Category Archives: Dams

Shooting into the sun at Zahara de la Sierra. Andalusia, Spain. 2009

Several years ago I was having a bit of a moan to a camera salesman about the limited tonal range that digital cameras could capture. I complained about how the clouds were always blown out and shooting into the sun was pointless because most of the sky would go white. I also mentioned that I thought that even the high end digital SLRs still had a long way to go as they weren’t that much better that the little compact point and shoot cameras.

Luckily the guy I was talking to, unlike so many sales clerks, actually knew what he was talking about and he said that I should take a look at the Fuji Pro S3. The Fuji is basically a Nikon body with Fuji’s super CCD in it. The store where the salesman worked didn’t sell the Fuji and at $3500 AUD without a lens it was way out of my price range. Like a lot of things that I can’t have for whatever reason, I sublimated my desire for the Pro S3 and put it on the back burner of my mind.

Some more time passed and about 9 months before I went to Europe last year I bought a second hand Fuji Pro S3 body, over the internet for $650 AUD. I was pretty happy with the results I was getting with my new camera and I took it on my overseas trip where I took over 4000 photos with it.

About a month ago, I helped out a friend of mine (Mark) who owns a Nikon D200, get his beautiful landscape photos from a recent tirp to California, ready for an exhibition. Mark was a bit concerned about some of his shots because the skies were blown out and the clouds had lost their details. I asked Mark if he’d shot in RAW and he said “yes”, so I said to him, “don’t worry, you’ll be amazed at what information we will be able to pull out of a RAW file”.

I was looking forward to showing Mark how much detail we were going to pull out of his skies and clouds. I got quite a shock when I opened up Mark’s images in Photoshop and there was much less detail than what I expected. I’d become so used to the extended tonal range of my Fuji, that I thought it was “normal” and I was really disappointed for Mark. Although we got some nice results for Mark’s exhibition, I knew the Fuji would’ve provided much better results.

A while back I’d been talking to Mark about his decision to buy the camera he did, and he said he’d been influenced by Ken Rockwell’s camera reviews

To me Rockwell is one of those guys who would have people believe he knows all about cameras. From where I stand, I’d say that he still has a lot to learn. Here is an example of what he has said on his website:

“The Fuji Fujifilm S5 has highlight dynamic range clearly better than any Canon or Nikon camera I’ve ever used. This is too bad because it makes very little difference in real photography. I had to go out of my way to contrive these examples. Cameras can’t fix bad light, only photographers can.”

My response in a word:

“RUBBISH!”

I think what people like Rockwell are lacking, is an understanding of how important post processing of images is.

Just like in the old days with film, one couldn’t get a really good image until they’d figured out how to develop their own negatives and do their own printing. Darkroom skills used to be essential to get images to look like they did to the photographer when they saw the scene originally.

“What!” I hear you cry.

Yep, cameras don’t tell the “truth” as we know it. Cameras, film, CCDs only approximate what we see. The huge difference between an image taken with a camera and a scene seen with the human eye is that the eye has a brain behind it that makes all sorts of decisions about how the scene is going to be interpreted by the viewer. Cameras, for all their electronic wizardry are basically very, very, very dumb.

Have you ever noticed how flat and boring so many photographs are when you get them back from processing or look at them on you computer monitor in comparison to when you were looking at the original scene? The camera has no way of prioritising what is important to us; what should be emphasised and what should be ignored. To a camera, every scene is made of elements that have no meaning or aesthetic weight.

Your eye has a far wider acceptance of tonal range than any film, camera or CCD. Plus our brain automatically adjusts to what we are interested in, whereas a camera has no way of knowing what is important to us. Now I know there’s bound to be some smart arse reading this, who will pipe up and say, “oh yeh, what about exposure compensation?” The trouble with exposure compensation (particularly with digital cameras) is that if you expose to retain detail in your highlights, your shadow detail will be lost, and vise versa if you expose for the shadows.

Back in the days when film was king, the maxim of, “expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights”, was the catch cry of the masters of the darkroom arts like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. The old photographic masters knew that most of the tonal information could be captured if you knew how to control the process.

Nowadays in this age of digital cameras, the darkroom has been just about replaced by Photoshop.

