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milestones

40,000 kms and counting

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40,000 kms and counting

Binns Track is in the northwest of the Northern Territory... a rambling 2191km outback drive, beginning up north in the rugged, rocky, shale-ridden Gregory National Park - over on the Western Australian border - where 2-spare tyres are recommended and a number of local tracks are currently closed for whatever reason... something to deal with from time to time. Then we head east and south, down to the Davenport Ranges where to drive one 17km river section takes 2hrs. Yes, the track conditions vary, sometimes sand, rock or plain old bulldust, sometimes narrow with 2-individual  tyre tracks, sometimes road-train wide with no-go bog areas, serious bumps and ruts here and there.

We stop to chat on occasions, indigenous communities often close by, small groups camped along the track to search out bush tucker... wild bush beans and seeds being family favourites.

But today we are camped at Tower Rock - 200km northeast of Alice Springs - a recently created Conservation Area donated by a local station family. And after 8mths on the road - having travelled over 40,000km - it's another journey milestone.

Tower Rock is a special place, for us found almost by accident - a handful of mammoth, isolated but atmospheric redrock piles just off Binns Track,  mentioned in our WIKICAMPS bible with 3-reviews amounting to a rating of 4.8-stars out of 5, the surrounding scrub-covered plains melding with an endless red horizon... and at night just us, the rush of a  cool breeze among dark boulder piles, and a blanket of stars overhead.

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6-months on the road

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6-months on the road

For this milestone we are in Northern Territory on the Gove Peninsula, East Arnhem Land.... and we are wandering the airy corridors of the YIRRKALA ART CENTRE - an expansive display of Indigenous Arnhem Aboriginal art.

It's been 6mths now, since leaving the cooler climes of Bayside Melbourne... and every now and then something special has come our way...  like a special moment or thing, an event, a place or person. This time it's all about a priceless national treasure we have never heard of.

To get to Yirrkala it's been a drive on the reddest of roads,  billowing dust the norm, corrugations common and the occasional rut  - '24hrs from Katherine' the information brochure says, although 'only' 700km as our truck flies.

We overnight at Mainoru Roadhouse, our recommended stop in accordance with our over-the-counter, no-cost, 10-day permit from the Northern Land Council office in the Katherine main street.

On our arrival at Nhulunbuy on the Gove Peninsula, we seek out the 'Dhimurru Corporation' office for camping permits on Aboriginal land, then our NT liquor permit to buy take-away alcohol.

The seaside town of Yirrkala is 20km to the south, the scent of frangipani on a breeze, the sun hot, the Gulf of Carpentaria a glittering turquoise blue and the sand a dazzling white.

The gallery is adjacent an Aussie Rules oval of green grass, a stadium/shed and store. Impressive murals cover outside walls... the heros of Aboriginal rights going back to the 1960s. The gallery entry is plain and unadorned, the glass door dark and dusty under a wide, shady verandah. 

Once inside is another story... a treasure-trove of handmade indigenous art typical of this isolated region. There are forests of traditional wooden Yidaki - didgeridoo - with the most intricate traditional designs, wall hangings and paintings. Shelves are stacked full of books, CDs and carvings. Simple racks are laden with woven bags and a photographer snaps special pieces in a cluttered room off to the side.

Justin is lean, has a greying mane of straight hair and has been here since the 90s. He rises from behind his computer screen, stands tall in a plain white tee-shirt and blue jeans. There is something we must see, he says.

Out back is a specially-built darkened room with timber steps down to a small sunken cellar of sorts - atmospheric with soft lighting designed to highlight 2-vertical panels. Both are intricate in their design - rustic browns and blacks - with a low bench seat directly across from, and in front of the panels. There is a lot for the visitor to take in. 

The panels are about 1m wide by 3m high and hang side by side. And they tell an Aboriginal creation story, wonderfully presented in detail by the Indigenous artists, but evidently with no Christian influence, coersion or direction.

Justin tells a story that begins "before my time", the panels created by Yolnu elders and gifted to the newly opened Methodist church in 1963, intended for permanent display as a screen behind the communion table. Justin waves one hand towards the front door. "You would have seen the church over the road."

