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Month: June, 2016

LET’S NOT LEAVE THE EU

Bangkok, 18 June 2016

As my country of citizenship moves inexorably towards a historic referendum on whether or not to leave the EU, with there being a damned good chance that a majority will vote yes, my thoughts turn towards what it means to be British. And of course, the first thing that comes to my mind is … cricket (although you can’t really say it’s a British game; it’s the English who developed it while the Scots, for one, hardly play the game at all).

I started playing cricket, at school, in the summer of 1963, and played my last game, at school, in the summer of 1972. I stopped playing with no regret (and anyway went to University in Scotland, where, as I have just mentioned, hardly anyone plays cricket). Truth to tell, I was never very good at the game. I never could get over my nervousness of having someone throw a hard – very hard – ball straight at me, and pretty damned fast at that. In the years I played, batters protected their shins with pads and their testicles with a cup. The rest was naked, unprotected, at the mercy of nasty, vicious hits from the ball. That being said, when I was far out of the line of fire, standing in the far reaches of the field waiting idly for the odd ball to come my way, I could not help but admire the simple beauty of it all: lovely green grass sweeping off into the distance, framed by a venerable tree or two, the field dotted with people kitted out in impeccably white attire, and with luck a beautiful summer sky crowning the whole.
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It’s even better if there is a quaint old pub in the background to which one can retire for a refreshing draught of the local ale.
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And when batsmen were good, it really was a pleasure to the eye to watch them taking clean, easy swings, knocking the ball this way and that, twisting their body elegantly as they followed through their shots.

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Yes, elegant is the word for the best of cricket.

I still remember with great pleasure a match we played when I was 12-13 years old, against the local village. It was an annual affair, where we fielded a side of mixed Masters and boys. For some reason, I was included – someone must have been sick. In any event, I have this memory of politely playing against the local farmers on the village green, a beautiful oval surrounded by great beeches. I batted way down the list and was out pretty quick. Then I watched from the edge of the playing field as we got convincingly trounced. No matter, we were English, and the winners and the losers mingled in good cheer at the end:
“For when the One Great Scorer comes
To mark against your name,
He writes – not that you won or lost –
But HOW you played the Game.”

As the summer sun slowly set and the shadows grew longer across that village green, we ate home-made cakes and quaffed the local cider – we boys quaffing with special permission from the Headmaster.

Well, as much as I have changed, so has cricket. The commercial diktats of TV required that the achingly long Test matches be shortened to much shorter one day-and-night matches. The result is far more exciting to the uninitiated, as slugging has become the norm for batters rather than the patient, incremental build-up of runs of yesteryear; anyone can appreciate slugging. Taking a leaf out of football, all that uniform white in the kits has given way to a rainbow of colours as each national side now goes out in its own distinct colour. I suppose like that it’s easy to tell who is batting and who fielding. To get the evening viewers, matches go on into the night under the glare of lights. No doubt players get paid much more. And cheating during play, so as to make money on the betting, has begun. I’ve not heard of doping scandals in cricket, but if it isn’t happening yet I’m sure it eventually will.
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Sometimes, when I look at a modern match of cricket, I wish we could go back to the old ways. Cricket seemed so much nicer back then.

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Of course, my memory has quietly deleted those much less pleasant memories of cricket, on a nasty windy day, for instance, or under the rain; it really was not as wonderful as I’d sometimes like to think it was.

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And anyway we can’t go back. The world has changed, and so must cricket.

I’m sure much the same nostalgia drives many of my countrymen and women who want to vote to leave the EU. They want to go back to the past, to a time when Britain was great, was self-reliant … and was white. But paraphrasing Karl Marx, history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Britain’s past history was not necessarily a tragedy, but it wasn’t as glorious as some people might think. My family did well out of Britain’s industrial revolution and later imperial ambitions, but there are many, many, many British families who suffered enormously from the industrial revolution

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and there are a multitude of families in the countries we colonized who suffered enormously from our imperial ambitions.

