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!

Catching up with Family

Funerals are a time for reflection, but they also seem to be the only time to catch up with long lost relatives or friends.

Fran Warburton died too young from lymphoma cancer. She was the mother of my school friend Sandy Phillips. Sandy and I met on the first day of grade one in 1967 and we’ve been friends ever since. It’s one of those friendships that span a whole lifetime,  one where even if you haven’t seen each other for a year or two it seems that you can start the conversation as if you only saw them yesterday.

I use to live at the Warburton’s as much as I lived at home. School through the week, play on the weekends, phone conversations every night and all the sleepovers. This was from a time when the only rule was “be home for dinner”. Oh how I remember racing the push bike flat strap down Bungama St at 4.59pm to make it home by 5 o’clock.

Do 2km in less than 1 min. Wish I could do it now.

Do 2km in less than 1 min. Wish I could do it now.

While Sandy and I were friends at Sandgate primary, Lee Martin (nee Metcraft) and Helen McLean were friends from Bracken Ridge primary. These two friendships combined at the start of high school to form a very strong bond.

The sad fact is now we only meet up at funerals. Lee’s dad, then my Mum & Dad and now at  Fran’s funeral.

After the funeral it didn’t take long for the years to roll away and we were 16 again, laughing at the silly times, trying to remember names of people we knew. Ross, Sandy’s older brother had some of his mates there and we were trying to figure out who they were. When we did, there were howls of laughter as new stories were told of pinching Ross and Barnsey’s row boat and rowing up and down Cabbage Tree Creek. We all agree the boys have aged a lot more than us. Well if you take your glasses off when you look in the mirror you can be any age you want.

The time went too quickly and as we all parted we promised the next time we catch up it won’t be at a funeral.

The rest of the weekend was spent catching up with family. Chris helped Ashley exchange his motor in his car. Then dinner with Jennie and Emily, lunch with Ben, Alecia, David and Lacey at the Bridge seafood and little Chris coming up to David’s to visit.

We also called into ACU as Ron had asked Chris to look at something. There was a morning tea for the staff so we got to catch up with a lot of people there, with the usual question “Are you back?”

We stayed at Christine and Barry’s on Monday night so the boys had a good chin wag. And they complain women talk, Christine and I ended up going to bed while the boys continued their conversation.

Tuesday had us back on the road again, looking forward to getting back to our little “home on wheels”. We had both brought up the idea of “moving back home” wondering how the other felt. We love David and Lacey’s home, we feel a part of it, but did we miss our own bathroom, kitchen laundry and having the space to sit around in the lounge room??….

The answer is NO!

Both of us expressed the feelings that just sitting in one place, at this time in our lives, would send us crazy. We love our bathroom, laundry and kitchen on wheels. The best thing is our lounge room can be anywhere we want to park our home. And now with the chance to work everywhere, there is so much to learn and see, like we have never been on a cotton farm before. We are truly blessed and loving this life and as we found out, not too far from family.

New features added to Blog

We’ve added 3 new features to the Blog which we hope you’ll find interesting.

The first is an Events Calendar which indicates where we’re likely to be in the foreseeable future. Just click on the blue lines that indicate each event and the details of that event will pop up.

It can be accessed from the Menu Bar at the top of the posts as indicated by this image…

How to acess the Event Calendar

How to acess the Event Calendar

The second new feature is an interactive Tracking map that shows the path we’ve travelled so far.

It can be accessed from here…

How to view a the new Tracking Map that shows the track we've traveled so far.

How to view a the new Tracking Map that shows the track we’ve traveled so far.

 

The third feature is a “Places” page which highlights the places we’ve stopped at so far and can be seen from here…

The "Places" page can be viewd by clicking here

The “Places” page can be viewd by clicking here

Hope you like these little additions.

The new direction revealed

After turning our future and all our plans over to God we slept that sleep of pure peace that seems to come when you “know that you know” beyond doubt that you’re in good hands and He’ll never leave you nor forsake you. Some people will no doubt be puzzled by this habit of trusting in a Being you can’t see and who most of the world doesn’t even believe exists. We understand that – but we’ve always lived this way and we are more sure of God’s existance and His guidance that we are of any other thing in this world.

The previous day I’d happened upon a website that I’ve never seen before called Grey Nomad Employment and I spotted a job for a cook on a Cotton farm feeding 30 cotton pickers, (mostly backpackers), for 6 weeks. I had emailed an enquiry about the job.

Awaking early Saturday morning I had received two emails; one from Tucson Arizona which confirmed that the desire for the new program was still there. This was a huge email for us as it confirmed that whatever we did we needed to continue to work on the programs.

The second email was from the company advertising the job for a cook.

The pay was fantastic for such an easy job and it was on a farm an hour away from Goondiwindi starting early March, which would put us just 5 hours away from Brisbane at just the right time for the birth of Ash and Felicia’s baby.

I phoned immediately, even though it was Saturday, and got such a positive response that we decided to head for Goondiwindi forthwith! We were told they had no objection to Kerrie sharing the work and that we could park the Aussie Wide on the farm free of charge.

This was a fantastic answer for us.

It means I can still complete the program while doing a job I know so well and not only will we be earning some great money we’ll be spending nothing at all, not even for food.

Kerrie will get the chance to chat with people again, something she’s not been able to do as much as she likes with me absorbed in concentration with the program for long hours.

We had already entertained the possibility of working our way around and we’ve had many conversations with people who live permanently on the road and work as they travel. There’s no shortage of work out there.

