3/11/18 Ian and Lesley, long-term friends who now live in Hamilton, VIC, met us at Smythesdale to camp overnight with us at the pleasant campground maintained by the local Progress Association. We’ve known them for close to forty years and, despite the two year gap since last catching up, it seemed like only yesterday. A lot’s happened in the meantime, including some health issues, but everyone was well and bubbling over about being back together again. Needless to say, many wines were consumed and we all had a great time.
By the end of our stay, the weather had turned nasty, with warnings of damaging winds and rain, and a temporary heat spell well into the 30s. We decided to go on power for a night at Treetops Camp outside Riddells Creek. Instead of taking the main highway to get there, I chose backroads instead – more peaceful, I thought. Anyway, the 118kms via the direct route blew out to well over twice that distance on the twisty network of backroads that took us up and down steep ranges (towns that start with Mount should have raised a flag or two). Blustery side winds and rain also slowed our speed. So, four hours after heading off from Smythesdale, we pulled up outside the pub at Riddells Creek and went in for a well-deserved drink and lunch. The drive had been OK; the conditions just made it a bit wearying.
So, after taking on steaks and beer, we fired up the rig again and headed off to locate Treetops Camp. It’d been so long since we’d used the aircon in the Kruiser that we’d forgotten we still had it. Sitting inside in the heat with the windows closed because of the gusty winds, Di was the first to say “Why don’t we turn on the aircon?” Brilliant! And it still worked! As I type this, I have a blanket across my lap to warm my legs that were getting rather cold. Outside is a blustery furnace with intermittent showers. You can keep this Victorian weather – four seasons in one day.
Riddells Creek put us within easy striking distance of Melbourne where we headed the next morning to overnight before loading onto the Spirit of Tasmania for the trip across Bass Strait. The run into Melbourne was uneventful and we soon found ourselves just a narrow side street away from our destination. Cars tightly parked along one kerb allowed enough space to just squeeze by on the right, until we came up on the only car parked on the opposite kerb. There was no way for a mouse to get through, let alone us with the van. My first thought was to use the Force, but weirdly this didn’t work very well. Nor was there sufficient room to turn around in the tiny street. The thought of reversing the van out onto the main road backwards brought images of exploding fireballs to mind, and was swiftly dropped from the quickly shortening list of options. So there we sat, me cycling through various renderings of the F word and hoping that the age of miracles hadn’t passed. A small crowd of onlookers formed on the footpath, and I felt like Jeremy Clarkson trying to take a Lamborghini down a tight parking garage ramp in Milan. I was about to apply the handbrake and camp there the night and let someone else sort the problem out, when Di grasped the moment, leaping out of the Landy. Through some female witchcraft kind of thing, she located the owner up the street, who came out to move her thoughtlessly parked vehicle; luckily, as it turned out, as she was done up like a prom queen, complete with magnificent feathery Fascinator, and about to Uber off to Flemington Racecourse for the day. Another few minutes and we’d definitely be camping on the street.
“Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time.” – Sir Terry Pratchet
23/10/18 We were fortunate to get a caravan site in Canberra. Schools in ACT and NSW were back from holidays, Canberra’s Floriade festival had finished, and there were no big events on in town, so there should have been sites aplenty. I wasn’t going to ring ahead and book but the Chair of the Board insisted. And we learned that, for some inexplicable reason, all caravan parks were chockers. Charm won the day and we scraped in a spot at the showground, Exhibition Park. We were in Canberra for an impromptu catch up with our niece, Heather, and Andrew and their two boys, Nicholas and Alexander. We had a lovely time with them. It was just a shame that Andrew was away on business. So we drank his wine.
This was our second visit to the national capital and, as before, I could not get my head around the layout and the annoying number of roundabouts. Canberrans used to be called ‘Roundabout-abouters’ for good reason. As also noted on our previous visit, the lack of attention to grass cutting in Canberra. Puzzling. Just about every lawn, footpath and nature strip looked neglected and overgrown. Certainly a shaggy look that our capital is presenting to visitors. I didn’t think it could due to the current drought – it was the same when we were there four years ago. It must a Canberra thing.
