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.


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


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

oodnadatta track

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


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, June 29, 2013

Bacon, bum nuts and bourbon ... for breakfast. Beauty

When you get to my age, birthdays don’t mean a lot (to me anyway … it may have something to do with the fact that I’ve had so many of the bloody things).
My most recent anniversary, though, was a special one. Not for any particular reason other than the location and the company.
Day three of our camping trip dawned with yet another beautiful outlook (my philosophy is that every day is beautiful) once the fog had moved to greener pastures.
Once a smoke was rolled and a pee was peed, the fire was given a new lease of life and the billy was doing its duty, it was time to contemplate just where the past year had gone. And Christ, it had gone quickly (they do once you attain a certain level of maturity).
Any thoughts of the past disappeared when Liam suggested bacon, eggs and toast should be mandatory.
“I’ll make a pot of espresso,” I said, “That should kick-start things.”
“I reckon that, given it’s your birthday, we should celebrate with a strong coffee with a decent splash of Jack in it,” said Liam.
Bourbon and coffee? I was all for it, which I guess negates the suggestion of maturity I made a couple of paragraphs ago. No matter. It was to be our only strong drink for about eight hours so what’s the harm?
Bacon, bum nuts (they're eggs to the uninitiated) and toast, coffee and bourbon (yeah, it had a wonderfully warming effect), the river doing its thing just metres away, the fire warming our toes, cockatoos holding what seemed like ridiculously loud conversations … it’s hard to imagine a better start to any day.
A couple of cups and tea and a smoke or two rounded out breakfast before the dishes beckoned and then a trip to town to get supplies.
Once we hit the main road and got reception, my phone did its thing with a gaggle of messages (can you have a gaggle of messages? Don’t care if you can’t) and calls to wish me a happy birthday. Speaking of collective nouns, I had a great friend (he’s now propped up at the great bar in the sky) who had, to my mind, the best collective noun ever. Every day at the office at about 12.30, he’d say: “I’m off for a collapse of brandies.” Just thought I’d like to share that with you.
Given that we were in town, it seemed like a good idea to do the pub lunch thing. A country pub chicken parma was the order of the day for me and bangers and mash for Liam. While we waited for the kitchen to do its thing, we decided a game of pool was in order. Liam won. That in itself is not usually the norm. There’s history there. I have the inherent ability to get into his head when we are playing pool and he, there’s no other way to say this, chokes. Years ago when we were in Munich, we were in a bar playing pool and I beat him 14 games in a row, often from seemingly hopeless positions. He was a very angry young man. (About 12 years ago when I was a regular at the local pub, I played two games against former world snooker champ Eddie Charlton before interviewing him for a story, but that’s something for another day.)
With pool and lunch done, we headed to the supermarket to get supplies. Given that we’d indulged in a fair amount of dead beast during our time on the river, we decided to go healthy. I was going to make vegetable soup. We bought a shite load of same and wandered back to camp.
The afternoon seemed like a good time to lock the hubs and do some four-wheel-drive exploring (gathering firewood along the way) of the many and varied tracks around the area. We took both vehicles.
It was a good thing, given my lack of experience in 4WDing (Liam did plenty in Vanuatu). There’s no better way to learn that just doing it. I took the LandCruiser to places it had never been. “I’ve just run out of track,” I said to Liam on the UHF. “You’re in a bloody LandCruiser,” he said, “make a track.” I did.
By the time we were all tracked out (and had a good supply of firewood), beer o’clock loomed.
There’s something pretty special about having a beer, sitting by a fire and peeling and chopping vegetables. I filled the camp oven with river water, chucked in carrots, cabbage, potatoes, broccoli, pumpkin, peas, chickpeas, cannellini beans, parsnip, swede, a couple of bottles of passata (OK, I didn’t throw in the bottles) and some salt. A couple of hours on the fire and voila, it was done. It was as thick as an English soccer hooligan, and tasted bloody excellent. Each of us armed with a big chunk of baguette and a glass of wine or seven didn’t lessen the experience. We can play.
And play Liam did ... the guitar anyway and we tried to write a song based around the lone black swan that had been cruising the river in our neck of the woods. It was a great way to end the day.
The days rolled into each other with the sort of ease I’m looking forward to on the road. We did what we had to do. No pressure, no deadlines, no TV, no radio, nothing but good food, good wine and good company. About the only productive thing we did was give the generator a test run, which was great. It’s not as noisy as I thought it would be.
The lightest moment of the whole trip (and there were plenty, including a mouse doing the breaststroke in a bucket one morning and me doing a Homer Simpson impersonation by treating a glow stick as a cigarette) came when Liam said: “Bugger it. I can’t be here by the water all week and not have a swim.”
It was beautifully sunny although the water, I reckoned, was at the wrong end of the temperature scale. He put on his boardies and, with a determined look on his face, marched into the water. OK, he was ankle deep. “Shit,” he said, “this is painfully cold. It actually hurts.” They’re not words I usually hear from him … he’s a fearless bugger. He splashed himself and then turned and said: “Nah, I can’t do it.”
We did give the LandCruiser a chance to do its stuff one afternoon and took it on a track along the river bank. The beast climbed over fallen trees, up rises that I once wouldn’t have dreamed of doing, and ended up negotiating terrain that could only be done in a four-wheel-drive. Shit, it was fun.
As always, though, the fun comes to an end, as did our week and before we knew it, it was time to break camp and point the vehicles in the direction of home. I suggested that rather than cook breakfast, we should pack and head to Yarrawonga and let someone else do the cooking. It was a good move.
We were sitting on the footpath outside a cafe, waiting for our food to arrive, when I heard my name. It was my friend, Tom, who lives in the town. I hadn’t seen him for a while. We used to go camping together with our young families. Tom hadn’t seen Liam since he was about 10. It was a great catch-up before we hit the road, bound for Toolleen to catch up with our great friends Jodie and Stef, with whom we’d stay the night and have a bite to drink.
I can’t say we enjoyed the drive. The traffic in Shepparton was shitful, not helped, I guess, by the police and media throng at a siege being staged by some bloke dressed in a Medieval costume. I can’t remember seeing so many coppers in one place.
The view as we negotiated the road to the farm was a cracker and worth the price of admission.
It was wonderful to see Jodie and Stef. It had been Pfarr (that’s their name) too long between drinks, something that was rectified immediately we’d arrived.
If the drinks were good (and they were), then Jodie’s food took things to a whole new level. Simply, it was the best vegetarian food that Liam and I had ever eaten. The girl’s a genius.
I opted to sleep in the swag despite the offer of the couch in a warm room (it must be a bloke thing) while Liam had the spare bed. It was good to be reacquainted with the swag … and waking to the view was a bonus, but not as big a bonus as Jodie’s breakfast. Poached eggs (we went to get the eggs from a woman down the road), homemade hollandaise, toast and the best homemade baked beans with feta. Again, the girl’s a genius.
As is her husband, Stef, who arrived back from a neighbour’s vineyard armed with a grapevine cutting. “This is the start of our vineyard,” he said. They are going to plant out a few hectares and give it a serious crack. All power to them.
All too soon, it was time to head for the big smoke, armed with bottles of Jodie’s homemade (with home-grown ingredients) kasoundi, and capsicum and courgette chutney, both of which are delicious.
Then came the sad part of the week. It was over. Time for a reality check and time to hit the office again. Roll on the next camping trip.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