Just as we were packing up another van rolled up with a couple about the same age as us and they told us how they had lived on the road full time for the last 6 years and how they worked all over the country from kitchens to cattle stations. They are never without work that pays well. We‘d heard this before of course but these people were so similar to us and our situations were so much alike it was uncanny.

The conversion of the computer programs and the contract at La Trobe University are the only reasons we’ve not worked while travelling as yet.

We decided to hook up and leave for Goondiwindi immediately.

We finally got under way and pointed the Nissan North and headed towards Balaklava and from there North East towards Broken Hill. We spent yet another day in awe of the scenery we were passing as it changed constantly and turned into the now familiar grain fields we were used to.

Saturday night found us at a peaceful rest area beside the Highway at a little place called Mount Bryan.

Mount Bryan was one of those towns where we wonder what people do there and how much longer the once prosperous town will exist for.

The backdrop of the town was the huge array of windmills on the hills to the north of the town.

Many thousands of these huge windmills line the hills for miles

Many thousands of these huge windmills line the hills for miles

It's hard to appreciate the size of these mindmills till you're up close to one

It’s hard to appreciate the size of these mindmills till you’re up close to one

Small towns came and went as the Nissan purred along past beautiful grain fields and many ruins of farm houses that had long since hosted the laughter and tears of families. We’d like to know why there are so many of them.

There are a great many of these ruins of farm houses in the Mt Bryan area. Why? What caused their abandonment?

There are a great many of these ruins of farm houses in the Mt Bryan area. Why? What caused their abandonment?

Ruins are everywhere

Sunday morning found us seemingly alone inside a vast land of grain and rolling hills. Another enormous wind farm with the gigantic blades of the windmills slowly turning provided the only other movement save for the odd cow or sheep.

We rolled on as again and again the country offered up its variety of changing landscapes.

The closer we got to Broken Hill the sparser the country became and the road straightened into a seemingly endless ribbon stretching forever into the future, our future.

Ribbon of highway to the future?

Ribbon of highway to the future?

Vast plains spread to the horizon in every direction

Vast plains spread to the horizon in every direction

We finally made Broken Hill in the late afternoon, the home of the greatest and largest Australian Company and one of the largest in the world; Broken Hill Proprietary or BHP.

This is Silver town, founded on lead and silver.

We made our way to the Racecourse where we were the only other living souls for the night having power, water, beautifully clean toilets and green grass. What a great night. Kerrie got all the washing done and we were able to watch TV with unlimited water, microwave, jug, toaster, air conditioning – everything.

Broken Hill really is a town on a broken hill

Broken Hill really is a town on a broken hill

Broken Hill - Mines are in the centre, the town is built round them

Broken Hill – Mines are in the centre, the town is built round them

Broken Hill is a bustling, modern city mixed with heritage and history

Broken Hill is a bustling, modern city mixed with heritage and history

At the Broken Hill Racecourse in the shade and overlooking the racecourse - we had it all to ourselves!

At the Broken Hill Racecourse in the shade and overlooking the racecourse – we had it all to ourselves!

Early Monday morning we spoke to the company we were hoping to work for and again we got a cherry and positive response. The lady managing the Goondiwindi operation was efficient, encouraging and extremely easy to talk to.

Off we drove again and after a good look around Broken Hill we headed toward Cobar.

The same vast plains and dead straight highway stretched endlessly before but as we drew nearer Cobar the scenery became intermingled with rugged rocky hills that have sprung into the landscape from one of the cataclysmic ancient upheavals that formed this land. The dead straight highway once again accompanied us as the miles rolled by.

The seemingly endless highway again

The seemingly endless highway again

We made Cobar lateish in the evening and settled down for the night in a truck stop on the outskirts of town in the company of a few trucks and other travellers

Monday night was spent in Cobar

Monday night was spent in Cobar

We had a look around Cobar Tuesday morning before fuelling up for the final drive to Goondiwindi.

The scenery changed yet again this time reflecting the recent rain in the area by the appearance of much more greenery than we had seen for a while.

There was a proliferation of feral goats feeding on the green grass that was now growing along the roadsides. There were many thousands of them stretching for maybe 300 kilometres.

Masses of feral goats along the roadside

Masses of feral goats along the roadside

We pulled in to Goondiwindi in the late evening and headed for a Caravan Park. A Caravan Park! They’ve become few and far between for us. We just don’t need ‘em much anymore. It’s still nice to have the facilities and the power and water though and Kerrie loves to catch up on all the washing such as sheets, doona covers etc.

We were unable to see Michelle from the new company on Wednesday since she was out of town so we had a great opportunity to catch up and relax after traversing 3 states in 3 days and moving over 1740 kilometres.

Thursday saw us in the company office in Goondiwindi where we were immediately made welcome and were promptly offered the job.

The job doesn’t start till early March and Kerrie had just received some bad news from an old friend whose mum had passed away. This meant that we now had time to go to the funeral at the Sunshine Coast as we were only 5 hours away.

Michelle from the company kindly offered to let us keep the Aussie Wide on her 5 acre property for 3 days while we made the trip, all further displaying God’s wonderful promise of “All things work together for good for those that love the Lord and are called to His purpose”.

There’s a good possibilty that when we return to Goondiwindi there will be more work up until the job starts but even if not we are very contented and thankful for the outcomes of the last few days.

So here we are, once again on the Sunshine Coast at David and Lacey’s place. We never thought we’d see it or them again so soon but it was really wonderful.

