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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #034

Editorial

It has been a long time between drinks now hasn't it? Not literally, I still like a nice cold beer in the evening; of course I'm referring to the elapsed time since the last chronicle.

As you may recall the last chronicle was going to be just that, the last one. But I did cover my self by saying "maybe".

Well, you wouldn't believe the response I've had from a member of the general public. I've been absolutely flooded with an email imploring me, no begging me, to continue publishing the chronicles.

Therefore they will indeed continue, although they have to take their place in line with my many other activities, most of which earn me at least a little money. I do enjoy writing about our experiences, and the chronicles are a valuable reference for us when we try to remember where the hell we were, or what we were doing, on a given date.

But writing articles and taking photos earns money, writing chronicles doesn't. As they say in the American sitcoms, "You do the math".

So, the chronicles are back, it won’t appear as regularly as it used to, but it will still be full of scintillating tidbits and observations about life on the road in this broad brown land of ours.

 

Mon 6 Dec 2004

Today we hit the road again, seven weeks after we landed in Bargara. It's been great staying with my dad, but we've got some things to do, places to see, and people to meet.

After lunch we climb into the truck and turn the key. The motor starts, good, the truck hasn't forgotten how to run. Now, can I remember how to drive?

After three hours we turn off the highway at Maryborough, drive about a kilometre along the Biggenden road, then turn off again onto "our" secluded lane, a spot where we've camped several times in the past.

Unfortunately all of the trees have been cleared, and the lane is now in plain view of the main road. So much for seclusion, still it's a nice spot.

Tue 7 Dec

We need new tyres for the truck, so we just drive down to Tyres-R-Us and get them slapped on right?

Well, when you're on a tight budget, and living in an ex-army truck, it's not quite that simple.

Until recently there was a strong secondhand market in the 1200/20 "NATO norm" tyres, this was because the military retired (!) the tyres at a given age, even if they hadn't been used.

Unfortunately this practice appears to have ceased, it's now difficult, even impossible, to buy the tyres secondhand.

So, instead of paying $150 for secondhand tyres, we're looking at $700 for new ones...times eight. Ouch.

So now I have some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that we found some tyres for $495 plus freight. The bad news is that they are in Sydney, and we have to pay cash. Of course you can't send cash through the post, I might be tempted to slip $20 in a letter, but not $4000-odd.

So what do we do? What we need here is an escrow service.

Fortunately it seems that the fellow selling the tyres has a sister living in Nambour. It also seems that she was down in Sydney last week. Our escrow service will run something like this.

She gives him the money from her own savings. We meet her in Nambour and reimburse her. She rings her brother and informs him that she has the money. We ring him and let him know where to have the tyres delivered. He sends the tyres.

There, now isn't that simple?

Anyway the deal is done, we handed over $4110 to a complete stranger on the side of the road, and hopefully our tyres are winging their way to our friend's place as I write.

We continue down the highway and pull into a rest area just off the road, well we actually pull into a spot near the rest area, just outside the RoadTech offices.

The rest area looks a little small for the truck, so I walk over to check it out. On my return I'm standing near the cab talking to Chris when, out of the corner of my eye, I see a car pull up. I can see that it had a RoadTech logo on the door. Uh oh, here we go, we can't park here.

I try to ignore the driver as he approaches. "Is this the one I saw in a magazine?" he says. We chat for a while, then he suggests a spot near their offices for us to camp for the night. "It'll be flatter and quieter" he says.

Wed 8 Dec

We want to get right through Brisbane and down to Mark and Gail's on the Gold Coast today. It's freeway all the way, so the driving is reasonably easy, but there's a lot of traffic, and at times we can hardly see the road because of the heavy rain.

On a stress scale of 1-10 today has been about a 6, but then my 10 is about equal to 1 on the average working city dweller's stress scale, so things aren't that bad.

On reaching exit #93 we pull off the freeway and head up into the hills. It's extremely steep and we're in first gear a lot of the time, just like being back in Tasmania, but a lot warmer.

Eventually we reach M&G's and reverse down the narrow strip of bitumen that forms their driveway.


