Jacko’s stay at Evans Head, NSW north coast

After leaving Melbourne on October 15, we meandered our way north, hugging the western side of the great divide through spectacular, but winding and steep terrain to Tenterfield, where we crossed to casino, and down to the gorgeous and largely unspoilt township of Evans Head, about 30km south of Ballina. This is our free camp at Black Springs on the way up.img_0396

The weather has been sensational and we haven’t been out of shorts and T-shirts since we arrived, a week ago. We have enjoyed lots of long beach walks, sensational humpback whale watching from several headlands, much fresh deep water fish from the Co-Op, other great local produce, and the company of the many friendly people we have met in the park.

We are leaving tomorrow for 4 days at Woolgoolga, just north of Coffs Harbour

Estuary inlet at Evans Head. Caravan Park in the trees to the left of the Surf Club

Estuary inlet at Evans Head. Caravan Park in the trees to the left of the Surf Club

BasOMNI on the beach at Evans Head

BasOMNI on the beach at Evans Head

Looking up the estuary to the fishing fleet and Fishermans Co-Op in the distance

Looking up the estuary to the fishing fleet and Fishermans Co-Op in the distance

To Katoomba via Canberra. Part 1.

It was October 10th, 2016 and after dropping our dog off at the boarding kennels we were then heading off to do some trekking/bushwalking in the Blue Mountains at Katoomba, NSW with a stopover in Canberra for a few days before hand to see the local sights.

It rained lightly off and on from Bundoora to Canberra however  the journey was pleasant enough as the Hume highway was in first class condition and although there was flooding most everywhere near Albury the roads were not blocked so that was our gift for the day.

We stopped a couple of times along the way for morning tea and lunch until we neared our destination where we were to stay for a few days  whilst we explored in and around our capital city and surroundings.

The one hiccup we encountered was that the address we were to stay at could not be located by our GPS causing us to drive past the spot by an extra 5 kilometres; on phoning the holiday park for directions they advised due to their location being on the service road that runs parallel to where their address says they are many people find their GPS cannot find  the holiday park.Upon arriving and booking in and unloading our suitcases etc a cuppa and a short nap was the order of the day followed later on by a visit to the local country pub for a nice meal.

Our timing at Canberra was perfect as the Floriade Tulip exhibition (Blooms beyond the garden bed) was on so off to the display to enjoy the color and sunshine.20161011_102331

Our next port of call was Parliament House where we viewed the magnificent exterior of the building,the incredible marble entrance foyer, both the Upper and Lower houses,the portraits of all Australia’s past Prime Ministers as well as taking the elevator to the roof to where the biggest Flagpole I have ever seen proudly displayed our country’s flag.

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From the vantage point atop the Parliamentary rooftop, a clear and uninterrupted view bordered by an avenue of trees, all the way up to the Australian War Museum was a sight to  behold .

The War Museum was next on the agenda to visit and the feeling of walking through the main entrance to see the memorial pool left a sensation of being in a sacred place.

20161011_123443The tour guide was excellent and shared many stories of horrific circumstances and heroism of both our men and women who suffered greatly during  the first and second world war,Korea, and Vietnam and reinforced how much we  owe  to those that fought,sacrificed and died for the freedom we so enjoy now!

Several of the battles were displayed in what is called a Diorama which is a scaled down pictorial version of fighting taken from photographs of that time and made into model form approximately six meters long .

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As time was still on our side the National Museum of Australia was next on our list so once again off we went and spent a couple of hours there enjoying old and  new Australiana plus an excellent exhibition of Egyptian artifacts on loan from the London museum.

Day three of our stay and off we head to the summit of Black Mountain  where the goliath “Telstra“transmission tower is located.It stands over 192  meters in height has 360* views from the restaurant located 62 meters above ground and has views of Canberra and countryside that takes one’s breath away.

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That afternoon after setting the GPS our next destination was the “Australian Coin Mint.”The mint was very interesting and showcased a historical collection of metal currencies from early settler times up to the present age.

A complete story of coin manufacture from sourcing materials,weighing,coin design, punching coin blanks through to the final pressing of the coin was explained and very interesting.

Late afternoon soon arrived which gave us just enough time to visit the “Australian Natural Botanic Garden” that enabled us to tour the “Eucalyptus Discovery Walk“where a huge variety of gums consisting of twenty different species were punctuated throughout a 1.8 kilometer walk  that also included a rainforest,gullies of ferns,red desert display and many other features that took over an hour to enjoy.

In conclusion, it is a must if you have never been to Canberra before as it  would have to be amongst one of the neatest ,well designed,treed and gardened place I have encountered,be sure not to miss it.

Part 2 of the journey to Katoomba will follow in the next blog!

