This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2005 Travels July 7

THURSDAY 7 JULY     PUNGALINA

The mail plane was a day early this week, due to a NT public holiday on Friday. I collected the mail and groceries from the house, and brought down the foodstuffs I needed.

John mowed the camp lawns and neatened the place up.

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Good place to see everything going on

He refuelled our Truck – it had done 424kms since the last time.

I worked on the dinner for tonight’s guest: nibbles of nuts, olives, kabana. Made a batch of chilled cucumber soup. Made a beef stroganoff, using a recipe from my Aust Ag Co cookbook. This book was meant to be a resource for the cooks on the Company’s various stations – compiled of tried and true recipes used by previous cooks – geared quite heavily to the use of beef and the appetites of station workers. I had picked up a copy at Adels and found it really valuable, not the least because it used ingredients readily available on stations, not city type exotica.

I thought the stroganoff would be a wise choice, as I did not want to defrost the volume of meat that a chunk of roast would entail. And I couldn’t be sure of the quality of the smaller portions of “steak” if I was to try to pan fry or BBQ same. I had pasta noodles that could be cooked at the last minute, to go with the stroganoff.

Made up a platter of melon and paw paw for dessert. Set the table in the dining tent – for two. I thought John could eat with the guest and keep him company.

Our expected guest did not arrive! We waited…….and waited. Sunset came. It got very dark.

The arrangement had been a little vague, from the outset, it seemed. Went up to the house to check if W had heard anything – no. Discussed with him whether he or John should go out and check the track in, but decided that having one of the men thus occupied, for much of the night would be an over-reaction, if the man had simply changed his plans. Figured we would probably hear soon enough, if some one was missing!

Waiting around and debating about what to do, meant it was quite a late night by the time the meal makings were packed away and the place cleaned up.

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2005 Travels June 25

SATURDAY 25 JUNE     PUNGALINA

We were able to sleep in just a little later this morning, because the two guests had said they wanted a later start to the day.

We saw them breakfasted and sent them on their way, with the slightly ceremonious farewell at the airstrip, that had become our norm.

Their comments:

* A very special place – we are so privileged to have shared it with you all. The camp is fabulous, but the Pungalina Billy Cart was favourite, crocks, dingoes, bowerbirds, rare birds, quinine trees, and FINE WINE!!! A special thanks to E, Wendy and John, M, A, W and O.

The cavers group also left today, driving out.

Their comments:

* Fantastic trip

* Thanks for the great opportunities.

* Top spot. Great people.

*Terrific place and terrific people.

* Great people and a great place made a great time.

*Too good to be true but it is.

The campers who had been in for two nights left today.

John refuelled the Truck – it had done 442kms since last time.

I cleared out the kitchen fridge and the big drinks fridge, and the two portable fridges we had been using, and took all the perishable contents up to store in the house fridge and freezer. Then, the generator could be turned off and we would have daytime peace again.

And we fell in a heap – able to relax after a very intensive period. I decided I would worry about getting the safari camp cleaned up after M had left – we would focus on her right now. Her help over this time had been invaluable – a really hard worker. She had gotten to see quite a bit, as well, by going out with the large group for some of the time.

While the group was here, the dingoes had spent much of the time tied up at the house, so that they would not visit the camp. Occasionally, O would bring one of the females down with him, and keep a close eye on same, because the guests really liked interacting with dingoes! I used to send the left over food scraps back to the house with him, last thing at night, for the dings. I was missing having them about!

Now, they appreciated having their freedom back again and soon visited us, checking out that all was well with us. I loved the way that Scunge could stand at the doorway of the kitchen tent, with her toenails right at the tarp floor edge, and lean so far into the tent to check out what I was doing, without overbalancing.

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John and Scunge relaxing

The cavers’ group had left a sizeable “tip” with O. I think their camp site had been provided for free – in return for the knowledge they contributed about the cave systems. O tried to share that money with us – we refused, saying we were only doing our jobs. Then he tried to get M to take it all, in recognition of her hard work, but she refused, saying the experience of being here and seeing the place, and being fed, was all the reward she wanted.

We were able to have a relaxed happy hour at Cane Toad Clearing, talk over all the events of the past few days, and enjoy the sunset.

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2005 Travels May 17

TUESDAY 17 MAY     PUNGALINA

After the usual morning chores in the garden, I worked on research for camp needs. It was slow work – the computer speed was snail like! I would have to get some items through the big catering supply firm, but was also trying to find out what I could source from K Mart in Mt Isa – would be cheaper.

