Sunday, November 30, 2008

broken hill

It is a funny old place Broken Hill. In the middle of the little chunk of NSW outback, it is a steeply sloping mining town with attractive street names like Bromide St, Kaolin St, Cobalt St. Uranium and Plutonium Sts ( who would want an address like that) so it feels like driving around a real-time life-sized periodic table.

The first European to discover the region, 28 years after the first crossing of the Blue Mountains was Sir Thomas Mitchell. Charles Sturt also noted the presence of a 'broken hill' as he passed through in 1844 on his way to discover the 'inland sea' ( many expeditions set off towards the middle of the continent hell bent on finding the mythical inland sea, many armed with small boats.It is a shame that they were a few million years too late to actually find water and many perished in the desert).

In 1883 Charles went prospecting for tin and discovered silver and lead and zinc.This ore body became the largest and richest of its kind in the world, yielding minerals worth over $1.5 billion.
The town grew rapidly and within 8 years had a population of over 20,000 including many shanty towns housing Afghan cameleers ( Ghantowns).

In 1915 Broken Hill was the scene of the only enemy attack on Australian soil. Four months before the Anzacs fought the Turks at Gallipoli two locals of Indian/Afghan origin, and Turkish sympathisers, hid in an ice-cream cart and opened fire on a railway carriage full of picnickers, killing 3 and wounding 6 more before being gunned down themselves. This led to the internment of all 'enemy aliens' in town.

The town retains many unspoilt buildings and you can easily picture the bullock carts and trains of camels passing through.

The sculpture park outside town is built on a hill offering great views over the desert terrain.

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

Not sure that all the natives are friendly....

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

yorke peninsula

We have spent the last 3 days exploring the Yorke peninsula and putting Geoffrey through his paces.The weather remains wet and extremely windy. The area is intensively farmed- all cereals crops, interspersed with iron ore mining and large industrial ports.

We missed out this area on our way out of Adelaide first time round, and although the weather has not helped, I must admit that we should have left it well alone second time of passing. Not the most exciting part of the country, and all the best beaches and coastline not accessible without a 4WD vehicle.

Currently sheltering from yet another thunderstorm, and planning on heading for the Flinders Ranges tomorrow, then head back to NSW via broken Hill.

across the nullarbor 1840-41

Having been rather stressed crossing the Nullarbor in a slightly broken van, it hardly compares with the difficulties faced by the first Europeans to make the attempt in 1840-41.

Edward John Eyre and his team, assisted by the ship 'Waterwitch' made several attempts to cross from east to west inland along the Great Australian Bight, a stretch of coastline unsafe for ships to come ashore. His attempts started in November 1841.

During the next two months Eyre made three attempts to round the Head of Bight. Water was always in critically short supply - particularly so on his second failed attempt when Eyre was clearly distressed to lose three of his best draught horses to exhaustion, thirst and the blistering Australian summer sun. After the second failed attempt to reach the Head of Bight Eyre realised that travelling with drays was impossible in such desolate country. There were just too many sandhills, and where there weren't sandhills, the scrub was too thick to make for rapid travelling.

He set off again at the end of February with John Baxter, an aborigine called Wylie, two native boys and packhorses.
They were all close to starvation and suffering the effects of lack of water by mid March.

By March 10 Eyre had scouted ahead of the main expedition party in the hope of discovering a break in the Bunda Cliffs that lined their route, but none were to be seen. Eyre was concerned for his pack horses which had been travelling for 4 days without any water whatsoever. The condition of Baxter and the aboriginal boys was hardly any better - with all suffering parching thirsts.

Despite the expeditions cruel lack of water and the real prospect of death, remarkably Eyre still possessed a romantic vision of the Australian wilderness. In his journal Eyre was moved to write:

"Distressing and fatal as these cliffs might prove to us, there was a grandeur and sublimity in their appearance that was most imposing, and which struck me with admiration. Stretching out before us in unbroken line, they presented the singular and romantic appearance of massy battlements of masonry, supported by huge buttresses, and glittering in the morning sun which had now risen upon them, and made the scene beautiful even amidst the dangers and anxieties of our situation."

