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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #018

Editorial

I never thought I'd say it but I think I'm all sunsetted out.

Over the past few weeks we've seen some fantastic sunsets, most notably over the vast plains of the Nullarbor, and I've got to the point where, when Chris yells "Come and have a look at this sunset" I just roll my eyes and think "Not another one".

It's just that being out in the Australian outback is so great, with something different to see every day, that I think there's a danger of getting complacent about the beautiful things.

Fortunately, during the course of this chronicle I witness the birds at Woolshed Cave. A fantastic sight that rekindles my enthusiasm and pulls me back from the brink of complacency.

No matter what I've seen over the years, there's still a heck of a lot to see.

 

 

Thu 17 Apr 2003

Today was one of the four days a year that I dread. Shopping day.

We do a major shop-up about every three months, it takes pretty much all day to buy everything, then de-package, portion, pack, freeze etc.

Anyway it's over with now until next quarter.

Just yesterday we saw a piece on TV about a Blackmore's product that is supposed to help your memory. I thought maybe I should give it a try, who knows, maybe it will work and turn my mind into a steel trap capable of retaining information. At present my memory retains about as much as a bucket made from some of that chicken wire I purchased the other day.

Anyway, while cruising down a Woolworths isle we come across the Blackmores display and decide to give these memory enhancing tablets a try.

Trouble is, we can't remember what they are called!

There's an elderly gent also perusing the display. We explain our predicament. "You're looking for Ginkgo" he says, "it's just here". Obviously he doesn't need it, or maybe he's already partaking.

While on the subject of slavishly following the views of TV experts, we saw another fine piece of journalism the other day.

This time the talking head was espousing the benefits of eating chocolate. Apparently it lowers this, increases that, prolongs something else, and tastes good to boot. Now that's my kind of expert.

Of course he was working for Cadbury, but we didn't let the possibility of bias stop us from buying ten family size blocks of Dairy Milk, and another ten of Fruit & Nut.

After a harrowing day behind several shopping trolleys we drive back to the wool stores, but this time we camp outside the complex, in a fairly secluded area that is well known to motorhomers.

Fri 18 Apr

We drive out to Whale World this morning. Chris isn't all that interested, and with a $15 entry fee we decide that I will go it alone.


Vats and cookers big enough for a whole whale.


Various angles of the Cheynes IV, the last whale chaser purchased by the whaling company.

I spent several hours in this fascinating, but depressing, place. A monument to man's cruelty to other species, where the act of stripping the flesh from one the world's largest and most intelligent creatures is likened to "peeling a banana". Where the entire animal is hacked to pieces small enough to be pushed through a hole into massive ovens and cooked to produce oil. Where what's left of the unfortunate creature, the "gravy", or everything that's not oil, is dried and bagged for sale as whale "solubles", a marvellous euphemism if ever I've heard one.

Now I'm fairly pragmatic about human's need to "harvest" other species, and we're not the only animals that do it, but we sure have made a science of the process.

So, if you're looking for an uplifting day learning about whales, take a whale spotting cruise, if you want to reflect on Man's cruelty to animals, go to Whale World.

Just as I finish the above paragraphs Chris says "Can you help me with the chicken?".

I walk to the kitchen and find the bench covered in what can only be described as the "muscular remains" of about twenty chickens. Remains that will feed us for the next several weeks, all neatly diced and portioned to fit freezer bags.

The phrase "Let he who is without sin..." springs to mind.

We move the truck around to Jimmy Newells Harbour for the night.

Sat 19 Apr

After a short drive to check out the Blowholes (not blowing today) we head down to Whalers Cove on Vancouver Peninsula, a magic spot overlooking King George Sound.


The view of Whalers Cove from Wothahellizat

There's a trail here that takes you to Bramble and Possession Points. I'm quite comfortable in my recliner but Chris thinks that I'm in danger of nodding off and wasting my afternoon, so she urges me to take a walk.

"Allow 3.5 hours" the sign at the trail head says. I was back in an hour.

Sun 20 Apr

Still here at Whalers Cove. It's a beautiful day and the bay is filled with scuba divers, fishing boats, sailing boats and even a great big ship.


Sailing on King George Sound

We decide to stay, and put the deck down so we can more easily watch the activities.

After lunch I do the walk to Possession Point again, but take my time and explore around the coast line. The round trip takes two hours this time.


The Scuba divers pack up for the day.

Later, while sitting on the deck with a beer, watching the day fade, I notice the bay is filled with seagulls. There's hundreds of them, flying erratically up and down the hill that leads down to the water. I also see that the evening sky is filled with flying insects.

At first I don't put the two events together, because I've never seen seagulls eat insects on the wing before. But as I watch it becomes obvious that's exactly what they are doing.

One of the insects flies directly towards me and clings to my t-shirt. I'm on my third beer by now and can imagine his squeaky insect voice saying "Please help me".

"Don't you worry little fella" I say, "you'll be safe here".

