We, the Matriarchs…

We, the Matriarchs… are the first generation in history of older, highly educated women to number in the tens of millions.

We are the first ever generation of older women who have spent decades in the workforce in professions and skilled employment, and not in the sweatshops and the fields.

We are the first ever generation of older women who have accumulated independent wealth and economic clout, despite discriminatory wage practices.

And we are the first ever generation of older women who can expect to live into their 90s.

But now we are entering the age of retirement.

What next? What does society expect of us?

Well, nothing really. We are the most invisible segment of the population. If they see us at all we are only seen as stereotypes – kindly grannies, old hags, frail spinsters or old biddies selfishly occupying homes that could better be used by young families. I went to a luncheon for International Women’s Day attended by over 400 women. So little was expected of this large congregation of women that the only sponsor was a funeral home.

The Last Frontier of Feminism

Over the last decades, feminists have addressed the issues in the life cycles of girls and women – contraception, abortion, education and workplace equality, child-care etc . But only now are we feminists of the ‘60s hitting our own 60s. Only now are we ourselves facing the problems of older women and experiencing the magnitude of the discrimination.

Women ageing is the last frontier of feminism.

A National Asset

Older women are seen as a national liability, whereas in fact, we are a national asset.

We are actually the fastest growing sector of the Australian population, we have significant spending power as a group, and remarkably we are a key driving force in the creation of start-up enterprises. More older women are creating new businesses in the US, England and Australia than cool young males.

We are society’s unlikely innovators. Creating new enterprises, re-inventing ourselves and re-defining how women age.

And we have had to take matters into our own hands and find our own way because there are no good roadmaps for women ageing in contemporary society. Society offers us few options. Thirty years is a long time to babysit the grandchildren, garden or play golf.

Instead, we see the coming years as a considerable period in our working lives uninterrupted by child bearing and rearing. Years in which to deploy a lifetime of experience and expertise. We enjoy using our highly developed talents and skills, but few employers are willing to give us work.

“Like kryptonite to Superman”, ageism is a huge barrier to female employment, notes the incomparable Kathy Lette.

Senior Women Entrepreneurs

Undaunted, many women over 50 have taken to the internet in mass numbers and are setting up our own enterprises. Astonishingly, baby boomers are expected to contribute an additional $11.9 billion to Australia’s GDP, specifically by starting online businesses. The numbers of male and female entrepreneurs are roughly equal at present, but Dr. Alex Maritz, Professor of Entrepreneurship LaTrobe University predicts a surge in women senior entrepreneurs.

Vulnerable Older Women

Older women continue to work, not only because we can and want to, but also out of necessity. We all know how precarious the situation is for many older women, particularly those in their sixties and older with limited or non-existent incomes.

We were the generation that worked decades before super was introduced. Then there are the cumulative effects of a lifetime of discrimination: lower pay than men because women were not “ the main breadwinner”; part-time work; lower paid professions and the exclusion from the top professional and business levels. Add to this, the years out of the workforce to have children and look after family members. Re-entry to the workforce then becoming either impossible or with reduced pay.

Since statistically, women live longer than men and only 15% will have their husband alive when they die, most women will lose the couples’ pension. Living on one pension with the government relentlessly chipping away at it, is forcing women to sell their homes.

With pensions cut and no jobs available for older women, not surprisingly, in the past five years, there has been a 44% increase in older women becoming homeless.

I am reminded of a film I saw about a Japanese man taking his ageing mother on his back up a mountain to leave her there to die. That was a traditional way of dealing with ageing women.

Older Womanpower

We must speak out against our government’s policy of impoverishing older women.

But we must not frame the discussion around older women solely in terms of helplessness and national liability.

We must provide opportunities for older women to earn an income in dignity and speak out against ageism in employment.

Not all women want to open up their own businesses, but the many that do must be given the legislative support, funding and incentives provided to the start-ups of younger people.

Australia has an enormous reserve of skilled womanpower that we cannot afford to waste.

And we older women, don’t want to live this part of our lives in the straitjacket of society’s expectations.

That is the mandate of WomanGoingPlaces. To showcase the older women of Oz in all our rich variety, wisdom, strength and accomplishments.

 

Photo – Professor Lyn Slater- accidental icon.com

Iconic Bathing Boxes of the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia

Did you know that women are the reason we have those iconic, brilliantly coloured bathing boxes on the beaches of the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria?

At the end of the 19th Century and through the early 20th, the city fathers tried desperately to stave off the shocking prospect of uncovered female flesh. They feared that if women were allowed to undress and change into their neck-to-knee bathing suits on the beaches, public immorality would inevitably follow.

The city fathers had already tried to divide some beaches into separate bathing areas for men and women following “indecent bathing during a heat wave”.

Their battle for respectability and decorum succeeded to the extent that many boxes were in fact built.  Now only 1300 survive and no new boxes or boatsheds are allowed, with the exception of places such as Brighton Beach. For that reason their value has skyrocketed, in some instances fetching more than A$350,000. Tightly held, the families that own them often pass them down through the generations.

Public morality no longer being of concern, they are now mostly used to have a good time at the beach. In summer, you will see owners sitting in the shade of the open box, deckchairs and tables arranged comfortably with food and cold drinks at hand, contemplating the sea only metres from their door. Or you will see them dragging their kayaks from the boxes, a few steps across the sand, and into the sparkling sea for a row along the bay. The owners are spared having to pack their equipment on cars and trailers to return home at the end of the day. But they do have to maintain the boxes in good order and pay fees for the privilege of owning a beach box.

We can enjoy them too. They add a riot of colour and cheerfulness to the beach in any season. So take a stroll along any one of the 26 beautiful beaches of the Mornington Peninsula, from Mount Eliza to Portsea, where you can feast your eyes on these iconic structures.

The guide below shows the places you can find these beach boxes and the number at each location.

Take a look at the slideshow to see some of these beach boxes.

Photographs and editing by Augustine Zycher

HOW TO GET THERE

The Mornington Peninsula is approximately an hour from Melbourne’s CBD and is easily accessible via the Peninsula Link freeway.

 

mornington-pen-map


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In Praise of Solo Travel in Italy for Women

Solo Travel In Italy For Women

Italy is the perfect place for solo travel for women. But when I told people that I had recently travelled through Italy myself, they looked at me in disbelief and the usual response was — “ Well, that takes balls. I wouldn’t do that.”

But why not?

Travelling solo is a liberating and exhilarating experience. It fills us with a sense of adventure, opens our minds and relaxes the soul.

Interestingly, the majority of tourists that I saw in Italy were aged 40 plus. And the majority of those were women. But I rarely saw women in this age group travelling alone outside the major cities.  My first thought was – there must be a hell of a lot of women sitting at home because they couldn’t find anyone to travel with.

If you have someone that you enjoy travelling with, that’s great, but if you don’t, then it’s is not a reason for staying home.

But as women we are afraid to travel alone because of a bag full of fears that include:  fear of loneliness, fear for our safety, fear of the social stigma that brands an unattached woman, organisational fear – how will I be able to organise a whole trip by myself and how will I know where to go and what to see?

The first step is to decide – it’s my time now.

I get to choose where to go and what to see. That, in itself, is pure pleasure.

Italy is such a welcoming country and Italians are very gracious and courteous. I wasn’t hassled or made to feel uncomfortable or strange.  And whenever I asked for assistance or directions, no matter how busy the people were, they would always take the time to help me. Language is also not a problem as many people speak English.

