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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #052

Editorial

Guess who's building another motorhome?

Just kidding, but we are rigging the Jimny up for camping. After a few months of doing almost nothing I just can't help myself and get stuck into converting the rear of the Jimny to carry camping and recovery gear.

And after just a week I am pretty much sick of the project, so no, there's no chance of me actually building another motorhome.

We have really enjoyed our time here on the block but it's almost time to move on and hit the road for real.

And we can hardly wait.

Meanwhile, there's not much happening on the travel front so I'm going through old photos and taking a few walks down memory lane. It's been great for me, and hopefully it's not too boring for you.

 

Till next time then, and remember,

Don't Dream it, Be it!

Fri 8 May 2009

It's a season of entertaining friends.

Tom and Di drop in today. Tom is building a 4x4 motorhome over in Kalgoolie WA (see 4x4canter.com), we've known him since 2003 when we met in Perth and although we don't get to catch up that often it's always good to do so as Tom is a nice bloke and funny to boot.

Di is his new partner, we haven't met her before but she is really nice and I think we all enjoy each other's company. Sadly they can only stay for a single night.

Sat 22 May 2009

Peter and Marie arrive today, we haven't seen them since we left their place a few months ago and it's good to catch up.

They are on their way to Birdsville, then down the Birdsville track, an up the Oodnadatta track to Dalhousie Springs. At the springs they're meeting six other off-road motorhomes/campers and proceeding across the Simpson Desert.

It's going to be an adventure that's for sure, here's hoping it doesn't become too big an adventure.


P&M's motorhome with Kia toad

Wed 27 May 2009

It's Mark & Gail's turn today. After several false starts they finally get away from their home on the Gold Coast and point the GMC's nose north to Gin Gin.

Gail has a well-known motorhoming web site (motorhominglifestyle.com) and is also selling her own software called Nomads Notes (nomadsnotes.com) which is used by travellers to record trip details, expenses, contacts etc.

They stay for three days but have to head back south to prepare for the imminent Motorhome and Caravan show in Brisbane as they have a stall there this year.

Tue 2 Jun 2009

More friends staying. This time it's Mark an old work mate of mine (an ex "Primate" from Prime computers) and his wife and daughter, Julie and Jane.

They have a camper but have had to leave it behind, on account of they've just flown in from San Francisco and it was over the 20kg baggage limit.

So we've set up a couple of tents for them and scrounge what bedding we can. They're used to roughing it so hopefully they will be comfortable enough.

We spend the evening yapping and drinking while sitting around the fire, at least Mark and I are yapping, I don't think anyone else gets much of a word in. Marks works for Yahoo and Julie for O'Reilly so they are both well up on the IT scene and it's certainly good to chat about web sites etc.

Sun 14 Jun 2009

It's time to make a start on converting the Jimny for camping. We plan to make a storage unit for the back of the car that will organize things like water tanks, a fridge, camping gear etc. So I start by removing the back seats to get a good look at the available space. There ain't much by 4x4 standards, still I think we can make something work.

While in Bundy looking for parts we spot a great 60-litre water tank and a canopy-like contraption in the BCF camping store.

The canopy is actually a store-bought version of what we used to do with our 75-series Troopy ten years ago, that is tie a tarp to the car and hold the other end up with some tent poles.


The neat canvas shelter for rear of the Jimny

This is better though because you can have the sides open or closed by unzipping panels and also use the rear wall for access through another large zip. Also it's self-supporting on the other end and therefore doesn't need any poles.

Having tried the canopy out to make sure it will work as we want it's time to get stuck into the interior storage unit.

With the seats already removed I lay some 15mm ply on the floor and screw in one of the fabric-covered side walls.


Start of the storage unit

The cutout in the foreground will allow us to leave the jack in its storage hole and also access any other tools I decide to put with it.

The four bolts in the centre are aligned with the original seat mounting holes. I originally planned to screw them directly into the captive nuts in the floor but in their wisdom Suzuki have used nuts with an M10 fine thread and it's almost impossible to get bolts to match.

So I buy over-length M8 normal thread bolts, poke them right through the M10 captive nuts and apply my own Nylocs to them under the body. The placement of these bolts is not ideal, it would have been much better to have them further apart to spread the load. Still that's where the holes are and anyway they really only have to stop the unit from sliding around, they're not carrying the weight.

Thu 25 Jun 2009

We're still working on the Jimny conversion. The main structure is in place and the water tank and fridge are installed, physically at least if not electrically.


Looking from the rear of the car showing the 30-litre drawer fridge and 60-litre water tank beneath the fridge (behind a wood panel.


Looking from behind the seats towards the back. Here you can see the tank clearly and also the deep-cycle battery.

So why such a large tank and fridge if the vehicle is only to be used for a few days camping? Answer: It's not only for a few days camping. One of the Jimny's functions in life will be to ferry water and food from town to wherever the truck is camped, and for that we need fairly large capacity for water and food that needs refrigeration such as meat.

Next question, how do we get the water into the truck's tanks? I've built a Shurflo pump into a box with its own battery. This can be used to decant the water up into the tanks, in which case I'll just plug it into the Jimny's battery and charge the pump's battery at the same time. Also in theory it will be used to suck water out of a creek, dam etc. when the small SLA (sealed lead acid) battery will be used to provide the power as the pump may well be several metres from any power source.

