66 shades of grey

66 shades of grey
66 shades of grey ... this pic of me was shot by Kim, of Kim Thomsen's Photography at Daly Waters in the Northern Territory. Kim just wandered over and asked whether it was OK to get some character shots.

cross

cross
The cross is in front of the church in Karumba and it seems TV antennas have a greater reach for the sky.

Shark

Shark
I went fishing out of Nhulunbuy on the Gulf of Carpentaria. We anchored in a bay about 10 hours from Nhulunbuy and went ashore. This poor fella had been snared in the locals' overnight net and then had a run-in with the resident 14-foot saltwater croc - named Nike by the local indigenous fellas - and came off second best.

the rock

the rock
Uluru

oodnadatta track

oodnadatta track
What a tough place to live ... this is out on the Oodnadatta Track

ME IN A NUTSHELL

My photo
G’day, I’m Michael and I have two fantastic grown-up kids. I’m a jeans and singlet/T-shirt, cowboy boot, tattoos sort of fella, who knows a bit about this and sometimes a lot about that. I'll have a crack at most things, although having a relationship? ... well that ship has sailed. I'm past my use-by date anyway, so I'm gonna make it all about me and surviving life as I know it ... or make it.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Trailer trashed ... and then there was Alice

Liam, just to let his mum know where we were.
I just like the picture
The drive from Kulgera to Alice Springs (it's just 20-odd kilometres from the SA/NT border) is normally something to be enjoyed, just like driving almost anywhere in this country, but this time there was a sense of urgency. The excesses of the previous Jack Daniel's-fuelled night notwithstanding.
I had to find, test and buy another camper trailer sooner rather than later because the idea of sleeping in a swag for any great length of time held less than the usual appeal (really, I love the swag) ... the fact that temperatures in and around Alice Springs were known to venture into negative figures at this time of the year had most to do with that, a very good doona notwithstanding. Negative figures indeed.
Not that figures are the be all and end all or, for that matter, negative ... I mean, I have 550-odd followers on Twitter while apparently Jesus had just 12 followers and he's better known than I'll ever be, but I digress.
As I'm typing this, a bird just took a shit on my keyboard. I'm wondering whether this is meant to be good luck. Beats me. And while on the subject of keyboards, recently someone told me about a friend who, after using her laptop, put it on the floor to go to the kitchen to make a cuppa. Her grandmother walked by, saw the laptop on the floor and thought it was a set of scales: the result is that grandma weighed in at $950. Again I digress.
During the drive, popping in and out of phone service range wasn't helping my demeanour. I was rather hoping to get a call from the assessor regarding my claim on the missing-in-action (read written-off)camper trailer, which would help ease the burden of spending money that I hadn't planned to spend ... well not on another trailer anyway. And a less-than-pleasant bout of gastric (is there any other kind?) wasn't helping the cause either.
Soon, Alice became a reality. It's not one of my favourite towns in Australia. Each time I've been there I find a sense of aggro prevalent almost every where you go. Finding a public toilet though was the highest priority. Liam was leading our two-car convoy and he was busily scouting for a servo or such to ease my discomfort, which was becoming so severe it wasn't funny. I said to him on radio: "Mate, if you don't find something soon, I'm gonna have to shit in the street." Before Liam could respond, a truckie came on air and said: "Christ, that wouldn't be a first for Alice Springs." OK, that made me laugh.
Finally, a service station. I parked and bolted in. I asked the attendant to direct me to the toilet. Made it. Just. As I was doing up my jeans to return to the world outside I realised that I still had my hunting knife on my belt, perhaps an unwise thing to be wearing when you rush into a service station. Or perhaps it was an indication of just how fine I'd cut it.
Anyway, I removed the knife to the safety of a pocket (and under my shirt), bought some tobacco and papers and rejoined the world as I knew it.
The next thing on the agenda was to find a base; a place to call home while I tried to find a new home. We checked various places and opted for a campground just near the cutting that is effectively the door to Alice. There are several campgrounds in the immediate vicinity but this one had a bonus or two: it was cheap for an unpowered site for Liam (and it had apartments on which I could splurge my hundred bucks a night from my insurance coverage) and it had a pub and supermarket attached. It was a no-brainer really.
It was nice for the first time in quite a while to have a bathroom that was less than a 40-metre walk away or that didn't involve a shovel and fresh air. Yeah, my digs (that's not a shovel joke) were palatial in a down-home sort of way ... it was kind of a trip down memory lane. Liam's site was a short walk away. About the only difficulty he had to contend with was the grounds manager (a polite description for someone whose demeanour was more akin to someone running a borstal or prison camp). This bloke lived in a tent nearby and by and large was the anti-Aretha Franklin ... respect just wasn't in his repertoire. He treated people with disdain until he saw the windscreen sticker permit to camp there ... and then he offered a force-fed collection of various stories about his exploits etc. We decided to be really nice to him, seek his counsel whether we needed it or not, encourage his stories and even offered him a beer (he had been known to stop a drop going stale) and it worked over time. Captain Grumpy became a pretty decent bloke, with whom we even had a beer at the pub. Yeah, we did give the pub a workout while we were at the campground.
We also gave the internet a workout in the hope of buying a camper trailer. There were not too many options in or around town. I needed something that would be right at home off-road i.e. something that COULD ride roughshod over washouts etc and come out laughing on the other side.
As it turned out, there were just two candidates that may fit the bill. One at Centre Trailer Sales and the other at Johnno's. We talked to Craig at CTS and organised a time to go and see it. We left a message on Johnno's answering machine and then got a call to say that the bloke we needed to talked to was out of town but that he would ring that night. He didn't.
Ya gotta love the ashtrays in Alice.




We decided not to rush things so we spent a few days checking out this and that around town (ya know, the touristy things) and we saw some cracker-jack things, the best being the old telegraph station (beautifully restored) just near the original site of the Alice spring ... i.e. the spring that gave the town its name. There was also a day at a well-known bush park (no names here ... I didn't like the fact that the animals, like this poor dingo, were in pens or that in the area called the drought/dry area, there were sprinklers to keep the flora going). We left there at about the time the office and other buildings were evacuated because of a fire scare.
The urge to get out of town though became too much to ignore, so we headed downtown, did a big shop (although we'd forgotten about liquor outlets not opening until two in the afternoon, hence we went camping without beer) and pointed the trucks at the East MacDonnell Ranges.
We decided not to drive too far and anyway there were some great camp sites out at Trephina Gorge, which was just eighty or so clicks from the big smoke.
And what a beautiful drive it is. The only stop along the way was to cut and pick up some fallen timber for the fire given that we couldn't (and wouldn't) collect any in the national park. The scenery on the way is magnificent and once you get off the main road and into the gorge, resplendent with its amazingly coloured quartzite cliffs, magnificent becomes an understatement. The place is magical.
Yeah, Liam loves to do the "monkey" thing. When he was a little tacker, we used to call him Monkey.
We found a great site, not too long a walk from the gorge proper, and set about creating home for the next week or so i.e. Liam's rooftop tent and me  with my swag. Just as we finished, a ranger happened by. I knew it was a long shot (but it was hot and I wanted a beer), but I asked him whether there was anywhere within a decent drive that I may be able to but some beers. The ranger said: "You could try the Ross River Resort. I'm not sure that they do takeaways, but I reckon they would probably be happy with a sale. And anyway, it's just 20 or so kilometres once you hit the main road again."
I thanked the ranger and gunned the truck back onto the main road and pointed it at the resort. Again the drive was truly beautiful. I next to no time I was parked at the resort and made a beeline to see the woman inside.
"I know you don't usually do takeaway beers, but if you could see your way clear," I said, to which the woman responded: "I'll just check to see if its OK." Pretty soon she came back with the affirmative. "What type of beer do you have?" I asked. I was disappointed that the best of a bad lot would be VB, something I wouldn't normally buy (let alone drink) even with someone else's money. "How much is a case?" I asked and it worried me that she reached for a calculator. "$192," she said with a straight face. Shit, I thought, she's not joking. I resisted making a smart-arse comment like "no, just one, not four cases" and said, after some quick maths: "I'll take two six packs thanks." It would have been cheaper (as in fuel and beer costs) to drive into Alice and buy two cases of beer.
By the time I hit camp again, Liam had a great fire going. After making him laugh about just how much they wanted for beers, I took his laughter to a new level. Yeah, I knocked over the first stubby and lost about a third of it. "That's a few bucks' worth," he said between laughing like a madman.
Exploring the gorge for the next few days was amazing, yeah, even climbing to the top and walking the perimeter.



