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The Abalone Divers

From Portland, I drive out to the Cape Nelson Lighthouse.

It was first lit in 1884 and is still operational today. I understand why it is needed – the Southern Ocean violently smashes the cliffs on this cape. In the past, unsuspecting ships arriving from Europe regularly came to grief here. It’s called the Shipwreck Coast, and the weather is notoriously unpredictable. The winds are so intense a wall protects the small door at the lighthouse’s base.

I wasn’t expecting the strange topography. It’s like a lunar landscape consisting of sharp limestone bleached and eroded by saltwater. The waves pounding below compound a sinister uneasy feeling – I don’t feel safe.

I walk along the cliff and come across a solitary cairn erected in memory of Alan William Barr, lost at sea in 1970. No more information is given, just this lonely memorial in this desolate place.

Who was he, and how was he lost at sea, what is his story? It wasn’t easy to find, but an online search eventually reveals, a March 1970 edition of the Canberra Times which sheds some light.

Alan Barr and his mate Paul Hill, two Portland lads, were abalone diving when a giant wave capsized their boat. It took them two hours fighting the high seas to get to a rocky ledge at the bottom of the cliff. Alan was in poor shape, so his mate wedged him in a crevice and piled rocks around him to stop him from being washed away. But the waves kept pounding, and they clung on as night fell. Hours later, at about 11 pm, in the darkness, Alan disappeared into the sea.

The following day, Paul was spotted by a local fisherman and swam 100 meters through the rough to get to the fishing boat.

The story adds to the eeriness; Cape Nelson is an unsettling place.

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Portland runs on interchange ‒ it’s a place of transfer, a port which loads and unloads ‒ empties and fills. Maritime export and import drive this city. Her vistas are hard – logs piled in endless rows and high castles of industrial sand. A distant wind turbine rotates and disrupts the view from the city’s main street. Rusted hulls litter boat yards.

Look too closely, and you will see the ugliness and an underbelly of disadvantage.

Portland is the cracked bitumen in the Woolies car park, barefoot children with sticky mouths sucking on Chupa Chups and lads in utes ‒ their suntanned arms dangling from the window. It’s the cigarette smoke exhaled by the young pregnant woman as she buys a bottle of wine. This is no quaint Doc Martin fishing village.

Yet, down on the foreshore is a mosaicked throne worthy of a mermaid queen. Rolling shell-like curves dance with pattern and call to come and sit a spell.

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The Falls of Halladale

The sea was calm. The sails on the Falls of Halladale were full and billowing, anticipating a speedy last leg of their voyage from New York to Melbourne.

But a heavy mist hung in the air on this day in 1908.

When the peasouper lifted, the Captain’s blood ran cold; the ship was only a few hundred meters from shore and heading for rocks. As she hit, The Falls of Halladale lifted from the water and then fell back down with an almighty thud jamming fast between two reefs.

‘Save your lives,’ yelled the Captain, and two lifeboats swung clear of the ship. These were dangerous waters off Peterborough, on Victoria’s treacherous Shipwreck Coast, and the crew rowed four and a half miles before finding a safe beach on which to land. Mercifully all were saved.

The Falls of Halladale sat for two months jammed between the reefs, becoming an instant attraction, drawing crowds of onlookers. She was impressive, with her even keel, high masts and canvas swelling in the breeze.

Even the dynamite set by the salvage company couldn’t move her. Then finally, in rough seas, she broke apart, spilling her cargo, including a load of kerosine, causing Victoria’s first oil spill.

In 1909, an early diver inspecting the wreck found an iron tank beneath her broken hull. It appeared to be from a different ship and earlier time, perhaps the Skipjack, which went down in 1845.

Speculation abounds; it’s estimated fewer than half the wrecks along the Victorian coast have been found.

I love this photo and the girl who turns toward us ‒ reaching through time, excited to tell us about the wreck of the Falls of Halladale.

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A Tricky Lighthouse

Up Mildura way, a belligerent satellite navigation beam dangerously lures unsuspecting drivers into the desert. Local police often rescue lost travellers from remote dusty tracks.

I thought of this today when I came across this lighthouse at Cape Clear, after trusting my car sat-nav to guide me down to seaside Warrnambool. 

Confused, I thought I was inland, on the other side of Ballarat, but perhaps the Great God of Satellite Navigation directed me to some unknown coastal promontory? 

