This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2009 Travels May 28


The morning was cloudy.

T had not been sighted by the time we left to drive into town. Funny, that.

We went to the Opal Bin shop, where the lady rubbed down three of John’s opal pieces. I wasn’t sure if these were bits we bought or found; they’d sort of gotten mixed together. A nice looking piece that from the side had great green flashes on blue, came out plain blue on top, and so no good. She said the other two bits were worth cutting and directed us to a man who did cutting for other people. He agreed to cut the two stones and we could collect them later in the day.

This rather says it all about the town…..

While we were at the Opal Bin, I bought five pendants of rubbed/tumbled stone with little opal veins through. They were unusual and very pretty, not too expensive, and more modern than the usual opal jewellery. One was for me and the others destined for the family females – that was some of my Xmas shopping taken care of!

Did a quick supermarket shop, then it was back to camp.

It had begun to rain while we were in town, and I had this worrying idea that we were going to get rained in at Lorne yet again. But it was not as heavy, out at the station, and eased off. Then, mid-afternoon, there was a huge dark cloud looming, so we packed up much of the camp, hitched the van up and moved it to the more solid ground in front of the Hacienda. We still could access our power and water there. Just hoped the cottage wasn’t going to have any guests this afternoon.

Then we had to unhitch again, to go back to town to collect the cut stones.

Moved the van from there, around to the front of the Hacienda……..

We finished up with a small, irregular shaped stone that would be good to have set into a ring, and a larger, paler one, that could be for a pendant. I liked them, but John was disappointed. He’d expected them to be bigger – and also worth more than the $20-$40 the cutter valued them at! But, back at camp, they were admired by one of the lady campers.

I went up to the office and paid up what we owed. The $100 a week had been healthy for the budget.

After tea, a final sit round the campfire, with D.

We  had not intended to be here for this long, but it had been a great stay, and I’d loved it (except maybe for the few ultra muddy days).

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2009 Travels May 27


I got up at 7.30. There was quite a bit of cloud in the sky, but some sunny breaks too.

By the time we got back yesterday, the campground had filled up more – helped by the road having been graded, I thought. Also, with all the floods and highway closures on the coast, some travellers had diverted more inland. The manager had even used a line marker to indicate “sites”, in order to maximise use of his powered sites. So, near us now were Jayco and Roadstar vans, the latter a young travelling family, with grandmother.

The Roadstar’s shower put out a huge amount of water onto the ground – which ran towards the bog hole in front of our camp. I was not much impressed with this.

The owls were still occupying their tree. I wondered if they had been new arrivals, in the rainy period, or if they had been there for ages, and I’d only recently spotted them.

I enjoyed having a casual, lazy morning again. I wrote diary notes and sewed, before John got up, then did more of the same after. I was feeling a tad stiff and sore after yesterday’s contortions  in the dumps.

John packed away most of our opal finds and purchases. He selected four pieces for examination in town, and maybe cutting there.

The two big vans next to us unexpectedly packed up and left after lunch. They were upset, apparently, because one of the several camp dogs that hung about T’s cottage, had peed in the kids’ shoes that were outside the van. They were also unhappy because there was only dirt for the children to play in! They’d paid for two nights, too, we found out – non-refundable.

After lunch went for another walk on the property. Near the old woolshed, saw a pair of red-capped robins on a fence. The male’s cap was an incredibly vivid red.

Walked across country for a little way, then took a different track from before. Came across some smaller dump heaps – later, C told us we could have noodled in them. Also found a quaint little hut and camp, near a dam and wetland area. It had a kind of garden, and some chairs outside. There were lots of birds there. It seemed recently used, so we wondered about its story.

Little hut – even with garden and outdoor living area….

Then we followed a power line to the main wetland outflow, with the agitators and the puddling dam. Found out later, from a book on display in the gallery, that this area was once the property’s best sheep paddock, before the miners set up the opal washing area here, and the sullage outflows ruined it. That led me to also wonder when the property changed over from sheep to cattle grazing.

Outflow from the old opal dirt washing area; very hard for much to grow there now

Also found out that the “agi’s” are still occasionally used.

No doubt that opal mining activity ruins the land for much else

Continued on, following a fence close to the current mining area. Passed another camp/cottage, clearly regularly accessed. We were told later that an artist lived there, some of the time.

We walked as far as within sight of the main highway.

As we walked back, met up with C doing one of her walking tours, coming down from the Lorne Lookout. Near the fence there, in the mining area, was a funny little cottage – inhabited – that looked like something out of a kids’ fantasy story book. It even had chooks!

