Darwin Visit - Xmas 2008
We decided quite early in the year to visit Darwin in December 2008 so as to be able to share Xmas with the children and grand children. The trip would also provide us with an opportunity to review Darwin during its most demanding and uncomfortable season - 'The Wet' and see how well we could handle it.
Originally it was envisaged that we would simply fly up but then the exercise became complicated by the idea that Ben might like to take control of the smaller of our two boats (4.3m Stacer side console with 35hp motor) and that meant we would have to drive up towing the boat. This alteration to our plans was made during a period of unprecedented high fuel prices. Diesel by the middle of the year had reached nearly $1.90 in Yeppoon and Rockhampton...so the prices out west were promising to be the stuff of nightmares!
Shortly after the decision was taken on the boat, daughter Amy advised that she was unlikely to be in Darwin over the Xmas period as she was likely to accept an invitation from former Darwin friends now living in India to go sailing on their charter yacht which operated out of Goa.
Amy had, since Easter 2008, been on paid Study Leave from the NT Education Department and during the year had completed post-graduate study for a Masters in linguistics. She certainly deserved a real holiday and we were certainly not going to object to her plans. Nevertheless, there was an upside to this development, being that her Parap unit would be vacant and available for us to use for the duration of our stay.
Amy was able to drop down and see us in Yeppoon in November 2008 prior to her departure overseas and it was great to catch up with her.
When news got out that we would be towing the boat up, both children made requests for us to bring up some surplus furniture and assorted chattels in the available space. As can be seen, the towed boat resembled a storage van for its trip north and its combined weight was 0.86 tonne. This was on top of a full carload of fridges/eskies and golf clubs and assorted suit cases.
Packing the boat in Yeppoon in readiness for trek North
We had never previously travelled between the NT and the South using the inland route basically because we rarely ever drove out of the NT during our 30 odd years of residence up there and when we did, we chose the only all bitumen route via Townsville.
Today the 'shortcut' from Rockhampton to Mt Isa via Longreach and Winton is all sealed.
So it was that at 0500 hours on the morning of 6th December we set off on the long trek North.....a trip of about 3000kms. We had promised to get to Darwin in time to be with son Ben for his 36th birthday on 13 December.
I also wished to trial my hybrid hydrogen fuel system which I had been developing over the previous months. Shortly after leaving home this system was creating 'nasty' electrical clicking noises from under the bonnet. A quick and nervous check revealed that I had inadvertently connected the system's 12 volt supply to the auxiliary battery's isolator switch. In all previous tests this battery had not been connected to anything but on this occasion was connected to our 80lt Waeco car fridge/freezer which was keeping beer cold and keeping 5kg of green banana prawns frozen. I hurriedly disconnected the system and the noise stopped and we resumed our journey.
Hybrid Hydrogen Generating System Mk III
Fuelled up in Rocky @ $1.289/lt (Diesel). He then headed West out along the Capricorn Highway. The initial stretch of road out as far as Emerald was extremely busy. It being a Saturday morning we encountered many ?miners (new expensive utes and 4x4s) and their families heading East to the coast many towing boats and small trailers. Fuel prices in Emerald $1.259/lt. I calculated that by sitting close to 100kph our fuel economy was 11lts per 100kms (26mpg). This rate was never bettered for the entire trip North. Along with the amount of road traffic heading East that morning there was also a constant stream of long coal trains snaking their way East to the port of Gladstone.
We lunched at Barcaldine (birthplace of the Labor movement) and while there paid our respects to the excellent Australian Workers Heritage Centre sans Tree of Knowledge, thanks to that act of bastardry last year. A centre piece of the exhibit is now a huge round marquee that travelled around Australia during the Bicentennial year in 1988 - 20 years previously. Temperature at Barcaldine was a mere 42C.....a taste of things to come.
Barcaldine's Main Street
Australian Workers' Heritage Centre
We eventually rolled into Longreach at 1530 hours. The town was close to deserted and no wonder; the temperature had soared to 47C. We quickly identified our cheap accommodation - a donga at the rear of a Hotel in Eagle Street. It came equipped with double and single beds, filthy and bore-water stained ensuite, jug, TV and Airconditioner - the latter being the most sought after amenity. The proprietor proved to be a bit of a sleaze. That evening we dined regally at the Longreach Club. This club was established over 100 years ago for cattle barons, but a few years back had been burnt down and the new premises managed so badly that it is now owned by a poker-machine reliant sports club in Rockhampton. One no longer has to front up in coat and tie but it still has class and the food is excellent cf local RSL.
