January 2009

Happy New Year wherever you are, from Barkly Homestead, at the junction of the Barkly Highway and the Tablelands Highway. Go halfway down the Northern Territory and then turn towards Queensland, which is course is exactly what we have done. Actually, we thought it would be a pretty boring day, but as always, stuff happens. This morning, we found ourselves surrounded by baby peacocks as we prepared to leave.

At Dunmarra, we met a couple who are on their second trip in their 40-foot bus and they were happy to show us through it. They had stopped earlier to find that one of the wheels on the tandem trailer carrying the small 4WD had fallen off along the way. Ken was using some interesting mechanical skills to solve his problem.

We also discovered that one of the young ladies onsite is a hairdresser, so Julie took the opportunity to get a haircut (cheaper than Canberra too!).

At the Three Ways Roadhouse, we caught up with the owners (again), having been personally served on Christmas Day by Abbie Bishop (daughter of one of the owners), who plays basketball for the Canberra Capitals. As it happens, we met her again several days later at the Holiday Inn in Darwin. Small world.

Then there we were, tooling along the Barkly Highway and it looked like perhaps there was a cyclist ahead. Nope, just a bloody big brown bull, ambling along the side of the road.

Otherwise the scenery was road, road and more road, interspersed by rain, more rain and heavy rain. We have also discovered that the CD player does not appreciate most of the CDs we brought with us, so we have been forced to make up games to pass the time. Julie’s favourite is “catch the car in front and pass it”. She assures me that she didn’t go over 140k while I was sleeping. Hmm.

Friday – Get up, get out and head for Queensland. The dogs kept us “safe” overnight – you kinda had to “know” them to get anywhere near them.

The scenery went from flat and green to flat and boring.

 

Then as we crossed the border, the speed limit drops from 130 to 110. Ugh! Approaching Mount Isa, the country gains a bit of shape, finally dominated by the smokestacks of the mine.

For the record: copper, lead and zinc. We found the agent that manages our house in Mount Isa and she took us out to see the place. Somehow, the notification that we were coming to see it hadn’t got through, but the tenants were kind enough to let us have a quick look, as we had never seen it before purchasing it. We were pleased to note that it is huge, with numerous rooms added on at the rear of the house. Looks like they have several generations living there too. The mine really dominates the town, but it’s hard to capture it in a photo because there are no easily accessible vantage points to see all of it (other than from the air).

Meanwhile, Julie has developed a dose of Hershey Squirts for the last 3 days – the locals here would call it Bali Belly – probably not able to handle the local water. Now that we have figured that out, we are using the 20 litres of bottled water that we took on in Alice Springs.

After Mount Isa, I was surprised to see that the countryside all the way to Cloncurry is quite spectacular. I certainly don’t remember that from my first trip! Then we pulled in to a motel to check for vacancies, not realising just how high the “high top” is, and took out the air vent on the top. Said motel advised that their restaurant would not be operating, so we took their suggestion of the Leichhardt Hotel, which has brand new motel units out the back. So I dropped Julie off there to make the necessary arrangements and headed off back to the main street to deal with my disaster. I bought 2 rolls of duct tape, positioned myself under the high roof of the Shell across the road and proceeded to dry the two pieces of vent and tape them together, climb up via the rear spare tyre, dry the area up top, and then tape the vent onto the roof area. Used nearly a whole roll of tape, but I’m pretty confident that it will survive the constant rain.

Speaking of which, Cloncurry has been dry for 3 years and they have been hoping for some decent rain for quite some time. They now have the rain that we have been driving into for the last 2 days. And it has made the road to the east impassable, not to mention the ones to the north and south as well. So there goes my original plan of finally completing the stretch of road that I missed on my round-Australia trip 25 years ago. However, it also has put a damper (yes, pun intended) on our plans to get through to Cairns on time. I had a quick look at Google maps for the area just west of Julia Creek and found a stretch of river that is about a mile wide. I’m guessing that’s the trouble spot. Guess we’ll call Britz in the morning and discuss things. We might be here a little longer.

Saturday – OK, called Britz and they didn’t seem too surprised. “If you are delayed, just get here as soon as you can.” OK, let’s go out and see what the road looks like anyway. As we pulled onto the main road, a 4WD towing a trailer pulled out ahead of us. OK, looks like he’d probably know what he’s doing, we’ll follow him. And we did, through several sets of flooded road, each one just a matter of inches deep. Except that he tended to go for the shallower water on the flowing edge (the left), whereas I tend to go down the middle, sacrificing depth for stability – if it does start to drift, at least I have some room to move.

