This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2006 Travels September 1


We drove into Darwin.

I did some food shopping.

There were some galleries at the Parap suburb that I wanted to look at, so we went there. The galleries were worth visiting, but we resisted the temptation to buy any art works.

I came across a shop – Frangipani Fabrics – that sold quilting materials, and went in to look around. That craft had long interested me, but I had not acted upon the interest. It did not seem a really portable activity for this current lifestyle. But one day…… so I joined their “club”, whereby they sent selected fabric quarters to members, each month – they were perhaps tempters to get people to buy larger quantities, but I found the idea intriguing and the materials gorgeous.

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Indigenous quilting fabrics

Bought fish and chips for tea.

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2006 Travels August 31


Another drive into Darwin this morning, this time to go to lunch at the Casino.

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I had arranged to meet there with a long-time colleague, A. We had both started new jobs at the same school, in 1982, and had worked closely together. Whilst I remained at that school for sixteen years, until “retiring” to travel, A had moved to our linked school in Darwin – Kormilda College – and been there for years. He was working part time now, in his main speciality of music teaching.

It was great to catch up with him again. Unfortunately, his wife was at work and could not come.

I was interested to hear of the changes that had taken place at Kormilda over the past six years, since the Principal that I had known there, had moved on. It seemed to me that the school was now was mainly a day school serving Darwin and had shifted some distance from the concept at the time of my school’s original involvement – mainly to provide education to indigenous kids from remote communities across the Top End. It had been an ambitious and worthy undertaking, fraught with all sorts of unforeseen issues.

In the course of discussion I shared a memory with A of the time I had been at a Conference in Singapore with that Principal. At dinner one night he was called to the phone, and came back quite ashen faced. A well meaning teacher, freshly employed from Melbourne, had set up a football game to occupy the boarders. For ease, he designated that one team would be made up of boys from certain communities, and the other from different communities. He was not to know that there were blood feuds between some of the communities, going back into the mists of time. The game quickly degenerated into a cross between brawl and all out warfare. Many of the spectating boarders had run away – to relatives in the greater Darwin area, or just into the bush. It was a considerable crisis for him to manage. Fortunately, the Conference was winding down and he could return almost immediately to Darwin. We could now laugh about it, but it had been really serious at the time.

A talked quite a bit about their lifestyle up here. The initial attraction for him had been working with indigenous students, rather than living in the tropics, per se. He said they found it quite a cultural desert – especially in the Wet. They regularly flew to Sydney to go to shows and the like. He thought  that when his step sons finished their schooling here, in another few years, they would move south again.

I really enjoyed our lunch. It was a pleasant break from just waiting around.

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2006 Travels August 23


The mango lady – J – phoned us this morning. She said there will not be any mango work for 1-2 weeks yet – still waiting for them to be ripe enough. She asked if we were still interested? Told her yes.

J phoned again, in the afternoon. She said they were in this same caravan park, and invited us to go round and meet them. We did.

They had a large bus. We sat outside in the shade and chatted. They had worked this shed before, but this would be their first year of running the work force. She said it would be a fair length season, because they also received mangoes from Katherine to pack, and these would be a bit later to ripen. So the season should go into November, maybe even early December.

THIS was the job I wanted to do! Not WA. The latter one was, due to delays, becoming too late for my liking, maybe even running into January. That raised questions like: what would we do about Xmas? What about cyclones? The heat? Would we have to leave the van alone to fly home for Xmas? All of these thoughts were negatives to me.

J said she was going to try to make the shed a 6 day on, 1 day off, rotation, with 10 hour days. They would start at 7am, with a 10 minute break every 2 hours. There would be a 30 minute – unpaid – lunch break. These were much better conditions than the shed we’d worked at Giru in 2002.

We would only pay 13% tax on our earnings. This was because Darwin was classified as a remote zone. That was good news, because it meant that our Litchfield earnings would also count towards the remote tax offset too. I estimated we would clear about $750 a week, each. That was respectable.

We liked J and her husband. I felt they would be reasonable and fair people to work with. I was now feeling really positive about being here.

