Last Places in Commonwealth Countries

On July 6, 2016 · 0 Comments

The series of Last Places continued. One should feel free to consult the previous articles, Last Place in England and Last Places in Asia, to understand the premise. I found it more difficult to uncover examples this time so I broadened the base, extending my search to the entire set of the Commonwealth of Nations countries. Most failed to produce any results although a few offered nuggets of goodness.


Last Place in Australia to Hunt Whales


Albany Whale World
Albany Whale World by denisbin on Flickr (cc)

This one surprised me. I knew that many nations hunted wales from the Eighteenth Century until well into the Twentieth Century, and a small handful never gave it up. It made sense to me that Australia, with all that seacoast, pursued whaling commercially too. What surprised me was the Australia didn’t stop hunting whales until 1978. I would have guessed a much earlier date given its fierce opposition to whaling today. The Cheynes Beach Whaling Company shut its doors in that fateful year, closing an Australian tradition that dated back to its earliest colonial days. That new direction marked a different tradition though, and one much better for the whales.

Cheynes got into the whaling game late from its base near Albany, Western Australia (map) in the 1950’s. Blood flowed in the waters for the next quarter century.

In 1952, the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company in Frenchman Bay commenced operations with advice and equipment supplied by the Norwegians. Using the whale catcher boats, the Cheynes II, III and IV, the whalers took an average of 86 humpbacks a year until a ban on hunting that species came into effect in 1963. In 1955, they had begun to take sperm whales, which now became the focus of the whale chasers, and catches steadily began to rise. When whales were plentiful, work went on at the station around the clock, seven days a week.

The old whaling station didn’t simply disappear after it closed. Just two years later it reopened as a tourist attraction, Whale World, now called the Discovery Bay Tourism Experience. The site offered an exact rendition of the station. Workers simply walked away in 1978 and left everything behind, almost as if they expected to return the next day. The site remained perfectly preserved.


Last Place in New Zealand to Cart Wool out on Packhorses


Around New Zealand
Around New Zealand by Coss and Johanna on Flickr (cc)

I wanted to find superlatives truly describing a nation’s fabric whenever possible. Sheep farming seemed sufficiently stereotypical of New Zealand. It delighted me to see Hore Hore Station mentioned as the last place in New Zealand to cart wool out on packhorses, listed in a family history. That didn’t appear to be a particularly reliable source although a 1957 photo series called Life on a Sheep-Station made similar claims.

Probably the only sheep station left in New Zealand where the wool must be carried out on horseback is the Hore Hore Station, 30 miles in from Ruatoria, in the shadow of Mount Hikurangi. The station’s only link with the road is by a tortuous track leading five miles up the Mata River through a precipitous gorge. All supplies are brought in by packhorses, and the wool is brought out in the same way.

Finding the exact spot proved more difficult. Hore Hore came from a Maori phrase meaning "nowhere place" and it described the situation perfectly. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally I turned to the New Zealand Gazetteer — I probably should have started there — and located the exact spot (map).


Last Place in Canada to Publicly Execute a Criminal


Ottawa Jail Hostel
Ottawa Jail Hostel by Bonnie Dean on Flickr (cc)

I discovered gibbeting in the England article and now I pondered public execution in Canada. I hadn’t formed a sudden fascination with death so the 12MC audience shouldn’t worry about my mental condition. As I searched for "last" things around the world, invariably the selections fell into common themes; electricity/telephones and capital punishment. Don’t blame me, blame the Intertubes.

The Carleton County Gaol in Ottawa, Ontario (map) offered only three public executions in its 150 year life span, although its final one made history for being the last time the public could watch a man hang in Canada. The condemned man, Eugène Larment killed Ottawa policeman Thomas Stoneman in 1945, the first Ottawa policeman to die in the line of duty.

Detective Stoneman was working on a special assignment attempting to locate a stolen vehicle. The vehicle had been used in a daring theft of automatic weapons from the Canadian War Museum. On October 24, 1945, at 0102 hours Detective Stoneman and a fellow officer approached three youths who were suspected of having just broken into cars. Unknown to the officers, the youths were armed with handguns stolen in a previous break and enter. One of the suspects shot Detective Stoneman… Eugene Larment was charged with murder, convicted and hung for his crime.