Then we came to the big one. About 100 yards of road, with water flowing across the road and around 40 cm (15″) or so deep. Someone had just walked across and back, so we at least knew the depth. Often the plan is for a 4WD to lead another car across, thereby establishing the bow wave and protecting the car from most of the water. The first set went out and made it OK. Second set went out, including our 4WD buddy hugging the left side, with the car driver a bit further out into the flow than he would have preferred. But they also made it OK. Then our turn. First gear, keep the revs up, keep the bow wave going, keep moving, you’ll make it. Julie, your job is to fire off the camera as much as possible and we’ll see what we get.

Yep, we made it through too. Nothing like a big LandCruiser with big wheels when it comes to going through water!

The not so good news was a small car coming from the other side that had been following something much bigger, which had slowed mid-stream and pushed the bow wave back onto him. Stalled in the water and drowned the engine. The collected bodies had pushed him back out, but he was seriously stuck. Certainly nothing we could do to help.

Shortly afterwards, we saw a Police LandCruiser going the other way and only realised much later that there was no oncoming traffic after that. Turns out he had closed the road at Julia Creek, posted a notice at the adjacent service station and gone out to check it out for himself. From this, we eventually concluded that we were one of the last vehicles to get through the flooded area today. Another snippet of conversation indicated that when the water is running so hard over the crossing, it’s actually rising again (after falling overnight). So yes, we were very lucky to get through. The cop did close the road after that and explained his decision to the assembled drivers that gathered around him when he returned. Meanwhile, I introduced Julie to the concept of “spaghetti on toast”. The closest she has ever been to it is “mince on toast”, which she calls SOS (Shit On a Shingle).

As our CD player is still deciding when to work (mostly NOT), we have been reduced to finding radio stations, which are few and far between, and making up other games. At one point, we found ourselves counting the numbers on the white posts at the side of the road. They counted down to zero and then just restarted at 115! Yay!

After that, it was road, road and more road, up and over the Great Dividing Range (at all of 550 metres above sea level). Stop laughing all you people in Seattle! Just for that, you get no conversion – you’ll just have to figure it out for yourself.

We have stopped for the night at Charters Towers, with the plan for tomorrow being to try for a visit to the Undarra Lava Tubes, if the road is open, of course.

Sunday – After a bit of a late start (needing breakfast for one), we headed out on the Gregory Developmental Road. There are a number of these “developmental roads” across the inland and outback areas of Queensland. Road, because, well it’s something you can drive on. Developmental, because it’s sealed, sort of. Well, one lane is anyway, sometimes two lanes and sometimes a whole really wide piece of bitumen, if the State or Federal Government has decided to pour some money into that particular stretch. So there you are, on a one lane sealed road with dirt on either side. Which means dust in the dry and sloppy mud in the wet.

Lo and behold, there’s a road train coming at you. Now just be aware, this is no ordinary road train. These guys are over 50 meters long, pulling 3 large trailers, possibly weighing over 100 tons, driving down the middle of the road. It’s in your interest to keep him there, because if he decides to get one wheel off into the dirt (like most drivers do), his third trailer is going to come whipping back into the middle of the road. Right where you are at the time, definitely not a good look. So you slow down and get OFF the road. And I mean RIGHT OFF the sealed bit. Let him have the road, he’s bigger!

We noticed that there has been rain up this way lately. All the locals are loving it. And the rivers and creeks are showing it.

 

 

At one point, I walked back onto the low level bridge for photos, and as I walked back to the van, I could see that the high level debris  was way over my head. You’ll notice the 7 metre mark in the first picture. That’s 7 metres over the lowest point on the road, the bridge surface, which is itself some 3 to 4 metres above the river bed. That’s a LOT of water to have coming down the river. But at least the levels have dropped enough to be “no worries” for us.

