Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 14: Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, New South Wales: a Glimpse into Ancient Gondwana

This is the fourteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about the charming small New South Wales town of Bellingen with its colonial-style buildings, its church with beautiful stained glass windows and its precious colony of grey-headed flying foxes on Bellingen Island.

A climb into the mounttins north of Bellingen brings us to Dorrigo Rainforest Centre. Here visitors may take the Skywalk, with panoramic views over the pristine rainforest. This rainforest gives us a glimpse into Gondwana, the remnant of the vast continent which existed before Australia broke off from Antarctica and began to drift north.

Gondwana Rainforest
Gondwana Rainforest

Dorrigo was one of the few national parks open in the region at the time of our visit, because of the tragic bushfires sweeping Australia. The sky was blue and clear as we drove higher, but later became misty and the atmosphere filled with the smell of smoke, carried by the wind from the epicentres of the bushfires. As I write, bushfires are still burning in areas of Australia; and yet we may see signs of hope, in the power of nature to fight back against our interference in the world’s ecosystems.

In the Visitor Centre, regularly updated information was on display about the national park closures in the area, reminding us all of the vulnerability of this, one of our planet’s greatest treasures: the rainforest.

When we took the Skywalk and the Lyrebird walk through the rainforest, interpretative signs provided all sorts of fascinating information about the history, geography, biology and anthropology associated with the rainforest. We heard the high fluting call of the lyrebirds as we walked.

We learned that local Gumbaynggirr aboriginal people describe the rainforest canopy as “a protective blanket over the land.

Farmers clearing land for agriculture have called it “the impenetrable scrub.

Citysiders wanting to escape from the big smoke name it “the ultimate green.”

Conservationists agree the rainforest is “our magnificent heritage.”

Later after lunch in the Visitor Centre café we saw a film which told us that only 20% of the world’s rainforests survive; in regard to climate change we may already be past the tipping point; the rainforests are crucial to the health and quality of life on this planet.

Rainforests are our most precious natural resource.

Although some experts believe we may be ‘past the tipping point’ we must never give up doing all we can to save them.

View of the rainforest from the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre Skywalk, New South Wales
Interpretative sign at Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, New South Wales, showing a map of the Dorrigo National Park and surrounding area
Interpretive sign on the Lyrebird Walk, Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, New South Wales, “Not all Rainforests Are the Same”
A glimpse of ancient Gondwana

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 13: Bellingen, Charming Small Town in New South Wales

This is the thirteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I shared some stories about the history of Hat Head National Park and Smoky Cape Lighthouse on the New South Wales coast.

Making our way north from Smoky Cape back to Urunga, and moving inland we find the charming small town of Bellingen.

view from Bellingen main street towards the Bellinger river

Beloved of ‘alternative lifestylers’ as are several towns in New South Wales, this little settlement is full of character and colonial-style buildings.

Sited on the River Bellinger, Bellingen Island is home to a colony of grey-headed flying foxes, and it is a critical habitat for this vulnerable species, as you will see from this picture:

Interpretative sign about Flying Foxes at Bellingen in New South Wales

We strolled up the main street of the town:

Main street, Bellingen, New South Wales

Then we arrived at the local Anglican Church, of St Margaret’s, built in the 1930s.

Inside the church, we met a warm and friendly priest who had originally come from Malta, and enjoyed our chat with him. Whilst in the church we admired some of the striking stained glass windows. My favourites were of St Mary, Mother of the Lord; St Elizabeth, Princess of Hungary; St Cecilia, Patron Saint of Music; and St Margaret of Scotland.

St Margaret’s Anglican Church, Bellingen, New South Wales
Interior, St Margaret’s Church, Bellingen, New South Wales

With thanks to the Bellingen Shire Council for their information about the colony of flying foxes on Bellingen Island.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

and is available to pre-order now from Amazon.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 12: South West Rocks, New South Wales – Hat Head National Park and Smoky Cape

This is the twelfth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I shared some stories about the history of Trial Bay Gaol at South West Rocks, and today I write about Hat Head National Park and Smoky Cape Lighthouse.

visiting Smoky Cape Lighthouse

Captain Cook first sighted and named Smoky Cape on Sunday 13 May 1770 as he sailed past in his ship, the Endeavour.