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Ripening mangoes

M phoned at night. She was now at Elliott, so she had stopped “waiting” for us. I told her we had decided today to do the mango job.

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2006 Travels August 21


It was a quiet day for us. It felt really strange without M about.

We spent time packing up our camp and getting ready to move out tomorrow.

We had decided to move out to the caravan park at Howard Springs – closer to where the mango work would happen, if we were still going to do that. It would also be a less costly place to stay.

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Packing up at Hidden Valley

Basically, we were just waiting around to hear about the construction camp job – or the mango one. That manager, R, had been so vague that we really did not know what might be happening there. Had the impression that whatever was holding up access to the site might  prevent the job happening at all. The uncertainty was quite frustrating. I was quietly hoping – hard – that the construction job did not happen at all.

We collected a batch of mail from home from the PO at Berrimah, where we’d asked for it to be sent. Nothing untoward there.

M phoned, at night. She was at Elsey National Park, at Mataranka. She had intended to stay last night at Umberata Gorge, but when she got there, did not like it, so had moved on to Pine Creek for that night.

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2006 Travels August 20


M left to start her journey south. I was sad to see the Troopy drive off.

We went to bowls at the Darwin Club. Over last summer, John bought new bowls, that tracked differently to his former ones. They were bright yellow, so really stood out on the green. After this morning’s effort, I concluded that his yellow bowls were not enhancing his game, at all. I thought he played much better with his old ABT ones.

We were sitting outside the van, having our happy hour, when the air force planes came in low, to roost, just on dusk. Their flight path was straight over us, here, and they were incredibly noisy. On some occasions, they had been out on night exercises and when they were coming back, the noise was so loud that we literally could not hear the TV, in the van! But they were interesting and exciting to watch.

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Hidden Valley – ensuite sites upper right side

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2006 Travels August 19


We went to the shops at Casuarina. Got groceries and the weekend papers.

John picked up the two new pairs of glasses he’d had made. He was satisfied with them.

John wanted to have a look at African Mahogany timber. He had found a timber yard a bit further out the highway, so we all drove out there. Wandered about, looking. They had big stacks of the wood, but the man who handled all that side of things, in what was mainly a landscaping firm, was not there. We would have to try again another day.

African Mahogany trees are – as the name suggests – not native to Australia. They are a fast growing, shady tree, so were planted in large numbers around Darwin, after the devastation of Cyclone Tracy in 1974 destroyed much of the existing vegetation in the town. Now they had become large trees with an unfortunate tendency to drop large limbs, and fall over in storms. So there was a removal program under way, with the result that the rather beautiful timber was available.

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African Mahogany tree

On the way back, John spied a Telstra tower in the distance, so drove down the track to it and parked. There, he had a fiddle about with the laptop and mobile phone and aerials, trying to sort out his connections and internet stuff. He had the laptop and bits arrayed on the Truck bonnet.

We were not far from the airport, where there were the usual Dry Season air force war games happening, based at Darwin Airport. It occurred to me that we could look as if we were engaged in suspicious, subversive activity, here! So I was happier when John abandoned his connecting up efforts.

We had a farewell dinner for M, who had decided that there was now nothing to keep her in Darwin. She may have wanted to get away before John coerced her into remote area work! I cooked a roast chook with all the trimmings. She bought a couple of bottles of wine and we had a little party.

I had a final attempt to persuade John that it would be a good idea if I went south, too. It did not work.

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2006 Travels August 17


John was busy in the van, trying to fix up his new internet connecting gizmo.

M and I left him to it and I went with her to the shops at Palmerston, and then into the city. She wanted to do some more Xmas shopping for various family and friends.

At Target in Palmerston, I bought a couple of pairs of long chino trousers that were on special. I figured they would be useful if we finished up working where long gear was needed. Bought myself a couple of loose, cool, casual tops, too.

Meanwhile, John found out that the Rumble in the Jungle Bowls match, which had been supposed to be this coming Saturday  – after our waiting around for it –  had either been deferred until much later, or cancelled altogether for this year. So there was no bowls commitment this weekend for us. It is funny how things work out. If we had not been waiting around for that, John would not have seen the jobs ads, and we would probably by now have been heading south, being happy tourists along the way! I was quietly annoyed.