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As for Britain’s future, trying to go back to its, largely mythical, past will simply condemn the country to be a poor, foggy little island on the outer edges of Europe, which itself is turning into the frazzled outer edge of a renascent Eurasian continent. Britain’s future history will not necessarily turn into a farce, but it will be trivial. With no manufacturing sector to speak of, sacrificed decades ago to the financial services sector, and with no financial services sector to speak of, since an exit from the EU will all make them emigrate to Frankfurt, Britain, like Italy, will have to rely more and more on tourism to make ends meet. It will become one vast Disneyworld
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welcoming hordes of foreign tourists to its shores, to watch – for five minutes – its quaint games of cricket, visit a quaint pub, watch the Queen or King inspect all those nice toy soldiers with their lovely scarlet tunics and tall, funny hats

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visit its majestic museums (while muttering to themselves about how much stuff was stolen from them)

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and send their children to spend a year in one of its quaint universities getting a costly but ultimately meaningless Master’s degrees.

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Let’s not make this our future.

POSTSCIPT 24 June 2016

Well, my (very modest) call to remain fell on deaf ears. By midday today (Bangkok time), it was clear that a majority of my country men and women had decided to leave the EU. A pity.

________________
Cricket on local field: http://blog.acis.com/2013/08/
Cricket in front of the local pub: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/countryside/8695840/The-village-green-is-crickets-soul.html

hitting a six: http://www.gettyimages.com/event/first-test-india-v-south-africa-day-3-51766051#robin-peterson-of-south-africa-hits-a-six-off-harbharjan-news-photo-id51774798

One day international at night: http://colorlibrary.blogspot.com/2012/07/stadium-which-hosted-most-number-of-one.html
Old painting of cricket: http://www.antiquemapsandprints.com/chelmsford-1934-old-vintage-print-nice-view-cricket-match-essex-l-b-bruhl-185061-p.asp

Cricket under the rain: http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-a-set-of-stumps-at-an-abandoned-village-cricket-match-due-to-the-rain-9630656.html
Social consequences of industrial revolution: http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2007/08/social-conseque.html
Aborigines in chains: http://nationalunitygovernment.org/content/prisoners-frontier-wars-blackbirding-chain-gangs
British Disneyland: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

Trooping of the colours: http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/GChQyMYbIXr/Trooping+The+Colour

British Museum: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Museum

Cambridge University students: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/feb/02/cambridge-university-to-introduce-written-admissions-tests

ROCK ART

Bangkok, 18 June 2016

As readers of this blog cannot have failed to notice, I’m a bit of a history buff. I suppose it runs in the family. My father had an extensive collection of history books, which as I grew up I filched for a quiet read in bed, and my elder brother actually teaches the subject.

As perhaps we all do, my interest in history started with the grand events, the Kings, the Queens, the battles. But with age, I became more interested in the history of the voiceless: the poorer segments of society, the goods and chattel which we humans have enslaved and used for our own material comforts, and – the topic of this post – our forefathers from the time when there were no written records: pre-history. Precisely because they have no written history, the latter can only talk to us through the material remains they have left behind, and through the chemical and biological tracers they have scattered about, from our genetic codes to such mundane things as pollen records. This post is about a particular material remain left to us by the voiceless, rock art.

My first meeting nearly half a century ago with this art form was not very propitious. They were rock paintings, in the middle of Lake of the Woods, on the US-Canadian border, where I was spending a week canoeing. They were painted on a small overhang on the water’s edge of one of the many small islands that dot the lake, so that we could bring the canoe alongside to study them. They looked something like this.
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If I’m to be honest, I didn’t think much of them. They were pretty crude drawings, and awfully faded. I was far more excited by the very old man we met on another island, who told us that he remembered as a child being hurriedly bundled off into a hiding place because the local Indians had gone on the warpath. Wow! Indians on the warpath! To a boy of 15, that was something to talk about, not those crude, faded rock paintings.

At about the same time as I was gazing with a certain skepticism at the rock paintings on Lake of the Woods, I came across my first rock engraving. It was the White Horse, carved in the mid-19th Century into the escarpment of the Yorkshire Moors near my high school.
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I have to say, though, that I was more taken by the gliders soaring silently on the updrafts created by the escarpment than the White Horse carved into it.