Leaving Canberra after a couple of days, we headed to Yass where we had a leg stretch down the main street, picked up some local wine and a couple of really nice looking rib eye fillets that went on the Weber a couple of nights later…mmm. At Yass, we got onto the Hume Highway that runs inland, carrying loads of traffic between Sydney to Melbourne. It probably serves a good purpose but I reckon it has to be the dead set most boring bit of road ever, without a doubt. The highway manages to not only bypass just about every town but absolutely everything of interest worth looking at. It’s like a committee got together and mapped out all the interesting spots, then made the highway go everywhere else. So you just motor along it in a sort of lobotomised stupor.
Further west of Yass, I roused myself from the road trance in time to turn off to the small town of Jugiong, and our overnight camp in the showground. The field is bordered on one side by the Murrumbidgee River and we pulled the van in along the edge of the high riverbank, giving us a great view out over the water.
Back on the Hume Highway the next morning, we’d been tootling along for a little while – starting to feel like a long, long while – so it was good to turn off at Gundagai onto a pleasant backroad that took us through rolling pasture country to Sandy Beach Reserve, again on the banks of the Murrumbidgee. What a magic spot – alongside the clear river, in amongst ancient river red gums. Di braved the cold waters for a very invigorating dip. I wimped out, preferring warm and smelly. We stayed for a couple of days before continuing on our way south.
Back on the Hume Highway again (sigh), at Albury, NSW, we crossed the Murray River to Wodonga, VIC, on the other side and exited onto a backroad to Doolans Bend, one of the many bush camps dotted along the Murray. Camp was set up on a nice open grassy patch not three metres from the water’s edge, with a few very fat Hereford cattle for company. What a spot. I got out the rod, but the Murray Cod obviously hadn’t gotten the memo. There’s a fine line between fishing and standing on the bank looking like an idiot, so the rod went away and I settled into a book instead. Di went for a quick dip in the river, coaxing me in as well this time. Man, was it cold. Quite literally, numbing – and yet, refreshing in a somewhat sadomasochistic kind of way.
The days have been pleasant and the nights cold. It’s lovely in the chilly mornings to see a mist hanging low over the water. All we need is the paddle steamer, PS Philadelphia, to come chuffing around the bend with Sigrid Thornton up in the wheelhouse pashing John Waters and we’d have a scene straight out of All the Rivers Run.
And in closing, the family haven’t had a Dad Joke from me for a while, so…
Did you hear about the camper who broke his left arm and left leg? He’s all right now.
15/10/18 From Armidale, we continued south on the New England Highway through Tamworth to spend the night at a pleasant free-camp oddly called First Fleet Memorial Gardens outside the town of Wallabadah. Could someone explain why NSW town names sound so strange?
The next morning, we headed west from Wallabadah, through nearby Quirindi and then south along the Black Stump Way to Coolah. Our laundry pile had taken on the dimensions of the Great Pyramid, and we headed to the Coolah Caravan Park to deal with it in a washer. While there, I took the opportunity to do some minor repairs to the Kruiser to rectify a job I’d only recently paid an RV shop to do…annoying…they’re supposed to be the experts. Man, did that town have a fly problem! Step outside and hordes of annoying little bush flies would be in your eyes, mouth, up your nose. A couple of twitches cut from a tree kept them off while we took a walk into the main street. On the subject of flies, the term for Aussie slang and pronunciation is strine, and the story goes that the habit of shortening words and phrases developed from speaking through clenched teeth to avoid swallowing flies. I can believe it.
Following a slow start in the morning, we went on through Dunedoo (love that name) to Wellington for lunch, then Molong for a refuel and unintentionally took the long way round to Canowndra. We much prefer to travel the backroads – less traffic, slower pace and more time to see the countryside going by. Most times these backroads are chosen by design…but sometimes by mistake, like the wrong turn I took leaving Molong that added almost an hour to the journey. On narrow roads in hilly country, it’s impossible to safely turn around, so we resigned ourselves to heading on and seeing what we would see. There was no hurry; the countryside was certainly worth the detour.
Along the way, quite a few examples of early settler homesteads could be seen in the paddocks, some still loved and lived in, some abandoned to slowly decay, and some collapsed under the weight of their high-pitched roofs.
At Canowindra, we pulled in to a small free-camp area only a short way out of town – just us beside the narrow Belubula River. This flowing stream feeds into the Lachlan River and then the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers before finally emptying into Lake Alexandrina and the Southern Ocean south of Adelaide in South Australia. We stayed two nights at this nice spot, and walked into town to have a look around – just about all the businesses were closed though which we thought was strange for a weekday afternoon. Must have been siesta time. The main street had a bygone feel with the many old original brick buildings and commercial facades.
