Nov 9, 2009
Twenty years ago today, my girlfriend (now my wife) and I lay on a bed in a cramped backpackers’ hostel in the Katherine Gorge National Park (now Nitmiluk), in Australia’s Northern Territory, watching news of the fall of the Berlin Wall (now rubble). Outside insects were buzzing ferociously, the temperature was in the high 30s, and the hostel owner told us that he wouldn’t bother going in the (tiny, dirty) pool unless the temperature in the shade was at least 45 Celsius.
On a circuitous road trip (goin’ Greyhound) we’d set off from Melbourne, where an ex-pat couple we knew lived (working for ICI, he, and Monash U, she), that October. We travelled West to Adelaide and then North through opal (hydrated silica) capital Coober Pedy and up to Ayers Rock (now Uluru), Mount and The Olgas (now Kata Tjuta).
Uluru is an inselberg, literally “island mountain”, an isolated remnant left after the slow erosion of an enormous mountain range of which Kata Tjuta and Mount Connor (now Artilla).
At the time, you could climb Uluru, which twenty years on doesn’t seem like the most politically correct or respectful thing to have done, but we were both young. And, more to the point neither of us adjusted our makeup at the top (as one climber did!), instead we just stared in awe at the scale of the red rock and the green sea of spinifex grass and bush that stretched away int the distance in all directions; there’d been rain.
An evening camping close to Uluru exposed us to the intense beauty of clear starlit skies with no light pollution, something I’d experienced from a northern perspective in West Virginia the year before. But, this time it was all the more powerful for being shared with my eventually-to-be wife.
Anyway, back to Katherine and the Berlin Wall. We, of course, knew of the political changes that were taking place in USSR (now former-USSR). A revolutionary tide of change was sweeping across the Eastern Bloc (now Eastern Europe and Russia etc), the East German government announced on November 9, 1989, after several weeks of civil unrest, that all GDR citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin. Crowds of East Germans climbed on to and crossed the wall, without being shot, joined by West Germans on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere. The climbing was accompanied by general chipping away at the Wall providing the hardcore with which the way was paved for formal German reunification concluded on 3rd October 3 1990.
To watch this great icon of the Cold War being figuratively and literally torn down from the remote outback, on a puny, untuned portable TV, was just the most bizarre experience…
…but probably not quite as bizarre as diving on the Great Barrier Reef and learning all about the world’s biggest organism having the world’s biggest orgasm. That mass spawning, which occurs when moon, tides and weather are just right in November, gave me the background and inspiration to write one of my first professional pieces of science writing (which incidentally won me an award very early in my career). The possibilities for sexual innuendo were almost limitless.
1989 was a year of major change for the world it seems and for me personally, as I’ve discussed in previous posts. It’s 20 years since I met my wonderful then to be wife (not pictured above). It’s 20 years since I started my career in science communication. And, it’s 20 years since I last lay on a creaky bed in a backpackers’ hostel watching world history happen while Aussies complained it was still too chilly to swim and insects buzzed around the Bush.