Ian & Tina's Half Lap of Honour
We left Willunga on 25 May, having pulled out all the summer vegies and planted a cover crop of peas, and with the rainwater tank having just filled that morning. Trying to feel triumphant but actually feeling anxious about what we might have forgotten. So far nothing critical; just enough for me to agree that yes, lists have their place and if it's not in, it's not in.
Took a fine luncheon of salt & pepper squid with soup and salad at a pokies subsidised eatery at the White Horse at Bolivar.
Hooray for us. North Ho.
Stopped at Snowtown to purchase some chops in a dingy butchery staffed by a trio of glum charlies who glowered and cowered, maybe bracing themselves for another barrel joke, and handed over some dingy chops which looked like they'd absorbed the establishment's ambience of misery and woe.
So a roadside stall near Port Pirie seemed to offer a means of bringing some more cheer to the evening by furnishing some local oysters and prawns. However at camp in Mambray Creek, it turned out that the seafood was still all frozen too much and the chops were tender and flavoursome, so let that be another lesson.
Morning was still trying to rain and the kookooburras were yelling about everything as northward we lit, hoping for sunshine, and sunshine we found north of Port Augusta in the myall.
Somewhat alarmed by the swarms of caravans, motor homes and campers of members of the public who seem to be heading off on their Laps of Honour. They don't seem to realize that now is the time for our personal Lap of Honour. We don't want all the rest stops, campgrounds and parks clogged up with hordes of unwashed Lappers. O force of Desert Sky, help me subdue my inner curmudgeon and learn to generate genuine feelings of brotherhood and charity for my fellow Lappers. Fat chance. Need a force greater than that of Desert Sky, I fear. Maybe this will be my Task and Challenge in the voyage ahead.
Leaving the myall, but not the Lappers who seem completely ubiquitous, we passed Coober Pedy, with no regret. Don't like Coober Pedy. Apart from being the scene of the biggest embarrassment of my building career, opal mining is weird and undignified. Desperado troglodytes scratching around in the dirt for shiny specks of treasure, visiting huge indignities on the landscape. If there was anything reliable in opal mining there'd be commercial opal miners. I guess that although an opal miner shares the same sort of basic plan as a pokies addict, the miner's method is deserving of more admiration in terms of effort expended.
On across the border into NT and the landscape is more interesting. Fairly thick mulga scrub with rocky outcrops. Look like they're guarding ancient secrets. Well they look really old, anyway.
Henbury meteorite crater
After a bush camp in red sand with a mulga fire, we rejoined the procession. We're like a string of procession caterpillars, creeping up the black ribbon. Hope them top enders are building caravan parks like crazy or we won't all fit. The heaving, straining web of parks, service stations and roadside signs will burst. A new wave of boat people, fat retiree caravaners, will spill out into the Timor Sea; rich pickings for raptor oriental pirates.
The Desert Park at Alice Springs is a fine facility. They've built an arid lands botanic park with numerous excellent displays of birds, especially, and reptiles and nocturnal marsupials. There are a number of aviaries, some of which you can walk through amongst all sorts of desert birds. A lot of the same birds are hanging around outside the aviaries, too, attracted by the flora. Zebra and painted finches, spiny cheeked honeyeaters, rufous whistlers, crimson chats, variegated wrens, the last all around the cafe doing the job of sparrows, and so forth. The call of the chiming wedge - bill, a striking and piercing repeated descending trill of four notes, rang out across the whole place. They have a display with birds of prey, where a park person tells stories to an assembled largely international audience about brown falcons, boobook owls, black breasted buzzards, whistling and black kites. The thing is, each of these birds appears on cue out of the open sky to take morsels from the person's hand or catch them from the person's deft throw. The buzzard cracks open an emu egg with a rock, to keen applause. It's all done so well that one can overlook the hectoring tone of the signage around the place telling you what to think about the complexity and magnificence and sacredness of each element of the pristine desert environment. And especially the overarching sacredness of the unutterably brilliant sustainable management strategies of its aboriginal custodians. Except that as you can see I haven't overlooked it, but it didn't make me as grumpy as that sort of thing sometimes does in parks.
When does blessed rain become fucken rain? Given the desiccated state of the south, not for a while yet, but we just had a big rain event day. The rain set in at Alice Springs last night, with attendant cold but thankfully no wind, and we bolted northward as fast as we could flee. Solid and steady rain nearly all day as we drove 600 km north, stopping only for fuel and piddling. Conditions at the Devil's Marbles were reminiscent of those in the snowy mountains just after a blizzard ameliorates to freezing rain. Sheets of water over the road. The rivers hadn't started to run but that seemed eminently possible and we were enthused to escape the possibility if possible. And we did. Now camped with about 17,000 other caravaners in a little park set up, quite nicely, by a cattle station. There is a distinct hint of tropical in the breeze; it's warmer - hooray - and the scrub is greener with termite mounds growing steadily in stature as we proceed. Our neighbors, just a medium fart away to starboard, are on the way home. Darwin just gets too full up after May, they reckon. They are an annual migratory species of the been everywhere, seen everything, know everything variety. I was gracious and grateful in receiving instruction in how the length of safety chains between the two elements of our rig needed adjustment. Or I was trying to be.
