footloose and fancy free in oz

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


Leave a comment

Atherton Tablelands – the final spread

Once you hang around a place for a while, it starts to feel like home. In the case of the Tablelands area, we didn’t have to wait long for that to happen. It felt like such a perfect place to live, on all counts. Having got to know some fantastic locals, and, especially, hanging out with Vicki and Frank, who had become good friends, only enhanced that feeling.

Realising that we were in danger of having to be surgically removed (the bloke was already showing signs of growing roots!) I decided to pull the plug, albeit with a heavy heart, while I still had a say in the matter.
Our departure from this pocket sized piece of paradise, towards the vastness of the north-west, was just around the corner.

P1080679

View from Halloran’s Hill Lookout in Atherton

A tool for all the right reasons

We were just waiting for a ‘truck tool’ to arrive. The bloke had ordered it on Ebay for poste restante delivery (at the post office counter in Atherton), only to find that Australia Post doesn’t play nicely with non-Australia Post couriers. I got the impression it somehow spoils their game of monopoly.

Anyway, said tool is a story in itself which started when the bloke set out to do a tyre rotation as part of the service he performed on Truckie. He discovered that some of the nuts proved un-do-able; even when he used a metre-long solid steel bar as a lever, they simply wouldn’t budge. Likely a result of the nuts having been over-tightened when the new tyres were fitted by a muppet who loved the sound of his pneumatic drill.

This problem produced a great deal of frustration for the bloke who had proven himself a dab hand when it comes to changing a truck tyre. And while we could have easily gone to a tyre place to have all six tyres removed, rotated and refitted, he sensibly cautioned against it. “If we need to change a tyre in some remote place in the Outback and I can’t even undo just one nut, then we’re pretty stuffed.”

I reasoned that  ‘stuffed’ was at best an expensive form of ‘temporarily stranded’, the type that we’d heard from a couple of travellers whose credit cards buckled when the remote vehicle retrieval service debited their account. (Positively eye-watering stuff; we’re talking many thousands of dollars just to have your vehicle towed to the nearest service provider.) At worst, depending on your whereabouts at the time it could, of course, result in a calamity that’s no longer counted in dollars.

Much to the bloke’s delight, he came across a reference to a tool that seemed to be the answer to our prayers. (The fact, that he saw it while surfing ‘car porn’, which he knows damn well he shouldn’t be wasting our mobile data on, was generously ignored at that point.)

If you’ve heard about a wheel nut removal tool or don’t share my enthusiasm for clever tools, feel free to skip the rest of the story. Otherwise, be prepared to be amazed. We sure were.

P1080701

Ladies and Gentlemen, here is the tool of tools!

The tool basically looks like a cylinder that fits onto the nut (plus an attached curved ‘leg’ that braces the tool against the adjacent nut), with a crank handle at the end of the cylinder. Inside the cylinder appear to be a bunch of gears that generate the necessary power (akin to a reduction box) that help you undo even the tightest nut, with only one hand turning the handle. It truly works just like that, and it’s seriously marvelous! It was instantly declared the best bloody tool in the box! In due course, it was demonstrated to several other blokes, all of whom were suitably impressed.  I think some even had tool envy.

Thanks to this fancy little number, all tyres were rotated in a matter of a few hours, with the help of Frank (who also succumbed to tool love).

Halfway through the operation, shortly after he’d been labouring to remove the first wheel on the left hand side of the truck, I saw the bloke blush. Not long after, he looked decidedly sheepish … before swiftly removing the wheel nuts with ease. Watching from afar, I got curious and soon discovered the reason for his temporary change of complexion. Turns out that the wheel bolts on the left hand side of the vehicle have a right-turning thread … as the bloke discovered after having done a jolly good job of tightening already tight nuts.

Clearly, the old mantra about nuts and screwing  – “Lefty loosy, righty tighty” – isn’t as universal as one would think.

