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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #027

Editorial

Well, here we are, back on the "big island". My first order of business was to investigate the chances of "going digital", and I'm happy to report that the chances were good, the deal is done.

It's goodbye film, hello Flash Cards.

This has already made a real difference to the way I work. No more do I accumulate tens of rolls of film while in the field, then have to scan hundreds of negatives when I get to a town.

Now I work on the morning photos in the afternoon, and the afternoon photos at night. Digital is just made for people living in on the road, throw in a good laptop and printer and you've got everything required to produce great photos, anywhere in the world.

The technical quality is outstanding, but more importantly, I think I'm getting better shots. Not so much with static subjects, but with wildlife. You see with wildlife you have to take a lot of frames to capture the right moment, those pesky animals and insects move so fast.

With film I was always aware of the money being spent every time I pressed the button, and sometimes held off shooting.

With digital I just go ahead and press.

And the new lenses are so GOOD. My old gear was the best in its day, but its day was 20-30 years ago. Time has moved on, and so has camera technology.

And then there's the weight. I can do everything with just three lenses now, I used to carry ten, and still didn't have a really long lens unless I also carried my 300mm f2.8, at 2.5kgs by itself.

I miss the old gear, but not much. What I really miss is the memories it gave me, some of that equipment traveled with me through the USA, Europe, New Zealand, Africa and all around Australia.

I guess I'll just have to do it all again, and create new memories with the new camera :-)

 

 

Wed 28 Apr 2004

At 6:30 we roll off the ferry and onto Beaconsfield Rd. Our Tasmanian adventure is over.

My dad has been in Melbourne for several days and he has found a spot for the truck, at the bottom of North Road in Brighton.

Half an hour after arriving on the mainland we pull into the car park he identified.

I spent all last night reading, getting only about one hour of sleep, so I'm pretty tired. Chris got some sleep, but not much, so we're both pretty worn out.

We have breakfast then sleep for a couple of hours.

Later my dad drives down to see us, it's good to see my old man again.

For months now I've been looking at moving to a digital camera. The quality has been good enough for a while now, but the price has placed the new gear out of my reach. After all, I'm supposed to be retired, $12000 for new toys was not in the budget.

Anyway, Chris says that if I can get a good trade in ($5000 she says) on my old gear we can do it, and there's no place I'm more likely to get a good price than Melbourne.

The truth is that everyone is getting out of film, and the old gear isn't worth that much.

Still, the good gear does hold it's price to some extent, and I have equipment that was the best in it's day.

We drive into town and I lay five cameras, 10 lenses, and assorted bits, on the table before John at The Camera Exchange.

"$4995" he says and I'm about to offer to slip him $5 when he says "let's make it $5000".

Done!

I walk out with one camera, three lenses and assorted bits.

I'm also $7000 poorer, so please buy some of my photos.

Thu 29 Apr

I drive my dad down to Somerville to visit some family friends, then we return to the truck.

As we're standing in the carpark Chris yells that there's a mouse heading our way.

I turn around and, sure enough, the little critter is heading straight for the truck. My arms are full, so I try to stop him by forming a barricade with my feet.

This works for a few seconds, but he quickly finds his way around and disappears under the truck.

I hope it doesn't turn up in one of our traps.


I try out the new camera.

Fri 30 Apr

We spend most of the day in town looking for a device to offload the raw photos from the camera. Most people just use a $20 card reader, but I need something that will do the job with no computer, as I may be bushwalking for several days.

A "digital wallet" is a common choice (small self contained hard disk) but we finally decide on a portable CD burner. I just plug the Compact Flash card into the gadget, end it burns the photos onto a CD.

Sat 1 May

While sitting in the lounge room, playing with the new toys, there's a knock on the door.

I open it to see two friends we haven't seen in years.

Norman & Jocelyn have also retired, but they spend most of their time overseas. They are almost never in Australia, or so it seems, and yet they just happen across us in a Melbourne car park.

Sun 2 May

There must be something in the water here in Melbourne that is making us spend money (actually our tanks are filled with Launceston water at present but what the heck).

Today we go looking for a new laptop.

The old one is in a bad way, both physically, and in the software. It's also very slow, and has a screen that cannot be used to work on photographs.

After much umm-ing and arh-ing we decide on a wide screen HP. With a 3Gig processor, 60gig of hard disk, and a bright screen, I feel that I can work on this machine.