The story continues... 10yrs after the panels are installed - around 1983 -  a new missionary arrives at the church, saying the panels are inappropriate for a church, and are most certainly "heathen" works. Both panels are stripped from inside the church against the wishes of the Parish Committee.

The panels lie neglected and forlorn for 4yrs - but are never completely forgotten - propped against an outside wall exposed to the ways of mud wasps and weather, before being rescued by a coalition of Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists, then cleaned by the staff of the Australian University.

Justin pauses for effect and to gather his thoughts while peering over the top of thin-rimmed glasses. "And that was the beginning of a movement here in Arnhem Land... you might say, the very beginning of the entire Australian Indigenous Land Rights movement."

Down in the cellar my eyes are drawn to the panel on the right, with a small figure top and centre - a diminutive, painted bird - this little bird being the ancestral link between the spirit and the temporal worlds, flanked by helpers on his immediate right and left... the cicada and the possum. Alas, an ancient story considered inappropriate to the doctrines taught in a civilized house of worship. 

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30,000kms and counting

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30,000kms and counting

This morning we ponder our breakfast bowls in quiet isolation, another milestone bush camp away from the roadtrains and caravans, about 100km east of Mt Isa, Outback Queensland... last night's neighbours a passing herd of camels with shining eyes, their footfalls the only sound on a balmy, starry night, Australia the only country in the world where it is still possible to see wild camels.

But it can be funny about breakfasts... the obvious things easily missed first thing in the morning, even after a long time on the road - with the dual milestones of 30,000kms and sharing over 100-breakfasts - we've just discovered our breakfast bowls are different, both being a valued gift from our Airbnb friend - Carol from Coventry.

Yes, the bowls are exactly the same size... and yes... they are exactly the same colour. But hey, they are not the same. After all this time tagging them as either "the one on the right" or "the one on the left" - due to us having subtle differences in our breakfast preferences - we've found that one bowl has horizontal lines integrated into an otherwise similar pattern, whereas the other does not.

Oh, and those special breakfast dietary requirements? No, it's not about who likes ruby grapefruit, grapes, apple or apricot... and who doesn't. It's not about kiwi fruit or mandarin. And no, it's not even about the denomination of muesli or the dollop of yoghurt in each bowl. As it happens, we are both happy with all of the above.

But what it is about is the preferred banana proportion to be carefully placed in each bowl, and the degree of ripeness of said banana. Not so important? Well, that depends on how long you spend with someone - 24/7 being a long time - and it depends on who you talk to.

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100places 100faces

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100places 100faces

Well, maybe not 'exactly' 100-faces... one thing for sure though, since leaving Melbourne Bayside 4-months ago, we have today stayed in 100-places!

There have been roadside and roadhouse stays, tavern carparks, caravan and National Parks, along with the occasional station stay.

And for our 100th stay, we're here at LARA STATION - 150km south-east of Longreach, Queensland. And to get to the homestead we've come through the 'back paddock' taking 2hrs to take the 10km cross country 'scenic route' on a puzzle of old government roads and muddy tractor tracks, opening and closing gates as we go... scenic, yes, but definitely not the recommended route which happens to be via Landsborough Hwy.

We find THE OLD QUEENSLANDER HOMESTEAD weather-worn and weary, but still grand, the rambling grounds deserted except for a friendly, well cared-for blue heeler at the gate of a modest, small cottage. A young woman camper is in a caravan out back of a larger shed. She looks surprised at the intrusion, wondering who we are. Yes, the owner Jo does live in the cottage, but is currently "out and about" and "the proper wetlands camping area is just down the road, with a caretaker on site".

Lara wetlands is a treed Eden - a large artesian pond littered with silent, brooding sentinels of bare, drowned trees, this spa and waterbird paradise all fed by the homestead bore since 1908. Tonight there's a pink dusky sky overhead, the smell of woodsmoke from happy campers' fires and the goodnight calls of kookaburra, currawong and mudlark.

In the morning it's the musical trill of black and white pied butcherbirds. And today we finally meet the owner Jo - once a Sunshine Coast girl - having left home at 16yo to become an Outback mine driver/operator.

At around 5'-6", she wears 'Western' garb, a blue shirt, well-worn boots and jeans, topped off by a tall, buff-coloured hat with a more than generous brim,  crowned with resting sunglasses. The accent is country, measured but direct.

