Only in Australia

Australia is a unique place - and there are many things that are found only here. As you travel, do try to catch up with a few of them. Here are some to start with.

Visit the only place where pink diamonds are found

So if diamonds are a girl’s best friend, what are a girl’s best diamonds? Pink ones, it seems, are even more girl-friendly. At least that could explain their cost.

Regarded as the world’s rarest and most valuable diamonds, these true blue (er, pink) beauties are mainly found in The Kimberley region in the far north of Western Australia, and are mined by the Argyle Diamond Company.

The largest producer of diamonds worldwide, the company excavates, on average, around 35 million carats (7000 kg) annually, or about a third of the world’s diamonds. Only something like .01 percent are pink, but they are startling, ranging from a very intense purplish pink to the merest blush, like pink champagne.

Diamonds may also be blue and yellow and Argyle mines a vast quantity of ‘brown’ diamonds, which once proved harder to sell than the clear sparklers. Enter the spin doctor ad-men and suddenly ‘champagne’ and ‘cognac’ diamonds were on every woman’s wish list!

The Argyle pink diamonds have become legendary in the last couple of decades. A buyer paid $1.5 million at a Christie's auction in New York in 1989 for a 3.14 carat Argyle pink diamond, although this may not be the most valuable one. It is said that, privately, Argyle has sold pink diamonds for up to $1 million a carat.

Start saving, guys!

Where: The Argyle Mine is inland from Kununurra in WA’s far north Kimberley region. Tours of the mine are available.

Did you know? The diamonds found at the Argyle pipe have been dated to be about 1.58 billion years old.

 


 

Stay overnight in an underground wartime bunker

Not many people know (and it’s possible very few care, now) that the Brisbane Line was developed during World War II as a line of defence against the feared Japanese invasion of Australia.

Extensive underground concrete bunkers were constructed and equipped but after the war these fell into disuse. Which is hardly surprising, really. After all, how often do you have need of a spare bunker? It was not until 1985 when David and Julie Hinds bought the property, that tourism possibilities were realised.

They set about refurbishing eight of the original 20 bunkers to turn them into cool and comfortable underground accommodation, adding some wartime railway carriages as self-contained cabins for train buffs. Some of the larger underground bunkers were turned into a morning tea room, souvenir shop, and rest facilities.

There's plenty of memorabilia on display at Possum Park, but it is still hard to imagine that these bunkers once held 2500 tons of bombs and ammunition – enough to make quite a dent in any advancing army.

As we know the feared invasion never came and the good news is that the explosives have been removed, so it’s now quite safe again to bunker down here in the bush.

Where: Possum Park is near Miles, 360km west of Brisbane. Phone/fax: 07 4627 1651.

Did you know? Miles was originally called Dogwood Crossing but was renamed in 1878 by the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt in honour of a local MP and Railways Minister William Miles. Not because it was miles from the capital - even though it was!

 


 

Visit the site of the greatest escape

In autumn 2006 the nation held its breath for fourteen days until finally Beaconsfield's Uniting Church bell pealed in the pre-dawn darkness for the first time since the end of World War II.  For good measure an air raid siren was sounded and the local fire engine’s sirens woke up anyone who had slept through all that. The men were out! That’s all they needed to hear to forgive that early morning wakeup call.

Tragically, one miner Larry Knight had died in the rockfall on April 25th, but two others, Brant Webb and Todd Russell, miraculously survived – longer than any other people trapped underground. After 14 nights unable to move freely, hungry and confined far too close for comfort with each other, they were finally released and walked out of the mine at 5.58am on May 9th. The nation breathed a sigh of relief.

Once called Brandy Creek, Beaconsfield is located in the scenic Tamar Valley, a river now known more for vineyards rather than spirits. A museum stands next to the mine, and there are plans for expansion and a Mine Rescue display due to open later in 2008. Outside, ‘Larry’s Rock’ with its plaque commemorates the tragedy – and triumph.

Where: The small town of Beaconsfield (pop. 1000) is located on the western banks of the Tamar River in the heart of the Tamar Valley Wine Region in north-eastern Tasmania.

Did you know? Regarded as the richest gold town in Tasmania by the 1880s, at its peak 53 companies worked Beaconsfield’s goldmines. The last of those mines closed in 1914, and only began again in the early 1990s when mining again became more  economically viable.

 


 

See where Skylab crashed.

