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The Old Wolf Express - Down Under 3

I am told that there are places on earth where the scenery is heartstoppingly beautiful, abounding in rainforests, waterfalls, blue lagoons, exotic flora and fauna - places like Hawaiʻi, certain islands of the South Pacific, the Maldives, just to name a few. To these places I have never been.

But mine eyes have seen paradise.



About 23 million years ago, what is now northern New South Wales passed over the Australian Hotspot. One of the massive volcanoes formed over a period of 3 million years was the Tweed Volcano, which rose about 1,900 meters above sea level and flowed outward to a diameter of 100 kilometers by the time it had finished erupting.

Over the next 20 million years, the forces of nature - including the collapse of the summit as well as erosion by rivers and rainwater and wind - sculpted a vast caldera 40 kilometers in diameter and 1000 meters deep - the biggest erosion caldera in the southern hemisphere, and one of the largest calderas in the world. Ringed by and merging with other volcanic remnants, it is one of the world's great natural wonders, at the center of which is Wollumbin (Mt. Warning). Wollumbin's easterly location and elevation of 1,156 meters means that the peak of the mountain is the first spot on the Australian continent touched by the sun on the vernal and autumnal equinoctes.

Much like Devil's Tower to the native Americans, Wollumbin has spiritual significance to the Bundjalung people and is the site of significant ceremonies and rites. It's not hard to see why. Millions of years of erosion, combined with moderate climate and abundant water, has resulted in an area of unparalleled fertility, sparsely populated by people and abundant in flora and fauna not seen anywhere else in the world. In short, this area has been touched by the hand of God. Without access to my photo management software, I can only post a poor image of Wollumbin as seen from the base of the Tyalgum Ridge Retreat. More, and far better pictures will follow after my return home on the 27th.



In this setting, at the Tyalgum Ridge Retreat (28 21'03 S, 153 08'10E), I spent a week honored by the presence of 48 teenagers and 32 other staff and facilitators, watching these amazing young people taking themselves on... like no kidding.


Saturday thefoxaroo and I took the train to Newcastle - a very pleasant ride in an air-conditioned car that was over far too soon. The scenery between Artarmon and Newcastle was very pretty, but the speed of the train and foggy, scratched windows prohibited any photography.

SteamWolf, known here as secoh for the present, met us at the station and took us to his home a short distance away. He's got a beautiful view from his back deck, pictures of which he has posted elsewhere - and a superb area for working on - or building - cars below. We were much grateful for the cooler which was running full bore in his living room. Much quality time was spent getting acquainted, telling evil jokes, watching strange things on the internet - provided by a oil-cooled Ubuntu computer - and just chewing the fat in general. In Ireland it would be called "craic" - no idea if the Ozzies have a word for that delightful pastime.

After a light refreshment of camembert, biscuits, and some madeleines which I brought him as payment for posting in my journal about a year ago, we toddled out for some sightseeing. Had some beautiful views of beaches in the Newcastle area, followed by lunch at BWP (Blue Water Pizza) on Warner's Bay, where I dined sumptuously on an Istanbul (BWP’s tomato base topped with english spinach, goats cheese and roasted eggplant dusted with moroccan spice and topped with yoghurt, fresh parsley and lemon). The Foxaroo and I went up the observation tower at Queen's Wharf and had glorious views of the surrounding area, including Nobbys Head. Following a bit more beach viewing and some shopping to acquire a sim card for the phone which was generously loaned me, we returned to SteamWolf's place, and his ladyfriend took Stephan back to the train station.

By the grace of a very comfortable guest bed, I slept like a stone, and in the morning I loaded my gear into the WolfMobile, Ford somethingorother converted to run on LPG as well as petrol. Bidding a temporary farewell to my host, I made the 800-odd kilometer drive towards Brisbane airport, stopping along the way to see whatever I could see, including a rather impressive Sikh Temple at Woolgoolga and the New Italy settlement museum near Woodburn. The complex was unfortunately closed for the holidays, but it looks like an impressive tribute to an ill-fated expedition which ended as a thriving settlement.

Parked somewhere south of Springwood for the night, and in the morning was greeted by a pair of ibises looking for breakfast in the road next to my car. Arrived at the Brisbane airport and spent the rest of the day gathering staff members and holding an inital staff meeting at a motel by the airport. I drove two of my new best friends, Sean and Patrick, up to the Tyalgum retreat - it was quite dark by the time we got there, but we had some breathtaking views of Wollumbin silhouetted by a glorious orange sunset before everything went totally black. Tragically, I ran over a snake in the road on the way - and it was a big one, about 6 feet long. He was resting on the road, soaking up the residual heat around a bend, and there was no time to stop. After some additional orientation, we settled in to our bunks for the evening.

The retreat is home to numerous animals in addition to the local fauna - llamas, donkeys, emus, goats, sheep... and roosters. Which went off without fail at around 4:20 AM. Despite their best efforts, and those of the kookaburras, cockatoos, whip birds and other denizens of the forest, I slept well. But the retreat is not air conditioned anywhere, the days are hot and the nights are warm, and I haven't felt dry since I arrived in Australia - it's humid here.