Like an illustration from a fairy story……
with real, live chooks….

We tagged onto C’s tour. She couldn’t explain the origin of the railway relics back along the track.

C took us to the Gallery, which was set up in the old woolshed. It had quirky sculptures, made from camp and mining debris, for sale. There were also paintings, mostly in a kind of Pro Hart derivative style. Usually old woolsheds retain the smell of the active shearing shed, but not this one. A possum lived in there, and it stunk!

In the gallery was a book written by Patricia Waterford, the mother of the station owner. She had lived at Lorne back when the roads to Lightning Ridge were all unsealed, and life was much more one of isolation than it was today.

A few spots of rain fell while we were browsing in the gallery. The ants were right!

We must have walked about 6kms.

Strange stuff around the old pig pens…..never di figure out what this was.

We had the usual evening around the camp fire, and cooked potatoes in the coals. D joined us. He did not have a great day out at the Grawin today. I think he was a bit miffed at missing out on the opal we bought yesterday – and the backpacker has left! He seemed quite out of sorts.

It was T’s birthday. He cooked up a feed of bream – caught somewhere locally – for his “mob”, a number of people of indigenous origins who hung about around his camp – hence the camp dogs. He came over and asked if I wanted bream – I politely declined. It was a nice gesture from him, to want to share with us.

I spent part of the evening naming and ordering the photos downloaded onto my laptop.

About 10.30pm there was loud, drunken singing drifting across the campground. Somebody was going to feel lousy in the morning!

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2009 Travels May 25


There was some light cloud drifting across, this morning. On our walk on Saturday, the ant activity did seem to indicate more rain was on the way. They had rebuilt the walls around their holes after the recent drenching. Please, no!

Re-fortified ant nests

D and John left for the Grawin at about 8am. D had succeeded in getting an early start out of John!

I washed the sheets and towels, cleaned the van inside, and tried to get some of the dried mud off the annexe floor matting.

I took some photos of a pair of frogmouth owls that were trying to sleep in a nearby tree. It had just been a fluke that I noticed them – pretty well blended in with the tree.

Pair of tawny frogmouth owls up there…..
……better seen with zoom lens

A Jayco offroader came in:  a van that I view as one for smooth gravel roads at best, rather than a true offroader that will handle corrugations and rough tracks. It must have tried to tackle the harder stuff, because it was really badly rattly. Could hear it coming quite a long way off.

John and D came back about 4.30pm. They’d had an enjoyable day. D had noodled a nice piece, and done some buying. John found some oddments but he wasn’t sure of the quality.

We all enjoyed the roast dinner, which we ate at our outside table.

Now that John had gotten a fresh taste of what’s available on the dumps, he wanted to go out again tomorrow, but with me too this time, and in our Truck. He said D’s car smelled too strongly of dogs! So I was his “cover” – his excuse for taking the Truck!

So we decided – or John did – to stay now until Friday. That would make an exact three weeks.

Another early night. I had found it so pleasant to be living life without TV, these past couple of weeks.

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2009 Travels 23 May


Fine weather again – even some blue sky.

Blue sky, and with only water-filled tracks as a reminder of the rain event

A station worker ran a bush “grader” – two big old tyres laid flat and weighed down by a sleeper across them, towed behind a tractor – over parts of the camp ground, to smooth it out a bit. I thought he’d had a go at the track to the road too.

The second Econovan left this morning.

D went into town and fetched our newspapers whilst he was there.

I got our washing done – and dry!

The ground under the annexe floor matting had dried out also, over the past day or so, and no longer oozed mud every time we looked at it. The matting was going to need a really thorough clean at some stage – didn’t really want to contemplate that, though. Not going to be easy, or pleasant.

Definitely shoes off at the door…..

After lunch, went for a walk on the property. The lady manager took walking tours of points of interest around this part of the station, but we wanted to take our time exploring by ourselves. We had picked up quite a bit of information about the place, whilst we had been here.

Our first destination was the Lorne Lookout, on top of a big mine waste dump, on the western boundary.

Forget the Black Stump……we went walking beyond the pink stump.

The station was about 10,000 acres in size. To its west was one of the oldest opal mining areas – the Three Mile and Lunatic Hill, where we’d explored on the Yellow Car Door tour route.

Apparently the father of the current owner had a lot of problems with the opal miners: digging mines on his land without permission, eating the “wild” sheep, making off with fence posts and fencing wire – not from stores, but from where they were actual fences! He eventually carved 3000 acres off the property and gave it to the Mines Department. Then, all mining on the remaining station ground was banned.

