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.

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.


  1. A good yarn, Mick. I'd love to see that video you mentioned (the one of you having a crack). Cheers, H :-)

  2. Wow what a great blog! Not sure how I got here lol Love the stories and pics.. kinda like a dream of mine... Cheers from Melbourne!! Hope to follow the blog and not loose it haha new at this on my phone :)