This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2005 Travels March 10

THURSDAY 10 MARCH   HOME TO GRIFFITH   465kms

After a few days of relatively calm and methodical packing – albeit with some last minute packing by John – we left home at 9.30am.

Our new housesitters, L and R, had visited us yesterday, to be briefed. They seemed very keen to meet our expectations and I felt good about them. They assured us that one of them would always be home at night with Spook cat – which was above and beyond what we were asking – and they would take care of his special food needs. He had just been diagnosed as diabetic, to complicate matters. They seemed anxious to get into garden upkeep!

Spook seemed sulky and withdrawn – I think he knew we were off again. It was sad saying goodbye to him, not being sure we would see him again.

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It was a routine trip north over ground much covered before. Yarra Glen, Yea, Seymour. There was the usual stop at Nagambie to buy sinful food at the bakery for John, which he ate sitting by the lake – great place for a stop.

At Tocumwal, we took a break and walked along the Murray River bank.

We did not eat the lunch rolls I had made at home, at lunchtime, due to the effects of the earlier bakery stop!

Refuelled at Jerilderie – $1.14cpl.

Reached Griffith about 5pm.

We took an en suite site at the Griffith Tourist Park for $24 per night.  Just felt like a bit more luxury than usual. Got chatting to the park owner, as one does, and he was interested to find out where we were going. He was keen to hear about Pungalina, as he went fishing in the Gulf region, regularly. I fished out a few of our brochures for him.

After basic set up, we walked to an area of shops, and Woolworths. I wanted to buy some grapefruit for breakfasts – we could not bring any with us, due to quarantine rules. Also had to buy toothbrush and toothpaste for John, who had realized he’d forgotten to pack any.

John was wearing thongs and did not manage the quite long walk very well.

Tea was the neglected lunch rolls, and defrosted chicken pieces I’d previously cooked.

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2005 Travels February – March

BEFORE DEPARTURE……

Over the summer, Truck had a huge service and repair of clutch, gearbox etc – over $6000 worth! This was done at a Landrover dealer we had changed to last year, after issues in 2003 with the previous one.

Van had the under chassis painted and a service – over $1000 worth, at Trakmaster.

These costs would have been needed had we just been going travelling, anyway, rather than going off to work. A degree of age was catching up with our rig. Truck had now travelled 220,000kms – some of them pretty tough ones.

We had a new solar management system installed by a specialist in alternative power systems. He turned out to be a former staff member of the Outdoor Education company my school had used, and I knew him from then. He found that the van batteries were defunct – probably due to mismanagement back from 2002 by the incompetent  who installed the system back then. Our new power man recommended Full River AGM batteries, which we were able to source at mates rates through an electrician friend.

The new solar management system gave us much more information about what was happening with the solar system and batteries. It was easiest to install it next to the old one, so we had new and defunct side by side.

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Defunct and new solar management systems

We noted, with some amazement after reading a recent article in a caravan magazine, that it appeared the incompetent solar power man was back in business, under a new company name! More trusting innocents to be sucked in!

John arranged for A to see the alternative power person, to discuss possible options for powering Pungalina, such as a system operated by the force of running water in the creeks.

A few weeks after the Truck works were completed, its electricals died. New batteries were needed. The old ones were bone dry. Checking these had been overlooked by Landrover dealers in successive servicings, it seemed.  It was no consolation to be told the latest mistake was that of a second year apprentice…”But we’ve sacked him now”. Clearly, oversight was lacking. We decided to put AGM batteries in Truck, too.

We were disconcerted to find, when gearing up for the trip, that the CB and HF radios no longer worked. Clearly, something the Landrover service centre had done, had disabled them. So it was back across the suburbs to the dealer, to get that rectified. Apparently, “someone” had overlooked reconnecting that part of the electricals. That was kind of the last straw for us – seriously considering just finding a non affiliated competent general mechanic!

We had arranged new housesitters through an online site. This Tasmanian couple had a daughter with young family living locally, and they wanted an extended sit, to be near her while she had a new baby.

Friend M, who had spent some time travelling with us in the Pilbara, last year, had finally decided to retire from teaching and embark on travel. We spent time helping her firm up her plans, culminating in the sale of her home and her purchase of an ex-Telstra Toyota Troopy, and gear for travel and camping with that.

We spent some time preparing for this year’s adventure.

John made the folding tables, bought lights and other potentially useful stuff. He packed some of his own gear that might be needed. He bought packets of vegetable seeds for the garden he was to get going properly.

