Archive for the ‘Australia – travel’ Category

Usually we travel in our own van, doing what takes our fancy in our own time, so joining a tour with 16 others for 15 days came with some questions – will they be old inactive pensioners, will they have something in common with us, will we all get along OK. The OzTours 4WD Series 800 truck with coach fit out, picked us up first and with a “mail run” around Alice all the other passengers were boarded and we were on our way down the Stuart Highway.


The name badges were handed out and the process of getting to know our fellow travellers began – they all looked like we’d share similar active adventure interests so far so good.

The usual safety and admin briefings were over and our first stop was a typical roadside memorial – this to the tragic accident during the Cannonball Run race where the Japanese drivers misjudged speed, ran into officials and many, including themselves, were killed.

On to the Henbury Meteorite site, multiple strikes and only 4,000 – 8,000 years ago, so in the Aboriginal dreaming stories today.

Further south we ventured, stopping for lunch at the NT/SA border. No Border Force here.

On the road again further south to our first night in , shock horror!!! – TENTS. No nice caravan with toilet and shower, no fridge, no leisurely lay-in after a night of watching iView.
The first attempt at pitching the tent was a bit of a chore but it stayed up. The wind howled all night, some fellow travellers snored all night – giving us the hints of who NOT to pitch a tent next to for the rest of the trip.

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At least we had stretchers, mattresses, sleeping bags.  The showers were dreadful, barely warm and no water pressure – maybe this was psychology as they sort of got better as the trip progressed.

Out here it’s tents or nothing for most of the time – at least we got a beautiful sunrise for the next day.  Tomorrow we were off to Cobber Pedy and an underground bunkhouse – buts that a whole different story

TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW

I didn’t know I had an addiction until I had to do without any internet connection for weeks – but being back from the desert I got the sweet hit of reading the news, catching up on emails and having the encyclopaedia in my pocket once more.

We have a census to complete, a bronze medal and a Government in Canberra again – I wonder what else happened.

Our journey continued up the Stuart Highway with brief stops at Woomera, Coober Pedy, Marla and Erldunda – brief because we are coming back this way on our big OzTours trip.

Kings Canyon was our last stop before the Alice – and what a natural wonder – the Rim Walk has gotta be one of the best walks in the world – on top of the escarpment there were bee hive domes like the Bungle Bungles and an oasis with large clear pools surrounded by lush trees. These were significant sites for the Aboriginal peoples.

. . . and on to Alice in prep for the trip into the desert. We did take time for a great cycle ride out to Simpsons Gap, a 66km ride, all on sealed track winding through the desert.

There were some pretty tricky gates to get through, I got tangled on the first one.

A sense of expectation then as our tour departure drew near – see next post

I wish I had a magic solution to freely offer our declining regional towns – but even 10 years on various regional development boards has left me and many others still searching for some answers.  There are some notable successes  driven by strong individual leadership but are often short lived and reliant on continuing Government grants.

Whyalla is the third largest town in South Australia, after Adelaide and Mt Gambier.  With a population of 22,108 (2011 Census) the decline is accelerating as Arrium (formerly One Steel and before that BHP) announce the close of Whyalla operations. Despite a lifeline from the Commonwealth Government to pre-purchase steel rail and sleepers the town appears to be in a downward spiral. The iron deposits from places such as Iron Knob, Iron Monarch, Iron Duchess, Iron Duke, and the list of Iron names goes on, are depleted and mining investment has moved to northern Western Australia.

Enough of the background, I think you get the picture.

Whyalla is one of those places that in the big economic global picture does not really matter – merely another mining / steel town that goes through a boom then a bust. In the human picture however its people are suffering, feeling insecure, dispirited and anxious about their future.

The people we met did not seem likely to be candidates for the innovative new economy.

We happened to be staying there on 2 July, Election Day 2016, and  watched as Whyalla in the electorate of Grey voted strongly for the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT).  At the time of writing this blog the counting continues with a close contest between NXT and the sitting Liberal Coalition member.

On the day itself we were out walking a half marathon and met a man with a six pack under one arm and an opened beer can in the other hand. He was friendly and looking for a chat – he asked us which way to the polling booth but, being out of towners, we were as clueless as him. He went on to say it was bloody useless having to go out and vote when nothing will change.  Further on we walked down the main street of the old town of Whyalla – it was like an early Sunday morning, no cars or people about and most of the shops were permanently closed with For Lease signs everywhere.  There are very few For Sale signs as that is one bridge too far – if you can get a tenant that at least gives some cashflow, but rents also suffer from a market oversupply.