I give him sanctuary, letting him stay on my shirt, and if he'd stayed put he would have been safe, but he had to go walkabout.

Minutes later I feel something crawling on my neck and squash it. Oops, sorry.

I'm sure there's a moral to this story, something like "Confucius say: When being chased by hungry seagulls don't seek protection from first person you see, he may be on third home brew".


Dusk from the deck. Note the seagull chasing insects

A New Zealand bloke turns up in a small camper. He's a nice chap and we get talking. During the course of the conversation I mention that we can't get any TV reception here, and that I was keen to watch a show on the ABC tonight.

"You can borrow mine" he says, "it works just fine out here". I'm not sure how practical that will be, after all if it's working here it must be a high quality piece of equipment, probably with a you-beaut wind-up aerial on the roof.

Not so, it turns out to be an old black & white set he bought for $15 from the op-shop in Albany, complete with a single telescopic "rabbit ear" aerial.

I do borrow it but find the user interface a bit difficult. For a start there is no remote control, just two knobs on the front of the machine. It seems that by pulling on one of the knobs you apply power to the appliance, then, once pulled, you can rotate the knob to vary the amplitude of the noise produced. What fiendish mind thought that one up?

Then there's the second knob. Surrounded with strange symbols like "9", "7", "5", "5a", and "2", its purpose appears to be to select the number of advertisements you can stomach in a given time frame. It seems that the higher the number the more advertisements. Not that I tried all numbers, but certainly there were more ads when the knob was turned to "9" than when it was on "2".

Once deciphered it's actually not a bad system, BUT, and here's the rub, I have to get out of my chair to turn this knob! Not too arduous on this occasion because we are only watching one show, but if we were channel surfing it would be just impossible. (One can see a market for a suction device that fits the end of a broom handle, but that's another story.)

The whole thing was obviously designed by some ivory-tower scientist, with no thought for the practicalities of everyday life, or man's primal need to own at least five remote controls.

Mon 21 Apr

Leaving Whalers Cove we drive to the wind farm, a fascinating collection of 12 massive wind turbines.


Some of the turbines at the wind farm.


You get a better idea of the size of these things with a person in the photo

These things are huge, reaching 100m into the air. We spend a few hours walking around them and along the coast.

Tue 22 Apr

Another beautiful day. We take the truck over to Middleton Beach, leave it there for the day and explore the district on a motor bike.

Wed 23 Apr

We leave Albany today, but not before making another batch of home brew while we have access to water.

That's the fourth we've made since reaching Albany, the equivalent of 240 stubbies or about $320 of beer if bought in the store. It's cost us only about $50. If we hadn't started with this home brew lark I'd have to give up my evening beer.

Once the brew is done we leave town. We both like Albany a lot. Even though much of our time was spent working on the truck, we still saw a fair bit. The town's nice and the scenery's great, and when the weather co-operates it's a very pleasant place to be.

It's also very camper friendly, with plenty of free camping spots both in and around the town.

We drive out along Chester Pass Rd and before long can see our destination on the horizon, the Stirling Ranges.


Views of the Stirling Ranges.

On entering the ranges we pull into the Moingup Springs campground, it's deserted so we choose a spot that's easy to get into, then settle in for the afternoon.

As the day draws to a close more people arrive and make camp. One couple, with almost the entire campground to choose from, park so close to the truck they have trouble opening their doors.

I'll have to turn towards their car to get out in the morning. If they're still there they may have second thoughts about the suitability of their chosen parking spot.

Thu 24 Apr

Today I plan to walk up the Bluff, however when we reach the turnoff it's raining and anyway, I just don't seem to have any energy these past few days.

Next time.

Fri 25 Apr

Today is a typical day on the road. Up fairly early and have a cuppa. Drive for a while then stop for breakfast and a cuppa.

Drive for a while then stop for "elevenses". Drive for a while then stop for lunch. Get a little more driving in before it's time to stop for an afternoon cuppa. Then, if there's time, drive a bit longer before pulling into a rest area for another cuppa and a rest before dinner.

Pretty hectic really.

Sat 26 Apr

We pull into Esperance at about 10AM, spend a few hours in and around town, then drive out to Lucky Bay in the Cape Le Grande National Park.


Our campsite at Lucky Bay

With pristine beaches, mountains to explore, and walking trails along the coastline, this is pretty close to paradise as far as I'm concerned.

But paradise doesn't come cheap, at $12.50 a night we won't be staying long I'm afraid.


The beach is thick with seaweed at one end, but soon clears up and turns into one of pristine sand, as you would expect around here

Sun 27 Apr

Just before sunset Chris and I wander along the track that leads to Thistle Cove.

Mon 28 Apr

Up before dawn to grab an image or two of the sunrise.


Early morning around Lucky Bay.


How many ways can you photograph a rock? Click here to find out

Then after breakfast I ride to Frenchman's Peak, an oddly shaped granite mountain that overlooks the entire national park.

