Wednesday, April 22

Darwin, Here I Come!

I am booked on the Ghan leaving Darwin on August 1st, for a four day trip down to Adelaide with stopovers at Katherine and Alice Springs (NT) and Coober Pedy (South Australia.)  How I a looking forward to it.  

I did of course pass through Darwin - in fact I stayed a couple of nights with friends which was great and perhaps I will see them again in July as we will be there a few days before we depart on the Ghan.  I do hope we have time for a little look around, but also hope to catch up with friends and a member from 5W

I have always liked trains, and am really looking forward to being on this special train.  I have been on the train three times between Adelaide and Perth (way back in the 1960's) and we often caught a train to Gladstone (SA), and Mt Gambier when I did my nursing.  In fact I still have vivid memories of that first journey to Mt Gambier with a couple of other girls who were going to start their nursing adventure with me.  I've also travelled on the train from Melbourne to Adelaide, and Sydney to Adelaide.

I have been on many trains - in China we occasionally caught a train from Shaoxing to Hangzhou or Shanghai.  On one occasion, a friend Sue and I arrived in Shanghai and as was usual one has to buy the return ticket when we arrived in Shanghai.  We asked a young man to help us, which he eventually did after protesting about it "poor" English - which wasn't "poor" at all.  He made a phone call when we were in the queue, and he purchased 3 tickets.  It seems his girlfriend, for whom he was waiting at the station, was going to return to Shaoxing on the Monday as well, so we all went together.  But she freaked.  She had never spoken to foreigners and hid in the ladies toilets.  Eventually she came out and realised that Sue and I were not monsters.  When we went to the station on the Monday, she was there to enthusiastically greet us, and she slept on my shoulder for the duration of the trip.

I did go on the Maglev in Shanghai - so fast, but the journey did not take one right into Shanghai.  

I have been on many historic steam trains - recently went on the steam train to celebrate 150 years of Queensland Rail, and in Carnarvon, WA,  I went on the Coffee Pot Train out to the end of the long jetty.

Last year I also travelled on the Tilt Train from Brisbane t Rockhampton, which is where I found out the details of the Ghan.

The Ghan stops at Katherine, NT.  There is a bit of a tour there.  Not sure what it is.



We will also stop at Alice Springs and Coober Pedy!  I have been to the Alice, but not for many years but I have never been to the opal mining town of Coober Pedy with its undergrown homes etc.  Again we do a small tour of Coober Pedy, but I don't know the details.

I do wish we were going on a steam train - then I could hang out the window with my camera. Much better images without pointing through the glass!

Anyway, bring it on!


Sunday, April 19

Australian Women Writers

Many years ago, when I first conjured up the idea of driving around Australia - and at that time I hadn't determined if I would go alone or with someone - I thought of identifying women writers and visiting their home towns.  One that I had on my list was Dorothea Mackellar, who wrote "I Love a Sunburnt Country" - her home town is Gunnedah, and I don't recall ever having visited there in my travels.  (Our family were regular car travellers from Brisbane to Adelaide or Melbourne over many years.)  If we did, I didn't then comprehend the connection between her and Gunnedah.

In any case, with the vague and useless plan I created years ago, I had others on my list,   One was Jeannie Gunn, of We of the Never Never fame, and another was Mary Durack up in the Kimberleys.  In the end, by the time I set of on my jaunt, women writers were not high on my agenda.  Visiting unusual places was the top priority and that I did!

I did however, visit the home of Mary Durack on the way into Lake Argyle, and I did visit Mataranka, where Jeannie and Aenaes Gunn spent time, with their cattle station, Elsey Station not far from the settlement at Mataranka.  Jeannie initially wrote as Aenaes Gunn, as women writers at the time found it hard to get a publisher.  It was though her story of living on the cattle station a long way away from civilisation.  It has always been one of my favourite books and I enjoyed the movie "We of the Never Never."

Mataranka is some 400 kms south of Darwin, and I was so thrilled to arrive there.  I had a room booked at the resort, a rather pleasant spot surrounded by much tropical scenery and plenty of kangaroos.  In the town itself are great tributes to Jeannie.  Also not far from the town is the Hot Springs of Mataranka near the Roper River, which is clearly a popular spot for tourists.  One wouldn't swim in the river, but the Springs are very inviting.  There's a wonderful boardwalk to the Springs and down to the River.

