From the North pole to the South pole to Walpole

It was a wet last night in the forest, but we stayed dry in our trusty tent. I keep telling myself to suck up the cold, it’s not going to last. We’ll be back in the Top End all too soon as far as the weather goes. We were fuelling up somewhere along the west coast and Lex was chatting to a young bloke doing the same. The young bloke asked what was Lex towing? Lex replied, nothing, we’re just a Prado, a tent and an Esky. The young fella looked amazed, and said, “Wow, old school, man! Way to go!” Old school may be a little more uncomfortable when it’s 6C and raining, but it has it’s advantages. Well, some. Just don’t ask me when it’s wet and windy!   And on to – wonderful Walpole!

If I’d had a science teacher like Gary Muir at school, I would have become a biologist, or a botanist or a marine scientist. When we arrived at Walpole, after leaving the Shannon forest area, we had the great good luck to hear about WOW Eco Cruises.  I’ve never met anyone who could make science sound like the most fascinating, vital and important occupation on earth. And he has none of those titles himself. As far as I know he has no tertiary qualifications, but he held 40 people  – including several prominent environmental scientists – absolutely spellbound and entertained for over 2 1/2 hours.

Such a combination of knowledge, information and humour. A really funny man, who spoke non-stop in a torrent of words, acting out examples – eg using a couple of snorkels, a fuel line and a funnel -and then a fire extinguisher – to demonstrate the evolution of the marsupial reproductive system. (It’s not the pouch – it’s the bladder that is the real difference!)  Gary Muir is a 7th generation Australian whose family took up land in the area over 100 years ago, and had strong links with the local Murrim people. The Muirs learned about the country from them, and looked after it, becoming responsible for the conserving of some huge areas of land today.

Gary wasn’t just an expert on biology – he interweaved stories about dieback and tectonic plates and continental shift and plant diversity with the Drefyus Affair and 18th century French politics and the Dutch East India Company and all with the most amazing connections with Walpole, this tiny little place at the bottom of the world. Wish I had a video of his presentation. Needed to take notes but was too busy laughing or being stunned in equal portions. His offsider is a young marine biologist from Belgium who was researching in Lombok when he holidayed in Walpole and stayed. He’ll probably never leave.

Cruising across the inlet to an island, we learned about the scourge of dieback and the damage it’s causing. It’s a scurrilous organism, a kind of mould called Phytopthora  that ‘swims’ through the soil to attack vulnerable species. We were visiting a pristine environment and went through a very thorough disinfecting of our boots before going aboard the boat, a three step process which Muir invented himself and is now used all over Australia.

We hiked across the island from the inlet to the outside ocean and collected bits of plastic  along the tide line for a research project monitoring plastic pollution. As well as broken pieces we collected tiny white plastic beads that fell off a ship near Africa about 2 years ago, on their way to plastics manufacturers. Exactly the right size to be eaten by just about everything in the ocean – or above it. When are we going to wake up …

It’s a pristine beach at the bottom of the world, as far away from a plastics factory as you could think, but plastic ends up here too.  Our time at Walpole was fantastic, mainly for the access it gave us to so many other areas, which I’ll post about next time. Gary Muir just captivated us so much he deserved a post all to himself! It’s these kinds of meetings and learning about a place that make travelling so rewarding.

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