FREE LOADING Esperance January 2018


Discovering the back row suite, first floor, two flights of stairs was a bit of a disappointment, but then what do you expect with the cheapest selection? However, the place is clean, convenient with everything needed for a three night and two day ‘glamping’ experience. Right on the waterfront, there is a tiny distant view over the iconic Esperance harbour.

Having sorted out Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for shelter, and a good night’s sleep, I head for the main drag to sort out food, having discovered a continental breakfast here is $16. Oh and to look for a good wireless connection, which is somewhat lacking in the ‘Inn’. (Maslow hadn’t yet met that need when he discovered his hierarchy of needs!)

I head round the corner and there is Dome, my favourite fall back position when all else fails, and I discover I have a free coffee coming up soon. And the wireless is flawless, fast and free. A good place to spend a couple of hours, over a leisurely avo and egg brunch.

Then to hit the town.

Esperance relies on its relationship to the ocean for both its past and present. I have been here three times in the last five years… it seems to draw me back, but I’m ever mystified by its layout.

During the day I recognise this is because it reminds me of other port towns, like Albany and Fremantle. Like them, it structures itself round its jetties and harbours, providing ample opportunity to sample both the local catch and particularly the beverages which go with it. I like the feel of being able to access it all easily, within ten minutes walk. The number of pubs and accommodation facilities, skate parks and adventure playgrounds puts the other port towns to shame.

I have to wait for the Museum visit as it only opens for three hours in the afternoon, so I sample the other experiences on offer at the local Community Arts Hub and am impressed by their appreciation of their indigenous heritage. The town is also serviced by a wealth of history buffs, mostly volunteers, and budding history writers. I eventually buy the smaller and cheaper volume by Keith O Murray: First There Came Ships. He is particularly fascinated with the number of ships which ended their journeys wrecked on the south coast between Eucla and Hopetoun, some 200 kms west of Esperance. Of course Esperance is named after the French frigate of the same name, which arrived to shelter at Observatory Island west of Esperance, in 1792. It was under the command of Antoine D’Entrecasteaux, who left dozens of French names on the WA coastline before leaving for other voyages. The French were somewhat preoccupied it seems, and the British soon seized the opportunity.

Some decades later sailors ventured from the east of Australia, particularly from Kangaroo Island in South Australia, in search of whales and seals. Left to their own devices, they were a wild lot, as Major Edmund Lockyer and his part of 61 men including 23 convicts found, when they arrived at King George’s Sound 1826, a year before Stirling arrived in Perth, and took possession of the western part of the continent and established Albany, 400 km west of Recherche Archipelago surrounding Esperance. “..they are a complete set of pirates going from island to island along the southern coast from Rottnest Island to Bass’s Strait in open whale boats, having their Chief resort or Den at Kangaroo island, making occasional descents on the mainland and carry off by force native women, and when resisted make use of Fire arms….’

On cue, while I’m reading about this Mingli rings. Her grandmother who brought her up comes from Fanny Cove, which is 100 kms west of Esperance in the Stokes National Park, and no doubt her ancestors knew of these rogues. I tell her it is too late to take the Kepa Kurt indigenous trip based here this time. She is just jealous I’m here at all.

Then I read that John Hassell, the ancestor on whose farm Mingli’s father worked in Jerramungup and where she was brought up, arrived on the first boat shipwrecked off the coast. John Hassell arrived on the Belinda in 1824 aged 26 having had a prison stint in South America after he fought the Spaniards in the Peruvian wars. After some further adventures he settled on the south-west coast in 1840, where all West Australians know, the family still is settled.

DAY 3:

Arise early again, in keeping with the sunrise bus departure times, and try and join the local yoga in the park opposite at 6.15… of course no-one there!.. just a pretty picture in the tourist blurb to make things look good. Instead lots of machinery noise, and last night lots of kids shrieking until after my ear plugs went in.

Oh well, lovely walk along the beachfront which has been very well preserved, with landscaping, bike and walking paths and historical notation. Well done Esperance. It still reminds me of Fremantle from Bathers Beach to South Beach. Just pity about the weather, although today is dry and the sun is providing some interesting photography possibilities.

It had been 41 degrees the day I arrived and now is 22 degrees max. The kebab shop man tells me it is appalling in winter, and he won’t be staying for long (only here one year)… he needs to get back to the east coast. He won’t tell me where his family come from, other than Europe, but I guess southern.. i.e. Turkey, and he says there are far too many Asians here. It feels a pretty Anglo town to me, but no doubt the bus driver (who was Anglo) and he wouldn’t see the world the same way. Small town politics might get me down . I start preparing my trip home.

But before I go I visit my other favourite food outlet for my supplies for the last day, good old Subway. One breakfast subway will see me home tomorrow. And I select the Pier Hotel next door as the favourite fish and chip dive, with its free beer included for my early tea tonight. Arizona owned Best Western Inns might provide adequate housing, but they can’t quite cut it when it comes to providing local watering holes.

