Monthly Archives: January 2009

Resting, Relaxing and Roo’s

Morning in Crystal Waters is magical.  I woke early, the lyre birds were whipping and warbling in the garden next to my window, God was in His Heaven and all was right with the world.  Ten minutes later I was on the track, trusty cane in hand and wandering through some of the prettiest countryside in the world. 

Morning in Crystal Waters

Morning in Crystal Waters

There is a small system of roads throughout the village, and everyone who passed by waved cheerily at me.  Life is good.  The only black cloud on the morning was the smell of death near one of the village ponds, and as I passed over the causeway I could see the bloated corpse of a dead kangaroo.  I held my breath and continued on. 

At the entrance to the village is a small bridge, and the creek was flowing slowly under it.  I sat there for half an hour listening to the water burbling and trickling over the stones, thinking, I could do this every morning.  I hadn’t felt so relaxed in ages.  I thought about my workmates, it would be their first dayshift today, and immediately felt my stress levels rise.  Quickly I focussed back on the water, the trees, the sound of cattle moving about in the long grass nearby, and my blood pressure dropped.  The line from Clancy of the Overflow rang through my head, “And sometimes I rather fancy, that I’d like to change with Clancy, like to take a turn at droving where the seasons’ come and go…”  Yeah, even Banjo had a dream of changing careers. 

Teddy

Crushed Teddy

Returning to the mates place via a couple of bush tracks I hadn’t walked before, I made breakfast and asked what the plan was for the day.  I was surprised to learn that The Hermit was going into town (Maleny) for his weekly shopping trip, so I offered to drive him in.  By the time we did the shopping, had a mid-morning coffee, bought a couple of books from The Rosetta Stone bookshop, and visited his parents on top of the range, it was lunch time.  Time to head back to the tranquility of the village.  On the way down the range, we stopped to pick up an old hippy hitchhiker.  She jumped in, sitting on top of my old mate Ted (the knitted bear), and we drove her to Conondale.  She was grateful for the lift, and I was grateful when she got out.  The smell hung around for a while though…

As we drove past the pond I pointed out the dead ‘roo to the mate, “No worries,” he said, “I’ll get on to the committee.”  I was impressed, a committee that actually ‘did stuff’ would be a first for me.  Several phone calls later he turned to me and said, “I don’t think anyone’s real keen on tackling this problem.”  I laughed my cynical laugh and said,  “Looks like it’s up to us then.”  Yep.  

Near the dam wall we dug a hole, and I waded in to drag the carcass out of the water.  Because it had been in there for a little while, it came out in several large pieces.  So I was forced to rake most of it through the weeds and onto the road.  The smell was mind blowing.  We buried it and headed home for a quick wash down under a tap and a few consolation drinks. 

Dead 'roo removalist

Dead 'roo removalist

I’d had a couple of beers, and as the sun was still high asked the mate if he needed any jobs doing before I went for a stroll, “Yeah, we can cut some timber,” he said delightedly.  Nice one, I don’t mind swinging an axe every now and then.  Half an hour later I threw the axe down, then threw myself down next to it.  Bloody hellfire!  We had cut a good stock of timber and piled it neatly near the house.  A large mob of roo’s watched us as we hacked away, the chief of the mob was a monster of a buck who stood pretty close to 6 feet tall, and my mate has nicknamed him “The King”.  The chest and arm muscles on this roo stood out in perfect relief, he looked a bit toey too, like a prize fighter who’d taken a few too many to the head. 

The rest of the afternoon was spent reading, drinking, eating lumps of cheese and napping.  All that good healthy stuff.  Before sunset, I grabbed my walking stick and sallied forth for one more tour of the village.  The sound of the birds, the smells and the colours of the bush in the afternoon sunset are still fresh in my mind.  I felt at peace with the world and myself.  Lovely.

Crossing the causeway where we had buried the ‘roo, I was surprised to see ‘The King’ sniffing around the freshly dug grave.  He saw me, and started sniffing the air.  I was upwind from him, and it dawned on me that I would stink of his dead mate as well… shit.  He stood up, beat on his chest then bounded toward me, stopped, sniffed the air, and started to look a little upset.  Now, I’ve never seen a roo upset before.  In fact I’ve only ever seen trusting docility on the faces of any kangaroos I’ve ever seen, but trust me on this, this was one pissed off kanga. 

I looked at him, looked at my dinky walking stick and thought about my chances if things went wrong.  Not good.  What to do?  I chickened out.  Backing away slowly I noted a small track which skirted round the edge of the pond.  I strode down it, turning every now and then to check on ‘The King’.  He was following me.  I upped the pace, and he stayed with me.  About twenty feet behind.  It dawned on me that I was heading into a wild part of the village.  Tall trees, long vines and thick shrubbery surrounded me, and it was getting dark too.  Great. 

Upping the pace to just short of running, I burst out of the forest into a camping area full of playing children and mothers.  They looked at me like I was some sort escaped convict and stopped dead in their tracks.  Smiling, I sachayed through the group, and made my way up a small hill to where a group of caravans stood.  I was lost, but at least the roo had gone. 

An old man saw me and waved to me to stop so I did, and he came over and asked me who I was, who I was staying with, and where I was going.  Normally I don’t like this type of thing, but part of the deal in staying at the village meant that you had to be sponsored by a resident, in order to prevent any nasty types from running amuck.  Once he knew where I was staying he relaxed visibly, and we got to talking about the community.  His set up was a little spartan, but comfortable enough in a bush/farm sort of way.  Hot water was made by heating buckets over a campfire, and his bath sat in a little secluded clearing, natures’ bathroom.  I don’t think my wife and children would like to use it though! 

Evening over the pond

Evening over the pond

He gave me directions back to the mates’ place and I arrived after dark, refreshed, relaxed, and invigorated.  I cooked tea, and we sat for a couple of hours reading, chatting, and thinking.  It was a pleasant way to spend an evening.  I once asked him years ago, “Mate, what do you do there of an evening without tv, or radio?”  His response:  My nights are filled with joy.  I can see his point now. 

Tomorrow night I would be back home.  Surrounded by my family, and back to the routine of running a house, chasing schedules, having to be here, or getting ready to go there, work, routines, responsibilities and jobs, jobs, jobs.  There would be the chaos of noise from trains, cars, stereo’s, trucks, and planes, all the sounds you get used to hearing in the suburbs. 

I sat outside on the verandah on my own in the silence for a long time… “And sometimes I rather fancy, that I’d like to change with Clancy… like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go…”

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Oakey, Caloundra, Maleny, Conondale

After saying a fond farewell to Greg and Faye, I pulled out of Oakey sometime mid-morning.  My head was buzzing with directions on how to get back to the coast using the back roads.  There would be signs, eventually, but I would have to rely on ‘local knowledge’ to get to them first! 

