Gegenschein 94 January 2003

Last Motorhome Trip 2002

A report on our last motorhome trip, across the top of Australia to Darwin and back, via various National Parks. As always, my note are very much a first draft. Jean takes them, tidies them up, drops all the repetitive material, adds photos, and then presents them in her free travel newsletter (sign up for it). Copies on her Avalook web site.

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Airlie to the Gulf

Civilised Townsville, then north west via Greenvale, Einasleigh and Croydon and into the Gulf Savannah to Karumba on the Gulf.

Monday 1 July 2002

Airlie Beach 84531km

We managed to get the last minute packing done, last messages hand delivered, last mail collected, and last bills paid. We set out in the motorhome around 10:30, and turned north along the main Bruce Highway. A rest stop at Bowen, however we avoid the town which is off the main highway along the coast (nice beaches), and seems motorhome unfriendly. We stopped for lunch before Ayr, at our usual spot at Inkerman, for their wonderful chicken salad sandwiches. The grey cat mooched chicken, also as usual. We also collected prepackaged snacks that we can't find anywhere else, and some Bundy Lemonade drinks, also scarce around home.

We refueled at a truck stop well outside Townsville, on 119.5 litres for $95.48, at 84796 km. I had thought we had more fuel in the tank.

Townsville was not our destination of choice, however I needed some medical tests not available except in larger centres, and could get a booking in Townsville the day after we planned to leave. Since this was about 300 km mostly in the correct direction, we changed plans, and considered it a chance for last minute shopping.

We reached the Townsville Caravan Park (84813 k, 19-18.157S, 146-47.986E) renamed much more grandly as the Townsville Auto Resort, and Van Park, around 3:30. This was near the Ross River (from whence comes the Ross River Fever). As typical in cities and larger towns, the sites were small and fairly crowded. We could only just fit our truck into the length of the site, although it was wide enough that you could park a caravan with awning or extension, and have a car alongside. The approach lane was narrow, but we did have space to back in and pull out without major problems. We were pleased to see they had well designed shower stalls, as lack of this is the bane of most caravan parks. Also, unlike the somewhat more convenient The Lakes van park near the Sizzler restaurant in Townsville, they could take the weight of our truck.

We checked local bus connections, and at 4:50 took the hourly bus as close as possible to Office Works. This involved a lengthy walk from the bus stop. Office Works were not busy, so they suggested doing my copying (70 copies of Gegenschein 92, which was very much a last minute idea) on the spot. I was even able to locate a few other items we had sought while we waited. Jean collapsed in a chair, and seemed happy to stay there. I wasn't as happy when I realised I would have to carry lots of paper in my backpack from then on. My suggestion Office Works might consider making parking available for ten ton trucks and motorhomes was unfortunately not taken seriously by the staff.

We made the long walk past Castletown shopping centre to the Sizzler restaurant for their salad bar. Yum! Mind you, Jean had two desserts! Caught a taxi back to the van park, since that distance would have been a real strain.

Despite all this exercise, and the bottle of wine (Nottage Hill chardonnay) at dinner, I felt fine about walking down to the Banjo Patterson motel (where we usually stay when visiting by car), and having a few drinks in the bar with the owners. Russell saw me enter, and looked stricken, so I hastened to assure him they hadn't misplaced a booking by us. Had a fine time talking with a British tourist pair returning to Australia.

Tuesday 2 July 2002

I spent part of the morning getting Gegenschein ready to mail. I had the missing envelopes with me, except for ones for ANZAPA. My ultrasound appointment was at 10 a.m. and we caught a taxi to the Park Haven medical centre. After a fair wait, I got the results, which was an all clear as expected. As usual they give you a vast envelope with the graphics, and a letter in medical Latin, all labelled Not to be Opened Except by your Doctor. As usual, I opened it and read the results, before mailing the envelope to the doctor.

We walked once again to Castletown shopping centre, and made momentous purchases designed to restart the engine of Western commerce. Well, OK, we bought a newspaper, mailed some fanzines and other letters, bought a bulk supply of 30 AAA and 40 AA batteries at Dick Smith (we will use a lot in flashlights and PDAs over the next few months), and then had kebabs for lunch. Oh yes, and we bought lots of tins of hard candies for eating during the drive, when we don't find decent food. Having supplies should ensure a plentiful supply of pub food.

Next was a bus to the larger Stockland's shopping centre, where we found nothing. I was however able to get a partial refund from Medicare on my medical expenses of the morning. I must admit I was impressed by the ease with which this was done. Present your Medicare card and the bill, no forms to fill out, and get a cash refund. I hope they are checking for fraud in some other way.

We again caught a taxi back to the van park around 3:30. Jean promptly went to sleep, and didn't emerge until it was time for us to walk to the Banjo Patterson motel for a fine steak or fish dinner, along with the obligatory bottle of wine. Poet's Corner mixed red (Shiraz, Canernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc) this time, and it was very pleasant. We spent some time talking with the owners, and discovered we could manage a breakfast there in the morning (they wanted to see our motorhome).

Wednesday 3 July 2002

As foreshadowed, we arose early, and were at the Banjo Patterson motel for breakfast by around 7:30. The owners were coping with some junior sports teams, so we were the most civilised dinners there. At least, we spilled fewer things, and tidied up after ourselves.

We had some slight worries by green slime dripping from under the truck. Coolant overflow, we decided, however I kept a very close watch on the coolant level and temperature gauge after we left at 8:30. Indeed, I worried about coolant temperatures for the entire trip.

Our first real destination this time was Karumba, a small fishing town on the Gulf, however it would take a few days to reach it. We wanted to go there because the Sunset Tavern provides a wonderful view of sunset over the sea, and serves a mean barramundi dinner.

We stopped for a break at the service station (19-41.881S 146-50.392E) about 90 k east of Charters Towers. They have very convenient pumps for trucks, and 24 hour service, including showers. Could be a fine spot for an overnight on some other trip direct from home.

We were slowed by crossing the Mingela Range. One interesting free camping site was Macrossan Bridge Park, about 25 k east of Charters Towers. There was also a van park nearby.

We bypassed almost all of Charters Towers at around 11. Not entirely voluntary, as we had hoped to find a fruit shop for bananas, or a place to buy a packed lunch for later.

Sign just outside Charters Towers: Narrow road next 246 kilometres. This turned out to be slightly inaccurate, as the road to The Lynd has improved considerably in the past two years. Mining activity expected. The distance to Greenvale was 207 km, and another 62 km to The Lynd. The road is labelled The Jack McEwan Beef Road, however I think it has a different official title now, the Gregory Highway, whatever the politics of when it was built. On tourist maps, it is often listed as part of The Great Inland Way, reaching from Dubbo in NSW to Cairns on the coast in tropical north Queensland.

At Fletcher Creek (84990 k 19-48.866S 146.03.289E), about 50 k north of Charters Towers, or 160 k South of Greenvale, we noticed several vans camped, with plenty of space for even big rigs. There was a toilet block, with 2 cold and somewhat primitive showers (this means the shower rose sprays straight into the rest of the shower area). This wasn't listed in our rest areas book, so we must report it

We reached Bluewater Springs Roadhouse (85050 k, 19-28.742S 145-38.706E) around 12:30, the first and only roadhouse between Charters Towers and Greenvale. This supplied some fine hot chicken and salad sandwiches, plus forbidden milkshakes.

We continued on the increasingly busy Gregory Highway to Greenvale (85156 k, 19-00.111S 144-58.719E) where we were to decide whether to continue on past the Lynd or stop. Jean managed to look a wreck as we had soda in the 3 Rivers pub. So we stopped at 3:30 p.m. and booked into the pleasant van park, where I was promptly introduced to all the local puppies (some very young and very cute). Introductions over, I had a beer, spiced with bites of salami, while Jean had a sleep. I think I got the best of that deal.

We were finally getting into interesting country after Charters Towers. Saw a kookaburra with a startling expanse of blue feathers, lots more than usual for the blue tipped ones. Saw an unusual, large bird, with some features of a crane, wandering along the edge of the road. We were later to see another few, but can't identify them. Apart from the usual crafty crows, and the kites soaring looking for road kill, we came upon a pair of fine looking eagles on the road. I had to brake hard to stop before we reached them, and we got a good look at them as they retreated to nearby trees.

Dinner at the 3 Rivers pub proved to be a challenge to finish. Jean's rump steak was large. My mixed grill included the expected steak, chop, and sausage, but also had a ham steak, and egg and bacon, and a grilled pineapple ring, gravy, plus chips, salad and bread and butter. Jean assisted, and we still took some back to our fridge for a future snack. I was disappointed that the fine jigsaw puzzle display we saw two years ago was gone, however they did have a historical display of the mine, and of the resurrection of the town.

Good shower facilities at the Greenvale van park, with the right design again, shower rose pointing at the wall, not straight out the door, and a divider to keep the dressing area dry, plus even a shower curtain.

The showers were much more interesting to us than the enormous nickel mine reclaimer wheel they have rusting out front. Mine machinery typically runs to impressive sizes, and this one came from the 1967 nickel laterite mine that went into production in 1974. It was this mine that used the now dismantled rail line to Townsville. It took 40 million tonnes of ore out, using 220 mine employees, and closed in 1992.

The town shut down to 16 people with the mine closed, however in 1994 Melbourne Businessman Chris Delios saw the town, and the next day offered to buy it from the Queensland Nickel Ltd. Greenvale now has about 85 family homes, and is partially reviving by promoting local business sites. One person has designed a small self loading concrete mixer, that you attach to the three point attachment of a small bobcat. This lets a single operator load bulk concrete ingredients without shovelling them in, for small jobs. Looked like a wonderful labour saving device.

Greenvale was an interesting spot. Like many others, it promotes itself as an outback oasis. Considering the small size, it has a good range of facilities. Hotel motel, 3 star van park with powered sites, service station, postal services, sports oval with pool, school, police, and even a 9 hole golf course. A store, and bakery, for resupplying, and even a craft bazaar with pottery. There is a farm homestay at Jervoise Station, which produces organic beef for export and the domestic market.