Loneliness

There are times when you wish you could share your experiences with someone and that you feel lonely. No question. But Italy offers so many distractions and compensations. The first thing you can do is go out and buy yourself a gelato or some delicious street food. Then you take a walk down a medieval street, lose yourself in a busy market, gaze at glorious paintings and marvel at the magnificent buildings. Being filled with the beauty of Italy does wonders for loneliness.

Then you remind yourself that if you were with someone else, you would lose that most precious and rare pleasure – the freedom of not having to compromise. Not having to fit in with someone else’s plans. Not wasting time visiting monuments because that’s what the person you are with wants to do, when all you want to do is drive through hills covered in olive trees. You get to do exactly what you want and it is something you probably haven’t done in very long time.

Keeping a diary of your travels is an excellent way of dealing with loneliness. There is a joy in writing things down, capturing them. And that remains as something you can always refer to.

One of the most memorable days I had was sitting on a roof-top terrace gazing out over the boats in the harbour, the sun shining on the water and the bright red geraniums, drinking a cold beer and writing happily in my travel diary.

I also found that when you are travelling solo, people tend to strike up conversations with you more readily than if you are in the closed confines of a couple or a group. So you are always meeting people and chatting.

Safety

Italy is very safe for women travelling alone. I was able to walk around the streets, go to cafes or to dinner and return late at night and was not molested or bothered. Perhaps young girls might have to fend off advances, but for women over the age of 40, it’s just not a major issue. I had also been warned about pickpockets in Palermo, but had no trouble.

Social Stigma

Actually, no matter where I went in Italy, I never hesitated to go into restaurants to eat lunch or  dinner alone. To be asked in Italian by the waiter at the entrance if you are dining ‘solo’, doesn’t sound as pathetic as being asked – “Is it just you?”  as happens in Australia.

I have written about the problems of eating out alone in Australia in a previous blog. (http://womangoingplaces.com.au/women-dining-solo/ ‎). When overseas, it becomes much easier because you really don’t have to worry about what other diners think.       You are a tourist.

“ I’m having a great time – so who cares what people think!”  If at our age, we still don’t live our life the way we want to because we are afraid of what people will think, then perhaps it’s time to ditch this barrier.

Another blessing of overseas travel is anonymity. No one knows you, so you don’t have to live up to any image or expectation.

As to the question of where to eat?  You may have a good guide book, but  several thousand other people have that same guide. I find the most effective way is to brazenly, but politely go up to a local and ask them  “ Could you recommend a good place to eat around here?”  Italians know and love good food, so you can bet they have their favourite places. All the most sensational meals I had came about because I just asked the locals.

Organising The Trip

If you are unsure of how to go about it, then certainly get a travel agent.

You may also decide to spend part of your trip in an organised tour and the other part on your own. Another option is to take a short course as a way of connecting with other travellers. For example, there are Italian language and cooking courses available throughout Italy.

The internet has made organising your trip very feasible. It is however, time consuming. You need to start as far in advance as possible. Do the research and make the comparisons.

Finding hotels is made easy by websites such as TripAdvisor, Booking.com, or Trivago. One of the useful features on most of these hotel booking sites is that you can make a reservation on a room and not have to pay a cancellation fee until as little as two days in advance. This is great if you are not sure of your itinerary. It means you pay a little more for the room, but the flexibility is worth it. Just make sure to check the date by which you must actually pay for the room.

If you don’t mind taking chances, then there is usually some last minute availability on hotel rooms closer to the date because people cancel their reservations. The prices are usually also cheaper then. But it is a bit of a risk and not advisable if you like things organised in advance.

The major cities in Italy – Rome, Venice and Florence, need to be booked well in advance due to the very heavy demand in high season. If possible, it is generally advisable to avoid high season for any travel in Italy as that way you can avoid the crowds, queues and heat.

Knowing Where To Go

The advantage of tour groups is that they have experienced guides who take you around. But you can travel solo and organise your own guide. By googling for local guides, I hired a local guide in each of the major cities I visited. The 4 guides I found were outstanding. They were all women who were official Italian guides, had a breadth of knowledge, accommodated themselves to what I wanted to see, and were very pleasant. Their English was excellent. I will be giving the names of each of these guides when I publish the various posts about the cities I visited.

In addition, hotels and local tourist offices also offer lots of group tours that you can join for a day. And you can book these tours in Italy and not necessarily before you leave Australia.

When Things Go Wrong

Even with the best organisation, things can go wrong. For example, when Emirates kept all passengers on the tarmac for 6 hours because there was something wrong with the plane we were in, and consequently I missed my connecting flight; other flights were cancelled; the hotel which looked great on the website had a faulty sewer which caused the room to smell; my train to Florence was massively delayed by a fire on the line.   Being alone when these things happen may appear a challenge but in my experience, it wasn’t. Single status had no bearing on the re-arrangement of flights and the airlines’ responsibility. Rely on your own resourcefulness and often the kindness of strangers.

Getting Around

It is very easy and convenient to get around Italy using public transport. The train system offers high speed trains as well as slower ones, with good connections. The punctuality and frequency of the trains is usually reliable. Trenitalia (https://www.lefrecce.it/) is available for checking train timetables and booking tickets online. All this information is available in English if  you choose English in the top right-hand corner of their homepage You can even book from Australia and tickets booked in advance online are usually cheaper. This is a good a good idea as it avoids lengthy waits in queues.

You can also choose to fly instead of taking the train within Italy.

Unlike the rest of Italy, public transport in Sicily is bad. While there are lots of inexpensive flights to Sicily from the mainland, once you get there, there are few internal flights, poor train services, and the buses are very slow and often not available on Sundays. The only option for long distance travel there is with hired cars or taxis, and taxis can be very expensive. So instead of trying to  cover much of the island, you may choose a particular part and focus on that.  But don’t let that stop you from going there. Sicily is beautiful, as are the other places I visited in Italy.

The slideshow above gives you a glimpse of the places I visited  in Venice, Bologna, Cinque Terre, Florence and Sicily.

 

 

 

Uluru – Icon of Australia

 

At the end of May 2017, Uluru stood as a silent sentinel over an historic summit of the First Nations of Australia. They had come from across the continent and the Torres Strait Islands, 250 community leaders. At the end of 3 days of deliberation, they issued a powerful and beautifully crafted document, entitled Statement From The Heart. It rejected symbolic recognition. Speaking from the  “ torment of powerlessness” it demanded a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice in government decision-making. It also called for a Makarrata Commission to supervise agreements with government and lead the way to a treaty.

And so another dimension was added to the political, cultural and spiritual significance of Uluru.

Uluru is one of the few places in the world to have been awarded dual World Heritage recognition  – for both its outstanding natural values and outstanding cultural values.

On our trip to the Red Centre of Australia, we found extraordinary beauty, cultural richness, and new perspectives on this iconic Australian landmark.

We began with the perspective on Uluru from the distance,  at both sunrise and sunset. In the darkness of early morning, we watched as a dark shape outlined by the first rays of the sun began to loom over the flat plain. By day, we saw a monolith, 9.4k in circumference, rising up 348 metres from the semi-arid desert that surrounds it. Both the rock and the sand are stained a deep red by the iron oxide in the earth. Late afternoon, we watched from afar as the sunset coated Uluru pink, then rich purple colours.

But nothing really prepared us for the shock of seeing Uluru up close.