People are trying to find a replacement for Arrium but the opportunities are limited and the stark reality is daunting.

I think life in Whyalla, when there was employment, would have been good – in the old 1960’s style.  There are a large number of good looking shacks dotted all along the shores of the Spencer Gulf and I imagine most families may have had the Holden, the Home and the Weekender – the old Aussie dream.  Its a world away, however, from the fast chic, coffee consuming, apartment living, big mortgage lifetsyle that is the picture in most big cities.

On a positive note the Army has invaded Whyalla and surrounds for the big 3 month training exercise, Hamel 2016.  Literally thousands of troops and every type of equipment can be seen roaring around town.  The queues in Whyalla were at McDonalds by men in uniform, rather than at the polling booths.  Lets hope there is an Army led economic recovery underway.

I wonder if the man we met on the walk ever found the polling booth,  his war is a very different one to that of our Army role playing seen in the pictures below. (Just as well we didn’t have a large caliber machine gun mounted on the back of our twin cab ute or we may have been a target)

Oh and I didn’t find any magic solutions in Whyalla either, so the search continues.

Iron Knob - Army Exercises Tank 01 - 3 July 2016

Iron Knob - Army Exercises 04 - 3 July 2016

Iron Knob - Army Exercises 05 - 3 July 2016

 

Nothing can prepare you for the magnitude and magnificence of the Flinders Ranges – the place would have to be the most undersold Australian iconic destination – are you getting the impression we were gobsmacked by the beauty of the Ranges ?  It is certainly no wonder that Hans Heysen devoted so much time painting various aspects of the area. The mountain and gorges are only just accessible and a 4WD is certainly recommended to see the gorges, as to drive through them means driving up rocky creek beds albeit made easier as many vehicles have formed a easily followed “road”.

When approaching it is tempting to take a photo every kilometer so I will just give a few of my favorites so you can see what we are raving about.

Wilpena Pound - View of Outside peaks 02 - 30 June 2016

and just one more of Tony on our walk up and over the Tanderra Saddle from one side of the Ranges into Wilpena Pound – that’s the inside of the Pound behind him.

Wilpena - Tony on descent from St Mary Peak crop  - 28 June 2016

There are many Aboriginal rock art sites in the Flinders ranges but the pick for me would have to be Sacred Canyon. Getting there on foot also involves following a creek bed around many bends to a small amphitheatre.  The art is on a flat surface that looks like a school whiteboard next to a series of small water basins that feed down to the creek.  One can imagine young men being brought here at night to receive instruction on their upcoming initiation ceremony.

Sacred Canyon - Rock Art and creek 01 - 30 June 2016

We drove through Blinman, a remote South Austrailan town, and walked their 7km town history track on the way to probably the most photographed and painted gorges in the Ranges.  You probably will not recognize the names of the gorges but they will be familiar from the famous Heysen paintings and from travel brochures. Yes they are remote and take some getting to but the visual reward is priceless.

Parachilna Gorge 02 - 30 June 2016

Parachilna Gorge above.

Flinders Ranges - DMax in Brachina Gorge 01 crop - 30 June 2016

Driving through Brachina Gorge – and yes that is the main road.

and last but not least the road to Bunyeroo Gorge, probably the most recognizable photo of the Flinders Ranges.

Flinders Ranges - Razorback Lookout 01 - 30 June 2016

Oh and just one more – truly if you have never visited the Flinders Ranges I beg you to do so before you depart this world.

Flinders Ranges - View heading into Bunyeroo Gorge 05 - 30 June 2016

The Flinders Ranges is a visual delight so I will post a second post about Whyalla, where we were on Election Night 2016 – more words less of a slide show.

 

 

 

Heading west out to red desert country – WRONG – the red desert has turned green, and that is not a political statement. Plenty of rain and the country looks like parts of England and Scotland, well almost. Those who have been to Silverton will probably remember the vista from the Mundi Mundi look-out – ochre red soil, blazingly blue sky and the curvature of the earth clearly visible.  Not on our visit, it was green with grey skies. . .

Broken Hill - Green Desert from Mundi Mundi look-out 01 - 21 June 2016

. . . and there were plenty of very big puddles to get lost in.