We did make it into the Undarra Lava Tubes area, but their first tour tomorrow was booked out and we would have about 4-5 hours to drive to get the van to Cairns before 3pm. So we reluctantly let that one go, to be picked up again when we have all the time in the world. We’ve landed at Innot Hot Springs tonight, so we’re right on the edge of the Atherton Tableland for a touristy day tomorrow. We wandered down to the hot springs, which consisted of a unit capping one of the springs to deliver hot water to the hotel/motel, overflowing into the creek. But the creek is almost running a banker, so the hot water just gets merged in with the flow. That’s what we get for coming up here in the Wet Season. Oh, and just watch the hot water in the morning shower, just in case they haven’t pumped up enough cold water from the creek to balance it.

Monday – For those of you who have been following our adventure closely, you will have noticed that this was not published last night. If you’re in a major town, the 3G Wireless broadband is fabulous, and fast enough to get things done quickly and get offline again. And if you’re not, there’s NUTHIN! The mobiles didn’t work either.

Last night, Julie went round the bar firing off my camera. The skull showing a crucifix is actually the top jaw of a catfish.

Then one of our fellow motel guests found a local python near his room. One of the boys caught it and brought it in to show. Julie wanted to hold it, but was assured that it was pretty angry at being handled and that no, he was certainly not going to let go of its head. She got to pat it though.

Speaking of mobiles, Julie has been receiving a call almost daily from “Unknown” with no message left. “Unknown” finally got through this morning as we approached Ravenshoe (pronounced Raven’s Hoe). Hello, it’s Immigration here, still waiting for the marriage certificates we asked for 2 months ago. By this time I had stopped the van and took up the reply. Very politely verified the dates, such as: “I personally took them in myself, originals and certified copies, you sent us the letter when?, late October?, OK it took us about a month to get them ordered from the US, so I would have dropped them off to your Canberra office in late November.” She was kinda terse after that (probably majorly pissed off) and stated that she would initiate a search via e-mail to find them. Don’t think I’d want to be on the receiving end of that one! We do sincerely hope that someone gets their arse kicked. But I was left muttering, “Why couldn’cha leave a voice message, ya stupid wench?”

Just 100 yards later, the Police were stopping ALL traffic at the next intersection. As the cop approached, I said, “That looks like an RBT.” Sure enough. They were Random Breath Testing EVERY driver on all 4 approach roads. First time Julie had seen an RBT in the 4 years she has been here. “Just blow into the tube until I tell you to stop. Thank you, sir. have a nice day.” Wow, who do they expect to catch at 9 am on Monday morning?

Today, we’ve seen some spectacular waterfalls (yep, it’s the wet season). One of them was just off the road (on a side road of course, not the highway) and the sign said, “Falls, 90m”. It was 90 metres alright, almost vertical, but certainly worth the walk.

 

Julie was again blown away (yeah, sorry, pun intended again) by the wind farm that appeared on the top of a ridge. Very interesting. Apparently it has been there for several years.

 

Other photos show winding roads and various forms of wildlife.

 

 

 

We cruised on through the Atherton Tableland and spent some time at the markets in Kuranda before dropping down onto the coastal plain and into Cairns.

By the time we checked into the Holiday Inn, we were dirty, hot and grumpy, and it was soooooo nice to met by a friendly porter, happy to help to move all of our crap.

Later on, Julie was making a booking with the tour desk for SkyRail tickets for the following day. between her spelling of F for Foxtrot, I, Double D, A, M for Michael, A, N for Nancy (sheesh, can’t even remember her phonetic alphabet), the tickets had our name as FIWDAMAN. That’s gotta be a new one, certainly one that I hadn’t seen before! – Siddaman, Fidderman, Sidamon, you get the picture.

Tuesday – Today’s excursion was via the SkyRail back to Kuranda, to examine the remainder of the markets. Funny, Julie was OK on the way up, but on the way down, her fear of heights had kicked in and she was only marginally better than a blithering wreck by the time we reached the bottom terminal. But we certainly did see some spectacular rainforest from a unique perspective. And the photo of her, in a cable car, with her EYES OPEN is a miracle in itself.

Barron Falls.

 

 

 

 

A Scrub Turkey making a mess.

 

We’ve also caught up with the washing, so we don’t stink so badly and don’t need to recycle the underwear any more. Tonight we intend to hit the Night market in Cairns, which is less than 2 blocks from the hotel.

Meanwhile, I am going to set up the photos pages from last month and this month with links to the movie files that I will upload when we get home. Which means the photos page won’t get updated until then, but the photos from each day will still be in the slideshow. For example, there are at least 40 new pictures from today alone. And I have used up my month’s allowance of online time, so it will cost extra for the next couple of days. This newsletter page will still get updated where possible. Note from 2018: We certainly have come a long way with improvements to our Internet access. This shows how difficult it was sometimes to do such a “simple” thing as uploading some pictures and videos.