P1080673

A horticultural nod on the topic of screwing, here’s a seed pod of a Screw Palm

Wet Tropics Rainforests

Having spent much of the last two months in the World Heritage area of the Wet Tropics, I would like to take one last opportunity to rave about the very beautiful and largely untainted rainforests that are so plentiful in this region. They’re the world’s oldest rainforest environments, older than the Amazon, and are without a doubt the most beautiful examples we’ve seen anywhere. This shouldn’t be surprising given that several are world heritage listed in their own right. There’s something to be said for having swathes of rainforests within spitting distance, complete with the mind-boggling diversity of life that they sustain.

P1080186

Learning about their spectacular plants and animals (many are found nowhere else on earth) – and spotting them – has become a great source of enjoyment. And while we’re still utter novices at identifying pretty much anything, we find that great contentment comes from just being surrounded by this truly amazing environment.

The fascination of rainforest seeds and bushtucker: Ganyjuu (black bean) is normally toxic. It has to be cooked, grated and extensively leached before it's safe to eat. The seed pod is roughly the size of a banana.

Rainforest seeds cum bushtucker: Ganyjuu (black bean) is normally toxic. It has to be cooked, grated and extensively leached before it’s safe to eat. The seed pod is roughly the size of a banana.

Unfortunately however, some critters that we (in this instance, that’s the royal “we”) desperately wanted to see, remained elusive. But perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. It leaves us ‘wanting more’ which, as my grandmother liked to say, is a perfect time to stop. Not sure that I should transpose her food based metaphor into the realm of environmental experiences, but it seems to fit all the same.

Thus, we never spotted the majestic Amethystine Python, or – on the cute end of the cuddly scale – the Tree Kangaroo; both of which might be found rather high up in the rainforest canopy during the day. (At night, of course, the python goes hunting which doesn’t strike me as a good time for making their acquaintance; while the reasonably rare Tree Kangaroo gets its beauty sleep.)

Nevertheless, we didn’t give up easily and examined far more animal droppings than I ever thought I’d inspect, in the hope of finding the Tree Kangaroo’s notoriously square edged poos.(Makes you wonder what a certain part of their anatomy looks like, doesn’t it?!) In any event, the extensive search for both animals produced little more than stiff necks, painful stubbed toes and several far-too-close-encounters with creepies and their cobwebs, on account of looking up, instead of ahead. The upshot of this has been that I’ve embraced an old Muslim custom and started walking a few paces behind the bloke. I reckon those Muslim ladies are pretty switched on and probably say something like “let the menfolk think we’re being demure, while they deal with the cobwebs across the path and get rid of the spiders”.

P1080729

Birdsnest ferns are ever present in the rainforests. They are massive but look deceptively small in the photo.

On the many beautiful rainforest walks, including the crater lakes that dot the tablelands (as a present day reminder of the area’s turbulent volcanic past), you see countless vignettes of rainforest life with the soundtrack of the forests’ avian inhabitants. Sometimes you’d be hard pressed not to feel overcome by the deafening bird chorus with its mind-boggling diversity of bird calls. Our favourite – perhaps because it was the first highly unusual bird call we’d heard (back in the rainforests around New England, NSW) – sounds like an ultra-loud warning beeper of some electronic radio device just as it finds a frequency and finally goes bleep. When we first heard the sound, we were baffled and, in absence of knowing the bird by its proper moniker, named it the “Frequency Bird”.  We later learned that it’s actually called the Whipbird, though we modestly prefer our name.

P1080205

My old favourite, the Daintree Palm.

Our fabulous bird book which I mentioned a couple of posts ago is of course a great help in identifying birds, but as we’ve found, it is of rather dubious use when it comes to identifying birds by sound.

If you don’t believe me, see if you can imagine these bird sounds described as belonging to birds that I very recently looked up: The voice of the fork-tailed swift (encountered in Mungana National Park, Chillagoe), for instance is “dzee, dzee, skree-ee-ee”, the Beach Stone-Curlew is “klee, klee-kling”, whereas its cousin, the Bush Stone-Curlew apparently goes “wee-eeer … keeleeoo .. wee-wiff, wee-wiff, wee-wiff”.
I kid you not!

