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Positive surprises on “the dark side” in PR

FIVE years after unexpectedly finding ourselves “on the dark side’’ in PR, we have discovered it’s not that bad after all.

That’s possibly because the media landscape has shifted so much that “the dark side’’ is now filled with our own kind and it is more acceptable for the likes of us to juggle both worlds and continue to produce journalism as well as commercial content.

Here’s a few positive surprises we have discovered:

RESPECT FROM MEDIA

I’m ashamed to admit that most journalists have treated me with more pleasant professionalism than I gave to PR contacts while working solely in a newsroom.

They recognise the credibility of my information, my industry knowledge, calibre of clients, quality of the release and have come to expect editorial-style images as standard.

BUSINESS AS USUAL

Well, kind of. We still write and shoot genuinely newsworthy and interesting stories and try very hard to ensure the stories we tell are fair and accurate. It’s just that someone else is paying us.

However, we cannot deny the bias and interests that arises with who is paying when we generate PR.

NO RIGHT OF REPLY NEEDED

The publisher of a local industry magazine once complained that my articles’’ wereverbose, self-serving diatribes’’. Well yes, that’s what my clients pay me to do. She was bewildered when told it was actually her job to pick through my media releases for information and story angles of interest to her readers and get the other side of the story before running the piece she wanted. The publisher, who had never been a journalist, believed that media releases were ready-made stories for her to fill her magazine with.

Armed with knowledge of the current media landscape, we do often now write media releases as completed stories, leaving no unanswered questions for sparsely populated newsrooms and inexperienced tree-changers. They are regularly published without change.

Therefore, as PR, we can choose to submit a traditional media release or a completed story depending on the occasion yet are never obliged to provide balance.

BECOMING SOMEONE ELSE

In the past few years I have created new words and phrases, changed a client’s vocabulary, taken on several vastly different personas, made moral and political points and berated senior politicians under Parliamentary privilege – all under the guise of others.

Anyone who has met me knows that really I am more than a bit shy, not that verbally articulate and certainly not confrontational. So it is a privilege and a joy to step outside myself and be someone else when writing quotes for a media release or a speech.

Do you agree? Can you add to this list?

* Ellen and David Hill worked in traditional print media for 20 and 30 years respectively. In 2012 they unexpectedly found themselves “on the dark side” in PR. Today, they run a communications consultancy. When not crafting communications for high-end clients, they traipse the country in search of stories, usually in a grubby hatchback piled to the ceiling with gear, a lanky teenager and, sometimes, a pampered pet rabbit called Sophie.


From newsroom to PR: Welcome to “the dark side”

I always wanted to be a journalist. Never thought of being anything else. And for nearly 20 years I lived my dream, met my photojournalist husband in the newsroom and raised our son as a newshound. News and media was our life.

In those days, journos would climb the editorial ladder, go to the subs desk and become editors. Those who left media would work as press secretaries to politicians, head media teams in government departments and churn out media releases at charities and big companies. They were no longer journalists. They had “gone to the dark side’’.

PRs were dismissed outright while we scribes wrote stories from scratch, interviewed people face-to-face, attended court, police rounds, pollie doorstops, disasters and death knocks and rarely accepted submitted pictures.

So how on earth have we found ourselves on “the dark side’’?

We felt the winds of change in the mid-2000s and took voluntary redundancy in 2009. Among the first wave of the tide of redundancies which has swept through the traditional media, we didn’t realise it at the time but we were actually pioneers.

First, we wrote a coffee table book. Everyone loved it, no one bought it.

We tried our hand as travel writers. I even won an award. While we could definitely write stories and shoot images, we failed dismally at selling ourselves, pitching stories and reaching out to editors. We never had to while working for one media outlet.

We didn’t intend to go into PR. It just happened. A local organisation was restructuring and wanted to refocus their PR to communications driven by a journalist/photographer team. We would sniff out stories, shoot postcard-style images and organise travel itineraries for the occasional visiting journalist. Easy.

For the first six months I was, uncharacteristically, a sobbing, hyperventilating mess at least once a week, lost 10kg and worked until 1am most nights, desperately trying to learn the ropes and battle the shame of becoming a PR chic.

Over time, we did learn the formulae for valuing media outcomes, we built up a huge media contact list and made sure the organisation we contracted to gained media attention every single week for three years solid.

Today, we run a boutique communications consultancy offering writing skills, photography and media services. We’re also branching back into freelance travel stories, character profiles and history articles, and David has begun to explore his creativity and photographic art. We do all of that under the one banner – and we’re not the only ones.