It is not a uniform lump of rock. As you walk into it, you discover oases with vegetation, waterholes, waterfalls, caves with rock art, gullies and rocks sculptured into remarkable shapes. Changes of light, shadow and perspective bring with them continuous shifts in appearance, an impression of movement at odds with the idea of a stolid monolith.

In the tranquility of the Kantju Gorge, we were enclosed by towering rocks that spectacularly changed from yellow to gold, orange to ochre, pink to purple, and brown to grey.

This breathtaking physical perspective is only a part of Uluru. We began to see that there is another more compelling perspective. We began to learn about the Anangu, the Aboriginal people who are the traditional custodians of Uluru and the country around it, and we pay our respects to them.  Their traditional languages are Pitjantjatjara and Yankunitjatjara. Carbon dating on caves, shows that indigenous people have lived in this area for at least 22,000 years, and possibly 30,000. Elsewhere in Australia, there is evidence of Aboriginal habitation dating back to around 60,000 years, making them one of the oldest human societies on earth.

Traditional custodianship is quite different from our concept of land ownership. It is not personal possession, but public, common responsibility to care for the land, its flora and fauna, and to carry on that care from generation to generation.

For thousands of years, the indigenous people have passed down the knowledge of how to survive on the land and how to survive as a community. But they have not written it down. There are no written texts. There is no sacred literature. They have no Bible, Koran, Sutras, Vedas or Chinese Classics that have guided the survival of other peoples.

It is an oral tradition that has sustained the Aboriginal people with a strong culture in Australia for 60,000 years, in some of the harshest terrain on earth.

The landscape is their sacred text.  The land is endowed with sanctity. Aboriginal spiritual heritage, history, laws, culture, knowledge, geography are all embodied in the land.  They read their land – its shape, its contours, its plants, animals and birds. And they express this connection to the land through songs, stories, ceremonies and art.

The foundation of the culture is called Tjukurpa – Creation – when the ancestors, changing shapes between humans, animals, birds and spirits, roamed the formless land. Their travels, battles and experiences gave shape to the land and created its distinctive topography and all life. As well as  creation stories, Tjukurpa is a body of knowledge governing human behaviour and care of country.

According to Tjukurpa, Uluru was formed by Two Boys. They were playing at the Kantju waterhole, piling up mud until it was the size of Uluru. The long channels and gullies on the southern side of Uluru were formed when the Two Boys slid down from the top on their bellies, dragging their fingers through the mud.

The python woman, Kuniya and the poisonous snake man, Liru, are other ancestors who shaped Uluru and left visible marks. Signs in the rock chronicle their struggle and the places where the grieving Kuniya struck Liru dead in vengeance for spearing her nephew.

When visiting Uluru, you are not just walking amongst boulders and rocks. You are following the path of the creation stories that the Anangu continue to celebrate. The spirits of the ancestors are believed to still dwell here so it is considered sacred, and parts of Uluru are closed to the public.

The initiation of the young into the complexities of Tjukurpa continues. And in caves in Uluru, grandfathers pass down knowledge to young boys, drawing on the cave walls as a teacher in any other classroom would illustrate on a blackboard. In separate caves, women elders pass on women’s business to young girls.

It is an ancient culture that is still alive and still defines the indigenous people.

Another new perspective we had on Uluru was looking up to the desert sky – the stark blue of the sky by day and the sheer brilliance of the night sky. Since tourist and local accommodation is concentrated in a particular area, the township of Yulara, electric lighting does not blot out the stars as it does in cities.  You can look up and clearly see endless swathes of stars shining directly above you.

Uluru is within the Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park which covers 327,414 acres of Australia’s desert outback. In 1985 title deeds to the land were handed back to the Anangu, and it is managed jointly by the traditional owners and Parks Australia.

The Cultural Centre in the National Park is very beautiful. Built from mud bricks, it represents the two ancestral snakes, Kuniya and Liru. Inside, there are outstanding exhibits about Anangu culture, and you can purchase original indigenous artworks. The bookshop also provides information on a variety of walks around Uluru. Different tour companies also offer tours.

Since Uluru is a sacred site, climbing the rock is disrespectful. It is also dangerous, so visitors are requested not to do so.

The best times to go are during the Australian winter and spring, when the nights may be freezing, but the days are mild. In summer, temperatures can be extremely hot with outdoor activity limited to the morning hours.

The hotels all belong to one group so there is not much competition, but there is a range of accommodation from camping to 5-star tents and hotels.

Our photos were taken only where permissible. To see each photo separately go to our Gallery page.

Photography – Rosalie Zycher & Augustine Zycher

Video editor – Augustine Zycher

Music – Albare  CD  ‘The Road Ahead’  title track www.albare.info

 


 

 

 

Go Meet Legendary Stockman of the Australian Outback, Luke McCall

 

The drover, stockman or ‘ringer’ and he is called, is an iconic figure in Australia. He has been immortalized in poetry, songs, folklore, paintings and literature. But there are few real drovers and stockmen left. Nowadays, these men of the outback have been replaced with road trains and helicopters.

Luke McCall, aged 84, is one of the few surviving stockmen. For over half a century he crossed the vast length and breadth of Australia with thousands of head of cattle and horses. He loved the life and the stock and never saw it as a life of extreme physical hardship, danger and isolation. In this profile she has written for WomanGoingPlaces, Patricia McPherson describes her mate, Luke McCall as  ” a legendary stockman whose name stands high right across the north of Australia.”  Editor’s note

 

I met Luke on the airstrip the day he arrived at Fitzroy Crossing in the Western Australian Kimberley in 1967. I was working as an itinerant nurse for the Australian Inland Mission and was there to put an esky of medical specimens on the mail plane when this tall handsome man dressed entirely in black came down the steps nonchalantly carrying his saddle over his shoulder, much as a city guy would carry his sports coat.  I was a bit blown away I can tell you – he was a very romantic figure and I have fond memories of having many suppers in his stock camp beside the campfire under a million stars and listening to the music of horse bells.

Luke McCall was born into a stock riding family at Nebo over the range from Mackay in Queensland in 1932. Aged 15 he threw his swag and saddle on the mail train and headed out west where he picked up a job as a ‘ringer’ (stockman) on Lorraine Station way up north in the Gulf on the Leichardt River.

For over half a century, Luke would live the life of a drover and stockman in the Australian outback. Droving meant spending each and every day in the saddle – often for nine months in a row. The work began at dawn and frequently there were night watches as well. No days off or spells.

Mustering

The working life of a stockman was seasonal. It started at the beginning of the Dry season in early April when the horses were mustered and broken in, more than a hundred on most stations. The head stockman would then allocate freshly employed stockmen their ‘plant’ – usually 10-12 mustering horses, some camp-draft horses and a night horse or two.

When all was ready, the stockcamp consisting of about 8-12 ringers, a cook, a horse tailer and the head stockman would ride out, accompanied by their pack horses and horse plant. This departing cavalcade was always an exciting sight.

They worked to a schedule in that they had to have x number of bullocks ready at such and such a spot on such and such a date ready for transport to the meatworks. These mustering rounds lasted about 3 months. Stock was mustered one day and ‘processed’ the next. Calves were roped and pulled up to the bronco panels and branded, ear marked, castrated, mothered up and let loose. Bullocks were drafted into a separate mob and held, fed and watered  until such time as they were picked up by the overland drovers or, since the 1960s, road trains. At the end of each mustering round the stockcamp would go back to the station for a brief break which usually coincided with the local rodeo or race meeting. By the end of the third round in late October it was far too hot to work cattle so the ringers rolled their swags and went south for the Wet season.

