Meet TBone

Meet “T-bone” Shannon’s new pet, although judging by the name you wouldn’t think it’ll be a long term relationship.

Meet “TBone” the feisty steer with heaps of attitude!

The feisty steer was put into a hastily erected yard near the camp where he’s alone, just him and his belligerent attitude.

After penning up T-Bone, Shannon came over to the camp to announce that, “If that thing gets out stay clear because the only way we’re going to stop it is by a bullet”.

I went over for a closer look at T-Bone and the whole time I stood there he snorted violently and raked the ground with his hoof almost as if he was daring me or anyone else to step inside the enclosure.
Occasionally he would charge me, stopping only when he realised there was a fence between him and me.

Even Mongrel, the fearless dog, stays safely perched on the back of Shannon’s Ute when in the steer’s vicinity.
Despite the bad temper it’s a rather beautiful looking animal with fine brown toning and strong features.

As Kerrie has already written, we’ve made a commitment to stay for another year at Koramba before once again resuming our wanderings around Australia.
Why stay?
The short answer is because we enjoy our lives out here.

To the casual observer the place is just a massive area of brown grass, scrub and cotton with a smattering of wheat and other grains dotted about the 40,000 acres.
To us it’s much more.

It’s ultimately a business, one that’s very complex and subject to a whole range of influences that are often outside the ability of humans to change, such as weather, markets, and prices of raw material.
It’s also a place where things seem more real somehow than what we have been used to in the working environment of the cities.

The place just seems to WORK.

What makes it work?

Well, all of us know that the responsibility for an organisation’s capacity to produce and prosper comes down to one person, the Manager.

The Manager is where the proverbial buck stops, no matter what the circumstances.

Out here at Koramba the Management are tough, on the job and fully involved.It often seems as if the General Manager, Toby, is everywhere at all times.

His hands on knowledge and his involvement with the daily activity of the farm are extraordinary.

From purchasing toilet rolls and paper towels at the camp to tracking global commodity prices; from understanding the complex chemistry of the soil to fixing a pump, the man is there, always calm and seldom losing his grin.

The most noticeable aspect of this is that he seems to be unflappable and unfazed by problems. His philosophy is very much “one day at a time”. Of the sixty or so workers between the Gin and the farm there would be few if any he doesn’t know by name and none that he hasn’t been able to accurately read their ability and character.

We feel we’ve learnt a lot from this young man who seems to be someone for whom most people actually want to do a good job for.

When Dave, our beloved supervisor, passed away we felt that the absence of his vast experience and his ability to supervise would have a negative impact on the farm as we didn’t believe he could be replaced easily.

We were wrong.

While Dave is still sadly missed, even this far on, the farm didn’t seem to miss a beat, even though Dave was not replaced.

The other young supervisors seemed to stand up and grow taller, taking responsibility and initiative and they did it without the need for pep talks, threats or motivational speeches.
The harvest was achieved in record time with a remarkably low incident rate and the preparation for the next crop is proceeding smoothly and ahead of time.

Like I said, the place just WORKS!

Because of our commitment to stay for another year, we’ve bought a shelter for the Aussie Wide.
A few weeks ago we had a hail storm go through the farm and it damaged the annexe roof so we decided that since the caravan would be here for a year we’d shelter it and the car from the extremes of weather we experience out here.
Toby gave us permission to erect it and even offered to get the farmhands to put it up on the next wet day.

We still enjoy working for Martyn, our boss, who contracts our labour to the farm.

He seems to value the job we do out here and as it’s the end of the financial year he gave us a great bonus the other day which we were quite overwhelmed with. We don’t need a bonus to do our best for this man who we’ve come to respect greatly but it was really great to know our efforts were appreciated.

He’s another example of the “Realness” of life out here. He just knows his business extremely well and makes it happen with a minimum of fuss and bother.
Kerrie and I are amused by Martyn’s young assistant, Jaala who seems to be taking on his persona.

The writer Napoleon Hill said that you emulate the people you associate with most and watching Jaala as she grows into the business this is definitely true.

Kerrie is thoroughly enjoying her new job in the workshop store.
She comes home of an afternoon covered in cobwebs and dust but always with a smile, full of reports of what type of bolt or nut or spare part she familiarised herself with today.

She especially likes working with Shannon and I think she’s taken on some of his attitudes especially where dealing with the workers is concerned.

Like Toby, Shannon seldom gets into a flap, even when a flap would be entirely justified.

This project has been good for Kerrie and I think it will also be good for the farm as she’s sees how the efficient management of this workshop could save the farm many thousands (maybe even hundreds of thousands) of dollars.

We’re taking delivery of some new tractors soon and she hopes to have the parts sections of the workshop organised by then which hopefully will ultimately make maintenance schedules and repairs easier and more efficient.

