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The charm of the Solomon Islands goes beyond cheery smiles, waving palm trees and laid back ambience. WWII tourism takes you under the sea for a history lesson.
(Images courtesy of Gerald Rambert)
With the advent of dark tourism: empty prison tours, walks through defunct death camps, murder sites and . . . well, just about anywhere that pain, suffering, death and destruction have put their mark on the earth’s surface are now popular locations for the instagrammer generation of travellers. Planting a big smile in the middle of a frame with barbwire or prison bars in the background make for a boatload of likes for their ‘brand’.
But something a little softer and less likely to hit the digital top of the pop charts is under the water.
All over the world there are wonderful dive sites for those who don the black to dive deep. Close to Australia, just three hour’s flight away are unspoilt gems, the Solomon Islands.
Many of the islands are not easy to access except for private charters or the slow and steady – and rustic banana boats, so best to discover the islands and dive sites with those in the know and in comfort.
Solomon Islands Discovery Cruises is a company that has an inclusive itinerary which is about diving, snorkelling, relaxing and visiting islands and discovering the local culture and traditions – ‘kastom’.
Wreck diving is at a premium, and the echo of WWII resounds here in many ways, mostly underwater and the watery graves are a benign destination these days.
When the tide of the war turned in WWII, many Solomon Islanders became ‘scouts’, who were the eyes and ears of the allies. Prior to the Guadalcanal campaign of August 1942, the Royal Australian Navy activated a network of coast watchers. The coast watchers were Europeans who remained behind enemy lines to radio information about Japanese naval and ground forces and aircraft.
Coast watchers remained concealed.
When the US Marines landed on Guadalcanal more Solomon Islanders offered help as scouts and carriers. There are stories of bravery, loyalty and skills to be told and one of them is when scouts ensured the rescue in August 1943 of a future president of the United States, John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was commander of patrol boat PT-109 which exploded and sank when a Japanese destroyer hit it. An Australian coast watcher and two islanders saw the explosion and found Kennedy and his 10 surviving crew and reported to the Aussie coast watcher who arranged a rescue. An act of divine providence that saved the future president of the USA? Maybe, and maybe one of many such incidents throughout the Pacific.
Scuba diving in the Solomon Islands is a dream for enthusiasts. Not only are there vast swathes of unspoilt and beautiful coral gardens to enjoy, marine life of myriad colourful and plentiful critters, but an ocean-full (not quite) but relatively crowded with WWII relics. Planes of all fighting denomination, artillery, barges and detritus of army, air force and navy equipment that was jettisoned by the Japanese and the American forces when they left or were driven out. So many ships close to the surface and many planes are waiting to be explored. This manmade underwater ghost life has joined the deep blue and is now home to many species of fish and other marine life that has taken up residence, found a good breeding ground and created a deep, watery neighbourhood that divers are fascinated with. There are many shallow wrecks that are suitable for snorkelling too.
Not in the region of Dark Tourism, wreck diving is all about the letting the light in.
The writer was a guest of Solomon Islands Discovery Cruises and Solomon Airlines. http://www.divemunda.com/solomon-islands-discovery-cruises
I sent this blog post out into the world last week but have since had a lovely update on discovering art once you’re out of the big smoke. I received in the mail (how nice to actually have something delivered by the postman) a little booklet/brochure of Renaissance Tours Summer and Autumn 2021 cultural tours.
Lately I have heard people lament that they can’t travel overseas and that they can only take their holidays in Australia. Well, a big bloody ‘boohoo’ to them. This vast, beautiful, strange and curious country has so much to indulge in. And away from the action-packed adventures to be had there’s a wealth of cultural experiences that are up for grabs that are introduced via special itineraries with Renaissance Tours.
Two took my eye that almost matched up with my piece below.
Regional Galleries of New South Wales – Orange, Bathurst and the Blue Mountains from 18-23 April, 2021. Highlights include meeting local artists in their studios, having a private guided tour of the significant Orange Regional Gallery and there’s a visit to an award-winning cellar door for a wine tasting – well, art does make one thirsty.
And there’s another one, Art Galleries of Regional Victoria – Bendigo, Ballarat and the NGV Ian Potter Centre for 18-23 April 2021.
And others are calling me too – William Morris in Adelaide, 11-17 April 2021; New Art Spaces of Tasmania, 26 April to 5 May, 2021 and there are garden tours, ancient landscapes and sacred sites to view, a music festival, Opera in the Yarra Valley, Northern Rivers Food Trail and many more cultural delights to uncover and discover in Australia.
For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org and http://renaissancetours.com.au
Drive, stop, look . . .
Regional art galleries throughout Australia offer a vital contribution to the community’s cultural life. Emerging artists are promoted and travelling exhibitions will see works by artists that are of the highest quality and internationally recognised. If you are lucky enough to catch the gallery’s curator, there’s the opportunity for a yarn about local artists, local history and perhaps a bit of council gossip. Whomever is working at the gallery shop (wonderful for gifts) is a wealth of local info too. Take your credit card with you as this is where you might snap up the next Dobell, Blackwell, Margaret Preston or Grace Cossington Smith.
Here are a few worth putting on the wish list:
- Bega Valley Regional Art Gallery, Bega on the far south coast of NSW;
- Meroogal House, Meroogal, Nowra, South Coast NSW, a gothic-style house where four generations of women lived until the 1980s when it became a museum of domestic life;
- Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre, Murwillumbah, northern NSW;
- Bathurst Regional Gallery, Bathurst, central west NSW;
- Bendigo (pictured) and Ballarat in Victoria are the heavyweights of regional galleries. Travelling exhibitions, Lyndsay family works, the Eureka Flag – both stunning and worth a slow walk round the rooms;
- The Aboriginal Art House, Hahndorf, SA. The gallery has a wide range of Indigenous art and artefacts along with explanations of the various symbols in the artworks.
- Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm on the Dampier Peninsula far north Western Australia, has a stunning pearls on exhibit and pearl shell carvings ‘Riji” by Indigenous Bardi men.
- Bunbury Regional Art Gallery, WA is housed in a peachy-pink heritage building.
- Stanthorpe Regional Gallery, in the Granite Belt, Qld is a new building with exciting exhibitions – and indeed, prospects.
It’s not regional, only a few kms from Hobart but MONA in Tassie is one of the most provocative and exciting galleries in Australia. Go for the experience and go with an open mind.
The most exciting thing to happen in the regional art world is the advent of Wall art and Silo Art. Towns such as Benalla in north east Victoria has an annual Wall art festival which see the town all buzzy and beautiful welcoming the cream of young artists painting walls. And their biggest fans are the Baby Boomers who travel the towns and are familiar with the artists’ work, talk to them and are encouraging. The Silo Art Trail in Victoria shows stunning work done on the high, decommissioned silos. Often the paintings are of local farmers representing the legacy of those on the land.