As we headed off through town the next morning, Di insisted we pull over at Coco Harvest, a beautiful old shopfront in the main street offering boutique chocolates. I made the mistake of leaving her alone with the two owners while I went off in search of some fuses. Awaiting payment on the shop counter when I returned was a suitcase of goodies. I thought I’d recognised the withered remains of Di’s self-control lying on the footpath outside.
“Chocolate is to women what duct tape is to men. It fixes everything.”
11/10/18 Following a spell at home, it takes time to get back into the swing of towing a van. When you give the Landy a spurt, it usually reacts like a determined sperm but with the addition of a 3 tonne cottage attached to the rear, what immediately becomes apparent is the corresponding lack of oomph. Both acceleration and braking require a little more deliberation, and climbing hills has all the get-up-and-go of Jabba the Hut. Still, the old girl does her best. Even the champion racehorse Winx would be handicapped pulling a horsefloat carrying Black Caviar.
Nonetheless, we’re very happy to be back on the road, and grinning like kids at McDonalds. Nothing comes close to this…nothing.
Things get dialled back on the road,. In a rig weighing around 6.0 tonnes, you cannot, nor should not, go swiftly. The driver behind you will always want to go five kilometres per hour faster no matter what speed you are doing, so I find it’s best to ignore what’s behind, pop on some tunes, settle back, keep it down to a respectable and safe speed and let the train through when it’s safe to do so.
The Vibe is Back…
From Scarborough, we headed up and over Cunningham’s Gap on the Great Dividing Range to our overnight camp at the old Maryvale Hotel. Great food – give it a go. The freshly-baked Godmother pie and mash is a food group all its own. Next overnight camp was south at the border town of Wallangarra where I lived up to the age of starting primary school. Each time we go back, the town seems smaller, with unfortunately fewer services.
Up to now in our travels around the country, the shortest hop between camp spots had been 22kms from the very small community of Alford to the even smaller Wallaroo on the west coast of the Yorke Peninsula. That’s now been smashed by our hop from Wallangarra on the QLD border to Tenterfield in NSW, a distance of 20kms. In just that short distance, though, the scenery and vegetation changed markedly, becoming a hillier and much greener. Tenterfield is a very pleasant little town, with many examples of early architecture to be seen. Still no monument in my honour outside the maternity wing of the local hospital, though. I thought it would be up by now.
A couple of hours south on the New England Highway at Armidale, we called in on Warren, a fellow Kimberley owner we’d met up at West Leichhardt Station near Mt Isa back in 2015. We got on well then and seeing him again the gap was just like yesterday. We camped the night at his property just out of town, and had a great time catching up and rekindling our friendship. Sometimes lasting friendships come from a brief crossing of paths. Travel is a unifying bond that turns strangers into lifelong friends.
Each day since setting off from home, we’ve played tag with thunderstorms and hail. The process starts with a warning text alert, followed by an anxious check of the weather radar, and a tense watchful eye on the advancing storm clouds. So far, and mostly due to luck, we’ve managed to dodge the worst of the storms.
“Thunderbolt and lightning very very frightening me” – Galileo
8/10/18 The two months at home just flew by, the time filled with all the regular catch-up kind of stuff. The Landy had a service – in the mechanical sense – as did the Kruiser, now sporting new airbags to replace two that developed splits in the rubber bags.
Seeing that the family will be in various parts of the country in December, we all got together for a “Christmas in September” camping weekend at Lake Broadwater near Dalby. And my none-too-subtle hint in the blog earlier this year paid off – I’m now packing an Equinox 800 metal detector in the Landy. Whoever said Santa doesn’t read his Christmas mail is definitely mistaken. Well, he certainly reads our blog at least. My first unearthed finds were the head of a roofing nail at a depth of 3” and a rusty tack at 6”. Not particularly profitable, I know, but definitely exciting and fun. I figure things can only improve from that humble beginning.
