9. places of longing: Australia, Aborigines and South Sea pearls

French Polynesia: Helicopter flight and airshot from Bora Bora Island

FOREWORD

The author, Gerd Michael Müller, born in Zürich in 1962, traveled as a photo-journalist to more than 50 nations and lived in seven countries, including in the underground in South Africa during apartheid. In the 80 years he was a political activist at the youth riots in Zürich. Then he was involved in pioneering Wildlife & eco projects in Southern Africa and humanitarian projects elsewhere in the world. As early as 1993, Müller reported on the global climate change and in 1999 he founded the «Tourism & Environment Forum Switzerland». Through his humanitarian missions he got to know Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and other figures of light. His book is an exciting mixture of political thriller, crazy social stories and travel reports – the highlights of his adventurous, wild nomadic life for reportage photography .

(please note that translation corrections are still in progress and images will follow soon)

Australia: Aborigines and nature reserves

On the world’s largest sand island, tropically forested dunes rise from the shores of crystal-clear freshwater lakes amid emerald-green rainforests. Whales and dolphins cavort off Fraser Island’s coast. But the island biotope is not only a refuge for rare plant species and animals, but also for homo ecotourism. Up to 240 meters high sand dunes, 120 kilometers of beach and a protected bay, the Hervey Bay, where the whales cavort between August and October are the attraction of the island microcosm.

A legend of the Butschulla tribe about the history of evolution says that the Creator once sent the gods Jendigi and Gari to earth. They created mountains, rivers and lakes, and the goddess Gari insisted on staying on earth. So Jendigi transformed the goddess Gari into a beautiful island with over 40 lakes, so clear that Gari could see him in the sky. He also created animals and humans and taught them to reproduce. This is the story of the creation of Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, 120 km long and 25 km wide. Over the millennia, the sea has washed up gigantic sand dunes.

Not only for geologists, botanists, nature, animal and bird lovers, but also for sailors, surfers and recreationists, Fraser Island offered paradisiacal conditions 20 years ago. In 2020, on the other hand, there were devastating forest fires and the ecosystem is also otherwise a little out of joint, as in the entire Great Barrier Reef. The entire archipelago is suffering from global warming and pollution from oil and plastic waste from tourists. Fraser Island is ancient and carries the eternity of over 220 million years of evolutionary history on its back. Sand has washed up and accumulated on the island for two million years. During the Ice Age, this landscape was formed and in its present form it has existed for about 6000 years. With the warming of the climate 140,000 years ago, the first traces of the Aborigines appeared there, but it is assumed that the „Butschulla“ aborigines settled on „KGari“ Island only 20 million years ago. Fraser Island was discovered for the western world by James Cook in 1770.

The gigantic freshwater reservoirs together hold ten to twenty million mega-liters of fresh water. The crystal clear drinking water of Lake McKenzie, lined with bright white sandy beaches, invites you to take a dip. Dingoes can also be seen on the shore. However, they do not come to drink, but because of the bulging provision bags of the tourists. Many a fine morsel falls off for the wild dogs. The starting point for many Queenslanders is the „Tapukjai Cultural Village“, where visitors are introduced to the culture of the local Aborigines. If you drive further north along the coast, you will first come to Palm Cove, a small charming nest, then you continue to Port Douglas, where the famous Thala Beach Lodge and the Daintree Forest Lodge, several times awarded as the most environmentally friendly accommodation in Australia. At the Wawu-Jirakul Spa (which means „cleansing of the spirit“ in the Aboriginal language), the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether are celebrated into a fantastic wellness cocktail amidst a waterfall in the jungle that served as a sacred cleansing kraal for the Kuku Yalanji Aborigines and a yoga site for Brook Shields. For the spa treatments, in addition to essential oils, various sandstones are used, which the Aborigines use not only for their body painting but also as food. The Aborigines walks with me around the spring, reaches into the loamy earth in three places and strokes a swab on my bare leg. Immediately I see that one strip is sandy yellow, the second clay gray and the third reddish. You see here we have zinc, copper and calcium mineral layers. „Once you run out of food,“ he says to me, „you flush the clay down with water, and that’s how you get minerals!“

Already in the run-up to the Australia trip I have made myself strong for the „whaling ban“ and reported about it in different newspapers, among other things in the Sunday newspaper under the title „Lieber touristy ausschlachten, als abschlachten“! Now I wanted to fulfill myself the dream and participate in a whale watching. Hervey Bay is only one of a dozen places in the Great Barrier Reef where the whales cavort. About 100 people crowd to the railing on the „Kingfisher“ catamaran, scanning the horizon for fountains or a towering tail fin. „There they are,“ one yells, and the crowd cheers! A colossus weighing perhaps 30 tons with a body certainly over 16 meters long shoots high into the air like a silvery arrow performs a pirouette and then dives headfirst back into the waters. What a sublime sight! Fortunately, they are protected here.  „Whale-watching“ has blossomed into a 600 to 700 million tourism industry in the 1990s. Whale-watchers travel to Baja California, the coast of Brazil, Patagonia or South Africa to see the swimming mammals.