It's obvious from the start that Jo is the real thing - feisty, and pragmatic, with steel-blue eyes, a dry sense of humour but an obvious affinity for others. And Jo is courageous, with not the slightest hint of any past misfortunes.

As she tells it, she met and partnered Michael - a freelance helicopter pilot from a local family - first buying a station to the west, then moving home to here at Lara Station, a neglected 15,000 acre rambling cattle enterprise needing lots of love - the owner-builder having died an old man, leaving the son-in-law forbidden to enter, a dislocated family, and the old man's grand old timber-lined homestead forlorn and deserted for over 30yrs.

Jo stretches her wiry frame to her full height, with both thumbs tucked into her belt. "Yeah, it was a tall order, that's for sure. And times are tough 'round here... both the land and on the stations. We get the droughts and the floods, and in later days, even a mini-tornado that lifted the old place's roof."

But as well as the running of the station itself, and being of a practical bent, Jo had other ideas - a vision in fact - suggesting to Michael tourism's possibilities to augment the viability of the place. And with Michael often away flying for a week at a time, Jo finally convinced him that they should open up their property to travelers - grey nomads, assorted families and all that share a love of the bush and the great outdoors.

Jo got to work, with Michael's help, putting her dream into action and with their very first camper arriving in 2014... a Swiss gent with accented English she hardly understood. But even though Jo was excited at the real beginning of their new venture - and spoke to Michael often whenever he was away flying - this time she kept the fantastic news secret.

A wistful smile escapes from the corner of Jo's mouth as she recalls the timing. "I decided It would be a nice surprise for Michael to see our first camper from the air, with Michael always flying in directly over the wetland camping area on his return home." There's a shrug of Jo's shoulders, Michael not making it home that night, his chopper crashing and her life partner Michael killed.

Postscript - August 22 2017 - Jo currently has the property up for sale, feeling she does not have the financial resources to allow for the development of Lara's full potential - to lovingly restore the homestead and property fulfilling a dream that was both her own and Michael's.

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Ten thousand K and counting

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Ten thousand K and counting

So here we are,finally approaching Byron Bay with our 2nd leg almost complete and our truck trip meter already passed the 10,000km milestone. Yeah, it's been tough at times... as can be seen by the frugal Mudgee tasting plate in the picture above... but alas, we struggle on.

But now, it's time to reflect on some journey discoveries, previously unknown and in order of appearance...

PENNINGTON BAY, Kangaroo Island, South Australia - we arrive at Kangaroo Island after almost missing our ferry, and when alighting on the island, we immediately head south to be greeted by over 30 dolphins surfing turquoise waves - us the only human audience.

WESTERN RIVER COVE, Kangaroo Island, South Australia - after 20km on a scenic, rolling and winding dirt road, we arrive at our own secluded cove, ragged rocky outcrops and a beautiful golden beach.

MCLAREN VALE, Adelaide, South Australia - our favourite winery being CORIOLE.

WOMAD, Adelaide, South Australia - A last minute stopover, "The World's Festival", a wonderfully eclectic annual get-together of music, food and friendly people.

TANUNDA, Barossa Valley, South Australia - our favourite winery being ROCKFORD.

The quiet and the isolation of the Outback - the red dirt and dust, the open endless skies, failed dreams and ancient dreamings, town names replaced with stations, out-stations and homesteads... opening and closing gates... lost and found in SOUTH AUSTRALIA and NEW SOUTH WALES.

MUTAWINTJE, New South Wales - A wild and isolated National Park north of Broken Hill, with an impressive collection of Aboriginal cave art. We rise early, another 40degC day predicted, and set out on a 5hr hike through the wilds of the gorge, followed by the luxury of a hot shower, a Goan curry and a  cheeky cask rose. 

MENINDEE LAKES, New South Wales - to see the lakes full of water, a chance encounter with a fire engine red mirror image of our own Troopy truck... oh, and a special evening birthday dinner.

BOURKE WHARF, New South Wales - After days of 50degC, the town has cooled off to 40degC. We walk out on the old wharf, currently hanging high above the Darling River, to be greeted by hundreds of corellas screeching, wheeling this way and that.