I sewed some chef’s style aprons, figuring that there were unlikely to be any already there, and thinking I should look the part. Used plain coloured heavy cotton – in safari camp colours of black and light brown. John asked for a couple to be made for him, in case he was doing something like open fire barbequing. I made him two, from a heavy striped cotton. They looked different!

I did a lot of recipe research and roughed out potential menus for camp groups, allowing for possible supply issues. It was a good thing that I had some experience of remote life! I bought things like food handling gloves, enough pannacotta moulds to cater for twelve people – and packed quite a bit of my own cooking gear to take, beyond that which usually travelled in the van.

Close to departure time, my laptop computer (which had been a hand-me-down from John) stopped working properly. I took it to our computer man for possible repairs. If it could be fixed, he would send it up to us. That was quite a blow because it potentially limited my ability to do things like word process letters to family and friends, store photos from the digital camera that I had decided to rely totally on, this year.

John did some preparatory work to set up as observers for Birds Australia. We had decided that Pungalina offered potentially rewarding bird surveying, being so remote and little populated. It would be an extra interest for us.

I phoned our Griffith friends and arranged to visit them on our way north.

At the last minute, A dropped in some signs he’d had made for each of the camp tents – they were to have local plant names, like Bauhinia. They were wood and very nicely done. John would have to put them in place. A also bought some sets of binoculars, for the use of guests, and a heap of Pungalina pamphlets he’d had printed. We were to put these into caravan parks and information centres, as convenient, as we travelled north.

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John fuelled up Truck, and filled the jerry can – $1.10cpl.

There was not much room left in or on Truck – or in the van!

 


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2005 Travels February

 BACKGROUND……

In 2003, we worked the tourist season at Adels Grove, in far NW Qld. During the course of this, we met O, who managed a new, small, tourism venture at a remote property in the NT Gulf country. He invited us to visit there, with a view to seeing if we would like to work there in 2004.

We did drive up there and camped in our tent for a week, finding out about the safari camp operation and the property in general. I came away with plenty of doubts about the conditions in which I would be expected to cater for guests. John came away very keen.

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During 2003 at Adels, I also encountered A, the Melbourne based owner of a small aviation company, that conducted tours to interesting and remote places. I had mentioned Pungalina to him, as a possible new stop over on his tours of the Top End.

The 2004 employment did not come to pass. When O contacted us he simply said that things had changed and what would happen in 2004 was uncertain. And so we went touring in WA.

O contacted us again, late in 2004, to say that the way forward was more clear and to ask if we might still be interested. When we said possibly, he replied that the new owner of Pungalina – A, the aviation company owner, would contact us to interview us about working there.

In 1999, the Pungalina pastoral lease had been bought by a Melbourne man, in a kind of partnership with O, who scouted the property for him. R provided the finance; O would live there as a caretaker, and do necessary development work, like building an airstrip.

As we’d found out, in 2003, R and O had started the small tourism venture there – a safari camp for small groups. When we’d been to look at it, that year, it seemed quite ad hoc and reliant on young backpacker type staff.

Unfortunately, in 2004, R had to sell the place, as part of a divorce settlement. It was bought by A and his wife S – as dovetailing neatly with their air tour business. They had visions of it becoming a significant destination on their tours. They maintained a similar arrangement with O – he would live at Pungalina and do the required development work, in a form of partnership.

2005 would be the first full operational season under this new ownership.

A and S came to see us at home, and I made a light lunch for them. We discussed their expectations for the way the safari camp should be run. I sensed an undercurrent that they were looking for a more professional, less casual approach. S seemed particularly unimpressed that when they called in there, last year, with a tour group, they were fed pumpkin soup by the backpacker staff person – and not much else. It had not made a great initial impact! But maybe they also were not fully aware of the issues of managing somewhere so remote?

It was agreed that we would take on the roles of managing the safari camp and looking after guests – although obviously O would still be in overall charge and have the key role in guiding visitor activities.

We would receive the same pay as at Adels – $350 clear a week, and keep. Industry super would be paid. We would have 1.5 days off a week, but would take those flexibly, when it suited the camp needs.

One very good piece of news was that A had bought, last year, a second hand commercial gas stove and oven, and had it transported in, with considerable difficulty, late in the year. So the cooking facilities would not be the hole in the top of a fire drum that I’d feared. However, A still seemed to expect some “bush cooking” – for the atmosphere.  He mentioned barramundi wrapped in ti-tree leaves and cooked in a fire pit! Really? Unless O could do that, it wasn’t going to happen! I had visions of unwrapping fish charcoal in front of hungry guests.

