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


Only in OZ #6 - The Flying Combi, Lightning Ridge, NSW

The combi van is generally accepted as a symbol of surfie/hippie culture, but a decorative, airborne one with the label 'surfing art' in the middle of the outback town of Lightning Ridge in north central New South Wales far, far from the ocean SURELY deserves its own classification!

I just don't know what that is.

I DO know that Lightning Ridge, world famous for its black opal, is unique - so the combi really sets the scene for the many other bizarre delights to be found here!

Sadly, time constraints meant we stayed less than 24 hours in August 2009, so there are still many attractions that deserve a closer look - such as the Chambers of the Black Hand, the Black Queen Light show and Antique Lamp Museum and nursery of the only black opal mining cactus farmers in the world!

This town may well be the most unusual in Australia - if not the world!  Am I right? 

Go on, prove me wrong!

Safe travels!!


Signs #5 - Well, THAT clears THAT up then!

Readers who enjoyed 'Signs #2 - Huh???' will appreciate these photos from the Cowley Beach Army base, sent to me by reader Russell Constable.  Russell is a keen conservationist, and his blog 'Ella Bay Forever!', details some of the issues this wonderful area faces.

The more observant will note that Russell and I also share a passion for exclamation marks (so I dare not put any at the end of this sentence).

'Signs #2 - Huh???' was notable for its lack of clarity both in rationale and explanation - the instruction is clear enough, but the reasons for it, or the consequences of failing to comply with it are not. 

Russells photos show no such reticence AND they have the graphics sadly lacking in Signs #2!

See what I mean?  No ambiguity there!!  Although I'd have liked to see a graphic showing the 'after' picture of someone touching something ... why be inconsistent with other Australian signs?  Travellers might get confused!!

Cool, huh?!?!  Thanx Russell!!

Check out Russ' fine blog at Ella Bay Forever!- if I follow it, and you like MY blog ... well, I'll leave you to make the connection ...!!!

Stay laughing!!


Only in OZ #5 - The Musical Ship, Cooktown, Cape York, Queensland

While it's not quite a replica of Captain Cook's vessel when he explored the north coast and disembarked where Cooktown (geddit?!) now stands, the musical ship is completely landlocked in the linear park along the mouth of the Endeavour river. 

Perhaps the kindest way to describe the array of noise making apparatus (apparati??) lining the interior would be 'found percussion instruments', however the more unkind may prefer 'instruments of torture'!!

But lets not forget how confronting it can be to embark and make 'music' (that's how us no-talent wannabees describe it, anyway!) in a public area.  After all, who knows when 'real' musicians may happen along?

But there's no rules aboard the good ship - maybe a cross between the 'Endeavour' and the 'Lollipop'? - not even about taking turns!  So while no ear plugs are supplied, by all means stay and play as long as you please!!  That's if your musical talents don't embarrass you too much first ...

Stay tuned up!!

PS  Our visit to the Musical Ship in mid-July 2010 was one of the rare days without rain when we travelled to Cooktown.  Read more about our adventures there by clicking HERE if you care dare!  But wait!  There's more!!  Cooktown also has the dubious distinction of the most bizarre sign seen on our travels!!


OZ Top Spot #3 Gundabooka NP, Bourke, New South Wales

Two wrongs don't make a right - but maybe three do? If the Bourke visitor information centre staff had been less busy; AND our tour of Bourke more comprehensive; AND our allocated campsite spacious and attractive, we'd have spent more time in Bourke itself! That would have been a tragedy because we wouldn't have got to see Gundabooka National Park!

On our next visit, we'll just head straight for the excellent Dry Tank camp ground in this beautiful outback National Park, so we can see the bits we missed. But the bits we DID get to see were so stunning, that like any good teaser, they left us wanting more!

The Gundabooka National Park entrance is about 50km south of Bourke, in western New South Wales. The dry weather dirt roads allowed easy access to the park on our visit in early June 2010, and our trip out to the camp ground uneventful. Unless you count the endless stops to admire wildflowers and spot new birds, of course!

Our conquest of the 4.8km Little Mountain walk, a steady climb with panoramic views over Mt Gundabooka, would have been far less time-consuming (but no less pleasurable) without the continual birding interruptions. Amateur twitchers like me choose obvious favourites like the spectacular Splendid Fairy Wren, Red-capped Robin and Mistletoebird; but SERIOUS twitchers (like my mate!) may find Western Gerygone and White-browed Treecreeper more appealing. We agreed that Mulga Parrot, Yellow Thornbill and Chestnut-rumped Thornbill were mighty fine as well!  But now that you've seen the pix, you agree with me about Splendid Fairy Wren, right??

