Australia’s Outback

From Barky to Mt. Isa

Wednesday Sept 18
It’s interesting how quickly we get into a daily routine. We are in a “on the road” routine right now. Waking up at 7 AM when the campground comes to life. We wash and dress in the toilet/shower building, make breakfast of granola, milk and yogurt – or sometimes eggs and toast – with a cup of tea. By 8:30 we are on the road.
Drove about 500 KM each of the last few days. From Emerald to Barcaldine (“Barky”) to Winton (“Witton”) to Mt Isa (“the Isa”).
Each town is an isolated dusty place with wide streets, a few pubs, a school and a handful of other buildings. Many have a pub or hotel in a colonial style with a wide veranda with lacey white trim. We buy groceries here, a bottle of wine there. Today we got diesel (“petrol”) in a one house town. And two coffees to go.
The speed limit is mostly 110 KM. We share the road with other caravans but also with the famed (or infamous…) outback road trains. These trucks pull up to 4 enormous trailers of freight and can be as long as 55 meters! They hog their lane and you better watch out when passing them. Once we had to overtake one and it takes a lot of time to get by one.
We’ve finally seen our first wild kangaroos now, small groups in the shade of a tree. But we also see literally hundreds of dead kangaroos and wallabees along the road.  At times it looks like a slaughter house of road kills. I assume the animals come to the warm asphalt when at night the temperatures drop sharply and then get hit by passing vehicles.

By 10:30ish we both want coffee and either pull into a rest area to make our own, or buy a “tall black” in town.
Around noon we try to find a tall tree in any town that will give us some shade. Not much chance of a shade tree once you’re out of town. So we park in front of a post office or school and make our own sandwiches.
By 3 PM we arrive in the town where we will spend the night and find a campground, again with shade being the main attraction. A pool is next. Since buying a SIM card in our iPad, wireless internet is less urgent and it’s hard to find anyway. And never free.  
Our camper is a large van  with a raised roof. It has two good seats up front. The sliding door opens on the left side. There’s a tiny bathroom with a hand held shower, which we haven’t used yet but is good to have – just in case. Then there’s a counter block with 2 cupboards with pots and pans, a toaster, a kettle etc. and a small fridge on the left side. On the right is the counter with a 3 burner stove top, microwave and a small sink. They both close with a nice glass lid. There are food cupboards and quite a bit of storage throughout.  There’s also a TV and air conditioning. The back of the camper is a horseshoe shaped dinette set, with a bookshelf (!) and more storage both along the walls and under the seats. This folds into a KINGSIZE bed at night. We rented an extra package which gives us 2 plates, 2 cups, 2 glasses, 2 bowls, cutlery, mixing bowls, large utensils, as well as 2 towels, 2 pillows, sheets and a nice kingsize duvet. All this was either brandnew or spotlessly cleaned when we received it. There’s also 2 lawn chairs and an outside table. The camper has a pull out stove outside on which we can even grill steaks. We rented this camper from Britz (http://www.britz.com.au/) and, so far, we are very happy with it. It drives well and is comfortable.

Each campground (here called a caravan park) has pull through stalls and, hopefully some eucalyptus trees for shade. I can’t believe how quiet each one is. Not a sound at night even if it’s full. Most have very clean toilets and sh0wers. And all have a special camp kitchen: a large shelter with counters and a sink for dishes, a cookstove, an electric kettle, often a toaster. And almost always a bbq for grilling outback steaks!
By 9 PM we’ve had our evening coffee and read books for a while, then we undertake the giant task of making the bed, before falling into it and sleeping like a log.
Under the full moon (right now) and the southern cross, the temperatures plummet rapidly.

What I Learned Today: that emus live in the wild in Queensland. I had no idea there would be so many here. We spot them along the road, roaming the sunbaked land.  

Of Birds & Bush Poets

Thurs Sept 19

The number and variety of birds in Australia is mind blowing. Living in the country, we are quite used to having lots of birds around. But multiply and amplify that many times to get what we hear here. None are the same as the European or North American birds with which we are familiar. We see white parakeets with yellow combs, lots of black and white “magpies” types, some black “crow” like birds. Vultures. A cross of dove and pigeon.
Their songs, at the break of dawn around 5 AM, are hilarious. One is exactly like a whistling man who forget the tune, hesitates and tries again.
Another bird sounds exactly like he’s snoring: a loud rattle followed by a whistle.
There are flocks of very excited birds. At the first ray of light they all chant “HERE-we-go! HERE-we-go!”
There are alarm-clock-birds, a Volkswagen-bird (sounds like he can’t get started), a telephone-bird, and of course the kookaburra who laughs at them all.

