Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

Split Point Lighthouse

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Split Point Lighthouse

Located in a dramatic location along the rugged southern coast of Victoria, Australia, the Split Point Lighthouse has provided continuous lifesaving service since it was first lit in 1891. Like the Cape Otway Lighthouse, this light house was mostly built from a kit, shipped from England.  One of several lighthouses punctuating the 244 kilometer Great Ocean Road, it was likely easier and less expensive to build than the other light house we visited, because the shell is composed of poured concrete, instead of laboriously cut and fitted stone.

Cast iron steps

All of the steps in the 112’ high lighthouse are made from a pair of identical iron castings, bolted together, and bolted to the cement interior wall.

Split Point Lighthouse

Other than the difference in wall and lower stair construction, the two lighthouses are very similar in configuration, topping the walls with an iron dome consisting of an exterior platform and interior operator’s area at the same level, providing a great view of the rocky coast.  In both lighthouses, an exterior catwalk one level higher facilitates dome maintenance and window cleaning, and a cast iron grid floor at the same level on the inside provides access to the lighting unit.

 View west from lighthouse platform

Originally lit by a fussy and messy bank of oil lamps, the working light station now uses a high tech LED unit (visible in the center of the photo below).  The Chance Brothers Fresnel Lens is a marvel of late Victorian engineering.  Composed of multiple segments of high-refraction flint glass securely mounted into an iron frame, Fresnel lenses were common in lighthouses, because their design was several orders of magnitude thinner and lighter than what would have been possible with a single piece of glass.

Fresnel lens, light, and red filters

Both of the lighthouses we visited had mechanically rotating light units, but the Split Point station had an additional visual element provided by red filters on both sides of the window.  When viewed by boat from the water directly in front of the lighthouse, the light appears white, but when viewed at more oblique angles, the light becomes red, helping mariners determine their position in the Bass Straight relative to the lighthouse. 

Split Point Lighthouse

The addition of the colored filters on the exterior window baths the interior of the light unit, and the iron floor, in red light, so make for a much more interesting photographic opportunity.

Chance Brothers

Cape Otway Lighthouse

Sunday, August 30th, 2015

Cape Otway Lighthouse

The Cape Otway Light Station might not be the most significant lighthouse in Australia, but its up there.  Cape Otway is the southernmost tip of eastern Australia, forming the northern boundary of the Bass Straight, a relatively narrow sea channel between Tasmania and mainland Australia that becomes even narrow between the cape and King Island. After several sailing vessels managed to get all the way from England to Australia, only to wreck along the rocky and windy southern shore of Victoria, the British government began building lighthouses.   The one at Cape Otway was built between 1846 and 1848.


Most of the walls, including the steps, are of masonry construction, with the carefully curved and fitted exterior stones cut nearby.

Platform Support

The topmost part of the lighthouse, along with the mechanisms, was provided in pre-fab form from England.  A large cast iron funnel, with a stack on top, provides the support for the rotating light mechanism on the level above.

Iron Eye

A metal rod (no, I don’t know what it is for) is contained within the cast iron tube, connecting the mechanism at the top of the lightstation with the cast iron eye set in the floor, beneath the winding staircase.

Cast iron steps

The steps leading up to the working level of the light house are made from cast iron, as are the railings, posts, the platform underneath the light mechanism, and apparently, the domed roof of the station.

Fresnel Lens

A rotating Fresnel lens, which was originally powered by a weight-enabled clockwork mechanism that had to be rewound by the keepers every day, was eventually electrified.


A wooden ladder leads from the cast iron grating immediately underneath the rotating lens mechanism, enabling the keepers to maintain the interior of the dome and the lighting mechanism. Like the ladder in a library, this ladder can be repositioned around the interior of the lightstation dome, hooking onto cast iron bars above the lens unit.

Elizabeth on the observation platform

The exterior of the light station has a platform, completely surrounding the station, made from cast iron.

Exterior catwalk

A secondary, and much more precarious platform, also made from cast iron, was used to maintain the exterior of the lighthouse, and presumably, to wash the salt spray off the windows.

New Lighthouse

The Cape Otway Lightstation was Australia’s longest serving lighthouse when it was finally deactivated in 1994, after almost a century and a half of service. The replacement is a surprisingly small construction, visible above from the lighthouse platform.