Kerrie’s new domain – The Workshop

The population of the camp has remained quite stable over the last few months with the “core” of the camp probably being the three young Estonian couples, Arvi and Ave, Merlin and Kristjan and Ingrid and Lauri (who were here when we first arrived last time and have returned).

It’s a joy to have this lot at the camp, always seemingly happy and never grumbling or discontented.

We especially feel close to Ingrid who is quite an inspiration to us.

Small, petite and weighing in at no more than 45kg wringing wet, she first came to the farm during irrigation where she was put on a shovel digging irrigation ditches. This is hard work in the scorching heat even for a fit well built bloke and there could not be a greater contrast to her home in Estonia.

Martyn often remarks as to how, on seeing how small she was, saw her career in cotton farming as very short lived.

Ingrid told us how, in those first days, she cried herself to sleep at night, unable to see how she could carry on. But carry on she did!
She made a commitment to herself that no matter how bad she felt she would not let any of the management see her inner struggle with the job. She would at all times present as if she was happy with the job.

In a short space of time she did become happy with the job and ended up becoming one of the most efficient tractor operators on the farm.

Lauri and Ingrid

Lauri and Ingrid

Kerrie and I would often laugh about seeing Ingrid’s tractor, huge and powerful, with this tiny figure inside almost too small to see.
It’s great to see this petite young lady, always looking immaculate, operating this large machine and her story of perseverance is inspiring, even to us who are more than twice her age.

Arvi and Ave are from Estonia

Arvi and Ave are from Estonia

Merlin and Kristjan. Even though Kristjan speaks very little English he is always joking around and no matter what country you are from everyone understands him.

Merlin and Kristjan. Even though Kristjan speaks very little English he is always joking around and no matter what country you are from everyone understands him.

We have six Australians living on camp at the moment, Darryn, Steve, Travis, Josh, Mick and John. This is the most Aussies that we’ve had on camp at one time since we’ve been here and another two are moving in next week.

Travis is from Goondiwindi

Travis is from Goondiwindi

John another Aussie

John another Aussie

We have three Irishmen Fin, Darragh and Joe, Klaus who is Danish and is a helicopter pilot who is sitting his exams for Australian accreditation, Jan who is German and Kirill is Russian.

Darragh is from Ireland

Darragh is from Ireland

Joe is also from Ireland

Joe is also from Ireland

Jan Our only German

Jan Our only German

 

In keeping with the rest of the farm the camp runs very smoothly. Everyone seems to mix well and if there are any resentments or personality clashes they’re very well hidden.

While almost all the camp’s inhabitants regard themselves as “short term” and are all looking to a time when they will move back home or on to other places, they all seem to be contented with where they find themselves at present.

The atmosphere is most often humorous and enjoyable and it seems like nationalities make no difference, they all get along.

Perhaps the Koramba Camp is a mini version of what the outside world could be like if we all accepted each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

So, it’s because of this easy going atmosphere where big things seem to happen without fuss and nonsense that we’ve found a place to call home for another year.

We still look forward to our trips to Brisbane every 5 or six weeks, especially now with another granddaughter, Charlotte Eden Jones, being born just a week ago but we are very comfortable with our decision to stay awhile at Koramba Cotton Farm.

Port Parham:

Here we are at Port Parham – 70km North of Adelaide. We wrote about this spot last time we were in Adelaide, (remember Mr Condom). This time there were only 5 other campers. We parked the van near the toilets and hooked up to water.

Near the toilets and hooked up to water. What else do you need?

Near the toilets and hooked up to water. What else do you need?

This was a treat as it’s been a while since we’ve had the luxury of water on tap, apart from one night at the caravan park at Alice Springs.

It didn’t take long to meet up with the other campers, all Queenslanders from Mackay and The Gold Coast. Why are we all down here when the best winter weather is at home? The only answer I can give is, the crowds are up there.

Parham is a fishing village and the locals have a neat way of getting their boats across the sand to the low water mark. The tide goes out about 1km and apart from tiny Pipi shells and an abundance of sea grass not much else is here. But they say the fishing is great.

Because the water goes out so far they use these homemade towing vehicle's to take out their boats and bring them home.

Because the water goes out so far they use these homemade towing vehicle’s, called  Giraffes or Jinkas, to take out their boats and bring them home.

 

So after fishing they run their boats on to the trailer climb over to the vehicle and tow the boat to their garages.

So after fishing they run their boats on to the trailer climb over to the vehicle and tow the boat to their garages.

Chris has yet to “Throw in a line” but we have watched others pull in 35cm whiting at high tide.

The first couple of days were lovely. The sun had warmth if you could get out of the breeze but then it started to rain and got down to just plain cold. We drop down to 3 deg at night and the highest temp we have had through the day is 15 deg. But inside the van is cosy and warm. Turn on the gas stove for a few minutes and it warms the whole place up.

