127. The Sapphire Coast (NSW)

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We left Westy/Westie the Caravan (the name still not settled) sitting in a paddock where earlier there were several large kangaroos feeding unconcernedly, and drove further south to Eden on Twofold Bay. A special museum beckoned – the Killer Whale Museum. I was expecting the usual display of whale skeletons, vertebrae, harpoons, old photos of harpooning etc etc and indeed they were all there, but what amazed me was the story of Old Tom. From my early schooldays I’d heard about Twofold Bay, Ben Boyd, whaling, etc but never this story.

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How about this as a cure for rheumatism? Also a Jonah story….

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it wasn’t just Old Tom though …

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it was good to see that the contribution of Aboriginals in the early days of the whaling industry at Twofold Bay are being recognised and acknowledged.

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There was a cute little playroom for the littlies …..

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Two lovely old clinker-built rowboats reminded me strongly of Cornelius’ tender. Some people were surprised we didn’t get a modern fibreglass model instead but Geoff was all for tradition – and strength. IMG_8271

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Down at the waterfront, I was trying to get my bearings. Cornelius sailed into this harbour in late 1980. Since then a modern fishing wharf has been built. We had an indifferent lunch at a waterfront cafe, I think we must have picked the worst one. Very disappointing as i was looking forward to my first meal of prawns – but they were coated in a very thick batter and fried for rather too long.

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Up the hill we tried to get a good view of the harbour and lighthouse.

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Next day we headed north up the coast, with a stop on the heights above Narooma to check out the very narrow channel through which Cornelius had been guided by a fishing boat. The sea at that time was far rougher than the day I took these photos. They do not show the channel as well as I had hoped.

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However, down at the wharf there was a photographer’s treat, a mob of pelicans and seabirds plus a couple of huge stingrays all milling around a gutting table. The water was very clear.

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A sign at a rest area on the coast shows the amazing abundance of fish species in this area.

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IMG_8289A little further up the coast we stopped at Tuross Head to have some ultra-fresh bread rolls for lunch-with-a-view. A lone surfer kept us entertained, then a lone beach walker arrived. We met up with him a little later and he said he walks about 5 km on the beach every day.

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IMG_8332One night at Braidwood; we woke to see  early-morning tai-chi on the nearby golf course.

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And now – here’s proof that we are finally in Canberra! We are parked in the driveway at Julie and Allan’s home and are being spoilt rotten by my very dear old friends. Julie and I went overseas together in the late 60s and have a few reminiscences (and quite a few giggles) to catch up on!

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144. Another Postcard – A Wee Mishap

I’ve just posted a blog about Longreach, but since we were there we’ve travelled much further, to Cloncurry and Mt. Isa and Camooweal.  More posts are coming, but in the meantime ….

Two days ago we left Camooweal intending to go the 200 or so km to Adels Grove via Gregory Downs (map at bottom of blog). Here’s Dave’s account of the trip.

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(Dave:) This involved about a hundred and twenty-five kms of gravel road to Gregory Downs and then a further 90 kilometres on a four wheel drive road to Adel’s Grove. We were at 42 kilometres into the gravel when we saw a couple with a caravan and truck changing a wheel. We stop to check if they needed help but they said okay so we carried on … about 200 metres on over a slight crest …  when the caravan started exhibiting all the throes of a flat tyre. Hastily pulling over to the side of the road I leapt out to inspect the damage, to be greeted by a far worse scenario, the rear right wheel of the caravan was jammed back against the chassis. Checking the damage it appeared the locating pin for the leaf springs had sheared, allowing the springs and the axle to slide backwards.

I was checking the caravan when another couple of caravans stopped to help; one of them luckily had a 21 mm spammer required to undo the  U-bolt nuts. Also luckily I had a 6 mm bolt that I’d saved when changing the feet on the stabilisers. I was able to line everything up, insert the 6 mm bolt and bring everything back together again.

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IMG_0741We decided to turn around and return to Mt. Isa where I hoped to be able to find a proper high tensile pin for the spring. When we arrived back in Mount Isa we rang the local spring maker who informed us he was on holiday until next Wednesday, and “…. the nearest places where it could be done are Alice Springs, Darwin or Townsville!!!”

I decided to bodge up a fix, kiwi bush mechanics style, found the local bolt supplier, bought a couple of high tensile steel bolts and then found that the holes in the leaf springs were a strange size. Soooooo…   I asked around and the guys at Excellent Engineering of Mt. Isa were recommended to turn the bolt down to size, which they did and only charged me $10. With the bolt becoming a pin of the correct size I was able to put everything together quite quickly.