Now it's the first day of winter and we've arrived at MATARANKA thermal springs. Stopped dashing and commenced holidaying. Paddled our canoe down the Roper River, by the side of which we are camped, in search of a waterfall. We found minor waterfalls but didn't make it to the big one. Defeated by portages. The river is lined by a mixture of palm trees and eucalypts which seems strange because our previous experience of tropics in recent times has been on Pacific islands. I have an inkling that the tropics in Oz is going to be quite agreeable and Pacific islands won't be necessary any more. Taking my morning cycle past the Mataranka rubbish dump - none of your environmental best practice recycling depots up here - I saw a mango plantation, a yabby farm, birds with green wings and red backs, agile wallabies and a flock of guinea fowl. At camp there are various critters who seem to think that we must have something good in this little caravan and they want to know what it is. Every kind of bug that was ever invented, of course, and yesterday when I opened the door an agile frog leapt in and went straight for the fridge. Had to be forcibly removed. Next time I opened the door a handsome and elegant snake, golden brown with a pale belly and blue - grey head he was, was actually on the doorstep trying to figure out how to open the door. He wanted to know where the frog had gone. He left voluntarily, but grumbling about unfair. Talking about critters, you should have heard the shrieking when a fine hairy stowaway huntsman ventured from his camp in the canoe and fondled Tina's knee. He won't try that again. He won't try much at all again, probably, from his new situation at the bottom of the river.
Waterfall, over shoulder of officer in charge of ejecting spiders and watching out for waterfalls
Swimming in Bitter Springs is lovely, similar to Mataranka thermal pool but with less concrete and busloads of adolescent boys from Tasmania and more reeds, lilies, gobs of algae breaking away from the bottom and floating up and more little fishes and roving bands of delinquent turtles.
That busload of 50 lads was a scary sight. The forces of coincidence were in our favour in that they were arriving at the Mataranka pool just as we were leaving. The alpha sub group of loudest, leapingest lads bounded past us, not a minute to lose in life or in their immediate purpose of visiting terror and mayhem upon the few poor unsuspecting fat retirees, families and nubile backpackers wallowing about in the restorative waters of the pool. Following in steadily less animated sub groups came the reasonably confident, the moderately shy, the awkward and uncoordinated, to the excruciatingly self conscious. Haphazardly ravaged by puberty. The group entire was about to have the pleasure of mixed company at a bathing facility where a variety of certain female anatomical particulars, images of which are permanently fixed in the forefront of an adolescent lad's awareness, were to be found/seen/barely not seen/not even glanced at at all, hardly. The normal levels of boisterousness of such a gang of lads swimming would be amplified to a crescendo by the presence of the female anatomical particulars. Or so I supposed. Made my shudder cringe to remember those days.
This morning the crows were carking gaily as we set off for KATHERINE GORGE. No crows here but lots of apostle birds, red winged parrots, grey crowned babblers and blue faced honeyeaters. No joke. Lots of rules ( Parks facility) about no swimming, how, where and when to buy a permit to put our canoe in the water, how, where and when to put our canoe in the water and which side of the water to paddle the canoe. And that.
Well we paddled the canoe up the first, second and third gorges and Katherine Gorge delivers as much scenic beauty as anyone needs to see in one life. Rocks and water and lushish vegetation in huge abundance. Why do people love gorges, especially wet ones, so much? I reckon it's a primal thing about living in caves. It is the same thing that explains why it was so easy to make a living selling rammed earth. Not that I'm saying that building rammed earth is easy or that I didn't work very very hard, you've got no idea, for 20 years, but everybody loved the product because of the rock and cave thing. Anyway our search for scenery is fulfilled. We are sated for scenery. I guess we'll have to look for something else now. Turns out there are indeed carking crows here. In the gorge. Crows are like headmasters and ranger tour guides. They like the sound of their own voice a lot. This crow, he was set up in a cliff in a big straight section of gorge with high cliffs on both sides. Very big echo situation, so each cark he ventured was amplified up into a magnificent reverberation of crow carkism. Top crow. And then, to cap off the beautiful gorge experience perfectly, rainbow bee eaters. If you don't know them, look them up. If you haven't got a bird book, then you should have, so go and get one. When we got back to the ramp, there were a hand, or a clutch, or whatever you might call it, of 6 or 7 nubile german backpacker girls escorted by a young parks ranger chappie jumping in for a swim. Well the girls were; he was busy escorting and keeping his uniform straight. I muttered "tough job, mate?" as we passed. He didn't reply but he seemed to have trouble controlling a big smirk for a while.
Sign says "Crocodile nesting area. DO NOT ENTER" Katherine Gorge
EDITH FALLS is a bit quieter - Katherine Gorge is very much on the international tourist trail with lots of traffic. Now we are in a different sort of parks park with no powered sites which slows the traffic down to the independent camping types. Big deep pond about 150m across with rock walls all around and a torrent pouring in one end. Swim like anything. Fish galore but no fishing. Talk about water. What seems like a huge torrent to us is just the trickle at the end; the last bit of drainage from the wet season. Banded honeyeaters, more rainbow bee eaters and great bower bird. The bower bird is giving the full performance; bower right next to our camp and he's there tweaking and rearranging all his shells and bones and bits of glass and bottle tops and displaying his pink frill on the back of his neck. Interested prospective mates come and inspect and he goes into a frenzy of tweaking and squeaking and dashing about trying to make it all irresistible but no; the ladies find fault and flounce off to some smartarse who's found a bit of tinfoil and a can ringpull as well. Our man is set up in a fairly visible spot and there's a flow of comments from strolling campers about doesn't matter how hard a bloke tries he's always in the shit so might as well not bother. They wouldn't really mean it though. Great walk this morning - early - it's quite hot. Rocky gullies up around the back of the cliffs enclosing this Edith Falls pond. Quite a succession of falls and ponds with brand new, to us, flora and birds. Tina's hip replacement is officially at 6 months a great success. Felt better at the end of a 2 hour uppy and downy hike than at the beginning.
