This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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1999 Travels September 1


Today was hot, with only a little cloud.

We chatted for a while with a Swiss couple, who we’d encountered at Birdsville, with a Bushtracker caravan. They’d then driven down the Birdsville Track to Marree, up the Oodnadatta Track, to Oodnadatta, then come across to here. We had a look inside their van – we have not seen one inside, before. I found it rather claustrophobic and closed in. She was not all that happy with it – found it uncomfortable. It looked very heavy to me, for towing.

I packed our lunch, then we drove to the Information Centre, collected some SA material, and bought a Breakaways Pass, for $4.

The Breakaways are to the north of Coober Pedy – about 35kms away. They are, basically, an area of erosion features – flat topped mesa-like outcrops and stony gibber plains. The flat tops of these and the nearby Stuart Range are because many millions of years ago, the region was an inland sea. After the sea receded, softer areas were eroded; the Range and its outliers were more resistant. Similar to Chambers Pillar, I guess. Because the erosion features look like they have broken away from the Range, they were called The Breakaways.

We drove out there – about 30kms north again, on the Stuart Highway, and then we took a dirt road to the east for about 5kms. From the highway, the Stuart Range appears as a low, flat topped plateau on the eastern horizon. There is no indication of the brilliant scenery to come, until one is right up close.

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First sight of the Breakaways

The dramatic starkness, and the brilliant bands of colour really stand out here. We parked Truck and walked for over an hour, following a walking track around the base of part of an  escarpment, and to some viewpoints on its top. It was hot going, on the bare, stony ground. I found it a battle to watch where I was putting my feet – kept wanting to gaze at the unreal formations around me. We did not meet anyone else on the walk, and only saw one other vehicle out here, at all. This is really a little-known attraction of the area – everything seems focussed on opals and the town.

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09-01-1999 03 from lo 2

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Back in Truck, drove a short distance to The Castle formation, admired different perspectives and ate our lunch there.

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We returned to Coober Pedy mid-afternoon, via a circuit route, that took us over the Moon Plain – flat, featureless and grey – and along the Dog Fence for a way. The Dog fence is a 2 metre high wire structure, that extends for over 5000kms, and is meant to keep dingoes out of the sheep grazing country of southern Australia. Unfortunately, domestic dogs gone feral probably do more damage to livestock than dingoes, anyway!

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The Dog Fence

That track eventually met the Coober Pedy to William Creek road (unsealed), and we followed that to the highway, and thence back to Coober Pedy.

We’d had a most enjoyable excursion to some fascinating country.

Went to the public water point and paid to fill our big container, then back at the van, emptied this into one of the van’s water tanks. This was not easy to manage, but we had help from a non-English speaking neighbour in a camper van. Much appreciated, and I hope we were able to convey that.

Had a couple of late afternoon beers with other neighbours – from Brisbane. Told them all about today’s excursion. They had not heard of The Breakaways, but I think we convinced them that it was a worthwhile excursion.

Tea was steak, fries, bacon, with eggs for John and mushrooms for me.

John’s sister phoned and they had a chat.

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1999 Travels August 31


Getting away was easy, because we were still hitched up. Today would be a comparatively short drive, so we were in no hurry.

It was a straightforward run to Coober Pedy, though quite hot. I drove some of it – John wants me to become comfortable towing the van.

At a roadside stop, John emptied a jerry can into the fuel tank.

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Approaching Coober Pedy

We reached Coober Pedy late morning and booked into the Oasis Caravan Park. $13.50 a night, after the Big 4 discount. The caravan park is alright. There are no taps at sites – understandable where water is so scarce. There was one tap at an outside sink. The showers are coin operated – 20cents for about one minute! Travellers can buy water at the town’s public point – 20cents for about 30 litres. That is a better rate than the showers!

We were set up by lunchtime.

After lunch, went for a walk and explore, which we could do as the park is in town. Just as we set out, the fire siren sounded and a fire truck went racing out. Later, someone said there was a big road accident out of town.

The town seems slightly more ordered than when we were last here in 1993, but the shop front offsets are still higgledy and there are no footpaths. Coober Pedy, is, of course, an opal mining township. As we’d approached the turnoff from the highway, we’d started to see the white dump heaps and occasional blowing machines, that are the signatures of the opal areas.

We walked to the Big Winch Lookout, where there was quite a good view over town, with its dugout homes going into the hillside, and the bare sports oval. There was a gallery at the lookout, and we browsed in this; I bought postcards and magnets.

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The bare sports oval and the entrances to dugout homes on the hill


Next, we visited the Old Timer’s Mine – it cost us $5 each, but it was self-guiding and we spent over an hour in their tunnels, shafts and dugouts. It was quite fascinating and informative – and just a little claustrophobic. I do not like underground!

We wandered the long way back to camp, stopping to buy a paper, some cheese, and cucumbers.