BREWARRINA, New South Wales - Seeing Aboriginal fish traps made of stone - over 40,000yrs old - thought to be the oldest man-made structures on the planet. And a stunningly beautiful campsite at BEDS ON THE BARWON, with ancient river redgums, a plethora of birdlife and iconic rustic amenities, right on the banks of the Barwon River at the very start of the mighty Darling River system.

MUDGEE, New South Wales - Over 40 friendly cellar doors and great wines at around 800m elevation and surrounded by hills, a magnificent tasting plate at LOWE, our favourite local winery.  Gorgeous bush camping among the rolling pastures of nearby Havila, OLD BARA HOMESTEAD.

HILL END, New South Wales - In the past a major gold town... now a nostalgic memory. Crooked fences and walls - all romantically set among rolling hills and grazing kangaroos, all surrounded by wild bush, rocky terrain and daunting 4WD tracks. And one of the best inter-reactive museums we've seen anywhere - HILL END HERITAGE CENTRE..

UPPER COLO, New South Wales - On arrival in darkness, through sheets of rain, via a narrow winding track surrounded by bush, we set up camp and dine in drizzle. In the morning we wake to wet bush smells, the chuckle of opposing kookaburra clans, and crowds of black cockatoos in clear blue skies... and a ramble on an unexpected sandy beach. All this, on 'NSW's most pristine river'.

WOLLOMBI TAVERN, New South Wales - a wonderfully rustic tavern, with well-worn wooden floorboards, hand-wrought furniture and riverfront camping out back.

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Our first flat tyre

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Our first flat tyre

Well, it's not our first flat tyre with the Troopy... that was a year ago, out front of home in Bayside Melbourne. I removed the culprit in the driveway, replaced it with our spare, and dropped it off for a new tube to be fitted by our trusty local mechanic.

But today is another kettle of fish.

From the old NSW mining town of Silverton we've headed back into Broken Hill - the only way to get to Mutawintji National Park. The dirt turnoff is only 50km out on a tarred road, but we don't quite make it.

Pulling over to check a momentary Telstra signal, we get going again only to come to an abrupt halt. A sickening grinding squelch tells us we have a flat.

We jump out, opening the tailgates to retrieve, rearrange stuff and pull out the standard Toyota jack... the truck not sitting too badly, just off the road and on a nice hard shoulder surface.

We pull off one of the good spares. 

With the barrel jack under the back axle on a plate of wood, I wind and wind, until the Troopy chassis begins to lift, and alas, there is a load resounding crack - the jack eyelet that houses the winder rod having abruptly sheared off rending the jack useless.

I remember the number one rule - 'Don't panic.' The ground is stony, baking bloody hot, the air temperature 36degC.

And I remember 4x4 forum discussions from 12-months back - "Don't ever rely on a single jack."

So we unbolt the Hi-Lift jack fixed to the rear bumper, something I had wondered may have become an expensive piece of furniture.... they do have a reputation for being dangerous and unnecessary.

So... for the first time, we use our Hi-Lift jack to get us going again. Without it we would have been up a well known creek without a paddle.

Yes, it did take a bit of getting used too. And the suggestion of the lone passerby to spray the dust-caked Hi-Lift mechanism with WD40 made the job so much easier. Thanks Frank.

Oh... and one last thing... was the Hi-Lift dangerous to use? Well, like most things, some loving care and respect is definitely needed.

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A birthday away

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A birthday away

Today is Sue's birthday, last night having set up camp by Lake Parmarmaroo - part of the Menindee lakes on the Darling River NSW - dinner a chilled Coriole Fiano with a watery sunset through ancient, river redgum boughs.

But this morning is the big day, us relaxing, having finished fruit, muesli and yoghurt... with black coffee of course.

Two figures approach, kindred spirits in more ways than one it seems.

They are from faroff Switzerland, having hiked the 2km from their camp this morning, beside the same lake... and as it happens... with a similiar truck... and a similiar fitout.

But their truck is fire-engine red, a left-hand-drive Toyota Troopy, having been fitted out by Roger - gifted carpenter -and his partner Connie... then shipped all the way from Switzerland.

Tonight though, the big day almost over, we are by the roaring weir overflow, more ancient redgums riddled with nesting holes, and a celebratory bottle of Rockford Black Shiraz we've lugged all the way from the Barossa... oh, and 1kg of Menindee's finest giant yabbies, freshly caught and cooked... but eaten by us.