Yeah, a bloke has to do the washing sometimes.

We were up there.

We actually climbed down this wall ... well, after Liam did, I was left with no choice.

When walking became an item from the backburner ... that's down to me because I really don't like too many activity-based activities ... Liam decided that he was bored. "I'm a carpenter ... I gonna make a pipe," he said. And he did. Smoked it, too.

Other than our surroundings, the best thing about the camp was a leg of lamb, roasted in the camp oven with all the trimmings; potatoes, onions, pumpkin, parsnip, carrots ... some broccoli rounded it out. Food doesn't get a lot better and there was still even a beer or two left to complement things.
We decided to explore the John Hayes waterhole on the way back to Alice after we had packed.
Again, it was amazing and, of course, Liam did his usual climb well beyond anything I'd contemplate, although it was the only climb he made where he didn't do his monkey impersonation.
The trip back to Alice included stops at Emily's Gap to see the Three Caterpillars rock painting and a stop at Jesse's Gap. All too soon we were back to tow, firmly ensconced in the same campground and starting the chase in earnest to find me a new trailer.
A change in the weather was perhaps trying to tell us that the search would be successful.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The service backwater that is the Northern Territory

As a visitor to the Northern Territory, and Darwin in particular for the past few months, it’s difficult not to be impressed with the Territory’s natural beauty.
It’s all stunning landscapes, amazing wildlife, great fishing and a million and one other recreational pursuits … seemingly with something for everyone and yet there is concern in some quarters that the tourist numbers are not up where the government would like them to be. Why?
Service, or lack of it, is the short answer.
Darwin is in so many ways a pretend sophisticated city, a social backwater, blighted by the sometimes appalling lack of service and the constant unruly behaviour evident on the streets. I emphasise tourists because Darwinites don’t seem to know to expect any better.
As for the behaviour on the streets, take this advice, courtesy of two of Darwin’s finest on separate occasions: “Don’t go out on the streets [of Darwin] at night because of the violence. The place is full of cashed-up blokes who work in mining and who don’t mind king-hitting a passer-by, especially if he is with a woman and then attempting to drag the woman away.” Enough said.
Service, for its part, is invariably better for tourists in small towns, even roadhouses, where people often go the extra yard because they don’t have the local population to swell their numbers and their coffers.
I can forgive the outback resort (OK, that’s crap, I can’t) for wanting to charge me $192 for a takeaway case of VB. I bought just 12 because I was bloody thirsty. Or maybe I could forgive the campground I’m currently staying at for keeping its red wine in the fridge. OK, that’s crap too. When I ordered a bottle of shiraz to have with dinner, it was all I could do to convince the person to retrieve a room-temperature bottle from storage.
By way of background, I lived all my life in Melbourne (although I have travelled far and wide in Australia and overseas) and I’m no stranger to fine dining, good wine, classy accommodation and good service.
Sure, now I am laughingly referred to as a usually unkempt grey nomad, towing a camper trailer with a LandCruiser ute, staying at free camps where and when possible but also at Darwin campgrounds/caravan parks, which, by Australia-wide standards, are as expensive (usually more) as anywhere in the country. I’m a player in the local economy.
So too was a mate who was staying with his wife and three kids at a supposedly upmarket Darwin caravan park (it was an outrageous $74 a night for a site). My mate was cooking a family meal in the camp kitchen while the kids were watching a movie (it had 20 minutes to run) when he was confronted by the duty manager: “Sorry, but the kitchen has to close at nine o’clock. Please finish up.”
My mate countered with a pleasant request: “Mate, the movie has 20 minutes left and I’d like to finish cooking this meal.”
The duty manager said: “No. If you don’t leave the kitchen I’m reporting you to the park manager.”
The next morning, my mate and his family were told to leave the park despite having planned and catered for a kids’ birthday party with his neighbours.
Service? Yeah, right. Jesus wept.
I checked in to the same park a while ago and my introduction was: “Right, we have some sites right down the back of the park that we don’t normally use. You can have one of those.”
Gee, thanks, and it was a snip at just $45 a night for an unpowered site that in reality was a dustbowl.
We (I am travelling with my son, who has his own vehicle) made a mistake of having dinner at the park restaurant.
Welcome to an episode of Kath & Kim. There was a wedding (they were locals) being held at the park. When my son was ordering dinner he asked (as a piss take): “Do you have many weddings here?” The proud response was: “We have two tonight.” And hadn’t the campground gone to some trouble, you know with Chinese lanterns and fairy lights and spectacular bamboo lanterns burning something like kero (sure, the smell dissipated sooner rather than later). My son ordered a chicken curry but was told after the waiter’s visit to the kitchen: “We don’t have chicken.” He also ordered some garlic bread, which we know was fresh because it came to the table unsliced and was delightfully (not) doughy.
We sat there, appropriately surrounded by “bogan villias”, listening to the wedding speeches during which one of the bridesmaids thanked the bride for teaching her how to road rage. When our dinner finally arrived (it took just 25 minutes … the excuse was: “Sorry, we’re busy tonight. We have two weddings on”.) it was, well, rubbish. Busy? The weddings weren't booked the night before. The park knew what they had to cater for, so should have employed more staff. Our nasi goreng had become nasty goreng, with cold chicken satay on the side and very few ingredients matching what was promised on the menu. In reality, we were served a piss-poor plate of ordinary fried rice. Yeah, it was a snip at $24. Not. Service? Not.
Mind you, it’s not that much easier catering for your own meals … I went recently to a supermarket about 45 minutes from Darwin to buy salad ingredients. Try $5.19 (how did they arrive at that figure?) for one cucumber. Jesus wept again.
I spent two nights in Darwin with a friend, who visited from Melbourne.
We checked into a hotel (yeah, it has the word “resort” in its name) and got a pleasant enough welcome.
Then there was the room. No mini bar, no wine glasses, no ashtray on the balcony table (the hotel was made aware of our smoking requirement), a couple of dirty splodges on the blanket atop the bed, power boards for multiple appliances on the floor … it was a fairly inauspicious start that necessitated a trip to reception to report the room’s shortcomings and ask for another room.
The reaction tone was curt at best: “Sorry we are booked out. You can’t have another room. I’ll organise some wine glasses and an ashtray.”
The wine glasses arrived at our room. I was also handed a filthy ashtray that still has ash in it. It was obviously picked up en route to the room. After some head shaking, we retired to the pool bar for a drink … it was not great ambience courtesy of the blaring TV.
When we returned to the room, we discovered a fresh blanket for the bed. In fact we got the bonus pack … sheets, blanket, towels … the complete linen set for the room. The major problem was that the offending blanket was still on the bed. If it had to be changed, we would have to do it ourselves. Service? No,  a bloody insult. And for the record, the bonus pack remained in the room for the duration of our stay. Service?
A couple of drinks in the room later, we realised that we would be late for our dinner booking. I rang the restaurant, which was on voicemail (on a Saturday night?), and explained that we would be 30 minutes late and I offered my contact number in case there were problems.
We arrived at the restaurant spot on for our new time. I explained to the receptionist (read rude bitch) that I’d called: “I didn’t get that message. I gave your table away,” was the less-than-polite response. “We have a party leaving in 10 minutes. I’ll give you that table.” I thanked her and we retired to the bar for a pre-dinner drink.
We opted for two glasses of NV Croser (from the Adelaide Hills), which was erroneously listed as Champagne. Bad mistake, that.
After 10 minutes we were approached by a waitress who asked whether we would like a table inside. “No thanks, we’ll wait until one becomes available outside.”
OK, time for a smoke while we waited for a table. After another 10 minutes we were asked whether we would like a table inside. “No thanks, we’ll wait.”
Finally, 35 minutes after arriving we were seated at a rocky outdoor table (it really rocked badly), one of three empty tables in the immediate area.
Enter, at last, a pleasant waitress to take our orders. Two glasses of Verve Clique with our entrees of oysters and mussels, and a bottle of New Zealand pinot noir to go with the most expensive cut of beef on the menu (60 bucks each) and a couple of sides.
Then, it was Territory service at its most appalling. A waitress arrived with two flutes and a bottle of Verve. She poured like a woman possessed, filling the flutes to overflowing, and with good Champagne pouring from her hand, passed the glasses to us. The resultant trail of champers across the table was left there, no doubt a symbol of the Territory wet season.
Then the pinot arrived. “Do you want this now?” “No thanks, perhaps we’ll wait for the mains. We haven’t seen the entrees yet.”
Entrees were as promised on the menu, save for one unopened mussel that should never have left the kitchen and a lack of bread to mop up the sauce (there was one small wedge of bread with the dish). I wasn’t impressed either that I had to ask for a finger bowl, given that mussels can be messy. The bowl arrived with a spoon. “I brought this so you can finish the sauce.” Some more bread would have been better.
There was plenty of time for a smoke break between courses given that the mains didn’t arrive until more than two hours after we’d arrived.
The beef, described as well marbled on the menu, was appalling, and rather than (limited) marbling featured rivers of gristle and thick, almost uncuttable sinew that rendered it about 60 per cent inedible. We ate the meal within sight of an advertisement describing the place as a one-time winner of the best restaurant in the Northern Territory. Really? This is the best the Territory has to offer? Jesus was still weeping, this time uncontrollably.
At meal’s end, we tipped the only decent waitress with cash in hand and left the bill, all $330-odd sans tip and headed back to the “resort” for a couple of drinks before pulling the pin.  It was interesting to note that there was a half-finished glass of wine and the spare linen set there the following day and that was after the housekeeping was done. Service? Nah.
What else can one say about the service in the hospitality industry in Darwin?  Not a lot really. The only constant in the industry is the need to pass Jesus a  box of tissues.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The road less gravelled ... ah, the Lord gibbers, the Lord taketh away