We are sitting here because Chris’s computer won’t start up. This happened after our 11km drive into the breakaways outside of Coober Pedy on the dirt track and he believes it might have affected his computer. So we’ve had to get close to Adelaide so we could take in in for repair. It’s now at the same place I had mine a couple of months ago. It’s still under warranty and hopefully the hard drive hasn’t gone. The techs thinks it is the mother board so we are keeping our fingers crossed it is. Of course Chris is totally lost without his computer. Here we are with time on our hands and Chris can’t do any of the programs because his computer isn’t here. Not a happy camper. So long walks, well rugged up, are the order of the day.

We did have a day in Adelaide when we dropped off the computer and even though it was a Monday driving around the city was a pleasant experience. With the autumn colours of red and orange on all the trees and the abundance of parks it is a very pretty city.

One of the tasks we had to do was visit a locksmith and get another set of keys cut for the van. We were directed to a locksmith in the city of Burnside. Man could that bloke talk. A 10 minute job turned into an hour, after which we went across the road a nice but expensive shopping centre – Burnside Village. The link will take you to the list of shops it has. No Big W, Target or Kmart here. Even the toilet’s were glamorous. So the only things we bought were a few items from Coles (even rich people have to eat).

So we are here for at least a week waiting on the computer. Have got most of the red dirt out of the van and car. We’ll need to flush out the water tanks from the salty, hard and dusty water from the centre, and I have to catch up on the end of year book work, (can’t believe this year is going so fast). Then the plan is to head over to the Eyre Peninsular and then across the Nullarbor to Perth.  But as you know with us we are never quite sure where will end up.

Parham with the tide nearly in.

Parham with the tide nearly in.

Everything we do at Sandrifter is wrong!

This post about our departure from Sandrifter has caused offence to the Sandrifter owners. Since we have no wish to offend anyone on this blog we have removed this post.

No contact with the world!

Here we are again after nearly 3 weeks without contact with the outside world.

Trephina Gorge has no phone reception and even the satelite phone only works occasionally.

How quickly things can change our ideas of where we’re going in life.

Our broad plan was to work for Sandrifter Safaris for 3 weeks, head on up to Darwin and Kakadu, back to Alice and Sandrifter for another 3 weeks, then Ayres Rock and fly home for a fortnight.

I suppose, when I look back, this changed the first day we arrived at Trephina Gorge with Sandrifter Safaris.

We set up camp at “The Bluff” beside a dry river bed that was thickly lined with River Red Gums.

The set up

The set up

The beautiful white trunks and green foliage of these trees contrasted with the rugged red sheer cliffs that surrounded the Gorge camping spot creating an overpowering visual impact and making us understand exactly why artists would come here. The colours and the beautiful forms seem to cry out to be captured on canvas.

Unpacking the trucks, setting up the water and shower unit, erecting the 20 tents for the soon to arrive guests and setting up the kitchen was good, hard work but we became more and more aware of the preciseness of the hundreds of little tasks required to make the camp run and a small but niggling concern began to mount as to our ability to get these jobs done correctly first time, especially with nothing written down, no “Running Sheet” of all these tasks available for the newbie.

We set these concerns on the backburner and prepared to do our best and also to take in all we could of the magnificent scenery.

We parked the Aussie Wide in a separate place to the Sandrifter camp so it required us to commute to and from the campsite for each meal and when something was to be done.

It was cold at Trephina Gorge – Very cold. It got down to 1 degree at night but of course the Aussie Wide was always cosy and the bed welcoming.

We were able to take a walk down the riverbed of Trephina Gorge with its remaining trickle of water and we wandered amidst the magnificent river gums, the awe inspiring cliffs of ancient red rock formations stained black in places with eucalyptus oils dripping from the gum trees.

Walking around the edge of the gorge give you a whole new aspect of the place.

Walking around the edge of the gorge give you a whole new aspect of the place.

We examined the only known aboriginal paintings in the area and generally took in the unique formations of our surroundings. We were later to be fascinated by Gerry’s intricate knowledge of the flora and fauna of the area as well as his understanding of how this can be used for food and medicine.

The water still around after the heavy falls in the new year.

The water still around after the heavy falls in the new year.

Over looking the East McDonald Ranges

Over looking the East McDonald Ranges

 

The colours of the Ghost Gums against the blue sky and red rock was breath taking.

The colours of the Ghost Gums against the blue sky and red rock was breath taking.

We took a drive to the John Hayes water hole about 10 km from the camp and walked the scenic “Chain of Ponds” bush walk. This was an incredible walk along the rim of an ancient gorge and then down to the river bed below.

John Hayes Rockhole was rough going in some places but was well worth the walk.

John Hayes Rockhole was rough going in some places but was well worth the walk.

 

Ghost Gums grow from anywhere they can get a foot hold. Do they last...not all

Ghost Gums grow from anywhere they can get a foot hold. Do they last…not all

 

To see this under full rain would be a great sight.

