Saturday, September 29, 2012


* Unfortunate randy octopus now on  life support

In breaking news , Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott , has been rushed to hospital in Sydney after being attacked by a deadly blue ringed octopus at County Bondi .

Astute readers will recall that Mr  Abbott, who  spends a lot of time  trying to read the political and economic  portents  in  the entrails of  Young Liberal Party prawn and Farex nights , recently warned the nation that it was  being  strangled by  an  octopus.  Now, spookily,  he is the victim of  a  nasty, spotty  octopus shaped like  Bronwyn's   ruffled hairdo  the  morning after a wild night of  line dancing  with  the  National Party .

Initial reports say the amorous octopus apparently slipped into Abbott’s budgie smugglers  while he was  doing the Australian  crawl and gave him a painful love bite in a most disadvantageous position . As he screamed in agony, called for help and beat at his groin with his boxing gloves , one containing a horseshoe , shocked onlookers thought it was a stunt for a reality TV show as he seemed to be singing a wild version of the OCTOPUS’S GARDEN song , made famous by The Beatles. One of the first to rush to his assistance was crapmetal dealer and used chaffbag salesman, Alan Penny-Farthing Jones, who had been promenading on The Corso with his second best friend , a talking prostate gland , who resides in a fancy pickle bottle filled with formalin and a splash of Jennie George’s curative yoghurt. Jones offered to give Abbott mouth to mouth resuscitation or suck the venom from the afflicted area. Writhing in agony, Abbott said any one of these acts would mean they were legally  married in Arkansas and cause him great damage in the polls . Furthermore , if Jones  had not cleaned his dentures  that morning  Abbott  could  turn into a vampire with pointy teeth and ears.

A Manly surf lifesaver told Little Darwin Abbott’s bitten area inflated like a balloon -“like Joe Hockey’s face when he huffs and puffs on television every day .”The quick thinking lifesaver called in a passing Japanese whaler to ease the dangerous situation by firing an explosives tipped harpoon into the hapless politician . Then tanned members of the nearby Bondi Icebergers Club waddled across and applied large blocks of ice to the gory wound, causing him to again yell and scream , as if singing the Octopus’s Garden once more , this time reminiscent of the odd version by The Muppets, perhaps even the  rarely heard cute performance by the Chipmunks .  STOP PRESS : Malcolm Turnbull fell down laughing on hearing of his leader’s painful plight and was taken away in an ambulance , jibbering like Inspector Clouseau’s chief in the Pink Panther movie. The Turnbull  family goldfish is receiving  trauma  counselling  and  brave Mrs Turnbull  is  taking frequent  swigs of  Omega 3 to cope with the  grim fact that  the  poor octopus  will  die  and  her  husband  will eventually come home a different, twitching man , sedated, wearing a back  to front canvas jacket  with  large Royal Navy  brass buttons and straps .


( An offbeat photo study of Darwin, with apologies to the Beatles, Jules Verne and Salvatores Cafe-corner of Knuckey and Smith Streetsoffering Italian  and seafoods )

Through the porthole of a unique  cafe one is likely to see Captain Nemo passing by  on a bicycle and other marine life ; from the conning tower , with the aid of a  powerful telescope, catch a  far away glimpse of  Casuarina  and the cascading yellow blossom  on trees marking the end of the Dry and the start of the build up , the falling flowers carpeting roadways and verges.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Apart from keeping company with Australian Foreign Affairs Minister , Andrew Peacock (she took him UFO spotting on a date ), and falling asleep during a speech delivered by PM John Howard in the US , Shirley MacLaine, above, in the clutches of  the Kooyong Kid, is famous for making numerous astral travel trips to mysterious galaxies. Little Darwin can report that Ms MacLaine disappeared after setting out to attend a recent dress up party staged by the lively Darwin Evergreens . A member went to much trouble gathering clothing and accessories from  Darwin's bespoke  Op Shop at the Uniting Church, Nightcliff , to present herself as Shirley MacLaine at the shindig . There was a short , shimmering frock , a bit like something girls wore in speakeasies , and  a lot of work was put into making an elegant cigarette holder. While being driven to the knees up, for some strange reason, the woman was urged by a friend to be  Lucille Ball of I Love Lucy fame , not MacLaine . OK. Why or what happened next is not clear but sounds like something out of The United States of Tara . Shirley Maclaine , now Lucille Ball, was  further induced by someone  dressed up as fruity Carmen Miranda to be Humphrey Bogart’s partner , Lauren Bacall . OK. Not unexpectedly , inappropriately dressed as Bacall, she failed to win a prize. Wherever  you  are - frequently  transmogrified  Shirley MacLaine- would  you please call  home as there is a lamb roast planned for  tonight,  or  send  Little Darwin a postcard.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


The expanded Air North direct service  from Darwin to Townsville seems to be   well supported. It is no longer necessary to make the long way round  trip to Townsville  via Brisbane  or   Cairns. Flight time is about 2hours 20minutes  and is bound to build up two way contact, bringing the  Barrier Reef , university and medical training facilities  closer  to the NT. Little Darwin  used the service recently, the first time on an Air North plane, the second in a larger associated Alliance Airlines 100 seat Fokker which carried the above new inflight magazine ROCKS containing an article about Darwin’s Beercan Regatta.  Alliance is closely associated with the mining industry, providing FIFO services.  While some  passengers on the Townsville  to Darwin flight were   obviously dressed for action   FIFOs, there were businessmen , family groups, apparent tourists .

ELECTION MIDNIGHT SHOOT OUT -The Pete Steedman Chronicles .