By 29 March Eyre's expedition had consumed their very last drop of water. The situation was now very grave and required a desperate solution. Eyre's plan of action was carried out the next morning when he observed that there was a heavy dew hanging down from the grass and shrubs. With a sponge in hand Eyre dabbed at the dew and squeezed water into a quart pot. The aboriginal boys did likewise, gathering dew using a handful of grass instead of a sponge. Altogether Eyre's party had gathered 2 quarts of water. In the very best of British traditions Eyre's party then indulged in the luxury of brewing up some tea.

By April 7th Baxter became convinced that their only chance of survival was to turn back east the way they had come. Eyre noted in his journal:

"Finding that I have made little progress in removing his ( Baxter's ) doubts on the question of our advance, I resolved to pursue the subject no further,until the time for decision came, hoping that in the interim, his pinions and feelings might in some degree be modified, and that he might accompany me cheerfully..."

Unfortunately Baxter probably did not manage to modify his feeling towards cheerfulness as he was shot to death on April 28th by the fleeing two native boys who feared death by starvation should they remain.

Eyre and Wylie continued west, and in early June were rescued by a French whaling ship 'Mississippi' near present day Esperance.

Friday, November 21, 2008

circle completed

We are back in Port Augusta, the western circle now complete.We were last here at the end of July before we hit the Stuart Highway straight up the middle. The winter weather then was wet and windy, the summer weather now is wet and windy.

The Flashlube altered the campervan engine problems- after use the fault status changed from intermittent to permanent. So the engine burped and belched and generally eructated its way along the last 700 km of our journey across the Nullarbor.

Miracle of miracles we found a fully kitted out Iveco dealer here in town and this morning the fault ( dodgy electric connection to fuel injectors ) was diagnosed and repaired. Geoffrey may well be a big solid brute of a machine but it appears that his Italian engine adds a temperamental continental streak. We may need to rename him Giovanni.

We are remaining here until Monday as we decided to book Giovanni in for a full service and overhaul . Then we need to decide where to go next..................

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

harry potter and the curse of the nullarbor

We have managed the first 1,000 km of our Nullabor crossing.Geoffrey has intermittently flashed warning lights at us but up until yesterday a stop and a rest has put us back on track.However yesterday the engine struggled and we limped into a roadhouse on the 'Treeless Plain' leg of the journey, so not sure how he will perform today.

On the advice of mechanics at the roadhouse our problem may be due to contaminated diesel or inadvertent use of a biodiesel mix, so last night we added 2 little bottles of 'Flash-Lube' to his fuel tank. This may sound like a sex aid but allegedly may help our problem.

The first 3 days have not been overly summery- in fact we have yet to grasp the enormity of the desert due to torrential rain, cloud and very limited visibility in conjunction with regular drownings by oncoming road trains. However yesterday afternoon was clear and we did get to see the stunning cliffs which this part of the route passes alongside.

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

Our in flight entertainment has been provided by the talented Stephen Fry reading the Harry Potter books which help to pass the time.

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

We are now across the border and into SA, so if we end up being towed they will hopefully take us onward to Adelaide and not back to where we started!

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Norseman is a historical gold mining town and gateway to the Nullarbor.

Established in 1894 when, legend has it, Laurie Sinclair tethered his horse 'Hardy Norseman' to a tree overnight and by morning it had pawed the ground and disturbed a chunk of gold-bearing quartz. Over 5 million ounces of gold have been mined since making it the second richest goldfield in WA.

It also has a roundabout with tin camels on it- who could ask for more?

From trek phase 4

Before we set off tomorrow, here are some fascinating Nullarbor facts.

The Nullabor Plain:

  1. has the world's longest straight bit of road ( 146.6 km)
  2. has Australia's largest population of feral camels
  3. has Balladonia roadhouse- briefly famous in 1979 when chunks of Skylab fell on it
  4. has no trees
  5. has the world's longest golf course. Due for completion in 2009, the former manager of the Balladonia roadhouse Bob Bongiorno is building an 18 hole cross-country course. At remoter locations tees and greens will be made of synthetic grass. Some holes are designed to give overseas visitors an unparalleled taste of real Australia and are located on sheep stations, wheat farms and alongside gold mines.
  6. crosses 2 time zones
  7. is the largest single piece of limestone karst in the world

Friday, November 14, 2008

the start of the nullarbor

The next phase of the trip is the trek across the Nullarbor Plain from Norseman to Port Augusta, a distance of 1,700 km.