Well, time passed, I grew up, and I became wiser (I hope). My growing fascination with pre-history meant that I became more interested in rock art. Not that I saw that much rock art in the flesh, as it were. For instance, I have never managed to see the rock engravings in Valcamonica up in the Alps, not that far from my wife’s home town of Milan, even though it was one of the first places to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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On the other hand, when my wife and I visited Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona early on in our marriage
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we came across some rock engravings among the old American Indian pueblos.
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I may not have been seeing much rock art, but I was reading up on whatever new finds were being made. For instance, new caves were being found in France and Spain with art from the Paleolithic era, adding to what was already known. I give here just a few examples from some of the better-known caves:
Lascaux
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Altamira
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Chauvet
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Now this is really art! Visiting these caves is on my retirement bucket list – if we can manage to get in. Many of them are closed, or access to them is severely restricted, to protect the paintings. Forget the problem of stray fingers touching where they shouldn’t. Even our innocent breath deteriorates the artwork.

Several of the articles I read were about rock art in Australia. For instance, there was much excitement several years ago when it was announced that some rock art in the Northern Territories had been dated to 28,000 years ago, which made it Australia’s oldest dated rock art, and some of the earliest in the world.
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Then there were articles a few years before that about the fascinating rock art in Kakadu National Park, also in the Northern Territories, which goes from the ancient
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to the modern – Australian rock art didn’t stop tens of thousands of years ago.
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All this meant that I approached the rock art which we visited on our recent tour of the Kimberley with a lively interest. We found ourselves confronted with two quite different styles of painting. The more recent, Wandjina art, is dominated by these alien-like faces.
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To my mind, these paintings were only mildly interesting. Of much greater interest was the considerably older Gwion Gwion art, which is peopled with stencil-like figures like these.
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In contrast to many of the representations of people in rock art, where they tend to be reduced to mere stick figures, Gwion Gwion art shows them dressed and coiffed. I don’t think it’s too fanciful to say that one can get an idea of what the painters of this art might have looked like if we had met them.

There are very recent articles reporting scientific analyses which suggest that these paintings could be 50,000 years old. This very much favors the theory which I mentioned in my previous post, the author of which argues not only that African peoples sailed to the Kimberley and brought the baobab tree with them but also that they were the authors of the Gwion Gwion art. He claims similarities between this art and the rock art of the Sandawe people, hunter-gatherers from Tanzania.
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Personally, I’m not convinced. But hey, I’m no expert. In any event, reporting this claim has allowed me to segue smoothly to Africa, a major storehouse of rock art. And here I will leave my readers with some remarkable rock art from the Sahara, once a green and verdant land full of game and peopled by the humans who hunted them and who recorded their lives on the rock.
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Lake of the Woods rock painting: http://www.panoramio.com/m/photo/8653359
White Horse, Kilburn: http://www.jdw-fitness.co.uk/ben-campbell-5k-10k-trail-races/
Rock engraving Valcamonica: http://www.italia.it/it/idee-di-viaggio/siti-unesco/valcamonica-larte-rupestre.html
Rock engraving Valcamonica: http://www.invasionealiena.com/misteri/articoli-misteri/963-arte-rupestre-delle-alpi-la-valcamonica.html
Canyon de Chelly: http://www.thousandwonders.net/Canyon+de+Chelly+National+Monument
Canyon de Chelly pictographs: http://www.inn-california.com/arizona/apacheC/canyondechelly/rockart.html
Cave wall, Lascaux: https://www.reddit.com/r/Showerthoughts/comments/2xfe1z/what_if_cave_drawings_are_done_by_cavechildren/
Hunters, Lascaux: https://hartogsohn.com/category/טכנופוביה/
Bisons, Altamira: https://www.pinterest.com/gfrilli/prehistoric-art-altamira/
Horses, Chauvet: http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/september-2011/article/prehistoric-cave-paintings-of-horses-were-spot-on-say-scientists
Bears, Chauvet: http://www.ancient-wisdom.com/francechauvet.htm
Rhinoceros, Chauvet: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/10920920/French-cave-paintings-inscribed-on-Unesco-World-Heritage-list.html
Reindeer, Font-de-Gaume: http://artdiscovery.info/rotations/rotation-1/packet-1/
Nawarla Gabarnmang: http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2012/06/24/spe31.asp
Kakadu woman: http://fr.123rf.com/photo_10231459_aboriginal-rock-art-namondjok-at-nourlangie-kakadu-national-park-northern-territory-australia.html
Kakadu kangaroo: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/521502831831829461/
Kakadu boat: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/10/photogalleries/australia-aboriginal-art-photos/photo4.html
Wandjina art: https://www.pinterest.com/rosadevaux/wandjina/
Gwion Gwion 1: our photo
Gwion Gwion 2: http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/bradshaws/bradshaw_paintings.php
Gwion Gwion 3: http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/bradshaws/photographs/
Sandawe rock art: http://africanrockart.org
Giraffe, Dabous, Algeria: http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/giraffe/
Cattle, Djanet, Algeria: http://africanrockart.org/rock-art-gallery/algeria/
Antelope, Oued Dider, Algeria: http://africanrockart.org/rock-art-gallery/algeria/
Man and dog, Djanet, Algeria: http://africanrockart.org/rock-art-gallery/algeria/
Archer, Oued Djaret, Algeria: http://africanrockart.org/rock-art-gallery/algeria/

