This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2006 Travels May 2

TUESDAY 2 MAY   DARWIN TO LITCHFIELD   180kms

We got away at 9.45.

On the way out, we stopped at Repco, by the highway, to buy fuses. John hoped he would then be able to fix the CB radio, which had not worked since we were at Adels.

Travelled back down the Stuart Highway, then took the Batchelor road.

Stopped at the Batchelor Store and PO. I posted off the remaining books I’d had on loan from the Mt Isa library. Made ourselves known to the lady there, telling her that we would be getting mail c/o her Post Office. Although we would we working some 75kms away, this was the nearest PO.

I checked out the range of supplies in the store. Although “keep” was supposed to be part of our working terms, it did not hurt to know what I could get here.

I bought some post cards and a rather lovely small set of wind chimes – stained glass, featuring a green frog. I have a weakness for frog “things”.

I packed a sandwich lunch this morning and we stopped to eat this at the Magnetic Termite Mounds display area, in the Litchfield National Park. We did not spend time exploring or walking around these, thinking we would be exploring the Park on our days off.

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Litchfield Magnetic Termite Mounds

The Litchfield Road was quite winding in parts. There was a fairly steep climb up the Tabletop Range, and a corresponding descent on the other side. These gave some distant vistas over bushland.

Occasionally there were interesting rock outcrops near the road.

We traversed a number of shallow floodways across the road, some of which still had water in. There were some larger floodways where there was quite a bit of water and swampy areas beside the road.

It was an interesting drive, on yet another hot and humid day, but with blue sky.

I had been to Litchfield once before, on the 1991 school trip, but it was really only a drive through on the way back to Darwin from Kakadu. I recollected looking at Buley Rockholes and Wangi Falls, but finding that the camp area there was full. We ended up camping just west of the Park, in a private campground, which was really just bush and was not a favourite memory! John had not been here before.

Called in at Wangi Falls, one of several superb sets of falls in the Litchfield National Park, and a draw card for just about every tourist that visits here. I wanted to see what it was like after the recent rain.

Walked from the parking area down the path to the large plunge pool. with the falls across its far side. After all the rain associated with the recent cyclone, the water was really thundering over the falls.

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Wangi Falls

No swimming was allowed in the pool yet, due to the strong water currents, I thought, so I was able to get some really good photos, without lots of swimmers in the water.

Dry Season tourists just did not get to see the power and magnificence of such northern falls.

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We found out, later, that a large saltie croc had been taken out of the plunge pool, last week, and that the pool would stay closed to swimmers until they were as certain as they could be, that there were no more crocs in there!

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Continued on to the Monsoon Cafe, about 5kms beyond Wangi Falls. The land there was on the edge of the National Park – a private area, set aside for development. We arrived mid afternoon.

Parked the rig in the large, gravelled parking area, and walked up a path through a lush, lawned area, to the cafe. First impressions were really favourable. It was most attractive, with lots of hanging fern baskets edging a veranda area containing cafe tables. More tables were outside on the lawn, in the shade of large trees.

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Inside, the cafe was quite quirky, with counter fronts faced with some sort of local split timber, and wooden poles supporting the roof. There were more tables in here.

We met the boss who hired us and his partner, B, in the cafe. They were very friendly. They told us we could set up our camp down by the creek, out beyond the cafe, so we drove the rig around and down. There was a flat area that he had made for some previous staff people, that he thought would be suitable  for the van – and it was. We would be side on to the creek, and from under our awning, would look out onto it and the bush beyond it.

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The space between the creek and van

The small creek was flowing – lovely.

The area was pleasantly “bushy”.

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We would have to use the same toilets that the public used, attached to the side of the cafe, and some distance from the camp. Closer, there were two staff showers – rather rustic bush style, rather reminiscent of those at Adels, but smaller.

When we were setting up camp, a little green frog hopped out of our floor matting bag and spent some time sitting on each of us. It was a cute little critter. We thought it must have gotten in there in Darwin, while the bag was lying on the ground under the van. I hoped it could find a suitable new home around here.

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We did the usual set up for an extended stay.

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Unloading the roof rack

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If our friend did come to work, there would be space for her camp just beyond ours

After setting up, we went back up to the cafe, for a bit of an introductory session, in the bit of time that was left in the afternoon. Had a good look around.