In this rare daguerreotype of Steedman he looks like the wholesome son of  a preacher man  who won the heart of Dusty Springfield ,  a cardsharp  out of  Gunsmoke  and an up and coming Hollywood  star called  Depp. 

After a spell  at the Caulfield Institute of Technology where his concept  of educational marketing had resulted in over-subscribed courses and its rise to one of the top education institutions in Victoria, Steedman felt the need to move on again. His wife, Julie, had completed her ceramics course and the eldest child was ready for school. Pete and Julie had been instrumental, with several others, in establishing the first crèche on a tertiary education campus, assisting many single mothers and others to have the opportunity of an education and they now had to work out the next step for their two sons.

By Peter Simon

Pete took up a position as Research Officer for Senator John Button, then Deputy Leader of the Labor Party in the Senate. He combined this with his unpaid editorship of the Labor Star putting him in a position where he could learn about Canberra and how it worked. He created a network of people he could trust to provide him with information, both on policy issues and  scuttlebutt.

While working for the lively senator, an article written by Richard L’Estrange , in the National Times for the week ending May 19,1979, noted that " yesterday’s " ill fitting denims, cowboy hat and Peter Fonda sunglasses remained , but now Steedman drove a fully imported Jaguar, albeit over 20 years old. ( Steedman groaned on reading this, and pointed out he wore sunglasses long before anybody took any notice of Fonda and his shades.)

The entertaining report revealed that back in the l960s , Steedman had been the "absolute personification of radical chic." The intriguing article was headed : KONFRONTASI (1) Blood nearly flows at ALP victory  party . It told of an incident late at night in the elegant ALP suite of offices in Carlton to celebrate a swing against the Victorian Hamer Government. Steedman, a Super A grade journalist, confronted a reporter from The Australian, David Wilson .

Steedman, it said, had had confrontations with L’Estrange - nicknamed " Dick the odd"- and Wilson in the past. Steedman claimed to have been denigrated regularly by L'Estrange, an ex Press Secretary for State Labor Leader , Clyde Holding, in a sheet called The Toorak Times.

According to the L'Estrange confrontation report , Steedman told Wilson it was five minutes to midnight and if he was not out of the premises by midnight , he "would be done over". A beefy person had intervened between the two, and Steedman began the countdown. At the two minute mark , Steedman stated the obvious when he said he expected the incident would appear in print . Wilson tempted fate by saying he was not a correspondent for the journal of Mental Hygiene. Phew ! With little time to go before the promised doing over erupted , Wilson decamped with " some dignity," leaving Steedman to enjoy the  celebrations in an appropriate manner .

At times , in the Labor Star, run by Steedman , he criticised the right wing of NSW Labor , which attacked the Victorian Left wing ; this prompted another strange exchange .

Senator Button and NSW Right wing strong man , John Ducker , were together in the backblocks during an inquiry, both tired and hungry, eating pie , chips and garnish (fair shake of the tomato sauce bottle ?) . In his account of what transpired, the late Senator Button said Ducker, with a rich Yorkshire accent, known as "Bruvver Dooker", said : "Bruvver, I've got one problem with you."

"What's that?" I asked, a little alarmed.

"I understand", he said, ”that you are on friendly terms with a certain Pete Steedman."

Senator Button here explained for readers that Steedman, who later went into Federal politics was a member of the Victorian Left, a noisy libertarian in a leather jacket; Ducker was a conservative New South Wales Catholic.

" He makes outrageous attacks on the NSW Right ," Ducker went on.

Button made some comment about the ALP being a broad church. Ducker put on his bemused look and returned to his pie and chips. No further mention was made of Steedman during that period of togetherness on the pie crust littered fact finding trail.


Steedman moved on from the senator’s employ and became an official of the Municipal Employees Union , representing many people on the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, garbos , the same people who inspired Frank Hardy’s up -the -workers political farce , Outcasts of Foolgarah.

The union was coming up to their elections and a group, associated with outside bodies , was making a bid for control of the union. It turned nasty and officials were bashed at a meeting in Trades Hall, a car was fire bombed and Steedman had a gun put to his head by a thug working for the other side. Steedman designed an internal media strategy, exposing the links behind the opposition and although the other group tried twice more, its  vote continued to decline, until they were no more.

When he joined the MEU it was going down the gurgler financially, with old long- term investments on minimal returns. He restructured the finances , pulled in outstanding union dues and bought a building next to the ALP office and moved out of Trades Hall. Steedman oversaw the development of the building and introduced computers into the union, designed new logos and brought them into the 20th century. Steedman still has a liquid lunch from time to time with comrades from that union, now part of the Australian Services Union [ASU].

 Who was that man in a cowboy hat, wearing dark glasses , driving a Jaguar, with a sign saying , in no uncertain terms, that the Tory PM must go ? The possession of such a vehicle produced some critical comments by union officials drinking in the Curtin Hotel about him  driving around in a toff’s limo. Steedman pointed out his old Jag cost about $5000, while the snipers had vehicles costing $20,000 or more.


A political animal , Steedman  was  full of ideas , an achiever , who had run a number of major, successful campaigns in London against powerful vested interests, including one which stopped a plan to tear down a large part of Piccadilly Circus ,  a natural contender for parliament. So in l983 he was selected to contest the Federal seat of Casey for the ALP. While Steedman’s lively headings in The Star had FRASER FREAKING , he caused ALP  Victorian secretary, Bob Hogg, into  a similar freakish  condition, perhaps more like  apoplexy

As an audacious joke, Steedman had made  political tin lapel badges carrying  a   message like : Put a Pervert in Parliament . Vote Steedman 1 . Steedman said Hogg nearly fell through floor when he showed him the badge and said thousands had been distributed throughout the electorate . Actually, only about three badges had been made ,  one still exists somewhere in Steedman’s files.

