from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Worse things happen at Sea.

April 1, 2021

One way people once got to Australia

‘Easter is good to go’ says Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on the news from Queensland. Did anyone tell her that it will come and pass, whatever, without her being able to stop it? What she really announced is that the 3-day sharp lockdown in Greater Brisbane is not being extended and Easter gatherings and celebrations can continue with many conditions. After an amazing 35,000 tests only one new community case was recorded in Queensland yesterday (and 9 new cases in hotel quarantine).

However, as with many Covid-19 outbreaks this will not have been in time for thousands. Many people have already cancelled their Queensland holidays: their hotels, their restaurant bookings and other entertainment. And because the outbreak, which was connected to staff members of Brisbane’s Princess Alexander Hospital, spread, there have been flow-ons into northern NSW. In all, there are 100 ‘exposure’ sites. These infected people certainly get around.

One of the 18 infected people travelled from Brisbane 165 kms south over the border into NSW, to Byron Bay, and attended a hen’s party and infected at least one person there. Byron Bay only has a population of around 10,000 people but it is a major holiday destination with, perhaps, the best all-year weather in Australia (Sorry – only when there aren’t floods).

And so, the famous Byron Bay Bluesfest Festival has had to be cancelled. Scheduled for April 1-4 they had expected 15,000 people to attend each day – and 100,000 over the whole show. Byron Bay would have welcomed a few days of musical celebration after the floods that devastated the area only 2 weeks ago – and the internet remains full of heartbreaking images of destroyed cars and homes, drowned and drowning animals from northern NSW.

This is the second year in a row Bluesfest has had to cancel at short notice. However, they are to reschedule and have asked ticket holders to hang on to their tickets. Bluesfest has been going since 1990 and has had outstanding performers. They have an excellent Spotify playlist called ‘Bluesfest 2021 playlist‘. Enjoy the sound of the Aussie Blues!

There are prices to pay for these years of Covid-19 and losing a holiday or being unable to go to a blues festival is nothing in the light of the suffering across the world. Australia is stumbling forward: half open, mostly safe, but still complaining. Australians love to complain and our ABC radio is full of complaints. It’s a reason not to listen to the news. When you are of an age, you don’t want to hear people complaining all the time. A long time ago, my father, born in 1911, would to say to us when we complained, ‘Worse things happen at sea’. I am not sure what that was about but I think he meant that the world is full of unexpected disasters beyond our control. Accept that and deal with it. He came from a generation of stalwart and resourceful people.

We, on the other hand, had a festival last weekend and it was not disrupted by rain nor by Covid-19. Indofest is an annual Adelaide festival. ‘Indofest-Adelaide is a vibrant community festival celebrating all things Indonesian.’ Covid-19 rules called for many adaptations: only 2,000 people were allowed to attend – registering was required – entry and exit areas were separated – many Covid Marshalls stood around in yellow jackets and sanitizer bottles were displayed on every table.

Indofest 2021 was a joyous occasion: families camped, shared meals and listened to music on the grass of Pinky Flat, also called Tarntanya Wama, beside our Torrens Lake in the centre of Adelaide. Once upon a time this was where the local Aboriginal people camped.

Adelaide, a tribe of natives on the banks of the river Torrens by Alexander Schramm1850 (National Gallery of Australia. Canberra).

I was very aware of this as I listened to the gamelan percussion ensemble playing: all of us new immigrants enjoying this land together. A ‘welcome to country’ had been performed during the opening ceremony by local Kaurna people.

Looking back and forward – this country desperately needs immigrants as our population ages and declines in number. (2020 growth1.18%. average age 37.9yrs).

For sure, the Lucky Country needs more people. I listened to a representative of our Dept. of Home Affairs make a speech to Indofest attendees about how Australia welcomes immigrants. She went on to discuss the importance of social cohesion, our shared history, Australian values and the English test for citizenship.

For this article I had a look at Australia’s immigration website for applicants for permanent visa – not refugees. It is not for the fainthearted nor for those whose English is not their primary language. Apparently 70% give up on attempts at immigration. The wait is long and BTW you cannot get married while you are waiting. Oh – you must be under 45 years of age.

So, if you want to come to the lucky country, the way is long and the entry gates are narrow …

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Somewhere south-east of Sulawesi. April 5.

Somewhere south-east of Sulawesi: that is where I should, or could be, right now, if this pandemic had not changed our world. Two days earlier, we would have landed in Manado on the northern tip of the squashed-spider-looking island that is Sulawesi, Indonesia. The next day we would travel across to the eastern coast to visit the Tangkoko Reserve which is the home of the rare nocturnal tarsiers (Tarsius tarsier) – smallest primates in the world and fierce little predators too. And today, the 5th, we would embark on the Ombak Putih, (the white wave) a wooden pinisi or traditional Indonesian wooden boat. The Ombak Putih is one of two converted pinisis owned by Seatrek-Bali that ply the lesser known spots of Indonesia.

This would have been our third trip on the Ombak Putih. We so enjoyed our previous two 12-day ‘cruises’ with them that we decided we would book for this one: a 14-day trip along the eastern coast of Sulawesi, to end at the western point of Flores Island to see the famous Komoda dragons. And being bird-watchers, one of the big attractions was the possibility of seeing the endangered Maleo birds (Macrocephalon maleo). These are strange creatures indeed – looking like a cross between a wild turkey and a gallinule. Stranger still, they lay an egg five times the size of a domestic chicken and the egg is laid deep in specially chosen sand where volcanic or thermal warmth will incubate the eggs. From then on, the egg and the emerging chick is on its own in the world.

That is not all, each day the Ombak Putih planned to cruise to take us to remote islands and coral reefs, to visit tiny fishing villages: to swim with stingless jellyfish in Lake Mariona, to visit the remote Bokan Islands, to meet Bajau ‘sea gypsy’ communities and to visit the Wakatobi National Park. But this is not to be. Across the world travel plans are in disarray and those people who took a chance and went on cruise liners – often with close on 3,000 people on board – have ended up in a dangerous hiatus and at a greater risk of infection.

On reflection, I have been thinking of the way in which cruise and wildlife tourism has expanded with the demand to see wild places and rare, endangered animals. Now that we are confined to quarters, we are hearing that nature is enjoying the reduced disturbance. Think of all the cruise ships previously going to the Antarctic; the inside passage of Alaska; remote Pacific Islands; the Galapagos Islands etc. I fear it is but a brief hiatus before we take off again.

For us, the cruise was scuppered partly by the Indonesian Government announcing that they now required a visa for Australians and a current health certificate to enter their country. At the same time, our government changed their travel advice for Indonesia to ‘reconsider your need to travel’. We also had the consideration: if we did go, we could be stranded in some remote city. So, it was not to be.

And yet, I know how lucky we have been. As a child I lived in remote places while they were ‘unspoilt’; as an adult I have been to some of the most precious wild places in the world. This would have been our third trip on the wonderful Ombak Putih. Previously with them we swam over the relatively unspoilt coral meadows of the Raja Ampat triangle; hid in hides to see birds of paradise; followed the Alfred Wallace science trail from Ternate Island; landed on deserted volcanic islands swarming in sea birds and visited the distant spice islands of Run and Banda Neira.

So, instead today I watched YouTube videos of active maleo birds, scratching in grey volcanic beach sand, uttering their strange cries, chasing one another and I thought how they looked more like half-dinosaurs. I enjoyed myself. Long may the maleo live undisturbed in remote Sulawesi. I may never get to see them, but I am content.