THE AUSTRALIAN BOAB TREE

Bangkok, 11 June 2016

One of the first things which struck me as my wife and I started our tour of the Kimberley in Australia was the presence of this tree, which we frequently saw, both in leaf
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and bare
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and many of them with fruit.

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I kept saying, “Aren’t those baobab trees?” For they looked amazingly like African baobabs.
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Well, the fact is, they are baobabs (although Australians insist on calling them boabs). These trees are to be found in sub-Saharan Africa (two species) as well as in Madagascar (six species, of which these, subjects of a previous post of mine, are magnificent specimens)
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and there is this one species in Australia – actually, the tree is found only in the Kimberley and nowhere else in Australia.

How did the baobab tree end up in the Kimberley? I mean, it’s quite some distance, some 8,000 km to be precise, between the east coast of Africa and the west coast of Australia.

A first hypothesis was that this was a left-over from the break-up hundreds of millions of years ago of the supercontinent Gondwana into its constituent pieces of South America, Africa and Madagascar, Antarctica, India, and Australia
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which then proceeded, through continental drift, to arrive where they are now. The ancestors of the baobab had existed on Gondwana, so the thinking went, and were carried along for the ride on the drifting continents.

Apart from the fact that this hypothesis doesn’t explain why there aren’t baobabs in India or South America, modern DNA analysis has nixed it. Comparison of DNAs has shown that the African and Australian varieties of the baobab separated a “mere” 100,000 years or so ago, when (by my calculation) Africa and Australia were 7 km closer (continental plates drift slowly).

So how did the baobab make it to Australia?

Well, the next most obvious hypothesis is that an African baobab nut or two (of which the smiling ladies in the photo above are holding a basketful) was carried out to sea and then carried along by surface currents to its new home in Northwestern Australia. But the experts are hesitant, and I understand why. A study of this map of surface currents
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shows that to make it to the Kimberley region, a nut would have had to fall into the Somali current and been carried northward, then it would have had to get taken eastward by the northern branch of the Indian Ocean’s Equatorial current, all the way to the island of Sumatra. At that point, our bobbing baobab nut would have had to hug the southern coastlines of Sumatra and Java, to then, somewhere around Bali or Timor, change course, coming southward and westward, finally making a landing in the Kimberley. As the sad fate of the Malaysian flight MH370 has shown, anything floating further south in the Indian Ocean would tend to be carried westward rather than eastward. The map below is a computer-generated estimate of where debris of the plane could have drifted from the original hypothesized crash point (the square point on the border of the blue area); the red area is where debris might have been 18 to 24 months after the crash.
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If this ocean voyage of the baobab nut occurred at all, it would have taken place during the last ice age. This started 110,000 years ago, which is pretty much when the two baobab lines separated, and finished 12,000 years ago. Among other things, the ice age caused sea levels to drop, which modified coastlines in certain parts of the world. In turn, these modifications could have affected the direction of surface currents. So to be really correct, one should look at a map of someone’s best guess of surface ocean currents during the ice age. Unfortunately, I didn’t come across any such map. This map, however, shows where the coastlines were at the time.

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It seems there were no big changes in the area we’re interested in except around the islands of Indonesia and New Guinea, where the lower sea levels connected up a lot of the islands (and, en passant, made that last hop of human beings into Australia 50,000 or so years ago a good deal easier). I’m no ocean currentologist, but I rather think that the blocking up of the straits between these islands might actually have made the last leg of the baobab nut’s journey, that right turn from Bali to Australia, somewhat easier.