As early as 1994, Australia was earning more than 50 million a year from whale watching. No wonder, the giants of the seas are fascinating in every way! Like encoded messages (today they are probably lamentations) their tones sound from the depth of the ocean, similar to a sonar, the echo-sounding system of shipping they determine their course with radar signals. They send out exact transmission intervals and are able to pick up the signals of the sound waves with their sensitive sense and to analyze and locate them precisely, so that they can orientate themselves over thousands of kilometers. The songs, which can last up to thirty minutes, are used to communicate with conspecifics. From the turquoise shores of the Great Barrier Reef now to a completely different area, contrasting with the marine life, but equally struggling to survive. At the moment, only the Corona virus is more contagious. The east coast is considered an ideal entry point into Australia’s myth-enshrouded world. If you fly to Brisbane and from there straight up to Cairns, you can reach the rainforests at Cape Tribulation, the shores of the Great Barrier Reef, or take a boat from Brisbane to the evolutionary pearl of Fraser Island.

The Northern Territories are the region to discover the culture of Australia’s indigenous people, a world of many contrasts between the green, tropical north and the red glowing heart of Australia, the Outback. Arnhem Land in particular is Aboriginal land and it borders Kakadu National Park to the east. More than 40 Aboriginal dialects are spoken here. Alice Springs is the second largest city and Darwin the seaside capital of the Northern Territories. The treasure trove of the aborigines, however, lies in Kakadu National Park, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Also famous are the hot thermal springs of Mataranka south of Katherine in Elsey National Park, where 30 million liters of water gush from the depths every day. Kings Canyon is Australia’s largest gorge and up to 300 meters deep. This grandiose microcosm, which ranges from rainforest to desert and from dreamlike beaches to the world’s most beautiful diving grounds, breaks all boundaries.

No wonder some people get infected by the Australia virus. Shortly before the „millennium“ I made another Australia trip of a special kind. For a lifestyle reportage, the best hotels, spa lodges and restaurants were on the menu. This led to the flagship of the Australian hotel industry „Hayman“ Island in the White Sunday Islands, then to the then newly opened „Palazzo Versace“ Hotel and then to the two luxury outback feeling „Peppers Lodge“ and „Spicers Peak Lodge“. On the way to this my off-road vehicle got on the wet nature and splinter road by an evasion maneuver due to jumping out kangaroos into the skid and into a barbed wire fence, which scraped over the whole hood, windshield and the roof, so that the brand new vehicle looked totally scratched and ready for the scrap but still drove. Only the totally scratched windshield clouded the driving fun. But it could have ended much worse.

Opal seekers in Coober Pedy: Hope lives underground

Between Adelaide and Alice Springs, somewhere in the middle of a glowing, hot, inhospitable lunar landscape, lies the then 5,000-strong nest of Coober Pedy, also known as „Opal Mining City“. The inhabitants live in subterranean mole-like constructions and also spend the day underground, in the tunnels, equipped with dynamite to carry out further blasting. Glimpses into the lives of opal prospectors in a dynamite-laden underground. Driven by the hope of quick riches and exposed to the risk of failing mouse-poor, real fortune seekers thus, from all parts of the earth. But what is it that draws people here? Desolation, scorching heat, lots of dust and rubble, and endless hardships. Nothing is spared the opa prospectors here.

Four-fifths of the population lives underground in the tunnels, which have ventilation shafts to the top. The supermarket, gas station and church are also underground. Here in the hot outback, men from Albania, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Serbia, Poland and even Swiss are among them. They are all looking for the precious stones. At that time, you could just stake a „claim“ and start drilling and blasting. Lucky men who left Coober Pedy as rich men are few and far between. The large cemetery in the desert nest is eloquent testimony to that.  There is also a letter carrier for the region. John Stillwell’s oxen tour clearly shows the local dimensions. Twice a week, John drives from Coober Pedy to William Creek, a provincial nest of nine houses, and then to Oodnadata, a dilapidated Aborginies settlement, delivering mail to three farmers over the 650 kilometers. John has been doing this tour for six years now and he has done the route over 700 times. 

