footloose and fancy free in oz

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

Atherton Tablelands – the final spread

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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