We’ll use the few days after the funeral to catch up with our precious family before embarking on the next exciting stage of our constantly changing lives.

Lazy trip home.

This morning had us up before daylight to head the 875km back to Adelaide. The town was already stirring as workers, heading off to the mining camps 75km down the road were stopped at the service center buying petrol and food. That’s all you seem to do out here is buy petrol. You never go past a petrol station because the next stop will be 200km away. At least it wasn’t the dearest diesel we have come across but it would sure put a dent in anyone’s pocket who lives out here.

On the occasions we have left before dawn we have sighted more kangaroo’s on the road than at dusk. This was no exception, a large kangaroo was in the middle of the road literally eye to eye  with us and there was no way he was moving. Playing chicken with them is not on the cards, even with a bull bar they make a mess that you have to wash off. Another tip Vicki and Rick told us, is not to run over their carcase as their bones can puncture a tyre quite easily.

The beginning of a new day.

The beginning of a new day.

 

The colours of this country are never boring.

The colours of this country are never boring.

 

The sunrise from the plains was no less spectacular than high on the hills, and as the sun came up to greet us, it was hard not to ponder on where and what we would see next. Going through all the photos of the places we have seen in the last year brings back so many memories and feelings. Places we want to go back to visit again but know there is so much more to see of this wonderful country.

Each of us took turns to drive while the other slept. Our minds replaying the wonders of Coober Pedy.

A day in Coober Pedy

My first night sleeping underground was quiet, cool and dark giving a great night’s sleep. It would be perfect for anyone working night shift. There was no electical plugs in the cool cavern that was our room, only a light switch and light. There were also no toilets or water of any kind. The temperature below ground in the pinky white rock burrow was always a constant, between 24 – 26 degrees, no matter what the weather above ground, but the air must be circulated via air vents coming into the room from PVC pipes that run from the room to the ground above. These can be seen sticking up out of the ground everywhere.

This is how you can tell where homes are. They can't have large hole as people have fallen down some and landed in someones lounge room.

This is how you can tell where homes are. They can’t have a large hole as people have been known to fall down them, landing on the surprised occupants inside.

We went for a walk around the town with the first impressions not real good. Some of the indigenous people were out and about, (well mainly lying in the park). Some were painting, others were drinking and smoking. Some were already drunk as they staggered to meet the rest of the crew. Not the welcoming committee you hope for but it does seem a part of life out here. That’s not to say the’re all like this of course. The indigenous members of the motel’s cleaning crew were friendly, clean and very hard workers. The town consisted of a couple of pubs an IGA store, pharmacy, newsagent, takeaway hamburger and pizza place with Camel Pizza on the menu. There’s lots of accommodation with 2 Caravan Parks, many B & B’s and plenty of Motels. The biggest trade was, of course, from the many Opal shops.

I loved the arches cut into the room.

I loved the arches cut into the room.

Bargaining would start at the moment of entry. “You get good bargain here Miss,” “Best prices in town.” There was every piece of jewellery and nic nac under the sun, with all types of opals in them. We saw the old Drive-in theatre as well as the old football field. We did find out later that there is another wonderful football field with real grass.

Unfortunatly this closed down in 1978 but still show's a film once a month.

Unfortunatly this closed down in 1978 but still show’s a film once a month.

 

Only Aussie rules down here.

Only Aussie rules down here.

There’s a lovely hotel in town called “The Desert Cave Hotel” and this is where we headed for coffee.

They did offer the public, use of their facilities.

They did offer the public, use of their facilities.

They also have a wonderful interpretive display that told us a lot about the area.

A great display all about opals and the outback.

A great display all about opals and the outback.

Below is a photo of a digging machine commonly used to excavate the opal mines and the underground houses. Now I understand how the rooves of the underground rooms get their interesting grooves while the walls look like they’ve been carved with a circlular grinder. Thats the way theses machines cut out tunnels.

They push forward while moving the machine up and down to cut away the rock.The dirt is sucked out underneath to the outside.

They push forward while moving the machine up and down to cut away the rock.The dirt is sucked out underneath to the outside.

 

The groves in the ceiling while the walls look like they have been grinded.

The grooves in the ceiling and the patterns in the walls look like they have been cut with a circular grinder.

Of the 3500 people that live here we saw very few. My disappointment was showing a bit and if we hadn’t already booked and paid for a tour of the area we may have just packed up and left, marking the Coober Pedy thing off the bucket list with and moving out as quick as possible. I’m so glad we didn’t! “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover” – So true and that is why we go to Information Centres in the towns we stop at becasue there’s always a treasure trove of knowledge and interesting facts to be found from the locals. This was definately true of Coober Pedy as well. Our tour guide was Jimmy. He’d arrived in Coober Pedy from Greece when he was 17 to visit his brother who worked here and he’s never left. He’s now in his 49th  year here. He raised his two daughters here and is totally in love with the place. He knew everybody and every thing about the town and its surrounding area. He’s been on most of the town’s committees and organisations as well, a real key player in the town’s life. We started down the main street with Jimmy showing us a house owned by an Italian family who don’t care how much it cost’s for water as long as they have Tomatoes, Olive trees and other vegetables. I didn’t get a photo but their garden was as good as any home in the city, even down to the lush grass in the front yard. We took in the Coober Pedy golf course next. A round of golf anyone? No grass on these fairways – you do have to roll the putting greens up after use.