We finish with birthday cheese, chocolate and a traditional Italian green walnut liquer from Kangaroo Island... the smells here of red sand and dust, the sound of rushing river water, and thoughts of how far we've come so far... and our new Swiss friends - with a red Troopy truck the mirror of ours.

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1st leg done

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1st leg done

We're sitting here on the Sealink ferry, our truck 1600km further along from when we started - the Melbourne to Kangaroo Island leg, signed, sealed and delivered.

Favourites? Well, just setting off was a big one... the roaring endless seas of The Great Ocean Road, those wild ragged cliffs and the ghosts of travellers past... the beautiful desolation of The Coorong, the dazzling white sand and the smell of baking salt on a welcome sea breeze, the crashing waves of southern seas that ebb and flow just over the dunes, the soaring pelicans, and early evening visitations from families of flashing electric-blue wrens that magically appear from surrounding scrub to chirp and dance on impossibly thin matchstick legs... the crystal-clear depths of Piccaninnie Ponds, the tunnels and caves that lie below... the quiet isolation of Kangaroo Island, its dusty dirt roads, its hidden sapphire coves that gleam in the sun and play host to bottle nose dolphins that hurtle, jump and spin in waves that roll to finally shed champagne bubbles on sandy shores.

And having the time, the inclination and luck to absorb it all.

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Biting the bullet - finally

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Biting the bullet - finally

Let's just call this `day one'. Although it's not REALLY day one.

After 2yrs in Africa and Asia, this is the first time we don't have an ongoing air ticket... anywhere!!!

So, what to do? Well yeah, we have certainly pondered what comes after`WORLD', and now - golly, is that the time? - we've been `home' in `The World's most Livable City' since April... that's here in Melbourne btw.

Was it Chaucer that said "Time and tide wait for no man"?  Itchy feet? Mmmm, well maybe just a little. And the thought of jumping in a vehicle and heading off for some previously unthought of place for an indeterminate time does seem somehow alluring.

Do we need a plan? Well, we'll head off clockwise, summering down south. Oh...and try and pick up as many middle bits as possible too. Yeah, OK, so there's a little work to do... 

Will it be one year or two? Now... that is the question. We'll see.

It is true....thinking about this decision is not exactly new. We've pondered proposals on floating pontoon bars by Lagos Lagoon, among the patrons of Paris pancake parlors, in the teppanyaki kitchens of Tokyo, and by Berlin beer-halls. We've chatted in the subways of Seoul and New York City.

Australia outside Melbourne? Well yeah, there certainly is one. Mmmm... just a minute though, haven't we already seen most of The Lucky Country? 

Well, we have been to Darwin, Cairns and the Flinders Ranges. We've been lucky to have traversed The Nullarbor more than once and sailed the edge of the great Kimberley wilderness. We've driven the length of Fraser Island and suitably chilled-out in Byron Bay. We've even tackled the wilds of the Canberra capital.

But no, we haven't exactly seen`most of the place'. And there's always `Outback' of course - a notion more difficult to define.

So, time marches on - with the big departure date set for first thing March 2017. Plenty of time? No, not really...there's planning and equipment to sort. And yes, a `suitable' vehicle for our adventures - something robust, and `go-anywhere'.

Well, today there's some news. This is the day!

After browsing for some time we've found our truck - our future home - and the winner is... a white2014 Toyota Landcruiser GXL Troopcarrier.

OK, so that's a start... along with Navigation software and a 4WD Raster Map collection. 

Oh, have I forgotten something? We need a blog?... another blog? (Yes, I know, I'm already involved in 2, one being iancochrane.com.au - a collection of short stories on people and places - and the other being TravelnRavel - a wandering bird's-eye overview of most things even vaguely related to travel.)

Well... we really do need a blog for our roadtrip around Australia. But what will we call this new blog? Now... that can't be too difficult.

So, here we are, at the beginning of yet another work in motion. But, it is early days... and there will be tweaks as we go.

WHAT'S NEXT? - a few local Victorian roadtrips and getting to know the truck we've just bought. And more thinking about what we need and where we go from here.

 

 

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