P – the owner – can’t dig for opal on Lorne, because then it would have to be opened up for all comers. But he did have a mine, on Lunatic Hill.

So, with that history, there were a lot of remnants of the earlier mining history around the station, like the waste dump. From its top, we could see a fair way over the surrounding farming country.

Outlook from top of waste dump on Lorne

We then followed the fence line between the station and the mining areas. Could see some current mining camps on the other side of the fence.

Came across what appeared to be the remains of a railway carriage, including the wheels. That was really incongruous and we speculated about how it got there. Could only presume that some old carriages may have been brought to the fields for accommodation? I thought we’d seen some doing duty as homes around the town?

Once was a railway carriage?

We eventually came to a large dam, with quite a lot of bird life around it.

Ring necked parrot

Nearby were three old agitators – the barrels of old cement mixers that were used to wash opal containing gravel in, to make it easier to spot the stones.

Agitators and a big heap of old dirt

Judging from the big heaps around these, they had obviously washed a lot of gravel in their time. They still had motors in, and looked in working order, so we wondered if they were still sometimes used? Maybe the station owner brought dirt from his Lunatic Hill mine and washed and sorted it here?

Old agitator with dam in background

Retraced our steps to near the waste heap, then followed tracks that brought us back to camp, via the old pig yards and the homestead dam. One could get lost on this place!

Old station pig pens

It was a really interesting and enjoyable walk, and great to get some exercise!

We had a camp fire again, at night, after having pasties for tea. The stars were so bright again – a very good sign, I hoped.

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2009 Travels May 22


Today was fine. Through the day the ground began to dry out really quickly.

One Econovan left this morning and apparently got out without needing a rescue. Later in the afternoon, a camper trailer made it in.

John was able to borrow a ladder to undertake roof repairs.

He took off one of the rear solar panels and re-attached it. Said it was definitely better attached now. He put fresh silicone on some old screw holes he found, as well as on all his work. Where would we be without silicone? Hopefully, that had done the trick. The way this trip had been going, to date, there was bound to be some more deluges along the way! Later, this observation was to turn out rather prescient….

The Murphy’s Law of tools…..that which one needs most is always buried deep in back of Truck

I did some cleaning up in the van, which was showing the effects of our muddy feet of the past days.

John spent the afternoon having a pasty making session – all twelve of them! Four turned out to be vegetarian, because he ran out of meat. The van oven, which we hadn’t used for ages, lit immediately and worked perfectly. The surrounds got rather hot, as happened whenever the oven was on for any length of time, and was one of the reasons I didn’t use it often.

The pasties were excellent. D was invited to dinner with us, and given a couple of extras to take away for tomorrow. In return, he gave John some chips of opal.

That sky was still not cause for optimism…..

We had a camp fire tonight – the first since Monday, though it was hard to find dry wood. Out little woodpile had gotten very damp.

Today was the start of our third week here. It was certainly a much longer stay than I had envisaged.

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2009 Travels May 21


Today was the birthday of John’s elder daughter. The other day he had mailed her a really nice card bought from the John Murray Gallery, here in town.

John Murray’s art has a very distinctive style and themes. Australiana caricature, I guess, with very much of a local flavour. I had bought some postcards from there; loved one that was a sort of cartoon style, showing an airborne 4WD and caravan, on a rough road. Hard to describe but real fun.

The rain did ease off somewhat in the afternoon. It was still grey, cloudy, damp and the ground was still a muddy mess.

The road was open again, if not particularly advisable.

We set out to drive into town for supplies – because we would not be getting the van out of here any time soon. Discovered that Truck was bogged, right where it was parked! This was shaping up as the trip of new bogging experiences. The previously hard ground had just gone so soft with the rain, and Truck had sunk where it was standing. Much head scratching ensued.

Wheels just turning in the one spot – not going anywhere….

D manoeuvred his car onto a small area of hard ground beyond the front of Truck and John hooked our winch cable around D’s towball and winched Truck forward and out of the bog – with everyone standing a very long distance away. Not recommended practice but it wasn’t a standard scenario either. Actually towing Truck out was not an option because D’s car was just a Holden Berlina and because there was just the one little patch of firm ground. John didn’t want to get him bogged too. That was today’s adventure – of the “you wouldn’t believe it” variety.

Using D’s car, on firmer ground, as a winch anchor point

The track to town was very wet. A small creek had appeared at the corner with the main road. It was very slippery. We just stayed in the wheel ruts made by others because that limited the sideways slipping.