How long would such a trip have taken? Well, it took debris from MH370 about two years to wash up on the coast of Mozambique, so I would imagine that it would take just as long, if not longer, for a baobab nut to travel in the opposite direction. Could a baobab nut soak that long in the ocean and still be able to germinate upon arrival? We can look to the coconut for an answer; a coconut, at least the original version before human beings started messing around with it, was designed to be dispersed by sea.
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There happens to be a lot of argument on this point, but no-one has ever claimed that a coconut can last two years in seawater. A maximum seems about three months, and even that has been challenged. So I seriously doubt that a baobab nut, even if it had managed to make it to the Kimberley by sea, would have been in a fit state to germinate.

So, how else could the baobab have arrived in the Kimberley?

The next most obvious hypothesis is that human beings brought the baobab with them, because they too originated in Africa. Could the ancestors of the Aboriginal people, who are currently thought to have arrived in Australia 50,000 years ago (plus or minus 10,000 years), have carried the baobab nut with them? Well, since they left Africa about 120,000 years ago and took 70,000 years to reach Australia, that would have meant planting the baobab as they went along. This is not actually as crazy as it sounds. Both in Africa and in the Kimberley there is strong evidence that the local hunter-gathering groups deliberately carried the baobab with them and planted it in new areas – the tree is a great source of many things other than the nut. But if this really did happen, then shouldn’t we find baobabs along their most probable migration route?
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Yet, apart from southern Arabia, none of the places between Africa and Australia have baobabs, or even baobab remains. Of course, it could be that climate changes in these places after the end of the ice age killed off the baobabs, or it could be that they were killed off by the after-effects of the absolutely gigantic volcanic eruption of Mount Toba in the island of Sumatra about 70,000 years ago
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the ash from which fell over a huge area, much of it on the migration route to Australia, which could have choked plant life.
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It has also been argued that many years of permanent darkness set in after this event, a sort of “nuclear winter”, which of course would have affected the ability of plants to photosynthesize.

But still, all in all, the chances of the baobab having gotten to Australia via this long, long migration route seem very slim.

So how, then, could the baobab have gotten to the Kimberley?

And here, gentle readers, we step into a wasps’ nest. One Australian scientist has made the radical suggestion that tribes sailed from the east coast of Africa to the Kimberley, carrying baobab nuts as food. He claims that the rock art of the Kimberley (which I will cover in a future post) is (a) far older than is generally thought, maybe 50,000 years old, and (b) shows that 50,000 years ago the painters knew the use of boats.

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He suggests that the nuclear winter caused by Mount Toba led them to sail east, to the source of the sun, to find it again, which coincidentally would have brought them to the Kimberley (and he argues that there are strong connections between Kimberley’s rock art and the rock art of East Africa).

Well, as readers can imagine, such views have the Australian archaeological community in a tizzy. It certainly is a pretty far fetched theory. But somehow we have to explain how the baobabs got to the Kimberley, right? Anyone of my readers have any ideas?

_____________________
Boab tree in leaf: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adansonia_gregorii
Boab tree bare: http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/boab-tree-kimberly.html
Boab tree in fruit: http://www.visualphotos.com/image/1×10636003/australia-western-australia-broome-roebuck-bay-a-faint-banded-sea-snake-caught-on-the-mud-flats-at-low-tide
African baobab tree: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/11328252/Baobab-the-superfood-of-2015.html
Grove of baobab trees, Madagascar: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/1618549836269760/
Gondwana: http://www.earthsciences.hku.hk/shmuseum/earth_evo_07_01.php
Ocean surface currents: http://www.cruiserswiki.org/wiki/Indian_Ocean
Debris path of MH 370: http://www.deepseanews.com/2015/07/how-currents-pushed-debris-from-the-missing-malaysian-air-flight-across-the-indian-ocean-to-reunion/
Coastlines last ice age: http://maxworldhistory.weebly.com/map-exercise.html
Coconut in the sea: http://www.allposters.com/-sp/Coconut-Floating-on-Water-Indo-Pacific-Split-Level-Dispersal-of-Seed-Posters_i2634256_.htm
Migration out of Africa: http://cogweb.ucla.edu/ep/Paleoanthropology.html
Mount Toba eruption: http://www.thedailysheeple.com/yellowstone-super-volcano-is-far-bigger-than-previously-thought_122013
Mount Toba ash coverage: http://news.berkeley.edu/2015/03/31/200th-anniversary-of-tambora-eruption-a-reminder-of-volcanic-perils/
Bradshaw art boat: http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthread.php?169983-Primitive-Depictions-of-Medieval-Ships-Seen-from-Above