Edith Falls pond Bower bird, unlucky in love
DARWIN. Quite a sense of satisfaction and achievement as we peeked over the hill and saw the Timor sea, even though we've done it pretty soft, lounging in a comfy car with refrigeration and a big squishy bed. The sea isn't as enticing regarding being leaped into as our own southern proper sea. This one's full of stingers and crocobiters and is about 33 degrees hot. It isn't full of caravans floating in a slick of wasted retirees after all; there seem to be a lot of places for us all to disperse to. The road up is less like a funnel and more like a tree trunk, many rooted and many branched. Camp is a big caravan park back a little from the shore and we're under a big shady tree and right next to a toilet block, so that as well as the dawn bird chorus to wake us we have the coughs, hawks, sneezes, ablutions and other endearing aural signatures of humanity to help us greet the day.
Mindil beach sunset worshippers, sending off after the sun their salutation of more camera flashes than there are grains of sand.
In honour of the hardware which brought us across the continent, herewith a brief description.
Holden Rodeo extra cab 4WD ute loaded with a cunning arrangement of trunks, boxes, bins, bags, tools and toys. 3 L turbo diesel with LPG gas boost, burning 10 to 11 litres of diesel per 100 km., which is pretty good considering the whole outfit weighs about 4.5 tons, not counting fat retirees. Van is called an Ecotourer which is a bit embarrassing as there's nothing ecological about it or any part of this whole venture. It is, however, economical to tow, being pleasingly streamlined. It has a king size bed, little galley with 3-way fridge and small table and seats. Solar panel & battery for lights, water pump, fan, computer etc. Takes about a minute to set up so it's easy to put up during a day travelling to stow shopping or have lunch which helps keep us out of the cafes. It's very comfy and we're loving it.
Burdekin duck, orange footed scrubfowl, masked lapwing ( northern form ), blue winged kookaburra ( who sounds completely overexcited and disorganised, like a proper kookaburra on yippee weed. )
Part of Darwin's foreshore has been developed up to give the common folk a swim at the beach experience. Poor buggers don't get that here because of the sea being so useless. There is a wave pool with waves coming out of a gruesome looking hole at one end. The waves aren't much like real waves, but they make all the swimmers go up and down a bit. Bodies going up and down in kind of a wave motion with just enough water between them to make them slip. Ice cream, fizzy drink and hot dog vendors arranged all around. It's a grim scene of cultural impoverishment.
Gentlemen engaged in cultural enrichment.
The George Brown Botanic Gardens
I guess Darwin's changed in 40 years. That's when I last visited, hitch-hiked in and out, a callow youth who saw nothing and learnt nothing. Remember little besides narrowly escaping being bashed by some good ole station boys for being a flower hatted, dingly bell and bead wearing peacenik weed, which would have been fair and wise. Might have knocked a bit of sense into me and saved me from ten years or so of wandering in the wilderness of the naive revolution flavoured social theory which was fashionable then for callow youths of my class. A callow youth of any class at any time assembles his opinions and attitudes by plucking cliches, singly and in sets, from whatever shelves he finds them on. I reckon there were less on the shelves in those days. That's my excuse, anyway, for having a head full of muck for so long. Maybe it's just full of different muck these days but the shelves from which one can assembles one's repertoire of cliches are much better stocked. Anyway I escaped and about the only other thing I remember is an impression of the social vibe having a real frontier character. Mayhem, preferably drunken, was regarded as a sign of vigour and good health, and a lack of familiarity with its production was viewed with suspicion.
There is a possible vestige of that vibe in an apparent failure of the nanny state syndrome to establish itself quite as well as it has done in the south. The grasp of enlightened civil authority on caring for, protecting and instructing the population towards its betterment that sustains us all so well is less firm. This is all rank first impression stuff, mind you, and it's probable that in schools and government departments the vibe is rotten with caring and ecologically sustainable attitudes to everything. But there are little signs that the population is not all saved.
Roadworks involve attempting to slow the traffic down a bit where something is actually happening, contrasting with the surety in the south that traffic will all be limited to 25 km/hr for 10 km either side of anyplace where anything remotely connected with works has been done or planned within a week past or hence. The slowing down might be suggested by a bloke holding a "slow" sign who is completely ignored by everybody, but he's there. All along the Stuart Highway from Alice, the roadside scrub is burnt, in patches of varying age and extent, neither age nor extent seeming very great. There are signs periodically, saying " Take Care with Fire " and " Not everything Comes Back after a Fire " and suchlike. And the bush has all been burnt. Now you may say that this material is scant on which to base a theory like the nanny state one and you'd be right. I am revealed as a shonk pushing a theory and then looking for evidence to support it. While reprehensible this is the prevailing style of presentation of opinion in public discourse. Which is no excuse; for a miserable excuse I can only offer confidence that the evidence will be found if I look a bit longer. My egregious methods are justified by my belief that I'm right. The best contemporary example of this style of argument is the case put by the orthodoxy on climate catastrophism, where science, which overwhelmingly disproves the case, is studiously ignored except for snippets which support the preconceived case. I won't pursue the subject except to say that it will be to the orthodoxy's own peril that it will dismiss Ian Plimer's magisterial challenge.
The fabled rainbow bee eater. Seems to be quite common. Cycling by the sparkly seaside.
Seen on the T shirt of an ageing and glamour challenged gentleman: " LIQUOR . . she'll thank you for it."