These days, ex-journos prefer to be called communications consultants (me included). Readers, listeners and viewers now provide much of the news content. Bloggers and social influencers have emerged as the new media. Reality TV is the new reality. Media reports on media and new terms like content creator’’,multimedia’’, marcomms’’ andbrand journalism’’ have cropped up. Everyone is supposed to have a blog, social media platforms and be skilled across all mediums from writing, photography and video.

So what does it all mean for the media, for business, for politics and, the group often overlooked in all of this, the reader/consumer?

Through this regular blog, I will explore some of the challenges and pitfalls, advantages and new opportunities and encourage input, new ideas and healthy and robust (yet respectful) discussion.

One thing I know for certain is that “the dark side’’ really is many shades of grey.


Fiji: postcard perfect getaway

Postcard perfect Fiji

Postcard perfect Fiji

By Ellen Hill                                     Photos: David Hill

“Bula Mrs Hill. Bula Mr Hill. Bula Master Hill.

“Bula scruffy dog.

“Bula sun.

“Naughty dog – you should be at home.

“Bula dog.’’

Fiji 21
The cheery sing-song chant continued for the entire 90 minute journey from Nandi airport to the front door of Fiji Hideaway Resort & Spa, annoying yet uplifting and amusing at the same time.

It set the tone for the whole seven-day visit to Fiji’s Coral Coast.

 

Fiji 08From the palm tree-lined beaches, the thatched huts, azure waters dotted with quaint fishing boats, sapphire-coloured skies, and strapping young men in sarongs, all the clichés were there in glorious real life. It was as if we had been engulfed by the pages of a tourist brochure.

After a tough previous few months, it was just what we needed, right down to being handed a coconut on the promenade by the grinning man who scampered up to cut it down.

Fiji 01

 

The Fiji Hideaway Resort was perfect: not too posh so we felt uncomfortable but nice enough to feel like a treat.

Our white bure (villa) was spacious, cool and clean, surrounded by tropical plants and with high ceilings, a queen size bed, an indoor shower (and a pretty spiffy outdoor one) and a front verandah.

Unheard of for us, we embraced the opportunity to “fly and flop’’ and didn’t leave the resort for three days.

With jobs that require us to be positive, polite and almost servile, it was a welcome relief to laze by the pool while resort staff scurried around at our beck and call.

 

Fiji 31We enjoyed the theatrical nightly kava ceremony, the lighting of the torches, the cultural stage performance each evening and got a buzz from the “personal’’ invitation to attend drinks with the resort general manager the afternoon we arrived.
Our tweenage son preferred our company, although the resort does have a kids club where resort crew look after the children with non-stop activities from treasure hunts to snorkelling and Fijian fishing lessons.

 

Fiji 14The resort website encourages visitors to meet the real Fiji’’ by visiting thefriendly locals’’ in nearby villages, although we suspect the many locals who work there feel obliged to welcome tourists into their personal spaces after serving their every need all day.

After three days of soaking in the cloistered embrace of the resort, we tentatively ventured beyond the protective gates and wandered down the narrow potholed road towards town.

Fiji 11

 

Just a few hundred metres down the road we were confronted by a man holding a machete.

He eyed us suspiciously.

We eyed him anxiously.

“Where are you going?’’ he asked.

“Just for a walk,’’ my husband said, aiming for a casual tone but achieving a warbled defence.

Why?’’ the man asked in amazement.Why you leave the resort?’’

Fiji 04He invited us to see his home. Well we had no choice, did we?

Sitting cross-legged on the bare earthen floor of the hut, a tiny naked child peeped around the doorframe as the man told us his hard luck story and asked for money.

The next day it was slightly disconcerting to see him elevated as an elder at the local Methodist church service, where we were amused by the spotlessly dressed children in their Sabbath whites, singing psalms like angels and squabbling like seagulls during the sermon.

 

Fiji 26While it is tempting to remain within the safe confines of the resort, it is worthwhile to stretch the boundaries and explore further afield.

We took an organised full-day tour to Robinson Caruso Island (arranged by the resort staff), where tourists can enjoy a bountiful lunch, educational tour and entertainment. There is also a bar, children’s water activities and basic hut accommodation.

 

Fiji 09

The resort shops are stocked with a range of items, from toiletries to clothing along with traditional novelties and snacks – all carrying a generous mark-up price.

