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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #008

Editorial

In this issue we finally get to the CMCA's rally in Barcaldine. As always we enjoy the chance to strengthen friendships with existing friends and strike up a few new ones.

The trouble is, it's getting a bit cold at night so in this issue we finally start to head north. After all, what's the point of a nomadic lifestyle if you can't move on to better climates?

 

Television
We haven't watched TV for weeks now, partly because there's been no reception but also because we couldn't be bothered. TV is a habit that we fall into all too easily, but we found that after a short stint of cold turkey (forced by lack of reception) we're just not interested as much any more.

When we do watch the news or other current affairs programs it just reminds us of what a dung heap much of the world is, why remind ourselves of that when we're watching a sunset bathe an outback lake in a soft warm light, or listening to the myriad sounds of water birds as they wake for the day?

 

 

Sun 5 May 2002

Leaving Rolleston we drive to Springsure which, unlike Rolleston, seems to have had a facelift since last we were there.

Apparently there is a correctional facility here and the inmates are responsible for many beautification and capital works around the town.

We park at the rest area a couple of kilometres north of town and have lunch. While eating I hear a lot of gunshots nearby and, bearing in mind the aforementioned correctional facility, wonder if this is such a good place to stop.

Despite that, I get on a bike and ride through the nearby Minerva Hills National Park to the top of the rugged cliffs that backdrop the town, looking for a camp site.

From the top I can see the truck and, not far away, a rifle range. I guess that explains the shots. I don't find a suitable site however so we decide to head for Emerald. At about 3PM we turn off onto the Lake Maraboon road and, shortly after, pull into the extensive picnic area.

There's "No camping" and "Definitely no camping" signs everywhere, what a shame, it's such a nice place. We decide to have a cuppa anyway and then go for a walk before getting back on the highway to look for somewhere to stay for the night.

While walking we notice that several tents are pitched further around the shore and think that this should be investigated, so I get a bike out and ride off.

Riding around the lake I am struck by two things, the abundance of "No camping" signs (seemingly on every tree) and the equal abundance of campers (seemingly under every sign).

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"Sign?, I never saw no sign officer".

It is a long weekend and people are everywhere so maybe the authorities are cutting a little slack.

I decide to ask, "Oh the police were here a while back" one group said, "told us to move on within 24 hours" (which just conveniently is the end of the long weekend).

I ask someone from another group, "Dunno" he said, "just pitch your swag anywhere". He then looks at my bike and follows with "That little thing won't take up much room anyway ". I assure him that it came from something much larger and rode off.

We move the truck to a private spot away from the other campers and settle in for a quiet night, right on the shore of the lake.

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Wothahellizat parked on the shores of Lake Maraboon.

Mon 6 May

I spend the day lazing around and walking the banks of the lake with a camera.

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Trees framing the lake.

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What was that song? "Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blocking out the scenery..."

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Rock formations on the shores of Lake Maraboon.

While walking I notice Denys and Anne (we camped with them at Baralaba) parked so I tell them about the campsites further around the lake. They drive around and set up.

Tue 7 May

We move into the 20-hour camp site in Emerald. It's very conveniently placed at the end of the main street but also very noisy as it's below both the railway and road bridges.

I will usually sleep through anything but Chris won't and this campsite is notorious for it's continuous noise as trains shunt on one bridge and trucks compression brake on the other.

Amazingly we both sleep soundly, not hearing a thing all night.

Wed 8 May

Leaving Emerald we head for the gemfields. There is supposed to be a reserve set aside for CMCA members at Rubyvale so we plan to go there but as we drive through Sapphire we notice Denys & Anne camped in the grounds of CD Downunder Gems.

They also notice us and flag us down. It seems that the Rubyvale reserve has been closed, something about the local caravan park owner complaining, and his son is on the council. Now where have I heard that story before?

Anyhow the good folk at CD Downunder are encouraging members to stay on their grounds so that's exactly what we do.

I have no interest in fossicking so I spend the day exploring the area with a camera while Chris reads.

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The store at Rubyvale.

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You too can own a piece of the mining dream.

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This old White truck and float has seen better days.

The entire area is a collection of old machinery and barren land. To be fair, all of central Queensland is in drought at the moment and not looking its best, but I can think of no reason to come here unless you're into fossicking for gems.

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An eroded tailings heap.