There turned out to be two owner/managers. It was Boss 1 we met. His lady, B, did the admin type work, and marketing, and oversaw the outside area that was set aside for bus groups to have lunch. She served in the cafe, also. Boss 1 was responsible for the plant and its upkeep, and the physical development of the place, by and large. Boss 2 handled the financial side. At least, those were the arrangements we gleaned.

Both men had home bases in Darwin and alternated being on site out here – about half a week each. Boss 1 and B had an old donga, just up the slope from our camp, Boss 2 slept in an old caravan that was parked part way between the cafe and our camp. Both men also cooked in the cafe, though my presence was supposed to allow Boss 1 to do other work about the place.

I decided that the work would be alright, for me at least. John’s role was less clearly defined – just outside tasks, it seemed. I just hoped that we got enough hours up to make it worthwhile and also that our pay was correctly handled, in regards to tax and super.

Keep was supposed to be part of the package, but not much was said about that. Yet to be sorted!

We ate tea at our van, made from provisions I had in the van.

It was nicely quiet at night. Could not hear the establishment’s generator. Just the usual bush sounds. As we like it.

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2006 Travels May 1

MONDAY 1 MAY     DARWIN

It seemed a bit cooler today, which was the official first day of the Dry Season.

We drove to the large Casuarina Shopping Centre and spent ages browsing there. Coming up to Darwin, in the couple of spare days we had, was mainly so we could so a bit of stocking up, since this job and location were different to what we had expected, when we packed at home.

John bought some shorts and a polo shirt. I bought some basic T shirts. We bought two CD’s and a DVD. Had lunch at the food court area – always a treat for John, who bought a bowl of stir fry. I managed to find a salad sandwich.

Did some grocery shopping too, at a supermarket there.

Refuelled Truck – 378kms – $1.42cpl.

We took a round about route back to the van, so John could suss out the bowls clubs at Fannie Bay and Nightcliff, for future reference.

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Lee Point Park entrance – from Google

I roasted a chook, and vegetables, for dinner, in the electric frypan, outside the van.

Being at Casuarina brought back a memory from 1990, when I’d brought a group of students up here from my Melbourne school.  I was driving one of Kormilda College’s Coaster buses, on loan, and had just dropped my load of students in front of the Casuarina shops, and was about to head off to find a place to park the bus. An elderly indigine, very much the worse for alcohol, climbed in before I’d shut the door, and demanded to be taken to Kormilda. It seemed he had come to Darwin from one of the remote Top End communities, in order to retrieve the teenager who was promised as his wife. He was quite angry that her family had sent her away to boarding school – possibly to get her away from his claims? He had read the school logo on the side of the bus and seized his opportunity. I was just grateful that none of my students was still on board. It took quite a while to convince him that I had only borrowed the bus, that I would not take him to Kormilda, and that the students there were away on holidays, anyway. I had to threaten to get the police and eventually he shuffled off, muttering to himself. I was quite shaken by it all – had felt somewhat threatened, there, for some time.


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2006 Travels April 30

SUNDAY 30 APRIL   MATARANKA TO DARWIN (LEE POINT)   430kms

Today was a hot drive on a very humid day.

As we passed through Katherine, could see little evidence of the big floods that happened earlier this month. But there were lots of high-flowing streams along the way.

Refuelled in Katherine – done 312kms. $1.43cpl.

Stopped at the Emerald Springs Roadhouse, north of Pine Creek, where John bought some chips for lunch. I did not fancy any of the offerings, so passed.

Long time since we had been to Darwin, so I picked out the Lee Point Caravan Park for our brief stay. I thought it was the closest to the sea and might be a bit more pleasant than those further from the water.

Our powered site cost $25 a night.

It was a very large park. The person who booked us in seemed quite disinterested in the whole process – not a great omen – but we would not be here for long.

Set up the van in a pleasant, grassy spot. A general area where we could select our own site had been indicated. But it was quite a walk to the ablutions block, and they were rather ordinary too. There was little provision for one’s belongings in the shower – no shelving at all, just two small hooks and a small soap holder. It was not easy to juggle clothes and towel – just had to sling them over the door, and hope that its top had been wiped clean by previous people doing the same thing.

We found out later that they had en-suite sites!

I was disappointed in this park. Wouldn’t be recommending it to others. Maybe it was different in the real tourist season.

Darwin was really humid, despite the proximity of the sea.

We drove to Leanyer shops for a few groceries and a newspaper.

