Swimming in the barren desert of Australia

Australia may be the driest continent on earth and currently in the middle of the worst drought and bushfires in living memory but paradoxically it is also home to some of the most beautiful inland swimming spots in the world no matter how tumultuous the weather is.

From the far north of the nation to the sparse and seemingly barren desert interior there are hidden gems to be found. At times they are often mere waterholes a few metres deep and a few metres wide fed by underground springs, in other places they are vast lakes full to the brim with fresh water fed by massive tropical rains. Come with me and explore some of them.

Dalhousie Springs far north of South Australia

I’m going to start in the far north of South Australia at a place called Dalhousie Springs (or Witjira National Park). A true oasis in the desert, featuring 120 springs surrounded by lush greenery and abundant wildlife. The park sits on the edge of the Simpson desert in the far north of South Australia amid endless sand dunes and stark gibber plains. Dalhousie has been used by aboriginal people for thousands of years as a source of food, shelter and medicine. You can swim in the main spring’s warm water and experience a unique toe curling wonder at the same time. Home to a unique species of fish known as the Dalhousie Harydhead and found nowhere else in the world it will come up and nibble on your toes. At first it is a strange experience but after time you go with the flow. The springs are naturally warm and in the middle of winter when the outback can be bitterly cold provide a welcome relief. If you are lucky enough to be visiting after a soaking rain you’ll be rewarded with the ephemeral wildflowers bursting into bloom.

Now to the far north of Australia and most people have heard of Kakadu. Well there is a saying amongst those who know better – Kaka – don’t. While there is no doubt Kakadu it magnificent it has been overtaken by commercialism and is tired and overused. By contrast Litchfield National Park some 120km south of Darwin is a gem and a true wildlife oasis. Its home to several stunning waterfalls that cascade into crystal clear pools, iconic magnetic termite mounds and clusters of weathered sandstone pillars.

Swimming under the falls and relaxing in waterholes is a favourite pastime for visitors and locals alike. I will never forget swimming in the crystal clear waters and treading water under water as hundreds of litres of water poured from above.  It was truly a soulful experience and one you should experience in life.You can shelter from the heat (and it does get very hot) in the shady monsoon forests in the ancient gorges created thousands of years ago. It is a haven for hundreds of native bird species and the plateau supports a rich range of woodland flora. A word of warning. While crocodiles are not a major problem in this area they do inhabit the northern parts of Australia so observe all signs before you jump in the water. Crocodiles love to eat humans!

You have been warned!

The Snowy Mountains region has been devastated by the recent bushfires in Australia and visitors need to check before proceeding. By and large all national parks, which have been almost obliterated, are closed until further notice but like it or not this is a major tourist area and as the towns begin to recover they will need visitors to sustain their livelihoods. Hidden amongst all this carnage is one of the most magnificent lakes in Australia. Part of the massive Snowy hydro scheme is Lake Jindabyne. Jindabyne is a two hour drive from Canberra and is well worth the journey. It is massive and if you are so inclined hire a canoe and gently cruise over the water and enjoy the silence and the beauty. If you enjoy swimming this is one of the safest spots around to swim in and of course fish are in abundance. It will take time for this region to recover but it cannot recover without your help and there is no better way to help than by visiting when the time is right. Give it some consideration. Apart from Lake Jindabyne the Snowy Mountains region is truly magnificent. In winter freezing cold stream flow into small lakes and waterholes as well as the bigger Snowy Mountains lake scheme so if you are game to take a winter dip why not try.

I hope you have enjoyed this quick look at some of the most fascinating waterholes in Australia. It may be a very dry land ravaged by drought and bushfires at the moment but it is also a land of mysterious beauty and if you take the time to discover will reward you with some astonishing gems. Next time I’ll explore some more fascinating areas of Australia Down Under.

Platypus on the brink of extinction.

Australia’s iconic platypus is on the brink of extinction.

Once viewed as so bizarre habitat destruction and climate threats have pushed the mammal towards the brink of extinction.

Researchers say platypus numbers may have halved or more since Europeans arrived in Australia, predicting local extinctions may have occurred across 40 per cent of the species’ range due to dam building, land clearing and other disruptions, according to a study published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation.

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Cats kill 1-million birds a day in Australia as bush fires decimate native wildlife.

Not long ago I was walking in the Australian bush admiring the scenary and wildlife when wild cat ran in front of me. Now I don’t know what your impression of a wild or feral cat is like but to me this fella looked like a monster. He was twice the size of a domestic cat and his fangs were very prominent. The picture above gives you some idea of how a once domestic cat evolves once it gets into the wild.

Later that night while trying to get some sleep I heard a loud crashing sound. A feral cat had come into my camp and was attempting to make off with some of the cooking gear. Although all my food was sealed in containers his curiosity got the better of him.

