This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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1999 Travels July 1


That damned cold wind was blowing again!

After breakfast, John made pasties. I caught up on my back diary entries – must get back in the habit of writing these up, every day, before I lose detail from the memory. When John had finished making his pasties, I made some pastry for tonight’s tea.

We ate a couple of the pasties for lunch – so yummy. The man makes a mean pasty! Have enough of them for lunch for the next couple of days.

We took the gas bottle to Boral to get the O ring fixed. Looked around places trying to find a 12amp fuse to fix the solar status panel. John’s fiddling around with that has caused the red light in the fridge on/off switch – which is really handy to have – to go off again. Tandy undertook to get some in for us; hope they are here by Tuesday.

At the Post Office, there was a letter from R. I wish she’d use the mail system we have set up, via home. It is a pest having to check so many times – in case there is a letter from her.

I got some more books from the Library. Put film in for processing.

We were walking up the Mall, to go to the bank, when a man coming out of a shop paused, stared at me, then said he knew me. It was the father of a former student – with whom I’d had to have more dealings than either of us really wanted! He is a teacher, so he was on holidays. With some friends, had just come up the “Ghan Track”. He said the section around Dalhousie, Mt Dare and Chambers Pillar was really rough and deep sandy. We talked travel for a while – John went off to the bank, where he wanted to pay money off Mastercard. Two of the friends arrived, and John came back and told them where to get gas gear repaired.

What is it that they say? That if you sit in the Todd Mall, everyone you know will eventually come by! Might take a long time though?

We continued shopping. Bought wine, beer and some postcards.

Drove out to the historic Telegraph Station, north of town. This was where the settlement of Alice Springs began, when a repeater relay station for the new Overland Telegraph Line was built, in 1871. A waterhole in the nearby Todd River determined the location, as it was thought this was a spring – hence the name. Later, it was found to be just a waterhole left after rain.

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The waterhole at the bottom of the rock slab was thought to be a spring

The Telegraph Station operated until 1932, by which time a township had grown up to the south.

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A restored building at the Telegraph Station

We walked around looking at the old buildings. Admired a couple of tame camels that were in a yard, and got a bit up close with one of them.

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My new friend

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John was intrigued by the way this hoist worked

Walked up the Trig Point Hill for an overview of the place, then went back to Truck.

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The Telegraph Station from the top of Trig Point Hill

There was a group of grey-crowned babblers fossicking about in the carpark and we watched their amusing antics  for a while. We had noticed today that there were a lot of birds of prey – mostly kites – circling over the town and the river.

07-01-1999 05 Todd R at Telegraph Station

The Todd River – wide and dry – at the Telegraph Station

Went and collected the repaired gas bottle from Boral and got the empty caravan gas bottle filled.

I made a ham and egg quiche for tea, having made the pastry earlier. It was nice but we are having a dreadfully pastry-heavy day! Not good for us.

Today is Territory Day – 21 years since the NT gained independent administration – self government. Thus, it is fireworks night, according to the NT Times newspaper. As the forecast is for minus 1 degree tonight, we shall not be venturing outdoors to look for fireworks! Tomorrow is supposed to only reach 15 degrees. So cold.

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1999 Travels June 30


I am starting to get a sense of time running out, to do all the things I want to do, here. Where do the days go?

John booked Truck in to the local Landrover dealer, for a service, next Tuesday, and he wants us to get up some more kms before then.

We went to get fuel at the BP Gap servo, which gives a 4cent discount per litre, to 4WD Radio Network members, like us. Made it 81cpl. Also got the gas bottles filled. John found that the brown one leaks, and we need to get a new O ring. We might investigate buying a new bottle. Not a good idea to mess with O rings!

After those chores, drove out to Rainbow Valley. The drive south, along the Stuart Highway, for 77kms, was more interesting than I had remembered it to be. There were usually low hills or dunes in the distance, and low rises in the highway that at their crests, gave a view ahead for a surprisingly long way.

Then, the 22km track into Rainbow Valley was in pretty good condition, though corrugated and rough in places. It, too, was an interesting section of track. We stopped along it, a couple of times, because of birds. Saw a female crested bellbird, and a superb brown falcon which was sitting in a dead tree. There were some lovely stands of young desert oaks (a type of casuarina)  along the track. I love these trees in this environment, and the way any breeze sounds, blowing through their narrow leaves.

At the parking and picnic area, we were tantalized by a little, flitty bird, that we couldn’t quite identify because the damned thing wouldn’t keep still for long enough. Frustrating!

Rainbow Valley was well worth the visit, even in the middle of the day, without the special lighting effects of sunrise and sunset, which is when one usually sees it featured. The camp area would be alright for a night’s stay – we could even get the van in here.