We went back to the Mindil beach markets a second evening with Dominic and Debbie, friends of brother Scott's, and they showed us how to do it in style, with table and chairs and fine wine. It was a very enjoyable evening particularly as our conversational engagement was quite cheerfully animated. Haven't had a lot of that with the caravan brotherhood, I guess because we're ten years younger than the norm. I aint being hoity here, they's a great gang of folks; Johnny Cash, John Williamson and the whole bootscootn bit, we just haven't struck any soul mates yet. Tina was able to get down to some secret girlie business with Debbie, which might take the pressure off me for a bit; my heroic efforts at prattle need occasional augmentation with charges of the real thing or else our brave vessel will turn its bow to the south.
Then there are the Parap markets on Saturday which are like the Willunga Farmers' market plus lots of tropical and exotic. Came out with a mud crab, real bananas, frozen mango and jackfruit, vietnamese rolls, a loud shirt, freshwater pearl earrings, a pawpaw, fresh beans and tomatoes, sucking on a mango and coconut lassi. Haven't found found anything between your coles and woolworths supermarkets, which seem to have the same range of produce nationwide, and these open markets. You'd think a greengrocer with some local produce would appear around the corner but he never does.
Markets, museums, botanic gardens, a restaurant dinner, it's all very well, but I think that the rule of cities is about to apply; fascinating and enriching it may be, but once the business is done, the idea of departing is advancing rapidly.
Now having investigated the much touted culinary merit of mudcrabs, we find that it is a hoax on the population. Admittedly excellently flavoured morsels are yielded after exercising great force to destroy shell which has the properties of kevlar reinforced ceramic. Tiny wizened morsels. Give us blue swimmers or American River sandies any day.
We are heading out to the river country next. Have booked a cruise on a vessel that looks like a baking tray, to see crocobiters and birds.
Mudcrab Update. Information has come to hand from the mudcrab vilification police. Seems it's not the whole population that's been hoaxed, just some dumb clowns from the south. Mudcrabs, you see, have a stage before moulting when their flesh sort of withers up and they're sort of empty. Then they moult and eat everything they can grab and fill up again. Selling empty mudcrabs is a heinous crime perpetrated only by inscrutable oriental swindlers upon southern suckers at colourful markets. So now we have to try to find a proper full mudcrab.
Mary River is a very agreeable camp. Quiet, shady, miles of lush grass - severe penalties for turning sprinklers off. You can move them but mustn't turn them off, day or night. Wetlands. Lily ponds as far as you like, with jabiru and diverse egrets and all that. Plentiful highly skilled squibite-oes. Galore. We saw our first wild crocobiter dandling along all innocent like in an otherwise attractive billabong. Not that big but enough to impart a vibe of menace never previously felt in the Oz landscape.
Mary River is just outside Kakadu. Made a dash for the day into Kakadu to Ubirr, at the northeast corner. Rock paintings and a short climb to a lookout over the East Alligator floodplain wetlands and over the escarpment to Arnhem Land. The spot where they take the photos for the glossy Kakadu advertisements. It sure is glorious. I'd been apprehensive about Kakadu having read about being fleeced at every turn and many attractions being un-accessible because of over zealous park management, but we encountered nothing of the sort.
The green here is much brighter - really luminous. Blokes catching barramundi in the East Alligator River, Arnhem Land on the other side. Two big crocs lurking about on the far bank. Two years ago a bloke in exactly that situation slipped in and got eaten all up.
Australian bustard. Roadkill. Big as a small emu. GREAT BILLED HERON, forest kingfisher, masked finch, mangrove and pied herons.
The baking tray cruise on the Adelaide River was a good choice. The baking tray was a robust fully surveyed vessel with a big enough donk on it to get up and plane with 10 heffalumps on board. Which was necessary to make way against the tidal flow. 100 km inland and the tidal range was reduced from 8m at the coast to about 4m. We doodled and planed upstream about 30 km to where the tide was about 1m. Saw nearly 100 crocobiters along the way, from 300mm to over 5m long, some of the bigger ones displaying very poor humour. Downright threatening to our poor little baking tray. General shuffling of anxious day trippers from threatened side of baking tray to other side. Swift employment of donk to exit vicinity of great malevolence. River banks of soft, slippery slimy mud. Water milky and turgid. Spooky. Captain Harry was great.
Kept us entertained and informed about all sorts of Adelaide River stuff. Had a sea eagle come by and take a snack from his throw. Fed us a fine barbeque lunch at his bush camp. Delivered us back all entirely unbitten. That will pretty much do for crocobiters now. Don't need to see any more or know any more or be anywhere near those particular critters ever again. Call it an unreasonable antipathy, but it's more a personal preference for crocobiter free zones. Very similar to how I felt and continue to feel about volcanoes after having a good look into of them. Doom avoidance mechanism.
Crocs displaying humour deterioration with the passing of the day. Morning crocs all happy and laughing about everything, afternoon crocs cranky as blazes.
Tomorrow we've booked a trip on a vessel that looks like an entree dish, only with a real big donk and airplane type propellor on it.
Whaddya reckon this baby goes like? She goes like stink. Airboat they call it. Just slides over everything as long as it's a bit wet, at a high rate of speed. Carmor Plains station. Big area of coastal floodplain just west of Kakadu. Not tidal. Miles of fresh water marsh which dries out slowly through the season but is presently home to a hundred million billion magpie geese. And slightly lesser numbers of brolga, ibis, herons and so forth. The ducks haven't arrived yet. There are more of them by some orders of magnitude. Lest you think that they be injured and offended by this contraption roaring around, apparently not. They say that the geese are nesting 3 times a year, the brolgas are increasing and they are all only temporarily perturbed by the contraption. The odd croc gets a headache but that's a karmic load my soul can bear.