The back roads were empty, and the weather glorious, a perfect day for a cruise.  Miraculously I actually found the right roads, and even managed to make a right guess at the correct direction.  The little towns I passed through were neat and tidy, and many of the people I saw were happy to wave, which gave me no amount of pleasure! 

I hit Kilcoy, and on impulse pulled up at a little park to eat an orange, and stuff down a pack of sultanas.  There was a fair bit of traffic on the main street and numerous ‘grey nomads’ vans and caravans lining the road.  Packs of motorcycles roared by from time to time, I assumed that most of them would be heading for the Dayboro ranges and beyond… lucky buggers. 

I chose an route to the Sunshine Coast that I’d not been on before.  The road started to climb at a fairly steep angle, and was full of twists and turns.  Fortunately I was unable to speed owing to the fact that I was stuck behind a truck towing a huge boat, and a semi-trailer full of turf.  On the bright side, I had plenty of time for sight seeing, and this part of the world is absolutely magnificent.  Gaps opened up between the thick canopy of trees to reveal gob smacking scenes of the Glasshouse Mountains, and the Pacific Ocean beyond.  If there had been anywhere to park I would have pulled up and taken some photos. 

View of the Kilcoy Range

View of the Kilcoy Range

Somewhere on the downhill run to the coast I pulled into a small roadside fruit and veg stand to top up my dwindling supply of bananas and oranges.  I walked out fifteen minutes later with a large cardboard box full of fruit and veges’.  Total cost: $7!!  In Gladstone for the same amount of supplies I would have been taking out a 2nd mortgage… well, nearly 🙂 

Caloundra:  It had been years since I’d been to this part of the Sunshine Coast, and to say it has changed would be like saying Michael Jackson has dabbled with some cosmetic surgery.  Overpasses, bypasses, highways, freeways, suburbs, and new developments sprawled across the landscape as far as the eye could see.  I was stunned at how big the place was now.  And chock full of traffic.  I found my sister, her partner, and my little niece, and enjoyed a nice lunch with them before heading off again.  The ocean front of Caloundra has been redeveloped as well, and looks absolutely fantastic now.  Immediately I decided that this was where we would be spending our Annual Family Holiday… see Sharpen the Saw. 

Maleny:  The road up the range hadn’t changed too much.  Many of the roadworks that had plagued my visits in the past were completed now, and the trip was uneventful.  Maleny is another one of my favourite parts of the world, and I took some time out to enjoy a coffee and some conversation with a couple of locals before pushing down the western side of the range to my mates’ place at Conondale. 

My mate, ‘The Hermit’, lives in a permaculture village called Crystal Waters ( http://www.ecologicalsolutions.com.au/crystalwaters/  )near the head of the Mary River.  I pulled in just before sunset and was given an effusive welcome by my good friend, who seems to enjoy my infrequent visits.  The first order of business was to clean his kitchen, then make tea.  Being a hermit means that personal hygiene is something he doesn’t have to worry about too much… along with regular meal times… early morning alarm clock calls… etc. etc. 

Crystal Waters Community Centre

Crystal Waters Community Centre

I like staying with him, and generally rock up once a year bearing gifts of alcohol and food.  We usually spend the first night catching up on eachothers’ news, and talking crap (as you do), then for the rest of the time just sit around reading, walking round the community, or picking fluff from out of our navels and generally unwinding (I unwind, he’s already unwound).  It’s such a vast lifestyle change from my usual routine, and one I could really get used to.  Of course, my wife has opinions.  She thinks I would soon go mad from boredom living deep in the bush, and sooner or later would crack.  I dunno, I reckon I’d miss the beach, it’s a shame the place isn’t a little closer to the coast, but apart from that I reckon I’d find something to amuse myself with. 

Because he has no tv reception (and doesn’t want it either), nights are spent either reading, stargazing, or yakking.  That night as we sat on the verandah looking at the stars and listening to the deafening silence I thought, “I want to move here.”

Tomorrow, I would have all day to think about it.

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Oakey

I awoke the next morning at 1:20 to a brilliant dawn, rolled over and went back to sleep.  An hour later, I opened one eye and checked the clock, 1:20, time for breakfast.  My mates’ girlfriend, Faye was up and about, she’s the early riser, and we chatted until the bigfella lumped into the kitchen.  What was the plan for the day?  Well, Faye had some stuff to do, and Greg was going to show me around Oakey, and the Army Air Museum.  Nice one.

We listened to a variety of country music CD’s over brekky, and I wandered off to get dressed.  I was dressed and ready by 1:20, time to go and see Oakey.  It’s flat out there on the downs.  Basically, if you want to see Perth all you have to do is stand on the bonnet of your car and face West.  We drove around town and I was surprised to see how many new houses had been built recently, and how many more were under construction.  The local industry was basically farm goods, cattle, grain etc.  and the Army had an air base just outside of town.  It’s a pleasant surprise to see a small town doing so well. 

In the middle of town there’s a statue of Bernborough, a local horse which won the Melbourne Cup years ago, and nearby is a large mural showing the history of the area.  It’s quite well done and the locals should be very proud of themselves for the effort they’ve put into it.  Even better, no one had graffitied over it!  The main drag and surrounding areas were extremely clean and tidy, my compliments to the local council.   

The Army Air Base Museum was next on the agenda.  Well, it was it full of surprises.  The bloke at the counter took our money, and launched into spiel, that was at once interesting and amusing.  Afterwards we wandered about the hangar where all the old Army planes and choppers are stored.  One of the displays stopped me in my tracks, it was an actual insignia from the Red Barons’ plane, souveniered by Aussie troops from the wreckage. 

A Piece of History from the Red Barons' Plane

A Piece of History from the Red Barons' Plane

The rest of the museum was quite well laid out and the information presented was about the right length.  It was certainly a pleasant way to kill a couple of hours in Oakey.  Again, I regretted not having the kids with me, although they probably would have preferred to chew through their own ankles rather than spend time strolling through a very good museum 🙂 

Afterwards we headed home, spent the afternoon enjoying the odd drink and ended up putting on the movie, The Bucket List.  I’d just like the record to show that I WASN’T crying at the end of the show, I had inadvertantly rubbed my eye and some viscious Oakey dust had scratched my eyeball and it was quite painful.  The movie was quite good and I was surprised to learn that it had been panned by the critics, but most of the movies I’ve enjoyed over the years have also never been critically acclaimed.  Actually the only movie the critics and I have agreed on being any good is Forrest Gump.  I can’t tell you how shocked I was by this at the time…  

1:20 time for tea.  We dressed and strolled to the RSL for a feed and a few drinks.  A performer was playing his guitar and ripping out a few country favourites.  The place was full without being packed, and the atmosphere very friendly.  Everyone I looked at smiled back at me, which made me feel right at home.  Not a psychopath in sight, Excellent!

