NEWSFLASH! My book hits the road! Did you miss my Channel 7 Weekend Sunrise 'Downunder Dunnies' appearance? Watch the Video HERE!

Wednesday

Blackall, Bakeries and the Barcoo Dog - Central West Queensland

Emus to the left of me, kangas to the right - and there I was, stuck in the middle with my mate.  I guess this is what being on the Australian coat of arms feels like!!  Somewhat appropriate given we were in the middle of the outback!  But the Australian bustard was the real viewers prize as we crossed the endless grasslands between Tambo and Blackall - their long necks and heads with beaks pointing skywards appear like alien probes above the grass that's high enough to cover their bodies.

Difficult as it was to tear ourselves away from the delights of Tambo and its teddies (yes, really), even more outback delights awaited at Blackall, including a BAKERY!!!  Bakery afficionados that we are, we'd been suffering withdrawal symptoms - thankfully relieved as we elbowed hapless council workers out of our way to score the last pie with peas.

And luckily, I'd bought a pair of work/hiking boots from the local outback outfitters so I looked a little less like a tourist BEFORE we met the cowboy on horseback.  Who just happened to be riding through the camp sites down by the river chatting to the grey nomads (and us!) in the late evening, before riding off into the sunset!  Coincidence?  Or contracted by central casting??  You decide!!

Jack Howe (aka 'Jackie') the famous sheep shearer of yesteryear (but of course you knew that, didn't you!!) broke a number of records while working in the Blackall area.  In addition to holding the daily record of 321 sheep shorn with hand shears in 7 hours and 40 minutes (just a little over the public service standard working day) he also broke the machine shearing record later that same week.  BUT ... the most bizarre record was actually held by another gun shearer, Jack Harvey, who shore, killed and partly ate a sheep in under 8 minutes!!  Now there's a disturbing mental image!!  That event doesn't seem to make it into the local country show schedules these days ...!!!

AND finally, for you trivia buffs out there, what's a Barcoo Dog??  If you think you know, record your answer in the comments below!!!

Thursday

Australia's Scenic Public Toilets #4 - The Little Public Toilet at the end of the universe ... Outback Queensland

Last year, my partner and I took a drive west of Windorah, near Cooper's Creek in SW Queensland, to the start of the Birdsville road.  We'd never been on the Birdsville track, so thought we'd scope it out from the Queensland side for future reference!

Imagine our surprise to find this little gem at the junction of the Windorah/Bedourie Rd - at least an hour from the nearest settlement.  Why was it there?  Who (apart from me) would go all this way just to visit the conveniences??

As you can see, there's plenty of wide open space for camping,  BUT ... it was pretty bleak the day we visited, with a hot wind blowing the dust every which way.

The scenery doesn't change much with perspective, and one day we'll venture beyond the little public toilet at the end of the universe, but not this year!

While it's arguable whether or not these amenities fall into the 'scenic public toilet' category, isn't wide open space also scenic in its own way?

And just back along the road heading east, you'll see a sign directing your attention to what is oddly described as a 'point of interest'.  But you'll have to wait for another post to see what that is - the excitement might just be too much!!

Wednesday

Incident at Isisford, Central West Queensland

OMIGOD!!!!  Today is the beginning of a new phase in my life - and I'm feeling that old double-punch of horror and excitement!

My partner and I were in Isisford - which you will immediately recognise as the site where Isisfordia Duncani - the crocodile fossil from which all modern crocodiles descended - was discovered.  But more on that in a future post.  While totalling our morning tea and entry fee costs, the young staff member at The Outer Barcoo Interpretation Centre that houses a replica of the fossil asked if there were any concessions.

'Only one,' I replied, 'as you'd immediately be able to tell by looking at ME that I'm NOT a senior.'

'Of course,' he replied, not missing a beat, and started adding up again. 

His boss' laughter boomed out in the background.  'Go on, give the lady a concession,' he chortled, clearly having completely missed the RED Nomad connection.

And so it came to pass.  I've had my first senior's discount.  There's no mistake - it's recorded for posterity on the entry ticket.  AAAAARRRRGGGGHHH!!!!  And does anyone else get the deep irony of this happening at a fossil centre?!?!

The horrror comes, of course, from the trauma of being categorised as a senior.  And the excitement?  Well ... it IS a new experience!!  I think it's all downhill from here ...

BUT, this does NOT mean I'm turning into a Grey Nomad!!  Does it?  DOES IT????!!!

Saturday

Our travels continue ... Birding at Bowra!