Tragically, the rest of the park, with its old homesteads, picnic areas and trails remains a mystery – for now – although the Mulgowan Art Site and Valley of the Eagle walks would have to be pretty good to outdo Little Mountain. BUT … we remain hopeful, given the park's four former grazing leases cover 21 diverse habitats. Who knows which of the 137 bird species recorded in the park will appear next?  Or whether we'll actually see the ants that built this nest??

But next time our travels take us back of Bourke (always wanted to say that!!!) we know where we'll be headed!

Stay tuned!


Australia's Scenic Public Toilets #7 - Cairns Botanic Gardens, Queensland

It's amazing how the public toilets in the superb Cairns Botanic Gardens are a match for its visual delights!

Set on a rolling green lawn, surrounded by lushly growing tropical plants and flowers, it's a delight to do business there!!

In addition to the setting, the amenities have a superb view over the expansive and relaxing lawns, dotted with chairs, backpackers, prams, grey nomads and the like.

The Jade Vine - with unusual, truly green flowers - hangs over the convenience block, cunningly disguising its true purpose ...

It flowers in August - at least it did in both 2009 and 2010 when we visited - and turns the setting from superb to sensational!

To make your visit even more worthwhile, the nearby Botanic Gardens cafe serves a truly amazing dessert of icecream, cream, chocolate sauce, chocolate pieces, cherries, raspberry sauce and marshmallows served over a waffle that my mate and I devoured (on our 2009 visit) to the horror of some nearby overseas tourists - who took photos!  I guess to show the disgusting behaviour of the natives ...

I believe it was still on the menu when we returned this year, but once was enough!  Not enough to visit this enchanting wet tropics garden though - it's an absolute must if you're in the area!

Stay awhile!


Don't Miss This!! Daintree River Dawn Cruise, Far North Queensland

The third-hardest part of a Daintree River dawn cruise is selecting one. The second-hardest part is rising well before dawn to get there. But the hardest part of all is getting off the boat when it ends over 2 hours later! Yes, it really is that good! 

Although now you're thinking the pictures look a bit dull, right?  Well ... this is what happens at dawn on a cloudy day.  Deal with it.

We chose a dawn cruise randomly from the plethora of glossy brochures – each with unique claims like 'original', 'local coffee', 'photography', 'binoculars available', 'comfortable seats', 'wildlife viewing' etc etc etc, when in reality all of them are on (surprise!) the Daintree river and all of them spot wildlife.

After narrowing the choice by eliminating 'photography' cruises (click HERE for my views on giant lenses) and cruises focusing on crocodile spotting (croc spotters and birdwatchers are pretty much mutually exclusive), we rang #1 on the order of merit and got an answering service! SO … #2 – Daintree River Wild Watch – was the lucky winner! Besides, how could we go wrong with a guide called Ian 'Sauce' Worcester?!

Our tour's exotic ethnic distribution – Dominican Republic, Ireland and Aussie – easily trumped that of the rival boatload of giant-lens-clutching-Americans – don't ask me why they wanted to know, but they DID ask … And with only 4 on our tour, Sauce could devote the time and personal attention we deserved!!

The electric motor propelled us with barely a sound enhancing our bird-spotting, most notably Great Billed Heron (a lifer!), Azure Kingfisher, Double Eyed Fig Parrot and a pair of roosting Papuan Frogmouth – always a pleasure to actually spot their superb camouflage. While Eclectus Parrot remained elusive - real birdwatchers will wonder why I'd even THINK of seeing them 5-600 km south of their normal home – Sauce is hopeful a local population may be established by some escapees from the nearby Pt Douglas 'Habitat'! So there!!  Incidentally, Eclectus Parrot is my favourite Australian bird - and I could tell you it's a fine example of avian sexual dimorphism, but that would just be showing off ...

Wild splashing of heavy creatures upriver reminded us of the smallness of the boat relative to, say, a 4 metre (12+ft) crocodile, but Sauce pronounced the splashing most likely to be fish – hippos being unknown in these parts!  If so, several small Pacific nations could dine in style for a week on one of those babies. And yes, I shrieked like a girl while passing under a tree with a green tree snake cunningly camouflaged in the branches directly above, but hell … I AM a girl! It makes no difference whatsoever that the green tree snake isn't venemous. Or that no one has died of green tree snake bite in living memory. As any reasonable person would know!! But I digress ...

A post-cruise breakfast in Daintree village on a bird filled verandah (was that Sauce in the next room knocking back a hearty meal?!) prolonged the cruise euphoria. As we reluctantly left this divine spot behind, our departure route followed the stretch of the Daintree river we'd just cruised.  As we rounded a bend with a clear view over the river, we experienced our first absolutely unassisted crocodile sighting! Yes, you can see it too if you click on the photo and take a look on the sandbank (one day I MUST get a camera with a bigger zoom …) - that speck on the sandbank is a croc about 3 metres (~10ft) long, and we'd cruised past that same sandbank about an hour before in a tiny boat!! Maybe there's a closet croc-spotter lurking in this amateur birdwatcher's heart after all ...