I've been meaning to do this for years and in fact have had the pump but just never got around to it. This new arrangement with the Jimny however has brought the idea to the fore, also our friends Gavin and Tracy have a similar system and I witnessed it working well a few month ago so decided it's time to build my own.


The pump in its new box.

Much of this work has been done on my u-beaut fold-out work bench. What a great idea that's turned out to be.


The fold-out workbench in action.

Thu 2 Jul 2009

The Jimny is finished, and what a work of art it is too.

In an 850x650x900mm box (plus down the sides in between the unit and the car) we've managed to fit...

  • Recovery gear
    • Tirfor winch
    • Steel cable
    • 30m plasma extension cable
    • Equalizing strap
    • Tree protector
    • Bow shackles
    • Snatch block
  • Tools
    • Small tool kit
    • Electric rattle gun
    • Air line for compressor
    • Extension air line
    • Wheel chocks
    • Folding shovel
    • Scissor jack
    • Bottle jack
    • Jacking plate
    • Puncture repair kit
  • Power
    • 60w solar panel
    • Regulator
    • 100AH 12v deep cycle battery
    • 300w inverter
    • Amp and Volt panel meters
    • 12v outlets
    • 240v outlet
  • 60-litre water tank
  • 30-litre Waeco drawer fridge
  • Camping gear
    • 2-man tent
    • Rear shelter canopy
    • 2 x self-inflating mattresses
    • 2 x folding chairs
    • Table
    • Bag of clothes
    • Bedding
    • Towels
  • Cooking
    • 1-burner cook top
    • 5 x spare gas bottles
    • Crockery/cutlery/pans etc
    • Food for a week or so
  • Misc
    • 2 x pairs of walking boots
    • Fire extinguisher
    • Fold out table between seats at the front
    • Fold out table at the rear
    • Tie-down loops to secure top loads
    • Collapsible bucket
    • Collapsible bowl
    • Garbage bags
    • Rope

And there's still plenty of room on top of the unit for shopping, backpacks, jerry cans, gas bottles etc according to the needs of the day.


View of the rear of the unit.


The table folded down revealing storage for food, cooker, walking boots etc.


The top of the unit has a rubber surface, firstly so things don't slide around, and secondly so we don't care if it gets marked. Four tie-down points are installed in the corners, a four-way elastic strap holds cargo in place.


Closeup of the solar regulator, dials etc.

We have also added a UHF radio in between the seats with an external speaker nestling into the hole of the driver's headrest so Chris can hear it.


The UHF radio's external speaker.


The front of the unit, UHF at bottom right, battery bottom left, and the dog's bone shaped object is the fold-down table. The table has to be a weird shape to allow as big a work area as possible while clearing the seats when folding up or down.


The fold down table in use between the seats.


Compartment for a fire extinguisher and assorted stuff.

Under the bonnet there's now a compressor for pumping up tyres and the dual battery changeover controller.


The compressor is mounted on the left wheel arch. The windscreen washer water bottle had to be moved back.


The dual battery changover relay mounted on the firewall.

All in all we're very happy with the conversion and so far it's working well.

We have added some weight though and the rear springs are feeling the pressure. Unfortunately I didn't measure them before we started so I don't know for sure, but it looks like they have dropped about 20mm so a lift kit may be on the shopping list.

Wed 8 Jul 2009

For a few days we've heard a mouse chewing at various things behind the walls. We've also seen little mouse poos around the place so it's time to get rid of him.

I actually would be happy for the place to be full of mice, they're such cute little things, but you can't house train them and their gnawing can be a serious problem if they happen to chew on a wire or pipe.

So it has to go but I don't want to hurt it, fortunately we have a live trap. We've got two actually, one is low tech and like a small lobster pot, the mouse climbs in through a tunnel and doesn't think that it can get out the same way.

The other is very clever and has some flaps that open then close as the mouse walks over them. Once inside there's no way it can get out.

I set both then Chris goes to bed and I settle down to work on the computer.

Within minutes I hear some scrambling sounds from the kitchen. We've caught our mouse. I carry the trap several 100 yards down the driveway and let the little fellow go.

Problem solved.

Thu 9 Jul 2009

In April 2005 we started working on a job up in north Queensland. One of the main reasons for getting the job was that the extra cash would allow me to buy my dream lens, ie one of the Canon super-telephotos.

I never did buy the lens, but that hasn't stopped me dreaming about it ever since.

My preferred tele is the 400mm f4 IS DO, this is new technology using Diffractive Optics (hence the DO) that allows the lens to be smaller and lighter than the other "normal" refracting telephoto lenses. My second choice is the 300 f2.8 which, even though it's optically shorter than the 400, is actually larger and heavier.

But the 400 is just TOO expensive (about A$8-9000 last time I looked) so I've decided that I'll have to go with the 300. At $6500 it's not cheap either but my cunning plan is to buy it from the US, even if I get loaded with import duty and GST it will still be about $1000 cheaper than buying in Aus and the warrantee is international and therefore valid.