John continued work on the framework for the vegie garden roof. He had the uprights all pretty well in place by now. It needed to be a strong structure – able to stand up to cyclones, hopefully.

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Vegie garden roof framework – in progress

John “bought” a slab of beer from the Company camp stocks. He would repay it later. We definitely needed to keep tabs on what we might need for our personal supplies, and ensure orders came in on the supply truck.

O killed a scrubber for ding meat. He decided to experiment with air drying some into beef jerky – with a view to saving freezer space. He hung strips of meat up and down the fence of the house area. Great idea – in theory – but in practice, every bird of prey in the Gulf country suddenly appeared, swooped on the unexpected bounty, and had a party. The dings made a valiant effort to drive the birds away but were significantly outnumbered. Experiment a failure!

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Air drying strips of beef – in theory

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Brown blur was bird coming in to raid the pantry

We did watch Lachy make off with a hefty piece of the carcass, that O put outside the fenced area, for the old boy. Seeing that, one realized that the Ayers Rock dingo would have had no problem making off with a small baby!

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2005 Travels May 16

MONDAY 16 MAY     PUNGALINA

Our day off. After the last couple of days, we were not inclined for great expeditions, so just relaxed around our camp – after going up to the house to water the gardens, of course.

Noticed a couple of wild dingoes hanging about in the bush, not far from the house, but “ours” were all at the house, just sleeping around in shady spots in the yard. Maybe this was the aftermath of the girls’ escapade?

O treats his dings pretty well, we think, striking a good balance between them being pets but still able to live in the wild way, doing normal ding things. He killed a cow – a rough scrubber – every so often, to get meat for them. An old freezer in his house contained  great chunks of ding meat! He left them free, most of the time, to roam and do those normal ding things. Apparently, they ranged many kms on some nights. Certainly, some days, they came and went several times between the house and camp – about 5kms each way. Now that we were fixtures, we got regular visits at our camp.

If O had to tie them up – like when there were guests at the safari camp – he would make up for the inactivity by later driving them out a fair way and leaving them to run home.

When he was away and there was no one else there, he would leave out a big bag of dried dog food and they could help themselves to that, if their hunting was unsuccessful, or they just felt lazy.

Sometimes, we would be working around the safari camp, then see the really tall grass across the other side of our creek, waving about and would hear rustling noises. It was the dings hunting over there. Occasionally, one would jump up high and look around. It was quite comical to watch.

Dingoes are fearsome chewers. There was no upholstery left intact in any of the “farm” vehicles. They had been known to chew up the phone/fax lines in the office, so had been banned from there. I had been warned to make sure they could never get at the pillows in the safari camp tents! One did not leave footwear outside, either.

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Ding work – just keeping an eye on things

O believed that allowing a feral dingo population on Pungalina kept down the numbers of feral pigs and cats. We did not see a cat at all, in our time there. It was rare to see any feral pigs, and there were certainly no signs of same within at least 15 kms of the house. This was a great contrast with the Adels Grove/Lawn Hill area where pigs were a significant problem and where we had never seen a dingo.


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2005 Travels May 12

THURSDAY 12 MAY     PUNGALINA

John worked on the vegie garden shelter, but also helped me prepare the orders for the next truck. He had set up a computer format for the orders, so they could be printed off and faxed.

I worked on lists of things needed to get the safari camp functioning properly. This was very time consuming. By the time I checked  out what was available, from where, and likely costs, I did not think that either O or A were going to be very impressed with my lists and the resulting costs.  But – if the place was to operate with the panache that S wanted, it really did need to be able to serve wine out of wine glasses, not mismatching water tumblers! And so on.

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The track between the Safari Camp and our camp was already looking well trodden

I put in the orders for the next truck, to Woolworths Country Orders. The grocery order was not huge. Much of it was stuff that had been on my original list for the last truck, and which hadn’t been stocked by the wholesale firm, or just hadn’t come. So it was a catch up order. I put in an order to the green grocer too.

The grocery order included cup of soup packets – I was still living mostly on these, but feeling somewhat better. So I included Salada biscuits and Rice Thins. Ordered some bacon and a couple of packs of herb and garlic sausages. I was looking farward to getting the chops and chicken to replace the ones that went bad on the last truck.

The female dingoes managed to break out of their enclosure overnight. They may have had some outside digging help – Lachie? Wild male dingo? Could be some pups in a couple of months. O was not happy about it, but somewhat philosophical too. He said he would rebuild the bitch cage for next year – and put it up on stilts this time!