Thursday 4 July 2002

We didn't even consider celebrating this US holiday. It was only as I type this that I realised which day it was.

Greenvale was cold, with a clear moonless sky. We were warm enough while sleeping, but morning was chilly, and we didn't get showers until the sun was warming things considerably. We finally got away at around 9 a.m.

We checked the BP Oasis service station at Lynd Junction. It had expensive drinks, and the facilities were not startling, but seemed adequate for a bush area. Even non patrons could use the showers for $3.

We turned onto the dirt road here, with 73 km to Einasleigh (85292 k, 18-30.816S 144-05.554E) on the eastern edge of the Newcastle range. We reached the small town at 11:30, after an impressive short and steep drop to the low causeway across the Copperfield river just before the town. The Pub (both capitalised) had only pies, so we made do with that for lunch (after the previous night's meal, we didn't want much). The Chillagoe to Forsayth rail line went through the town, when the rail was open, and even stopped at the pub.

There were a couple of small bus loads of people checking the Copperfield River and Gorge. It was interesting, as the Savannahlander rail bridge had been wrecked by floods in February previously, and the tourist train from Cairns to Forsayth could no longer get through. I took about 8 photos at the gorge. The contrast between the black rock (granite?) walls and the sandy river bottom is interesting, especially as the black, vegetation free rock extends like a scar over a considerable area around the river near the town.

Later, along the road, we did see another eagle, plus a single pig, and later a group of pigs, all small. There was a very large goana sunning itself on the road. I also pointed out numerous kangaroos or walabies (almost certainly walabies) to Jean, however she managed to miss seeing all of them. I may take to seeing drop bears instead if my animals are to be ignored.

We went another 70 km of dirt road over the Newcastle Ranges on to Forsayth on the Delaney River (85361 km 18-35.240S 143-36.233E). This town of 70 people didn't have as many interesting features, although there were a number of historic buildings, so after a drink at the Goldfields Hotel we did the remaining 40 km of dirt road to Georgetown. Forsayth seems mainly of interest to gold fossickers, as like many of the towns in north Queensland, it was an Etheridge gold rush area.

We had stayed at Georgetown two years ago, and I was unhappy at how crowded the Midway caravan park was, and how many trees we had to dodge (although the food there was good, and it was otherwise a fine place to stay). Although the population is 300, the town is so spread out from its gold rush days that it can be a distance to facilities. Fossicking is again the main tourist activity, with restored historical buildings, although there is a free swimming pool, and free internet access at the Tourist Information Centre. I suggested we push on to the next town, to make the next leg easier.

We were now in the Gulf Savannah area, with the typical golden, sun dried vegetation of this flat area in the dry season. Rather a change from the Newcastle Ranges, both in vegetation, and in having straight roads rather than twisted, steep and narrow roads. The Gulf Savannah region extends from the Great Dividing Range (low hills, in USA terms) west to the Northern Territory border, and consists of mostly untouched bush, sprinkled with the remains of mining towns, many dating from the gold rushes of the 1870's. Naturally our timing for this trip is designed to avoid the wet summer season, of tropical monsoons.

There is also a shortage of some facilities. The only bank I can find is in Normanton, prescription drugs are basically not available commercially in the region, TV reception can be haphazard even in the towns. Interestingly, there is now internet access in a number of towns, mostly via either the Council library or the Tourist Information Office. Burketown, Normanton, Karumba, Croydon, and Georgetown all have at least one terminal with web access (when the phones are working).

Croydon is 148 km further, however the road has improved a lot over the past two years. It was two ways over most of it, rather than the more typical single lane of bitumen, and we made good time.

Despite making good time, it was well after five before we were settled in the spacious council caravan park at Croydon 85564 k, 18-12.11S 142-14.748E). I picked up some local information, and then we checked the pub. It was noisy, and dinner didn't start until 7. We sought elsewhere, and ended up with a chicken and some bread for dinner (to go with our increasingly limp salad makings), plus milk and bananas for breakfast. Mind you, it took two shops to supply the ingredients.

Jean was acting like a zombie by the time we walked around seeking dinner. I managed to remain awake after dinner long enough to type these notes, but think I will crash soon.

We did discover that a plastic water container we had outside had broken. These seem unable to handle sunlight and vibration.

Friday 5 July 2002

I collected a bunch of handy Croydon material from Chris Weirman, the local information officer. He has a fine little internet setup in the office, and does conducted tours of the town.

We took on another 202 litres of diesel on the way out of Croydon at 85555 km. Possibly the last time we will see diesel under $1 a litre for a long time.

We keep up a steady pace from Croydon, passing through Normanton without stopping after 140 km or so. We did test Jean's CDMA phone there, as there were rumours the town would get mobile service. No luck, due in September. Mind you, it isn't even on the proposed maps as yet, so even that sounds pretty good.

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A fishing and port town, directly on the Gulf. We go to Karumba Point rather than the town itself, and that is purely because we want to eat evening meals at the Sunset Tavern while we watch the sun set over the ocean.

The 72 km to Karumba (85786 km S17-27.605 E140-49.680) on the Gulf coast proved a relatively busy road, and I eased over a couple of time to let faster vehicles pass. Mind you, almost everything is faster than us.

We passed the well publicised Barry and Lorraine's Karumba Point Tourist Park on the way to the point. It looked charming, however the lengthy walk to the Sunset Tavern would be a small problem. The major reason we have never stopped there is they have a really nice range of shade trees, which are totally desirable in this climate. Unfortunately, our truck is so tall we really need an open area. We could clearly see we couldn't get into the site without knocking down trees. They have stuff like a 9 a.m. beach stroll, a 2 p.m. craft sale with munchies, 4 p.m. happy hour, 6 p.m. free local fish BBQ on various days.

Once again we checked the Sunset caravan park. There were a couple of spots we could probably get our truck into, despite the trees, but they were all occupied. Considering it is high season, school holidays, and great weather, we hadn't really expected much luck there.

Our first fallback was the Gone Fishin motel, because it is directly opposite the Sunset Tavern, and had space to park in front of the units. They were full until Sunday, but kindly showed us their new improved facilities. Suggested Savannah Shores, the next place along. They had one room still available, somewhat more primitive, but perfectly acceptable for us. We booked for three nights with the helpful owners. They said we could park the truck in the grounds, which led to an interesting exercise in manouvering down a narrow lane and brushing palm leaves aside on both sides. I got the truck in. In three days, I get to take it out again!

We were considerably late in getting our deep fried barramundi lunch from Ash's, across the road. I really enjoyed my post drive beer, and then we both spent the rest of the afternoon writing stuff on our computers, since we had power, a table, reasonable chairs, and nothing urgent to do.

Finally it was time to visit the Sunset Tavern. Beers in hand, we awaited the sunset over the sea. It was a flawless performance, typical of our memories of this wonderful area. Living on the east coast, we really appreciate a chance to have a sunset over the sea, and this is the only place we know in Queensland that provides it. OK, so perhaps it is a little far to drive for a sunset. It was also decidedly chilly, with a brisk and unseasonable cold wind. I know it is winter, but this is the tropics, damn it! I expect to be able to sit outside at night in T shirt, shorts and sandals, and not be cold!

This sunset was at a lower tide than two years ago, and it made an interesting contrast. There was some haze at sea, producing good colour marking. I was somewhat disappointed that no pelicans landed on the beach, however there are warnings to fishermen not to clean fish on the beach, to avoid attracting estuarine crocodiles, so perhaps they are heeding such warnings and thus failing to attract pelicans as well.

The barramundi dinner was great. The wine less so. I noted a blackboard saying McWilliams Columbard Chardonnay for $12.95 a cask, so I asked if we could drink that. As expected, it was take away only, however I was advised they also had it by the glass. Perfect! Just what we needed with barra. So I asked a glass of the McWilliams Columbard Chardonnay. When the wine emerged from the cask as a red, I questioned this miraculous transformation. Another staff member came along and brightly suggested they had a nice Banrock Station. That was also a red. Sigh! So we drank red with our fish. Obviously the universe has decided I must be the villain in a James Bond movie From Russia With Love.

Actually, I seem to recall a highly similar error by staff there when we were last in town, nearly two years ago. I guess the young temporary staff are just not Australian wine drinkers.

Jean pointed out during dinner that all the glass in the motorhome fridge leapt out of its constraints even on semi-reasonable roads. We were relaxing in Karumba to prepare for three days of seriously bad dirt roads, from Normanton, through to Burketown, past Doomadgee, and then on to either Hell's Gate or Wollogorang, past the Northern Territory border, and eventually reaching Borroloola. She suggested having bottles of anything in our motorhome fridge was a tactical error. I solved this by buying a cask of the McWilliams Columbard Chardonnay for the road.

We collapsed back at the Savannah Shores at about eight. I think I managed to prepare some email, but it is unlikely to make much sense.

Saturday 6 July 2002

After breakfast, we took a walk along the boardwalk joining Karumba Point (where the Sunset Tavern is) to Karumba township. It rapidly became apparent that regardless of the tourist pamphlets, the boardwalk is not nearly complete. Maybe next visit? We returned along the beach, with Jean complaining the entire way.

I sat around typing LoCs, since it took us until almost midday to get access to the only washing machine for the first run at our laundry. We even had time for another barramundi lunch before the domestic chores. In the afternoon we took a walk to the other caravan park, which proved just as tree shrouded as we had initially thought. No chance to get a newspaper, since only the supermarket in the distant town seemed to have them, and only after the plane arrived around 2 p.m. We also haven't seen any TV all week, so we really are isolated. I trust however the world is continuing well. Or at least, no worse than the usual human stupidity makes it.

We contemplated taking a light plane flight to see the surroundings, but decided we needed to be a little more economical this early in the journey.

We again had beers at the Sunset Tavern, watched a much clearer sunset, with less water in the atmosphere. This time we managed the lemon pepper barramundi, which was if anything even better than the previous evening. I managed to get us one glass of chardonnay this time, to go with the fish.