Old Treasury Building Visit

A very enjoyable visit to the Old Treasury Building was had by OMNI men on the third Tuesday of the month ( 30 August ).Built in 1858-1862 it was a product of the 1850’s gold rush. Built in the Renaissance Revival style from Sandstone from Bacchus Marsh and Bluestone mined from Footscray.

The architect was John James Clark, a 19 year old immigrant from Liverpool who also designed Government House, the Royal Mint, City Baths and the Queen Victoria Women’s Hospital.

 

 

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Tour conductor Lynne explains the Welcome Stranger gold nugget ( 97.14 kg )

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St. Francis church ( Cnr Lonsdale and Elizabeth streets ) by  J. Atwood circa 1854

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Chief penguin makes his protest

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Chief penguin passes the pennant

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Off to Chinatown for lunch

 

Jacko’s Journey update …. Burketown to Atherton Tablelands..

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The brand new wharf and pontoon at Burketown on the Albert River….said to be the best barra fishing in Australia.


Burke and wills last camp before their final, failed assault to reach the Gulf…beaten by the wet season and their lack of bush skills. We had a few tears at the campsite .3
Morning coffee on the way to Normanton from Burketown4
Termite mounds next to our morning coffee stop.5
Replica of Kris the 8.63m croc shot near Normanton when it was legal……the largest salty ever recorded.6
The Gulflander train that stills run to and from Croydon for tourists.7
Sunset on the beach opposite the CP at Karumba.8
Part of the remaining fishing prawning fleet still operating from Karumba.9
Our campsite at Karumba.10
Cobbald Gorge – some of the grateful girls with our tour guide Ron…..an amazing 3 hour tour……followed by dinner on the restaurant deck with a couple we met on the tour…..from Montrose.11
Infinity pool, pool bar, dining patio at Cobbold gorge.12
In the little 10 seater electric boats on a tour exploring this amazing gorge. A must on all bucket lists.

….to be continued…..

We made it to the top end!! Aug 8th 2016

We made it to the top end!!
Aug 8th 2016

…to be continued….

Jacko’s Journey continues…..Mount Isa onwards…

TopEnd…. just a couple of ‘hard time miners’….

1Panorama of MIM massive underground lead, copper & gold mine.
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Our campsite on the Gregory River, the best freecamp we have ever stayed
at. We went upstream and drifted down the crystal clear waters at our
leisure, and basically did nothing for 2 days.

Canoeing the gorge in Lawn Hill NP……a close second to Karigini NP in
the Pilbara for spleandour and challenge.

5Lawn Hill Gorge at sunrise…..left camp at 6am to ford across a river
torrent in the dark up to my waste, then scramble up a nearly vertical
rock face for 300m to be there at dawn for this shot…..how good is
Lawn Hill Gorge???

6Our bush campsite at Adels Grove, the main camp to explore Lawn Hill
NP……..had a campfire every one of the 4 nights there.

7Main street and pub at Burketown on the Gulf….a lovely small town with
great civic pride.

8Burke and Wills camp 119, the last before their final 3 day attempt to
reach the Gulf…which failed due to wet season swamps and impassable
river crossings. There were 15 trees “blazed” at this camp site but only
a few remain. It was truly humbling to be at this famous site where they
had used 3/4 of their supplies, yet had the return trek to endure and
finally perish.

9….to be continued

Jacko’s Journey – The Simson and Beyond – continued……

Barry & Denise, our intrepid travelers, are on their way to cross the Simson Desert then heading further North. I’ll be adding to this post when he is able to send updates of their journey……Admin.
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15June2016    Had five great days in Mildura catching up with friends from our farming days, then two long drives to make Coober Pedy yesterday. Sadly the weather has thwarted our flights over Lake Eyre and Painted Hills and we are stuck here waiting for friends to catch up for the Simson Desert crossing hopefully starting Sunday.
CP hasn’t changed much since we were here 5years ago.

299Crossing Bloods Creek, soon after leaving Mt.Dare at the start of the Simpson Desert Crossing. It was unexpected, and the water was over the bonnet before David took this photo. The first100km or so is crossing rough plains before reaching Dalhousie Springs,
where the 1100 sand dune crossings commence.

Below – Camp at Dalhousie Springs and an 8.00am swim before leaving.