Little Devils

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Tasmanian Devil

It turns out that Tasmania Devils are nothing at all like the cartoon.

Tasmanian Devil

After half a devil-free week in Tasmania, Elizabeth and I managed to hit the devil’s pen at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo during feeding time.  The two devils, are normally kept segregated, other than a very dramatic and somewhat indelicate mating process showing on a continuous video loop.

Tasmanian Devil

As we saw in several other areas of the zoo, the keepers do their best to keep the animals on their toes by hiding their food around the pen, even chaining it in place, making them hunt for their dinner—which they do enthusiastically.

Tasmanian Devil

Intellectually, I actually did know that they didn’t look like the Looney Tunes cartoon character, but I had no internal picture of what one looked like. They turned out to be much sleeker than I’d imagined.   This carnivorous marsupial’s looks sort of like the offspring of the much uglier and clumsier American opossum, and some kind of mink, with a tail that put’s its American cousin to shame.

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian devils are running a serious risk of becoming extinct in the wild. Forced off of Mainland Australia by the arrival of the dingo, approximately 5000 years ago, The remaining Tasmanian population has a relatively small genetic pool.  An unusual form of cancer, called ‘devil facial tumour disease’, has a 100% mortality rate. DFTD is spread by contact, which is especially unfortunate for an inbred population that fights constantly over both food and sex. Breeding programs may be the only hope for the survival of this fascinating and ecologically important predator.

Taronga Zoo

Sunday, September 15th, 2013


Wild animals don’t seem very comfortable in captivity, so Elizabeth and I are not big fans of zoos.  But we made an exception for Sydney’s highly-regarded Taronga Zoo, hoping to get a better look at some of Australia’s unusual animals that we hadn’t had a chance to see yet. We’d had some close encounters with koalas at Binna Burra, with their strangely graceless and unbelievably loud territorial calls, and a brief nocturnal glimpse. They sleep 18 hours a day, and do precious little when awake.  So we were looking forward to getting a closer look at some at the zoo. They could have been stuffed, for all we could tell.


Familiar with kangaroos, we didn’t appreciate the great variety and size of macropods, hopping marsupials with extremely large rear feet.  Surrounded by dozens of unphotographable pademelons ,  the roo’s smallest cousin, during evening flashlight walks, we were disappointed not to get a good look at one at the zoo.


We did get some good looks at a couple of different kinds of ‘roos, though. They were only slightly more alert than the koalas.


The two most characteristic features of Australia’s mammals are the fact that they are all nocturnal, rarely appearing in the daytime, but coming out in droves at night, and that they are all incredibly weird.  There must be a portal between Oz and Narnia.  The echidna , with its spiky exterior, functions in the same ecological niche as the North American porcupine (which to be fair, doesn’t have any more personality than a koala).


One disappointment was not seeing a platypus. We knew that they are nocturnal, relatively shy, and hang out in places where we are unlikely to go, like swamps.  The Sydney zoo goes to heroic effort to turn day into night, maintaining hundreds, if not thousands, of marsupials, spiders, reptiles, and birds in a sort of perpetual jet lag. A lavish indoor outdoor platypus pen had an attractive outdoor pool, filled with large blue crayfish, none of them being snacked upon by a platypus. The indoor half of the exhibit intended for the duck bills was closed, with only the ass end of a wombat for consolation.


Daytime in Oz belongs to the birds, which were well represented at the Sydney zoo.  We walked through a series of aviaries where we could have close encounters with emus.

Crimson Rosella

Crimson Rosellas

Australian King Parrot

and the Australian King Parrot. 


The Kookaburra is an Australian kingfisher that turns out to be much less shy than its North American cousins, and especially less shy than the English variety (which apparently refuses to mate if too many photographers are in the vicinity. The kookabbura, with a jungle cry beloved of amusement parks around the world, was not in a cage, but was flying free.  Maybe the fed the thing, but we had the impression he just liked being there. 

Snow Leopard

As covered in the previous blog entry, we also had a long visit with the Tasmanian devils.  The purpose of going to Taronga was to see the indigenous fauna, but once we finished with that, we still had a couple of hours to kill, so we went on a tour of the bears and big cats.  The snow tiger was pretty impressive, even without any snow.