One thing that does worry me is the fact that it's running Windows XP. What about my programs?, will they run?

I'm sure that the professionally written software will run, but what about the stuff I've written?

I rely heavily on two programs I wrote myself, Picman and Siteman. Picman manages my photos and Siteman manages the web site and uploads changes to my ISP's server.

If either of them doesn't work I'm in deep doo doo.

As the sun sets I decide to see how the new camera handles shooting directly into the light.


The Canon 10D seems to handle sunsets OK.

Tue 4 May

Will it never end? Now we're buying a printer, one of those great new Epsons that produce photo realistic prints.

We buy it from Officeworks, but the box is too large to take home on the motorbike, so we order a taxi for Chris and the printer, I'll follow on the bike.

Now normally you'd wait two hours for a cab to arrive, but this time it's outside the instant we hang up. Chris doesn't have enough cash on her, so I give her the truck keys so she can get more on arrival.

Chris leaves in the taxi, minutes later I also leave the store, and go to get on the bike.

Only then do I realise that the keys I gave Chris are required to unlock the chain that secures the helmets. I can't can't get my helmet off the bike.

Oh well, I'll have to chance riding home without a helmet.

The ride is uneventful. I don't encounter the police which is always good, don't have an accident which is good as well, but most importantly, I don't come face to face with a big fat grasshopper.

Wed 5 May

The road that runs along Melbourne's foreshore has restricted access to heavy vehicles, and we can't drive along it until after 6AM.

We're up early and hit the road just before six. We know the way fairly well by now, and before long are on the freeway. Even at this time there's a lot of traffic, and by seven the road is packed.

Not long after getting out of the city we pull over to breath a sigh of relief, and for breakfast.

Before long we see a huge electronic display spanning the road. It's purpose is to show your speed as you approach, and it's large enough to see well in advance.

We watch as the trucks ahead of us pass under the gantry and have their speeds displayed...

104, that's about right, just a little over the limit

103, same

114, whoa, he's going a bit fast

48, eh?, oh that's us.

We planned to camp somewhere near Shepparton tonight, but I'm falling asleep, so we decide to knock off early and pull into an empty carpark outside the public swimming pool at Euroa.

It looks like a good spot, unless a lot of people turn up for a swim. The pool looks as though it's closed though.

Two young lads cycle passed, "The pool's closed" one of them yells.

Fri 7 May

After doing some shopping we ride down to the registry office to renew my licence.

It all goes well until we're admiring my photo on the credit-card sized license (as an aside, they say that if you look like your licence photo, you're too sick to drive). Chris notes that there's a new condition specified, so we go back inside to ask about it.

It seems that the VicRoads computer has decided that I should wear glasses. I disagree, and so have to do an eye test.

Still, maybe the computer is right, last time I did such a test I memorised the letters as the person before me read them out. There's no-one before me today.

The staff member holds up a card, I strain to decipher the bottom line, and have just decided I can probably read it, when she points to the middle row of characters.

They're huge, no problem.

We leave town and camp in a truck parking area.

Sat 8 May

We arrive to warm hugs and handshakes from our friends.


Steve & Jill's back yard, with three WORTs in residence.

Steve's still building their latest off-road truck, a Bedford/Austin hybrid. It's a slow job as they have limited finances.


Their Bedford/Austin hybrid. All running gear is finished and it's fitout time

They have some help at the moment, in the form of Hugo. Hugo emigrated from Holland and lived in Tocumwal for some time. He has a business fitting out buses, and did his first fitout while camping on the river nearby. He's done 24 since.


Steve and Hugo install the shower

I hang around watching them work, offering advice when it's needed, and even when it's not.

We also wander downtown to the markets, then back along the river.


Tocumwal is a lovely town right on the Murray River. Here we see views of the bridge, and from along the riverside walkway.


A canna lilly (first three photos) and detail of a foxtail-like plant

Sun 9 May

Some of our tyres are approaching that state of wear known as "bald", but we don't have to buy new ones yet, we can regroove the old ones.


Regrooving the tyres. Note the new groove compared to the old ones in the right-hand photo

Chris still finds it amazing that we can remove rubber from a tyre to make it legal, but you can, as long as the tyre is designed for regrooving.

While the wheels are off I rotate them and check the brakes.


Rotating tyres and checking brakes

Tue 11 May

We're being a bit lazy today, just photographing flowers in the garden.