For the Whipbird, it cites an explosive whipcrack by the male, followed by female “choo-choo, wee-wee, awee-awee  or witch-a-wee”.
Need I say more?

Having actually listened to those birds, I’m utterly mystified how the specialists came to transcribe these bird calls. I’d just say that I wouldn’t mind a dose of what they had!

Moving beyond the Great Dividing Range

We’ve criss-crossed the Great Dividing Range many times on our route up the eastern coast and on our various lengthy excursions into the lush hinterland areas. While this isn’t exactly the Alps, it nevertheless isn’t high paced highway driving either, and requires a bit of effort, especially driving a 6 ton rig powered by a slow chugging engine.
Therefore, the prospect of crossing the Great Dividing Range one last time yielded a semblance of relief (who really looks forward to a long and slow uphill route?)  and also brought a sense of closure for our eastern chapter of Australia.

So, from Milanda, we targeted Ravenshoe but first swung by Milaa Milaa – not just to visit the same named waterfalls (very picturesque indeed, but to be honest we’ve seen so many beautiful falls on this trip that we’re almost becoming blasé about them); we actually went there primarily to visit the bio-dynamic Mungalli Creek dairy, where one of our Tableland chums works as a cheese maker.  We figured that this visit would serve as a perfect farewell for the tasteful region. It sure did! We tasted, and stocked up on, some exquisite dairy products (their gorgonzola – and actually pretty much everything else  – is to die for!), saw glimpses of their cheese being manufactured, chatted with the cheese maker and gasped when we saw the impressively long list of awards on their wall. They sure know their whey!
It was a very rewarding visit and a most welcome ‘refresher’ in bio-dynamics.

P1080657

I should disclose that both the bloke and I are fond of natural farming, food growing and manufacturing practices and my first interest, way back in the mist of time, in Austria, was in bio-dynamic principles, long before “organics” was born.

P1080733

Milaa Milaa Falls

From Milaa Milaa, we chose the scenic back road to Ravenshoe (signposted as “unsuitable for caravans”), which proved just delightful, if (unsurprisingly) a tad windy and narrow. En route we camped right next to the not so famous but nevertheless charming Pepina falls. Located on a back road they clearly aren’t a tourist magnet and consequently made for a surprisingly private spot, practically without traffic.

Soon after we got onto the main highway, we were greeted by a sign that proudly stated “Welcome to Ravenshoe – the highest town in Queensland”.  So, I guess it had to be downhill from here on out.

Ravenshoe’s byline had the bloke musing whether it might be a sister town of Nimbim, but he quickly noted that here – unlike in Nimbim – he couldn’t actually smell any incriminating evidence. Smart-ass comments aside, Ravenshoe really is topographically elevated, at a respectable 950 metres above sea level.

Though when we walked around the very tiny town, the locals made us feel like it was much higher up, like some place where there wasn’t that much oxygen. It felt somehow odd and not like our type of place. Maybe it was just a bad hair day for Ravenshoe.

Mind you, I had set myself up for a disappointment long before we got there, by betting that there would be a footwear store in town. I was plum out of luck – there was no Ravenshoeshop. To make up for it, the town featured more blatant spelling mistakes (on official signage, that is) than you’d find in the homework of an entire ESOL class.
It must be the lack of oxygen.

All in all, it didn’t seem to have much going for it. Yes, there are hot springs in the area, but having heard of Frank’s near-death experience and an extremely long illness as a result of an infection picked up from a thermal pool, we skipped the soak and went on our merry way, heading along the aptly named Savannah Way towards Georgetown, the next town 260 km down the road.
Not wanting to state the obvious, but ‘towns’ are most definitely getting much smaller, and much further apart.

P1080196

 

 

Advertisements


4 Comments

Good bye beaches, hello high country

<Most photos can be enlarged by clicking>

The beaches around Cairns and along the gorgeous northern coastline hardly need an introduction.  They’ve long been favourite destinations for local and international holidaymakers alike who practically stumble from one beautiful beach to the next. There’s also the perfectly situated ritzy resort town of Port Douglas that caters for a well-heeled clientele with many stylish shops, galleries and upmarket eateries.