I’VE EATEN THE GREEN BUMS OF ANTS

Bangkok, 7 June 2016

Yes, I did that. On our recent tour of the Kimberley in Australia. The ant in question was the Green Tree ant or Weaver ant.
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As readers can see, the ant has a bright green bum. The driver-cum-guide of our tour was a passionate advocate of the country’s Aboriginal population, of which there are still many in this little corner of Australia (it was the last part of the continent to be penetrated by white settlers, back in the 1870s). Among other things, on our walks through the bush he would point out various bush tucker (for non-Australians, that’s wild food which can be harvested in the bush), which he always claimed were bursting with proteins, Vitamin C, and other goodies, and which he would then invite us to try. So apart from Green Tree ants, I dutifully ate the petals of Australia’s kapok tree

the “petals” of the rosella “flower”
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and the inside of the “nut” of the Australian boab tree (on which hangs a fascinating tale, which hopefully I will write up in a later post).
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His partner, who was our cook, also fed us camel burghers (camels can now be found in the wild in Australia by their millions)

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and kangaroo stew (also to be found in their millions throughout Australia, but of which we saw surprisingly few on this trip).
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My conclusion: I really hope I don’t need to be a vegetarian in the Australian bush.

But actually, further research on my part since we returned from Australia suggests that the range of bush tucker we tried on our tour was rather limited. One article in Wikipedia has quite a long list of bush tucker to be found in the top end of Australia where we found ourselves, only one of which – the boab nut – we tried. So I really shouldn’t give up on bush tucker just yet.

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Green tree ant: http://www.alexanderwild.com/Ants/Making-a-Living/Arboreal-Ants/i-wpGjWZ8
Kapok tree flower: http://www.crystalchannelers.com/blog/plantology—aboriginal-healing-recipes—reduce-a-fever
Rosella: https://cnesgreen.wordpress.com/2010/04/19/roselle-flower-tea-hibiscus/
Open boab nut: https://outbackjoe.com/macho-divertissement/bush-tucker-plants-and-animals/boab-tree/
Wild camels in Australia: https://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/management/pests-diseases/202-camels-in-western-australia?showall=1
Kangaroos: http://notallowedto.com/the-feral-child-a-boy-raised-by-kangaroos-discovered-in-australia/

AUSTRALIA – KIMBERLEY TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

Bangkok, 5 June 2016

My wife and I both agree that without a doubt the Bungle Bungle National Park was the highlight of our recent tour of the Kimberley (I suppose I should use its proper name, Purnululu National Park, but Bungle Bungle is such a delightfully silly name that I shall stick to that). It has been chosen as a World Heritage Site and for once I agree with this. What we have here is a deeply eroded range, and I think the best way to appreciate the unique geology of the Bungle Bungle is through an aerial photo
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or two
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or three.
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Readers will immediately notice the smooth rounded shapes into which the rocks have weathered – beehives is a commonly used descriptor and seems very apt. The guidebook with which we were thoughtfully supplied on our coach stated that this type of formation is very rare – only a few other places on Earth have it, and not nearly as extensively as in the Bungle Bungle Range. UNESCO, in its World Heritage Site write-up, notes approvingly that “the Bungle Bungles are, by far, the most outstanding example of cone karst in sandstones anywhere in the world.” Without going too much into the geological whys and wherefores, the fact that the rock has eroded into these smooth rounded shapes seems to have to do with the bands in the rock, seen quite well in the third photo above and even better in this photo taken by my wife from ground level.
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The key to the bands’ existence is the clay content of the rock. The darker bands have more clay, which means they hold moisture better, which in turn allows a very thin film of cyanobacteria to grow on the rock. It is this film which gives the rock its darker colour. The red bands, on the other hand, having less or no clay, dry out quicker and so cannot support a colony of bacteria. Instead, they have been stained orange-red by iron and manganese deposits. The bacterial film protects the rock from too rapid an erosion, which allows the rounded shapes to form.