Now many people think Photoshop is for “jazzing up” images and that somehow using it is “cheating”. These same old purists would think nothing of selecting a particular film stock for it’s saturated colours, or printing papers for it’s rendition of flesh tones or “pushing or pulling” colour film to affect its colour balance, etc.

Back when one worked on an image in the darkroom, it was accepted practice to dodge and burn a print, because of the fact that film and the paper being printed on couldn’t deal with the complete tonal range. The same goes for the printing industry. The highest quality fine art books, especially those with high quality black and white images, use a process called “duotone” to get a tonal range that is close to a hand processed photographic print. A duotone is basically two images at either extreme of the tonal range that are printed on top of each other.

So in a long winded way, I’ve tried to point out that it is necessary to have as wide a tonal range as possible so that the end product image, can be as close as possible to the scene first seen by the photographer. The wider the tonal range, the wider the options are when it comes to how one wants an image to look in long run. 

The trouble with reviewers like Rockwell is that they seem to have limited knowledge about what’s really going on when one takes a photo and what’s really important. So many of the specifications that people masturbate over, are in the grand scheme of things, not that important. Unless you’re a sports or wildlife photographer, who cares if your camera shoots 5 frames a second, if your tonal range is crap and it causes highlights to be blown out, while your shadows are just black blobs?

When it came to the misrepresentation or misinterpretation of facts, my grandmother used to parody an unscrupulous cloth merchant, saying, “never mind the quality, feel the width”. Just to emphasise how ridiculous, whatever illogical or misleading thing was being said.

Much of what is in reviews isn’t all that relevant to the photographic cognoscenti. Knowledge is power, and it pays to be an educated consumer. The trick, and this goes for just about everything in life, is to pick the right people to listen to and learn from.

For me, the best on-line camera reviews are at

http://www.dpreview.com/ 

Yes their reviews are very in depth and require a fair bit of technical knowledge to interpret, but I’d say just take a deep breath and look up the terms that you don’t understand as you go. Eventually you will build up enough knowledge to make informed decisions on you own instead of being misled by people with big holes in their knowledge like Rockwell. 

Oh!

One more thing, if you are shooting to save your files as JPEGs, do yourselves a favour and stop it. Start using RAW because you will get far better results because the RAW file format is much more versatile as it contains way more information.

Here’s a video tutorial on how to adjust RAW files as they are opened in Photoshop.

[youtube tK0uqKJSFMY]

This next tutorial is on another important Photoshop technique, “masking”, by the god of Photoshop, Russell Brown.

[youtube pJp260NVqEY]

Dunn’s Swamp. Kandos Weir, NSW, Australia. 2010

My wife Engogirl and I, decided we wanted to get out of town for the weekend so we invited some friends to come camping with us up at Kandos Weir at the Dunn’s Swamp campground which is in the Wollemi National Park.

Kandos is about three and a half hours drive north east of Sydney. Although the weather forecast was for rain we left on Friday night anyway.

Just about everyone we hang out with is fairly experienced with the outdoors and they all have plenty of camping gear for just about any circumstance, so the weather was of no real concern for any of us. As a matter of fact I always feel good when it rains at night and I’m in my tent as it seems to justify bringing all the equipment.

Engogirl’s uncle Ray brought up his kayaks so we could get out on the water and have a look around the lake created by Kandos Weir. The kayaks were quite nice sleek things that were designed for better kayakers than me. Being so narrow made them not only fast but also a bit tippy. I felt a bit nervous in them although I’ve done quite a bit of paddling in wider, more stable kayaks. Whereas, Ray and Paul (in the photo below) were quite home in them.

Although I was in constant fear of falling in, Engogirl and I went out for a couple of kilometres to paddle about the lake. It was absolutely beautiful and if I hadn’t been so afraid tipping over and getting my camera wet, I would’ve taken some shots while we were out in the kayaks.

The Weir was built back in the late 1920s to supply a cement factory 25 kilometres away and it flooded a narrow valley of sandstone pagodas. I’m pretty sure such a structure wouldn’t be allowed to be built in a UNESCO world heritage area (due to the biodiversity of plant and animal communities, including the recently discovered Wollemi Pine) with Aboriginal cultural sites nowadays.