I’ve seen lion king, but somehow, I’ve managed to live my entire life without fully appreciating the meerkat.  These little guys have a very efficient system, always leaving one very alert fellow on guard, while the rest of the meerkats do whatever it is that they do. We stayed for awhile watching the changing of the guard.


After a late lunch, and some time with the elephants and giraffes, we decided to head back for the Sydney ferr.

Brush Fire

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Ring of Fire

Lots of smoke and distant fire added some unexpected interest to our 3 day stay in rustic Binna Burra Lodge Mountain Lodge.  Burns like this hadn’t happened for several decades, and we were told we were lucky to be there for the show.

Smoke visible on the far side of Ships Stern

About an hour directly west of Brisbane, in an area referred to as the Gold Coast Hinterland, (Queensland, Australia), Binna Burra, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary, is surrounded by the Lamington National Park.  Warned that the Parks and Wildlife Service would be deliberately setting brush fires, looking out our bedroom window, we first noticed smoke about noon on Wednesday, coming from the far side of a sharp ridge to the east called Ships Steer.

View from our room at Binna Burra lodge at 3:15pm on Wed Aug 28.

By 3pm, it was clear that the fire had crested the peak of Ships Steer and was heading west, and by 4:15, flames were visible on the far side of the valley.

Visible Flames

Although a deep valley and a rain forest would probably keep the fire from reaching the lodge, by evening, the smoke smell was pervasive, spreading miles to the west, and creating an extraordinarily long and colorful sunset.

Smokey Sunset

By dark, Ships Steer was crowned with a ring of fire, making a surprisingly pretty show from our balcony.  Besides the flames, smoke and smell, we could actually hear the distant roar of the bush fire, with an occasional popping sound.

Ring of Fire

Burning is a natural part of these Australian forests, and some plants actually require the heat from a fire to germinate.  Getting roasted is a natural signal to the seeds that they are now in a cleared area and will have access to the sun. 

View from Bellbird Lookout

By Thursday, the fire had moved south along along Ships Steer, reaching Charraboomba Rock.  Although the entire crown had just experienced what appeared to be intense fires, from a distance, the canopy of the trees still appeared green. That night, the smoke was much more annoying, creating a significant haze, and mostly obscuring the sunset. There were only small glimpses of fire visible from our room.


Leaving the lodge and park on Friday, we stopped at Rosins Lookout to look up valley and see the last few traces of smoke. A ranger was making notes, and looking at Ships Steer through binoculars, so I stopped to chat with him.  He said that he and several other rangers had started the fires with handheld igniters, and they were very pleased with how successfully the burn had gone. He explained that after 20 years without a fire, dried brush was piled at least thigh high, presenting a serious risk of uncontrolled fire.  By deliberately burning in the winter, with cool nights (by their standards) and relatively high humidity (by their standards), a slow burn would consume the low lying brush, without harming the canopy.   He expected that they would reopen that section of the park to visitors within a few days, and that it would have new wild flowers immediately after the next rain.

The Poo Machine

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Tasmanian devil David Walsh’s delight in shock and playfulness are epitomized in the clinically neat and strangely compelling conceptual work Cloaca Professional, affectionately referred to as ‘the poo machine.’

Cloaca Professional, 2010

Many of the works in his privately owned Museum of New and Old Art (MONA) are characterized by Walsh’s preoccupation with sex and death, but one commission was intended to celebrate a different bodily function.  The most recent in a series by mad scientist Wim Delvoye, this digitally-controlled mechanical piece simulates the human digestive system.  Fed  from the right side (above) with chopped up food, and injected with a series of enzymes and chemicals, a neat series of glass reactor vessels progressively breakdown the nutrients.

Cloaca Professional, 2010

Evoking images of the laboratory, if not lavatory, the installation isn’t exactly beautiful, but it obviously was designed and built with a sense of aesthetics.  The gleaming glass and stainless steel spotlights the milkshake-colored slurry, accented by bright red plastic trim.  The individual vessels, each containing a different color and consistency of partially digested liquid, are vaguely evocative of udders and milking machines.The unpleasant smell is a bonus not offered by all works of art.

Cloaca Professional, 2010

In a triumph of regularity, artificial turds are emitted precisely at 2pm every afternoon (one can only imagine the eager crowd collecting at ‘reverse feeding’ time to experience the excitement of excrement).

For those who feel that modern and conceptual art is BS, Delvoye’s creation is a must see.