The retreat's chef is named Hans, a Hungarian transplant to Australia, who provided us with excellent and abundant food all week long. With the exception of breakfast, which invariably offered a variety of cereals, toast topped with spaghetti or beans (unusual!), bacon and eggs, various spreads (including Vegemite, of course) and various fruits, each meal was different and tasty. After breakfast, we spent the morning setting up the seminar room and being prepped on our assignments for the week. This was followed by lunch, and some time to swim (heavenly!) before the students started arriving around 2:00. Unfortunately, this was the only time I was able to avail myself of the pool because I left my swim trunks in the shower, and the next day they were gone. I can't imagine what happened to them - the retreat staff denied any knowledge, as did the other students in my room. Gremlins? Critters? A prank in poor taste? I'll never know.

Our students arrived, delivered by parents or by bus from the airport, and the seminar began in earnest. Dinner consisted of varieties of spaghetti, my choice being a lovely carbonara. My room drew an interesting collection of boys which I affectionately dubbed the wild stallions - it took some effort by the security staff and the facilitators to get them to remember the commitments they had made and settle down. To their credit, subsequent nights - while not perfect - were substantially better. Still, if these young men can channel their energy into positive growth and pursuits, they will be massively influential.

Wednesday morning started with sports at 6:30, led by the astonishingly beautiful and talented Maggie - I ran hard, played hard, and woke up sore all over the next day... prices and benefits. Another amazing seminar day with our teens, where they learned to get out of resistence, resentment and revenge in favor of giving and open, honest, responsible communication - also a powerful (but scorchingly hot) outdoor exercise dealing with the concept of trust. Swim time for those who wanted, followed by dinner - chicken in garlic sauce.

Thursday was immense for me. In the morning I went for a walk in the rainforest instead of doing sports with the rest, I wanted to give my knees a break. It was beautiful to traipse around in this still-primeval-feeling rainforest. Saw a cane toad that had come to grief in the middle of the path - it was huge, and must have just died recently because although covered with flies looked very much alive. A fly the size of a Volkswagen bus followed me down on the way home. The teens came together as a team, learned the difference between Victim and Responsible, and then had a chance to see how they showed up when the world's rules are in play. At dinner my honored mentor, our chief facilitator, gave me some very powerful feedback which helped me close some lingering gaps in my own mind about the past 30 years. I will have this to support me in difficult times forever, and I'm supremely grateful.

Friday I was able to get some laundry done at the facility - not normal but I was out of a few things because of the humidity and the camp director arranged to have one of her staff take care of that for me. Big help - I would have been in a pickle. The teens had a huge day as well, burning off some energy around relationships and playing a game which centers around the code of Bushido. I have never seen a better handling of this game - the students were astonishingly focused and honorable in the way they conducted themselves.

Saturday was our outdoor day - We took buses to Paddington, Queensland, and were well-served by the talented Andrew Murray of the Synergy Training group. The teens discovered amazing things about themselves and about teamwork, and learned to take that next step when they thought they had done all they could do. In the evening after dinner, they were rewarded with a dance, which despite over 90-degree temperatures in the dance hall, they seemed to enjoy thoroughly.

Sunday was closure day, and after a few morning exercises, their parents came for the close ones and the rest were shuttled to the airport on buses. It was an amazing week. In the afternoon I drove over a scenic route through Queensland back to Ashmore, stopping at interesting points along the way such as the Murwillumbah museum (closed, but with an amazing 12-ton Robey steam engine dating from 1909 - Kathy Garrison will laugh when she sees the picture later) and the Arthur Freeman Lookout with gorgeous views over the Currumbin valley. Landed about 4:30 at the home of the amazing Sue Raven and her family, who graciously offered to host me for a couple of days before I head South.

Monday I drove one of my fellow staff members from Brisbane to the Gold Coast airport, and on the way back stopped to buy a new pair of swimmers, so I could go frolicking in the ocean. I did so, at Palm Beach just North of Tugun (28 07'13.83"S 153 28'24.04E), and despite liberal application of sunblock got good and scorched. I must have gotten hold of the cheap stuff...

I hurt like a banshee... and it was worth it. The water was 75 degrees, and beautiful. I walked along the beach for about 4 kilometers between the stone piers, enjoying the sun, the sand and the surf.

Came back to my host's home and did some laundry, and spent the afternoon catching up on email and this journal. I'll be here for one more day, and leave on Wednesday morning for points south. I want to do some hiking in the Warrumbungle, and there's Batty down Dubbo way to be visited as well.

What a huge adventure!


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Comments

alaskawolf
Jan. 18th, 2010 10:07 am (UTC)
its great to hear about your wayward adventures down there :)
secoh
Jan. 18th, 2010 10:25 am (UTC)
Sounds like an excellent trip so far! Glad to hear you're having a good time here!
ccdesan
Jan. 18th, 2010 10:17 pm (UTC)
Thank Mogg's fuzzy cojones for GPS. I can't imagine going back to the days of paper maps, pay phones, and the yellow pages.



Edited at 2010-01-18 10:18 pm (UTC)
r_caton
Jan. 18th, 2010 02:58 pm (UTC)
Now there's an Old Wolf that knows how to enjoy and utilise life to the full......
Thanks for sharing!
ccdesan
Jan. 18th, 2010 10:15 pm (UTC)
It's cuz I alway know where my towel is...

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ccdesan
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