After 20 minutes I'm at the top, puffing a little, but nothing untoward. There's three young backpackers already there, they took 30 minutes, OK they probably weren't really trying, but I still feel good knowing that I "beat" them :-)

The view from the top is nice, but it's the cave that intrigues me. It's a massive hole that cuts right through the mountain, originally eroded by waves several million years ago, and now being enlarged by the wind and the occasional child who insists on throwing rocks.


Looking through the cave at the top of Frenchman's Peak. Way below you can just see the road. I found it impossible to get a photo of this cave that really showed the size of this massive eroded hole

Just before sunset I take another wander along the Thistle Cove track, no particular purpose in mind, maybe I'll get a photo or two as the sun goes down.


Thistle Cove, named after Somebody Thistle and nothing to do with the local plants.


Frenchman's Peak.


Some late afternoon photos from the trail.

Tue 29 Apr


Early morning light on the nearby point.


A kangaroo finds breakfast on the seaweed

The circus is in town...no not us, a real circus. Lunar Circus rolled into Lucky Bay yesterday with several vehicles. A double-decker bus which serves as the dormitory for the dozen or so people, another bus decked out as a canteen, and several supporting trucks and cars.

Naturally I went over for a chat.

It seems that the circus comes from England, although most of the current performers are Australian. After a show in Kalgoolie they're flying over east then, eventually, taking the vehicles (and the show) back to England, overland.

That sure would be a trip to tell the grandkids about.

As I mentioned about two weeks ago we bought some memory enhancing pills. With a recommended dose of one each a day, and 30 in the bottle, we should be nearing the end of our supply by now and seeing some results.

Well I'm sorry to report that they don't appear to work. There's still 22 left in the bottle because we keep forgetting to take them.

Wed 30 Apr

Chris wakes me before dawn to see the colours in the sky. I get onto the roof in my undies to get a better view of the bay, and notice some dolphins swimming in the shallows.

There's no time to lose, I grab my camera and, as an afterthought a pair of shorts, and bolt down to the beach.

On my arrival I realise that I've only got a few frames left on my film, I should have brought another roll. Thank goodness I brought my shorts though, because I'm not the only one up looking at dolphins, it seems that half the campers are early risers.


A dolphin cruises the bay just before sunrise

After a few minutes I'm freezing and out of film, so return to the warmth of Wothahellizat.

Chris still likes Ningaloo the most, but I think that Lucky Bay is the best place we've stayed.

I ask Tom, the camp host, how one gets that job, especially in such a great location. He confirms what the host at Osprey Bay in Ningaloo told us six months ago. Basically you have to know someone, in Tom's case he knows the father of the ranger.

At around 9AM we leave Lucky bay, drive back into town, then along the Great Ocean Drive. Esperance is proud of it's coast and justifiably so, the scenery is quite spectacular.

After about 20k the road turns inland and skirts Pink Lake. It's getting late so we pull into a small carpark on the "shore" of the lake. I use the quotations around the word shore because the lake's water is a kilometre or so away, a row of bollards delimit the car park, and indicate where the shore should be.


Wothahellizat and Paul's rented 4x4

There's an English bloke already in place when we arrive. His name is Paul and we get on well over a beer. The Aussie Bight Expeditions OKA also pulls in when they see us, no tourists in the bus, he's on the way home and wanted to talk about our truck.

Then more cars and a horse arrive. This is getting to be a busy place. "It was quiet until you turned up" says Paul, who has to leave as he's camping elsewhere.

The horse exercises it's rider for a while, it's an ex-race horse and is very skittish. The horse's "connections" emerge from one of the cars, one watches while her brother and son play soccer on the lake bed.


It seems everybody's running around here

Eventually the cars leave, the horse leaves, and the sun leaves; and that just leaves us, quietly watching the twilight.

Thu 1 May

Up and on the road before sunrise.


Campsite at dawn

We retrace our steps along the Great Ocean Drive, drop into the wind farm for a minute, and get into town at about eight.


The turbines here are nowhere near as large as those at Albany, impressive nonetheless

After breakfast we're approached by a fellow out for his morning ride. I expect the usual "Did you built it yourself", but when he removes his helmet and launches into a spiel about magnetic theory I know this won't be the standard chat.

Apparently, using this magnetic theory, it's possible to locate all the gold in world. The Russians have been working on it for 30 years with no luck. But this fellow has cracked it.

Not content with that, he's developed a system that uses air injection and old fish & chip oil to get 60mpg from his Landcruiser. "Ford offered me two million for that", he says, "I told them to piss off!".

Then there's the method of generating power from solar panels in the dead of night. It seems that by driving at 60kph he can generate 40amps from the wind, without so much as a single photon being involved.

And the incredible insulator made from grass, cement and something else. You can heat it with a blow torch and touch the material half an inch away with no sensation of heat. When demonstrated to a professor at Murdoch University, the professor was so impressed he immediately started making plans for production, marketing etc.

When our friend enquired as to how much he will get form the invention, he was told "about 5%".