1 Beach port-douglas

Photo borrowed from portdouglas.com

Some years ago we were among the droves that stream into Port Douglas for a tropical mid-winter break. It proved a perfect base to explore a bit of Far North Queensland.

And since we were in the neighbourhood once again, a return visit was on order. We also figured it was high time to reacquaint ourselves with civilisation, especially since we’d spent a fair bit of time in the bush, hung out with hippies and were frankly showing signs of going feral.

Before we knew it, we were surrounded by beautiful people in beautiful clothes driving beautiful cars the likes of which we hadn’t seen in months.
And then there’s that awkward moment when you realise you haven’t shaved your legs in way too long.

Port Douglas, it seems, is good for highlighting one’s slipping standards, or one’s changed outlook. Or both.

On the other hand, it was also nice to do the grocery shopping in a supermarket that carried all the specialist items that we craved but hadn’t seen in a while. Swings and roundabouts, I suppose. Although, going by the prices they charged, they must get them delivered by carrier pigeon or horse-drawn crystal carriage. Come to think of it, they probably also deliver all fresh produce in this expensive manner throughout north Queensland, because the prices we’ve encountered to date are positively eye watering. Want some representative non-special price samples?  Tomatoes $6 – 9/kg, capsicum $6 – 8/kg, potatoes $5/kg, apples $3.50 – $5, oranges/mandarins  $4 – 6/kg, grapes $8 – 12/kg. You get the picture.
I’m starting to notice that the wallet weighs more before we enter the store, than the shopping we leave with.

Thank heavens for the occasional Supermarket specials. If it weren’t for them, we’d probably re-evaluate our quarter century commitment to vegetarianism, or maybe we’d start busking for fresh fruit & vege!

5 Sugarcane Harvest

4 Sugarcane harvest

The sugarcane harvest is well underway in Port Douglas as well as elsewhere in North Queensland.

Anyhoo,  we reminded ourselves that the beaches are world class and headed to the glorious sands  where we plonked our slimming arses (the only positive aspect of high food prices!), slowly adjusting to the novelty of being in a bustling seaside resort for once. It also afforded us an opportunity to do a bit of people watching. A propos – can anybody enlighten me please: when did ladies start carrying dressy handbags for a walk on the beach? I don’t recall receiving that particular memo.

Put da lime in da coconut

One of several redeeming features of Queensland’s northern beaches is the profusion of coconut palms. They’ve become our newest best friends on account of their nuts, specifically the water they contain! For all intents and purposes we’ve become coconut-o-holics; and it’s as much of a surprise to me as to anybody else.

In the past I’d always considered coconut water to be as exciting as unwashed socks, and definitely not worth leaving home for. However, for one reason or another (umm … nothing to do with the well-publicised coconut water craze, ok!) I thought I’d try it again and bought a beautiful swollen coconut for $5 from a market stand and decided to follow the seller’s advice and squeezed some lime juice into it.

Well, what can I say – the result was orgasmic! I reluctantly shared the heavenly beverage with the bloke. Neither of us could get enough of it.

2 Coconut

From the book of shortcuts: if you don’t have a machete, simply drill your way to coconut heaven.

As mentioned, the good thing is that coconuts are plentiful along the beaches. The unfortunate thing is that the abundant bounty is bloody high up in the palms and getting to them, let alone harvesting them, isn’t at all easy, unless you were born into a monkey family. To make matters more difficult still, it turns out that palms are frequently inhabited by green tree ants – rather aggressive buggers with a decent bite that stings alright. However, strictly speaking, they don’t sting – they bite a hole in your skin, then impolitely squirt formic acid into the wound. Sadists!

Anyway, they like to attack in numbers and when they do, I can assure you, they will have you dancing a jig in no time. What’s more, they seem to have a habit of biting aspiring palm climbing nut harvesters in very tender places, between the toes (the big toes, that is).