The execution took place at the Carleton County Gaol (also known as the Nicholas Street Gaol or Ottawa Jail) in 1946. It closed in 1972. Hostelling International bought the property and converted it into the Ottawa Jail Hostel. Those staying overnight could sleep in a converted cell complete with iron doors and bars. It offered tours each day including the third floor "death row."

I’ll add one small footnote. The last public execution in Canada indeed took place at Carleton. The last execution, not held publicly, happened in 1962 at the Don Jail in Toronto.


Last Place in Kenya Stuffing Animals for Big Game Hunters


King of Beasts
King of Beasts by Thomas Hawk on Flickr (cc)

Another nation, another surprise. I didn’t realize Kenya banned big game hunting in 1977. I thought they still allowed it. An American dentist killed Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe in 2015 so I figured it was still a thing everywhere. Rich European and Americans used to flock to Kenya to collect all sorts of safari trophies, stuffing their victims for display. Now they don’t.

Paul Carl Zimmerman opened his taxidermy studio in Nairobi in 1929, after first arriving as part of "a zoology research team sent by a German university." His studio grew to become the largest taxidermy factory in Kenya, and one of the largest in the world. By 1973, Zimmermann Ltd. mounted trophies for 400 safaris a year, primarily lions, wildebeests and buffaloes. The business shuttered after the hunting ban. Only the name remained, adopted by the Zimmerman Estate housing complex on the site of the old taxidermy studio (map).

Last Places in Asia

On July 3, 2016 · 4 Comments

The second time I searched on the exact phrase the "Last place in [geographic area] to"… while leaving the remainder of the statement blank, I focused on countries in Asia. I knew it would be more difficult than the examination of England. However, I didn’t figure it would be nearly impossible. Many countries produced not a single occurrence. I found a few examples after extensive searching, instances both fascinating and completely unpredictable.

Last Place in China where Glyptostrobus Grows in the Wild


Glyptostrobus pensilis
Glyptostrobus pensilis by Chris_Williams_PhD on Flickr (cc)

I’d never heard of the conifer Glyptostrobus pensilis, a native of subtropical southeast China and small slivers of Laos and Vietnam. I’d never heard of an organization called the American Conifer Society either, yet it existed as did the tree from China. The Society said,

Commonly called Chinese Water Pine and Chinese Swamp Cypress, both misnomers… The genus formerly had a much wider range, covering most of the Northern Hemisphere, including the high Arctic during the Paleocene and Eocene… Chinese Swamp cypress is nearly extinct in the wild due to overcutting for its valuable decay-resistant, scented wood, but it is also fairly widely planted along the banks of rice paddies where its roots help to stabilize the banks by reducing soil erosion.

Glyptostrobus pensilis survived to become the only remaining species of the genus Glyptostrobus. Dendrologists once thought Glyptostrobus went extinct in the wild in its native Chinese habitat however small clusters continued to cling to life in mangrove swamps near Zhuhai (map), perhaps its final stand. Fortunately gardeners and arborists also cultivated Glyptostrobus as an ornamental tree in plenty of other places, including China. It can grow throughout much of the southeastern United States and in parts of the Pacific Northwest, too. The specimen in the photograph grew at the US National Arboretum in Washington, DC.

Just don’t go looking for Glyptostrobus in the wild in China except in Zhuhai.


Last Place in Japan Banning Women


大峯
大峯 (Mt. Omine) by Kemm Ell Zee on Flickr (cc)

A modern industrial nation banning women seemed oddly anachronistic, yet a place in Japan continued its 1,3000 year prohibition unabated. Women weren’t allowed on the peak of a mountain within the Omine range, in the Kansai region of Honshu (map). Officially called Mount Sanjo although more popularly called Mount Omine, the summit sheltered the monastery of Ominesanji, the holiest place of Shugendo Buddhists.

