Australia

We live in WA now…

So we are here…in Perth…it has been a monster journey and we have seen and done so very much along the way.  Before we get into the world of Perth we will have a little summary of what it is we have done in the preceding 18 months…

We both left well paying jobs in Canberra to share our adventure together.

Overseas – We ran away offshore and spent 433 days backpacking through Asia. Hit 13 different countries, slept in 121 different cities and visited many more. We saw sights, climbed mountains, and sampled the local foods, beverages and culture at every step of the way.

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Australia – We bought a new car, drove almost the full height north to south and did drive the full width east to west. We saw family and friends and even tried living in a tiny remote town. All up we drove over 14,000 kms in a 8-9 week window and that included a 3-5 week block of time in the middle where we went nowhere.

normanton to perth

We got back to Australia with nothing but each other and debts… within a reasonably short period of time…we both found well paying jobs again, have cleared our debts and have racked up a wide variety of experiences along the way. I guess the moral of this story, for us at least, is that it is very possible to run away, give up all semblance of our former lives and careers and leave everything behind. Then once you have sampled sections of the globe you can come back, settle in a new place, both start new careers, in different industries, earning collectively as much if not more than you were before…and not miss a beat.

And now life continues…

We left the last post with us having driven into Perth and with me job and house hunting. Jill’s new job was working for an aged care company and as we rolled into town they gave us bridging accommodation within one of their facilities while we found a place to live. In short…we were living in a retirement village.

To be fair I had no concept, knowledge or experience of what a retirement village was like and my knowledge was limited to TV shows that depicted depressing, institutionalised looking places that looked like hell on earth. Jill had long been interested in this area as the boom area of the future and over the last decade we had embarked upon numerous conversations about the future of aged care.

These conversations led to the facts that with the retirement of the baby boomers and the first real generation of self funded retirees coming through that the industry focus has been shifting from the stereotypical versions I had imagined to an almost hospitality model where the client is used to levels of service and value for money.

Clubhouse 2And this is what we found… We stayed in a manager’s unit that was centrally located within a retirement village above “the clubhouse”. They are not called retirement villages but rather they are independent living units but for my purposes retirement village works just fine. In reality it was a suburb of about 160 townhouses surrounding a centralised community area. Each townhouse was freestanding, fully independent and spectacularly maintained and the communal area had the clubhouse that contained a gym, library, pool, bowling green, putt putt course, pool table, art and craft rooms, an industrial kitchen and heaps of dining and recreation space.

Being independent units, the cooking was generally conducted in your own home but each Saturday they would hold an optional communal event for those that wished to attend. This was organised by the residents and rotated each week. There were raffles, drinks and pleasant company and for about $5 they organised various food option nights…things like fish and chips, chicken, pizza etc. On the odd night about once a month they held a special night when some of the ‘menfolk’ took over the kitchen and prepared a monster feast.

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Every afternoon at 3pm (just after the scratch lawn bowls game) the bar would open in the clubhouse and beer, wine and soft drink was available for the ridiculous prices of $1 for a wine and $2 for a beer can or bottle. Needless to say that after job and house hunting through the day, this became a regular home for me while Jill was still at work. And of course my beer sampling continued…including some uniquely  local brews.

While we were on average 15- 20 years younger than everyone else we found some great friends here and were inspired by what life in such a village was actually like. While having a beer one evening I casually inquired about golf. By noon the next day somebody had sourced a set of loaner clubs for me and a group of us headed out to the local course for 18 holes.

People there basically kept doing the things that they had done and enjoyed before moving in. But now they shared the activity for those that may be interested. We met a lady that was a fitness instructor before she retired and she became the host of water aerobic sessions each morning for those that wanted it. There was workshops and now men’s sheds for the wood and metal workers, sewing  and knitting rooms. It was all organised by the people there and they were all ‘opt in’.