The only flaw this time was that there wasn't a strong breeze, so the mosquitos managed to eat me alive while I was eating barramundi. Unlike some of our house guests, I usually don't react very badly to the bites, however I hope I don't eventually get Ross River Fever or Dengue fever or some other tropical disease from the bites (an October news release mentions five cases of malaria found in Northern Queensland, after 16 years of the mainland being free of it - we need better quarantine).

Sunday 7 July 2002

Today I really hope that I can talk myself into access to a fax line, to send off this part of my trip report, and collect and send email. All those with precog abilities, please wish me luck. OK, anyone with precog ability, up against the wall. I couldn't get any sort of phone connection when I tried late in the afternoon, although the modem subsequently tested OK internally.

We popped the truck cab, after some difficulties with the catch. It took both of us to raise the thing high enough to latch up. I got to scramble around checking the radiator levels (good), and similar goodies. We did minor repairs on the cover to the ladder, by replacing some screws that were falling out.

We did another load of laundry, fell asleep while reading, I did some LoCs, we had yet more barramundi for lunch, we went for a walk along the beach. Jean successfully got her email (and later told me her phone line connector may need special attention, after I failed). A typical crowded day.

The Sunset tavern was also crowded with people from a tourist bus. It had a three course roast lamb special for $12.95, so we had that, and very pleasant it was too. By then I had learnt how to get my order to near the top of the queue, by careful timing. The sunset however was very ordinary this time, with little water vapour to spread colours. It got better later, as it became darker. However for the first time in a week, we got back to the room in time to watch the 7 p.m. TV news (we needn't have bothered).

As an historical aside, the Gulf of Carpentaria was named by an early Dutch explorer Jan Carstenzoon, who in 1623 explored the Gulf in his vessel the Pera, and named the gulf after Pieter Carpetier, then Governor General of the Dutch East Indies.

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The Great Top Road

A real mistake after Burketown. A road that was simply too rough, so we had lots of breakages even before Hell's Gate. Wollogorang Station.

Monday 8 July 2002

Getting away from the Savannah Shores in Karumba (85786 km) was a problem. Someone parked a 4WD in the area into which I was going to turn around. I had to reverse out of their driveway, which was a problem as my wheels overhung the drive on both sides, and I couldn't see well because the palm fronds brushed the truck from both sides.

We took on some fuel just after eight, 54.66 litres at 92.9 cents a litre, and headed for Normanton (85857 km). As usual in the Gulf, there was a wonderful array of birdlife around. We don't have good enough cameras to photo the eagles, as they flap off when you get close. However we saw brolga and jabiru and a variety of large wading birds.

The Burns Philp store in Normanton was closed, to our dismay. We did find bananas in a general store, some bread rolls and apple slices in Normanton Bakery, but no newspapers. Normanton Trading told us newspapers for the weekend hadn't arrived at all, and maybe the Saturday Australian would arrive in the afternoon.

Once out of town at 9:30 we took The Great Top Road, and headed for Burketown on the dirt road. The condition of the road was very good compared to two years ago. We were very impressed to find a causeway across the Alexandria River, where two years ago there was only shattered stones and round river rocks. We stopped shortly after at the Leichhardt River (86015 km 18-13.221S 139-62.766E) and ate our bread rolls with chicken. I unaccountably failed to recall we had apple slices.

A solitary black cat stared at us as we left. No idea where it came from, but it looked in too good a shape to be a feral.

We were delayed by a large mob of cattle all across the road. We stopped to photograph them, and then after talking with the stockmen, we slowly moved through the mob. Despite this, we reached Burketown (86090 km 17-44.574S 139-32.777E) at around 3:30.

The caravan park space was a little tight, and I had to park with the rear and top of the truck touching no less than three trees. The ground was also soggy from watering, so I didn't want to maneuver for fear of cutting it up badly with our weight. The park was only a block from the council, the pub, and the food store, which was pretty convenient.

Burketown is basically on the Albert River, not far from the Leichhardt. It was named after the idiotic explorer Burke, who in 1861 failed to reach the Gulf, and who subsequently died along with Wills. Ludwig Leichhardt was a naturalist who explored the area in 1844, and didn't do idiotic things like dying. The town promotes itself as a great place to catch barramundi.

At the council office, I failed to get a map of the town, because they don't have any. I noted they do have internet. As a service to the public, they have the latest city newspapers available. At the time I visited, the latest Weekend Australian available was for 29 June.

I also didn't do well at the Morning Glory restaurant, which was closed from Sunday to Tuesday inclusive. At least I was able to sit and gossip in the pub over a pint or two. Telstra people were saying they didn't have tribal permission to install optical fibre in some areas. Various people said the road ahead wasn't too bad (for various meanings of bad).

The Morning Glory, as an aside, is a freak weather condition, a rolling cloud that comes in waves over several days. The cloud extends a considerable distance in length, but is short and not all that high. Glider pilots seek them out for the experience of soaring using the strong updrafts they bring. We hope to be able to get to the gulf at some time when they are occurring.

When Jean came out with me to the pub later for dinner, we made do with the fish, chips and salad, and were pleased to find it a lot better than the very original surroundings initially indicated. There is actually a very nice beer garden out the back, together with a variety of accommodation units of various ages. I noted that for all the olde worlde appearance, the pub had an unobtrusive but pretty decent multiple channel CCTV security system operating. Might indicate something about the area, or perhaps the customers.

Tuesday 9 July 2002

We were up around dawn, but were a little delayed when a large bird decided it was willing to pose for Jean's photographs. These birds must be really worried about tourists, considering the way this one wandered about the caravan park

We left the Burketown (86090 km) caravan park a little after eight, on our way to Wollogorang via Hells Gate, all of this also on dirt roads. There were niggling little vehicle problems to make me worry. The air pressure took a long while to reach the 5 kg per sq cm we need to operate the brakes.

We finally reached the turnoff about 8:50, with a sign saying 152 km to Hells Gate. The dirt road started off pretty well, and we made good speed. At Tirranna (86125 km 17-53.745S 139-17.744E) we discovered that the roadhouse there had been rennovated, and now sold drinks and snacks. The owners said they had opened about a year ago, and hoped to have accommodation available soon. They were unsure when, or even whether, fuel would be available, due to the cost of replacing the tanks and the low margins on fuel. We got some drinks there, despite not needing them, in the spirit of encouraging remote roadhouses. When we last passed through, two years ago, the place was a ruin.

We pulled up for snacks around 10:20, at 86181 km, so we were not making startling time on the dirt. Doomadgee was at 86186 km, after a crossing of the winding causeway. The river there is very pretty. Jean took some photos. We were surprised to find some streets were now done with bitumen on the approach.

We did pretty well in avoiding most of the bumps, by going around all the patches of bulldust. However about 20 km outside Hells Gate we hit the mother of all potholes. We soon discovered that our gear change wasn't functioning. "Now what do I do", said I. "Don't stop" replied the ever practical Jean.

Running in fifth gear through bad dips and up grades we shouldn't have was not a pleasant experience. We did eventually reach Hells Gate, and parked ... well, we stopped at any rate. (86280 km)

There isn't a mechanic available, so we instead turned to food, and had lunch. I looked up the manuals, which stated if the transmission fell out on bumpy roads, you should adjust the control lever. This was complete with the usual incomprehensible (except to mechanics) diagram. I took down the bull bar, and was about to unload the cab so we could lift the cab and expose the engine.

Luckily Brian, the owner of the property, was there from down south for the start of the tourist season. Brian diagnosed the real problem, which was a part of the gear select mechanism was worn, and had bounced out of place against the remaining spring tension. He fixed it for us, and suggested a few kludges until we could get replacement parts. The problem had nothing to do with the fix suggested in the Workshop manual.

At about 1:30 we continued on very cautiously the extra 52 km to Wollogorang Station (86232 km 17-12.703S 137-56.832E) over a road that was in patches as bad as anything we have ever encountered. It took corrugations to a new height, in every sense. We got there around 3:30 and booked in for the night. As we parked, Jean noticed that our two spare tyres were not where they should be on the roof. One was displaced its own length down the body, while the other had flipped over completely. I climbed the ladder and wrestled them back into the correct place, no easy task as they weigh around 80 kg each. Well, Brian at Hells Gate had said to us "well, the road is a bit corrugated." I'll have to remember to allow for country understatement.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon chatting with other campers at Wollogorang station. I also signed us up for the station dinner, which was shepherds pie, followed by home made ice cream. Yum!

We also discovered that our front stainless steel water tank was now leaking. The seam had split right at the fold. This was exactly the same as the rear tank two years previously, and on basically the same road. The moral is never to put right angle bends in stainless steel tanks, always do them as a rolled bend. Well, maybe the moral is not to go on the road to Doomadgee. I have no idea when we will be able to get that water tank welded. Luckily we have no critical need for the water supplies, since we don't intend to do desert exploration.

Wednesday 10 July 2002

Before we started I climbed on top of the truck and used some cargo ties to tie down the spare tyres somewhat.

Today we have well over 260 km from Wollogorang (86322 km) to Borroloola, and that is reported to be a worse road than anything we have done to date. And it was.

The small wing mirror fell off, having broken its clamp. I'm not sure when we will find a replacement clamp, so the mirror is sitting inside the cab.

One of the front running lights was coming loose, having lost one of its screws. We fixed that with the duct tape, not having the correct screws.

The first 100 km took us about three hours, due to the corrugations, and generally poor road conditions.

Around midday the gear selector failed for the second time after a severe set of corrugations.

We stopped to let the engine cool a little before I started on the repair. Not too long after I raised the cab, Cec and Holly (who we had talked to at Wollogorang) came along, and Cec kindly assisted with tools for the repair after we each had lunch by the road. Cec also supplied the bailing wire I used in an attempt to stiffen the thing. I also used some washers to pack out the mount, as suggested by Brian, so as to make it harder for it to jump out.

Cec and Holly then kept an eye out for us about every 30 km further down the road, to ensure we had made it that far.

