Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island is only 8kms off the coast of Townsville and it is easily reached by a regular car ferry service. It is predominantly national park, but some parts feel like little suburban precincts. Once away from those areas, it is really quite lovely. We stayed at Horseshoe Bay and it felt like Port Douglas 30 years ago. We hope it stays that way. It’s a quiet, simple time. Some lovely walks through the national parks, swimming, snorkelling, fish and chips on the beach, koalas sleeping just right there on our walks and a quiet drink on the beach at sunset. There is a WW2 fort on the island and there was a large contingent of American and Australian soldiers guarding the coastline. They never fired a shot in action, even though the guns could fire over 26 miles. Just the way all wars should be fought. I had no idea so many Americans did active service in Northern Queensland. I thought they just had fights in Brisbane on R&R.

39. Going to places you didn’t know you were going to go to

40. Still being thrilled to see koalas in the trees

41. Deserted beaches

Another deserted beach

42. Sunsets

43. A cup of tea in bed overlooking the water

44. Pineapples and pawpaw with a squeeze of lime juice

Carnarvon Gorge

This was one of the main reasons we went through central Queensland. Great scenery, walking and serenity. There is one main walk through the middle of the gorge with side walks along the way. The walk from end to end and back again is 19kms (without any side walks). This we did on our first day. It was long, hot and at times tricky as we had to cross the creek 16 times. We made it mostly without falling in. The 2 last stops along the way were The Cathedral and a very narrow part of the gorge. Worth walking to (except when we realised we had to walk back). It felt like a very long walk and the cold drink at the end was well deserved and essential.

The side tracks were also interesting except that much of the walk was along the central walk we had already done. But each walk was enjoyable and different. And in the creek, there were platypus. (no photo).

34. Echidnas who think they are hiding by poking their nose in the ground

35. Communal kitchens

We stayed at Takkaraka, a camp/accommodation site just outside the national park. It was lovely. We cooked for ourselves in a communal kitchen and enjoyed the company of fellow travellers. One couple in particular were really interesting. They didn’t look like how they turned at to be – so it’s true we shouldn’t judge too quickly (if at all). They worked for a coal mining company (he did mine maintenance), she a self-employed consultant calculating the carbon cost of the mining process and transportation. I tentatively enquired about their thoughts on Adani. Without hesitation, they said they were dead against it and all coal mining. This did not please the gold coast couple who were also cooking with us. They were clearly LNP supporters and said that cities would just shut down if we reduced our reliance on coal. I did mention that Iceland was 100% renewable and Scandanavian countries were heading that way and their cities hadn’t collapsed. It was an interesting evening. They were the first people we met who were dead against coal mining. Interestingly, on the way to Carnarvon Gorge, we saw vast solar farms and some smaller wind farms.

36. People willing to talk about controversial issues and still be friendly

The photo above (describing the aboriginal art) was particularly interesting to us. Alex is working with the Aboriginal Research Centre at ANU while he is studying and is currently looking for aboriginal artefacts around the world and working to have them returned to their rightful place. It was great to let him know that this work is recognised.

37. Places where aboriginal history and culture is explicitly celebrated

38. Cold drinks after a long walk

We spent a lovely 4 days here. It was fantastic. While there we decided to change our plans again and we are now heading to Magnetic Island off Townsville for some island time. A glimpse of what’s to come…….

Sunset at Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island

Chinchilla and Roma

Chinchilla – the melon capital of Australia

Chinchilla was just a stop along the way to Roma. Chinchilla is different to other country towns – there are interesting places to stay and there was an Indian restaurant instead of a Chinese one. We stayed at The Laurels at Chinchilla (see photos) and had Indian takeaway (no photos sorry). Chinchilla’s claim to fame is watermelons -25% of Australia’s melons are grown here. Better than nothing I guess.

30. Outdoor baths by the river

31. Bubble bath

32. Second hand book shops

33. Reading Tolstoy on holidays (The Cossacks from the second hand book shop)

Roma is serious cattle country. They breed cattle, talk cattle, sell cattle and eat cattle. Perfect place for a vegetarian like me. The sale yards were operating and they sold 3,500 cattle on the morning we visited. The yards are enormous and they can sell up to 17,000 cattle in a day. They are the biggest yards in the southern hemisphere. Cattle are brought in from NSW, the NT, SA and Queensland. The process and economics of cattle selling is fascinating and surprisingly complex. So many people get a cut of the one beast (ha ha) and I think the producers probably get the smallest cut. A pen of cattle is auctioned for about $2.30 a kilo and can either be sold to graziers who will fatten them for market in 6 months or to the abattoirs (some go directly to Coles and Woolies – that’s how they can undercut (!) prices).