In short it was great and led to the why wouldn’t you get into one of these joints as soon as you turn 55 (the eligibility for entry) conversations.

perth aerialAnyway…I found us a place to live a job for me. Our home is walking distance to everything the CBD has to offer and has a restaurant strip walking distance in the other direction. We are about 250 meters from the Swan River as the crow flies and half way across the the river is Heirisson Island (a landscaped nature reserve) that contains a mob of Western Grey Kangaroos. This is a favourite for tourists as it is a leisurely 2km circuit walk around the island and you are almost guaranteed to see the roos.

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Perth waterfront is lined with parkland and green space which means at most angles looking either in or out from the city the views are stunning.  On the city side is Langley Park, a 900m x 100m rectangular open park that was used as an airstrip in the 1920’s and is now used to host any number of riverside events. On the south Perth side is Sir James Mitchell Park which was named after the 13th Premier of WA and the park is similarly used. There are running and cycling tracks along the length of both sides and huge open areas that are full each weekend.

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On the western end of the city atop mount Eliza is Kings Park. This is a 1000 acre park on the fringe of the city that is made up of grassed parkland, botanical gardens and 2/3 of the grounds are conserved native bushland. From here you can see some of the best views of Perth and for a short period I got the opportunity to work closely with the CEO of the park and set up my makeshift office out of the boardroom of the park…with magnificent views overlooking the city and the distractions of random backpackers stripping down to bikinis to soak up the WA sunshine…right outside my window.

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So we settled in…started bashing our debts over the head and in less than a year we were back in the black and saving for our next adventure…We will keep blogging as we go… we have fallen in love with the beauty and variety that the West of our country has to offer…and rightfully so.

 

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Nullarbor to Perth

Well we left off the last post with us on the Nullarbor Plain doing the drive from east to west. We had just left South Australia and had entered what we found out was an entirely new time zone (The Central Western Time Zone) that we had never known existed. This differential messed with my mind more than anything before…I just could not work out what was going on. Having left the east coast during the end of summer daylight savings time applied in some states and had finished in others but none of this was the issue.

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Nullarbor Plain

The move to SA was a known 30 minutes difference and Perth was a known 2-3 hr time difference depending on the daylight savings component. We knew we were to be driving around 800kms, how long that would take and what time it would be in both SA where we had left and Perth where we were headed…we knew all times but in the middle there is this random 45 minute time zone… and none of the maths computed in my head.  Ignoring the time zone issues we kept heading west and eventually we found ourselves in a zone that allowed my tiny mind to operate again.

As you drive across the Nullarbor there are any number of random roads or dirt tracks that spill off to the left. These take you to the ocean and the Great Australian Bight which primarily is a really long cliff face around 60 meters tall ….randomly dotted along the road are surfing beaches and viewing platforms. These side roads are a good distraction to what can be a long drive and some of the scenery along the way is unrivaled.

The other major distraction on an almost 48 hour drive from east to west is The Nullarbor Links. This is an 18-hole par 72 golf course that exists between the WA town of Kalgoorlie and Ceduna in South Australia. This stretches a distance of 1,365 kilometres and the holes are located in the various towns and roadhouses that you hit along the way and equipment can be hired at each.

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The Nullarbor Links golf course

The concept was developed to give travelers a reason to stop and spend more time and money at towns and roadhouses that they may otherwise just blast past at 110kph. Some of the holes are at actual golf courses at either end while others have been designed to show off the local landscapes and wildlife. Some of these also provide degrees of difficulty for the golf game. Some of the highlights include:
  •  Hole 4 – Nundroo (the wombat hole) has the biggest population of the Southern hairy-nosed wombat in Australia.
  • Hole 5 – Nullarbor Roadhouse (Dingo’s Den) reinforced with dingo traps and scrap iron.
  • Hole 8 – Mundrabilla one of the world’s largest meteorite sites
  • Hole 10 – Cocklebiddy Motel a series of interesting cave systems

When you hit the border of SA and WA you come across a compulsory agricultural checkpoint and a little joint called border village. Just south of Border village is the Bunda Cliffs which at the right time of year (between May and October) provides views of the Southern Right Whales and in between times gives views of 90 metre tall perpendicular limestone cliffs alongside the Southern Ocean.

