footloose and fancy free in oz

A bloke, his better half, and a 4WD truck, in the wild blue yonder of the red continent

From Crowdy Bay to the Crowded City and back again

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On the stretch of coast to the south of Port Macquarie lies Crowdy Bay – recommended to us as a place to stop a while. While the name did little to entice us, the description sounded nice enough. Also, I took on a client project which was about to start, and that basically meant staying put some place with reliable phone and internet access. (Yes, I’m working ‘on the road’ when the opportunity presents itself. And for the record, I will love my ‘mobile’  clients eternally for it.)

Crowdy Bay greeted us with gorgeous weather, beautiful temperatures and made us instantly love the wide sweeping bay with its shallow and safe swimming beach. And contrary to what the name suggests, it was very, very quiet with very few people anywhere. Apart from a few fishing folk and the odd beach goers we practically had the bay to ourselves. How peachy!

Crowdy Bay in all its glory

Crowdy Bay in all its glory

A large reserve at the water’s edge was perfect in every respect, except of course that it had the ubiquitous “no camping” sign. But as resourceful free campers we’re well-versed in overcoming such minor obstacles. It just means finding a safe overnight spot and then returning to the beach again at breakfast time.  As luck would have it, we found the perfect spot a mere 200 metres from the reserve, and for the next few days spent the nights there.

Any closer and we'd get our feet wet

Any closer to the beach and we’d get our feet wet

My work project kept me busy during ‘office hours’ so there wasn’t really time to do much else. But hey, I was not about to complain – my ‘office’ had a spectacular view and spending my lunch break in the waves wasn’t half bad either. Pretty much the epitome of work-life balance!

And towards the end of every day, a pod of 20 – 30 dolphins would come and frolic in the bay, right in front of us. There was no escaping warm fuzzies.

Crowdy Bay

If you look closely, you’ll see three dolphins surfing the wave

 

At the end of the week our Comboyne friends trekked down from the mountain for a visit – with a huge bag of feijoas which put a huge smile on our dial. They’re not as readily available here and pretty pricey when they are. We shared fish ‘n chips and vino at sunset, great conversation and a mutual appreciation of the gorgeous coastal environment with the waves creating an exceptional acoustic surround-soundscape as they lapped in perfect fashion around the semi-circular bay – an utter auditory delight.
Crowdy was swell.

That's right  Kiwis - the price is per piece, not per kg

That’s right Kiwis – the price is per piece, not per kg

In search of new steeds

The only fly in the ointment was the realisation that we no longer had our bikes for exploratory missions. And that sucked big time. It occurred to us that we hadn’t yet mentally or emotionally processed the theft. We’d basically shelved it while we were having fun with the Comboyne crowd. But now the reality was hitting home. There’s no way we would want to continue the trip without bikes – they were an important transport, fitness and fun element, and an integral part of our life on the road.  Replacements were needed but since we couldn’t cough up for another set of fancy new bikes, the challenge was to find suitable used bikes. Clearly a mission for the bloke. He’d already done a sterling job selecting and sourcing our first bikes. Mind you, he was quick to explain that it’s straightforward when you’re in a major city and have the luxury of time, but it’s quite another story when you’re looking for something fairly specific in good pre-loved condition … in a smaller town and within our budget.

Cutting a long story short, the bloke finds a suitable bike for me on Ebay, in Sydney of all places. And since we’re “not that far away” and the seller was kind enough to hold it for us, we decided there and then to head there the next day. While we’re not keen on big city visits as part of this trip, we relished the opportunity to catch up with two lots of Kiwi friends in ‘Seednee’.

Seen in Sydney: the remains of a bike that was chained to a post but must have attracted the attention of a determined thief

Seen in Sydney: the remains of a bike that was chained to a post but must have attracted the attention of a determined thief

Super Mario, awful traffic and traps in the rat race

We found our way into a leafy northern suburb to inspect my ‘new’ bike which I bought on the spot. The seller, Ray, was a most delightful and well-spoken young chap who seemed genuinely interested in, if not a tad envious of, our footloose and fancy free adventure. As a parent of a baby and a toddler, with a big mortgage on their beautiful home in a posh neighbourhood with excellent schools, and with two professional incomes to pay for it all, he could pass for the epitome of the upwardly mobile urban success story with both feet firmly planted on the property ladder. But the success, he lamented, was fast becoming an illusion … or a millstone around their neck courtesy of sky-rocketing costs including a whopping $800/week for childcare, and a life that seemed to have become subservient to a perceived (and potential future) lifestyle. He seemed genuinely overwhelmed and longingly talked about escaping it all.