It became obvious in the late afternoon, that there were sandflies around, so we slathered on the Rid so we could sit outside in the more pleasant temperature of the early evening.

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2006 Travels April 29

SATURDAY 29 APRIL   DALY WATERS TO MATARANKA   180kms

Today was to be a more leisurely day, now that we had made it through the bad weather.

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Morning at the Hiway Inn, and an easier way to get around, in these conditions

On the way out, we detoured to take photos of the flooded fords that had stopped us reaching the Daly Waters township, yesterday.

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At Larrimah, stopped for an early lunch at Fran’s Tea House, which I had read somewhere had really good pies and the like. John was most interested. We had a curried camel sausage roll each, John had a pasty, and we both had coffee. The food was very nice, but expensive at $22 for that lot.

Arrived at Mataranka at midday. I wanted to swim again in the springs there, so we booked into the Homestead Caravan Park. $22 for the site.

The whole place was very different from my memories of when we were here in 1993, but that had only been a quick call in. It seemed more run down. The thermal pool seemed smaller than I remembered, somehow. There were new looking board walks to the pool, river and Rainbow Springs.

The whole area had obviously had recent floods.

The ablutions block was pretty dirty – leaves and water everywhere. They said it was cleaned three times a day, but I saw no evidence of that, and if it happened, it was very superficial – the walls were really grubby.

There was an issue with fruit bats setting up colonies in the trees. They were using sprinklers to try to persuade them to move elsewhere.

We went for a dip in the thermal pool. It was quite pleasant. When we got out, it felt really cool – briefly! The day was actually very sultry.

We scored a new bird – a Shining Flycatcher – as we walked near the river’s edge.

After the bought lunch, neither of us was feeling all that well, so just had soup for tea.

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2006 Travels April 28

FRIDAY 28 APRIL   SOUDAN BORE TO DALY WATERS ROADHOUSE   690kms

We woke early, after a fitful night’s sleep, to a very wet and dark grey dawn. It was still raining solidly, but the wind was less.

The ground in our parking area still seemed fairly firm.

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Morning – grey, bleak, wet

We took our time having a basic breakfast, hoping conditions would keep easing.

Stopped at the Wonarah Bore Rest Area for a quick coffee and look at what that area was like.

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Wonorah Bore

Called in at Barkly Homestead Roadhouse and topped up the fuel – at $1.81cpl. Ouch. We’d done 271kms from Camooweal by then.

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Barkly Highway bush – and some hints of blue sky!

At Three Ways, the junction with the Stuart Highway, after another 195kms, topped up the fuel again at the roadhouse there where the fuel was a more reasonable $1.68cpl.

It was still raining at Three Ways, but began to ease off as we continued north.

There was lots of water lying about the road sides and there were flowing streams. It was actually really interesting to see the country like this, in contrast to what it had been like the other times we had driven this way.

North from Three Ways was a pretty section of country to drive, with lots of hills and ranges.

We stopped for lunch at Renner Springs Roadhouse. John bought a pie and an icy pole. I had a hamburger, which was probably not a good idea, but it was a generous one with everything. A bit greasy though. My preferred lunch  of a salad sandwich was not an option. The place smelled heavily of sewage, too!

Having been planning on staying for a few months at Adels Grove, and not being able to shop since then, we were not very well endowed with supplies, at the moment.

The bush still smelled great, wet. There were lots of birds about, due to the road side water and full swamp areas.

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About Elliott, the rain petered out.

As we continued north, decided to stay the night at the famed Daly Waters Inn, which we had not visited before, but which is almost a grey nomad rite of passage. But it was not to be. We turned off the highway, only to find that the way to the township was blocked by a stream that was almost a metre deep and flowing very fast. There was not even a creek or river marked here, on our map.

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The signposted detour route was blocked by the same stream. There was a sort of side track over a very small bridge structure, but we were not sure it would take the weight of our rig, so played it safe and went back to the highway, to the Hiway Inn at the Roadhouse.

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Refuelled there – $1.66cpl. Had done 400kms.

At the Hiway Inn,  we paid $16 for a powered site.

The camp ground was extremely soggy. We found a site on spongy, muddy, lawn, but it held the weight of the van. Further along, there was a full sized bus motorhome, bogged to its axles on the grass. Bet management was happy about that!

From the radio weather reports we picked up along the highway, we thought there had been several  inches of rain where we were last night. Guess it was yet another experience to add to the collection – spending the afternoon and night in the tail end of a cyclone – because that was what we had encountered.