Afterwards we strolled home via the main street, our footsteps souding loud in the silence.  Stopping at the Bernborough statue I noticed a little button at the base and pressed it.  A shouting voice burst from a set of nearby speakers, loudly informing us of Bernborough’s pedigree, racing history, and the spiel ended with a race call, where the bloke doing the calling sounded like he had slammed his hand in a door.  Geez it was a racket!  The three of us were feeling a tad self conscious standing alone under the well lit exhibit, while the voice screamed out the last furlong of the race.  After the tape had finished we staggered off into the cool, and once again silent, night, and for some reason I felt a sudden impulse.  Racing back to the statue I pressed the button again, and ran back to where Greg and Faye were standing.  Two blocks away we could still hear the presentation, which had us snickering like excited school kids, while the nearby locals lay in their beds clenching and unclenching their fists dreaming of shooting the loudspeakers into tiny pieces. 

Just another wild night in Oakey 🙂

Back home, and into bed, it was 1:20 time for a camp.  Tomorrow I’d be heading for the coast again.  Sand under my feet… great stuff.

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Back in Queensland

The run back to the border was uneventful.  Actually, it was a tad boring.  I’d sang all my songs, Radio National was airing some crap so I turned it off, and the speed cameras were literally mounted up on eachother, so getting this ordeal over with at a reasonably safe (but slightly illegal) speed was unthinkable. 

Which explains what happened when the group of cars I’d tagged onto made it to the Queensland border.  Everyone picked up speed immediately!  If the Qld Government wanted to make a killing in fines, then all they would have to do is drop a cop on the NSW / QLD border and in one afternoon they’d have more than enough $ to top up the pollie super annuation bucket for a year. 

I hadn’t been this way over the border before, and stopped to take some snaps of the area before making my way north again.  Passing through Stanthorpe I had a quick look around.  The area is renowned for it’s apples, and for it’s freezing cold weather.  They get snow out there on a regular basis.  It looked a pretty little place. 

Welcome To Queensland!  Feel free to speed now...

Welcome To Queensland!

The hills eventually gave way to the ‘Downs’ the Darling Downs, a stretch of flat, but tremendously fertile land perched on top of the Great Dividing Range.  Farms stretched for miles in all directions, and the area looked a little dry.  It’s a part of the world I got to know as a young bloke visiting my uncle and his family who used to live in the area.  The locals are generally pretty friendly, but the temperature extremes would drive me mad.  Stinking hot in Summer, and bloody cold in Winter.  I mean, BLOODY COLD in Winter.  I remember once driving up to the Downs one sunny July day in my first car, cursing the whole way up because my heater wasn’t working.  When I got to the top, I popped the bonnet, leaped from the car to see what the problem was, and discovered to my horror, that the heater had been working just fine thank you very much.  Slamming the bonnet shut, I lurched back into the car and grinned through frozen lips at my then girlfriend (later to become my wife) who was wrapped in every item of clothing she could put on.  It was a fun weekend!   

Toowoomba appeared in my windscreen and I pulled over to fuel up and ask for directions to Oakey.  The bloke at the servo had no idea, he was from Victoria, so I wandered over to the nearby bottle shop.  The girl there sort of knew, but wasn’t too sure, “Just look for some signs,” she advised me.  Yeah, great.  I bought a couple of bottles of plonk and made my way back to the car.  Using signs to find your way around SE Qld, is not advisable.  Actually, relying on signs to assist you on any back roads in Qld is not a good thing.  I’ve visited some ‘interesting’ areas of this state, totally lost, because my maps haven’t got all the roads marked.  That’s bitumen roads, dirt roads are another story.  I once went touring with a mate on our bikes and on impulse took a trip down a dirt road to see where it went.  We were stunned to discover that the dirt road shaved an hour of travelling time off  to the next town!  An hour!  This was a road that I’d passed on numerous occasions and it would have been extremely handy to have known about that little shortcut.  Would it be too much trouble for the local council to erect a f*&ing sign to assist any ‘non-locals’?!  Apparently, yes it would.  And this is why my old mate Rob is fond of saying, “Local Knowledge is Everything.”  So, basically, if you’re travelling in Qld, and you leave the Bruce Highway (which happens a lot these days thanks to the SES diverting traffic away from accidents), then you’d better be carrying extra fuel, water, food and a good quality banjo because, if you’re not a local then you’re f&*^ed.

Tossing my stuff into the car, I slipped out onto the street, and right in front of me was a truck with a sign “Oakey Animal Transport” or something similar.  All I can remember is that it had the word Oakey in it so I followed it.  I shook my head in amazement at my good fortune, and was reminded instantly of a book by the late great Douglas Adams, ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’.  Dirk would get a case, then walk out of his office and follow the first person or car he saw, and eventually that would lead him to the vital clues he needed.  I had just done a Dirk!   

It was dark when I pulled into the main street of Oakey.  It looked clean, well lit and curiously very quite.  There were no cars on the road, and no people out and about.  I found my way to my mate’s new place and was welcomed like a returning hero, so I thought I’d milk their enthusiasm for at least a couple of nights 🙂  He showed me to my room, the clock was stuck at 1.20.  Mm, 1.20 eh?  Time for feed a drink, and a few laughs.

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Glen Innes

A light cover of high cloud was covering the upper atmosphere as I pulled into Glen Innes, the weather was starting to cool even more.  Still, isn’t wasn’t cool enough for me to justify leaving my motorcycle at home 🙂  The sign at the visitors information centre said, Welcome to Celtic Country.  Nice one.  I’m part Celtic, (like many Australians) and was curious to see what the tourism highlights included, and how much information was available regarding my heritage.  Not that I felt some urgent desire to paint my face blue, tear all my clothes off and run berserk about the town waving a variety of weapons…  or did I?!

Nope. 

Welcome to Glenn Innes

Welcome to Glenn Innes

The young lady in the information centre really knew her bikkies, and I was laden down with a stack of brochures, maps, and places to stay.  I was disappointed to learn that I’d just missed the annual Celtic Festival, ( http://www.australiancelticfestival.com/ ) when the town fills up with re-enactment groups, from Romans, Celts (of course), Scottish dancing and various other groups of folk who like to dress up and play ‘native’ for the weekend (as long as there are toilets, hygienic food, and air-conditioning on hand…).   I’m a sucker for these types of events, if my annual pilgrimage to the Bribie Island Abbey Museums’ Medieval Fayre is anything to go by.   

Clutching a plastic bag stuffed full of tourist info, I strolled through a nearby door into a very well presented jewelry store.  Most of the stuff in there was exceptionally well made, very beautiful, and very expensive.  Still, it’s nice to look.  Much of the jewelry was made using locally sourced stones and materials, as well as some rocks from good ol’ Central Queensland gemfields I was proud to note. 