Denys bought a wheel barrow of "wash" and he spends the day washing, sieving and sorting it. He does find a few nice stones and Anne has some set into a ring and a pendant.

Before leaving Sapphire we ask the owners of CD Downunder about the road to Alpha. They assure me that there are no hills except for one on the Drummond Range.

There may be no hills to a car driver but to a 30-year old truck there's plenty, which just shows the futility of asking in the first place.

Sat 11 May

We spend three days in the quaint little town of Alpha, who's main claim to fame is its murals which have been painted on many walls throughout the town.

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The main street of Alpha.

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One of the many murals that give Alpha its character.

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Most of these signs refer to "stations" that have driveways down this road. The washdown facility is for trucks to remove Parthenium weed.

The locals are also very friendly, while walking around the town almost every passing motorist waves.

And speaking of waving, it's fairly customary to wave to other motorists when driving in country Australia but usually to drivers of vehicles of similar type. But it seems that everyone waves to Wothahellizat.

We've been waved at by motorcyclists, caravaners, truckies, school kids, car drivers, ambulance drivers and police to name a few. But when we pass a train today and the driver waves Chris can't contain herself and bursts out laughing.

Sun 12 May

We stop for lunch in the main street of Jericho. After eating we walk the street and on returning Chris notices some oil under the front of the truck.

Further investigation reveals a crack in the sump, caused by the diff hitting it. We did cop a nasty bash the other day and another this morning. The distance between the diff and sump is less than that between the bumpstops so it was just a matter of time before something happened.

The leak isn't bad and we only have 80k to go so I rub some soap on it and we leave town.

After a couple of hours we pull into Barcaldine (Barcy) and set up camp in the showgrounds. Most of the other volunteers are here and tomorrow we start work. (The CMCA's national rally starts next week and a few of us have volunteered to set up the showgrounds for the rally).

Mon 13 May

The first day on the job. All volunteers working on siting meet in the grounds under a tree initially called the "tree of knowledge", a reference to the famous tree in town, but that soon became known as the "tree of know-alls".

For a couple of days we mark out over a thousand campsites in readiness for the mass influx of motorhomes and campervans in a few days.

Wed 15 May

The rally preparations are going well so we have some slack time. I go into town to buy some ice cream and, on leaving the store, I notice a Coaster motor home and car trailer turning into the BP service station.

The angle of the trailer doesn't look right and I think to myself "He'll get stuck". Sure enough the rig stops dead with the trailer across the main street.

I ride up to find the owner looking at his tow bar firmly buried into the bitumen. The rear wheels of the bus are only just touching the road and they simply spin when he tries to drive. I tell him that I can see two methods of extraction, jack up the rear axle and pack under the wheels, or get a tow.

As I have ice cream in my pack I have to leave but I say that I'll be back soon to help if needed.

Ten minutes later I return to find a three-trailer road train and a B-double stopped in the street, unable to pass the stuck trailer. More traffic is banking up and the owner of the stuck vehicle is getting a bit frazzled. What he probably doesn't appreciate though is that, with all this traffic banked up, the problem has partly transferred itself to others who now have an interest in freeing the stranded motor home.

And help is at hand, the road train driver supplies a chain, the service station operator comes up with a 4WD, and with a mighty heave and scraping of metal the stranded Coaster is free.

Sat 18 May

The tools are out again. I drain the sump and apply some two-part epoxy to the crack. So far so good but I'll have to wait until the engine gets hot to see if it really works.

That should fix the leak but not the problem that caused it in the first place, so I decide to put a 12mm spacer between the springs and the axle. I would like to use a larger spacer but 12mm is as much as I can insert without using longer U-bolts.

I ride into town but it's Saturday afternoon and there is nobody open to buy some steel from. On my return John (our neighbour in "Old Yello") had been across to talk to the guys fabricating some new cattle yards. They can supply some steel so I buy two lengths of 3x1/2" flat bar.

Sun 19 May

John & I jack up the front axle, make the spacers from the flat bar obtained yesterday and put them in. It's a simple job but still takes all morning because the wheels have to be removed and we cross-thread a nut so spend time repairing the U-bolt thread.

Mon 20 May

The rally officially starts today and we are expecting about 650 motor homes to arrive. I work most of the day on siting and by 6PM I've had enough.

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The main street of Barcy has six pubs, this is one of the more colourful.

Wed 29 May

This morning I thought I'd ride out to the weir just south of town. It's reputed to be a nice camping spot and we might go there for a few days but I like to check places out first.