The last 100 km was significantly better than the earlier pieces, and we reached Borroloola (86598 km 16-04.174S 136-18.436E) just before five.

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Borroloola to Mataranka

Visits with locals, a broken house, a good road out. Caranbarini Nature Park, Heartbreak Hotel, HiWay Inn,

Ben and Vicki, CMCA members, had invited people to visit, and we sought them out. Ben saw us driving past, and introduced himself. We figured to stay at the caravan park, since we were exhausted, and were able to book in at a nice site. I even repaired the broken drawer catch (having finally located the spare) and replaced the bolt from the main door latch with a long screw, just like the upper half of the same catch. We had just about recovered from the day when Ben turned up unexpectedly. Ben drove us to their home for a great barramundi, salad and chips feast. This was followed by interesting conversation until fairly late. I really hadn't thought I would be feeling well enough to participate, but actually thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

Thursday 11 July 2002

We were basically collapsed in the Borroloola caravan park until midday, possibly as a result of staying up. Not that it mattered. I took a walk to the local service station (no diesel left in town) and to the council to find a town map.

I didn't have a ladder to reach the broken light bracket for the 240 volt light outside the motorhome, and after a bit of balancing on my toes reaching nowhere, left that for later.

We also noticed half of the inside fire extinguisher mount was broken.

We had lunch at the local pub, which had a pleasant lounge area. Soon after, some children and their carers entered and I recognised Ben and Vicki's child. Vicki and others from her work also appeared for lunch, saying they had gotten a break.

We noticed that a fuel tanker had arrived at the local service station, so we stationed ourselves ready to take on fuel. After a bit of a wait for vehicles already there to move, we were able to fill up again.

We moved the motorhome over near Ben and Vicki's home, and Ben turned up and left us comfortably downloading email. I couldn't help but notice that they had to order food in bulk from a very remote store. The delivered stocks did not always equal the desired items, and some substitutes had less thought behind them than others. Given this included things like fresh (frozen) milk, and there is a child in the household, life can be a bit difficult in such areas.

We stayed the evening parked outside a nearby house Don was painting. The interior was a mess, after 9 years of occupation, with fittings ripped out and just vandalised. We were told that was in better condition than many such houses. While we have both seen such damage from tenants, terms such as "responsibility" do spring to mind. The welfare mentality in some communities is sickening.

Ben kindly loaned a ladder, and a power driver and replaced the screw on the outside light. We also put some glue goop I had on it, to help keep it in place.

Having noted how well Ben's power driver worked, I used it to put another screw in the fire extinguisher bracket, and claim that is also repaired.

I had some time to converse with Don, who had been hanging around in similar country areas for years. He was telling me of some of the different characteristics of the coastal and land groups of Aboriginals, with the inland people generally shyer, and the coastal groups generally sharper.

I could smell diesel most of the night, which I ascribed to the fuel overflow tube (since we had encountered some splashing of fuel from it before when the tank was full).

Friday 12 July 2002

At Borroloola (86605 km)

In the cold light of morning we could clearly see the diesel from the fuel tank really does leak, albeit slowly, and that worries me. Not sure we can get anything fixed there. Katherine was suggested by Ben as a place to fix it, but that is over 600 km away.

We set off around 9, this time on good bitumen road, for the first time in many days.

We stopped at Caranbirini Nature Park, about 45 km up the road, to take one of their walks through and past the spectacular "Lost City" style limestone columns, with their multicoloured rocks. Although there was a bit of a waterhole by the dried up creek, we scared more large birds than stayed. That was a wonderful spot, highly recommended for a visit and a walk through. I took a number of photos on my first roll of film at Caranbirini.

We had lunch at Heartbreak Hotel, subject of several bush poems, at Cape Crawford (86723 km). We didn't take the light helicopter flight over their Lost City area, despite Don mentioning the owner. We bought a Heartbreak Hotel cooler, as that was how we were feeling about the trip to date, heartbroken by the continual minor motorhome failures.

A long, boring 270 km non stop to HiWay Inn near Daly Waters (87000 km 16-18.440S 133-23.160E) where the Carpentaria Highway meets the Stuart Highway from Alice Springs to Darwin. That was a long drive, at our speed. Of course, we continued to worry about the leaking diesel. Also, there was very little wildlife to be seen, apart from a few kites, although the vegetation continued to change from area to area as we gained altitude.

At least the fuel leak was much, much slower here. I figure the damage is about 1/3rd of the way up the side of the tank, perhaps where the tank is tack welded to its supports. Unfortunately, I can't see any clear way to identify either the source of the leak, nor how to repair it. However maybe a mechanic or welder can do better.

Don had recommended the HiWay Inn, and he planned to be there that day, after a memorial service for a friend's wife. He wasn't there, so I bought him a can of beer to be presented when he arrived in a day or so. It appeared nothing unusual for him to be missing for a day or five between painting work.

The entire HiWay Inn area was a hive of activity, with the new owners of five weeks past making a determined effort to fix multiple outstanding problems, and put in a whole heap of new infrastructure. I had a talk with them about their plans, and it sounded really good. Even in the short time they had been there, they had a bunch of the truck drivers stopping, which is always a good sign. Fuel was also reasonable, at $1.09 a litre, same as at Borroloola.

We tried a steak sandwich, and the fish, chips and salad for dinner. The full meal was such a size that Jean had to help me finish it. In addition, they had a better range of drinks than is usual, and we were able to get Coopers ale with dinner. After a couple of Coopers each we slept soundly.

Saturday 13 July 2002

We hadn't been able to buy milk in the evening, as they had delivery problems. See previous remarks about supplies in this part of the country. The owner had found some frozen 2 litre milks, and kindly offered us one. However we really only needed enough for breakfast. He gave me a free jug of milk. I took it to Jean, and used the small size of it as an excuse to return to the diner and order a breakfast for myself.

The breakfast was large. Two eggs, as expected, but two of everything else, and a great pile of bacon. I rushed over to the motorhome, and told Jean she would have to come and help me dispose of my breakfast. There was indeed enough for two.

We turned off the road and went into Daly Waters. The pub there was indeed historic looking. We also drove to one of the WWII military airfields, bleak and long ago abandoned. Out there, even the hanger hadn't rusted away in a half century. This remote spot has the curious distinction of being our first international airport, and the hanger belonged to Qantas.

We passed a few WWII airfields on the way to Larrimah, all carefully labelled with their historical name. Unfortunately in some cases the name was a baffling military abbreviation. We had no real reason to stop at Larrimah, apart from getting some drinks. The place looked a little run down, but was also showing a new owners sign. The pub was a WWII officer's mess.

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A comfortable relaxed stay at a thermal pool at Elsey National Park. Well, except that Jean did some computer contracting via mobile phone. We of the Never Never film site.

At Mataranka homestead tourist resort we booked in for two days, (87187 km 14-56.422S 133-08.077E) once we looked to see if we could fit into one of the two remaining sites. I judged we could fit. I did think I'd be touching the trees on both sides, at the top of the motorhome, but in fact only touched on one side, and had a good 30 cm on the other. The place was very popular, with virtually every site of any type full by evening.

They really don't have the infrastructure for the numbers of people. However we found out why a little later. There is a sign in the main bar, up close to the ceiling, pointing to the high water mark for the floods on Australia Day 1998. Outside there are measuring sticks, showing the 4 to 6 metre flood levels. The floods in 2002 were up to the top of the bar tables. Each time, they have to take everything portable up to the airfield, until the water retreats. One of the ablution blocks was swept away from its foundation this year, and has not yet been replaced.

The thermal springs in the Elsey National Park were pretty and pleasant, although the water was heated only by virtue of coming from a short distance underground. It wasn't steam hot, like some of the artesian bores we had encountered. However it was only a 100 metre stroll away. The pool itself was constructed during WWII by sappers for use by the officers. Underwater, you can clearly see the old thick military corrugated iron sides of the pond, and the way the bottom has been levelled, and concrete steps and surrounds formed. One of the military people took it over after the war as a tourist resort, and it has been popular ever since.

Mataranka homestead had a handy store, at which I bought milk for breakfast (here that is a $3 item, not a $1.60 one). Barra burgers for dinner from their snack bar, and these turned out to be sufficiently large that we didn't need to think about anything larger any other evening.

There was a loud music duo, LAW, playing popular and country and western six nights a week. At our considerable distance they made a noticeable background noise. Up close they were overpowering. At least they were pretty good at their music. I was later to see them serving behind the bar in the daytime hours, showing evidence of the multiskilling we keep hearing about in the workforce.

Sunday 14 July 2002

We went late to the badly designed showers at the inadequately large ablution block. Despite this oversupply of users for the available facilities, neither of us had much trouble getting a lukewarm shower. In the tropical climate this wasn't much of a problem.

We did laundry, partly because it was our first chance for some time, and partly because we were already considering staying an extra few days.

Our activity for the day was a walk to Stevie's Hole, a kilometre or so along the Roper River. This swimming hole in the Elsey National Park was named for a former tourist operator who took tour groups to it. We returned via Rainbow Spring, a small hole where you could see the water visibly bubbling out of the rocks and up through the crystal clear pool. The bottom of the spring is below the general water table, so water bubbles up from tens of metres down, heated by being from below the earth. Our walk was followed by the inevitable salad sandwich for lunch.

There is a canoe hire facility, so you can canoe down parts of the Waterhouse river.

We sat typing up our respective notes, email or whatever. This was followed by setting up the table outside, so we could do so outside the motorhome. I even started reading my old Science News, but was startled to note the ones I was working on dated from 1998. I really do have to catch up someday. Preferably someday this year, rather than this decade.

After another barra burger dinner, we went down to the thermal pool for a night dip in the heated waters. That was pretty pleasant, apart from having a lot of trouble finding the edges of the steps and the pool itself. We took the precaution of wearing our toweling robes, so we didn't get cold when we emerged, although it was mostly the contrast in temperatures, as the night was fairly mild.

