OUR GREAT WESTERN AUSTRALIAN WILDFLOWER HOLIDAY TRIP, SPRING, 2001
Written by Bill Leithhead, Melbourne, Australia
Bill in 2004.
Early in 2001 my mother, Millie Leithhead, then 98, moved into a nursing home in Baxter, Victoria, after a series of falls. Financial changes associated with that event enabled me to pay off my house mortgage, freeing me to travel in our caravan, knowing that she was being well cared for.
I am an only child who was born in Perth, WA, in 1938, growing up in the Goldfields city of Kalgoorlie, WA. But when I was aged 14 my family migrated to Melbourne. Apart from two fleeting visits by air soon after that, I had not seen my home state since 1953. In succeeding years my parents made a series of car trips across the Nullarbor Desert to Perth and back, and after that my mother and her sister, Vera Peacock, several years younger than Mum, made a series of car trips alone to Perth and back. The last few times they attracted considerable media attention, featuring on radio, TV and newspapers as the "Nullarbor Grannies". Sadly, their declining health now prevented that, and they felt the loss keenly.
During the progress of my life through study, career as a chemistry lecturer, marriage, three children and premature retirement owing to serious depression and other ailments, I had often thought about my home state and various childhood influences. In fact, I often dreamt about various childhood incidents which had a powerful hold on me.
Moreover, I knew that WA was a uniquely beautiful place, and that many parts of it remained unknown to me. Enormous development was obviously occurring there, and I felt that it was time to revisit the places of my youth, and share it with my wife, Glenyce, whom I married in 1965. I was keen to revisit Kalgoorlie, Esperance, Perth, Mandurah and the town of Denmark.
And as I had bought a good camera for the first time in my life, a Canon EOS300 single lens reflex camera with many automatic features, I wanted to share with Glenyce the geography of my youth, and the world-renowned WA wildflowers. As a boy, I was, of course, aware of the endless palette of everlastings that occasionally painted the arid lands around Kalgoorlie, but from my career interests in science, I had become more aware of the natural world, and having heard of the unique character of the WA flora, wanted to experience it at close quarters.
Several years earlier, I had had a back operation, but the double laminectomy and discectomy on my lower spine was only partly helpful, as had three or four subsequent procedures involving thermal denervation. The lumbar and sciatic pain was challengingly constant, often agonising, and partly controlled mainly by powerful analgesics. Mix in the semi-controlled depression, headaches and side effects of medications, and I considered that now was the time to do the WA trip, before my health degraded further.
With a newly-purchased second-hand Ford 1994 station wagon in good nick, a caravan over 30 years old, but which we had used since 1967, and which we knew well, we planned our Odyssey to last 2 months. Leaving in mid-August, the last month of a rather mild winter, we planned to cross the continent westwards to Perth, go north to Carnarvon, where it should be warmer, and then travel back down to the south as the spring burgeoned, to catch the flushes of wildflowers as the weather warmed up further south.
As it turned out, we travelled 18,000km in 3 months, travelled a little further north to Exmouth, but did the rest as we planned. It was also a rather poor wildflower season, being in the middle of a nation-wide drought that lasted until 2003. Nevertheless, we took 1,500 photos, many of them of wildflowers. We had them developed as we travelled, and spent most nights sorting them, placing them in albums, and trying to identify them from the limited books that we had with us. We initially knew almost nothing about the WA flora, but learned as we went. We left home with one photo album, but came home with five!
Glenyce in 2004.
Since then I have identified most of the flower photos, and many of them are in my personal web site
where they have been joined by dozens of other photos of flowers, fungi, places, people, and various essays. It is now November, 2003, my mother has turned 100, we have travelled a little more in Victoria, and our health is still such as to not preclude another long trip.
During out trip we hit and killed an emu, had moderate car repairs, and via our radio (no TV), listened to the unfolding "Tampa" episode, the 9-11 terrorist attack and the Ansett collapse, which affected us personally, in that we were seeing large numbers of stranded travellers around us, and the armed forces town of Exmouth was obviously on alert with visible military patrols. Our health faltered, but held up, the car and caravan travelled reliably and safely, and we were never ever bored.
For the sake of comfort and convenience, we always stayed in powered sites in caravan parks, and I do not think that anything more would be gained for us to camp out, particularly given the time and distance we travelled. We went out for a few meals, but generally made our own simple meals in the van. We never felt threatened, but on the contrary, met many nice and friendly people. Western Australia is a jewel in the crown of Mother Nature, and we would like to go back when we can. We highly recommend this way to see any part of Australia.
Each night of our trip we both wrote in our diaries and compared our impressions of the day. This is a composite of the diaries from myself and from Glenyce.
William G. Leithhead 2006