We had planned to spend two nights in Longreach so as to give us time to tour both the QANTAS museum and the Stockman's Hall of Fame. This was going to be a challenge given that the temps were expected to remain high all day, however we did it and enjoyed both. The tours of the Boing 747 and 707 (entry was a rather steep @ $35 for each of us) were great as was the associated museum. It was amusing to learn that Winton disputes Longreach's title as birthplace of QANTAS, even Cloncurry claims some connection.
On local advice we drove out to the 'picnic grounds' alongside the Thompson River for lunch. During the winter tourist season one can cruise this river in a paddle steamer and have a sunset dinner. In the off season one can stare at a swollen brown river from a fly infested picnic table under a corrugated iron shelter, surrounded by brumby shit and best not venture to the public ablutes where green tree frogs guard the bowls. The day we were there there were a couple of chaps in recreational boats on the water.
We also toured the Stockman's Hall of Fame (entry a much more realistic $18.50 each) which I personally found a little disappointing. While many of the individual exhibits were excellent, taken as a whole it seemed to lack a bit of continuity.....there should have been someone there to explain the stockman's typical day.....too much attention devoted to the rodeo circuit!
While touring about Longreach we were amazed to see the presence of so many police and police vehicles and later learnt that the town is used as a central training hub for new Qld recruits.
Next day we refuelled at 0600 hours ($1.349/lt) and drove North West to Mt Isa passing through Winton, Kynuna (home of the Blue Healer Pub), McKinley (home of the pub made famous in the Crocodile Dundee movies) and Cloncurry. During this stretch of the journey we dodged or drove through numerous rainstorms which tended to cool the otherwise hot wind which blasted through our open windows......this was a trek through Hades!!! Early in the morning a battered 4x4 Ute approached us with what looked like a stack of firewood poking up above his cab. However, as he got closer I realised that he was a roo shooter with his night's grisly work stacked upside down in the back. What you see when you aint got the camera at the ready! Also saw plenty of sheep, goats as well as cattle. Maria spotted a stork in the Main street of Winton, we almost ran down a Bush Turkey (Bustard), emus and lots of dead kangaroos.
Lunched at Cloncurry's Chinaman Creek Dam reserve (would not bother again).
One point of interest in the town was the fact that there were two Caltex fuel outlets: one linked to the local Woollies ($1.469/lt) one independently owned ($1.409/lt). For the first time I decided to purchase a spare jerry can of fuel and just as well as I had to tip some of it in to get into Mt Isa. I calculated that we had driven 682kms and used 76.4lts (the tank only holds 75lts!).
Mt Isa remains a prosperous looking town. Their only real worry is water as their dams are only 5% full at present and severe water restrictions are in place. Mt Isa also has some of the cheapest fuel in Qld and at $1.259/lt and so I filled the tank and the jerry can. The next day was to be our biggest drive of the journey - some 660kms to the Three Ways and a further 390kms to Daly Waters - a total of 1050kms for the day.
The Mt Isa Caravan Park where we had booked an onsite van was opposite a very convenient Overlander Motel which boasted an extensive dinner menu which we exploited to the full (massive servings of both Chicken Kiev and Grilled Atlantic Salmon were had). That afternoon I reconnected the hydrogen system - this time direct to the battery to try it out on the remainder of our trip.
Left the Isa at 'sparrows' and drove direct to Camooweal where we topped up the car again with the last of Qld's cheapish fuel ($1.619/lt). It is worth noting that the min cost of staying in a donga at Camooweal is $100/night cf Mt Isa $60.
Crossing the Barkly Tablelands from East to West always involves considerable headwinds which play hell with your fuel economy and our vehicle was no exception. During our trip across our fuel economy dropped from 11lts/100kms to 13.5lts/100kms. For interest we drove into the Barkly Homestead Roadhouse to check out the price of fuel ($1.909/lt) - we kept going. It was a very hot trip across and we were glad to at last get to the Three Ways where we again filled up $1.789/lt) and at last headed North.