I’m a bit behind in the writing stakes. Apparently we’ve been going here and there, doing this and that and I haven’t found time to put pen to paper as it were.
It’s a good window of opportunity right now because Liam and I are pretty much in the middle of nowhere … read about 10 or so kilometres from the Gulf of Carpentaria on a cattle station called Lorella Springs, a 1 million acre Northern Territory  property where campers are encouraged to explore. We took the route out to the Rosie Creek fishing camp, about 80-odd kilometres from the homestead via a four-wheel-drive track that included a couple of water crossings.
Even getting into Lorella Springs, it’s 150 kilometres of dirt track followed by a 29-kilometre dirt driveway.
We were planning to stay at the Rosie camp for 10 days, but last night I did some pondering. We’re a fair way from getting anything in the way of supplies … i.e. food, grog and tobacco … OK, it’s about an 1100-kilometre round trip to Katherine, so we may not stay the full duration given that we have food for about another eight days, beers for about six days and tobacco for about five days.
Anyway, more of Lorella and the adventure that it is later when I finally catch up on where we have been and what we’ve been doing.
So, it back to the Oodnadatta Track and the ruins that we had been passing.
It wasn’t long before we saw a sign pointing to the Peake telegraph repeater station, which is 20 or so clicks off the Oodnadatta Track across a track recommended only as four-wheel-drive access.
OK, we had the time and the means to get there, so we did. It was about nine or so superb stone buildings with lots of bits intact, right down to a bedroom with the remnants of a cast-iron bed.
The site was located by John MacDouall Stuart, a hero of Liam’s and mine, and who did the big trek from Adelaide to the Gulf and back.
How the people managed to live (read survive) out there, doing everything from scratch is a miracle.



We spent an hour or so wandering the site before hitting the dirt again and heading for Oodnadatta.
Along the way we sussed out the super rail bridge about 30 clicks out of Oodnadatta. It’s a great testament to English knowhow (is that a contradiction in terms?).
The whole thing was constructed in the UK and shipped here and put together like a giant Lego project. It you stand at the start of the bridge and look across the river, the whole construction looks dead straight and capable of running a train across it today.
Talking of trains, there’s a story (here’s the version I heard a few years ago, courtesy of the William Creek/Oodnadatta mailman who is based in Coober Pedy) about the old EH (or is it EJ?) Holden wreck below the bridge. The yarn goes that there was this cattle station worker along with his dog making the trip to William Creek pub to put away a few coldies. He was making good time too until he got to the river … it was in flood and certainly no task for an early-model Holden. He did the only sensible thing. He backed up the car a ways and veered right and got onto the rail tracks and set off across the flooded river. The pursuit of a cold beer will do that to a bloke.
The one flaw in his plan was that he was doing it as a train loomed large on the other side of the bridge. For want of a better description, he shat himself, grabbed the dog and threw it out the window and into the river. He followed soon after. He and the dog survived, but I don’t know whether he made it to the bar. The story goes that he did cop a major fine for damaging public property (probably the paint work on the train) in the process of having his trusty car written off.
Soon the Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta came into sight and given that it was a hot day, the second thing I did, after parking the trailer and truck, was to grab a cold been from the fridge, grab a seat and roll a smoke and contemplate our next stop … Dalhousie Springs, which was still a long way off. Not that we were too fazed given that the surface of the Oodnadatta track had been fantastic.
We did a bit of last-minute shopping, which included, for me, a can of Aerogard that was a snip (not) at $13.50. That fact the bugs were so bad was the only reason I shelled out that much of my hard-earned cash.
Pretty soon we were fanging our way again on the Oodnadatta Track bound for the turn off to the Taylor Station, where, after about 20 kilometres of good track, the road turned to shit and that’s a fairly moderate description.
The fact that the sun was starting to disappear wasn’t helping. Yeah, we had the option of camping at Oodnadatta, but there was a huge mob of people there making a feature film and given my past involvement with people of that persuasion, it wasn’t a good option. Dalhousie it was.
We fought on … and I mean the road was a real fight, seemingly with about a dozen bowling ball-sized gibbers (rocks) to the square metre. OK, maybe not that big, but you get the picture. It was bloody rough and was certainly the road less gravelled. And the fact that I was travelling in Liam’s wake of a dust storm, life was far from enjoyable, the destination notwithstanding.
Finally we crawled into Dalhousie Springs at about 7.30 and it seemed as if there was a crowd in. It’s a popular stop-off for people after they have crossed the Simpson Desert or are about to.
It was hard to tell how many people were there or whether we had set up on a decent site, but set up we did and cranked up the stove for a feed and a few beers.
Sleep was easy to find after what had ended up a pretty tough drive, but it was all worthwhile come morning. Most of the punters buggered off and we pretty much had the place to ourselves for most of our first day there (we had planned to stay for four nights).
We surveyed the situation and decided to move into a site that we wouldn’t have to share with anyone. And, yeah, it’s a piss-off to be setting up again so soon but it was worth it.
A few people started to trickle in as Liam and I donned the board shorts and headed to the spring, which was about a 200-metre walk. What an absolute cracker it was. The pool itself is about 200 metres long and maybe 80 metres wide and the water is … wait for it … 42 degrees. Yep it was really our first bath for the entire trip. This thing produces 14 million litres of hot water a day.
That first step off the stairs and into the water was amazing, so too the million and one small fish that apparently chew the dead skin cells off your being. A bath and weight loss as well, albeit in very small quantities.
It was about shoulder depth at the deepest point I went to and, despite the sometimes slushy bottom, it was invigorating. We spent the first full day just sitting around, having the occasional bath, drinking beer and taking some pictures. It was also a good opportunity to repack the stuff in my trailer for the umpteenth time.
As we headed for the doona after a decent feed, we were serenaded by the local dingo population … most of them couldn’t hold a tune but it was great to hear.
Morning time heralded the multiple cups of tea and smokes. While we were enjoying same, the bloke from the tent nearest to us said: “A dingo took my footy.” There was much laughter in the site, with the exception of the young fella who owned the footy.

