Category Archives: Australia

Quirky Guide to Australia: 10 Things to See and Do

Australia, home to the chook and the bug, the tinny and the banana bender, never mind 100 million sheep, the largest organic construction on earth and the lowest population density in the world (thanks to Nomadic Mike for some of those facts) Australia isn’t short of fascinating and strange things.

Here’s the Quirky Guide to Australia:

Pinnacles Desert

Pinnacles Desert, Nambung National Park, Australia

Pinnacles Desert, Nambung National Park (Wikipedia)

These other-worldly limestone structures can be found near the town of Cervantes in Western Australia. Their formation came about either a) as a result of rain cementing the lower levels of a sand dune b) effectively, by being the casts of long-departed trees or c) casts of long-departed plant roots.

Whichever mechanism shaped these marvellous formations, they’re very photogenic in all sorts of light conditions, and the area in which they lie is part of the well-visited Nambung National Park. The best time to visit is August-October to avoid the hottest months.

Morpeth Weird & Wonderful Novelty Teapot Exhibition

The twenty-second annual teapot exhibition will be held in August this year in the small town of Morpeth. It was originally dreamed up as a way to market this once major port on the Hunter River and now exhibits teapots from around the world: last year 3,847 teapots were sent to the town from all over.

A colourful offshoot of the main teapot exhibition is the Morpeth Tea Cosy Challenge. Entrants into the competition submit their entries for one of five categories: Tea Time, Food Makes Me Happy, Animal Kingdom, In The Garden and Under the Ocean.

The Big Thing Trail

Big Boxing Crocodile, Humpty Doo, Northern Territory

Big Boxing Crocodile, Humpty Doo, Northern Territory (Wikipedia)

Australia loves its big roadside things, and to experience some of the best, take the Big Thing Trail. Heading north from Sydney you’ll see a Big Chook, Big Banana, Big Prawn and a Big Mosquito. Head south-west and you’ll drive past a Big Playable Guitar, Big Trout and Big Cherries.

And the great thing is, these are only examples. There are around 150 of the giant things all over Australia – even Tasmania has a Big Penguin.

Australian Standing Stones

Australian Standing Stones, Glen Innes

Australian Standing Stones, Glen Innes (http://las.new-england.net.au)

Glen Innes is the self-styled Celtic Country, reason being the first settlers in this area of New South Wales were Scots. And boy, does Glen Innes like to celebrate its celtic heritage! These Australian standing stones are dedicated to celts everywhere and were inspired by the Ring of Brodgar in the Orkney islands. They were erected in 1992.

They’re no pale imitation of a stone circle, either: they’re real stone, each weighing on average 17 stone and having a height of around 5 metres. They’ve become part of the annual Australian Celtic Festival held in May and coming complete with Irish music, Scottish kilts and diddly dee music.

Remarkable Rocks

Remarkable Rocks, Flinders Chase National Park, Australia

Remarkable Rocks, Flinders Chase National Park (jeremiahblatz.com)

Flinders Chase National Park is situated on Kangaroo Island, off the coast of south Australia, and is the place to visit the very unusual volcanic rock formations known as “Remarkable Rocks”.

Like something from a Dali painting, they’re very curved and arched and some are very precariously perched. Many are covered with an orange lichen that contributes towards a striking photograph at particular times of the day. The rocks were shaped very simply by wind, rain and sea spray.

Crocodile-Shaped Hotel

Crocodile-shaped Holiday Inn

Crocodile-shaped Holiday Inn (wildherps.com)

Kakadu National Park is Australia’s largest national park and is about a 3-4 hours drive from Darwin. It’s “Crocodile” Dundee country, where much of the 1986 film was shot. In celebration of the area’s most famous resident, the crocodile, the local Holiday Inn, one of the most unusual hotels in Australia, has been built in the shape of that very reptile. It really has.

It’s owned by indigenous people and is situated right in the park itself, making it a great base to explore the area.

Coober Pedy

Landscape of Coober Pedy

Landscape of Coober Pedy (queensofrandom.com)

Coober Pedy in South Australia is the opal capital of the world. It’s also very hot, and because of this, underground living is a common feature of the area. Even the name derives from the aboriginal “kupa-piti” which means “white man’s hole”. Experience underground living in the excellently named Radeka Downunder Dugout Motel & Backpacker Inn or the Down to Earth b&b.

Have a drink in an underground bar, take a Desert Cave tour or go opal hunting in one of the mines open to the public where you can dig for your own stone.