In the interests of  factual reporting, due consideration was given to contacting Hogg, a former senior adviser to Bob Hawke and ALP National Secretary, partner of former Bennelong MHR, Maxine McKew , soon to launch her book TALES FROM THE POLITICAL TRENCHES, to test the veracity of the alleged tin badge episode, but it would be a shame to  cast doubt on such a beaut anecdote. On the other hand, when Bob Hogg, pictured above with  Maxine , becomes aware of this part of the Steedman Chronicles,  Little Darwin would like to receive a communication from him.

As is the case in politics, Steedman’s controversial days in university and his prominent opposition to the Vietnam war and conscription were resurrected and rehashed to present him , he said, as a "hydra-headed monster". Much of this information was wrong , compiled by people since identified as operatives of ASIO and the far right wing NCC. Despite the campaign of vilification, he won the seat, defeating Liberal Peter Falconer. NEXT : Steedman makes his maiden speech , enrages the National Party by suggesting they were extremely close to pet sheep , makes disparaging comments about Tasmanians and takes up the cause of oppressed Filipinos.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


The grand plan by former Chief Minister Paul Henderson to sponsor an annual Henderson’s Big Band Bash if re-elected was blown away by the political winds of change. Defeated and deflated, Henderson went to the rear of the whipped cream team to teach comrades the rousing hymn , No Longer Abide With Me , to the accompaniment of clanking , greasy soupspoons. However, the new dominant musical combo in town- the Mills Brothers and the Sheikhpersons of Scrubby Creek- are working on an imported musical act which it is confidently predicted will lift the roof on Darwin’s convention centre , and many other big venues across the nation .

While the project is top secret, a Little Darwin bug inserted under the velvet cushioned throne of Terry Mills has been supplying us with leaks galore. We understand Australia’s #1 talent agency - Barge Arse Enterprises (N.L) - has been in negotiation with one of the world’s most famous entertainers on behalf of the  NT . A mysterious name , Le Petomane, came through on our spy wire before it was hit by a stray US Marine drone which went AWOL after a marauding cane toad jammed the controls. Knowing that our sea-going illustrator/ Grey Nomad goader /composer of Little’s Darwin Bulldust Diary , Peter Burleigh, is a Francophile , we asked him for the gen on this unknown entertainer with the French sounding name , Le Petomane . His response was nautical : “ Blow me down and shiver me deck timbers !” It turns out that Le Petomane used to be La Belle France’s NUMBER ONE  wind player at the saucy Moulin Rouge , back in the naughty Can Can dancing days .

His audacious performances were world famous and caused amazed audiences to go into convulsions . Some modest  madames , with tight whalebone corsets, collapsed on the floor in giggling, crying , incontinent heaps . Crowned heads of European countries frequently disguised themselves as the midget artist Toulouse Lautrec to attend . The management became suspicious when it seemed the place was knee deep in  gawking dwarfs wearing gold crowns . Poor old Petomane worked so hard to please his huge audiences who demanded  encore after encore  that he eventually blew a valve , ran out of puff and was given a huge  state funeral. Being a national treasure, more popular than the Eiffel Tower, he was cryogenically frozen - like Walt Disney- until the day he could be defrosted and blow audiences away once more.

Peter Burleigh warned Little Darwin’s Diplomatic Correspondent, Pierre Freeloader, last man to leave any Darwin embassy party, that the new NT government would infuriate the French if it arranged for the resurrected national idol to thaw out in Darwin . The angry French could retaliate by cutting off the supply of croisssants to the Cool Spot and the Nightcliff Sunday market . With musical and literary skills similar to Petomane, Burleigh searched the famous Paris book shop , Shakespeare and Company , on the Left Bank , and came up with the well - thumbed book ( above ) about the outrageous  and  famous  le Petomane, who it is tipped will create a sensation when he performs before a select audience-the Big End of Town- at Government House  next NT Cracker Night , which normally runs for 13 months of the year.

Monday, September 24, 2012


Gourmet tucker runs out as Bulldust Diary author / illustrator and Grey Nomad baiter , Peter Burley, recently revealed as the Scarlet Pimpernel (he’s everywhere-up a bone dry creek in the Aussie outback , the next moment up a champagne drenched canal in France),becomes an ambulance driver in a dramatic mercy dash , endangering his grog supply while bouncing along the WA Gibb River Road on the run to Mount Elizabeth and the Drysdale River Station.

An endless 30km of travel up a lower intestine of rock drifts and creek crossings known as the Mt. Elizabeth Road takes us through not over – crowds of curious kangaroos and we emerge to camp in a field near the Mt. Elizabeth homestead. We cook on an open fire. You can’t do this much these days.

I had two meat pies today, which supplied enough calories to keep 12 Ethiopians alive for a month. Why? Because the alternative was an old sausage roll, an old Chicko Roll (shudder) or a packet of Allen’s Jelly Snakes ( Bermuda’s choice). Even worse, some of our party have underestimated the amount of alcohol we require to maintain a decent standard of living on the road, and are now dry. We’re prepared to share the Jacobs Creek and the Miranda Spumante purchased by our token American, but know that most of us are retaining the better wine for ourselves. Tension is rising. This situation could lead to a Lord of the Flies denouement or at the least a communal delirium withdrawal tremulous.