And on this last afternoon, the sun has finally emerged, and suddenly the pool adjacent to my room seems enticing enough for my water walking routine, so I don my hat and sunnies, (and bathers!) and head down before an afternoon rest.


FREE LOADING January 2018

Stage One: Gwelup to East Perth
Left over free Transwa tickets inspired this journey. They are about to expire in two weeks. Why waste them, and how best to use them? I’d heard about the journey to Esperance via Kalgoorlie before, and decide it is now or never for this marathon trip, which requires a train from East Perth to Kal, and then a bus south to Esperance. Door to door it will take 13 hours. But wait.. I forgot the connecting journeys. Here’s what it took to arrive here, amazingly 40 minutes early!
I set the alarm for 4.30, but of course I keep waking and eventually get up just before the alarm goes off. Last minute packing and checking, breakfast and I’m out the door at 5.20 to get the 423 bus to Stirling Station. Of course I’m too early, but an early worker arrives so I begin to relax… the first connection is going to happen. We arrive at Stirling in record time, and down the lift to wait for the train which connects in 6 minutes, and gets me to Perth Underground in record time. Then up a lift, along the passage, up another lift, another passage, another lift, then a wrong lift, and finally the right lift to the Midland line, which nearly bamboozled me by swapping directions after it arrived.
Six minutes later we are at East Perth, where another two lifts have been helpfully completed, or this journey would have been impossible, and here I am 40 minutes early at 6.30, where a young man helpfully lifts my suitcase into the overhead locker… who knows how I will get it down…. As we leave the rain starts drizzling…Stage One is accomplished…and in a flash we are off with an almost full train, and sliding through Guildford.

Stage 2: East Perth to Kalgoorlie
The train is unexpectedly packed, with grandmothers visiting their children, and children on holidays (returning?). A few mine workers, and my travelling companion who tells me he lives in Kal, and is getting a job. He looks most unlike others on the train, but since he sleeps most of the way.. we accommodate each other successfully. The train itself just manages to achieve its purpose. It offers entertainment but nothing appeals except the driver’s camera revealing the rails in front – another Ghan experience!! The maps are not accurate, but fortunately the staff know the route and let people on and off as needed.
The dripping, saturated hills with its white water bubbling streams, soon turns into dry landscapes that appear to have missed this week’s storms. After a very mediocre microwaved ham and cheese croissant, I sleep through wheat fields and wake to the mallee stretching enticingly green for hundreds of kilometres. It makes one wonder if we hadn’t been so attached to eating bread how green the wheat fields would now be. Instead they have the makings of a desert landscape. Actually there are pools of water in the mallee, so perhaps everyone has had the rain, but the farming landscapes have already dried out.
Nevertheless we are lucky with the weather and our direction of travel. Lots of dense white clouds, and ploughing east, there is no need to worry about blinds or sun heating up the rather cool carriage. I am glad I brought a jacket, a coat and a scarf.
We arrive half an hour late, but make the transition with ease…
So for

Stage 3 Kalgoorlie to Esperance at 2.43 pm departure
The bus is too bumpy for writing to so this written the next day. I sit in a rather uncomfortable seat near the front and can hear the life story of the driver, always a treat for a memoir writer. This man was brought up in an orphanage and then turfed out on to the streets of Sydney where he lived until his mid teens. Then he set off to see Australia, and to seek his fortune by hitching rides. Somehow he eventually ended up here where he has been bus driving for many decades.
I turn to look at the landscape as there is no driver’s camera on this trip, and his taste in movies reflects his background: violent adult. The landscape is more peaceful in as the sun retreats behind the clouds. Still mallee, but as the journey continues south, it grows in intensity and size. Until. Until it meets the wheat fields outside Esperance, which have always been controversial. Here there is a shift to dying mallee, with every third paddock a salt lake. It seems like you cut down the trees, grow wheat, reap it, let the sheep finish it off, and then just wait, soon you’ll have a salt lake.
Nevertheless, the sun sinking over in the west is a golden orb, dipping below the collecting grey clouds. Our first drops of rain arrive on the windscreen.
We arrive in Esperance in good time, having made up the lost half hour with our experienced driver guiding the way through two shortened stops. He gallantly offers to chauffeur me to the Best Western, complaining about the ‘Freeloaders’ in our system. I’m not sure whether he thinks I’m one or not, but I think agreeing we can’t afford these free trips is the best plan, since he’s now driving me across town. He unloads the suitcase and takes it to reception, completing the story of his life. He is 76 and plans to retire in two years. Probably a good idea, before Transwa gets in first. He will retire to York where he will live near his son, so he managed to have family after all.

SULEWESI SOJOURNS: Day 9-10 Car Free Sunday Jakarta

My last two days are spent with the family in their secured apartment, catching up on undone things before travel home.
Today that included joining the Jakartans in their car free day. This means that everyone gets out of their cars, and tries to remember what life was like before they started driving around. Some take it seriously, doing some Zumba on the way. Others see it as a way to set up impromptu markets selling drinks and other goodies along the way.  A few ride their bikes, somewhat hazardous in the thousands.. perhaps tens of thousands who are walking every Sunday.