Having crossed into WA we then passed through a range of towns such as Mundrabila, Madura, Cocklebiddy, Caiguna, Balladonia, Fraser Range and Norseman. At Norseman you get to make a choice…head north to Kalgoorlie-Boulder or head south to Esperance. Having seen enough desert and barren landscapes we chose to head south and do the scenic coastal route into Perth.

This is a straight steal from the WA tourist website but it is about as accurate as it gets for the area around Esperance.

  • A beach and nature-lover’s dream, Esperance is blessed with squeaky-clean beaches, turquoise waters, untouched islands and colour-filled wildflower country. Among its most famous beauty spots is Australia’s whitest beach, Lucky Bay – set against a stunning seascape of 110 islands of the Recherche Archipelago, even the kangaroos can’t resist lounging here.
Esperance Jetty

Esperance Jetty Sunset

In 1979, the space station skylab fell to earth with pieces of it landing across WA and in the vicinity of Esperance. In typical Australian style the mayor of Esperance issued a $400 fine to NASA for littering. Leaving Esperance we headed along the coastline taking a series of relatively similar photographs as we came across bay after bay of white sand, crystal clear water  and stunning scenery.

From here we headed to Albany stopping along the way at the the Valley of the Giants Treetop Walk. This is a 600m walkway 40m in the air meandering through the canopy of some of the largest tress around. The Karri trees and forests of the southwest of WA are truly amazing.Huge trees with massive circumferences and even though you may be 40m up… the trees soar above you for almost as much again. To be honest even the drive to get to these giants is wonderful but getting out and wandering along gives an entirely different perspective. From here we were an overnight stay and a short drive from the place that would be our home for the next few weeks.

So we had a sleep and did the last 400kms into Perth. This leg involved :

  • Madura to Esperance – 730kms
  • Esperance to Albany – 480kms and
  • Albany to Perth 417kms

SA to perth

So pulling into Perth we headed straight for the accommodation that Jill’s work had lined up for us during our transition. It was in the Southern suburbs 50km south of Perth. It hasn’t been mentioned yet but Jill’s new job was a high ranking position with an aged care company here in WA. So of course the accommodation provided was a manager’s unit at one of the facilities.

So for the next 3-4 weeks we became residents of an old folks home.

As Jill does she flew straight into work and I was tasked with the jobs of finding us a place to live and finding myself a job. So it started…we scoured the real estate websites and went to open homes…basically hunting for some semblance of area familiarity. We had a brunch with my cousin who has lived here her whole life. Met her husband and child and got some tips as to good areas to look.

Subiaco was the first port of call, close to town and full of cafes and restaurants…one attempt at finding a carpark and a wander down the street surrounded by wannabe hipsters and I decided that Subiaco would not be for us. If I continually saw  perfectly gelled hair, bowties, button up cardigans with skinny jeans, Ned Kelly beards and twirly moustaches…then I would likely as not punch one of them…martijn

The next port of call was Scarborough Beach…neither of us had lived by the beach and we thought it might be worth a try. So while Jill worked I bounced around the laziest and least interested real estate agents on the planet. Bearing in mind that we were 50km south in the suburbs…each day was quite the trek. As the mining boom had flooded the WA economy…prices were through the roof and demand had been so high that people were knocking each other over to pay over the asking price. As such the real estate agents got complacent and when the mining money dried up prices plummeted and the attitudes needed adjusting.

Perth Map1

We found a great place about 200 meters from the beach and put in our application…and waited…and waited…no word…so I rang and asked…no response…so we kept looking…we checked out other suburbs and got a sense of where would be good to live. We found a nice place, walking distance to town and signed up straight away…renting straight from the owners (more about this next post).

Three days later we got a phone call congratulating us that we had got the first place by the beach. This was almost 3 full weeks after we first saw the property. We declined and made comment about the lack of service provided. A month later on and this place was still on the market and the asking price for rent had dropped by about $25 a week. I wonder if the owner knows that if it had not been for the ineptitude and laziness of his estate agents that they would have had 12 months of guaranteed rent.

