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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #003

Editorial

I've implemented a slightly new diary format in this edition, due mostly to number of photos.

In the interests of reducing download time, the diary only has thumbnails. These in turn link to larger versions.

This should substantially reduce the time it takes to load the page while still allowing you to see large photos (larger than previously possible) if you want to.

 

Gee you're brave
Well at least it seems that a lot of people think that Chris and I are brave. After all we sold everything and headed off into the unkown.

But, bravery is the confrontation of fear, there cannot bravery without fear, and, as we don't fear doing what we're doing we are not brave to do it.

You see I've been moving around for as long as I can remember (actually even longer), I must have lived in 40 houses and in 20 towns, cities and countries so I just see this change in lifestyle as an extension of that.

And Chris is actually part Romani (Gypsy).

Now take the scenario that probably 80% of Australians follow, living in the same house in the same town with a steady job while raising three kids, that's so scary I can hardly bring myself to write about it.

So no, we're not brave, just doing what we want to do and having a ball. Are you?

 

 

Mon 10 Sept 2001

The Canberra rally. We move to Exhibition Park In Canberra (EPIC) just before the 16th CMCA annual rally.

As locals we are involved in the running of the rally but have been so busy trying to finish our rig that we haven't really done as much as other members of our chapter.

In all there were about 650 rigs at the rally, not large by CMCA standards but it seems many people were worried about the potential for less-than-perfect weather in Canberra at this time of year.

As it happens we did have perfect weather with just a little rain one night.


Readers of Caravan World may recognize"The Beast", the subject of Malcolm Gray's monthly column.

Sat 29 Sept

The garage sale goes well, everything we own is now in (or at least next to) the truck. What didn't sell gets thrown in a rubbish skip we had delivered last week. Skis, heaters, chairs, the lot. Much was retrieved by people and we gave many of the working appliances to Olly, a local character who ekes a living from what he finds in bins.

Sun 30 Sept

The new owners are moving in today so I guess we're moving out. We agreed on a 12noon changeover and at 12:02 we walk out of the workshop. Eight minutes later I start the truck's engine, we were now officially living on the road.

I drive up the driveway and as I reach the top apply a hard lock and reverse right into our neighbour's drive.

As first trips go I guess this wasn't the most arduous but we've got to start somewhere :-). Actually we still have a pile of stuff to pack into the truck and in order to get out of the workshop in time we had just dumped it next door.


The truck parked next door as we finish packing. Chris cleans the solar panels as we are no longer connected to power and rely on them.

Wed 3 Oct

We return to EPIC, it's a little different without the 650-odd motor homes of the rally but we don't have time to admire the scenery.

In the rush to get out of the workshop we didn't have a chance to sort most of our stuff or even reject much of the gear we really don't need. So now's the time.

The EPIC management kindly allow us the use of a large shed so we unloaded everything and get to work.


The truck inside a massive shed at EPIC.


Hard to see here but this is an incredible amount of stuff, and it all came out of the truck.

Sat 6 Oct

Still in the EPIC shed, we've had another massive cull and sort. Everything we're keeping is now back in the truck and we should be able to leave in a day or so.

This shed has been a godsend, with the recent rain and freezing winds it would have been impossible to rearrange our possessions without shelter. As it was the majority of our gear has been left on the ground for several days, fortunately no-one saw fit to steal anything.

Sun 7 Oct

We're down to the last pile of stuff. After giving loads of records, books and tools to friends as semi-permanent loans we were left with a 44 gallon drum and several boxes full of rubbish.

We find a trolley behind one of the sheds and load it up. It's raining and there's a wind that cuts right through us but there's a rubbish skip a few hundred metres away so we head off, hauling the remains of our old life.


The last pile of junk heads off to a rubbish skip.

We drag our load up the hill to the skip's location, or at least the spot that was it's location YESTERDAY. The bloody thing has been removed. We haul the lot back to the shed.

There's just one more thing to sort out, three items of antique furniture. We've been lugging these things around for days, moving them every time we stop, then packing them again when we drive.

We've rung several shops, and even drove the truck to one so they could appraise the items, with no luck and I was getting a bit sick of it.