Tea was salads and tinned salmon.

It is very pleasant to have warmer nights again – we barely even need the doona now.

08-31-1999 marla to cp

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1999 Travels August 30


Our pack up and departure was all routine and without incident, and we left at 9.20am. John had hoped to be earlier, because of a long drive ahead, but we probably didn’t get up early enough.

Detoured to the COR Refinery and got fuel – 76cpl.

Today’s drive was south on the Stuart Highway, which of course, we have driven a couple of times before. The country and the landmarks were familiar.

We stopped for a coffee break at a roadside stop, and again at Erldunda where we bought cold drinks.

The only unusual happening to break the routine of the drive south, was seeing a long freight train on the track parallel to the highway, not long before we reached Marla. We travelled in tandem for a while.

I drove some of the way. This was the first time I’d towed the van on a sealed road, and thus at a greater speed than on dirt roads. It felt fine, but I do not drive as fast as John.

We reached Marla about 3pm. Our powered site at the Travellers Rest there cost $19. I guess they have rather a captive clientele, as it is a long way to the next place – either way. Our site had lawn beside it, which was pleasant, and rather unexpected, out here. We were able to stay hitched up as it was a pull through site.

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and chatting with other travellers. The place became quite busy as the afternoon wore on.

Tea was soup, and macaroni cheese from a packet.

The night was noticeably warmer than we’d had in Central Australia.

08-30-1999 alice to marla

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1999 Travels August 28


After breakfast, I went to the Office and extended our stay by a day. It is hard to work out the charging in this place. Now the fee is $19 a day – $17.10 after discount. I am wondering if the person who booked us in, originally, hit a wrong key?

We went and did grocery shopping for the coming trip south. As we are making this up as we go, I am not sure when shopping will be possible again.

John fiddled with the TV booster and aerial, and thinks he’s found a fault. He has been doing this for 18 months! Sometimes the picture is good, sometimes it is bad. Seems to me that this is the way of such things for travellers. Guess I don’t really care enough about TV for it to worry me.

After lunch, John went to bowls.

I washed the van floor and cupboards, also did the floor rugs – by hand, and a lot of hankies!

Read the Age that I’d bought this morning – it is good to have that again.

John enjoyed his bowls, even though there were only three playing. He has been very disappointed with the bowls scene in Alice.

Tea was roast chicken and vegies. Very nice – tonight we have an appetite back.

Watched swimming on TV.

The nights are chilly again – we had a warmer night spell for a little while.

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1999 Travels August 27


Today was another warm one.

I got up about 7.15am and went for a walk around the caravan park and nearby surrounds, for an hour. I needed the exercise.

John needed a quiet day and rested for most of it.

V phoned, in the morning. They are in Kununurra, having visited Broome, Derby, Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek, Geikie Gorge, Halls Creek. They have just done a couple of weeks of farm harvest work – melons and beans, to help pay for front suspension replacement on the car. She said that harvesting rock melons is hard on the hands! B may have a month of gardening work lined up. Then they plan quick visits to Darwin and parts south, to be back in Melbourne by mid October for V’s school reunion. So, I should actually see her before we sail off to Tasmania.

The gem lady phoned to say the stones were done. So we went to the bank, then to the shop to collect them. The final cost was $603, with the earring settings and work. There were 21 stones in all, including five sets of zircon earrings and one garnet set. The large dark garnet did cut very dark – there is only the occasional red flash to be seen in it. But, overall, they are beautiful things. It is fulfilling to see the products of our hard work turn out so well.

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Our faceted zircons and garnets, with the sets of zircon earrings in the centre

John intends to send some to sister H and friend H and he picked those out. The biggest zircon is an unusual brandy colour and I plan to have a ring made with it, one day. It is the sort of colour one would see in an Argyle diamond!

Tea was soup and toasted cheese. We were both not feeling hungry.

We decided to stay here an extra day, in order to see the final day of the PanPacs, on Sunday.

John played computer games till late.

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1999 Travels August 26


We both slept well last night, which, hopefully, will aid the recovery.

The day was lovely, and warm.

I am feeling somewhat recovered, and John is a little better, too. He was well enough to go bowling in the afternoon, anyway.

I spent the afternoon putting the recent photos into the album, and really enjoyed that.

Tea was roast lamb and vegies – we are finally ready for a decent dinner again.

Watched swimming again, after tea, then I went to bed, leaving John to play his computer game till late.

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1999 Travels August 25


John woke up feeling poorly today, but was determined not to give in to it. I think I am a little improved.

I did washing – three big loads. The weather is hot, so there are no drying issues.

