Before leaving the Shark Bay area, we visited the Hamelin Pool Telegraph Station. Part of it had become a museum. If you’re interested in 19th century telegraph equipment, this is your kind of place. For some reason, Australia has turned a great number of these Morse Code using repeater stations into tourist attractions. It may have been the intense heat, but I had a hard time getting interested and wished that we had gone to the Shark Bay World Heritage Discovery Centre in Denham instead. Lonely Planet called it one of the best museums in Western Australia, but it wasn’t on our itinerary.
Leaving the World Heritage Area, we headed east and then south on the 820-mile-long North West Coastal Highway that links Perth to Port Hedland, the highest tonnage port in Australia thanks to mining. Western Australia’s 2nd longest highway, NWCH traverses desert-like, dull country with sporadic roadhouses like the Billabong the only reminders of civilization. Our destination was Geraldton, 260 miles south of Denham.
It had become easy to forget that this was a wildflower tour. Being a very arid year, the 3rd in a row, there hadn’t been many around even though the Francois Peron National Park near Monkey Mia was known for its Grevilleas, a common Australian native, and the weird little purple pea.
We got to Geraldton in time to visit the HMAS Sydney Memorial (photo at top) on a hill overlooking town. The Sydney, a light cruiser launched in 1934 and on patrol duty in 1941, went down off Australia’s western coast near Kalbarri. What actually happened to it remains one of the great mysteries of World War II. All that was found of the Sydney after its encounter with a German cruiser was one lifeboat containing one very dead man. 645 lives were lost. The German boat, the Kormoran, was scuttled and went down, but most of its crew of 399 survived and was transported to prisoner of war camps for the duration. Both ships were forgotten and rediscovered in 2008.
Geraldton was the spot on modern city of 20,000 we had breezed through on our way to Monkey Mia. After dinner in an Italian restaurant with Mark and Yutta, the youngest couple on the tour, we had a downtown walkabout, and ernest Mark became determined to find the Southern Cross for Ruth & me. As distinctive as the Big Dipper but seen only in the Southern Hemisphere, the Southern Cross’ 5 bright stars almost form a giant cross in the night sky practically year round. We didn’t tell him that we had seen it in The Outback and on Heron Island, so vivid in both places that it seemed almost touchable.
The next day was our last on the road, and tomorrow is the last of this series.