We bought the necessary items for John to have a session tomorrow of making pasties as he’d decided that would be a very desirable way to fill in time! Also bought some screws because he would need to do some roof fixing, as well.

I was quite relieved to get back to camp in one piece and thought they had been premature in opening the road. D had continued to go back and forth in his Berlina, though he had stopped using the short cut track to the highway.

Our wheels on firmer ground….

This morning I’d discovered a small leak in the van roof, that was dripping onto the front of the stove. It must have only just started, maybe as the wind and rain swung around to a different direction. Another bane of the caravanner’s life – leaks! We suspected it was coming via a solar panel roof attachment. There had been occasional issues of that type ever since the original installation in 2002, by the incompetent clown whose misdeeds I have described in earlier posts.

We dropped one end of the poptop down to form a slope, and that stopped it – as well as the rain easing.

Through these wet days the only other tourist occupants of the camp ground had been D in a cabin, a family in an Expanda who had been here for six weeks, two Econovans that arrived not long before the rain, and a big Roadstar van, ditto. Just these few people, plus the assorted permanent dwellers, were sufficient to make the amenities floors a wet and muddy mess, despite the cleaner’s efforts.

The campground at Lorne….

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2009 Travels May 20

I was woken, just after 7am, by a text from daughter, asking if we were dry? I replied NO!

Initially I was surprised that daughter in Bendigo might even think that we had rain issues. Then via an internet search, found out that there was a nasty low pressure system over the coast of southern Qld, which had dumped much rain on the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane, and was now moving south. We were on its edge.  There were flood warnings for the rivers on the NSW north coast. It looked very nasty on the weather radar – I rather almost thought I didn’t want to know this. Might have been better if the internet hadn’t had one of its infrequent bouts of working, this morning. This early awakening by daughter also indicated that her knowledge of NSW locations was rather lacking: she thought Lightning Ridge was a lot further east.

The forecast indicated that things “might” begin to improve here, from tomorrow.

This was one occasion when I was prepared to concede that having TV in the van did have some value! If we’d had TV here, with weather forecasts, we might have followed the herd and left here before the rain.

Could there be a ray of hope in that lighter patch in the sky?

In the meantime, the road out of here was now closed. If it did dry out enough, we might try to leave here on Friday, when our second week was up.

Part of my rough trip plan had been to go and camp in the Mt Moffat section of the Carnarvon Gorge National Park. This was less accessible and thus less visited than the main section, which we had already visited back in 2002. However, from what I was now seeing, of road reports and closures, we would have to give Mt Moffat a miss.

Another day of sitting around inside the van, sewing reading, John gaming. I was able to send some emails while the internet was working.

It was days like these – mercifully rare – that led us to dream of maybe getting a bigger van. Maybe one with a couch? Our small dinette seats were not very comfortable for long hours of sitting, even though we had added extra foam padding and pillows.

With the two of us bumping knees and competing for table space, days confined here became tedious.

Because the bed went east-west, only one person could sit on this at a time – and not with any back rest because of the angle of the roof.

Today, dreaming also included a van with an ensuite. There was a lot of very muddy ground between  us and the amenity block, not to mention muddy flooring right outside the van door. Cleaning up after this lot was not going to be fun.

Getting from here to the amenities in the background involved muddy feet!

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2009 Travels May 19


Yep, we should have followed the herd and left yesterday. There were very few campers left here now.

That sky promised more rain!

The camp ground was very muddy and wet. The rain was blowing in under the awning, so I got John to put up a shade cloth barrier, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. Going to the amenities was a matter of carefully picking a route via little bits of ground still above water.

The floor mat in the annexe began to ooze thin red mud up through its mesh like structure, whenever it was stepped on. That meant we were effectively confined to the van itself.

I did patchwork for some of the day, read and wrote postcards. John played computer games.

The rain persisted for much of the day, with the occasional short dry period.

In the afternoon we drove into town, really sliding around on the unsealed road, until we reached the sealed town roads by the airport turn off. The worst section was actually the few hundred metres between the camp ground and the Lorne gate at the road into town! That was really treacherous.

John wanted to visit a shop that sold opal cutting gear. He was astounded at how expensive the gear was. I took the opportunity in town to stock up a bit on food. I thought it was possible that any more rain would close the road.

There was more rain – even heavier – through the night.

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2009 Travels May 17


Today was younger grandson’s 3rd birthday. I hoped the card I’d earlier posted from here arrived in time, and that his father managed to buy him the present I’d pre-arranged, from us.

It was a lazy morning. I’d planned to do some washing, but the one machine in the laundry was in use, so I didn’t bother.