Deplorably, when the bloke realised that coconut harvesting attempts came with a degree of self-sacrifice, he promptly lost all interest in fostering our burgeoning nut addiction. He went so far as to suggest that only an utter nutter would expect him to accept the risk to life and family jewels. No amount of sweet talking on my part could change his resolve. Cold turkey for dinner.

Rather than dwell on my disappointment, I went for a walk and waited for good fortune to intervene. Barely a few minutes later it promptly did as I stumbled onto more than a dozen freshly harvested young coconuts that had been carelessly biffed into the bushes, presumably by council contractors who regularly castrate the trees to avoid falling consequences.

We soon gorged ourselves on coconut water, with a spritz of lime juice of course. However, I hasten to add that we probably won’t do that again in those vast quantities. It turns out that coconut water is an effective diuretic (I haven’t peed that frequently since I was pregnant) and a mild laxative (thank heavens for our toilet!)
Bodily functions aside, I was in heaven!

3 Coconut drinking

There was only one fly in the ointment. And it wasn’t so much a fly, as swarms of mosquitoes, midges and various other insects of the biting and stinging variety. They seem to find me irresistible and I end up being covered in painful bites regardless of deterrents used, while the bloke is left alone. Needless to say, the coastal rainforest and mangroves are riddled with the little suckers, and I ended up with well over 100 festering bites all over my body. It did not make for a happy time and even industrial quantities of anti-histamines made life barely worth living.

In light of relatively recent outbreaks of Ross River Virus and Dengue Fever (both of which transferred by mosquitoes and long-term fairly unpleasant for the patient) we high-tailed it into the high country.

Delectable Atherton Tablelands

We’d already had a wee taste of the Tablelands when we attended the festival in Kuranda but didn’t have time to look at the area further before heading north to Bushweek.  Now was our opportunity to check out the tablelands well and proper with its main centre of Mareeba, and the attractive country towns of Atherton, Yungaburra and Malanda; each home to just a few thousand people.

The Tablelands as a whole features superbly attractive hilly countryside with native forests, spectacular river valleys  littered with  massive granite boulders, very fertile farmland, and – of huge surprise to us – curiously diverse micro climates: from wet rainforest through to dry savannah, with equally contrasting temperatures that may differ over 10 degrees at any given time!

Just about everything and anything is, or can be, grown here: tropical fruits, coffee, citrus, market garden vegetables, sugar cane, berries, avocados, grains – you name it, they grow it. The communities are equally diverse and prosperous. There’s evidence of an interesting alternative/holistic scene with bio-dynamic farms, organic orchards and various artisan food producers.
It’s pretty much a pocket version of everything you could possibly want.

7 Coffee beans

Cute baby photo of an espresso

Going with the flow – Davies Creek et al.

As devotees of ‘freedom camping in the wilderness’, we always look for great spots and here also, we were lucky enough to find some outstanding camping, several of them next to pristine rivers and often enough courtesy of helpful tips from friendly locals. That’s how we ended up camped in a pretty little private pocket near Koah, right next to the McLeod River which, as we found out, is home to platypus, yabbies (small fresh water crayfish), well-fed eels among other aquatic creatures.

38 Platypus

Pretty cool to spot the shy platypus in the wild

We met the guy who lives on the adjoining property who turned out to be the local cop. After fulfilling his official ‘bad cop’ duty and asking us if we knew that we were camped illegally (“yes, but we’re freedom campers and we leave the place cleaner than we found it”), he proceeded to give us a few other tips of choice camping spots down the road. Good cop.

He also cautioned us not to be alarmed, but a “pretty massive” python lives where we were camped; she’s at the very least 5 or 6 metres by his reckoning.
Unfortunately we never met the snake (or thankfully, depending on the circumstances of any such meeting). For all we knew, it might have been curled up in a tree above us digesting dinner, while we were chewing the fat over our camp fire.