"It’s not about discrimination," explained the monk who led my expedition when I questioned him about the "No Women Admitted" sign. "In the past, this was a dangerous mountain with bears, rock falls and other hazards. People still die on this mountain today. The ‘ban’ is there to protect women in the way you would want to protect your mother or sister or wife from danger. It also exists so that we do not get distracted from our practice…"

All other Japanese monasteries lifted their prohibitions years ago. Ominesanji never changed. The ban didn’t have the force of law — and women were known to ignore the signs occasionally — although the monks of Mount Omine still considered those disregarding their traditions as severely breaching local etiquette.


Last place in Indonesia to See the Total Solar Eclipse of 2016


Total Solar Eclipse 2016 in Indonesia
Total Solar Eclipse 2016 in Indonesia by skyseeker on Flickr (cc)

The moon passed between the earth and the sun on March 8-9, 2016, creating a narrow band of total darkness across a swatch of the South Pacific. Widespread areas of Oceania and southeast Asia witnessed the event partially. Very little land, generally only the open ocean, fell within the full blackout. Parts of Indonesia did experience the maximum effects of the eclipse. The tiny island of Pulau Fani (map) became the last place in the nation to go completely dark, for 2 minutes and 14 seconds. I’d never heard of Pulau Fani and I suspected many in the Twelve Mile Circle audience hadn’t either. I found very little information about the island although it had a listing on Indonesian Wikipedia. Roughly translated,

Pulau Fani is the outer islands of Indonesia, located in the Pacific Ocean and is bordered by the state Palau… For the latest data existing seasonal population numbers there are 11 households.

I also learned that a total eclipse will cross the United States on August 21, 2017. I think I need to find a way to visit my relatives in Charleston, South Carolina where a total blackout will occur.


Last place in Cambodia to Fall to the Khmer Rouge


big_preah_vihear
big_preah_vihear by lokryan on Flickr (cc)

The Khmer Rouge, an army of Communist agitators, rebelled against Cambodia’s Khmer Republic beginning in the mid 1960s. The Khmer Republic didn’t have sufficient unity or the strength to contain the Khmer Rouge as the years passed, and finally fell to it in 1975. The last vestige of the old Khmer Republic lingered for a few weeks longer at a single place, at the Preah Vihear Temple (ប្រាសាទព្រះវិហារ).

Ironically, Preah Vihear (map) might actually belong in Thailand. It was built as a Hindu temple atop a summit in the Dangrek Mountains in the 11th Century. Nine hundred years later, French colonialists in Cambodia negotiated with the Rattanakosin Kingdom of Siam to establish a border. Part of it followed the spine of Dangrek Mountains. Oddly, the map placed Preah Vihear within Cambodia even though it fell on Siam’s side of the watershed as did the primary path leading to it. Siam, renamed Thailand, later disputed this designation and appealed to the International Court of Justice. The ICJ sided with Cambodia in 1962, declaring that someone should have raised concerns back in 1907 after the original survey. Thailand waited too long to push its claim.

Preah Vihear provided a great natural defensive position. Attackers could not approach the temple from the Cambodian side without scaling cliffs. Forces loyal to the Khmer Republic held out for more than a month until the Khmer Rouge dislodged them with intensive shelling. They had an easy escape route, though. They simply walked a few metres across the border into Thailand. Tragically, the victorious Communists would perpetrated a horrible national genocide where as many as three million people died before Vietnamese forces toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

Select African Superlatives

On January 27, 2016 · 0 Comments

I thought I’d lump another set of somewhat related items together as I continued to cull the enormous backlog of possible Twelve Mile Circle topics. They didn’t have much in common except that they all involved continental Africa. Two were geographical observations and two were geological oddities. All of them piqued my interest although not enough to devote an entire article to them.