John messed about with his collection of stones. He thought one bit looked really promising. After an early lunch, he went off to bowls. I defrosted the fridge, washed the van floor – the one following logically from the other! I hand washed the cotton floor mat in a trough in the laundry. Then I rewarded myself for all that housework by doing patchwork for the rest of the afternoon.

Lorne amenity block, with cabin room accommodation block at right

John came back happy. his team had won and he collected $20.

I invited D – a man who had moved into one of the nearby cabins a couple of days ago – to happy hour with us. He was a stone mason by trade, and John was interested in talking about that. He was also an opal buyer, which was why he was up here. He told us that he’d been to the Grawin a few times, but that it was too rough (dangerous?) out there for him, so he preferred to stay here, where it was more secure, and just drive out there. He had two rather nice dogs with him. While we sat round the fire and talked, I threw sticks for the dogs – and got muddy slobber all over my track pants, for my efforts.

D told John that it was cheaper to buy opal cutting equipment here, than in the cities. He lent John a business guide, to look up the sellers of same. Later, when John took his book back, D showed him a tray of cut opals that he’d bought. John came back starry eyed. NOW we were no longer leaving here tomorrow, but going back out to the Grawin instead!

It was a much cooler, cloudy day today. The night was chilly enough for me to drag the heater out from under the bed again.

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2009 Travels May 15


This morning, I managed to sew a complete patch before John was up and about – and there were five pieces of varying sized material in a six inch square patch, to be hand sewn together, with tiny stitches, so it wasn’t done quickly.

We left at 11am, for the Grawin. Took the back way – the gravel road from town that came out to Lorne, then continued on to meet the highway opposite the Cumborah road. It was the short way to go for us.

The drive out to the Grawin was pleasant enough for it not to matter that we were doing it so soon again. I found myself looking at the farmland – and the bush – that we passed, and wondering if there was opal to be found under there? Given the history of subsequent fresh finds in these parts, it could be possible that there were new fields yet to be unearthed? But I guess modern geological surveying methods are much more able to detect likely opal bearing areas, so probably the areas ignored were for good reason.

We parked amongst the trees by the Waste Dump. John got out and exclaimed “I’ve got a flat tyre!” The rear diver’s side was leaking – we could hear it going down. It wasn’t totally flat, yet, so it must have just happened. We had hit a couple of gutters in the track a bit hard. We changed it, finding that the air was coming from a fracture in the rubber. This created a discussion about whether the tyres should be deflated a bit on these hard, stony roads. It was not usually our practice – and “expert” opinions differed. I remember Adam Plate, of the Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta, telling us the first time we went up that way, not to run tyres softer than usual, except on sand.

Then we finally got up on to the heap. There were lots of other noodlers there today. I got sick of it quickly, and went back down to Truck, for lunch and to read and do some bird spotting.

Noodling on the waste dump, in fresh “biscuit” coloured heap

John came down later. for lunch, then went back. I went up later to take some photos, to find that most of the others had gone. Maybe because it was Friday, to get a head start on the night’s festivities?

John was working alongside a tourist, like ourselves, and a local. The latter was in his 30’s, had been a shearer, did some boxing around the country circuits, then had a stroke. Now, he noodled – and drank. He was doing both together, up there. When we drove away, he was just sitting on the front of his old car, all alone, drinking – a forlorn, sad, picture. I guessed there were a lot of hard luck stories to be found around here.

The tourist was out from the Ridge, for the day, like us. He was new to opals and noodling, and had left his ailing wife back at their van. He was dealing with some big problems and seemed pretty timid. He found a nice piece of opal on the heap and was soooo excited – it was nice to see him happy.

The little pile the men were working on was interesting, so I joined in for a while. I might have found a few small, good bits – I found it hard to tell if they were worthwhile.

We left at 4pm and got back to camp an hour later. The place was yet more crowded. A couple of camper trailers had set up quite close to us, and the Hacienda was still occupied.

Truck parked by the Hacienda cottage at Lorne

I had a bit of a chat with one of the camper trailer men. He was rather into the “I am the greatest travel expert” mode – one of those who had to go one better than anything anyone else said. But credit where it was due, and he had been to some interesting and out of the way places, like Old Doomadgee and Massacre Inlet. I gained some street cred by even knowing where these were, and by having also been to Massacre Inlet and Old Doom. He didn’t have it all his own way!

John had flathead and fries for tea. I only had fries, because the label had come off the fish pack in the freezebox, and when I went to cook it, there was only one piece!

We sat around the campfire after tea, for a while. It was so pleasant not to have TV!