One of the most special spots turned out to be Davies Creek National Park. And that’s a surprise because it wouldn’t have made it onto our radar if it wasn’t for one of the locals who urged us to go there – incidentally it was one of the many fellow Bushweekers we’ve been running into since the festival.

Davies Creek is a mountainous river landscape complete with waterfall, utterly spectacular granite boulders, swimming holes (including an aboriginal birthing pool), in a total zen space. The energy of the place was such that we were bereft of words. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven!

10 Davies Creek Zen

Sublimely serene Davies Creek

It was like some form of adventure playground for grown-ups, and had us climbing around the boulders finding ever more amazing views, stonescapes and that certain je ne sais quoi. As an enthusiastic apprentice yogi (and influenced by our travel buddy Vicki, the Yoga Queen, who finds picture perfect spots for her daily practice) I couldn’t help noticing that several flat rocks were perfect for a session. Said … done. It was a case of ‘you had to be there’ …

13 Davies Creek

Just the best place to ponder life, the universe and everything else

After three days in this wonderland, doing yoga on pretty much every suitable rock, and barely encountering another soul (being there mid-week and outside of school holidays helped a great deal, no doubt), we left this enchanted place feeling like we’d been to a spa for body, mind and soul.
Sounds cheesy, eh?! But boy, it’s true.

11 Davies Creek Impromptu Yoga

Best yoga studio ever

When we got to Mareeba, by contrast – the commercial heart of the Tablelands – it almost felt like we’d entered the big smoke; admittedly more than a slight exaggeration as the town doesn’t even have traffic lights. But what really bothered us were the hordes of caravans and motorhomes that were descending on the town. Was there a mobile home convention, we were asking ourselves? Well, it wasn’t long until some Grey Nomad approached us to ask if we’d be at the midwinter Christmas thingy for motorhomers.  We were proudly told that last year 380 vehicles attended and this year they were looking at cracking the 400 mark.
How, could we refuse?
Easy – say “no” very quickly and run the other way!

About Grey Nomads

At this point, I should declare that we keep more than a safe driving distance from the hordes of Grey Nomads that roam the highways of Australia. We discovered fairly early along our trip that we have very little, if anything, in common. They tend to travel and huddle around in flocks, when they arrive anywhere they immediately start arranging their satellite TV antennae (typically spending an inordinate amount of time on this activity), then they park themselves in chairs under their awning and start drinking with their grey nomad buddies, getting up only to get some bevvies from the fridge, or turn on their noisy generators. And most puzzling of all: for some bizarre reason the guys all wear white socks, and sometimes even ironed shorts.  It’s probably some sort of uniform. Maybe there’s also a secret handshake.
Now, I don’t want to seem uncharitable, but they just seemed to be the most excruciatingly boring people we’ve ever met. Not our scene, no siree! Still scarred from those early experiences, we realised we had to get out of town. Fast.

P Shredded Tyres

Not sure what these people did with their caravan (doing wheelies?) but they sure know how to shred tyres

Chilling out in Chillagoe

We arranged to meet up with Vicki in Mareeba. The plan was to travel to Chillagoe, a small back country settlement way out in the savannah where the dusty Outback slowly merges into the outskirts of the Tableland.

17 Chillagoe

Chillagoe

The town had its heyday in the glory days of tin and copper mining, but still remains relatively popular due to its stunning geology, an assortment of beautiful caves and a distinct sense of remoteness that belies the relatively easy driving distance (160km from Mareeba, the last 30 odd km being dirt road).

20 Chillagoe Landscape

Apart from a teeny-tiny general store, a garage (whose owner, Tommy, has an impressive and surprisingly valuable collection of Fords), an ‘eco lodge’, and a defunct butcher’s shop, Chillagoe also has two pubs which seems generous given its population of 310. Unless there’s a steady stream of thirsty visitors, I’d hazard a guess that the locals get on the piss fairly frequently. Who knows, maybe there really isn’t much else to do?

18 Chillagoe Post Office Hotel

One of Tom’s many fabulous Fords. The hot rod in the background belonged to one of several motoring enthusiasts that arrived in honour of Tom’s 86th birthday celebrations.