The station people built the contraption because much of their property is this marsh and there is really no other way to get out onto it. Cattle station. They make some pocket money taking tourists out to see the birds but they make their real money conducting hunting safaris. When we got back from our contraption ride there was a big fat Texan being unloaded from a ute having bagged his big buffalo bull whose head was in the back, looking tadly dismayed. The buff was dismayed; the Texan was puffed up with triumph fit to burst. American and European gentlemen mainly, paying lots of euros for their buff or boar trophy. The hunting is all highly regulated and legit., but the regulators haven't been able to figure out the airboat yet. There's nothing in the rule book about them, so they're happily slip-sliding around the marshes with whoever wants to. It's off the track a bit and it's been a pleasure to see less caravans for a day and yap with some station crew.
Down the road at Shady Camp, there is a weir where the Mary River meets tidal, the water seething with mullet one side and barramundi the other. Fisherpeople congregating as the tide rises, half a dozen sea eagles overhead and the same number of big crocs manoeuvering below.
Back to relatively developed and sophisticated regions. We've taken a big gamble with the forces of fate and parked less than 3 dropkicks from the Territory Watersports facility. That means waterskiing and jet skis in a lake built for the purpose and theoretically isolated from surrounding billabongs, lagoons etc. which may or may not be crocobitey. I grew up on a water ski and have some fond associations with the activity, although more recently it seems a weird sport involving brief periods of intensely furious and physiologically damaging action interspersed with long periods of poonceing and posturing and donk worship. Jet skis are another matter. They are an abomination. They are beyond the realm. They give you the bally pip, to borrow a phrase from Tina. So far all is quiet, but tomorrow is weekend and our breath is bated.
All day at the Territory Wildlife Park, which is great. Similarities with the Desert Park at Alice Springs, but wetter and forester of course. Brilliant aquarium and bird displays including a big walk through an aviary in a monsoon forest setting. The most extraordinary display, however, was from the train driver. There is a train trolley thing which trundles around the park every half hour so that you can hop on for a ride to the next feature. First time the driver's commentary was all about the details of the forest and the huge significance of this and that, as you'd expect. Next time she'd got a bit stirred up about something, because the commentary was about her dissatisfactions with her job, how you couldn't work as a casual forever and the tourists were great but the management sucked and she was thinking about working with disadvantaged kids or somebody who'd appreciate her properly and she was from a very important pioneering family and there were 5 thousand people at her grandmother's funeral and even though she'd be sadly missed maybe it was time for her to move on because she had so much to give if only these turkeys would realize it, and the captive audience of train trolley riders was looking at each other and saying sheesh and looking at the forest and wondering which was the pandanus and which the woolybutt. We got off at the freshwater whipray department and she was still at it. Anyway it was a splendid place to visit and we got chummy with a couple from Kiama and later back at camp with another couple from Geraldton who have been where we might go and vice versa so lots of chat about places and things. So maybe we're getting the hang and successful integration into the etiquettes of caravan society might be achievable.
Not a peep from the Territory Watersports lake. They must be going down the drain. Even the pool with the waterslide pumping has only got two kids in it. If there's no action now then I don't know when there would be. Maybe Territorians don't buy the no croc theory. Sad to see a business go down, but it's nice that it's so quiet here. Apart from the curlews that is. Won't go on about all the spectacular birds in the park because that wouldn't be fair, but there are bush stone curlews or thicknees and burdekin ducks running around the camp here.
We're on the peninsular on the south side of Darwin Harbour and drove out to the end of it to gaze once more at the Timor Sea and lament its uselessness. Pretty beach, nice rocks, blue water; all useless. Round the corner a wharf where a ferry comes across from Darwin with pleasure trippers. Groups of people sit around and look at the water and lament. But Lo! A ramshackle pub has a big shady party deck and is serving decent and cheap barbeque lunches and a band is setting up, being Sunday afternoon, and it's a very pleasant outlook over the harbour with fishing and sailing and all sorts of vessels plying in various directions. And we take the opportunity to congratulate ourselves for being alive. But no swimming.
Before heading out to Litchfield we went back in to the Palmerston markets one evening. Similar to the others and good for stocking the larder. Very pleasant atmosphere at the markets. This one was arranged around a grassed town square, families feeding, transactions in all directions, the band completely drowned out by the shrieking of two thirds of a billion rainbow lorikeets wheeling above and covering the trees all about. Way more rainbow lorikeets than strictly necessary to add colour to the evening. There are lots of excesses here. Things in gratuitous and wanton oversupply. There are more crocobiters than strictly necessary to add drama and a frontierland flavour to proceedings. And we won't even talk about bugs. Whilst cycling this morning, I saw an august and prosperous family of five fat black pigs tiptoe delicately across the road. For all their shy charm they made me wish, as I have done several times up here, that I had a handgun in my pocket. You see a few serious cyclists, saddlebags full of camping kit, puffing along. They always have the air of the outcast. No; the surly air of the voluntary outsider. They look grubby, bothered, cross and hot, like why should saving the planet by forswearing the devilish internal combustion engine make everything so hard?
