Magazine article Geographical

Indiana Bones

Magazine article Geographical

Indiana Bones

Article excerpt

An internationally acclaimed Australian paleontologist and mammalogist, Tim Flannery is the Director of the South Australian Museum. He has been described as Indiana Jones with credibility. His latest book, Eternal Frontier an ecological history of North America is out now

WHAT WAS THE FIRST PLACE YOU VISITED OVERSEAS? It was Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, in 1981. The streets were splashed scarlet with betel nut stains that I took to be blood, and for the first time in my life I was the only white face in a sea of black ones. In a market heaped high with strange tropical vegetables, reef fish and live turtles, a crowd had gathered in front of a stall. A live dugong perhaps? No, TV had arrived in Port Moresby; the assembled masses were transfixed by This is Your Life.

WHAT IS YOUR IDEA OF HEAVEN ON EARTH? The crest of the Prinz Wilhelm V mountain range of Irian Jaya, West Papua. It rises to snow-dusted heights where tufted rhododendrons, orchids and enormous, branched lichens are overshadowed by groves of lacy tree-ferns. It's a quiet, unvisited place where you can sit admiring a two-kilometre, near-vertical drop to rainforest below, while listening to McGregor's bird of paradise.

AND WHAT ABOUT HELL? I would say no torture is as exquisite as waiting for a visa in an Indonesian customs office during Ramadan. I needed it to visit the remote Belum Datang Tuan province. "Not yet arrived," said the uniformed man in his sauna-Jike office, whose white-flecked lips and fetid breath testified to his fast. It seemed like days, forever, waiting across the desk from him. It was almost enough to make me pay a bribe.

WHO ARE YOUR BEST TRAVELLING COMPANIONS? My wife is the very best. She's the only one who would go anywhere with me -- even to the dreaded Indonesian visa office. There's also Boeadi, an Indonesian colleague who can turn any malnourished dunghill croaker into a magnificent chicken satay; and Lester Seri, a Wanigela man who travelled through Papua New Guinea with me.

WHO ARE YOUR WORST TRAVELLING COMPANIONS? I hate to say it, and rye never really travelled with him so it's a bit brash to say, but I reckon that comical travel writer Redmond O'Hanlon might be a bit of a handful.


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