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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #040

Editorial

I'm sitting here wondering what the heck I'm going to write about, but nothing springs to mind, so I decide to check my email instead.

Imagine my surprise to receive a letter from a friend I haven't seen for over 30 years. My friend was visiting the Cradle Mountain Gallery, recognised the style of one of the photos, and obtained my contact details.

Unbelievable! After 30 years. You can run, but you can't hide.

Not that one should want to hide from one's past, and especially one's friends.

One thing this event did highlight is that, although I remembered my friend well, I can't remember the names of any of the people we used to hang around with, the places we went, things we did etc. There are a few snippets that penetrate the fog, but not many.

I hope that you get some enjoyment from reading this journal, but if nothing else, it will be invaluable to me in 30 years time.

 

Tue 31 Jan 2006

Chris arrives back from Canberra tomorrow and I'll be picking her up from the Brisbane airport at around lunch time. In order not to have to rush I decide to do most of the drive today, and so head off at around 3PM.

I stop at a service station just outside Maryborough to fuel up. As I return to the car after paying, I notice that it looks a little bit low on the right hand side. Closer inspection reveals a flat tyre. It's not that flat yet, but there is obviously a slow leak.

I drive around the corner into the car park and quickly get a jack under the axle before it gets any lower.


Fixing the tyre in the roadhouse car park.

I continue down the highway, eventually getting to the Gympie duck pond late in the evening and setting up camp.

I spend the evening watching the antics of the birds and a spider. The spider is nocturnal and is making its web. Hopefully it will be there in the morning so I can get a shot with the birds in the background.

Wed 1 Feb

Up at 5 to photograph the spider but he's gone, so I photograph the birds instead.


While lining up on the ibises on the tree an egret flew right past.


These swans must know me by now, we've camped here so many times.


No as comfy as the truck, but good enough. Note the solar panel out in the sun on a lead.

I don't have to pick up Chris until midday, and it's only an hour or two to the airport, but I decide to leave early just in case there's a drama. If I'm early I can rest at the wetlands park near the airport.

The drive is going smoothly, I'm just north of Caboolture, not far to go now. It looks like I'll have a nice relaxing wait at the wetlands.

BANG! WHAP WHAP WHAP BLUMP BLUMP BLUMP BLUMP

What the...?

I pull over as far as possible off the freeway and get out.

The rear right tyre (the spare I put on yesterday) has delaminated. It was one of spares supplied with the car, and of dubious heritage, probably a retread.

Looking back up the highway I see the tread sitting in the middle of the road. It's causing a problem to the traffic, so I walk back up the road and retrieve it.

The traffic is so heavy, and so close to the Cruiser, that there's no way I can change a wheel here. Fortunately the tyre hasn't deflated, so I limp to the next exit, find a flat spot off the road, and get the tools out again.


No room to change tyres here. Obviously the tread didn't wind up in front of the car, I put it there.


That's better, a quiet side road.

I finally arrive at the wetlands with about half an hour to relax before having to get to the airport.

Chris emerges from the gangway at about twelve, we collect her single bag, and head off.

For the next couple of weeks we'll be visiting friends in the Brisbane area, starting with Mark and Gail who live on the Gold Coast.

They live on a couple of acres and it's just crawling with insects.


Huntsman on the kitchen fly screen.


Ogre spider with the rough-sawn timber wall in the background.


These mud wasps are making little mud wasps.

After a few days we head over to Scott and Chris's on Russell Island.


Home-made house boat just off the beach.


Leaving Russell Island on the barge.


The barge's superstructure.


A house and a boat shed on the banks of Macleay Island. Note the price of land on the sign, $12,000, now that's an old sign.


Loading garbage trucks onto the barge at Macleay.


Anywhere else this would be a jetty, on Macleay Island it's a "Marine Facility".


An out-going barge.

Back on the mainland and it's up to Peter and Marie's on 50 acres near Glasshouse Mountains.


In the shed with Slineaway, P&M's huge 4x4 motorhome.

Thu 16 Feb

We're finally back home.

Fri 17 Feb

Since yesterday I've had a toothache, it hasn't been bad, just annoying.