"Bugger that, I've already got it all" was his response. He told the professor to piss off as well.

I pointed out that 5%, of what was obviously an incredible money maker, was better than 100% of naff-all. He doesn't care, just doesn't want NASA to get hold of it.

Then there was his recent incarceration in one of WA's institutions for those of less than sound mind...his only son who was dux of his school every year since primary ...

At about this point we really had to go into town so we start locking up, but he isn't letting go without a fight, and returns to the magnetic theory.

We walk up the street with words like "flux points", "negative projection lines", and "spheres of influence" ringing in our ears. If I never hear the phrase "magnetic theory" again it'll be too soon.

After a couple of hours, me working on the latest getREAL upload, and Chris cleaning out the book exchange at the rear of the Camping World shop (18 books for $3.60), we return to the truck and leave town, heading for Norseman and the Nullarbor.


The general store at Grass Patch is for sale, feel like a sea change?

At about 4 we pull into Bromus Dam. Originally built to supply water to steam engines on the nearby railway, it now has no function apart from providing travellers with a great camp site.

We make camp and sit back, it's lovely and quiet.


Campsite at Bromus dam.

Soon after, a battered Landcruiser with the tray almost totally full of spare wheels, drives past and stops about 50 metres away. There's some clunking and banging, then the brrrrrrrrr of a chainsaw.

Great!

Anyway the noise doesn't last long, obviously a quick firewood job.

The 'Cruiser drives past again, stops about 50 metres on the other side of our truck, and the increasingly familiar-looking driver exits and prepares a fire.

Immediately the fire is lit he drags a 20ltr drum from the ute and places it on the flames. Judging by the effort involved it's full, but with what?

By this time an old bloke, 80 years of age if he is a day, has arrived on a Harley. He gets talking to the 'Cruiser driver but before long I can see he's making moves to get away.

When I hear "...this conforms to my magnetic theory..." I understand why.

The octogenarian thunders off leaving us alone with the man of many inventions, the self proclaimed schizophrenic inventor.

Chris is not happy about the coincidence of this fellow turning up at the same campsite as us. I think it probably is a coincidence, being that this is a well known spot, but I'm a bit wary and in no hurry to go over for a chat.

However, when he proceeds to change all his wheels, replacing them with some of those in the back of the ute, I can contain myself no longer and walk over.

The replacement wheels are all shod with bald tyres, he's heading to a secret spot where the magnetic lines cross (or something) to produce gold. Apparently the bald tyres will make it harder for anyone to follow him.

Once again I listen to the monologue about magnetic theory, child prodigy sons, and engine conversions to gas and chip oil.

On the subject of engine conversions, he does actually appear to be doing something. He shows me the engine compartment of the Landcruiser, there certainly are modifications, to the extent that the batteries have been forced out onto the bull bar.

There's a Jerry can jammed in there as well, it keeps the oil warm. The air cleaner is tied down with rope, to tighten the rope he inserted a screwdriver then twisted until the tension was right, jammed the screwdriver under a manifold and left it there.

Using the excuse of dinner being ready, I take my leave, but I have to know what was in the drum on the fire. It's full of chip oil being liquefied for tomorrow's journey.

While this fellow did give us something to write about today, he was also the first person I've been wary about approaching. He had after all, according to his own admission, spent time in an asylum or some such institution, and it was a bit coincidental him turning up at our camp.

While talking to him as he changed wheels and showed me his maps and engine, I found myself ensuring that he was always in front of me; keeping out of reach when he was holding a tyre iron; maintaining a mental picture of what was behind me so I wouldn't stumble if I had to step backwards quickly; and sizing up the recently cut firewood as potential weapons.

Fri 2 May

Our learned friend is off early in search of gold. We leave shortly after, stopping briefly to extinguish his fire.

We stop in Norseman (named after someone's horse) for most of the day. Norseman's a nice little town with those amazingly wide streets often found in the outback.

Usually the streets were made wide to allow a bullock dray to turn around, in Norseman's case it was camel trains.


Statues of camels, commemorating the place these animals had in the history of these parts

After a few hours in which we do some washing of clothes and bodies, (free showers at the information centre) we top up with water and diesel, turn right at the BP, and we're "on the Nullarbor".

NOTE: For my overseas readers. The word "nullarbor", although sounding aboriginal in origin, as actually Latin, from "null" and "arbor", meaning "bugger all trees".

Technically I think "the Nullarbor" is a treeless stretch of plain, about 30k wide, that surrounds the Nullarbor roadhouse. In general though it's considered to be the 1191km (744 miles) section of road between the towns of Norseman and Ceduna.

This road has no towns, precious few facilities, and some of Australia's highest prices for the few things you can buy at the occasional road house.

We've found that WA services the traveller well with rest areas, about every 30 kilometres you'll encounter a blue "P" sign indicating a parking area.