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Nancy: another couple of purchases beside THE BOLT were a larger stronger jack, a spanner, and an umbrella to shield the workman.IMG_0781

So tomorrow we will do a short trip and I will check the U-bolts again to see if they are okay. If so we will carry on, if not we will return to Mount Isa and wait for the spring-maker to arrive back from his holiday. I would still like to go to Adels Grove but now we will probably go via Cloncurry as it will be mostly sealed road.

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143. Longreach

By Dave: This sure is a big country and there are an awful lot of caravans travelling around it. We arrived at Longreach planning to stay in a free camp several km north of the town, however when we arrived the camp was chocker.

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Nancy decided that we couldn’t fit in there and so with our friends John and Leanne we decided on a commercial camp. John rang around and found one that didn’t sound too expensive so we went there instead.

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Being fully self-contained we elected to the cheapest sites, moved in and set up. Our ancient grey water hose broke while setting up so I spent most of the next day buying a new hose and trying to find suitable adapters to fit it. Longreach being a small town this proved impossible however, so in typical Aussie fashion we just dumped a great deal of water on the ground.

Nancy: camping here in Aust. is very different to NZ, where most caravans have large fresh and grey water tanks. Here it seems to be normal to have small fresh water tanks and to hook up to a tap at every camp site (ie with mains pressure) and simply discharge grey water via a hose to the  nearest tree or garden plot if there is one; very occasionally there are proper discharge points. We do have a portable grey water container which we use in “fully self-contained” camps but often see Aussie caravaners ignoring this basic rule.

Longreach is full of interesting old buildings. I was disappointed they have repainted the railway station white; in 1971 it was a beautiful blue (and there was no tarmac in front, just red earth).

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Dave: We had planned to visit the Quaintarse museum and the Stockmans Hall of Fame but after wasting so much time chasing round we decided to concentrate on the Hall of Fame. Several people recommended spending a little extra and seeing the show associated with it. Unfortunately we believed them and wasted an hour listening to some Country music and a bunch of lame jokes. There was a small part of the show that dealt with the skills Stockmen needed which was mildly interesting.

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Nancy: On arrival at the Hall of Fame there was a stockman type holding a very placid Brahman-type steer, most likely a hand-reared orphan, which of course most people stopped to admire and pat. Apparently the large hanging loose skin is actually a cooling mechanism, it increases the surface area which helps heat dissipation.

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Dave: Nancy had an appointment with a local historian after lunch so we left the Hall of Fame to talk to her and then returned afterwards.

Nancy: she gave me some wonderful maps of local stations, and in particular helped me find some of the stations mentioned in the many newspaper reports of ‘Drover Tim Darchy’, my Great great uncle. We visited his grave in the Cemetery.  Some graves had curious coverings rather like seed raising beds. Rosellas were everywhere.

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Nancy: I was also interested in the Stockman’s Hall of Fame exhibit of a drover’s camp.

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Also this wonderful painting called “the Drover’s Wagon” by Philip Silcox. We visited the street where Tim lived with his wife and daughter when not droving; part of it is now in  the town but I would imagine it was once out of town a little as he would have needed to keep quite a number of horses. IMG_0218

Dave: One of the staff was making stock-whips and I was surprised at the amount of work that went into each one.

The museum was quite interesting and some of the stories on the unsung heroes boards were amazing.

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Back at the camp we were entertained by two resident brolgas who paraded around, much to the delight of the photographers.

Nancy: When we first saw them the male was doing most of the dancing, offering nesting materials.  We were told that earlier they were stalking along peering in all the windows at the nearby motel, possibly looking for a nesting site. next day however they were much calmer – maybe he had had his wicked way.

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Dave: Next morning we made an early start or at least early for us, and headed to Winton where we parked for the night at the Long Waterhole Camp. Winton&cloncurry01Winton&cloncurry02Winton&cloncurry03

Dave: Along the way we stopped at the Age of Dinosaurs Museum for an interesting couple of hours.

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These fossilised mussels were only babies, the adults were over a metre long. Fantastic chowder they would have made!

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‘Mick’ was a dinosaur … that’s a cow vertebra on the right  for comparison

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Nancy: the  Museum included two escorted tours, the second being around the laboratory. A charming young man talked for ages and made it all look very interesting but it was a dead loss for me, so when we were leaving we suggested to the Museum that they investigate providing a captioned, signed interpretation of the talks on an iPad, and/or a downloadable version on the phone app ‘STQRY’. They were interested. We earned our Brownie points for the day!

The Museum is high on a ridge with wonderful views all around.

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IMG_0057Two other things noted were the colourful native flowers, and themed coffee.Winton01

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Dave: We had hoped to get to Winton in time to check out the Banjo Patterson Museum, but on arrival found that most of the Museum had burnt down earlier this year and the remainder had to shut for the day. Maybe tomorrow.