This is a fast and furious process. 100% of the beast is used in some way. 50% is used for human consumption. So from $2.30 a kg at the sale yards to $38 ++ a kilo for prime beef at the butchers (depending where you shop) – there’s a lot of people making some money along the way. The blokes at the sale yard reckon it’s not the butchers at the end of the line. The blokes at the sale yard also reckon that all the cattle are very well looked after and animal welfare is their top priority. So all those greenies can leave them alone. OK?

John unsurprisingly had a steak for dinner. I passed. That’s him, looking forward to his slab of beef.

Here are some new ideas – this was in the local paper just published

Mullumbimby

Steve and Jane live on the top of a hill about 5kms out of Mullumbimby. The views are magnificent and we were lucky enough to be their guests for a few days. We had some fun times – swimming at Brunswick Heads beach, going to yoga classes, sharing dinners, walking and talking along the beach. We had dinner at the RSL where Steve is a member ($15 for a 3 year membership) but the treat of the night was it was ukulele night. A band plays. The band has a ukulele player. The audience brings their ukulele. The music and words to the songs are projected and viola! There is a chorus of ukuleles playing songs like Eleanor Rigby and A Hard Day’s Night. You can guess the age of the audience. It was a hoot. I think I need a ukulele.

26. Ukeleles and ukulele players

27 .Yoga classes

28. Towns like Mullumbimby which welcome all comers

29. Fish and chips

We had just missed the monthly Politics in the Pub the previous night. It’s been going for 2 years and the idea has now taken off in various NSW country towns. Should be more of it. And it will be no surprise to anyone that the politics is left wing. Yeehah!

We had our first bunya nut stew cooked up by Jane – very nice but a lot of hard work. Jane just collects the nuts from the side of the road.

Mullumbimby is a happening place. Byron Bay is horrible and over rated. I have never understood why people go there. But Mullum is sweet. Maybe we will go and live there for a while and hang out some more with Steve and Jane.

Coonabarabran

On the way to Coonabarabran, we drove through the Piliga Scrub – somewhere, for some reason I’ve always wanted to go. I think I just like the name. But it didn’t disappoint. 500,000 hectares of  public bushland with 350 species of birds and animals. It is low lying, sparse scrub. It had recently rained deepening the colour of the red earth. And against the recently burnt and blackened trees with new bright green foliage, it was just stunning. Paths with emu tracks took us to a small lake – a great respite from the midday day sun. There was a chorus of deep, metallic drum like noises – the very knowledgeable park ranger identified this sound as the Poddle Bong frog. She was also the person who worked out the snakes we had seen in Mt Kaputar were blue-bellied black snakes.

19. Park rangers who love their job and know their stuff

20. Poddle Bong frogs and the person who named them

Another walk in the Piliga took us to the Sculptures in the Scrub in the Dandry Gorge. The photos say it all. It was hot – still. It never lets up. It was great to retreat to the air-conditioned car and head about 60ks to Coonabarabran where we were meeting Sandy and Walter.

21. Air-conditioned cars

22. Friends to walk with

23. Friends who really know how to bushwalk and can lead the way so well.

Coonabarabran is all about the Warrumbungles National Park and the dark sky. The best walk is a 13k walk to “breadknife”. It’s a moderate to steep climb up to Crater Bluff with some rewarding vistas at the bluff. For John and me it was a hot, tiring walk. For Sandy and Walter, it was just another walk in the park. They are well-equipped, know what they are doing and have fantastic fitness. John and I didn’t follow up the 19km walk the following day as did Sandy and Walter. They were back home in no time. They were great company and guides.

Some of you will be shocked to hear that Walter is even more left wing than I am. It’s so nice to share time with people with similar views and we can whinge and laugh at all the things in politics which drive us crazy. As with all political tragics, we would just like 30 minutes with Bill Shorten to tell him what he needs to say. And they say youth is arrogant.

We enjoyed some other short walks – the most notable being the sandstone caves at the southern end of the Piliga Scrub.  It is a significant aboriginal site for the Gamilaraay people with grinding grooves and rock art. Beautiful at sunset.  So, some great walking, some more wine and beer, some cooking and eating together. What more do you need? Our only disappointment was that the “dark sky” was cloud covered so we couldn’t see the stars in the observatory.