Mark & Gail's narrow driveway

Fri 10 Dec

We drive down the The Pines shopping centre, while there I spot some great bugs lurking in the bushes around the car parks.


Some insects in the trees around the shopping centre car park

Then, on our return I find this handsome devil.


Who's a pretty boy then?

Sun 12 Dec

Tomorrow the tyres will arrive and I'll have to work, but today I am free to wander around the garden. As usual I find some interesting bugs.


A crab and a lynx spider, note the drop of water on the second photo, the spider appears to be drinking from it.

Mon 13 Dec

The tyres arrive today, "This morning" the transport people said and they turn up at about 12:15, that's close enough.


Eight tyres, seven of which have to be mounted on rims

After lunch we get stuck into changing the tyres, getting about one and a half done before a down poor stops work.

We have a cuppa while its raining, then finish the second tyre.


That will teach me to let Chris use the camera

Two down, five to go.

Tue 14 Dec

Did two more tyres plus adjusted four of the brakes before it got too hot.

Late at night I go for a stroll around the garden. I'm not wearing any footwear and Spud (the family Labrador) obviously decides that this is dangerous for a human.

As I walk along I feel something nudging my leg. It's Spud with one of my work boots. I take the offering and he runs off, returning soon after with one of my sandals. As footwear goes it's an odd pair, which probably explains why he only brings a single sock on his third trip.

Wed 15 Dec

I'm a bit sore this morning, I guess my tyre-changing muscles haven't been used for a while.

I finish two more tyres before lunch. As they are both on the rear axle which houses the hand break mechanism, and the break has been a bit iffy lately, I may as well take another ten minutes to adjust it.

SIX HOURS LATER I'm still "adjusting" the handbrake.

Almost all of the linkages are seized and all of the pins that provide pivot points for those linkages are also seized and cannot be removed, even with Mark's 12-tonne press.

Finally I cut one of the pins with a grinder so Mark and I can take the whole assembly down to his workshop.

By nightfall we had freed most of the pivot points, re-tapped most of the threads, and generally exercised everything. There's still one clevis that refuses to budge, and it's the one we need to do the adjustment.

We'll soak it in penetrating oil overnight, and try again tomorrow. If that doesn't work I will have to think of something else.

Thu 16 Dec

The linkage is still seized solid, it's time for the red spanner (oxy acetylene torch). It may seem a bit of an overkill to carry an oxy set around Australia, and I admit that I don't use it very often, but there are times when it's the only tool for the job. And this is one of those times.

I set up the oxy and apply heat to the clevis, being careful not to take it past red hot. Then I place a large screwdriver through the clevis and apply torque.

It turns. I undo it and leave things to cool naturally so as not to affect the metal's temper.

With the clevis off I re tap the threads, put the hand brake assembly back together and reinstall it. Then finally, after a whole day, I spend ten minutes adjusting the brake.

There's one more tyre to do, and we're all done.

Fri 17 Dec

Over the next couple of years we plan to go to more remote places and on much rougher roads. For this reason we decide that it would be a good idea to carry an extra spare tyre. But where to put it?

As we've almost never used two motorbikes at once we figure that the extra tyre can fit in the garage, in place of one of the bikes.

To this end we left a bike in Bargara recently, and now we have to try and jam one of these huge tyres into what looks like a way-too-small cavity.

I cut off the motorbike mounting hardware, use the crane to lift the tyre into the garage, then use a small bottle jack to raise it closer to the roof.

After much grunting, and a dozen iterations of inserting/extracting the motorbike, we finally decide the tyre will fit.

I just have to weld up some new support brackets and modify the remaining motorbike's lateral support.

Sat 18 Dec

Today I have to make the brackets for the extra tyre. As I said, we hope to get further into the outback this, or maybe next, year, and we're worried about the possibility of destroying two tyres and not having a spare.

This did happen to friends of ours, they blew three tyres on the way to Birdsville. Fortunately for them they have a 4x4 as well, so were able to drive into town a pick up some replacements.

We don't have a car, and I can't see me balancing a 50kg tyre on my head while riding the motorbike.

We set to making the new brackets and after much juggling, jiggling, grunting, cutting and welding the job is done.