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142. Charleville.

I have long wanted to revisit Charleville, 750 km SW of Brisbane. In 1971 my first husband Geoff and I just drove through, and I did not know at the time that it was where where my Great Great Uncle Louis Darchy met an untimely end. He is buried in the churchyard. I thought I might be able to locate some photos and extra information about him.

But first – we thought we would try the Bush Caravan Park (“non-smokers, must have toilet, $5/night” (!!) on the other side of town. We found it just before dusk and set up in the sunset glow. Invited to join a group around a large campfire (“there will be damper!”) the first person we saw was a woman with a cochlear implant.  Gosh they are becoming common (!). Another woman in the group round the fire was hearing impaired and told us she is on the waiting list for an implant. I usually dread these campfire gatherings with a group of strangers, but this time ….. we were still chatting away when it became too dark to see anything. And yes the damper was delicious!

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There was a small street parade for a Junior Rugby Tournament going on, but we wanted to visit the Information Centre  first … and they didn’t know anything about the parade! By the time we got back into town the parade was over anyway. Like most others we have visited, the iCentre was modern, cheerful and very helpful, with a wide range of brochures.

We visited the cemetery, but it was impossible to find Great Great Uncle Louis. I have a photo taken some years earlier by one of his descendants, which showed no headstone, just a grave marker. But since then the cemetery has been badly flooded, and many grave markers displaced. It was obvious that despite careful efforts of the cemetery trustees and their helpers, many grave locations can probably never be determined with certainty. Great Great Uncle Louis’ remains may or may not still be there … they could be many miles away down the nearby river. Probably where he would prefer to be.

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Next stop the Historic House Museum, built in 1889, “today the museum brims with the precious memories and items from the district’s pioneering families…” (Trying to get a photo of the heritage building free from modern signs etc was impossible).

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Old photographs …. no wonder the streets were and still are so wide, designed so that bullock teams could turn around.

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A very charming man went through all the computerised photos which the museum possessed and located a photo of Hackett’s Hotel, where Louis died in 1910. It burnt down a few years later. He also found two photos of a station homestead where Louis and his wife Anna Maria worked before they moved to Charleville.

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World War Two may be a distant memory but the people of Charleville certainly celebrated the end of it. In 1945 every business in Charleville painted the V-for Victory symbol on their facades, including this old building, the Warrego Chambers, which still displays it to this day.

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There are lots of old buildings …. the Courthouse in particular.

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Back to the Bush Camp and another lovely evening with our new friends John and Leanne, with whom we were to travel during the next week. A mob of Apostle birds kept us company for a while. In the distance two kangaroos bounded away, chased by a farm dog.

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141. An Earlier Tour of the Outback.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I was in the Queensland outback in 1971. Here are a couple of pages from a booklet I published four years ago about that journey. My 1971 slides were in a bad state but we were able to clean up most of them.

The booklet is available in eBook form at http://www.blurb.com/ebooks/181803-outback-queensland-by-mgtf

My first husband and I took three weeks’ leave from our respective workplaces (I had to beg and plead for mine as someone else from the chemical pathology laboratory had already ‘booked’ that time), loaded up Geoff’s 1952 partly-restored but mechanically very sound MGTF, and set off from Sydney. It had taken several months’ hard work each evening in my parents’ garage to take the car to pieces and reassemble, including a complete engine overhaul.

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After welding a custom-designed rear rack for the MGTF on a friend’s property in Armidale (the same property Dave and I visited 45 years later and a few blogs back) Geoff and I headed up the east coast as far as Cooktown, then with youthful fingers crossed set off for the outback proper.

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It was in April, just after the Wet had finished, and many rivers were still running. It was my job to wade across first, checking for hidden potholes and braving possible crocodiles and snakes (fortunately we didn’t see any).

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This is the (old) Angellala bridge near Augathella, on the then highway (true!)  between Blackall and Roma. Too late I realised Dave and I had just passed it. No way to stop and turn around on what is now a major highway with a big caravan in tow. Doubly regretful as in Longreach we learned that not so many years ago a much more recent bridge in the same place had blown up and is now a tourist attraction!

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This was a typical road at the time. Actually they are still like this but with a nice tarred and reasonably smooth surface, with wide red shoulders.