24. Talking politics

25. Finally going to all these places I learnt about in year 5 social studies

Next stop Mullumbimby. If you follow our path on a map, it all looks very hodge podge and illogical. We did have a plan but a few things happened so now we are just making it up as we go along. So we are off to visit Steve and Jane in Mullumbimby – our favourite town in NSW and it’s nothing like all the other towns we’ve visited even though there are motels, bowling clubs and Chinese restaurants.

Narrabri

To get to Narrabri, we drove through the cotton properties around Wee Waa. They are huge and have huge dams. Much water is used to irrigate these crops. In the tourist information centre, the cotton growers provide an information sheet about cotton –
Australian cotton crop is worth AUD $2 billion annually, underpinning the viability of 152 rural communities; the Australian cotton industry has earned a reputation as a reliable supplier, with fast shipping times to export destinations, and reliable delivery;
the cotton industry employs 15 times as many people as grazing and five times as many people as dryland cropping ……….it’s an impressive story. Shame they don’t mention how much water they consume compared to other crops, the fact that the cotton is milled in cheap labour countries and how much tax is actually paid in Australia. Now that would’ve been interesting. And all this cotton growing occurs in some of the driest country we have seen.

Narrabri is a NSW country town. It looks like all the other NSW country towns. The same motels, the same bowling club, the same shops, the same Chinese restaurants. Another Chinese prawn omelette for dinner against the David Dale advice of never eating seafood over the great divide. It was very tasty.

It would be reasonable to ask then why we would choose to go to Narrabri. Just outside Narrabri is the Mt Kaputar National Park. Simply stunning. Some short walks to some beautiful places and lookouts.  Abundant wildlife – kangaroos, wallabies and blue-bellied black snakes.  Can they move! No photo unfortunately.

15. Prawn omelettes (remember the list of wonderful things of the world…..I can’t remember what number I’m up to)

16. Unbelievable rock formations

17. 360 degree views that go on forever

18. Blue-bellied black snakes which are more afraid of us than we are of them.

Lightning Ridge

So, a few weeks in to John’s retirement. He still feels like he’s just on holidays and will be returning to work soon. Luckily there are still things to do besides “rootle about”. Emails still arrive, the share market hasn’t shut down, the SMH is still published and the renovation on our apartment still requires a few decisions along the way. He does receive a few calls about new work – he started off by saying that he was retired – now he says he’s taking an extended break and to please contact him in late August if there is some work which looks interesting. So retirement (full-time) may yet be some way off.

But to Lightning Ridge……we passed through Walgett where the biggest building in town was the cop shop and the biggest shop was the gun shop.

Then through some of the driest and grayest country I have ever seen. The land is the colour of grey kangaroos and the road is dotted with roadkill. And it goes on and on.

Until Lightning Ridge. Opals, opals, opals!!!!!!! There are no longer any mines in Lightning Ridge. The mines are at Grawin – about 50 kms out of town. It’s a shanty town of tin houses, rusted trucks and 3 pubs. There is no water and there hasn’t been for 2 years. The problem of no water, besides the obvious is that the miners can’t “wash” the rocks they mine in order to see the opal. So there are mounds and mounds of mined rock, ready to be washed. No washing means no income. Temperatures range between 52 degrees in summer and minus 2 degrees in winter – in a tin house. Who would choose this life?

But there are pubs!

We didn’t take a photo of the Glengarry Hilton as the owner/manager? was lying on the floor smoking something and listening to The Doors “Riders on the Storm”. We decided to just let him be. He looked very relaxed and in no position to pour us a drink.

We discovered that:

  • there are many Vietnam Vets in Grawin and that ANZAC Day is huge. They have built a war memorial and museum that attracts many returned soldiers
  • that in a good year, a miner can make $500,000
  • there are stories of miners making $3,000,000 in 6 months
  • no-one tells you what a bad year earns, but given the conditions at the moment we can guess
  • Grawin accepts all comers. There is a place for everyone. That’s who lives here.

Lightning Ridge itself is not so interesting. My guess is it survives on tourism and servicing the mines. The sunsets were pretty good.

Those dark clouds you see are rain clouds. It rained that night for the first time in 6 months. There were alot of smiles that morning. No rain in Grawin unfortunately.

Off to Narrabri to the Mount Kaputar National Park.