UPDATE: Tuesday evening, received a call from my sister Dorothy, who alerted me to the news that the Barkly Highway has been flooded and the road surface has been severely damaged near Soudan Station.  News pictures show a gaping hole in one side of the road for a length that appears to be about 100 yards long.  I have located that as lat/long coordinates of   -20.052,137.02  Copy those coordinates, then use the  Full Site Map to paste them into the pink area, then Set Centre, drill down by using the + sign multiple times, switch to Satellite, to have a look where it is. We came through there from Barkly Homestead to Cloncurry on Friday with no problems. From the newspaper reports I’ve seen, it looks like the culvert at that point had too much pressure built up under it and just exploded up into the road. After that of course, the water will cut away at everything.

Also on the news are reports that Mount Isa is cut off in all directions. We were also there on Friday. It was on Saturday that we only just got through the floodwaters to Julia Creek before the road was closed again. Looks like the Universe is looking after us!

Wednesday – While vegetating in the bar last night, Julie got talking to a lovely South African couple who live in Malawi and are here checking out opportunities to invest in and ultimately migrate to Australia. Today we took them out in the car for a look around. First stop was the site of our “next” investment, a unit in the redevelopment of the former Drive-In site, which is in fact currently a run-down Drive-In site. Guess they haven’t started yet, huh? Although we do know that Glencorp, who are also building Townsville Waters, are having a few problems raising their development finance. Then out to the northern beaches for a look and back via the Barron Gorge Power Station to the hotel, in time for the fish feeding.

The hotel introduced some barramundi as fingerlings back in 1996 – there are now 8 of them up 90 cm long and weighing 15 Kg, hand fed 3 times a week.

 

 

 

After that, we did a test pack, to ensure that we would still be under the maximum weight for the big suitcase, had a bit of a rest and wandered down to the public pool on the Esplanade. Whoever thought it up deserves a medal. It’s a bloody big fresh water pool built into the parklands, right next to the edge of the city. Very popular spot in this sort of climate. The reason of course is that the ocean water contains all sorts of nasty things!

We got back to the hotel, completely buggered, but we do both have a tan! And we’re ready to go home.

At the airport, I got interviewed by a local lady, who informed me that the public pool thingie is called The Lagoon and that the locals are understandably very proud of it. I realise that the airport is in the middle of a major redevelopment, but in the process, the place is a bloody ZOO. Four different buildings for Qantas checkin, departures, other checkins and arrivals, in that order. To get between each one, go outside and walk in the heat. The air-conditioning in the main departure area is only just adequate for the number of people in there. Oh, and to drop off a rental car, you have to go to the far end of where you need to be to check in. And because we are both so buggered from the heat, we came straight here instead of stopping off somewhere for breakfast first, so we’re stuck here for even longer than we needed to be. All in all, it would have to be the low point of the whole holiday. Yep, we’re ready to go home.

Thursday – A quick sort through the mail when we got home. There, dated Monday 5th January, “Dear Mrs Fiddaman, Congratulations, your application for citizenship has been approved ….”. I laughed until I nearly cried.

Monday – Another message from Dorothy, pointing out that Cairns is now cut off to the south. Is Canberra safe? Hmm. Only if we don’t leave? Poop, I’m due in Sydney on the weekend.

Finally. The movies have been uploaded. I’ve been helping out on the Service Desk for the last 2 mornings – everyone coming back from holidays having forgotten their passwords, plus half the military moving every year around this time, makes for a busy time and each year the Service Desk people call for volunteers. I was talking to an Army Captain in Townsville this morning, he said it was bucketing down and blowing a gale there. This is from a place that never gets any rain because it’s in a rain depression caused by the layout of the local ranges. But this lot came down from Cairns via the ocean side and came straight in.