Cresting a dune. You can’t see the track ahead………….Cresting a dune. You can't see the track ahead
Nearing the crest, trying to maintain momentum with no wheel spin……..Nearing the crest, trying to maintain momentum with no wheel spin
Descending a dune………….Descending a dune
Often as hard on the way down with deep corrugations and ruts to contend
with………Often as hard on the way down with deep corrugations and ruts to contend with
Great camp in the shelter of one of these massive dunes……..Great camp in the shelter of one of these massive dunes
Sunset over a saltlake from the hill……..thumbnail_Sunset over a saltlake from the hill
Crossing a dry saltlake….and they weren’t all dry!Crossing a dry saltlake....and they weren't all dry!
Ripping through mud at the end of another saltlake crossing……..Ripping through mud at the end of another saltlake crossing
Another camp with magnificent wildflowers everywhere over the crossing.
Now a green desert………..Another camp with magnificent wildflowers everywhere over the crossing. Now a green desert.
At the bottom of the final 40m dune known as Big Red. Note the spectator
vehicles on top watching the sport………At the bottom of the final 40m dune known as Big Red. Note the spectator vehicles on top watching the sport.
Part way up, bouncing, swerving, cheering……..Part way up, bouncing, swerving, cheering.
Just before the final successful ascent…..thumbnail_Just before the final successful ascent

That’s it for the Simpson, a truly memorable experience with great
friends Val and David Edwards. We loved the challenge, the excitement,
the remoteness, the green landscape with so many wildflowers, the
camping where tales were swapped and good food and wine
consumed……..all and more than we hoped for.
B.J.

** Stay tuned for the next episode in the adventure as Barry & Denise head further north…… Admin.

Jacko’s Journey – The Simson & Beyond

Barry & Denise, our intrepid travelers, are on their way to cross the Simson Desert then heading further North. I’ll be adding to this post when he is able to send updates of their journey……Admin.

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15June2016    Had five great days in Mildura catching up with friends from our farming days, then two long drives to make Coober Pedy yesterday. Sadly the weather has thwarted our flights over Lake Eyre and Painted Hills and we are stuck here waiting for friends to catch up for the Simson Desert crossing hopefully starting Sunday.
CP hasn’t changed much since we were here 5years ago.

Return to Halls Gap.

Its almost 11 months since we last visited the Grampian’s and completed many of the bush walks including the “Pinnacles”,the “Balconies”, “Reed Lookout” and partly achieved MacKenzies falls(due to some fatigue,some heat and some requirement to be a tad fitter)!

With the desire to complete the “MacKenzie Falls” walk (which is extremely steep) we introduced three weeks of additional training that included visiting “Willinda Parklands” at Greensborough where there is a very steep stairway consisting of 174 steps  up and naturally 174 steps down,so after three weeks of this getting up to eight times up and down each visit we hoped we now had the edge that was needed.

The short stay we had planned couldn’t have been at a worse time weather wise as every day the  temperature during the day reached 35* plus.

The drive up along the Western Highway was uneventful and quite pleasant being a first class road all the way but the sad thing about it was the complete journey showed how very dry the country side is.

We reached Halls Gap about 1:30pm and went straight to our accommodation,unpacked the suitcases,turned on the a/c and had a nice snooze and later in the evening ventured into town to the “Quarry” restaurant and had a wonderful dinner and planned our day ahead.

It was predicted to be 36* the following day so we arose early and headed up the mountain to “MacKenzies Falls”.Early as it was it allowed us to enjoy the magnificence of the cool morning air,the smells of the eucalyptus and the soft morning light coming over the crest of the  mountain range.

Leaving  the car at the car park our walk to the falls began down the escarpment. Oh boy,how steep it was and the thought of coming back the same way was not one to reflect upon,but on reaching the base of the falls it filled us with nothing but awe and appreciation of this natural wonder.

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Unbeknown to us there was a walking track leading away from the base of the waterfall so having a backpack with food and drink with us a decision was made to venture along this bush track that most of the time ran adjacent to the river  until the track started heading uphill.

We tracked along through bracken and ferns for about 3/4 hour and stopped at the edge of a smaller waterfall and enjoyed morning tea,  took in the wonder of our surroundings and met a couple coming from the opposite direction that told us about another place of interest called “Zumstiens Place”that was worth seeing.

After refreshments we headed back along the river track taking in all the grandure of the canyon to the falls and just stood in the morning sunshine and enjoyed the refreshing over spray and took in the moment(s) whilst reflecting on our great fortune to have had this wonderful experience.  Eventually we headed back up the incredibly steep climb  to the car park,(But it was so worth it).

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With that ticked off the bucket list our next adventure was to go further up the mountain( now about 20Km from Halls Gap) to “Zumsteins”picnic area where there are very good  facilities and toilets and located on the banks of the Mackenzie River.

This natural setting area is where Walter and Jean Zumstien built three mud/earth buildings in 1910,one as a family home and the other two for family and friends to stay and enjoy the the isolated beauty of the bush.(The remains of these buildings are still standing but fenced off as a repair/rebuild  is planned for the future).

His love for this country was a life long affair and he additionally by hand felled trees and dug out and area for a swimming pool that was fed from the mountain creeks.