 


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2005 Travels May 9

MONDAY 9 MAY     PUNGALINA

Watered the camp lawns and vegie garden at house. That occupied much of the morning.

The two female dingoes were coming onto heat, so O had locked them into a caged enclosure that was built near the vegie garden. He did not want any more dings! I had wondered about the purpose of this somewhat strange looking structure – too small for hens.  Scunge and Beau were decidedly unimpressed with this curtailment of their freedom.

I had noticed the old wild male dingo that O called the “old boy” hanging about more than usual outside the perimeter fence of the house yard. Even though the entrance to this was wide open all the time, O said he never came into it. The others would go out to him and they would go off together hunting or doing whatever dings do. They had also been known to take food – chunks of meat – out to him. O thought he was probably Scunge’s mate and the father of Lachie and Beau.

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Scunge always had a slightly worried look

I was firming up the order for our next truck order, which had to go to the various suppliers this week. Woolworths Country Orders was the most rigid about deadlines – and also the earliest one. The other, more locally based businesses in Mt Isa were a bit more flexible.

O felled four cypress pines to be milled for timber for construction about the place. John was salivating at the prospect of maybe being able to have a go on the Morrison Mill.

Another dinner for three, featuring mushrooms. I was getting very sick of mushrooms!


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1999 Travels August 18

WEDNESDAY 18 AUGUST   KNOLLS TRACK CAMP TO QAA LINE CAMP   107kms

Our night’s sleep was broken by a dingo, prowling close outside the tent. At one stage, it seemed to almost be sniffing my head, with only the tent fabric between us! Not pleasant! We had not left anything edible outside – everything was securely packed in Truck. However, in the morning, our washing up gear was scattered about – sponge, scrubber, brush. They must have smelled of last night’s curry! We had heard that the dingoes were doing it tough, because of the effects of calicivirus decimating the rabbit population.

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John pointing out dingo paw prints amongst our scattered washup gear

We woke at 7.45. The sky was clear and it was already hot. Left camp at 9.30 – an improvement. Before leaving, we put in the second jerry can of fuel from the roof rack.

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Breakfast time in camp

We were actually further south of the Knolls than we’d thought.

The track was slow going – bouncy, with some rough gypsum outcrops. Several times the track crossed small dry clay pans – the track was a bit smoother there. It took us over an hour to reach the Knolls.

The Knolls gradually appeared in the distance as two small, low, flat topped mounds. They were formed when a gypsum crust formed in a couple of places and then over much time, the surrounding land eroded, but the hard crust protected the tops of these two areas. We parked by them and walked up to the top of one. We did not stay very long – the outlook from the top was just a broader expanse of what we’d been seeing from down below. However, the white crust of Lake Tamblyn added some interest.

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Outlook from top of Knoll towards Lake Tamblyn

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Another outlook from Knoll

This morning, two vehicles had passed us while we were packing up camp, presumably having come from the Knolls. There were two camps still here, so we were glad that we’d decided to camp in the solitutde where we did.

It did not take us long to reach the next landmark – the corner of the Knolls Track and the French Line – again!

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The corner of the AAK Track and the French Line track

We turned to the east – and back onto the dune crossings.

Immediately, the track became more sandy and bouncy, and the dunes higher and closer together. These were sometimes fairly challenging. Because of their steepness, there were not the slightly flatter tops of the Rig Road dunes; instead, it was really steeply up and immediately over and steeply down again. This is really where the sand flag becomes relevant.

We could clearly see, in the sandy centre of the track, where those who had been towing were dragging their tow hitches in the sand, as they bounced. No wonder some trailers fall apart out here! The effects of both drag and sand abrasion would be severe. It really is taking a risk, because breakdowns must be retrieved. The penalty for just leaving a broken down trailer or vehicle is far greater even than the huge cost of retrieval.

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On the French Line – trailer coupling drag marks in the sand between the wheel lines

We both drove sections again today.

The increased traffic on the French Line really gave us an insight into how limited, or stupid, some fellow travellers are. We encountered two vehicles travelling towards us, in tandem, where the women in each were using the CB radio to keep count of the sand dunes as they crossed them. We heard them gradually come into radio range, counting every few minutes, pulled over to let them pass, then heard them fading away into the distance. How boring would that be, over a few days? It was boring just listening to them!