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It has been awesome retracing that journey, albeit in reverse. The most noticeable differences between then and now are the roads and the vehicles on them. Thousands of caravans and huge road trains now thunder along at 110 kph on what were narrow and often unsurfaced roads. Small outback towns which once sported a single petrol pump, e.g. Boulia,  are now producing glossy tourist brochures enticing visitors to stay at the multitude of motels and B&Bs which now line both sides of the highways. Local waterholes and other beauty spots have been prettied up and supplied with rubbish bins and toilets.

in 1971 we drove pretty slowly; a broken axle meant the end of the trip and probably the end of the car as well. We had one small tent, a single primus stove and a basin for washing both dishes and ourselves. I don’t recall just what sort of road traffic we encountered but definitely there were very few caravans. Needless to say we were viewed with utter disbelief. “How did you get here in THAT?” was the usual comment.

Oh but it was fun!

140. Chinchilla and Roma

Leaving Toowoomba we headed for Charleville but as it was getting late decided to stop at a free camp near Chinchilla. Sometimes the very best camp sites are discovered by accident. The Round Waterhole was absolutely beautiful and there were only three other vans to share the paradise.

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I was up very early next morning (a rare occurrence these days especially as the nights are still very chilly) taking photos of the early mist rising. A willy wagtail entertained me for a long time, but getting a good photo was another thing.

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Next stop Roma along a road lined with huge prickly-pear ‘trees’ .

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The Big Rig at Roma demanded a visit. It is a living memorial to the pioneers of Australia’s oil and gas industry. Again, a very good and well laid out display with lots of informative signs (e.g. “Strewth, it’s gas!”); I felt I was not missing anything even though there were many audio points too. For a little while the township enjoyed gaslight but all too soon the first gas well died out. That was in 1906.

 

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I learned rather more than I needed about drilling techniques, types of rig, etc etc. But both Dave and I agreed it was an interesting museum worth a visit.

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This is a ‘Christmas Tree’ …

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We did not linger in Roma, a pity really as the town has much to offer. On through Tambo where I remembered too late that I wanted to have my photo taken with one of the huge bottle trees lining the main street – to compliment the same photo I’d had taken the last time I was in Tambo in 1971 (!). But at least I did get some hasty shots of the bottle trees through the windscreen.

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Not far outside Tambo we took what we thought was the road to a ‘historical place’ but instead it took us miles out into the countryside. It was not entirely a wasted trip though, we spotted a mob of emus, stalking along in a stately manner.

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Next stop Charleville. This blog is being posted in Cloncurry so I have a few to catch up on!

139. Toogoolawah and Back to Toowoomba

IMG_9618We had a lovely restful stay at Nic and Mick’s property near Toogoolawah, with Westie parked in a paddock next to the horses and also a ‘little house’ with a shower and toilet so we didn’t have to bother them at the ‘big house’ too often.

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We made several shopping trips into Toogoolawah to stock up on food and also various hardware-store-stuff needed for the caravan. We enjoyed watching Nic and Mick and their friends practising cutting in the arena which Dave (briefly!) helped build two years ago.

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All too soon it was time to return to Toowoomba to collect Dave’s new driving glasses and to get  Grandy’s bull-bar fitted. We were lucky to find a place which could supply one in three days’ time; at other places including Melbourne we were always quoted two weeks. It is a very shiny bull-bar, Dave may have to put some black masking tape on the parts facing the driver if we drive at night, otherwise the headlights get reflected in the driver’s eyes. Hopefully we never need to drive at night though. The number of dead roos by the roadsides is sobering.

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We spotted one roo as we were leaving Nic and Mick’s, and also a little family of wild deer. We were to learn a little later at the Cobb & Co. Museum in Toowoomba that they were chital deer, released many years ago in several parts of Queensland for hunting.

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IMG_9667We drove via a circuitous route to take in Narangba and visit friend Carole’s cousin Elaine, last seen about 25 years ago. We agreed we’ve all got a few more wrinkles but otherwise are unchanged! A lovely reunion. We parked in their extensive backyard and have suggested they make part of it available to visiting caravans, similar to the privately-owned POP sites in NZ. Incidentally, there seem to be very very few similar sites in Australia. Or perhaps i just haven’t found them yet.

Before leaving Toowoomba we paid a visit to the Cobb & Co.Museum. The first thing I saw on entry (after admiring a really huge old tree outside, with beautiful bark) was not a stagecoach but a roomful of wild animals (!).  A notice said that most of the specimens had been donated to the Qld Museum, some as a result of confiscations. Usually they spent most of their time in storage, out of the public eye …. however their main value is in their ability to display a conservation message. Hence the room … to help ensure that wild places continue to be set aside for wild animals. “Before it is too late.”

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The museum proper was chock full of Cobb & Co. items, including various coaches, maps of routes, etc.  I was amazed to realise just how much of the country they traversed. Now I know how my grandmother likely got from Cloncurry to Toowoomba for the birth of her first child (my aunt) in 1910.