By now the afternoon heat had well and truly set in so back down to the township for a well earned and delicious ice cream to be devoured before heading back to our cabin for a  late lunch and recovery sleep before heading out later in the evening for dinner.

After dinner there was still about an 1 1/2 hours of sunlight left so we headed off to the “Halls Gap Botanical Garden”, where a walk to the natural lava formations called the “Venus Bathes” that could be found along another beautifully planned easy track.(Another must see place).

Now with only 1 day left to explore ,up at dawn again and up the mountain to “The Silver Band Falls” turn off,a very-very long drive downhill all the way along a single width roadway that started to give me the feeling of “What am I doing here“until the destination could be seen,so once again we tracked to the falls along a beautiful bush pathway and of course only a trickle was to be seen.

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All in all a very hot and fantastic trip that gave immense satisfaction and a reinforced striving to keep this senior body as fit as possible to continue exploring and having new experiences .

See you after the next adventure. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

THE LONELY BLOWFLY AND EMPTY JAM TIN

In my sparsely furnished hut, the lonely blowfly’s wings made pleasant music to my ears as he flew from one end of the single room to the other never touching either wall, it’s kind of strange how something you have never liked becomes a comfort as you grow older and live alone.

I sat shadowed inside and gazed through the open door out across the shimmering red dusty landscape, sparsely dotted with dwarfed trees and struggling shrubs, even the cruel 45 degree temperature winds had stopped blowing as though exhausted and feeling remorse for the destruction and cruelty it had created to the animals, birds and flora.
Dust was rising slowly far to the left of my view, like a ribbon it was heading my way, could this be a visitor? The dust grew closer I was too far from the road to see any vehicle, the dust trail got closer and closer, my heart lifted, but the dust moved on past my disused driveway and headed towards the distant low hills, where the blazing sun rose each morning bringing hope and heartache to all forms of struggling life in this thirsty land.
Once again I walked the long and rough driveway to the gravel roadway, the mailman has not stopped now for several months and the grocer never sends any supplies now. Some tea, flour, sugar, matches and jam would have helped a lot but you can’t expect credit when you have not payed your account for several months. They may even think I had moved on.
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The battered four gallon Ampol drum I used for a mail box lay on the ground full of bullet holes and squashed by a large rock. I used the same rock to beat it back into a usable shape again hoping to find a letter or a paper someday.Well used rusty rabbit traps now hang immobile on the side of the weathered timber hut, no use setting them anymore the rabbits have either died or moved on trying to find water they are tough critters but the end is the end, the kangaroos left a long time ago but the sheep and cattle were the first to suffer getting bogged only to die in the muddy water holes.

Some evenings promising black clouds rim the horizon; during the evening darkness you can see lightning. As the crimson sun rises slowly over the distant rim of hills the next morning the clouds are not to be seen, no rain again, its sheer torment.
Midday and it’s hard to breath the oxygen seems to have left the air and no where can you find relief from the searing sun, but there is always beauty to be seen in this land as the Willy Willies gather speed and suck up any loose leaves, twigs and dry grass in a whirlpool and dance across the dry dusty plains on some mysterious distant voyage supported by the swirling water-less red dusty air.
2015 may trip to central goldfields 031Bluey my black healer dog had been with me since a pup. His barking and insistent growling had me witness him defending his water bowl from an angry yellow bellied snake looking for a drink of water. Bluey snarled and bit the snake and shook its writhing body, shaking his head from side to side in a whipping action, Bluey and the snake were in a death struggle. I grabbed the long-handled shovel and with several desperate strokes I managed to kill the snake, but to late, Bluey was in pain, the snake had bitten Bluey on his soft nose, several minutes later he died in my arms. With a breaking heart and large tears in my eyes I buried Bluey on the shady side of the empty wood shed, that was over a year ago but the agony and pain is still within my broken heart.

Long ago the white cockatoos left and headed south to the red gums forests along the Murray river but there where to many of them to stay, so the stronger birds flew further south to the red gums along the banks of the Yarra river and the Diamond Creek, I don’t think many will return to this barren land even when it rains, all the undertakers (the black crows) have gone to nothing to clean up or eat now only dry white bones getting covered with the red dust each wind gust covers them more and more, soon you will see very little evidence life ever existed here at all.