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Slow going on the French Line

Another incident was potentially more dangerous. I was driving, and John was coaching me in managing the increasingly higher, sandy, dunes. We had been in radio contact with others that we had been hearing for some time. The woman, on the radio, said that they were crossing west to east – just like us. John was getting curious, because after some little time, they seemed to be getting louder, but we couldn’t see any sign of them behind. As I crested a dune, there was suddenly an oncoming vehicle about 2 metres in front of me, coming up! I took my foot off the accelerator causing us to immediately come to a stop in the sand. John yelled at me to gun it, not bog it – his focus as we got to the crest was on the next dune, not what was actually right under us. A little misunderstanding occurred, until he realized what I was seeing! It was very close.

The other vehicle had no choice but to back down the dune and we passed at the bottom. The stupid woman passenger said “Oh, silly me, I always get east and west mixed up”! I don’t know if she had enough intelligence to realize how close she came to causing a head-on collision. They had no sand flag.

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What it looks like, climbing up a dune…….

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All one sees at the crest is sky……..

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Over – and down we go again

Another phenomenon we noticed, now that we were fairly regularly meeting other travellers, and stopping usually to exchange a few words about the experience we were having, was that the invariably male drivers seemed not to know how to cope with a female driver doing the “tough stuff”. We would pull up alongside each other, they would talk across me, to John, and ignore me! Maybe it was no wonder that some women resorted to dune counting? It actually amused John no end – I think he was quite proud that his wife was capable of such driving.

We nearly came to grief a second time today. John was driving, crested one of the steep dunes, there was a deep hole on one side of the track just over the top, and we crunched down into it. Truck came very close to rolling onto its side, but we had just enough momentum to keep it going forward rather than over. We just had to hope no damage had been done – it was a hell of an impact.

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John standing in the deep hole made by something bogged – where we nearly rolled

We stopped lower down and went back to look. It looked like someone had gotten bogged coming up the dune, had to dig themselves out, rather than rolling back down the dune, and then had not filled in the resulting hole. We thought it had probably been one of the morons towing the trailers, the day before. I was glad John was driving when that happened and not me. It was very sobering.

On a section of sandy dunes, for some kms, we had noticed dog prints in the tyre track, and eventually overtook a single, very thin, dingo, plodding eastwards. It moved off as we got close – seeming rather reluctant to do so.

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Dingo highway

We reached Poeppel Corner at 1.30, in time for a late lunch. We had aimed to get here before stopping again.

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Whilst we were there three other vehicles came in, from the Birdsville direction. Two were travelling together and told us they had camped last night at the old vermin fence remains. The other was a solo traveller (who must have changed his mind about the crossing and returned to Birdsville, because he passed us, going back that way, as we were later setting up camp.)

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Poeppel Corner and Lake

There were some big salt pans in the Corner area: Lake Poeppel, by the Corner, and the next one to it.

Poeppel Corner marks the junction of Qld, SA and NT. The exact location was surveyed by Poeppel around 1880. He placed a marked log upright in his surveyed position, in the salt pan, the log having been brought from Eyre Creek by his camels. Later he found that his surveying chain had stretched a little, and a few years later, the post was moved to its correct position by the side of the salt pan. In the 1960’s Reg Sprigg removed this post and it was replaced with a cement one, but there is also a replica of the original wooden one. We took the obligatory photo of ourselves with this. And performed the other ritual here – trying to stand with feet in three states at once.

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The old corner pole at Poeppel Corner

I drove the first leg after lunch. Northwestwards, skirting the lakes, along the K1 Line. This section took us very briefly into Qld, then into the NT for a few kms. Then we turned east again, onto the QAA Line, where we crossed what would obviously be a nasty bog in a clay pan, when wet.

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Claypan on the QAA Line

Back into Qld for the rest of the run to Birdsville.

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Corner K1 and the QAA Line

It was the roller coaster track again, sand dunes, chugging along in low range.

John drove for the last half hour or so, before we pulled off the track, to the side of a clay pan, for a little way, to camp. It was 4.30pm.

We had long since realized that we were going to take a day longer than planned, to get to Birdsville. The going was just too slow. Even then, tomorrow would be a long day. Those people who boast that they “do” the French Line route, with just one overnight stop, must take some incredible risks, not ever stop to look around. They are probably the ones who churn up the track for the rest of us.

Our claypan camp was between two quite high, red dunes.

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Camp by the QAA Line

After we set up camp, John did the radio sched with Alice Springs base, and amended our schedule with them. He “phoned” K to let him know we are running a day late, but that all is well.

