This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2011 Travels April 29


We were up early. John still had a lot of his packing to do. Somehow, a lot had been left till the last minute. Yesterday, he’d mowed the lawns, and the exertion had left him quite breathless – bit of a worry.

Dog seemed to know something was afoot – she wanted to stay really close. Over the past couple of months, it had become evident that she had separation  anxiety. This had manifested first in a pup training session when the trainer had us each leave our dog with her, then walk around a corner out of sight. It is the only time I have ever heard a dog properly scream! She was really upset. At home, she’d carried on and tried to climb the fences, if we both went out. We’d eventually solved that problem by spreading her rawhide bone with peanut butter and giving her that as we were leaving. Being a cattle dog, stomach took precedence over all else. So, us going out no longer worried her too much.

The van hitch up went smoothly. I thought we might be a bit out of practice. We were to meet up with friend M at our destination. This would be her first outing with the Troopy newly converted to a poptop camper.

Left home at 11am, on a lovely autumn day. Driving was pleasant, through Yea, Bonnie Doon, Benalla, Milawa, and thence to Porepunkah. It felt so good to be on the road, with the van, again.

The first Truck travel of any distance with the dog went fairly well. She had never been enthusiastic about car travel, unlike a lot of dogs. She would jump in alright, and accept being harnessed up, but then would bark and be agitated, until we started moving. Then she just wanted to get right down on the floor, or as close to it as her harness would allow, and stay there for the duration. Once we stopped, up she popped, and the barking routine started again, until she was let out. This pattern had developed over any short drives we’d done at home, like down to the Lake for a walk, and nothing we tried could alter the performance, even food.

Stopped in a pull-in area by the toilets at Bonnie Doon, where there was a little picnic area with a couple of tables. I’d packed lunch rolls before we left. Dog handled the nearby people and traffic alright, just wanted to stay by us.

Stopped just out of Milawa, by the roadside, because we thought dog might need a toilet stop and drink. This time, she was really scared; being on the roadside, traffic was passing close by. She panicked and got out of her harness. Luckily I managed to grab her before she did something crazy, like run on the road. More acclimatizing to this sort of thing needed!

I had booked us into an ensuite site at the dog friendly Porepunkah Pines Caravan Park. It was a pleasant park, not too large. There was frontage to the Ovens River and lots of large trees in autumn colours, shedding their leaves. Our en suite was very nice. $308 for the week, less $20.80 discount.

Porepunkah en-suite site

When we stopped in the Park, Couey, of course, was agitating loudly to get out, so I rope tied her to a nearby seat, while we backed the van in and unhitched. She was pretty good while we did that, then tethered her to the back bumper while we set up the van. Behaviour good. She seemed to be accepting of passing people, there were the occasional little barks at passing dogs.

M arrived after us, surprising, because we’d expected her to be earlier and faster than us. The site she had been allocated was too small – she had an annexe at the back of the Troopy and there was no room to put that out. She was moved to a bigger site; it was not all that level, but she was happy enough. The Park was quite full, so there were not many options. Her setting up was a bit slow – a new process.

When all was done, we got together at our van for an extended happy hour. I gave her some of the cauliflower and bacon soup brought with me, and some coleslaw, towards her tea. We had cold cooked chicken maryland pieces, brought from home for tea, too.

There was a large group of people of overseas origins staying in the cabins and congregating in the camp kitchen/BBQ area, which made it difficult for anyone else to access the barbeques or sink.

Dog was good sitting outside with us at happy hour, then inside when we went in for TV watching – John’s Carlton team was playing football. There were several forays outside during the evening, in case dog needed same. While we were watching TV, she slept on the floor at the bed end of the van. When we went to bed, she made no fuss about being transferred to under the table, and slept there throughout the night.

The night was chilly, but it was great to be out in the lovely fresh air again.

So far, so good, and so much better than our only van foray with Birdy.

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2011 Travels March 23


About tea time last night, K, the lady who had bred Birdy phoned us again, with a bit of a saga.

Around New Year, she had bought a new pup  for herself, a pure Stumpy-tail Cattle Dog, something she’d long wanted. This pup was the accidental offspring of two working dogs, somewhere down in South Gippsland, and was the only pup born (or that the farmer let survive?).The farmer was impatient to get his mother dog back working, so the lone pup was sold to K, at only six weeks of age.

A very fat sole pup
Late December 2010

K’s existing dog – Birdy’s mother – acted as a kind of surrogate, ensuring some degree of dog socialization of the new pup.