Long Flights



Most of us have probably seen the recent comparison-style maps on the Intertubes lately, some demonstrating Africa’s immense size. Brilliant Maps, for example, had a wonderful portrayal of the True Size of Africa in an article a few months ago. People tended to misconstrue Africa’s enormity, probably due to its under-representation in popular media combined with Mercator map projections that distorted its actual size. Twelve Mile Circle fell into some of those same traps as witnessed by the relatively few African article markers on the Complete Index page.

In that vein, I pondered Africa’s enormity in a slightly different manner using great-circle distances. And what better measure of great-circle distance could I generate than airline flights? One could take a direct nonstop flight from Lagos, Nigeria to Nairobi, Kenya (currently 7 flights per week on Kenya Airlines) and ponder its width. That would carry a traveler from west to east across the continent, not even its widest part, and it would take 5 hours and 20 minutes. That compared pretty nicely with a flight from New York to San Francisco across the width of the United States; or from London, England to Ankara, Turkey.

Looking at length, one could then take a nonstop flight from O. R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa to Cairo, Egypt (4 flights per week on EgyptAir) in 8 hours, or alternately to Dakar, Senegal (3 flights per week on South African Airways) in 8.5 hours. That compared rather favorably with a flight between Chicago, Illinois and Paris, France. Of course, an entire ocean didn’t have to be crossed on any of those African flights. That, to me, demonstrated its vast expanse quite succinctly.

Plus, now I get to see all sorts of interesting advertisements on my website now that Big Data thinks I’m contemplating so many far-flung adventures.


Extreme Elevation (or Lack Thereof)


Gambie
Gambie by Guillaume Colin & Pauline Penot on Flickr (cc)

Africa demonstrated many extremes, although not in every instance. Certainly a landmass of its size featured an array of elevations, from Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (5,895 metres / 19,341 feet) down to Lake Assal in Djibouti (-153 m / -502 ft). I wondered though, which African nation had the smallest elevation extremes. I discounted the various offshore islands that were considered part of Africa and focused on the continent itself. The honor went to The Gambia. I featured Unusual Geography of the Republic of The Gambia in the very early days of 12MC and even commented on its elevation. What I didn’t note at the time was that its greatest "peak" (53 m / 174 f) was also the lowest national highpoint on the continent.

The website Peakbagger included this highpoint in its database, a place called Red Rock (map). Only one Peakbagger member claimed to have conquered its summit. I wasn’t surprised.


Weird Volcano



The continent also served as a home for what National Geographic dubbed the Strangest Volcano on Earth. The Ol Doinyo Lengai stratovolcano in the Gregory Rift of the larger East African Rift of Tanzania (map) was well known to vulcanologists for its unique properties. It was the only active volcano that was known to produce natrocarbonatite lava. The lava at Ol Doinyo Lengai wasn’t based on silica as was typical, rather it was composed of sodium and potassium carbonate minerals.

…the temperatures of these lavas are much lower, "only" about 600 deg. C., and Lengai’s lava does not emit enough light to glow during day,- only at night, a dull reddish glow that does not illuminate anything is visible. Also because of its peculiar chemical composition, the lava is extremely fluid and behaves very much like water, with the exception that it is black like oil. After it is cooled down it quickly alters and becomes a whitish powder.

Black water lava? I’d love to see some of that in person. I may have to settle for the YouTube video for now.


Large Crater


Map of Vredefort dome
Map of Vredefort dome via Wikimedia Commons

In the distant ancient history of the planet, something like two billion years ago, an asteroid slammed into the earth leaving an impact crater 300 kilometres (185 miles) across. The asteroid was much smaller than that, maybe 5-10 km in diameter, although it hit with such tremendous speed and force that it vaporized stone for great distances in all directions. This celestial divot was called the Vredefort crater — named for the South African settlement that grew there in modern times — the largest verified crater on the planet.



Very few signs remained because of its ancient pedigree, leaving it mostly eroded. A structure known as the Vredefort Dome sprouted at impact, an uplifting of rock that occurred at the very center of the strike. It was mostly weathered away too although it still appeared as a faint semi-circle on satellite images. A few roads also crossed its ridges, making it an interesting sight in Google Street View (image).

The thought of an impact that large seemed terrifying.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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