Rising above the headland was smoke from the fires of the Dunghatti Aboriginal people, who had been living in the coastal environment now known as Hat Head National Park, and walking these beaches and headlands, for thousands of years.

Smoky Cape, New South Wales

Built in 1891, the lighthouse is the most elevated lighthouse in New South Wales. The need for a light at this cape had first been proposed in 1886 by Alexander Kethel, a Scottish-born Australian politician in West Sydney. Australia’s first manned light had been built by convicts in 1791: a wood fired beacon on the south head of Sydney Harbour. That eventually became the site for Australia’s first light tower: Macquarie Lighthouse, built in 1818.

Here at Smoky Cape, you may find glorious coastal views and a magnificent landscape with walking tracks, which is the traditional land of the Dunghatti Aboriginal people, and which continues to have strong cultural significance to them.

a view of Smoky Cape Lighthouse, New South Wales
the path up to Smoky Cape Lighthouse, New South Wales
Kangaroo in Hat Head National Park, New South Wales
Walking track at Smoky Cape, Hat Head National Park, New South Wales
Jamie and Abigail at Smoky Cape Lighthouse

With thanks to the Australian government Maritime Safety Authority for information about this spectacular area and its history.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

and is available to pre-order now from Amazon.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 11: South West Rocks, New South Wales – Trial Bay Gaol and Charlie’s Ghost

This is the eleventh in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I shared my thoughts about the beautiful, dreamlike seascape and wetlands surrounding the Urunga Heads Boardwalk on the Coffs Coast region of the New South Wales north coast. A short distance down the coast from Urunga, past Nambucca Heads, you may find South West Rocks, and the Hat Head National Park. Whilst there, we visited Trial Bay Gaol and Smoky Cape Lighthouse. Today’s post is about Trial Bay Gaol.

Trial Bay Gaol , South West Rocks, New South Wales

Trial Bay Gaol has a fascinating history which encompasses three distinct stages. Built between the years 1886 and 1889, and now in ruins, it houses a museum which is a popular tourist destination.

Trial Bay offered ships refuge, whilst on their voyage from Brisbane to Sydney. The bay was named after the shipwreck of ‘Trial’. The Gaol was built to house prisoners brought there specifically to build a breakwater, to protect ships during storms. So this was the first stage of the Gaol’s story.

By 1903 the advent of sturdier ships meant that a refuge was no longer needed. The breakwater was abandoned and the Gaol closed.

The view from Trial Bay Gaol, South West Rocks, New South Wales

1914 marked the second stage of the Gaol’s history. It was now used to house 500 men of German descent, classified as ‘enemy aliens’. Today, a German monument and a Powder Magazine may be found a short distance from the Gaol ruins. The German prisoners were relocated in 1918

In the 1930s the third stage of the Gaol’s history began, and continued up until the 1960s. Aboriginal people, for whom the area has long been of cultural significance, camped within the Gaol walls. They roamed around the Gaol ruins, and put their initials on the walls. The legend of ‘Charlie’s Ghost’ is very strong among the local aboriginal people. Widely believed to be a previous inmate, Charlie is a reality to them. They have a strong spiritual tradition and believe the spirit of a German prisoner is still there.

Close up view of Trial Bay Gaol, South West Rocks, New South Wales

‘There’s a tree down there and if you climb it you’ll get chucked out of it,’ said Gadan Grahame Quinlan. ‘It’s got to do with Charlie the ghost…. he might have been a “fella” there, an inmate of the Gaol… He’s roaming around there, he’s still there, people feel his presence.’

Aunty Shirley Kelly contributed this story:

‘Gloria, my cousin, she was about eighteen months old and they had a tent there. In the night they could hear her crying like something dragged her out, and then she was outside when they found her. You ask Fred, because Charlie grabbed hold of Fred up here.’

