Tuesday, June 17, 2008

At the Bakery

The fire at the front is lit for Pizza Night on Sundays. Ben, the baker, sits with his sister Naomi, who is visiting.

To backtrack a little ... during the first week I was checking out work opportunities — the school was looking for a part-time administration assistant (but the teacher was out of town), there was rumour of work at the Information Centre, and Blue the Plumber was looking for a new offsider for three weeks to drive the backhoe. "How hard is it to drive a backhoe?" said I. Not hard at all, Blue assured me, but I wasn't convinced, especially when I found out what a backhoe looked like. I'd offered my services to Dusty, the owner of the bakery, every time we'd been in for coffee as well, and he finally said he could do with some help in the van at the Bronco Branding, where I got a swift lesson in pie floaters and hot chips. I must have done alright, because he said would I like to help out in the Bakery the next morning, since there were so many extra people in town for the Branding, whereupon I got another swift lesson in making cappucinos.

By lunchtime I was a dab hand at the coffee machine, had sold a lot of pies and bread, and washed up a a pile of dishes. I have been in regularly ever since, and now can make pizzas for the Sunday evening Pizza Night, cook hot breakfasts (bacon, eggs & tomato melange, savoury mince, lambs fry and eggs on toast) and a myriad other things it takes to keep a bakery working, such as restocking the fridges and sweeping up the constant red dust. Its a very long way from sitting behind a computer laying out magazines, and surprisingly physical — I was ready for bed by about 8.30 pm the first week or so, but I'm getting used to it now.

Ben the Baker gets in at 4 am to make the bread fresh for the mornings, and does most of the pie making as well, although Dusty cooks the fillings. The pie menu includes Kangaroo and Claret, Curried Camel, Butter Chicken, Chunky Beef and Mince pies, plus pasties and sausage rolls. Teresa, his partner, has the pie warmer stocked by 8 am, and makes the sweet things, like quandong tarts, fingerbuns, and a delicious lemon slice, and Ben makes a very good Lamington.

The thing I like most about helping out at the Bakery is the chance I get to meet the locals who stop in for coffee and a feed, as well as all the people passing through on their travels. Without exception, they're very nice people, and are always happy to tell you where they're coming from and where they're off to, and as much about their travels as you've time to listen to. And then there are the regulars, the builders who are working on the new Information Centre (young blokes who consume enormous quantities of pies and sausage rolls), contractors who are in town for a job, station hands, and pilots who are doing regular runs.

Teresa and Dusty, who owns the Birdsville Bakery.

Locals nurses, Bev and Ross, from the Birdsville Clinic, are regulars.

Inside the Bakery. Rusty has built it to look like a tin shed, which it pretty well is, albeit a well fitted-out and air conditioned one. It has an old windmill as a centrepiece, with its blades decorated by local aboriginal artist, Fiona.

Michelle, the cappucino queen.

Dusty's pride and joy, his Sturt's Desert Peas.

And his wheel rim collection.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

After the Flood

Looking across to the Billabong — its spilling over its banks everywhere.

Well, its pretty much back to normal in Birdsville — clear blue skies, lovely sunny days. The mud's drying out, although you still need to be very careful where you tread, its very boggy under that nice hard-looking but thin crust. The roads are all open to "high-clearance 4WDs", which means its still very wet and boggy in patches. The marooned campers are all starting to venture out, and the ones who've been stuck on various roads for the last three days are starting to find their way back in. The 30 km stretch between Big Red (start of the Simpson Desert) and Birdsville is apparently a nightmare, people are being warned not to try the Desert for another week. The runner's bus is still here, the Windorah road has been very wet, and the bus doesn't have a lot of clearance. Five of the runners have had to fly out, they've had commitments they couldn't miss. Graham Connors got away with minimal delay, as did Neil (the policeman) and Blue (the plumber), both of whom missed the first couple of days of their holidays, waiting for seats on the (small) plane. The food delivery truck reckons he'll only be a day late getting to Birdsville up the Track. There's supposed to be another front coming through tomorrow, I don't think there'll be much rain here, but may well be further down the Track, so he could have fun getting back again. There's still quite a lot of water around, and I'm told there will be a mass of wildflowers in the next few weeks which I'm looking forward to. In the meantime, here's a few pics ....