We decide to try one more shop so we drive out to Hall Antiques, he is not interested even though he'd offered us several hundred dollars a year ago. He knows we were heading off and I think figures we'll just give them to him.

By now we are really pissed off, "Ok" I say, "there's a rubbish skip on the corner, that's where these are going". (Chris is saying something similar apparently but I don't hear) I pick up one chair and stride off.

I get half way across the road when Chris calls me back, "He's offered $200" she said.

Mon 8 Oct

After yet another delay, this one caused by a broken weld on the stairs, we finally head off after watching a current affairs program inform us that the world is going to hell in a Taliban handbasket.

Tue 9 Oct

Just drive down the Hume then turned off onto the Sturt Hwy, finally stopping in a rest area about 30k east of Wagga.

Wed 10 Oct

Drive into Wagga and spend the morning in the shopping centre. Leave town and stop at a nice rest area just on the outskirts.

As we pull up a motorcycle follows us in. The rider gets off and says "Are you the photographer?", it seems he had seen the rig at Wee Jasper several months ago and then, quite by chance, had found my web site. When he saw us driving through town he just had to follow and hope that we would pull over so he could say g'day. He's a budding photographer interested in getting into aircraft photography.

We have a long lazy lunch then head off towards Shane & Melissa's place in Culcain. It's not far so we cruise at about 35mph and also have a long afternoon tea in Henty. Pulling into Culcain we find Shane & Melissa's place and camp on a stock route just a few houses away.

Thu 11 Oct

We leave Culcain early and park near the main street of Albury at 9:05.

A quick check of the local phone book gives us the numbers of several tyre fitting places and we organize Beaurepairs to fit the tyres we will soon purchase.

We buy two folding camp chairs and browse a few book shops then return to the truck to find that we have a parking ticket. I check the tyres for chalk marks and there are none, these inspectors must have incredible memories, how the dickens did he remember that ours was the same vehicle that had been parked for over two hours?

Leaving Albury we cross into Victoria and stop outside Northeastern Truck Wreckers. I buy two tyres and a set of emergency triangles and the owner promises to drop the tyres at Beaurepairs when he goes to lunch.

We then drive to Beaurepairs and leave the truck there while we browse more shops. I get a phone call to say that our old tubes are no good and we should really put new ones in. Another $120.

We leave town and head down the Hume before turning off onto the Murray Valley Hwy. We reach Rutherglen just on dark and drop anchor next to the Lions park.

Fri 12 Oct

After a pretty drive along the Murray we reach Cobram and turn north to Tocumwal (called Toc locally, pronounced "toke") arriving at Steve & Jill's block about lunch time.

While chatting we hit on the idea that we may be able to get the truck's roadworthy done locally. We drive to several mechanic's shops with no luck. They are either not able to do large vehicles or want to just about pull down the entire truck to test everything, at $50 an hour. We're looking for someone that won't be quite as thorough, or expensive.

While out and about we explore some camping sites along the Murray on the Victorian side. There are some great spots here that we earmark for later. Right on the beach and just a couple of k's from Toc and, even better, apparently the local authorities are happy for people to stay as long as they like because they're spending money in the town.

Steve & Jill recently bought this block, it only has two sheds, one a workshop and the other an ablutions building with a shower and dunny. They have two small caravans parked and use them for accommodation when they're in town, while a few blankets suspended from the workshop roof partition off a "lounge room".

We spend the evening in the lounge room drinking Steve's marvellous home brew under the light of several candles (no power till next week).

Sat 13 Oct

Still at Steve & Jill's. We spend the day doing some work on the truck when it's not raining and chatting in the lounge room when it is. Accounted for some more home brew.

Sun 14 Oct

We said our goodbyes to Steve, Jill & Daniel (their son who arrived from Melbourne yesterday night) and set off.

It's a short drive up the Cobb Hwy towards Hay then we turn west to Moulamein. The road is really good for a while, then just good, then average. It's bitumen but quite narrow and rough.

About half way along the road we spot a very macabre sight, several dead foxes hanging in pairs over a branch at the side of the road.


Dead foxes strung up over a tree, very bizarre.

At 6:10 we reach Moulamein and pull over for tea. We planned to press on but only because I thought we would not get CDMA reception here and, tomorrow morning, I want to ring the mechanic about our road worthy inspection. As it happened there was a new CDMA tower installed just last week and the reception is fine, so we move around the corner to the Lions park, a nice spot right on the banks of the Edward River.