So I get onto the B&H website and find the 300 f2.8 for US$4000 (about A$5000). If it was $40 I wouldn't even think about it, but for several 1000 you have to trust the supplier which in the case of B&H I probably do. They are well respected as a supplier of camera gear and while I'm very nervous about spending this much on the internet it is actually pretty safe.

So I get my credit card, steel myself and click "Checkout", only to find that they have a $3500 limit on CC purchases from some countries including Aus. There are other payment options but none that I can use.

I have to email them and ask how I can buy the lens.

They reply with a quote and banking details that should allow me to transfer money directly into their account.

Now we're cooking with gas. I dial into my bank, go to the international transfer section and am told that a security code will be SMSed to me. I'm supposed to enter this code before I can continue.

I wait.

No SMS, so I try again.

No SMS, so I try to log in to verify my contact details, maybe they have the wrong phone number.

To change contact details I have to enter a security code that will be SMSed to me. Hmm haven't I been here before?

I wait.

No SMS.

Now I have to brave the phone help system. After following the prompts and winding up in the wrong place twice I have a third attempt and this time do nothing at the first level, thus forcing the stupid system to connect me with a person.

They can see no reason for me not receiving the SMS, but will disable the SMS system for half an hour to allow me to make the transfer. Great, NOW we're cooking with gas.

I return to the international transfer page and sure enough, after telling it my mother's maiden name and my inside leg measurement it allows me in and I start filling in the data.

Now it tells me that I have to raise my international transfer limit as it's currently set to $0. This can't be done on-line so it's back on the phone where I fight with the automated response system again.

Eventually I get to speak with a human, they raise my limit then ask if there's anything else they can do for me today. I have a very low tolerance for this type of computer generated crap and by now I'm quite angry, but it's not her fault so I just say "no". Anyway it should all work now, finally we'll be cooking with gas.

When I hang up I notice my hands are shaking, whether in anger or frustration I'm not sure, but if I'd been in a public phone I probably would have smashed something by now, which may explain why so many of them don't work.

But there's no time for a stress-relieving massage, my half hour SMS-security-code-free time it ticking so it's back onto the international transfer page.

Yay, it works, I can send up to $10,000, so all I have to do is enter the bank details for B&H's account and we really will be cooking with gas.

I enter the supplied SWIFT code for B&H's bank, the software does a search and comes up with a different branch than the one on on the quote. It's the same bank but a branch in New Jersey. Isn't NJ a mafia stronghold? You think I'm going to send $5000-odd to Tony Soprano? What's with the incorrect banking details?

The quote also has the address of their branch, so I enter that instead of the SWIFT code. This results in the bank not being found at all.

By now I'm getting really pissed off so I decide to pull the plug on the whole deal.

My gut feeling is that this is not meant to be and I try to follow such feelings these days. The last time I let my head and eagerness to get a new toy override my gut I nearly lost a $27,000 car. I sat outside the sellers house with 27k in my pocket, I was desperate to get this new car so despite the fact that something didn't feel right I went inside and bought the vehicle.

Two days later (I later found out) my money was passed over the counter at the Broadbeach casino on the Gold Coast.

Three weeks later the police informed me that the car was encumbered and that I may have to give it back to the seller's finance company. I was lucky, the seller's business sold and the receivers managed to pay out his creditors so I kept the car. But I no longer ignore gut feelings.

I know B&H are reputable but with all the trouble I feel it's nature's way of saying "buy the bloody thing in Australia", which is what we'll do. It will cost another $1000 or more but at least I can walk into a shop and test the lens before accepting it.

So, what have we learned today? Firstly, if you make it hard for people to buy from your web site they probably won't bother. I could have gone to other camera suppliers and just bought the thing, but I know that B&H are a good mob to deal with in respect of return policy etc. so I persevered well beyond what most people would have.

Secondly, cooking with gas is too stressful, I'll use electricity in future.

Later in the afternoon
The phone makes a strange sound as though it's trying to alert me to a new SMS message while at the same time being strangled. I check the display, I have three SMS security codes.

Late at night
Two more mice in the trap.

Fri 10 Jul 2009

Isn't it funny how things work out? After the debacle yesterday trying to buy the 300mm lens I decide to do some web surfing and see what I can find.

The last few times I've looked at the Camera Exchange web site it's been under construction and totally useless. Still it's probably worth a quick look.

Bugger me if they don't have a secondhand 400 f4 DO. Now you almost never see these top Canon lenses for sale secondhand and it's unheard of to find a 400 DO.

It's too late to ring the shop so I'm not going to get much sleep tonight, although that's not entirely due to the prospect of getting my dream lens, we have a bumper mouse crop during the night, 4 of the little fellows.

Sat 11 Jul 2009

At 8:01 I'm on the phone to the Camera Exchange in the hope that they open early. No such luck.

At 8:31 I try again. Nope.

9:01, still no answer. Then we remember that they open late at 10AM.

10:02 I try again and finally someone answers.

Yes the lens is still there, it's $6750, and has a "V" date code which means that it was built in 2007. This is important because it's generally accepted (although not verified by Canon) that pre 2004-ish models were not as good as they should have been.

I'm speaking to a salesman so when I ask about their return policy he says I'll have to talk to the boss, John, who won't be in 'till Monday. He will however place the lens on hold for me and is about to do so when there's a discussion in the background.