The landscape, however, is breathtakingly spectacular on account of dramatic limestone formations, both above and below ground. Geology buffs, I’m told, find it of huge interest as it’s apparently considered the geologically most diverse area in the world – something to do with it having once been the site of an ancient coral reef. There are also literally hundreds of caves in the area (560 known caves!) and they attract a fair number of cavemen or whatever caving enthusiasts call themselves.

23 Chillagoe Mungana

Mountains and ant hills

Quite aside the natural attributes, I discovered a shady side to Chillagoe which reminded me of the regular corruption scandals that involve Australian politicians (most recently former Labor MP “power broking” scum Eddie Obeid). I was amused to learn that tiny Chillagoe had its own massive corruption scandal back in the day. It was known as the Mungana Affair and involved two prominent politicians (premiers of Qld, no less) who initiated the sale of mining properties to the Queensland government, at a grossly inflated price.
And the fact that they secretly held ownerships in the properties will surprise exactly nobody. Or perhaps only those who write letters to the Tooth Fairy, and get a response.

19 Chillagoe Rock

Strong women are not to be messed with!

Despite the historic sculduggery, we left with more upbeat memories of Mungana having visited the Mungana caves and camped (possibly illegally, but hey, at least we didn’t fleece the taxpayer of huge sums of money) amidst a spectacular environment with the most dramatic rock formation as backdrop and nobody else within sight – apart from noisy flocks of birds, especially galahs and, much to my visual delight, there were black cockatoos as well as red tailed black cockatoos en masse. While they proved devilishly tricky to photograph (especially with my compact point-and-shoot-camera) they had us oohing and aahing in unison.

P Black Cockatoo Silhouette

P Red Tailed Black Cockatoos Chillagoe

P Red Tailed Black Cockatoos in Chillagoe

Swinging with Hillbillies in Irvinebank

While in Chillagoe, we got to know Mark, an Atherton resident, who had also travelled through Australia extensively, in fact for some six years. (Does anybody in this country stay put in one place for, like, ever?) We compared notes and found that we’re on much the same wavelength enjoying out-of-the-way places and local events sans tourism hype. We also arranged to catch up in Atherton for some mountain biking.

Just after we made it back from Chillagoe, he sent us a text to say that we might enjoy the Irvinebank Festival. It was being held that weekend.
Hell’s bells! How did he find out that we’re festival sluts?

32 Irvinebank Festival Hillbilly Goats

The Hillbilly Goats

A quick google search revealed that the festival was a free event (hallelujah!) held in honour of mining pioneer John Moffat, with many competitions and live music (hillbilly, honkytonk and bluegrass). A look at the map showed us where Irvinebank was (way out in the wilderness).
What the hell; we figured we hadn’t been on a dirt road for, well, at least a few days now, and besides it would be fun to trek out there and party hillbilly style.
We did just that.

29 Irvinebank

It was a friendly local shindig, organised by the pub in Irvinebank. There were some delightful market stalls, foot tapping live music (The Hillbilly Goats, among others), fair dinkum bush poetry, a clever demonstration of geese being herded by a sheep dog, and loads of competitions (some with jaw dropping performances): sand shovelling, rock drilling, tin carrying (that’s the metal, not the container; 100kg for guys, 50kg for gals), truck pulling, tug-of-war, and more. It was the most wholesome entertainment we’d seen in a long time and there was a real sense that it was a treasured annual community event. Locals who came from near and far had been looking forward to it for months and several of them had been in serious training for their chosen competition ‘discipline’. By Saturday night though, the most popular discipline was clearly beer drinking. And from what I could tell, they’d trained for that too.

31 Irvinebank Festival Bush Poet

Tom the Bush Poet in full flight at the Irvinebank Festival

More tableland fun with truckie and friends

As you may gather by now, it’s difficult to extract ourselves from the Tablelands. There is so much on offer that was yet to be experienced. After all, nobody wants to miss out, right?!