The Edward River at Moulamein.

Mon 15 Oct

We rise early and stroll around the town, no bakery unfortunately but a nice place nonetheless.

I get talking to the owner of one of the local pubs, or at least he was the owner of one of the local pubs, he's now just the owner of the building because the town couldn't support two pubs.


The two pubs at Moulamein, the one on the left has now closed because the town can't support two watering holes.

He suggested that we try getting a road worthy inspection at Tooleybuc. We chatted for a while then, as we parted, I asked for the name of the town again. It's easy he said, just remember "Where the f*** is Tooleybuc". I return to the truck with that literary gem firmly in my mind. As we leave town we pass the local school and all the kids wave.

Later on I spot a familiar shape on the road ahead. It's a lizard basking on the black top and he isn't moving for anyone. It's not usually a good idea to play chicken with a 14-tonne truck and I don't normally adjust my line on the road for a small animal but there was no traffic and I had plenty of time. This time I veer to the other side of the road and the lizard lives.

Arriving in Robinvale at about 2PM I am ready for a cuppa but Chris says I should get the truck's rego done first. Just as well she does because we had some drama, not with the rego changeover as such, but with getting the money to pay for it.

The actual changeover went unbelievably well and within a couple of hours we were enjoying that cuppa with brand new Victorian number plates firmly bolted to the truck.


Evening light on the bridge at Robinvale. Shot from right next to the truck in the Riverview caravan park.

Tue 16 Oct

Today we thought we'd change licenses and also change the bike's rego to Victoria. Once again things went smoothly.

We meet one of the park residents today. Klaus is German born and came to Australia in 1968. In 1994 his woman left him and he had financial problems so he sold everything, bought a push bike and hit the road. Seven year later he's been all around Australia and is having a ball.

His current vehicle is a weird cross between a recumbent bicycle and a paddle steamer. It's a boat-shaped device with three wheels, two on the sides towards the front and a third at the rear. In water the side wheels are swapped for rotary paddles.

Klaus lives on $5 a day and is having a ball, OK you have to be fit for this lifestyle but which comes first, the fitness or the lifestyle?

The Riverside caravan park is very pleasant, as the name implies it's right on the banks of the Murray, the ablutions block is spotless. Big rigs will have no problem but the area they indicated was for them is down near the bridge and can be a bit noisy until the traffic dies down at night.

Wed 17 Oct

After doing a few small jobs on the truck we leave town at about 1PM. Arriving at Balranald about 2 and park next to the Lions park. Spent two hours deciding whether to go straight to QLD or visit friends on the way up. Also should we go to the Barcaldine rally (means hanging around QLD during the summer) or come back south? We decided not to go to Barcy and to return to the south for the majority of the summer.

We leave Balranald and head off onto the notorious Hay Planes, hundreds of kilometres with not a single hill.

After a few hours we reached Hay, we drive down the main drag and turn west into Moppett street following the "rest area" signs. On reaching the rest area we enter it only to find four small parking bays nestled into the shrubbery. I park nose in to one of them but the truck's arse pokes out so far that it blocks the other bays. I reverse onto the street, turn, and start to reverse back into the rest area with the idea that I can put the rear of the truck over the bushes and thus not block the area.

Chris is on the street directing when a woman comes rushing up to her, she's the local tourist information officer. "There's a better place for your truck" she says, "continue down this road then turn left onto Hatty St, follow it until it bends to the left then take the dirt road on the right".

We follow her instructions and a few minutes later are set up at Sandy Point, a lovely spot right on the river. We still don't know if she was being helpful or didn't want the truck to scare the school kids next morning :-).

Thu 18 Oct

Sheep. Most people deal with sheep in the evening by counting them to get to sleep. Well we have more than enough to count this morning. Early on I thought I could hear sheep outside the truck but decided I was dreaming and went back to sleep. Later the noise became more constant so I got up and, lo-and-behold the truck is surrounded by sheep, 5000 of them as it happens (no I didn't count them, I asked the farmer). They were on their way to market and I guess the park is a stock route.