We arrived at Daly Water at about 1700hours very tired. I then emptied the precious jerry can of (Mt Isa) fuel into the car ensuring that we could hop straight into Katherine without having to purchase anymore expensive fuel. This paid off as the cost in Katherine had dropped to $1.459/lt. Daly Waters Pub was sadly a bit of a disappointment with its basic charms now having been overwhelmed by the jettisoned underwear of countless busloads of backpackers, exorbitant bar and meal prices and disinterested off-season staff.
The next morning we were confronted with a very flat battery - my fault for not checking the electrolyte level during the preceding very hot drives. Could not be jump started by Pubs 4x4 and in the end had to be tow started....we were very grateful to the Pub's 'Yardie' who assisted us. We drove direct to Darwin after the fuel stop in Katherine . On arrival, the fuel price in Darwin was a reasonable $1.419/lt and dropping. As with most of the journey up, we experienced very little traffic travelling North apart from the odd road train, but there appeared an almost constant flow of holiday makers heading South.
It is worth reporting here that the hybrid hydrogen system I had been trialling since Mt Isa had not made any appreciable difference to our fuel economy and in fact the heat had severely buckled the PVC devices - I decided to disconnect the system.
Amy's Unit in Parap where we stayed
In some ways, Darwin is little changed from when we left in 2004. It was almost spooky to hear Annie Gastin, Julia Christianson and even Leon Compton still announcing on the local ABC radio. The same blokes are still propping up the bar in Dowling's Parap pub. Tennis on Monday and Thursday evenings still occurs under the managerial eye of Mr O'Sullivan as does the social golf on Wednesdays under the stewardship of Jim Drummond. On the ground, the streets have the same feel and the steady drizzle of the Wet gives off the same smells of rotting vegetation in the surrounding suburban gardens mixed with the ever present perfume from the many flowering Frangipani and Fiddlewood trees. The Saturday morning markets at Parap add another dimension with the air full of the smells from the cooking oil, chilli, ginger, garlic, sesame and coriander emanating from the seemingly endless number of busy woks. A bike ride around East Point early on Friday morning confirmed it as one of the most scenic bicycle routes in town and I also managed to catch up with a few acquaintances en route.
However, there is a new Darwin emerging with the growth in the number of high rise apartment blocks in and around the CBD. The new gas industry must be providing a lot of stimulus to the whole economy up here. The partially completed wharf precinct with its new convention centre also adds a touch of 'Cairns' to the old town. But the real break from the past must be the surge in real estate prices since we left. The soon to be released 800m2 blocks at the old OTC site in Parap are on the market from $675 000. See the entrance to the new Heritage Park Estate aka OTC site below.
One cannot buy a two bedroom apartment for under $290 000 or 3 bedroom elevated/high set pre 1975 wreck for less than $500 000. I have heard it said that many places are being bought by southern or overseas interests as investments...by persons content to let them remain vacant.
The former Arafura Bowling Club site on Ross Smith Avenue has been re-developed into some eco friendly housing designed by Troppo Architects but which cost in excess of $800 000 each. See below.
Unlike Qld and WA, prices have still not peaked but are expected to plateau shortly and then possibly fall back abit. If that happens there may be something a little more affordable for our kids to upgrade into.
Fannie Bay Beach & Darwin's new CBD Skyline
We later visited the markets at Nightcliff an d at Rapid Creek.
Friday night we drove down to the Darwin Trailer Boat Club and found much changed - it was just a little more ritzy with a Wet Season marquee erected out on the front lawn and more poker machines squeezed around the back. Still we met up with quite a few mates from yore eg Terry & Janet Sincock, George & Maxine Waters, Doc & Maria Brotherton, Marita & Jim Notely, Lenny & Vicki Allen, Nigel Foa et al. and still managed to walk home. I walked down for the car next morning.
Our first social engagement in Darwin was, of course, Ben's birthday gathering at his Rapid Creek home on Saturday afternoon. This provided an opportunity to 'road test' the prawns we had brought up from Yeppoon and Sarah did some wonders with a tempura batter and later a roast beef. A mixed crowd of Ben's friends drifted in and out during the afternoon and evening. We chose to sleep over that night.