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There were so many wonderful old photos which I have reproduced. I may be able to get better copies on-line but these museum ones captured my attention.

Many passengers suffered motion sickness because the wooden coach bodies were suspended on thick leather straps called thoroughbraces which caused a rocking motion.

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Because Cobb & Co carried the Royal Mail, they needed to deliver on time. As the driver approached a changing station he would blow a bugle, and a groom would be waiting with  fresh and harnessed horses ready for the next 30 km of the trip.

There were all sorts of coaches and associated horse-drawn vehicles…..

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I would highly recommend this museum not just for the quality of the exhibits but also for making them so child-friendly. There were so many quirky little things designed to attract and hold a child’s attention. Even in the cafe there was a wonderful sunken pit well equipped with toys. the scones and coffee were also very good value!

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A lovely little incident happened at some traffic lights. The driver in the car next to us had a cochlear implant. I attracted his attention, pointed to our implants, and his face split into an enormous grin. “I can hear!” he mouthed just as the lights changed and we had to move on.

Being the end of Australia’s financial year, all the shops were having Sales. So off to the wonderful R M Williams’ store in Toowoomba where I purchased an identical padded vest to the one I lost (and at the same price paid about seven years ago at the airport) and Dave pounced on some very good boots which he badly needs. An excellent shopping trip!

138. A Birthday Party on Top of a Mountain.

 

We were a little apprehensive about taking the caravan up Tamborine Mountain in SE  Queensland, but a phone call to the caravan park was reassuring. There are actually two caravan/camping parks in juxtaposition, one is more of an adventure park with some camping and the other, a little further along the same track (as we later discovered) is for more serious campers and caravaners. We were warned that reaching the camp, halfway up the mountain, involved turning off the main road at a certain point – don’t miss it! – but we were not informed that the main camp was beyond the adventure camp so naturally turned off and then continued …….. down an extremely narrow road to some Falls! Fortunately there was a turning circle at the bottom, otherwise we would really have been in trouble.

Tamborine Mountain is actually the northern slope of a huge and long-extinct volcano. IMG_9521

Finally all set up on a nice level surface in a beautiful bushland setting, with facilities close by, we unhitched and drove further up the mountain to visit our friends and find out the details of next day’s birthday party. Eagle Heights, like North Tamborine and other mountain villages, is a magnet for weekend tourists particularly motorcyclists. Every second shop along the main street was a cafe or restaurant or tourist shop of some sort. Did you want a special icecream, holistic body lotion, clothing wild or elegant, jewellery ditto, aboriginal art, a cuckoo clock?? All there and lots more besides.

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ALL the clocks were working!  Fancy a grandfather clock, brand new German-made? (Dave says – Eat your heart out, Ray!)

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The road up the mountain was built in 1924, the original road having been too steep for motor vehicles which were beginning to replace the horse and cart. the new road was Queensland’s first sealed road outside of Brisbane, and local residents had to pay road taxes. In 1930 the road as made a toll-road, and while all users were required to pay the toll, legend has it that the mountain locals used to avoid the toll by cutting through a neighbouring diary farm.

Ian’s 70th birthday party was held in a huge hotel at Eagle Heights, with a great view down to the Gold Coast. As it transpired we were in a private room on the other side of the hotel to ‘the view’ but it didn’t matter.  Try to imagine 20-25 mainly deaf people all using sign language, talking not only to people nearest them but to people on the other side of the room and even through the glass windows which separated us from another parts of the hotel! Dave was one of the few “hearies” and also about the only person who has not mastered sign language, so at times I had to interpret for him – talk about the boot being on the other foot! It was great fun seeing so many friends from my  Brisbane life of 16 years ago. The party continued till late afternoon with a change of venue to a private home, made just in time before a terrific deluge started.

Parts of Brisbane were flooded. The camp got a bit wet but we were on firm ground with good drainage, so were not worried.

Still at the Mountain camp next day, we were entertained by people being entertained by all the lorikeets. One woman was feeding them bread and putting it on her head … and when she saw Dave taking an interest, put some bread on his head too (!).

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Other species of birds kept their distance, but one kookaburra did decide our caravan looked OK so sat down on the power box for a closer look. (I took this photo earlier).

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We went on the Treetop Walk, about 4 km altogether, partly among the treetops (which were swaying madly in a strong wind)……

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…… and partly along a forest track down below.

 

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We didn’t see any birds, very disappointing, but after all it was the wrong time of year and wrong time of day. It was still a lovely walk and the coffee at the cafe afterwards was good. I also learned something about strangler figs and eucalpypt forests.

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We also visited the Falls which we had inadvertently “visited” the previous day with Westie in tow. Not large but a good flow probably due to the very heavy rain the evening before.