Today’s churning going up and down the dunes has really used up the fuel – we could just about see the gauge dropping. We will get to Birdsville ok, but will not have much surplus.

Tea was tinned soup, a packet risotto, oranges.

John looks for the evening star, most nights. Can’t see it out here, and that upsets him.


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1998 Travels May 10

SUNDAY 10 MAY     LAKE MCKENZIE

We were up early again, due to bird and camp ground noises.

Drove back to Central Station. Parked there and wandered around, without the little crowd from the barge that had been there when we came through on Friday. Obviously, it is most people’s first stop, though not all that popular for camping.

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Central Station, in the rainforest

We walked the Wanggoolba Creek Rainforest Walk – a boardwalk of about a km, through the rainforest. This is unique – rainforest growing on sand. It is the only such place in the world.

The creek water is so clear that it looks dry – one just “sees” the sandy base. Although the creek flows quickly, it is silent, which adds to the illusion. The walk was like being in a green church – very cathedral like. I loved the variety of ferns that grew all over the place.

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The crystal clear water of Wanggoolba Creek; it is over 40cms deep here

From here, we headed south on yet more inland tracks, to visit three more significant  freshwater lakes in this part of the island. Each has a different character, each is very photogenic.

Like Lake McKenzie, which it closely resembles, Lake Birrabeen is a perched lake. It has clear, aqua coloured water and white sandy beaches. We explored around there for a little while.

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Interesting patterns on the shore at Lake Birrabeen

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Lake Birrabeen – very like Lake McKenzie

Then on to Lake Benaroon, similar to the first one. As we saw no other travellers at any of these beautiful lakes it seems that everyone is intent on exploring the east beach.

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Lake Benaroon

We had our picnic lunch at the last of the three – Lake Boomajin. This is the largest perched lake in the world. Its water had a browny tinge, because some little creeks flow into it, bringing tannins derived from paperbarks. There is a good picnic and camp ground at Lake Boomajin – but no-one there. Maybe it is a little too far south for most visitors? But, in reality, it is only about 20kms from Central Station. We had lovely views from the picnic area, over the lake, which is where the film “Eliza Fraser” was filmed.

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The sandy foreshore of Lake Boomajin

While we were eating lunch, a pair of dingoes silently appeared, came right up to our table and started nosing around for scraps – of which there weren’t any. These were the most bold ones that we encountered on the island, and the only time we felt at all threatened. At one stage, I was sitting on the table with my feet on the seat and a dingo sniffing at my toes! John was feeling particularly vulnerable, since he really can’t run yet. He went to walk down to the lake and one followed him down the track. John turned and faced it and it sat down and watched him – standoff – but eventually it decided to stroll off.

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John is keeping a wary eye on the dingo at Lake Boomajin picnic area

From the lakes, we continued on the same track, through some interesting swampy country that was a change from the forests, to Dilli Village, a small old resort cluster of buildings on the east beach. Then we headed north along the beach, for the ten kms back to Eurong. Stopped for an hour for John to try some fishing. I explored a nearby sizeable stream – Govi Creek – that flowed across the beach. It had photogenic little cliffs in the beach sand, through which its fast flowing waters had made a curving channel.

I found a fair sized tortoise stranded in the fast current, and moved it back to the lagoon area, behind the beach, where it better belonged. Govi Creek is certainly one that could bring unwary drivers undone – the place to cross it is right down by the surf, where the channel is not incised into the sand.

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Govi Creek flowing over the beach on the east coast. A hazard for drivers.

On to Eurong, and back to camp. On the track near Eurong, there was one of the ubiquitous backpacker Troopys with a flat tyre. Several girls were reclining in the shade (today was quite hot), while the guys dealt with the wheel. They seemed to be having a hard time, too. It occurred to me that women’s lib has its selective limits amongst the backpacker girls.

There were some storm clouds building up, but it was warm, so we went for a swim in Lake McKenzie. Our first swim for the whole trip, to date! This was absolute magic – late afternoon, churning grey clouds, the lake bright aqua at the edge and then deep inky blue about five metres from the shore, where it gets very quickly deep. It was most unusual to swim in – dark, but iridescent. There were tortoises swimming not far from us, too. It was a very pleasant swim.

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Lake McKenzie – where we went swimming. Aqua, then inky blue water, and white silica sand

It started to rain, so we walked back up the track to camp.