Flower close-ups.


Bee close-ups. The middle photo is an enlargement of the first one, check out the detail. This macro lens is amazing.


Water drops on the chrysanthemums.


Water drops on the roses.


A pink marguerite.


Unknown plant over the neighbour's fence.


Butterfly on lavender, fly on fungus

Wed 12 May

Chris points out that the goldfish in the pond look good, so I get the camera.

I take a few shots but am busy working with the web site, so Chris takes over.


Two of Chris' fish photos.

Sun 16 May

We finally leave Tocumwal and head west. It's been great to catch up with our friends, but the outback is calling.

Next time we meet Steve and Jill I hope that it's them who drop in on us, with their new truck.

As the sun sets we pull into the nice little town of Moulamein. We stayed here 2.5 years ago, just days after first hitting the road.

The town is the same, but we've certainly done a lot since then.

Mon 17 May

After an early night I'm awake at 4AM, it's still some time until dawn though, so I tinker with the computer.

Just before the sun rises we go for a walk around town.


Detail of the Tatersall hotel.


It's just a guess, but I reckon this "FRIENDLY grocer" belongs to Langtry's.


The community notice board is looking a bit sad.


It's autumn in Moulamein.


Plumbing 101: If the leak persists after using the entire tube of sealant, stick the nozzle into the hole

The trees are covered with galahs and corellas. They make a spectacular sight, but the noise is deafening.


Galahs (the pink ones) and corellas (the white ones in the left photo) in the trees before dawn.


Galah pairs in the tree.


The Edward river as it passes through Moulamein.

We pull into Tooleybuc for a cuppa, and I go for a walk along the river, noticing a small yacht tied up on the banks. The owner is a young bloke who is living on the Murray.


Living in a tiny yacht on the river

He's a bit stuck at the moment though because the river level is very low. He can't go down stream because of the level, there's too many snags and shallow bars, and he can't go upstream because he's broke, and can't afford any petrol for the motor.

Life on a river does appeal to me, but, in Australia, I think life on the road is more practical, there just aren't that many navigable rivers, especially in a dry year.


Tooleybuc's old lifting bridge crosses the Murray River

We cross over the Murray and back into Victoria, then drive all day through the mallee scrub, finally pulling up in a rest area about 10k from Murrayville, just shy of the South Australian border

Tue 18 May

The instant we cross the border the heavens open, not a good omen. Still, that's three states in 24 hours, who says the truck is slow?

We pull into Pinnaroo to pick up a parcel from the post office.


The Pinnaroo hotel in the rain

It's throwing it down, so I jump from the cab and proceed to run across the road, after all I don't want to get any wetter than necessary.

At about the half way point I hear Chris yell something. Well it must be important, why else would she be yelling to me across the street in the pouring rain, especially when I'm trying to get under shelter as quickly as possible.

I stop, and indicate that I didn't hear. The rain starts to trickle down my neck.

She yells again, but I still can't make out the word. I take a couple of steps back towards the truck.

She repeats herself, and this time I do hear.

"RUN!".

Thanks for the advice dear, but I had already figured that out for myself.

On leaving Pinnaroo we drive north towards Berri. The country is the same as we've been driving through for a couple of days, that is, mallee scrub. Or more precisely two thin strips of mallee scrub bordering the road.

On the other side of these strips is farmland, but often the fields are just sandy deserts. It must be a land management thing, because sometimes a good piece of land turns to barren-looking sand as it passes under a fence.

At around three we arrive in Berri, and pull into the shopping centre carpark.

We're not really due to buy food yet, having stocked up just a month or so ago, but we're about to head into the outback, and central Australia is not known for its large selection of products, or its low prices.

We leave town on what must be one of Australia's roughest main highways, then turn off towards Morgan.

Just before turning off we pass a huge distillery. There must be hundreds of enormous stainless steel vats lining the road, filled, presumably, with alcohol.

A fellow could be very happy here, with a cordless drill and a straw.

I do have a cordless drill, but no straw, so we continue, eventually finding a nice spot on the banks of Lake Bonney.


Lake Bonney at dusk.

Wed 19 May

This morning I'm up before dawn to take a few photos.


Cormorants sitting in the trees.


A cormorant takes off past a pelican.


Pelicans cruise past silhouetted trees.


An egret keeps a watchful eye for intruders, and that includes nature photographers. Two shots and he's off.