Little Topar - Mud - 19 June 2016

We did however get to do some cycling, and got into conversation with a Broken Hill lady cyclist who organizes an annual Big Bike Ride for riders from all parts of Australia.  This year the ride was to be over 800km all on back country dirt roads.  We quickly ended the conversation and promptly rode into town for coffee and cake.

Broken Hill - Faye at Silver City Hwy sign - 22 June 2016

Wilcannia, another sad town like Bourke, where everything is either shuttered, protected with high fences and barbed wire or closed completely – an indigenous youth problem that the community is struggling to deal with. Despite this, the town is in a fighting mood and the bridge over the Darling, the main route to Broken Hill, is being blockaded in a series of rolling closures of 20 minutes each day. Even with all the rain the Darling River is almost dry due to the excessive water taken by cotton farmers upstream in Queensland, especially at Cubbie station now 80% Chinese owned.  Good On Ya Wilcannia, we support your efforts to save the river.

Wilcannia - Darling River Bridge Blockade - 17 June 2016

White Cliffs was nothing like I imagined – I thought it was flat country but has several hills that actually have whitish cliffs – it figures I guess. The Hills, one called Turley Hill, have dugout homes built into the cliff faces – and have interesting addresses.

White Cliffs - Dugout Home 04 - 18 June 2016

Peterborough is a former large regional railway maintenance centre and has four Locos that standing at each of the main roads coming into Peterborough – we did a 14km walk that visited each loco – its amazing what strange things we do while travelling.

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Petersborough turned on the cold – not quite snow but close enough.

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. . . and finally this week to Port Augusta, gateway to the Flinders Ranges and Wilpena pound.  At the moment there are warnings posted of slow moving military vehicles going to the El Alamein Army Base – we have seen dozens of large trucks, 4WD’s, Chinook helicopter shuttles and containers on low loader trucks – the Base has a double width high fence with razor wire and lighting – now what’s that all about ? surely not a Brexit contingency force !

Hopefully the weather will be warmer for a cycle ride tomorrow on the paths that traverse Port Augusta and take us to the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Gardens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am not often surprised when doing a routine task but something out of the ordinary really set me off to do further research while in Broken Hill this past week.

Commonwealth War Graves are easily identified by their unique shape in pure white marble, just a plain grave but with a distinctive headstone clearly visible from almost anywhere in a cemetery.  While staying at Broken Hill I happened to look over the corrugated fence at the rear of the caravan park to find we were next to a cemetery – and standing head and shoulders above all was one white marble headstone – almost saying “look at me”, which I duly did.  Has anyone ever seen a War Grave like this before ? – even the bottom inscription is interesting “Beneath this emblem rests a Husband, Father, Soldier and Man” – mostly the inscriptions are unemotional like “His Duty Nobly Done”, while this speaks of love, respect and tragic loss.

Broken Hill - SX30556 LEHMAN 03 - 22 June 2016

Broken Hill - SX30556 LEHMAN 02 - 22 June 2016

So who was SX35506 G V LEHMAN and why such special burial treatment ?

His service records reveal that his name was Gordon Victor LEHMAN, born 28 June 1914 in Broken Hill, and living in Whyman St, Broken Hill when he enlisted in February 1943.  More interesting however are three consecutive entires,

24-3-1944 Son Born

25-3-1944 Married, next of kin now wife Joyce Laurel Lehman of 296 Iodide St, Broken Hill

11-5-1944 Accidently killed (train collision)

Well, given my transport background, that was just too much of research challenge to let pass by.  My search found that the accident occurred at a place called Copley (formerly Leigh Creek), a small town on the old Ghan rail route that wound its way across flood prone land up through Hawker, Lyndhurst, Oodnadatta and eventually to Alice Springs, where the line terminated in those days.

According to the Australian Emergency Management Knowledge Hub and Wikipedia :

“On 11 May 1944, a military train was hit from behind by a goods train in Copley, 604 km north of Adelaide. Four servicemen were killed and 27 others were injured; two seriously. The 16 carriage train had several hundred servicemen aboard and had departed Terowie in South Australia’s Mid North for an undisclosed northern destination. The locomotive struggled to haul the carriages and laden trucks. It made several attempts to get over Quarry Hill and eventually made it, however it had to stop shortly after due to injector trouble. The loco was low on water, and uncoupled from the train to ‘run light’ to the nearest watering spot and refill. While it was away, the goods train entered the same section of track and struck the rear of the troop train. The guard saw the headlights of the rear approaching train and attempted to halt the train but to no avail. Despite the driver of the goods train applying the brakes the crash occurred impacting most severely on carriages 15 and 16.Only the fact that many troops were lying down saved them from serious injury and decapitation, as the tops of several carriages were shorn off in the impact.”