The above are all in the main town area of Mataranka 

The film set of We of the Never Never, the recreation of the Elsey Station homestead at Mataranka Springs.

Boardwalk at Mataranka Springs

Mataranka locals

I drove out towards Elsey Station which is about 14 kms east of Mataranka, as I wanted to wander in the cemetery there. Jeannie was not buried there, but there is a memorial to her. I wandered around reading the fascinating writings on the grave sites.  Whilst there I had a scary moment.  There were about 5 cattle in the graveyard and I hadn't seen them initially.  I don't know who got the biggest scare - them or me, but the small mob ran away from me and leaped over the fence. I was a little shocked and hoped they didn't damage their undercarriage!

The Mataranka Resort was great - lovely restaurant/cafe, nice motel rooms, and very welcoming staff.  

I doubt I will get another opportunity - but if I do, I'd like to focus on writers - my original idea.

Saturday, April 18

Danger, Fire!!!

One of the risks that I didn't seriously consider when I planned my 'round Aussie drive was the chance of being caught up in bush fires.  As we all know, there is much bush in the Australian landscape, much of it can be tinder dry and bush fires as we know them can be extremely dangerous.

Unlike living in the city or near bush towns, way out in the outback the fires can run pretty much unchecked, though these days there are country firies, and of course helicopters and other fire emergency aircraft.

I did as I have mentioned in a previous post have a fire extinguisher, but it would have not been wise to tackling a bush fire with a piddling little fire extinguisher.  

I came across quite a few areas where bush fires had been - leaving acres of blackened trees and grass, and sometimes smoke from smouldering fires filled the air.  On several occasions, I had to drive close by fires.  Mostly these were not being fought by any fire fighters - they just burned without "supervision". 

On one occasion, I was able to take a few photos, without putting myself in danger.  I slowed down, prepared my camera, and took the photos through my car window, and then quickly moved past the fire area.  There were some spectacular sights, but as usual I considered my safety the priority, so have limited images.  Even as I opened the car window to shoot the vision, I could feel the awesome heat the fire created.

I remember reading something at New Norcia in Western Australia, how the aboriginals regularly created fires as part of their culture. They were "in control" of burn offs and would select areas on a regular basis to burn off - which got rid of the dead undergrowth and regenerated the grass and plants.

(This fire was in the Northern Territory - on my way from Lake Argyle to Katherine).

Wednesday, April 15

More Reminiscing

I often get asked, when folk here about my adventures around Australia - Did I get bored?  Did I feel safe? Driving so long on your own, how could you do it etc.  Read another post about Lake Argyle.

Let me explain what I planned, and for the most part did.  I had quite a few rules for myself.  I had daily limits of driving.  I didn't rush to leave in the morning - 9 am or thereabouts was fine by me, as I figured then that most of the kangaroos might have left the side of the roads by then, and as I didn't rush I could be, would be, more relaxed.

I had my laptop with me, and most nights I'd download some radio talks onto a USB, to listen to in the car.  I'd also select a few CD's.  I'd do any washing I needed to do soon after I arrived at the caravan park, (often around 3 pm), giving it plenty of time to dry late in the hot afternoon.  I would also organise my snacks.  I would nibble on nuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit - and always bottled water.  I would buy my drinking water, not always sure that I could trust the local water.  In any case I felt that with bottled water, I was drinking "fresh" spring water.  My favourite radio interviewers were Richard Fidler and Margaret Throsby - both ABC folk.

Each night I would study the map, and made rough decisions about the distance I would travel, and where I might plan to stay.  I seldom phoned ahead to book accommodation, and I knew that calling into the local Visitor Information Centre, they could always help me find accommodation. That system only failed once, when I was in Carnarvon.  There was a major event on in town, and the only accommodation was in a crappy room in an old hotel.  Still, it was a bed, relatively clean and safe.