Feb 2011 Couey and Birdy’s mum

Since New Year, though, K’s life had changed rather radically, she’d had to go to work full time, and she really had no time to train this new pup and manage two dogs.

Trouble managing that ear…..

We would really be doing her a favour if we would go round and see the pup, with a view to taking her.

This was just too soon for me. I was still a weeping mess over Birdy. I told John to make the token gesture of going round there, as he was more hard-hearted than  me, and able to say no.

John returned. He and pup had taken one look at each other – and it was love at first lick! She was, he said, totally adorable. Moreover, he was sure she was looking at him in a way that was pleading for him to remove her from a rather rough and ready household of teenage boys, one of whom had named her Cougar.

There was really little discussion. John’s heart was committed.

Next evening, after dark, we both went to K’s, paid her for the out of pocket costs the pup had entailed, to date, and brought Cougar – soon to be Couey – home. K lent us the crate she was used to.

Couey was, at this time, four months old, all awkward gangly long legs. I had to agree with John – she was gorgeous. She tentatively explored the house, was only prepared to venture into the yard if one of us went with her, then seemed content enough to sleep on a footstool by my feet, while we watched TV.

First night in her new home…

Her first few, acclimatizing nights, were spent in her crate; then she graduated,  happily enough, to what became her permanent bed.

Couey had never been out of K’s back yard, since arriving there on Xmas Eve. We were soon to find that, as a result, the outside world was a large and fearsome place to a timid dog. She was already house trained though – a blessing, and obeyed some basic commands. After a couple of days she was tentatively exploring the back yard – but not prepared to actually venture into the shrubbery.

Who could resist that face?

A couple of days after acquiring her, we took Couey for a Vet check. She cried while we were driving there in Truck! Had to carry her inside. She was two kgs heavier than Birdy was, at the same age. She checked out all OK. We resolved that she would benefit from puppy school, and booked her in for sessions run at the Vet Clinic.

Three days later,  we ventured out with her on a lead, she totally froze, terrified, when a car went past. She walked much better on the lead than we’d expected – clearly a very quick learner. But she barked at other walkers on the trail, and cowered at objects like prams and cyclists. Poor little girl. Introducing dog and world would be a long process.

By now, we’d been well amused by Couey’s explorations about the place. She fell into the swimming pool and got a massive fright. Instinctively, she could swim – but in the ensuing seven years we lived there, she never once went swimming in that pool, or any body of clear water. This was good, in terms of pool upkeep. On a really hot day, if we were in the pool, she would – very carefully – pick her way down onto the broad top pool step and lie there, with her tummy in the water. We were to discover that muddy water was a different matter…..

It took Couey only a couple of days to discover a supply of ripe figs, dislodged from the large back-yard tree every night, by possums and bats. Clearly, she was not exclusively carnivorous.

Puppy school continued horizon broadening. At 4 months, Couey was older than the other pups, much bigger than all of them, and initially terrified of them all, cowering in the corner behind me. But it all improved, with time, though she never became much interested in dog play. Apart from a degree of dog socialization, and owner training, the trainer taught the pups to tolerate thunder. She taught me the enormous value of peanut butter – for training purposes and pill administering.

Play with it? Eat it? Run away from it?

After more research on the Stumpy breed, I found that purtist breeders and those showing the animals, regarded a mixed parentage of red with blue/black Stumpys as of no value. Couey had one red and one blue parent and this could be seen in some lights as a red tinge to her otherwise mostly black coat. I wondered if, in fact, K had seen this after acquiring her and realized she could never be used as a high quality breeder? Our gain……she was to become the best companion dog we’d ever known.

And so the weeks passed. By the end of April, Couey had been spayed, recovered, and we judged it was time to see how she took to caravanning……

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2011 Travels March 22

22 MARCH 2011…..R.I.P. BIRDY

About 11am, John was pottering about outside, and occasionally throwing a ball for Birdy, who would retrieve it and drop it back at his feet. After a couple of such throws, she brought the ball back – and dropped dead at John’s feet. Instant.

There had been no warning signs. She had seemed her normal self, right up to that moment.

Birdy being her normal self

We were both distraught, probably partly from the shock, as well as grief.

Birdy was buried by the camellia hedge, in a position we could see from the kitchen window. It was not far from where our previous dog, Butch, had been interred by son, back in 2000. That spot was now marked by a birdbath. We buried Birdy’s favourite cuddly blanket and ball with her.