This trip, there’ll be no hint of military-like precision to the planning. We’ve tried that and it didn’t particularly work for us, so we’re reverting back to our old form of going where and when the mood dictates. Realistically, though, Tasmania’s not that big and we’ll be there for five months…Yep, five months. We’ll know every inch of the place by the time we’re finished. If we miss something, we’ll just catch it on the next lap around – and there’ll be a lot of laps in five months. At 315kms from east to west and 286kms north to south, Tasmania is the smallest state. Its length of coastline (including the many islands) totals about 5,500kms. But, despite its size, it has around 200 towns and villages to explore, and four major population centres. We’re looking forward to scenery, food, wine, art and then over the next crest, some scenery, food, wine…
As we’ve heard it can sometimes be overcast and wet in Tasmania, my Overlanding Preparedness Disorder resulted in the monster 2.4Kva Yamaha generator – at 32kgs, it weighs more than most mountains – being replaced with a much lighter 1Kva one weighing a measly 13kgs. The big kahuna was originally purchased with the intention of powering the air-con in the Kruiser when camping off-grid but has never been used for that – just to do my back in when I lifted it that one time. So it was sentenced to exile from the van and has languished at home for the past couple of years. But, with the perils of Tassie’s grey weather looming, we reckoned a generator might be a necessary requirement. Measly should be up to the task of recharging the batteries if the solar panels won’t, without wrecking my back in the process.
We’re packed – I looked everywhere for my camouflaged jeans, but just couldn’t see them…huh? – and gone, heading south. With just under four weeks to reach Melbourne and catch the Spirit of Tasmania across Bass Strait to the Apple Isle, we have plenty of time to set a unhurried pace.
“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once” – Albert Einstein
14/08/18 While at our Flaggy Rock camp, the cellar ran dry. Aaagh! The plan was to take on refreshments at Dululu, our next destination west of Rockhampton near Biloela but as often happens with plans they went awry. We arrived in Dululu to find the tiny community’s only pub boarded up, undergoing a major rebuild following a fire. Damn! I was once told that pub fires are often caused by “friction” – in the filing cabinet, “friction” between the loan statements and the ledgers. Can’t say for sure that’s the case, just something I heard.
After a dry overnight camp, we headed on the next morning through more very parched country to Monto and checked into the caravan park to deal with the sizable pile of laundry and top up the dwindling on-board water. Pantry and, of course, cellar were restocked as well.
We spent a great day at Cania Gorge, a short drive north of Monto. The walking track in to Dragon Cave and Bloodwood Cave was enjoyable apart from the many, many, MANY steps up to the lookout at the top that challenged Di’s knee. Both caves at the base of the imposing gorge walls had been sites of aboriginal habitation and would have provided protection from the elements. Nine other caves in the area aren’t open to the public, being presently surveyed by archaeologists. On the way back from the caves, we were extremely lucky to have a close encounter with a pair of Whipbirds feeding on the forest floor just off the walking path. They’re generally very hard birds to see as they populate thick rainforest but here they were, a pair, cavorting around just metres from us, seemingly unconcerned by our presence. We finished off the day with a bush picnic beside Three Moon Creek, and a look around Lake Cania. We liked Monto. It’s a pleasant little town, and our intended two-day stay extended out to four as we settled in for a relax.
Some of the country we’ve been through west of the Great Divide is just heartbreaking. People are doing it tough out here and all around the country with the worst drought in generations. We’re continually seeing hay being moved by road trains, trucks and utes to feed livestock, and have noticed many properties have turned land over to the growing of leucaena, a bushy crop that we’re told is good quality fodder for cattle particularly in drought times like these. We spoke to one local who appreciated the donations but reckoned the best way to help was cash, as it could be used to buy food, produce, and so forth in the towns to keep the local traders in business as well. Makes good sense.
It was a bitterly cold -1 degree morning when we left Monto; a crisp biting cold where you didn’t want to get out of the warm bed even to turn on the diesel heater. We arrived at Boondooma Homestead, between Munduberra and Dalby, to hear they’d had a big frost that morning; everything was white. And the forecast was for the cold weather to continue…wonderful. Tell me again why we’ve come back south?
Boondooma Homestead is a heritage-listed property settled by two Scottish brothers in 1846. It’s now owned by the South Burnett Regional Council and operated as a museum and heritage complex, and a farm stay as well. The timber homestead and outbuildings are still original and intact and offer a good impression of what a homestead must have looked like in the late 1800s. We got to meet the small group of enthusiastic Boondooma Museum & Heritage Association members who were busy preparing for the annual “Scots in the Bush” festival that was happening in ten days’ time. We blended right in, being McFarlane’s and Mackay’s, and it turned out one of the ladies had a McFarlane grandfather…huh! Everyone around the fire seemed to have a Scottish heritage. “Tha fios agam, tha e doirbh a chreidsinn!” (Look it up on Google Translate). As much as we’d have liked to have stayed on for the festival, it clashed with our service booking back home. Something to look forward to next year. We stayed five days in all, joined the Association and did some volunteer work helping to tidy up around the homestead and gardens in readiness for the festival. It was good fun.