Monday 15 July 2002

Jean tried downloading a large computer file via her CDMA mobile phone, which runs only at 14.4 kbps even on a good day. This wasn't a success, so she emailed a file splitting program to the people who wanted the work done, with instructions. She did better at phoning her mother, using a public phone (unfortunately public phones never include data plugs).

We inspected the replica of the original style of homestead at Mataranka, with its grooved uprights and dropped plank cypress pine construction. Effective enough if you lack many nails. They had interesting displays of how the cattle business was run at the turn of the 19th Century. They included some Aboriginal bush shelters known variously as gunyas or wurliese, made of saplings and paperbark. The construction was under the advice of local Yangman and Mangari tribal elders. All this stuff was made for the film of We of the Never Never, of which a video was screened each day at midday. The exact replica Elsey homestead was made for the film version of Jeannie Gunn's sentimental early 20th Century children's classic We of the Never Never, about life in Elsey Station, as were the aboriginal shelters. We took some photos of the displays.

Lunch was a bit slow in arriving, as some staff seemed to have disappeared. We really must remember to take our reading glasses and a book with us when we go to order. Actually, meals were very much an amateur hour production, and in seven days we must have had at least four variations on how a salad sandwich was constructed. You don't want to even know about the complications when we ordered steak sandwich with the lot for dinner. Luckily I decided I was amused by this, rather than annoyed.

We spent a fair bit of time reading, and writing up notes, or doing email or the like, since we had power at the site.

The 240 volt fluorescent light in the motorhome decided to go intermittent, just as it got to late afternoon. On pulling it apart, and picking up the pieces that fell out, I found the ballast had broken its (idiotic, weak, shonkey, plastic) supports (again), and that one of its wire was not making good contact. Reconnected the wire, just for the evening, but we will have to use Araldite and tape in an attempt to hold the ballast more securely when we have decent light in the morning.

Tuesday 16 July 2002

We checked our truck repairs, and the radiator water level. Jean took advantage of the cab being lowered to wash the windscreen, which is otherwise at a formidable height, although even when lowered she needed the ladder to reach it. We noted our truck model, our various problems, and the peculiar names of the failed transmission control parts. Then Jean phoned the Hino dealer in Darwin to make an appointment for next week. They knew all about the transmission control problem, and even had a modification to solve the problem. We must ask them what other modifications they have available, and possibly what other spare parts they recommend carrying.

We organised to stay at Mataranka for another four days, it being a pleasant spot. Even got the one day discount for staying a week. As usual, staff appeared terminally confused. Good help is hard to find, I guess.

Jean was in need of some time, since she had just managed to download a huge file to work on via her CDMA mobile phone, which was working here for the first time since coastal Queensland.

After lunch, I took my computer outside to provide some space for Jean. My mouse promptly stopped working in the vertical direction. By this time I was habitually carrying pocket tools, so I pulled it apart, looking for a bad connection to the phototransistor. All appeared OK, however I noticed the horizontal also failed when exposed to light. My mouse is a cute, translucent model where you can see all the working parts. Unfortunately, the phototransistors appear to be sensitive to daylight, and don't have enough of a discrimination circuit to handle daylight. I proved this by covering the entire mouse with my hand, and it promptly started working again. Gah! (A Klingon dish of disrepute.)

Wednesday 17 July 2002

Jean stayed inside the motorhome and worked furiously all day, while I was banished to the outer darkness (which is hard in the tropics), and sat in the sun reading bad novels. Don't think I wrote any notes. I also read some of the collection of futureology I had with me. These books mostly date from the 1950's and 1960's, and predict the future of say 1984 or 2000. I thought it might be interesting to consider what they predicted, in the light of what happened. I expect that material to appear in Gegenschein 96.

We walked to Stevie's Hole again, but that was the extent of our exercise for the day.

Thursday 18 July 2002

I spent the morning doing more minor motorhome modifications. This mostly involved sticking hooks on the walls, to hold teatowels or glasses cases or pens. Jean did sensible things, like more of our laundry. Then we looked at some of the facilities at Mataranka that had escaped our notice previously. This can be considered a matter of desperation to avoid doing any work, rather than an abiding desire to know. Jean used the walk as an excuse to take photos of areas she had not taken previously.

Nuts had come off the generator starter battery holder, so it was no longer clamped down. I connected a small solar battery to the generator battery, just to help keep it charged between infrequent uses. The terminals were covered in dust, as it is right at the back of the motorhome, and in an open compartment. I also managed to find some appropriate nuts to hold the battery down again.

I used araldite on the broken fluorescent light but don't really believe this repair will last all that much longer than the previous repair with glue. The light design just isn't sufficiently robust. Next time I may try drilling through the base of it, and hold it together with a wood screw or two into the ceiling.

Another repair was the broken fuse holder for the CB radio in the cab. One complication was one side was live, and earthing via the soldering iron. I just disconnected the soldering iron and used the residual heat. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that was the only thing wrong with the CB radio (not that we would use it often).

Friday 19 July 2002

Our only exercise was finding the canoe launching area on the Waterhouse River, and deciding we didn't need to paddle. I was somewhat disappointed, since I do outrigger canoeing at times. During the day I managed to complete my write ups of note on the entire 1998 Science News magazines. I started reading Naomi Klein's book No Logo as a respite from typing.

Our dinner was less than totally successful, as Jean's hamburger with the lot didn't have the lot.

Saturday 20 July 2002

We did even less today. Jean hid inside and typed all day. I cowered outside all day, in the blazing tropical sun. Her client was really happy to get Jean's fine technical editing work delivered. Jean also wrote several newsletters (he said in tones of utter disgust). I managed to sneak some chocolates and a rum and coke while Jean was distracted. I think this counts as a win for Jean. We did take another swim in the thermal pool.

I basically sat around reading Naomi Klein's No Logo for most of the day. Pohl and Kornbluth got there earlier with The Space Merchants, and probably did it better 60 years ago. Klein writes stridently about multinational excesses and the rise of the brand name as a validator of consumer excellence (although the result is often not). She points out the way multinationals do whatever is needed to get the cheapest workforce for making their products. What I can't understand is why anyone would think it could ever be done any other way. Companies are not charities. Their loyalty is theoretically to their shareholders (actually mostly to their executive staff), not to some charitable philosophy. The only counterforces are informed consumer resistance (there are some companies whose products I will never buy), and strong and strongly enforced government regulations of minimum standards (we have appropriate standards in Australia, but that hasn't prevented sweatshop garment manufacturers exploiting immigrant women).

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On the road to Darwin

Cutta Cutta caves, Adelaide River war cemetery, Charlie the water buffalo.

Sunday 21 July 2002

We were up at 6, ready for an early departure from Mataranka shortly after 7. Unfortunately the motorhome wasn't, with yet another failure of the starter to actually do anything (apart from drawing current). The starter had failed in March, and again at Barcaldine in May, as well as a year or so ago. Acting from a point the mechanic at Barcaldine had made, I tried starting repeatedly very quickly. The starter eventually decided to do something, and the engine caught at once, as usual.

The rear fuel tank also failed to register on the gauge when I switched over. With no indication of whether we had fuel, we didn't know if someone had stolen our fuel, or whether the gadget that measured the fuel was dead. It turned out that there was a broken wire visible on the rear tank.

We stopped at Cutta Cutta caves at 87277 km, about 90 km north from Mataranka and just got into the first tour of the day, at $11 each entry fee. These tropical limestone caves were wonderful. An easy path through them, excellent lighting showing their features, an informative guide. I took a lot of photos inside.

Luckily the truck started when we tried it around 10:30 to continue. The heat of the day was getting more oppressive as we continued north. We reached Katherine (87307 km 14-28.053S 132-15.935E) around lunch time, and walked through the main street looking for a place to eat. Neither of us were very impressed, and indeed found the town depressing. We picked up some stuff in Woolworths and made do. We did collect some tourist material at the large information area, but little of it seemed new to us. It didn't take us long to decide to continue on. However, for the first time in several weeks, we were able to buy a newspaper! Mostly bad news, especially the US stock market heading down to a more natural level.

We finally stopped just before five in Adelaide River (87523 km 13-14.319S 131-06.452E), and stayed in a small caravan park at the Adelaide River Inn. While Jean had CDMA phone contact from about Katherine, I still didn't have GSM contact. We had a nice roast lamb dinner for $12 each at the Inn, and the beer was a pretty good price also.

One feature of the pub was a dead film star, stuffed and occupying a lot of the bar. In fact, it was the largest film star ever in the Northern Territory. This was Charlie, the water buffalo that had a scene in the first two Crocodile Dundee movies.

Monday 22 July 2002

We took a long walk up the road to the Adelaide River war cemetery, which is one of the larger Australian ones. It was very well laid out and maintained. I took photos there also, although mostly of a peacock wandering the grounds.

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The major city of the north. Truck repairs. Jean teaches numerous courses. War sites. Museum and art gallery.

Around ten we headed for Darwin, on a road that got progressively better. Well out of the city it was a split dual carriageway, and at our best speed, we were very much in the way and out of place.

Jean spotted Western Diesel well before either of us expected to sight it, and we did some interesting maneuvers to do a U turn at the next street. The office staff recommended the BP Palms Village Resort caravan park, just up the Stuart Highway (87628 km 12-27.434S 130-58.257E). Distances given varied from a kilometre to a few hundred metres. We blocked the driveway somewhat while Jean rushed in to get a cabin. We ended up with a very nice executive cabin, with ensuite, air conditioning, and a phone (which is why I've been able to upload this update and catch up on email). I guess in theory we could have moved into a cabin the following morning, but in practice it didn't seem all that easy to select and move the right stuff very early in the morning. We were not at all sure how long Western Diesel would want the motorhome for repairs.

I managed to get the truck into a car parking space, with a lot of help from Jean. Well, actually, there was a walkway to the cabin, so I overhung the back of the truck over that, until I couldn't go any further without hitting the cabin structure. I was touching tree branches on both sides (couldn't open the door without a palm branch trying to leap in), but didn't actually stick out into the roadway. We could only get the ladder out if no-one tried to park next to us. The tight spacing is a pain, but made it easy to unload the truck. It also left us time to decide whether we had made any errors about what we had unloaded, rather than having to unload and move in a rush in the morning.