The Hideaway has a full gym but we steered clear of physical torture, preferring a massage at the day spa and a lounge by the pool.

 

 

Fiji 16

Apart from the raw sausage served at the “traditional Aussie BBQ’’, the only real downer was the lack of an ATM (we had to order a taxi and travel to the 5-star hotel down the road).

After building a sandcastle on the beach, going on numerous romantic sunset strolls along the sun-soaked shores of the majestic ocean lagoon with year-round warm tropical waters’’ andpristine coral beaches’’, collecting shells and sipping rich cocktails by the pool, we truly felt refreshed.

 

Sometimes you just need a postcard.

 

Fiji 03Getting there

Several international airlines have flights into Fij, including Qantas, Air New Zealand, Korean Air, Pacific Blue, and V Australia. Air Pacific is the national carrier and has direct flights from Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Christchurch, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Japan. The Fiji International Airport is located in Nadi.

The Coral Coast and the Fiji Hideaway Resort & Spa are a 90 minute transfer away. The resort’s reservations staff can organise a transfer at the time of reservation via private car, taxi, or coach (fees apply).

 


Fiji 18

Getting around

Sightseeing around the Coral Coast is a must, with beautiful beaches and coral lagoons to explore. Taxis are available from the resort to visit Sigatoka for duty free shopping or the tour desk can organise a rental.

We rode the public bus into Sigatoka, which cost only a few dollars.

 

 

Fiji 13


Ballooning in the Aussie Outback

Outback Ballooning

 

By Ellen Hill                          Photos: David Hill

(This travel story won the 2008 RovingEye Expose Your World Competition, Travel Story category. All prices and contact details have been updated.)

 

BEING caught between the cusp of a new day and the last flickers of night is like witnessing two of nature’s most intimate acts – birth and death. Secret and mysterious, only a select few are privy to its glory.

Today, we are that select few, a group of strangers pressed together in a wicker basket like sardines in a can, suspended 1000ft above the ground smack bang in the centre of Australia just outside the town of Alice Springs.

Moonset in the desert near Alice Springs with Outback Ballooning.

Moonset in the desert near Alice Springs with Outback Ballooning.

In the pre-dawn silence when the nocturnal animals have bedded down before the birds awake, the sun sends tentative golden strands across the red dirt until it glows like an ember. Its radiant tentacles stretch out slowly as they have done for millennia, highlighting desert features of oaks and mulga scrub, rock wallabies and craggy outcrops.

On the opposite horizon a sleepy full moon melts down like an egg yolk behind the rugged outline of the MacDonnell Ranges, leaving the sky silvery blue in its wake.

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and the 30m tall balloon with its cargo is carried along with it.

Hot air balloons are the most basic of aircraft. But all fears and concerns for the world below and the flimsiness of our craft have whooshed above our heads as the pilot on our Outback Ballooning experience pumps the burners to send jets of orange, blue and white hot propane fuel into the balloon.

We float aimlessly through the first heaven, unaware of our progress. There is no airspeed, no aerodynamic lift, no vibration and no wind noise. We cannot pitch or roll.

The G-free experience is like gently levitating rather than flying.

My seven-year-old son, almost too terrified to join the flight, pops his head up from the base of the basket to get a better look at the unfolding palette before us.

G-free aerial adventure.

G-free aerial adventure.

He remains there mesmerised until the basket scrapes the top of a tree on its final descent back to terra firma.

Out here, the ranges are no fuzzy-topped mountains emanating a soothing blue haze but a jumbled stretch of rocky outcrops and hills that appear much larger and further away than they really are because the pathetic scrub is no more than a few patches of scrub and that accursed spiky buffel grass.

This is one of the most isolated and arid places on earth, a place where you can wander far into the horizon and not see another soul. A place where all there is for company is the melancholy “Ark, Ark, Aaaah’’ of a lone crow, the crunch of your feet in the never-ending dirt and the gentle wail of the breeze. Where the sun beats down so hard it feels like it’s pushing you into the rock hard earth.

Here in the second largest desert in the world, clouds become a myth and the clumps of spinifex grass haul themselves out of what must be imaginary moisture. This desert of 1.3 million sq miles receives just a Biblical rich man’s drop of water on its tongue – 5 inches a year. Some parts of central Australia only get relief once or twice a decade, just enough to torment. This collection of small deserts is called the Outback, and takes up 44 per cent of the continent.

The Australian Outback ...one of the most arid places on Earth.

The Australian Outback …one of the most arid places on Earth.