Cape Clear is a one-horse town with a population of 125, but I would think that’s an overestimate.

The settlement hasn’t got much going for it – there is a general store, a small school and a pub. But the pub, a grand 1930s affair, is now closed. 

Despite its name and lighthouse, Cape Clear is 100 km inland from the coast.

During the gold rush, this was a vibrant place with 25,000 miners arriving to try their luck at prospecting. Many were Irish gold miners who originated from Cape Clear in Ireland.

With the gold dug up, the miners moved on, but the name stuck.

In 2008 the locals wanted to put Cape Clear back on the map. They decided to build a 13-meter-high model lighthouse across the road from the pub. The light actually works ‒ just the thing to confuse an unsuspecting driver passing through.

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Happy Easter

I trust you had a happy Easter. This is a photo I took in my garden on Easter Sunday.

I’ve been busy studying for a Creative Writing Certificate in non-fiction with Cambridge University in the UK. Lessons are taken remotely via zoom at very odd hours here in Australia. I’m enjoying it, although it has meant I have very little time to devote to Quantum Vis.

Tomorrow I start my third and final term then I commence the Diploma course in October. Onward and upwards!

Warm wishes,

Jennifer x

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Merry Christmas

Long live gracious Victoriana. Bendigo Conservatory is one of my favourite spots and here she is in her Christmas finery. She has my heart; I love to peek through her glass doors and then stroll through her fresh greenery. It’s a secret world within our world, a place away from everything.

Do have a wonderful Christmas, stay well; let’s hope for joy and good health in 2021.

Much love to you and yours,

Jennifer xxx

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My Dear Boy

Florence FULLER
(Paper boy) 1888
oil on canvas
61.2 x 45.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

“My dear boy, I am afraid you have drawn the short straw but do understand this happens regularly in India.

Parents die all the time and quite suddenly. One minute your dear father and mother are alive the next minute, there is a cholera outbreak. Thank your lucky stars you were at school and could avoid their fate.

There is no shame in being an orphan and you are blessed an uncle in Bombay has agreed to take you in. Many orphans do not have such an advantage.

Indeed, your kind uncle has arranged a train ticket to Bombay. Only second class but at least it is not third class. You are therefore spared the ordeal of travelling with natives.

You leave for Bombay tomorrow. So, spend your remaining time at the school thanking your masters for their thoughtful and comprehensive tutelage. If you cannot speak to each master individually, then a letter will suffice.

Do remember to write to my dear wife, Mrs Abbott, who has been most kind as well as your house matron.

Who knows we may see you in Simla in the years to come.

Unfortunately, your academic progress may not open the gates of Haileybury and the Indian Civil Service for you.

However, with sound study, Sandhurst and her Majesty’s British India Army may be on the cards. Can I recommend you aim for the Royal Fusiliers? The uniform is simply stunning, and my own academically challenged brother has risen to the rank of Major.

I very much hope your Uncle is willing to invest in your education.

If I have some advice, it would be to make yourself amiable to him. I understand he is a bachelor, and it is always easier to support a likeable child.

However, should he marry, and he may do so in the years ahead, you should also make yourself agreeable to his wife. Alas, a wife may see you as a financial burden.

Goodbye, you go with my best wishes. Remember those letters to your masters.

You are dismissed.”

A 10-minute write inspired by Florence FULLER’S 1888 painting, Paper boy.

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The Houseboat

As Dalgleish strode across the salon, his boots sank into the deep plush weave of the Kashmiri carpet. ‘I guess if you are the exporter of the finest rugs in India, naturally you would save one of the best for yourself,’ he thought.

The carpet in Monsieur Henri Dauvergne’s grand houseboat was the colour of Ceylonese sapphires. In the centre, a design of Persian letters woven in crimson wool spelt the word for happiness. But this houseboat on Srinagar’s Dal Lake had not been a happy place for Dauvergne.

Dalgleish sat on the sofa and looked to the parquetry wall opposite. There was a photo of Dauvergne, and his late wife, Camille; between them, was a child, their daughter, Emilie. Another unframed photo lay on the desktop; it was of a young woman, fresh from her Parisian convent. ‘This must be the last photo taken of Emilie,’ thought Dalgleish.