It is said that until you have spent the time making your way across this endless, mostly treeless, plain you have not fully experienced the true loneliness that Australia can provide. It's been driven, walked, cycled, trained, and even skateboarded, and has come to represent everything that is vast and intensely featureless about much of the Australian Outback.

For the next 700km or so we will have no mobile phone/internet coverage, and it will be sporadic for the ensuing 1,000 thank you Geoffrey for pretending to be mended for the last 700 km and then this afternoon starting to blink the fuel injection failure light again. I guess the piece of insulating tape did not exactly fix the problem.

Our choices are: 700 km back to Perth in the hope the fault can be correctly diagnosed and fixed,

Or: hit the Nullarbor and see how we go ( 2,000 km to Adelaide)

We are going to sleep on it, but I suspect that we will continue with optimistic hearts and crossed fingers. We are 80 km outside Norseman, so will make the decision when we get there.

I guess being towed by a road train would be fun. Or we could just spend the rest of our days living in a broken van at a roadhouse pumping fuel and making sandwiches. We will keep you posted as things develop.


The seaside town of Esperance was our next stop. It got its name after the two French ships L'Esperance and Recherche were forced to seek shelter from a storm in 1792.

The first foreign inhabitants of these shores during the nineteenth century were sealers from the penal settlement at Van Diemans Land and American and French whalers. Subsistence was mainly from kangaroo, geese and fish.

Edward John Eyre was the most famous overland explorer to visit having come from Adelaide in 1841 en route to Albany.

In 1863, the Dempster brothers drove sheep, cattle and horses from Northam to Esperance to take up the first land holding. Andrew Dempster was granted a lease of 100,000 acres in 1866.

With the discovery of gold in Kalgoorlie, Dundas and Coolgardie, Esperance began an incredible transformation in 1895. Fortune seekers from Australia and around the world began to flood into this sleepy little port on their way to the Goldfields.

By 1897 there were two newspapers, one brewery and four hotels. There were many rows of tents and the less fortunate slept on seaweed at the beach.

The coastline is fabulous with granite outcrops and multiple small islands, and the sea is a very implausible shade of blue.

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

James dog had several long beach walks, and once Vanessa had found the deserted nudist beach there was no stopping her, one of her many charms being a complete lack of inhibition. The temperatures were too low to tempt me to get naked ( and being more conservative I tend to need dinner and a movie at the very least before ripping my clothes off ) so I stayed clothed with my camera.

I have been banned from posting the pictures on this blog, but can email them on request for a nominal fee!

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

back on the road

We are on the road again after our interlude back in Albany. The intermittent fuel injection problem appeared to be due to an exposed wire shorting out, and judicious use of insulating tape and a garage bill of $46 has put us back on track.

Managed to source a new modem so internet access has been reestablished.

Albany was unseasonably cold and wet when we first visited. Unfortunately a week later it was wetter and colder so we are glad to be heading east again. The Nullarbor desert crossing gets ever closer so we need to stock up on supplies in case Geoffrey decides to have another glitch.

Albany does have a big rock that looks like a dog (sort of) so things could be worse.

From trek phase 4

Sunday, November 9, 2008

normal service may not be resumed for some time

Geoffrey is going to the menders this afternoon- meanwhile I have dropped my usb modem on the floor and it is broken, so no internet access. The unhelpful Telstra dealers do not have a replacement so we are stuck, homeless and without contact.

No idea where we are sleeping tonight, or what to do with james the dog. We may be in a doorway covered in newspaper and cardboard. The forecast is for rain in Albany. Currently huddling together for warmth in an internet cafe.

Friday, November 7, 2008

......never camp in a cemetery

Last night the free camping options were few and far between but Ness located a deserted cemetery with a lovely place to park Geoffrey and the bonus of a fresh water supply to top up the tanks with. A horror movie about large squishy venomous aliens invading New York was the dvd of choice and suited the ambiance perfectly.