The name “Dunn’s Swamp” doesn’t sound very promising but I’m sure it comes from before the weir was built. When ever I hear the word weir, I think of one of those low walls in a stream that the water flows over. Kandos Weir is more of a dam in the real sense of the word being about 30 metres high (about 90ft).

When Engogirl was at university she did an assignment on the weir and we went to the cement works to meet up with the engineers who run it now, to have a look at the original drawings. It was a bit of a shock to see that the plans for such a large structure were in pencil and seemed so simple and yet the weir is still there working just fine.

One of the things I love about my country is that places like Dunn’s Swamp have been made available for public use at a very reasonable cost. Only $5 a day per person and firewood is supplied plus there are environmentally friendly composting pit toilets, but there is no potable water so you have to bring your own.

All around the lake there are various walking tracks and on Sunday a few of us went up to a look out, which gives a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.

Because of all the rainfall lately, the vegetation was lush (by Australian standards) and I can’t remember seeing the area looking so beautiful and green in the past 15 years I’ve been going there.

 

It was just so beautiful that it came as a surprise to come across a large group of people (foreign university students) who were out there drinking and leaving their beer bottles lying about, discarded on the track. I went up to them and said, “hi, it’s a beautiful area isn’t it?” They all smiled back and said yes. Then in a polite and gentle way, I suggested to them that the area looks better without the bottles and they agreed.

From a distance I watched them leave and the guys who had been drinking weren’t carrying anything back with them.

It’s funny how people will say one thing and do another.

When we came back to the area we found a bunch of bottles hidden behind rocks and under bushes so we collected them up and took them back to the campground. On the way to our tents we passed the students, so my friend Joseph and I went up to the group of about twenty with smiles on our faces and I said, “Hi! How are you all?”

Smile and greetings of “hi” came back to us.

I walked up to one of the guys who I had seen drinking the beer and I pulled out one of the bottles from my coat (a Gore-Tex with large cargo pockets) and said, “here, I think this is yours”.

He looked embarrassed and his friend stepped forward and said, “oh thanks, we were looking for them but we couldn’t find them”.

I said, “yeh right!” and then I handed the other bottles back to various other guys, “saying, here, I think this one might be your’s” until I was rid of the rest of the bottles.

Sheepish looks of embarrassment all round. I then dug out all the bottle caps that I’d also picked up on the way back and said to the group, “these are so small you can just put them in your pocket and bring the back with you”.

All the while I was making sure I was smiling and speaking in a polite and gentle manner. I was into winning hearts and minds, not getting the crap beaten out of me.

I went on with, “it’s great to share these places with you, but let’s try and keep it nice for each other” as I patted the biggest guy in the group on the back in a friendly and brotherly way (I’ve read that touch can help make people more calm and co-operative). Much to their credit, the students seemed to be taking what I had to say on board, and there were mumbled apologies (which I hadn’t come for) and smiles.

Hopefully that will be a group where some of the people will think twice about littering in the bush.

Dam-nation at Traveston. Queensland, Australia.

In our spare bedroom at home I have a poster on the wall that is titled: Everything I needed to know about life I learned from Mr Spock. It lists a series of succinct Vulcan bon mots to live by. For me, the most resonant maxim is “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.

Recently I visited the site for the proposed Traveston Dam as part of a tour of dams in the SE Queensland region. Of the six dams we visited, Traveston was an anomaly in that it was not yet built, but was merely a proposed dam site.

One of the major issues facing Australia is the security of water supplies into the future as we face global warming and climate change. This has been brought forward as a priority because of several recent years of drought and many of the dams in Queensland are at record low capacities. You know things are bad when engineers are almost ecstatically happy when a dam is only 40% full, because up until recently, some have been as low as 16%. The proposed dam at Traveston Crossing will help manage the flow of the Mary River to mitigate flooding and to supply water to the larger urban areas to the south.