Mile after mile of river and creek beds wind their way through this parched land, baked to that red dust and rock in the merciless Outback sun. The “Floodway’’ signs that appear at regular intervals along the highways seem ludicrous as the waterways snake through the landscape as a mocking reminder of the thundering rains that will surely come.

Then myriad dry lakes fill with water and the lowest point on the continent, the half million square mile Lake Eyre Basin, floods as the rivers drain into its bowl.

But sometimes nature taunts the thirsty tongue and parched earth. The rains don’t always come and then the Todd River remains a shortcut walkway into the town of Alice Springs from outlying settlements.

Reality hits as the basket bumps and scrapes along the ground, sending puffs of deep orange-coloured dirt into the air. We hadn’t even noticed our descent.

Back on terra firma.

Back on terra firma.

Still trapped in the romance of the experience, we tumble awkwardly from the basket and stomp our boots on the dirt. Reality hits when we’re all summoned to help the crew pack up the nylon balloon into its bag.

Nothing less than breakfast of honey glazed chicken drumsticks, quiches, fresh fruit, cheese and chocolate cake washed down with fruit juice or champagne would be good enough to end such a civilised experience.

On the cusp of night and dawn.

On the cusp of night and dawn.

Cost:
30 minute flight: $AUD290

Children 6-16: $AUD237

60 minute flight: $AUD385

Children 6-16: $AUD313

Adult balloon chase: $AUD40

Child balloon chase: $AUD32

Separate mandatory insurance fee: $AUD25 per passenger payable on the morning of the flight.

 

Experience the beauty of the desert with Outback Ballooning.

Experience the beauty of the desert with Outback Ballooning.

What to wear:
It can be dusty in the bush and balloon riders are welcome to help rig and pack away the balloon so enclosed shoes and warm casual clothing (don’t wear light colours) is suitable.

How to get there:
Passengers are collected from their accommodation and dropped back after the flight. Qantas has regular flights to Alice Springs from most Australian cities.

Bookings:
Toll free: 1800 809 790 (within Australia), +61 8 8952 8723
or sales@outbackballooning.com.au.

Ellen and David Hill received a complimentary Outback Ballooning ride thanks to Tourism Northern Territory.

© Deep Hill Media

Tranquil way to experience the Australian Outback.

Tranquil way to experience the Australian Outback.


Channel your charge through speechwriting

Speechwriting

For two years, I have blipped between my alter-ego (a gregarious, witty, charming born leader who loves a verbal stoush) and, well, me – verbally awkward, socially uncomfortable, to be honest, a bit of a wallflower.

More recently, I have enjoyed reconnecting with a long-time political acquaintance, coaxing to the surface his warmth, generous community spirit and subtle humour others don’t often see. I can’t deny it’s also been just a little fun helping him stick the proverbial boot into his foes under Parliamentary privilege too.

Most recently, I have begun to explore two new characters, similar in personality. My challenge is to convert their tinder dry sense of humour, almost imperceptible asides and one-liners into the written word. I don’t know either of them deeply and our paths do not cross frequently. The exciting thing is, we are embarking on this journey together.

Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

1: It’s not about you

If you want the kudos and glory, become the boss yourself.

If not, leave your ego at home and accept that no one will know your name unless they want to complain, you will have to lug the pull-up banners to the conference and you will not be given a goodie bag.

2: Believe in the cause

To write convincingly for and as someone else you must believe in their cause, share their ideals and work towards a shared goal.

3: Get to know them

Whether you both enjoy Sudoko when travelling on the train or smashing a tiny ball against a wall with a racquet on Saturday morning to relieve stress, have kids the same age or collect stamps, guaranteed you will find something in common that will kick start your relationship.

A good relationship with your boss will give depth to your speechwriting.

4: Get to understand them

Learning what makes someone tick, why they think the way they do and their opinion on a wide range of topics will help you hear their “voice’’.

5: Get to like them

You must learn to like them. You must, after all, convince others of their message.

6: Hang off their every word

Rather than fiddling with your phone, gossiping with his PA at the back of the room or gazing at the spider inching closer to Madam Mayor’s stiletto, listen to your boss give his speech. Take note of how he speaks, what words he uses and how he uses them, where he pauses for effect and whether he thumps the lectern or points at the audience.

That will help make your speeches for him more theatrical, more alive and more believable.

7: Sweat the small stuff

It’s the details which can make a good speech a memorable one which resonates with an audience touched by the sincerity of the “voice’’.