The crew which gathered at the Parap Hotel on Friday night and again at Saturday lunchtime does not appear to have changed that much. We were kindly invited by Terry Dowling to attend the Punters' Club lunch on the Sunday after arrival. This annual event is put on by the Parap Hotel for its regular punters in return for a tall story or two. The lunch lasted from 1130 till 1900 hours...courtesy of Jim & Kaye Drummond, Mick & Caroline Holdstock, George & Rhonda Dunn, Chris & Sue Brogan and Slippery O'Sullivan. Maureen O'Sullivan having been struck down with a mysterious skin disorder. All the aforementioned looked well and apart from some minor signs of weight gain had not changed much at all. The challenge would be how to catch up with them all in between their own individual work and social commitments.... However, it was quickly discerned that many former friends had socially moved on in different directions as naturally happens as the years elapse.
On the domestic front we had to solve the lack of internet access vide my own computer and instead email Amy for clarification of how to access her Dial Up system on her own computer. We got it. Next was the challenge of sleeping on/in Amy's Futon bed - apart from the fact that it is only approximately 20 inches off the ground, its quite comfortable and my back even feels better for the experience.
On the golfing front I was invited to play with the legendry Wednesday Afternoon Golfers (WAGs) at their 'new' venue on the RAAF Base Golf Course and managed to get around the nine holes without too many major technical gaffs or lapses of etiquette. A fun afternoon; especially given some of their in-house WAGs rules. I was also surprised to learn that the moisture laden air during the Wet season can severely restrict the length of one's drives around the golf course.
Wherever one drives around Darwin you are confronted with its rising skyline which, sadly is beginning to resemble that of many southern cities........who has been in control of the NT Planning Authority over the past 5-10 years??
CBD viewed from 'Duck Pond'
View of new Wharf Precinct including Convention Centre
with the MV Streeter in the foreground (I think Baz used this boat in his film Australia)
While visiting the wharf area, I noted trawlers selling prawns (10-20s) for $17/kg and Barramundi for $21/kg. It was also interesting to note that the entire Paspaley Pearling fleet was back in Darwin for the Wet; including the pride of the fleet - the Paspaley 4
We took grandson Tom and ourselves to the cinema one afternoon and saw Baz Luhrmann's Australia which we all enjoyed despite the less than overwhelming critics' reviews. I then took both grand kids out for a game of Mini Golf one morning which appeared to go down well save that the younger one (Darcy - 5yrs) thought the idea was to hit the ball as many times as possible before getting it into the hole.
We managed to catch up with old friends George and Maxine Waters just prior to Xmas. After selling their Mango Orchard down at Berry Springs they have returned to Darwin and just finished customising their fine home in the suburb of Ludmilla. We have known these good folk ever since our early days in the NT Water Ski Club back in the late 1970s.
George would have to be one of the most successful and organised home brewers I have ever met. Not only does he serve his fine product from kegs located in fridges, but manufactures his home brew in a purpose built air-conditioned shed complete with his own filtered rain-water supply.
George and Maxine are shortly to take off touring again. This time they're hopping aboard the Ghan and then touring Tasmania and the East Coast. We hope to see them when they stop over in Yeppoon on their way home.
I managed to fit in a game of tennis with Richard O'Sullivan and friends down at the courts next to the Casino. Despite an absence from the court for close on four years, I still managed to get around without too much gasping.
As Xmas Eve coincided with a WAGs golf day I ventured out for another 9 hole round with this amusing crew which included: Brogo - chief cheer leader & strategist, Stewie - the handicapper and Drummo - manager of Etiquette - a good evening was had. They even go around with a six pack of beer slung beneath their individual golf buggies.....is that acceptable etiquette?
At last Xmas Day arrived and we spent the day at Ben and Sarah's home in Rapid Creek. It proved to be a very sultry day and the rain failed to fall...however the eskies were all well stocked and we managed to survive the big day with a range of visiting friends of Sarah and Ben's. However, inevitably too much food was prepared than could possibly have been eaten by a tribe of 100 visiting refugees, let alone those of us present bloated by the constant need to keep suitably hydrated during this very long day. How we survived many similar occasions when living here ourselves I'll never know. We certainly missed the comfort of a pool or spa to cool off in during the middle of the day.
While I received a phone call from Richard O'Sullivan that morning to drop around for a drink that proved not feasible given our need to be at Rapid Creek early in the morning.
