Thursday, May 29, 2008

Our first week

It's now several weeks ago, so I'm scratching a bit ... the following day (Sunday) we went down to the servo and bought some basics (milk, butter, bacon and eggs, and frozen steak for dinner) and dropped in at the Birdsville Bakery for some freshly baked bread and a coffee — yes, its quite civilised, considering. Everywhere we went, people seemed to know already who we were — a lesson in how quickly news gets around out here. Everyone was very friendly, lots of introductions and hand-shaking, so we were feeling welcome already. Did a bit more unpacking and jumped into the truckasaurus to check out the sand dunes, out in the direction of Big Red (Australia's biggest sand dune, so the tourist info says). Got about 10 kms out of town and realised we'd broken all the rules — we'd told no-one where we were going or how long we'd be, and didn't even take much water. We'd got to some sizeable sand dunes by then, so pulled over and went exploring, before heading back into town for a beer at the pub. Still no gas in the stove, so we cooked the steaks on our little camp stove — and a very good job it did too.

The sand dunes are amazing. The red sand is so fine its almost impossible to walk up if its steep.

Monday the Tourist Info office (and local council office) was open, so we went and introduced ourselves to them, and enquired about our bed and gas for the stove. Alex said there was a transport problem with the bed, but it should be there by the end of the week, and she would ring the council about the gas. By the time we got home about 30 minutes later after a detour to the Bakery for coffee, the council dudes were there to fix the gas. After banging the cylinder with their spanner, someone noticed the gas tap was turned to the missing cylinder outlet, so that took about 3 minutes to sort out. They too were very friendly, and said they would be back next week with plants for our garden bed. Things were looking up.

Can't remember much of what happened the rest of the week, except our bed actually turned up on Friday on the back of a ute from Bedourie, 200+ km northwards, and trailing quite a bit of red dust. We borrowed an industrial vacuum cleaner from Dusty and Teresa from the Bakery — we were getting to be quite good friends by then — and cleaned it up. It was such luxury after a week on the camp mattress! We walked quite a bit, and visited various local sites such as the council depot and the tip in search of the makings of a garden bed for the back yard (its a long way to the shop for anything but a sausage roll), and the local cemetery, a very poignant place. The big happening was the Birdsville Bronc Branding on the weekend.

No flies on me ....

In the cemetery.

The sunsets around here are awesome — with or without clouds.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Our new home

We were a bit concerned that we would fit into a "one-bedroom unit" after our three bedroom house in Sydney, but were pleasantly surprised — its pretty compact, but the living area is quite spacious, and clean except for the red dust on top of the fridge and cupboards. It has all the necessities, including a fridge, the world's smallest lounge, washing machine, table and chairs and a bed. Hang on, its a single bed! Hmmm ..... Luckily it also has a very large pantry cupboard, because a large part of what we brought with us was my entire pantry contents. I was quite depressed unpacking, I had no idea how it was all going to fit, but with some re-organisation, its all in and working. First thing Evan did when he got all the boxes in was to locate his laptop and make sure the internet was working, which it was, so he was happy. The phone wasn't though, and there is no mobile coverage here, so we had to go to the public phone box outside the pub to phone and let various people know we were here safely. The stove wasn't working either, it runs on gas, and we assumed the gas cylinder was empty.

We threw our camping mattress on the floor and went out to explore our new surrounds. We have "water glimpses" — you can just see the billabong through the trees, so we headed down there to check it out. The ground around here is covered in gibber stones, and is very rocky, not to mention the red dust everywhere. The billabong is a fairly pleasant expanse of brown water, and can be quite picturesque in the right light. The vast flat horizon is just amazing, there is such a feeling of space here. And as we walked over to the pub for dinner, we saw more stars in the night sky than I've seen for a very long time. Dinner at the pub was very good, city-quality food, although a little pricey, and we wandered home and slept very soundly on our very hard camp mattress.

Evan's happy — his office is operational.

All the comforts of home ....

The view of the desert from the back door. Note equally unencumbered back yard — except for the Hills Hoist!