All the newspapers have been used long ago to light the fire, so I am pleased I kept the empty 5lb fig jam tin, it is a large one a half-gallon can in size. It’s label is all I have to read now, it has a beautiful picture of three figs surrounded by their green leaves, I have read it so many times that I nearly know every word by heart. It was produced and packed by the Goulburn Valley Canneries in Victoria. I have never been there, but it must be a fertile area to produce such great fruit. The recipe on the label tells how to make a jam tart with a pastry base. I made one when the can was new and loved every mouthful. How I would love one now. Jam lasts a long time in the dusty outback; just pull back the lid and dig some out when you have toast or Damper with a cuppa tea. The label is brown now and threatens to crumble and fall away from the rusting can unless I use very gentle hands.
Magpie
The friendly black and white magpie “Winston” came to the door every morning and I would give him some bread crumbs and he would warble a long song to say thanks and cheer me up. For two long days he did not turn up, I found him lying lifeless in the sticky mud in the smelly drying water hole, I picked him up and carried him to his favourite bush near the hut where he often perched and waited for me to come outside, I buried him under his favourite shrub which is now also lifeless, dry and brittle above the dry hot red sand. The wind has blown a lot of the sand away now. Sometimes I can see some of his wing feathers waving in the wind as if beckoning me over to sit awhile with him. I do go and stay awhile because we are still friends.

White gum trees are very rare in this harsh country and how this one got to grow here over a hundred years ago only God knows. It has seen and helped many generations of Cockatoos and Grass parrots live and breed in its hollow limbs and provide me with firewood as various limbs died and fell to the ground, but not anymore, not many limbs carry any life to the leaves now, most are dry and brittle, just one struggling branch with green leaves begging for rain, after all the years it had helped me, I feel it is asking me now for help, share some or your tank water with me please. If only I could, but there is only two rungs of water left in my storage tank and still no sign of rain, will this cruel drought ever end?

You do a lot of thinking of times gone by when there is little to do, boys think back to their father, how he taught them the skills of life, how to love and be strong, how to be friends with animals and to have the wisdom to kill some in times of survival. I was young and full of magical spirit I could do anything, I had no fear. I remember dad’s balding head and I said with magical assurance your hair will grow again and each night I rubbed baby oil into his scalp and with great patience he sat there as though enjoying our time together, he never went completely bald, and he always told me he was 42 years old even up to the day he died. He lived a full life and somehow he is living a second life through me as I carry his wisdom and spirit within. I wonder if my son remembers any of my wisdom and skills and will he carry me in his spirit until he too has time to sit back and look back upon our lives.

There is only a small amount of flour left for black jacks and Damper. I am feeling the many days of pains of hunger, if only I could muster the energy and gather some firewood and start the fire with the magnifying glass before the sun goes down. The lighting kerosene has all gone and all the candles except for a two-inch butt girthed by melted wax and two matches I have carefully guarded for emergency. I go to bed early these dark nights and only sit up late now when there is a full moon to see and play my home-made game of drafts. You need a mate to help play this game properly but when you are on your own you always win somehow.

Mid afternoon and the sun was shining brightly not a cloud to be seen anywhere it was very hot and I sat on the corner of the rough bunk bed again reading the label on the fig jam tin listening to the musical wings of the blowfly circling within the walls of the hot hut. Why is it growing dim? the sun is still well above the horizon, as I stared out towards the white gum tree it became dimmer and harder to see, it’s almost black now and the blowfly still flying around was becoming more silent now, I dropped my beloved jam tin and the label now separated from the rusty bent tin, the label fell and broke into several fragments on the floor. I fell gently backwards onto the bunk bed in pain from hunger, weary and tired, as I started to drift away, laying there I saw a bright light and a GOLDEN TRUMPET at the end of a long dark tunnel and my mind drifted back over my life’s journey from childhood, ending suddenly at this present day, I now feel very relaxed and at peace.

Is that rain falling on the rusty tin roof?

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Desert Trip 10 Pioneers of Eltham Men’s Shed and OMNI

