Monasterio de San Francisco

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 14 September 2016

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The Monasterio de San Francisco was the first monstery in the Americas.  It was first built in wood in 1508 and rebuilt in stone between 1523 and 1556.

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It was sacked by Drake in 1586 and fully repaired in 1664.  Then it was destroyed again by a cyclone in 1673.

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Beehive on a wall.

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In 1808, in a particularly tumultuous period of Dominican history, the French were in control but had just lost the Battle of Palo Hincado about a hundred kilometres away to Spanish insurgents.  They mounted a cannon on a wooden platform atop the vault and fired two rounds.  On the second, the vault collapsed and was never reconstructed.

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Pigeons adding their own particular brand of mortar to the building.

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Remaining parts of the buildings were used as an insane asylum from 1880 until 1930 when Cyclone San Zenón laid waste to much of what remained and that was never repaired either.

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Currently on Sundays, live bands play Merengue, Bachata, Salsa and Son, but we were unfortunately not there on a Sunday.

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Two posts ago I covered the spectacularly chequered history of Hispaniola and the Dominican Republic.  If you haven’t read that you might like to go back and look at it now.

What I would like to do now is to cover the effect of Karma in that history, from a modern social democrat perspective.

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First the Spanish came to an island with one to two million Taino Indians, living in peace, certainly by the standards of what followed.  The Spanish may not have been socially more advanced but they had armour, steel, horses and guns.  After fifty years there were not many Taino left. Many of them died of disease incubated by the insanitary conditions the Spanish lived in in their homeland.  Had they retained more of the town planning even of the Romans and had they learned more from the Arabs they conquered in Andalusia, this may have been less of an issue.

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Many Taino were slaughtered and many others perished in inhumane servitude, a consequence of the Spanish greed for Power and Gold.  So since they had wiped out most of the Taino, they reverted to importing Africans as slaves.  Of course they treated them just as savagely and many escaped to live with Taino in the mountains.  After only fifty years the settlers needed armed bands to travel between settlements with some safety.

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Then in Europe, the Dutch fought them for their independence and began trading with Spanish settlers on the north and west coasts of Hispaniola for salt they were excluded from.  The Administration catastrophically pulled back their settlers from these coasts to prevent this trade and opened the door to the French, who took over what is now Haiti (then called Sainte-Domingue).  Sainte-Domingue because the wealthiest corner of the Caribbean but it was built on brutal slavery and 90% of the population were slaves (6% were white and 4% free coloureds who might own slaves).

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Then of course the slaves revolted and took over all of Hispaniola for a while but if you have a tradition of authoritarian government and instability it’s not so easy to replace.  Even today, Haiti has become one of the poorest countries in the world and political stability is tenuous while the Dominican Republic, though not without problems, is in a much better place.

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Wiping out most of the Indians and introducing slavery may have seemed like a good idea at the time to some but it was quickly destructive and counter-productive to all, and authoritarian political systems create their own catastrophes sooner or later.

So what could they have done?  The basic problem was the greed, violence and intolerance of the time and that wasn’t restricted to the Spanish.  The gold was ultimately a delusion, they wasted that on unwinnable wars in Europe anyway.

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So let’s contemplate an extreme counterfactual alternative history.  First, before they turned up in the West Indies, they needed to have developed a society characterised by democracy and social justice with good planning, sewerage, medical knowledge and education for all.  Then they could have offered a partnership to the Taino Indians and if they needed additional labour, they could have offered paid employment to Africans and full citizenship of a multicultural society.  Instead of supressing the Dutch they could have negotiated independence for them and a naval partnership.  Then Hispaniola would have been likely to have had a much more successful history.

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Of course the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella was just slightly different than that.  And it’s easy for us to say, living in a society where there is no greed, income and wealth are equitably distributed, everyone is well-educated  and we take good care of the environment.

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Hold on a sec, maybe that’s not quite right.  How will the future look on us?  Will they consider us any better or even worse?  How much and who will even be left?

We clearly need to improve in terms of arresting global warming, industrial and agricultural pollution, economic & social inequity and general overpopulation.  It all hangs in the balance and notwithstanding our individual cocoons of comfort or discomfort, it’s up to us to generate as much positive effect as we can, both collectively and as individuals.