 

 

 

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Far North Queensland to South Australia

Well we left the last post with us living in Normanton having sprayed the job markets with applications… with a job for me back in Canberra in limbo. Normanton is a great town to visit and this part of the country is truly stunning. The wildlife was mentioned in the last post and the sunsets and summer storms are amazing things to experience. This ‘great place to visit’ concept didn’t really translate to ‘great place to live’ though. The gossiping nature of the town added to the lack of food options and work opportunities for me was becoming problematic and there really was not too much to do unless you became a recreational fisherman who battles the crocodiles in your own boat to fight for the Barramundi. This is great for a little while…but…

Kurumba sunset

At one point Jill had to travel to Perth to (in the Australian vernacular) ‘see a man about a dog’. So she asked if I could drop her off and pick her up from the airport. As the airport was about 2 kilometers from our house I saw no issue with this and on the Thursday I dropped her off with the collection to be on Saturday at 5pm. As she was getting out of the car she mentioned that collection was …in Cairns…For those that do not know Cairns is about 700km and 8 hours driving east of Normanton.

IMG_4643  Normanton Sunset  Normanton Toilets

So Jill had booked me accommodation in Cairns on Friday night and kept the room for us on the Saturday. I was to drive 8 hrs on Friday…put the car in to get cruise control fitted…pick the car up the next morning and pick Jill up at 5pm that afternoon before having a meal and a sleep then driving the 8 hrs back to Normanton. The upside to this driving was that I got to do the first section of the Savannah Way. This has been described as the ultimate road trip in in Australia. It starts in Cairns in Queensland and can be followed 3700 km all the way to Broome in Western Australia.  And the first section at least…is stunning.

As you drive around Australia you are met with a range of road signs. Most of these are benign, some are crucial to obey, others are amusing and the ones we saw between Gympie and Maryborough were just clever. In an attempt to combat driver fatigue the Qld Government had instigated roadside trivia to keep people alert. You come across a sign asking a question and about 5-10 kms later the sign with the answer appears. It is a great initiative that both gets the mind going and also makes you watch out while you seek the answer. Along the same theme…the drive into Cairns along the Savannah Way saw us pass a fatigue sign that unfortunately I did not photograph. But it read…

Tired – Take a break

Dopey – Just keep smiling

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While I had driven both legs of the Cairns run…Jill had flown back and forward to Perth and sat through an 8 hour drive…a pretty big few days by most peoples standards.  On the Monday morning I dropped Jill at work where she handed in her resignation notice which thankfully was able to be expedited. She rang me at 9:30am on the Monday saying that today was her last day and that we could go…I was to pack the house and we would be moving. On top of fully packing and cleaning the house, I got another call telling me that I had to mow the lawn at the loaner house so that there was nothing outstanding for her workmates to deal with upon our departure. So by the time I picked her up at 5pm the house was cleaned, lawn mowed, chuck the truck packed with every item we had brought or purchased and we were primed to leave first thing the next morning.

We were up and about and ready to leave by 6am…but the service station in town did not open until 9 am. The nearest town heading south is Cloncurry and it was 400km away and we had 1/4 of a tank of fuel and a fully laden truck…Half way between Normanton and Cloncurry is the Bourke and Wills Roadhouse. This is one of the most remote petrol stations in Australia. It was early, it was cool and we didn’t feel like treading water for the next 3 hrs. So we turned off the air conditioning on the truck and set off hoping that we could make it the 200kms to the roadhouse.

  

On a side note…as you drive around Australia you tend to find a large range of Australia’s fauna (generally on the side of the road as roadkill) and depending on where you are will depend upon the squished animals that you see. The experienced nomad could probably identify their location by the number type and frequency of the roadkill.

In the central stretch between Longreach to Cloncurry and a little further north you come across a large number of termite mounds. Long desolate drives and the Australian sense of humour has led to the practice of dressing up termite mounds. As you head north you will find any number of these mounds that have been dressed up with random items of clothing. There are hundreds of them…Bored drivers stop, raid their wardrobe and clothe lumps of dirt… and some of them are very funny. I believe a similar phenomenon takes place in the Northern Territory.