9th November 2015
Day one

It was 8:45 am and the sun had just risen above the Eastern ranges in Eltham as a 1980’s series 60 turbo charged Toyota Land Cruiser driven by Mark Dellar and Peter Thomson picked up Old Daryl, to meet up with seven other adventurers on a five-day trip through the deserts of north-western Victoria, Australia.
1We met and grouped together at the perimeter of Calder racetrack at KFC’s roadhouse. We had to wait for the Captiva driven by Leon Higgins and Lindsay Clark – they were held up by an accident on the M80 Freeway but we believe they were tangled up in their brides’ nighties. At 10:05 we headed off in Indian file – a Toyota Prado driven by Harry and Jim then Greg and Lou in their Range Rover Discovery, next the Captiva followed by our classic 60 series Toyota Land Cruiser. It was a cool day; no rain and we were all cheerful and excited as we headed north on the Calder highway – our kilometers read 1398 as we took the Bendigo Mildura turnoff.
2We headed left at Bendigo through Lockwood South, Marong, Bridgewaters, Inglewood and passed the Major Mitchell monument as we headed further north to Wedderburn speedo now read 1480 kms
We arrived at Charlton at 1 pm where we stopped at a lovely café and had coffee and various cakes and pies. It was heating up so off with the jackets. The toilets on these trips are always an adventure in themselves – the urinal was so high up that various nameless members had to stand on a stool!!
On the road again and at Wycheproof the railway line runs down the centre of the main street . . . . don’t ask me why. We were now in the heart of grain growing country; the crops were very poor but ready for stripping, some headers were working leaving a trail of dust and chaff drifting into the atmosphere. Then onto Birchip by 2:30pm where a two storey pub, built in 1927, seemed to be beckoning us to stop awhile, but on we travelled to Beulah then turned up the C227 highway to a town called Rainbow on the edge of the desert.
We stopped here for fuel. Our vehicle took 53 litres and the kms now showed 1671, it was 3:50pm.
I stopped at the top on the main street at the railway siding to take some photos of a painted advertising shed, also a centenary rail painting and two lovely old two storey pubs, one being the Eureka Hotel with the food banners on the verandah and the other one being The Royal Hotel. I was the only person walking in the town’s main street, so I thought, until I heard a footstep behind me. Turning I saw a man in a hurry but I still said G’day to him – he replied “I’m in a hurry, can’t talk, have to wind up the bus and take the kids home from school”, and like The White Rabbit he was gone.


I was invited to drive the classic Toyota towards the start of the Desert as the sun was now getting low on the horizon on our first day. What a shock – it was like driving my Massey Ferguson tractor! After two laps of the main street we headed out along a narrow strip of sealed tar road towards the desert – everyone in our car was hanging on grimly calling out Jesus as we went sharply from side to side along the road. It took 5 kilometers before I went anything like in a straight line.
And there it was, a welcoming sign to Wyperfeld National Park. We travelled along a Mallee scrub lined track to a lovely camping site provided by Parks Victoria; tables, chairs, toilets and fire pits. We unloaded the camping gear from the four vehicles and set up our tents, swags, comfy chairs etc as Leon and Lindsay prepared a grand meal for us all – spaghetti bolognaise. Drama struck early as Mark realized he’d forgot to ring his wife and, with trembling lips and quivering of body he headed back toward Rainbow – he travelled some 27 kms before he got phone reception. 5With tents erected and beds made we played a game of Bocce with steel balls while waiting for our first desert meal. We had to wait for the flies to retire to eat and before the mozzies arrived. It was dark now and when Harry produced a bright light, so we could see our way around the camp and tents, we were invaded by swarms of migrating flying white ants – they were so thick and attracted by the bright lights we had to turn them off and converse in the dark.
10 tired pioneers then retired to bed and snored their way into the dawn of day two.

Day Two, 10th November 2015
Start 1747 kms

The early sun spread gold across our campsite where a mother kangaroo lazily crawled along the grass with its half-grown Joey keeping close by; slowly everyone emerged from their tents and swags eager to eat brekky before the flies gained formation and attacked us all over again. There was much laughter and anxiety as each group attempted to fold and pack their tents, cook bacon and eggs and eat burnt toast. It was about 9:45 when we headed out past a very large iron roof structure which is designed to catch rainwater and fill the two large concrete tanks nearby for fire fighting and wildlife.
We headed through sparsely treed Mallee scrub on a good sandy dirt track, stopping at a lookout we climbed on foot to this steep spot and climbed the steel lookout tower that gave us panoramic views of scrub, sand dunes; it was overcast with a light southerly wind. All through this country there were thousands of ant nest mounds; it is said they look after the Butterfly larvae and receive some nectar as a reward.
6We excitedly headed for an area called Snowdrop, which must have had the largest sand dune in all the desert. With cameras in hand and lungs full of oxygen, we started to climb this moving terrain. I tried to get some photos on the way up – this gave me a spell to gain more desired air. At last on top, most of we townies were gasping for air, but it was worth the climb and group photos were taken. I now know why it is called Snowdrop – if you look at Jim’s photo I am sure his white undies had slipped around his ankles.