To see this under full rain would be a great sight.

The water holes were clear and very cold

The water holes were clear and very cold

The walk took us along a route lined with those beautiful white trunked gum trees growing from wherever they could find the smallest root hold and into totally secluded rock pools so deep it’s hard to imagine them ever drying up completely. We explored caves dug out of the sheer cliffs by the actions of weather and water and all the time we felt completely dispatched from all human activity except our own.

Caves that would hold a family.

Caves that would hold a family.

Rocks that were from the ocean bed.

Rocks that were from the ocean bed.

Pity it was too cold to swim in these beautiful rock holes

Pity it was too cold to swim in these beautiful rock holes

 

Wasn't the easiest walk you needed strong ankle boots.

Wasn’t the easiest walk you needed strong ankle boots.

The only negative aspect of this wonderful place was in knowing that we had to make our way back to the camp for the evening meal preparation.

After settling down into a cosy bed on the Monday 21st May, Kerrie awoke about 1:00am with a pain in the abdomen. At this point I’ll let her tell in her own words what happened.

From Kerrie…

A trip to Alice Springs Hospital:

Tuesday 22nd started off normal. Went to bed last night to sleep, the cold night outside not bothering us because with Chris beside me it was as warm as toast.

Then about 1.30am I had “Wind Pains” got up went to the toilet tried to go back to sleep but the pains only got worse. Within half an hour the vomiting started.

This of course woke Chris (You can’t keep silent in a caravan). I will be forever grateful of our ensuite, there isn’t much fun for anything over a drop toilet. I automatically thought of food poisoning and the fact I had probably killed all the oldies in camp.

But the pain never ceased  and came in constant waves even after I had rid my stomach of everything I had eaten in the last week.

Now after and hour of this Chris insisted I head to hospital. I must agree when he first suggested it half an hour ago I couldn’t think of anything worse than a bumpy 86km trip back into Alice while constantly wanting to pee and throw up all while the crushing pains are ripping out my back and side.

Anyone up for a diagnosis yet? Ahh the one’s who have walked this path before have their hands up.

So while my dear husband got dressed, I am moaning I’ll need a bucket and water and as I watch he is opening every cupboard in the van looking for something, “What” I moan “Your handbag, where is it?” he asks.

Now my handbag has been in the same place since the day we bought the van home. It has never changed place and yet every time the man has to get the damn bag he can never find it.

Finally in the car me with my bucket in hand we head to the camp to inform them of out destination. I breath a sigh of relief as the camp is not lit up with people in the same predicament as me.

Our trip to the hospital was a strange affair as Chris hung over the wheel concentrating on not hitting any wildlife, speeding beyond the limit and of me telling him to stop I had to pee. He would have to pull up race around to help me slide out, hold me while I would be peeing from one end and throwing up from the other, then life me back into the car to achieve as many kilometres as possible to reach out destination before the process starts again.

At the arrival of the hospital Chris went in first and a nurse then came out with a wheelchair. All I was after was pain relief. After the nurse buggered up the first try to get a drip in my hand which was now swollen with fluid I told her to try my “Blood donating” vein which has never failed me in 30 odd years. I really just wanted to feel the morphine surging through my body so I could go to the wonderful world of “wishy washy land”.
Well she stuck oil in that vein, enough blood shot out to cover the only thing I had on, Chris’s cotton dressing gown. This is when it hit me I’m sitting in a wheelchair in a dressing gown too big for me, slippers and nothing else, NOT even my glasses, no underwear, no PJ’s. Chris is trying to cover me up, the nurse is trying to wipe off the blood and I just wanted to die.

So to all who have guessed “Kidney stones” was the answer and this was confirmed with a CT scan. 5 of the buggers, 1 x 8mm that was on it’s way, 3 little ones that I now hold in my position which happily passed while staying there as you can see by the photo and 1 in the left kidney they say isn’t going anywhere soon.

 

Not bad sizes, sorry can't show you the 8mm one.

Not bad sizes, sorry can’t show you the 8mm one.

Then just to keep me on guard they ask me if I’m a diabetic because my sugar count hit 19. “No” I said “Oh well you look like you’re on the cusp but that can be fixed with diet and exercise”.  YEAH, YEAH. You know there are times in your life you just want to grab someone by the neck and shake them to see their eyes roll around. Well there goes my chocolates and movie nights.

Because I was living so far away they agreed to keep me overnight, now remember I have nothing to wear. So off Chris goes to buy me some more PJ’s of which I really don’t need another pair. It wasn’t till I got up to my room that I was able to get into my PJ’s and by this time Chris had left to go home and cook. So how do you think I felt when I put my top on to look down and have “Precious” written across the front. Chris had done it to me again. The last time he bought me PJ to hospital he said he couldn’t find them at home even though I had given exact directions to the cupboard and shelf. The pants were covered in bright coloured lips and the top read “Luscious” in sparkly sequins. MEN…

A quick but rewarding trip to Ballina

On Monday I happened to hear of an opportunity of work providing meals for a series of outback art camps from May to September this year.