More old man, river, son still shining

Night rolled quickly into day, but what a day it was.
Surprisingly, I was first to shed the doona (OK it wasn’t cold, just fresh) and indulge in a drover’s breakfast … aka a pee, a cigarette and a bit of a look around. That involved taking in the fog. It was quite heavy between us and the bright blue sky … a long narrow band of fog (can you have a band of fog?) snaked its way along the river. It was beautiful.

The first official task was to breathe life into the fire (easily done cos I’m a bag of wind) and fill the billy from the river. It was tea time.
I wandered to the water, billy in hand, and then realised we’d left our baited lines in all night. I retrieved Liam’s unharmed worm and then started on mine. Snagged, I thought, because the line had drifted from the deepish middle of the river to the bank.
No, it wasn’t snagged; there was a beast attached and he was still intent on a fight. I reeled in a decent, better-the-pan-sized yellowbelly. Guilt, not joy, was the order of the day. Had this poor bugger been on the line all night? I hoped not and rather that he’d had a fit of the early-morning hunger pangs and hadn’t been discomforted for too long.
Liam emerged from his tent and came down to meet my latest acquisition. “We gonna cook him?” “Nah, reckon the poor bastard has had enough grief being on the line for maybe the whole night. Time to let him go.” Liam grabbed him and ran plenty of water through his gills and away he went, full of fight for another, hopefully fairer to him, day. We felt good about it.
It’s a bloody good feeling, sitting by the fire with a cup of billy tea, a smoke and pondering what to do with the day. That inherent feeling, of not having to do anything other than what we wanted to do, ran wild.
“Reckon bacon and eggs on toast and more tea would be a good place to start,” said Liam, “I’ll cook.”
While he was busy in the kitchen, I grabbed a shovel and wandered off to do what I had to do. It was a good time to reflect on what was looming as a problem with my three-way fridge. I’d cooled it on 240 volts the night before we left, and run it on 12 volts in the ute on the trip up. It is obviously having trouble keeping its cool – something that was never going to afflict us on this trip. I’ll get it checked out by someone who knows these things. It was a faithful servant during my 10-month trip a couple of years ago, so I’m quite fond of it. But given that I’m hitting the road at the end of the year for a rest-of-my-life road trip, I’m gonna need something that reliably keeps its cool. Sure, I have a big (think a size for giving the kids a bath) icebox but given that I’ll hopefully be spending big slabs of time without ice being an option, I need to rethink. A Waeco three-way fridge-freezer is on the radar if the old girl fails to pass muster.
Breakfast did its job … the boy can cook. And he did the dishes.
We sat by the fire … it was just for the ambience, it certainly wasn’t cold … and another cuppa did its thing.
“What about we take a long walk into the bush?” said Liam, “Maybe an hour or two. Have a good look around.”
We hadn’t come all this way to ignore what was around us, so we reluctantly (the holiday mood had well and truly kicked in) extracted ourselves from the comfort of a chair by the fire and headed to our digs to dress the part.