We also crosses the Moon Plain Area, a dry, stony, sandy moonscape dotted with small hills to the Anna Creek cattle ranch, whose fence is over 9600 kilometers long. The farm is thus almost as big as the Netherlands. Then we continue to William Creek and although there are only nine houses, there is probably the most expensive satellite phone booth in the world and a shady parking lot with parking meter. We continue along an old Aborginies trail to the underground hot springs and follow the „Great Overland Telegraph line“. At sunset we played another round of desert sand golf.

South Sea Pearls: At the Gate to Paradise

A mosaic of light and color surrounds the widely scattered chain of islands. Each of these islands, covered in emerald green vegetation, is fringed by turquoise blue and wreath-shaped reefs. They limit the depth of the sea, turn its opulent underwater splendor upwards and unfold the beauty of the colorful coral gardens with great abundance of species and shield the islands, which are often only a few meters above the sea surface, from the surf. After an interminably long flight from Zurich, via Paris, New-York, San Francisco and Hawaii, I landed at the „gateway to paradise“ on Tahiti – also called the „island of love“ and synonymous with the stuff dreams are made of. The French overseas territory with its 118 islands is divided into the Austral and Society Islands, the Marquesas and the Tuamotu Archipelago. The choice is difficult. But basically, there are two types of islands that unite to form a brilliant ensemble: high volcanic islands like Moorea, Huahine or Tahiti and flat atolls like Tetiaroa.

Tahiti, the „island of multicolored waters“ is also a symbol of the transfigured myth that covers the South Seas like its sparkling firmament with enchanting impressions. In the South Seas the creator once wanted to show what he was capable of, the poet Robert Brooke recorded. Gaugin, too, fell into a painterly impressionist frenzy of colors and senses. Especially Moorea, which is less than half an hour away from Papeete by catamaran, is taken to heart by many. The vacation island, on which several volcanic peaks rise like lances into the sky, became famous through Dino de Laurenti’s film „Mutiny on the Bounty“. Right next to the 900 meter high Mount Rotui lies the famous Cook Bay. Indeed, one cannot help but paint the South Seas in the most beautiful colors and praise it in the highest terms. In view of the gentle and strong charisma of the islanders, one is tempted to elevate their world to a paradise on earth. When graceful, strong men row their canoes through the water as swift as an arrow, or graceful creatures sit under the coconut palms, mango, papaya, avocado and breadfruit trees.  Since then, Europeans have measured the South Seas with the yardstick of their wishes and dreams; poets of all stripes fantasize, fabricate and compose much crazy beauty. But a place of vicious pleasures, the South Seas is not, despite all matriarchal mores and permissive sensuality. But there is a conspicuous number of transvestites (raerae) in Papeete. And a Polynesian peculiarity are the marus – sons feminized from an early age by their mothers, usually the last born in a family that has no daughters. They behave like women and do the housework. Both marginalized groups enjoy a high level of social acceptance.

Thirty years after the French invasion of Tahiti and Mururoa by an army of nuclear physicists, engineers and military men, the South Sea Islanders know not only the god of love, but also the god and power of money. Life in paradise has its price and it is high. Problems with alcohol and other drugs as well as poverty and slumming are on the rise. In fact, travel writers can’t help but describe the South Seas in the most beautiful colors and, in view of the gentle and tranquil way of life of the extremely hospitable islanders, elevate it to the status of paradise.

High volcanic islands like Moorea, Huahine and Tahiti, flat atolls like Marlon Brando’s kingdom of Tetiaroa. Like Tahiti, Huahine is divided into a large and a small island. Between them is a strait that is very popular with surfers. Bora Bora has the most spectacular and beautiful lagoon in the world. Truly, the only 30 square meters small but 30 million years old atoll is a precious jewel in the Pacific. At that time, many tourists also took Moorea to their hearts because of the movie „Mutiny on the Bounty“, which was filmed there in Oponohu Bay. 

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Über gmc

1992 gründete der Zürcher Fotojournalist Gerd Müller die Presse- und Bildagentur GMC Photopress und reiste hernach als Agenturfotograf und Fotojournalist in über 80 Länder. Seine Reportagen wurden in zahlreichen Reise- und Spa-Magazinen publiziert. 2021 publizierte er Auszüge aus seinem Buch Highlights of a wild life -Metamorphosen politischer und ökologischer Natur.

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