Tonight however it gets very bad, but not of course until after all the shops have closed so I can't get anything for the pain.

I have a very long and uncomfortable night.

Sat 18 Feb

Up early to get down to the chemist. I exit the shop with an armful of medications that should alleviate the pain.

For some time now we've been planning a long FWD trip to the Kimberley and some of the central deserts. Actually it's a fellow called Bradley who originally planned to do the trip with Kevin, a mutual friend of ours from Canada. They've asked us along, so we're madly preparing the Cruiser to make it comfortable for a three-month sojourn.

We know Kevin well, and he knows Bradley well, but we have never met Bradley, so today he is driving down from Rockhampton for a chin wag.

We spend the day discussing tools, spare parts, fuel, routes etc. We're getting pretty excited about seeing some of the places.

For most of the day I have this raging toothache, so I'm not as sociable as usual, but we get along well. Bradley has a brand new Cruiser with a quad bike, a boat, and a camper trailer. We just have the old ute. The vehicles will certainly be an odd couple.

Bradley leaves at around five and we relax into our recliners, me nursing a toothache and Chris with a pulled muscle in the left leg. What a pair of geriatrics we must look like.

I'm up most of the night in quite a lot of pain. At around two Chris also gets up, and we watch a late night movie.

Chris then returns to bed, but I've found a position to hold my mouth that doesn't hurt too much and I don't want to disturb the status quo, so I remain in my chair for the rest of the night.

Sun 19 Feb

I can't stand this any longer, the offending tooth has to go. I ring the Gin Gin hospital but they can't really do anything, and there's no dentists in Gin Gin. "Try Bundaberg Base Hospital" she says.

Bundaberg Base Hospital can't do anything either, I'm put through to the emergency section where I am told that my best option is to look in the Yellow Pages under "Dentist". Welcome to the Queensland health system.

I find a dentist with an after-hours number and ring. If I pay the emergency fee he can do the extraction today, alternatively I can ring the surgery tomorrow and make an appointment.

"How long will I have to wait if I do that?" I ask, "About five to six weeks" is the reply. I think not. We'll see him in an hour and pay the extra fee. Just what people with no money do I would dread to think.

At 12:15 we meet outside the surgery, I fill in a form, he jabs me with a needle a few times, takes a couple of x-rays, then yanks out the tooth. All over in about half an hour.

The dentist is a young fellow with a diploma from Manchester, very professional, and a nice bloke, but I hope I never see him again all the same, at least not in his professional capacity.

By the time we are passing back through Gin Gin the anaesthetic is wearing off, it's time to drop a tablet or two. We have some apple juice in the fridge, so I pull over to take a couple of pain killers.

My entire lower mouth is numb, totally unable to feel a thing. If you've ever been in this situation you will know that it's just about impossible to drink anything. I use nearly a litre of juice to swallow the tablets. I either miss my mouth and pour the liquid all over my beard, or get the aim right but then can't tell when my mouth is full and the juice is flowing out the side.

Chris is in hysterics, it's good to see someone is enjoying themselves.

Mon 20 Feb

It's 8:30PM and my whole face aches. I tried going to bed early but cannot sleep, so I get up and sit in the recliner. I would love to do some work on the computer but find that I just can't concentrate, and besides, having to think while staring at the bright screen would just make things worse.

What I need is something that will provide a modicum of entertainment, just enough to take my mind off my aches, but with no real content that requires me to use my brain.

I know, I'll turn on the TV.

Thu 23 Feb

We've had two people enquiring about buying Wothahellizat. At first we were excited about the prospect of having a lot of extra money, and using some of it to go overseas.

But then there is the fact that we would have nowhere to live until we built another motorhome, and that is SO much work. It got me thinking.

Fri 24 Feb

I made a big decision today, I have effectively decided not to sell Wothahellizat. It is still on the market, but at a price that I'm sure few people will be willing to pay.

Why the change of mind?

Firstly, we've inherited some money and the need is not as great. But mostly I just can't face the idea of building another motorhome.

Lately I've been doing a lot of work on the Cruiser, actually there hasn't been that much to do, but I only have the will to do a little bit each day. I really just can't be bothered doing this stuff.

