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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #033

Editorial

Well here we are, back in Bundaberg, roughly three years after hitting the road.

In that time we've basically been around Australia once. We always said that our first "loop" would be a pretty quick one, and believe me, three years is quick when you consider how many places of interest there are in Australia.

What now?

We'll just go around again, that's what.

Quite a lot has changed in that three years, we've become experienced gray nomads (sic), ironed out the bugs in Wothahellizat, and, probably most significantly, I've got right back into my photography.

Just look at the last few editions, 100s of photos, and that's about 2% of what I've taken. Since May this year I've made about 15,000 photos, of which some 8,000 have had to be tweaked, catalogued, keyworded, captioned, and stored. To help in the mammoth task, I've written 1000's of lines of computer code as well.

I've also been writing articles for magazines, and am now being asked to submit both words and photographs to all sorts of publications.

I just haven't got enough time in the day, which brings me to my announcement.

This may be the final GRAYnomad chronical.

It's with something of a heavy heart that I've made this decision as I know a lot of people read these chronicles, and I understand that I've even inspired a few readers as well.

It's possible that I will think of a new, less labour-intensive, format, we'll see, and if you have any ideas let me know.

 

 

Fri 20 Aug 2004

After only about 6k of dirt we reach our new campsite, it's not much but it will do for the night.

I do a recce along the road to find the best spot to access the hill I plan to photograph from at sunset.

We noticed this morning that we've nearly reached a crisis point, I've only got 21 bottles of beer left. Now that may sound like a lot, but it takes 18 days for a brew to be ready for drinking, so I've only got three days headroom. And if I have two on the occasional night, as I am wont to do, then we could have a serious situation on our hands.

Of course we'll make a new brew, but we're actually getting a little low on water. The POTWACACC (Potable Water Command and Control Centre, you'd never guess I used to work in computing now would you?) indicates that we're down to about 200 litres, if we can believe the dials then we've got about two weeks before we have to top up.

It's over a month since we filled the tanks, and we're about ready to head back towards town anyway, but we don't like being that low, and using another 30-odd litres to make a home brew won't help.

By the time we've had a late lunch and made the home brew, it's time to head off for my sunset photo shoot. I ride about 3k along the road, then a few hundred metres into the bush to stash the bike.

I park it near a ghost gum because I know it will be dark when I return, and I don't relish the idea of looking for a black trail bike in the dark. Of course I still have to find the ghost gum, and they're not exactly rare around these parts, but this one stands relatively alone.

I head off. It looks like a walk of about 2k with a steep climb to the top of the hill. As I leave I take a compass bearing on my destination, this will provide a back bearing for the return walk.

Later I check the bearing to memorise the angle, just in case the dial gets moved. It's 180 degrees, due south, that should be easy to remember.

The walk is through spinifex for the entire length. Now spinifex is not a user friendly grass, it has very sharp spines that, while mostly just annoying, can be quite painful if they connect at the right angle.

It gets particularly delicate on occasions when straddling a crotch-high clump of grass is required.

I persevere though, and after about 30 minutes reach the base of the hill, I only have about 100m to go, the trouble is it's 100 metres up.

Gee, it didn't look this steep from the road.

No matter, it looks doable. I start climbing and, to start with, it's just rock hopping and scree slope scrambling. However at about 20 metres from the top it starts to get a bit technical.

Now I'm no climber, I love rock hopping and simple climbing of the if-you-fall-there's-no-real-harm-done variety. But I'm starting to wonder what the hell I'm doing here.

It's strictly a case of all hands on deck, so I leave the tripod behind (the rest of camera gear is in a backpack) and concentrate on the business at hand.

For about ten metres I have to use some semi-technical techniques like hand jambs and lunges (not that one lunges very far with a backpack), then I'm at the top with the rock wallabies who've been watching my antics.

I drop the backpack and return for my tripod, fashioning a sling with some rope so I can make the climb again with both hands free.

Once back at the top I look at the view, pretty nice, and probably worth it.