It wasn’t until she was gone, that we fully realized just how much that often annoying little lady had endeared herself to us. I couldn’t stop crying.

John phoned our Vet, to try to get some idea about what had happened. We did not wanted her mutilated in an autopsy. Vet said it must have been a massive heart attack, or an aneurysm.

We decided to phone the lady who’d bred her, just for her knowledge, in case there was some genetic component to what happened. She was upset too, at the loss of one of “her” pups.

The house seemed empty.

In early April, the Bendigo family came down for the weekend. Grandson, who had been very fond of Birdy, had designed a memorial plaque, and daughter’s partner had it made up at her work. Grandson and John went shopping for a suitable rock, the plaque was attached to that, and we all placed it on the area  where she was buried.

Several years later, when we were moving ourselves to Bendigo, we decided it would be fitting to take the Birdy memorial rock with us, to be relocated in our new garden, since we were also taking the Butch memorial bird bath too. Memories…..

Memorial rock and bird bath in our new garden

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2011 Travels March


We resumed our normal lives. I was making plans for some shorter forays with the van, once the bowls season was fully done and dusted.

Mid-month, I managed to hurt my right shoulder/upper arm. I was relaxing in the spa bath after a bout of gardening outside in the heat. Birdy came charging in, as was her habit, to check where I was, and decided to make off with my sandal, while she was at it. I took a backhand swipe at her and just connected, behind me. Instant realization …..that wasn’t a great idea. Hurt. Me much more than her. She didn’t even notice it and I had to haul myself out of the bath to go chase my sandal.

By the next day, had shooting pains down the arm and into the fingers, when I tried to do things.

Then  Birdy hurt her paw somehow. In sympathy? No – probably attacking the wooden side fence, behind which live the two next-door dogs. A toenail was torn nearly off. She was limping badly and doing an excellent “poor dog me” act. John took her to the Vet, who took off the nail and trimmed a couple of others. She didn’t limp at all when she arrived back home –  until the local anaesthetic wore off. Then she sulked and slept for the rest of the day.

My doctor said I’d torn ligaments/tendons in the shoulder, when I backhanded Birdy. He wanted to give me a cortisone injection, but I am wary of those, so received a course of anti-inflammatories instead. And a flu shot, to add insult to injury. He reckoned I would be back – for the cortisone!

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2011 Travels February 19


We had to be up early. Went down and had a buffet breakfast in the hotel; a continental breakfast was included in the cost, as was a Weekend Australian, which I took with me.

The hotel called us a taxi and we were at the airport by 8.30am. Had to queue to check in our luggage – and there were queue jumpers.

It took us ages, as usual, to get through Security, while they checked out John’s hips triggering their alarms. Whilst I waited, they did an explosives check on me. Again. Must be something about the way I look?

Our flight was delayed by weather. Very delayed. The plane was to go to Port Lincoln and back, before loading us and going to Melbourne. It was still on the tarmac in Adelaide at this time!

Once it was confirmed that our boarding would be over an hour late, we got called to collect a $10 meal voucher each. Not really generous – $10 didn’t buy much at airport prices. By then, I’d read the paper and was bored.

John went and sat where he could watch planes out the windows and got himself coffee and a pie. I went and sat in a comfy chair, away from the windows, where I could hear announcements, and just got a coffee. Qantas got off cheaply with me.

I was concerned that we wouldn’t now get to the kennels to collect the dog, and the place did not open on Sundays. Looked up the phone number on the laptop and called them – they were open until 5pm today. All I could do was hope.

It was after midday when we boarded. The Dash 8 didn’t rank with the big boys, being parked right out beyond the walkway end, so we had to walk across the tarmac to it. It was a propellor driven plane – bit of a novelty, these days.

A Dash 8 plane

The plane made up time to Melbourne, but of course we lost time crossing back to Melbourne time. The flight was alright. We had the two rear-most seats, which were excellent. Only the galley was behind us. Again, we had to walk across the tarmac from the plane, in Melbourne.

Collected luggage, phoned Jetport Parking, who turned up really quickly. The car was ready to go.

The drive to the kennels, out near home, was alright. Roads not too busy. We made it before closing time.

Birdy seemed rather confused to see us. The owner tried to demonstrate her newly acquired skills – walking to command, sitting, dropping down. He seemed very rough with her and she appeared  too scared for my liking. He said we had to learn how to walk her and boss her into obedience. All very well but I did not want a terrorized pup.

Finally, after parting with about $1200, we got her into the car and proceeded home. The dog was quite subdued, but obviously recognized home. I decided she was feeling good to be back.