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Wandering in Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 14 September 2016

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This morning we headed on foot to the ruined monastery of San Francisco.  Usually I show the images sequentially but since my shots of the monastery are interspersed with images from nearby streets, I have separated them out for the next post.

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This vehicle was parked in the street right outside where we were staying, in the centre of the old city.  Its headlights are in less than perfect condition, it lacks a front bumper and numberplate, it is held together with twine, the windscreen is cracked and it has a severe case of rust.  Apart from that, it’s probably in perfect condition.  It may be that it’s not a new vehicle off the showroom floor.  I suspect you wouldn’t last very long though driving it around Canberra.

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Just around the corner from where we were staying was an old church which we had noticed the previous day and it was open so we visited.

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It seemed as though it must be The Church of the Working Man because of the figure at the altar.  He appears to be merely cleaning it though.

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It is in fact Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes or the Church of Our Lady of the Mercedes and there is usually an impressively attired female figure at the altar.

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The Señora de las Mercedes is the patron Saint of the island.  This is presumably her, off to the right of the altar, but a different representation usually stands on the altar.

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It is one of the oldest churches in Santo Domingo, constructed between 1527 and 1555.

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Looking up.  (Fisheye HDR).

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It was sacked by Drake in 1586 and damaged by cyclones in the 1590s and 1628, and by an earthquake in 1615.  It was later restored though so much of it is not original.

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Actually deciphering the Latin inscription is another thing, but this appears to be the tomb of a bishop from 1644.

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Old buildings on the street (This one a largely corrected fisheye image).

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The ruined monastery of San Francisco in the background.

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This is now Calle Hostos.

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This section features some very old workers’ cottages, protected by UNESCO listing.

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A corner of the ruined monastery of San Francisco in the background.

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Architecture, Calle Hostos, Dominican Republic, History, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, Landscape, Photography, Santo Domingo, Street photography, Travel .

Fortaleza Ozama

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 13 September 2016

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Next we visited Fortaleza Ozama, the oldest surviving European military structure in the Americas.  This is the Puerta Carlos III Gate, dating from 1787.

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A statue of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés in front of the Tower of Homage.

The tower was built from 1502 to 1505 using forced labour from Taino Indians and black slaves.  It has walls two metres thick, making it invulnerable to cannon balls until the late eighteenth century.  Its purpose was defence against Dutch, English and French seaborne raiders, and against rebellions by Taino Indians and black slaves.  Oveido was a writer and historian who was warden of the Fortress from 1533 until 1557.

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I would guess, originally a barracks.

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A view from the Fortaleza of the Ozama River, which gave the Fortaleza its name.

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In 1493, following his first voyage, Christopher Columbus was appointed Viceroy and Governor of the Indies.  After his brother Bartholomew founded Santo Domingo, this became his capital until he was removed by the Spanish crown in 1500.

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A commission between  1498 and 1500 found Columbus and his brothers culpable of extreme brutality to both settlers and Indians.  On his return from his third voyage in 1500, he was arrested and sent back to Spain in chains.  He was later released but not restored as Governor although his son Diego became Governor from 1520 to 1523.

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There were numerous large scale rebellions by Taino Indians in the early years but they had no defence against Spanish weapons.  There was also rebellions from black slaves who also escaped and established Maroon settlements in the mountains.  By the mid-16th century, settlers needed large armed bands to travel through the countryside.

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After 1561 all shipments to Spain left from Cuba and with the settlement of the American mainland, Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti) declined.

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In 1586, Sir Francis Drake captured the city, laid waste to a third of it, and extracted a ransom for its return to Spanish rule.

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In 1605 the authorities forcibly resettled their settlers on the north coast of Hispaniola to be closer to Santo Domingo, enraged by large scale trade with the Dutch who at that time were fighting Spain for their independence.  This proved disastrous.  Half the settlers died of starvation or disease, over 100,000 cattle were lost and many slaves escaped.  It also encouraged the French to establish a presence in the area.