It seems that Ross is the new store manager and he can answer my questions.

Yes I can return the lens in the first week if I'm not happy. But also they have two of them, the second one is brand new and only $250 dearer. Apparently Canon have released some of these 400mm DO lenses at reduced prices.

Now I'm spoiled for choice and tell him I'll consult SHMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) and get back to him soon.

While all this is happening SHMBO (That's Chris in case you were wondering) is in the laundromat. I fill up with water and petrol then pick her up and we return home. On arrival we hang about 30 sheets and blankets on the line and on another line I rig up between some trees.

Then we make a coffee and settle on the deck. Finally we can discuss the lens, the new one would be nice but the second hand lens was made in the same year and according to Ross is as good as new. Also we've gone from about $5000-5500 for a lens from the US, to $6500 for one from Aus and now we're talking about $7000.

The secondhand one will do. I ring Ross.

"We've just sold it" he says, to which I calmly reply "You're shitting me!".

No he's not shitting me, a local newspaper photographer has just been into the shop and bought it, "hang on...mumble mumble in the background...no he's put it on lay by but is happy to take the new one if I still want the secondhand lens".

Done!

NOTE: I just found a quote for this lens from the last time I was thinking about buying it, about three years ago. At that time it was $11,374, whoa, thank goodness I waited a while.

Later in the evening
Two more mice get taken on the walk of no return.

Sun 12 Jul 2009

What's with the mice, another 5 today.

Mon 13 Jul 2009

Another 4 mouses in the house, or is the same one finding its way back?

Tue 14 Jul 2009

Peter and Sue drop in. I met Peter a year or so ago after he discovered this site and introduced himself. He's just bought a MAN 4x4 cab chassis and is about to start building the motorhome body so has driven up from Brisbane to pick our brains a bit.

Wed 15 Jul 2009

The new lens arrived today, and what a beauty it is too.


Canon 400mm f4 IS DO

As mentioned the DO in the lens designation stands for Diffractive Optics, which means that the lens uses special engraved elements that bend the light at a sharper angle than normal optical glass does.

This in turn means that the lens is smaller and lighter than a "normal" lens with the same specs. "Smaller and lighter" is a relative term though, it still weighs 1.9kgs.

Mon 20 Jul 2009

We've been planning to go to Tasmania this summer and today we decided it's time to book the ferry. Before doing so though we go over our plans for the next year or so, when I say "plans" I really mean a loose idea of where we want to go.

Unfortunately we just can't see how we can fit Tassie in this year. As much as I'd like to go back I'm also dying to get up north and west again, and Chris was only going along with the Tassie idea to keep me quiet.

So Tassie's off, but we'll still be heading south soon as I want to do some walking in the Budawang range and in Koscuiszko National Park. But once we're done in the high country we'll set sail for the Northern Territory.

For several days we've been feeding the mice, not intentionally but it seems that they have found out how to escape from the live trap. So they eat the peanut butter bait and bugger off.

This has to stop so today we buy some more traditional mouse traps and I set them before settling in to watch some TV.

Within half an hour I hear the snap of a trap. The mouse is stunned and I decide to keep it in case it recovers, I don't want to release it in a state were it can't run from predators. As I'm putting it into a container though it gets quite feisty so I take it for the long walk down the driveway.

Minutes later SNAP!, we've got another. This one's not even stunned but it is caught by the trap so I take it for the long walk as well.

Then Chris goes to bed so I have to watch Spooks with the headphones on. When the show stops I find another mouse has been caught, this one however is quite dead so the walk is a lot shorter.

Later: Another mouse.

One aspect of motorhome design that you won't find in the Winnebago brochures is food storage in containers. These days we store everything in snap lock plastic containers because mice will eat through any of the normal packaging. And to prove the point, even though we've had about 20 mice in the truck over the last week or so the only food we've lost has been 4kgs of flour that we didn't have containers for.

Not that we lost the entire 4kgs, but once it's been nibbled at Chris won't entertain the idea of using it.

Tue 21 Jul 2009

Forty years!

I can't believe it's been 40 years since man first walked on the moon. I was 15 at the time and remember thinking that we (mankind that is) could do anything.

Not long after that the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey was released and we all just knew that before long we would be holidaying on a flash space station.

We got a space station alright, but compared to what we dreamed of it's just a few tin cans held together with string. And there's only been one person that's been able to holiday there, at the cost of $60m or thereabouts.

So what the hell happened?

The space race turned into an egg and spoon race, sure there has been achievements like the shuttle and various planet probes and I don't want to belittle them, but the heady advancements really seem to have died.

I should have some of the newspapers of the day hidden away somewhere, I might have a rummage today and see if I can find them.

Wed 22 Jul 2009

Can't find the newspaper clippings yet, but you won't believe this.

By an amazing coincidence, just as Neil and Buz where taking their first steps I happened to be walking passed, I was in a hurry but managed to grab a couple of shots.

Just goes to show that you should always have a camera with you, you never know what will happen.

Thu 23 Jul 2009

Found the clippings, here's one of them, the Sydney Morning Herald front page from Tuesday July 22nd 1969, the day they left the lunar surface.

Yesterday I decided to start wiring up the security cameras, but when I went to get them I found that the container was in such a mess that I couldn't find anything.