Liam and I headed for the post-breakfast bath (we made a habit of having three every day … it was the cleanest we’d been on the whole trip) and on the way back to our digs I spotted the stolen footy in the bush, complete with a few sets of dingo teeth marks. Yeah, it was flat as well. I returned it to its none-too-happy owner.
Each day at Dalhousie was pretty much the same although during one midday bath, a local road crew worker, Sophie, eased her LandCruiser up to the spring, got out, peeled her gear off (OK, she had a bikini on) and joined us in the spring.
She was the cook for the road crew, who usually stayed the night at the ranger’s compound, and she told us that she was cooking a leg of lamb with all the trimmings for the crew. Lucky them, we thought. She stayed for about an hour during which time the three of us had a contest to catch the small fish. The final count was two each.
The next morning I bumped into one of the volunteers who was on the receiving end of the roast. “How was Sophie’s roast lamb?” I asked. He smiled and said: “She has no idea … and it was chicken. She told me that she’d never cooked a roast chicken before, which explained why she had the gas on extra low. She didn’t even know how to prepare the vegies or what to do with them. I took over, so we ended up having a decent feed.”
All too soon our days at Dalhousie came to an end. We had a final bath and packed  and pointed the cars towards Mount Dare, about (I think) 50 or so clicks away.
Again the road was in a shitful state but we pressed on. As I was travelling into a tight corner that had a severe dip as well I came out the top confronted by a huge washout. It was all I could do to avoid putting the truck into the bloody big hole. The camper trailer was not so lucky and copped the full brunt. Everything looked OK and we pressed on to within about 20 kilometres of Mount Dare and we stopped to roll a smoke. Liam was bringing up the rear (it was his turn to be in the dust).
As he got out of his truck he said to me: “You’ve ripped off a wheel arch (it was hanging by a thread).”
“Shit,” I replied, “The last thing I need is for something to go wrong with the trailer.”
That’s where things got nasty. We had a look under the trailer at where the suspension used to be. There used to be four coil springs and two shockers supplemented by a steel bar with two sturdy chains.
All that was left was a coil spring in place and a second one lying on its side. Nothing else … and the wheels were doing an angular thing and rubbing against the side of the trailer. The spring pictured, named the Dalhousie Spring, was found on the road by a bloke who brought it to Mount Dare. The tyre on the side where a wheel arch was still intact was rubbing on the arch.
Sweet mother of Jesus. Here we were on the edge of the Simpson Desert with a badly broken trailer and it was 20 clicks to Mount Dare.
Liam did a U-turn and set off in search of the missing parts somewhere on the road while I went like the clappers (OK, 5kmh) towards Mount Dare station hoping like hell that I would get the trailer there. He returned empty-handed and caught up with me with still a handful of kilometres to go. Finally we crawled into Mount Dare, parked outside the pub and wandered in for a beer and to see what we could do about getting help.
Dave, the owner of the station, is a champion bloke who does lots of recovery work out in the Simpson. He’s also a mechanic who can turn his hand to anything.
The injured beast (read trailer) was backed in over the inspection pit in the workshop and Dave went below to inspect the damage. “Mate, your suspension is non-existent, the chassis is bent lengthways and across the width,” he said.
Could this get any worse? I thought. Well yes it could. Dave’s next words were the last thing I wanted to hear. “Mate, it’s a write-off.” Shit and double shit. Ah, the Lord gibbers, the Lord taketh away.
Here I am about 400-odd kilometres from Alice Springs stuck at Mount Dare with a pile of scrap metal and all my worldly belongings in its now-defunct but still swollen belly.
Dave suggested he could ship it on the back of a truck to Alice for two and a half grand. Shit and double shit again. Or he could do a patch job strong enough to get me to Alice to get it repaired there. Again for two and a half grand. Shit and double shit again.
There was nothing left to do but wait until Monday morning (I think it was Saturday when we arrived) and talk to my insurance broker to lodge a claim.
There was nought left to do but enjoy what Mount Dare had to offer, which was some lovely people, good cold beer and a decent feed. I slept both nights in the trailer wreck, which wasn’t the best. Every time I turned over in bed there was metal against metal noises. Shit and double shit.
I spoke to the insurance people who set the wheels in motion (at least some wheels were in motion) and they told me that my policy allowed me up to $100 a night for accommodation for up to 20 nights. At the time I’m writing this and I’m not within phone range, I’m still waiting for confirmation that the trailer is a write-off.
We packed everything out of the trailer into the back of my truck. Go knows how it all fitted but it did and we said our farewells and headed back towards that Stuart Highway via Finke, which was hosting the annual desert race the next weekend, and onto Kulgera.
Finke was as quiet as could be given that it was days away from hosting the desert race … it’s open to buggies (some we saw later in Alice had tyres worth two grand each … although if you believe the stories, there are a couple of vehicles worth $500,000 each), bikes and other stuff that makes short work of the bumps, sand and generally harsh conditions. There were suggestions that upwards of 25,000 people would be camped out there, something that should have pleased the only general store. We bought diesel from there just to top up. Reckon it was $2.20 a litre although by the weekend it was likely to be much higher. There’s no such thing as largesse in the bush. People pretty much charge what they like, when they like, because it’s a captive audience.
The road from Finke to Kulgera was red dirt, smooth as Hugh Jackman and as straight as Bon Scott … 95kmh was the order of the day until, about 60 kilometres from Kulgera, Liam suggested a stop for a roadside cuppa and a smoke.
It was a beautiful part of the bush and while the billy was heading towards boil, Liam went for a walk about 200 metres into the bush. When he got back, he said: “That was amazing. Not a sound, especially anything man made, not a bird … nothing. I just listened to the silence of the Earth. Amazing.” It was a tad more profound than the usual banter over a cuppa, but I knew exactly what he meant.
When the cuppa was done we got back to 95kmh and pretty soon was hit a short stretch of tarmac leading to and from the railway track and then onto the Stuart Highway and the place that is Kulgera … that is to say a roadhouse, a pub and a camp ground and the occasional dwelling on the periphery.
As we were walking into reception to book a site (I was gonna sleep in the swag) and I thought: “Jesus, my insurance pays for accommodation up to a hundred bucks a night. No bloody way I’m swagging it. I’ll book a room. That took care of the first $100 of my insurance claim … a room with a comfy bed, an air-conditioner … who could ask for anything more?
Just as soon as we got our digs settled, we headed for the bar. Cooking wasn’t in our plans given that my stuff was pretty much inaccessible in the back of the truck and Liam deserved a break from kitchen duties given that he has done the bulk of the cooking along the way. Yep, in was counter meal central for these two campers.
A couple of pots of pale ale and a perusal of the menu and specials board … it was roast lamb with all the trimmings for two, thanks.
And what a good meal it was. Lots of everything, especially lamb, pumpkin, spuds, carrots, peas, even mint sauce. We cleaned our plates and emptied our second pale ale pots, thanked the barmaid, ordered another pot each and looked at each other. “Things could be worse,” I said. Liam responded in a way that proved I’ve brought him, up well. “You know, Old Bean, we haven’t had a night on it for a long, long time. What about making tonight that night? And there’s live entertainment.”
No problem for me although I said: “The live entertainment’s not on until June 2.” As if to prove for the umpteenth time that I struggle to know what day it is, Liam said: “It’s June 2.” I was still somewhere in May. “OK, done,” I said, “Let’s make our way to the showroom.” It was about five steps from our side of the bar.
We got talking to big Mick, one of the blokes who run the place. A damned decent fella he was. “Got my car broken into last night out the back of the pub … lucky for me I caught up with them and lucky for them I wasn’t in a real shitty mood. Just a bit of bush justice.” OK, we were glad he was on our side.
The drinks started to flow freely, punctuated by smoke breaks for Liam, Mick and myself. Then the entertainment started. Enter Barry Bishop, a singer who specialises in, among other things, golden oldies. Barry is a very versatile singer and has a crack at most types of music and does ’em well. He was doing the rounds of bush venues on his way to a gig in Darwin. He has a huge bank of backing tracks … and the crowd (OK, does about 40 people constitute a crowd? I think it does) lapped it up. It wasn’t long before the punters were on the dance floor and strutting their stuff.
It was during one of the aforementioned smoke breaks that Mick mentioned the fact that Barry had a song list as long as your arm and then some. “I’m gonna get my hands on the book and get up and have a sing,” he said. “Reckon I’ll do the Pub with No Beer.” That was it for me. I headed straight to the bar and bought myself a Jack Daniel’s and Coke and a Bundy and Coke for Liam. I said to Liam: “That’s it. We’re on it and I’m gonna have a sing. I’ve gotta get my hands on the song book.” That didn’t take long, courtesy of the other big Mick. My eyes lit up. I reckon I knew the lyrics of about three quarters of them. And the Jack was putting my mood into something resembling shameless. Yep, it was gonna be a night on it, all right.
Mick was first to grab the microphone and did a very passable Pub with No Beer, although he did improvise on some of the lyrics.
My turn. I approached Barry, book in hand, and pointed to GI Blues by Elvis. I’m not sure what he made of his bogan singing partner, clad in three-quarter length shorts, a blue singlet under on open fleecy lined flannelette shirt and a pair of yellowish (There was red dust involved) Crocs. Did I mention the crocodile tooth, pig’s tusk and shark’s tooth hanging around my neck? Perhaps the accompanying peace sign put him at ease.
One, two, three and away we go.
Barry and I at various times during his show worked our way through GI Blues, Return to Sender, Jailhouse Rock, Travellin’ Band, The Wonder of You and an early-‘60s song 100 Pounds of Clay by Gene McDaniels. When I requested that last song, Barry said: “I cannot believe you have even heard of that song let alone know the lyrics.”  
Without sounding too much of a wanker, I did get a really good round of applause for every song … I was pretty happy with myself.
The boss’ wife recorded a video of me having a crack. I still haven’t been able to track it down, but if I do, I will post it somewhere.