Mon 20 Dec

We go for a drive drive up to Burliegh. In the mid 70s I lived around here, and looks pretty much the same now.

I lived in several caravan parks, moving on as the back rent got too high. I had no money, and survived by scavenging bottles from the rubbish bins and getting the refund on them.

After a while though I found work as a plumber's mate, just part time for one or two days a week, but with no overheads I lived like a king.

In those days, seventy or eighty dollars a week could buy a lot of baked beans and beer.

I guess we're doing a similar thing now, 30 years later. We've cut down our overheads and therefore can live quite well with little money. I still like a beer, but have cut back on the baked beans.

Wed 22 Dec

I mowed a lawn today, not a big deal for most people I suppose, but I haven't mowed a lawn for 10 years, so it was something of a culture shock.

Even when we had real estate I was never big believer in acres of lawn, it's too much work to look after and, in Australia's dry climate, I just don't believe it's appropriate for the most part.

Anyway, M&G do have some lawn, and I volunteer to mow the small section around the truck. It doesn't take long, which is good, because I notice some interesting insects which really have to be photographed.


More bugs

Sat 25 Dec

Christmas day, bah humbug. I confess to being totally uninterested in Christmas or any of the usual celebrations.

M&G have people around though, and I do like a get together. On one of my many trips to the loo I notice a brown huntsman trapped in the laundry tub. Is he having a bad christmas day or what?


Huntsman spider in the laundry tub, and another in the garden.


We've been adopted by a family of kookaburras

Sat 1 Jan

Back in the loo, this time I spot a red house spider with a meal about ten times its own size.


Red house spider tucks into a huge wasp

Mon 3 Jan

About three years ago I digitised most of my vinyl LPs, but I recorded each side as a single track because I didn't have time to split the sides into individual songs.

Partly because of that I never listened to the music. Also, there was no organization to my digitised music, songs weren't sorted by artist, or even named properly.

A week or two ago I decided that it was time to get this lot in shape, and I've spent much of that time renaming and filing tracks appropriately.

The trouble has been that, no matter how well I thought I knew a song, I often didn't remember who sang it, or even its correct title.

What to do? Get on the internet of course.

I found a couple of web sites that can be used to find song and album titles, even the lyrics.

www.roadkill.com/MDB

www.getlyrical.com

These where very helpful, but on many occasions I had no idea who sang a song, or what it was called, a situation that is not accommodated by these sites. You are supposed to know at least who the artist is.

So, if I don't know who sang it or what album it was on, what do I know? I can of course listen to the music and determine the lyrics.

Enter Google. I do a Google search for part of the lyrics, for example.

"johny strikes up the band"

Note the quotes, without them you will get a lot of pages referring to Johny Appleseed, union strikes, and rubber bands.

Almost invariably the search finds a site somewhere, built by a fan of the artist in question, with the song lyrics spelled out. Find that, and you've found your song title and artist.

So, after all that, I've categorised and filed over 2000 songs on my hard disk. Trouble is they take up so much room I don't think I can leave them there.

Fri 7 Jan

Several days ago I tripped over a log and discovered a huntsman minding an egg sack. I've been keeping an eye on things since, and today the little darlings emerged.


Mother huntsman spider guards its babies

Tue 11 Jan

While sitting in the lounge room I happen to glance out through the window and see a koala climbing a nearby tree.

I rush out with my camera, luckily for me the koala picked the wrong tree, he was climbing a small sapling, and could not go any higher than about four metres.


The koala up a sapling

Now its pretty rare to see a koala, and when you do, all you normally see is a marsupial bum at the top of a huge tree. To have one "captive" on such a small tree is a real bonus.

While photographing him I notice an enormous tick on his chest. Not knowing if koalas can tolerate ticks or not, I ring the local wildlife care crowd. They don't know either, and send someone out to inspect the animal.

Unfortunately, in the few minutes it takes me to phone, the koala scuttled down the sapling and disappeared. He can't have gone more than one or two trees away, but even knowing that I cannot find him.

When the wildlife person arrives there's nothing for her to see, accept my photos of the tick. She decides that the animal is OK, and fills me in on some of their habits.