About half an hour before we reached the proposed dam site at Traveston Crossing, we were shown a slickly produced video (it sounded suspiciously like propaganda) that addressed environmental and community concerns. The video also made a point of informing us that a panel of seventeen eminent engineers and three engineering professors were involved in the selection of the dam location and design. Interestingly, of the 1.6 billion dollars allocated for the construction of the dam, two-thirds of that money has been earmarked for peripheral projects including forestry plantation as a carbon offset; upgrading local roads and fire-fighting facilities; provision of sporting facilities for local clubs and 32 million dollars for a freshwater fish and turtle study centre associated with the University of Queensland.

Looks like everybody has their snout in the trough.

One thing I noticed with the video is they kept on referring to the water usage on the Murray River, located about 1000km away. It seemed to me that they were comparing apples with oranges as the Murray has been dammed for 100 years, with 70% of its water removed from the system by irrigators. According to the video, the Mary River was only going to have 10% of its water diverted, and I couldn’t see why they continually referred to the Murray as it seemed to be such a different case.

Another issue addressed by the video was the compensation packages to local landholders, which to me as an outsider with no vested interest in the area sounded like an exceptionally generous offer. Apparently 65% of the people affected by the dam have already taken up the government’s offer to buy their land and then lease it back from the authorities at a peppercorn rent for the next three years. After that, they would be charged rents at 25% of the going commercial rate until the property is inundated.

This government offer sounded to me like an excellent opportunity for the savvy operator to purchase another property while working their original property until it is no longer viable and it seemed to me to be a fair proposition. I thought the whole video presented the government as being not only concerned but also very understanding and generous towards the people it was about to dispossess.

It seems I was not alone, as there were sympathetic murmurings among the engineers on the bus, saying ‘it was the only right thing to do anyway’. As an outsider, I was pleasantly surprised by how thoughtful, considerate and magnanimous everybody involved seemed to be. Not at all what I would have expected, and it made me feel proud that I live in a country with such decent attitudes.

So it came as quite a surprise as we turned off the main highway towards the proposed dam site, that a ute (pickup truck) with a “NO DAM” sign on its back window pulled out in front of our coach to reduce our progress up the road to a walking pace.

The ute was one of those large-engined, high-powered vehicles owned by testosterone-fuelled meathead types, so it occurred to me that his concerns probably weren’t environmental.

As we turned into the proposed dam site area we were met by local landowner protestors carrying placards printed with “NO DAM”, “DON’T MURRAY THE MARY” and “THE TIME IS NIGH FOR BLIGH” (the Queensland premier).

On the bus with the dark forces

As we passed the protesters, one of them ran forward to hit the bus. This futile and impotent rap on the side of the bus elicited rolled eyes and stifled snorts from the engineers on board. There were security guards at the gate that did not let the protesters through with the bus and we were taken to where the dam wall is to be located for a talk and refreshments. As we got off the bus, I turned and asked one of the engineers who was nearby: ‘why are the protesters comparing the Mary with the Murray?’ ‘Because people like that don’t take the time to read all the reports and don’t understand the facts involved.’

During the presentation of the proposed dam’s layout and specifications, a media helicopter circled overhead. All of a sudden I had the sensation that I was in the camp of dark forces and that somehow I was involved in something that was wrong. Or at least that’s how I thought it would be perceived by somebody who was on the outside, looking in.

During our lunch, I spoke to various engineers about the protestors, and every single one of them said that people have a right to express their displeasure at projects that they didn’t agree with and that it was entirely understandable that some people would never be happy about leaving their homes; no matter what the compensation package was.

I also found it interesting when talking to different engineers, how varied their opinions were about what was the best dam design for the area. When I pointed out the variance of their opinions, they just laughed and said “you’ll never get 100% agreement on these issues; the only way you’ll ever get agreement is to take the interested parties, lock them in a room and don’t allow them to leave until they’ve come to a consensus”. Now I know why the video made a point of alluding to the eminent engineers and professors; because they know that whatever they put forward will get questioned, and that shattered the illusion I had that engineers deal in concrete facts and absolutes.

