Saturday, May 31, 2008

project koala

We have crossed over into Victoria and are now heading back east along the Murray. Getting very attached to the Murray valley, the scenery and wildlife and lack of people ( visiting in winter helps, all the grey nomads are heading north ) makes it very appealing.

We have decided that wherever possible we want to see the wildlife in its natural environment, not in zoos, reserves, or any sanitised or protected fashion. With that in mind we headed to the Barmah State Park, part of the red gum forest where koala live a natural existence. I had no expectations but eagle-eyed Vanessa spotted one up a tree just before we stopped to make camp.

It does not get much better than this! We scoured the forest for a couple of hours but did not find another one, although Ness rifled through an awful lot of poo. Stopping here overnight, so we will do a night walk later and see if we can hear them bellowing.

Also saw a sea eagle this afternoon ( they live very sucessfully this far inland as the Murray has plenty of fish for them).

** Just back from the night walk and Ness did it again and spotted another koala with the torch. It was about half the size of the first one so we assume the first was a male and this one a female. Also found a tawny frogmouth owl. Think we will be staying here tomorrow.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


We are now in Victoria in the lovely town of Echuca on the Murray River which has lots of heritage buildings and a wharf which was part of Australia's largest inland 'port' in the age of paddle steamers. At its peak in 1872, this stretch of the river had 240 active steamers carrying wool and other cargoes en route to Melbourne then ultimately to London.

On the way here we passed the irrigation canals supplied by the Lake Mulwala flooding ( started in 1939, completed in 1955 ). Australia confounds me sometimes.... I understand the drought conditions, I accept why the irrigation lake was required, but I do not understand why the main crop in this region is rice ( a crop which requires a volume of water that this country could never ever provide naturally).

We spent yesterday driving on roads inappropriate for a Winnebago exploring the largest red gum forest in Australia ( 66,000 hectares ). After 50 km we were utterly lost. The best solution the satnav could come up with was to drive west along the Murray river, a suggestion that we declined. Surprisingly we saw a forest ranger who pointed us back towards civilisation.

Meanwhile I fear that we are suffering from a form of Winnebago fever. It is dark by 5.30 pm so we have usually parked up by 5pm. The evenings are long and we need to make our own entertainment. The tv and dvd player both work well to pass the time and maybe we should watch more because tonight Vanessa covered 3 empty Milo tins with decorative sticky-backed plastic and then dyed her hair an interesting shade of orange, whilst I made great headway with the scarf I am knitting.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Spent another day on the banks of the lake. It is difficult to describe the strange environment here, and this morning with a lot of cloud and no blue skies the whole watery landscape appeared to be monochromatic. The large numbers of black swans contributed to the effect.

The variety of bird life is extraordinary- black swans, cormorants perching and diving for fish, pelicans soaring overhead, large groups of sulphur-crested cockatoos perching in the dead branches, rosellas and lorikeets providing a splash of speeding colour, with a soundtrack of kookaburras cackling.

It is a strange combination for one ecosystem. Bamboo and lush grass surround the waterscape, growing amongst the dead wood and fallen tree trunks.

I finally managed to get a half decent picture of a kookaburra, they seldom stay still for long enough.

Friday, May 23, 2008

hunter gatherers

Spent another day by the river at Howlong so Ness could hone her fishing skills. The first mission was to use a lure to catch murray river cod but without success. In the afternoon a fisherman and 2 dogs crammed into a small boat appeared and put out 3 nets- within a couple of hours he was hauling in murray river crayfish so not to be outdone Ness put her net out as far into the river as possible by balancing along a fallen tree trunk.

The fisherman returned late at night to empty his nets and reset them, and this morning I saw him pull out 2 more crayfish. Unfortunately our net was empty this morning, which averted the awful dilemma of whether either of us has the stomach to boil one alive ( or the more practical issue of not having a pan anywhere near big enough) .

The bait net had some spooky large prawn things in it, and we were forced to google immature crayfish to ensure that we were not illegally removing juveniles. There is now another jar in the fridge of things I must remember not to eat.

This afternoon we moved down river and during a walk we were lucky enough to witness two azure kingfishers fishing, and saw one catch a sizable fish and struggle to consume it.

We are now on the banks of Lake Mulwala, a man made lake covering 6000 hectares ( one of the largest irrigation storage systems in the southern hemisphere ) . It is a strange and ghostly sight with flooded red gums as far as the eye can see.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

meandering along the murray

Sitting outside on a warm evening on the north bank of the Murray River. The river forms the NSW/Victoria border so we can throw a stone across states.

Lovely spot, another winner from our camping bible, with free electric barbecue facilities and very impressive composting toilets ( easy to become public convenience fixated when you travel with a chemical toilet and the less you use it the less frequently you have to face the grizzly task of emptying it ) .

Below the view from our kitchen window this evening.

Ness spotted an azure kingfisher, and we have just returned from a night walk in search of wombats and barking owls ( heard, not seen ) and we had a great encounter with a little southern boobook ( a little speckled owl ).