1st Tee the hole is behind the water tank in the distance.

1st Tee the hole is behind the water tank in the distance.

 

"Keep off the grass" good luck in finding a blade.

“Keep off the grass” good luck in finding a blade.

We visited one of the underground churches. Here Jimmy is showing us the alter which is an old winch that was used in the past to bring up the soil from the opal shafts. We’d already visited the first underground church built in  1965 earlier in the morning.

Jimmy showing us the unique alter.

Jimmy showing us the unique alter.

 

St Peters and St Pauls Catholic Church.

St Peters and St Pauls Catholic Church.

The site of the original post office was next. There are now 12 homes in this hill. I did ask how the postman found everybody but was told he couldn’t, so every one has to go to the post office themselves.

12 Homes on this hill. Can you see them?

12 Homes on this hill. Can you see them?

 

Double click to read about 3 men who had nearly every job in town.

Double click to read about 3 men who had nearly every job in town.

Then we saw some of the equipment used to mine opal. Usually this consists of a truck with a motor mounted on it effectively making it into a large vacuum cleaner. The pipes and tubing of this big vacumn cleaner are placed in the opal shafts where the excavated dirt is sucked up by means of a powerful pump driven by the motor on the truck and into a drum that’s been fastened to the top of a derrick. When enough dirt is sucked up into the drum the weight will open the flap at the bottom and deposit the dirt on to the “Dump” mound where it will be meticulously sorted through for opal.

Simply but very productive.

Simply but very productive.

Opal claims around Coober Pedy must have no more than 3 men per claim. That means no large mining camps for 55km down the Stuart Hwy from Coober Pedy. A claim holder must also work the claim for a minimum of 20 hours per week in order to keep it. A small claim is 50 x 50 metres and a large claim is 50 x 100 metres. There’s also an Opal Development lease of 200 x 200 metres which can only be held for 3 months, cannot be renewed and must be on virgin land. With all this you still have to “guess” where you think opal is. There is no known method of detecting opal. A miner needs a basic knowledge of the geological landscape to understand where and what to look for before sinking a shaft, but from then on its pure luck. Jimmy had mined here most of his life and advised us never to start. He worked one spot for a year, put over $2500 in to it and got a whooping $13 out in opal. Others while excavating their houses pulled out between $100,000-$200,000 worth. You would have to be the biggest gambler on earth to commit to a life of digging for opal. Most other minerals, such as coal or diamonds, can be found by sensing equipment and geological knowledge, but not opals!

So many types, so hard to find.

So many types, so hard to find.

Opal is formed from a solution of silicon dioxide and water. As water runs down through the earth, it picks up silica from sandstone, and carries this silica-rich solution into cracks and voids in the rock that are caused by natural faults or decomposing fossils. As the water evaporates, it leaves behind a silica deposit. This cycle repeats over very long periods of time, and eventually opal is formed. You won’t find large amounts of opal gathered together in clumps as you would say coal or diamonds. It’ll suck you in like a Poker Machine causing an addictive, “Maybe I’ll win with the next push of the button,” attitude. Opal may reveal itself anytime – with the next blow of the pick or with just one more stick of explosive.

They like the obvious here.

They like the obvious here.

On to “Boot Hill” cemetery. Now, I had read about Karl Bratz who passed away from cancer at 52. He never lost his sense of humour and designed his own coffin of corrugated iron. He had spent most of his  life 50 miles from anywhere and said everywhere he went everything was built from corrugated iron. Jimmy the Guide who was Karl’s  friend, said in the last few days of his life he left hospital and organised an 18 gallon beer keg and a few bottles of wine for the wake, “To have a drink on me”. That’s what they did, it ended up with 6 of his mates staying to finish the keg. They then used it as Karl’s headstone. The rest of our tour guests, an English couple and 3 Swedish backpackers didn’t seem to relish going into the cemetery but I enjoyed this bit of “Aussie humour”.

Karl Bratz had a sense of humour.

Karl Bratz had a sense of humour.

 

The fence keeping people from their own stupidity.

The fence keeping people from their own stupidity.

Our next port of call was to the “heart” of Coober Pedy, the mines. There is a fence running down the Stuart Hwy 50 feet from the road to stop visitors from stopping and going to “have a look” and then falling into the shafts as they take photos.  Unless you have a license you can’t go into the mining areas.

Each entry is numbered, otherwise it all looks the same.

Each entry is numbered, otherwise it all looks the same.

This is not the place to walk or drive at night with 1metre holes that are up to 30metres deep everywhere. They say more people go missing here than anywhere else in Australia. Jimmy swears they find them… eventually.

Driving past these holes was scary enough let alone walking around this area.

Driving past these holes was scary enough let alone walking around this area.

There are rules everywhere about not walking backwards, not throwing anything down shafts etc.

Signs of safety everywhere.

Signs of safety everywhere.

This give you an idea of how claims are set up.

This give you an idea of how claims are set up.

 

A "Noodling Machine"

A “Noodling Machine”

This claim used the Noodling Machine. Dump material is loaded into a hopper which feeds onto a belt in a darkened cabin and passes under an ultra- violet light. Any opal shows up white and is removed. They usually put women in there so “it’s not so squashy” I could think of so many other jobs that I’d prefer to do.

You never know if there is a fortune in the rock at your feet.

You never know if there is a fortune in the rock at your feet.