A speaker who halts and stumbles over unfamiliar words will not come across as genuine.

So notice that your speaker uses “first’’ and “second’’ rather than “firstly’’ and “secondly’’, “each’’ rather than “every’’, “everyone’’ rather than “everybody’’; that she is a fan of alliteration; that he likes to pause and eyeball a few people in the front row after a particularly passionate line.

Notice that your charge always carefully chooses cufflinks or a tie appropriate to each function or engagement. Mentioning it in a speech might just win over that deciding voter or that crucial sponsorship deal one day.

 


Tim Burton meets Bizet in circus opera

Review by Ellen Hill    Photos: David Hill

Opera can’t be fun, sexy and a little bit naughty. Can it? Oh yes, it can.

Fresh from a sell-out season on London’s West End, cabaret-style show The Carnival plays the new auditorium at the Fairmont Resort MGallery, Leura, every Friday night until mid-November.

A stunning blend of opera, classical music and circus acts, it is a first for the Blue Mountains and sweeps aside any false notion of predictability and mustiness in Australia’s original holiday destination.

If The Carnival is an indication of the regular schedule of events promised by Fairmont general manager Geoff York, then the nightlife of the upper Blue Mountains will soon be the place to be.

Audiences know from the first note that this is no traditional piece when singer Keara Donohoe warbles through an aria repeating the lyrics “it sucks to be me’’.

The show features an all-female cast and is a very intimate introduction to Australian composer and The Carnival co-creator Chloe Charody.

Crazy characters from her imagination manifest themselves on stage and reach out to the audience, crossing that invisible boundary between the stage and the audience and stream up the aisles.

Violinist and co-artistic director Sonja Schebeck doubles as a flame eater and Donohoe and fellow songbird Michaela Leisk belt out tunes suspended from hoops. These divas have the voices of La Stupenda but the bodies of Mariah Carey.

The show centres around the beautiful young Mischa unencumbered by a job and elated by her impending marriage to a wealthy stockbroker. Her world is turned upside down when a shock encounter at her family’s annual masquerade ball reveals that her Romeo has a Romeo of his own.

Distraught and alone, Mischa stares into her bedroom mirror. Through it, a parade of bizarre characters and mythical creatures step and take her on an adventure, after which she is reborn a woman of virtue and strength.

Operatic-burlesque-music-meets-carnival in style, The Carnival debuted in London’s West End with a sell-out season in March 2011, again in October 2011, and went on to run a series of successful shows in Australia.

Charody hopes the circus tricks, outrageous costumes and more modern storylines will help entice a new generation of opera lovers – not to mention the spiciness of pole dancing.

The controversial dance genre performed by Bailey Hart in the first act is very PG, romantic rather than sexy, and the aerial tissue routines stunningly beautiful.

The show hots up in Act 2 when Miss Stacey Minx, clad in leather and attitude, wraps her lithe limbs around the pole, shiny black thigh-high boots glinting as she moves.

Just as the temperature on-stage threatens to boil over, Hart returns to cool things down with her white and silver leotard and long red hair tied in a casual ponytail, a picture of girlish innocence.

Fairmont general manager Geoff York said he was excited to bring the work, which has been hailed “a showcase of genius’’, to the Blue Mountains and looked forward to a regular schedule of events at the hotel in the future.

“This work is a small-scale production with large-scale theatricality, combining classical musicians and circus artists in a bold new show that will delight audiences of all ages.

“The show really pushes the boundaries of theatre and will help to attract visitors from all over Australia to the Blue Mountains.’’

Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon Tourism chairman Randall Walker said: “We would not have a tourism industry unless operators are prepared to take a risk and make an investment. I commend the owners of Fairmont Resort for investing in bringing The Carnival to the Blue Mountains, it is a new and colourful genre of culture.’’

The Carnival will be staged at The Fairmont Resort, Sublime Point Rd, Leura, each Friday evening until November 16. Tickets: $43.50 adults, $33.50 concession, $23.50 children (10-14 years). Bookings and information: www.foxtix.com.au. Accommodation inquiries: (02) 4785 0000.


Step out for Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon Festival of Walking

Step out for Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon Tourism’s Festival of Walking

By Ellen Hill    Photos: David Hill

HOW do you make a global icon?

Take a swamp rich with flora and fauna and wait until it all dies. Squish down all the rotting bodies in layers and leave them to bake in the sun for endless millennia until they have morphed into coal and rock.

Then slice the “lasagne’’, push up wedges, let the elements mould them and allow plants and animals to reclaim the new-look landscape.