Sunset At Rapid Creek Parap Water Tower
We finally called it a day and miraculously managed to call a cab at about 11 pm and snuck off home for some R&R. Next morning, as penance, I rode Amy's bicycle back to Rapid Creek (about 10kms) to collect the car.
We went around to Mick and Caroline Holdstock home in Fannie Bay for a recovery Bar B Cue and the odd game of Jenka which I recall having last played in a Vietnam Bar some years previously.
As the weather was threatening to turn ugly over New Years, Ben decided that he would like to take the boat down to Manton Recreation Dam some 70kms down the track and give the kids a go on their inflatable 'scurf'. As luck would have it the heavens opened as soon as we got there but we were able to give the boat and the grand kids a good work out on the Dam. It was a relief to realise that rain is not cold in Darwin and so our personal discomfort was minimal. There were probably an assortment of 10-15 powerboats on the dam when we arrived. The dam is much bigger than I remembered and in parts is up to 36ft deep. I believe it is now only used for recreation but is available for emergency water usage by Darwin, if its ever needed. During the downpour, I overheard another drenched individual remark to his mate: 'well it certainly beats work'.
The early morning bike rides around East Point (a trip of about 12kms) were a very pleasant way to start a steamy morning with temps hovering around 27-30 degrees and 90% humidity as I set out. One meets a broad cross section of Darwin en route whether on foot or bike. With a monsoon trough locked in by tropical lows in the West and East one has to be quite aware of the conditions if one wants to exercise or engage in any outdoor pursuit between downpours.
Magpie Geese feeding in front of WWII Gun Emplacements
Fannie Bay Beach at High Tide East Point Bike Track with WWII tower
WWII Submarine Net Dead Cane Toad at Fannie Bay
Darwin just after a monsoonal storm had cleared
Shortly before Xmas I noticed that the price of Diesel in Darwin had dropped from $1.41 to $1.39/lt and now in the New Year I gleefully note that it has dropped again to $1.37lt - not that I'm studying it all THAT closely!
We joined a few friends at the Darwin Trailer Boat Club for New Year's Eve - the theme being 'gold' to commemorate their 50th year of operation. It was not a bad night but the numbers were down on previous parties we have attended. One surprise was the appearance of Lilly Tweddle who is over from Bribie Island visiting her John and new grandson. Also Bec and Corey Allen up from Rockhampton. Slippery O'Sullivan was unable to be among us on this night as he had been called away interstate and a family bereavement. We would have liked to have seen more of him during our stay but it was not to be. Nevertheless, as the thumbnail snaps below attest, those remaining in Town did party on.
I walked home from the TBC at about 0115 and decided to have a final New Year 'nightcap' at the Railway Club en route.
Mine Host at The Railway Club
Another interesting snippet of our Darwin adventure occurred following a night out at the quite plush Pee Wees restaurant at East Point. The car decided it did not want to start basically because it was starved of fuel. While I tried to prime the fuel pump it did not work. While I bicycled around to the vehicle next morning and was able to start it after bleeding the pump. However as soon as I got it back to Parap it decided that it was not going to start again. So we called the AANT and they eventually found a nest of black ants within a box housing the fuel pump relay switch. The bloody ants are attracted to a sweet smell given off by the switch when used and die in and around the points preventing it from working properly - problem solved.
However, our next problem, namely the weather and its effects on the roads leading out of the NT into Qld were not so easily solved. The monsoonal rains had ripped away large sections of the Barkly Highway around Avon Downs and the Georgina River was flowing metres over the road between Mt Isa and Cloncurry. There was also substantial flooding between Winton and Longreach and between Julia Creek and Hughenden. There were reports that the roads would not be open for 3 plus weeks and so we made the fateful decision to return home via Alice Springs, Broken Hill, Moree, Goondiwindi, Miles etc - an extra 2000kms on top of the 3000kms of the more direct route.
The probability of more rain falling over the next few weeks meant that our return could be seriously delayed even further and there were things to be done at home. Nevertheless, the decision and its cost implications were anal-ised very seriously for some days.