This was Luke’s way of life on several Gulf country stations; Kamileroi, Norfolk, Coolullah and Gleeson to name a few.

Overland Droving

Like most ringers he would take an occasional year off from the stockcamp to go overland droving. He made a number of droving trips from Camooweal to the Kimberley and back with the legendary packhorse drover Bruce Simpson with 15,000 head in hand.  These droving trips would cross 2000 kilometres of the harshest, hottest, most arid and most beautiful parts of Australia, from Western Australia to Queensland.

The droving life was almost sedentary compared to the thrills and spills of mustering wild cattle. It too started at first light when the mob slowly moved out along the stock route feeding all the way to ‘dinner camp’ where they were given a spell then a long drink of water and then moved out in late afternoon to settle down on good feed when it could be found.  The ringers, who had been in the saddle since dawn, took shifts in riding around the mob on night camp singing as they rode to settle the cattle.

There was always a risk that the mob could rush at night. In this case the night watch would be joined by the rest of the men who woken from their sleep, would grab their night horses which were always saddled and tethered nearby and ride to turn the lead back on itself to slow the mob down.

Indigenous Cattle Station

In the early 1970s, Luke was employed to set up a cattle station, Palumpa, 250 kilometres south-west of Darwin which was eventually to be run by the local aboriginal group. Starting from scratch this involved years of rough living camped on a waterhole until the homestead complex was eventually established. It involved catching and transporting wild bulls to the meat works for an initial cash flow and stocking the station with quieter cattle as well as horses. Luke made several trips to the Cloncurry horse sale where he would buy up to 100 horses at a time, dip them and truck them to Daly River, then drive them 120 kilometres to Palumpa single-handed. The ABC devoted a Big Country programme to the ‘Curry Sale’ which featured Luke.

Crocodile Dundee

This publicity was nothing compared to that which he received in 1977 when he rescued the man who was the real “Crocodile Dundee”. Rod Ansell had been stranded for eight weeks on the banks of the remote Fitzmaurice River after his fishing boat sank.  Ansell salvaged his two eight week-old bull terrier pups, a rifle, a knife and his swag and set up camp in the fork of a tree out of reach of giant saltwater crocodiles which threatened him and his pups. He shot those that attacked him.

Rod Ansell never counted on being rescued but Luke and his stockcamp made a once-in-a-lifetime visit to that area and found him.   When the story hit the press, Ansell was hailed a modern day Robinson Crusoe.  A book and a film To Fight the Wild followed. A subsequent Parkinson interview sparked the interest of Paul Hogan and led to the creation of Mick “Crocodile’ Dundee.

Writer

After his Palumpa years, Luke spent time working on Helen Springs and Wave Hill stations in the NT by which time stock work as he knew it was long gone and he was probably the last of the old time stockmen still standing. Jackeroos on quad bikes and helicopter mustering became the norm.

He retired in 1993 following a hip replacement and made a home for himself in Batlow in NSW. He turned his hand to writing a monograph, Before helicopters and road trains: What was expected of a stockman. It was printed by The Stockmen’s Hall of Fame in Longreach where it is still in print and remains a best seller. He has also written Stories from the Stockcamp which takes the point of view of stock that he has spent his life working with. In these stories, we meet a clean skin bull; Crooner the night horse; an outlaw bullock;  Ruadah a liver-coloured mule; Winnie a coaxer cow; Dove a breaking-in mare and Tarpot a bronco horse. As yet unpublished, these stories reveal his great feeling for and understanding of stock.

Drover’s Camp Festival

Each year Luke still looks forward to the annual trip up north to the Drover’s Camp in Camooweal. He meets up with old mates along the way from Wagga Wagga to Cloncurry where he is greeted with great affection by men he worked with and I dare say with great reverence by many whom he mentored when they were young. His name stands high right across the north – he is indeed a legendary stockman.

At the most recent Drover’s Camp this August, a popular tribute was paid to Luke when Keith Douglas read out, in the best tradition of bush poetry, the poem he had written about Luke McCall:

Somewhere down near Brisbane
where too many people live
there’s an old retired drover
they don’t know who he is.
 
But up here on the northern runs
when your back’s against the wall
no better man you’d have beside you
than the legend Luke McCall.
 
From the Kimberley to the Curry
and all places north and south
he’s left his mark on many
 they all know without a doubt
the man who’s dressed in black
a red bandana ‘round his neck.
 
When it comes to clever bushmen
he’s up there with the best.
You’ll never hear him boast
or talk about himself
he’d just as soon have a yarn
and leave that stuff to someone else.
 
For he’s been and done those things
back in those other days
when a man was judged on what he’d done
not on what he had to say.
 
He’s so humble and well mannered
 shows respect to all he meets
a real man from a real land
 though now unsteady on his feet.
 
The bush has been his playground
his family and his home
when it comes to living legends
he’s a class act all his own.
 
Each year he travels back
to that sleepy border town
to meet old drovers gathered there
to pass some yarns around.
 
He joins in conversations
about cattle, mounts and miles
the memory of a life well lived
gives him reason now to smile.
 
With water in the government tank
and grass out on the plain
and big mobs on the stock route
that we’ll never see again.
 
But always in my memory
these old men will walk tall
and up there with the best of them
is the legend Luke McCall.
 

 

Read Patricia’s post in Woman In…Outback Australia: Camooweal, Queensland about the annual Drover’s Camp Festival that she and Luke drive 7,000 kilometres to attend each year on the border between Queensland and the Northern Territory. This camp takes place in August and is open for all to attend.

Patricia McPherson is a retired nurse from Victoria. She worked as a nurse for years with the Australian Inland Mission at Fitzroy Crossing in the Western Australian Kimberley region in the 1960s and  regularly travels to the outback which she considers her ‘heart country’.  

 


 

 

 

Outback Australia in the Wet Season

My daughter Genevieve and I drove 4000 kilometres from Port Augusta in South Australia, to Darwin in the Northern Territory, in two weeks. The direct route is just over 2,700 kilometres. But we wanted to see the outback.

Genevieve shares my love of the Australian outback, the remote deserts, the unique heat, the waterways and the people. After completing a year of work in the Pilbara region of Western Australia she was to begin a new position in Darwin. This meant she needed to bring her car from Western Australia to Darwin. She had a month before beginning her new position, so I volunteered to accompany her on the drive between Port Augusta and Darwin. With two weeks to cover the distance, we decided to meander our way north detouring to our hearts’ content.

We drove for 3-4 hours each day with lunch and morning tea stops.

In February the temperature sits on 40º all day, and only after sunset, begins a slow, nonchalant descent to 27º, reached around three or four in the morning. After dawn the sun marches back into the day with gusto and the temperature peaks by 9am remaining there for the rest of the day. Due to the heat, our pattern was to drive during the middle of the day taking advantage of the car’s  air-conditioning, and arrive at camp in the late afternoon or early evening, allowing time to set up the tent and cook. We planned activities such as walking for the early morning, and were back on the road mid to late morning.

The Oodnadatta Track

Until now the Oodnadatta Track existed, for me, only through tales my father told me and stories in the books of my adolescence. It was a place remote and fearful, a desert highway for camels, telegraph linesmen and the legendary white Australians of cattle stations and homesteads; a place where the heat and dryness could kill.

Our journey along the Track started at William Creek. It wasn’t our intention to drive along the Oodnadatta, at least not as far as we did. It was only as my daughter and I drove further into remote South Australia that we grew more confident, and that the Track began to lose the unpredictable power my imagination had given it.