That’s the surprisingly effective explanation Wild At Heart Safaris eco-guide Keiron Sames gives visitors on his guided walks through the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area at Katoomba.

The tale will be told to those who take part in an eco-tour during the annual Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon Tourism Festival of Walking (October 6-14), during which visitors and locals will be encouraged to put their best foot forward and explore the wild beauty and unique streetscapes of some of the most popular locations in the world.

Promoting fresh air and the grand backyard of the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon region, the festival will feature treks and challenging bushwalks, history tours combined with local wine and cheese sampling, ambles through the day and walks at night, garden tours, singles walks, indigenous experiences, family events and child’s eye view walks.

It will be held at locations throughout the region including Jenolan Caves, the Glow Worm Tunnel near Lithgow and Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah, as well as Blue Mountains towns.

Blue Mountains, Lithgow & Oberon Tourism chairman Randall Walker said the festival was “a fantastic opportunity to explore the unique beauty of this magnificent World Heritage Area’’.

“It’s also a chance to rediscover well known paths through themed walks that highlight the region’s history and gastronomical experiences.’’

Sames’ environmental lasagne story is bound to be told during Wild At Heart Safaris eco-tours most days of the Festival of Walking.

He tells it at Honeymoon Point about halfway along his two-hour long easy grade walk while the tourists point their camera phones at the endless vista of trees and cliffs and try to grasp the magnitude of one million square hectares of genuine wilderness.

Every few paces along the track, Sames stops to share a titbit of geological or agricultural trivia (the process of the claystone being undercut and the land falling off is called `sapping’,’’ did you know), point out an interesting plant species or magnificent view orshush’’ the group to listen to a bird call.

Tall, slim and super fit, Sames has been an eco-guide for about a decade, a role which satisfies his urge to share the environment with others and encourage them to be more considerate of it.

He peppers his tours with questions encouraging people to think and learn from the experience.

Why do you think this is called the Blue Mountains?’’ he asks.Does anyone know why the Blue Mountains are blue?’’

The tourists shuffle their feet and look at each other expectantly, each hoping someone else will have the answer.

Sames lets them squirm for a moment before relieving the tension with an explanation of the Rayleigh scattering affect.

Caused by the elastic scattering of light or other electromagnetic radiation by particles much smaller than the wavelength of the light, it can happen when light travels through transparent solids and liquids but is most prominently seen in gases.

In the case of the Blue Mountains trees, especially eucalypts, “sweat’’ and release oil into the air, which magnifies the Rayleigh scattering giving the mountains their blue hue.

As Sames talks, we move from temperate rainforest to open woodland in a few steps.

He pounces on some yellow flowers (a type of pea from the Fabaecea family, apparently). Shrubby in appearance, “often they are the first to regenerate after an upheaval like bushfire’’.

Next thing, everyone’s huddled around a shrub, bent over double to see the tiny pores on the leaves, through which the plant breathes like skin.

“Anywhere you go in the bush have a look, touch may be nice if it’s appropriate, but never take anything,’’ Sames says, striding off towards a towering fern.

We soon learn that: a) only the top of the plant is living; b) what appears to be the trunk is actually the roots; c) it looks the same on the inside as the outside; d) its pithy inner material was an important source food supply for the indigenous Gundungurra people; and e) the plant grows higher than others so can reach the light source from the sun and its canopy catches falling leaves from other plants which decompose and feed it.

We move onto a scene unique to the Blue Mountains – a hanging swamp on the side of a hillside, and Sames explains how it is created before seamlessly moving onto another topic, then the next.

During the next five minutes we learn that the mountain ash eucalypt is the tallest flowering tree in the world, the sight of eucalypts shedding great strips of bark like a snake skin is a spring giveaway; gum leaves hang down (“They’re like: `Don’t let me get hot and lose water’ ’’); and of the 111 species of eucalypts, 25 per cent are found in Australia and 25 per cent of them are found in the Blue Mountains.

We move down to a temperate rainforest, which used to be the dominant plant community when Gondwanaland was all one land and the environment was moister.

“This area is a living example of that, and that evolutionary process is the specific reason why we were given World Heritage status,’’ Sames says.

We amble up a few shallow steps and are surprised to find ourselves back at the roadside, much the wiser and already missing Sames’ easy company.

  • Visit www.festivalofwalking.com.au for more information about Wild At Heart Safaris guided eco-tours and numerous other activities during the Festival of Walking.