July 24, 2007

Sensational Sipadan

Palau Sipadan is truly one of the world’s most remarkable underwater sites.

From above the water you can see little more than a few buildings, sandy white beaches and lots of trees. What you cannot see from the shady view of the beach is the sudden drop-off a few metres from the beach. One minute you’re floating above the coral and thousands of schooling fish, the next you’re facing hundreds of metres of darkness. It’s too deep to see what may be down there.

Along the drop-off the marine life takes full advantage of the unusual geography.
Unique coral forms branch out from the cliff and an endless stream of fish, big and small, travel in schools along the ridge. And I do mean endless. As soon as one cloud of yellow and blue streaks washes past you another school of shiny silver fish follows.

And of course there are the less transient residents of the reef, the brilliant pearls of iridescent life that speckle the coral with vibrant colours. The waters off the coast of southern Borneo are the most bio-diverse in the world.

The highlight of Sipadan is not the fish, and they can be seen emerging from the darkness along the ridge. They are the greenback turtles and they move with a grace and ease that defies their heavy shell and small flippers.

Slowly they rise from the deep blue, heading for the shallow waters above the drop-off.

They don’t mind our intrusion into their world. When you stare into their eyes they stare back and give a turn of the head. I swam for a while with my new companion, side by side just below the surface of the water. I was working hard to keep pace, while I knew he wasn’t even trying.

I had caught brief glimpses of sea turtles in other parts of the world, but usually travelling at immense speed to avoid humans of any kind. Sipadan is very special in this regard, and combined with the stunning snorkeling off the beach makes it my new favourite place to get wet.

July 17, 2007

Monkeys and Martinis

The mysterious jungles of Borneo are home to cheeky troops of Orangutans, bizarre outbursts of Rafflesia flowers and a very nice place for cocktails.

The first two days of our adventure into Sabah to capture images of habitats and wild creatures has been flavoured with truly exotic encounters and true five-star service. Our home base has been the Rasa Ria, a Shangri-La hotel based just north of Kota Kinabalu along the beach. The sand is very very white, the food is amazing and the service is exactly what you want from a great hotel.

This resort is a little unique by offering support for a nature reserve and orangutan rehabilitation program. Just a few minutes from the pool you can enter a regenerated section of forest and see the orangutans swing from trees. Every time I leave the comfort of my ocean view room and head for the restaurant I know that my indulgent dining experience is benefiting the wild animals too.

We have journeyed a little further as well, deep into the Tambunan forest in search of the rafflesia. In fact we journeyed further than we planned, but were lucky enough to actually find this rare bloom. No one was left behind, so the day ended with success and another fabulous set of images for our band of talented, and charity minded, photographers.

> Rasa Ria near Kota Kinabalu

> The Borneo Charity Photo Challenge

July 12, 2007


Make bags, not war.

That's the lesson from Sarah Conners. Unlike certain governments from wealthy western nations, Sarah has found something better to do with her time than just invade countries and manipulate world oil prices.

She makes bags, groovy bags.

Being a straight man raised in Melbourne's outer suburbs I clearly know nothing about fashion, but I have had the good fortune to marry into it - Sarah is my sister-in-law.

Even if you don't like bags, do have a look at the website and tell me if the puppy dog featured on the "About" page is not the cutest thing you've seen all day?

Really funky bags for fashionable females

July 09, 2007

Coyotes and Kings

Thomas King is a native Indian who lives in Canada. He's also a great story teller who imbues his conversations and correspondence with a measure of historical perspective.

I had the pleasure to hear Mr King on the radio again today, a repeat of a lecture he gave many years ago. He talked about "status" and the law, and the way in which white mans legal definitions can remove the status of being a native Indian.

topics of this nature are often dull listening to a western audience, we don't like to hear about our cultural failings and especially the plight of minority groups who have not faired so well from the historical events of recent centuries. But in the hands of Mr King the task of education is blended with wit and intellect.

In particular I got another chance to enjoy the story of the Coyote, whom the story reveals as being envious of the brilliant white feathers of the ducks. The hapless ducks are placed into peril and forced to bargain for their survival. Over successive dealings they trade over most of their feathers so that they may keep a few for themselves. The Coyote is careless with his bounty and repeatedly returns to extract more from the ducks.

The symbolism is not hard to grasp.

In Australia today we have a government that is seeking to remove the what few feathers our native people have left, in the hope of extracting a hint of authority for themselves. This is a careless government indeed, people who have neglected the rights of children in refugee camps but now claim to be defending the needs of children in aboriginal communities.

It's an embarrassment to the nation.

Haven't we taken enough feathers from the traditional land owners of this country? Have we failed to heed to ramifications of imposing our white-mans way of thinking upon a proud people? Have we so little respect for other cultures that we would ignore common sense to impose chaos upon the lives of those who have so little?

It's the height of arrogance and folly that the Australian government should return to the disadvantaged and politically abused communities of Australia and seek a few more feathers to dress themselves with.

Clothes do not maketh the government.

July 04, 2007


Visiting Lake Titikaka is not a wildlife adventure. Nearly everything that moves has become a part of the local diet, and as you journey out into the unknown depths by boat the only thing you can see are weeds, reeds and lots of water.

The real stars of the lake are the handful of inhabited islands, and the quirky lifestyle aboard the floating villages at Uros.

How do you float a village on a freshwater lake? Simply collect slabs of water reeds and stitch them together to form large floating platforms, then put down another layer of reed-stalks to provide a squishy but insulated foundation.

Homes can then be constructed for each family on the island, once again employing the craft of binding reeds together with rope.

The usefulness of Lake Titikaka aquatic plants seems boundless. Not only are the huts and the islands themselves made from reeds, but even canoes are constructed from elaborate bundles tied together and left to dry in the sun before setting afloat.

These villages remind me of my Nanna who learned to macramé stitch when she retired, and within months had decorated every inch of her home in wool. Only in the case of the floating villagers their raw materials are floating reeds.