So I decided to have a clean up instead.

I found the camera stuff but also a briefcase full of old Kodachrome slides, some of mine but a lot taken by my Dad in the 60s.

I've been meaning to scan this lot for years but never got a round to it so maybe now is the time.

What a time capsule I've opened, let's look at the 60s.

WARNING: Self-indulgent stroll down memory lane follows.


So, you come here often luv?


On our sheep farm in NSW, just about to take Janet for a spin in my new wheels.


I've always had a way with the girls, check this debonaire pose, how could they resist?

Even at a very young age I had a rapport with wildlife, it's as though wildlife, nature, and I are as one, as is clearly demonstrated in the following photo.


David Attenborough eat your heart out.

Moving right along then, to the 70s...

I had a number of vehicles during this decade, a Honda 750 motorbike and an Alfa 1750 Berlina were two of my favourites. But my Ford Escort van was fantastic.


My Ford Escort panel van.

I soon moved up to a real van though, a Holden HT with a hot 186ci six, Yella-Terra head, ported this, polished that, and balanced something else.


My Holden HT panel van on the Nullabor Plains, no bitumen then.

Note the triple SU carbies, in photos taken not long after they had disappeared. I wonder what happened to them. I remember they were a pain in the arse to keep tuned, maybe I just got sick of fiddling with them.

Note also that two of the driving lights are folded down. This shot was taken in the middle of summer as I crossed the Nullarbor in 1976, on my way to new Zealand (obviously I didn't drive all the way, I flew from the east coast). It was so hot the engine kept over heating, hence the driving lights being folded down to increase the air flow through the radiator.

To make matters worse (for me that is) I also had to have the heater on to provide just a little extra radiator area for the motor.

Later that year I returned to Western Australia back across the Nullarbor. I drove from Canberra to Perth in 47 hours, that's nearly 4000 kilometres (2500 miles) non-stop by myself — including changing a universal joint at Eucla. I wouldn't like to try that again.

Some of the next slides I scan are from 1978/9 when I found myself back in London.


Looking somewhat pensive at a train station, no idea where I was going. In that respect at least, nothing has changed.


The view was much better looking back the other way.

I met Dave at the Contiki club, he was a huge fellow, an ex wrestler from Auckland.


Dave and friend.

We got on well and before long obtained a lease on a fantastic flat in Little Venice, right near the Grand Union canal. The flat was upstairs with its own roof top balcony and was very close (2-3 tube stops) to central London. Places like this are as rare as rocking horse crap, they were never advertised, you had to know someone moving out.


Mark Rule, Stu Sellar, ??, and Claire MacKenzie sitting around the rooftop balcony, September 78.


The same balcony in Jan 79, plenty of snow that year.

Officially the flat slept 3 or 4, but is was common for 6 or more to be in residence, even if many were only there for a short time. Regularly there would be a knock at the door and someone would say "Fred was here last month and he told Wilma and she told me that I could drop here for a few days".

This was common and meant that when we held one of the frequent parties we didn't really have to invite anyone, there were enough people already in place.


Here's me at one of our parties, I'm a bit blurred in the photo but that's because I was pissed.

If, by some miracle, you know where any of these people are please let me know, I'd love to catch up with them.

Sat 1 Aug 2009

I've organized to to some bushwalking in the Budawang Ranges in October with a couple of photographer mates of mine, trouble is I haven't done that kind of exercise for years. So I had better try to get into condition.

Also I need to see if my walking boots still fit, I almost never wear shoes these days—haven't done so for years—so it makes sense to ensure they don't give me blisters.

To this end I've been walking every day (well nearly every day) for the last week or so. I started of with just a couple of kilometres but very shortly got into the swing of things and now I walk between about 6 and 10k each day.

10K is a circuit around the block, ie I walk out our drive and turn right then keep walking along the road turning right at intersections until I return to the drive. 6k is a half circuit where I cut through the bush to the highway then continue as per the full circuit.



Some views from the walk.

Sun 2 Aug 2009

Today I decide to vary my walk so I veer off into the bush and follow a ridge line which brings me out onto an escarpment overlooking an almost-dry creek bed.

I know roughly where I am, and can see where I want to go, but the creek bed at the bottom of the escarpment looks like it would be pretty difficult to cross.


Looking down into the creek bed, pretty thick down there.

Anyway it's a long way down, so I continue along the cliff line. Eventually it gets lower, I still can't see any easy way across the creek but if I stay on this side much longer I'll wind up in Gin Gin. I have to cross, so bite the bullet and shinny down the bank.

After several minutes of pushing and crawling through the dense—and at times very spiky—vines I encounter a 4-metre drop into a gully. On the far side I can see a fence and relatively clear bush, fortunately there are tree roots on both sides of the gully so I clamber down then up the gully walls, climb through the fence and find myself in a clear area at the back of a neighbour's property.

Immediately I see two swamp wallabies heading my way. They are normally very shy animals and I figure that they will run off as soon as they see me. I stand dead still just in case though, and they walk to within about 2 metres of me before noticing they have company.

Even then they don't scarper, just stand and look at me for a minute or so, then change tack slightly and pass me by.

From here on it's plain sailing back to the road and home for a beer.

