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…
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
So we arrived in Rockhampton and our preceding week looked like this:
- 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 and 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.
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.
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
Into 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.
Back 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.
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.
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.
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…