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But Queensland beckoned! First, Toowoomba. One night at the Showground camp, a good evening photographic session with a huge flock of white cockatoos which nest in a treeing a nearby lake, some essential shopping, we were off again for Toogoolawah.

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137. Armidale and some Reminiscences

We left the Warrumbungles with regret and headed east through Gunnedah to Tamworth. Half way between the two we passed through Somerton, scene of some exciting moments in my life – eight in fact -eight parachute jumps! I don’t remember the exact location (a private property) where the Tamworth Blue Diamonds Skydiving Club operated, it was just a wide expanse of grass with a few trees and fences here and there.

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I was then a post graduate student at the University of New England (UNE) which had a small skydiving or rather parachuting club (none of us were experienced enough to really skydive, i.e. jump out of the Cessna and free-fall at terminal velocity for some distance before opening the chute. On the other hand, we all jumped on our own, none of the wishy-washy piggyback stuff that tourists do for a thrill these days.

We had to help pack our own chutes too, a very careful, closely supervised operation. The number of fine cords connecting the chute to the harness was amazing. Not just the main chutes but the reserve chutes. Thankfully I never had to use mine.

As a beginner I had to do nine static line jumps before I could be trusted to pull my own ripcord. Sadly the University club disbanded when I was one jump off from doing just that. I was required to practise landing falls, that is keeping the legs relaxed and rolling over at the moment of impact. I also had to get a medical certificate to testify I was fit, and official permission to jump because I was deaf. Apparently beginners are guided down by instructions through a loudspeaker but the Club must have convinced the authorities that I was capable of doing without. I think I was the first totally deaf woman in Australia to make a parachute jump. (I think this photo was taken after my first jump).

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A static line is simply a stout line fastened to the plane with the other end attached to the ripcord which opens the chute. Normally one jumped from the plane, counted to at least five (to be sure of being clear), then pulled the ripcord. Experienced skydivers might not pull the ripcord for some time (!). As a beginner I was closely watched to see that I did the technique correctly.

One time when climbing out onto the step of the Cessna where one stood holding onto the wing struts before throwing oneself backwards with arm wide, my ripcord somehow became twisted around my arm. I waited and waited for the signal to jump but then realised they wanted me to get back into the plane and it circled while everything was sorted. I was annoyed because of course people on the ground would have thought I’d lost my nerve – which did happen with some other beginners.

Another time I landed very close to a barbed wire fence. The chute collapsed on one side and me on the other. Another club member was not so lucky and practically straddled a fence on landing. (Yes, some of my slides are in a bad way). COR026

As we approached Armidale the scenery became more and more familiar. Past the airport (more reminiscencing as we usually flew from Armidale to Somerton) and the highway turnoff. Thank goodness for the GPS. Armidale is a great deal larger than it was in the sixties.

We found Judy’s property without any trouble but the long narrow driveway with overhanging trees gave us a few anxious moments, as did the sight of the low trellis archway over the main driveway. No way could we get the caravan under that! Fortunately the driveway also branched away and we found a good spot to park although Dave did worry about how to turn the caravan round later. As it happened he had no difficulty at all, just drove through a few gates and did a wide circle in a paddock and back again.

Here’s one of the clever sheep dogs ….

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We paid a visit to the University but it is changed out of recognition. My old College is still there but the buildings have been much altered. I THINK that was my room in the second photo, on the ground floor and sightly to the left of centre, next to the window with a small sign underneath. DSC01226

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I couldn’t identify the main building which once housed the Faculty of Rural Science.  I was however fairly sure of the paddock where I kept “my” horse (actually the property of Rural Science) and rode often, including before breakfast in winter when my toes froze in my boots and the horse’s hooves cracked the ice in road puddles. Friends living in town got used to me parking my horse in their front garden while we had a cuppa.

I did manage to identify a block of flats where Julie-from-Canberra and I had lived for about a year and where we first decided we would go overseas together.

DSC01219It was also where a cat called Minou came into my life. Minou, of indeterminate parentage and striking streaky-black-cream-brown appearance, lived to be 19 and had an amazing life, living in a variety of flats, my parents’ home while I was overseas, more flats, a farm, and finally about seven years on a boat. She definitely used up most of her nine lives, survived a fight with a snake (I found it half dead on my kitchen floor), being yanked down and out of an old  chimney by her tail, various swimming episodes and several bouts of VERY BAD seasickness followed by soothing warm baths. When first husband Geoff and I were living in a small flat in Sydney while working on the boat, Minou would almost always come with us in the dinghy when we went out to the boat. She was a wonderful cat. (And by an amazing coincidence, my daughter now has an almost identically-coloured cat!).