Tue 4 Aug 2009

Well I have found a way across the creek but it's not very clever and a fair bit out of my way, so I try again, this time from the side opposite the escarpment.

I want to find a good route because that will allow me to do my walks without having to deal with the yappy dogs at one of the houses I normally walk past.

I've tried to cross the creek from this side before but was put off by an impenetrable hedge of lantana. I think it's time to have a more serious attempt.

This time I have a good poke around and find a wombat-size hole through the lantana hedge, I crawl through on my stomach and find myself on the creek bed. So far so good.


The crawl hole through the lantana.

Looking back from just a few metres away it's already impossible to discern the hole in the bushes, no wonder I couldn't see an obvious route the other day, even now I know where the hole is I'll never find it again from this side without a landmark. Fortunately there's a large tree covered with a strangler fig right next to the hole, I commit the tree to memory.


My marker tree.

The creek bed is almost completely dry which is good, but it's about 100 metres wide and thick with vines, a very prickly bush similar to blackberry that catches my clothing, and more lantana.


Dense and prickly vines in the creek bed.

Before long I'm back at the base of the escarpment, it's pretty high here so I push my way along the creek until I encounter open ground. That will do for today, I've almost got my route through the creek bed mapped out.

Wed 5 Aug 2009

This time I approach the creek from the escarpment side again. I walk along the cliff top until I can see that I'm opposite my fig-covered marker tree 100 metres away on the other side of the creek. This is where I would like to cross.

I can also see that despite the trouble I had yesterday the way across looks fairly open. I think the problem was that once I was actually down in the creek bed I could not see which way to go and so made a few wrong turns. Just a couple of metres one way or the other makes the difference between walking through clear ground and crawling through prickles, and it's so dense you can't tell where you are when you're in the middle of it.

From the top of the cliff the route is very clear. What's not clear though is an easy way down the 20-metre escarpment. There is no obvious route, however while standing on the edge pondering my options a wallaby bursts from its hiding place almost at my feet and bounds down the cliff.

Well if a wallaby can get down I should be able to as well. I peer further over the edge to see an animal pad leading down to the creek bed, quite steep but easily doable.

A minute later I am at the bottom of the escarpment heading towards my marker tree. On reaching it I find the hole and crawl through it into clear bush.

That's it, I have my route through the creek.

Thu 6 Aug 2009

Now I have a way to cross the creek bed I've incorporated that route into my walk, this adds some length and a lot of physical effort but my goal is not to get around the block as quickly as possible, it's to get fitter, so any extra effort is in line with that goal.

Also it allows me to bypass some of the houses which is good, firstly because it's more interesting to walk thought the bush as I see a lot of wildlife, and secondly everyone around here has at least one dog and the bloody things bark at me whenever I walk past which I find very annoying.

Fri 7 Aug 2009

As you know we built a storage unit for the Jimny recently. It's working very well but the weight has taken its toll on the rear springs which are now about 20mm lower than they used to be.

Also I want the car to be a bit higher all around to help with it's off-road ability, so on the 21st of last month we ordered some 40mm lift OME springs from a local 4x4 shop and two 30mm spacers from a mob in Melbourne. The spacers are for the rear to compensate for the added weight.

The springs arrived within days, but it took until this Wednesday to get the spacers and today everything is being fitted.

It's supposed to be about an hour's work so after reading in their customer lounge for two hours we go looking for the workshop.

They're having trouble, with a total of 70mm lift at the back the standard shockies only just fit, but there's almost no extension left in them.

I was trying to save money by not ordering new shockies but it's obvious that the standard ones will not do. We can drive the car but I wouldn't want to hit too many large bumps.

The longer shockies aren't in stock so we order them then head to the shopping centre where we do a large shop up and fill the water tank from a tap in the nearby park. The extra weight of food and water will compress the rear shockies a bit and help with handling on the way home.


The Jimny riding pretty high in the saddle.

Sat 8 Aug 2009

While sitting on the deck at sundown Chris spots an out-of-place bump on the ground about 50m from the truck. She gets the binoculars out but in the gloom finds it difficult to see what the bump is. "Looks like a wombat" she says.

I look and yes it does look like a wombat, but something's not right. Then the "wombat" splits into three and waddles across the driveway.

It's three echidnas; I've spent a lot of time in the bush and I hardly ever see an echidna, let alone three at once.

We rush over to check them out.

At first they seem unconcerned about our presence and continue scratching around. Eventually though two of them start to dig in the classic echidna defensive move, which is to protect the soft under bits by digging a shallow hole and half burying themselves, thus presenting their spine-covered backs to a predator.

The third one still potters around, but eventually decides to follow his friend's example and digs in as well.

We sit and watch them for a while, every now and then a small leathery nose pokes out from the wall of spines, determines that we are still here, then disappears.

Eventually we decide to leave them alone, but before we've walked a few metres it gets the better of me so I ask Chris to stay with them while I run for my camera.


How's this for cute, three echidnas huddle around a tree.

Sun 9 aug 2009

This morning while enjoying our first cuppa (actually Chris's 3rd as she gets up hours before me) on the deck we look up the drive to see some wallabies. Hang on, they're too big for wallabies, they're grey kangaroos.

We have seen the odd one or two roos around but staring us in the face this time are six of them, and big boys they are too. We eyeball each other for a minute or so then they bound off down the drive.