After our short stop, we returned to the coach and were taken via a side road to avoid the protesters to see the next dam on our schedule. Borumba Dam was of interest to the tour group due to recent upgrade works to raise the dam wall height as well as repairs that had been performed on the spillway and plunge pool after some particularly heavy rains several years ago. Our coach was taken into a roped-off area guarded by security personnel (this had not happened before at the other dams) and the police were also in attendance. As we exited the bus we were led over to a covered area to hear another presentation by the project engineer responsible for the upgrade works. As we sat listening to his talk, the protesters from the previous site visit turned up. There were about twelve or fifteen of them and they waved their placards in our direction, trying to attract our attention. One large sign even said ‘feel free to talk to us’. They were quiet and very well behaved and stood behind the roped-off areas, under the gaze of red-shirted security and the police.

After the presentation, I noticed a few of the engineers talking to some of the protesters and their interactions seemed quite friendly and cordial. As I passed by the protesters myself to use the toilet facilities, I was handed a leaflet by one of them and engaged in conversation.

The spokesman for the protesters and his mate

The protester told me how they wanted to stop the dam because they didn’t want the Mary River to become overutilised like the Murray. And I told him that according to what I had heard, its utilisation was going to be nowhere near as high. He then shifted his tack, to say that the environment was going to be impacted and I pointed out to him that it was all happening on existing farmland, hardly pristine wilderness, and that the water quality downstream is expected to improve on completion of the dam. He then said to me ‘but everybody – that’s over 1000 people in the area – is against the dam’. I pointed out that 65% had already taken up the government’s offer, to which he said there are many people who do not want to leave, and some are suffering great mental stress due to the strain of having to consider moving from a place that they have lived in all their lives. He then went on to say that there had only been 18 consultations with the community and that even though the community had poured out their hearts to the consultation panel, the panel had advised that the dam should proceed. To add insult to injury, the head of the panel was put in charge of the land acquisitions.

The protester then told me that there had not been a study done to assess the risks associated with a dam collapse, so I asked him how he thought the dam would collapse? Earthquakes? He gave me a blank look and I could see he hadn’t really thought about this. So I told I him I had attended the recent dam conference with my wife, who is the engineer – not me, and one of the interesting facts presented was that earthquakes only cause 1.5% of dam failures and most dam failures are caused by overtopping of the dam during floods. Another presentation I saw a few years ago at another conference presented new research that had been done on Probable Maximum Flood estimates (based on archaeological evidence going back thousands of years). With this more current and accurate information new dams are far less likely to be overtopped than those that make up the statistics. As I spoke with the protester, I became aware of what an emotional issue it was for him, and that scientific facts and statistics weren’t really of any interest or use to him. The main fact that affected him was that he did not want to move from an area that he loved.

I later read the pamphlet that I was given and many of the points raised seemed quite valid. I found it interesting that the protesters were calling for more studies to be made about environmental impacts, potential disaster mitigation and possible upstream flooding. What really struck me was as I said goodbye to the protester, he said to me ‘this dam is never going to go ahead. We WILL stop it’. With those words I realised: no amount of studies are going to satisfy him, all his demands for further research seem to be merely delaying tactics.

No matter the social benefits of large public works, there is always going to be a section of the population who will feel aggrieved. It’s very easy for me as an outsider to say that I feel as Spock had said, that the needs of the many outweigh those of the few, because it’s not me that’s having my home taken from me.

The fact that there is always going to be a disaffected section of the population fills me with despair when I think about large infrastructure projects that are necessary and those hard decisions that must be made to bring them to fruition. It makes me wonder how anything ever gets built.

Seeking consensus amongst any group of people, be they hard-nosed engineers or emotionally driven protesters is like trying to wrangle cats and for this reason I sometimes think that anybody who gets involved in politics must be either insane or a borderline sociopathic egotist.

What kind of personality would it take to get up in front of thousands of people and try to convince the audience to become of one mind in agreement with them? In reality, there is no such thing as unanimity and the whole concept of a win-win situation is just airy-fairy wishful thinking. There’s always going to be winners and losers and nobody likes to lose.

Big storm coming. North Pine Dam, Queensland, Australia

The photo below was taken yesterday afternoon at North Pine Dam just north of Brisbane at about 4:20 in the afternoon.

Big strom coming

 About 30 minutes later I was in a large motor coach heading into Brisbane as a storm began. It was the worst storm that has hit south east Queensland for 25 years and it was amazing to see so much rain fall in such a short time. Many of the roads in low lying areas that we passed through were flooded.

