An Artist, An Island

The world has yet to discover a treasure I found on Kangaroo Island. It is not the unique scenery or unusual fauna. It is not the craggy southern coastlines or sublime northern bays. Nor yet is it the peaceful warmth of the Islanders who welcome you with open smiles and firm handshakes.

No, the secret is more subtle. Less than 30 minutes from main ferry landing on Kangaroo Island is an art studio of Islander Neil Shepherd, or Shep as he is known to all. Shep will welcome you into his studio with typical Islander friendliness and personally escort you through the display of his works and into his studio. Shep is the stereotypical artists with paint daubs on his clothes and walls.

Canvas and sketches are everywhere in a bewildering montage of color and shapes. Yet as the eye focuses on specific scenes and paintings the realization dawns that you are in the presence of a modern Master. It could be so easy to note the influence of Van Gogh in some of the landscape impressions, or to compare his captured island past to Rockwell. But the work is uniquely Shep and will remain so. The world awaits his rare and brilliant talent.

With trepidation my wife and I left Shep’s studio and continued on to Emu Bay, where accommodation had been obtained for a four day stay. Emu Bay occupies a sloping hill that overlooks the bay. As with all of Kangaroo Island the view is amazing and prompts the visitor to first stop and look. I did this to first admire the view and then to be amazed by what I first thought were small Emus. A closer look revealed in fact that they were turkeys. Huge turkeys.

As I pulled into the accommodation driveway there were more turkeys hopping and clucking about the grounds and it was clear that they were domesticated fowl that had returned to the wild and were doing very well, thank you. After unpacking and a welcome cup of tea, there was a front porch on which to sit and admire the view again (yes, it is that beautiful). Near the cabin porch was a small fence adjacent to a native Broombush under which was a female kangaroo with a baby joey.

Not wishing to miss this photo opportunity, I crept forward to the fence and then spent ten frustrating minutes trying to catch the perfect “National Geographic” shot of the charming pair. Mother Kangaroo was having none of my foolishness however, and, using her tactical Kangaroo skills, moved to keep the bush between her and me all the time. Baby joey was glued to Mom so the best I ever managed from the pair was the tops of four ears peeking out of the grass near the bush.

Undaunted with my first Kangaroo Island kangaroo encounter I poured over the literature in the cabin and decided that Duck-Billed Platypus would be the next native islander to be captured on my camera. After all, a small, furry mammal in a pond would not be hard to photograph, even for me. The next day, my wife and I headed north to the Flinders National Park. From the Park Station we hiked the trail to the ponds where platypus can be seen in the wild.

This is one of the few places in Australia where platypus can be seen and considerable patience is required to squat on the viewing platform in drizzling rain. The hours drifted slowly by and every plop of dripping rain into the ponds created an unrealized expectation that the elusive creatures had appeared. Finally we gave up. Wet and saddened by the lost opportunity we trudged wearily back to the Park Station. But the wildlife was not done with us yet. On the path, a few yards ahead crouched a Wallaby, totally unfazed by our sodden presence. The bemused marsupial permitted a close-up with the camera and seemed to almost pose for the picture.

Then, with a twitch of the tail, it was gone into the bush, disappearing with an awesome stealth.

The day was not over as we return to the Park Station and we decided to visit the Admiral’s Arch. While this sounded to me like a heap of fallen rocks, nothing could have been further from the truth. The arch is a strip of land that reaches out to a small island.

The Park has created a meandering boardwalk that winds through and about the arch giving wonderful views and scenes with the backdrop of thundering waves and spray bearing in from Antarctica. But the surprise of Admiral’s Arch is not the geological architecture but rather the Fur Seal Colony that inhabit the environs of the arch. The seals are brown lumps and we caught them lolling about the dark rocks in various states of slumber.

Occasionally one would waddle around the layered steps created by sedimentary formation. Their apparent sloth belied an incredible agility when the desire to move or play crossed their minds. Again, Kangaroo Island choose to share a magic gift of unexpected delight at Admiral’s Arch and, despite being soaked with rain and spray, the drive back to Emu Bay was awash with the afterglow of being treated to a display of rare excellence.

Further wonders on Kangaroo Island would not have fitted into the four days we had allotted. Fortunately we had met an Islander on the ferry and he had suggested some highlights given the short visit. One of suggestions was a trip to Stokes Bay. There was not much literature on this sleepy, rocky little bay and again, like much of Kangaroo Island, a secret awaits the uninitiated visitor.

The end of the road into Stokes Bay is literally the end of the road which widens to a parking lot near the beach. Leaving the car we adjourned to the Rock Pool Cafe adjacent to the parking lot to be greeted by a Shep painting on the wall of the cafe. Apparently it was one of his early works from his days as a school teacher. The proprietor of the cafe regaled us with tales of the artist as we sipped a latte that would leave any Starbucks to shame. It was then that we learned about the secret of Stokes Bay.

Apparently, there was a cave through which one could walk to another bay. After finishing our latte, we walked to and through the cave to the hidden bay beyond Stokes Bay. The hidden bay was soft and sandy, awash with a brilliant southern sun. A gentle coastal curve faded about a mile away from the cave exit into a cliff wall. The hidden bay was secluded and private. Very few people were about and I think that this was another area where seals gathered through the cycle of their lives about the island. Once again, Kangaroo Island had provided this author with another gem of magnificence.

As a final goodbye to this most stellar showcase of Australian nature, I would like to note the manner in which the Islanders tend their environment. For example, our accommodation operated entirely on rain water. Huge water storage tanks dotted Emu Bay and all of the town’s water needs were fed from these tanks. There was a warning in our cabin that we were restricted to a certain amount of water usage and any overages would accrue an additional fee.

Given the scarcity of water on the island this was a sensible and necessary arrangement. Islanders also tend to their own emergency needs. The 45 minute ride from the mainland, prevent any external emergency services rendering effective usefulness. In the height of a lighting storm some years ago the eleven fire trucks of the island were stretched to respond to eleven ongoing fires. As the owner of our Emu Bay accommodation stated when we were discussing this critical emergency:

‘When lightning started fire number twelve we just had to make it work’.

This sums up the spirit and attitude of Kangaroo Islanders. They are a special group of people who represent their precious treasure with pride. Those who visit and leave on the ferry will find themselves looking wistfully at the Island as it dwindles in the boat wake, muttering a promise to return.

A disabling encounter with prostate and brain cancer put David Bedworth in a situation where he could not work and had limited abilities as a result of treatment. However, brain surgery stimulated a long dormant creative surge in literature, music and poetry. He contributed to The Student Operated Press and collaborated with his sister on a collection of illustrated poems. He also worked with a group of ill veterans and family members who were exposed to contaminants at the Marine Corps Base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Sadly, he passed away, but his work remains, reminding us of the man he was.