Well it appears that our misdemeanour has backfired because now Geoffrey is broken. The fuel injector light keeps flashing and he has lost his oomph. We phoned a mechanic who reassured us that the flashing light was probably a computer malfunction and was 'not a drama and no worries' ( typical Saturday afternoon advice I suspect) but the problem is worsening.

We paid for Winnebago assistance but the man on the helpline desk was not overly helpful. It transpires that breaking down a long distance from an Iveco service centre is just plain silly and should be avoided, and that they only cover us for a maximum tow of 150 km. He could have tried to call someone with a tow truck but did we realise that it was Saturday!

The upshot is that there is a bloke in Albany( 350km away) who may be able to fix it, but the nearest centre with the diagnostic computer that we will probably need is in Perth over 500km back the way we came.

It appears that our only option is to backtrack slowly and hope that we make it to Albany, after which we may or may not have to return to Perth .Whether that trip is made under our own steam or on the back of a towtruck remains to be seen so watch this space.

Meanwhile we are by the seaside enjoying the view, and we will slowly trundle back west tomorrow and see what happens.

The curse of disturbing the dead is upon us.

wave rock

Inland to Hyden, home of Wave Rock. A large rock that looks like a wave about to break (porphyritic granite if anyone is interested).

It is 110 metres long,15 metres tall and 2,700 million years old. Now here is a new word or two- the rock is an inselberg also known as a monadnock. Anyhow it is an impressive lump of sexily shaped stripey granite.

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


The weather continues to be extremely unkind with heavy rains and a strong wind coming straight up from Antarctica.Not a good time to be in a campervan parked up with an ocean view. Albany is a picturesque town but we did not even manage a picture of the old post office due to mist and rain.

It looks like we will be heading inland tomorrow to look at more interesting rocks.

We did manage to take a good look round a banksia farm at Mount Barker between showers. I had not realised just what a diverse and clever group of plants these are until we met Kevin, an incredible plantsman with a deep passion for his subject. The farm has examples of each of the 78 known species of banksias.

Kevin's banksia farm

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Just had to mention a recent incident in Sydney which made me chuckle. A Sydney family went to the Coogee Bay Hotel to watch the National Rugby League final.They had a few problems with their meal and the noise levels spoiled their enjoyment of watching the game- they complained a lot to the staff.

To compensate for their dissatisfaction they were given a complimentary dish of gelato ice cream by the management. To cut a long story short, the chocolate ice cream was not what it appeared and it transpires that some inventive member of staff ( allegedly ) creatively served up a frozen turd.

In the mother's words:

"There was no doubting what it was. The whole family became hysterical. My poor son screamed at one of their staff: ‘You made my mum eat poo."’
"The minute I put the spoon to my lips, the stench went through my nostrils. I retched and spat it into the napkin,"

"My friend thought I was over-reacting, but when she smelt it, she started screaming: ‘Oh my god, they’ve served us s—."’
In my day the concern about complaining about a meal or the service ran the risk of a waiter spitting in your food. How times have changed.

I have to admire the foresight and supreme advanced planning to ensure that such a pre-frozen item was ready and available.

The family are now suing the hotel for $1 million in damages, samples have been taken by the Health Department and the material has been verified as excreta. The family are now being DNA tested to eliminate ( pardon the pun) them as passers of said poo.

Now that would be an incredibly clever con-complain vociferously about service in a hotel, assume that you would be given a free dish of ice-cream, pop a pre frozen turd in the dish, scream and retch, collect 1 million dollars.

giants of the forest

There are a lot of trees to visit in southwest WA, and I mean lots of trees. The area is awash with brown tourist signs encouraging tree visits, and multiple National Parks devoted to trees. I can honestly say that after 2 days of solid wood watching I am feeling pretty treed out.

The climate and soil conditions are just perfect for the forests of enormous trees such as jarrah, karri, and tingles. We are having problems working out which are which but can confirm that they are all very old and extremely tall.

The karri tree can grow over 60 metres in height and traditionally in the 1940's the tallest tree in the forest was used as a lookout post to check on the presence and progress of forest fires. A spiral ladder was constructed using metal rungs and then a lookout was built at the very top. Casting health and safety issues to the wind any member of the public can climb the lookout tree if they so desire.