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Anyway…we made the roadhouse, refueled and kept driving. As we had stopped in Cloncurry on the way up we blasted past (pausing at the bakery for breakfast) and stopped in Winton where we visited the Walzing Matilda Centre (this burnt down about 3-4 months later) and then kept going until 910kms away from Normanton in we stopped in Longreach. After being robbed blind in Longreach with both accommodation and a meal at the local RSL (gone are the days of cheap meals at the RSL) we crashed and the next day I got to visit the bits I wanted to see on the way up. We started at the Stockmans Hall of Fame, which fittingly saw a kangaroo jumping in front of our truck as we drove in. From here we hopped over to the QANTAS Founders Outback Museum and once we had seen these we then got back on the road and ripped out almost 700kms back to Rockhampton.

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Outside Longreach is a little town called Ilfracombe that has a nice little display of old machinery. Trucks, tractors, tankers, cranes, firetrucks, graders…pretty much anything that you can think of. It has a population of under 200 people but is a pretty little town and is worth pausing in rather than just blasting past.
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So we arrived in Rockhampton and our preceding week looked like this:Map4

  • Thursday – Jill flies to Perth
  • Friday – Richard drives to Cairns – 700kms
  • Saturday – Jill flies back from Perth
  • Sunday – Both drive back to Normanton – 700 kms
  • Monday – Jill works – Richard packs and cleans the house
  • Tuesday – Both drive Normanton to Longreach – 910 kms
  • Wednesday – Visit sites and then drive to Rockhampton – 700 kms

We got to Rocky and crashed with our mates Boof and Bec and hung with the kids. Given the preceding week we thought we would stop for a couple of days and then keep moving… until I learned that there was a rugby trial game on the Saturday and that Boof was the president of the club. So we hung for a few extra days. Training days, function preparation Hangiand match day followed by a hangi (native NZ Maori pit cooking). For those that do not know the Hangi involves digging a pit in the ground, heating the stones in the pit with a large fire, placing baskets of meat and veg on top of the stones, and covering everything with earth for several hours before uncovering. Boof and I first did this together many years earlier when I stood next to him at their wedding. The reality is that his Kiwi mates have the skills and we were little more than labour…nothing has changed…however even the labour level reduced this time around.

When we finally left Rockhampton on the Sunday we headed south towards Brisbane stopping at the Walkabout Creek Hotel. This is the pub that was used in the movie Crocodile Dundee and is in the town of McKinlay about 120 kilometres southwest of Gladstone. We got to Brisbane that evening having put another 650 kms of driving under our belt. For the second time in a couple of months we said our goodbyes to family and friends and headed off to our next port of call. As it happens Jill had found employment in Perth in one of those spray the world with job applications things. Perth is a major city…so my job options immediately skyrocketed.

Walkabout creek hotel 4  Walkabout creek hotel 1   Walkabout creek hotel 2

So in an all too familiar pattern we headed to Canberra to collect more things that we would need for job hunting from our storage shed. Needless to say I did not grab suits and ties from the storage shed the first time around when I was headed to Normanton. My Canberra job option was crawling along so I kept rolling along with Jill.

As we were heading down the first time we stopped in a little town called Young where we stayed with Jills cousin Andrew and his family. The same night her other cousins Louise and Brett were headed to the Australian Open tennis in Melbourne. So we all descended on Andrew’s farm, surrounded by what seemed like about 7 families worth of kids. Together we had an evening of drinks, BBQ  and generally good company and conversation. As part of this we learned that another of  Jill’s many cousins, Ash, had  recently bought a pub in the town of Harden, not too far out of Canberra.

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As it turns out, Ash and I had played rugby against each other many years earlier as 19 year olds,  we have mutual friends through both school and rugby and when the Queensland Reds would play in Canberra he would come to town and we would head off  together to watch the footy. So stopping in was an obvious thing. What we found was a night of good company and a charming old
country hotel.