7We then headed for O’Sullivans Track and another lookout – it was a 1.5 km walking track through scrub and with sharp grass seeds that anchored themselves firmly in our socks, however the view was worth the effort and climb. By this stage I started to be suspicious the other 9 were testing me out to see if this old bugger would last the 5 days.
We drove along Gunners Track and somewhere in this desert the track climbed some soft sand dunes and you guessed it – the Captiva threw in the towel.8 Out came the long-handled shovels and “digger” Lindsay moved more sand than a thousand kids on Bondi beach. Snatchem straps were attached to the old turbo powered Toyota – it took off at high-speed and when the strap ran out of slack – bang, Leons neck suffered severe whiplash. Stunned he held the wheel on full lock as he was dragged forward to safety with a wave of sand piling up on his bonnet. This event was to happen many times and thereafter Leon became known as “Sandman”.
Underbool was our next destination we arrived at 5:30pm, some vehicles topped up with fuel and I headed off to take some photos. The one horse town was deserted; the only exception, a large semitrailer which tried to mow me down as I stood in the middle of the highway taking a photo of the old two storey pub, with its gutters rotted out and dangling from the roof with one end resting on the barren ground. On the window it had a phone number painted in lipstick which said ‘for service please ring’, the main double doors said ‘push hard’ so I did; sticking my head in I saw 3 men sparsely spaced around the bar and a battle hardened barmaid with a long neck bottle in her callused hand; they were all watching TV so I called out in my best country voice “G’day what’s doing in this metropolis?” One guy replied in a slow disinterested way “we’re havin a beer” and turned to watch TV again. Where is the country hospitality these days? Never even offered me a beer, so I turned and jammed the front doors hard together again on my way out.
9By 6 pm we were in the Murray-Sunset National park on the banks of Lake Crosbie and the famous Pink Salt Lake. We set up camp here and some photos were taken of the sun setting across the lake. Mark “the Instructor” with his unmentionable apron cooked our second desert meal of chicken and stir fry veggies washed down with homemade beer, followed by Thommo’s famous red wine, then washed down by Greg’s red skin wine, followed by the best Port, followed by the best group bonding evening with jokes and full tummies. No one complained about how cold it was, but Mark highlighted and commented on the noise of the snoring choir as he stuffed in his earplugs and headed into a canvas pyramid.

Day Three, 11th Nov 2015 (Remembrance Day)
Start 1891 kms

Windy cold and cloudy – had two Weet Bix and a cup of tea for brekky. Others had eggs and bacon, toast plus coffee, again lots of fun folding tents, chairs and blankets ready for day three’s adventures. Left Lake Crosbie, passed Lake Becking and Mt Crozier by 11:20am. At 2pm we stopped for lunch at the T-intersection of Underbool Track and Pheenys’ Track. 10All sorts of lovely food came out of various fridges as we sat on the limbs of the twisted Mallee that made comfortable swinging chairs to eat from – it was so peaceful as we sipped our teas and marvelled at the wild flowers . . . . . all four of them.
Some drivers swapped around and it was great to see young Huon “lone Pine” at only 22, being accepted within the group of oldies and given the chance to drive various vehicles under trying conditions. He did better than yesterday in the Toyota with its hair trigger accelerator and stiff clutch as we entered the bumpy rough terrain. We gave those kangaroos an exhibition of how to hop high and shake up all the food in the different compartments – the upshot was we had great frothy beer at the end of the day.
The skies were darkening as we pulled into the Shearers Huts camping grounds. Here there were some quarters and shedding that had been restored with the assistance of the Sunraysia Men’s Shed.
With a storm pending and a structured fire pit we decided to gather some wood and have a campfire for us to sit around having our group meal. We set up our tents ready for a stormy night’s camping as Harry and Jim cooked up Rice and Tuna plus a lovely salad followed by apricots and custard. We were all thankful for such a hearty meal, Thommo provided digital music via Bluetooth from his iPod as we sat around the fire talking and joking well into the night as lightning lit up the sky; rain would be so welcome here. We retired into our tent with all windows and door flaps zipped up.
Lindsay tried to sleep in his bubble tent but later admitted he spent a lot of the night in the Captiva.
Lots of sand one day, water the next!

Day Four, 12th Nov 2015
We headed off from camp at 9.30 am.