That's everywhere except on the road out of Norseman. After something like 70k with not a P in sight we finally see a welcoming blue sign ahead. Thank goodness, I've been dying for a P for over an hour.

This is my fifth trip across the Nullarbor, but previous trips were on the old (largely dirt) road. The new road runs close to the coast, and I'm looking forward to seeing the famous Bunda cliffs.

We pass dozens of small lakes totally encrusted with salt, and surrounded by dead trees. I assume this is a manifestation of high salinity in the soil. For about 50 kilometres it's the same, the area is just peppered with salt lakes.

Sat 3 May

For the rest of the day we just drive, doing about 290k (that's a long day in the truck) before pulling into the Blowhole, just short of Ciaguna.

We arrive just on sunset, have a quick look at the blowhole (a tiny cave), watch the sunset, then retire into the warmth of the truck for the night.


Sunset and the new moon at the Ciaguna Blowhole.

Sun 5 May


Dawn at the campsite

Today is quite the reverse of yesterday. We only drive about 60k before turning off to the Cocklebiddy Cave. There's no signage for the turnoff, but our camping book tells us to head north up a track that leaves from the rest area located 10k to the west of Cocklebiddy.

Along the way we encounter a wedge-tailed eagle. It's sitting in a small tree right next to the road. Somewhat uncharacteristically for a wedgie it allows us to stay fairly close for a while before it flys off.

It's crop is bulging and I'd say it's just had a big meal. That's probably why it was reluctant to fly away, preferring to let it's dinner settle.

After about 10k of good dirt road we arrive at the cave, actually a sink hole, with connections to many kilometres of caves and underground lakes.


Looking into the cave mouth

The vast majority of this network is only accessible to professional cavers, but the average shmuck (that's me) can easily climb down to the first lake, a climb of about 100 metres over a steep rock fall that becomes darker and more slippery as you descend.

TIP: A head lamp certainly makes the climb easier as it leaves your hands free. But when you get to the bottom, a good powerful torch is required to see the cave and lake properly.

Later the wind has died and we're sitting in the lounge room. The local swallows seem to have adopted the truck and have mobbed it.


Swallows mob the truck

They swoop and dive around the vehicle, many flying up to the windows and hovering to peer inside.

We watch the swallow's antics for ages, but when the sun goes, so do they.

Without the gentle flutter of swallow wings it's absolutely, totally, quiet. The sun's after glow lingers and we watch the moon, Jupiter, and the emerging stars, with binoculars.

It's one of those perfect outback evenings.


Outback sunset and new moon at Cocklebiddy Cave.

After dinner I go outside to check the time exposure I'm running of the stars.


A bit of fun with a time exposure

It's a brilliant starlit night. Orion is setting, Scorpius is rising, and connecting the two is the Milky Way, a bright ribbon of a hundred billion suns that we in the southern hemisphere are privileged to see so clearly.

Mon 5 May

We lunch on top of the escarpment at Madura, the view reminds me of looking over the Rift Valley in Kenya, even the trees flatten out at the top like African thorn trees.

Not long after descending to the valley and passing the Madura road house we find a burnt-out wreck.


Skid marks lead to the burnt-out wreck

Skid marks tell some of the story, although it's still not clear if the driver fell asleep or swerved to miss a roo.

The vehicle, trailer and all contents are a total write-off. Aluminium items like the bull bar have melted into puddles of slag, still chained to the spare wheel; steel radials are just coils of wire; stacks of glass plates, not broken, but warped into sculpture.


Almost total destruction of the vehicle, the trailer, and everything inside

And amongst it all, totally unscathed, a coffee mug, the word "Dean" clearly visible on it's side.


Dean's coffee cup sits amongst the wreckage

It's a very sobering scene, and one can only hope that Dean and his companions suffered nothing worse that a ruined holiday.

It's overcast this afternoon and darkening earlier than usual. This probably explains the abundance of kangaroos on, and near, the road, they've been fooled into thinking it's dusk.

Normally of course we like to be well off the road by dusk because of the vastly increased chance of hitting some wildlife. However we've still got about 30k to the campsite we've earmarked for the night, so we push on.

Before long we see some flashing lights ahead. It turns out to be the police booking some unfortunate in a Kombi, but before we reach the scene I'm distracted by the lights, trying to make out what's happening.

Chris has been spotting for roos and she sees one at about the same time my peripheral vision registers an out-of-place movement to the right.

While she's yelling "whoa, whoa, WHOA!" my foot is heading for the brake.

The roo bounds across the road just feet in front of the truck.


The Nullarbor is home to some unusual signs

Note: For my overseas readers, the RFDS (Royal Flying Doctor Service) fly medical patients from remote locations in the outback, to hospitals. Often there is no airstrip to land on, so they use the nearest road. The sign in the above photo warns drivers to be aware that a plane could land on top of them, although I assume the police block the road at the time.

Tue 6 May

After a lazy start we head towards Eucla. We've been running on the right-hand fuel tank since Norseman but it's getting kind of low, so just before we reach the escarpment I switch tanks, I don't want the fuel pickup to suck air half way up the hill.