This is the Diamantina River at the bridge on Sunday, while it was still raining.

And this is on Tuesday — its risen four metres.

Lots of water where its usually very dry.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Big Wet

Birdsville Racetrack — or should I say Lake ....

Something very unusual is happening outside at the moment — it's raining! I know it's been raining everywhere in Australia (practically), but it's been a good six months since there's been a drop of rain out here. In the last day we've had two and a half inches, which is a LOT. The station owners will be very happy, but there are some very unhappy campers around here. Not only is the camping ground rapidly disappearing under a lake, but all roads out of here are shut, so they're well and truly stuck and may be for some time, particularly if it doesn't stop raining soon.

I'm sure it was caused by the "Birdsville Gift", an annual sports carnival that was held yesterday. A bunch of professional runners was bussed out here Thursday to compete for $10,000 prize money (why is still a mystery to me), plus a bunch of less serious events for the locals. I competed in the Over 40 Women's 80 metre race, and came 4th — alright, there were only four people in the race, but I was roundly cheered for giving it a go. The Beerbelly Cup was fun, but the golfing event was most popular, around 40-50 people whacked golf balls across the oval, (some several times, at $5 a ball, or $10 for 3) the winner being the person to hit their ball closest to the flag. The prize was $2000, so worth a go, though some people barely managed to hit the ball at all, to the amusement of onlookers. All good fun.

The winner of the 1600 m race — looking very professional indeed.

The winner of the Beerbelly Cup — not quite so professional, but enthusiastic.

Even less professional — me, bringing up the rear of the Over 40 Women's event.

It started sprinkling about 10 am, and gradually worked up to a major downpour by about 7 pm, when people were heading to the Graham Connors concert in the Community Hall. It was still a novelty at this stage, no-one minded. Graham Connors was very entertaining, he's very popular in this part of the world. One lot of people came up from Langhorne Creek in SA (about 1500 km), another group came over from Windorah, only 400 kms away. There was lots of singing along and dancing in the aisles, washed down by large amounts of FourXXXX Gold. (I love going to the pub and asking for a pot of Gold!)

The novelty was wearing off by this morning when the bedraggled campers started coming in to the Bakery for breakfast and coffee. About 10 am, Neil, the local policeman, phoned to say all roads out of Birdsville were shut. Some people had left earlier for Windorah, and are now stuck out there for the duration, possibly days. The runners' bus is still outside the Motel, and Graham Connors plane isn't going anywhere tomorrow. There's no use me putting in a grocery order this week, the truck won't be coming up from Adelaide with the Birdsville Track shut. Good thing the freezer's reasonably well stocked, although I could really use a few fresh green veg — frozen veg just aren't up to scratch, I've decided.

Latest weather report at 5 pm today, nearly 3 inches, half Birdsville's annual rainfall, and still raining solidly. I'll keep you posted.

It's raining — there's a lot of water around.

The rain will do wonders for our garden — if it doesn't drown first ....

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The hunt for Big Red

Big Red, the Simpson Desert's biggest sand dune, is the major tourist attraction around Birdsville (and pretty well the only one ....) — the caravan park runs sunset tours out there most days. It's the start (or the finish, depending on your direction) of the Simpson Desert, and a good test. If you can make it over Big Red, and the next couple of sand dunes, you won't have any problems with the rest of the dunes in the Simpson (theoretically). We were keen to take the truckasaurus out there and test it out. We packed our requisite supply of water, plus a bottle of champagne and some cheese, olives and Jatz, and headed out there.

We'd invited Dusty and Teresa to join us for the sunset champagne after they'd closed up at the Bakery, which gave us some time to explore around. It's 30 kms out, with the scenery getting progressively flatter and rockier (the gibbers, it really is a desert of stones) and then some smaller sand hills start. Big Red is indeed pretty big, while Evan was letting air out of the tyres in preparation I decided to walk up, it's amazing how much higher it looks from the top — you can see for miles, and the car looks a long way down. It took Evan three goes to make it up, but finally he got there, parked the car on the top and got out the folding camp chairs in preparation for the sunset viewing.