We plan to spend the next few days following the Murray. Each town has a twin town in the neighbouring state joined by a bridge across the river, so we will be state hopping regularly.

echidna spotting

We are leaving Wagga tomorrow and heading towards Melbourne.Weather improved today, lovely and sunny. While we were touring around the region we spotted an echidna at the edge of the road. We parked up and Ness tracked it back across the field..a great creature, a monotreme like the platypus. Made our day.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Vanessa has strong childhood memories of flying from NZ to Brisbane with her family, then her Mum and Dad borrowing an old jalopy and driving all the way to Wagga Wagga with 3 screaming children. Ted was not keen on cities, and the road infrastructure in the early 70's was not as advanced as today, so the trip took forever.

One highlight, and a regular theme of photos in those days, was 'The dog on the tuckerbox' at Gundagai, a small bronze statue erected in the 1920's to commemorate the cattle drovers of the day. This was next to a small highway, and a place to stop for a picnic.

The pilgrimage was somewhat spoiled by the presence of a 4 lane highway, a fountain around the statue, and the KFC Drive Thru, Subway, Shell service station and Bullocky Bill's Pie Emporium.

The pic shows Ness trying to be cheerful about the whole thing.

We are now in Wagga Wagga which has been blighted by drought for the last 8 years. They should have called us sooner, all it took was a Pommy in a campervan. Has not stopped raining for 36 hours.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

is there anybody there?

Visited the Canberra Deep Space Communication Centre part of NASA's Deep Space Network...huge dishes listening for extra terrestrial activity. All very weird, enormous white dishes up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. Excellent coffee shop for visitors though.

** Just realised a better caption for the above pic would be ' our newly fitted tv reception equipment' **

The dishes messed up our satnav, so we spent a lot of time getting lost with the emus until we found the first dish.

On our way to Wagga Wagga to visit one of Vanessa's elderly aunts, but if tonight's phone call is anything to go by she appears as deaf as a post and has no idea we are arriving.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

australian coat of arms

The kangaroo and emu on the coat of arms were chosen supposedly because neither creature is capable of walking backwards, symbolising a progressive nation. However we are told that what both animals also have in common is that they are low in cholesterol and make great prosciutto.

Having just purchased some emu prosciutto we will let you know.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Spent the last 2 days in Canberra, including visits to the National Museum and the new and old Parliament buildings.

It is impossible to describe Canberra in any terms other than a larger bolder Milton Keynes...same grid system interconnected by roundabouts but on a grander scale. Perfect for navigating in a large campervan, even the underground car park on capital hill had enough headroom for us.

Not a place to explore on foot however, and probably the most soulless capital city I have ever visited, no hustle and bustle of the populace, more 'where is everyone?'.

One of the quotes I particularly enjoyed was made in the 1920's when the city was under construction- Canberra was 'a good sheep paddock spoiled'

The National Museum was fantastic, packed with lots of excellent information about the history of Australia and a very user-friendly set up, and the free guided tour of the new parliament building ( below ) was superb.

Looks great from a distance and from the mountain viewpoint ( below ) and I can see why Griffin won the 'design a capital city' competition, but maybe some of the rejected designs should have been considered more carefully....really think the idea of a new world Venice would have rocked!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

gold rush towns, cherry orchards and dead cricketers

Last two days have been spent exploring the central mid west towns, all of which sprang into existence in the mid 1800's due to the discovery of gold and mass influx of gold prospectors. Now the population seems to be mostly agricultural amidst drought and disaster. Young provides 50 % of Australia's cherries ( 600,000 cases per season) so the area is covered by hundreds of acres of autumnal cherry orchards, a stark contrast to the enormous evergreen citrus orchards in the Lachlan river valley that we passed yesterday.

Free camping continues- yesterday we parked up by the Lachlan River and tonight we are at a rest stop north west of Canberra. Internet access by virtue of an aerial attached to a bit of string velcroed to a pelmet in the van ( which I suspect acts as a pretty effective Faraday cage when attempting to access mobile phone transmissions) .

Glad to report that most towns were prosperous enough to build substantial post offices, so enjoy the pictures! Sean O'Satnav when asked to navigate us to a town centre appears PO fixated so we always end up alongside one.

Stopped off briefly in Cootamundra to look at Don Bradman's birthplace and genuflect with Pommy reverence. Also spotted wallabies and had a great sighting of a black-shouldered kite.

Off to explore Canberra tomorrow.....hope Nancy enjoys the triangular addition to the map.

Friday, May 9, 2008

forbes to condobolin

Just a day mooching around today. Went to the Albion Hotel Museum in Forbes to see the tunnels dug under the coaching inn to the local banks to transport the gold bullion and thwart the highway robbers. The local 'hero' in the 1860's was Ben Hall who stole a lot of gold, including the biggest heist in history when his gang hijacked a stagecoach and stole 2719 ounces of gold. Did not do him a lot of good as he was shot to death by police 2 years later.

