THURSDAY 10 FEBRUARY DARWIN
Now that we were not leaving today, decided to drive out to Litchfield and revisit where we worked, five years ago.
Obviously we took the highway south and the route through Batchelor. The shorter way, that we’d used a lot in 2006, would have been well under water at the Finniss River ford.
It was clearly the Green Season. Lots of road side water in the lower lying areas, really tall green grass. A few flowing shallow flood ways and areas of sheet water on the road.
We drove straight through the National Park, to the former Monsoon Cafe, where we’d worked. Now, it had been renamed the Litchfield Cafe, the boss we’d liked having bought out the other one.
Said boss was in the office corner of the cafe when I went in. Recognition was immediate!
The place had changed a lot. Boss’ wife lived out there now, full time – no more weekly commuting to Darwin. His daughter, her husband and their little kids lived on site too; they took it in turns of one working in the cafe and one minding the kids.
The menu had been streamlined but broadened. There was no more offering of barra poached in garlic and cream – whoever got to clean the stove would have been grateful for that. There was still the same list of burgers and sandwiches, plus filo wraps had been added – there was a range of flavours in these. The boss now bought pre-sliced meats – well, that would save a lot of kitchen worker time in the mornings. The salad was now just leaves, tomato, cucumber; gone were the capsicum slices, grated carrot and sliced red onion. Again, very time saving. They still made wet salads for the tour groups – a curried rice one alternating with “my” rice salad; potato salad; “my” coleslaw made with wombok. There was no more waldorf salad, or the unpopular pasta one that old boss loved so much. They still served watermelon slices.
The mango cheesecake was still on offer – how many of those had I made over the three months? But now it was somewhat less rich, half the cream being cut out and replaced with yoghurt. New regular offerings were chocolate cake and apple slice. The addition of a little deep fryer meant that now chips were served. That had been a big lack when we were working there, often being asked for.
Inside the cafe, the tourist souvenir section had been greatly enlarged. There was too much kitchy stuff there now, in my opinion. It cheapened the place. They still had a good range of locally made cards, though, and some of Dorothy Mangan’s art. I bought four small works on canvas – $85 total.
The soft drink fridges had been moved out from behind the counter, to be accessible to the public, but this made the cafe area seem more claustrophobic.
In the kitchen – my former work area – the two big fridges had gone, now there was an attached coolroom built on. There was a nice air-con in the kitchen – wish it had been there in my time. There was the new deep fryer and an extra microwave. The old stove was still the same – and dirty, as well. Funny how no-one ever liked cleaning the monster.
Outside, the cafe was quite radically changed. A second coolroom container had been put down, with access from the outside. Long gone were the daily drives up to the Wongaling school to collect our bulk meat and green groceries from their coolroom.
We considered that the bus tour group lunch area had been ruined. A hard roof had been built over it – which would extend the area that could be used in wet weather – but instead of the once lush lawn underfoot, there was just bare ground. The buffet servery area had gone. There was a dishwashing machine – not hooked up yet. In our day, John and M were the dishwashers! The boss had put two containers at the end of the cafe veranda – he planned that these would be opened up and filled with souvenir stuff for the bus groups to browse in.
A tarp roof had been added to the front of the cafe, too, creating a larger sheltered area for cafe tables, but creating yet another area of bare ground. I didn’t like it and wondered whether the wet season patronage was really sufficient to justify destroying the former beauty of the place.
There was nowhere near as many of the lovely green hanging baskets of ferns and similar, around the place . The view along the cafe veranda was closed in by the new containers. Now the place looked more like a big shed than anything else – poor ambience. The cafe lawns were long and unkempt, but that could be because it was the quiet season for tourists. I had to admit that the exterior of the place was much more attractive in our time, when the former boss was in charge of it.
A good feature was the addition of more toilets, alongside the old ones.
Boss and wife lived in two containers that were joined together and he was fitting out inside, as a prototype for accommodation units planned for the future. Big improvement on his old caravan. They now had an inside bathroom!
What had been the helicopter pilot’s donga had been moved closer to the cafe. The old boss’ donga was being fitted out to be bathrooms. But the open air, tin showers we’d used were still in use, with the addition of a washing machine at the end of them. The daughter and family had a donga beyond where we’d had our van parked by the creek. That van park area was still there – for seasonal staff use.
Boss said the tent stay business was booming – at $25 a night per person, with no meals. 2010 had been a very good business year. But despite all that, he said he still planned to move the business further along, to Woolanning, where he owned a block of land. I was dubious that the volume of tourists that now went to the cafe would bother to drive that much further out, especially if someone else bought the old Monsoon and ran it as a cafe.
Boss and wife were coming to Melbourne for the Caravan and Camping Show – to publicize the business. We invited them to come to tea and stay the night, on a spare night they had. Would try to get M to come too.
We spent more than two hours at the cafe, talking and looking over the place. When we left, it was raining quite heavily.
We called in at Wangi Falls. As we walked to the viewing platforms, there was a family of feral pigs digging around beside the path – quite out in the open. What on earth were the Rangers doing?
Wangi Falls were thundering down very nicely.
So many tourists who visit the Falls in the Dry Season, and swim in the plunge pool, would not believe what they are like in the Wet.
Such an awesome volume of water pours over the escarpment edge at Wangi, and the plunge pool is such a mass of swirling, turbulent currents.
We went on to Buley Rockholes, hoping to be able to get some good photos there. However, there were a dozen or so tourists swimming about in the pools. These had been closed until yesterday, because they were running too fast, so we lucked out by a day. But I managed to get some photos that did not include bodies.
Our last stop on the way out of the Park was at the Magnetic Termite Mounds. Walked around the track to the viewing platforms. The grass was so high that the mounds were barely visible.
Back to Darwin, through occasional drizzle. Then, as we approached Palmerston, the heavens opened. We were grateful that Tiger Brennan Drive was now open from Palmerston, as it was much better for driving in such conditions. It was like trying to drive in a big bucket of water. One could hardly even see the bonnet of the car, let alone any further. That was a new driving experience for John!
Closer to central Darwin, the rain became lighter. We still got a bit damp, walking up from the parking area to the hotel entry. No question about the humidity today – 100%.
Enjoyed the day’s outing. It had definitely been worth doing, even without the old times factor. Litchfield in a good Wet Season should be on every tourist’s agenda. So beautiful.
Went down to the Sunset Restaurant for tea. It was the seafood buffet again – yummy, but a bit dearer than last time because the 20% discount only applied Monday to Wednesday.
There were thunderstorms at irregular intervals through the night, but little in the way of evident lightning.