Surrounded by sheep at Sandy Point. This shot from the truck's roof.

Another day on the Hay planes, dead flat, dead straight and dead boring, or at least that's what most people think. I agree with the first two but still find things of interest.

We drive for ages then decide to reach the town of Gunbar before having a rest, however I weaken after a while and we stop in a rest area. As it turns out we stopped very close to the town because about a minute after heading off we encountered the "Gunbar" sign, ten seconds later we pass its counterpart on the other side of town. In the blink of an eye (Chris actually missed it) we had entered and left the town of Gunbar, or should I say the building of Gunbar. It seems that the town is actually just a corrugated iron hall and two outside dunnies.

The rest of the day passes with no variation except for a single hill that requirs me to change gears, something I'd almost forgotten how to do.

On entering West Wyalong we check out the Lions park but it was right next to the caravan park and it's bad form to camp within sight of a caravan park, besides there is a "no camping" sign. We wind up at Cooinda park on the eastern side of town (Wyalong) right near the highway, obviously a popular spot as there are already three other motor homes and a caravan in residence. The park has a replica mine head which is quite interesting and good clean dunnies.


The replica mine head in Cooinda Park, Wyalong.

Fri 19 Oct

I wake reasonably late, just in time to wave goodbye to our neighbours (although Chris was out of bed before anyone) then we packed up ourselves. Chris generally handles the inside stuff while I start the motor and check the outside. I almost raise the stairs but for some reason decide to do something else like check the tyre pressures.

I get in and start off, go forward but couldn't make it so reverse and go forward again. There is a loud crunch but I still don't twig that the stairs might be the cause. Chris climbs into the house and seconds later she yells for me to stop. Then the penny drops.

I leap from the cab and race to the rear, sure enough the stairs are down, some of the steel has been badly bent and the hinge is all but destroyed. "Bother" I remark (or words to that affect).

There is no way to move the truck without causing more damage so we stop right there. Three hours later I have welded a bar across the stairs to hold them up and bent another under that as a backup. We can drive but the stairs are out of action until they are fixed, technically I can do this right here in the car park but it's a largish job so it can wait until we stop for a while in Queensland.

Many people ask what the problem was and some suggest places to get things welded etc but fortunately I can do all that from the power system in the truck. So zero points for stupidity in not checking the stairs, but ten points for having the tools and materials on hand to fix the result.

We drive to Forbes and pull up in the Lions park we remember from our last time here, at the CMCA rally a couple of years ago. The word is, from a reliable source, (the bloke who cleans the public dunnies) that camping is allowed for three nights.

Sat 20 Oct

We decide to stay for the day, it's a great spot right next to the lake and within easy walking distance of the main street, Woolworths etc. I oil the hinges (there's a lot of them in this truck) and glue some of the carpet down in the kitchen. The motorbikes come in useful for getting some bits from the local hardware store and scoping out the best place to get fuel. Our "system" seems to be working well so far.

We have a constant procession of people asking about the truck (so what else is new), many of which commented that they've just read about it in "Caravan & Motorhome" magazine.

Late in the afternoon we had some neighbours arrive, they pull up fairly close to us and let four dogs out, "That's the end of our peace and quite" I think, but to be fair the dogs don't bark.

Later they start a 6.5 kva generator and leave it running for ages, now it's a mild night so there was no need for heating/cooling appliances and you only need to use a microwave for short periods so I fail to see the need for prolonged night-time genset usage in a properly setup rig.

I have however seen this happen on numerous occasions (gensets running for long periods at night that is) and it's usually because the rigs have no batteries and so the genset is required even for lighting. This is incredibly inefficient use of power, several thousand watts to run twenty or thirty watts of light.

As far as I can see the only reason for not installing at least a simple battery setup is cost (although I admit that's a big reason). Bearing in mind that you probably should have a genset anyway as a backup, by far the simplest and easiest method is to just use it for everything. But it's expensive to run, noisy, inconvenient and pisses your neighbours off.

Sun 21 Oct

Another beautiful morning, I sit on the deck watching the water birds, then the neighbours let the dogs out and, dogs being dogs, that was the end of my bird watching for the morning.


One of the neighbour's Jack Russells chases away the pelicans.