But, the thing that I was keen to see were the Standing Stones, which stand in a park on a hill near the town.  I’ve been keen to see these stones since I first saw them on an ABC documentary years ago, and if I couldn’t get to Stone Henge, then this was the next best thing.  Slipping back into the car, I quickly found my way to the attraction, and was delighted to find that I had the place all to myself.  Grabbing my canvas bag and slipping on my hat, I sallied forth to spend some uninterrupted time reading all the little plaques, and signs that were scattered about the place.  Again, if my children had come with me, then they would have no doubt sat in the car, sulkily playing with their iPods, and watching in dismay as I ran about in raptures between the stationary rocks, knowing that daddy was going to be ages yet.  They don’t know how much fun they’re missing… probably.

The stones were set up by the local community after much consultation from experts around the world.  The patterns take advantage of the natural surroundings, and suns position, in order for the stones and their shadows to line up at ‘certain’ times of the year.  There were also a variety of rocks and stones on display, sent from numerous communities around the world, which was a nice touch. 

I liked it here.  And after walking around the stones, and feeling how cool they were to the touch, I found myself sitting down on a small flat rock and eating an orange.  A feeling of, ‘this is just right’ crept over me, and I don’t know why.  It’s not as if there is a long druidic connection to the area (but you never know!), and standing stones are about as Australian as a clock radio made in China, but still, I couldn’t help feeling sort of contented.  To have this place all to myself was brilliant, and I didn’t want to leave. 

Let's play 'Spot the Druid!'

Let's play 'Spot the Druid!'

I don’t know how long I sat there, thinking about this and that, and the need for us humans to re-connect with our past, regardless of where we come from, when a bus load of kids turned up. 

Time to go.  As I was packing up, a mob of them kicked the doors of the bus open and stormed the stones, the peace was shattered by the sound of squealing, laughing children.  I sat back down again to watch them.  They seemed to be aged from somewhere around, 6 to 8 years old, and were having a blast racing around the stones, hiding from eachother, or trying to clamber up some of the more craggy rocks.  This also felt ‘right’.  It’s a hard feeling to describe.  Perhaps there are standing stones overseas, which were set up for a far more sinister purpose, but also double as childrens’ playgrounds during daylight hours.  I don’t know and one day I hope to find out.

A group of kids broke away from the main pack and came over to where I was sitting and stared at me.  One of them smiled and said, “Hullo.”  I smiled back and said “Hello.” 

“Are you a tourist mate?”

“Yep.”

“It’s nice here isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s very nice indeed.”

“Are you going to play?”

I laughed, “No little mate, I’d like to, but I don’t think you’re teacher would like it very much.” 

He shrugged, the universal child language for ‘who cares what my teacher thinks’ and a little girl next to him slapped him on the shoulder (bloody hard too!) then ran off.  He looked at me for a moment with a quizzical expression then bolted off after the girl.  The rest of the little group followed, hooting with yells and laughter.  It made me laugh as well.  I stopped laughing when I spied the teacher walking quickly towards me.  

As I passed her, she smiled at me a little nervously, and I said something trite like, “Nice day eh?” but she either didn’t hear me, or didn’t want to speak.  No worries, I could see she had a job to do, and her hands were pretty full.  

Back in the car I flicked open my maps, grabbed a banana from my dwindling supply and checked my options.  It was close to lunch time, and if I was going to be back in Queensland by sundown I had some cruising to do.  Packing everything up, and tossing the banana skin into a nearby bin (3 points, it didn’t touch the sides) I sat for a moment in the cool and watched the kids running riot through the stones for a few more minutes.  They were having a ball, and the funny thing was, there was a park just behind me, and none of them were playing in it.  How great was that? 

What wasn’t too great was the look the teacher was giving me as she rode shotgun across my line of sight again, angling towards my car.  I got the feeling that she was memorising my number plate.  With a sigh, I fired up the family truckster, gave her a wave (which was also ignored) and slipped off down the winding road towards the highway.  I tell ya, I know why she did it (and good on her because kids need protecting by vigilant carers), but still the implication hurts… not all blokes are murderers, molestors, nose pickers, etc. 

Back on the highway I fumed for the next 10 or so kilometres, thinking about the ways of the world and to calm my mood I flicked on the radio, and found a show which featured Judith Lucy plugging her new book, ‘The Lucy Family Alphabet’.

Now I’ve not been a real big fan of Judiths’ but listening to her describe her childhood and teen years, I decided that perhaps I’ve been a bit hasty.  She had me laughing my guts out as I drove along.  Some of the weird things that her mother and father did were almost unbelievable, but insanely funny.  Of course there was some serious stuff in there too, but delightully presented, and it must have been very therapeutic for her to write about it.  Of course it went a long way toward explaining how she became a drug and booze addict…

After the interview ended I flicked off the radio, and wound down my window.  The wind ruffled my hair, the highway in front of me lay empty, and tonight I’d be catching up with some good friends.  How good was life right now?  Well, if this was a musical I’d be bursting into song about now.  So I did.  This time it was to an old Creedence number, Rising Wind.  

The cows alongside the highway didn’t think much of it though, particularly as I tried hitting the high notes. 

I’ve never seen a stampede before… another first 🙂

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Captain Thunderbolt

Uralla was my first port of call on the road north, and there was something I’d wanted to see for a long time, ever since I was a little tacker reading Eric Joliffe’s Witchetty’s Tribe cartoons.  He had drawn a picture of Thunderbolts’ Lookout, and the drawing and little story that accompanied it, fired my imagination.  And today, dear reader, was my day to see it. 

Well, I nearly missed it.  The signs are a bit thin on the ground and I’d been focussing more on the semi-trailer riding my tail like a sheeps’ dag.  So when I saw actually saw the the sign on the left, and the rocks to the right hand side, it was too late.  I had to drive a little further on, pull over and let the truckie fly by, before executing a U-turn and cruising back to the lookout.

The nice folks with spray cans had beaten me to it… but this is nothing new when it comes to historical monuments, I have heard that the Romans left graffiti on some of the pyramids (would I lie to you?), I can see it now, “Scipio was here.  Don’t trust the locals!” or, “Brutus got the clap at Madame Zazars.  Stay away from Cleo!”  Apparently our Anzac lads left a few choice comments as well during their brief stay before being mowed down at Gallipoli.

The rocks are challenging to climb, and I had a bit of a go, not quite reaching the top.  Getting up there wouldn’t have been the problem, getting back down on the slippery moss covered surfaces would have though.  I didn’t fancy breaking my leg out in the middle of nowhere, and listening helplessly while some dubious passers-by stole stuff out of my car.  So, I cautiously made my way down off the boulders, and was thinking about taking a quiet leak when a car towing a caravan pulled up.  Not wishing to repeat my performance from the day before, I strolled back to the car thinking to myself, “If you didn’t drink so much damned water you wouldn’t be in this situation, stupid!!”