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Rainbow Valley ramparts and clay pan

The contrasting red and white of the ramparts has been caused by water action. It is actually all sandstone rock, but in past times water that had soaked down and dissolved iron in the sandstone, was drawn back to the top in drier geological periods. As the moisture was evaporated the red, residual iron formed a hard red capping rock that is now the top part. The softer white sandstone below erodes more quickly – by rain and wind – thus making interesting formations.

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Had our lunch at the picnic area, taking in the views.

Then we walked up into the valley behind the ramparts – sometimes walking in sand. There were HUGE camel footprints in there. In some of the sheltered parts, there was a really rank smell – we wondered if wild camels sheltered there. Have to admit that I looked about a bit nervously – did not want to meet any of those!

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BIG camel footprints!

06-30-1999 07 Rainbow Valley smelly cave

The cave beneath this rock overhang was particularly smelly

Rainbow Valley would be truly spectacular to see when there was water in the clay pan in front of the ramparts. Also when there was a full moon over the place.

I would like to return here sometime, for the night, and watch the sun set on the ramparts.

There were very few people here. Again – the effect of anything labelled 4WD on tourists. Totally different to the crowds out in the West MacDonnells. There was only one camper there, when we left at 3.30pm.

Back in Alice Springs, we checked out gas bottles at KMart – theirs were not suitable for us. But whilst there, John bought a rolling pin (for his breads) and a new plastic water container. I bought a new filter for the water jug. I went to the chemist and bought a fresh supply of Cartia aspirin for John.

Tea was macaroni cheese with tuna. John had been going to make pasties, but it was too late. A task for tomorrow.

I phoned K to ask him to send mail, Express, tomorrow.

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1999 Travels June 29


I did three loads of washing this morning. I used every peg I had when hanging it out – that is a most unusual occurrence. I also cooked rice for tonight’s dinner. The washing dries quickly here and I was able to pick it in before we went out.

After an early lunch, we went to the Desert Park, just out on the western edge of town. This has the same sort of approach as our local Healesville Sanctuary – to display wildlife in settings that approximate the natural environment. But the Desert Park is able to show several different environments of the arid Centre – like sand country, woodland. It is quite extensive.

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A mural at the Desert Park

It cost us $24 to enter the Park. We got there at 2.30pm and left at 5.45pm and were fully engrossed the whole time. We could, in fact, have done with longer. The various bird enclosures – each a different ecosystem – were excellent. We watched a pair of bush thick knees for ages.

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Bush thick knees

The Nocturnal House had lots of little marsupials being active. One does not realize how many of these little critters inhabit the arid lands. I am more than ever convinced that the “mice” that put on a display in the bush at our Cactus Beach camp in 1993, were actually these little marsupial items – but no idea which ones!

We also watched a pair of banded bettongs for a while. Cute fellows. They eat termites.

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A numbat

But the real highlight was the bird of prey low flying display, for 20 minutes. This included the showing of a hobby that swoops and kills little birds in flight – they displayed her skills using a “bait”. The finale was the Australian buzzard (black breasted kite) that uses a stone or rock to break open other birds’ eggs. Here it was presented with an emu’s egg, and it broke it open with a small rock. They obviously make the “egg” and put a snack inside to reward the effort – but the bird uses the rock tool instinctively. Another indication that birds are more intelligent than they are given credit for.

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The buzzard has a stone in its beak to use to break the egg

It was getting nearly dark by the time we left the Park. This is certainly a place that all visitors to Alice Springs should visit.

Tea was fried rice.

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1999 Travels June 28


We motivated ourselves to get up at a reasonable hour, despite the chill, and get going out to explore some more of the Western MacDonnells.

I would quite like to go and camp out there – at Redbank Gorge or Glen Helen, to explore out that way, but John prefers to stay put here and do day tripping.

We drove as far as Ellery Creek Big Hole – about 90kms, and a very pleasant, scenic, drive to get there. There were always ranges and hills alongside the road for interest, and regular little gentle dips, where the road crosses dry creek beds. I presume that these flow so infrequently that it is not economic to build bridges.

On the way, we detoured to Honeymoon Gap, and went up to its lookout, where the views of the ranges were excellent.

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Honeymoon Gap in the West MacDonnell Ranges

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The spinifex and scrub country around Honeymoon Gap

Ellery Creek Big Hole is reached by an access road from the main Namatjira Drive. For a couple of kms, it runs along side Ellery Creek – dry, with a wide sandy bed, and lots of trees growing along its sides. Really pretty.