Mt Elizabeth markets itself as an all-working cattle station, an all-swimming, all-visual-riches operation. The “homestead-cooked dinner” doesn’t eventuate as promised, but a tourist bus arrives and they seem to get fed. Something about the cooks going AWOL.

An expeditionary column from our party sets out for the swimming hole equipped with a mud map supplied by the homestead (a photocopied scrawl on half a page of paper: cost $2). The swimming hole couldn’t be found earlier, but these guys are determined.

The camp ground is a delight. A display of peacocks wanders around in the shade of the deep green mango trees. The males peck at their reflections in a chrome bumper-bar. Kelpies, foals, native birds, chooks, ducks and tame wallabies all visit. Corellas perch in the ghost gums, which shed their bark like pale snakeskin. Some kind of Australian Eden.

Bermuda is sick. He displays two puncture wounds about 10mm apart, but he didn’t see a snake, insect or spider. He got them yesterday and now his leg seems infected; a pink flush is rising in his calf. Luckily we have a doctor in the tent. She issues antibiotics with little effect. Question is, drive him 400km to Kununurra Hospital, call the Flying Doctor or pretend it’s a common cold?

Just as we decide to relocate the Bermuda Triangle to Kununurra Hospital tomorrow, a woman on a bicycle arrives from the homestead. She has urgent news. One of our swimming-hole party has fallen down a rocky slope and can’t walk. They are located in a gorge one kilometre from the end of an impossibly bad road. Could we pick up a stretcher from the homestead, drive down, pick him up and carry him out? The injured man is Mickey. I guess he weighs 120 kilos. He has a pacemaker and, as well as his injury, is apparently frozen with anxiety.

The Pajero negotiates/climbs/slithers up and down the trail, Banzai-ing like the little Japanese champion it is. Many of the rocks bear impact marks from the undersides of other vehicles. I and the others with me are silently sweating over the prospect of carrying Mickey through this terrain for a kilometre, when we get a break –a car comes toward us with a grinning Mickey on board. He was goaded and cajoled onto his feet. Apart from some growing aches and pains and developing bruises from dropping into the rocks he seems fine...but he’ll go to hospital tomorrow, along with Bermuda.

Meanwhile by phone the Flying Doctor prescribes more antibiotics for the Bermuda Triangle and a pressure bandage for Mickey. In the morning they are driven into Kununurra, Bermuda doubtless into the Triangle Ward for bemused travellers and Mickey into Casualty for a checkup on his leg, a grease-and-oil-change for his pacemaker, an attitude tweak and so on. With the loss of Bermuda, Mickey and their support team, sudden attrition has left us with all the beer and wine.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


At last- Peter Burleigh locked up in the next romantic chapter about  sailing  hand in hand into the sunset with a butterfly in the City of Love . Warning : Queenslanders will be  offended .

Part 2: Secrets of Living on a Boat en France

OK, there  are a few things that don’t really work on a boat and if they’re essential to your lifestyle you’ll have problems. A billiard table, for example, is a challenge. The balls roll around at random whenever you hit a bow-wave or a swell. Carpet Bowls and Pinball are no longer under your control but gravity’s, which spitefully adds pitch and yaw. Doing Brain Surgery or using anything more precise than a bottle-opener can be risky.

You must come to terms with the instability of water or you’ll soon believe there’s a conspiracy against you. If you agree with Billy Connolly that a boat is a prison which adds the danger of drowning, stay well away. The boat won’t let you steer it like a car. A boat slides. It changes direction slowly. You have to steer in the present but with your mind in the future. Turn the wheel now and you’ll get a response in a few moments, not immediately. It takes so long to respond that at first I went below and wrote two chapters of my novel and still had time to avoid the channel markers. Oh yes – there are no brakes but there are ways of stopping suddenly against stone walls or lock gates.


Other people in other boats are a fund of gratuitous advice, usually negative. You’re warned against everything: the damage the Arzviller chain-tug will cause to your boat, the gendarmes checking that you’re not using heating oil instead of diesel (it’s exactly the same, but heating oil is subsidized and 50% cheaper), the VNF are checking the permits to use the canals, the flies, the serpents (yes, there are snakes in France). After you talk to a few fellow boat owners, you realise how lucky you are to have survived so far, because they know people who’ve drowned, burned alive, crushed inside locks, chewed up by propellers and arrested by Gendarmes at gunpoint for drunken boat-driving. Initially this is very alarming because you don’t want to damage yourself or your boat, and it’s wiser to believe it than ignore it. You soon find out it’s all fabrication. Canal cruising is fuelled by rumours but the reality is charming, peaceful and a hell of a good time.

Each new season has its rumours. This year they said global warming had turned the Carmargue into a sub-tropical swamp and insecticide-immune mosquitoes laden with malaria were swarming northward into the very region we are in .People who own boats tread a fine line between irresponsibility and insanity. Steer clear of them.


People on boats can get a bit crazy when they feel their rights are being threatened. The gendarmes and VNF officials steer clear of any real contact with us because they know that with the possible exclusion of murder, the mayhem caused by dealing with boat owners simply isn’t worth a charge of breaking the speed limit (6kph on the Burgundy Canal, slower than a snail on Vallium), permit expiration and sounding the boat horn after 10pm.You’re wrong if you think the French canals are crowded with boats and petty bureaucracy, they’re not. It’s very, very rare that anyone checks your papers or annual permit . It really is possible to enter a kind of Serene Zone and have the holiday of a lifetime – or a lifetime of holiday if you buy your own boat. An Australian boating license (i.e. that one you have for the old tinny) works fine. They don’t dream that the Australian license doesn't qualify you for absolutely nothing. When I first turned up in France I had perhaps two and a half hours of boating experience, and half of that distorted by how much “beverage” I’d consumed. I flashed my Australian Boat License and they treated me like a gentleman.