I made fettuccine with a bottled tomato sauce for tea.

The Coleman lamp started flaming and flaring – not sure why. It may have some sand grains somewhere they shouldn’t be. We turned it off, but will have to fix it later, before we go bush camping again. It is too good to be without.

We drove 65 kms today.


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1998 Travels May 8

FRIDAY 8 MAY   TORQUAY TO LAKE MCKENZIE

The alarm sounded at 7am.

There was last-minute packing – of things that would not fit in the van until we had moved out! That included the folded up awning, and the bikes and rack. I have a pang or two about leaving the van like this – we haven’t done so before. Hope all will be well.

We had to drive about 23 kms to River Heads and be there by 10am for the 10.15 barge. The departure point was paved, with big car parks, a toilet block, and well signposted. There were a lot of young back packer types waiting for the barge – some in hired 4WD’s, some with commercial tour companies. About fifty of them. We wondered if we are going to end up spending days in the midst of backpacker parties, having heard they can sometimes be somewhat out of control on the island! There was certainly a real sense of anticipation about the place.

On the barge, we Australians are severely outnumbered by Germans, Brits and Yanks.

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Our barge approaching River Heads to load us for the trip to Fraser Island

John had to back Truck onto the barge – no worries. We had to pay for all costs and permits on board the barge – $65 for the return barge ticket, $30 for the permit to drive on the island, $21 for a camping permit for three nights in National Parks campgrounds. So this is not a cheap excursion! And we had to pay in cash, despite the assurances of the caravan park lady that Visa would be ok! That did not leave us with much cash, though, hopefully, we will not need to spend much more.

So saying, John promptly treated himself to a pie on the barge – his first for quite some time. I bought a Coke – long time since I’ve had one of those.

The trip across the Great Sandy Strait took half an hour and at the Wanggoolba Creek end, we drove off frontwards, onto a sort of boarded and asphalted pathway up the beach sand, and on to a sandy “road”. There were two dingoes sitting and watching us come off the barge – the welcoming committee? Certainly, some local atmosphere right from the start.

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Approaching the Wanggoolba Creek Landing. A truck with building supplies will be first off the barge.

We had to engage 4WD before driving off the barge – those are the rules. Only 4WD vehicles are allowed on the island, as it is a sand island.

I will comment here on our driving experiences, overall, on the island. One travels on the few inland “roads” that cross the island from east to west and, in a few places, join features of importance down the spine of the island. Or else one drives on the beach on the eastern side. The east coast is where the several small, older resort settlements are, and some of the main tourist attractions, though there is a newer resort – Kingfisher – on the western side. The east coast beach is certainly the main thoroughfare of the island. Apart from the usual vehicles and 4WD tourist buses that we saw, there was other traffic too, obviously doing commercial business like taking supplies to the settlements, a big rubbish dumpster truck – and a plane that used it as a runway!

The inland roads are very sandy with varying degrees of being churned up, and depths. One has to watch for big tree roots as well as deep sand patches and former bog holes. There are a couple of one way sections on the major routes, but for the rest, the tracks are single lane, so one also has to watch for oncoming vehicles – and many of the tracks are very bendy. The rule is that the smaller vehicle should back up until it can pull over to let the bigger one through. When you are equal size, it becomes a game of bluff, though we found that most drivers would let the one going uphill – who needed to maintain traction in the softer stuff – have right of way if there was a possible pull over point. We hear that there are many head-on bingles on the island, though we took it carefully and with much concentration, and had no close shaves.

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A typical inland road on Fraser Island – this is the main road near Central Station

There is an official speed limit of 35kmh on the inland tracks, which seems impossibly high for the conditions we found. On the east beach, the speed limit is 80kmh! The sand there is mostly firm, although closer to high tide one must drive on softer sand, which can be a hazard if hit at speed coming off the firmer stuff.

The biggest hazard on the beach route is the many creeks that cross the sand. They can build up little sand cliffs and some have quite deep channels that you can drop into, if not careful. Apparently these cause many roll overs! It is very hard to tell, coming up to a creek, what the crossing will be like. In theory, one should walk each one first, but there are just too many. There is no real logic, either – the biggest creeks are not necessarily the ones with the deepest channels. We slowed down at each, followed the tyre tracks of those who had gone before, and hoped! We did not have any bad creek hits.

In places, there are rocky outcrops across the beach and one must deviate on inland bypasses. Where these leave and enter the beach, the sand can be very soft and churned up. The one at Indian Head gave us problems and nearly bogged us – we were thankful for the diff lock on Truck. We churned past three bogged vehicles there.