Picture (above): This is the largest recovered piece of the Skylab Space Station that plunged to the Earth in 1979. This fragment is one of six identical air tanks that were aboard the orbiting laboratory to supply oxygen to the crew. The oxygen tank was recovered in Austrailia by two men who witnessed its re-entry on July 11. They found the tank and other small debris about 15 miles southwest of the small mining town of Rawlina. Before it crashed the tank was eight feet long, four feet in diameter and weighted 2,800 pounds empty.

“We have just received the news that Skylab has splashed down safely in the South Atlantic.”

That was the radio report minutes before midnight on July 11, 1979, yet seconds later residents of Esperance, Western Australia, were dumbfounded to see it shooting across the sky. Almost immediately a sonic boom shook the town, jolting many awake. They wrongly assumed it was the noise of Skylab crashing.

In fact the debris from the 75 tonne US Space Program’s first space station narrowly missed hitting the small town, pop. 3000. It showered instead on farms and bushland beyond Esperance and to the east as far as outback Rawlinna.

Local lad Stan Thornton picked up some pieces from his roof and caught the first flight out of Perth, following the San Francisco Examiner’s offer of $10,000 reward for the first piece to be handed in to their headquarters.

He was lucky his haul was portable enough. Some of the ‘space junk’ would have made a mess of anyone in the way. The Esperance Museum has a comprehensive display with some fragments as big as a fridge, although the largest piece is on display at the US Space & Rocket Center, in Huntsville, Alabama.

Purely by coincidence the annual Miss Universe pageant was held just days later, on July 20, 1979, in Perth, Western Australia. Unsurprisingly, the large piece of Skylab displayed on the stage almost upstaged the competing beauties.

Where: Esperance is in the far south-east of Western Australia, 725 kilometres, or about a 7.5 hour drive, from Perth.

Did you know? As a result of the event, the Shire of Esperance fined the United States $400 for littering.

 


 

See where the largest-ever gold nugget was found.

(PIC: Miners and their wives posing with the finders of the nugget, Richard Oates, John Deason and his wife. The Welcome Stranger Nugget was discovered on 5 February 1869. by Peterdownunder)

It’s like winning Lotto. But more exciting. Just imagine stubbing your toe (well it was probably a pick, but it’s the story that counts) on a 72.04 kilogram lump of GOLD!

Little wonder that John Deason and Richard Oates, the miners who discovered this 61cm by 31 centimetre haul on February 5, 1869, called it the Welcome Stranger, at Moliagul, in central Victoria. It was the largest single deposit of alluvial gold ever found in the world.

Deason and his mates hacked away at their find, chipping off bits of attached quartz so it could be weighed and valued at nearby Dunolly. Seems they were pretty rough and ready with it, because it smelted down to just 70.5 kilograms.

The remaining odd bits and chips went to the helpers but Deason and Oates could afford to be generous. At today’s rates the remaining 2268 ounces paid around $2.3 million.

All that remains today is a memorial in the tiny ghost town of Moliagul and a replica in the City Museum in Treasury Place, Melbourne.

Over a hundred years later in 1980, in nearby Wedderburn, an oddly shaped 27.2 kilogram nugget was discovered using a metal detector. Named the Hand of Faith, it was sold for US$1 million and remains the world’s largest intact nugget, now on display in the Gold Nugget Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

Where: Moliagul and Wedderburn are within forty kilometres of each other, in the ‘Golden Triangle’, an area which has produced the most gold nuggets in Australia. It is not far from Bendigo in Victoria’s appropriately-named Goldfields region.

Did you know? Moliagul is also famous for being the birthplace of Rev Dr John Flynn who founded the legendary Flying Doctor Service. Some would say his contribution to Australia was worth even more.

 


 

Fly over the world's largest salt lake

(Image: Matt Malone)

It’s a huge flat salty lake that hardly ever contains water. A sort of ‘Clayton’s lake’ – a dazzling saltpan usually – but when there is rain, it attracts a wealth of birdlife and wildlife, including dingoes, and the curiosity of many.

It is the world’s largest salt lake, Lake Eyre, in South Australia’s remote interior.

Trying to reach it on foot or in vehicles can be treacherous, so many choose to view it is from the air. Various tours offer  joyrides over the 9500 square kilometre lake which drains around 15 percent of Australia.

When it is full, count yourself lucky and make sure you see it as it fills or nearly-fills only around four times a century.

Lake Eyre, named for the explorer Edward Eyre who discovered it in 1840, wasn’t known to fill until 1949. Although it’s not exactly on the beaten path to anywhere, so maybe a few floods missed being noticed.

Sir Donald Campbell used it once too, setting the world land-speed record in 1964, when he zoomed across the dead-flat surface to reach speeds of 710 kph. It was dry then, of course, and had been for several years.