The north west of Brisbane around The Gap received the brunt of the storm with a large amount of houses being damaged and many millions of dollars damage being caused. Sadly there was one death as a young man was swept to his death photographing a flooded stormwater drain.

Kinobe “Slip Into Something More Comfortable”

My wife and I had this piece of music by Kinobe, playing after our wedding ceremony as people entered the reception area to dine.

[youtube oonHquCgFl4]

We will be going to an ANCOLD (Australian National Committee on Large Dams) conference up in Surfers Paradise in Queensland next month. We figured since we’ll have to fly up there we may as well go right up to Cairns after the conference and do some diving on the Great Barrier reef, then fly directly back to Sydney. Both my wife and I enjoy train travel so we will go by sleeper up north from Brisbane. It’s a 32 hour trip but trains are a great way to travel because you can get up and walk around, visit the dinning car, socialise etc. It’s so much more civilised than cattle class on a plane.

As I was making my booking for the train and diving trip (2 days aboard a sailing boat), Kinobe’s Slip Into Something More Comfortablekept playing through my mind.

Australia Day at the Ironbark Tavern. Chiltern, Vic, Australia

On Australia Day (26th of January) whilst on the way back up north to Sydney from Melbourne thought we’d take at detour through the King Valley wine region.  We went there not for the wine but to view the William Hovell Dam spillway that my wife was interested in seeing because she is an engineer. 

Hovell dam spillway.jpg

As one drives through King Valley one will see there are plenty of signs declaring the area a gourmet food and wine region.  To tell the truth though, there isn’t that much in the King Valley except the vineyards, and there isn’t that much accommodation outside of vineyards, except for the Mountain View Hotel in Whitfield.
 
Travelling in rural Australia can be a mixed experience.  In general though, I can say that I have found that rural Victoria provides an encounter that I consider to be closer to the Australian stereotype that us Australians have in our minds than just about any other part of Australia that I’ve been to. That stereotype is peopled by down to earth, hard-working, gregarious souls who enjoy a good laugh and would generally make a person feel welcome.  Sure enough that stereotype does exist, but there is also the darker side of the Australian archetype and that is of the hard-working, hard drinking, none too bright, belligerent xenophobe. 
 
It was getting late in the day and we thought we would just stay at the Mountain View Hotel (although I don’t usually like staying at pubs).  So we went in and stood at the sparsely populated bar while the bartender ignored us for about 10 minutes, without so much as a, “I’ll be with you in a minute” as he loaded up some cartons with bottles.  As we waited, we could hear a drunken local loudly intimidating some other older fellow locals in a “in your face” kind of way, about how outsiders can just all go and get fucked.
 
Nice!
 
After he ranted on for a while he then went on to invite his unfortunate drinking companions over to his place for a barbecue. It was obvious from the looks on their faces that they were struggling to think up reasons why they couldn’t go.  One of the guys mumbled something about having to do some work on the farm. 
 
Finally, the bartender who was probably one of the most dull-eyed people I’ve ever seen in my life came over, so I asked him if he had any rooms vacant.  His red alcohol flushed face rolled his dead eyes back in his head as he pondered such a weighty question, and after what seemed to be an eternity answered “nah”.  As he prepared to walk away, I asked if he knew of any other places around the area that might have some accommodation, and with the reflexes of a brontosaurus, he took another eternity to ponder this next heavy question, to answer “nah, you won’t get anything around here, they’re all full because of Australia Day”.
 
We got back in the car and went further north, up the road to Wangaratta, which is a pretty little tourist town, but there was no accommodation to be found there either.  So off we went further up the highway heading north thinking we’d probably be able get a place to stay in Albury.  On the way, we saw a sign to Chiltern indicating that there was accommodation 1 km from the highway and since it was about nine o’clock at night we thought we’d give it a try. 
 
Just as we entered the town there was a motel that had a vacancy sign so we pulled in, but the reception was closed.  At the entrance of the reception was a note stuck to the door with a telephone number to call for late check-ins.  I called the number, which was answered with “hello Wayne speaking”.  I told Wayne that I was looking for room to which he said, “can you see that little green box to the right of the door?” When I said yes, he said, “just reach in and pull out a key and tell me the number.”  I told him that I had the number 12, to which he replied, “that is your room, just help yourself and I’ll settle with you in the morning.”
 