We lunch in the roadhouse rest area then ride down to the old telegraph building and walk around the dunes.


The old telegraph station at Eucla.


A small plant struggles to get a foothold in the dunes.

On our return, while loading the bike into the truck, I have a good idea. Why not switch back to the right-hand fuel tank and see what our range is? Well as it turns out there's quite a lot of reasons why not, but none of them presented themselves to me at the time. ([Chris]He didn't tell me he was doing this!)

We drive on, the road now runs along the top of the cliff and we detour into a couple of the lookouts.

At about four I spot a Telstra relay tower and a road that looks familar...

Slight aside: Nearly thirty years ago I drove on this road the day before it was opened. At the time the highway was dirt, officially, but a truckie at the Nundroo pub told me that the new bitumen section was finished and due to be opened by some dignitary on the following Monday.

I left the pub, continued west, and before long encountered some barriers blocking the brand new bitumen road, and directing traffic onto the old dirt track.

Hmmm, let me see now, 200-odd miles of rough corrugated dirt track, or a nice new bitumen highway?

"Stuff the dignitary" I thought as I removed the barriers.

For the next couple of hours I enjoyed being one of the first people in Australia to travel on the brand new Eyre Highway. (Quite a few pairs of head lights passed me in the night, I was not the only person who wanted to drive on a good road.)

The road however was not entirely finished and I had to turn down a dirt track that ran past a microwave relay tower and returned to the old highway.

Which brings us back to the scene that looked familiar.

...I think this is the spot I turned off the new highway that night.

I pull over, and the engine dies.

It's about now that some of the reasons I shouldn't have switched back to the empty fuel tank become apparent.

No matter, I'll switch tanks, bleed the system, and we'll be on our way.

Two hours later we're still trying to bleed the system.

As far as I can tell I've got fuel everywhere, the lift pump, the filter, the feed and return lines of the injector pump, everywhere, except the injectors.

It's now dark and the truck's battery is nearly flat so we call it a day. We're not level so I jack up one side to place blocks under a tyre.

At about this time the first person to stop and ask if we need help, does so. I was hoping for a diesel mechanic, but only got a young backpacker. She doesn't like to camp alone, and decides to stay with us for the night.

However after watching me at work for a few minutes, she quietly gets back into her van and drives off. Go figure. Was it something I said?

Over dinner Chris tries to help me analyse the problem. "Is it the sparkplugs?", "Is it the exhaust brake?", "Are we on the right tank?", "What about the flange gasket?".

"No" I reply to all the above. Diesel motors work on a very simple principle, that being, "If you squeeze something hard enough, it will go bang".

There is very little that can go wrong. Our problem was that we are not getting the "something" into the cylinders to be squeezed.

We sleep on it, or at least try to, with road trains whizzing past just feet from the bedroom.


Breakdown triangles out, we've had better campsites

Wed 7 May

Still no go.

I've never been on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire", but the show's contestants and I have one thing in common. I can't ask the audience because nobody's stopped, but I can phone a friend, assuming that I'm happy to ride 60k to the nearest public phone. I'm not happy to, but how else will I kill the day?

On reaching Bordertown I phone both Adrian (our friend) and the mechanic in Eucla.

I get the same advice from both, the injector pump still needs to be bled. Adrian isn't familiar with the Perkins but the Eucla mechanic is. "There's two bleeder nuts on the side" he says.

I get back on the bike feeling optimistic, mostly because I have little choice. We're 500k from Ceduna, and therefore 500k from anyone who has any chance of floating a truck our size to a workshop. To float the truck that far would cost a fortune.

The only other option is to hitch a ride on an eastbound low loader, as most trucks heading east are empty. But it could be weeks before one turns up.

On my return to the truck I'm keen to put my new knowledge to the test, but Chris says we should have a cuppa first.

Just then a young lad pulls up in a 4x4, and he is a diesel mechanic.

He also is not familiar with the Perkins motor, but we manage to figure out what needs to be bled, (a single bleed nut on top of the injector pump as it happens, not two on the side) and five minutes later we're up and running.

Another five minutes and we're packed and leaving our cosy spot on the side of the road.

We drive until mid afternoon then pull into one of the lookouts on the Bunda cliffs to camp for the night.

So what are some of the elements at play in this experience?

Luck. If I hadn't have pulled over to view the scenery the truck would have stopped of its own accord in the middle of the road, probably 100 metres further on. This would have been a real drama as we would have obstructed the highway all night.

Experience. I thought I knew how to bleed the fuel lines, and in fact have done so once before. But obviously on the previous occasion the injector pump had not run dry.

Human nature. Last time I was on the Nullarbor you could hardly stop for a pee without twenty people pulling up to ask if you're OK. These days, after 21 hours on the side of the road, with breakdown triangles out, three people stopped. And one of them only wanted a more secure campsite.