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Thunderbolts Lookout: our family hot rod included for size reference. Note to local council - some toilets here would be nice 🙂

The old couple jumped out of their car and came over to where I was standing taking some snaps.  The old bloke had been here before apparently, before the stones had been graffitied over.  He asked me if I’d had a closer look around the rocks.  Yep I had.  “Did you see any snakes, the bloody boulders are literally crawling with them?” 

My eyebrows lifted in surprise, “Um, no.  No snakes.”  I gazed back at the rocks again, and now every crack, seam and crevice crawled with hidden menace.  Ok, time to go.  I waved farewell to the grey nomads and slipped back onto the highway.  I had the road all to myself as I drove into Uralla. 

Uralla’s main street is pretty much a typical country town’s main drag.  Lots of small Mum and Dad shops, signs pointing to things of interest around the area, and a statue of Captain Thunderbolt standing prominently on a corner.  Turning off the main drag I found a very clean toilet block and rushed inside.  Several relief filled minutes later I drove on to the cemetery, and easily located Captain Thunderbolts’ grave.  Known as the Friendly Highwayman, Captain Thunderbolt, aka: Fred Ward, used to ‘work’ a fairly wide area to keep himself gainfully employed.  During his career he never killed anyone, and was probably more of a nuisance than a wanted criminal.  It was rumoured that he was usually quite courteous toward the lady passengers of the stage coaches he robbed.  As you would be if you were a lonely single man…  

Statue of Thunderbolt in Uralla (wish I knew how to Photoshop out the power lines)

Statue of Thunderbolt in Uralla (wish I knew how to Photoshop out the power lines)

But all good things come to an end, and one afternoon in May 1870 his horse was shot out from underneath him by a Constable Walker, who asked him to surrender.  Thunderbolt resisted, preferring to remain a solo entrepreneur, and one thing lead to another and Thunderbolt joined his horse in the great pasture in the sky.  He was 36 years old.  I checked the date on my watch and was surprised to see that it was almost to the day he had been killed all those years ago. 

Now, the interesting thing is this:  Later that same year, a Fred Ward and his Mother disembarked at the California goldfields.  Speculation runs rife that Fred (Thunderbolt) was not killed at all, but his Uncle was in his place instead.  It would be nice to think that after a short run as a gentleman bandit, Fred decided to retire, and after handing the bushranging franchise for the area to his next of kin, moved State side with mum.  Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, stranger things have happened though, and it sums up much Aussie folklore, where even though the hero was ‘reportedly’ killed by the authorities, there are those ‘in the know’ (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) who have heard reliable reports that the ‘hero’ got away.  I’ve heard a similar story regarding Breaker Morant.  Of course Ned didn’t get away… you don’t shoot coppers and live to brag about it for real long, as the police seem to take a very dim view of this sort of thing.  And rightly so. 

 Fred's grave... or is it?

So, in a thoughtful frame of mind I drove back to Urallas’ main drag, and took some snaps of Captain Thunderbolts statue, and as it was close to smoko time I strolled into the White Rose Cafe’ and ordered a salad roll.  Look, say what you like about country towns and make sniggering references to the six fingered, banjo playing locals etc.  but these places know how to knock out some ripper food.  The young couple that own the place fell over themselves to serve me, and minutes later I was seated outside on the footpath munching on the best damned salad roll I’d eaten in years.  The scene around me was one of peaceful serenity, locals chatting with eachother, the odd tourist sauntering by.  The old flour mill across the road housed some interesting bits and pieces and was begging for my attention.  I sat back, opened my book, sipped my coffee and thoroughly relaxed in the moment.  I could get used to this…

Afterwards, I popped back in to drop off my eating gear, and to thank the owners for a nice feed.  They were very gracious about it, and we got chatting (as you do), and the young lady mentioned that she had a tribe of children at home (I forget how many now… but at the time I was surprised), and the mention of the little ones made me feel a bit homesick for my own little brats.  They do meals there of a night too, and for a wild moment I was tempted to stay the night just to try it out.  There was a neat looking pub across the road and it called to me… I resisted, and said farewell, mentally marking this place on my ‘Must Come Here Again’ list.   So if you’re ever in Uralla, I can highly recommend the White Rose restaurant.

A phone box stood nearby, and I called my mate in Oakey.  I got his girlfriend, and she was bubbling over with joy at the thought of me turning up and abusing their hospitality (they’ll learn!).  Any thoughts I’d had of staying another night in NSW flew out the window.  So, back in the car, and after a quick look at my maps I hit the road. 

Next stop, Glen Innes.

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Mooching around Tamworth

It was early in the morning when the sound of two bikes firing up woke me from my deep slumber.  Staggering to the window I watched as the riders fiddled with their luggage straps,  slipped on some warm jumpers under their jackets, and idled off into the dawns’ early light. 

“Lucky buggers,” I thought, and returned to my warm bed.  Tamworth would have to wait a little longer for me to make my dazzling entrance. 

The bed was too comfortable, and it was nearly eight a.m. when I finally dragged myself out from under the covers.  Within minutes I was dressed, packed, and ready to roll.  Throwing my gear into the car, I slipped through the vacant lot next to the motel and headed towards the main drag.  It was cold, very cold.  I toyed with the idea of popping back to the car and grabbing a jumper, but decided to ‘tough it out’.  Steam was pouring from my mouth and nostrils with each exhaled breath.  I hadn’t seen that in a long time, and was actually enjoying making shapes out of the mist. 

Tamworth in the morning light

The sun was providing enough warmth to keep me from shivering, but the wind nailed me as I hit the main street, and I started thinking that it wasn’t such a good idea to be dressed in a t-shirt and long shorts.  Particularly as the people around me were looking at me with a sort of astonishment.  I grinned at them, and was rewarded with returned smiles.  Friendly place.  Definitely on my list of places to come back to. 

I found a park with several bronze busts of famous country singers, and underneath each was an inscription noting the persons name, birth (and on many, death) dates, and as added touch, a verse or two from some of their most popular songs.  Excellent.  I took several snaps of my favourite artists, had a bit of stroll round the gardens and stage area, then turned my attention to finding the Country Hands of Fame exhibit.  According to my little brochure, it wasn’t too far away.

Back on the street and heading west, the sun on my back the wind in my face, I strode forward with a purpose.  The path lead past a small foot bridge, and I took a detour to have a look at the small creek / river that ran through the place.  The water level was very low, and the water dirty, murky, and full of litter.  People, let’s face it, are basically pigs. 