Several more Jacks ensured that sleep would be easy. It was, but the morning light was anything but welcome especially given that we were to drive to Alice Springs.  Jack Daniel’s has a lot for which to answer.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

At last, a bit of road chatter

Getting free of Victoria has been the toughest of tough gigs ... and yeah, it took just over three months, including times at The One's house, Skenes Creek, Pomonal in the Grampians (where The One came to stay) and Port Melbourne.
Saying farewell to the love of my life was the toughest of tough things I've ever done, leading to plenty of tears from both of us, but not before we had shared some wonderful times together, including our third visit to Balgownie Estate where good food and wine, wonderful service, beautiful room and so, so much love in the air took the visit to AAA rating. Oh, and an early celebration of my birthday, thanks to The One.
Then there was EIS, our favourite restaurant in Albert Park, where mine host Hiro and his team treated us to a memorable meal ... it was the new degustation menu ... before a couple of farewell drinks with the team at Lina's Wine Bar. It was tough, but we did it in style.
D-DAY

Finally, D (for departure) Day arrived and Liam and I did our final checks (OK it was packing last-minute style) before leaving my brother, Phillip, and his wife, Alexis, to enjoy their Grampians property while we made a beeline for Colac for an appointment with mechanic Ben for a couple of must-do things ... I had an inverter and a 12-volt power point installed in my trailer kitchen (I need the inverter because, yeah, I have a stick blender for food preparation) and some 120-watt solar panels, which, when added to the 75-watt flexible ... yeah it's made of rubber and you can hit it with a hammer ... panel will give me unlimited power for as long as it takes. Liam grabbed the same solar panels, had a battery regulator installed as well as a 12-volt plug near the back of his ute. It was money well spent. The service wasn't half bad either, Ben organised the office receptionist, Sally, to take us into town so we could grab a bite, do a wee bit of shopping and then she picked us up afterwards.
Knowing that we were now bullet-proof in terms of our power needs, we made our way to Skenes Creek for another farewell with the crew there.
Charlie, who runs the place, cooked dinner for Liam and me, along with five backpackers who are there doing work for him. Snags, steaks, lots of onions from the barbie and a huge salad did the trick ... OK, a few beers helped. JoJo, a recent arrival, had also cooked an apple crumble (yeah, I whisked the cream ... a bloke has to do his share) but dessert proved beyond us. She had it for brekkie in the morning.
Charlie did the right thing and organised coffee for us before we hit the road. It was then he brought his laptop to the table. "Check this out," he said, "I'm pretty happy with it."
He then started an episode of Game of Thrones, something I know bugger all about (as in never seen a second of it). There he was. Yep, Charlie was an extra. He was in four scenes, looking resplendent in his yellow robes. "So, what's the story, mate," I asked.
Seems he was in Croatia to visit his daughter and it just so happened that the set manager was a mate, so Charlie made his screen debut. Well done, Charlie.
We hit the road after saying goodbye to Sharie, Rachel, Lewis, JoJo and another bloke whose name escapes me.