It's still some time before sunset so I have a snack and scout for a better way down.

Eventually the light improves and I start taking photos.


The last sunlight streams down the valley.


Everything within 100m of the road is covered with a fine layer of dust, this is why.


Looking the other way down the valley.

As the sun sets I pack up and make my way down. I have found an easier route, but I still don't want to climb in the dark.

About half way down I notice the light has changed and take a few more photos.


Dust from the road lingers like a fog, long after the vehicle has passed.


My upward path seen in silhouette. I'm glad I'm not descending via that route in the dark

As I reach the bottom it's getting quite dark but at least I can usually see Mt Sonder's silhouette against the sky, and I know my bearing is slightly to the right of that.

I walk as fast as practical in the dark through the spinifex. Before long I'm climbing a hill and recognise a small rock formation at the top.

On the other side is a ghost gum, great, oh that's not the right one. I look slightly to the left and see my marker.

Minutes later I'm unlocking the bike.

It's pitch black by now and I still have to negotiate the 500m or so of scrub. It won't be difficult to find the road, I just ride north until I cut it. But not being able to see the low branches is a bit of a pain.

Sat 21 Aug

We drive back to the Mt Sonder lookout and spend the day wandering around the river.


Several insects, some well camouflaged, others that don't care if they're seen.


A magpie lark with young in the nest.



We found a bush covered in caterpillars.


An extremely hairy ant.


Interesting patterns in the shale-like rocks on the river bank.


Even a "boring" grass head can look good in closeup.

Sun 22 Aug

The ochre pits are just down the road so we ride down on a bike. The "pits" are really a small cliff that is made up of some very colourful rock layers.

These are used by the aborigines to make the coloured paint, or ochre, with which they decorate themselves. Some colours are quite valuable and are traded with other tribes.



The coloured rocks used by aborigines as a source of ochre.


A healing gash in a gum tree, and an interesting berry.

Mon 23 Aug

Serpentine Gorge is also just a few kilometres from our camp, but in the other direction to the Ochre Pits.

We ride down and spend the day there.



Various wildflowers on the track into Serpentine Gorge.


An isotome flower and patterns in a burl on the side of a tree.


Orb spiders and a grasshopper freeing itself from a web.


Silhouette of a tree on the track.


Flowers from a younger version of the same tree.

Wed 25 Aug

The most popular gorge around these parts is Ormiston Gorge and today, after several weeks in the area, we are finally going to go there.

We drive to a disused cattle yards just outside the gorge, then ride in for the day.

We do the Ghost Gum walk, which consists of a stroll along the river bed then a return leg on the cliffs overlooking the river


This pelican seems to have made Ormiston Gorge its home.


The gorge is mostly dry, but in small pools can be found many plants and small critters.


Freshwater snails.


Butterflies drop in for a drink and get trapped by the water's surface tension. I freed both specimens after getting some shots.


Insect husk on the side of a pool.


A tiny grasshopper, only about 4mm long.


Fighting wallabies, the one looking on joined in as well.


Views from around the track.


Strange sappy growth on a tree.


A Grey-crowned babbler and crow in the bushes.

While sitting in the truck at beer o'clock we get talking about going over to the East Macs where there's still more gorges.

Chris reads a humorous story about a camel and a donkey called Jesus and Christ who live near the Devils Marbles, a few hundred kilometres up the track.

We simultaneously realise that it's time to move on. For six weeks now we've been in the Alice area, we just love it out here, but six weeks is about our limit in any one place.

In that time we've seen less than half of the sights in the West Macs, let alone the East, they will have to wait until the next trip.

I had planned to return to Ormiston Gorge tomorrow but we're pretty much gorged out. For a while the puns fly thick and fast, it certainly is "gorgeous" here, but we're "engorged" and it's time to "disgorge" ourselves.

Well it is happy hour.

Thu 26 Aug

We drive back into Alice today. We only plan to stay a day or so, but I get a call from a magazine asking me to write some articles.

We decide to spend a few days here because we aren't sure where we will next have access to a post office to ship the articles.