The view through the front window is surprisingly leafy.

Gibber Court.

Over the road.

The billabong near our place.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Birdsville or Bust: getting there

After a very late night followed by a very early morning, we finally finished packing, and loaded everything (at least twice) with much supervision and assistance from neighbours Gary and  Hugh and set off at 5 pm, into Sydney peak-hour traffic and towing an overladen trailer behind an equally overladen Landcruiser 4WD. It would take us three days to drive to Birdsville, and we'd planned to get to Mudgee that afternoon, but due to our late start decided to stop at Blackheath, in the Blue Mountains, which would give us a clear run out of the city traffic in the morning.

The next day was pretty straightforward, albeit very long. We left Blackheath at 6.30 am and arrived at Cunamulla, 118 km over the Queensland border, at 7.30 that evening, so 13 hours of solid driving.  We went via Lithgow, Mudgee, Gilgandra, stopped for lunch at Mendooran, an interesting little town (see pic), Warren, Nyngan and Bourke, and crossed the border at Barringun, a tiny little one-pub town. Not a great deal to look at, although they make sure you don't miss it when there is (see pic) -- just the horizon getting flatter and redder all the time. We slowed right down to 70 kph once the sun went down, keeping out a close eye for animals on the side of the road. Just over the border we hit something small and flying -- there were a lot of birds that I think were quails, we managed to miss the rest of them. At one stage we thought the gas barbecue cylinder in the back was leaking, there was a very strong smell -- wound down the windows to get some fresh air and discovered it was worse. The very helpful owner at the Country Way Motel, where we stayed, told us the smell comes from the Gidgee trees in the area! Dinner that night at the local pub was a very tasty country-sized (ie BIG) t-bone after which we retired to our motel room. There was a party going on around a bonfire over the back fence, we heard on the news the next morning that a local child had been hospitalised after being badly burned in a fire -- I can guess where that happened.


It's a Point of Interest!

Next day (Friday 2) was a much easier drive, only 550 km to Windorah. Stopped for lunch in Quilpie and did a little shopping at the last supermarket before Birdsville (650 kms away). Arrived at the Western Star Hotel in Windorah at about 3 pm, a lovely green oasis (ie, it has green lawn and lots of bouganvillea) on a flat red plain. As soon as we booked in, we pulled out our laptops and headed to the beer garden, where we checked our email courtesy of the wireless broadband whilst downing a welcome cold XXXX (Queenslanders can't spell beer). We stayed here last year on our reconn trip and enjoyed it a great deal, the owners Mark and Barb are very friendly, as were the locals Brian and Caveman. A very social evening with a couple more locals who dropped in. Tomorrow the last and possibly the hardest leg to Birdsville -- dirt roads and sand dune country.

Council worker watering the street plants in Quilpie.

Two views of Windorah — one with added water, one without.

Last day on the road — so far, so good, but today we hit the dirt, and Evan is a bit concerned about our overloaded vehicle and trailer. After about 110 kms of sealed road, we slow down to about 80 kph for the gravel, which is actually in quite good condition (it not having rained for more than three months). We stop for our morning coffee at Deon's Lookout, a high bluff with a great view about halfway to Birdsville. It's very windy -- we had to boil the billy on the ground behind the car to stop the stove blowing out -- but at least there weren't many flies, unlike last year. Fortified, we push on through Betoota (population used to be 1, but unfortunately he died) until finally we see the water storage tanks of Birdsville in the distance, and we cruise through town past the famous Birdsville Hotel, round the oval, past the Bakery and arrive at our new home for the next year. We discover the car has a broken rear window, but otherwise we have arrived safe and sound.

View from Deon's Lookout

Wait for it .....

.... another Point of Interest!

Stay to the left on sand hill crests — you never know what's coming from the other direction.

Betoota — now a ghost town — although this pub is the entire town.

Almost there!

We found out too late that you're supposed to cover your back window with cardboard if you're towing a trailer.

Our new home. Ours is the unit on this end, one of three. Note the completely unencumbered garden (yes, that patch of red dirt).