From trek phase 4
Above is the Diamond Tree Lookout, a karri tree 52 metres high. The sign at the base suggests that if you have a heart condition, are unfit, or have a fear of heights then climbing the tree is inadvisable. Do not climb if you are wearing thongs.

It fails to mention that ownership of an ounce of self-preservation or common sense would be also a precondition for not climbing. Fortunately we were wearing thongs.

Not sure if the diddy little cubs pictured below were sent up to the top, we did not stay to watch the carnage.

From trek phase 4

Apparently half way up the climb the council has thoughtfully put a sign which declares : "That was the easy part.It gets a lot harder now and if you're having second thoughts it is best to head back down"

On to the Gloucester Tree, 62 metres high with 153 rungs- Ness had changed out of her thongs and was keen to do the climb, leaving me yet again regretting the lack of life insurance policy. Fortunately there was a queue of foolhardy tree huggers so her plans were thwarted.Only 6 people are allowed up the tree at any one time- I assume that restriction is because the local hospital only has 6 intensive care beds.

The next day we moved on from karris and jarrahs to tingle trees.These are tall, but also wide and buttressed and often hollow

From trek phase 4

If we were not confused enough by identifying the tree species, just as we thought that we had tingles sussed we discovered that there were red tingles and yellow tingles which look exactly the same to the untutored eye. In the 1950's John Rate, the first district forester in Walpole proved that there was a third tingle species which was named the Rate Tingle.

John Rate was killed by a falling tingle tree in 1969.

We did another of those stupidly scary treetop walks- we really should learn by our mistakes. This walkway was 40 metres above the ground, wobbled and swayed in the wind, and scared the Bejesus out of us.

From trek phase 4

Sunday, November 2, 2008

giants of the sea

The weather improved and on Friday we managed to book a trip from Dunsborough on the Geographe Bay to look for humpbacked whales which are on their way back to Antarctica to feed after breeding.

It is surprising just how difficult it is to photograph such enormous animals, they really do move quickly! We followed several groups for a couple of hours and they are truly awesome creatures. To be close enough to watch them and hear them was a privilege.

The Humpback whales that visit Australia's coastal waters spend their summer months feeding in the Antarctic. With the onset of the southern hemisphere winter the Humpbacks migrate an average of 2,500km from polar waters to their tropical breeding grounds, undertaking some of the longest migrations in the animal kingdom.Whereas most migrating whales avoid land masses, the Humpbacks follow the coastline reasonably close to shore, which makes them an ideal species for whale watching and rendered them an especially vulnerable species in the days of whaling.

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4

The following day we drove to the point of the bay and watched them from the viewing platform on the cliff.We could have stayed there for weeks.

The south west area of WA has got everything- rolling hills, green lush pastures, wine regions, great towns and fabulous coasts. Has definitely made the shortlist of desirable places to live, the only downside being that it is so far away from the rest of the country. There is a feeling about WA that it is a separate country that by some bizarre anomaly is accidentally attached to the rest of Australia.

spiralites and pendulites

The weather continued to be wet and windy so we spent a couple of days exploring vineyards, caves, cafes and shops.

The jewel cave near Augusta has some features we have never seen before, including spiralites (horizontal confused formations undecided whether to be stalagmites or stalactites ) and bizarre pendulites ( huge heavy lumps of calcite suspended from implausibly fine straws).

From trek phase 4

The vineyards in the Margaret River Valley are somewhat more pretentious than ones we have visited to date, with grand European chateau style buildings in exquisite formal gardens.

From trek phase 4

From trek phase 4
I have to confess I prefer the no nonsense smaller wine producers without pretensions- it is more fun sampling 'tractor shed shiraz' with someone wearing a polo shirt with a cartoon fish logo than listening to the flowery descriptions about late harvested rieslings from a beautifully coiffed and designer clad front woman.

We visited Cape Leeuwin Australia's most south westerly mainland point, where the Southern and Indian Oceans collide, but the weather was blustery and misty so we did not climb the lighthouse.

From trek phase 4