There was a bistro and restaurant, plus the BP garage fast food service. Having gotten the truck turned around next to the cabin, I wasn't keen on taking it out in busy traffic looking for other food places, so we figured we would make use of the take away salad sandwiches a lot. Jean had the pasta at the bistro that evening, while I had the soup. Wasn't bad at all.

There was a SuperCheap Auto store nearby, and in two visits I managed to get some tools we lacked (poor quality, but with some luck we will never need them). I also got nuts and things so I did a few repairs myself late that afternoon. I'd have done more had the store a better range of fundamental parts, rather than mostly fluffy add-ons. I asked them where they ate lunch, and they said they brought lunch from home. I was afraid of that.

Tuesday 23 July 2002

We took the truck down to Western Diesel before 8 a.m., which given the traffic on the only road into (and out of) town was a bit of a pain. They didn't seem too disturbed by our two page list of problems, however all the cash registers in the building made ringing noises. We had to walk back to the Palms, but it wasn't all that far. Then we sat around and did what any fannish couple would do ... caught up on our email, since we had a phone line.

We went into Darwin on the Darwinbus after lunch. Got some material (like a recent bus timetable) about the town and the surrounds. We did send off some mail, and did a little outstanding shopping we had accumulated over the past few weeks. And got our second newspaper for the week! Luxury! We also located the Writers Centre where Jean would be teaching on following days, and checked things there were being organised by Robyn and Louise (they were).

One of the people, Gail Warman, had organised a get together at the Darwin Sailing Club, so we went there on the bus. That was fun, and we both had a good time (and a good dinner). Got to see the sun sink into the Arafura Sea, which we always enjoy.

We got a lift from Gail to the main highway, which saved us a second bus trip. Some aboriginals at the bus stop kept talking to us in an exceedingly incoherent fashion. I'm not particularly sure we shared the same universe, but this didn't prevent them from begging for coins (a not uncommon reaction to strangers, to judge from previous experiences). When their bus arrived, the bus driver declined to let them on as their luggage was leaking, saying they had already been told they couldn't take whatever it was on the previous bus.

Wednesday 24 July 2002

I was awake at 4:30, since some idiot at the caravan park was rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic ... well, around the nearby pool at least. I was not impressed. I collected my email around 5:30 since I couldn't sleep, and read the last of the Tuesday paper.

We walked down to the Hino repair place, to check how it was going. Our motorhome looked weird with the giant fuel tank removed. They figured it would be ready on Thursday, which will work for us.

I managed to miss the bus into town, although Jean got it. She phoned me, which showed why I don't like phones. The road was so noisy my conversation consisted almost entirely of "I can't hear you!" Caught up with her at the cinema complex sometime after midday. We were both carrying a fair number of her books, in the hopes some would sell at her courses, and so Jean didn't have to carry them all in. We were eventually able to leave them at the Writers Center. Spent the rest of the daylight doing tourist type wandering with much lighter packs. One interesting discovery was Didjworld Internet shop, in Harry Chan arcade on Smith Street. This was of particular interest because they were happy to allow access to their phone and ethernet from your own laptop machine. Just exactly what travellers like us mostly need.

Unless I can escape from Jean for a while, I can not however really buy myself too many of the fancy, handmade chocolates I discovered (Jean wouldn't stop me, but it is unfair to eat them in front of her). I went into the store and breathed the drug ... aroma, I mean. And I did inhale. We found several bookshops, and bought only one book on free camping in Western Australia. Oh yes, and we managed to locate the Sizzlers restaurant (the only one within 1500 km), and have our salad bar meal, before Jean had to head off to teach her editing course.

I got some of the food shopping we had accumulated, when we discovered a Woolworths, and took food back to the Palms. Jean was staying in town to give her course from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. I just hope she is more awake than I am.

I was unfortunately unable to book a space for our motorhome, which we are due to pick up tomorrow. If some people leave early in the morning I may be able to do this, so that and collecting the motorhome are on our schedule for the morning. Regardless of what happens, we have to vacate this room on early on Friday, and that is the day the Darwin Show commences. Accommodation seems very tight, with all the people who asked at the same time as me having their requests declined.

Jean returned well after nine, and reported her course had gone well. The major problem was she needed more examples for the students, which meant getting the printer from the truck in the morning.

Thursday 25 July 2002

In the morning we checked for regular rooms at the Palms. That we could get, so on Friday we are scheduled merely to change rooms. That was a relief, because for a while it looked like nothing would be available.

When we went to see about the truck, everything important was done, except the exhaust brake. Their service manager made sure we were sitting down before explaining. The exhaust brake valve was badly corroded, and Western Diesel basically said the only repair that would work was a (vastly expensive) replacement, parts available Monday. Given that running the motorhome down long, steep hills without the exhaust brake has safety implications, we got them to order in the part from Sydney. Jean had the bright idea of leaving the truck with them, so we didn't have to figure where to park it at the Palms. We did however have to carry a bunch of stuff back with us, like the printer, since we were expecting to have access to the truck from Friday.

We took a bus to Palmerston, and checked out the shopping centre there. I liked it, got Pen Computing Magazine and other magazines at the newsstand, and got four discounted books on the last day of a sale, which gave another 20% discount. We got Jean some paper for the printer (we had forgotten printers need paper), partly because we couldn't face the walk back to where the truck was. That was a pretty nice shopping centre, but we were pleased to notice that we didn't buy much (by our standards). We also found a nice sandwich shop for a light lunch.

Jean had to head off after doing her printing to give her course. I sat reading, and watching the news and bad TV shows, and drinking rum and coke. Doesn't take much to keep me happy.

Friday 26 July 2002

The new room, not unexpectedly, wasn't nearly as nice as the old. Common walls, so it was much more likely to be noisy. Only one main room, rather than a lounge and bedroom. With only a window, and no cross ventilation, you really have no option but to run the (split system) air conditioner. It was no worse than many hotel rooms, but we had been spoiled.

We took the bus to Casuarina, after a lengthy delay. It being Show Day, Darwin was running on a public holiday schedule, and there were few buses. Casuarina was a really decent sized shopping centre in the suburbs, and we spent about two hours there, walking all over. Luckily the only thing to take our eye was a stuffed animal Jean bought at Australian Geographical to add to her mother's menagerie.

We caught the bus into Darwin, and headed to Sizzlers for a late lunch. Since it was a public holiday, they were charging Sunday prices, which meant no cheap salad bar lunches. We got the chicken burger and salad bar, since that was only two dollars more than just the salad bar. That suited us very well. We got our cheese bread, missed on the previous visit. We got to talking with one of the staff, who had dealt with some unpleasant behaviour by someone upset about the public holiday prices, and another who didn't like the questionnaire (which most people simply ignore). Since we like our (unfortunately infrequent) visits to Sizzler, we were happy, cheerful and even sympathetic customers. I asked about the little mint after dinner chocolates some Sizzlers have. We were given a dish containing 22 of them!

Afterwards we took a waddle (with the quantity we had eaten - and I hadn't had breakfast in anticipation - not a walk) in the fine park along the clifftops. Wandered past the court and government buildings. However by then it was time to catch a bus back, since the bus service ended around sundown on public holidays.

Saturday 27 July 2002

Jean was teaching her editing course for the whole day. I just had to do domestic chores, like get her a packed lunch, and do the laundry after she left. I took some surplus stuff back to the truck, which was still awaiting delivery of the replacement exhaust brake valve.

In Darwin, after a very long, hot wait for the exceedingly infrequent buses, I tried to get the Weekend Australian. Sign says that interstate papers don't arrive until between 2 and 4 p.m. I actually couldn't get it until 4:45 p.m. Looking around the newsagent revealed yet more computer magazines I wanted, like a copy of Circuit Cellar. This is starting to cost serious money. I snuck into the chocolate shop, and got some samples, since Jean wasn't around to counsel me wisely. Did some clothes shopping, thankfully mostly without result.

Went to the movies, for the first time in several years, and saw Spiderman. This was partly because it was the only film showing within the right timeframe for meeting Jean. It was a lot less bad than I expected, with more logical continuity than some movies I've seen, and it actually had a plot. I thought the actor playing Peter Parker did a fine job. I suppose I should have been a proper tourist, and gone see an arty films at the famous alternative Deckchair Cinema, under the stars. However this merely exposes you first hand to numerous disease ridden flying biting insects. I prefer a modern cinema complex, like the Birch Carroll and Coyle one I used.

Jean and I had expected to eat in Darwin, but the lunch I had gotten her was large enough that she didn't think a visit to Sizzler would be justified. We took a (crowded) show bus back to the Palms, and got a pizza to take away at their bistro. Wasn't bad, but it was weird.

Sunday 28 July 2002

Jean was again teaching in Darwin, so I reprised my role of lunch provider. Didn't manage as good a version this time.

I spent the day catching up on my reading, so there is nothing to report at all.

Monday 29 July 2002

My first walk of the day was taking things to the truck, still at Western Diesel, where I confirmed that the exhaust brake valve was expected today. We were to have it confirmed that all the repairs were done by about 4:30 p.m., so we will head for Kakadu national park on Tuesday.

Upon arriving in Darwin town, we headed down towards the water to the old WWII oil storage tunnels. These were partly restored in 1992 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin. The five metre tall tunnels, 70 or more metres long, are buried way under the cliffs on which the town stands. They were capable of holding millions of litres of fuel. While I'm sure my photos of the interiors of the oil storage tunnels will not work, they were an interesting example of the work done for the war effort. The entrance was narrow, not revealing the massive interior until you were 20 or so metres inside.

Jean had a lunch appointment with the Society of Editors, so we headed into town on the bus. We mostly failed to get our minor shopping although I managed a few books while wandering around.