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The path of Cyclone Monica (BOM)

Cyclone Monica had been a Category 5 cyclone when it came across northern Arnhem Land a few days before, but had quickly turned into a tropical low and turned to the south east inland, dumping lots of rain along the way.  Not having access to news or radio at Adels, we had known nothing of this when we decided to drive west – right into the path of the tropical low!

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from BOM site

Phoned M to update her. She was in Moree for the night, having just spent a great time in the Warrumbungles.  She loved it there. Gave her details about the Clermont station teaching job, in case she was interested. She was about to head off to Carnarvon Gorge National Park for almost a week. She seemed a bit taken aback by our change of plans. Said she would check with Adels if there was work for her, before heading up that way, later. She said she would come to where we were, if there was work for her. We would suss that out when we got there.

It was a strange amenity block here. It was a transportable structure, but with louvered batwing doors on the showers – and not very big ones at that! They certainly did not give a sense of privacy!

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2006 Travels April 27

THURSDAY 27 APRIL   ADELS GROVE TO SOUDAN BORE REST AREA   340kms

After breakfast, we hitched up, then took Truck to the bowsers to refuel. We’d done 368 kms since the last fuel (in Mt Isa), so John only bought 40 litres, at $1.50 cpl.

O had been expected, at 8.30am, flying in from Pungalina in the Jabiru, on the way to Isa, but had not appeared by the time we left. Pity – I had been looking forward to a quick catch up with him.

As we left, wondered if this was goodbye to Adels forever? Or if we would be back sometime?

Headed south, on the Riversleigh road. This was a lot drier than when we came up, less than two weeks ago. The areas broken by the trucks had not been fixed yet, but the side tracks around them were well settled and would present no problems for travellers.

The sky was grey today and it looked like it might rain. It was actually strangely cool, which was a pleasant change.

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Near Riversleigh

We stopped at the Site D at Riversleigh, for a nostalgic look around. John had expected to be doing the Adels tours down to here! We went in through the entrance structure, with its informative displays, then walked around the track through the site.

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Inside the Riversleigh entrance shelter. Representations of creatures re-created from fossil bones found at the site.

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Walking track round Site D at Riversleigh

The ford through the Gregory River was about half the height of twelve days ago!

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One section of the Gregory River ford – much lower than the last time we came through

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Still a fair current across the ford!

Took the Thorntonia road again, to the Barkly Highway, then turned west.

We picked up some radio reception. Heard that a trough was coming across these parts – the remains of Cyclone Monica that went through Arnhem Land three days ago. That explained the change in the usual weather.

Stopped at Camooweal to refuel. 225kms. $1.56cpl. The guy had to come out of the pub to serve us and did not seem at all happy to have a customer.

Rain set in, west of Camooweal, as we crossed the border into the NT.

There was plenty of surface water lying around and little streams were flowing, in places as shallow floodways across the road.  The country was very green and pretty.

On a tableland section, with no trees at all, there was a repeater station with a high fence around it – and a bird of prey perched on every post. It looked quite surreal.

We noted a very good looking overnight free camp area at Avon Downs Police Station – with toilets and a phone.

Our intention had been to reach at least as far as Barkly Homestead Roadhouse. But the rain grew steadily heavier, and the head wind stronger, until we were facing  into almost horizontal, driving rain. John was driving very cautiously and quite slowly, but the conditions continued to deteriorate to the point where driving was unwise.

Then, about 5pm, we found a rest area, that we later found was Soudan, and pulled into that.

The conditions by now were such that it was almost dark at this time.

There was another caravan and a group of camper trailers pulled up there. We found a spot where a small tree night act as a bit of a wind break. It was actually quite hard to see far and we did not want to risk driving around and maybe getting bogged. Neither if us wanted to get really wet and cold, walking around and looking!

There was a water tank and windmill there, but no facilities for travellers.

We did not unhitch or put up the poptop on the van. The wind was moaning around and getting stronger all the time. The rain was heavy on the van roof and getting heavier.

We got drenched, just getting from Truck to van. It actually felt very cold.

The bush smelled wonderful wet – really aromatic.

We wondered how far north this rain band was reaching, and whether it would delay the opening of the Gulf Track even longer. Also wondered whether Pungalina was affected – that might have accounted for the no-show by O.

I prepared a  scratch meal, having to work  partly bent over due to the low roof. Just tinned tomato soup, with Salada biscuits.