33 Atherton mountain biking

Our friend and guide Mark took us through the paces on Atherton’s Bald Mountain bike track. Note that the name of this particular section is accompanied by copious amounts of blood.

We knew we wanted to start checking out the lakes but had a bit of maintenance to take care of beforehand. That is, the bloke did the blokey thing and gave Truckie the mechanical equivalent of a spa facial, scrub and massage. We were actually super lucky in getting permission to stay on a semi commercial site in downtown Atherton where the bloke could do his thing – out of earshot of anybody who might take offence at his advanced French language skills which tend to emerge when things don’t go as planned. As a matter of fact, things went largely as planned. There was only one little incident. It started when I noted what looked like tiny spiders on me.

The next morning, the bloke asks me to inspect two painful spots on his back. I take a quick look at two black spots through sleepy eyes and tell him that he needs to see a doctor quick. “You’ve bloody well got two melanoma spots!” I said, surprising myself by that. He flatly dismissed my diagnosis and asserts that “nobody gets cancer overnight”! I immediately stop planning the funeral, rub sleep out of my eyes, grab the magnifying glass and take a closer look.
Holy smoke – it looked like two monsters were growing in his back! (It occurred to me that I probably shouldn’t have looked through the massive magnification part). “Eww … gross!” I shrieked and took a photo to prove it. “Ticks,” he declared nonplussed.

34 Atherton ticks

“Be with you in two ticks…”

Right then I remembered the two tiny spiders that were on me the day before. They seemed to be rather‘sticky’ when I tried to brush them off. I eventually flicked them … sort of in the general direction towards the bloke. I couldn’t have known!

In my defence, I did a clever thing and smothered the ticks in tea tree oil which seemed to make them stop moving. In the end though, medical attention was necessary to remove the suckers. However, they were dead on arrival. I’d already killed them.
Just call me “Great White Hunter”.

37 Lake Tinaroo morning mist lifting

Morning mist lifting over Lake Tinaroo

After the mechanical and medical interlude, we headed to Lake Tinaroo, a popular lake that was created in 1958 when the river was dammed, largely for irrigation purposes but also for power generation. We found ourselves a fabulously private camping hideaway, right on the lakefront no less.

35 Lake Tinaroo lakefront

Another tough day on the waterfront, but somebody has to do it

We also met up (again) with our ‘old’ mate Vicki and our more recently acquired mate, Frank, who is the most intrepid adventurer, bushman extraordinare and gifted photographer you’ll ever meet. He has been travelling this great country for eight years now, living out of the back of his converted Landcruiser, amassing a bloody impressive list of adventuring credentials. I very much doubt we’ll ever meet another person who has crossed the Simpson Desert – alone!
Truly a legend!

28 Travel buddies

Frank and Vicki, our dear friends and occasional travel buddies

It’s really nice to celebrate the on-the-road-connections we continue to make, where it’s evident that they’re mutually enjoyable. Several will likely remain friends for a long time and most we’ll never forget. In this vein, we have met up with an array of interesting folks, most of whom are fairly nonconformist, some downright eccentric, but all have been enriching in one way or another. It adds a great deal of colour and social texture to our experience …  and it means that the bloke gets a break from his (sometimes too) vocal half once in a while.
Winners all round.

Photos galore

6 Butterfly

P1080197

P1080201

Entrance to the “Tanks Arts Centre” in Cairns

P1080208

P1080158

Very weird looking bug

P1080154

Bug impersonating paua shell (that’s abalone for peeps on this side of the Tasman).

P1080386

The “Rainbow Bee Eater” – even more amazing in flight, and bloody hard to capture on camera

39 Saw shelled turtle

The “Saw Shelled Turtle” actually breaths through its arsehole. No doubt closely related to the well known species homo politicus.

P1080402

The very cute Peregrine Falcon has an amazing flight pattern, hovering with very swift wing beats over its prey with the sun behind which somehow results in the prey not seeing the attacker. Sneaky hunter!

40 Lake Tinaroo at Sunset

Sunset over Lake Tinaroo (from Yungaburra heights)