Wed 12 Aug 2009

I've spent the last couple of days wiring up the security cameras. The design of Wothahellizat is such that when it's closed up nobody can see inside, but of course we can't see outside either. So many years ago I installed cameras on the outside of the truck so we could see what's going out if the shutters are closed.

One of the cameras doubles as a reversing cameras as well.

The system is now up and running although it took quite a while to remember how it was supposed to be wired up. I designed the video switcher myself all those years ago and the documentation is a little sparse (read "non-existant").

Thu 13 Aug 2009

There's been an innovation on the home brew front—350ml bottles. The standard bottle size is 740ml which is about the right size and I have one a day, usually while watching the sunset. I often feel like a bit more though and two of these bottles is a bit much, so by making a batch of half-sized bottles I can sneak an extra glass occasionally.

Also, the small bottles will stand upright in the Jimny's fridge which will be important when I go camping with the car.

We found Nick. Who's Nick? To answer this I'll delve into ancient history, 1978 to be precise.

In November 1978 I was living in London getting a bit sick of the cold and thinking about going somewhere that was both interesting and warm. While reading Time Out magazine I saw an ad from a bloke looking for companions to travel to Kenya, wildlife photography being the purpose of the trip. The bloke's name was Nick Prosser. After talking to Nick I decided it all sounded interesting—and I hadn't been to Africa before—so I signed up.

Someone else who signed up was a girl from Colchester by the name of Christine Pelz—despite not knowing Nick from a bar of soap and being told that the only other interested party was a "mad Australian on his way home".

The three of us spent several weeks camping in the African bush, no tour buses or any of that organised crap. We just hired a car, drove into the bush and set up our tents.


Our first campsite in the Masai Mara reserve.

What an amazing experience, I remember the first night, hearing the sounds of trees being ripped apart and peering into the gloom to see elephants feeding.

Note the gully just beyond the tents, this marks the reserve boundary. You are not allowed out of your car over there because of the danger of being eaten or otherwise molested by the wildlife. Yet 20 yards away it's OK to wander around looking for fire wood, peeing behind the bushes or whatever.

One can only assume that the animals are aware of this demarcation line and respect it.


A later campsite in Tsavo NP, check out the state of the car.


Showing some Masai boys how to use binoculars.


A budding wildlife photographer.

Note the state of the car in the Tsavo campsite photo, we gave that little Alfa a real caning. Many of the roads were so bad and boggy that we simply drove through the bush on a parallel course.

Anyway all good things must end and so did this trip. We said our goodbyes in Nairobi and never saw or heard from Nick again.

Meanwhile I had organized a job at a mine in Somalia, huge money, tax free, paid into an account in any country I liked, free R&R flights to Mombasa or Nairobi etc etc. Once you get into this type of work you can go anywhere; but these jobs aren't advertised, you have to know someone. Fortunately I met a bloke in a pub who knew someone who's brother's girlfriend had a cousin with a friend who was on holiday from just such a job—and he told me who to contact in Nairobi.

Unfortunately the job fell through, this left me stranded in Kenya because it turned out my plane ticket (purchased in London) was bogus. It was for a Kenya Air flight from Nairobi through Madagascar to Sydney—there was no such flight, but they could get me to Perth for a few $100 more. Well Perth is good enough, at least it's in the right country and I had nowhere in particular to stay on the east coast anyway. (I've always been a sort of home-is-where-the-backpack-is type of guy.)

Trouble is I was broke and my parents were somewhere in Russia at the time so they couldn't help. Luckily Christine took pity on me and loaned me the money before she flew back to England.

I went to pay the extra and they said they could only accept Kenyan Shillings so I walked to a bank to convert the money, losing some in the transaction of course. As I walked back to the Kenya Air office I passed British Air and thought maybe I should see what they can do for me.

BA could get me to Sydney via Bombay, but they would only accept US dollars or Pounds so it's back to the bank to lose more money.

I stayed in Bombay for a couple of days waiting for my connecting flight. One day I decided to walk down to the beach where I met a mystic who said he could tell me something about myself. I agreed and he said that my girlfriend's name started with C and that she was 26 years old. He was bang on, and had just met me 10 seconds before.


Tyical street scene on the way down to the beach.


The Indian mystic.

Yes I know, he was probably good at reading people's age and had a 1 in 26 chance with the initial (less really as the distribution of western female christian names would be heavily skewed to a few letters), but still I was impressed and gave him my remaining Kenyan Shillings.

Eventually I got back on Australian soil, and a few months later Christine flew out to get her money.

Any thoughts on what name Christine Pelz now goes by?

I still haven't paid back the loan.

So what's this all got to do with finding Nick. Well I have a friend in the US who is talking about going to Botswana and he asked me if I thought he should go. This started us talking about our Kenyan trip and Chris said “I wonder what happened to Nick”.

I Googled his name and found a couple of references to a Nicholas Prosser on various TV-related sites (we remembered that at the time he was working in the TV industry), I fired off a quick email and bugger me if he didn't respond this morning.

So there, that's who Nick is and why we wanted to find him.

Tue 18 Aug 2009

Gerard and Susan drop in for a couple of days. They are new to this motorhoming lark having just bought a Volvo bus a couple of months ago.