Are massive camera lenses the new measure of male virility?  Here at Bowra Sanctuary (recently proclaimed as such by Peter Garrett), 16 km west of Cunnamulla I'm surrounded by blokes wielding camera lenses as long as ... well, half a metre!  Not sure if being able to spout off technical jargon about performance (camera, that is!) cancels out the incongruity of big burly blokes sneaking up on hapless birds (feathered) to photograph them though ...   Ha!  Gotcha!!  You've got a disturbing mental image now, haven't you?!?!  I don't DARE unearth my trusty instamatic (yes, that's why there are no photos accompanying this post - yet) for fear of being laughed out of the campground!

Yes, the action here at Bowra Sanctuary is all about birding - in nearly 5 days my birdwatching mate has seen nearly half the 210 species on the Bowra bird list, including the elusive Hall's Babbler and Bourke's parrot (if you want more, just ask via 'comments' below!).  Those familiar with my partner's peccadillos will recall his penchant for making Skippy the bush kangaroo noises in an attempt to attract various wildlife - recently these skills, accompanied by a waving white tissue successfully lured two emus towards us until they smelled a rat ... Tragically, there's not much call for emu whisperers these days!

Far more call for feral goat and pig whisperers - the property (previously Bowra Station) has resident populations of both - so much so that I can almost see the point of the magazines such as 'Bowhunter' and 'Bacon Busters' so readily available in these parts.

And the Peter Garrett connection?  The federal government contributed to the purchase of Bowra Sanctuary, so naturally got some return on its investment by creating a good news story for the beleaguered minister, who flew in for the day to attend the ceremony.  Can't wait for the government 'how good are we' signs to go up at the boundary fence, gate and anywhere else people will see them spelling out the extent of the feds involvement!  I guess there's no real connection between PG and me - after all, I didn't spend any taxpayer's money to get here, and I actually contributed to the local economy.  But hey, I'm just a pleb!!

So ... here I am at what's nearly grey nomad bed time (8:15), with a dodgy internet connection that could drop out at any minute, our campsite surrounded by a crazy bull and half wild cows bellowing and moaning to their calves (I hope) with various night birds squawking and carrying on over the lagoon.  The temperature's dropping - possibly to nearly 0 degrees and it's a bit of a hike to the amenities.  BUT ... I've never seen so many stars, we can travel the station tracks all day without seeing another living soul, and the scenery and bird watching is to die for.  Am I having a good time?  You betcha!!

Thursday

We're on our way ...

... from misery to happiness - we HOPE (with apologies to the Proclaimers)!! 

We've FINALLY set off on a 2010 trip after weeks of many and varied delays, then on the day itself by more dental drama queen (yes, that's me) mishaps, and mechanical faults!  I awoke after a night of discomfort on D-day (possibly need to re-think using freezing water to clean my teeth) so had to implement a complex little pre-emptive strike plan to ensure a tooth drugs prescription was faxed to our intended destination to be filled before everything closed for the day!  Well, so much for leaving on time.  In the last stages of hooking up the camper trailer, we discovered a flat tyre!  AAARRRRRGGGGHHH!!  We finally got going about 2 hours later than planned ...

But you know what?  Once we hit the road, we didn't give a damn!!  Despite temperatures between 10-13 degrees (that's Centigrade if you've dropped in from the northern hemisphere) our little car cocoon took us through lush greenery well beyond the Goyder line and into the arid lands.

We saluted the fruit fly inspection point outpost of Oodla Wirra in the traditional Aussie way as we passed - the least we could do given our previous experience there.  In November 09, South Australia experienced an unseasonal heat wave that we hit us while driving from the east coast to Adelaide.  So hot we couldn't countenance a stopover in Broken Hill, most of the 13 hour drive from Nyngan to Adelaide was through temperatures above 40 (C).  We arrived at Oodla Wirra mid afternoon, just as the thermometer hit 44.  I opened the window, breathed in the fiery air and advised the inspector that we'd rid ourselves of all fruit/veg matter when we entered the fruit fly exclusion zone at Broken Hill.  No dice. 

'I'm going to have to look inside the trailer,' he insisted, helping us out by snapping the catches.  Unbelieveable!  In this heat!!  SO ... we wound up the trailer top and opened the fridge - and even found a torch so he could see there really wasn't anything in there except some milk fast turning sour.  But, it seems our efforts were for nothing! 

'Thanks mate, that's fine,' he said, before either of us had a chance to get out of the way and let him even look into the trailer, let alone the fridge.  Then he turned tail and retreated to the airconditioning.  Leaving us, of course, to pack everything back up and head off!  Bastard!!  Don't you just love bureaucracy!!!  I guess he showed us ...

BUT ... our biggest drama on the road this day was a truckie playing silly buggers and doing the 'I'm going to pass you, whoops changed my mind, oh maybe I'll try again just for fun' thing for a short while (no matter, it doesn't happen that often), and we drove into Broken Hill, the 'Silver City' just before dark.  Just as well too - in memory of childhood holidays setting up camp in the middle of the night, my partner has advised me to shoot him if we ever willingly have to set up after dark!!