Our campsite just outside Alice Springs

Sat 4 Sep

After a week camped just outside Alice Springs we finally leave the "Capital of the Outback".

Sun 5 Sep

Spend the day driving up "the track" towards the Devils Marbles.


It seems that peeing is a communal affair with camels.


Barrow Creek roadhouse, you could live in a worse place, but it's hard to imagine exactly where that would be.


Some old relicts outside the Wauchope (pron. Walk-up) roadhouse.

Mon 6 Sep

We finally pull into Devils Marbles today. The marbles are something I've been looking forward to seeing for a long time.



Light on the boulders at sunrise and sunset.


Some interesting shapes in, and on, the rocks.


General view of the scenery at the Devils Marbles.


Two of the more marble-looking boulders.


A Crested pigeon, and the spinifex pigeon from hell.


We've all heard about the redback on the toilet seat, but what about the huntsman above the toilet seat.


Same rock, same tree, different time by about five minutes.


The rocks in silhouette.

Thu 9 Sep


Little ants attack a big ant. (The big fella eventually got away, minus a few body parts)

We leave the Devils Marbles and head north towards Tennant Creek...


Probably the most common form of holiday transport in central Australia, a 4x4 towing a camper trailer or caravan

driving straight through the main street and on to the Devils Pebbles, just north of the town.

Given the name we expected something special at the Devils Pebbles, but there's really nothing here, just a few piles of rocks largely covered in vegetation.

Still, it's a pleasant enough spot, being quiet and in the bush, so we'll stay.

Fri 10 Sep

We stay at the pebbles, as I said it's a nice spot, and it's close to town which allows me to ship some material off from the post office.

Sat 11 Sep

We reach the Three Ways intersection but don't stop at the roadhouse, just turn right and head east. Queensland here we come.

Sun 12 Sep


How rude is that?, and after I saved him from an untimely death in the middle of the road.

We drive all day, arriving at Camooweal in the mid afternoon. Well, when I say "in" Camooweal, I really mean at the Georgina River, just a couple of kilometres from town.

We camped here a couple of years ago and really like the spot.

The river is drier than it was on our previous visit, but the birdlife is just as prolific.


Pelicans in formation

Mon 13 Sep


A brolga takes off, flys, then lands.


Hello girls, my what big ears you have.


A great egret and a darter doing what they do.


Corella showing a bit of leg.


This large goanna was sitting with the birds, the birds flew off as I approached but he stood his ground

Tue 14 Sep


A brolga hunts in the pre-dawn light.


Lovely shapes in the water plants.


A darter decides that I'm too close and heads off.


This kite had just dropped from a branch.


A brolga gives a little dance.


Black-winged stilt fishing in the shallows

Wed 15 Sep


Brolgas hunting for muscles.


A great egret strikes a pose.


The water lillies are past their best but still look OK.


A darter surveys the scene from its perch

Thu 16 Sep


There's a mob of stock horses being agisted along the river.


This whistling kite grabbed lunch right in front of me.


A nankeen night heron gives me the eye before flying off. I encountered it several times over our stay, but he never let me get very close

While wandering along the river bank I notice a van parked in the shade. The driver is a pretty rough-looking chap, so I go over for a chat.

"Is there any police at the border?" he asks. (The NT/QLD border is just a few kilometres to the west)

"Not that I'm a criminal or anything" he hurriedly adds, "It's just that I've got a few fines".

I inform him that there is no police presence at the border or anywhere else along the road. He is relieved and decides that he can head off then, rather than waiting for night as he had planned.


Two corellas set up house in a hollow tree branch.


A whistling kite swoops overhead.


This crested pigeon stops to look at me for a second, then takes off. Didn't like what he saw maybe.


Here's my friend the nankeen night heron, showing me what he thinks of being disturbed.


Another night heron with a spoonbill friend, and taking off when the goanna gets too close.


The same goanna after claiming "his" rock.


Brolga catches the last rays of the day.


This huge rasping cricket (I think that's what it's called) lived in the lounge room for a few days.