The Oodnadatta Track - photo Jacinta Agostinelli

The Oodnadatta Track – photo Jacinta Agostinelli

William Creek

We arrived at William Creek hot and dusty from Coober Pedy, passing only one other car in the three-hour drive. The desert we had driven through was either gibber plain or red sand, usually with low vegetation.

At William Creek there is a hotel with accommodation, an airstrip that crosses the track and a campground. No need to book in February but I would recommend booking in the more popular mid-year months. The town, once a stopover for the Ghan, now claims fame as having Australia’s most remote pub, and as a base for exploring Lake Eyre by plane, which we did.

The pub is a museum in itself. Made of timber with timber furniture, it holds a dusty collection of old photos, superseded farm tools and items from around the area. And it serves great dinners. We enjoyed a Thai curry and a ‘parma’, so large it curled over the edges of the plate. A sturdy wood heater in the centre of the room suggested night temperatures must, at some time, get very low.

Lake Eyre

Lake Eyre has water in it once every ten years, and I had read that this was one of those years. Rains up north in January meant there was water in February. And indeed, we are lucky.

Before leaving Melbourne I booked a one-hour sunrise flight through Wrights Air. There are a number of flight itineraries available and a number of companies running them from various points of departure, so check which flight suits you best.

The outback is beautiful from the air. As the squirming ball of sun climbs to the edge of the world before melting across the land, the rocky ridges and daubs of vegetation below change colour. The sky and the ground are every shade of pink, purple and red.

Nothing can prepare you for the sight of Lake Eyre from above: not the tricky little lake we flew over earlier, nor the images in geography books. It is a huge expanse of water, as far as you can see. It is an eerie, rippled, wind-streaked blue as still as if painted onto the salt. We followed sweeping, salt-lined arcs in search of birds.

The Painted Desert

At Oodnadatta town we decided on a detour through the Painted Desert. We had needed to calculate whether this the detour, still considered a section of the Oodnadatta Track, was a safe option given the distance, the time, our diesel and water supplies.

This section of the Track would have to be one of Australia’s most remote, dusty roads and this suited us. More like the driveway to a homestead than a road, it was in good condition but required attention to skirt a few deep wheel ruts and pot-holes. The Track wound around small hills and ridges and at about half way, passed through the Painted Desert.

From the top of a viewing hill we looked over some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen: dry, sculptural and full of colour, yet still and silent. It was a huge watercolour landscape.

At various junctions along the road a sign and a faded track indicated a station or homestead out there somewhere. It is easy to lose your sense of direction in the desert especially when tracks and signs have deteriorated and look the same. This happened to us when, thinking we might camp the night, we turned off towards a homestead. When attempting to join the main road again we were confused by the choice of three roads. We drove for an hour or so not knowing if we were heading in the right direction, and while this caused some anxiety, it was a part of the experience.

The Mereenie Loop (Red Centre Way), West MacDonnell Ranges Northern Territory

The Mereenie Loop is an unsealed four-wheel drive road between Uluru and Alice Springs. The section of the loop between Kings Canyon and Alice Springs is referred to as Namatjira Drive. It follows the West MacDonnell Ranges.

The West MacDonnell Ranges are striking in the brooding light of the wet season. The skies sink towards earth with the weight of rain. Thunder tumbles around the rim of the ranges and sheet and fork lightening flash. But the sky holds onto most of the rain and the labouring storm takes a rest for a few hours, when the theatre begins again. Driving this loop is an experience I will not forget.

There are a number of places to stop along the way to do a short walk, or to detour to a lookout. Do this, particularly after rain as the bush smells like I imagine heaven to smell. Bird life is also abundant after rain. In small, fluid and shifting shapes, flocks of coloured finches move from tree to tree. Willy Wagtails hop along disused stockyard and fencing posts, and according to aboriginal stories, alert the walker to the presence of another. We stopped at Gosse Bluff, (Tnorala conservation reserve), Redbank Gorge, Ormiston Gorge, the Ochre Pits, Serpentine Gorge and Ellery Creek Bighole, all easy walks.

We bush camped and there are plenty of spots to do this. If you are after something more comfortable there is a welcoming and rustic hotel with rooms at Glen Helen Homestead Lodge. In February, the mosquitoes are very active after dusk and before sunrise. After sunrise the flies take over! We carried plenty of mosquito repellent and set up camp early enough to have finished dinner before sunset. For the flies we had hats with fly nets.

Nyinkka Nyunyu, Tennant Creek

Nyinkka Nyunyu is a very impressive art gallery, museum and cafe run fully by the aboriginal people from Tennant Creek. What we expected to be an hour’s stop became a three-hour exploration. The centre and tour we had were all engrossing and we had no sense of time passing. Because we were the only visitors it being out of season, the curator gave us a personalised, ‘story’ style tour.

The curator was an aboriginal man who had experienced some of the history and happenings that were depicted in the exhibitions and storyboards. All aspects of aboriginal life and culture, as well as contact and relationships with the Europeans, were covered in the displays. The gallery walls were decorated with the work of many local artists, whom we met working in the studios incorporated into the building. There was so much art available for purchase that it was difficult to decide which to buy, and being a gardener with interest in bush foods and plants, I finally decided on a canvas called Bush tomatoes.

In the absence of a personalised tour, visitors carry a player with numbered recordings that match numbered stations around the centre. We followed this in the garden, which has been planted with educational purposes in mind. It is well laid out and garden enthusiasts will love it. There is a kitchen garden with bush tucker to supply the café kitchen. The café was due to open a couple of weeks after our visit, however we got to meet the trainer from Charles Darwin University who had just arrived to train some young people to work in the kitchen. Next visit I will stop for lunch!

When to go

The ideal time to travel to the outback is in February. While it is very warm and possibly very wet in February, the roads and camping grounds are empty. Be aware however that if you do choose to travel at this time you will need to check in regularly with a government road report site such as the Northern Territory road report website (www.ntlis.nt.gov.au/roadreport), or a tourist information centre. We also asked the locals for their opinions on roads. Roads can become impassable in the wet season, or may be damaged after heavy rain. For travelling off the major highways a four-wheel drive vehicle is essential.

*****

Jacinta Agostinelli lives in Melbourne. She spends her time writing, caring for her grandchildren, developing and maintaining gardens using sustainable and organic methods, and is a director on the management committee of SPAN House in Thornbury, Melbourne. She enjoys spending time with her family and travelling near and far. 

 

Photographs by Jacinta Agostinelli

 

 

 

Ningaloo Reef

Ningaloo Reef Australia for Women Travelers

How I came to swim amongst the magnificent corals of Ningaloo Reef with sharks, giant turtles, stingrays, dugongs and endless schools of dazzlingly coloured fish.

Everyone knows of the Great Barrier Reef off the east coast of Australia. Far fewer know of the Ningaloo Reef off the west coast of Australia. This is surprising given that Ningaloo was awarded World Heritage status and recognized as one of the most spectacular and last remaining pristine coral reef systems in the world. It is home to 220 species of coral and 500 species of tropical fish.

Ningaloo is actually one of the longest near-shore reefs in the world. It hugs a remote and isolated corner of Australia’s rugged north-west coastline.

I was intrigued to see a place so rich in unique marine wildlife and yet relatively unknown.