Apparently they sleep all afternoon, wake for a snack, sleep again, then get active at dusk, sounds just like me really.

Sun 23 Jan

Just to prove that I don't only photograph bugs, here's a couple of flora shots.


Emerging leaf unfolds, and raindrops on a flower petal.

Tue 25 Jan

For some time I've been tracking the progress of several butterfly cocoons in the garden. However they aren't doing that well, most being eaten by birds or other insects.

So the other day I decided to "save" some, and I moved their respective branches to the truck's veranda. Each was gaffer-taped to a tripod.

My hope was to catch the butterflies as they emerged, unfortunately that didn't happen, but I did get some lovely photos anyway.


A newly emerged butterfly, and two cocoons

Wed 26 Jan

While performing my regular inspection of the garden I notice an unfamiliar face, a young green tree snake has found its way into the oleander.


A green tree snake peers at the camera

Sat 29 Jan

Even while sitting in the lounge room I'm thinking photos. This pesky march fly was being a right pain in the backside, rather than squashing him however, I decide to turn his rest on the fan into a photo opportunity.


March fly rests on fan shroud

Sun 6 Feb

For quite some time we've been toying with the idea of buying a car to use as a toad (towed vehicle). Also, such a car would have to be able to be set up for camping so we can spend a few days in places that are inaccessible to the truck.

This pretty much means a 4x4, and, our finances being what they are, a cheap one.

So what to buy? If you've ever been in the Australian outback you will certainly have noticed that Toyota Landcruisers are by far the vehicle of choice, so a Landcruiser it has to be.

What model? We've set a budget limit of $5000, so it's going to be an old one. I've always liked the 40-series 'Cruisers, and $5000 is about what you would expect to pay for one in good condition. So that's what we're looking for, a 40-series Landcruiser.

I expect to buy a tray back and add a body for camping, and for the past few weeks we've been browsing the Trading Post looking for such a vehicle.

Today we found it. An '83 model, this was about the last of the 40-series models so it has disk brakes and power steering. It's petrol/gas which I'm not too keen about, I'd rather diesel for many reasons, but this does look like a very clean vehicle.


A 40-series Landcruiser, the stuff dreams are made of

We take it for a drive, settle on the price and a few other things, then organize to come back in a week and pick it up.

Mon 14 Feb

For a while now we've been thinking about getting some work, nothing too serious, but with the purchasing of camera equipment, and new cars, the finances aren't looking as healthy as we would like.

To this end, a couple of weeks ago, we applied for a position as caretakers/general helpers at the Tyrconnell Historic Gold Mine, a tourist attraction about 150k inland from Cairns.

Well, blow me down if we didn't get the job. It will last for about five months during the tourist season, which is to say over the winter. The job is part-time, so we should be able to explore the area on our days off.

We start in mid April, so will have to think about heading north soon.

The mine is in the middle of nowhere, just the way we like it, and with nowhere to spend money, no driving the truck (ie. no diesel costs), and a small income, we should top up the bank account nicely.

Also, the job description really reads like a job for Chris, there's not many tasks that require my input. In fact she can do everything, this is looking like a win-win situation :-)

I win because I won't have to do any work, I also win because I can spend a lot of time taking photos.

Tue 15 Feb

We drive up to Brisbane to collect our new (alright it's 20 years old, but it's new to us) car. The owner includes a lot of spares at my request. These will turn out to be very useful.

After swapping the registration at the nearest rego office we hit the road.

We just drive straight back to Elanora. The vehicle wanders all over the road, something I hadn't noticed on the test drive.

Wed 23 Feb

Over the past week we have been fitting out the Cruiser for camping. I've added a false floor, and all the spares fit under it, out of site and out of the way.

Also under the floor are bins for food, a two-burner cook top that slides out, gas bottles, and a spot for our Engel fridge (which is currently in Bargara, I hope I got the size right).

It's all done, what we need now is a shakedown trip to see how it works.

We head up to Brisbane and Russell Island to visit friends.

Wed 2 Mar

After a few days on Russell Island we return to the mainland.