The bloke and I often talk at length about such things … well, I talk, he rants 😉
It’s so easy to get caught up in the illusion and lose perspective of what’s actually important. And let’s face it, most of us are suckers for the nice things in life; but few would consciously want those things to ultimately rule their life. I guess it’s a matter of perspective and a question of what price you are prepared to pay.

In any case, this encounter was poignant in light of the many insightful conversations we’ve had on our trip with really interesting country folk, many of whom had turned their back on big cities, opting instead for quality of life without blatant materialism and more in tune with nature.

Having been a city gal for much of my life, I’m fast starting to change my tune also. A more naturally paced semi-rural and sustainable lifestyle is starting to look like a mighty attractive post-footloose option.

Coogee

Coogee

Anyway, it might sound uncharitable, but this mindset contributed to Sydney being experienced as something to be endured rather than enjoyed. It wasn’t helped by our initiation of having to drive the truck through the centre of an unfamiliar city at rush hour to get to our friends’ place in Coogee. That’s character building stuff, I can assure you. After 1 ½ hours of nerve wracking navigating through traffic porridge it was no small miracle that we arrived as husband and wife.  Especially so because we have a spastic GPS that at times impersonates the Super Mario game and shows a maze of squiggly ‘flying’ routes, without warning and usually at the worst possible time.

The next miracle was that we eventually found an unrestricted (and sort of level) car park that our rig could fit into without blocking the street or the millions of driveways. Big ups to the bloke for executing a mean parking manoeuvre; he didn’t wake up the neighbourhood with our reversing beeper (its decibel rating would put most car alarms to shame).

It was a blast catching up with our old friends. They showed us around their swanky seaside suburb which is just down the road from Bondi Beach and appears to attract an equally international young crowd, many of them generously showing off their buff bodies.

Coogee Beach

Coogee Beach

In the evenings, over a couple of beers we chewed the fat – all of us weary of the ‘rat race’ and in favour of a saner lifestyle. In due course, the four of us did a jolly good job of impersonating grumpy old farts, deriding the spiritually impoverished, materialistically focused and financially highly leveraged “iGen” crowd who can’t see the dots for the matrix, let alone join them. By time we got started on the wine we were among the few beacons of common sense. It was fabulously cathartic, uplifting and good fun.

The same can’t be said for our final motoring experience to our mates’ place in Dee Why, on the other, northern, end of town. Again, the route took us right through the city, moreover on a Friday afternoon at the frigging start of school holidays. We must have been deluded to attempt it in the first place (I blame a 48-hour blinding migraine). Still, we felt that we were adequately prepared after 1 ¾ hours poring over maps with our friend. He checked the GPS proposed routes, found that many streets were practically impassable with our rig (GPS of course doesn’t differentiate between narrow lanes and tight corners) and proposed alternatives. Google Streetview saved us from embarrassment, potential damage and likely insanity.

Sydney traffic anticlimax

Sydney traffic anticlimax

Crowdy 25 Sydney Traffic

Seriously uncool traffic and no place for our rig

Nevertheless we managed to take a couple of wrong turns just as it was time for Super Mario routes to appear on the GPS, at which time we resorted to the bloke’s paper notes which he’d made in wise anticipation.  We used up half a tank of diesel getting nowhere at all and had to dodge an infuriating number of roads with a 2t vehicle weight limit. Bloody nuisance I can tell you.

The whole thing was like a painful parody and felt like playing mini golf while riding an elephant. The bloke and I kept glancing at each other with a “why are we doing this?” look on our faces.

However, I’m pleased to report that after a lovely catch-up with our newly-wed mates, we eventually escaped the throes of the big smoke relatively unharmed and with only minor emotional scarring. The bloke’s solution:  “It’s nothing that a bottle of wine can’t fix”.

Heading north again

When we set off, we decided to spend the winter in the warm climes of the “Top End”.  Now, with the mercury in mid NSW heading increasingly south, there’s only one direction for us to follow the sun.

As I was still working, we quietly tootled along the very pleasant Lakes Area north of Newcastle stopping in Forster for several ‘office only days’ before returning to Crowdy Bay for one last meet-up with our Comboyne friends and ultimately heading further north to escape the cardigan climate.