Fascinated by the possibility I conducted some Google searches and found Gerry Gerrard and Corinne Fletcher.

I spoke to them on the phone and not only was I fascinated by their business and the tours they offered I discovered a couple of down to earth people who, on the phone at least, felt like the sort of people we love to engage with.

The longer I talked to Gerry and Corinne the more my interest peaked and I felt I had to meet then ASAP.

It’s another week until we move out to the Koramba cotton farm to begin our 6 week cooking job so we arranged to head off to Ballina to meet the next day.

We were underway by 4:30am, deciding to take the Boggabilla to Tenterfield and Casino route, one we’d not driven before.

The GPS took us down a road that narrowed dramatically as the kilometres we travelled mounted, finally morphing into a dirt track that meandered through wide scathes of farmland and over narrow bridges. This certainly wasn’t the Bruxton Highway we were expecting!

The road morphed from a highway to a dirt track

The road morphed from a highway to a dirt track

The GPS does this occasionally so we usually practice a habit I learnt many years ago at sea and which seafarers still live by today – NEVER RELY ON TECHNOLOGY ALONE! Maybe it was the excitement and anticipation of meeting Gerry and Corinne or maybe it was the early hour, whatever, we left the trip to the GPS.

It wasn’t exactly a negative as this back road took us past spectacular scenery, huge farms of varying crops and livestock and a wonderful array of wildlife. We pulled over to watch yet another awesome sunrise as the golden beams of light picked out the beautiful bushland we found ourselves surrounded by. Yet again we found that tranquillity and peace that comes when time is taken to stop and just be a part of the natural beauty that we live amidst. We’re grateful for that diversion. We may never have seen this little pocket of Australia had we not taken the wrong road.

The rays of the rising sun touched the surrounding bush and the mist rising from the earth

The rays of the rising sun touched the surrounding bush and the mist rising from the earth

Another awesome sunrise

Another awesome sunrise

The bush was teaming with wildlife and birds

The bush was teaming with wildlife and birds

The enquisitive Rabbit

The enquisitive Rabbit

As the morning matured we passed through quiet little towns and on to Casino where we stopped and booked into a motel. We’d spoken to Geoff, one of my oldest and dearest friends, and arranged to have dinner with him in Casino that night. He’d drive from his “Bush retreat” in the mountains near Kyogle to meet us when we arrived back from Ballina. We’d then stay the night in Casino and head back to Goondiwindi early Wednesday.

We found Gerry and Corinne’s magnificent acreage in a beautiful secluded valley near Meerschaum not far from Ballina. Interrupting their lunch we sat at their dining room table and as we talked we became even more fascinated with their business and the job.

We loved talking to these practical people who seemed to be totally without pretence and who appeared to have little time for the vagaries that have found their way into the business world at every level.

We felt that these were people whose skills had been honed by years of going where few others have gone, doing what few others have done and being forced to solve their own problems. They are inventors of the sort that constantly strive to improve and perfect by looking at a problem and then creatively thinking outside the box to gain a solution.

I don’t know yet if Gerry and Corinne fall into this category but often this sort of person, although always abiding by laws and government requirements, usually have little respect for the bungling bureaucratic nonsense that is so often born from people with little or no practical experience in the things they are bureaucratising.

Gerry and Corinne’s business is Sandrifter 4WD and art tours.

They’ve a 4WD coach and other support vehicles specifically designed to transport 20 people at a time comfortably into the outback and the desert around Alice Springs, (or anywhere else in Australia).

They’ve designed and built their own fully functioning stainless steel mobile kitchen, showers, toilets and solar power generation so that the whole camp is transportable and completely self sufficient.

They specialise in Art tours where passengers are transported into the outback where they camp in comfortable tents with beds, bedding and good quality food provided. These guests are then driven out to places of their choice in the desert where they will capture the beauty of the outback scenery by brush on canvas. Many of these guests will display their works professionally in galleries while others do it for the sheer pleasure.

Often the guests will stay out in the desert for the whole day with drinks and packed lunches and be picked up in the bus by Gerry in time to return to camp for a wash, dinner and to enjoy the evening camp environment.

Gerry is the kind of character perfectly suited to host these tours as he has over 40 years experience in travelling and living in the outback coupled with a comfortable earthy no nonsense personality and Corrine, being an artist herself and committed to providing the absolute best for her guests, compliments the  hosting package perfectly.

As we talked I hoped that this couple would see in us a possibility to further enhance their business.

Kerrie later told me she felt the same and that she knew she would get on well with Corinne as she loved her straight talking, no nonsense attitude. You all know Kerrie; she has little time for beating around the bush and usually makes life long friendships with straight shooting people.