CBR to MilduraInto Canberra, a few more days catching up with friends, raiding the storage shed and planning our road trip to Perth. And then we were off. First day we did an 800 km hike to the lovely town of Mildura. I had been here before back when I was about 20 when Boof (from Rockhampton) and my cousin Andrew (the one we met in Beijing) went on a boys road trip. This was a 3 week rampage that had zero cultural elements to it…but some stories that endure to this day. One of these was when we pulled into Mildura and headed into the Working Mans Club. Our night started brilliantly as we learned that at the time it had the longest bar in the world which had 127 taps, and a $12 special on lobster (well river crayfish/fat yabby version…but close enough).

Being 20 and infinitely full of wisdom we decided that we would drink our way around the bar…fairly early on the three of us decided that we might have bitten off more than we could chew. Not willing to give up too early we reassessed and decided that if we each had one from a tap that we as a team could encircle the bar.  Drinking from every third tap still meant we would have to drink over 40 beers each…and we had all raided the first 6 or so taps…needless to say that we battled valiantly…and failed miserably.

CBR-SBBack on the road the next morning and we ripped out another 924 kms to the South Australian town of Streaky Bay. On the West Coast of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, Streaky Bay is a stunning spot with three stunning scenic drives covering this section of the Great Australian Bight: Westall Way Loop, Cape Bauer Loop and the Point Labatt Sea Lion Scenic Drive. So we stayed at the pub for a couple of nights. Overlooking the water and jetty, ate good food, relatively well priced,  wandered the streets, admired the old school stone buildings, did the tourist drives and had what was becoming an all too familiar conversation.

Streaky Bay 1 Streaky Bay 12 Streaky Bay Pier

We had fallen in love with yet another small charming Australian country town. So the conversation generally starts with us staring into a real estate agents window and pining for the comparative value to be had in what we have determined was a charming town. We look in the window and find great places, on great blocks, with great views for way less that you could buy the crappiest of places within a major city. At this point our bottom lips start to pout…for as great as the town is…there needs to be employment opportunities…and alas so few of these charming little places offer such things.

sb-madura

Anyway…Back on the road. We did 782 kms from Streaky Bay to Madura passing through famous towns like Ceduna and Bordertown and driving across the Nullarbor Plain. The Nullarbor Plain is the section of land between Norseman in Western Australia and Ceduna in South Australia. “Crossing the Nullarbor”, is one of those quintessential experiences that every true Australian should do at some point. I had done it as a child with my parents but that doesn’t count.

The first thing that you realise when you do this drive is that everything that you had expected and imagined about the Nullarbor Plain is wrong. I expected to be driving through a dry, desolate and largely spartan wasteland…I expected hours of barren plains…what I found could not be further from the truth. It is a truly amazing drive. Sure there are sections of dry and desolate… most notably the treeless plain. But for the most part it is pretty, there is a roadhouse every 200 kms or so and a heap of tourist drives off to the south that drop you onto the stunning cliffs and inlets of the Great Australian Bight.

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So this little section has seen the following run of driving…

  • Normanton to Cairns – 700kms
  • Cairns to Normanton – 700 kms
  • Normanton to Longreach – 910 kms
  • Longreach to Rockhampton – 700 kms
  • Rockhampton to Brisbane – 650 kms
  • Brisbane to Canberra – 1250 kms
  • Canberra to Mildura – 800 kms
  • Mildura to Streaky Bay -924 kms
  • Streaky Bay to Madura – 782 kms

And we are still not there yet…

 

 

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Back in Australia – Queensland – The first 2 months

This is a post that was not intended, however over dinner one evening Jill and I were reflecting on the year that we had experienced since our return to Australia. The first and most obvious issue was that of getting ourselves re-employed and all our debts paid off. This, as it happened, proved much easier than expected.  Other major issues were the change of mindset between travelling and staying put. Seeing family was great but the itchy feet after 4-8 days is something that took some serious adjustment.  But let’s do this systematically.

We arrived back in Australia in late December 2014 to find that our blog had already told everyone what we had been up to. This translated to a general pleasure that we were home but none of the fussing and storytelling that would normally accompany the return from such a journey. This was highly understandable and simultaneously both a blessing and a touch disappointing.  So we were a short term novelty and then life carried on.