We cut a swathe through the countryside, bound for Millicent in South Australia. The fishing there, according to a friend, was sensational. We camped for free not too far from the beach at a site we shared with an untold number of mice.The only real highlight was at nightfall one day when a ute pulled up for the driver to let down his tyres so he could do some four-wheel-driving in the sand. He was fishing for salmon. "Reckon they might be running tonight. I'll stop on the way back and give you some if you like. My missus won't touch 'em." We thanked him for the offer as he headed for the area dominated by the sounds of crashing waves, a sound that aided our attempts to sleep. Later, at about 9.45 when Liam and I were having a quiet beer at the campfire, the ute duly arrived and out popped the driver. "G'day, Gary Howe. Call me Howie. Got about a dozen decent fish. Grab what you like," he said reiterating that his missus didn't like them. "I use 'em for bait. Reckon salmon love salmon.""Fancy a beer by the fire (yeah, there was a chill in the air)," we asked. "Yeah, just as soon as I finish this cider I'm havin'," he said as he made his way towards the fire. That short walk made it apparent that this wasn't his first cider of the night. "I've had a six-pack already," he said, “Know I shouldn't. I've been done for drink-drivin' twice and the missus doesn't too much like it."Howie was a good, knockabout sort of bloke and told some good life stories during his switch from cider to our Carlton Draught. At about 11, he decided that the missus had waited long enough and used his compressor to re-inflate his tyres and he jumped behind the wheel and opened a cider traveller. He bade us farewell. It was a pleasant interlude.The mice number at the site was lessened the day we moved out, when Liam jumped from the tailgate of his ute. He saw the little fella and expected him to move with the speed of the one that ran up the leg of his jeans a night or two earlier. Alas, a size 10 steel-capped boot put paid to his food scavenging escapades, but in a glass half-full moment, he provided lunch for at least one of the regular feathered visitors.The campsite, despite being just 11 kilometres from Millicent, had zero phone services (take note, Telstra), so chatting to The One was impossible.Would I return to Millicent? Nah. About the only bright spot was when we were in a sport shop (looking for fishing tackle) and we asked a young girl for directions. "Sorry, I'll have to draw you a map. I'm not a very good explainator." Her map worked perfectly, so thanks. Oh, and after a check of the packing I realised that I wouldn't need a DVD player and made it a gift to a lovely helpful woman at the tourist information centre where we'd called and asked about dumping the rubbish we'd brought out of the bush. She was chuffed: "I don't have a DVD player." I smiled and said: "You do now."
DIESEL AT MILLICENT: $1.55 PER LITRE
We filled a water tank on the trailer and moved on to the peaceful seaside village of Beachport for a couple of days R'n'R (can you have that when you are on permanent holiday?) to tend to things such as washing clothes, rechecking the packing for the umpteenth time and some time trying to relieve the bright blue briney of some fish.The score on those three tasks was: washing ... 100 per cent; packing recheck ... I found another DVD player in the electrical goods storage tub in the trailer (you can never have too many DVD players, eh?). This one I presented to the non-smiling woman at the front desk of the campground. If she was chuffed, she hid it well; the fishing ... we spent two nights (one in the rolling mist, which is not rhyming slang for anything) fishing off the 700-odd-metre jetty (you almost needed a bag of sandwiches for the walk. OK, we did take some cans of beer) having a crack at the whiting. We knew they were there because we could see them in the water, swimming around our baits, no doubt chatting in whiting talk among themselves and saying shit like "I'll have a nibble on this bait just to get them excited".Once, and only once in the two nights did one nibble hard enough to warrant a line retrieval, something it managed to escape the moment it got its head above water. Yeah, the fishing was a "bightmare".Not to worry. Beachport is a pleasant enough beachside place, which, no doubt, would be a nightmare in summer, such is its popularity.We spent our last day there just fidgeting with last-minute details until they were all done. I was sitting beside my trailer enjoying a beer when a woman (she and her husband had just arrived) walked by to survey the place. "I'll have to go the long way around," she said of the (small to me) daunting little hill in front of her. "I'll give you my arm," I said as I hauled myself from my seat and walked towards her. "Thanks," she said. "All part of the service," I replied as she took my arm and made it safely to the bottom of the hill (OK, fair dinkum, it was a bump).She walked past about an hour later, this time with her husband in tow. "I brought the old man this time, so I'll be OK," she said as they laughed their way down the bump.It was about this time that Liam suggested a walk around town, which meant another trip to the fishing tackle shop to look again at the rod he'd been eyeing off. He didn't buy the rod but we did grab some other bits and pieces and as we walked from the shop he said: "Why don't we have a beer at the bar at the end of town opposite the jetty?" Does a bear poo in the forest? So we relieved a woman of two stubbies of Cooper's Pale Ale and headed outside for a beer and a smoke. "I reckon, given that it's our last night here, we should go to the pub up the hill for a feed. That'll mean no dishes," he said. No argument from this little black duck, so we emptied the stubbies, made a beeline to the general store to buy some tobacco and headed up the hill to the pub to get some takeaway beer supplies for the trip."We may as well have one while we're here," Liam said, and he asked the barmaid for two pots of pale ale while I was putting the coins into the pool table. He wandered back with said pots, took a sip and said: "Jesus, this tastes and smells like shit. Have a go at it." He was right. He took the offending brew back to the barmaid and made her aware of the predicament, "Sorry," she said, "but I don't drink beer. I can't tell whether it’s good or bad. Can I get you something else?"Two pots of Carlton Draught and a game of pool later (yeah, Liam won) we headed back to camp to grab some warm clothes that would sustain us on the later walk home from the pub.We returned to the boozer and Liam asked a different barmaid for two pots of pale on the proviso that he could have a smell and a taste. He explained why and she offered him a taste. "Nah," he said, "that's off."The barmaid replied: "Hang on, love, I'll have a go. It's the only thing I drink." One sip and she blurted out : "That's shit. I'll give you blokes some Carlton Draught." She then went to get the publican, who came armed with a plastic bucket. He agreed that it was off and drained a bucketful and then had a taste.God knows how long it had been sitting in the pipes, but now it was OK, as was the plate of housemade rissoles, mash, veg and gravy. Each of the four rissoles was the size of an avocado and an empty plate plus several pots ensured the walk back to camp would be a big ask. It was.Morning dawned all too quickly and we pulled down our tents, said goodbye to the neighbours and hit the road bound for Robe, where we camped (about 7-8 kilometres) out of town.The site had plenty of firewood and wasn't too far from the angry sea. The drive in was on a narrow, winding, up and down rough track that was almost a tunnel through the scrub. And, yes, there was phone reception, so I was able to chat to The One every night.We had a good clearing for our site (it was sheltered) and there was a drop dunny nearby, which was almost home to a black (OK, it was very dark fur) wallaby.We had a couple of cracks at removing fish from the ocean, but all I caught was seaweed ... and I also lost a couple of lures. Given that we had driven the almost a kilometre to the beach in my LandCruiser, we decided it was time to put the old girl into four-wheel-drive and have a crack at one of the bloody rough tracks that ran through the dunes and down onto the beach. It was really my first serious crack at sand driving and I reckon I did OK over some pretty hairy terrain. Liam said: "Well done, old bean, you showed it who was boss." It was very exciting and I felt proud to have gotten 