Finally we got to “Noodle” for ourselves. It does suck you in as others would cry out they had found some opal it’d make you look harder. We were the only ones who found “colour”, 95% of opal found is potch or common opal with no colour. Chris found a large piece of rock with colour showing in a section, the excitement grew as Jimmy told us to break it. As we cracked the rock our fortune turned out to be a tiny spot on the once, fist size rock. You could feel the hope rise and fall in all of us. This is what the miners feel all the time. Instead of walking away it made you go back to crack open other rocks to see if they were holding the next “big one”. The rock is light and easy to break but it didn’t take long to be covered in fine white dust.

Our opals. Don't think they'll turn in to jewlery.

Our opals. Don’t think they’ll turn in to jewlery.

Jimmy had to drag us away to move on to the next part of the tour. Crocodile Harry’s Underground Nest. This old lecher declared himself to be Arvid Von Blumentals,  Latvian Baron who was forced to leave his country after World War II. He worked as a crocodile hunter in Northern Australia before coming to Coober Pedy to fossick for opals in about 1975.

Crocodile Harry's home was a mixture of art and junk. I suppose it's in the eye of the beholder.

Crocodile Harry’s home was a mixture of art and junk. I suppose it’s in the eye of the beholder.

His underground home was featured in the movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The cave is adorned with his own artwork and the walls of the dugout are covered with the names and photos of girls who he claims to have seduced. Point being, he liked big breasted women.  Apart from all that he did have an interesting dugout and adjoining opalmine. When you look at the amount of dirt that was excavated it stills amazes me the work they got through.

Each room has memorability hanging everywhere.

Each room has memorability hanging everywhere.

 

This was his interview room.

This was his interview room.

This was Harry's mine. Jimmy was showing us mini bats that live in the holes.

This was Harry’s mine. Jimmy was showing us mini bats that live in the holes.

From here we drove out of town to enter a part of this country I will never forget! It simply took our breath away – The Breakaways. The Breakaways are so named because when seen from a distance, it looks as if the land features have “broken away” from the main range – the Stuart Ranges.

An amazing area that was worth the visit.

An amazing area that was worth the visit.

Chris at one of the lookout along the Breakaways.

Chris at one of the lookout along the Breakaways.

This area was once covered by an inland sea. Fossils of the original sea creatures can be found very easily throughout the area. We drove down on to what was once the ocean floor past rock formations called the “Two dogs” or “Salt and Pepper” that were once submerged.

"Salt and Pepper" or  "Two Dogs"

“Salt and Pepper” or “Two Dogs”

What about this one “The Camel”. A camel lying down, it’s head on the right moving along his neck then to its hump on the left.

Can you see the camel?

Can you see the camel?

We then drove along the Dingo Fence or Dog Fence. It was built in 1880 and finished in 1885. It started out as a rabbit proof fence but it proved unsuccessful so it was converted into a dog fence. It is the world’s longest fence stretching 5614 km.

The purple line is the fence.

The purple line is the fence.

The fence stands 180 centimetres in height, is a further 30 centimetres buried underground and is completely made out of wire mesh. It spans two states. With the camel explosion in this area (Jimmy said from the original 9000 brought in from overseas there are over 1,000,000 today and we are exporting them back)  they are having problems with camels smashing down parts of the fence in search of water or maybe from amorous males when they are in heat. The worst affected spot is the 100km stretch near Coober Pedy. Even Vicki had to lock up the brakes recently when she was confronted with 30 camels standing on the Highway. They would definatley have caused much damage to the truck.

The "Dog Fence"

The “Dog Fence”

The desert-like moonscape along the fence has been nicknamed the “moon plain”. Usually this has no growth on it but due to the rains last year weeds are growing here. This area has been used in many films like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Ground Zero. The rocks scattered around here have iron in them and when hit together make a very metallic sound.

The shining is from Gypsum on the "Moon Plains"

The shining is from Gypsum on the “Moon Plains”

We came back into Coober Pedy along the Oddnadatta track.

The road between Coober Pedy and Oodnadatta 195km long.

The road between Coober Pedy and Oodnadatta 195km long.

Chris and I were so fascinated by the breakaways that as soon as we had arrived home we got back in our car and drove out there ourselves. Stopping on the plains to experience this “space” on our own is something you need to do. When the wind stops there is no other sound except your own breathing. I have never before experienced that. There was no leaves rustling, no crows, no cars, just dead silence. It is something I will take away with me forever.

The silence is unlike anything we had experience before.

The silence is unlike anything we had experience before.

Jimmy had told us the sunsets are wonderful and he often takes tours out there for that. As the day goes by, the passing of the sun changes the desert colours, creating photogenic scenes that appear surreal, he wasn’t wrong.

Everyone enjoyed the show.

Everyone enjoyed the show.

Up at the lookout we were joined by 2 other couples, luckily they too wanted to experience this and everyone was quiet and enjoyed the time. One of the couples had parked their van for the night. They not only got to see the sunset, but also enjoyed the full moon, the stars and the rising sun.

Breathtaking views.

Breathtaking views.

The colours were always changing as the sun set.

The colours were always changing as the sun set.

 

Sunset on one side.

Sunset on one side.

Moon rising on the other side.

Moon rising on the other side.