Sunlight bounced off the lake through the window and onto the shiny brass ornaments sitting on the mantle above the fireplace. Dalgleish was looking at a small bamboo chair when Dauvergne entered. He was a tall man, with grey hair curling like the downy wool taken from mountain goats and woven into company’s carpets. Dauvergne’s face was ashen with a long moustache twisting toward his cheeks and the skin around both eyes appeared puffed up, like two aubergines.

‘My dear friend,’ Dauvergne said as he grasped Dalgleish’s hand, pulling him forward, kissing both cheeks.

‘I’m so sorry for your loss,’ Dalgleish responded, ‘and sad not to have been in Kashmir for you.’

Tears come into the eyes of the Frenchman, ‘One month, Dalgleish that is all my dear Emilie had in Srinagar, one month and then the fever took her.’

‘Such a deep shock for you,’ said Dalgleish. ‘I know for years you had looked to the day Emilie would leave school and return to India.’

‘Yes,’ replied Dauvergne. ‘In this country, when death comes, it comes unexpectedly and with such speed. Emilie seemed well the day before.’

The bearer arrived, on his tray sat two glasses of absinthe, each covered with a silver slotted spoon with sugar cubes on top. A breeze coming across the lake caught the houseboat, and it gently rolled. As the emerald liquor wobbled in the crystal glasses, it glimmered. Dauvergne picked up a silver jug and poured cold water over the sugar cubes; the liquid immediately turned opalescent.

‘Please,’ said Dauvergne pointing to the drinks. ‘I bought this back from Paris.’

They sat, Dalgleish on the sofa and Dauvergne on the small bamboo chair. He looked uncomfortable. The Frenchman’s body was too large for the little chair, and he sat with his long torso leaning forward as if trying to balance.

‘Everything reminds me of Emilie. See this chair; it was her mother’s, then it became hers. Now, when I sit in it, I imagine I can smell the lavender of Emilie’s Eau de Parfum.’

Dauvergne sighed and looked out the window across Dal Lake.

‘You know, the Maharajah and several members of his court came to the graveyard, but naturally, they didn’t enter,’ said Dauvergne. ‘He caught my eye and nodded from his palanquin outside. I was extremely touched.’

Suddenly the little chair became too uncomfortable for Dauvergne; he rose quickly and stood in the centre of the salon over the Persian word for happiness.

‘Come, Dalgleish, let us take déjeuner, and you can distract me with all the news from Chinese Turkistan.’

To be continued….


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The Caravan

The home of Robert Barkley Shaw on Kashmiri Point, Murree

Thomas Russell and his nephew Andrew Dalgleish sat on the veranda in rattan chairs at Kashmiri Point, admiring the view across the hill station of Murree. Above, a Himalayan Vulture soared on thermals, watching the preparations for the departing caravan with anticipation. The bird knew there was the possibility that men and beasts would perish along the dangerous path across the Himalayas. It was not unusual for smart vultures to follow caravans.

Behind Murree, the Himalayan mountain range climbed high into the blue spring sky. The snowy peaks glistened, but halfway down, the pristine whiteness gave way to a brown rocky mass – the feet of the great Himalayas.

The veranda faced a ravine, and a forest of tall, straight deodars stood to attention on the other side. Their fresh scent mingled with the smell of horse dung – the pack ponies were corralled below the bungalow in a makeshift log pen. Near the pen, three boys guarded a small flock of sheep; it might be the foothills of the Himalayas, but last winter, a snow leopard was sighted to the east of Kashmiri Point.

‘Men of our station in life don’t often get opportunities like this,’ said Russell in a broad Scottish brogue.

‘Aye,’ replied Dalgleish, his Scottish accent was just as thick. Dalgleish might have been only twenty, but he knew something of British India. ‘If the Central Asian Trading Company is as successful as the East India Company, then 1874 should be a prosperous year for us.’

Russell took his pipe from his mouth, ‘I’ll need you to watch over the load, that’s the finest cotton from Manchester. It cannot get wet and mouldy. It’s your job every day to see the porters load and unload it properly.’

‘I won’t let you down, Uncle,’ said Dalgleish. Indeed, he had just come from inspecting the cargo. ‘What is in the locked iron trunks?’ he asked.

The older man raised his eyebrows, ‘Riffles.’

Dalgleish looked directly at his uncle, ‘But the Himalayas are filled with bandits who will murder for rifles.’

Russell nodded in agreement, ‘Mr Barkley Shaw will carry the keys, and Lieutenant Hopkirk holds the ammunition. Both men are armed. Her Majesties Government promised them to Yakub Beg the Ameer of Chinese Turkistan. That’s the only reason he is allowing the establishment of a trading post.’