Saw our first wild emu whilst driving which was quite exciting.

Ended up at a free campsite near Condobolin next to a lake and leisure complex used for boating. fishing and watersports, with pretty good facilities but NO dogs, so had a chat to James dog about trying her best to be very small and very quiet ( she has proved excellent so far at being very small, the rest needs work) .

I suspect that the site would be more popular if there was not a tiny problem with the lake. Having lived through very wet summer we forget that the last 7 years have been ones of severe lake, not a drop of water to be seen.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

trek phase 2...goodbye ormiston

Finally left our lovely pals in Mudgee and set off today for the grand tour. Heading south west towards Wagga Wagga to catch up with Vanessa's relatives, so the route took us through Parkes ( of the Elvis convention fame ) and on to Forbes.

Did not think that any Parkes facts could outdo the annual Elvis festival, but it is also home of 'the big dish'..... the CSIRO Parkes radio telescope. Apparently the star of the movie 'The Dish' ( anyone seen it?) the dish was also responsible for most of the television images broadcast to the world when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

Weather was fantastic, blue skies and a pleasant 20 degrees, great scenery. On arrival at Forbes we stopped at the Tourist Information to discover that a not insubstantial quantity of diesel was dripping out from under the Winnebago bonnet onto the road.

There were 2 very flustered and doddery octogenarians manning the tourist info centre and in the midst of a major crisis, so when Ness turned up they declared ' A young person, just what we need'. The dvd that they run on a loop to impart vital info to tourists was malfunctioning, fortunately the technowise 'young thing' diagnosed flat batteries in the remote control and directed them towards the 'play' button. In return they directed us towards a garage and a shy adolescent youth reattached the loose fuel hose to the engine. A $10 thank you and we were safely on our way.

Forbes is a surprisingly lovely was only a stopover so we had no expectations, but it is really well preserved with lots of 1800's building beautifully restored/preserved.
Below is the post office ( 1881 ) ...we have decided that PO's are a good indicator of the style of architecture of a town so this is the first of a long series of nerdy pictures of such.

Below the magnificent Albion Hotel.

The campsite bible came up trumps again with a free camp site which is actually a small park in the middle of town.....feels strange and very unlike a camp site as we know them, but there was a caravan already here, generator on, 2 small maltese terriers in very smart pink coats awaiting dinner, Dad fishing in the lake. After we rocked up, 2 other Winnebagos turned up so it is obviously popular but there are no signs or indications that camping is allowed.

Off to explore Forbes tomorrow...tales of daring gold heists and secret underground tunnels.

Monday, May 5, 2008

who pays the ferryman?

Not a lot to report here, we are planning on heading south this week ( I know, north is warm, south is cold, but Ness's relatives are SW of here so family ties prevail ) pending the histopathology reports on my elbow lesion and the results of Ness's throat swab. We appear to have fallen apart since we changed hemispheres to seek the healthy good life.

Meanwhile just some musings about my mother and her strange and alarming ability to predict impending death, It was always a joke as children that when Betty announced ( in her lovely Ayrshire accent ) 'Och, I thought he was dead' that within 48 hours he would be. Victims ranged from movie stars and politicians through to Alan at number 7 ( dead within 8 hours of her proclaiming that he was looking 'peaky' ) . The only known survivor was the actor Robert Morley, who appeared to possess a 'get away from Betty alive' card when he lived for almost a decade after the curse was uttered.

A few years ago we were all at home for Christmas, and mad Auntie Jean was to be collected from her nursing home on Christmas morning. Betty announced at 7 pm on Christmas Eve that we had to go and see Jean...the whole family ( who should have known better ) refused to stop eating and drinking to oblige, so Vanessa elected to go with her. Within an hour Vanessa phoned to say Jean had dropped dead mid conversation with her and Mum.

I was disconcerted to discover that I had inherited the eye of doom when I accidentally killed Geoff Hamilton over a decade ago when innocently watching 'Gardener's World' and uttered the fatal words.....'he is not a well man'. His obituary appeared in The Times the next morning. The power was latent until I accidentally polished off Peter Ustinov.

I had forgotten all about it until I spoke to Mum last week and she confessed to delivering the kiss of death to Charlton Heston. Must have kicked something off, because yesterday I was browsing the BBC Radio 4 website looking for the latest episode of ' I am Sorry I Haven't Got a Clue' and I had the thought.

RIP Humphrey Lyttleton, I am so very very sorry.

Had to send Mum a postcard today:

'The Grim Reaper's Poker Tournament':

Betty, I'll see your Charlton Heston and I'll raise you a Humphrey Lyttleton.

Hope you are all happy that I am a hemisphere you are all feeling well.

Footnote: just watched a fantastic Attenborough documentary about snakes. No surprise that he spent most of the programme in Australia. Will not divulge my thoughts, hope David has one of those Robert Morley cards.