And let's not forget,

Stupidity. Fancy taking a chance on running out of fuel and sucking the junk from the bottom of a tank into the system. As Chris said in one of her more lucid moments, "WHO THE HELL CARES HOW MANY MILES YOU GET TO A TANK?". (I couldn't possibly write here what she said in her not so lucid moments!)

Actually I think she's wrong there, after wading through several hundred words of this saga I'm sure you're just dying to know.

774...kilometres that is, not miles.

We camp at one of the Bunda cliff lookouts. The view of the cliffs from this lookout is the best we've seen so far, and our fellow campers (who are westbound) say it's the best they've seen.

Therefore I think it's fair to say that this lookout has the best views of the Bunda cliffs.


The Bunda cliffs.


Sunset throws a few last rays on a fellow camper.

Thu 8 May

As we approach the turnoff to the community of Cook (located 100 kilometres away on the Trans Australian railway) I see what looks like a dog ambling across the road.

When we get nearer I realise that it's a dingo. I pull up and jump out.

The dingo doesn't run away as they normally do, in fact it approaches, at times to within a couple of metres. We to and fro for a while, it never lets me get close enough to touch, but at one point we share the shade of a small bush with just a couple of feet between us.

This has to be a wild dingo, but why so familiar? My guess is that it's taken a 1080 bait and it's feeling sick.

The last dingoes we saw were two large, dark and surly beasts in the Keep River National Park. This one however has the classic dingo look, as skinny as a catwalk model, sleek golden fur, and intelligent face.


A very friendly wild dingo near the turnoff to Cook on the Nullarbor

Dingoes have had some bad press over the years, but they're lovely animals. We have friends with a dingo pet, Jedda is her name, and she's a beautiful dog, with the nicest of natures.

We leave the dingo and move on, stopping briefly at the Nullarbor road house, then lunching at Yalata. After Yalata the terrain changes, from vast plains of mallee scrub to undulating grazing land with fences and shearing sheds. We no longer have that "in the outback" feeling.

The word is (from fellow travellers) that the fuel at Penong is cheaper than Ceduna, so we camp 16k outside of town. Tomorrow we'll fill up.


Interesting cloud formation over the campsite, 16k from Penong

Fri 9 May

The word's right, diesel at Penong is 90.9c, that's the cheapest we've seen for a long time, and certainly the cheapest on the Nullarbor. Most roadhouses out here are selling diesel for between $1.11 to $1.30.

There's plenty of road trains fuelling up which is always a good sign, and also people filling Jerry cans in the hope of making it across the plains without buying fuel.

I get talking to a truckie who carts meat over to WA, he saw us on the road over a week ago. I didn't ask how many times he's done the trip in that time.

An hour-and-a-half later we're in Ceduna. After stocking up on fruit (you can't bring any across from WA because of the quarantine laws), checking the email, and getting some films processed, we leave town and stop for the night in the bush at Laura Bay.

Sat 10 May

We drive about 70k to Perlubie Beach and set up camp. There's a lot of structures of unknown purpose (SOUPs?) here, some are obviously sun shelters and kiddies swings, but others I'm not so sure about.


Various SOUPs on the beach

There's a small building full of old fridges, tables and general junk. An inscription in the concrete reads "Built by the PSC, 1956". I assume PSC is an acronym for Perlubie Surf (or maybe Swimming) Club.


The building built by the PSC in 1956. It's actually quite square, I just like to have some fun with a wide-angle lens

Later the police drop by. Have we seen a white ute with a tin canopy? We haven't, but if we do we're supposed to ask him ring the local police station.

I think (and indeed fervently hope) it's safe to assume that the occupant of the white ute isn't an axe murderer if he's being asked to ring the police.


It's nice and warm inside the truck, pretty cold outside though

Sun 11 May

We stay another day at Perlubie beach.


Nestled into the dune at Perlubie beach

Mon 12 May

After a short drive we enter Streaky Bay and pull into the park at the end of the main street.

There's a tap in the park, so we take the opportunity to do some washing and top up with water, before walking into town to buy some goodies from the supermarket (it seems that we seriously underestimated our rate of chocolate consumption when doing the quarterly buy-up the other day).

Having restocked with several family bars of Nestles Club (the Fruit & Nut was too expensive) we leave town and head to Murphy's Haystacks.

After a late lunch at the "haystacks", actually massive granite boulders that have been weirdly shaped my the elements, I wander around them for a while before we leave and head for Talia Caves.


Murphy's Haystacks, incredible moulded boulders of pink granite

Half an hour later we turn off onto the Talia Caves track. It's very rough (taking us about half an hour to cover the 8 kilometres) so we arrive at the "Woolshed" cave just before sunset and run down the steps to check it out.

On our approach to the opening our noses tell us that this is no ordinary cave. The smell is terrible. As we get deeper inside we see that the floor is covered in bird poo, about two feet deep in places.

Where there's bird poo there should be birds, but where are they? This question remains briefly unanswered, but when we climb back to the cliff top to watch the sun set, we see them.