This came to a bit of a head today because we spent all day in Bundy looking for parts and materials, and achieved bugger all. In a whole day!

So to take on a job like building an entire motorhome would be just a tad foolhardy I think. And Chris didn't really want to sell in the first place.

I'm sure we will build another motorhome one day, but for now I've got better things to do.

Sun 26 Feb


Working on the Cruiser, still.

Mon 27 Feb

The Cruiser has always been pretty uncomfortable and noisy, and we were pretty much resigned to that. But lately I've replaced the seats with two very comfortable buckets from a Nissan Pintara, and I've also replaced the door seals.

The transformation has been amazing. The seats are very comfortable, and we now realise that most of the noise was actually the doors rattling. The new seals have fixed that.

It's like having a new car.

Tue 28 Feb

I know I'm supposed to be working, but I still see interesting animals and the camera is never far away.


This lizard lives in the pile of dead twigs right next to the "workshop", AKA the tarpaulin-covered area next to the container.


An assassin bug on the handle of one of my tools.


A wasp backfilling a hole, presumably with a caterpillar and an egg inside.


A brightly-coloured bug on a bush between the workshop and the truck.


I look up from welding and notice these caterpillars walking down a tree trunk.


This praying mantis walked right across the workshop floor.


Ants and flies swarming over a dead cane toad.


A cute little weevil.

Oh well, back to work.

Wed 1 Mar

The first day of Autumn and don't we know it. It's a grey overcast day with the promise of rain, which makes it very difficult to do any work. Firstly because we don't have much in the way of shelter, and secondly because the work I'm doing requires a lot of power tool use, and without any sun it's difficult to recharge the batteries.

The batteries in the truck can be topped up with the generator, but I'm using the Cruiser batteries for the welding, and I really don't have a convenient method of recharging them without using the solar panels.

So we decide to go into town and buy some parts.

It rains all day, making it difficult to load materials into the car. Still, we survive, and now have almost everything we need to make the additions to the Cruiser.

Tue 7 Mar

I did say "almost". It seems that I have another shopping list just as long as last Wednesday's. So it's back into Bundy.

I recently purchased a 24-volt MIG welder, it's a fantastic gadget, and I've been using it quite a lot. So much so that I've used up the roll of wire that was supplied with it.

While in town I head over to BOC to buy a new roll of flux core welding wire. The welder only takes the small half-kilogram rolls, no problem, BOC specialise in everything to do with welding.

Not quit it seems, they no longer sell the small rolls because the wire produces too many carcinogens in the gas produced while welding.

But don't the large rolls do the same?

Yes they do, but the small rolls are mainly used by hobbyists who apparently don't understand about these OH&S issues, and BOC doesn't want to get sued when they get cancer.

Hardware stores don't care though, so we drive up to Bunnings.

I've got the empty spool with me so I can get the same wire size, however on arrival I realise that the welder is made in the USA, and the wire size is in inches, .035 to be precise.

In Australia welding wire is sold in metric sizes, so what size is 35 thou in millimetres?

The fellow at the counter doesn't know, so I ask his offsider, a twenty-something year old person of the female persuasion.

"Oooo I don't know" she says, "we'd need an old person to work that out".

Well I can work it out just fine if I can borrow a slide rule...er calculator.

I don't know if I should be flattered that she thinks I'm not old enough to know this stuff, or upset that I am old enough to know this stuff.

For the record, .035" = .889mm, so I bought a .9mm roll.

Mon 13 Mar

For days now we've been giving the truck a spring clean, yes I know it's autumn, we're a bit slow. How slow? Well part of the spring clean involves repainting some of the interior, and we bought the paint over a year ago.

Still, you know my motto, if a job's worth doing, it's worth doing some other time.

The only reason we've got onto the job now is that, on Wednesday, we are being filmed by a UK production company for a show called "Extreme Homes of the World", and Chris won't let them film the truck if it hasn't been spruced up.

Wed 15 Mar

What a day. The film crew arrived early this morning and we didn't stop filming until we ran out of light after sunset.