Steve and Madeleine live in one of Brisbane's more ritzy suburbs, they're at work during the day (work, I remember that, that's how you pay to live in a ritzy suburb) so we'll just hang out for the day.

We find a pleasant park, get the comfy chairs out and a book a piece, make a cuppa, and settle in for the day.


Our lazy place in the shade

At about four we go to move off. The car won't start. No ignition, no dash lights, nothing, and the only tools I have are two screw drivers I've been using as tent pegs. Well it was just a quick trip up to Brisbane, we shouldn't need tools right?


Broken down again, may as well make a cuppa

Steve drives out with some jumper leads, but as soon as they are connected I realise that a flat battery is not the problem. His motor doesn't labour in the slightest on connecting the leads, if we had a flat battery it would have sucked power from his alternator, which in turn would have caused the motor to change pitch.

Chris points out a broken wire, but it's getting dark, and anyway, that wire looks like it corroded through years ago.

We all pile into S&M's car and head home for dinner.

We can sleep in the house but aren't happy about leaving the car overnight in a city park, so Chris elects to return to the Cruiser for the night. I stay in the house, chatting with Steve until the wee hours.

Thu 3 Mar

S&M drop me off at the vehicle, armed with a few tools and a list of auto electrician's phone numbers.

Within minutes I've found the problem, the wire Chris had pointed out the night before. Oops.

With our newly mobile vehicle we explore the nearest shopping centre, then find another quiet park to while away the day. As we pull into the park the motor cuts out. I investigate to find that the wire I had just fixed is the problem, only this time the other end has broken.

Once again, at around 4, we go to move off. This time the car starts and we get to drive over to S&M's in our own vehicle, which makes for a nice change.

When we get there, in my haste to get inside, I forget to disconnect the house battery from the starter battery.

We camp on the grass verge outside the house.

Fri 4 Mar

Guess what, the car won't start. This time it's my fault though, the fridge (we borrowed one from Mark and Gail) has drained the starter battery because I didn't disconnect them last night. (I've since installed a solenoid to automatically disconnect the house and starter batteries when the ignition is off).


Gypsies camping on the grass verge

Steve leaves his battery charger leads poking out from under the garage door, then he and Madeleine go to work, fully expecting us to still be here on their return I'm sure.

We have a cuppa while the battery gets some of its oomph replaced. We're feeling a little out of place, like gypsies camping in the expensive side of town, and we do get some looks from the other people who have to work to pay for their expensive home. I wonder how many phone calls the police received?

After a half hour or so I replace the battery and give it a try. We're off.

Chris decides that she would like to have a drive of our new toy, so, after filling up at a petrol station I hand over the reins. Within 100 yards she feels so unsafe that we stop and change back.

The vehicle is still wandering all over the road, or at least that what it wants to do. I guess I have just got used to it, with the power steering it's very easy to over correct and within seconds your are in danger of fishtailing. At 100kph that's a bit scary.

We decide to ask the experts and drop into a 4x4 shop at Nerang. We explain how bad it seems to us and the first thing he asks is "Have you ever driven a 40-series before?". When we respond in the negative he informs us that that is what they are like, they do wander all over the road, and we had better just get used to it.

He does tighten the idler arm which may help, and suggests that it be replaced. He also says that these models are a bit picky about tyres and drive a lot better on some brands.

That's promising, we need a couple of tyres anyway, "Which ones?" I ask.

Unfortunately he will not recommend tyre anymore, he's had too many people unhappy with his choice.

Wed 9 Mar

Other friends we haven't seen for some time are Peter and Marie. They own a huge 4x4 motorhome called "Slineaway" and, if you've been reading these diaries for a couple of years, you will know that we have stayed with them on several occasions.

They used to own a large property with matching workshop, but that's been sold. They now live in a friend's backyard, awaiting the completion of a huge shed on their new block.

We originally planned to drop in on our way north with the truck, but decided instead to do another shake-down trip with the Landcruiser.


Slineaway at rest in the back yard

The property's owners have a guard dog. He is huge, with feet like a lion and a face like a well-used dish cloth.


With a face like this, who needs personality?