A clearly wanted us to provide greater feedback about what was going on up there, than he had received to date. This, we could see, had the potential for a rather difficult situation for us, in terms of loyalties, but was something we’d have to figure out as we went along.

They also mentioned that O was arranging for a mechanic friend of his from northern Victoria, to go and spend two or three months there, later in the year, working on the camp vehicles – particularly on building what A called the “billy cart” – a large, open air vehicle that could transport 12-14 people at a time around some of the property’s tracks.

It certainly seemed that S and A were serious about turning the Pungalina camp into a quality experience for guests.

So our plans firmed up. We would drive up to Adels Grove and work there over the busy Easter period and after, until such time as the Gulf Track was opened. O would make contact to arrange for us then to drive into Pungalina.

We would manage the safari camp there, then, for the season – maybe as late as October or November  – then come home.

M at Adels was very happy that we were available to work in the lead up to Easter and beyond. She accepted the uncertainty about how long this would be for.

A arranged with us that we would take some things that they had bought, up for the camp, and they would in return pay our fuel and accommodation costs en route. There were new towels, some hot water bottles (I guess mid-year nights could be chilly), water drinking bottles, some pairs of boot protectors, small mirrors, water shoes, snorkelling masks.

It was agreed that John would make some of his folding wooden tables to take up for use at the accommodation tents. He would be paid for these. We would buy some solar powered lights for around the camp. I would get some staple food supplies in Cloncurry on the way through – non perishables, of course. All such costs would be reimbursed.

S and A seemed very open to the idea that there may be quite a lot needed to bring the camp up to the standard they wanted.

A folder containing a draft of their Procedures Manual was dropped in for us. Clearly, a good deal of thought had gone into this and I found it very useful, if a little daunting! I thought that, in parts, it was perhaps geared to backpacker workers – who had not worked in hospitality before, or in remote parts. There was quite a lot of emphasis on cleanliness! And on behaving like staff, rather than guests….

ABOUT PUNGALINA

The property was 500,000 acres. It was a pastoral lease, but seemed to have never really been operating as a successful venture – too small for those parts! It originally was part of neighbouring Seven Emu Station, to its west, but was of such little value to the operation that it was separated off and sold as a separate lease in about 1971. During the 70’s some improvements were made to the place, as was supposed to happen for pastoral leases: some yards were built, some parts fenced, a large shed/house built, some cattle were run.  In the early 80’s, a government built track provided access to the “homestead” area. By the mid 80’s, however, any occupancy or work on Pungalina had been abandoned. The destocking for Brucellosis and TB in the early 80’s appeared to have been the final thing making the property unviable.

Apparently there had. at some stage way back, been a home of sorts, further north than the 70’s home site, on Pungalina Creek, a tributary of the Calvert. This was over the western side of the Calvert, on Seven Emu, and presumably accessed from that side. Some mango trees still remained there.

Pungalina contained a range of landform types and habitats. Sandstone escarpments, low limestone ranges with caves under some sections. Some wetland areas were filled by rain events, some were spring fed and permanent. There was the riverine environment along the Calvert. Clearly, it was rich in animal and bird life. The decades of neglect, coupled with the fact that it was never really consistently grazed, had allowed the place to return to virtually its original state, which made it really quite unique.

In the late 1990’s, O was working with a hunting safari business in the Gulf country and it was there that he met the client who expressed a wish to own a cattle station. O found that Pungalina could be available and they went and inspected it – as best they could, given the years of neglect of its few tracks. R was convinced that the property had potential to fulfill his dreams of having a cattle station and perhaps a hunting safari venture.

So R purchased the lease and O moved onto the property in late 1999. He occupied the old tin shed “house”, set on a bluff above the Calvert River.

The initial idea of running a cattle operation did not happen. There were some feral cattle on the place – left over from earlier times and probably some strays from neighbouring Seven Emu and Wollogorang. Early on, they did a muster of the place, with the help of staff from Seven Emu, and sold off the feral beasts that were rounded up, excepting a small herd destined to provide meat for O and any tourism venture.

O had a massive array of tasks before him, after he moved in. He made the old tin hut and the elderly caravan that was there, habitable. A verandah went onto part of the hut. One end of it was to be the living quarters. He lined inside the tin roof with great sheets of paperbark – effective insulation, but I always hated the thoughts of what was actually living up in there! Most of the tin walls of this part of the  original hut were replaced by a low wall of mud bricks with shade cloth above it completing the wall. One full, solid wall of mud brick provided the framework for the wood burning stove and a sink.