What followed was another lesson from Liam. “Got to get my adventure pack,” he said. I looked quizzical enough, so he explained. “I bought a backpack with a bladder in it. You can never have too much water with you. And it’s bright red, deliberately, in case I get lost. I always carry a first-aid kit, a cigarette lighter, some kindling, a water bottle ... you never know. You should get one for your big trip.” It’s on the to-do list.
As we were walking through the bush, scouting for a ready supply of firewood and keeping an eye out for a wild pig or whatever, he said: “I reckon we should do a first-aid course.” He was right. I’m gonna be by myself in the bush a lot and a first-aid course is nothing to carry. We’re booked in for a one-day course in Melbourne next weekend.
Wild pigs were missing from the landscape although, the shotgun blasts in the distance from the night before were an indication that there may be the odd one about. Claypans, with a high but intermittent grass presence, we also another indication.
Instead of porkers we made do with the odd (OK, maybe it wasn’t odd, it’s their home) kangaroo or three, although they weren’t that keen on sharing their space with us. I still get a real kick out of seeing roos in the bush.

After an hour or so, we wandered back to the river and sussed out a couple of likely fishing spots (there were deep holes and lots of fallen timber) tucked in under the willows at the bend in the river near out camp.
We’d spotted enough firewood on the walk to warrant a trip with the LandCruiser into a spot where there were no tracks but the omnipresent fear of really soft, swampy ground. Liam walked ahead to suss it out. No problems.
We threw heaps of fallen timber onto the back of the ute, some of it hanging a metre or two over the tailgate. It’s a good thing to retrieve fallen branches and help to keep the forest floor a bit cleaner … bushfires readily spring to mind.
Getting the ute out of the bush was a breeze, even for someone with my limited four-wheel-driving experience (it’s all about learning), and we headed back to camp to unload and chop enough to keep the cold at bay for the night.
Time for another Liam lesson. Sure, we each had an axe, but I’d also brought the Vanuatu bush knife and a WW2 machete that saw service with my old man in New Guinea. The bush knife is standard for most locals in Vanuatu - people carry them on the streets – and they use them for everything from chopping down trees to slashing excessive greenery, probably even as a toothpick. (OK, I made that up.)
With a solid base in place, he carved through smaller branches (think an inch or two in the old money) most times with a single blow, clean as a whistle.

“There’s a sweet spot about a third of the way down the blade [I’ve included this picture with one of my size 11s to give an idea of the size of the thing] … I got to be pretty good with one while I was over there. Not up to the locals’ standard, mind you, but pretty good,” he said. Then he set about the bigger stuff … think about eight inches or so, again in the old money. It was shades of the Time Warp … it’s a cut to the left, it’s a cut to the right … and he smashed his way through a huge amount quicker than I could have done it with an axe. Still, he’s young and fit. I had a few cracks and liked what I saw. It does work a treat, although rings on fingers are not the ideal accompaniment to such activity and I retired hurt (it was pride, not pain) with a bloody finger.
We decided after the fire was strutting its stuff to give the yabbies and worms another swimming lesson, not that any fish would take any notice.
“Shit, I just got worm in my eye,” said Liam as he threaded a wriggler onto a hook. A spurt of worm (now they’re not words often used together) had gone straight into his eye (that’s Liam, not the worm). Perhaps it was revenge.
Enough fishing. There was certainly no catching involved … the fish simply weren’t hungry but we were.
Slow-cooked lamb casserole with lots of veg and some noodles was the order of the day, but not before a couple of pre-dinner beers and then we attacked a magnum of 2007 Chateau Tahbilk shiraz with the food, a better than fine way to see out the day … and night.
It was doona time.