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Ellery Creek – redrock and white ghost gums

From the parking area, we walked the short way to the waterhole. We had been able to see the large gap in the range as we came in on the approach road. Like at Simpsons Gap, this is a permanent waterhole in the Ellery Creek, where it has carved a deep way through the range. In places, it is over 20 metres deep. The written material about it warns that it is extremely cold, to the point of being hazardous for swimmers. We were not inclined to test this out.

The waterhole was lovely – large and contained between the red rock walls of the range. We stayed there for a while, watching little fish in the water, and birds, and chatting to people. Two young men saw the Cape York logo on John’s shirt and asked him for information about that.

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Ellery Creek Big Hole

Then we did the Dolomite Walk, from the carpark out to the west. It took us about an hour. This was scrambly and rough, in places, and hard work for John, but was a most enjoyable small walk, with some wonderful views across the area.

06-28-1999 07 Dolomite Walk Ellery Ck Big Hole

Country on the Dolomite Walk



06-28-1999 09 Ellery Ck Big Hole dolomite wall

Rock stacks on the Dolomite Walk

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It was quite a rugged walking track

Back at Truck, we had a late lunch, enjoying sitting out in the sun. It does seem a little warmer today.

I have a sore mouth today. Think I might have cut a gum, using dental floss.

From Ellery Creek, continued west another 23kms, to the Ochre Pits. From the car park area, it was a short walk to look at these – the walls of a dry sandy creek, where different colour soft rock ochre appears. This was a major aboriginal site, where they were able to obtain different coloured ochres to mix up into paints for ceremonial decorations, and also for medicinal use.

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The Western MacDonnells – looking back east from near the Ochre Pits

We wandered along the creek bed for a little while, looking at the different colours in the walls.

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The multiple colours of the creek walls at the Ochre Pits

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Exploring the creek at the Ochre Pits

That was enough for the day, so it was back to Alice Springs. We drove 252kms today.

John had cold beef and potatoes for tea; I had tinned tuna with my potato, as it was easier for my sore mouth to deal with.

The night was absolutely freezing.

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1999 Travels June 27


Another chilly day. I have concluded that I do not like “winter” in Alice Springs! That cold wind is so penetrating and the nights are freezing.

In the morning, John decided that he wanted to drive out to the airport and watch planes. We did this, going south from here, through a gap in another low range. But watched planes from a distance, parked beside the road to the airport, as one had to pay to enter the carpark and thus access the terminal building.

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Grevillea. Its narrow leaves are an adaptation to the arid environment

After lunch, we went to bowls. Just an ordinary game and time.

It is the Victorian school holidays now and the volume of tourists in these parts has noticeably increased.

Tea was cold roast beef with potato and a couple of vegies.

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1999 Travels June 26


It was a chilly day again today.

We drove to the town centre where I changed library books again, and we bought the papers.

After lunch, John went to bowls at the Alice Springs club.

I read the papers, made a batch of kumara soup, cooked a roast beef and vegies dinner.

V phoned. They plan to leave Perth early next month, head north up the coast, see friends in Derby and then make their way to Darwin and then down the Centre to Melbourne – by mid October, when she has a school reunion. She hopes to get Outdoor Ed work through spring and summer, then they will travel the east coast. I enjoyed the long talk with her. Apparently, she has left messages while we were out of range but somehow, they dropped off the system.

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1999 Travels June 25


This chilly wind is rather a deterrent to venturing out and about all that much. We are sleeping late, rather than get up in the cold. John is sleeping even later than me.

We did nothing adventurous today. Just pottered about camp, then drove to the shopping centre and did a grocery shop.

Tea was the current Friday standard of oven cooked battered fish, with French fries.

There was football on TV.

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Termite pathways on a dead tree near Alice Springs

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1999 Travels June 24


The wind in the day time has become so cold, despite the blue skies and sunshine. Someone said today that winter only lasts a couple of weeks in Alice Springs – and this is it!

John’s legs were really sore after playing mountain goat yesterday, and he had bad indigestion, so I bought him some heavy duty Mylanta.

I changed library books – am getting through some reading, here. Went to KMart and bought a windcheater. I really need winter gear, here, and it was easier to buy a cheap one than unpack much of Truck to find my winter clothes.

After lunch, we went to bowls. It was alright – a bearable afternoon.

Tea was fettucine and tomato sauce.

John watched TV while I read.

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1999 Travels June 23


Today it was definitely time to play tourist, properly.

We took a cut lunch and drove west, out Larapinta Drive, to Standley Chasm – some 50kms away. The attraction of Standley Chasm is the way the midday sun lights up the red walls of this very narrow, deep cleft through the rock.