The other end retained its tin walls and was the store area and garage for his vehicle. An old caravan – the Silver Bullet – once used to house mobile road work crews – provided a bathroom and toilet (once there was water connected), a spare bedroom and another bedroom or – for a while – schoolroom; in our time there it served as an office. Another old caravan behind the house was vaguely habitable.

O had installed running water to the house and Silver Bullet – from a pump in the river that fed into a tank he’d put up on a nearby low hill. A diesel generator eventually provided electricity.

It should be noted that there was little to work with when he’d moved in to the place. Everything he needed had to be gotten, somehow, to either Wollogorang Roadhouse or the Redbank Mine, and then he would drive the 64km long, rough, sandy track to the Gulf Road to go collect whatever. This was only possible, of course, in the Dry season.

Initially, O had no means of contact with the outside world, but eventually, through Telstra, a sat phone service was installed.

An early imperative was to construct an airstrip – for Flying Doctor access as well as access to the outside world in the Wet season. O’s big old bulldozer was brought from storage at Charleville. R helped source some second hand machinery. Then, a new machinery shed needed to be built.

The airstrip build was a massive achievement by O. The space for it was made 500 metres wide and the strip was 1.5kms long. The area had to be flattened, huge rocks moved out of the way. It was made even with gravel – plenty of that around the river – then it was rolled, watered, rolled some more.

Unfortunately, just after the airstrip was finished, there was the huge Wet season of 2000/01 and over 100 inches of rain fell on Pungalina. The airstrip was washed away by the flooding Calvert River. It was rebuilt by O and serviceable by mid 2001. Apart from air access in a medical emergency, that also meant service by the weekly mail plane from Tennant Creek, and an alternative way for guests to come in. Once O bought a small light plane, he was able to use that to scout the property, find various features worth checking out and plot where access tracks might go.

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The airstrip and machinery shed

A vegetable garden was set up – sort of; it was fenced to keep the feral cattle out. Banana and pawpaw trees were encouraged to grow around the house.

O fenced a sizeable area that would become a paddock for some cattle, where it would be easier to find and kill a beast, as needed.

Then the tasks were exploration, track making, setting up a camp to accommodate the tourists that O and R had decided the venture would focus on. By the time we were there in 2005, O had gained the agreement of the owner of Seven Emu, and made a rough track from the northern border of Pungalina, through Seven Emu, to the tidal section of the lower Calvert River, close to the coast.

So, after a mammoth and difficult endeavour, that would have defeated many mortals, the safari camp tourism venture started in 2003.

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2004 Travels October

SUNDAY 17 – FRIDAY 22 OCTOBER   NARRAWONG

Truck and van had one more outing in 2004.

We travelled from home to Narrawong, near Portland, in western Victoria, where we stayed for five nights. This was at the suggestion of son, who had booked a cabin at the very pleasant Narrawong Caravan Park, for a week. We could have opted to stay in a cabin also – it would have been much easier! But son felt that if we had the van on a site there, grand daughter would gain a greater understanding of what we did when we were away for months on end travelling. That worked well – she was quite fascinated by how we lived in it. Different to just seeing it parked at home and not in use.

Our stay was constrained by John’s bowls – it was Saturday Pennant season.

We took the Western Ring Road to skirt the central part of Melbourne, on our way to Geelong. From there, it was via Colac and Camperdown to Warrnambool, then along the coast, west to Portland. Being a Sunday, the trip through the urban areas was not too congested. However our return on the Friday, the same way in reverse, meant we were travelling with much more traffic, especially trucks and commercial vehicles. We’d left Narrawong early enough to be home before the afternoon peak hour in Melbourne, but even so, John did not enjoy the driving! His choice – we could have waited and returned on Sunday, but at the cost of bowls!

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Our powered site cost $12 a night.

We had, back in 1998, had a quick look at this park one day, when we cycled here from Portland. Then, we thought it looked a very attractive place to stay – better than where we were at the time – and our experiences this time showed this to be so.

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The park was spacious, bounded by the little Surrey River to one side, and with access to the sea of Portland Bay. There were plenty of trees about – some containing koalas!

The family’s cabin was the standard sort of transportable park cabin, but clean and roomy enough for the two adults and one two-and-a-half year old.

Activities with the family over the time included a visit to Portland, its town centre and to the port facility. Son was born in nearby Hamilton, and lived there until he was seven, so he’d visited Portland a number of times, but decades later had little memory of it.