We stayed for the full show, with the sun setting on one side and then the moon rising on the other. The whole Coober Pedy experience certainly hadn’t disappointed. I will never forget this place or the feelings I have for the area. It was a trip of a lifetime. ——————————————- FROM CHRIS I was completely captivated by what lay before us. For five hundred kilometres in each direction, this ancient sea bed stretched before us. What did these mountains look like back then? Was there lush vegetation and prolific animal life? To stand at the edge of these jagged cliffs and stare into the timeless beauty of the stark desert was to indulge in a dreamtime, a dreamtime were the imagination mixes with the sketchy facts and suppositions of today’s geologists. No matter whom you are or what your scientific background this vast landscape leaves you with few facts and lots of theory. The silence assists you to lose yourself in your ponderings. You’ve also become part of the timelessness of it all. A rock picked up and thrown to the valley floor far below, untouched by human hand or foot, will lay there for how many centuries before ever being disturbed. A rare site of another living organism catches the eye; it’s an eagle soaring on the hot wind currents barely needing to flap a wing. The colours are spectacular, earth colours of reds, whites, pinks and blacks all melding together in a landscape no painting or photograph could come close to capturing. The only way to harness such awesome beauty is in the eye of the mind. An inner yearning wells up from deep inside somewhere, a yearning to stay here forever and become part of what stretches before you. What is it that causes this? Maybe it’s just an unwillingness to depart from something so spectacular, so awesome and overpowering. Maybe it’s knowing that many secrets still lay down there; in the fossils just a scratch under the surface, in the minerals that make up the colours in the rocks and in the nooks and crannies of ancient caves that have beckoned exploration for thousands of years. Maybe it’s the opal! How much more of this residue, made from the seepage of uncountable tons water of from long ago, is just under the surface? Whatever the reason, there’s a magnetic drawing to this place that is as undisturbed now as it was when the final drop of water dissapeared eons ago.

Coober Pedy: A huge tick off the bucket list.

After spending the day with Vicki and Rick and discussing the disadvantages of travelling to Darwin at this time of year they had suggested to leave the van at their place and travel just by car.

We went over all the possibilities; driving all the way to Darwin, a total distance of over 6000km return, or just driving as far as Ayres Rock and Coober Pedy. The trouble is it would be too hot to walk around Ayres Rock and so what would we gain? Both Chris and I had seen Alice Springs (although a long time ago) but it wasn’t high on our list at present.

Coober Pedy on the other hand, has been on my “Bucket List” for over 30 years, and for the last 10 years Chris has wanted to take me. We also wanted to stay underground so why not just take a run up there without the van?

Monday 6th was house keeping day. We put the Nissan in for a service. We wanted to have the fuel lines cleaned as well as the radiator flushed. With all the different fuel we use and the hill climbing, puffs of smoke were starting to come from the exhaust when we underwent a steep climb.

The Nissan had also developed a rattle due to the boot liner banging against the sides and this was sending Chris around the twist. For the last few days, every time we stopped, Chris would rearrange things in the back of the ute to try to stop the rattle without success. Nothing worked. You can guess what he was like …

He had found some felt matting beside a dumpster (It was beside and not in the dumpster) so he placed that between the tray and the sides. It seems to have worked thank goodness.

I have also been having problems with my laptop.

A green line had appeared on the screen and the power cable didnt work properly. It would be out of warranty in April so I took it to a dealer in Adelaide. This is also another reason why the blog got behind with no laptop for a week.

Tuesday 7th  we were packed and drove our little home to Vicki and Rick’s front yard. I must admit it felt strange to leave “the girl” there. It was 847km to Coober Pedy, just over 9hrs driving.

We were off, pulling firstly into Port Germein to have a quick look at the Jetty.

Port Germein Jetty over 1.5km long

Port Germein Jetty over 1.5km long

It was one of the longest in the Southern Hemisphere. The jetty was opened in 1881 and extended by 122 metres to a length of 1680 metres in 1883, but after storm damage it’s now 1532 metres long. It was used for loading grain onto sailing ships to be transported from the farms in this area all over the world.

We took a left turn at Port Augusta then just drove north.

We passed the occasional service station in the middle of “no where” otherwise there were no other towns on the Stuart Hwy. There are signs to homesteads, some many miles in from the road, (even Coober Pedy is 1km off the road). There are rest areas along the way, usually with no toilets or water they’re little more than a picnic table and a rubbish bin in the middle of nowhere.

There are also emergency phones with distances of 80km or more between each one. This country is so vast and here we really seemed to feel it.

We weren’t concerned at any time as there were trucks and cars passing constantly.

We had our UHF, water and food and most of the time our phone worked with the Telstra antenna.

This highway was only completed in 1987 and was just a track before then. Now it is the major highway between Darwin and Port Augusta and is in great condition. Every truck that uses this road does so to the maximum carry limit. Most of them have 3 trailers. There is a train track that goes the same route but currently stops at Katherine. When we asked Vicki which was the most cost efficient way to move freight she said it was by truck. It seems the railway was built for 20 billion dollars but is so uneven it damages the cargo in the containers and the government pays the damage costs not the insurance companies.They also don’t check refrigerated containers to ensure they are working so the food can spoil that way as well.

The government sold the line to the Americans for 20 million dollars (If a normal business did that they would be bankrupt) but the government apparently still pay for damages. At the moment due to  a bridge damage from flooding the line is cut between Katherine and Darwin, so trucks are still needed to transport freight from Katherine to Darwin. Vicki and Rick carry refrigerated containers for Woolworths because Woolies then are certain of at least three containers reaching them every week.

On this road it was very easy to pass the trucks. We had stopped at one of the rest areas.

On this road it was very easy to pass the trucks. We had stopped at one of the rest areas.

The road seems so flat, you can see vehicle coming for miles.