I thought the best way to see it was on a boat trip. So I booked myself in for a 5-day sail on a 52’ catamaran operated by Sail Ningaloo. By coincidence, the only other passenger on this trip was another woman, Kate from England, who travels extensively on her own on adventure boats trips to places such as the Arctic, the Antarctic and the Galapagos Islands. She was on the trip to do a lot of diving on the reef.

I chose to snorkel. I had never gone snorkeling before, but that didn’t matter. The crew showed me how to get into the wet suit and use the snorkel, slip over the boat and follow their lead underwater.
The turquoise waters were so immaculate, that valleys of exquisitely shaped coral were clearly spread out before me. And swimming all around me was an ever-changing and wondrous flow of fish of every size, shape and colour.
I have always loved seeing huge green turtles in nature documentaries. Now I was so excited to be able to swim in amongst groups of them and even get to within a meter of some of them. Until they realized I was there and flapped their fins and scurried away. Approaching two dugongs was very thrilling as these strangely shaped creatures are quite difficult to sight.

nigaloo reef sailingBut swimming with the sharks and stingrays was much scarier. I was told that the reef sharks are not interested in humans, but when several of them sped towards me, I froze in the water, until they swam by. The stingrays are much harder to spot, as they lie buried in the pure white sand on the bottom, then suddenly rise up, shake off their sand covering and quickly propel themselves away.
While lounging on deck, we watched whales swimming by, shooting streams of water through their blowholes. The white whales and humpback whales were on their annual migration through the 6000sq meter area of the Ningaloo Reef. One day, a mother humpback whale and her baby came right up to the boat. Kate and I stopped talking as we thought it would frighten them off, but just the opposite. The more we talked to them, the closer they got, until the mother whale swam under her baby and lifted him up on her back to give him a better look at us. They are highly intelligent and curious animals.

I was able to snorkel twice a day and yet each day I saw completely different arrays of coral formations, crustaceans, mammals and fish.

When not underwater, I lay on the deck and read, frequently looking up to spot whales, Manta rays, dolphins or turtles.

The best part of lying in the bunk in my cabin, was watching the sunrise light up the sea outside my porthole.

This is a woman-friendly tour. Even though I was doing things I had never done before, I felt safe, comfortable, and was not made to feel awkward or out of place as a woman traveling on my own. It was a very good way to access and enjoy the exceptional beauty of this part of the world.

Single supplement: it is sometimes waived for last minute bookings on a confirmed tour.

Sail Ningaloo recently won a Silver Award for Ecotourism and a Bronze Award for Adventure Tourism from Western Australia Tourism.

 

Go snorkelling and swim with dugongs, turtles, stingrays, sharks and gloriously coloured fish in amongst stunning coral formations. Take a look at the video footage.

Thanks to Sail Ningaloo and Prue Johnson for the underwater photos and video footage. Editing by Augustine Zycher.

 

More information:
http://www.sailningaloo.com.au


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Port Arthur, Tasmania

Port Arthur is a place full of contradictions.

At first glimpse, it gives the impression of an English stately home set in rolling hills and lush gardens beside an idyllic harbour. In reality, it was one of Britain’s most fearsome penal colonies that enslaved, brutalised and killed convicts during the 19th Century.

It was a place of terror, as intended by its founder, Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur – a place of hard labour, harsh punishment for infringements, and unremitting surveillance. The slave labour of the convicts was used to build not only the infrastructure of Port Arthur, but also to create a manufacturing complex for the new colony.

At the same time, Port Arthur was the place where innovative penal practices were pioneered based on the principles of the renown prison reformer Jeremy Bentham. These included efforts to rehabilitate convicts through teaching them trades or farming.

Port Arthur was meant to deal with the most hardened recidivist convicts, those that other prisons could not subdue. But boys as young as 9 were also sent there. You can tour Point Puer island where the first juvenile prison in the British Empire was established. Young boys were kept separate from the adult male prison on the peninsula. These boys received some education, were taught trades, but were still made to labour.

When it was established in 1830, Port Arthur was intended to be escape-proof. Situated in a place of utter isolation on the Tasman Peninsula, far south of the main settlement in Hobart, Port Arthur was connected to the mainland by a mere strip of land less than 50 metres wide. A line of dogs, crazed by hunger, stalked the only escape route over land. The area was also completely surrounded by water. Few convicts knew how to swim, and they were also told that the waters were shark-infested. And yet some managed to escape.

Once the most inaccessible place in Australia, it is now the place most visited by tourists to Tasmania.

Port Arthur was a prison where new forms of punishment were practised. In addition to the usual range of physical punishments such as whippings and starvation, a range of psychological punishments were introduced.

As you enter the church, you are amazed at the beauty of its curved wooden pews and the white walls. Until it is pointed out that the pews were designed so that a convict praying could not see anyone else or be seen. Prison pews. They were to be tormented even as they were supposed to be spiritually uplifted.

There was a regime of sensory deprivation called the ‘ Silent Treatment’. A hood was placed over prisoners’ heads and they were forbidden to utter a word. The floors and walls were padded to stifle sound. Convicts were also incarcerated in solitary confinement in totally blackened cells for long stretches of time. Many prisoners in the Separate Prison were driven mad from the lack of sound or light. So it was convenient that  the mental asylum was situated right next door.

A convict ploughing team breaking up new ground at a farm in Port Arthur. Created circa 1838 by an unknown artist. Reprinted as a postcard circa 1926. State Library of Victoria

A convict ploughing team breaking up new ground at a farm in Port Arthur.
Created circa 1838 by an unknown artist. Reprinted as a postcard circa 1926.
State Library of Victoria

Port Arthur is now a World Heritage-listed site with over 30 buildings situated in landscaped gardens and a forest.

Take the time to see it properly because there is so much to see. You need time to experience the pleasure of looking at the natural beauty and the imposing structures built by convicts. There are faithfully restored buildings, some with period furnishings – such as the commandant’s residence, the doctor’s residence, the penitentiary and the church. Walking through these re-created homes lends an intimacy to the experience of history as you envision not only how the inmates lived, but also the lives of the officers, their wives and children.

In a novel approach to the site, when you arrive at Port Arthur you are allotted a card with the name of a real convict.  You are then able to follow the story and the fate of that inmate in an excellent interactive exhibition. This connection personalises the lives of individuals who suffered and lived there and who might otherwise be forgotten.

Port Arthur was closed in 1877 and for over a century its tragic history faded behind the beauty and peace of its surroundings. But exactly 20 years ago, once again the tranquility of this idyllic place was shattered by brutality and tragedy.

Port Arthur was the scene of a massacre in which 35 people, visitors and staff, were killed and 23 wounded. Tasmanian, Martin Bryant, was found guilty and given 35 life sentences without parole. The massacre prompted the Australian Government to subsequently introduce strict gun control laws.

 

 

 

 

 

Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

 

Gion District – Geiko (Geisha) and Maiko (Geisha-in-training) in Kyoto

Kyoto is  the centre of Japan’s Geisha culture. There are almost 200 Geiko, popularly known as a Geisha, in Kyoto, making it the largest concentration in Japan. Geisha in Japan are respected artists.

They reside mainly in the charming Gion quarter, with its leafy narrow lanes lined with traditional wooden houses. It is located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west.

It is here that girls and young women receive the rigorous training to a become a Geiko, and here that they entertain in Ochaya, the traditional tea houses.

You may be fortunate, as we were, to see an exquisitely costumed Geiko walking along the narrow streets in the Gion district. If you do see a Geiko, which is not a common sight, it is considered very impolite to approach or try to speak with her.