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In 1655, Oliver Cromwell attacked Santo Domingo but was repulsed and successfully occupied Jamaica instead.  However, in 1697, after thirty years of intermittent conflict with French settlers, Spain ceded the western half of the island (now Haiti) to France.

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The situation deteriorated further at the end of the eighteenth century.  What is now the Dominican Republic was ceded to France in 1795, invaded by Britain in 1796, by black slaves in rebellion from Haiti in 1801 and France in 1802.  The Republic of Haiti declared independence in 1804 and invaded in 1806.  The British invaded again in 1809 and the Spanish returned later that year.

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In 1821, following the establishment of a liberal government in Spain, Dominican leaders declared independence but their hold was tenuous and Haiti invaded in 1822.  Hispaniola was then united under Haiti until 1844.

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The Dominican Republic gained independence in 1844 but there were many years of war with Haiti trying to regain control.  In 1861, the economy was so fragile that Spain was invited back to be the colonial master.

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This was a mistake.  Spain proved to be repressive and insensitive and this led to the War of Restoration.  In 1865 Spain left and there was a Dominican Republic again, though most of the cities were in ruins and political organisation was fractured.  Some stability returned during the dictatorship of Ulises Hereaux, for most of the years from 1882 to 1899.  In the six years after he died there were four revolutions and five Presidents.

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The United States, concerned instability might affect their economic interests, invaded and occupied the Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1924..

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Trujillo became dictator from 1933 to 1961, with the support of the US.  He imprisoned and tortured political prisoners here in the Fortaleza Ozama.

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Outside the Fortaleza now, in the streets.

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The end of the Trujillo era was followed by an elected left wing government, a military coup and then a civil war.  The US intervened because the left wing democrats looked like winning.  They invaded and occupied from 1965 to 1966.

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This is the house of Diego Caballero, who moved to Santo Domingo in 1517, when his cousin was mayor.  He later became treasurer and military governor of Hispaniola.  Then he retired from his offices and for a year made a living capturing and enslaving Indians off the Venezuela coast.  Then he made a career as a ship owner, retiring eventually to Seville.

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Since 1965 there has been a succession of democratic governments of varying persuasions, no coups and no invasions.

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This little fellow outside Caballero’s house looks like a gargoyle from a church or a cathedral.  Perhaps from a building damaged by Drake’s cannon balls.

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This is a night-time view of the Monastery of San Franciso, the first monastery built in the Americas, sacked by Drake in 1586 and damaged by earthquakes in 1673 and 1751.  We will return here in a later post.

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Catedral Primada de America

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 13 September 2016

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We stayed briefly in the zona coloniale, the old quarter of Santo Domingo, which is the oldest continuously occupied city in the Americas.

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The central area is quite safe, with a heavy police presence but especially coming from Cuba,  it didn’t always feel as safe outside that.

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We went to visit the Cathedral, but what we thought was the entrance was not actually the way to get in.

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So we had to walk around the block to get to the other side of the building.

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This looks like a forgotten side entrance but is actually the way in.  The statue by the door is of Archbishop Merino, 1833-1906.

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The cathedral is known by locals as Catedral Primada de America, though its proper name is Basilica Catedral Santa Maria de la Encarnacion.  It is the oldest cathedral in the Americas, begun in 1514 and completed in the 1540s.

 

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Evidently the grave of an archbishop, dated 1569.

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Santo Domingo is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the Americas.  It was founded by Bartholomew Columbus, brother of Christopher Columbus, in 1498.

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Looking up at the ceiling.

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This is an altar at one end of the cathedral.

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And here it is at the top of this image, with the other end of the cathedral at the bottom..

It takes a lot of heavy machinery operating outside the cathedral to compress it in this way, and you have to hope the stonework does not fall down on you.

A safer and less expensive approach, which is less likely to incur the ire of the authorities, is to stitch together multiple images, six images taken with a fisheye lens for example.

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And this is the far end.

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At the far end, looking up.

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The inscription on the left says something about returning the picture of the Blessed Virgin of La Antigua to the Dominicans and is dated 1862, so it probably refers to the painting on the right.

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This somehow looks almost modernist in an El Greco sense.