Chilling reading and no doubt a tragic shock for his family and new wife, Joyce, who had grown up in Kogarah, a coastal Sydney suburb, and was now a widow in hot dusty Broken Hill.  Had Gordon Victors family ín Broken Hill comforted and cared for Joyce after the accident ? Did his son grow up and stay in Broken Hill – questions not answered in the records – these will remain a mystery and speculated on by casual observers. One clue remains at least about the sons name – a grave vase simply marked “From Joyce and Paul” – is this the son born weeks before Gordon Victor departed for an undisclosed northern destination ?

Broken Hill - SX30556 LEHMAN 01 - 22 June 2016

 

Last time we were in Cobar it was so wet that many of the gravel roads were closed – meaning we couldn’t get out to see the Aboriginal rock art sites at Mount Grenfell. This year the weather Gods have been kind, its a warm 20 deg C, clear skies and no wind, although about a week ago there was heavy rain and flooding.  All that water meant the normally dry red stony landscape was a’blooming with a green tinge – short grass over everything – just beautiful. The road to Mount Grenfell was pretty rough but not boggy. The rock art was interesting but the setting was spectacular – a series of semi permanent clear water pools running down several gullies from Mount Grenfell with a very long sandstone ridge overlooking the pools. The caves were under the sandstone overhangs – and you could just imagine a group of aboriginals sitting there overlooking the pools and making art on the cave walls. Kangaroos graze near the pools, so there was food, water and shelter – sort of a Garden of Eden surrounded by flat stony dry country. We followed the Ngiyampaa Walkabout track up to the top of Mount Grenfell – a 5km circuit – worth the effort if you are out this way.

Here are two pics from Mount Grenfell

 Mt Grenfell Historical Site - Aboriginal rock art 05 - 15 June 2016            Mt Grenfell Historical Site - Waterholes 02 - 15 June 2016

 

Cobar Caravan Park is also looking sub tropical after the recent downpours

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Pic of  Days 2 – 4

No sunny skies yet, buts its not raining as we take another short hop from Cowra to Dubbo – where we will stay put over the Queens Birthday Long Weekend. Like Cowra we have visited Dubbo a few times so didn’t want to see the Western Plains Zoo – so we sought out the sites less travelled.  Couple of short walks along the Macquarie River and around the town, plus a longer walk to the Japanese Gardens – nearly every town seems to have one of these, are they a status symbol ?

Dubbo has constructed a few good cycling paths – out to the Zoo, to Dundullimal Homestead and along the Macquarie River – worth a ride if you bring your bikes.

Smashed the side wing mirror on our ute (tree jumped out as I was reversing) but a local glazier fixed us up good as new for $40.

3 Pics for these 3 days :

Our odometer as we pull into Dubbo

Canowindra enroute to Dubbo - clicked over 77777 km - 10 June 2016

 

The Zen Garden in the Dubbo Japanese Gardens

 

Dubbo - Japanese Gardens 04 - 12 June 2016

 

and the artillery shell chain surrounding the Dubbo War Memorial

 

Dubbo - War Memorial Artillery shell chain fencing - 13 June 2016    Dubbo - War Memorial Artillery shell chain fencing detail - 13 June 2016

 

Oh and just for good measure – the two caravanners on their bikes

 

Dubbo - Faye on Tracker Riley Cycleway - 13 June 2016      Dubbo - Tony on the ride - 13 June 2016

Pic of the Day – Day 1
You all know what its like – I keep thinking “have I forgotten something” before setting off – and after a few kilometres all those worries disappear. It was raining when we left but in China that’s good luck – hope it applies to Cowra as well. Cowra is just a stop-over this time, but the Japanese Gardens, POW Camp and Cherry Blossoms are worth many a visit – but alas Neila’s one of the few Chef Hat restaurants in country NSW has closed after about 10 years – wonderful, innovative food from fresh local produce.
Pic today is the flood level indicator underneath the Lachlan River Bridge – at these heights the caravan park would be a very deep swimming pool – but thankfully it was only damp on 9 June 2016.

Cowra - Flood Levels - June 2016