I did a quick trip to the local IGA for some basics, like milk, and we bought a fish and chip tea.

Did some unpacking. Birdy was quickly back into her normal routines. It was good to be back home with her. I thought she’d had a pretty tough time. The hair was worn completely off her front “elbows”.

Early night. It had been another long, and rather stressful, day. John would have to be up in good time tomorrow for the last match of the pennant bowls season. Back to normal……

The trip had been wonderful. So much so, that we might do it again, some time in the future. But maybe a couple of months later in the year?

I had been the one who had been unenthusiastic about the idea of the Ghan experience. I was so wrong. Absolutely loved it, totally converted, definitely want to travel on the Indian Pacific too. 

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2011 Travels February 18


We followed the same morning routine, breakfasting as the train passed through Port Augusta. This was our last train meal.

The route from there to Adelaide seemed to me to be a bit round about as it wound around, but was interesting, as we passed through little towns at regular intervals.

The corridor outside our compartment

Just out of Crystal Brook, we saw where the line where the Indian Pacific train, from Sydney, joined ours. We’d already added the Indian Pacific journey to the bucket list – a mutual decision. The Indian Pacific and Ghan shared the same route, from Adelaide, to Tarcutta, north of Port Augusta, where the line to Perth headed west.

Daytime travel mode

Pulled into the Adelaide terminus about midday. It wasn’t the old, main station I’d assumed, from where I’d sometimes caught the Overland to Melbourne, but one on the western edge of the city – newer.

After getting off the train we had to wait around for what seemed like ages, for our luggage to appear, on trolleys. It was pouring rain. Then there were not enough taxis, so we had to wait for one of those, too.

From Darwin to Adelaide in three days and two nights

We were booked into the Comfort Adelaide Riviera Hotel, on the northern edge of the CBD. The only reason we were overnighting in Adelaide was to give a buffer time, between the train getting in and our flight to Melbourne going out. Delays can happen and it seemed smarter to have some wriggle time.

We had decided to fly back to Melbourne rather than catch the Overland train. That would have been a long day trip, sitting up, with no private compartment. The idea did not appeal.

Our room was adequate, but not in the same class we’d become accustomed to! Our room window looked out onto a light well, hence a wall. Yuk. It felt a bit gloomy and caged in. But it was clean enough, even if some parts were showing their age. The staff were very helpful – a plus.

I went online on the laptop and got our Qantas boarding passes for tomorrow. Had them emailed to the hotel, then went down and got them printed. Good service.

John wanted to go for a walk in the CBD, find some food, despite the rain. I wasn’t keen, especially as we could get what appeared to be perfectly adequate meals in the hotel. But off we went.

We got very wet as we walked the few blocks to Rundle Mall. There were the usual city centre shops in the Mall. There were also performers from the Comedy Festival that was happening. We wandered up and down the Mall for a while.

Ended up eating in DJ’s food court. John went for the usual pie and pasty, I had a Nando’s salad. That was late lunch/early dinner.

Walked a different route back to the hotel. It was still raining. John was looking for a place to buy some takeaway alcohol, but such are pretty rare in city centres and he didn’t find same.

Back in our room, I read the paper, John watched TV. I snacked on chocolate biscuits bought in Darwin.

Repacked for the plane, transferring our train stuff back to the big cases. Kept our on board items to an minimum, not being sure what we could take on a Dash 8 plane.

Our room was, at least, quiet, and we slept alright.

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2011 Travels February 17


Woke about 6am, and got up. We were dressed by the time the  hostess brought our morning coffees.

Outside was scrub country, nothing to identify where we were.

Went to breakfast. This was a great spread. Choice of juices, and fruit. We both had the cooked breakfast – bacon, egg, mushrooms, tomato, plus toast and jam. It was all very nice. I could easily get used to the lifestyle we’d enjoyed on this trip!

Outside, ranges came into view – the Harts Ranges around the Gemtree area, I thought. The rail route did pass well to the east of the Stuart Highway for much of the way south from Tennant Creek, which we must have passed through in the night.

Country to the north of Alice Springs

In contrast to yesterday, during the night it seemed we had totally outrun the bad weather – blue sky and sunshine outside.

We were back in our compartment, now changed back to day time mode, for a short while, before we cruised into Alice Springs, about 9am.

Passengers were not allowed to remain on the train here, because it was cleaned. Several tour options were offered – user pays. They were all to sights we’d visited in the past, so we really did not want to re-do any as part of a tour group. So we decided to walk into town and wander about there.