Eddie Moran added his own story:

‘So we walked back from the end of the beach where the lighthouse is…. and Charlie the ghost, he used to come out here. The uncles told me that my grandmother used to pin their pyjamas to her night-dress, so she could feel if they were being pulled out of the tent because Charlie used to come out to camp and poke at them…. she’d feel them tugging and think “what’s going on here?”‘

At the end of the 1960s the aboriginal people moved their camp out of the Gaol ruins and into a camping ground some distance away.

Today, the National Parks and Wildlife Service offers guided tours around the Gaol. The area continues to be of cultural significance to the Dunghutti people.

Many thanks to the National Parks and Wildlife Service for their stories of the gaol and of the aboriginal people who camped within the gaol walls.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

and is available to pre-order now from Amazon.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 10: Urunga, New South Wales

This is the tenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

Whilst staying in Sawtell, New South Wales, we visited Urunga, just south of Sawtell.

Here we walked along the boardwalk out through the mangrove swamps towards Urunga Heads, where the massive surf of the Coral Sea forms a bar between two headlands. Treacherous rip currents meet calm protected water in the lagoon thus formed.

The outlook along the boardwalk was enchanting, gentle, touching. Here, as in other tourist destinations in Australia, the information signage along the boardwalk was excellent. We had plenty of time to gaze at the outstanding coastal scenery as we walked along the boardwalk. It was almost dreamlike in its beauty: so a stroll along the boardwalk can become meditative.

Later we visited another spectacular point on the New South Wales coastline: Smoky Cape at South West Rocks. More about them on my next post, which will be number eleven in this series.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

and is available to pre-order now from Amazon.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 9: Sawtell Heritage Village, New South Wales

This is the ninth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

We travelled south from the Gold Coast along the New South Wales coastline. After visiting Byron Bay Lighthouse we headed further south to Sawtell where we were staying for three nights. On the way we passed through the town of Grafton, further inland, where we saw the terrible effects of the tragic bushfires which have afflicted Australia in 2019 and 2020.

Grafton, New South Wales, November 2019

The air was filled with an eerie orange smog, a frightening and sinister reminder that the bushfires were raging not that far away, destroying homes and wildflife habitats: and that so much of Australia is suffering from dry conditions and extreme heat, and that many have lost their properties and some have lost their lives. As I write, these areas are still desperately in need of rain.

We passed on further down the coast to Sawtell. Here, the air was clearer, and we found our holiday park cabin close to the beach. We could sit outside on the deck in the warm, humid atmosphere, later relieved by a cool breeze. The roar of the surf on the pale golden beach formed a calming backdrop, as did the cicadas, rising in a powerful chorus among the chirping native birds.

Sawtell itself is a delightful and very pretty village to walk around, and is known as a heritage village. A small settlement was developed at Sawtell from 1863. It has an interesting history which you may read here on this website.

From Sawtell we visited two points on the spectacularly beautiful New South Wales coastline: Urunga and Smoky Cape at South West Rocks. More about them on my next post, which will be number ten in this series.

Sawtell Heritage Village, New South Wales

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

and is available to pre-order now from Amazon.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 8: Byron Bay Lighthouse, New South Wales

This is the eighth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In November 2019 after a few days in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast, we drove along the New South Wales coastline. Our first stop was at Byron Bay Lighthouse, which attracts large numbers of visitors because of its iconic location at mainland Australia’s most easterly point.

Visitors to Australia’s most easterly point at Byron Bay Lighthouse

On the day we visited this time, the weather was extremely hot; from the lighthouse, you may walk around the headland, which two members of our party did, but the rest of us chose to relax in the café whilst waiting for them to return, very red-faced and overheated!

The lighthouse was first opened in December 1901 and it is Australia’s most powerful lighthouse. 85 years later it was fully automated and no more lighthouse keepers were needed as from October 1989. A fascinating exhibition inside the lighthouse tells its history with many human interest details about the lifestyle of the lighthouse keepers’ families.

If you are travelling along the New South Wales coast this is a must-see destination.

C Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

and is available for pre-order now from Amazon.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 2: Brisbane Forest Park, Queensland: Jolly’s Lookout

This is the second in a series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

Today’s post is about a high place in Brisbane Forest Park, Queensland, which is very dear to my heart. During the time I lived in Australia, from 1986 to 1990, I often visited this lovely lookout, and gazed at the view across Samford Valley toward the Glasshouse Mountains in the distance.