Sat 18 Sep

We've been here a week now and probably should move on. But, the scenery is great, the wildlife is great, and, apart from the occasional high winds, the weather is great.

All-in-all it's just a great spot. I think we'll stay a few more days.

I have been busy though, spending 4-5 hours a day photographing the wildlife, mostly the birds.


A great egret taking off.


The kites will let me get pretty close before flying away.


A great egret flies past.


This wider shot gives a better idea how the kites sit and watch over the river.

While walking along the far bank of the river I see a feral cat climb a tree. I follow it up the tree but it disappears into a hollow branch.

Mon 20 Sep

Today I go back across the river to find the feral cat. Long before I get to its tree though I encounter the unmistakable odour of dead animal.

I follow my nose and find the cat, very much past it's use-by date, and buried under a pile of rocks. Now that's interesting.

I continue, finding some more birds and the stock horses.


A white-faced heron takes a small hop from the rocks into the shallow water.


The stock horses mob me, only leaving when it becomes obvious that I have no food for them.


Corellas are cousins to the noisy cockatoos, and they have a similar piercing screech.


Thousands of baby spiders in a web.


This gould's goanna climbs a tree right next to where I am talking with some fellow campers

While riding around the tiny town of Camooweal today I meet John and Sophie, a nice couple who moved here a few years ago.

Now why would anyone move here I think to myself.

The answer? Cheap land, you can buy a block here for $1000, in fact someone just purchased the old picture theatre for that amount.

I confess that we made enquires of the council, in particular about the old public swimming pool. It may make a good base. While there's nothing in Camooweal itself, it is on a main road, and very central to northern Australia's attractions.

Over several days we discuss the idea of buying land here, but eventually come to our senses.

Tue 21 Sep


White-breasted wood swallows.


A royal spoonbill flies overhead.


The agisted cattle and horses give us something more to look at from the truck's deck.


Water lilly flower.


This moth flew too close to the river surface and got stuck.


This bar-shouldered dove is sitting in the trees, while it's exact opposite, a kite, flies above.


I spent ages waiting for a kite to fly close to the moon, eventually I succeed beyond my wildest dreams.

Wed 22 Sep


Many insects hide during the day in hollow tree branches, here we see a grasshopper doing just this.


A couple of shots of the truck camped near the river.

Sat 25 Sep


This snake was hunting in broad daylight, searching in the dry river bed cracks. I spent quite a long time within two metres of it, wearing just shorts and sandals. Later I find that it's a western brown snake, "very dangerous" it says in my reptiles book, but what do they know?.


Two corellas canoodeling in the branches.


Wait for it...wait for it...got ya

Sun 26 Sep


A peaceful dove sitting on a branch.


A merten's water monitor with the tail end of a fish protruding from its mouth.


While on my way home I find this kite sitting on a dead tree. I take a few shots, but realise that it will be a full moon in a few days. Maybe we'll hang around for that.


The nearby cattle yards.


Pelicans cruise past the truck. I made this photo from the deck, the splashes of light on the water are reflected moonlight

Mon 27 Sep


A juvenile kite sits on a branch near its nest, it seems unwilling to fly.


Still not a full moon but getting close. Here we see the top kite is having a good old scratch.


One of the parents of the above juvenile

Tue 28 Sep


A nice symmetrical pattern caused by a leaf in the river.


A mouse's-eye view of a kite looking for lunch

We reported an injured horse the other day and today the farmer comes looking for it. Of course it's nowhere to be found, but from my description he thinks "it's the one with the impacted fetlock".

We chat for a while about how he "allows" people to camp along the river (my understanding is that this is a stock route and, as such, camping is automatically allowed), and how many of the campers are careless with fire.

Eventually he leaves. The sun is about to set so, given that tonight is a full moon, the moon is about to rise.

I set up the camera on two kites sitting in a tree on the far side of the river, and pray that they don't fly away before the moon appears. I lucked out, in fact a third kite flew in and landed as I was shooting.