A surprising number of passengers left the train totally, at Alice Springs. I speculated that some might stay and “do” the tourist things, then fly elsewhere, or catch the next train, next week, south. I doubted that there were many residents among them.

Where the train pulled in – again a disembarkation down steps – was just a ground level area. We were about a ten or fifteen minute walk from the town centre. There was lots of broken glass on the footpath. It was quite hot to be out walking.

We went to the Mbantua Gallery – a favourite of ours. Here, we browsed for ages; it was that sort of place. They had wonderful and varied art works, at reasonable prices. We ended up buying a small painting on canvas, a sort of “leaf” style, by a young woman painter.

Then we wandered the Mall, looking in a couple more galleries.

My leg – the one affected by nerve damage in my spine – was hurting and my feet were tired. John was tired too, so we walked back to the train, knowing we were allowed to re-embark at 11.40. We timed it well, were checked on and soon back in “our” train home.

The Ghan at Alice Springs Station

Alice Springs, in the brief time we were out and about, seemed more threatening than we remembered from four years ago. We’d passed some large groups of “locals” who muttered and commented as we went and I’d been grateful that on this weekday morning, there were plenty of other people around. Still, in passing, we got some good whiffs of “eau de town camp” or maybe of Todd River bed camp. Either way, most unpleasant.

The train pulled out again, about 12.30. It was interesting to be on it, going through the narrow Heavitree Gap, in the McDonnell Ranges, instead of watching the train from the roadside, as we’d done on a few occasions. Road and railway are close together, through The Gap.

Stuart Highway and the railway converging through Heavitree Gap (Google)

We sat and watched the passing scenery. Adverse weather seemed to have caught up with us again. Storm clouds were building, and John finally got to see a good forked lightning display.

Storm clouds just south of Alice Springs

The Red Centre was the Green Centre. La Nina weather conditions for Australia, this summer, had clearly bought decent rains to the Centre.

Green countryside to the south of Alice Springs

We went to lunch, as we were – as near as we could work out – about level with Rainbow Valley and the Hugh Stock Route, both of which we’d previously driven. Whilst eating lunch, we saw Chambers Pillar in the distance.

A bit more arid looking now….

This was our first lunch on board the train, thanks to yesterday’s debacle, and it offered a good range of choices too, and yummy food.

We were just finishing lunch when the train slowed and the speaker system announced we were about to cross the Finke River. John quickly went to fetch the camera, and took photos.

Approaching the Finke River
Finke River with water in it

We spent the afternoon in the compartment, watching the passing country. It was all greener and much more lush than we had ever seen it. Overseas, or even local, travellers experiencing the Centre for the first time right now, must be wondering why on earth it was supposed to be arid country.

After lunch, our toilet wouldn’t flush. Much angst, wondering what we’d done wrong to make it malfunction. John went and found our hostess and reported the problem, prepared  for us to be embarrassed. Turned out it affected our whole carriage – the air compressor had tripped. No one else had been to hostess, though. Obviously everyone thought it was just them – as we had – and were feeling mortified. It was quickly fixed, thankfully, and clearly a common occurrence.

I sewed a bit. John sat by the window, gazing out and napping.

Went to the lounge car to have a drink, before tea.

Into South Australia……

There was a small range of souvenirs available to buy. Purchased John a very nice red-brown polo shirt, good quality weave, with a small Ghan logo on the pocket. Unfortunately, there was no stock in my size.

Tea offered lots of choices again. The Ghan food was certainly excellent. Spreading the meal out over three courses passed the time. By the time we finished dinner, the train was stopped at a siding near Coober Pedy and it was dark.

Back in our cabin, magically transformed into bedroom mode, we had a nightcap of our remaining wine, and went to bed.

Again, the night’s sleep was excellent.

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2011 Travels February 16


Woke to the alarm at 6am.

The wind had dropped overnight. However, the BOM was forecasting that a Category 1 cyclone – Carlos – would develop, with winds to 100kmh. There had been 367mm of rain from 9am yesterday to 9am today. The airport was closed.

The path of Cyclone Carlos

Breakfasted on oranges, weetbix, toast, then threw out the remaining food – not much.

We were downstairs, with our luggage, at 8am, for an 8.10 pickup. Another lady was waiting there too.

The bus was late. Eventually the Reception lady rang to check it was coming. It arrived a bit after 8.30. The lateness was understandable, given the conditions.