through it. Well done, me.
DIESEL AT ROBE: $1.62 PER LITRE
Again, Robe wasn't to be a long stay ... just a few nights before we packed again and headed to the Adelaide Hills to catch up with our great friend, Simon, and his lovely partner Liz at their fantastic 20-acre property at Hahndorf. They have two dogs, Elle and Bella, a few cattle, a big red cat, a couple of horses and the most beautiful rolling green hills split down the middle by a river.We had a sensational time there ... the one downside was that Liam had to find a dentist and have two wisdom teeth removed.We arrived on a Saturday afternoon to warm greetings from Simon and Liz, who then showered us with luxury: i.e. I slept in a beautiful stone self-contained cottage with a balcony out onto the pool while Liam had a converted shed ... age takes priority in the luxury stakes. And then there was dinner. After a few quiet drinks beforehand (they were getting noisier by the glass), we sat at the dining table and devoured Liz's meal of slow-cooked beef and roast veg with gravy. The beef was one raised on the property. Its name was Lina, which will strike a chord with those who know of my drinking haunt in Melbourne, aka Lina's. Liam and I provided the red for the meal ... a bottle of most excellent 2001 Peel Estate zinfandel (almost 17 per cent) ... it was a big mother and went very well with the beef. The conversation got messier as the night rolled on, courtesy of a bottle of The GlenRothes single malt, which equated to about a finger and a half left in the morning. It was a big night that also included a few games of pool on their terrific (and true) table.Sleep came easy and simply wasn't long enough. All too soon, Liam and I were out by the pool with a pick and shovel digging a petanque pitch (we'd promised to do it the previous night). At 7.30 it was the last thing either of us felt like doing but do it we did. Liam was particularly heroic given that his wisdom teeth were giving him all sorts of grief ... and the fact that he did most of the work. Age takes priority when it comes to digging.We spent the afternoon shopping ... Liam bought a water tank, a few fishing rigs, a compressor and a new tackle bag. I grabbed a new tackle bag, some rigs and assorted bits and pieces. A bit of retail therapy was just the tonic before the dentist in the morning.A trip into the wilds of Adelaide, braving early-morning traffic, was worthwhile because it got us to the dentist, but not before we'd hit a cafe and fuelled up on a big breakfast ... Liam needed food to go with the antibiotics he was taking for the offending fangs ...Pretty soon after, it was D-Day (that's dentist's day to the uninitiated) and he bravely marched into the surgery while I sat in the car park and made do with a bottle of water, a few cigarettes and a healthy dose of Billy Thorpe live.Liam soon marched out of surgery, his mouth chockers with cotton wool ... the conversation sounded all the world like the night before when beers, red wine and single malt made talk sound something you'd expect in a bar in a Star Wars film. Given that he is growing his hair and running a full beard, Chewbacca sprang to mind, both in sight and sound.I did manage to glean from him on the drive back that the woman dentist had considerable trouble removing the second molar and, with her knee on his shoulder (don't reckon that's the first time he's been in that situation) was giving it her all. As the offending item exited the gum she somehow managed to break a good tooth right alongside the stubborn one. Yeah, she had to do a rebuild job.Given the obvious pain and plentiful blood, he was in amazingly good spirits ... he has a far better pain threshold than me.It became a day of R'n'R with us both packing our new tackle bags and donating several things no longer necessary for the trip to Simon and Liz, including Liam's hammock made by a good friend in Vanuatu who died not long after making it.Liz prepared a magnificent dinner of poached salmon and mushy veggies to help the patient ... my god, the woman knows her way around the kitchen ... OK, and the farm, the pool table, et al.All too soon our last night in the paradise that is Simon's and Liz's place was over and the road beckoned. We were packed and ready to hit it. And hit it we did directly to Port Augusta along a road that holds little interest until you get with sight of the magnificent Flinders Ranges, which help ease the burden with the changing colours.
DIESEL AT ADELAIDE: $1.54 PER LITRE
On we pressed, past Snowtown, the infamous town best known for the bodies in the barrels murders. The town is shielded from the road by a long, tall stand of trees, almost trying to hide itself from its shady past.Port Augusta was to be our base for three nights because we'd planned to do a big shop (for food, that is) and spend a whole day cooking and vacuum-packing the results before freezing them. It would be, we figured, enough meals to get us through the first two weeks from here on.Ten serves on spag bol sauce, six big serves of fried rice with lots of vegetables, a dozen sausages, some steaks, bacon etc was the result.Now for what turned out to be the hard part ... freezing the nutritional booty.I loaded my freezer and set it for -14 degrees, the best and most efficient temp to operate an 80-litre Waeco. Soon the compressor kicked into action and went on and on and on until I started to worry that I may be damaging the fridge. Surely it should take this long.It was 24 hours later and the freezer section still hadn't realised the required temp and the compressor was still whirring on, so I rang Waeco for some tech advice. While helpful, Colin couldn't quite give me an answer but suggested I call the Waeco agent in Port Augusta. I did and the bloke suggested I ring him back at about 1.30 because he had several jobs on and then bring to the fridge to him.I rang at the appointed time and he said, and this is another example of why people in the bush are so good, "Mate, I'll come to you." Yep, he would make a house call. Talk about service.Then he rang and said, "Sorry, mate, I have to tend to an air-conditioner that is leaking in someone's roof. I'll be about half an hour or so late." Talk about service.Glenn (I know it was double NN because his name was on his shirt) arrived on time, had a good look at the whole shooting match, answered all of my questions and then explained the difficulties of freezing from scratch. "You've gotta at least chill it well and the freezing will take less time. You've got nothing to worry about though. Everything is OK."He then took the time to ask about our trip so far and out plans. "What about fishing?" he asked and then grabbed his phone and showed us his photos of his latest conquest ... a 20-kilogram kingfish he'd landed the weekend before. He spent a good 20 minutes or so shooting the breeze before he got a call to do another job."Great, mate, thanks very much. What do I owe you?" I asked. "Nah, mate, she's right. You just have a great trip."I countered with an offer of some beers to take with him but he said we'd need 'em more than he would where we were going. We all shook hands and he headed off to his next job. What a champion bloke.We spent the last day washing and drying everything we could, doing last-minute checks (which included Liam repairing a leak on one of my trailer's water tanks) and packing before we retired to the local pub (it was walking distance) for a steak and a few beers to celebrate my birthday. A few pots turned into a few more before we headed back to camp to enjoy a bottle of Balgownie Estate sparkling shiraz and some Brix extra-dark, 70 per cent cacao chocolate, both birthday presents from The One. The chocolate is designed to bring out the flavour of the wine and it does. It's a marriage made in heaven, just like The One.The new day dawned, we took down our tents and pointed the trucks in the right direction.This was effectively the start of the road trip, lots of red dust and desert ... this was the Stuart Highway.
DIESEL AT PORT AUGUSTA: $1.55 PER LITRE