Seems to be a rocky forested plateau with endless fountains of water cascading out of it in all directions. Rivers with waterfalls tumbling out of red cliffs into deep clear pools, each one grander than the last, rainforest in the gullies and dry woodland between, but hardly any further between each one than between espresso machines in a yuppiefied shopping precinct. This is the place for swimming. Most of the waterfall fed pools around the plateau escarpment are all tricked out with access roads, carparks, paved paths, steps and ladders into the water, together with signs about where to swim and not swim, camp and not camp, picnic, walk and everything. It's very well done. There are lots of people doing all those things, including busloads of day trippers from Darwin, but it all works without anybody seeming to need to get tetchy about anything. As the afternoon progresses the park population swells from the regular crew of retiree caravaners to bursting with european family and backpacker groups in hired chariots of many colours. The swimming, as I was saying, is great. Cool clear water with fish below, kingfishers above and cliffs and forest all about. If a body isn't hot enough to want to swim then a walk around the paths and boardwalks through the forests and gullies will soon fix that. Glorious, really.
Everybody likes jumping into the water. Busloads of all kinds of bodies. It's easy enough to get away from the busloads if you want to. They don't walk very far and there are walks up smaller creeks with plenty of pools to cool off in.
What the Territory lacks in useful beaches it sure has in waterfalls. In Litchfield, anyway. Too high up for the big bad bitey crocs apparently. There might be some freshwater crocs but they are only up to nibbling. Cool creeks and waterfalls in a hot forest are a nice way to spend a winter, but they wouldn't be sufficient compensation for proper beaches, so there's no way a person could live here. If he figured out how to catch barramundi he might give it a fleeting thought, but abalone and scallops and whiting would have him back south before long.
The cupboard got a bit bare so we sloped into Batchelor to make transactions about eatables. Inspected some strange rock formations called the Lost City on the way. One of Batchelor's enterprises is the butterfly farm, with adjoining eatery, and suddenly we were at table with dishes of pasta. Damn. The butterfly aviary has, indeed, butterflies flitting all about and very ethereal and lovely they are too, but alas my lepidopterous spark failed to kindle. Call me a brute, but somehow the kinds of critters which find butterflies a gorgeous, in the true sense of being brightly coloured, snack seem more interesting.
Purposeful Woman in Lost City Northern orange snack butterfly flutterus snackii fanta
The sky here is always smoky. Fires everywhere. Varies from being thick dark smoky to sort of clear but hazy but even half way between there are cinders - little sooty shreds - falling out of the sky. The fires don't rage; they just sputter and crackle along through the grass and dead leaves, the crown often singed but rarely catching, running out of foof after a few acres or miles. The wet rainforest gullies are the only parts which don't look like they've been burnt not more than a few years ago. Mostly it looks like it burns if not every year then every 2 or 3. Signs along the road say " Fire Free Zone " and " No Burning Without Permit " but it's all burnt. Good thing too. Places where it doesn't seem to have burnt for a few years are impenetrable with dry speargrass 3m high looking like an explosion waiting to happen. I don't know if the process is managed at all. There is never anybody in attendance at a scrub fire nor any sign that anybody cares about it; maybe the road signs are for the benefit of the sensitivities of visiting southern forest protection officials who prefer burns to happen at sufficiently long intervals that they are catastrophic. Persons suspected by fire authorities in the south of having unfulfilled pyrotechnic tendencies should be relocated in NT, where lighting scrub fires seems more like a community service than a hazard.
Side of the road, recently burnt Other side of the road, not so recently burnt
MT. BUNDY STATION, under a huge banyan tree full of rowdy fig birds.
Big snake day. Ran over a big python and a little snake of unknown provenance snuck across our porch this evening, making two snake incidents which is a lot so it's a big snake day. Poor python. Three meters of him, a foot off the bitumen and a foot the other side of the centre line of the road. Couldn't swerve. Felt a big pain in my snake dreaming. Went back and another bloke had already picked him up to show his kids, be photographed and play the hero. Python seemed a bit cranky but not visibly damaged - not a mark on him and he was moving just fine so maybe pythons are pretty tough.
We held a big council of war today. The officers in charge of driving, navigating, fixing things, general strategy and whether I think that's quite enough chutney on that piece of bread were all present and established a plan. The plan is that we don't go west but make it a reciprocating traverse rather than a half lap. Potter around a couple more weeks up here, sneak back into Kakadu from the south end because we didn't do it justice before, and go back down through the centre, maybe via West MacDonnells and/or Oodnadatta track. This new plan requires immediate and thorough shopping, which will be attended to tomorrow.
There were a couple camped under one of the trees next to the big banyan and I'd decided he was a hopeless pisspot because he drank beer all afternoon and red wine all evening and had gone badly to flab and didn't seem to be able to put much together in the way of sentences. But then around the fire in the evening the station crew, who do a lot of horsey business, were talking about campdrafting because there's a rodeo and a campdraft event coming up soon locally. And the pisspot sparked up because that was his thing before he became a flabby pisspot caravaner. The sentences were still pretty fractured but he seemed to know a lot about the campdrafting world and I was quietly admonishing myself (again) for being arrogant and judgemental because he knew a lot more than me about something, at least. Then we all went to bed but he and one or two campdraft enthusiasts carried on rackety and rowdy for a few hours, interfering with our sleeping program and I reverted to being comfortable with the hopeless pisspot tag.
Hazards to sleep in caravan parks.
a. Pisspots - several varieties, mainly maudlin Hank Williams types or European gap year adventurers in those rotten little wicked vans. Wicked vans are a breed of hired camper van daubed with bad art and criminally inane and drivellous slogans. Full of shrieking European princesses.
b. School groups. arrive in buses after dark and carry on just like kids on a school trip. Carry on often exacerbated by discovery of cane toads, whereupon boys organize into squads which go around splatting cane toads with waddies and girls help by flitting deftly between shrieking and squealing.
c. Generator plants. mutter all night to feed all the not so eco caravans' air conditioners.
d. Natural causes. including bugs, which we won't talk about, and bush stone curlews which seem to be everywhere and have a call like a child's complaint upon being strangled. Often wake with a gleeful thought that somebody is finally dealing properly with the children only to be disappointed to realize it's another curlew party.