We made several other pickups at accommodation places around town, before heading out, to the Ghan Station. driving was a delicate operation. Trees were down, traffic lights were not working, there was much debris on the roads.

There were more passengers at the Station, and a second bus. We stayed on the same bus which was about half full, as was the second bus when we pulled out again. That meant it was reasonably comfortable, at least, with room to spread out a bit.

Left the Station about 10.15am, which would have been about train departure time.

As we were passing Palmerston,  and crawling through water across the road, the driver told us how “they” made the Tiger Brennan Drive extension too low for the big semis, at one point where another road goes over it. The solution was to lower Tiger Brennan Drive by a metre or so, whereupon the water table was intersected. Now, there were ongoing problems with this. Only in Darwin…..

In sections, one side of the dual road Stuart Highway was flooded, and so traffic became two way on the other side. I wondered if the road builders had elevated one side for this reason, or if it was a lucky fluke? We were lucky to get through at all.

Driving down the up side, with flooded highway in distance

At Noonamah, we pulled in by a servo. The other bus was there – broken down, apparently. So its passengers were loaded onto our bus. Every seat was full. It became really stuffy, very quickly – the air-con was ineffectual in these conditions.

Maybe in an effort to distract us from our discomfort, maybe because he liked the sound of his own voice, the driver kept up a running commentary, on local facts, environment, history, events. Some of it was just factually wrong, according to what I knew. It became really annoying.

Then the driver announced that we would not be stopping, as had been planned, at Emerald Springs, for a break, but “for operational reasons” would continue through to Katherine without a break. This was rapidly becoming the bus trip from hell.

Stuart Highway under there.

John had to use the on board bus toilet. He reported that it was very hard for him, with the bus swaying, in the confined space, and not all that clean…. I preferred to go thirsty and not drink much of my bottled water, trying to ensure I didn’t need to use the toilet.

Some of the passengers were from overseas and did not have any idea of the distance involved, from Darwin to Katherine. They didn’t even have any water and none was provided on the bus. They were really cross and disgruntled. I decided we were travelling with some sort of local outfit, organized at the last moment, and not really set up for comfortable travel over several hours.

We passed through the Katherine outskirts and were taken straight out to Nitmiluk, where we got out of our torture chamber. Obviously, I had not been the only person annoyed by the driver’s errors – the woman in front of me as we disembarked, said sweetly to him “Oh, by the way Jawoyn is pronounced……” (not the way he had mangled it). I couldn’t top that one.

It had stopped raining so heavily after about Pine Creek and now was more just showers.

Lunch was served to us at the Nitmiluk Visitor area. It was a buffet style one for Gold and Platinum Class passengers. Red Class ones had to stay on the bus. I guess they got dumped in Katherine to fend for themselves.

After lunch we were given the chance to do the one hour boat trip on the Gorge, for free. Clearly, there was some compensating going on for our altered experience, to date. Some chose not to do the boat trip, but we wanted to. We hung back from the initial rush, and so got a place on the second, smaller boat.

Katherine River near the Visitor Centre
Red rock walls of Katherine Gorge
Not how most tourists see this cave feature….

Aboriginal guides take the boat tours. The commentary by our guide was interesting. He only spoke when there was something worth pointing out or telling us. A marked contrast to our bus driver!

The river was high and flowing quite strongly. Because of this, and the green-ness, it all looked very different from how we’d seen it on previous trips. Back in ’93, we’d canoed along this same stretch.

Swirling currents in the strongly flowing river

In places, there were little waterfalls coming down the cliffs.

Black staining on the rock walls shows waterfalls

After about 40 minutes, we turned about and went back down river to where we started. Because of the currents, it was faster going that way.

Back near the Visitor Centre

The tour was worth doing. I’d have paid for it, certainly. At one hour, it was just enough to give a good taste of the Gorge at this time, without becoming boring. We’d seen the first part of the Katherine Gorge system in a mode that most tourists, visiting in the Dry, had not.

We climbed back on the bus – fewer people now, as the Red Class and the non-boat trippers had already gone. And thus to the train – at last! By now it was 4pm.

I suppose I’d been expecting the standard sort of train station platform, like in Melbourne, so was surprised to find that we accessed the train from ground level, via little mobile stairs.

Our carriage – H – was towards the back of quite a long train. We were checked on board at the doorway to this. Our compartment – 7/8 – was dinky! We had a carriage hostess, who introduced herself.