Mick Holdstock and I ventured out for a 9 hole game of golf on the Gardens Golf Links Course - badly choosing to do so at about 1000 hours. Very steamy conditions were encountered around this unfamiliar course which is strewn with numerous obstacles from inordinately large trees, concrete drainage channels and obstinate synthetic Tees. We retired gratefully into the air-conditioned delight of the RAOB (Buff) Club in Stuart Park for a couple of hours refreshment and re-hydration while watching a bit of the 4th days play of the Third Cricket Test being televised from Sydney.
Maria and Vicky Allen also ventured out onto Gardens Golf Links Course a few days later but at a more sensible hour a little earlier in the morning.
We will try and catch up with the Sincocks prior to our departure as well as with Jim Shepherd - probably down at the DTBC. However, trips to the Razzle, Nightcliff Sports Club and to the Cavenagh never did eventuate. Terry and Janet returned from their trip down to Perth just prior to our departure and so I was able to get to chat with him for a while and learn of the ongoing troubles between the active boaties and the DTBC Committee and Manager - some things just never seem to change. Terry has given up drinking VB in favour of his beloved SA drop of West End....Ugh!
One of our more bizarre purchases before leaving Darwin was 1kg of Anchovies which we found we could buy loose in bulk. One can only purchase tiny (50-100gram) tins or bottles of these in Rockhampton and so when we saw them in the deli section of the Fannie Bay supermarket (Greek owned) we jumped at the opportunity. They were immediately crammed into a suitable storage jar with some oil and placed in our car fridge for the trip home.
Our last engagement was to mind the grand children for a night while Ben and Sarah had a night out in a Darwin hotel. Maria took them to the museum while I spent a couple of hours with Mick Holdstock in the Parap - not a good way to finish our sojourn in the Top End. Its clear it will be our last during the Wet Season and we must try and coax the children down our way in future years. Similarly, we should coax our Darwin mates to visit us during this inhospitable season.
Darcy learns to ride a two wheeler bicycle
Farewell to the Darwin Burchetts & dog
We finally packed up the small 12ft dinghy having scrounged the dump for a spare wheel, inspected the wheel bearings and purchased a cheap boat cover and got under way at least to Palmerston on Sunday 11 January 2009. Maria had made one last appointment to drop in and see Kelly Withnall and her mate Sharon and stay overnight. It turned into a pretty late night but we were able to get properly underway the next morning at 0600 hours.
After topping up the fuel in Katherine ($1.45/lt) we sped on south to Larrimah where we tried to purchase one of the famous home made pies from the old pub - unfortunately they are only made now during the dry/tourist season.
Despite three different experts trying to secure the dodgy BCF boat cover it flapped mercilessly all the way home, viz:
By the time we got home it was virtually ripped to shreds and had to be thrown away. Right along the Stuart Highway there are huge bill board signs advising of the penalties one can expect from flouting the new Federal Government's Intervention Laws.
For travellers such as ourselves the only inconvenience is the restricted trading hours for the purchase of take away alcohol. ie 1400 hours on some days.
Our first night was to be spent at Wauchope Roadhouse some 100 odd kms south of Tennant Creek (Diesel $1.49/lt), in fact quite close to the Devils Marbles which we approached very late in the afternoon.
The donga/cabin accommodation on offer at Wauchope proved on later experience to be way over priced at $80/double plus the $5 they charged at the bar for Midstrength stubbies.
We pushed on very early next morning, stopping early to admire the very striking steel sculptures at the Aileron Roadhouse.
The surrounding countryside both to the north and south of Alice Springs (Diesel $1.33/lt) looked to be in good condition after the drought breaking rains they had received late last year. But just as impressive were the white gums that lined the many dry river beds.
Desert Oaks Todd River & Heavitree Gap
We managed a last sentimental beer at Kulgera (Diesel $1.67/lt) before finally pushing into South Australia. Here also there was plenty of evidence of prior soaking rains. While there was plenty of green feed about there was simply no cattle as most properties had been forced to de-stock months before hand. In fact we did not sight any livestock until around Peterborough.
Our second night was spent at Coober Pedy (Diesel $1.40/lt)...this moon scape place never seems to change. Nor does the boring nature of the next leg of our drive south to Port Augusta....just miles of flat salt bush country with little relief on the vast horizon which stretches endlessly ahead of you. We did pull into Glendambo to check out the fuel price but at $154/lt we kept going only to realise that it might be wise to fill at least the jerry can prior to Port Augusta which necessitated a further stop at that metropolis of Pimba for same.