I had walked a fair way, and was starting to wonder where the hell the Hands of Fame park was, and on impulse asked a lady who was power walking towards me.  She was dressed in a neat tracksuit, and wearing an expensive pair of joggers, one hand held the standard issue water bottle, and the other hand gripped a bright pink iPod.  I had to wave at her to get her attention, and as soon as she saw me she smiled and popped her earplugs out, “Aren’t you cold?!” she asked, her face crinkling up with concern.

“Yeah, only when I stop moving!” I replied with a laugh.  I asked her where the exhibit was, and she pointed further down the road and said the words I dreaded the most when asking for directions… You can’t miss it. 

Right. 

Well, she was right.  Racing across a busy intersection I literally stumbled into a dry, brown grassed park and there it was, Slim Dusty’s hand prints set in concrete.  “G’day Slim,” I mumbled as I crouched down and placed my hands in the very cold indents he had made in the concrete.  Nearby was James Blundells’ prints.  I took photos… wandered around reading the various names and every now and then placed my hand in the grooves to compare sizes.  I have fat fingers…

Slim Dusty's handprint

The traffic was still building as I left and made my way back to the main street.  The footpaths were lined with jumpered commuters, huddled up to keep warm.  Every now and then one of them would glance at me, do a double take and shuffle onward.  They probably thought I was a holidaying Victorian 😉  To be honest, it didn’t seem ‘that’ cold, but it must have been.  It was nine a.m. and the steam was still pouring from my mouth as I walked.  My lips were rapidly drying out as well. 

Back to the unit, a quick freshen up and double check to see if I’d left anything, yep, my toothbrush, and it was check out time.  The friendly lady behind the counter asked me if I’d enjoyed my stay, and I was happy to tell her that my room at the Citysider Motel had been the best I’d stayed in since I’d been on holidays.  She seemed happy with that and  I was happy that she was happy.  Anyone who goes to so much trouble to keep their rooms neat, clean and relatively up to date ought to be sincerely thanked, and have their establishment shamelessly plugged on the web.  That name again folks in case some of you missed it, was The Citysider Motel.   

As I slid into my car it hit me just how warm and cosy the ol’ hot rod was.  The world lay at my feet again, which way, which way…?  What would a visit to Tamworth be without seeing the Golden Guitar?  So, I headed back into town, crossed the river ditch, and made my way along the highway until I found the big gitfiddle.  It was big, it was golden, and the coffee shop looked inviting.  I crossed the double lanes, and toyed with going in, but didn’t.  I’ll save this delight for a future visit, maybe even drag some of my children kicking and screaming into the exhibit.  That’s what us dads’ do… apparently.

The Golden Guitar

The Golden Guitar

There was one more thing I wanted to see before leaving town.  Driving back the way I’d came, I crossed several intersections in town again, and made my way up through some neatly laid out, leafy, and well maintained suburbs to the lookout on top of a nearby hill. 

The view from the top in the bright morning light was for some reason very relaxing.  It was as pleasant a place to be on a cool May morning as I could think of this far from the coast.  What also got my attention were a number of little plaques scattered around the viewing area like the one below:

 

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Says it all 🙂

It was certainly a novel idea, and gave me something to think and smile about as I returned to the car.   Opening my maps I checked the distances from Tamworth to Canberra, Sydney, and Dubbo.  Mmm.  Then I thought about my little girls voice saying, “I miss you Daddy.”

Flicking the map back into the door holder, I swung round to face the rising sun and made my way East for a while, before finding the highway North and firing up to 100 kph.  Flicking on the cruise control I started singing a John Williamson song as Tamworth disappeared in my rear view mirror.  Nice place.  I’ll be back, maybe in Spring, hopefully after it has rained.  Can’t wait!

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Tamworth

Tamworth, Australia’s home of Country Music.  And what a nice place it turned out to be.  The tree lined main street was comfortably busy, coffee shops doing a roaring trade in the dusk.  Several shops were still open, and I ambled through them at leisure.  One music store had several well made guitars on display, and I was sorely tempted to stop inside and have a ‘twang’… so to speak. 

There were a couple of  pubs nearby, they looked fairly old but very well kept and I earmarked one as the place I would have tea.  I strolled the length of the street, the weather was perfect, not too cool, or warm.  It felt good to stretch my legs.  There was a small board holding pamphlets near a newsagent and I grabbed a few, eager to see what attractions awaited the casual tourist in Tamworth. 

The Country Hands of Fame, yep.  The Country Hall of Fame, yep.  The Lookout, ok yep.  And a swag of other Country or Music related activities.  The Country Hands of Fame was nearby according to the map, but as the night was closing in I thought I’d check it out in the morning. 

Strolling back to the motel I saw a large map of the town near the council building.  Stopping in front of it I tried locating where the attractions were in relation to where I was standing.  I’m normally pretty good at this, but for some reason I was struggling with the directions.  I put my glasses on, but this didn’t help too much.  They wouldn’t, as they’re for focussing on distant objects…

A young lady approached me and asked, “Can I help you mate?” and I immediately gave Tamworth another 20 points on my Towns and City Ratings Guide (which put it near the top of the ‘Definitely Worth Bringing the Family Here for a Look’ scale).  I smiled at her and said, “Yeah, where’s the Hands of Fame exhibit?”

Her smile widened, “About two blocks away.  See, we’re standing here,” at this point a smell wafted over me, a very bad smell, but I pretended not to notice it, “and the Hands of Fame is over here.  See?”  I nodded at her as tears filled my eyes.  I quickly scanned the map, was there a meat works or a sewerage outlet near here perhaps? 

She reached higher on the map with one hand and pointed down the road with her other hand, “All you have to do is follow this street down to that cream building, turn left, and you can’t miss it.”  I nodded at her and smiled.  Well, I grimaced anyway.  I moved a little closer to her to get away from the smell, and it dawned on me like a tonne of bricks to the head, that the smell was coming from her.  This nice helpful lady had sneakily  ‘ripped one out’ when she reached up to point on the map.  Being a gentleman, I pretended not to notice, but I swear I could hear birds dropping out of the sky above us. 