On each visit I would meet several kookaburras, along with the goanas and possums. This time however I found the lookout very dry, and no kookaburras in sight. The region has been suffering from drought, and this was very much in evidence in the bushland of Brisbane Forest Park, where signs warned of a high risk of bushfires and a total fire ban.

However, at the time of writing, I understand there have been heavy rainstorms in Brisbane. But the people of New South Wales still long for those rains to come as they continue to suffer severe drought with dried up grassland and tragic bushfires.

Here are a few photos of this special place.

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 1: Brisbane, Queensland: Roma Street Parklands

This is the first in a series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

First I visited Australia, where my travels took me to Brisbane, Queensland, and along the coast through New South Wales, during a time when that region was suffering severe drought with dried up grassland and tragic bushfires. Later I spent twelve days in the north island of New Zealand where a cooler, more temperate climate ensures a landscape clothed in rich green.

Jacaranda tree in Roma Street Parklands, Brisbane

My first few posts in this series will take us through Queensland and New South Wales. I last visited Brisbane in 2009 and much has changed in the city and suburbs since then: considerable development means that I was unable to recognise many of the areas from my previous times spent here.

One place I enjoyed walking around when I lived in Australia from 1986 to 1990 was the area of parkland near Wickham Terrace not far from Roma Street Station. I was delighted to find that the changes here are uplifting: for the parkland has been greatly extended and enhanced.

This is a new development that gives nothing but pleasure, for the former railyard has been transformed into a glorious series of gardens, and the genius of the landscapers and garden designers is seen here in abundance. Despite the drought, colourful subtropical flowers and trees give joy to all who wander through the parklands.

view of Brisbane City from Roma Street Parklands
Festival in Roma Street Parklands, Brisbane
Fountain in Roma Street Parklands, Brisbane
Flowers and trees in Roma Street Parklands, Brisbane

SC Skillman

psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire

will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020

Book Review: Out of the Forest by Gregory P. Smith

Over Christmas a biography came to me which is one of the most compelling and moving accounts I have ever read. Out of the Forest by Gregory P Smith with Craig HendersonOut of the Forest (published by Penguin Australia) is the memoir of a man who spent ten years living as an alcoholic drug-crazed recluse high in the New South Wales forest, (with occasional forays down the mountain to the local hippy community to sell his crop of marijuana, and spend his income on  alcohol).

This man now holds a PhD and is an academic at the Southern Cross University at their Lismore campus in New South Wales, where he teaches Social Sciences. His name is Dr Gregory Peel Smith, and his story takes him from a severely abusive childhood and period of torment in a Catholic orphanage, through years of mental suffering, self-destructive behaviour, alcoholism and drug addiction and self-imposed isolation, to his present life.

Partly because I know the area Gregory is writing about (having lived in Brisbane for four and a half years myself, and having visited the areas of the New South Wales coastline, and spent time in the very mountains of which he speaks) I read this account with intense interest. But as Gregory describes his journey through the depths of human anguish, into self-imposed exile from human society, and all the gruesome details of what it takes to survive in isolation in the wild, I was totally captivated. This book has a strong spiritual character, despite Gregory’s disavowal of the Christian religion (not surprising when you read of the physical and spiritual and psychological abuse he received from the Catholic nuns in the orphanage.)

And the way in which Gregory rehabilitates himself, upon emerging from ten years in the forest, is deeply moving and inspiring. Although later on he is greatly helped by certain individuals whom he identifies as angels, in the early stages he transforms his life solely through his own inner resources. He describes in detail his method for “mounting a mental counter-insurgency” against his inner demons which I believe would be immensely helpful for anyone who has gone through any experience approximating to his kind of mental suffering and turmoil. Though his case was extreme I believe it will be of great value to many, and not only those who have been through comparable extreme experiences.

Naturally I highly recommend this book, and not only to a general readership but to those interested or engaged in psychotherapy and personal spiritual transformation.