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This is below the archbishop’s grave we saw earlier.  It’s a bit hard to translate the Latin because the words run together but I suspect it marks the graves of Don Rodrigo and perhaps his wife Senora Rodriguez, and is dated 1553.

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No idea what this says.  there doesn’t appear to be a date.

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Outside of the cathedral.  I think this is the way out.

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Out in the streets again, and we’re heading to Fortaleza Ozama (next post).

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I’m pretty sure this and the next two images are from the Museo Casa de Tostado.

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This is the house of Francisco de Tostado who came to the island with Governor Nicolas de Ovando in 1502, and it was built in the early sixteenth century.  His son Francisco de Tostado de la Pena, who also lived here, became a university professor and was killed by the cannon fire of Francis Drake in 1586.

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Old doors on the street.

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Woman feeding pigeons, I think near the cathedral.

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From Havana to Santo Domingo

Havana, Cuba to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 12 September 2016

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I’ve just come back from a weekend covering the Thredbo Blues Festival and now have 3,000 images to process, so these posts may slow down a bit for a while.

On Monday around 12:30pm we were driving back from Thredbo. Normally I would have been playing table tennis and have had my car parked outside the centre. Had that been the case, the car would have been pulverised by hail, golf-ball sized or even larger. The windows would have been broken, all the panels dented and the car may have been written off.

Such are the incidents of the unfolding Climate Crisis. Especially with the current political corruption and paralysis, particularly in the US and Australia, it is merely a foretaste of what is to come, and not just in Australia.

Today there was also a fire burning on the edge of Canberra, just a few kilometres from where I live (though blowing in the opposite direction). Homes and an industrial area were threatened. A recycling centre is burning, creating hazardous smoke and Canberra Airport was closed for much of the day. Today was a high wind day. That fire is relatively under control but further high winds are forecast, including for a large area of south eastern New South Wales where there are several large fires burning out of control. Conversely, conditions may also be easing from tomorrow and the Indian Ocean Dipole (a major trigger) has now moved to neutral.

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OK, back to the Cuba/ Caribbean trip. This post shows images taken from the plane between Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

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We have taken off from Havana and are now flying east over Cuba.

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The farm land looks productive.

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Perhaps you have read of the insect apocalypse.  80% decline in insect numbers over the last forty years, perhaps worldwide, at least Europe and the US.  Global warming is a factor but probably a greater cause is use of insecticides and other agricultural poisons.  Perhaps Cuba is fortunate here, because US sanctions may mean they have no access to modern toxic chemicals from companies such as Monsanto.

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We’re still over Cuba, but now the coast and islands at the eastern end.

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Aerial Photography, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Landscape, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel .

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I’m pretty sure this is the western tip of Haiti.

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For those with limited knowledge of geography, the island to the east of Cuba is Hispaniola, which is divided into Haiti to the west and the Dominican Republic to the east.

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I have read that you can see the boundary between Haiti and the Dominican Republic from space.  Haiti is quite deforested and the Dominican Republic not at all.

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This goes back to the days of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic (1930-1961).  Dictators are usually bad news but he preserved the forests and sent the army in to ruthlessly suppress illegal logging.  Haiti on the other hand is one of the poorest countries in the world with little effective government and the whole countryside was stripped bare.

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It was too cloudy for me to see the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  We are by now over the Dominican Republic (and probably for one or two of the previous images).

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A large dam with a city near by.

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Agricultural land

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Probably the coast near Santo Domingo.

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Montague Island Monochromes

Montague Island, New South Wales, Australia, 8 to 11 November 2019

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Links go to posts with the colour versions of the images (where there may also be more information and context). If an image does not have a link, the preceding one applies. (Click on any image to see it larger).

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Pelican in Narooma Harbour.

Montague Island Day One..

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Humpback whale disappearing.

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Humpback whales, mother and calf.

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Seals off a headland.

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A seal launching into the sea.

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At the lighthouse cottages when the storm hits.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Crested terns courting.

Montague Island Day Two.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Silver gull.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Silver gull chicks.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

View from the lighthouse looking south, showing the stones sacred to the Aborigines (the whale, the shark and the tortoise) and also the small lighthouse cemetery.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

View of lighthouse cottages from the lighthouse.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

The old wharf.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Sea eagle.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Tiny ground flowers.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Old banksia setrrata cone.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Little penguins coming ashore.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Great cormorants on rock.