This week, our beloved Datsun (well, he’s beloved at the moment) has been diagnosed with a severe case of heart disease. We think it’s congenital and the onset was exacerbated by the hot weather. When we finally realised that he was becoming uncharacteristically lethargic, we took him to the vet, who hospitalised him for the day so that she could get some X-rays taken. He was already so exhausted that she gave him half the normal dose of pre-med and it knocked him out for most of the day. In fact, he was only just awake when we collected him that afternoon, and slept all night. He will be on medications for the rest of his life. He’s been sleeping most of the time since then, and today (Saturday) he was particularly limp and went back to the vet for overnight care to ensure that he was getting enough fluids and electrolytes. He should recover, but probably won’t ever be his old bouncy self. We’ll just have to wait and see. Sunday, it’s been a very rough day. The vet also started him yesterday on a bronchodilator drug to assist with keeping his lungs clear. But he’s still starving for oxygen and one of the symptoms of his brain not getting enough is that he goes into a spasm of nodding his head uncontrollably, often associated with raucous heavy breathing, as he struggles to get enough air. It has been soul-destroying to have to sit here and watch it happen, without being able to do anything to help. Monday, pleased to say that he’s now only bobble-headed when he does something strenuous, like resisting medication, although when he started refusing water, I knew he was going.

He died peacefully in his sleep sometime between when I went to bed and Julie got home about midnight.

Sleep well, my friend. Datsun was laid to rest this morning, Tuesday 20 January, wrapped in his favourite blanket, in a part of the main garden where the violets run rampant, adjacent to the side fence that he defended so vigorously. That night the heavens opened up with a downpour that drenched the garden and flooded our gutters. Since then I have formally trimmed his grave site and in keeping with  the Fiddaman family tradition, planted some miniature roses.

I have noticed over the last few days that the effects and symptoms of the grief process are common and repetitive. Everyone deals with grief in their own way and everyone is affected differently. What I have found for me is that the processes that have the most impact on me don’t change much. Even since the burial, when of course I bawled my eyes for a couple of minutes, I have had numerous “tear attacks”, where I start crying for no other reason than that’s what I feel like doing at that time. I do try to not make it too obvious in public places, although in private it can be pretty intense. Julie, being the kind heart that she is, tries to comfort me by saying, “It’s OK”, which is her way. She of course wants to “fix” me by making the hurt go away. There are times when it would be better if she left me alone, but I don’t want to hurt her any more than she is already. Which leaves me with times like now, when she is working a late shift, that if the tears attack, I can genuinely let them go with a vengeance. I’m convinced that we all still have to do our x number of hours of crying before we’re finished. What that x is depends on the individual and the gravity of the situation. But trying to shortcut it will always come back and bite you later. I am reminded of the quote from Carol Staudacher on the front page of this website, “You don’t heal from a loss .. because time passes, you heal because of what you do with that time.” Perhaps I’m using my time well after all.

I have fixed the gutter. It was only blocked by a foot or so of stuff, just enough to make the downpipe completely useless during such a heavy downpour. I was also blessed by a visit last night from Stewart, just checking in after his return from interstate. We checked out the burial site and talked about all sorts of guy stuff.

I still get these waves of great sadness come washing over me. All I can do is to let them wash over. At the time, I just feel like giving up. Fortunately, it passes. Julie got home from work today (Saturday) and found me right in the middle of a teary attack. Speaking of Julie, she has a completely different approach. She holds EVERYTHING in, until she can no longer contain it. Case in point, she held it all in until she got home from work, and when she was finally in a “safe” place where she could let her guard down, it was immediately off to the toilet to throw up. I think I prefer my way!

Life does go on. We are looking forward to seeing Brooke & Paul on Sunday and spending the morning of Australia Day with them. Apparently they have all sorts of Aussie stuff planned.

And indeed it was an Australia Day to remember. Brooke, Julie & I made a pact at the front door as we arrived on Sunday afternoon, that we wouldn’t all burst into tears simultaneously. Chinese food was ordered while we relaxed and they got the kids towards bed. Actually, when the food arrived, it disappeared remarkably quickly. Sitting in the hotel bar later on, I watched the barman dealing with foreign (probably Japanese) tourists who could speak very little English and had to be helped with the various denominations of paper money. Not that our money is paper really, more of a polymer plastic. And in particular, one guy who simply pointed at what he wanted. I mentioned it later to the barman and he said, “How hard is it to learn to say Heineken?” Anyway, by the time we got moving and back to the kids’ place, Brooke’s parents were already there and proceeded to apply Aussie flag tattoos and put Julie through her paces on the “real” citizenship test.

With a late brunch and presents for the “new girl”, we were on our way back home. Thanks, guys. We thoroughly enjoyed being able to step out of our various stresses for a while.