Silhouetted trees as the sun just peers above the horizon.


Lone egret catches the first rays.


Pelican fishing.


Pelican cruising.


Knappers bridge.


Grass grows on a log with sky reflected in the water.


Reeds and the lake's peaceful water

Well, I did say a few. It's obvious I'm not paying for film any more.

It's so nice here we decide to stay another day. The dead trees look great, and the birdlife is prolific, so I spend a lot of time with my new camera.

At around mid-afternoon I go for a walk. Before long I see a wasp dragging a caterpillar, but I see it too late, get too close, and scare the wasp off.

Figuring that it will return for its prize I wait. The caterpillar is obviously paralysed as it doesn't move at all. I'm not paralysed though, and eventually I get bored doing the same and continue my walk.

The scene plays on my mind however, so I return but cannot find the grub. I search in a radius of about a metre, no caterpillar. Even if it wasn't paralysed it couldn't have gone that far at grub speed. The wasp must have returned.

I widen my search.

Sure enough there's the grub, still no wasp, but I now have the incentive to wait as long as it takes.

I photograph the caterpillar...


The paralysed grub lies on the dirt

...then get comfortable lying on the ground, and wait.

Before long I see the wasp scouting the area, it flies back and forth, getting nearer with each pass.

Then it goes straight for the grub. It stands over it for a second, then grabs the poor thing in those huge jaws, and hauls it towards its nest.


The wasp returns, then drags the hapless grub away.

Now I find it difficult to keep up, the wasp moves surprisingly fast, considering that, compared to a human, it's carrying what must be the equivalent of half a bridge abutment.

Occasionally it stops to rearrange its grip, and I get a chance for another photo.


The wasp stops to adjust its grip

We spend most of the afternoon wandering around the lake shore.


Old gnarled gum tree.


Various pieces of debris on the lake shore.


One pelican takes off, another sleeps.


Can you guess what this is?. Answer here.


The Bonney Lake Hotel, or what's left of it.

Chris finds something poking out of the ground. It appears to be the top end of the discarded husk from some witchetygrub-like insect.

I pull it from the ground and find that it's nearly 100mm long.


Weird husk from a witchetygrub-like insect, seen here propped up on some grass. If you know what this is please email me.

Chris continues looking, and finds that the ground is riddled with them.

Meanwhile I get even closer with the camera.


Up close and personal with an alien

Now there's something that will give your kids nightmares for a month, right out of "Alien".


Reflections on the lake.


A big ol' gum tree

The sun finally sets over the lake, ending a perfect day.


More reflections on the lake.


Nice pastel hues after the sun has set.

Thu 20 May

I'm up with the birds again this morning.


Pelicans trawling for fish in the pre-dawn.


A lone cormorant takes off. Very slow shutter speed (1/8th) used for "creative" blur.


Birds against the dawn sky.


Pelicans and lovely reflections of the dawn.


Just before the sun disappears behind clouds.


Cormorants, seagulls and pelicans in a feeding frenzy.


Even with the sun gone the light is quite nice

We've gotta get out of here. I know I'm not paying for film any more, but all these pics have to be burned to CDs, worked on, then the good ones burned to DVD.

We drive to Morgan, a quaint little town that used to be a thriving port for the river boat trade.

It's a lot quieter these days, but still very interesting, and still, in a small way, involved with the riverboats.

The Murray Princess docks here every Tuesday night, as this is Thursday we're a couple of days late, or is that a few days early.

Either way we won't get to see the huge paddle steamer this time.

We do get to wander around the town though, and check out the old fashioned buildings.

Many of these houses were built in the 1800s, but they all have huge TV aerials and/or satellite dishes. This is an interesting dichotomy, but to a photographer's eye it really spoils the look of the place.

These days of course, there's no reason to inflict that visual chaos on you, so most of the photos in this diary issue have had the forest of TV receptors removed using a little Photoshop magic.


Morgan's main street, on the left with TV aerials, cars, signs, shadows and burnout marks on the road. On the right, without most of these blemishes.


The Commercial hotel, general store, and RSL club.


You cross the river on this ferry if coming from Cadell. It will take 90 tonnes, so don't worry if you've got a large motorhome.


I was photographing this flower when a bee landed on it. You know what they say, never look a gift bee in the mouth

As I walk back up the hill I encounter a couple parked with a caravan. We chat for a while about living on the road, and leaving the kids/grandkids behind.