However, we were able to spend more time with a Maiko – a young woman serving an apprenticeship in order to become a Geiko.

Meeting a Maiko

Meeting a Maiko in Gion was one of the most memorable events of our time in Japan. We met her in the wooden Ochaya. It was a delight to see her serve tea and then to watch her dance. She then answered our many questions about Maiko and Geiko through an interpreter.

What is a Geiko/Geisha?

It is necessary to explain that contrary to popular belief, Maiko and Geiko are not sex workers. They are respected artists who undergo a course of 5 years apprenticeship in singing, dancing, playing instruments, calligraphy and traditional Japanese skills such as tea ceremonies before they are allowed to qualify. They are highly accomplished performers and social hostesses who are invaluable to the smooth and successful running of business or social gatherings.

Nor can you simply book a Geiko to hostess or entertain at a function. They entertain only for guests known to their mother house who have been clients of at least three generations standing. New clients may be accepted only on recommendations from existing clients.

The Discipline

It is hard to find a Western equivalent for this exclusive profession. It combines the rigorous training and discipline of an elite ballet school and music academy, with the self-renunciation of a nunnery.

The community of Geiko and Maiko residing in Gion is governed by the strictest and perhaps the most conservative rules of all. This unique art form developed over the generations is fading as fewer girls are prepared to undertake the arduous training and lifestyle.

Few are accepted for training as a Maiko, and even fewer qualify as a Geiko after 5 years.

A Maiko lives under the auspices of a Kami-san (Mother of the House) who is responsible for her training and accommodation. The House Mother also takes on a parenting role. The 18 year-old young woman we met chose to become a Maiko when she was 15. This meant that she not only left school at that age, but she also had to leave her family to come to Kyoto. She is only permitted to see her family a few times a year.

Maiko in teahouse Kyoto Japan – womangoingplaces.com.au

Each day, from morning until late afternoon, she receives instruction from teachers in singing, playing instruments, dancing and traditional Japanese arts including learning how to apply the striking makeup. Then from early evening until late at night she hosts guests in the traditional teahouses or at private functions. She dances and sings, accompanying herself with a range of Japanese musical instruments, pours tea and engages them in conversation.

She wears gorgeous kimonos and her hair is impeccably swept up in the distinctive, glossy traditional style. Since it is so difficult and time-consuming to arrange this style, her hair is washed, styled and set once a week. To maintain it in place, she, like all the other Maiko and Geiko, have to sleep with their necks on hard wooden little platforms.

During the 5-year training period she receives no pay for her work and studies. All her expenses are paid for by the Kami-san. If she wants to leave, she has to pay back all the expenses to the Kami-san.

If she wants to marry, she is not allowed to remain in the profession.

Remarkably, a Geiko’s skills and accomplishments as an artist, performer, conversationalist and hostess can survive the loss of her looks and her youth. There are even some Geiko in their 80’s still hosting guests.

Public Geiko performances

It has recently become possible to meet a Maiko as we did, through a tour company, through the internet or a local travel guide could arrange it.

Kyoto’s Gion Kobu Geisha community puts on annual public shows which provide a rare opportunity for the public to see the geisha perform their arts. The most famous of these performances is the Miyako Odori  in which Geiko give several hour-long highly stylised dance performances each day for about 3 weeks in April.  See the official site Miyako Odori  to book tickets.

 

******

Feature image of Geiko in Kyoto Japan by June Simpson

Related posts:

Our Top Places in Japan

Ryokans in Japan

Japan’s Brilliant Bullet Train

Onsen in Japan

Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

Autumn in Japan

Notes on Japan

The Pleasures of a Japanese Toilet

Hokkaido – the Northern Island of Japan

 

 

 

Our Top Places in Japan

WomanGoingPlaces has chosen some of the places we saw as first-time visitors to Japan that became our Top Places in Japan.

Tokyo the capital, of course has many attractions and must be visited, but we would like to present some places outside Tokyo, some lesser known, that made a special impression.

These are to be found on 4 different islands of Japan – Honshu, Miyajima, Hokkaido and Shikoku. The choices are arranged according to islands and not in order of favourites.

We would also like to recommend the following local guides whom we found to be excellent – knowledgable, pleasant and reliable:

Ms. Atsuko Inuzuka   Areas guided include Tokyo area, Yokohama, Hakone, Nikko, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Himeji, and Kobe.

Ms.Chiwako Mukai   Areas guided principally Hokkaido, but also from Tokyo to Kyoto including Takayama, Kanazawa, Hiroshima and Miyajima.

Mr Masaaki Hirayama  Area guided – Hiroshima

HONSHU

KYOTO

Don’t rush through Kyoto. You need to spend time in this city that has more World Heritage Sites than Rome. Plan time to enjoy the extraordinary beauty of the temples and shrines. Allow time to wander through its distinctive districts, extensive gardens and wide boulevards. Eat Shabu Shabu sitting on tatami mats and other traditional food in its excellent restaurants.

Kyoto’s historical importance as Japan’s capital and the Emperor’s residence from 794 to 1868 spared it from air raids in WW2 and the mass, unattractive post-war development of many Japanese cities.

Kinkaku-ji Temple (The Golden Pavilion)

Golden Pavilion Kyoto

The glittering gold Kinkaku-ji Temple and its reflection in the pond is stunning and yet serene. The two top floors of the temple are covered in gold leaf.  Built initially by a shogun as his personal villa, it became a temple in 1408. The original building has been burnt down several times, most recently by a fanatic monk in 1950, but each time, like a gold-plated phoenix, it has arisen splendid from the ashes.

You cannot go inside, but must admire it from the outside only. On rare occasions, heads of state and royalty are permitted to enter and see the beautiful interior. Perhaps the luckiest are the cleaning ladies who get regular access to every part.

 

 Fushimi Inari Shrine

 

This is the head Shinto shrine of 30,000 shrines in Japan dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Since 711 A.D., people wishing to give thanks have each donated a torii gate and now there are over 10,000 of these dazzlingly beautiful gates. You walk inside vermillion avenues formed by these torii, each with different inscriptions in bold black.

It is the most popular site in Kyoto and extremely crowded, so try to get there as early as possible in the morning.

 

HIMEJI CASTLE, HIMEJI

HIMEJI CASTLE

UNESCO describes Himeji Castle as “ a masterpiece of construction in wood”.  Sitting on top of a hill, it is a luminous white, particularly brilliant after its recent restoration, and appears to float on its fortified foundations. It is considered Japan’s most spectacular castle for its imposing size and beauty and its well-preserved complex of 83 buildings. Begun as a fort in the 14th Century, it was remodelled and expanded in the 16th Century. Despite war, earthquakes and fires, it remained intact, making it one of Japan’s twelve remaining ‘original castles’. It is also one of only four castles in Japan that has been designated as a National Treasure and has also been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A superb example of typical Japanese castle architecture, the intricate detail of every feature from the immense trees used as pillars to the feudal family crests in the tiling reflects extraordinary craftsmanship and ingenuity. Himeji Castle combines the strength of an immense fortification with the lightness and beauty of traditional Japanese aesthetic.

 

KOYASAN, Mount Koya

If you would like to stay in a Buddhist monastery and practise meditation, Koyasan, is a beautiful, if  remote place to do it – in thickly forested mountains at an elevation of 900 metres. Considered one of Japan’s most sacred sites, it is the world headquarters of the Shingon School of Esoteric Buddhism and was established in the year 816 by Kobo Daishi. He is considered by many to be the most influential religious person in Japanese history and his mausoleum is there in the sprawling Okunoin cemetery.