Diesel fuel is a major cost of cruising. Because The Butterfly has an engine twice the power of our previous boat we can expect higher fuel consumption. In our absence diesel has risen to at least a Euro-fiftynine (about $A1.93) a litre, the price we paid near Detroit Marine. As it was we took on 300 litres, but when we fill the entire 500-litre tank in one go the cost will be breath-taking. The Butterfly is packed with machinery and other stuff and I can’t find a place for a couple of jerrycans. We kept our previous boat full of fuel by buying diesel at canal-side supermarkets and rolling jerrycans back-and-forth in trolleys. Looked silly but saved money. This time we must buy larger amounts at higher prices from the rare fuel bunkers along the rivers. By the time we get to our destination I reckon the tank will be two-thirds empty. It needs to be filled to the top for winter to prevent internal condensation. There’ll be plenty of condensation in my wallet instead.

The Language

The French continue to struggle with the domination of the English language. Understandably their own language is of great pride to them because it’s theirs and no one else’s. Until recently there was even a Government Department of French Language Purity (the Academie Francaise). [Ed:  In Quebec,Canada,where  Burleigh once lived , there is the Quebec Office of the French Language.] It combed communication for non-French words. Many deemed a threat to the glory of  France were English words. They were guillotined by law.

You couldn’t call it a computer any more, it became an ordinateur. Some English and American tourists believe that shouting at French people who don’t understand them is the best way to an accord. This doesn’t work. Generally, if you make an effort to speak a few words of their language the French are charming and helpful. The trouble is, speaking correct French means accepting very strange concepts. You learn that things such as bicycles, bricks, toilet paper, wind and rain are either masculine or feminine despite their unquestioned lack of genitals.

In the vegetable kingdom for example, it is accepted that potatoes are female. The carrot (carrote) is feminine yet the leek (poireau) is masculine. Their refusal to pronounce the letter H is puzzling as they use it in several words. As noted earlier, perfect correctness is not worth worrying about. Shrug, smile, be friendly and the issue will go away.


Americans, Canadians, Kiwis and especially Australians have a habit of rushing from one place to another, as if their destinations are moving away from them. We seem to believe that the time actually spent  going from one place to another will be subtracted from the most virile part of our lives, so we go flat out all the time, our bow-waves eroding the banks and our wash offending French fishermen. Hey, shrug a little. Slow down. Smile lazily as they say. There’s too much good stuff to risk missing it. Take three days to travel a distance you’d ordinarily cover in a short day.After a while you’ll start talking slower and feeling better and you’ll refuse to hurry anywhere. You’ll get to like it. If an Australian asks why you’re such a sluggard, simply say you’re from Queensland.


Cruising is actually exercise, or it’s more exercise than you’re used to having, so your appetite for everything is stimulated. France is a wonderful country to care less about diet in. The kitchen in your boat will be cramped and unsophisticated, but even Neanderthals had Gourmet Nights. French supermarkets are terrific. They don’t have much in the way of Asian spices and exotic faraway cuisine, but you don’t miss it. The fish and meat are fresh, the meat aged suitably; you can buy game, ducks, quail, goat and Guinea Fowl in any medium-size supermarket. The pies, terrines, sausages and pates are amazing; the vegetables fresh; the coffee selection excellent; the desserts are...well, hard to describe. They beckon, seduce, demand to be eaten. Don’t bother to prepare desserts – you can’t match their skill – but do cook the fresh stuff. You’ll love it.


Watching French TV is like staring at a dog turd. It stinks, it’s ugly and it doesn’t say anything intelligent. If you speak the language it’s even worse because you can understand what they’re saying. Australian TV is mind-numbingly superficial, but the French have perfected giving audiences a lobotomy via their eyes. Be sure to take something to read, or have a hard-disk full of movies in your computer.

Blog Temptation or Diary Disease.

I am writing these pieces because...because...give me a minute to think of a reason which doesn’t include ego or boasting. No matter how skilled my descriptions are there’s still that element of “we’ve got a boat in France and you haven’t.” People in boats believe they’re having unique experiences. There are dozens of blogs on the internet written by yachties, cruisers and even passengers on liners, and just when you were telling your friends what a relief it is that colour slides are out of fashion. There are probably thousands of lapsed blogs, unpublished memoirs and interminable "how to go canal boating"diaries written over the years. Look in your local bookshop and you’ll find several books written by the same people. The back catalogues show many more. Predictably it’s all as boring as bat shit.

One of the most effective ways to avoid the temptation to write about what a good time you’re having is to be constantly refreshed by wine and/or spirits and simply enjoy yourself. Forget the diary. For example, a good time in the form of a bottle of Vodka from the supermarket costs as little as 10 Euros ($A12.20) – who gives a damn that it’s made in France and has a name that rhymes with “cirrhosis” – and genuinely good wine is cheap. At minimum we buy Cru Bourgeois-classified wine, roughly Silver Medal quality from $A8.50, and move up to Premier Cru from $A20. The challenge is to drink enough of it before you have to leave.