The Big Camera Photographic Museum

Big Camera Museum, Meckering

Big Camera Museum (http://www.thebigcamera.com.au)

Shaped like an SLR camera, the quirky Big Camera Photographic Museum is situated about 135km east of Perth, in a town called Meckering. As well as exhibiting examples of the first photographs, it displays projectors, magic lanterns, zoetropes, phantascopes, kaleidoscopes and magic mirrors. And examples of old cameras, of course.

If planning a visit, beware, it’s closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Take a tour of Manly Quarantine Station

Manly Quarantine Station, Sydney

Manly Quarantine Station (theage.com.au)

With the history behind this complex of buildings just 30 minutes outside Sydney it’s not surprising that stories of ghosts have arisen.  It was used to house immigrants to the country for 140 years and must have seen many deaths and dramas in its time. These days quite a range of ghost tours can be taken: adult, extreme, family, spirit investigator and even a ghostly sleepover.

For those not particularly gripped by stories of malevolent spirits, nature and history day tours can be taken instead.

Tully Golden Gumboot

Tully Golden Gumboot

Tully Golden Gumboot (Wikipedia)

Tully is a town in Queensland that, as a result of receiving an annual rainfall of 4490mm, is a regular recipient of the rubber boot, awarded to Australia’s wettest town. In recognition of this, in 2003 a 7.9 metre high fibreglass golden gumboot was erected by the townspeople. It has a staircase inside leading up to a viewing platform, and there’s a frog inexplicably climbing up the outside.

This gumboot is surely the only gumboot in the world to have a festival named after it: the Tully Golden Gumboot Festival, featuring bands, choirs, athletics, and of course, gumboot tossing.

The Ghosts of Ararat Lunatic Asylum, Victoria, Australia

Aradale Mental Hospital

Aradale Mental Hospital (aradale.com.au)

This post began as a standard Top 10 Haunted Places for Halloween post, but as the first haunted place I looked at was so interesting I thought I’d do something a bit more in-depth.

First, the ghosts

The Ararat Lunatic Asylum, later known as the Aradale Mental Hospital is Australia’s ‘largest abandoned mental institution in Australia,’ according to Aradale Ghost Tours who run tours in the building (and entertainingly provide the use of night vision glasses, infrared cameras and the like as part of the tour.)

Ararat Mental Asylum

Ararat Mental Asylum in 1880 (Wikipedia)

It’s located in Victoria, Australia, was built between 1864 and 1867 and the design of it was based on Colney Hatch Mental Hospital in Friern Barnet, London (which is actually just ten minutes on the bus from where I live – you really needed to know that, didn’t you?). Its role in life was to take in those from jails, reformatory or industrial school who were considered ‘lunatic’ ‘retarded’ and ‘insane’.

13,000 people died in Aradale in just 130 years so there’s scope for a large number of ghosts to be living in and around the building complex that was basically the size of a small town. The complex consisted of 63 buildings and employed 500 staff. Among the spirits reportedly wandering its corridors have been seen nurses in white uniforms and dark figures. Crying, moaning and footsteps have been heard, and there’s one room with an overwhelmingly strange atmosphere.

Now, the rest

J Ward is a part of the complex with particularly gruesome stories attached to it. Three men were hanged on the site when it was in use as a goldfields jail (for a while Victoria was producing more gold than any country in the world except for the US and its Californian gold fields). The site was taken over by the Lunacy Department, according to J Ward.org when the gold ran out.

The hanged men were buried in unmarked graves by the authorities, but the inmates did a bit of DIY remembrance-making by marking the graves with an arrow pointing upwards – the mark of a convict (this tidbit came from a very detailed post about a visit to J Ward on GhostPlace). It’s thought that the prisoners were buried upright and facing towards the jail wall so that their spirits would forever be confined within the wall. The Friends of J Ward have since placed plaques above these burial sites.

J Ward was deemed a ‘temporary ward’ when it opened in 1887 (according to Deidre N Grieg in her book “Neither Mad Nor Bad”) and its end was finally in site when an infamous self-harming inmate called Garry David (also known as Webb) pulled off bricks and slates from the outside of the building to reveal a crumbling interior, in 1990 – it could therefore no longer be regarded as secure, so the end was nigh.

It’s now a museum run by the Friends of J Ward, and rooms like the operating theatre where controversial treatments such as lobotomies and ECT were carried out.

The last patients in the complex were removed as late as 1993 and there’s now a wine-making college, vineyard, an olive grove and olive pressing plant on site.

Aradale underground bathroom

Aradale underground bathroom [http://www.jward.org)

Address Details

Ararat is located between Ballarat and the Grampians, 2.5 hours from Melbourne.
As well as daylight and evening tours around J Ward run by the volunteers Friends of J Ward and the aforementioned ghost tours a group called Spirit Seekers hold monthly spirit-seeking experiences in J Ward.

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