I thanked her, and her smile was genuine, so I decided not to deduct the 10 points for her ‘little slip’ because she was so enthusiastic and helpful.  I waved as she jumped into her car and drove off, then taking a few deep breaths of fresh air, continued ambling up the street, chuckling to myself at the thought of what she’d say to her hubby when she got home, “You’ll never believe what just happened to me in main street darls…”    

Half an hour later, freshly showered, and glowing from the two stiff ports I had downed while sitting outside my room, I found myself yakking to the blokes next door who had just ridden their BMW’s into town.  We got talking about the roads in the area, and when they heard I had just come up from Port MacQuarrie they were all ears as that was where they were headed tomorrow… the lucky bastards.  I gave the road a huge wrap, and their eyes misted over, I bet they hardly slept that night.  One of them asked me why I wasn’t on my bike, and when I told them I had sooked out because of the cold weather forecast, they got a bit snippy, thinking I was a Sunshine Rider, a mere Wannabe.  I wanted to tell them that I had ridden in some of the most horrendous conditions known in Queensland, heat, cold, torrential rain, lightening storms, winds that had nearly ripped me off the seat, and dirt roads so bad that some of my teeth are still loose, but it would have been futile.  I wasn’t a real bikie in their eyes.  I normally wouldn’t take this from BMW riders, I mean this is a group of people who have heated hand grips,  but as I was bikeless, I had to wear the snub.  

Feeling a bit sorry for myself I headed off for tea.  The pub I walked into was a classic.  Lovely timber work everywhere, well laid out dinner room, and bar area.  I found a table, ordered tea from another smiling and very helpful lass (add another 20 points) and made my way into the bar.  The place was crowded but the bar area had a lot of vacant spots.  Making my way to the bar a young barman lifted his eyebrows at me and I was about to order when a bloke behind me said, “Gimme two News.”  I turned, and a hard eyed bastard was glaring daggers at me.  He stood a little smaller than me, in jeans, and a short sleeved cotton shirt with the top three buttons undone, revealing a variety of tattoos across his chest.  

He looked at me as if to say, “Yeah?!”  I shook my head turned away, thinking “Where?  Where do these arseholes come from?  Is there a bus load of them following me around?” 

The barman returned with the beers and I was about to order when Mr. Arsehole butts in again, “I want some ciggies too.”  I turn to him again and find he’s standing a lot closer, his breath reeks of stale beer and cigarette smoke, and he’s looking at me now in an unmistakable way.  I feel my blood pressure rising and think, ‘Yep, we’re going to town here.’  Then behind me I hear a girls voice, “You right mate?”  It was the barmaid, so turning my back on Mr. Arsehole I ask for a Toohey’s Old, in a schooner, a rare treat for a Queenslander.  I turn back to Mr. Arsehole, but he’s busy talking to a young fella dressed as a cowboy.  The young bloke looks like Trouble in a Bucket as well.  Good thing I didn’t start anything.  They light cigarettes and walk outside to the street to finish their smokes without a second glance at me.  Obviously just rude pricks, I deduct 5 points from Tamworths score as they should have shot at least one of these dead breaths before now.  

Deciding to give the public bar a miss, I slip back into the dining room, sip my beer and open my novel.  It’s a good read this book, Jack Whyte’s ‘Lancelot’, the latest instalment of the Camulod series, and I’m keen to catch up on the hero’s latest drama.   Ten minutes later, tea arrives, and I look up to thank the waitress, and bugger me, who’s sitting at the table directly opposite and giving me the evil eye?  Yep, Mr. Arsehole, and his deputy sidekick, Trouble in a Bucket.  They must have been sitting there watching me the whole time! 

They didn’t say anything when I flicked my head at them, in the universal sign language for “What the ‘F’ are you looking at?”  So I ate my tea in peace and continued reading my book.  It was a good meal too, lots of it, all of it covered in a thick layer of gravy, and I found myself back at the bar for a re-fill of beer to wash it all down.  Mr A and the side kick were too busy eating to care about me anymore.  So I drank my beer, finished the chapter I’d been reading, packed my canvas bag up and made my way back onto the street.  I was in high spirits again.  

Tamworth at night, I decided, is very pretty, there were strings of lights, and some cafes’ had decoraions up as well, so I added another 10 points to the total.  I strolled up and down the main drag again, checking out the shops I missed.  Had another beer in another pub, no aggro, but a good band though, before wandering off again into the night.  On the way back to my room I found a pay phone and called home.  My wife filled me in on the family’s comings and goings, and I told her a little bit about the trip so far.  She told me that my mate in Brisbane had been frantically trying to get hold of me since I left his place the other day.  Why?  As I’d driven off, he’d had a change of heart and wanted to come with me!  Instead, after ringing everyone in my family trying to get hold of me he went to work and resigned.  So it turned out pretty good in the end I suppose.  Now he’s on a permanent holiday as a retiree 🙂 

My youngest daughter came on the phone, excited and happy.  She told me what her sisters had been up to, and what she had been doing at school,  I felt a lump in my throat as she spoke, and it set rock hard when she said quietly, “I miss you daddy.”   

I told her I missed her too, and that I would be home soon.  Hell, I wanted to go home NOW!  My wife came back on and asked me where I was headed tomorrow, I said I was thinking of heading back to Queensland and catching up with some mates near Toowoomba, but nothing was set in stone at this stage.  My money ran out, and the line went dead.  I turned and discovered that I was standing in front of a bottle shop.  Two minutes later I was back on the street, my bag weighed down with a couple of cold bottles of beer. 

The night wore on as I sat on my chair in the unit reading brochures about Tamworth and the surrounding districts.  It all looked pretty good even through the haze of alcohol and a stomach full of dead cow and a bucket of gravy.   

I could hardly wait til morning.  As I drifted off I wondered if one those riders next door would be happy to lend me his bike and he could follow in my car…

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Ups and Downs – Wauchope to Tamworth

Wauchope lies west of Port MacQuarrie, and is another pretty little country town.  It didn’t take long to have a bit of a look round the suburbs just off the main drag, before poking the bonnet of the car back to the west and pushing up the range. 

The country was green, lush, and covered with cattle, the odd flock of sheep, and several large stands of rainforest.  The scenery changed a little as the highway started to get steeper, rocky outcrops lined the highway and were mostly covered with tiny waterfalls which ran under the road.  Steep sided valleys dipped away from the range, thickly wooded and obviously quite used to a decent amount of rainfall, a far cry from the brown meadows and low hills of my home region.   

A small pub hove into view at Long Flat, and I stopped for a moment and checked my map.  I had all afternoon to get to Tamworth, and was unsure how long it would take to get there.  I had never driven this way before, so every kilometre was a new sight.  The pub looked inviting, but for some reason I hesitated, it looked too inviting.  The afternoon sun was making long shadows across the valley below where I sat, and the thought occurred to me, that it would be very easy indeed to have one beer, get chatting to the locals, and before I knew it, I’d be lodging here for the night.  Tempting… very tempting. 

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Instead, I took a long drink of water, and pulled back out onto the road.  Months later, I met with some concreters who lived and worked in the area, and when I told them how I didn’t stop at the Long Flat Pub they gave me a bit of a slapping.  Apparently it’s one of the friendliest little pubs in the northern NSW area.  My loss I suppose, I sincerely hope it’s still in business when I go back. 