Another car load of people arrived, they were from one of the further stations and had come up for the bronc branding, and were looking around while they were there. The kids raced up and down the dune, and rolled around in the sand, and generally had a good time. "Take your shoes off, it feels great!" they said, so I did. The sand is amazingly fine, and quite cool, it feels lovely on your feet. I was enjoying myself until I trod on one of the enormous burrs that are everywhere, so retreated to the camp chair to pull the thing out.

Dusty and Teresa arrived just as the sun was setting, so we toasted our new adventure, stood around going "How's the serenity?" and drove carefully back to Birdsville, watching out for livestock on the road. Dusty had a large vat of filling for his delicious butter chicken pies which he invited us around to eat some of, with rice and a salad on the side. It's all good ....

It didn't look that hard from the bottom ...

... but it took three goes to get there.

The truckasaurus has conquered Big Red!

Some fellow sightseers.

Waiting for the sunset.

Another vast sky sunset ....

Except Dusty then told us that where we had been was actually only LITTLE Red, Big Red was about a kilometre further along the sand dune. So a couple of days later we went back out, took the track that ran along the base of the sand dune, and arrived at BIG Red, and yes, it was bigger. It was the same sand dune as Little Red, but further along. Evan deflated the tyres to 30 psi and gave it a go, but after three tries gave up. A man in the car park, obviously far more experienced than we were, said we would have to deflate to about 20 psi, which we decided against since it takes ages to pump them back up again with the compressor, so we walked up. We could see the next sand dune across in the distance, there were a group of vehicles trying to climb it, and having quite a lot of trouble. It must be very hard work to cross all 1100-odd sand dunes of the Simpson Desert ....

Now THIS is Big Red!

From the top, looking down to the car park.

The next sand dune off in the distance. We watched three vehicles have several attempts to get over it.

We had the place to ourselves. The owners of the other vehicles left soon after we got there.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Bronco Branding

2008 was the second Annual Birdsville Bronco Branding, and one of the highlights of the year. It hasn't become a huge tourist drawcard (yet) but is very popular with the locals. Teams come from stations all over the entire area, some as far away as Murnpeowie Station, more than 600 km south in South Australia. There are various events such as the calf riding, colt riding, a woodchop event, and the bronco branding itself.

The bronco branding entails a team of four, one person on a horse to rope a calf and pull it over to the bronco panel, a specially constructed fence arrangement, one person helps push the calf against the panel while another ropes one of the calf's front legs, and the fourth ropes the calf's back leg, both of which are tied to the panel. When all is secured, the calf is pushed over sideways whilst one person runs for the paint branding irons, dashes back and marks the calf, and then returns the brands to the paint pot while the calf is released. The first calf must be roped within 2 minutes, and they get six minutes to rope and brand three calves. The best teams can do it in less than this time, but quite often teams are disqualified for not lassoing their first calf within two minutes. The calf must be roped by throwing the rope forwards over the horse's neck, and it must be cleanly over the calf's neck — sometimes a leg gets roped in as well, this is a foul and the calf must be released. There are two judges who follow everything very closely, and award points for subtleties that are beyond me. There are quite a few women who compete in the teams as well, they breed them tough out here ....

I helped out in the food trailer both evenings, so missed a fair bit of the action, but the colt riding was pretty full-on — they were smallish horses, but boy, were some of them mean! I looked up at the bangs and crashes that were coming from the enclosure, one guy got thrown off into the fence and then the horse fell into the fence almost on top of him. He said later that he hadn't wanted to wear the helmet the organisers insisted on, but was very glad of it after that. Patrick, the Irish mechanic at the servo had a go, he said later that he didn't think something that took 30 seconds to do could still hurt so much after three days!

First rope your calf .....

.... drag it over to the bronco panel ....

.... push it up against the panel .....

.... whilst the front and back legs are secured.

Push the calf over ....

.... apply the branding paint ....

.... and return the brands to the pot.

The judges keep a very careful eye on everything.

The woodchop — chop the top off your log, dig a hole and plant it upright, then chop it down again at the bottom.