One day we all took a packed lunch and drove to Bridgewater Bay, beyond Portland. This was a favourite area of mine when I lived at Hamilton. I used to rent a little cottage on the hillside above the broad, sweeping bay, and bring the children down for weekends and some school holidays. Son did have some memories of that place.

We all walked from the beach around to the old boat shed further around the bay. Grand daughter enjoyed poking about in the rock pools there. It was a long way for little legs and she had to be carried most of the way back.

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We spent quite a bit of time just hanging out in the caravan park. Its playground was a great attraction for grand daughter. She was very taken by the Finding Nemo characters painted on the big water tank at the amenities block, and she and I spent time there every day, with her identifying them for me.

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The weather was not quite warm enough for usual beach activities, but we did spend some time walking and paddling there.

Another day we all squeezed into Truck and drove via Nelson to Mt Gambier. With the child seat on the back seat, it was a bit tight in there for the other two back seat passengers! We looked at some of the key sights in Mt Gambier – the Blue Lake, Valley Lake, the Umpherston Sinkhole and gardens. Bought lunch there. Returned via Dartmoor and Heywood.

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Valley Lake at Mt Gambier

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The five days was up too quickly. It was a really enjoyable time away with that part of the family.

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2004 Travels September 20

MONDAY 20 SEPTEMBER   BENALLA TO HOME   230kms

It was the usual run down the Hume to Seymour, then the “back way” home via Yea.

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House sitter L had already left, this morning, en route back to NSW. The house seemed strangely empty, without her living in the three back rooms. She had been with us for three years. It was rather like losing a family member.

Adding to the sense of emptiness was the absence of the old grey cat. The surviving cat – himself getting very old at 15 – greeted us very happily.

Now it was the chore of unpacking – and getting rid of a lot of central desert dust from Truck. That vehicle by now, must have contained particles from all over the country, secreted in its nooks and crannies.

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What was left after unpacking Truck……

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Blowing out Truck!

It had been a good trip, overall, except for the long stages towards the end. Returning to just travelling, rather than travel and working, was a nice change.

We were away just a week short of six months.

In the months following the trip, there was no definitive outcome of the health issues that had affected John in Perth. In December, a molar tooth was extracted, which seemed to reduce the facial swelling somewhat, but not totally. He still occasionally had strange ear noises. His own doctor had no answers, but as John was feeling fine, was not inclined to pursue things any further. It remained a bit of a mystery.

By December, I was losing a third blackened toenail – legacy of our walk on Mt Augustus!

 

Statistics for 2004 trip:

* Kms travelled:    23,487kms

* Kms van towed:   16,761kms

* Cost of diesel:  $3556.77

* Average fuel consumption:  7.3 kms per litre used

* Dearest diesel:  $1.50 cpl – Tjukayirla and Warakurna Roadhouses

* Cheapest diesel:  94cpl – Mildura

* Accommodation cost:  $3053.80

* Accommodation discounts gained: $197.05

* Dearest accommodation per night:  $31 – Yulara Caravan Park

* Cheapest accommodation per night: $5 per person – various WA National Parks

* Number of different places stayed at:  42

* Longest stay in one place: Carnarvon – 15 nights


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2004 Travels September 19

SUNDAY 19 SEPTEMBER   QUEANBEYAN TO BENALLA   480kms

Another long, routine driving day, down the Hume Highway.

We stopped for lunch at Holbrook.

John had done some adjusting of the brake current today and was happy with the way the van brakes were working. Finally!

Refuelled as we came into Benalla. $1.11cpl.

Overnighted at the Benalla Caravan Park – $18. We were able to stay hitched up.

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Still hitched up at Benalla


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2004 Travels September 18

SATURDAY 18 SEPTEMBER     QUEANBEYAN

We went back to John’s daughter’s this morning, to spend some more time with his grandson.

John was very conscious that he might only see the boy once or twice more, before the family heads off for a three year absence.

It was a pleasant morning in Canberra, and we spent time out in the garden. John played games with the little one.

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We left there about midday, as the family had other things planned.

We refuelled truck – $1.06cpl. Bought the Saturday papers.

Spent the afternoon relaxing at the van and reading the papers.

We had to be at friends’ place at Aranda, for 6pm. That involved driving back through Canberra.

We spent a very pleasant evening with our friends, who served up a most delicious meal. It was great to see them again, after the space of six years. We did not stay too late, as they were both doing a post-graduate naturopathy course, and had to study for coming exams.