Thu 20 Aug 2009

No sooner have Gerard and Susan gone when Peter and Marie arrive.

P&M have just returned from a trip across the Simpson desert with six other motohomes and we spend quite some time hearing about the trip.

It seems that a good time was had by all, although there were many challenges as you would expect.

Mon 24 Aug 2009

P&M head for their home in the Glasshouse Mountains today so we get talking about when we will leave. The feeling of wanderlust has been quite palpable of late and we have really only been hanging around because we wanted to entertain our friends. But they're gone now and so should we be.

We make a decision, we'll leave next Monday. That will give me a few days to do some jobs on the truck.

Thu 27 Aug 2009

There's been a fire on a ridge just about a kilometre away and we've been watching it for a couple of days, well really it's at night when you can see the flames. There doesn't seem to be any real danger but it's pretty smoky this morning, here's a couple of shots taken from the deck.


Things are looking a bit smokey.


Half an hour later it's even worse.

Only a few days to go now so we've started packing up camp.

One of the main things to put away is the eco-loo we acquired a few months ago. It hasn't been emptied in all that time so it's quite full and a bit of a job to clean it out.

Take it from me, emptying an eco-loo is nowhere near as much fun as filling it.

For a few weeks now we've had two very special visitors, a male and female king parrots. These birds are just lovely and quite comical.

They first perch on a nearby tree to check that things look safe. Then the female flies to the deck roof and peers over the edge to see if the bowl of seed has been put out. If so she drops down onto the deck and starts feeding. Soon after the male bravely joins her at food bowl, or at least as near as he can get because she is usually standing inside the bowl pretty much monopolising it.

The male stands to one side and pokes his head into the bowl when he can.


Two king parrots eating on the deck.


The male, he's much more colourful than his mate.


Detail from the third photo.

We call them K1 and K2.

Fri 28 Aug 2009

Three sleeps to go.

Sat 29 Aug 2009

Two sleeps to go.

While driving into town the other day I noticed a swan on a nest in the middle of a field, so today when we go back into town for a newspaper I take my camera and new 400mm lens.

As it turns out the swan is not exactly in the middle of a field although it's very close, there is a little bit of water surrounding the nest.


Aah I just love it here, so peacefull.


And yet I feel somehow that I'm being watched.

As you can see the cows are interested, the bird must be feeling very nervous, especially at night with the foxes.

The king parrots brought a couple of friends for dinner this evening, K3 and K4 as we'll call them had different eating habits to their friends, but they are just as messy. Every time the parrots leave we have to clean half the deck of seed husks

Sun 30 Aug 2009

One sleep to go.

K3 and K4 come back by themselves for dinner tonight, no sign of Ks 1 and 2.

Mon 31 Aug 2009

We're off today...well no actually. It seems we haven't quite got everything packed up, also we could do with buying a few things in Bundy so we spend the day in town.

Tue 1 Sep 2009

Just a few more things to do, but if we don't set a day we'll never leave so tomorrow we go regardless of what jobs have been done or not done.

I have organised to have a farewell drink with Pete our neighbour but when I ride around at five he's not home. I know he is in town for the day and he doesn't have a car so is reliant on friends to drive him around. I pat his dog for a while, such a lovely pooch, a red healer cross of some kind who just can't get enough tummy rubs and cuddles, I often gave him a pat when passing on my walks and have grown quite fond of him.

After a while I decide Pete's not going to show, no problems, I figure there's been a holdup in town and anyway it will be nice to sit quietly on the deck with a beer on our last day here.

This I do until dinner is ready when I move inside.

No sooner have I started tucking in though when I hear a car outside. It's Pete and the mate who drove him out from town. Apparently there was a delay with one of the of the government offices he had to attend, the parole office I think.

They are both pretty pissed and Pete is apologising profusely for not being at home earlier. I help them drink their beer and listen to Pete's stories about his recent "holiday" as a guest of Her Majesty.

Rather him than me I think, but he's spent a total of about seven years inside on several occasions and doesn't seem to mind. Apparently they have units that house several inmates and the idea is to get into a good one.

"How do you do that?" I ask.

"You get 'Big Max' to organise a few mates and say he wants to live in a particular unit, the current occupants move out and things are sweet."

"But what if you don't know Big Max?".

"Well then you're shafted", he replies.

Given the situation I think you could take that expression to mean several things, none of which would be pleasant.

Wed 2 Sep 2009

We should leave today but I'm having a slack attack.

Thu 3 Sep 2009

Yay, we're off.

Because Chris wants to ride in the truck for a while to check if anything moves that shouldn't we do a shuttle, I'll ride and she'll drive into Gin Gin, then we'll both return on the bike, load it into the truck and head off.

On the way into town I pass Pete's but don't see any activity so carry on. By the time Chris passes though he's outside so she stops to talk. It seems that a friend of his ran over the dog yesterday and the poor little thing is dead.

We meet in town, park the car and return to the block, despite supposedly being "ready" at this point it still takes several hours to actually get the truck down the driveway and on the road.

We pull into the Gin Gin rest area to fill up with water then decide to call it a day.

At 15k that's not a big drive even by our standards, but it will do for today, no point overdoing it.

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