I get on the motor bike and head off through town. Being the thorough type I check that the fuel valve is on "open" and not "reserve". No problems.

I turn left on the Blackall road and after five kilometres encounter the turnoff to the weir. Taking the narrow road I cross the cattle grid and ride west towards the weir.

The engine falters a bit so I recheck the fuel valve. No worries, I ride on.

The engine falters again, and dies. I reach down to change the fuel valve to reserve, oops, it's already on reserve. So much for checking, it's amazing how you see what you expect to see.

I grind to a halt in the middle of the road. It's 5k back to the highway and another 5k into town. Nothing for it but to hide the bike and start walking, it will take about two hours.

While pushing the bike off the road I start thinking that there may still be a little fuel in the tank. Removing the filler cap reveals a small amount of petrol and I reason that I may be able to ride some of the way back by tilting the tank.

I tilt the bike to the left, the side of the fuel pickup, shake it to load fuel down into the carburettor and hit the starter. Sure enough the engine fires. I get straight back on the road, riding slowly back to town.

The engine still stalls every 500m or so but by repeating the tilt-and-shake procedure I manage to get about four kilometres before it finally fails and refuses to start. I hide the bike in the bushes, place a log on the roadside to mark the spot, and hit the bitumen.

Within fifteen minutes I am back on the highway. I had been hitching but with no luck as there was almost no traffic on the side road. There was however quite a lot of traffic on the highway but most vehicles are leaving town, not much good to me.

It's not easy getting a lift in the middle of nowhere with a number two haircut and full beard. The other problem with hitching is that people often take a while to think about stopping and by then they're too far down the road to bother.

As I walk past the town garbage tip I decide to change my strategy. Figuring that some of those approaching me would be going to the tip then returning to town I start giving a friendly wave to anyone with a trailer. Some return the wave but when a couple of council workers in a garbage truck do so I am confident my walk is nearly at an end.

Minutes later they return and pick me up.

Later in the afternoon I ride down to the BP service station at the end of town to fill up the bike. Barcaldine is on of those outback towns with a straight main street that just continues past the houses and over the horizon. The sight of the long straight road tells me it's time to go.

Thu 30 May

We spend the morning packing up with only one drama to mention. When I try to raise the deck the winch dies as soon as a load was applied. Further investigation reveals a faulty connection where the 12v battery passes through the body of the house.

We take the Blackall road, drive all of 15k, and pull into the Lloyd Jones Weir. It's quite packed with motorhomes and caravans but we find a nice sunny spot.

Some friends, Mark & Gail from Canberra, are already there and we mark out a spot for a fire and collect some wood.

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Fishing below the Lloyd Jones Weir.

We spend the evening cooking on and sitting around the fire. Chris and I are rugged up like the Michelin man but Mark just sits there in shorts and a t-shirt. Presumably we've acclimatised to the heat and cannot now handle the cold very well, whereas Mark & Gail have only just left Canberra.

Fri 31 May

COLD! It was freezing last night, one of our neighbours reported a four degree temperature in his van overnight.

I had an extra blanket and was comfortable but Chris slept wearing a hooded jacket and woke several times to turn the electric blanket on.

The fact that we have, and can use, electric blankets illustrates a point about this lifestyle. Many people say it must be great to be able to camp anywhere and it is, but what we do is not really camping. This is our house and we have almost all of the amenities most people have in a conventional home. The main difference is that we can easily move ours.

I spend the day doing some maintenance on the truck and in the evening we once again sit around a campfire.

Sun 2 Jun

Two degrees last night, time to move further north. We have an extension lead that friends of ours loaned to the CMCA for use at the rally and we plan to drop it off to them at Longreach.

On the way we stop at Ilfracombe for lunch and to have a look at the collection of old farm machinery lining the main street.

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A Stuart tank that has been converted into a bull dozer. The entire main street of Ilfracombe is lined with interesting old machinery.

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The railway line at Infracombe, it's pretty flat out here.

Pulling into the rest area 3k north of Longreach we are not impressed with the large dustbowl that passes as a camping area. We had been told that this was a nice spot with campsites along the river so I investigate on a motor bike.

The sites on the river aren't bad but nothing to crow about and the main area is just an expanse of sand. To top it off there's a cold wind. Chris wants to leave but I have a couple of things to do while we're in a large town and the shops aren't open until tomorrow.

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