We got there about 11.15, a good time. We had to pay $4 each to the local aboriginal group that runs the area. This, and Simpsons Gap, have long been on the tourist trail in these parts – presumably they were not originally developed as tourist attractions by the aboriginals, but this is a more recent acquisition. This place was named for the first lady school teacher in Alice Springs, who was the first white woman to visit here.

We walked up the track that goes from the car park to the Chasm. This was a very pleasant walk in itself that took us about 15 minutes, and followed a dry creek line.

Because the overhead sun at midday lights up the Chasm walls, there were crowds of people by the Chasm entrance, all poised to take photos, and jostling for a good vantage point, herd-like. It was a bit amusing, actually. It would have been impossible for anyone to take a photo that did not have people in it.

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Almost midday in Standley Chasm – waiting for the show!

We joined the herd and took some photos when the walls went rather orange.

Rather than stay with the crowd, we decided to explore further – through the Chasm and beyond. That left most of the other people behind.

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We followed the valley beyond the main part of the Chasm

At the head of the Chasm, a more gradual climb went off to the right, and a steep track to the left. I thought that might connect to the Larapinta Trail, a long distance walk track along the ranges, so we took that. It stopped at a very abrupt cliff into another big valley – real vertigo stuff! John took some photos and then we had to go down again, which was a little tricky and demanded a great deal of care.

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At this point, there was an abrupt drop down into the next valley

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Our way was more of a goat path than a walk track

By then, we’d seen enough of Standley Chasm, so went back the way we’d come. Saw a rock wallaby, watching us from on top of a rock heap. Ironically, in the main part of the Chasm, the light on one wall was much better than earlier – and there were no people there, any more.

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The walls of Standley Chasm glow orange when the sun is on them

We ate lunch in the carpark; the surrounds were quite pleasant. But there was quite a chill wind blowing.

Drove back towards Alice Springs, then turned off and went to Simpsons Gap. This is only about 23kms from Alice Springs by road.

We took the short walk along the side of Roe Creek, to the waterhole that fills the base of the Gap. It is Roe Creek that – in wetter times – cut the Gap through this part of the Western MacDonnell Ranges. The creek has a sandy bed and there are white trunked ghost gums growing along side it. The walls of Simpsons Gap were glowing orange in the afternoon sun.

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The approach to Simpsons Gap in the afternoon

Simpsons Gap would have been a very significant place for the aboriginals of this area, having the permanent waterhole there.

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The permanent waterhole in Simpsons Gap

Then we drove back along the road for a short distance, parked and walked the 1.5km Cassia Hill Loop Walk. This went up a little hill. The walk was signed with vegetation identification – mulga, witchettybush, several types of cassia. It was interesting, pleasant walking, and there was a reasonable view from the top of the hill.

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Looking west from the top of Cassia Hill

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From the top of Cassia Hill, looking east towards Alice Springs. Bike path in foreground

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Another Cassia Hill outlook to the east

It was late afternoon by the time we walked back to Truck, so time to go back to camp.

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Simpsons Gap in the late afternoon

Although the places we saw today are busy with tourists, they do showcase the essential features of this part of Central Australia – stark, dramatic ranges, dry creeks, occasional waterholes, varied and resilient vegetation, and shy wild life. Sealed roads, formed walking tracks, signs – make it seem deceptively benign; but it can be treacherous country for those who do not take its potential hazards seriously.

Tea was lamb backstrap, pan fried with garlic and rosemary, with potato and salad.

We refuelled Truck today – 84cpl.

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1999 Travels June 22


The mornings here are quite crisp.

Today was my mother’s birthday – and is also the shortest day of the year. The nights in Alice Springs are long and cold. We have taken to leaving the little electric fan heater to cycle on and off all night, to take away the worst of the chill. It is well down close to zero degrees.

My skin and hair are drying out – due to the low humidity, dry air in these parts.

We got to the auction house about 10am. Had to wait quite some time before the items that interested us came up. Watching as things were sold, we thought that some items were really quite dear.

There were only two bundles of windcheaters – which was what interested me the most – and they were bid up too high for us. We were able to buy two bundles of T shirts, for about $8.50 per shirt. There were 13 altogether, some cream, some navy. We will keep some for ourselves and give the others as presents.

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The logo that was on our T-shirts

After watching some purchasers fiddling with other bundles of these, trying to swap sizes and colours, we felt it prudent to hang around, watching and waiting until the time we could pick ours up. Did not want to turn our backs and find we suddenly had two bundles of child’s sizes!

There was a dumpy level sold. John was annoyed because he hadn’t seen it until after it was done,  and he has always wanted one. I have no idea what one of these is, or if he would ever use it, at home!

It was well into the afternoon by the time we had collected our purchases.

Tea was soup, more sausages, salad. I have lots of leftover cold sausages for lunchtime sandwich fillings, now!