The lounge seat was also the lower bed, so it was about two metres long – plenty of sitting room. The compartment  was not very wide, but there were two little robe cupboards, and adequate storage space, under the bed and on top of the bath cubicle roof. But I could see why we’d had to limit our onboard luggage, with our main suitcases checked into the luggage carriage – we hoped! Given the earlier bus trip experience I wasn’t totally confident in their ability to transfer our cases from bus to train.

We had a nice big window – no problem seeing the passing country from that. The carriage layout was a corridor down one side that gave access to the compartments, so the latter were almost the full width of the carriage.

Our en-suite bathroom was a bit of a challenge. There was a fold-up toilet, which needed some care in operating! A fold-up hand basin was above that. To shower, one pulled a curtain across in front of the door, toilet and basin, but that didn’t stop the floor from getting wet, of course, and – as we were to discover – it took ages to dry.

Ghan toilet and shower curtain

We got going – hooray!

John and I went along to the lounge car and had a can of beer each, to celebrate finally being on The Ghan. Then we were called to dinner – there was an order in which different carriages were served.

We sat with an older couple. He was 91 and stroke affected, so his speech was hard to follow against the background noise of the train. They’d lived on the Qld gem fields for years – she had some great jewellery. So we talked fossicking, mostly. They’d lived in a van at The Willows fields.

Dinner gave us a choice between soup or some type of quiche entree, main was a choice between a chicken dish and salmon, which I had. There was a choice of desserts too. We had a bottle of wine with dinner.

The food was wonderful. Beautifully presented and serves not too big.

We took another bottle of wine back to our compartment. While we’d been gone, the beds had been set up. The lounge had become a lower bed and a top one had somehow folded down from on high. The beds were made up and turned down. All very seamless.

We had a glass of wine each, sitting on the lower bed. It had grown dark while we were in the dining car, so there wasn’t much to be seen outside by now. We were surprised to realize that it was already 9.30pm.

John said he would take the top bunk. Noble of him. I was tired. It had been a long day. So we went to bed. There was moonlight outside, so once the interior light was off, we could see trees and scrub passing by.

I had no trouble falling asleep. The slight rhythm of the train was very soothing. I woke a couple of times through the night, to find the train stopped, but could only see bush around. The schedule we’d been given did indicate a couple of stops – maybe to allow other trains past? Or to rotate train crews.

It had been overcast all day, though we’d travelled out of the heaviest rain. Found out later that, essentially, we had travelled through Cyclone Carlos when we first left Darwin, and it was now to the north of us. Over the three day period from 15-17 Feb, Darwin was to get nearly 700mm of rain. Had we been a day later trying to get to the Ghan at Katherine, it wouldn’t have happened.

“Let’s see Darwin in the storm season” he said…….

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2011 Travels February 15


Woke to strong winds and heavy rain squalls. Turned on the TV to get a forecast. That little tropical low that had only warranted a brief mention, yesterday, now was said to have a 50% chance of turning into a cyclone by Thursday. Bloody wonderful! John wanted to see Darwin in the Wet Season – maybe this was overdoing  it,  just a tad?

Squally wind gusts, to 98kmh were forecast. And rain….

Bleak outlook from our bedroom window

The Stuart Highway south was closed by floods at Noonamah. The Mandorah ferry was not running and had been moved inside the Marina. We could just hope the Ghan makes it through….

The skies were all grey. The winds were strong even in the central atrium of the building.

Rain blown into the central atrium – and onto my camera!

John went down in the lift to get the daily paper. I decided that when I had to go downstairs, I’d use the stairs – didn’t want to get trapped in a power failure in a lift.

While he was down there, John asked the lady at Reception to arrange for the Ghan bus to collect us, tomorrow, then came back and told me he’d done that. I was really cross – I’d clearly told him that I’d arranged this, back with the rest of the trip, in Melbourne. I rang Reception and explained our transport was already arranged, and that my husband was “confused”.

They asked us to bring our balcony furniture inside. Workers were putting the pool furniture – tables and chairs – into the pools at our complex, and the one we could see, next door. This was starting to seem rather serious.

Not much traffic out and about….

According to the paper, last night’s ship was the Diamond Princess, out of Port Douglas, bound for Indonesia. She was in port at Fort Hill Wharf for part of the day – over lunchtime included. Over 1000 passengers would be braving the rain to have a quick look at the town. So that would be an area to avoid.

Drove to nearby Sky City to have their seafood buffet lunch once again; it was cheap with the Monday to Wednesday discount, plus our Action Club one. We had a big feed, because it would be dinner too – in these conditions we would not be going out again, anywhere.