FamilyBut we were in our home town, surrounded by family, just in time for the boy’s birthday and the family Christmas celebrations. We set up camp at my sister’s house and revelled in the Queensland summer with her pool as a get out of jail free card from the humidity.  We ate, we drank, we caught up with family and friends, and generally just got back in the swing of being in Australia.

We had some relatively minor bills (and of course a mortgage) when we landed home and no jobs to service them… Back to the real world I guess.  Having travelled for so long and not having had a home to speak of we were not fixed on any single location. So we did a deal, “First one to get a good job wins”.  So we both applied furiously for any job we could think of or that amused us. Jill of course won this…twice.

The first win was for her to obtain a job as a clinical team leader in the town of Normanton in far north Queensland in the Gulf of Carpentaria. This was an almost a six figure job that had the benefit of having a 4 bedroom house thrown into the package. I had a job offer back at my former employer (and back in Canberra) but my security clearance was going to take a while to get back. Her job was only for 6 months and mine would take a while to come through, so the initial plan was to stay together in the interim and potentially live apart for a little while as things settled themselves…. so off we went.

normantonBeing in the outback and in the Gulf of Carpentaria we figured Normanton would pose some logistical transportation problems so to overcome this we decided to buy ourselves the dreaded and long avoided 4WD vehicle. This is something that neither of us ever wanted and in fact both hated as we were used to seeing pristine versions of 4WDs that had never touched dirt and were solely used for dropping children off at schools and screwing up shopping centre carparks.

Anyway… the search was on…we looked around and googled furiously which allowed us to find out that almost every one of the vehicles on the market have very few if any 4WD credentials. The list of vehicles that could actually be used in an off road capacity was very short. The obvious Toyota versions were excellent; however the price was on average $6000 more than for any other vehicle on the credible list. So after some hunting, and some quite entertaining lessons being learned along the way we settled on a Ford Ranger.

Jill has always had a habit of naming her vehicles and as such the new 4WD needed a name. So we thought of famous Fords and famous rangers…Henry and Lone just weren’t cutting it…the obvious one came up as Walker Texas Ranger…but we felt that the concept of calling a mode of transport “Walker” was a poor omen. BUT…the character was played by the infamous and seemingly indestructible “Chuck Norris”. This was seen as a good omen…so the name took care of itself…Chuck the Truck.

Chuck the Truck   Map 10  Chuck the truck 1

This started what turned out to be a few months of marathon driving efforts. The first little leg was to head to Canberra to collect some clothes as all we had was dirty and grotty backpacker gear. Not really appropriate for job hunting and Jill starting work. So we headed down to raid the storage shed that held our stuff.

  • Brisbane to Narrabri – 570 kms
  • Narrabri to Canberra – 705 kms
  • Canberra to Brisbane – 1250 kms
  • And back – 1250 kms

So a 2500 km round trip just to pick up some stuff. We saw friends, had good meals and generally caught up with people we had been missing over the preceding 16 months. Cruising around the ACT did give us that overwhelming “groundhog day” sensation.

Anyway, back to Brisbane to say goodbye to the families and start the next leg of the journey. A stop in Rockhampton  on the way to see one of my oldest and best mates and his family (including my godson). Jill, being her father’s daughter, turns into a machine when she drives. So leaving Rockhampton we passed through some historic Australian outback towns Emerald, Barcaldine, Longreach (home to the QANTAS Founders Outback Museum and the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame), Winton (the home of the Australian dinosaur fossils including the Australovenator wintonensis known affectionately as Banjo).

Dino

Did I mention that Jill turns into a machine when its time to drive…all of these historic sites were blasted past at over 100km/h and stops were only allowed for fuel. So after 1215 kms of straight driving from Rockhampton saw us begrudgingly stopping at Cloncurry for a feed and a night at the pub. The next morning we were up, fed and on the road for the last 400km to Normanton.