Just what the doctor ordered

Just what the doctor ordered

Getting back to the serenity of Crowdy was the perfect antidote to Sydney, besides being a proven location for my mobile office.
By now the mullet season was in full swing and we found ourselves in front-row seats watching commercial fishermen pulling in nets laden with mullet. The methods probably hadn’t changed in decades: once a spotter on land detected a swarm of fish, a little jet boat launched from the beach to encircle the fish swarm with a net which was swiftly pulled in by a crew of fishermen and subsequently towed onto the beach with the help of a tractor. Literally tons of fish were landed that way on good days

 

 Black fishing humour:? if you look closely, you'll see a shark painted on the boat

Black fishing humour:? if you look closely, you’ll see a shark painted on the boat

 

Crowdy 12 Alt

 

Crowdy 12

Pulling in the net looks easy in a photo but it sure ain’t the case from what I’ve been told

 

 

Crowdy 13

 

Crowdy 14

The tractor is used once the net is landed, to drag the catch onto the beach. However, the last catch of the day was even too big for the tractor. It had the boys working on it well into the night

Crowdy 15 2

Fish gets sorted and sent to the Sydney Fishmarkets the same day.

Mullet - infinitely more attractive in the net, than on one's head

Mullet – infinitely more attractive in the net, than on one’s head

One of the fishermen, Brett, explained to me that he and his colleagues had been doing it hard lately. He said that last year was particularly tough for them given the extremes of weather etc.  He was rather philosophical about it. “Fact is, you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature”, is how he summed it up.

A nurse with attitude and other fish

I saw him again the next day, when the day’s fishing brought an altogether different and rather more dramatic challenge. We had just enjoyed a shared lunch with our visiting Comboyne friends, when three nets were laid around a massive fish swarm. As the nets were pulled tight, it became apparent that the commotion within one of the nets was rather more lively than normal. As it turned out, two grey nurse sharks, a local protected species, had shared the fishermen’s interest in the mullet swarm and ended up in the net themselves.

Brett pulls a Grey Nurse out of the net.

A Grey Nurse sharks was pulled out of the net (Photo courtesy of Anton Visser)

The response of the fishermen was fairly dramatic: with bare hands and in hip-deep water, they did their best to pull the 3-metre sharks out of the nets; one was dragged onto the beach from where it later refloated, but the other was rather more persistent – or perhaps just really, really hungry. The shark was in and out of the net which already had a gaping hole, while the fishermen were doing their utmost to pull the catch on land without having the net torn to shreds and the fish spoiled  and spread all through the bay.

Believe it or not, there's a hungry shark at the other end of that fin

Believe it or not, there’s a hungry shark at the other end of that fin

Then, one of the fishermen began to whack the shark on the head, while Brett pulled it by the tail to move it away from the net. Now I don’t profess to know anything at all about sharks, but even I know that it’s inadvisable to come between a hungry animal and its food. I wouldn’t dream of doing it to a domestic dog let alone to a big hungry fish with lots of sharp teeth.

Frankly, it seemed an ill-considered act of desperation. Unsurprisingly the shark didn’t take too kindly to it and retaliated by biting one of the fishermen. We were watching the extraordinary spectacle that was unfolding just a few metres away from us with a sense of disbelief and dread.

One of the sharks was dragged onto the beach before it was refloated. (Photo courtesy of Anton Visser)

One of the sharks was dragged onto the beach before it was refloated. (Photo courtesy of Anton Visser)

After a massive struggle, the shark was dragged away far enough so the damaged net could be brought onto the beach. The injured fisherman meanwhile received emergency treatment for very nasty looking bite wounds to both lower legs before being whisked off in a rescue helicopter.

Shark bite victim being attended to

Shark bite victim being attended to

The bandages are going on

The bandages are going on

 

I caught up with Brett again the next day. His hands were raw from the previous day’s struggle and he said that this sort of thing happens from time to time. He also said that the injured man was just undergoing an operation to remove shark teeth from his bones, with further danger of infection and suspected ligament damage. It may well have been a life changing encounter with a Grey Nurse.

Twitter was abuzz in no time at all, and media stories followed, like this one  and that one.

After this climax, we left Crowdy to take care of a load of stuff, including inspecting a couple of potential steeds for the bloke. There was also the untimely death of our water pump which had to be attended to as a matter of urgency. Life loses its lustre without running water.

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