Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Eyre Bird Observatory

11 December 2012 (I think)

The Eyre Bird Observatory is 30km off the highway, just before you reach Cocklebiddy.  The final 12 km is a 4WD track and you radio the Eyre Bird Observatory before you descend the steep escarpment to ensure you’re the only vehicle on the track. They told us about the blowholes half way down the escarpment. We got out to feel/listen and you could feel cold air blowing out the holes that were around 20cm across but mostly you could hear the bees that had turned it into a hive. 

Once off the escarpment the track led you through 12 kms of a dune system covered in mallee trees and for most of it following the old telegraph (many of the old posts and some of the wire are still there). We were amazed to see these posts were not made from wood but from steel and they were stamped with ‘London’ on it – they’d shipped them all this way to build the telegraph!  What a feat the telegraph was, when you see the country it passed through so people could communicate more quickly and easily. 

The Eyre Bird Observatory is housed in the telegraph station at Eyre and it’s a lovely old building.  It has a verandah wrapping around most of the building, built of stone and has impressively large windows, French doors and the highest ceilings we’ve seen in a building like this (that isn’t a mansion).  I reckon they could’ve been 3 metres high.  There was a fireplace in the lounge, one in our bedroom and there must’ve been a few others. 

It’s run by volunteer care takers who live there for 3 months at a time. A third of the building is theirs with an office, a bedroom and a lounge and kitchen (which we were free to use). The middle third was a hallway that cut the house in half that was wide enough to house all sorts of interesting museum pieces from old morse code machines to a collection of reptiles, animals and insects preserved in jars. The 2 bedrooms off this hall were for guests, like us and there were a few more rooms off the outside verandah.  Our room had a comfy double bed and a bunk bed so we could all be together. The final third of the building had a bathroom off the verandah and a little museum telling the history of the family who lived there for the first 35 years there was a telegraph station and mostly in the original building (not this big, grand building).  

The man who ran it was physically strong and he sounded like a brute to his family and the local Indigenous people who also worked there. It was distressing to read his daughter’s account of her life there…so hard and brutal. I wondered about his wife, was she brow beaten and downtrodden and unable to protect her children or did she support him and his ruthless parenting? 

Within five minutes of arriving and while being shown around the house (and the out-house, a long drop toilet a few metres from the end of the verandah) I saw a dugite between the verandah and the water tank. The water tank is about a foot from the verandah.  I walked back to the care takers quickly (half thinking it was a pretend snake placed there to scare tourists) and Joyce (in her 70s) casually took a few steps, looked at it and said it was a dugite.  I’d never heard of a dugite. And yes, it’s extremely poisonous.  It was only about a metre long and black and I surprised myself as I could see it was actually quite a beautiful thing.  But it did set me on edge for the rest of our stay there – making trips outside to the toilet an exercise in bravery. Poor little Isobel was absolutely so scared she could barely move.

For me it was interesting to think that the new building was built in 1897, the year Grandad Caldow (my great grandfather was born) and closed down in 1927, the year my Grandpa Smethurst was born.  

We went for a short walk through some beautiful mallee trees and past towering sand dunes and past some of the old ruins from the original buildings of the telegraph station. We drove the final kilometre to the beach (Otto’s legs were tired) and decided not to attempt crossing the final sand dune and walked onto the beach.  It smelt of sulphur and was SOOOO windy.  As soon as we crossed the final dune it went from mildly windy to gale force!  The kids loved it!  Their hats were blown off their heads and they’d chase after them, catch them, and let them go flying again for some more running. It was a brilliant couple of hours.

The dawn skies were beautiful as they lit up the towering sand dunes and then at around 6am the pink Major Mitchell cockatoos flew in. Otto and I were going to the toilet when we saw them on the roof of the house and he was so excited. He ran back along the verandah to tell his dad but Simon had heard them from his bed and met us on the verandah.  We sat entranced for about 30 minutes as they flew in, landed on the fence post or water tank and drank water and poked about.  Hugo and Isobel slept through most of it but eventually both were lucky to see at least one each. By  7am they’ve all flown off elsewhere for the day.

We had brekky on the verandah, checked out the museum and then headed off. We could’ve easily stayed a few more days but it would’ve been too expensive for us. Hugo summed it up best with his entry in the museum visitors book:

Caretakers Bob and Joyce lovely. Loved playing darts. First time here, loved it. 

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