Geological considerations aside, it’s a delight to walk through these humped and rounded rocks, which are split by numerous gorges and chasms, a number of them having trails laid along them. We walked just two, the Cathedral Gorge and the Echidna Chasm. The Cathedral Gorge narrows slowly
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to finally finish in a pool partially covered by deep overhangs.

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The Echidna Chasm, on the other hand, is a deep, narrow gash in the rock, at times so narrow that it is hard to get through. After the surprise of coming across Livistona fan palm trees at its mouth (palms are not the first trees that come to mind in this hot and arid landscape)
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one edges into the chasm itself. There is a certain fun in threading one’s way through, at some points having to climb and clamber over huge boulders, sections of the walls which have come crashing down; one keeps looking nervously up to see if others might not be about to give way and squash one like a beetle. But there is also an ethereal beauty in this chasm. At certain times of the day, the sun catches the rocks and makes them literally glow. Our iPad cameras were too feeble to catch this wonderful light, but this photographer has managed beautifully.
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We would gladly have stayed longer in this Park and done more of the trails. But that is the downside of organized tours: the tyranny of The Schedule.

After discussing it with my wife, we have agreed on two more modest scheduled highlights, both, interestingly enough, having to do with water. One was the boat ride on a section of the Ord River near Kununurra, which has been dammed for irrigation purposes. From such utilitarian objectives has come a very pleasant body of water, in the form of several kilometers of the river which are filled year-round with water (a rarity in Australia).

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“Water is life” our driver-cum-guide would constantly intone, and this stretch of river was the living proof of this. Apart from several well-fed freshwater crocodiles which we spied along the banks with a twittering of excitement, we saw a large number of birds, the most majestic of which was undoubtedly the white-breasted sea eagle
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and the sweetest of which was the Jesus bird (aptly named since it seems to walk on water).
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The mother hatches the chicks, the father is then solely responsible for their upbringing (many of the ladies on board noted this division of labour with approval; the men said nothing). But perhaps the most interesting wildlife we came across was a colony of fruit bats hanging out (literally) in a couple of trees along the bank, making quite a noise as they yelped and barked – when do they sleep, I wonder?

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From the mutterings of disapproval among our Australian companions and the spirited defense of the bats put up by our guide, we surmise that they are considered a nuisance in more urban settings, no doubt because they sink their fangs into the fruit of your garden which you had been looking forward to eating.

The second modest scheduled highlight was Windjana gorge, in the King Leopold Ranges (why the British explorer who first came across these ranges named them after the King of the Belgians is a bit of a mystery to me; my guess is he was hoping the guy would fork out for his next expedition). Apart from the frisson we got from seeing twenty or more freshwater crocodiles all in one place waiting in complete stillness on the banks or in the water for their next meal to go by
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the gorge itself was very pretty
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and once again the rocks glowed orange-red in the setting sun.
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There was one other highlight, which wasn’t marked in The Schedule, and that was the night sky. In many places, we camped far, far away from any polluting light sources. This, combined with the normally clear skies, meant that when the moon didn’t get in the way we had glorious views of the night sky. It was a sky without the constellations of the Northern Hemisphere with which my wife and I are familiar, but nevertheless a magnificent site to behold, especially on the nightly walks to the toilet to which I alluded in the previous post.
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Our last night out, we dragged our camp beds out of our tent, and as we dozed we watched the Milky Way wheel across the sky. Wonderful. But as they say, there is no gain without pain. I am still spreading anti-histamine cream on the dozen or so bites I got from the accursed Australian mosquitoes that night, may they rot in Hell.