For us it means a short walk like I’m used to at home – ant this involves a taxi there and back to the car free zone – and a special breakfast at the most western of the cafes along the way, with what is renowned to serve the best coffee suitable to expat tastes.

This Car Free Sunday sounds like something that could be replicated in every city in the world, but perhaps I’ll start with lobbying Perth… even if we just extended the city malls car free zones initially. Some buses are allowed in special commuter lanes, but we have these already sorted to our various bus and train stations. Worth a go Perth…could include Elizabeth Quay and Kings Park!

And an impressive Italian building along the way, in the middle of the skyscrapers.

SULEWESI SOJOURNS: Day 8 Village Saunters

So we spent a bit of time on land today investigating our island. Bunaken is maybe 10 kilometres in length but only a couple wide, so we walked to the other side, and found the village, its many Christian churches of modest origin, and the market on the waterfront, adjacent to the main tourist boat port. We are glad we have been away from all of this, quietly sheltered from the noise and bustle of a major resort complex..well selected daughter!
Late in the day I mind the grandchildren for two hours while there parents do the walk again…so brave I am…how much longer can I do this I wonder!!

So now it is time to pack and leave this haven, and back directly to Jakarta for three days before arriving home.

SULEWESI SOJOURNS – Day 7 Turtle Ledge

Oh b…. wordpress has done it again.. removed my whole blog for the day….so now how to recreate it while I remember…!?
So, I brave the snorkelling with grandkids and daughter this morning, off the boat which took us round Banuken island.. a great trip in wonderful weather….sun, blue sky, calm, great visibility. We took two snorkels, both with the scuba divers, which meant they went to special places. Both excellent, but the second was full of turtles… like those in some movie I have forgotten, where they swim like sympathetic friends alongside you. I followed them several metres above, holding the hand of the Indonesian guide.. very companionable!! He was after all my guide on this trip.

There was also many fish, big and small, and very colourful, and my daughter tells me that it is the best coral reef she has seen anywhere. so that was lucky for me…since it may well be my last. And she has snorkelled from PNG and throughout SE Asia, and is a bronze medal swimmer, so it took some getting her out of the water… now I know why she likes to work in these places!!

So the snorkelling was better than the hot shower this time… a special treat, showing how it sometimes worth making the effort.

Then we circled around and saw the volcanic islands around, felt a bit like we were in the kilometres wide crater, and on the perimeter of our island was a large cathedral as large as any in Perth, and adjacent a kilometre down the beach, a Muslim mosque. Says it all about this part of Indonesia. And I remember the story of the newly marrieds who are pushed out to sea in their early teens, to find a home on another island elsewhere. A far cry from my own grandchildren’s experience.. the idea of them marrying right now is beyond belief! Perhaps they need to build the boat first.. whole new idea about ‘launching’ oneself into the world.

Below: a fisherman delivering our tea?  Perhaps newly married?

SULEWESI SOJOURNS Day 6 Coral Paradise

A rest day for the whole family, although I am hoping the parents haven’t got lost snorkelling , as I seem to be back here with the kids by myself.  I also spent 20 minutes, 50 metres offshore on our own coral reef today… using reef ‘bootees’ to protect my feet as I walked the distance on the shoreline to the reef. Yes many beautiful reef critters, including a blue starfish, seaweed coloured eels and many varieties of colourful coral.  Just worth the effort for this ageing adventurer tourist. Almost enjoyed the hot shower at the end most!  I keep thinking this is my last such adventure, and as if to emphasise this concept, the management of the villas has just shifted me into the honeymoon suite, so my ageing arthritic limbs  don’t have to navigate the 24 huge cement steps to the cheapest accommodation at the top of the cliff.  Just hope they don’t charge me the extra for the last three days… but what the hell…If it IS my last trip of this kind, I better make the most of it!! Asking for a bamboo walking stick might just have paid off!

Sunset and daylight views from my new digs! Gwelup eat your heart out!!


If I look out of this 5 star window, we can see Bunaken Island in the distance in the fog. It is a half an hour’s boat ride and as the weather is now easing after yesterday’s storm, we are hopeful it will be ok for our 2.00 exit from Manado. I think the plan is to go snorkelling over some of the best reefs in the world. And if the storms really do abate I ‘might’ join the others. We have three separate  accommodations.. mine being the more modest ‘cottage’, and all food – both Indonesian and Italian is included…the large bottle of gin I brought from Aus being safely stored in a someone’s suitcase.

This is really to advise anyone who cares where I am in case you don’t ever hear from me again!!! Not seriously!! But also I might be out of wi fi range… emails and wifi playing up even in the Sheraton so who knows what will happen at the far flung island.

Meanwhile the view from the window in Manado. Since it is very likely the very last time I will ever stay in a Sheraton Hotel, I’ve been making the most of it!!! Ah yes, and that is the 6th floor pool overlooking the ocean on the left.  And those are rain drops on the window.