  • Brisbane to Rockhampton – 650 kmsMap 2
  • Rockhampton to Cloncurry – 1215 kms
  • Cloncurry to Normanton – 400 kms

So lets set the Normanton scene…Normanton is a small country town of 1100 people 60% of who are indigenous. Being seasoned travelers, we hit the travel sites to see what to expect from the town of Normanton and found that it was to be an incredibly entertaining place. There was three major attractions

  • a concrete crocodile,
  • a train that runs once a week (in the right season) and
  • an aboriginal art shop

The number one restaurant in town was a take away shop called the “Gobble’N’Go” which along with the 3 pubs, saw the place fed.

croc  barramundi  GobbleNGo

So leaving Cloncurry in the morning we got into town around noon on the Friday and had a few days to get settled before Jill had to start work. We got the keys to our included house and unpacked in 42 degree temperatures before meeting some of Jill’s future workmates at one of the pubs for dinner (this was to become a regular Friday evening thing). A few chats about employment opportunities for me took place but jobs were scarce and my skill set was not exactly highly sought after. house

The next day I met some locals at the PCYC (opposite our house) and was told of a cricket game to take place the next day. So off I went on the Sunday to immerse myself into the town as quickly as I could. Before you could blink, it was 43 degrees on a Sunday morning and I was playing in a game of cricket in a strange town and losing bodily fluids at a pace that was previously thought impossible.

Jill started her job on the Monday and I spent the next few days arranging all of the logistical things that were needed. Little things that nobody who grew up in cities ever thought to consider. Things like a PO Box because the town was too small to have mail delivery, or internet dongles as there was no connections to anywhere in town. The main issue was to change my telco supplier to Telstra as no other carrier provided any service to the area. This meant that my bills went up and my service levels went down…but I did have coverage within the town.

IMG_4682  Krys  IMG_4652

Krys the Croc – Is the highlight of the town and is the replica of an 8.63 metre crocodile that was shot on the banks of the Norman River near the town. It was shot in July 1957 by Krys Pawlowski, a 30 year old Polish immigrant. There is much skepticism as to the legitimacy of the claim. But if it is to be true then this thing is truly a dinosaur.

Our time in Normanton was highly educational both in terms of country life and especially about the sort of characters that reside in such towns. The lack of activity and the seemingly innate need to gossip was something that did not sit well with me but gossip and petty squabbling did seem to be the main activity of the town. We tripped around a bit, headed up to  the Gulf of Carpentaria where the prawn trawlers come in (Karumba), had meals at the famous Sunset Tavern and discovered that in the far north…cows eat cars. We found out of the way little places like the aptly named ‘Pub in the Scrub’ and stood amazed by the sheer variety and diversity of the wildlife.

Cows eat Cars IMG_4668 Sunset Tavern Karumba

The town was full of birds of prey and the sight of wedge tailed eagles, falcons, harriers, hawks and kites was commonplace. But the drive north to Karumba introduced me to the Jabiru which when seen taking off in the wild with an 8 foot wing span is seriously impressive. So too is seeing a wedge tailed eagle launching away from whatever roadkill the trucks have left behind.

Wedge tailed eagle  Jabiru  1

The road kill comment is possibly an interesting time to mention the sheer size of some of the vehicles that we encountered in our journey throughout the outback of Australia. Wiki tells me that Australia has the largest and heaviest road-legal vehicles in the world,with some vehicles towing up to 200 tonnes. This means little to most of us however for the city folk out there seeing a semi-trailer is commonplace, a  BDouble too is fairly common but the double road train is less frequent but still not rare.

2Above this you start to see things like triples, AB-quads (B double with two additional trailers coupled behind) and full quads. These almost only operate on remote highways but do pose some serious overtaking challenges, particularly as the biggest trucks extend beyond the 50 metre mark or 174 feet. While these trucks are seriously long…they are nothing when compared to the trains that operate between Rockhampton and the coalfields. Trains of 100 wagons is commonplace and recently a record was set with one train having 136 wagons with a total length of 2.3 kilometres. Thankfully these run parallel to the roads and do not need to be passed or overtaken.

 

road train  Train  road train1

 

gulflander

 

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