Montague Island Day Three (Morning).

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Seal interactions.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Shell on rock.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Sooty oystercatchers.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Created tern coming in to land.

Montague Island Day Three (Afternoon).

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Silver gull and nesting material.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Crested tern with fish.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Silver gull coming in to land.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Crested tern and chick.

Montague Island Day Four.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Contention.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Competing for space.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Welcome swallows.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

The lighthouse receding.

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Australia, Crested Terns, Landscape, Lighthouses, Macro, Montague Island, Nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Whales, Wilderness, Wildlife

Pelican confused by sign.

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I’m due to go down to Thredbo for the Thredbo Blues Festival next weekend but because of bushfires in the area I won’t know whether the festival is on until later today or tomorrow.  There may or may not be a post on that in a few weeks.  Next week though, I expect to resume the account of my travels to Cuba and the Caribbean at Santo Domingo in the Dominican republic.

Australia Burning

12 September 2019 to 5 January 2020, Canberra, ACT

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The first part of this post is images taken out the back of where I live in Canberra. The second part is images taken this morning in a very smoky Canberra.  (If you are on a computer, click any image to see it larger).

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

We live backing on to a reserve and often take a half hour walk out the back in the mornings.  On our walk four months ago in early spring, this is an acacia baileyana coming out in flower,

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

Kangaroo and joey.  You can see there is very little grass for them to eat.  We have had a very long drought.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

Kangaroo and joey in late afternoon light.  Both kangaroo images are in early spring.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

Crimson rosella at a nesting hole.  This and the next three images are in late spring.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

Cunningham’s skink in their fallen-tree home.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

Callistemon phoenicius in the back yard.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

Shingleback in the back yard.  An ancient-looking lizard.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

Echidna in the back yard on New Year’s Eve.  They are one of only two monotremes, or egg-laying mammals, the other being the platypus.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

If you are living outside Australia, your have probably heard of the massive fires here at present.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

On New Year’s Day, Canberra had the worst air quality of any city in the world, worse than Delhi and Beijing, due to bushfire smoke drifting in from the south coast of New South Wales.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

This followed a peak fire day.  We had another one yesterday and the smoke was as bad today, so I got up early to take some photographs.  This is the Australian War Memorial.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

Carillon, on Aspen Island, Lake Burley Griffin, and ducks.

Yesterday, the day before I took these i9mages, we had record temperatures in Canberra at 44ºC or 111ºF.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

The fires are unprecedented.  Simple equation really.  Take unprecedented drought, add unprecedented heat, and you get unprecedented fires.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

Small island in Lake Burley Griffin near the Carillon.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

 

There are hundreds of fires currently in Australia, many out of control.  The number doesn’t mean much because they combine to form larger and more dangerous fires.  The fires have burned 105,000 square kilometres so far (40,000 square miles), about the size of South Korea or Iceland (updated 7 Jan) and they will continue for weeks or months, flaring up sporadically to peak intensity.  In recent days there has been an unprecedented evacuation of thousands of people from the south coast of New South Wales and north east Victoria.  This continues as different towns and hamlets come under threat.  In a week or two the fires might reach Canberra. So far dozens of people have died and thousands of buildings have been burnt, including well over one thousand homes.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

Reconciliation Place and National Library.

The toll on wildlife has also been alarming.  I recall an estimate of 500,000 animals dead and koalas are in danger of extinction.  Fires have also razed through rainforests, normally too wet to be affected and not equi8pped to recover.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

Old Parliament House.

Although there are weather patterns and variations that have always affected Australia, these fires are unprecedented and a major cause is the Climate Crisis, primarily caused by human activity..

Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

 

Old Parliament House and a flock of straw-necked ibis.  The white ibis has adapted to urban life and is colloqually known as “bin chickens” but the straw necked ibis is not as urbanised.

The situation with these bushfires is not a one-off event, however drawn out, and it is not relevant only to Australia though different places may see change in different ways.  The extent of global warming that is already with us is causing an uncomfortable new “normal” and long lags mean even the most concerted action will be slow to arrest this.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

New Parliament House.