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Coonamble

We were in Coonamble weeks ago….internet connection has been problematic but we will catch up, I promise. We are currently in Clermont in central Queensland and have decided that a few days on Magnetic Island is needed. So we head there tomorrow.

But, to Coonamble. You may wonder why we would go to Coonamble. John’s father managed a 52,000 acre property there called Warana. It was a cattle, sheep and wheat property that employed 35 people. It was big and productive. We found the current owner who was happy for us to have a look around. It is so dry there, depressingly so. It is just grey, no grass, no green, no gardens. It is far from what John remembers of the place. It was quite a grand property….much is now in disrepair and income is supplemented by running a carrier business – driving cattle to market. It’s a hard life. Everyone is divorced. Not that I have a problem with that – it’s just that it’s everyone. It’s a hard life.

We stayed at the local pub. The publican asked if we would like to stay for dinner. We perused the menu. A typical pub menu. We went to order and the publican told us that a few things were not available. “No problem”, we chorus. “what’s available?” we ask. “Well there’s beef, so you’ll be having the silverside”. “I’m a vegetarian”, I say. “No problem, you can have the vegetables”. It’s a hard life for the townies too.

12. A plate of roast vegetables (remember the list?)

13. A cold gin and tonic on a hot day

The jackeroos quarters, now unused
The trucks which transport cattle

14. dogs on properties

15. Not living in Coonamble

Mudgee

2. Tourist information centres and the people who work in them

3. National parks

4. People who work in national parks

John’s great grandfather owned a property called Guntawang. It was a horse stud and still operates today as one. It is actually in Gulgong, about 25 kms from Mudgee. There is a museum in town and there is a display of the Rouse family dating back to 1823. Two Rouse brothers (21 and 16) crossed the mountains and came across Guntawang – deserted by the original owners and decided they would just claim it as their own. A popular way of extending one’s land holding back in the day I guess. They already owned Rouse Hill. It was interesting to see the family resemblance down to male line to the our boys, particularly Alex. He looks just like his great, great, great grandfather. True! I foolishly didn’t take a photo to prove it.

If I had deep pockets, I would love to buy it…..concerts on the grass in spring, friends, family, wonderful local food and wine. I can only dream. Maybe I could just claim it as my own as the young brothers did back in 1823.

Guntawang (1860)

There are some great short walks in the area – Dunn’s Swamp (a dam not a swamp) being the pick. But also beautiful was Ferntree Gully and the Drip.

5. Walking

6. Autumn salad with figs and peaches, feta and green salsa

7. Wine

8. Perry St Hotel, Mudgee

9. Pieter van Gent cottage on the vineyard

So next stop Coonamble.

10. going wherever you, whenever you like for as long as you like

the prologue

On the night before we left Sydney, we saw a one-woman show Every Brilliant Thing. Kate Mulvaney played a woman whose mother eventually committed suicide. The play was fantastic, funny, engaging, engrossing and powerful. Kate Mulvaney was spectacular in the role.

Our trip started off being about John returning to his country homes – to show me, to remember and reminisce, to “rootle about” as he says. I have been wondering why I’m going…….the play gave me some answers.

The mother of Kate Mulvaney’s character was deeply depressed. She attempted suicide a number of times before eventually being successful. My mother was deeply depressed but never succeeded in killing herself. She tried a number of times. The play explores what happens to children of mothers like this. So, as you may guess, I found it powerful and riveting. Us children, apparently, have an overdeveloped fight/flight/be still response. They are the 3 responses we have to stress, conflict and confrontation. Your body gets overwhelmed by adrenalin. Everybody has these responses to a varying degree. Us children have them all the time and don’t develop more measured and balanced responses over time that others do. I never knew this, after all the years of therapy….but oh well. And we blame ourselves, all the time, for everything, especially the part about attempted suicide. That I knew. Kate Mulvaney’s character tried to help her mother by creating lists of all the wonderful things in the world. Starting with 1. icecream, her list eventually totalled 1,000,000. Sounds corny I know but the list contained some very simple things like “yellow”, and some joyous ones too. She wrote the list from the age of 8 until about 45. Her friends added their own.

So, why am I going on this trip? Besides the obvious and that it will be fun, I have to ask what my flight is from. I hope to explore this as well as share all our wonderful and not so wonderful experiences over the next 3 months. John will share his “rootling about” and I will share my reflections and work on finding more balanced and measured responses to the things life throws at us. Oh, and we’re starting a list….

1. buying a prado.