Dodgem Boats

Renting a bumper-boat is the answer if you want to try out canal life. It’s far superior way to learn about canal hazards by using a boat that you don’t own. Take a look at the ex-hire boats that come up for sale (in person, not on the internet). Look into the hatches and the bilges and you’ll find they’ve been raped, sacked and pillaged, rammed by stone walls, broken by collisions with immovable objects...and people like you have done it. They’re cracked, bruised, rusted, snapped and held together by gaffer tape. You recognise hire boats by the rows of inflated fenders hanging off the gunnels and the rubber bumper strips running around the entire hull. Theoretically you can be as incompetent as you like and insurance will cover you, not that you’d want to put a French insurance company to the test.

You pay boat rent and insurance, buy your own fuel at the end of the hire, and you have plenty of living space both inside and out, a fridge, kitchen with everything, at least one bathroom, can rent all your linen and can choose from a range of boats that accommodate two to twelve people. Some are air-conditioned; all have heating. They give you a barbeque. You hire bicycles and take them on board. They offer a breakdown service should you need it. You can do base-to-base trips rather than going out and coming back the same way. At the end of your hire you can just walk away – no repair bills or winterising costs unless you get the bug and decide to buy your own boat. Never, ever buy an ex-rental boat.

Your Crew

Solo boating is so introspective it’s only suited to advanced Buddhists or cranky hermits. You need at least one crew member to prevent you from going crazy, to help dismantle the electric toilet when it gets blocked, and to hand you tools when you’re arse-up in the engine space. The crew depends on the Captain for the safety of the boat and themselves, so should always be  ready to issue orders in an emergency, like “you take over the steering now.”In fact cruising on the canals tends to bring out the best in married couples. You can be shocked to discover you’re walking around holding hands, having a real conversation or laughing because you’re simply feeling good being in each others’ company.

We’ve been hitched for 25 years and know all there is to know about each other, but this cruise reminded me what a terrific person (I mean crew-member) Judi is and what a knockout she was when I met her and still is, and still shining through is her generosity and intelligence. Those things can’t be faked. How could I be out of the habit of holding hands with a woman like her?The wrong crew-member will be a disaster. Friendships can be tested and sometimes destroyed by spending more than three days together. What’s that saying – “Guests and fish go off after three days”? NEXT : The Horror, the Horror.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


("Vers le Bas Sous les Canaux Français" ? Not the same, is it ?)

 Rope Admiral Judi -alias Madame Butterfly-helps Little Darwin  regular  contributor  Peter Burleigh spread his wings .

Part 1: A Surfeit of Character

Among my earliest childhood memories is my father’s regular and scornful insistence that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, meaning the only way a boy could build a level of acceptable moral fibre was to face death or dismemberment several times a week. Over several decades I added marriage, disease and over-confidence to the “what doesn’t actually kill you” list until I was sure that character was oozing from every orifice. However, this year I have taken on a challenge which includes all five character-building elements. It’s pushing me to the extreme #10 ranking on the Boris Karloff scale of Stoic Manliness.

Earlier this year we bought a live-aboard cruiser in the UK, intending to get it to France and cruise the canals to a town south of Dijon in seven weeks. My superior officer and partner in this odyssey is my trusty mate Judi, who holds the rank of “Rope Admiral”. I am the titular captain but we both know where the real authority lies. Her coolness in the face of typical onboard galactic catastrophes goes far beyond my own.

There are dozens of boat types out there, several choices of hull material and an infinite number of layouts and inclusions. It’s easy to spend your childrens’ inheritance, but harder to make the right decision of what’s right for you. Overwhelmed, we turned to four basic criteria:

Did we want a sail boat or a power boat?

Would we cross oceans or stick to the coasts and inland waterways?

How many toilets do we want?

Do we want a washing machine?

Do we want to spend our treasure to buy a boat or should we rent when we need one?

Years before we had bought a Dutch canal cruiser named “De Laak” and a witty Frenchman dubbed Judi "la Dame du Lac" or "Lady of the Lake". Our new purchase is also Dutch, named “De Vlinder” (The Butterfly) so it follows that Judi will be called "Madame Papillon"’("Madame Butterfly").

By 2012 my refusal to accept any form of self-denial had blunted my father’s saying to “whatever I kill and eat makes me stronger”, so the decision to put the boat on a truck at its Berkshire marina and send it by road to a marina an hour west of Paris was an easy one. To cross the Channel through international waters meant suffering endless rules and regulations, and required qualifications in everything from operating a chart plotter to evading schools of ferries and freighters which crowd the world’s busiest sea lanes. The real horror was the prospect of dealing with the UK, French and EU bureaucracies at the same time.

An internet search revealed a marina near Poissy with a crane big enough to lift the boat off the truck and launch it directly into the Seine. De Vlinder weighs around 14 tonnes so she’s no tinny. Complete with a rear deck, a swimming platform with an outdoor shower, a saloon with satellite TV and a curved staircase, a kitchen, a dinette, two refrigerators, a bow cabin with bathroom and a stern cabin with shower and bathroom, The Butterfly is a beautiful thing. It looks and feels unused, although built in 2006. We flogged Google for 12 months before we found it, we negotiated for another 6 months and finally, another 12 months later, here we are. During those last months we kept scouring the net looking for similar boats, hoping we hadn’t paid too much. We hadn’t.

We leave the UK by below-Channel train on the same Monday the boat is driven away on the truck to cross above-Channel, and we were scheduled to meet up in France at 9.00am Tuesday at Detroit Marine at Vieux-sur-Seine. Why Tuesday? One of the quirks of French business is that many are closed on Mondays for no apparent reason.

Being both Samaritan and good, some friends have promised to meet us in their own boat. They are here, but our boat isn’t. Detroit is the name 18th century French settler Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac gave to the river, and to the town which didn’t became the capital of the US state of Michigan. Lansing did. “Detroit” also means Strait, so make of this what we could, it still didn’t explain why the boat hasn’t arrived at Detroit Marine by four that afternoon.