As someone who lives in a big city and who is constantly conscious of security, I was blown away by how relaxed and trusting Wayne had been.  That’s the kind of trust that my grandmother used to speak of, of the time when she was a little girl and you could leave your house unlocked all day.  I didn’t think people lived like that any more, and I sure hope that Wayne never has his trust abused.
 
After putting our things in our room we decided that we would go into town and get something to eat.  After driving from one end of town to the other and then back again, which took about a minute, we decided to go into the Ironbark Tavern.  Many country pubs serve fairly ordinary food, and we weren’t that sure that we could get some so late.
 
Imagine our surprise when we walked into a nice clean, freshly renovated establishment with beautifully polished wooden floors, that was playing Australian music hits, because it was Australia Day. And they were still serving food!  The next surprise we had was at the price per glass of wine they were serving.  Only $3.50, which is so cheap in comparison to Melbourne, which tended to be in a seven to eight dollar range, but it even gets better than that.  There was a wide range of food on offer, but because we weren’t very optimistic about the quality of the food due to previous experiences in pubs, we only ordered the fish and chips for a very reasonable $10 each. 

Again, we were surprised as we were brought a lightly battered delicious piece of fish with an excellent salad with some chips. My wife (Engogirl) said it was the best fish and chip she’d ever had in her life.

Engirl enjoying her fish and chips

As the evening wore on, the pub filled up with locals celebrating Australia Day and a large group of them had also came in for food.  Judging by what was brought to their table I’d say that everybody would have left stuffed and absolutely satisfied.  The food looked very good and there was plenty of it.
 
Later on, I spoke to Kerrie and Phil who had just recently bought the Ironbark Tavern and renovated it. 

Phil and Kerrie the owners of the Ironbark Tavern

They are both really lovely people of the type that lives up to the good Australian stereotype, and I wish them the best of luck as it’s not often that I enjoy such warm hospitality, good food and amazing value.
 
What a nice way to end Australia day.

Hoover dam, Nevada, USA

In 2005, my wife and I went to Santa Fe, Arizona for a conference (my wife does finite element analysis using computational fluid dynamics). We wanted to see a bit of the country so we flew into L.A. from Australia and then onto Las Vegas to a Howard Johnston hotel for the evening. What an utter dump the hotel was. I remember Howard Johnston from the time I used to live in the States in the early eighties and back then it was a reasonably priced family hotel chain that reliably offered clean rooms and a half way decent restaurant. The Ho Jo we stayed at in Las Vegas was very dirty, the staff were slovenly and surly, and to top it off, the food was terrible.

In the morning we picked up our rented a car and drove straight out of town; proud of the fact we didn’t visit a single casino or any other tourist trap there. I just don’t get places like Las Vegas.

nevada03.jpg

Since my wife is an engineer (henceforth known as Engogirl) we always visit any dams we come near (within about 100kms, approximately 60 miles). Hoover Dam is somewhere Engogirl has wanted to visit for years and as I like the desert landscape of the Southwestern states of the US, I was happy for a drive.

hoover.jpg

I was thinking that the Hoover dam was going to be just another dam, dam. I was wrong. Wow! What a dam! Surrounded by a ruggedly beautiful desert landscape, Hoover dam is spectacular and the Americans have every right to be proud of it.

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The dam receives a lot of tourists every year and it’s well set up to cater for them. Not only can you look at the dam from the outside but there are also tours down deep inside the dam to the turbine room. Although Hoover dam is no longer the world’s highest (it’s the the 18th), every thing about it is colossal. The rotors in the turbines weigh 65 tonnes (it’s the same in tons) each!

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Near the dam wall there are 2, 10m (30ft) high, “Winged Figures of the Republic” Art Deco statues by Oskar J.W. Hansen. Hansen said the statues represented the building genius of America, “a monument to collective genius exerting itself in coimunity efforts around a common need or ideal.”

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I highly recommend a visit to Hoover dam as an antidote to Las Vegas. I loved every aspect of the place. The entertaining operator even made the elevator ride to the turbines enjoyable.