I didn't drive at night (except locally in the town, and rarely did that).- other than the night I returned from a sunset cruise.    I did not go to hotels etc at night for a drink, and I was careful who I befriended.  Single blokes in an adjacent cabin at Denham were friendly and gave me some fresh fish, but I refused to go drinking with them when they knocked on my door after 10 pm!!!

I stopped frequently to take photos - sometimes adding an hour or so to my day's travel.  Just awesome photography!!!

As I drove I would (a) listen to the local and international news on the ABC first thing in the morning, listen to one of the interviews, and often put on a CD with great old time music when I would sing and "dance".  Dance, you might ask?  I do this when driving - moving my upper body around and "singing" along with the music.  It somehow brightens me up, and after 30 minutes or so of crazy movements I feel refreshed.

I also stopped frequently.  Often pulling into roadside parking areas, just to get out and walk - after taking great care to see if anyone or anything is there.  Snakes?  Strange men?  I'd often grab the camera and take a short walk (not into the bush) and take a few photos.

Never at any time did I suffer from driving fatigue - except on my very last day when I overdid it to get back to Brisbane!!!

Arriving at my destination around mid afternoon was my goal most days - sometimes though I did have a longer drive and didn't get there until late afternoon.   I'd visit the Visitor Information Centres, to get local maps and information.

I had a rule that I would not stop for anyone - not an accident, or anything.  I had learned that some nasty people create "accidents" to get people to stop - and the helpers would then become the victims.  I did stop at an accident once.  As I passed a quadbike with two young boys on it, in a paddock a short distance from the road, I did do a "u turn" and go back to see if they were all right after it flipped!!!  I saw it happen so it wasn't contrived and they were two teens.  Luckily we were all safe and uninjured!!

I did carry a two-way radio, (which I seldom used and only then to listen in to truckies so that I had some idea of the road ahead), I did have a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, and a visi vest.  None of the latter did I have to use.  I of course had a mobile phone and a dongle, so that most nights I could access the Internet.

I also carried a cooler - with ice bricks that I froze each night - to keep fruit, milk, water etc cold for the day.

I knew  when I set off that there was an element of vulnerability with doing what I had planned, but I took great care.  I did stop and get my car checked occasionally too, and always carried water, just in case.

Though, I can confess, that I did have a great sense of relief when I arrived back in Brisbane safely - even to buying a bottle of champagne some 150 kms from home, as I was determined to celebrate.

Silverton, New South Wales

Vineyard at McLaren Vale, South Australia

Old building at Gladstone, South Australia (I spent holidays in Gladstone when I was younger)

The Great Australian Bight

Walking above the treetops in WA.

Pinnacles in WA.

Would I do it again?   In a heartbeat!!!

Tuesday, April 14

I Broke One of My Rules!

Before I set off on my adventure around Australia I had several rules - one being not to drive at night. When I arrived at Fitzroy Crossing, I visited the Information Centre, and learned that there was a Sunset Cruise through Geikie Gorge that evening.  I couldn't book there, but learned that I had to go to the park at the Gorge to book.

First of all I had to find accommodation - which I did at the Caravan Park.  After putting my things in the cabin, I set off for Geike Gorge, which is about 20 kms from Fitzroy Crossing.  Silly me didn't realise that I would have to break one of my rules.  I didn't drive at night - except within a town.  Going on a sunset cruise, I would have to drive at night.  It just didn't enter my thought processes.

When I arrived at the Gorge there was some confusion.   Apparently there were two different groups which did the cruises.  While I waited I went for a walk through some amazing rock formations on the edge of the park.

Soon we boarded a small boat, with an indigenous man at the helm, who powered up the boat and we headed through the gorge. 

The rock formations were amazing - so much colour!  We slowly went along the side of the river on one side and eventually came back o the other side, as our guide explained quite a lot about the culture of the local indigenous people.  We clicked our cameras and looked in amazement at the scenes we passed.

The cruise took about 1 1/2 hours, and as we returned to the boarding spot, darkness was quickly descending on us.  Soon after I arrived at my car, it was pitch black for there were no lights way out there.  I realised then, that I would have to do the 20 kms in the dark!!!