Where: Lake Eyre is the lowest point in Australia, 15 metres below sea-level and 700 kilometres north of Adelaide.

Did you know? There is a Lake Eyre Yacht Club whose dedicated (and, no doubt, patient) members take the opportunity to sail on it whenever there is enough water to float their boats.

 


 

Check the forecast on the world’s largest barometer

(The 18th-century country house ‘Rustenhoven’ at Maartensdijk, formerly the Barometer Museum, about 1995)

Bert Bolle is a multi-skilled Dutch-born writer. When he and his artist wife, Ethne, emigrated to Denmark in the south-west of Western Australia, he could not be parted from one of his creations.

It must have made a bulky bit of luggage because the unique water barometer, which Bert designed and built himself in 1985, measures twelve metres long. Today it occupies pride of place in the Barometer Tower of the Denmark Visitor Centre, and is also named in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest barometer.

(The water barometer in the central hall of ‘Rustenhoven’ at Maartensdijk, formerly the Barometer Museum, 1995) 

The Bolle’s history with barometers goes back to the Netherlands where they managed the Barometer Museum in their 18th century country house at Maartensdijk in the Netherlands. There the water barometer was the main attraction (and of course the biggest) amongst hundreds of other weather instruments.

With his vast knowledge of barometers  Bert Bolle used 20th-century technology to create his water barometer, based on 17th-century instruments which originally were designed to demonstrate a vacuum, not forecast weather.

(Entrance of the former Barometer Tower in the Denmark Visitor Centre, Western Australia, 2007)


Visitors to Denmark, Western Australia, once could climb to a platform inside the Visitors’ Centre and take a barometer reading. Better still they could witness the strange but true phenomenon of water boiling at 20C.

Unfortunately in 2015, the owner asked for the barometer to be returned.

Where: Denmark is in WA’s south-west, 423 kms from Perth. 

Did you know?  Denmark’s name has nothing to do with the country of Denmark? The river by which the town is built was named in 1829 for Dr Alexander Denmark, a British Fleet physician.

 


 

Visit the site of world's longest heatwave

Most people think of marble as being cool, but visit Marble Bar in WA’s outback and you’ll almost certainly sizzle rather than chill. It’s known as the hottest spot in Australia and proved it decidedly in the 1920s.

A heatwave is declared when maximum daily temperatures stay above 100F (37.8C) for several consecutive days.

Apparently Marble Bar’s reputation as a hot spot was at stake, so for 160 days from October 31, 1923 to April 07, 1924, the good residents of the town sweltered in maximums over the ‘old’ Fahrenheit century while the town burned itself into the history books as the place with the longest heatwave. Ever. Anywhere.

The town registers temperatures over 37.8C on 154 days each year (that’s almost half the year!) and the hottest days ever reached 49.2C, on 11 January 1905 and again on 3 January 1922.

Marble Bar is not a fading mining town. It may be hot, but it’s not hick. Originally established during the gold rush, today the mines bring out mainly tin, silver, lead, zinc, copper and jade.

Worth a visit, but pray it’s cooler when you get there!

Where: Marble Bar is 1476 km north of Perth on the Great Northern Highway, 192 km south-east of Port Hedland.

Did you know? They called it Marble Bar because of a deposit of jasper discovered at the river near town, which at first was thought to be marble. If you go, remember it’s illegal to fossick or cut jasper there.

 


 

Catch a glimpse of the world’s only white whale

They call him Migaloo meaning ‘white fella’ and this big fella seems to like it up here. Every year since 1991 the 14 metre whale has been known to head for warmer waters on his annual spring vacation with thousands of fellow humpbacks, as they take a break from their Antarctic base.

Migaloo’s claim to fame is that he is the world’s only known white whale and if you are lucky you may sight him as he heads north to the Great Barrier Reef in autumn each year, or back home again the following spring.

He’s easy to identify of course, and sightings are numerous although, because of his rarity, boats are prohibited from coming within 500 metres of him.

We even know ‘he’ is male after a genetic test in 2004 when researchers at Lismore's Southern Cross University were able to collect sloughed off skin samples as he playfully breached on his way back home.

That was a first too. Never before had researchers taken genetic samples from an albino whale or dolphin. 

Seems Migaloo didn’t mind either. Some thought they heard him singing, as humpbacks are said to do. It sounded like: “That’s all white!”

Where: Good whale watching sites include Byron Bay, Cape Tribulation, Hervey Bay, even Sydney beachside suburbs. Meet Migaloo on www.migaloowhale.org

Did you know? In 2007 a record number of humpbacks (estimated around 10,000) were sighted from Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island on the annual migration.

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