Of course there is much we can do and the first step is to reduce our dependence as much as possible on petroleum and coal.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

In front of the Parliament House, I encountered a group of Climate Refugees from the South Coast Fires, there for an impromptu cricket match.

The worst approach to the Climate Crisis is to pretend it isn’t happening, in defiance of all the scientific evidence, and do nothing.  Unfortunately, this is exactly what the Government of Australia has been doing.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

And the cricket match is under way.

The Liberal-National coalition government is sometimes known as the COALition and it is in the grip of a climate-denying fringe.  Prime Minister Morrison notoriously brandished a lump of coal with glee in Parliament and won the last election with an astonishing lack of policies including no policy at all on energy.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

It’s a heavily grassed pitch.

Not long before the fires hit, Morrison refused to meet forty-two former Bushfire Chiefs who wanted to talk to him about the Climate Crisis and preparations for the oncoming fire season.  He had also greatly reduced bushfire budgets and requests for better water-dropping planes had sat with the Government for several years.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

Some balls are there to be hit.

In Mallacouta last weekend, four or five thousand people sat on the beach while the fires invaded the town.  The sky was black after 9am, then red, then orange.  Falling ash made breathing difficult and the temperature reached 49°C.  Just as people were about to get into the water, the wind changed and the town was saved, at least for a few more days.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

Others are very tempting.

In this fire crisis, Morrison has displayed startling insensitivity and alienated a significant part of the population, some of whom might have voted for him.  He went on holiday in Hawaii as the main crisis broke out and didn’t significantly change his return date.  The he tried to pretend it was just a normal situation in order to avoid any mention of the Climate Crisis.  He was heckled by locals when he turned up unannounced in the burnt out town of Cobargo.  While he was there he grabbed the hand of a young woman to shake it, quite uninvited.  She was pregnant, had just lost her house and asked him for help.  He turned his back on her and walked away.  He later denied doing this but it was recorded on video.  There are other stories.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

And some just get away from you.

The scale of the fires and their ongoing nature is forcing Morrison to act but he is most unlikely to address underlying problems.  For that we can only hope for a different and better government and for that we are likely to have to wait another two years.

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Australia, Birds, Canberra, Crimson Rosella, Cunningham's Skink, Echidna, Fires, Kangaroos, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Shingleback, Smoke, Travel, Wildlife

This is back at the Old Parliament House.  The Aboriginal Tent Embassy has been there since 1973 and it is off to the left.  This is a display they have set up to proclaim Aboriginal sovereignty over land.

One common refrain is that there should be more preventative burning in the appropriate season, as the Aborigines used to do.  While there is some truth in this, it is not as easy as it sounds.  For one thing, the cool damp winter window for this is much reduced on what it was and last year the fire season started in winter.  For another, the ecology is not what it was.  In many places, Aborigines farmed the land and lived in houses and even towns.  This was recorded by the first settlers but quickly wiped out and then hidden lest it be a basis for claims on land.  Sheep and cattle grazed the perennial native grasslands to the roots, then trampled and compacted the thin soil.  Fire managed grasslands became scrub so it’s all very different now.

We also have other problems in our modern world of supposedly perpetual growth and prosperity, even apart from the Climate Crisis.  Sustainable development is a wider problem.  You may have heard of the “insect armeggedon” whereby 80% of insects have died in the last forty years, thereby threatening the viability of flowering plants and other species.  This may be partly due to Climate Change but likely more due to unnecessary agricultural poisons.  There is also the perplexing problems of micro-plastics, invading the food chain and our lungs with unknown effects.  And then there is the problem that there are simply too many humans and they are increasing too rapidly.

There are solutions for all these problems but they will require wisdom, coordination and determination.  Things are certain to get worse before they can get better.

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I can suggest a couple of books you may be interested in reading.

One is “Dark Emu” by Bruce Pascoe which outlines the extent of Aboriginal civilisation (yes!) prior to European arrival.

The other is “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells which outlines the problems we face in the Climate Crisis and what we might do to ameliorate them.