Jean was sneaky and got a lift to the museum. I was stubborn and walked there, past some fine homes, some historic sites, the MGM Grand casino, and the excellent Mindil beach. My stubbornness must have cost me a five kilometre hike, part of it through the pretty botanical gardens. I was a bit warm by the time I reached the museum, just past the high school.

I enjoyed the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. The maritime boathouse had some wonderful examples of small boats from islands in the region. There were many examples of Aboriginal arts. The Cyclone Tracy section recreated how Darwin hud suffered from the Xmas Day cyclone in 1974 that almost wiped out the entire city. The exhibit included the original TV footage and reporting seen by many Australians a few days after the disaster. Almost all 40,000 residents were evacuated. Now Darwin has reached 110,000 people, and is growing faster than almost any other city in Australia.

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Kakadu National Park

Arnhem Highway, birds on the South Alligator River, Jabiru visit, Ubirr rock art and views, Ranger uranium mine, flight over Kakadu, Nourlangie Rock, Cooinda, Yellow Water boat cruise, Mardalgal. Edith Falls in Loliyn National Park.

Tuesday 30 July 2002

After collecting the truck, and paying a King's ransom for repairs, I managed to again cram it into a car area at the Palms, where we loaded it. After refuelling, we headed out of Darwin towards Kakadu national park, and were pleased to have gotten away by 9:30 a.m.

The northern approach to Kakadu, the Arnhem Highway, has some boring stretches. Close to Darwin there are a set of apparently competing jumping crocodile river cruises, one of which claims to be the original. At the Mary River national park you can hire boats. Termite mounds of formidable size line the roads in many areas.

We stopped at eleven to collect lunch from The Bark Hut roadhouse at Annaburoo (87730 km 12-54.014S 131-40.563E). Kakadu entry wasn't much further along (87784 km 12-48.054 132-07.711E) and we ate lunch at some facilities just past that. The flies were bad, and biting insects were to be a feature of Kakadu.

We stopped for the day at Aurora Kakadu Resort near the South Alligator River (87827 km 12-40.465S 132-28.991E) where there was a large array of cabins catering for bus tours and travellers. There was also a slightly neglected but adequate camping and caravan area. They had plenty of room, but the showers were again designed by people who don't use showers. Also the cleaning hours for the showers and toilets were listed as 6 to 7:15 in the morning, which I would have thought about the most likely time visitors would want to use them for an early departure. Seemed weird.

We walked to their local Anggardabal billabong towards late afternoon, and saw a reasonable array of water fowls. The water level was however down a considerable amount, which probably explained a lot. The mosquito population was aggressive, active and slow, so I killed a bunch of them in partial revenge.

The open face steak sandwich dinner we had that night was of staggering size, so much so that I kept my entire salad for lunch the following day. I keep forgetting to check the size of the servings on other plates before ordering.

Wednesday 31 July 2002

We stopped a kilometre up the road at the South Alligator River and observed birds. The easiest to see were the flocks of cockatoos, which had a white fluffy crest, unlike the sulphur crested ones we usually see. There were a number of nests in trees, but I believe the nests were those of predators.

We continued another eleven kilometres to the Mamukala billabong, which had a splendid large observing platform. There was a heap of different species of water fowls around at this much larger waterhole. We also saw a few colourful species of smaller birds, one looking like a miniature kingfisher.

We booked into the Aurora caravan park at Jabiru, just near the Kakadu Highway turnoff. (12-39.799S 132-50.152E). After leaving a table and chairs to mark our camp site, we departed again with inconvenient haste.

The 40 kilometre drive to Ubirr in the East Alligator area was on a good road, somewhat different to when Jean was here with her parents many years ago. The only real problem was that we did our entire walk in the blaze of the mid-afternoon tropical sun, and that was noticeable.

Ubirr has an extensive collection of aboriginal rock art all able to be viewed during an easy kilometre walk. Some was related to food, as you would expect. It seemed to me that there was a lot of material repainted, or painted over, during the time the site was used. Many paintings were done almost as X-rays, with the interior skeleton of the fish or whatever visible, as well as their shape, although this is said to be a recent method. There was a Rainbow Serpent, of course. At one point there is a painting underneath a tall overhang. We could only suspect there was once a tree there (the legend is that the spirits could lift the rock and put it back). There is a painting that appears to show a Tasmanian Tiger, now extinct. There are also paintings showing European contact, figures with hands in their pockets, wearing shoes, and smoking a pipe.

If you walk to the top of a lookout, you obtain marvelous views of the Narbab floodplains and lakes, as well as some of the other rock formations. The walk up is relatively easy, although very steep in parts, and you do need to use your hands to assist in a few areas. Getting down again can be a bit more exciting, as Jean discovered. She ended up sitting down and sliding off some rocks. However the view is well worth the effort. I took a bunch of photos of the wetlands.

We had lunch in the motorhome, mostly just scraps and leftovers, and thus mostly escaped the flies. We also couldn't manage another walk, although there are others in the Border Store and Manbiyarra area nearby. The river cruise is also reputed to tell you much of aboriginal culture.

Upon getting back to Jabiru, we parked in the township. Managed to find the postal agency and send a letter, and a newsagency for an interstate paper. There was even a Woolworths supermarket, so we restocked on some bulk items. The town was designed for over three thousand, however the Ranger mine never had more than 1200 people there. There are features like a tunnel under the main road to the high school.

By this time I was tired and bad tempered, especially when I found all the boxes of stuff I wanted were buried deep inside the cargo area of the truck, and I was in the direct sun when shifting them in and out.

We booked two tours for the following day, before having another large barramundi meal at the bar. It was certainly too large for me, and I must admit, too expensive as well.

Thursday 1 August 2002

Wasted the morning doing diary notes for 1989 and 1990, as part of my quest to throw out a variety of old paper during this trip. We also did some laundry, since the morning was free. We had to drive to the airport for our tours. The air tanks on the truck were now both leaking whereas before they were inspected, only the front one was leaking. Sigh! At least that isn't normally a safety problem, as many older trucks are like that.

The Ranger open cut uranium mine was interesting, especially if you like hearing about industrial processing. The overburden is removed by a combination of blasting and digging, and stockpiled by the radiation levels. The ore is crushed down progressively smaller, before being turned into a fine powder. They extract uranium as the oxide (U3O8), not as yellowcake. The giant piles of yellow stuff are sulphur, used to make sulphuric acid for the extraction process. They monitor the radiation levels of the water used, and go through a lot of water for settling dust. The grounds are covered with lawn, with watering systems working most of the time, as this helps settle dust. Naturally there is water life in the ponds. There is a fair bit of overt supervision by both federal and state authorities. At the end of the life of the mine, the company has to restore the surface. This has already been done in one area that formerly contained a construction town, and it is hard to tell it from virgin scrub after nearly 20 years.

We took a late afternoon one hour flight over the Alligator River, and Ubirr. I finished one roll of film on the flight, and did another one entirely. Hope they work. The flight gave a marvellous opportunity to see Kakadu from above. No way you could get to many of these areas by vehicle. The small aircraft was rather warm, and I found that trying. However it was not enough to prevent me attempting to get photos.

Back at the caravan park, I had an icecream and garlic bread for dinner (not together), while Jean had fish and chips. I'm feeling totally bloated with food and with water, and just have to cut down on how much I eat.

I visited some people with a fine example of a WORT (Weird Off Road Truck), however they hadn't heard of Rob Gray's website collection. Spent an entertaining hour or so talking with John and Joanne. They were going along with the people from the travelling show (in Darwin last week when we were there, and due next in Mt Isa). John suggested using detergent and water on the joints around the air tanks, in a quest to find the air leaks.

Friday 2 August 2002

Jean was very slack, and we didn't go anywhere today. We just booked in for another night at Jabiru. I avoided eating, and worried about what would break next on the motorhome. All I did was write up old diary notes.

The main problem I have with Kakadu is that the place is basically a wilderness (as it should be), however this means typical Australian bushland of gums, paperbark, with tropical pandanas, and dramatic rock outcrops. This all leads to malarial swamps seething with bloodsucking insects. Well, OK, it isn't malarial - the mosquitos here only give you Ross River fever, Dengue fever, and Murray River encephalitis. The few main roads are good, which means the whole place is full of tourists, just like us. I could easily live without this.

Saturday 3 August 2002

Before we left Jabiru (87981) we tried to fix the mud in the front water tank. The drain plug wouldn't fit in the tank again. We must find a plumber to fix this, or a replacement plug.

We visited the Bowali aboriginal cultural centre, which had some brief but interesting information about the local clan groups. Spent about an hour there, but as most of the hard information was about languages, I can't readily condense it.

A dozen or so kilometres down the road, we turned off for Nourlangie Rock. Here there was a one kilometre walking track, with four or so rock art areas you could view. I thought Ubirr was better, but these were also interesting. There was also a viewing area up some steps for some reasonably dramatic cliff sides. Everything was well signposted, and had easy access to most of it. Flies and heat were however a problem. Given this is winter, I can't see how anyone survives the hot and wet season.

We got to Cooinda (88065 km 12-54.320S 132-31.205E) and booked in at the overly expensive Gagudju lodge caravan park for two nights. Sat and did old diary notes or collapsed most of the afternoon. Jean's leg had not been in good shape since Ubirr, and the morning walk must have been hard on her.

Jean had a salad dinner, and I tried to avoid eating. I'm going to try to avoid eating more often. I feel full all the time while travelling.

Sunday 4 August 2002

We went on the dawn Yellow Water boat cruise from Cooinda. Spectacular sunrise over the billabong and Alligator Creek water, with mysterious mists above the water, through which crocodiles swam noiselessly. We saw a wide variety of water birds, all well described by the guide. One of the better river trips I've taken, especially for bird watchers. It was so early that it was even chilly on the water. We took lots of photos, even had some of the large and shy jabiru (Australian black neck cranes).

After a late breakfast we walked the kilometre to the Warradjan aboriginal cultural centre, which like others had some brief but interesting information about the local clan groups. Some of the printed fabric in the shop was attractive, but we can't see what we would use it for. Again it was very hot in the sun, so we were not inclined to do much more.