England assures us by phone that the boat will arrive the next day. At Dover, the first ferry port the truck went to, the bottom of the trailer was too low to get up the ramp, so it had to detour to Folkstone, and there the boat was too wide to get on the ferry.... so they detoured even further south to Newhaven before it could get over the channel to Dieppe, an arrival port far south of the truck’s original destination, Calais. Luckily we can stay aboard our friends’ boat.

The next morning the truck driver reports that he’s caught in a 10-km traffic jam. He’s crawling through narrow village streets and contributing to the chaos by barely missing the power lines, intimidating oncoming traffic and scaring small children. Apparently the police aren’t helping.

Boats are very costly and therefore held in high nervous regard if they’re endangered, and at this rate ours could be destroyed and recycled into hairpins before it touches the water. This supports one of the traditional arguments against buying a boat (flushing money down a toilet), but if you must buy one make sure you never move it from its mooring. That way your investment isn’t threatened, nor is your life.

When the truck does arrive four hours later it’s preceded by a little Renault van topped with a flashing yellow light and a‘Convoi Exceptionel’ sign, the present-day equivalent of a man with a red flag walking in front of your car. The boat, its trailer and its prime mover is a gigantic assemblage which turns down the steeply-sloping driveway of the Detroit Marina and instantly gets stuck on the footpath. There’s a resonant chorus of “merde!” from the assembled rubber-neckers and the sound of clenching teeth from Judi and me. Strangers try to cheer us up. The girl from the Marina office advises “Restez Zen!” which is OK for a Buddhist monk but not people whose boat is about to be smashed like a cheap toy.

The street is blocked and so is the entrance to the marina. French people pour from nearby houses and the backed-up cars to form committees to discuss the problem. In response to the outpouring of gratuitous advice there is a shaking of heads, shrugging and pouting. They try everything from brute force applied by a tractor to rudimentary tyre ramps made from packing crates. When it all does eventually move I reckon it’s the quality of my own swearing that’s given it impetus.

At the bottom of the hill a spider-like machine on four long legs straddles the boat as if it plans to reproduce with it – but no, it lifts the boat off the trailer and the truck extricates the trailer. The driver hands me a pen and an official form to sign. “That’s it mate; once it ain’t touchin’ the trailer no more, everything that happens to the boat is your lookout.” His bedside manner stinks. “Gotta be somewhere in Holland tonight to pick up a boat,” he says, and vanishes along with his truck. We look at the debris and rusting hulks around Detroit Marine and are discouraged by its similarity to a scrapyard.

The spider machine’s engine coughs and belches and chuffs its ungainly body towards the bank of the Seine carrying our precious boat between its legs. The keel swings only 50 millimetres above the ground. There is a rusty launching gantry at the water’s edge, overgrown with weeds, that I previously assumed is unserviceable. The spider driver seems unconcerned; he chugs along confidently. The wheeled spider legs run out along the suspended gantry tracks on each side and the boat is to be lowered into the river, unshackled and then released into the wild. The Seine has heavy barge traffic this close to Paris and the blunt-nosed monsters shunt huge bow-waves at us. To avoid severe damage we lower inflated fenders all around our boat so they will take the impact between boat and gantry. We tie her up and keep her safe but can’t stay here, it’s too hazardous.

I presume this is the “what doesn’t kill you...” part of my father’s philosophy. He loved the idea that a pessimist is simply a well-informed optimist, but he went straight to pessimism. His working life was spent in a Bank which demanded optimism in all things except you could be fired for not displaying relentless pessimism about everything. No wonder I was confused.

Our friends’ help us assemble the glass windscreen, the radar arch and the canvas canopy over the steering position, test the instruments and open the map. Suddenly we’re battered by drops of rain as big as sparrows with their wings amputated. We can’t stop putting up the covers or the boat will soon be a swimming pool. Our shoes are full of water. Heavy gusts push De Vlinder against the steel gantry. Sandwiched between the two our fenders flex in and out against the metal like they’re panting in fear. The next test is to start the engine, the one after that to get the boat away from the steel structure that the wind is determined to crush us against...

We are forty minutes from Paris by suburban train but three days away by river, not least because we are going against the current. Fuelled by elation and Mumm champagne we delight in the way time slows down on the water. The high-voltage stress of surviving the last few hours, the constant decision-making in unfamiliar hazard fades away. The pressure is off and all seems well. We have time to study the river. It’s built up of course but far more attractive than we expected; nearly all the factories and industrial areas have been swept away. Riverside land apparently is too expensive to be used for much else than residences or offices.

Trees line the banks. Ducks, which are the rabbits of the waterways, rut in the shallows under overhanging branches. One of our overnight stops is at Port Van Gogh. Bad amputation jokes fall on deaf ears. The outlying urban sprawl finally gives way to the Isle de France, the historical centre which defines the character of Paris. It’s laid out in a spiral like a halved Nautilus shell with twenty compartments. Live outside these twenty arrondissements and you can’t claim you’re Parisienne.

We head for the enclosed harbour at Arsenal, which has the Bastille Metro station at one end. En route we pass many of the monuments Napoleon built to aggrandise himself. Just past Notre Dame Cathedral we kind-of knock on a door in the bank of the Seine and they let us into a concealed lock. For your money they provide showers, toilets, maps, gardens to relax in, shore power, water. There’s a supermarket close by where you can sweep shelves-full of French wine into your ‘chariot’ (shopping trolley to you). At sixty Euros a night this is the bargain of bargains – especially when even a cheap and nasty hotel room in Paris will set you back a hundred Euros. Your other option is to sleep in a cardboard box under one of the Seine bridges but you may not care for your neighbours or their bodily fluids.

