disguise the fact you had this common Scottish ailment that might be misconstrued by foreigners. Scotland is after all a world heritage site when it comes to colds, it was one ailment we were well accustomed to but at the moment might be seen by the rest of the world as potentially fatal.

I was also glad I wasn’t in the throes of my usual flush as I sauntered through the airport rather nonchalantly. Trying to disguise my runny nose was bad enough without trying to conceal a sudden rise in my temperature caused by a flush. Otherwise I’d have been swept up, turned around and booted right back to where I came from. The menopause cannot fool thermometers because when it begins it feels like a furnace has started burning in your skull and the only way to release this heat it is through your hair and skin pores. Thus any remote thermometer is likely to identify you sooner rather than later. While this less than welcome intruder is making its mark on your temperature you find yourself praying it will subside soon and no-one will notice it. You could try to conceal it by waiving your passport frantically like a fan to avert the emerging heat and hope that you look as if you are just slightly harassed from finding your luggage. The reality of course is always different; most people notice your flush and then try to avoid looking at you as you disintegrate into a sea of scarlet, all the while trying to maintain a level of cool, that everyone knows is fooling no-one.

Every shop in Singapore had a hand sanitiser, every toilet had a public safety message about the Coronavirus, and making sure you washed your hands was plastered everywhere. Singapore was worried about the spread of this virus even though the corporate messages were clearly meant to reassure you. The mask wearing public took no chances while we tourists, well we worried about it from a distance with ambivalence. No-one else felt the risk was low and were keen to prevent any opportunity to contract the virus or allow it to spread. The world, in Singapore at least, went about its business at this stage not too inhibited by Coronavirus. It was clear that keeping its threat at bay was going to take a lot more work than hand sanitisers and masks. Singapore was sending a message; almost impertinently that the virus was not welcome here, while all the while knowing it was only a matter of time before it arrived.

As we continue on our trip the Coronavirus dominates the headlines. We keep our masks close at hand but have as yet had little cause to use them. Let’s hope that good fortune continues as we venture into the unknown.