The scenery continued to amaze me as I climbed higher up the Great Dividing Range.  A prettier highway I have yet to travel.   In many parts thick canopies of trees completely covered the road, plunging the road into darkness several times.  It was exhilerating, and more than once I took the opportunity to bang my head on the steering wheel as punishment for not bringing my motorcycle. 

Stopping at a small lookout I took some snaps of the valley below, and while I was there a young couple (the only car I’d seen on the road since Wauchope) pulled up and had a bit of a chat.  They were equally wrapped in the scenery, and I took a couple of photos of them standing next to their car.  As we were standing admiring the scenery the sound of screaming tyres and a revving engine met our ears.   Far below, on the twisting road, a grey Monaro was roaring up the range.  We could see it now and then as it took a corner sideways before straightening up and hammering toward the next bend.  Not wanting to miss the show we decided to stay and watch it pass by.

The Family Chariot - wish it had been my bike...

The Family Chariot - wish it had been my bike...

As the V8 hit the corner near the lookout, the driver took one look at my white car and light blue shirt and hit the brakes hard.  The front end of his car buried into the road as he fought to pull up.  I laughed, guessing what he was thinking, and as he realised his mistake, the bloke behind the wheel flicked his middle finger into the air and punched the accelerator.  The big car slewed sideways, smoke pouring from the rear wheels, as he disappeared around the corner.  We stood laughing for a little while, and the young bloke next to me said, “What I’d give to have my Ninja on this road.”  I nodded solemnly, yes, I knew exactly what he meant.  I shook his hand, and he told me to visit the Apsley Falls on the other side of the range, promising that it was worth the detour.  I said I’d see how I felt when I got there. 

Minutes later we went our seperate ways, they were heading down, and I continuing upward.  For the next hour or so the only traffic I saw was two motorcycles, road racers, full leathers, heads down, leaning far to the left and right as they sped round the corners as they passed me.  I waved, but they were too busy keeping upright, the lucky bastards.  Sighing, I did something that I couldn’t do on my motorcycle, had a drink of water, flicked on radio national, and started munching on another apple.    

The history show was on, a documentary about the early cemeteries of Sydney.  It was surprisingly good, and left me in a thoughtful frame of mind as I continued to wind further up the range.  Several times I found myself slowing to a crawl, admiring the scenery, the water falls, and the plunging cliff faces.   It was nearly four by the time I saw the Apsley Falls gates.  I pulled in for a look.  The water I had been downing needed to be urgently drained from my bladder. 

Pulling up in a carpark I dashed into some nearby shrubs, and as there were no cars to be seen I knew that I had the place all to myself.  But as I burst through the bushes, I was stunned to bump into a couple of tents, and an elderly woman who took one look at my pained expression and my hands grappling at my fly and jumped to a horrible conclusion.  Gabbling my apologies, I staggered away, and found a more isolated place to let nature take its’ course. 

Minutes later I was back on the small track that lead to the lookout over the gorge and falls.  The rest of the campers were approaching me and I smiled and said “Hello.”  They were all fairly old and wrapped up in thick jumpers, boots and jeans.  They all smiled back, and a couple of them said “Hi” but no-one stopped to chat.  No worries.  I found the lookout and was amazed to see how deep the gorge was was.  A set of iron and timber stairs lead down to a viewing platform from which the falls could be seen.  I eagerly set off down them. 

I’m used to hanging over heights, used to clambering up and down iron stairs and ladders at work, but when I stepped onto the small platform which hung over the top of the falls and the gorge I felt a thrill of fear rush through me.  Shit it was a long way down! 

Apsley Falls - a very large hole in the ground

Apsley Falls - a very large hole in the ground

Two hurried photographs later I slipped my camera back into my carry bag and ripped back up the stairs.  The people who built this thing must have had nerves of steel!  Taking a bit of a look around the area I saw that the camping area was empty except for the two tents I’d seen earlier.  As I strolled by a ladies voice cried out, “That’s him!”  I looked up guiltily to see six wrinkled faces glaring at me.  Giving them my sincerest and friendliest smile I waved a languid hand in their direction.  Nobody waved back.  Two old men looked at me as if they were assessing their chances.  Okaaay.  Returning to my car I saw a motorhome pull up, two more elderly people got out, nodded ‘Hello’ to me and made their way toward the other pensioners.  They must have been having some sort of meeting out here.  As Russel Coight is fond of saying, “And soon it was time to hit the road.” 

Back on the highway I continued westward, wondering how long it would take me to get to Tamworth.  The sun was dipping lower, but now that I was on the westward side of the range I had more sunlight to see by, even if it was punching into my face as I drove toward it.  I thought for a moment about the old campers, and the fickle finger of fate that seems to plague me at times.  Eventually I saw the funny side of it… months later… at home.

The road came to an intersection where it met with the New England Highway, turning southward toward Tamworth I was surprised to see large signs warning motorists about the steep grades ahead, for some reason I had assumed the land was flat way out west.

The grades were steep.  Very steep.  Several emergency ramps, covered in a thick layer of sand and gravel lay either side of the road.  Many of them looked well used, with large skid marks leading up to the dirt entrances, and great gouges cut into the gravel ramps.  I wondered what it would be like to lose control of a semi-trailer on these bends, picking up speed and hoping like hell if I could keep the truck upright until the next emergency ramp appeared.  I also wondered how many truckies had gone over the side of this range. 

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What do you do when you're speeding down a twisting highway? That's right. Take a photo of yourself 🙂

I didn’t wonder for long, as a truck appeared in my rear view mirror, and instantly pulled out to pass me.  Bloody hell he was moving.  Picking up my speed, I hung onto his rear trailer, keeping a few car lengths distance between us.  I don’t know what our speed was, all I did was hang on as he cut corners, passing slower cars and trucks as we whipped down the hillside.  Again, I wished I was on my motorcycle. 

As it turned out, the truckie wasn’t out of control, he must have been a local who knew this road like the back of his hand.  Geez he could drive.  As the road flattened out, and the signs advertising tourist attractions and local businesses in Tamworth increased he slowed down and I took the first opportunity to overtake him.  He was a young fella, and I was reminded of my grandfathers’ old saying from the war, ‘There are old pilots, and bold pilots.  But there are no old bold pilots.’ 

Tamworth appeared over my dashboard, and cruising into the heart of the city I saw a well maintained motel near the city centre and pulled in.  I’d had enough driving today, and didn’t care what the room rate was, this was home for the night and I wanted to get out of the drivers seat and walk around.  There was a stack of sights I to see, and very little day light left.  The room was expensive, but clean and tidy, and by far the best accomodation I’d stayed in since I left Cairns last month.  Tossing my gear onto the bed, I grabbed my canvas bag and waltzed into the cool dusk.  Tamworth was waiting, and I was keen to see it.

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