And while you think it may be easy to be the "talent" in front of the camera, it's not, it's quite draining. We did most scenes with two or three takes, and I'm happy to say that I didn't stuff up my lines much at all, the extra takes were mostly to give more options to the editor, or to try from a different angle when the cameraman realised that his reflection was in shot etc.

I've done this a few times now and I'm starting to get to know some of the tricks, like removing the batteries from wall clocks and manually updating the time occasionally. This allows scenes to be shot over several hours and then shown in sequence without any obvious continuity problems.

All in all it was great fun and the crew where nice people, three from the UK and one Aussie. They bought some beer in town, a slab (24) of Heinekin, and a block (30) of VB, which I somehow seem to have inherited. Thanks guys, I'll put it to good use.

It's all done now and we can relax and wait to see the results. We'll be waiting a while though, the show won't appear until 2007, and then only on the Home & Garden TV (HGTV) cable network.

It's a big network, 40 million people will see Wothahellizat, but they won't know that's what the truck is called, because the American market is too conservative for the word "Hell". Mind you, you can kill and maim as many people and animals as you like, just don't say Hell. Go figure.

I supposed though that HGTV's emphasis in on homes and gardens, as the name implies, so they are even more conservative than the average TV network.


I spent most of the day in front of the camera, but managed to squeeze off a couple of shots.

These guys flew out from England to film several "extreme houses", I hope they got what they wanted.

Thu 16 Mar


I go for a walk to see what I can see, and I see this weevil.

Sun 19 Mar

Some of my Bundaberg photography friends are out at the block today on a bug hunt.

We spend the day wandering around the block looking for subjects, and talking about the latest equipment etc.


A plant hopper on a tree trunk.


A jumping spider stalking a plant hopper.


Weevil clinging to a twig.


The amazing Mottled Cup Moth caterpillar.

Thu 23 Mar

It's been raining again today and the frogs are out in force. Chris goes upstairs to the roof hatch and is confronted by a large tree frog. I rescue it, and put it out on the deck with its mates.

For the rest of the evening I hear various plops, bumps, and thuds, as the frogs launch themselves into space to catch insects. The sound they make on landing varies according to the size of the frog, the quality of the landing, and the surface upon which they come to rest.

Who needs TV for entertainment when you have frogs.

Fri 24 Mar

Well there's certainly been some weather lately. I'm referring to the category 5 cyclone they just had up in FNQ (Far North Queensland).

Thankfully we are quite aways away, and only get some rain. But it went right through the area we where working in last year. I've emailed our friends at the Tyrconnell gold mine to see if they are OK, but no response yet.

As for "my" mangoes, I don't like their chances.

I emphasise with those affected though, and I'm not just saying that because it's politically correct. I've been there and done that, although I confess I don't have the t-shirt.

On Christmas day 1971, cyclone Althea hit Townsville, and we were living two streets inland from the shore, about 200 yards. All the properties on the first street where destroyed, but those of us living a street or two away from the beach were luckier.

In our case we lost all the external fittings, such as awnings, the garage door, most of our trees etc, but it was when the plate glass front windows blew in that we were in the greatest danger of losing the house.

We noticed the windows bending, and decided that it would be wise to get out of the lounge room. Seconds later they exploded, sending daggers of glass flying across the room. Many embedded themselves into the furniture and opposite wall. I can only assume old building standards didn't require safety glass.

But that wasn't the really dangerous part.

When a window implodes like that there is a sudden increase of pressure in the building. In older houses, this pressure is often enough to explode the house, or at least lift the roof clean off.

The reason we didn't suffer this fate is that we had the back door open, this gave the air somewhere to go, and alleviated some of the pressure.

So I've had one brush with a cyclone, and one was enough.

These days, at least we can drive our house away.

One of the lasting images of the news coverage was a 5-second clip of a young girl, probably about four years old. Imagine if you can an angel, an angel with a wide-eyed look of total astonishment on her face, still astounded by what she's just witnessed, "We have to go and help Daddy", she says, "Fences brokt, evrything's brokt" (sic).

How right she is, everything will be "brokt" for some time I think.

Sat 25 Mar

And now for something completely different, I travel back in time to medieval Europe. And I don't have to leave Gin Gin.