Slowly I set off - with my headlights on high beam to give me as much light to help me see if any wildlife was on the road.  There certainly was.   The first beast to frighten me was a kangaroo, which jumped out in front of the car.  I easily missed it.  I slowed down.  I was doing about 60 kms an hour.  Slowly, with wide eyes scanning on both sides of the narrow road.  Then I big bull pushed out from the bush on the road.  I quickly braked and missed it.  My heart was beating wildly by this point.  I had probably driven about 2 kms. Only 18 more to go.  Would I make it?  Clearly I did of course but it was quite scary.

Another kangaroo rushed out of the bush and hopped along in the same direction I was driving.  It was so close I guessed he'd probably be missing some whiskers.  Still no damage to my car!!!

It felt like I had driven 100kms.  With my heart beating loudly I kept on driving.  Ofcourse I made it to the Caravan park safely.  Relieved.  

It was one of the nicest rooms I had experienced on my trip too.  Loved it, except for the noise.  There was a wild party going on in the bush behind the park.  I could hear loud voices, breaking of glass bottles and music for most of the night.  Still, I felt lucky.  I had seen a wonderful Gorge and had returned safely.

A Prison Tree?

On the way into Derby I found this so called "prison tree".  This Site of Significance is a Boab Tree with a hollow centre that may have beenused as a prison way back in the early history.

"The Boab Prison Tree, Derby is a large hollow Adansonia gregorii (Boab) tree just south of Derby, Western Australia. It is reputed to have been used in the 1890s as a lockup for indigenous Australian prisoners on their way to Derby for sentencing. It is now a tourist attraction.[1]
In fact, there is no evidence that the Derby Prison Tree was ever used for holding prisoners."   Wikipedia

Monday, April 13

Broome to Derby

Two years ago I was on the way back home to Brisbane, Queensland, but still in the north of Western Australia.

I spent some time in Broome, which I loved, wishing I had more money and time to do some of the many tourist destinations locally.  I did as much as I could - but mostly time was against me.  I had promised to be back in Brisbane by May 10th, (my daughter's birthday) and I had another 5000 kms to go!!

People often ask me if I got bored, and the answer is a definite NO.  Lonely yes, but not when I was driving.  It was when I arrived in a strange town, late in the afternoon or early evening that I would have liked some company.  I think most of the time when I was driving I was focussing on the road - hoping not to it any of the wildlife that was there - kangaroos, goats, cows, emus, etc and also looking for places to stop and take photos.  If I could have ridden a bike safely I might have done so - it would have been easy to pause often, as there were photo opportunities at every few hundred metres or less.  I'd have to quickly make a decision.  Is it safe to stop here?   Yes, no.  OK, yes, quickly grab the camera after I had stopped and quickly take some photos.

Broome was wonderful - below are some of the photos from there.

When I left Broome, I headed for Derby which was slightly off the main highway, but a must see place.  I had intended to stop at a tiny roadhouse (name missing from my memory at the moment), but I was thinking as I passed it and some distance before Derby, my warning light came on.  Low fuel!!!

It was too far to turn back, and I just had to hope that I was close enough to Derby!  I turned off the air conditioner, opened the windows a little, and slowed down a little too.  My heart was almost pumping from my mouth - as I concentrated on the road, my driving, and pondered my plan should my car just stop.

There was a BP servo as I approached Derby, and I drove around and parked behind a car, also filling up with fuel.  There were two ladies in the car, and they spoke to me.  "Were you running out of fuel too?"  We all laughed.  They were behind me - and they too had forgotten to stop and fill up earlier.  Luckily we both made it!!

Derby was most fascinating.  It is right at the point where a number of huge rivers join up.  It has huge tides, frequent crocodiles, and big ships come into the port.  There was a jetty one could drive around, and I did so.  Stopping to take photos.  Then I found my way to a hill with a lookout way above the port for extra ordinary views in all directions.

High over Derby

Thank goodness it was not real.!

Part of the huge jetty, which one can drive on!

Mud flats and murky water for crocs to hide in!


There is so much to see in these parts.  Deserves more time, but not for me this time.  Had to keep going!