Full of the utter fabulousness of our cruise experience, we set off for Julatten and our next appointment - to hunt down the rare Blue-Faced Parrot Finch! But … that's another story!!

Happy hunting!!


Signs #4 - Loud and Proud!

You gotta love a town that puts its money where its mouth is!  This sign, at the Barcoo River crossing into Isisford, Central Western Queensland, leaves visitors in no doubt as to the town's allegiances.

Regular readers will already know Isisford as not only the historic site where Isisfordia Duncanii was discovered, but also a massive embarassment for me - read about it HERE if you care - but this sign also marks it a town that grass roots democracy passes by!

How so?  A few years ago, the Queensland Labor government's program of amalgamating smaller regional councils meant the Shire of Isisford was absorbed into the much larger Longreach Regional Council.  Naturally concerned that funding, along with a proud and unique local heritage would be diluted, if not lost forever, the residents of Isisford mounted a losing battle against the amalgamation.

Isn't there something just a little anti-democratic about centralisation?  Or is it just me??

Although Isisford maintains it's own identity on-line - see HERE - the spectre of the Longreach Regional Council lurks in the sidebar ... but they can't take away the sign!!

Stay special!!


Traveller SHAME Files #3 - Space Invaders

Some time in the future, we'll reach a higher plane of consciousness and what we now know as mysteries will be made clear. I guess I'll just have to wait until then to find out why Type #1 Space Invaders, faced with the choice of multiple sites in wide open spaces, will invariably choose to set up camp right next to us!

Somehow, I don't think it's due to my magnetic personality … And if misery REALLY loved company, why would it voluntarily seek out the company of a grumpy, anti-social bitch?

My psychic powers clearly need a boost – so far I've failed to fathom why Type #1s do what they do!

Maybe staying in an out of the way spot requires some sort of validation. 'Are we allowed to stay here? Oh, it must be OK, there's people here already. Let's stay right next to them!'

Or maybe it's fear. 'OMIGOD! What if there are feral pigs/plants/campers? There's safety in numbers, so we'd better set up next to them!'

Or maybe it's perversion. 'HHHMMMmmm... they look interesting! Lets camp close to them and watch!!'

Or maybe not. Like I said, one day we'll all find out!

Type #2 Space Invaders, usually found in more structured camping areas are even more irritating. Many caravan parks have designated spaces of roughly the same size hired out to travellers at the same cost per site. SO … there's no incentive to impinge on anyone else's space, is there? IS THERE???!!!

Well you wouldn't think so.

But Type #2's have skilled, yet subtle ways to take more than their fair share of space. Like the chap who parked his giant 4WD RV across the space in front of his van and OUR awning instead of his van and HIS awning. We wondered why he bothered - keeping the space in front of his awning clear gave him a perfect view of the amenities block entrance. More specifically, the ladies amenities block entrance! Then the penny dropped ...
But the advent of rigs bigger than the average holiday shack has spawned the Type #3 Space Invader, for whom extra space is apparently a god-given right that comes with the purchase of said big rig!

Our Type #3 experience in the Blackall Caravan Park took us completely by surprise. We'd spent the day at Isisford and returned to an iceberg-like smooth white wall about 1.5 metres from our side door, rising well above us. This gave us an immediate, but unwelcome insight into the Titanic experience, and finished off any chance we had of actually enjoying sitting outside!

Because a drivers license upgrade is not required for towing something bigger than a small semi trailer, reversing into a small space is often a problem. And just because you've paid the same site fee as the smaller rig next door (even though you'll use WAAAAAAAY more power and water than them) doesn't mean you actually have to stay within your site boundary, does it? After all, they don't actually need the space. And look! If we move their table and chairs out of the way, that'll give us a LOT more room!

Cheeky buggers!

Having taken over half our space, these Type #3's then had the gall to ring their kids and whine about how small the sites were at this park! Tragically, because we were so close we could hear every word. Even more tragically, while I get a big 'YES' for bad tempered bitch, I get an even bigger 'NO' for murdering psychopath!

Incidentally, alert readers will correctly infer that the Type #3 Space Invader qualities often (although not always!) fit the Grey Nomad demographic ... but go ahead!  Prove me wrong!! 

Stay calm!!


Weird Stuff #1 - Mt Molloy, Queensland

Did a double-take while wandering down Mount Molloy's main street after a burrito at the Mexican cantina!  Maybe we'd had too much chili?  Was that REALLY a dinosaur in the trailer?? 

The most logical explanation was, of course, that we'd somehow strayed into a parallel universe ...

But no, the dinosaur was apparently the centrepiece of the 'Christmas in July' street party decorations!  Along with a giant stuffed chimpanzee!!

Of course!  That makes perfect sense!!!

I still think the parallel universe theory is the most logical ...

Stay sane!
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