I went for a stroll and met Bob, a local swag manufacturer. His current story is similar to many I've heard, rising costs and unable to increase his prices, so now he's got another job to make ends meet. We chat about the truck, it seems he was in the Army and drove Centurian tanks in Vietnam, rather him than me.

Apparently we were the talk of the bowling club last night, everyone wondering "wothahellizat", one of those wondering was the editor of the local rag (The Forbes Advocate). This morning he comes over to take a photo and get the goss for the paper.


The article in the Forbes Advocate.

Later our neighbours strike again, they open their car doors and put the radio on, that's bad enough but then they sit fifty yards away and turn the volume up so they can hear it. Now what the hell makes them think that the rest of the world wants to listen to their bloody radio? I talked to them a few times, they seemed like OK people, just had some annoying habits.

Anyway, one thing about this lifestyle is that you can pack up and change your neighbours so that's just what we do. We are heading for Dubbo today anyway.

We cruise up the highway to Parkes, didn't stop in town but it looked like there were several places that one could camp and two petrol stations with easy access on the northern side of the town.
I want to see the radio telescope (27k north of Parkes) so when we reach the turnoff we take it.

The telescope is 6k down a narrow tar road that ends in a massive car park (easy for big rigs), we park over in the far corner in an attempt to have some relative peace. We check out the visitors centre but Chris gets bored with me taking photos and she returns to the truck.


The incredible steel lattice work that supports the dish of the Parkes Radio Telescope.

I hang around then also return, just as three full bus loads of the AFG (Australian Federation Guard) turn up and park right next to us.

That's about 120 service men and women, all crowding around the truck, so much for a bit of peace.

Anyway I talk with some of them, it seems they represent all three services and travel around Australia performing ceremonies such as foreign diplomats presenting their credentials etc. As this is the centenary of federation they are very busy, next year their name will be changed to Australian Defence Force Guard.

We leave the telescope and drive to Dubbo, on arrival we consult the UBD and decide that a drive along Bligh street may reveal a good camp site. Bligh street runs along the river between playing fields and sure enough, right at the end, is a great spot called Sandy Beach Park on the banks of the Macquarie river. This'll do. There's dunnies and showers (we could not get them to produce any hot water) here but they have provision to be locked so may not always be available.

Mon 22 Oct

We move the truck to an "extended vehicle" parking area behind Coles and spend the morning browsing the shops. On returning to the truck I notice a note stuck under the wiper, it was from a local CMCA member.

I ring him and he offeres us somewhere to stay on his property just outside Dubbo, it's too late for this trip but we'll get in touch next time we're coming through. He's currently building a bus and it would be interesting to check it out.

At around lunch time we arrive at Gilgandra, while stopped on the side of the road checking the map for a likely lunch spot a man comes up to my door and says "You know I was just reading about this in Caravan & Motorhome but I never thought I would actually see it". We eventually find a nice quiet spot.

Several days ago, at Tocumwal, we started noticing the water had an unusual taste. Also at Robinvale people said the water wasn't all that nice for drinking, so I decide to finally install the filter cartridges.

We have three water tanks, two for "fresh" water and one for "drinking" water. The fresh water is plumbed to all the normal taps, the shower, loo etc, while the drinking water only goes to a special caravan-style tap near the sinks. In general the idea is that you put any old water in the fresh tanks but only good water in the drinking tank, which is fine if "good" water is available.

The fresh water has a single filter, a 20um sediment filter that filters out visible muck so you get clear water but it can still have a lot of nasties in it.

The drinking water also has filtration but there are two filters, a 1um filter that gets rid of most things such as protozoan cysts and a silver impregnated carbon filter that both removes and kills just about everything else incuding bacteria.

This was fine in theory three years ago when I designed the rig but what about the practice?

Well it seems to work, before adding the filters our coffee had a distinctly strange taste to it, after adding the filters it seems "normal".

We leave Gingandra and spend the night next to a lake at Narrabri.

Tue 23 Oct

Leaving Narrabri we head up the highway to Moree, within minutes I have a trail of vehicles stuck behind me but there's nowhere to pull off and let them past. Eventually we reach a lay-by so I pull over, the queue is so long we could almost make a cuppa while we wait.