At some point in the conversation Gerry and Corinne offered us the position.

We are very excited about this as it gives us the opportunity to see parts of Australia that we just would not see on our own and all in the company of someone who has an intimate knowledge of these places. We believe we’ll learn an extraordinary amount from these people and a bonus for me is Gerry’s interest in geology and paleantology and bush medicine and bush tucker.

We’ll finish up the job at the Koramba cotton farm at the end of April and travel to Brisbane where we’ll probably stay one night on the Southside and one night on the Northside to catch up with you all before taking the 2000 kilometre trip to arrive in Alice Springs via Longreach, Winton and The Isa by the 10th of May.

After a great afternoon we returned to Casino and the motel to await Geoff’s arrival from Kyogle after which we had a meal together at the RSL club and a long chat at the motel. It’s always a pleasure to catch up with my old friend and as usual we could easily have talked the whole night through. I swear he gets younger and fitter looking every time I see him lately. He’s one of those people that age backwards!

Halls Gap

Halls Gap in the Grampians, is the Wimmera version of Montville.

It’s greener and several degrees cooler than Horsham due to the trees and the higher altitude. It has a couple of caravan parks and holiday homes, as well as the usual tourist shops. The best part is that it’s only an hours drive from Horsham.

It is also the start of the Wimmera – Mallee pipeline system that supplies about 9,000 rural properties and 36 towns with fresh water. The piped system replaced the open earthen channels where over 100,000 megalitres of water was lost to evaporation each year. This dam, the Bellfield Dam, looked a very different place 2 years ago because up until the floods last year, you could walk along  it’s floor bed and see the remains of the town that was flooded with the construction of the dam wall.

Lake Bellfield is the start of the pipeline system for the Wimmera Mallee Area.

Lake Bellfield is the start of the pipeline system for the Wimmera Mallee Area.

It seems so strange to hear how much rain they had here, enough to filled all the dams, rivers and lakes of the entire surrounding area. The areas wettest month on record was January 2011 with 152.2mm for THE MONTH. Horsham was flooded transforming the lakes and rivers from bone dry to over flowing.  Maleny, in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland received 108mm in one night last week and they don’t think anything of it.

The Boroka Lookout gave an amazing view of Halls Gap with the dam standing over the town. It makes you hope the engineers knew exactly what they where doing and that the dam wall is strong enough.

Lake Bellfield Dam with the rest of Halls Gap beneath it.

Lake Bellfield Dam with the rest of Halls Gap beneath it.

The people of this country are a tough lot. And we often wonder at the strength of the modern farmers as well as what their parents and grandparents had to endure.

The whole area has extremes of hot, dry weather. The dry wheat fields with thier golden stubble, the dead fire wood along river beds and ground cover (against the law to remove thanks to greenies) are hallmarks of the area. The hot winds are normal for this time of year prompting the council in Horsham to think of shutting off the electricity supply in the hottest parts of the day in, particularly on extreme heat days, to stop electrical fires caused by the power lines sagging in the heat.

We enjoyed lunch in town at Halls Gap and had a quick look around the gift shops and then it was off to Lake Lonsdale. With the rain the water sports are back in full force. Water skiing and fishing are now available on once dry lake beds and everyone is making the most of it.

Lake Lonsdale draws skiers, as well as fishermen. This area was very popular at Christmas and New Year.

Lake Lonsdale draws skiers, as well as fishermen. This area was very popular at Christmas and New Year.

We hope one day to repay Gayle and Andrew for their hospitality in showing us areas that we might have missed. We wouldn’t have learned about the finer details of some of the spots we have visited if it wasn’t for them. It was wonderful to spend the weekend enjoying their company.

 

On tour with the relatives:

This afternoon we met at Andrew’s & Gayle and with Aunty Lorna went for a drive through Nutimuk to Mount Arapiles. Mount Arapiles is renown as one of the world’s best climbing area’s with about 90,000 people visiting the mountain each year.  It has more than 2,500 climbs varying in degrees of difficulty, including those among the world’s hardest.

There is a drive up to the top with the last 50m requiring walking up steep steps but the view is worth it. Apart from the Grampians in the distance the surrounding landscape is flat.

The 50m climb up is worth it.

The 50m climb up is worth it.

 

Wheat farms with their GPS computerised machinery give the amazing uniform harvesting straight lines.

Wheat farms with their GPS computerised machinery give the amazing uniform harvesting straight lines.

Most of the wetlands on the plains are naturally salty and as you can see the Mitre Lake is no exception.

The salt plains of Mitre Lake easily stands out.

The salt plains of Mitre Lake easily stands out.

We moved on to an easier lookout that even Aunty Lorna was able to explore.