Hazards notwithstanding, we're both sleeping well and feeling good. Just hoping the weather will cool down a bit. Sorry.
ROBIN FALLS. Even though we're a bit waterfall schmaterfall after Litchfield, here we are again right by another babbling brook. This is a bit different because it's not a park - there are no facilities and it's quiet apart from water and birds. We have a personal dunking pool about five steps from our porch. Crystal clear water with little fish being chased around by a mertens water monitor - a swimmy goanna. The creek doesn't look big enough to accommodate a big biter and we have insurance in the form of tenting campers a couple of dropkicks away each side, one with a tasty looking puppy dog.
DOUGLAS HOT SPRINGS. Youse might have had nearly enough winter and blizzards and that but we're suffering from a surfeit of heat. Unusual season apparently, still humid and mid 30s. The locals are whingeing that it's just like the build-up. Don't think I require to experience a real build-up but it would be interesting to be here in a run-off which is April - May, just after the rain stops and everywhere is sodden and the rivers are all bunta. Anyway the prettiest waterhole near each caravan village is full of refugees from the southern winter who've got a bit more heat than they bargained for. Wallowing in a waterhole with assorted caravaners as well as members of the public results in social intercourse comprising travel stories, reduction of the rule of six degrees of separation to an average level of about three, and general philosophy. Trouble is, as in any situation engendering social intercourse amongst strangers, the blowhard tends to win. The waterhole blowhard was forgiven, however, upon revealing that he has end stage liver and kidney failure, had sold his house and bought a big fifth wheeler van and plans to spend the rest of his days on the road.
Swan song fifth wheeler van.
HIGHWAY WAVING SCHEDULE.
4WD with off road camper or no trailer. Offer wave. May or may not be acknowledged.
4WD with off road caravan. Courteous wave given and received.
4WD with off road caravan with canoe and bicycles. Enthusiastic waves from drivers and passengers, smiles likely.
4WD with low caravan. Accept wave, response optional, depending on humour.
Motor home - Winnebago, fifth wheeler. As above.
2WD with any sort of camper or caravan. Ignore.
Common family sedan, Britz or Apollo van. Ignore.
Wicked van. Spit on.
We're resisting the impulse to bolt back to the crisp, cool, clean desert because we want to have another look in Kakadu. We're also killing a day to facilitate a meeting with Tina's current house design clients who happen to be passing by. We can rendezvous with them in Pine Creek tomorrow so they can work out window sizes and such. Somebody has to keep working. Diesel doesn't grow on trees.
PINE CREEK. Bonanza! Rodeo on today at Pussy Cat Flat, 2km down the Kakadu road.
Well you can't fake a rodeo. Or digitally enhance it. You got horse riders either roping them steers or not roping them. Undecorating them (pulling a ribbon off their back at full gallop) or not. Bronco riders getting a hand stuck and dragged through a cloud of dust and flying hooves or not stuck and dragged. Bullrider clowns (to divert the bulls while the rider gets away) getting chucked in the air or making it to the rail just in time. You got all that. A great public spectacle with outrageous risk and huge excitement. Much better than football, our more widely patronized national outlet for absorbing each generation's excess testosteronified aggression and warrior spirit, which has the unfortunate side effect of stupefying the population. For all the drama at the rodeo, there was no damage to man or beast. Not counting what might result from the drinking which was just getting serious as we left. Helmets and vests on the riders, pads around the horns of the steers getting roped; care was taken, but the action was still primal and gutsy.
ridji didj rodeo roping action ridji didj rodeo bull riding action
no more rodeo action for these bulls all gone to flab
Had to pull a cardy on this evening. The force is with us re. weather. The wind has changed to SE and it's less humid. A body can imagine more activities during the day than finding the best waterhole to wallow in so we'll poke back into Kakadu. We have instructions from Hilary to seek the acquaintance of a rare society of white throated grass wrens at Gunlom Falls.
Gunlom was beautiful but the grass wrens were in retreat, and so are we. Made a tactical error in breaking our golden rule of travelling which is that we don't travel anywhere in school holidays except by boat. The campground was full, mainly with family groups. They're OK but last night there were a couple of good ole boys drinking lots of beer and treating the whole campground to Creedence Clearwater. Now an occasional bit of Creedence is alright but a whole album is pushing things a bit and if it's allowed to go round and round repeating then my thoughts drift towards malfeasance. The dark side beckons. So we've abandoned revisiting Kakadu and are heading down to the desert where antisocial tendencies (mine) are better absorbed and we can get lost a bit. It's very hard to get off the road in the Top End. The road is all fenced and the few tracks into the bush seem to be gated and locked so we end up in caravan parks or campgrounds. The latter are fine except in school holidays when they're full of kids and Creedence so it's parks or get more remote.
Territory folk art
Paddling our canoe on the Katherine river was awesome (remember when the word meant something more than nice or pleasant?) The bridge is 20m above current paddling level. There were logs and flood debris in the branches 15m up. Gathered a few snagged lures and other abandoned fishing equipment to add to our collection.