At Sky City, also, workers were packing away anything from outdoors, and sandbagging the bottoms of doorways facing seawards.

Everyone we spoke to today said there hadn’t been weather like this in Darwin for at least eight years. Trust us to land in it. Concern was expressed on the media that there were now a lot of people living in Darwin who had never experienced a cyclone and wouldn’t know what to do.

Then to Nightcliff shops again. It was hard driving, in the wind and rain, and somewhat scary. Something hit the car roof with a thump – a little coconut? There was lots of leaf litter and small debris on the roads. It actually felt quite cold.

At Nightcliff, the lights were out and the shops were on emergency power.

We bought wine and some snack foods for the train. The supermarket shelves were being rapidly emptied – just about every shopper was buying supplies of bottled water.

Refuelled the car, then drove to Stuart Park to return the car. The wind was getting worse all the time. We were very glad to get to Thrifty with no mishap. Their staff were not going outside in these conditions to inspect the car – said they’d look at it tomorrow. We hoped there wasn’t a ding in the roof – or if there was, they would think it happened at their place.

They called us a taxi. We only waited about 15 minutes for it to come, which was pretty good in these conditions.

Back at the apartment, received a phone call from Great Southern Rail. The Ghan train was being terminated at Katherine and we would be bussed down there tomorrow. Damn! I hate bus travel.

We watched the weather – by now a howling gale – out the windows.

Palm trees showing the wind direction…

I packed what I could, cleaned out the fridge.

It turned out that today was the coolest February day on record in Darwin, at only 24 degrees.

The wind howled and wailed through the atrium, all night, making it harder to sleep.

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2011 Travels February 14


After breakfast “in”, we drove back to Star City and the Casino, through rain.

In our apartment. The curtained window, rather strangely, looked onto the walkway and atrium

Being a Monday, we were due to receive a free recharge on our Action Cards: $20 worth of poker machine credits, vouchers for $5 Keno games and a free drink. Provided one stuck to the limits of the freebies, this was worth having. It provided us with something to do, as we were, to some extent, just filling in time now. My original plans had us spending last Thursday, Friday and most of Saturday on a trip out to Kakadu, so by now we’d done the Darwin based things that really appealed, that could be done in the increasingly wet weather.

We played the pokies, taking winnings as we went. When my “free” money ran out on the card, I had $17 cash. I’d had to put in a dollar of my own to start, and another dollar because John told me wrong information, so the actual profit was $15. John didn’t do quite as well, but still made money. Then we played Keno while we had our free drinks. John said I had to pay $5 to get the free $5 worth, so I did that, buying ten games. He was wrong, and I could have just had the free games. Anyway, I got back $7, so finished that with a profit too. Again, John didn’t do as well and just broke even. So we left Star City with profits.

I’d have spent time in the Aqua Bar there, just to watch the unicorn fish they had swimming around in the large fish tank. Loved them.

Went to the Nightcliff shops, where I mailed some postcards to grandchildren. Bought a couple of novels from a book exchange – reading for the train. Bought some lunch – a pasty and sausage roll for John,  savoury bread roll for me. Parked out by the little jetty there, to eat the food. The seas were really wild.

John wanted to drive out the Kakadu road, to see some more of the bush and country in the wet conditions. But we only got as far as  Palmerston when it became obvious that the rain and storms were getting worse, so we turned back.

On the way back, stopped at the fish wharf and bought a kilo of really large, cooked, tiger prawns, for tea, and half a dozen oysters as well to be a dinner appetizer for John.

Then, back to the unit. Sat out on the balcony watching the marina and the changing skies, until we were driven inside by rain squalls blowing in.

Not long after, we saw a light moving over the trees beyond the marina. It grew into the top lights of a  big ship. Quite surreal. Once it cleared the low hills, it was obvious that it was a really large cruise ship. We watched it “turn the corner” and disappear behind the buildings. The shipping channel here is really close to the shore. Unfortunately, it was too dark to take photos of the ship.

The upper decks of a ship were clearly seen above the tree line shown here

Our prawn dinner was lovely, with some salad.

Heavy rain came, with wind squalls, just as we finished tea. The Bureau of Meteorology for Darwin was hopeless, we decided. “Showers” had been forecast for today. There was a dinky little tropical low in the region. For the rest of the night we had heavy rain and wind.

Marina in the rain

Today’s grey and wet weather had, at least, made the temperature a bit lower – only 28 degrees top today, compared to the 31 degrees we’d been having each day previously.