Gayle, Aunty Lorna, Andrew and Chris

Gayle, Aunty Lorna, Andrew and Chris

Afternoon tea was at the bottom of the mountain in the camping ground. This we thought was busy, but they can have around 3000 people camping here at busy times and Andrew said you can hardly see the mountain for climbers.

Out of the sun the breeze is wonderful with Aunty Lorna telling stories of visit's with Mum & Dad.

Out of the sun the breeze is wonderful with Aunty Lorna telling stories of visit’s with Mum & Dad.

We took a walk looking for climbers but with the heat of the day we didn’t think there would be many up there. Even with the help of binoculars or the naked eye, you really just have to stare at the mountain and hope for some movement. It wasn’t until I got home and downloaded the photos that I realised we had captured a girl on the rock. I had taken a photo of a plane’s jet stream against the rock face and just happened to capture this as well.

Luckily Chris saw the jet stream and said that would make a nice photo.

Luckily Chris saw the jet stream and said that would make a nice photo.

 

A tiny dot on the photo.

A tiny dot on the photo.

You might have to click on the photo once, then when it opens, click onto it again to enlarge it, so you can see her properly.

After a BBQ dinner at Gayle’s we then planned another outing to the Grampians for tomorrow.

Work, work, work

For the last 2 days we have been catching up with work. Chris is also developing a program to show David (the farmer) because with all the technology on the farm, David still keeps his book work on paper and blackboards.

The blackboard of information.

The blackboard of information.

He even said he doesn’t know what he would do if someone rubbed off the blackboard. This was of course, a red rag to a bull with Chris. David has 3 nephews who are associated with the farm after a tragic shooting accident took his brother (also his business partner). He has everything in his head  and he knows he needs to get everything he has learned into a format that can be passed along to the next generation.

Horsham is a wonderful city set in the Wimmera district. It has all the shops you need (visited most of them) with about 18,000 people. It’s easy to get around and being flat, is a great place to cycle or walk. We had Gayle and Andrew over for dinner last night so they could check out the van. Andrew said that the Wimmera river that we are camped beside has only been full since the flood. It had gotten so dry that they had walked along the river bed to the weir. This old road had been uncovered during the drought.

Old river crossing.

Old river crossing.

They then had their 1 in 200 year flood that has brought new life to the once barren river banks. So again we are seeing the area at it’s best, without the floods, mice and locust plagues of last year.

We are seeing the river it at it's best.

We are seeing the river it at it’s best.

 

Wow what a day!

We packed up the van this morning still using the water and power with last minute clothes washing, vacuuming and cleaning the shower before we headed off to David’s farm to have the van weighed.

Unhooking the van at David's weigh bridge.

Unhooking the van at David’s weigh bridge.

 

A lot of farms have their own weigh bridges to maximise their haulage without going over the legal limits.

A lot of farms have their own weigh bridges to maximise their haulage without going over the legal limits.

We weighed both the van and the caravan separately as well as together and YAH!!!! UNDER WEIGHT! I can keep the foot massager that Chris had spied when I went to get something else hidden under the dining seats.

I can hide things all over the van in little nocks and crannies, but I was concerned I had over done it. But all is good. Phewww…

He drove us around his property so we could get a better understanding of what they do.

He drove us around his property so we could get a better understanding of what they do.

David then gave us the most amazing tour of his property. He explained everything in detail for the layman. We never felt like idiots and he explained it until we understood what he was showing us.

This machine was "adjusted" by David and Andrew. "Gason" the company even came up and took hundreds of photos for them to improve the machine.How would you feel about cutting up a new $375,000 piece of equipment?

This machine was “adjusted” by David and Andrew. “Gason” the company even came up and took hundreds of photos for them to improve the machine. How would you feel about cutting up a new $375,000 piece of equipment?

Farmers have to be the biggest gamblers on earth. The precision of planting to maximise growth, why they leave the stubble in, why are some trees left in the middle of fields, what he does to improve his soil, how they build run offs to put the excess rain water/swamp into his dams, hy he has so many silo’s and all the different grades of cereal. We even heard how during the locust plague they had to clean their canola.

Every piece of equipment has a story.

Every piece of equipment has a story.

 

60 silo's for storage.

60 silo’s for storage.

 

Even a quick look at some of his sheep.

Even a quick look at some of his sheep.

WOW, our heads were spinning. David spent 4 hours of his time for us to learn something that you would never get out of a book. We are so grateful for the time he took out of his busy schedule.

Over a late lunch we decided to head back to Horsham again. We were still waiting on Chris’s licence that Lacey had sent on, as well as Aussie Wide who are still on holidays until next Monday. If Aussie Wide can’t fit us in for a few weeks it’s silly to go to Melbourne and pay large fees for van parks. I had heard about camping in the showground but it’s not in the Camp 6 book, so we gave the council a call and they were very helpful and informed us that there was a number on the fence to ring. On arriving there are two sections one near the agriculture area that has electricity and you cart your own water, but if you drive around further to the Greyhound section there is electricity, taps and sullage right on the very same river, 500 metres down from the caravan park we were, in at $10pn with toilets and hot shower, compared to $30pn at the van park. So this is where we are for the next 5 night’s, after that it’s anybody guess.