We’d missed most of the glorious New England autumn colours but did find one avenue of elms near the cemetery. There must be a microclimate in that area.

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The town is also much changed although some of the old buildings remain, particularly Richardsons, a sort of country town Myer (Aust.) or Ballantynes (NZ). We found a jeweller who repaired our caravan clock, bought me a pair of casual and much-needed shoes, and generally enjoyed time with Judy and some of her family who live nearby, including three wonderful grandchildren.

Judy had discovered a most unusual skull on her property. We could not decide what it was . A frilled-neck lizard was the closest we could get but there were several features which belied that. Do any of my readers have any idea?

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After a relaxing few days it was time to move on. We needed to be at Tamborine Mountain in time for friend Ian’s special birthday party.  We wanted to avoid the congestion of the Pacific Highway so drove up the New England Highway which I used to know so well on my trips to Brisbane from Armidale. Through Glen Innes, Tenterfield and finally Stanthorpe where we decided to spend the night at the Blue Topaz camp a few km outside town. We were on a powered site so could use our big heater. A week or so later the highway from Glen Innes was closed due to black ice and snow!

Next day on to Tamborine via Warwick and Beaudesert. A nice quiet drive.

136. Heading East – Warren & The Warrumbungles

We wanted to visit my brother in a nursing home at Wauchope near Port Macquarie before finally heading for Queensland. The shortest route seemed to be Cobar – Nyngan – Warren – Gilgandra – Coonabarabran – Gunnedah – Tamworth – Walcha then down down down the Great Dividing Range to Wauchope. Not all in one day of course. Somewhere along the way I must have mislaid my treasured RM Williams’ navy quilted and studded sleeveless jacket – and am missing it sorely.  We’ve contacted as many places as we can remember to ask if it was left behind, but no luck so far. I really cannot understand how I could mislay it.

We stopped at Warren, which sits on the Macquarie River. Warren is a major cotton-growing area and the river water is used for intensive irrigation.  Following recent rains it was much discoloured.

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The main highway goes over this bridge.

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IMG_9329The view from the other side. Wattle trees lined the banks.

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A nearby sign tells how the townsfolk battled to save their township  from a major flood in 1990.

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Warren is also notable for being the point where the explorers Oxley and Sturt passed this way during their early explorations in 1818 and 1828 respectively, the latter on the search for the ‘inland sea’.

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This map shows the location of Warren in relation to Broken Hill and also Tamworth, and the size of the Macquarie and Darling Rivers.

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After Warren came Gilgandra, the location of a memorable time when I was six years old. I was recovering from a serious bout of meningitis (which resulted in my deafness) when my mother, my little brother and me flew up for a ‘holiday’ on a wheat farm in the locality. We flew up courtesy of Butler Air Transport in one of the early DC3s. I have a photo of Barry and myself on the tarmac, but it is in storage in Christchurch. It was also the first time I’d been on a horse. My mother’s friends’ two daughters rode an old horse to the local bush school each day (oh how envious I was!) so when offered the opportunity this little city girl was plonked on top and the horse given a slap which made it take a few steps forward. And there it stopped. Nobody had told me about using my heels so I just sat up there on the giant, flapping the reins uselessly and shouting Giddap!  Every now and then someone would come out and give the horse another slap.

We were ready to call it a day by the time we were approaching Coonabarabran, and looking at the map I suddenly realised we were about to skirt the fabled Warrumbungles. A quick decision was made to spend a night or two there in the National Park. Turning off the main highway, the distant mountain landscape changed dramatically:

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The park is an area of former volcanic activity; “…… a large shield volcano which was active from 13-17 million years ago. the lava overlays sandstone areas which are the remnants of the 150 million year old Pilliga Sea. Weathering of these rocks left the harder tracheae plugs towering over the wooded slopes ….”

WikiCamps indicated several camps but only Camp Wambelong looked close to the road, and as we were towing a 24 ft caravan we picked that one. It turned out to be a grassy area off the main road to the information centre which was about 5 km further on where there were many more camp sites, some even with power. But I’m glad we stayed where we did, surrounded by kangaroos at dusk, with walking trails in easy distance and a creek nearby.

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We’d been noticing the effects of a bushfire everywhere but it was not until we visited the Information centre that we realised how major it had been. However, encouraging signs of regeneration were everywhere.

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Described as a “once in 100,000 year event”, a firestorm, it occurred in January 2013 during a time of very high temperatures (up to 47 deg C) and fierce winds. Although the fire destroyed much of the National Park, Siding Spring Observatory and surrounding land (55,000 hectares in all), 51 homesteads, stock and farmland and also caused major damage to the park’s walking track infrastructure, no lives were lost. Only a few days later the region was hit by absolutely torrential rains which caused even more damage, washing away topsoil which contained many seeds necessary for regeneration. Signs of this were still visible.