One night, in a campground, we attended a bush poet evening. I loved it. Two women performed a cross between stand-up comedy and poetry. Bush cowboys are well known for their long entertaining ballads, which relate all aspects of live, funny incidents and everything else.These two performed their own works, poems about grandmothers, about teenage sons, about being a chook farmer (chook = chicken), and more. If you want to hear some, go to:

We stayed 2 nights in Mt Isa at a quiet caravan park with a nice pool. Slept in, had tea in bed, did all our laundry, even mopped the floor of our camper. We visited a small aboriginal center where we chatted with a lovely lady. She told us that aboriginal people have only been recognized in Australia’s Constitution as of THIS MONTH. Unbelievable.
One of the most enjoyable visits was to the School of the Air. In several cities, this special school for Outback children has learning centers where you can get a tour. Many of the students live eight hours of more from the nearest town. Teachers talk with them each day, at a set time, over the phone. The ranches are often so remote that they don’t even have internet access.  The kids don’t see their teacher, just talk with them about their lessons. They even learn music, like playing the violin, via the telephone! The ‘school’ was full of art on the walls and large projects that students had mailed in. Children are schooled during elementary and middle school and sometimes also into highschool but many highschool students go to boarding schools in Queensland. Some boys return to work on the (company or family) ranges. When I asked about further education, I was given an example of a girl from a family of 7 children, who is now doing her PhD in math at Cambridge.

Mango Ice cream and Pythons

Sat Sept 21

Lonely.
Alone.
Isolated.
Desolate.
You know you are way out there when your GPS says “turn left in 539 KM.” You know it is a lonely road when you look forward to the next traffic sign so you have something to read.  We saw nothing but brush, some dry trees, red earth, a few emus- all day.  We are now camped in Tennant Creek, a small oasis town with trees and even a pool at the campground.  One day north of Alice Springs. Still no internet.
Today we left Queensland and entered the Northern Territories. The outside temperature hoovered between 37 and 38.5.  What a great thing airco in the cab is !!!! This morning we fueled up in Mtn Isa and it was $1.64 a liter, by the time we got to the border it had gone up to $2.00 and now here in Tennant Creek it is $2.20 a liter. I wonder if it is going to cost us our first born by the time we get to Uluru the day after tomorrow.

Sun Sept 22
Left the dusty little town at 8 AM after filling up with diesel. We had over 600 KM to drive today. But our first stop was shortly after town to see Karlu Karlu, or ‘the devil’s marbles’. The aboriginal people say that these huge round boulders, precariously balancing, are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. Geologists say they are hard layers of granite that have been eroded and left behind when softer layers washed away. Whatever they are, they are beautiful and impressive. But the heat and the flies were increasing so we continued on our way south along the lonely Stuart Highway. We stopped again at a rare mango orchard where we had delicious mango ice cream and splurged on a bottle of mango wine.  One minute I was savouring the ice cream, the next moment the car started shaking and swirling. Kees managed to pull over to discover a blown tire! The smoking shreds still clung to the rim and we wobbled to safer, flat ground away from the road. This meant into the red dust. Hordes of flies had lain in wait for us and descended in jubilant droves. We had planned on buying fly nets to wear over our heads in Alice Springs…
Breathing flies, I tried to recite the manual while Kees fiddled with the spare wheel, removed it from under the van (by lying down in the bright red sand of course), manoevered the hydraulic pump in place and expertly changed the wheel. I tried to swap flies away from his head with the manual and encouraged him best as I could. Meanwhile, at least six cars, including a police car, zoomed by us without bothering to ask if we needed help. This was hundreds of kilometers away from anywhere. I was surprised that no one stopped to help. Kees in the ditch, and me waving a book must have look confident enough not to offer help. The termite hills looked on as we wobbled away on the spare wheel.
We did make it into Alice Springs where the very first building happened to be the Britz dealer. Not only did they change the wheel and install a new spare, they put on new tires in the rear, made us coffee, and offered all sorts of help. We are much impressed with the company.
After showers at the campground, we went for a nice Aussie roast beef dinner with all the fixings, complete with a country singer and a reptile show. Met a phython up close and personal.

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