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Bungle Bungle aerial view-1: http://www.kimberleywilderness.com.ccd. dau/the-apt-experience/photos-and-videos/photo-gallery
Bungle Bungle aerial view-2: http://www.ryanphotographic.com/Essay.htm
Bungle Bungle aerial view-3: http://kimberleymedia.photoshelter.com/gallery/Bungle-Bungles-Purnululu/G0000GcT6t3sRLPw/C0000uv7H8rn8We0
Cathedral Gorge trail: my wife’s photos
Cathedral Gorge pool-1: http://studyperth.com.au/about/news-feeds/2015/10/top-10-walking-tracks-and-bike-trails
Cathedral Gorge-2: my wife’s photo
Livistona palm trees: my wife’s photo
Echidna chasm: http://www.wildroad.com.au/galleries/australia-photos/echidna-chasm-purnululu-national-park-australia/
Ord River: my wife’s photos
White breasted sea eagle: http://thelife-animal.blogspot.com/2012/07/white-bellied-sea-eagle.html
Jesus bird: https://well.smugmug.com/keyword/WadingBirds;birds
Fruit bats: https://drivedownunder.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/its-a-bungle-out-there/sony-dsc-138/
Crocodiles, Windjana Gorge: https://flamingoing.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/the-devonian-reef-national-parks/
Windjana Gorge: http://www.broomeandthekimberley.com.au/gibb-river-road-and-gorges/
Night sky: http://www.3rf.com.au/gallery.asp

OUR TOUR OF THE KIMBERLEY, AUSTRALIA

Bangkok, 5 June 2016

I must excuse myself to my readers for the long gap in my posts, but my wife and I have just come back from a two-week holiday. We were visiting the Kimberley region in Australia, which for those not familiar with Australian geography is the region tucked away into the continent’s northwest corner.
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It’s Australian outback country par excellence: a poor, red, stony earth with rocky outcrops, lightly covered by a varying mix of grasses and eucalypts

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and dotted, sometimes thickly, with termite mounds
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sparsely populated, with huge cattle stations whose cattle is almost wild
Young Brahman cattle enjoy the lush grasslands in the Kimberley wet season.
and small, nondescript towns
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with significant Aboriginal populations.

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We chose to go with an organized tour, and so we found ourselves, the rather exotic foreigners, traveling with 22 Australians and a New Zealander (I don’t think New Zealanders really count as foreigners in Australia). It was a fascinating mix of people. Nearly all of them were from Australia’s east coast, escaping their “cold” winter. Most of them were retirees; at 62, we were among the youngest (there were two outliers, girls in their early twenties – we all stared at them in surprise when they first got on the coach; what on earth were they doing with us old fogies?). Two couples had been dairy farmers, a number had been teachers, a number had been social workers of one form or another, one had worked in the prison system, one had been an architect and another a house builder, one had been a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Finance, one of the young girls drove coal trucks out of a coal mine while studying part-time to be a nurse, the other was a receptionist. As behoves an immigrant country, several of our group were first-generation immigrants: there was a woman who hailed originally from Malaysia, another from France, a couple from the Netherlands, and another couple from what had once been Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe. All this diversity made for interesting discussions as we opened up to each other at meals and around camp fires in the evening.
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And of course, we touched upon the more intimate things of life: children, deaths of or separations from spouses, and, as we settled into the trip and admitted several trips a night to the toilet, the state of our prostates. It was somewhat akin to that film of long ago “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium”
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although in our case we only toured one small part of one country (but still managed to clock up 2,600 km; just to put things in perspective, the Kimberley is twice as big as the UK), the coach we rode in was technologically very sophisticated, custom-built on a Mercedes chassis to take anything the rugged unpaved roads of the outback could throw at it
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and we slept in tents – I was strongly reminded of my Boy Scout days.
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The tour started in Broome, a small town on the Indian Ocean and once a pearling station, went east along the paved Great Northern Highway for a thousand kilometers or so, to the even smaller town of Kununurra, and then looped back to Broome along the unpaved Gibb River Road, with a detour north at some point along the Kalumburu Road to visit the Mitchell Falls situated very nearly on the northern coast. I do not intend to bore my readers with a detailed travel diary. I will just touch upon some highlights in the next posts. So cheerio, mates!

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map: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimberley_(Western_Australia)
Kimberley vista: my wife’s photo
Termite mounds: https://www.birdwatch.co.uk/categories/articleitem.asp?item=643
Cattle: http://kimberleymedia.photoshelter.com/gallery/Cattle-Kimberley-Images/G0000RM6HcfEh3fE/
Kununurra: http://www.avalook.com/newsite/?page_id=13
Old Aborigine: my wife’s photo
Around the campfire: http://sacreddestinations.org/sacred-destinations-spiritual-tours-meditation-retreats.html
“If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium” film poster: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_It%27s_Tuesday,_This_Must_Be_Belgium
Coach: http://www.outbackspirittours.com.au/tours/cape-york-wilderness-adventure
Tents: my wife’s photo