All the time there's a scratching noise emanating from the caravan's interior. Eventually, as I'm leaving, I have to ask.

It's their pet budgie. "It makes a nice child substitute" the woman says. "Yeah, and it will let you know if you've left the gas on" I reply over my shoulder.

She looks quizzical. "It'll die first" I explain. I'm fairly certain she saw the funny side.


From the lookout you can see the river, some boats, some houses, and some boats pretending to be houses

On the news tonight we're told that the average Australian household uses 280,000 litres of water a year. This prompts us to see how much we use. The answer, about 8,000. That's about 3% of the average.

For years people have been discussing how to solve the growing water problem we have in Australia. There's been all sorts of proposals to build bigger and better dams, convert seawater, drain the artesian supplies, tow icebergs from the South Pole, etc.

Well I've found the answer, and as usual it's quite simple.

USE LESS WATER!

Fri 21 May

Not long after leaving Morgan I see a kangaroo on the side of the road. It's alive, and there's no visible signs of distress, but it's obviously in a bad way. The fact that it just sits there as I approach attests to that.


This 'roo must have been hit my a car, he hardly moves even though I got to within a few metres of him.


It you have to be on a highway, this is the best kind, long and flat.

We spend some time in the historic town of Burra,


St Josephs church and the main street, Burra.

Then camp a few kilometres to the north, next to the "Midnight Oil" house.


We camp near the Midnight Oil (AKA Cobb & Co.) house

The house is a derelict farm building made famous when Ken Duncan featured it in a photo of the group Midnight Oil, on one of their album covers.

I'm hoping for some great afternoon light on the house, and it's starting to look good. First however I've had an urgent request for some scans to be emailed, so I ride into the internet centre in Burra. I spend over an hour emailing the files, then emerge to find it's clouded over.

The light is terrible. Oh well.

Sat 22 May

At first light I try again. I do get a nice photo of the house, even nicer in my view because it looks nothing like the "standard" view and lighting everyone else has taken, since Ken Duncan's iconic photo.


My view of the house, more subtle than the usual photo of this building

Not far up the highway Chris spots an emu in the field next to the road. I pull over, but am reluctant to get out because it's usually a waste of time. Emus won't normally let a human get closer than a few hundred yards, way too far for a decent photo.

This one seems to be the exception, even walking in a direction that will bring it closer to the truck.

I manage to approach to about 30 metres.


This emu is just wandering through the stubble in a farmer's field

At around lunchtime we pull into the sleepy town of Terowie.


Wothahellizat parks in Terowie's main street

Did I say sleepy?, comatose is probably a better word. While not quite dead, Terowie is certainly on life support, the few locals looking more like grieving family members standing around the bed, wondering if they should pull the plug.

Terowie used to be a thriving community, but to understand why we need to go back a few years.

Imagine if you will a country that, in some aspects, was really many countries comprised of semiautonomous states. Imagine also that each of these states had their own ideas and vested interests.

For this reason the country had three different, and incompatible, railway gauges. Whenever goods where moved between states, and therefore to a different gauge, said goods had to me manhandled from one train to another.

This unbelievable system was how Australia operated, right up until the early 70s if I remember correctly.

Still there was a good side, a lot of people were employed to transfer the goods at the points where disparate gauges met; and one of these places was Terowie.

Terowie therefore had many residents with jobs, but when the country came to its senses, the jobs left, the people left, and Terowie started dying.


Terowie has seen better days.

It's a bit sad to see all those closed shops and derelict houses. But time moves on I guess.

Leaving Terowie we drive to Peterburough, it's amazing the difference between these two towns, and they're only 20k apart. Peterburough appears to be doing better than Terowie, although much has closed here to I believe.


A fascinating collection of car parts, seen through the shop window

Sun 23 May

Onwards, ever onwards. We drive through Orroroo and Carrieton, finally reaching Hawker, the last town before entering the Flinders ranges.


The public noticeboard at Orroroo. Spot any differences between this one and it's compatriot in Moulamein?


This area is littered with great old ruins.

After spending a little time in Hawker we drive just out of town and find a nice quite campsite with views of the mountains.


There's a front coming through, so we find a spot in the fields just outside Hawker

It costs $16 per night to camp at Wilpena in the heart of the Flinders ranges, and there's rain forecast for the next few days, so we'll sit here for free until it passes.

 

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