Dalgleish looked shocked, and his uncle continued, ‘Remember the Mutiny in 57, don’t mention the rifles to the natives.’

A tall man strode across the garden – Dalgleish recognized him as Muhammad Isa, the caravan Bashi. He was the captain of the caravan, and it was his job to safely navigate the convoy during the month-long journey across the Himalayas into China. Thirty men, twenty cargo-laden ponies, and fifteen sheep to be consumed along the way would make up the caravan.

A shorter man shuffled behind Muhammad Isa, and they both stepped up onto the veranda. The Bashi held a commanding presence. ‘Greetings Sahib Russell, I bring a bearer for your nephew.’

‘His name is Joo, and I can only spare him after he had attended to the animals and his duties in the camp kitchen.’

Russell looked the small man up and down; he was about the same age as Dalgleish, and where his left eye should have been was a raised pink scar of buckled skin. Joo immediately clasped his hands together in a Buddhist greeting and bowed his head. A long plait of black hair swung from the back of his head.

‘It is my most honoured duty to serve you, Sahib Dalgleish,’ Joo said in a voice that was almost a whisper.

Dalgleish smiled, stood up and said, ‘The pleasure is all mine, Joo. I’ve never had a bearer before.’

Muhammad Isa caught Russell’s eye and both the older men thought the same thing; best not get too chummy with your bearer.

To be continued…


Ameer: A nobleman. A ruler.
Bearer: A man’s personal servant in British India. Responsible for clothing and often the running of a household.
Caravan: A group of travellers, often traders on the Silk Road, journeying together
with pack animals such as horses, camels or yaks.
Central Asian Trading Company: Established in 1873 to trade within the domain of Yakub Beg, Ameer of Chinese Turkistan, now the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous
Region of China.
Chummy: Friendly; from Chummery, a British Raj term for a residence housing single male officers of the British India Army.
Bashi: A leader, headman or captain of a caravan. Usually a senior native man with knowledge about the route to be travelled as well as experience organizing and overseeing caravans.
Bungalow: A substantial house erected in British India by Europeans.
East India Company: Also known as Honourable East India Company, East India Trading Company, the English East India Company or the British East India Company, and informally known as John Company, or simply The Company.
A British company, founded with a Royal Charter in 1600, initially to trade with the Mughals of India and the East Indies. It established itself as a powerful trading, political and military force throughout Asia and helped build the British Empire. After the First War of Indian Independence in 1857 (also known as the Mutiny) the British Government nationalized the company, and the Crown took control. The East India Company was eventually dissolved in 1874.
Kashmiri Point: A scenic location in Murree and where Robert Barkley Shaw built a substantial house. The mountains surrounding Kashmir are viewed from the point.
Murree: A mountainous town or hill station in what is now northern Pakistan. It was established in 1851 by the British Raj as a sanatorium for its soldiers stationed on the Afghanistan frontier. From 1873 to 1879 it was the headquarters for the local British India Government.
Mutiny: 1857 to 1857. Also referred to the Sepoy Mutiny, the Indian Mutiny,
the Great Rebellion, the Revolt of 1857, the Indian Insurrection, and the First War of Independence. Indian uprising against the East India Company who ruled British India on behalf of the British Crown. The Mutiny was unsuccessful but paved the way for the Crown to take control of British India and ultimately for Indian Independence in 1947.
Sahib: A term of address or title similar to Mr. It was used in British India by an Indian native when addressing a European Male.
Shaw, Robert Barkley: (1839-1879) A British India explorer, trader and diplomat. He established the Central Asian Trading Company in 1873 to trade with Kashgar and Yarkand in Chinese Turkistan, then ruled by Yakub Beg. Note, I have chosen to use the surname Barley Shaw because of its poetic rhythm.
Yakub Beg: (1820-1877) Also spelt Yaqub Beg, Yakoob Beg, Ya`qūb Beg or Yakub bek. He was born into a humble Muslim family in Uzbekistan but rose through army ranks. During the Dungan Revolt (1862-77) he took control of an area known as Chinese Turkistan which included the citadels of Kashgar and Yarkand. Now, this is the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. He appointed himself Ameer or Atalik Ghazi.
Yakub Beg died retreating from the Chinese as they reconquered the region in 1877.