At last, a full moon. In the left photo we see the third kite flying in over the moon.

Great, I've got the shot I had in mind, we can leave now.

Wed 29 Sep

We leave our riverside spot and drive into town. After a top-up of the water tanks, and a quick goodbye to John and Sophie, we hit the highway.

Next stop, Mt Isa.

This is a notoriously bad stretch of road, but there are a lot of road works in progress, and it looks like it will be quite a good drive before long.

At about the halfway mark we pull over for a cuppa.

While relaxing I hear a bus slowing down. They pull in, and immediately I feel that it looks familiar.

It's "Hobohome". We know the bus, but not the current owners, who turn out to be Gavin & Tracey.

We have a lot in common and talk for quite some time. What a pity we're headed in opposite directions, it would be great to sit around a campfire and chew the fat with them. Next time. (You can read about their travels at www.hobohome.com, make sure you come back here though :-)

Just before five we pull into the show grounds, it's too late to get our mail, so we'll stay here tonight. You can camp outside the show grounds at the Isa as long as there's no events in progress. It's close to the road but not that noisy, and water is available through the fence.

Thu 30 Sep

We ride into town to collect our mail. I'm particularly interested to see my copy of Move House, a book about portable housing, in which Wothahellizat rates a good mention. (See here for more info about the book).

We spend some time in town, then return to the truck where I spend the rest of the day reading the Move House book.

Fri 1 Oct

Now we are really just driving to Bundaberg, but there's no need to knock ourselves out, so after 60k we pull into to a nice rest area we remember from the last time we came this way.

Later in the evening a newspaper delivery man pulls in. These guys rush the papers from the city to the country towns every night, so they're ready in the newsagencies first thing in the morning.

He saw us camped at the show grounds the other day, and thought we may like today's paper.

Sat 2 Oct

We continue east through the towns of Cloncurry and Julia Creek, finally pulling into a flat spot on the side of the road just outside Richmond.

Sun 3 Oct

Drive all morning then spend the afternoon in the Robert Gray Memorial park in Hughenden.


A little premature I think, but a nice gesture anyway.


Corellas are quite happy living in suburbia and use any facilities they can find. In this case the outlet of a windmill

There's "no camping" signs everywhere here, so we drive about 3k out of town and camp on the side of the road.

Mon 4 Oct

We reach Charters Towers today, or at least the outskirts of "The Towers". As we are heading down the development road, and the turnoff is just out of town, we don't get to see the town itself. We've been there before though, and no doubt will visit again one day.

For about 60k the road is one-lane and in very bad condition. After that though it changes to a typical outback road, still not fantastic, but at least it's wide and straight.

Late in the afternoon we pull into Emerald. We've camped here before, under the railway line next to the Botanic Gardens. It was quite pleasant but a little noisy, so this time we thought we'd camp on the other side of the gardens.

It's officially sanctioned to camp in both places, it's an easy walk to the shops, and Emerald is a nice town, so make sure you drop in if you pass through.

Tue 5 Oct

We decide on a lay day to read the paper. Then we decide to spend a few more days and watch the elections on Saturday night.

Sun 10 Oct

Well that's it for a few more years, the Libs are back in power, and our lifestyle hasn't changed one bit.

We camped near the windmill because the other side of the Botanic gardens is a bit noisy. What we didn't bank on though is the eternal creaking and groaning of the windmill's mechanical parts.

Still we're used to it now, it's just background noise.


The noisy windmill in the botanic gardens at Emerald. Note the hundreds of insects flying around the floodlight.


At the base of the floodlight sits an opportunistic cane toad, expecting fried moth for tea.

Mon 11 Oct

We hit the east coast for the first time in over a year. It's a bit of a culture shock to see so much traffic as we turn onto the Pacific Highway at Rockhampton. I suppose we had better get used to it, we'll be on this side of the country for quite some time.

Tue 12 Oct

We make it to Gin Gin and pull into the nice rest area on the outskirts of town.

Wed 13 Oct

That's it then, back in Bargara.

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