There's a Scottish festival on today at the showgrounds, and part of the proceedings are some demonstrations by the Society for Creative Anachronisms, a group who dress in medieval costumes and perform mock battles. I first photographed the SCA in the mid 70s when they had a tournament in Canberra. On that occasion they really got stuck in, and the blows were flying thick and fast.

I intend getting some action shots this time as well, but I think the performance is lamed down for this audience, there isn't any action to speak of, so I settle for some detail shots and a few portraits.


A couple of SCA knights.


Martial arts demonstration and a couple of interesting characters.

Sun 26 Mar


A cup month caterpillar. Those spines aren't just for show, I can attest to the fact that they sting if touched.


A small dragon shedding its skin.

Mon 27 Mar

We had a small accident today, one of our fridges caught on fire. I got to it quickly so there was no real harm done, except the fridge has gone to heaven.

So I ring the insurance agency.

After some explanation the woman at the office asks me if not having a fridge is a problem, meaning I suppose that it may have been full of frozen peas or some such.

These insurance people have no idea, there's more to life than frozen peas. "Important!" I say, "it's critical, that was my beer fridge".

She assures me that they will process the claim as fast as possible.

Fri 31 Mar

There's four frogs on the deck tonight, Lord knows how they got there. Actually I know exactly how three of them got there, I evicted them from the inside of the truck. One was in the bed, I threw him out. Another was on the clock, I threw him out as well.


Frog on clock.

And the third evictee was on the frying pan, which, fortunately for all concerned, was cold at the time.

I turn on the porch light to attract some bugs for my green friends.

This isn't the first time I've thrown these fellows out, I guess they like it here, which is fine by me because I love having them around. Chris doesn't mind them, just not inside.


Frog on deck.

We've got wasps as well, building nests in every available place.


This wasp is building a nest in the control knob of one of our fans.


Another wasp, this one was burying spiders under the truck steps.

Thu 6 Apr

The Cruiser is booked in for some work today. We have a dodgy wheel bearing and seals on the front axle, and it certainly makes sense to fix them now, rather than on the side of an outback track somewhere.

Also, the water pump that I patched up ten months ago should be replaced before the trip.

I planned to do some of these jobs myself, but we're just running out of time, plus I don't have the tools and all the expertise. So the local 4x4 shop is doing the work.

We have a courtesy car for the day, but it's a ute without a canopy and it's raining, so we can't do much shopping because anything we buy has to fit inside the cab.

The car should be ready at about 3, so at ten past I ring.

There's problems, it should be ready in a couple of hours.

At five I ring again. More problems.

At seven we finally get delivery of the car and leave town, after booking it back in for some more work.

Given that the water pump was badly corroded ten months ago I reasoned that we should also change the thermostat housing as it would probably be corroded as well. At the last minute though I changed my mind, in part because we're sick of spending money.

However the mechanic has now convinced me that the housing should be changed.

Also, given the bad state of the front wheel bearings, it makes sense to at least check the rear ones.

Therefore we'll be back in a couple of weeks.

Tue 11 Apr

While welding at about 4PM I run out of wire. There's none available in Gin Gin, so we have to drive all the way into Bundaberg, a round trip of about 130k. To make the trip worthwhile I buy four rolls of wire and a new automatic dimming helmet, my old one has done a lot of work and is not functioning all that well.

Wed 12 Apr

I CAN SEE! The new welding helmet is a revelation, I can now actually see what I'm trying to weld. Good thing too, because I'm about to weld the front spring mounting points on the Landcruiser's chassis. It seems they have worked a bit loose on their rivets.

And I've thought of a good use for the old helmet. I will need something in the Cruiser, but a full helmet is very bulky, so I think I'll cut most of the helmet off and add a handle to turn the helmet into a visor.

It won't be very convenient because I'll have to hold the visor with one hand, but then I don't plan to use it :-)

Wed 19 Apr

We have a lot of wallabies living on our block, and so far I've resisted photographing them, preferring instead to let them get comfortable with us.

This is happening slowly, and they can be found hanging around the truck on most mornings.