11The three of us woke through the night to rain, thunder and lightning Mark “the instructor” stood straddled across Peter trying to close off the windows and stop the rain getting inside. He looked like a grandfather clock in loose undies with his pendulum swinging side to side as the lightning flashed intermittently. The ground was wet and sticky in the morning, we stoked up the fire and I saw Lindsay standing in the smoke like a fire warden surveying the situation, he then jumped onto the picnic table holding his mobile phone high above himself – claiming you get better reception up there.
Brekky was successful as the rain had stopped and the ground was drying up, but the tents were wet and sandy now. The Instructor had folded his tent and stood by Greg and Lou observing their efforts12 to fold their pyramid tent . . . . . . he soon became frustrated and threw his arms around stuttering “no, no do it this way and that way” he then walked away and took his blood pressure tablets!!
Harry the “Navigator” invited me to drive his Prado on day 4 of the trip . . . . what an impressive machine, we easily drove over the sand dunes only to hear “Sandman” again calling out “I’m stuck”. As we mounted the top of a sand ridge waiting for the Captiva to catch up we saw a large kangaroo stooping over a fresh water puddle in the track and I am sure she reached into her pouch withdraw an enameled pannikin, scooped up some water and had a drink, placing the pannikin back into the pouch before hoping away into the safety of the bush.
By 2:30 we were in Murrayville, we stopped for our fridge lunch in a lovely park opposite the two storey pub with a phantom sign on the wall that said “There are no Ghosts here but the spirits are good”.
13It is only a small town and the Fire Warden and I visited the local op shop, which was the original bakery, the wood fired oven was still there. It was here we met the lovely Christine who ran this shop, she told us just last week they had 86 mm of rain and it flooded the school and also her shop. I took her photo and we bought two books, a bottle of her home-made chutney, and 3 brass belt buckles with a camel on each one that I guess were worn by the Afghan traders as they brought supplies loaded upon the camels crossing the desert sands with their camel trains, to these remote settlements. All this cost us $6, and Christine invited us to sign her visitor’s book.
We headed off back into the desert and stopped at Big Billy Bore, (kms now 2139) there was a windmill pumping water and some holding tanks with water available to the weary travelers, we mostly washed our faces and filled our water bottles leaving there at 3.30 pm. We were heading for Red Bluff on the South Australian border road of the Big Desert. 14We stopped to load up firewood on top of two vehicles and on we went only to find the road some 20 kms along was flooded and the clay very sticky – with great disappointment we turned back and made camp on the road side between Murrayville and 70 kms north of Nhill. We could hear a cow mooing in the fields, reminded me of my Jersey cow back on the farm some 66 years ago. We dumped the wood for some other travellers to use at Red Bluff camp site and we set up our last camp on the road side amongst the Mulga.


Lou our chef and my Doctor Greg cooked our last evening meal – spaghetti and beef cheeks and we all eagerly sat around in a semi-circle and devoured this superbly prepared meal, everyone had bonded well, there were lots of fun stories about our adventure, we had all learned so much about our country and about each other. I went to bed early because of my infected eye, which Doctor Greg had helped me with so much. They all sat around my tent and I started snoring country music and humming in tune, but they complained that they could not hear each other laugh and talk, so they went to bed early also.

Day 5, 13th Nov 2015
Speedo read 2234 kms at start of day

We had a great tuition session from “The Instructor” and we filmed it all in motion (thanks to an iPhone6) as he gave more lessons on how to fold and pack a pyramid tent.
With brekky over we were all getting ready for our homeward bound journey, tyres getting pumped up for the highway and whilst this was being done we took lots of photos of the group around the sign of the BIG DESERT
We headed off at 8:30 am back through the wheat and grain farms, we passed through Yanac with its rail siding silos and the general store named Wheatons. Most of the land is flat with very spacious paddocks, then onto Nhill by 9:30 am, then Wail with more silos and a very small town 17called Pimpinio and then to Horsham for morning tea at 10:45 am where the parking meters were not working but they can still book you somehow. We are now back to civilization, warts and all, 11:33 and on the way again past the Deelea State school no 721, then past the outskirts of Stawell and arrived at Ararat by 12:33 where we stopped for lunch at the Leopold Hotel. We took a group photo and said our goodbyes. On leaving the pub I saw a painting of Chloe18 hanging near the front entrance, the only other one I have seen is in Young and Jacksons in Flinders St, Melbourne.
Passed through Beaufort at 2:30 pm and skirted around Ballarat heading down the Western highway toward the M80 and home.
We are now entering the uncivilized zone getting lost before the M80 but getting back on track was a nightmare once we entered the freeway it was bumper to radiator and at standstill many times. About Dalton St we heard and saw there was an accident ahead so we slipped across to Settlement Rd, Thomastown – which was no better. It took us over one hour to get from there to Eltham, now being 6:10 pm we were all pleased to arrive safely home and to get the first shower in five days and to shave off all that grey stubble.
End kms 2720, for a total trip of 1475 kms
The temperature was never above 30 deg on this trip, however since returning temperatures have been as high as 42 deg.

We had a very peaceful five days away only to come back to the horrific news of the bombings and shootings in Paris where 127 people were killed. I could only hear the words made famous by Peter,Paul & Mary in the early 1960’s ……………………

“When will they ever learn?”

Trip Vehicles and Pioneers were:
Toyota Landcruiser:
Mark Dellar – ‘The Instructor’
Peter Thomson – ‘Thommo’
Daryl Morrow – ‘Oh Wise One’
Land Rover Discovery:
Greg Mitchell – ‘The Doctor’
Lou Fazio – ‘The Masterchef’
Toyota Prado:
Harry Morris – ‘the Navigator’
Jim Gundrum
Huon Thomson (son) – ‘lone pine’
Holden Captiva:
Leon Higgins – ‘Sandman’
Lindsay Clarke – “digger”
Story by Daryl Morrow ©

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