Our last camp before home was at Linville, a pleasant little village in the hills out from Moore, on the site of the old railway station.
This trip has been shorter in duration than what we usually do but it’s been long enough to travel with good friends, call in on some good friends, make new great friends along the way, visit with close relatives and those separated by distance and time. And all the while, seeing some wonderful places – a couple we’d easily relocate to in a heartbeat – and some places suffering hard through a heartbreaking drought. As ever, we’re glad to be back home, and equally looking forward to heading off again. Tasmania’s next in October…woohoo!
Signs like these are seen hanging behind the bar at some outback pubs. So you don’t have to pay for your curiosity, here’s what the acronyms mean:
“WYBMABIITY ” – stands for “Will you buy me a beer if I tell you?”
“YCWCYAGCFTRFDS” – stands for “Your curiosity will cost you a gold coin for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.”
3/08/18 This trip is winding down. We’re two weeks out from a booking on the Sunshine Coast to have one of the van’s diesel appliances serviced, and the route to get us there on time has pretty much been mapped out. Once home, it won’t be long before we’re off again, though, as we’ve booked to take the van across to Tasmania in November for five months and are really looking forward to that. Why does everyone highlight the horrendous boat trip across Bass Strait? My mal de mer is dreadful enough without all the horror stories being offered up. They’ve just had unusually bad crossings, right? Won’t happen to us, OK? We’re going at night. The sea’s calmer at night. Everyone knows that. Dark sky at night, she’ll be right…
Heading south from Home Hill, we went back for a couple of days to Glen Erin farmstay near Bowen. That’s where we’d first met our Frenchie friend, Clemence, when we were heading up north in May. The next few camp spots after that were all about bird watching. Between Proserpine and Mackay, we had a couple of days at a nice little farmstay called Hold It Flats, beside the headwaters of the O’Connell River. Then, two days at a farmstay near Ilbilbie, south of Sarina, again beside a little creek. Both these places contributed some new birds to Di’s twitcher list. And it was at Ilbilbie that we learned of the forced liquidation of Kimberley Kampers, the builders of our much-loved Kruiser caravan. That was sad news, but no great problem for us as we’re well out of warranty anyway and the van is performing well. Hopefully, a phoenix might yet arise from the ashes of the company.
A short way south, we pulled in at Carmila Beach for a look-around and perhaps stay, decided against it and pushed on a little further to the small community of Flaggy Rock where we camped in the grassy grounds of the old primary school. The school closed in 1996 and is now maintained by the local Council as a nice little set-up-where-you-like campground. We stayed for three days. There aren’t too many $10 a night camp sites that can boast a beautiful swimming pool.
Moving on, we turned off the highway to the tiny village of St Lawrence for a leg stretch, and were approached by a rough-around-the-edges local with many black tats and a single black tooth who said he’d seen us taking a photo of the pub and thought we’d like to have the photo he had in his hand. It was an 8×10 he’d taken of a motor cycle gang parked outside the pub, bikes all in a row and bikies standing around in groups. He said he’d been waiting to give it to someone who’d appreciate it, probably a tourist. And we were the fortunate ones. Then off he went, leaving us with the photo. It was even signed. Hmmm…not the sort of thing that happens every day.
When Di and I relocated to Townsville in 1978, we drove the 1,300 kilometres north from Brisbane in our XA Ford Falcon. The trip was uneventful until we reached the small roadhouse in the middle of the dreaded Marlborough Stretch of highway between Rockhampton and Sarina. In those days, it was a long and notorious stretch of road where travellers occasionally disappeared. Like a scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie, the Falcon broke down near the roadhouse. Being a resourceful and handsome fellow, I was able to get it going again and we survived. Fast forward 40 years, and we were back there again, camped overnight in almost the same spot in a small clearing down a side road. Still long and lonely, the Marlborough Stretch is not so notorious today. It’s still a monotonous drive, though, seeming to go on forever through some pretty dry and uninspiring country. And still next to no signs of habitation to be seen from the highway. We survived it again.
Note to Self: Next time you feel the urge to stomp on a branch to break it up for firewood with just thongs on your feet…don’t. It’ll bugger your foot for the next three days.