After some initial misunderstandings we get on fine, as long as I don't move too fast.

Thu 10 Mar

We drive out to P&M's block, 50 acres of hilly scrub. Useless for most people, but just perfect for someone like Peter who can bulldoze an access road and do all the earthworks required.


P&M's huge shed/workshop

The shed is mostly up, just needs roofing and cladding. When that's done they'll add a mezzanine floor and some living quarters then move in.

This then will be their house until they build a real home on top of the nearby hill.

I try to convince them that they don't need a real home, with a few home comforts the shed will do just fine. This will save them a year or so of hard work and tens of thousands of dollars, and allow them to spend more time in the outback with their truck.

Sun 13 Mar

Finally we leave Elanora, what was supposed to be a 2-3 week stop over turned into a three-month stay. I hope Mark and Gail aren't sick of us, still, one thing about the motorhoming lifestyle is that you can stay with people while not being in their face.

You have your own facilities, rather like being in a granny flat, and therefore don't get on each other's nerves.

We have enjoyed our time here, but, as I always say, it's time to move on. Anyway, it's quite some distance to FNQ (Far North Queensland) and we have to be there by mid-April.

We spend the night in the Caboolture BP truck stop.

Mon 14 Mar

After a fairly short drive we pull into one of our favourite spots, the duck pond at Gympie.


Our secluded spot on the edge of the water

Chris comments that it's nice to hear the traffic in the distance, not loud enough to be obtrusive, but you can still hear it, and are reminded that most of the world has to rush around while we can sit and watch the ducks.

We decide to spend another night, so I spend the day photographing the birds.


Some of the water birds that live around the duck pond.

Tue 15 Mar

We finally get back to Bargara, pulling into "our" spot on the vacant land next to my dad's retirement village.

It's been on the cards for some time now that this block will have houses built on it. When that happens of course we won't be able to park the truck here. There are signs of construction starting now, maybe next time we are here we'll be looking for a new spot.

Mon 21 Mar

While working on some photos to send overseas my laptop hangs. Bugger, I've lost an hours work at least.

Then the machine won't reboot, but at least I can get into the BIOS and see my files. Then I can't even do that.

By the end of the day, having tried every trick we know, including re-installing windows, I pronounce the computer dead. Still, the data on the hard disk is probably OK.

Now when was my last backup?

Tue 22 Mar

Fortunately there is an HP service centre in Bundaberg, I log the fault with HP and take the laptop into town.

Should be fixed in a couple of days they say, like I believe that.

Meanwhile I have work that must be done. For some time I've been meaning to get the desk top computer loaded with all the same software as the laptop, this will allow me to use the big computer as a "hot standby", ie. I just transfer my files and continue working.

But I've only been meaning to do it, I haven't actually done it. Now is the time.

Fri 25 Mar

The local HP service centre cannot resurrect my data, but the technician has some tools at home that may work.

Sun 27 Mar

The technician rings, he cannot get anything from my drive.

This is a serious bummer, my last backup was about a month ago, but that didn't include my email, that was backed up last November. And another project I was working on was not backed up at all.

What's that about plumbers always having leaking taps at home, and mechanics with unreliable cars. Well here's the computer nerd with no decent backups. It's particularly bad as one of my main functions in my last job was ensuring that we had reliable backups.

Over the last few days I have actually restored a heck of a lot of stuff and am nearly back on track, using the desk top computer. We have also resurrected the old laptop and have set that up to deal with my email.

Some data has been lost and there's nothing I can do about that, except learn a lesson.

Fortunately, although I had 22Gb (yes, 22 giga bytes) of unprocessed photographs on the hard disk, my workflow with photographs ensures that I automatically have backups of the raw images almost as soon as they are taken. I will have to reload them onto the computer which is a pain, but no real harm done there.

Wed 30 Mar

After several stuff ups regarding delivery of parts I finally get the laptop back. It now has a new mother board, CD/DVD drive, hard disk and battery. The sound card still doesn't work but there isn't time to wait for it to arrive, we have to head north soon.

The truck is packed and tomorrow we'll be on our way. Tyrconnell gold mine beckons.

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