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Emergency Nursing

Life in Emergency – not as rosy at TV would have you believe.

Every so often the media report on life in the Emergency Department of a major city hospital. They spend a night shift – usually a weekend shift – where people are rushed in suffering horrendous injuries from car accidents, shootings or just about anything else you can imagine one human inflicting upon another – but behind all the hype life is often different. It is hard, bloody work where ordinary men and women simply get on with the task of repairing lives.

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Are you really getting honey? Perhaps not.

I love my honey and have it on my breakfast most mornings……well I thought I was having honey however it appears almost 20 per cent of Australian honey samples were found not to be pure

 Almost one in five Australian honey samples, including some expensive boutique honey, are fake, according to a ground-breaking study that tested samples of local and international branded honey.

The study, conducted by a team of scientists at Macquarie University, used 100 samples of honey sourced globally, including 38 Australian-branded honey samples.

It found more than half the samples sourced from Asia, mainly China, were adulterated, meaning the honey had been mixed with other non-honey substances.

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Here we go again – the royal roundabout.

I don’t give a toss about the Royal family but I appreciate the hard work done by the Queen and some of her family. By and large though most of them are a waste of space bleating about their financial and mental problems while sucking on the public monetary teat.

One can’t help but wonder whether this current fiasco is history repeating itself. In 1936,  King Edward VIII told the world and his stunned, born to rule British Empire that he was abdicating to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

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The tyranny of distance in Australia.

It is not until a crisis occurs that you realize just how isolated some parts of Australia can be. The recent spate of catastrophic fires across the nation has seen once thriving towns reduced to rubble or completely cut off from their neighbours. Perhaps the most striking example is the State of Western Australia.

To put this in perspective: Perth (the capital of Western Australia) is 2446 road miles (3913km) from Sydney, the capital of New South Wales on the eastern seaboard. Adelaide which is the nearest capital city to Perth is 1685 road miles or 2696km.

Supermarkets and fast food outlets began running out of supplies as the fires cut the road for more than two weeks. Fires on both sides of the road were either a hazard because of the dense smoke and flames and in extreme circumstances the bitumen on the highway simply melted!

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The long haul – London to Sydney. Can it be done non-stop?

More years ago than I care to remember I flew from London to Auckland in New Zealand, a distance of 11,386 miles or 18,176 kilometres. It was a long journey interrupted by stops in Zurich, New Delhi, Singapore, Darwin and Sydney. With stops it took over 48 hours and I arrived utterly exhausted not knowing whether I was up or down. Similarly a few years ago and following a visit to England I flew back to my home in Adelaide (South Australia) and arrived once again exhausted and still on London time. On this journey there was only one stop in Kuala Lumpur but that stop lasted six long and boring hours and once again the time stretched – about 30 hours. All of that might be about to change with Australia’s national airline QANTAS contemplating flying from London to Sydney (17,800 kilometres) without stopping in a time of 20 hours. Maybe!

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Rare species wiped out following devastating fires in South Australia

Kangaroo Island is renowned for its native wildlife — the koalas are disease-free, the bees create the purest honey and it is home to one of Australia’s rarest marsupials.But bushfires that ravaged the 4,400-square-kilometre island have left wildlife experts concerned about the future of some of its threatened species. About a third of the island has been charred. The fire has devastated the Flinders Chase National Park, which is home to koalas, kangaroos, rare birds and marsupials. Threatened Species Recovery Hub deputy director John Woinarski — who is also a professor at Charles Darwin University — said the fires across Australia had been a “holocaust of destruction” for wildlife. “There’s almost no considerable habitat remaining for many species. That leads to local extinction events,” he said. “Places like Kangaroo Island, where much of the landscape has been burnt in a really homogenous and extreme manner, that may mean some of the plant and animal species … may have been eliminated completely. “Certainly, their population liability would have crashed for many of these species and their risk of extinction has been substantially increased.”

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Reflections on White Island New Zealand

As a man who has documented history in various forms over the past half century it is not often that I am left without words. However the recent eruption of White Island off the coast of New Zealand and the subsequent loss of far too many lives have left me somewhat dazed and though it may seem strange, thankful.

I’ll explain. Last year my son and I visited New Zealand. Probably one of the most beautiful and diverse nations on this earth and indeed they say that if you have visited New Zealand you have seen the world. It is not hard to see why several members of the Endeavour captained by that amazing English navigator James Cook thought about deserting once they saw the magnificence of this nation. Imagine coming from the 1700’s slums of England and arriving in a land where there are pristine beaches, virgin snow capped mountains and, to be totally politically incorrect, dusky maidens.

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