Quite and walking distance to shops.

Quite and walking distance to shops.

 

Please note the bike out. So yes it has been used.

Please note the bike out. So yes it has been used.

 

Catching up

We are staying in the council caravan park on the river in Horsham, something we do very rarely.

This time last year we'd be under water.

This time last year we’d be under water.

The last caravan park we stayed at was Charleville back in Oct.  The benefits of having water on tap and electricity is being able to wash EVERYTHING and have the air conditioner on, at 38 deg and 45 knot winds is was a welcome relief. The washing was drying instantly in this weather and so when the house work was done it was off to visit Aunty Lorna, Dad’s sister.

Lorna Cowan Dad's younger sister.

Lorna Cowan Dad’s younger sister.

Aunty Lorna moved from Rainbow about 8 months after Uncle Charlie’s death 5 years ago. With most of her children and grandchildren here it was easier for everyone. She misses her garden and her tank water. Her skin isn’t the same washing in “this garbage water with all the chemicals” and she misses a descent cup of tea made from rain water. At 92 she is in amazing health. She is getting around with the help of a walker… just to steady her. I think it’s more likely been given to her  to slow her down!

She was up out of her lounge chair to greet us, doesn’t want one of those seats that helps you out like Dad had, as she believes it makes you lazy. “Use it or lose it!” Again she jumps up to show us the photos of her family on the wall. Aunty Lorna’s mind is still as sharp as ever and she had no problems answering my questions regarding Mum and Dad.

Andrew and Gayle

Andrew and Gayle.

We had been invited out to Gayle, my cousin, and Andrews place for dinner that night. I had been looking forward to seeing their place as Mum, Dad and Nola had often commented on how lovely it was and of Andrew’s shed that held every man’s dream of tools and toys.

Gayle and Andrew's home.

Gayle and Andrew’s home.

 

The side view. Agapanthus are out everywhere down here and make a wonderful colour scheme.

The side view. Agapanthus are out everywhere down here and make a wonderful colour scheme.

Andrew took us on a tour of the property, 17 acres. Two years ago bush fires had raced through the area and as Andrew and Gayle where away at the time only Byron, their son, saved not only their house and sheds but went on to save the neighbours property. Andrew never has trees close to the house so Byron just flooded the sprinkler system around the house and then went to neighbours houses, to literally pull out trees that were close to their homes by wrapping a chain around the trunks and then pulling them out with the ute. His mates arrived to help and informed Andrew that Byron just didn’t stop. He would go under trees that were on fire to wrap the chain around. They said the ute’s front wheels were lifting a metre off the ground, but apart from their closest neighbour’s place most homes were saved. Andrew and Gayle lost fences and their row of pine trees.

Fire damaged pine trees.

Fire damaged pine trees.

Bryon is now very conscious of fire safety and when the full fire ban comes into force (which is now) the water pump is mechanical checked and the trolley is left in the yard for easy access.

The water pump in the back yard.

The water pump in the back yard.

Andrew never stops and after work he comes home to his passion of building, repairing and making machinery work better. He has metal cutting and bending machines, welders and a whole lot more. He has an engineer’s mind and is constantly trying to improve machinery. He has successfully  designed work that companies have thought impossible.

A metal cutter

A metal cutter

 

Metal bender is probably not the correct term but you get what I mean.

Metal bender is probably not the correct term but you get what I mean.

Gayle had brought Aunty Lorna to join us for dinner, so it was a lively time catching up. Andrew told a story of Dad taking him to Ern’s place for the usual Wednesday night billiards. But he said “What happened at billiards, stayed at billiards” Yes…we can imagine. While Gayle took Aunty Lorna back to the nursing home Andrew showed us around their home. We were still on the tour when Gayle arrived back half and hour later. Time gets away when you are chatting. Then at 9pm a friend of theirs arrived. I love the familiarity… “Saw the lights on”, he said as he switched on the jug. David McGennisken of ‘Manooka’ at Wonwondah, south of Horsham is a grain and cereal farmer. David was a school friend of Andrew’s.

Between these two men, both “out of the box” thinkers, Chris had a ball. He was fascinated by how they ran their businesses. David was asking about our van and it’s weight and when we told him we had not had it weight yet he offered his own weight bridge at the farm. He uses the weigh bridge to maximise his haulage. He will transport many “Double D’s” a day of grain in harvest time, if you go light it’s a waste and will cut into your profit’s, if you go over, the transport dept will fine you. You walk a fine line.

I finally dragged Chris away at 11pm after a wonderful day.