Nth -Sth Rail Line near Coober Pedy
Moon over Desert SA Salt Lakes
We eventually rolled into Port Augusta (Diesel $1.21/lt) just after lunch and Maria decided it was time for a little retail therapy at Coles (cold meat, salad and rolls for our travelling lunches plus a cask of white wine which she had been prevented from buying in Alice - because of the Intervention). So after 2.5 days travelling South we were at last able to turn left and travel East for a while.
We were at last able to forget flat saltbush country in favour of intensive land use in the form of cereal cropping - much easier on the eye. So over the range we went in search of Peterborough and the Silver City Highway and our goal for that night - Broken Hill (Diesel $1.33/lt).
Maria and I had last visited Broken Hill on our honeymoon in 1969 when we paid a visit to an ANU student mate of mine. At any rate the town is still bustling and belies its publicly declared population of 18500. It boasts over and above the numerous restaurants, hotels and motels, an eclectic range of clubs; viz: Legion Club, Workers Club, Musicians Club and our favourite, the Social Democratic Club otherwise known by the locals as the Demo's Club. We dined in the latter.
We took time out the following morning to do a little sight seeing and in particular drove out 15kms to view the Living Desert Sculptures. These sculptures were the result of an invitation issued in 1993 by the Barrier City Council to 12 world renowned sculptors from countries such as Hungary, Mexico, Argentina, Spain and even a representative of the Tiwi Islands to produce some work inspired by a visit they were taken on to the Mootwingee National Park some 150kms to the north east. The result is quite thought provoking. The 1.5km walk up the hill to the sculpture gallery also proved challenging for some!
Notwithstanding this cultural excursion, the job at hand remained and so off we pushed further East along the Barrier Highway aiming for Nyngan (Diesel $1.35/lt) before we could at last point our vehicle North for the last push up into Queensland. We actually made it as far as the wheat, wool and cotton town of Gilgandra before calling it quits at the Royal Hotel. We had become a little jaded with paying out between $80-65/night in caravan park cabins and so decided to give an old fashioned hotel a go. No worries at $40/night with bathroom around the corner of the veranda.
Next morning we resumed our journey North to Goondiwindi (Diesel $1.19/lt) but after some discussion it was agreed that we should try and see Maria's bother Peter who lives in Noosa. This necessitated an alteration of course which would take us through Toowoomba, Kilcoy and the Bruce Highway to Rockhampton rather than our original plan which was to head directly up to Miles and Biloela. When we contacted Peter he indicted that he would like to have lunch with us the next day.
While re-fuelling at Toowoomba (Diesel $1.14/lt) Maria managed to catch the dinghy trailer's mudguard on a rail and unbeknown to us crushed it against the tyre - severely gauging and almost igniting it. When a fellow motorist indicated to us that we had a problem, the tyre was indeed smoking and I had to try with all my strength to lever the mudguard back off the tyre using a jack and a pair of stillsons. All this took place just at the beginning of the hair-raising steep 10 degree descent out of Toowoomba.
I expected the damaged tyre to blow at any moment but or some reason it held together for the entire journey to Yandina in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. I subsequently changed the tyre the following morning. We dined that night at a local Thai restaurant which proved rather good. As we did not have to meet up with Peter until 1000hours we took time out the following morning to visit the very popular Eumundi Markets a very pleasant way to while away a couple of hours.
Unfortunately, on arrival at Peter's home, we found him deeply distressed with asthma and reliant on his oxygen respirator. It was decided that we had better call an ambulance and get Peter to hospital. The ambulance arrived within 30 minutes and after an extensive grilling by the para medics they agreed to transport him to hospital for a more thorough assessment.
As there was little we could do, we decided to push on for the remaining 500kms to home which we completed without further incident at about 1800 hours. Driving up to our house we were a little dismayed to find the extensive growth of weeds (mainly nutgrass and paspalum) throughout our garden - plenty of work to do.
A rogue pumpkin vine also managed to escape from the vegetable garden
However, our friends Vi and Kevin Thompson had looked after our irrigation system very well and had even maintained our rainfall records......wonderful to be home with all our own creature comforts after a return journey from Darwin of some 5300 kms over a period of six days
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