Koyasan has 117 temples. The Garan Temple complex in particular has very intricately designed, remarkable temples set in extensive gardens. Koyasan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For over a thousand years, pilgrims have made the lengthy journey here. You see them still, wearing white cotton jackets, with conical hats on their heads and wooden staffs in their hands. Like every place in Japan that attracts many visitors, there are shops, restaurants and even cafes to cater to guests. More than 50 of the temples and monasteries also offer lodgings, known as shukubo. See our post about Ryokans in Japan for more about shukubo and how to contact them.

HIROSHIMA

 

The destructive power of the the first atomic bomb that was dropped over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 obliterated nearly everything within a two kilometer radius. It was decided not to rebuild the blast area, but to turn it into Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park. You may be disinclined to visit a place of such harrowing memories but it is very worthwhile to do so. Hiroshima itself has been rebuilt into a thriving attractive city.  The memorials to the terrible events of the war are thoughtfully and sparely presented. Through personal belongings, clothes and stories they evoke the impact and consequences of that fatal day.

The Museum on the site focuses on August 6 – the day the bomb was dropped and its outcome in human suffering. Scorched items of clothing, personal effects and buildings that survived the 3000 degree heat generated by the bomb make for a devastating display.

The Children’s Peace Monument was built to commemorate the death of children in the atomic blast, and in particular the death of 12 year-old Sadako Sasaki. She was 2 years-old when exposed to the radiation of the blast, but grew up healthy until 10 years later when she was diagnosed with leukaemia. There is a Japanese legend that if you fold 1000 paper cranes, your wish will come true. So Sadako began to fold paper cranes hoping to become well. Some of these cranes can be seen in the Museum. The Children’s Peace Monument  has a bell you can ring in commemoration and it is ornamented with colourful paper cranes sent from all over the world.

The A-Bomb Dome, also known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, is what remains of the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. When the bomb exploded, it was one of the few buildings to remain standing, and remains so today designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Between the Museum and the A-Bomb Dome is the Cenotaph. This is an arched tomb for those who died as a result of the bomb, either because of the initial blast or exposure to radiation. Below the arch is a stone chest holding a register of these names, of which there are over 220,000. The grandfather of our guide when we visited Hiroshima, was one of them.

NIKKO

 

The lavish beauty of the buildings, temples, shrines, gates and bridges in Nikko is extraordinary. This area enshrines the power and wealth of the first Shogun of the Edo Shogunate – Tokugawa Ieyasu. As such, it is a UNESCO World Heritage centre. Pathways through giant trees lead to very long and steep flights of steps into most buildings. There is a feeling of having to ascend into the presence of the all-powerful Shogun. Nikko is 2 hours from Tokyo by train, so a day-trip is possible but would greatly limit what you could see. The area is also a mountain resort.

MIYAJIMA ISLAND


Miyajima Island is considered one of the top three scenic sights in Japan. This island sits in the western part of the Inland Sea of Japan, in the northwest of Hiroshima Bay. It is popularly known as Miyajima, which in Japanese means Shrine Island. There are shrines, temples and historical monuments such as the famous vermillion torii gate that appears to float in the water. Most visitors make a day trip by ferry from Hiroshima. Don’t. It’s worth a longer visit because even if your interest in visiting shrines has waned, it is one of the prettiest and most peaceful places in Japan. Miyajima has retained its traditional character and avoided the high-rise development of most Japanese cities.

Walking through its charming streets you are often accompanied by wild deer, who either ignore you or try to nibble any paper you have in your pockets. There is a challenging but beautiful walk through primeval forest up (and/or down) Mt. Misen. Spectacular panoramic views over the sea await you. You can take the cable car up as well. The specialties of Miyajima are the oysters and the freshly baked, custard-filled sponge cookies. Excellent accommodation is available at all levels of comfort. See our Ryokans in Japan post for more about the Miyarikyu Ryokan.

 

HOKKAIDO

NOBORIBESTSU

Noboribetsu is famous for its hot springs and volcanoes. A small town in the south of Hokkaido, it is easily reached by train from Sapporo. Set in volcanic mountains, it attracts those who seek the healing and relaxing waters of some of the best onsen in Japan. Noboribetsu Onsen is one of the most popular and famous hot spring resorts. See our Hokkaido post for more about Noboribetsu.

The stark yellow, pink and green-clad landscape is beautiful. Taking a walk along the many pathways through the Shikotsu-Tōya National Park, including the one to Jigoku-Dani (Hell Valley) a huge geothermal crater, is exhilarating. There are cauldrons of bubbling, sulphurous liquid. Geysers periodically erupt in a shower of boiling water.

HAKODATE

Goryokaku Fort Hakodate

Its chief attraction is the five-pointed star shaped Goryokaku Fort modelled on 16th Century European citadel towns and completed in 1864. Its thick stone walls are surrounded by a moat and the 1,600 cherry trees planted in its grounds make it an extraordinary sight in spring. It’s an impressive sight in any season and can be best appreciated from the observatory in the Goryokaku Tower nearby.

The new Goryokaku Tower was built in 2006 as an observatory in order to give visitors excellent perspectives onto the Fort from a height of almost 100 metres.

Hakodate is famed for excellent seafood. This bounty can be seen in over 300 stalls in the morning market (Asaichi).

See our Hokkaido post for more about Hakodate.

SAPPORO

Sapporo Beer Museum

Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital, is probably best known around the world as the original home of its eponymous brand of beer. It is a thriving pleasant city of almost 2 million people set on a grid pattern that is easy to navigate. Below the city centre, there is a network of underground shopping malls, plazas and public transport that make it possible to live and go about business in the city without suffering the extremely cold winter.

Winter is still an important season in Sapporo because of the annual Sapporo Snow Festival held in February and its astonishing mammoth ice sculptures.  Skiing is also an attraction because of the availability of ski jumps in the city and its proximity to the Niseko ski resort. For more about Sapporo see our Hokkaido post.

SHIKOKU

RITSURIN GARDEN, TAKAMATSU

 

The city of Takamatsu is located on the northern shore of Shikoku, the smallest, least populated and least visited of the four major islands of Japan. Ritsurin Garden is thought by many to be one of best gardens in Japan. It was designed by generations of the local feudal lord and took over 100 years to be completed in 1745. The more than 1,400 twisted and contorted pines set this garden apart from other gardens. Every single day, gardeners hand-prune each of the pines in turn until they complete the 1,400 trees and then start again, removing withered needles and shaping the growth according to a well-defined aesthetic.

The teahouse in the gardens is exquisite with magnificent views over the lake and mountain. Dating back over three centuries, Ritsurin Garden earned the highest rating of 3 stars from the Michelin Green Guide Japan.

MATSUYAMA

Matsuyama Castle

Matsuyama Castle on the island of Shikoku is another of Japan’s twelve ‘original castles’ which have survived the post-feudal era since 1868 intact. It is located on Mt. Katsu, a steep hill in the city centre providing visitors to the castle with a bird’s eye view of Matsuyama and the Seto Inland Sea. The castle was constructed between 1602 and 1628. The current three storied castle tower was re-constructed in 1820 after the original one was destroyed by lightening.

Related posts:

Onsen in Japan

Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

Autumn in Japan

Notes on Japan

Ryokans in Japan

Hokkaido – the Northern Island of Japan

Japan’s Brilliant Bullet Train

The Pleasures of a Japanese Toilet