So today I thought I would squeeze off a shot or two.


Pretty-faced wallaby has breakfast in the long grass.

Sat 22 Apr

We have to go back into Bundy again. Each time we go in we hope it will be the last time, and each time that is not the case.

We're leaving in about a week, so I guess that will put and end to this constant spending of money in town.

Just as we approach the intersection with the Bruce Highway I back off on the accelerator, but the engine doesn't follow suite, it continues to race at full revs. This is not a good sign, and I pull over to the side of the road.

I did notice a slight lessening of the back pressure on the pedal, as if a spring had broken, so we go looking for a fault somewhere in the throttle linkages.

Everything appears to be working, and the linkages do appear to return to the correct place, but the engine will not slow down. We notice two holes that appear to have held a spring, certainly a spring in that position would pull the linkage back harder and may be what is required.

I apply a small amount of pressure to a spot on the linkage to simulate a spring, and the engine slows. Good, now we need a spring. We haven't got one (Note to self: add "assorted springs" to the shopping list), but we do have some Ocky straps and I press one of those into service.

While the bonnet is up we notice a small leak on the top radiator tank. Looks like we'll need to have that fixed as well, or at least buy some "Bars Leaks" to put in the coolant and block up the hole.

We continue into Bundaberg with no more drama.

While driving through the industrial area Chris notices a radiator & exhaust workshop, and they're open. Given that we are about to spend months in some very remote, and hot, places, it really does make sense to get the radiator fixed. There are always things that break on these trips, but to leave with a known problem is stupid.

We drop in and show him the pinhole in the radiator, noticing another one as we stand there talking about the options.

"The radiator is buggered" he says, "it will cost over $600 to re-core it and fix the tanks". That's bad enough, but it will also mean wasting yet another day in town while the job is done, and we're running out of time.

Then a light bulb comes on over the mechanic's head, and he disappears into the workshop, returning after a minute or so.

"You're in luck" he says, "I've got a new radiator for a Landcruiser inside, got it for a customer who changed his mind, you can have it for trade price".

It turns out that trade price is $395, and for that we get a brand new radiator, not a fixed up old one.

Done. I'll have to fit it myself out on the block, but that's a small price to pay.

In a funny sort of way, owning our block of land is allowing us to travel more. To do this trip we have had to do a heck of a lot of work on the Cruiser, and without a base of some kind we couldn't realistically do that much work.

As you probably know, I have done a lot of things on the side of the road over the past four-odd years, but a prolonged job like this requires a bit of shelter and somewhere you can spread out, and stay spread out, for long periods.

Tue 25 Apr

I replaced the old radiator today. We knew about the two pin holes on the top tank, but when I get it out I find some on the bottom tank as well. This was definitely a problem waiting to happen.

Fri 28 Apr

Just a few days to go now, and there's still a lot of jobs to do on the Cruiser. It's possible that some won't get done for the time being, I may have to leave those tasks that can be performed on the side of the road.

One thing I learned years ago was the importance of setting a date to do something like starting a trip, as opposed to doing it "when you're ready". You set a date and you go on that date, "ready" or not.

If you wait until you have enough money, have done all the jobs or whatever, it's very easy to keep spending so you don't reach the target, or continually dream up more jobs.

A date will come no matter what.

And speaking of spending, we have spent a fortune (by our standards) lately, to the point where Citibank rang to enquire if we were still in possession of our credit card because it had been used so much, and that was out of character.

It's good to know they are on the ball.

Tue 2 May

Today we have a couple of small jobs to do, but the majority of the day is earmarked for packing, and trying to ensure that we don't leave anything important behind.

The old Cruiser is carrying a lot of weight already, and with another 200kg of fuel, 100kg of water, and who-knows how much weight in tools and spares added, it will probably be feeling the pace.

The rear springs have always been a bit dodgy, and now they will be even worse, so our first stop on the trip is at Dobinsons Springs in Rockhampton. Hopefully they can beef up the existing spring packs, or make new ones, to better handle the weight

Tomorrow we leave. Of late the urge to get back on the road has been palpable, almost a physical force. We love it on our block, but we've been here over five months now, it's time to do some travelling.

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