In the later afternoon, took ourselves off to Mindil Beach markets again, to get tea, which we ate wandering around. We did not go and sit on the beach with the crowds, but the brilliant sunset was in the background.

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2006 Travels August 16


Some, reading this, might wonder why we were not visiting the better known tourist attractions in Darwin, like croc farms, the wonderful Museum, the fish feeding, and so on. Reason was that we had been to these places on previous visits; in my case, repeatedly. So this filling-in-time sojourn was more for filling in some gaps and visiting lesser known attractions.

We drove to Cullen Bay Marina, to catch the 11am passenger ferry across to Mandorah, from the terminal there.

The tidal fluctuations and water height inside the Marina are controlled by lock gates at its entrance. The ferry jetty was outside the actual Marina, in a kind of basin formed by a rock breakwater wall. This saves the ferries from having to go through the somewhat tedious and time consuming lock procedure. Presumably though, in bad weather, they would go inside and moor safely until it passes.

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Lock gates at marina entrance. Ferry terminal to left

Tickets cost $9.50 each. It only took us a bit under 20 minutes to cross the Harbour to the Mandorah side. We passed close by an LPG tanker on its way into Darwin Harbour and the port facility at Wickham Point.

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There were interesting views back towards Cullen Bay Marina and to Darwin City centre.

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Darwin skyline in the background


The jetty at Mandorah had decks at different heights, to allow for the large tidal range. We disembarked onto a lower deck – tide was down.

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Mandorah jetty with hotel visible between the uprights

We were not impressed with Mandorah. It was all rather basic. A rough track led from the jetty to the nearby hotel. Apart from that, dusty dirt roads went in a couple of directions -but there did not seem to be anything around that was really worth walking to.

We had assumed we would eat lunch at the hotel. But the pub and its lunch meal offerings did not appeal. Decided to catch the 1pm ferry back to Darwin and eat there.

There had been some ongoing controversy over plans to build another hotel here, possibly replacing the existing one, possibly closer to the ferry.

The hotel had a superb setting, right near the sea. Outlook great. But visitors could mainly only sit around in a cement floored area, under a large roof formed by an overhanging building, at long communal tables.

Oh well, that was one more place crossed off the mental list of those I had long been curious about.

I had a text message exchange with daughter, about where we were, the markets tomorrow, and so on. She wrote about how, one day, they hope to travel, with the grandson in tow.

It was back onto the ferry and across the entrance to Darwin Harbour, to Cullen Bay.

Drove around to Nightcliffe and bought fish and chips, then drove back around to East Point, where we parked overlooking the sea and sat out on grass to eat our lunch. It was much more pleasant than at Mandorah.

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Darwin as seen from the bay

While we were lunching, John took a mobile phone call from R at the construction company but finished the call somewhat confused. John “thought” the man said we were hired! There was apparently some talk of our training. It all seemed to John a bit confusing and vague though, with nothing definite re dates or meetings. But what did the man phone to say, if not that?

Went to a place called Fone Zone, at Casuarina. There, John spent $299 on some internet link up thing that might improve our internet access in the van. Emphasis on might.

Back at camp, we phoned our house sitters. They could not extend their stay at our place, because they had to go back to Tasmania.

M, who sold up her place back in 2004 and whose only home base was to stay with her mother, said she would live at our place and mind it and the cat, for however long was needed. She would time her return to coincide with the sitters’ departure. That solved more than one problem.

I tried again to suggest that I could go home. No joy!

Phoned son and daughter. Neither were happy about the idea that we would not be home until Xmas. Well – neither was I!

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2006 Travels August 15


In the morning, we had the job interview at the company’s Darwin office.

The Manager, R, and his daughter who was the secretary, acted like we would probably be hired.

I was quite suspicious and found it hard to believe that John was the only applicant for the Safety Officer job. Maybe it was important that there were the two of us?

It was explained that there were two job sites, approximately 100 and 250kms from Port Hedland. A somewhat vague description….