Yes, this is more like it. More Champagne and pate, please. The boat has performed smoothly. The newly-installed washing machine doesn’t shake the boat too much during its spin cycle. Judi is happy – the clothesline is constantly full. The electric toilets grind away cheerfully. Son Marc, visiting from his workplace in sunny, carefree Teheran invites hordes of Parisian friends. The boat absorbs them comfortably.

After a day or two, reality calls. We are committed to be back in Paris on the 17th of August for our flight to Australia. Today is the 23rd of July. There are 425 kilometres to be navigated and 214 locks we must pass through. A lock is a stone-walled shoebox barely wide enough to fit the boat in, manned by lazy lock keepers who are militant anarchists. Still, why worry? What could go wrong?

It is time to leave, but there is an unanswered question hanging over us, which is just how much French Champagne can an Australian drink? Judi is willing to find out, especially as our dollar is strong at the moment, but time is shortening and her liver is rebelling. Our route is clear: we cruise further up the Seine for a few days, turn to Port (or left, in lubber-speak) into the Yonne River for a week, then into the Burgundy Canal. In about three weeks we should get to a little town named St Jean de Losne where the canal meets the Soane River. There we’ll have the boat lifted out of the water, placed in a secure yard, covered and winterised against the freezing weather to come.

Next: Secrets of Living on a Boat en France

Friday, September 21, 2012


Sun drenched Magnetic Island in the distance , viewed from Townsville’s extensive waterfront area ,The Strand , has enthusiastically embraced solar energy . The island is Townsville’s solar suburb as part of the Ergon Energy Townsville Queensland Solar City project . There is a solar powered  sign on the island which provides residents with constantly  changing information on such things as the amount of solar energy produced and  the amount of C02 reduction.

The aim of the drive is to reduce greenhouse gases , save customers money and defer investment in augmenting the power link to the island. Peak demand in December 2011 was 40% below that predicted as usual without the Solar City project. It is 19% below the target for the project and 2% less than the 2010 peak.

Energy consumption continues to reduce and levels are now 12% below the peak annual usage, having returned to 2007 levels.

• The installation of a third cable to the island (at an estimated cost of $17 million) has been deferred for another 8 years.

33 520 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions were saved by 30 June 2011.

Energy assessments have been provided to 75% of the island residents and all of the businesses. An energy assessment results in a fall in energy consumption of 8% (measured 6-12 months later).

By the end of 2011, 700kWs of solar PV systems had been installed. The milestone of one gigawatt hour of solar electricity generated by the Solar City panels since the project commenced was passed in May 2011.

1414 smart meters had been installed by 30 June 2011.

• There is strong evidence emerging that behaviour change brought about by comprehensive energy assessments and extensive community engagement is resulting in a noticeable reduction in electricity consumption.

The Uniting Church building on the island has a battery of solar panels on its roof and there is a Smart Lifestyle Centre on the island at Horseshoe Bay which provides information .
To commemorate  the island’s engagement in the national  Solar City project , the  public  artwork, Eye in the Sky,  above ,  by   Graham Chalcroft , making great use of stainless steel,  was  installed  at  Nelly Bay  in  2010 . The two arches which form the dome are set to 19 degrees  latitude at  the site. The equatorial sundial in the northern half of the dome  tells the time in summer when the  Earth’s  southern hemisphere  is closer to the Sun.  A sundial in the  southern half  tells the   time in winter.  At the time of the equinox,as the Sun crosses the equator, the time appears to switch between the  sundials.  LED  lighting ,supplied by solar power ,  makes  the   dome visible at  night  at  the  ferry entrance.


In Perth, Federal Magistrate T. Lucev ordered that Shirley Collins be granted an extension of time to file her application for a grace in favour payment from the Federal government in respect of her involvement in the Bank of America Down Under Tour of the US in the lead up to the Sydney Olympic Games. The hearing was adjourned until November 12 for further directions by telephone .

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Early morning scene on the busy goat track up Castle Hill  with  grass  of some kind  visible in the foreground and elsewhere  .

Gamba Grass , the scourge of rural Darwin and beyond , has recently been found on the outskirts of Townsville . The African grass  grows to a height of 4.5metres , burns with great intensity and sucks nutrients out of the ground. It has been  located in  the Castle Hill area which overlooks the city , a  popular walking destination for thousands of local , interstate and overseas visitors. Residents have been alerted and plans are being drawn up to combat the menace which is good tucker for elephants and rhinos , but a threat to the Australian bush ,  native animals and property.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


While still gracing Little Darwin with his illustrated Bulldust Diary series about his travels in the outback , the exceptionally talented Peter Burleigh has begun penning a similarly entertaining account of his latest adventure-sailing about French waterways with his wife, Judi . On reading Burleigh’s magical mystery tour , our learned readers will soon detect that he is a strange  mixture of the explorer  La Perouse , Captain Hornblower , Captain Bligh, Captain Cook, Sinbad the sailor, the great French writer and philosopher , Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the little Dutch boy who put his finger in the dike. To prove that Burleigh is truly exceptional, we tender as evidence the above  photograph of his latest acquisition , a Dutch built cruiser , bought in Britain,  which required an exceptional  convoy ( in French )  to transport it to water. The series, we are assured,  will  contain  handy hints on how to  go broke running a luxury vessel  and lashing out on great French  food and  wines.