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A major research program is being undertaken on the impact of all this on the region’s flora, fauna, cultural heritage and physical landscape. Nest boxes for birds, possums, gliders and bats have been put in place to replace hollow trees.

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We left the caravan parked at the Camp and drove to Coonabarabran to do some shopping, stopping at various viewpoints …….

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……. and called in at the world-famous Siding Spring Observatory. The site houses 17 separate observatories including one with the largest optical astronomy research telescope in Australia. We decided not to visit the Exploratory Centre, which in retrospect and following too-late advice from friends, we should have done! But we did have some good coffee at the Visitor Centre.

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After two nights in the Warrumbungles it was time to move on (it was also a trifle cold with no heater) so off we were again heading for Tamworth, Walcha and then Wauchope.

 

135. White Cliffs (NSW)

This place needed a blog to itself. Heading east from Broken Hill, we thought it wise to top up the diesel tank at Wilcannia before venturing north into the unknown. Friends had warned us about the fine bull dust on this road but they travelled at a different time of year, and we were following the rain, so – no dust!  Just green grass verges all along the 93 km from Wilcannia.

White Cliffs was Australia’s first commercial opal field. It describes itself as “…. small, dusty, a bit ramshackle…” and so it is, but “… look deeper and you’ll find the beauty of opal, the gritty reality of mining, the chance to fossick for your own opal, and the fascination of underground living…”  All of which we found to be true.

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We were not sure where to go on arrival but someone drove up and advised us that the Pioneer Tourist Park was just nearby, with powered sites for $25 a night. She was also the Park’s caretaker and showed us several sites, the park being rather full. It was a very clean, well organised park surrounded by trees and shrubs, with a swimming pool nearby. Across the road was a school; we were told there were ten pupils.

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The Murray River Caravan Club (or similiar) whose members almost filled the camp,  invited us to join them on a guided tour the following morning. This turned out to be a very fortuitous invitation, the guide was excellent and of course we saw places and things we would not have seen or understood otherwise.

First we were taken to the Pioneer Children’s Cemetery with its sad little graves. It was said to have been White Cliffs’ first landmark.

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A bunny rabbit to hug?

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The shaft of an abandoned mine. All around us were mullock heaps.

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A registered claim is usually 50 x 50 metres with a post at each corner; that on the NE corner had a datum board (small metal tag) with the details of the claim holder. Claims had to be re-registered every year.

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We were shown examples of opal found in the field including an opal pineapple (a pseudomorph of Glauberite or Ikaite crystal clusters which are replaced with opal). These are only ever found at White Cliffs and the guide discovered one in his own backyard when spreading some mullock from another site to form the floor of a shed!

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There are only two above-ground houses within the opal field, further homes being forbidden unless they are floor-less and easily transportable.Many homes were built partly underground. Some were mere shacks, others quite substantial.

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This house was constructed from empty stubbies (beer bottles) with a huge heap beside the house ready for any extensions!

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Lots of caravans too, of one form or another.

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We were not really interested in buying any opal, but I was amused to see at one ‘serious’ shop the prices were very high, reflecting on the high quality of the stones, but at another more touristy place the prices were low – and although it was not said, the opals were probably only doublets or triplets.

An unexpected highlight of the tour was a visit to the White Cliffs Solar Power Station. Originally established as an experimental facility by ANU researchers in 1981, “… the Power Station is now nationally recognised as an iconic engineering project equal in status to the Snowy Mountains Scheme, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Parkes Radio Telescope.” In 2006 it was given the honour of receiving a Historic Engineering Marker.

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There are 14 sun-tracking parabolic dishes of 5 metre diameter. The electricity from the station was ‘sold’ to customers within the township (the local hospital, school, PO and 12 residences), making White cliffs arguably the first commercial solar power station in the world.  In 1997 the faculty was converted to a photovoltaic system, the dishes were resurfaced with new mirror panels …..  the system was 22% more efficient.  It was the first solar dish concentrator photovoltaic plant in the world and  played a part in the development of solar technology.

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We were told that one man looked after the whole system, and his duties included cleaning all the mirrors, using a trestle fitted to the top of a truck.

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The present generation of this technology is now commercially operating in central Australia at ten times the scale of White Cliffs.

Here are more photos taken next morning before we left.

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There are three of these special shacks labelled Nobody’s, Somebody’s and Everybody’s.

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Yes, it was surprisingly green. Tiny little plants and native bushes were popping up everywhere following recent rain. I wonder how many will survive next summer.

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