From the Wanggoolba Creek barge landing, we chugged the 9kms to Central Station, which is as its name suggest, in the middle of the island, behind a big 4WD 6-wheeled truck that was carrying building supplies from the mainland, to Eurong, on the east coast.

Central Station had information boards, a Ranger Station and a campground. It was a fairly open area, amongst tall trees. It was the site of the main forestry camp from the days when Fraser Island timber was exploited. There was logging here from the 1860’s until 1991.

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One of the Information Boards at Central Station

We stopped and read the information boards and camping bulletins – which warned about dingoes, and also fireweed, a stinging organism in the sea currently causing allergy problems for people at the east coast beaches. Well – I wasn’t intending to swim in the sea, anyway.

We drove on, at a slightly better pace this time, another 9kms to Lake McKenzie campground, hoping to find a place to camp in this most popular area, rather than have to return to Central Station.

There were several places empty in this rather typical National Parks camp area – about 20 sites defined in the bush by treated pine railings, some smaller, some larger. We found one where we could put up the big tent and still have room to park Truck beside it, off the access track. It does seem that most of the campers here are in groups and so are gathered where there are sites close together, so we got lucky with a reasonable one that was more on its own.

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Our camp set up at Lake McKenzie.

Our site was some distance from the amenity block, which we thought was basic, but ok. There were a couple of toilets for each gender, and a cold water shower. There was also a tap supplying drinking water. All that one needs – almost luxurious!

There were also big, heavy-lidded hoppers for rubbish – very dingo proof, and a firewood supply because most campers seem to see it as mandatory to have a bonfire in the bush! We were good little greenies in this environment and used our gas appliances – no fires.

After all the warnings about dingoes, we made sure all our foodstuffs were kept in the Truck. Made sure the lid of the camp fridge, which was outside the tent (as it runs on gas) was heavily weighted down, when we weren’t in camp. We even kept our bedding and clothes in Truck, as we had been warned that people scents could attract dingoes into the tent – and we did not want it to get chewed or torn into by a curious dog!

The camping area was about 200 metres from Lake McKenzie, which is one of the most fascinating features on Fraser Island. It is one of the many freshwater perched lakes (above the water table and fed by rainwater). It seems such an unusual feature to find on a sand island.

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Our first sight of Lake McKenzie

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and has had World Heritage status since the early 1990’s – not long at all. I remember the controversy, back in the 70’s, over mineral sands mining on the island and proposals to expand same. The growing conservation movement in Australia lost the campaign to save the original Lake Pedder in Tasmania, from being drowned, but won the campaign to shut down sand mining on Fraser Island. Seeing the place now, I am so thankful for that.

The island actually was once called Great Sandy Island, until a shipwreck in the 1830’s stranded a lady called Eliza Fraser here, for some weeks.

We found that Lake McKenzie is constantly changing its appearance, depending on the time of day and the weather conditions. It is never the same for more than a few hours at a time. It is absolutely beautiful, and even on our first day here, I was wishing that we would have longer camped by it! We are privileged to be able to observe its constant changing, and feel that the day trippers who are only briefly here are missing out on a wonderful experience.

One morning, I saw mist rising off it; later in the day, in bright sunshine, it was a brilliant aqua colour; at sunset that same night is was a dark purple colour. In the afternoons, campfire smoke drifted across the lake, sometimes making interesting patterns. One afternoon, there was a rainbow coming out of it, before we got the only little bit of rain of our stay on the island. Another afternoon, it was aqua at its shallow fringes and deep ink blue where it quickly gets deeper. We went for a swim and it actually seemed blue to swim in – like moving through dark ink – like nothing I have ever before experienced! Such a magic place.

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Late afternoon campfire smoke hanging over Lake McKenzie

There were lots of tortoises living in the lake – we could see them stick their heads out of the water to look around, and also see them swimming in the shallow edge water. We even saw some baby ones swimming around, about the size of a 50 cent piece.

We were pleased to find that the Lake McKenzie camp ground is regulated and controlled, as the 1992 guide book that I have says this is one area that has suffered from over use and is very degraded. Clearly National Parks has undertaken significant management and rehabilitation programs, that have worked, since that was written. However, all is not perfect. One tends to assume that people who make the effort and pay the costs to come to a place like this do so because they are “into” the natural environment. Yet they leave rubbish around in camp areas – beer bottle tops and cans, in particular. There is much toilet paper scattered in the bush beside the campground tracks, despite the toilet block nearby! There was a big pile of person poo beside the track when we first walked down to the lake – inexcusable!