It rained heavily and the wind gusted, shaking the van, all night. It was certainly the worst night we had ever spent in the van. Had no way of knowing just how bad it was going to become and could only hope that the weight of the rig would keep us on the ground!

John was really worried that the unsealed surface of this parking area would be bog by tomorrow and that we would not be able to drive out.

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2006 Travels April 26

WEDNESDAY 26 APRIL     ADELS GROVE

I did smoko for the builders in the morning. Made potato rosti, cooked bacon and eggs to go with same.

The mail plane came in and we received the mail that the house sitter had forwarded from home.

The weekly supply truck came in and we helped unload it and put things away.

John used the public phone box to start making calls about jobs. Yes, there was work at Bundaberg, but it was mostly picking vegetables. That was too hard for our physical abilities and mental inclinations!

The lady near Clermont who wanted a teacher wanted him and offered him $700 a week wages. That was equal to what we would earn, combined, here. But there was no role for me. I could not see myself sitting around in the van doing little, for months on end, on some remote station.

An ad for a couple to do our sort of work, at the Bark Hut Inn, in the NT, on the road to Kakadu, seemed interesting. John tried to phone them, but could get no answer to his repeated calls. We found out later that they had just had the cyclone come through and were busy dealing with the damage. That included to the pen that held their “pet” saltie croc, where a tree branch had fallen over the fence. The croc apparently did not like chain saws, because it had attacked the man who was up a ladder cutting away the fallen timber, and taken away the saw! The worker was very shaken. A photo of the croc with the chain saw in its mouth subsequently made the front page of the Darwin paper.

John phoned friends H and D, who we had previously worked with here. They had spent the summer working at a resort on Fraser Island and we knew they were about to leave there to travel. The company had just hired replacements for them, so we were too late there. They suggested we call the Monsoon Cafe, at Wangi, near Litchfield National Park. Last Dry Season, H and D had staffed a tour company’s seasonal camp near there, and gotten to know the cafe owners. They said they were great people and they had previously mentioned us to them, as fellow seasonal workers.

So John phoned and spoke with one of the owners. Then he  wanted to talk to me, and he hired us then and there, because I could cook. He offered me $15 an hour and John $13 for outside work. John took over and negotiated that up to $16 and $14.

We decided to give it a go. It could be good. It would be new scenery in a great part of the country, at any rate. Being paid by the hour appealed too – provided we got enough hours to make it worthwhile. It might even end up being better than here.

It was arranged that we would start in a week’s time.

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Reflections

John phoned the Clermont station to say we would not be coming and explain why.

Then we went and told the bosses that we would be leaving tomorrow. They were really taken aback. One said to John : “But you’ve got all the knowledge!”. I think they were both truly surprised that we were not prepared to stick around, doing some of the work and not being paid, indefinitely. Also keeping M on hold, somewhere, as we’d been asked to do, in case she was wanted later. But there did not seem to be any hard feelings, so that was good. I guess they understood.

As if to underscore the point, the couple we had encountered at Tambo arrived at lunch time. There were staff queued up, waiting for work! I wished them more joy than we’d had!

The back packer bus groups would not be coming until the Gulf Track was open, which would be another month or more. Last year, we had made it through, quite easily, on 10 April. This showed that there could be such variation in seasons and conditions, up here.

We told V and F we were going. V said that she and F would not go off camping tonight – tomorrow was their day off – but would stay to spend a last night with us. We said they had to keep to their camping plans, knowing how much they valued time away on their own.

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By the late afternoon, we had done most of our packing up.

Phoned everyone who needed to know that we were moving on: our offspring, M, the house sitter – asked her to hold the mail until we contacted her again.

An email came in from the Pungalina boss. He said the place was slowly drying out. O had bogged the tractor on the track to the Safari Camp! I found it hard to imagine that track that wet. He said it would be many weeks more before they would be able to get supplies in and open the camp.

Said our good byes to V and F, with promises to keep in touch and see each other when we could.

There was no fuss at night. It was just staff and builders to tea – no guests. The bosses went to the office after the meal, for a video conference with the Isa partners. We helped with the dinner clean up. John helped MS learn a computer program for a while. I gave her some ideas for the builders’ smokos, because it looked like she would now be doing them. Then we went off to the van.

We felt sad to be going like this, but at the same time felt we needed to be true to what we had been feeling. We had been here for eleven days and in that time, contributed substantially.