Went out to see the Cycad Gardens. Renowned 5 acre collection of rare cycads, succulents and exotic plants. Closed. Sign out the front explaining that although Council had finally approved their plans to enlarge their cafe, a condition was that they had to provide 12 off street carparks and it was taking them a while to work out how to do that. So the regulators have arrived. A whole class of mongrels who, in lieu of finding anything useful to do, have created careers writing new lists of rules and prohibitions to protect the population from iniquities like having to park across the road when visiting a garden.
Between Katherine and Tennant Creek
Finally finding tracks to get off the road and escape the caravan parks. That makes for happier campers.
The word up and down the road is that visiting the pub at Daly Waters is a must. They've got an operation there based on good old outback Oz character. Ratty tin shed architecture decorated with lots of junk and rubbish. Character. I suppose so. Put enough rubbish together and it re-invents itself as character. Or profundity in the case of modern art. A good feed of barra and beef and an old bushy balladeer / raconteur putting on a show every evening for 100 odd travellers and they're making enough to hire a few temporarily shrieked out and impecunious european princesses to pull the beers. We missed most of the show, being deep in chat with a couple from NE Victoria, but the crowd were greatly amused. Good on the Daly Waters pub. We also enjoyed the pub at Larrimah which had character in a less contrived style and a fabulous collection of finches and parrots of many colours in a little aviary city out the back. The displays were less grand than at the Desert Park and the Wildlife Park, and rightly so, but the range of species was better. Brilliant for a private collection.
social camping antisocial camping
gloriously antisocial camping.
Seen on the back of a cheap, daggy imitation of a Winnebago; " WANNABEABAGO "
The traffic of campers and caravaners on this road is increasing if anything, more going north than south. Inexorable, unstoppable, still they come. Estimated value of travellers' rigs passing a point on the road each day; 15 million dollars.
Alice Springs is full, so we're picking up some food on the way through and going out to the West MacDonnell Ranges to see if the school holiday crowds are moving out yet.
A whole river's worth of flood comes though that crack handsome rock
western bower bird major mitchells revolving cloud of zebra finches at a waterhole
Suddenly we have long trousers and shoes and socks and all available quilts piled each on top of the other. Must be a blizzard down home because we saw a few wisps of cloud yesterday. They cleared up pretty quick and it's perfect for walking in the sunshiny day. No waterfalls here; just a small cold pool at the spectacular cleft in the range where the creek comes through. After taking in the scene the urge is not to swim but to get back out into the sunshine. There is an open, mulga scrub campground with an acceptable number (small) of campers. Thing is, one of the two other groups of campers has chosen, out of a mile or so of options, a spot about one drop-kick removed from us. And the darling lad of the group is developing lumberjack skills with a camping shovel on a mulga tree. I don't think the tree will suffer much damage but we are slightly perplexed as to why the lad isn't on his way home to sew some buttons on his school uniform and why the lumberjacking and so forth couldn't be at a position slightly more removed from us. Turns out that they are an English family. Perplexity resolved. Poor dears must take a while adjusting to our fearsome wide open spaces as they seem to have a lesser aversion to proximity of humanity than your average aussie. To illustrate, an aussie crew just came in and stopped at the spot where there was maximum distance possible between all camp groups in the joint. Like molecules of gas in a closed receptacle as opposed to oppositely charged particles in a fluid. We might take the opportunity to play some music for a change, just to suggest, ever so gently, that neighborliness might best be sought cautiously. We have some fairly raucous opera which might do the trick.
Wickedness is everywhere.
* HOMILY ALERT *
Be warned that a homily concerning wickedness follows . .
the unscrupulous man's path to fulfillment the honourable man's path to fulfillment
fickle / steadfast, timid / bold, generous / miserly, nice / nasty,
We yearn to believe that goodness will be rewarded, that there is karmic justice, that there will be reaping of what is sown. Experience tends to mock this belief as often as support it, though, and maybe the challenge is to behave in good faith as though the world is thus ordered, whether it pays off or not, just because thatís the moral path to righteousness.
Ormiston Gorge Up Ormiston Gorge Down
Trephina Gorge Roma Gorge
Gorge shmorge. Enough already. Driving to every gorge that was ever invented and tramping up and down and all around it is starting to seem a bit frivolous. Frivolity is best had in quantities neither too small nor too great and I think we've got to the just right zone. There are fruit trees to prune and things which need to be built. Things which make the world a poorer place by remaining unbuilt. As the humble messenger by which they shall become built, I must hurry back to my workshop. Home is calling. Tina's mind is similarly inclined only more so.
So we'll be off to see the blizzard.
A few more camps in the red sand and mulga, with that king of firewoods. It leaps gratefully into flame and produces great heat and copious cherry red coals which glow all night; a camp cooks delight.
mulga scrub the desert's joyous signal of good times
We've found that travelling about 400 km a day, making camp by early afternoon, is sustainable in terms of the balance between covering ground and maintaining each member of the expedition's jolly demeanor. Much more than that and jollity can stretch through getting a bit brittle to being downright unreliable. Each member might become more inclined than the other to make observations calling into question the other's level of commitment to the expedition's success, or even the level of evolution they've attained. So on the home run, sightseeing all concluded, 400 a day seems about right.
myall scrub saltbush / saltlakes south of Pimba
The last day's run home was a bit like coming in from a parallel universe. The towns down from Pt. Augusta went by at warp speed after crawling like a caterpillar down through the desert and there were little shocks of recognition - look! clouds!. . green! . . soursobs! . . blossom! . . rain! like forgotten childhood treasures.
Then home and hullo japonica, hullo creek, ducks, bathroom, heater.
I guess that's why we go away; to remember how good home is.
That's all, folks. 22/7/09
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