There's hundreds of birds winging their way towards us, but they don't go into the cave. They have staging areas on certain rocks within a 100-metre radius of the cave's entrance.

As the sun dips below the horizon they launch, in groups of between 50 and 100, and fly into the cave.

My camera's battery is flat so I can't try to photograph them, but it's fascinating to watch.

If you've ever seen a Star Wars movie where hundreds of fighters leave the maw of a mother ship, this scene is just like that, only reversed. Quiet fascinating.

We'll stay tomorrow and hope for a repeat performance.

Tue 13 May

I get up at 5AM to catch the birds as they leave the cave at sunrise; then I wait for the dawn, nearly two hours later. We've crossed a few time zones lately, and obviously still haven't got the hang of things.

On entering the cave in pitch darkness I can't see any birds at all, but sure can hear them, what a racket.

Gradually the birds head off to work, in ones and twos at first, then if I look to the cave's mouth I can see large groups of a hundred or more silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky.

I can hear gusts of wind but don't realise for a while that it's perfectly still this morning. The "gusts" I can hear are the sounds of a hundred birds taking off simultaneously.

Looking into the cave I can see nothing, but I fire my camera (with flash) blindly in the direction of the wind gusts, in the hope of getting a photo.


Inside the cave are thousands of birds, I photograph "by ear" in the darkness

I've heard stories of people being surrounded by bats in caves, it must be very much like this.

Apparently it's good luck to be pooed on by a bird, but given the number of birds in this cave, and the amount of poo on the floor, I reckon you'd be lucky not to be pooed on.

I was very lucky on this occasion.

After breakfast we walk along the coast, the landscape on top of the cliffs consists largely of small garden-like oasis's in the otherwise barren and rock-strewn ground.


Coastline near the cave

Some of them look quite manicured, "Like little botanic gardens" Chris says.

We also discover "The Tub", a collapsed cave forming a large hole connected to the sea via the original cave opening.


"The Tub", a collapsed cave

As we skirt the hole Chris notices a bird sitting on a ledge. It's a hawk or kite of some kind, and I'd like a closer look.

On Chris' directions I walk back around the opening, but some distance from the edge, so as not to spook the bird.

When I'm in the right location I inch forward and peer over the cliff. There, just a few feet below me, is the bird, apparently asleep.

I withdraw, set my wide-angle lens to a distance of three feet and return. This time I just poke the camera over the edge, but as I do so the bird takes flight.

The instant I hear the flutter of wings I press the shutter button. [No usable photo I'm sorry to report]

The rest of the day I relax and explore the coast.


The opening to the Woolshed cave.


Looking along the coast from just outside the cave.

Just before sunset we take positions on the cliffs, waiting for the return of the cave birds. As we approach the cliffs we notice a kite perched on a bush. It briefly tolerates our presence, then flies off.

At 5:05 we see the first bird; 5:10 and a few more arrive; then the first squadron of 100 or so.

They're starting to arrive, but something's different today. The birds have staged further away in the bushes. Before long we think we understand why, the kite we disturbed a few minutes ago was waiting for something, several thousand somethings in fact, and it's now swooping on the flock.

He repeatedly dives on the bush-hugging birds, hoping I'm sure to cause them to take to the wing. For the most part his tactics fail, but occasionally a few hundred birds are spooked and take off.


The kite hovers above a mass of birds in between dives

The kite's pointed wings knife through the flying birds like two shark fins through a school of salmon. But each time he comes up empty-handed.

Occasionally, when he's distracted, a squadron will make a run for it.


A dash for the safety of the cave

As one, the birds swoop down the canyon, speed around the rocks with the innermost members only inches from the stone, and zoom into the safety of the cave.

Some squadrons approach a staging area that I can't see from my location, but that requires them to pass below me. They speed along the water at wave height, go vertical when they reach the cliff, then perform a perfect 180 and dive below the cliff on the other side. A display of flying that stunt groups like the Red Arrows must only dream about.


A low-level approach run, not much room for error here

One one occasion, a squadron of at least 300 birds speed towards the cliff I am standing on. Skimming just inches from the ground, the mass reaches the cliff a few metres from me, it pours over the edge like a living waterfall, then immediately turns right and speeds into the cave. All at full speed and without missing a beat.

"Oh wow!" I find myself exclaiming out loud, I've never seen anything like it, and don't even think to raise my camera.

More squadrons make their dash for safety as the hawk continues swooping, but by now I've given up with photography, and just stand mesmerised by the scene.

As each group of birds enters the cave they don't slacken their speed at all, and the fact that the cave is knee deep in bird poo, and not dead birds, attests to their flying ability.

Eventually all the birds are safely nestled in for the night, the air resonates with the twittering of ten thousand avian voices, the cave grows a little smaller as more poo is added to the floor, the humans retreat to the warmth of their motorhome, and the kite goes home hungry.


The sun sets on another fantastic day

 

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