After setting up camp, we walked the little way to the lake edge and small beach, along a well used track through the bush. Walked part of the way round the lake, which is big enough to take about half a day to walk right round it. We spied some “new” birds: mistletoe birds, a male scarlet honeyeater, a Lewins honeyeater, a white throated honeyeater.

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Reflections in the clear water of Lake McKenzie

On the way back, followed a little track near our camp and found a rubbish dump – with a difference. It was a dingo’s storage place. There were a couple of cans of meat which it had been unable to open, with plenty of tooth dents. The remains of milk cartons and bread wrappers showed where it had been more successful. It also had a pair of shorts and a leather shoe – both chewed. We had been told that, apart from tearing tents to get at food, they have also been known to carry off sleeping bags – maybe some of the backpacker ones get a bit ripe?

In our time at this camp ground, we saw the occasional dingo padding up the camp area roads, or going behind the tent, but they never lingered in our area, or made us feel uneasy in camp. In the mornings, there were always several sunning themselves by the rubbish hoppers. At night, there were choruses of dingo howls, near and distant, a beautifully eerie bush sound. We were there at full moon time, which probably made them more noisy at night. In the mornings, there were dingo tracks on the white sand beaches of the lake.

I cooked chilli con carne for tea. Quick and easy to do and only needed two stove burners – one for the chilli and one to cook some accompanying pasta spirals on.

As that first evening wore on, there was quite a bit of noise from the camp sites where the back packer groups had settled. There were several lots of 8 to 10, each sharing a Toyota Troopy. However, they did go quiet about 9.30pm, in line with the camp ground etiquette. It is known that the Rangers are being quite tough on noise disturbance and have sent people off the island. It seems to have had the desired effect!

It is pleasant to be in the tent again, for the first time since John’s hip was done. But this new lilo, that we bought last year, is akin to a water bed that wobbles about and is quite difficult to sleep on. We had discovered, as it grew dark, that we had no mantles for the gas lantern that screws onto the top of a wand that sits on the gas bottle – don’t know where those got to. Miraculously, the existing mantle, despite all the travel, is still intact. It must have been there for years! We tried to use the new Coleman lantern that K had given us for Xmas, but upon reading the instructions (why do we never do this in advance of trying to use something?) that we needed meths to light it. We had brought a bottle of its kerosene main fuel, but had not thought of the primer. It was nearly a very dark night!


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1998 Travels May 7

THURSDAY 7 MAY     TORQUAY

Spent the day getting ready for the Fraser Island trip.

I did a couple of loads of washing.

John had hoped to play bowls in the afternoon, but did not get booked in, in time, which was probably fortunate. On the way back, he bought diesel for 67cpl.

We had to unpack a lot of things from Truck and work out what to take, and what to leave in the van – which was quite a lot! The camping on Fraser is unpowered, so we do not need any of the electrical stuff.

Packed a couple of changes of clothes and enough food for our time there. I planned fairly simple meals.

John put up the small tent, so he could trim some shadecloth we had to size, to go under it to protect the floor from stones and sticks. He burnt peg holes in the appropriate places, then packed it all up again. We took down the van awning to store in the van while we are away – in case of storms.

While John finished packing Truck, I cycled to the supermarket to get some food items needed. I was a bit late going, and wound up riding back in the dark, trying to juggle supermarket bags hanging from the handlebars. I cycled 6.5kms. Not one of my better efforts, especially where the road surface was very rough. We will not take the bikes to Fraser – too much sand for riding! They will join a heap of other stuff to be stored in the van.

Late in the day, people arrived into the on-site van opposite us. They’d just had three days on Fraser and gave us quite a bit of advice and information. They particularly emphasized the need to be dingo aware in camp – apparently the dingoes are very bold about taking anything edible from camps, even to the point of running in and grabbing stuff while people’s backs are turned!

The wild dingoes of Fraser Island are regarded as a pure strain of the species, because they have not interbred with domestic type dogs, like those in most of the rest of Australia. So it is important that they are protected. Unfortunately, like any dog, they will not pass up the chance of easy food, and irresponsible or careless campers have made them into a bit of a nuisance around the camp areas.

I made spaghetti carbonara for tea.

Fairly early night – we were both really tired. Today had been hard work.