As we reached the fork in the road ... the sign said Perth to the left and Darwin to the right ... I hit the UHF and said to Liam, "Finally it's on." He was quick to respond. "And in true Vaughan style, we're starting with a hangover." True dat.The Stuart Highway is named after John MacDouall Stuart, who pioneered exploration in these parts, a gun of a man. I read a biography on him when I last did this trip ... it helped in many ways seeing things that he'd seen and named and the like. I was very pleased that Liam is reading the same book and he, too, is getting a real kick out of it.Our first port of call was a roadhouse at Pimba, where we stopped and enjoyed a big burger at Spud's Cafe. The joint is obviously making a quid because they are spending plenty on some renos, indoors and out. Diesel there was $1.90 a litre, not that we need any because we'd topped up at Port Augusta. From Pimba, it's just six kilometres to Woomera (originally surveyed by the late, great Len Beadell, Australia's last great explorer), a sleepy town that houses about (I think) 200 people. The whole town was obviously at work on the day or all asleep because the only people we saw were people like us, tourists if you like (there had to be a tag because there was certainly no one like us ... you know, a good looking strapping young fella and his ageing hippie dad.)We had a bit of a look around the exhibits outside the museum (it was closed), which included to old missiles, rockets, the odd plane and a couple of World War Two guns.We'd toyed with the idea of camping there for the night but commonsense won the day and we decided to press on to Glendambo, a bit further back up the highway.The road presents plenty of scenery changes (quite a few people we'd spoken to along the way had said it was a boring drive ... what do they know?), quite a bit of road kill providing a veritable smorgasbord for the birdlife, among it a magnificent wedge-tailed eagle and signs alluding to Stuart's past. I resisted the temptation to re-use an old movie title I created last time I blogged about this area ... Carrion Up The Middle ... just as well for that, eh?Then Lake Hart loomed large on the eastern side of the highway. It's a huge salt lake that's as picturesque as you like. We stopped to take it in and grab a few pictures and then decided to have a crack at a track that went from the highway, through the bush, and down to the water's edge.We got out and had a good look around. There was plenty of evidence of campfires and again we toyed with the idea of camping there for the night. Then we realised that there was a train line right at the lake's edge and the, right on schedule I'm guessing, a kilometre or so long train made its way past us, I'm guessing bound for Port Augusta. It took about five minutes for the train to pass.Again we posed the "should we camp here" question. It was a resounding no. "Let's do Glendambo," Liam said, so we negotiated the rough track back to the highway and gunned the trucks. Glendambo here we come.The speedo ticked over about 300 clicks between Port Augusta and Glendambo, a pretty easy drive.We parked the trucks outside the Glendambo pub and wandered in (Liam and I were the only two in the place) and ordered two pots of pale ale. I handed the barman a fifty and he gave me back $38 and a few cents. Ah, drinking in the bush, good and all as it may be, is an expensive business especially if you're planning to make a night of it. We weren't. We booked a site down the back of the campground (there were about a dozen or so other vehicles there) and set up for the night, a task that takes each of us about 6 -7 minutes. There were taps around the site but with warnings that it (the water) was OK for showering but not palatable to drink. There were, however, rainwater tanks for drinking.We were sitting and chatting when our nearest neighbour wandered by. I nodded at him as a form of greeting and Liam said "G'day, how's it going?". He was having none of it as he just stared and walked on. We christened him Mr Grumpy.Dinner was Liam's fried rice ... damned good it was, too ... and a couple of cold cans of Carlton Draught before sleep took hold. Driving will do that to you.The following morning, while I was in the bathroom, Liam chanced again upon Mr Grumpy and looked him in the eye and asked about his well-being. Liam continued the Julie Bishop-type stare until Mr G finally said "Good, and you?" It's not that hard turning into Mr Pleasant.
DIESEL AT GLENDAMBO: $1.77 PER LITRE
And there was more driving to follow as we did the 250 or so clicks to Coober Pedy. I stayed there for about 10 days the last time I passed through ... I just loved the place met lots of good people and generally had a ball.We decided to stay at the Opal Inn Caravan Park (there's no free camping around these parts due to the inordinate number of bloody big holes in the terrain), which was an easy decision given that there's a pub attached to the place and it's close to whatever the town has to offer. It was (I think) $20 a night for an unpowered site, so we set up along the back fence not too far from the dunny.It was a case of arming ourselves with cameras and doing the town because Liam (the builder) was keen to check out just how they manage to get these joints up and running underground.Logic suggested that we make our first stop at the underground pub for a cold beer (it was 28 degrees). It's a pretty amazing feeling having a beer somewhere on the way to the bowels of the Earth ... an altogether not-too-unpleasant thing.Then we wandered the retail strip (such as it is) and checked out a few joints (again underground) before we climbed to the top of a lookout to get an overall picture of the landscape ... here a dugout, there a dugout, everywhere a dugout.
The heat of the day soon won the battle and we headed back to camp for a cleansing beer or two before deciding on a chicken parma and a beer for dinner at the pub. Well, it was Saturday night and we were hoping to maybe hook up with some people and paint the town ochre.Alas, we were the only two people in the dining room. The bar wasn't much heavier populated ... I found out later from a local that there was a footy match on and most of the town, it seems, had opted for it, after all the drive-in cinema was closed. It opens every second Saturday.Sleep won after I'd won on the pool table.After Liam's big breakfast ... he cooked bacon, eggs, snags and tomatoes and toast ... we spent the day doing bit of noodling (that's the title for scavenging on the mullock heap at the end of town. I did manage to find a couple of small pieces of opal, which I proudly pocketed).Afterwards, we did a drive around the outskirts of town, took a few pictures and headed to John's Pizza Shop (I'd promised Liam that I'd shout him one) to try its specialty pizza ... the Coat of Arms, which I'd had on a previous trip. It was a nice thin base, a cranberry sauce layer, then smoked kangaroo, emu, camembert and plenty of spinach ... it's a bloody cracker. Cold beers didn't hurt the experience either ... OK, it was 31 degrees.Then it was time to get a few staples at the supermarket, pack the fridge, pack the rest of gear that we didn't need for the night and then sit down to a feed of bangers, mash and some veg to prepare us for the next day's drive to William Creek. It was to be our first long (OK, it was just 163 kilometres) drive on the dirt, a prospect that excited us both.But before we headed off, Liam had to get some electrics checked after tracking down the local auto electrician. Sam, formerly of India, Melbourne and Adelaide, was the man. He was busy repairing a windscreen chip for a wild-haired Czech and his wife when we arrived. Pretty soon he was all over Liam's truck, checking all the bits that may have offended. It all looked good after about 20 minutes of Sam's time. Liam said: "Thanks, Sam, what do I owe you?" "Nah," said Sam, "have a good trip. I'm off now to Port Augusta for some training." What a champion bloke again.As Liam and I walked to our trucks, the Czech fella yelled to me: "Hopefully we'll see you on the road. We are both wild men."
DIESEL AT COOBER PEDY: $1.72 PER LITRE
We topped up the fuel tanks (plus a jerry for me given that my LandCruiser is not the most economical vehicle going around) and headed back towards Glendambo on the bitumen before hanging a left-hand turn at the sign for William Creek.The road had been well graded, so it was about 90kph all the way as the road snaked its way towards the Dog Fence, an amazing structure that runs all the way to Queensland.Corrugations on the road were few and far between but the gibber plains (OK, stretches of dirt covered in smallish rocks were plentiful, giving way occasionally to (not to high) sand dunes, the odd creek crossing (ya gotta slow down for those), a cattle grid every now and then and generally beautiful if mostly very flat country.We stopped various times along the way to check out creeks and the like, the vegetation and the views before the sign to Anna Creek Station (no there's no train there save the odd road train ... it runs cattle), which signalled that it was not too far to William Creek and a cold beer.There's not a whole lot at William Creek. A pub outside which stand horse rails, a parking meter stolen from Melbourne, a couple of Telstra pay phones (which cost shitloads to set up), a campground, a golf course (not a lot of grass on the fairways and the greens are officially the browns), an airstrip and a few remnants of the space age (read old rocket and satellite bits). Oh and there's a newish cafe at the front of the campground.There wasn't a whole lot to do but hit the pub, drink some beers and strut our stuff on the pool table. I won the night.We were up at sunrise, packed within 30 minutes and after a couple of cups of tea and a smoke or two, we pointed the trucks towards the Oodnadatta Track and another 200 clicks of dirt before we hit the home of the Pink Roadhouse, Oodnadatta's best-known landmark.Again, the track was in crackerjack shape with the exception of about 10 or so kilometres where a road crew was giving its grader an outing.We had probably done about 100 clicks when Liam suggested that I look out for landmark and ruins: "Apparently, we've passed four already.