Later I see a dead kangaroo on the roadside, nothing unusual with that but in this case the sad part was the hairless, mummified bundle next to it, the remains of the roo's joey. It's quite common for joeys to get thrown from the pouch (presumably by the impact) when a roo is hit by a car.

This poor little mite must have struggled on the dirt shoulder of the road for hours, he was dead from the moment his mum decided to cross the road. I wonder if this is natural selection at work, nature's way of stopping the "lets-cross-the-highway" gene from being passed on to the next generation.

While on the subject, if you should hit a roo it's good form to stop and sort things out. Hopefully it's dead because the idea of putting it out of its misery with a tyre iron or something doesn't appeal to most people.

You should drag it off the road because that's quite a lump for a following motorist to hit. If there is a Joey you probably should kill it, I saved one once and drove it to the nearest WIRES (wildlife rescue group), several days later I rang to check on it but it had died. It seems that they always do, joeys are hard enough to rear at the best of times but after the shock of an incident like this it's nearly impossible.

As we approach Queensland the fuel starts getting cheaper so we run the tanks down not wanting to buy any until we reach the "excise-free" state.

At Goondiwindi we wind up in yet another Lions park, a little close to the railway line but OK.

It's hot in the truck so we open all windows and put the TV on, we haven't seen any news for days. You can see the TV clearly from outside the truck so when someone pulls in next to us and simply sits in their car we figure he must have decided it was a drive-in theatre.

It appears that the newcomer was living in his (very old) Honda Civic, he organizes things for a while then moves the car a few yards down the road. Within minutes the police pull in behind him but I guess he checked out OK as they left before long. Our neighbour seems a little strange, not only his looks but the fact that he is playing football alone in the middle of the road regardless of the traffic, so we keep an eye on him for a while then eventually doze off.

Wed 24 Oct

Early this morning Chris goes to the public loos just behind the truck, she returned within minutes and said, "You know it's not true what they say about being frightened by spiders", I looked puzzled, "you don't shit yourself, quite the opposite in fact".

With that little gem of wisdom ringing in my ears I move the truck to the BP truckstop and fuel up.

Because we bought 200+ litres they gave a discount of 2c a ltr bringing the price down to 83.9c (this is 14c per ltr cheaper than any fuel we have purchased to date). I then plan to swap some wheels around to spread the wear but I can't remove some of the wheel nuts, even with a rattle gun. I give up and we head to Toowoomba.

Somewhere on the highway between Goondiwindi and Toowoomba we achieve a real milestone, we actually pass another vehicle. Now you may be thinking "What's the big deal in passing a vehicle on the road" but remember, I have NEVER done this with the truck (I don't count cyclists and skateboarders).

So here we are, gaining ground on a harvester and I'm going through the overtaking procedure in my mind, now let's see, edge out to make sure there's nobody coming, put the indicator on, etc etc. I haven't done this for a long time so I want to get it right. I slowly move towards the centre of the road to peer around the harvester and, bugger, there's something coming the other way, and would you believe it, it's another harvester. My moment of triumph is delayed.

A lot of these harvesters are owned by people who do contract work for farmers and they follow the seasons, often as husband and wife teams, living on the road wherever the harvester is working. The approaching vehicles seemed to match this description as the pilot car is driven by a woman and is piled high with all sorts of possessions like a fridge and lounge chairs. As we have one such team heading north and another heading south maybe they should have swapped contracts and saved a lot of driving.

I finally pass the northbound harvester and the rest of the drive to Toowoomba is uneventful, right up until that steep decent just outside the town on the Brisbane side. It's a real bugger. We crawl down in second gear with the exhaust brake on. The transfer case has a habit of jumping into neutral under these conditions so we decide to try having Chris sit behind the cab applying pressure to the gear lever. It only jumps out of gear once so I consider this new technique a success.

About 20k east of Toowoomba there is a good rest area near the town of Helidon, it's right on the highway and at the bottom of a hill so the compression braking of the Brisbane-bound trucks is a bit noisy but there appeares to be very little traffic through the night (at least until 3AM when we left) so we havde no problem getting to sleep.

The toilets are locked overnight from 5PM and the nearest open ones are not near enough to be visited in your sleep attire.

Tomorrow we head into Brisbane.

 

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