No problems on seeing what is coming on this road.

No problems on seeing what is coming on this road.

We put the cruise control on and watched as the kilometres just clicked over.  We came to a lookout on a hill from where we could view the salt pans and the occasional lake that held water. Lake Gairdne,r one of the bigger inland dry salt pans of the state has on several occasions been the site of attempts to break the World Land Speed Record.

Salt Lakes would appear, it was such a contrast from the dry ground.

Salt Lakes would appear, it was such a contrast from the dry ground.

Lakes used as raceways.

Lakes used as raceways.

Eventually we saw the “Dumps” or mouns of dirt dug out of the shafts of thousands of opal mines. They cover the ground for miles around Coober Pedy.

There are holes 1m wide x 30m deep beside these "Dumps" Don't walk backwards.

There are holes 1m wide x 30m deep beside these “Dumps” Don’t walk backwards.

Then we saw the sign for the turn off to Coober Pedy. This was it. This is what I had wanted to see for 30 years. I had read so much about this place I felt like I knew it, but would it live up to my expectations?

Entry to Coober Pedy.

Entry to Coober Pedy.

 

Main St of Coober Pedy

Main St of Coober Pedy

We found our accommodation easily enough “The Radeka Down Under”. The accommodation offered was from full ensuite rooms, Underground Budget Rooms or Underground Dorm Beds.

Our bedroom.

Our bedroom.

 

The hallway leading to our room.

The hallway leading to our room.

 

Backpackers accomodation was pushing it a bit for us. We wanted at least a door.

Backpackers accomodation was pushing it a bit for us. We wanted at least a door.

We weren’t after a  flash abode, just somewhere to be able to sleep underground.

It is true about the temp underground as we found out walking down the stairs. The walls are a combined pink and cream rock, the sort that contains opal.

We took a walk around the town and then cooked dinner in the community kitchen. We then went underground to fulfil my life time wish of sleeping underground.

A new direction

After the trip to Coober Pedy it struck us that we no longer had anywhere to go! By the way Kerrie is doing the Coober Pedy blogs and we’ll post them shortly.

Strange statement when you think of the vastness of this country and when you’ve realised, as we have, that 2 or 3 lifetimes are not enough to see it all.

But you see Coober Pedy was the last “Bucket List” place, the final destination on the list of must do’s.

From now on we’re not actually “Going” anywhere special; we’ll be truly Wandering Australia.

Now more than ever our home is the Aussie Wide and our back yard is 7,686,850 Sq Km in size.

Our plans to go up the centre to Darwin and round the “Top End” just didn’t seem to fit somehow. Neither did our next plan of spending some time travelling the Ayer Peninsular, then crossing the Nullarbor into Western Australia.

These are places we’ll no doubt visit in time and, of course, new desires to see places and things will return, but right now moving on any further seems somehow wrong. Also we want to visit Brisbane when Ashley and Felicia’s baby is born next month and it seems the further west or north we go the more difficult that will be.

We have the financial aspect to take into account as well. We definitely don’t want to just travel for the sake of it and live off our savings alone.

The conversion of our computer programs into web based “Software as a Service” applications are coming along ok but slowly. The next program is the Church Campus Management System for a church in Tucson Arizona but that won’t generate income for a while yet as there’s a lot of work still to be done on it.

We headed to a free camp area called Port Parham, about an hour north of Adelaide, where we would sit and wait for a while.

Port Parham was a reasonable enough spot beside the sea, similar in landscape to Moreton Bay or Hervey Bay but with very few permanent inhabitants.

There were only a couple of spots available and a lady was packing up to pull out so we waited next to her for her departure.

Then would you believe a long, lanky streak of a bloke that looked for all the world like a large walking condom drove up beside the vacating lady and parked in the spot where we were waiting to park. He had his own van parked opposite.

Kerrie spoke to Mr Condom who informed her that he was “reserving” this spot for 3 other vans that were arriving some time soon.

Remember this is a free camping area – first in first served.

Now, there were two ways to handle this; cause a massive disturbance or walk away. I felt my anger starting to rise and if this incident was but a few years ago there would be no question about the outcome. I would’ve calmly unhooked the Aussie Wide, thrown the snap rope around The Condom’s vehicle and hauled it into the sea. Condom Gigantis himself would have been on the receiving end of a tirade of abuse that he would have no doubt never previously encountered.

A mellower attitude to unpleasantness has thankfully pervaded my soul of later years and with Kerries forceful threatenings to “hand it over and let it go” we just decided this whole place was not right for us.

It had the feel of a group of holiday makers gathering. We’ve encountered this phenomenon before. They tend to travel in groups of 3 or more and invariably the group has dominating individuals who are authorities on everything. They long for you to hear what they’ve done and what they know. They talk loudly, interupt constantly and never, ever listen. Everything you do or have done these people have done it better. They desperately want you to know that they know!

Our latest encounter with one of these groups was at Premer where, after we were invited over for a drink, 2 of the males in the group proceeded to overpower all conversation with their loudly delivered expertise on everything. No one could talk as no one was listening. As they downed more grog they became louder and all conversation became futile. We left quickly but the noise kept getting louder late into the night and the voices of the dominating males became unbearable.

This place just felt like a repeat of this so we simply started the Nissan and drove away.

It took me an hour to completely find my peace again and find the foregiveness I’ve come to realise is critical and essential to one’s tranquility.

We soon pulled up at the lovely, peaceful and friendly little town of Mallala.