We went to the gem cutter’s place and saw six of our stones that he had already cut: two pairs of garnets for earrings, one bigger garnet, and the big zircon. All are lovely. There are five pairs of zircon earring stones still in the making, and two other zircons – maybe for rings? We showed him the four garnets previously rejected by his wife as too dark to cut, and spun a yarn about “finding” them in a pocket of John’s in the wash. He says two will cut, so we left them there. It was smart to ask his opinion, after all. All this work will cost about $500, which we think is reasonable.

We then went to their gem shop in town, and chose plain claw earring settings for all the earring stones. All the girls will get earrings for Xmas! I bought myself an ironstone and garnet bracelet, for $13.95, because I really loved it. She has some great things there. Her blue topaz items are inspiring – but that’s for later. The chunks I found at O’Brien’s Creek last year, have been left at home.

We picked up the mail from the Post Office. It contained a very large phone bill, from July – mostly due to John’s calls to his sister and daughters. There was a letter from friend T – nice to hear from someone!

I picked up the seven lots of printed photos and am really pleased with them. They cost $111 to have developed and printed. They are a great record of the trek we have just done.

At Coles I did a food shop, and bought enough meat, on special, to fill the van’s little freezebox.

That was quite enough activity for us in our current states, and we rested up at the van for the rest of the day.

Tea was some salad and potato – neither of us had much appetite.

Not to be deterred by the phone bill, John phoned sister H and had a long chat.

Watched some more of the swimming, on TV. We both enjoy watching this.

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1999 Travels August 24


I woke up feeling very unwell, but there was little choice – we had to go and organize to get the van out of storage and back on site.

It was not too hard to get to the van. We had to be able to open it, before moving, to get out the big hitch, and put that onto Truck, before beginning to hook up the van. All quite fiddly.

The caravan park (McDonnell Ranges Big 4) charged us $99 for the five nights we booked in for, minus a $9.10 discount, which brought it down to about $17.42  a night. Once more we were on a pleasant site. I appreciated clean and green again!

I managed better than expected, all the moving, unpacking, repacking, setting up. It took much of the day. I kept going on paracetamol, sweated a lot, but it was a hot day.

By the end of the day, despite the work, or maybe because of it, I was feeling slightly better than yesterday.

We drove out to the COR Refinery and filled Truck, and the jerry can.76 cpl.

Went shopping for some food, and wine. I put the used films in for processing, being quite eager to see the Simpson Desert shots.

John called in to the gemshop and the lady told him that one zircon had cut really well. Now they know we are back, there will be pressure to get the rest cut.

We have planned to be here for five days, in order to get over all the driving, get the gemstone cutting and setting sorted out, and for John to get in some bowls. And for us to get healthy again. Unfortunately, John is starting to get symptoms of the “bug” too!

Tea was salads and a tin of red tuna – John’s suggestion and a good one.

The PanPacs swimming championships are on TV and we watched some of that.

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1999 Travels August 23


I woke up to the certainty that I was getting a head cold, or flu. Headache, sinus pain, sniffles, sneezes, generally feeling rotten. Where did I pick up that bug? We have hardly been around any people for weeks. Was it the air conditioning in Birdsville?

We emptied the plastic jerry can into the fuel tank.

As we left Tobermorey, the skies ahead were dark grey and looking very threatening, but that passed without rain or a storm, as we proceeded west.

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Very threatening skies west of Tobermorey Station

I felt progressively worse as the day went on. It was really hot, too, which didn’t help.

We had planned to go to Gemtree, then down the Pinnacle Bore Track we’d done before, and east to Ruby Gap, to camp for a couple of days, before returning to Alice.

I felt so awful, and really couldn’t face more camping or touring, so we decided to push on through to Alice Springs, on the Plenty and then the Stuart Highways. We would be able to make better time once we hit the bitumen at Gemtree.

Because we would be late, and because I couldn’t face the effort of getting the van out of storage and setting it up, we decided to try to get a motel room.

At least the unsealed Plenty Highway, from Tobermorey to Gemtree, was much better to drive on than the Qld road had been yesterday.

We stopped at a very big, unusually shaped, termite mound, briefly, for a look round it, a bit west of Tobermorey.

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Big termite mound by the Plenty Highway

Apart from that we only had brief toilet stops and a short stop for lunch for John – I was not hungry.

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The dry bed of the Plenty River, near Jervois Station

We arrived in Alice Springs about 4.30pm. It was still very hot. We had to hunt around a bit, but John eventually got us a room at Heavitree Gap Resort. Very nice it was, too, for $64.

The shower I had was superb! I hadn’t braved the dirty bathroom at Tobermorey, yesterday.

John went out again and bought a KFC meal.

I didn’t want food. I was running a temperature and felt awful. It was wonderful to be in a cool, proper, bed again, but I slept fitfully.

John had a TV watching session after tea. It is a while since he has had that.

It is only two and a half weeks since we left here for our circuit trip, but seems longer.

08-23-1999 Birdsville to Alice

The final three days of the circuit – Birdsville to Alice Springs