The next day, I genuflected at the shrine of Perilya.  Shrine, you ask?  Isn't Perilya just a mining company??  Yes, indeed, but if not for that same mining company, I wouldn't be here today.  Well, that's a bit melodramatic - I'd be alive - but I sure wouldn't be taking this long break, seeing these great things and telling you all about them!

Bell's milkbar, a renovated 50's relic with traditional milkshakes, sodas and spiders served in lavish sizes and flavours rounded out the morning nicely.  I didn't think it possible that a hot custard milkshake with nutmeg could give so much pleasure, but there you go.  Isn't travel about having new experiences?  I'm not sure a HCMWN fits into the category of mind-broadening as such, but I bet you're thinking about how that would taste right now, aren't you?!?!?!

Like or hate this post?  I'd love to hear from you!  Leave your comments below!!

Sunday

Australia's Scenic Public Toilets #3 - Rainbow Valley, NT


Yes, yes, I just had to keep the theme going (check out Scenic Public Toilets #1 and #2 if you don't know what I'm talking about)!  From Stuarts Well in the Northern Territory, it's only a short drive to the amazing Rainbow Valley where yet another public convenience with a splendid view awaits your pleasure!  Or should that be business??!!

Quite apart from the opportunity to seat yourself in a scenic spot, there's a small campground with only a short walk across the lake bed to the outstanding rock formations.

BUT ... enjoy it while you can, because I'll bet anything you like (with the possible exception of my superannuation) that it's only a matter of time before visitors will be unable to explore the area with the same carefree abandon that we experienced.  An unfenced, unrestricted, unfettered tourist site is almost a thing of the past under the twin clouds of litigation and public liability.  While willingly abrogating responsibility for ones actions to me seems a poor substitute for planning, care and common sense, it's the norm these days.  More's the pity because public area restrictions have become more and more prohibitive, often allowing nothing more than a glimpse of the landmark in question from a safely fenced off viewing platform.  But I digress ...

An awesome photo opportunity exists when the lake bed (in the foreground, and dry on our visit) is full of water.  Of course this would also make the view from the amenities even more spectacular.  BUT ... the access track across the lake to the rocks becomes impassable after rain!  AND I'm guessing the road in would also be pretty dodgy.

 But I'm also betting that in whatever conditions you visit Rainbow Valley, you too will find it a magic spot!

Friday

Favourite Place #3 - Stuarts Well, NT

One of the most bizarre and amazing experiences of our travels occurred at Stuarts Well, 90 km south of Alice Springs. 

I haven't linked to a map because it's idiot simple to find- just look for the straight line between Alice Springs and Adelaide on any map and you've found the highway!  Look for the eastern turnoff to Rainbow Valley, and just south of this you'll find Stuart's Well nestled in the hills.

Also known as 'Jim's Place', it's a roadhouse with a bar and restaurant; but also contains motel and cabin accomodation and a caravan park/campground with powered and unpowered sites.  It's also right next door to a camel farm, with rides and safaris available.

We'd driven past Stuart's Well a few times en route to and/or from Alice Springs, but on this trip, after the wonders of Wycliffe Well, we craved new experiences, or at the very least places we hadn't stayed at before.  This time we got both!

A short walk from the caravan park up the low hills gives an archetypically Central Australian view of the complex and plains, also reflected in the friendly service at the roadhouse and restaurant.  And while the Stuarts Well restaurant is quiet by day, at night it provides an entertainment experience unparalleled in Australia, if not the world!  After all, where else would you get to see a performance by an internationally acclaimed, award winning, singing, piano playing dingo?



Immortalised by a question in a recent version of Trivial Pursuit, and looking a little like a feral labrador, 'Dinky' the dingo performs nightly in the restaurant.  A random audience member is selected to play the piano.  Once the music starts, Dinky jumps up on the keyboard and 'plays' by prodding the keys with his paws.  He also 'sings' by howling and when the music stops, Dinky continues to play and sing until the performance is over.  The walls and shelves are lined with awards, letters from international fans and fellow performers, and newspaper clippings of his exploits.  AMAAAAAZING!!


Reading about the owner, Jim Cotterill's exploits is also fascinating - his family once owned and operated tours to King's Canyon and the story of how their business was lost, and he was left to start again with nothing at Stuarts Well is a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks greed is confined to politicians, urban areas or multinational companies.


We extended our stay to drive to the amazing Rainbow Valley, within cooee of Stuarts Well, and well worth a visit in its own right.  We haven't yet visited the Henbury meteorite craters just down the road, but we've always believed in having something to look forward to for another visit!  AND ... it'd be a hard hearted person who would pass up the opportunity to see Dinky perform again!

 See you next time!! 
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