The company was to build two 280 person accommodation camps, for construction crews that would build an iron ore railway for a small company, Fortescue Metals, from the mine in the Chichester Ranges, to be shipped from Port Hedland, where they were building their own shipping facility.

There was a real sense of urgency. Apparently, they needed to start ASAP, which might explain the speed at which they were prepared to hire us.

R said access to the site had already been delayed by some sort of external cause – not his company’s fault.

Mention was made that they would train us here and in Alice Springs, and then fly us to Port Hedland, transporting our Truck and van down by truck! But it all seemed rather vague and being made up as they went.

It would be BIG money!

I came away thinking I would need to learn the Excel program in a hurry, and brush up on my Office program skills in general. John tends to think that anyone who can spell or write can do clerical work….

We left there with nothing concrete. They would get in touch with us….

However, John did mention that we had a friend travelling with us – and R seemed a bit keen to hire her too! But M was not interested, however much John tried to persuade her. I thought that was very smart of her.

I would still prefer to tag along with her and go home. I said to John that I could go with M and leave him to go off alone on this particular little adventure. He did not like me saying that. I even said I could drive Truck and van home, and he could fly off adventuring. He got quite cross at the idea.

We went to the Casino for lunch. It was $9.85 each, for all one could eat from a very good buffet spread. Great value. It was a pleasant dining area too, with views out over the swimming pool to the sea.

We were not interested in the gaming machines and facilities, so we were not the type of customer the establishment was trying to lure with their attractive lunch deal.

After lunch, drove to the Holmes Jungle Nature Park, on the outskirts of town. Did one of the walks there. It was hot dry and dusty and not particularly impressive. The reputed bird life was in hiding from the heat. I did not have my camera with me, either.

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Inner Darwin

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2006 Travels August 14


John phoned the company number that was in the newspaper job ad. It connected to their head office in Alice Springs. He explained that there were two of us and that I could do clerical work. He did not mention that I was less than willing! They were interested – at which I was amazed. The woman that John spoke to offered him $30 an hour. I don’t know what possessed him, but he replied that we were worth more than that! And, bugger me, she upped it to $35 an hour! That would be EACH.

We had been working for $14 and $16 an hour at the cafe. So, I was even more amazed.

It would be a four month job, down in the WA Pilbara, somewhere. We were to go for an interview, tomorrow, at their Darwin office. John told M that he would see if they had a job for her, too – she said she was definitely not interested! Funny how he seemed to take more notice of her – a little, at least.

I was really quite ambivalent about this possible job. I was looking forward to a leisurely run home, being tourists down the Centre again. I really did not want to be working until almost Xmas. I was rather suspicious of it all because it seemed too hasty, too easy, not enough questions asked. Like us – Safety Officer and Site Clerk? Really?

After lunch the three of us drove out of town, to Window on the Wetland and then to Fogg Dam.

Window was new since the years I was bringing students up here and was an information centre about the Adelaide River flood plains. The Centre was up on a hill – fairly important in a flood plain area – so it looked out over the wetlands – which were quite dry at this time of year!

We browsed the information displays for a while, but without the wet component of wetlands, there was not all that much to look out on – just dry flat land.

Moved on to Fogg Dam. We parked at the start of the causeway that crossed the Fogg Dam wall. We were not sure that we were allowed to drive over it. Was not a very substantial looking structure.

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Slathered ourselves with anti-bitey creams, then walked across the causeway, keeping a very close watch for any signs of crocs, given the several warning notices that were there.

It was about a 3kms return walk, to go across the dam wall and on to the Pandanus Lookout. It was really pretty, with prolific bird life – so many egrets, assorted duck varieties, waders of various descriptions.

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The Fogg Dam was originally built, in the 1950’s, to irrigate rice growing at nearby Humpty Doo. I explained to M and John how every magpie goose in the Top End decided that they liked baby rice plants, and that was the end of that scheme. It made a superb wetland area, though!

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Egret and Magpie Geese

After we returned back across the dam wall, did the 2.2kms Woodlands to Waterlilies walk, which was also really pleasant and interesting.

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Reflections on the walk

Then, back to Darwin after a most enjoyable day.