Since we were staying overnight, we did some laundry, which is a pain but had to be done sometime. Mostly we lazed around reading books, and hoping it wouldn't get too hot (it did).

Monday 5 August 2002

We left Cooinda in the morning. While passing the Mardagal camping ground, we pulled in and went for a walk to their billabong. Very peaceful, but not nearly the bird life of others.

After leaving Kakadu, we had a light lunch at the Mary River Roadhouse, which was much more reasonably priced than anything in Kakadu. Their sets of scenic playing cards (from Hema Maps) proved impossible to resist as gifts. We stopped again at Pine Creek for another drink and snack, and continued to Edith Creek.

Edith Falls, in Loliyn National Park (88306 km), has a remarkable circular swimming hole about 150 metres across. The water was bracing (I believe that is the word used by real estate agents when they don't want to say things are cold). However it was nice sitting in the sun after the swim. We stayed overnight there, after buying some sandwiches for dinner. The walks were all too long and hard to contemplate.

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Katherine Gorge

Katherine Gorge, Nitmiluk boat trip, and more repairs in Katherine.

Tuesday 6 August 2002

We headed into Katherine (88370 km), too early for a national newspaper, and then went off on the side road to Katherine Gorge (14-19.063S 132-25.229E). Katherine was our decision point for continuing the trip, or heading back home, and we had already decided to give up, before something else broke. We paid for a night, and for a four hour river tour of three canyons in the morning.

As we parked the motorhome, John, a birdwatching CMCA member who had seen us arrive, pointed out our rear fuel tank was bouncing badly. We were able to see that the first tank support had failed completely, the second was almost gone, and the rear support was bent. John loaned us a syphon pump, and we were eventually able to transfer 70 litres of fuel to a container, and then to the front tank. We were not amused by these efforts to lighten the load on the remaining pieces of bracket. We also tied the tank back on with luggage straps and an old rope.

We had dinner at the Nitmiluk Centre, and were rather surprised at how well organised eating out was in NT National Parks.

Wednesday 7 August 2002

Another cold shower, then dodging the wallaby shit.

Gorge trip. Queue. Join boat, walk via rock art to next boat, then to last boat. Swim available, in cold water. Energetic canoe people were strung all up the river, some appearing more energetic than others, but all more energetic than us. Amazing flood heights, 18 metres. Spectacular cliffs, and indeed wonderful views along the entire area. Cake as a snack before we returned. I thought it a pretty good trip.

Leave Nitmiluk, however before we got far, the truck stops, won't start. By this time I am utterly fed up with motor vehicles on any sort. Decide I'll never own another motor vehicle in the rest of my life.

Decide it must be air in the fuel line, due to an all too successful draining of the rear tank, which is still trying to fall off. After looking through the workshop manual, I find a description of what to do. Unable to raise the cab due to the slope of the road, so thinking I know what to do doesn't help any. Walk back and get sandwiches from Nitmiluk, for lack of anything better to do.

A helpful Travel North mechanic pulls up, and between all three of us we can raise the cab. Pleased to find I can identify the fuel line bits that need to be fiddled with, although the mechanic is onto them instantly. However after doing the fuel bleed, as described in the manual, the truck still doesn't start. The mechanic knows trick the manual doesn't mention, and pumps some fuel through the injectors. Truck starts. I am left underimpressed by large set of workshop manuals. Almost all the things that go wrong are fairly minor, if you happen to be interested in and knowledgeable about vehicles, and if you enjoy fixing them. Since I can't stand vehicles at the best of times, these minor problems drive me nuts.

A careful drive out to a garage in Katherine, because of worries about the fuel tank. They of course consider it minor, and not likely to fall off for ages. Fuel tank removed, with some considerable problems. We talked with Phil, who wanted to buy just the truck, not the motorhome parts, for his business. We later learned he took Hino 4WD trucks out in Arnhem Land over country you wouldn't walk, to collect water buffalo.

We had problems finding a caravan park with space. Ended up at Springvale homestead caravan park (88450 km 14-30.011S 132-13.796E), a fair way out of town.

Thursday 8 August 2002

Decided to sell motorhome at big loss, since we were utterly sick of it. Unable to find the potential buyer again, as he had gone to Darwin, and was out of phone range.

Waste a day at Springvale, unable to concentrate on anything. We both seemed to sit and read or just stayed collapsed mostly. Food was plentiful, and then some.

We did inspect the original homestead, the oldest in the Northern Territory. As with most areas, it listed how high the latest big flood submerged it (ceiling height).

Friday 9 August 2002

Waste another day at Springvale. It was also hard to sleep, due to little wallabies thumping around outside and under the motorhome through the evening, and early hours. Every time you went outside, a handful would be visible in the torchlight. Not very worried about people either, although they would move a dozen yards away when you walked.

To garage at 4 p.m. Awaiting delivery of welding rods. Fuel tank replaced by about 6 p.m. after many complications in actually managing to get it back, and do up the bolts. The new box sections are quarter inch, instead of a tenth of an inch, which should help.

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Katherine to Airlie

Best meat pies in the Territory. HiWay Inn again. Noisy Threeways. Barkly Homestead. Camooweal, Cloncurry, Torrens Creek.

Saturday 10 August 2002

Leave Katherine (88473 km) after refueling.

Boring drive. Jean has decided she now prefers boring. It means that nothing new has broken.

At Mataranka, we discovered the giant termite mound was a concrete replica. The park featured figures of the characters from We of the Never Never, including the Gunn's, aboriginal stockman, Chinese cook, the Little Black Princess of the book.

Kelly's home made pies, at Mobile station at Mataranka, are the best I've had in Australia. Gigantic, full of meat, and flavoursome. A very nice discovery, which luckily has spoiled me for most other pies.

Stopped at Capricornia turnoff (88767 km) to stay at Highway One.

Saw Don (from Borroloola), Terry, and talked with truckers before dinner.

Sunday 11 August 2002

We got away early, went through Dunmarra and Elliott, and had lunch at Renner Springs. There was a bunch of army vehicles camped there, and we had seen army transporters for ages along the highway.

Stayed the night at the Threeways (89141 km 19-26.188S 134-12.545E), just outside Tennant Creek, near the Barkly Highway turnoff.

Monday 12 August 2002

Threeways was the noisiest caravan park I've ever encountered, so we were pleased to get away from their generator. Not that we are not familiar with generators running all night in country areas.

We did pass two rest areas with a bore (89214 km and 89277 km), but no other facilities. The bore was dry at one, and birds were clustered obviously hoping for some water.

We stayed at Barkly Homestead (89334 km 19-42.708S 135-49.643E), which was pretty pleasant. Even managed some laundry since we were there early, but mostly just read magazines and tried to pretend we were having fun.

Found a syphon pump at Barkly, like we used at Katherine, and got one for the car, since we had never seen one before (or since). Barkly burgers, and a nice glass of Wolf Blass Cab Shiraz red label for dinner. No phone available, naturally.

Tuesday 13 August 2002

There was nothing except rest areas listed between Barkly and Camooweal, so we collected some sandwiches to take with us. We ate them at yet another dry bore at 89462 km. At Avon Dale (89530 km), where the only real building was a police station that was really in the middle of nowhere, there was another bore. Well, more like a dry hole again. We had headwinds the entire day, and the entire drive was pretty boring. If dry bores are the high points, you know it was boring. Of course, since I'm driving, I can't take notes except when we stop for a few minutes, so maybe all these days were filled with ...

Camooweal (89601 km 19-55.319S 138-07.145E) was our stopping point. Got some snacks at the caravan kiosk, and was able to find some dinner somewhere. We were pretty tired, and the night was cold and windy.

Wednesday 14 August 2002

We found another rest area (89695 km 20-11.389S 138-53.865E) with a shelter, but no other facilities, and noted it for the various rest area books. We refueled at Mt Isa (89796 km). Finding food proved difficult, and I was in a bad mood from the driving. We eventually tried the Overland pub, since they had enough parking space, and they had steak sandwiches but no salad. We sat around for a while over lunch, but eventually figured we had better continue.

Did find a rather nice rest area at Fountain Springs (89858 km 20-48.023S 139-59.775E).

Cloncurry (89921 km 20-42.961S 139-59.775E), where the caravan park was an inconvenient walking distance from town, and didn't have a food service (although I did get us ice creams there).

Thursday 15 August 2002

We made a long, tiring run. Did find a rest area with three open shelter areas, toilets, and it even allowed a 48 hour stay (89989 km). At Julia Creek (90060 km) we stopped for morning tea and got a sandwich and orange juice. Another rest area at 90166 km for a short stop.

Lunch at Richmond (90216 km 20-44.048S 143-08.348E). There was another rest area 50 km on with toilets (90266 km 20-51.516S 143-34.126E). Bypassed Hughenden (90335), and reached Torrens Creek (90426 km) around 5 p.m.

At least we were able to get a Yowie burger from Les and Denise at the caravan park at Torrens Creek. I had been aiming for that place, since we knew how good the food was. We also knew we had some bad road ahead, and the traffic in Townsville, and I wanted to do both while fresh.

Friday 16 August 2002

Townsville (90721 km) just after lunch at the Mobile Roadhouse 50 km out of town. Stayed at the same caravan park as previously.

Dinner at Banjo Patterson motel, where we did manage to relax a bit with decent food.

Saturday 17 August 2002

We finally got home, with a stop at Inkerman to collect lunch. Unloaded what we could where we store the motorhome, and took a taxi home.

No car on hand. Our mechanic had it hidden somewhere, and wasn't home. In fact, we discovered he was on holidays, and concluded our car was safely in his garage. I eventually borrowed a small truck, and used that to empty the motorhome on Monday. A few hours later the mechanic phoned and we were able to collect the car.

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A science fiction fanzine from Eric Lindsay.

Snail mail is collected at PO Box 640, Airlie Beach, Qld 4802 Australia. My home number is +61 7 4948 0435 and my mobile number (in the unlikely event it is on) is 0409 434 293 Please send any messages for us via email.