The sports oval is a free camp area with toilets and water available and it looks over the lushest, greenest oval that would’ve done the MCG proud. It’s surrounded by exquisitely managed grain farms that come right up to the town boundary and the nights are so quiet with the surrounding grain farms bathed in the light of multiplied billions of stars.

It is here that we decided to put the next phase into God’s hands and its here we decided we would stay put for as long as it took until we felt God’s leading into the next direction of our lives.

We didn’t have long to wait!

Drections

“Where are the Blogs?”

We had a sms from Barry last night with to the point question “Where are the blogs” He gets “one or two days but a week?” Well bear with us, it has been one hell of a week. Over the next couple of days we will try to catch up with all the news. The blogs might get placed in different order as both Chris and I fill in the missing days.

So sorry for the slackness but we have a lot to write about.

 

Peaches ain’t Peaches

On our day touring around the beautiful Barossa Valley we stopped at Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with who Maggie Beer is she was the “Cook” in the long running ABC television series The Cook and the Chef. The “Chef” was Simon Bryant, Head Chef at the Sydney Hilton.

I loved the Cook and the Chef series. It was one of those quality programs that sparked the imagination and made you want to run immediately to the kitchen to try the recipes. I loved Maggie’s way with food and her passion for the freshest of local seasonal ingredients.

Her journey to the Farm Shop in the Barossa Valley is as inspiring as it is interesting. This excerpt is taken from the Cook and the Chef website…

Maggie & husband Colin Beer moved to South Australia’s Barossa Valley in 1973 and began farming pheasants on their new property near Nuriootpa. Colin was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to study game bird breeding in Europe and America and following their return to the Barossa Valley they opened a farm shop to sell the game birds they were breeding. This humble shop soon grew into the famed Pheasant Farm Restaurant. The establishment of the Pheasant Farm and restaurant marked the start of a career that now spans farming, export, food production, and food writing. After 15 busy years they decided to close the restaurant in 1993 and focus on production of their expanding range of gourmet foods, starting with the signature Pheasant Farm pate, a favourite with restaurant regulars, and in growing demand from gourmet food outlets around the country. In 1997 the then premier of South Australia, John Olson, opened Maggie’s next major venture, an export kitchen in Tanunda. A state-of-the-art facility, the kitchen was purpose-built for the production of preservative-free gourmet foods for the national and international market. The range of products soon expanded, and now numbers over twenty, including meat and vegetarian pates, olive oil, verjuice, preserves, condiments and desserts. They now export to Japan, UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the US. The pheasant farm was never far from Maggie and Colin’s hearts however, and in 1999 they returned to both the site and the original concept of the farm shop, re-opening the premises as Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop.

Now, we had a wonderful time at the Farm Shop sampling Maggies range of wonderful products and enjoying a lunch and what was one of the best coffees we’ve ever tasted, but that’s not the purpose of this post.

As we were about to leave the shop we spied a number of white boxes that each held about 7 lovely looking peaches. We were told that Maggie and Colin had recently purchased a 20 acre orchid in the region and we thought that it was unlikely that this dynamic couple would have done this just to grow some fruit. We’ll watch with interest to see the ideas that induced them to buy evolve as time goes on. We thought that, with Maggie’s famous passion for the freshest and best local produce, these must be no ordinary peaches.

Peaches definately aint peaches!

Peaches definately aint peaches!

We didn’t try one till we made it back to the Aussie Wide later that evening but the moment we did we were spoilt for eating any other peaches.

Now, I’ve yearned often for a peach that tastes like the ones we grew ourselves in New Zealand 50 years ago but the only samplings most of us are offered today are from the Supermarket chains and they always manage to present a product that is dry, and tasteless. Being one who learns slowly I always get conned into trying their produce, mainly because of their great presentation but they always disappoint.

Is it the growth hormones used in mass production? Is it the CO2 used to gas the produce enabling it to stay “fresh” for many months? Maybe it’s a combination of all of these but it is a fact that fruit and vegies just do not taste as good anymore as when we were young. I want to taste real eggs again, yellow and full of flavour.

I long for the exquisite taste of the tomatoes we grew at the Sunshine Coast and the Apples and Oranges from home grown trees.

The first taste of one of these Maggie Beer peaches bought back my faith in home grown produce.

It was good to know it wasn’t just deterioration in my taste buds preventing me from experiencing the “real” taste of food. As I bit into that peach it exploded in a taste sensation bringing back memories of real food from the past.

It was sweet but not sickly, juicy but not messy. It was firm yet perfectly ripe and the taste was purely orgasmic.

The colour of the flesh resembled a spectacular sunset that turned to a rich ruby red surrounding the seed in the centre.

I had honestly not tasted a peach so exquisite, so utterly delicious for as long as I can remember.

All I could do was call to Kerrie to try one and then close my eyes and allow the overwhelming taste sensation to totally overtake any sound or movement that was currently taking place around me.

The whole of life seemed to stop, suspended for a while to allow the perfection of that taste to be fully absorbed and enjoyed.

I found myself smiling inwardly as the taste stayed in my body for hours, even now, days later I can still experience replays of the sensation. This is how our food is supposed to taste.

How completely we’ve been duped by the misleading marketing today that touts supermarket chains as “Fresh Food People” and successfully convince us that they only buy the best with only us, the customer, at heart.

It’s all Poopycock!

Maggie Beer’s peaches gave me a truly wonderful experience in taste that I’ll forever long to repeat.