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Old 10-11-2012, 10:14 PM   #9
platypus121 OP
CT.110 NZ
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Joined: Nov 2007
Location: Hamilton, New Zealand
Oddometer: 106
Birtles vs Australia

In which there are Sparkling Jewels, a Town’s Tourist Industry is put in danger,
there are two welcome Finds, and Birtles suffers a sorry Mishap.

Cunnamulla to Quilpi
A: Cunnamulla B: Thargomindah C: Toompine
D: Quilpi

Go 66 kilometers west of Cunnamulla and you’ll find yourself in Eulo where the
processing of opals from the Yowah fields is the lifeblood of the town.
This miner’s house doubles as his processing plant and shop.

I wander around the opal exhibits and have a coffee. Lesson for the day is that
Yowah opals are formed differently from Lightning Ridge or Coober Pedy opals.
They are geological oddities with amazing colour displays - but not enough for
me to join those who spend big money on them.

“A carat of good opal is worth more than a carat of good diamond,” I’m told.
I buy a very small one from the hundreds being sorted.

With no middle-men it is just $5, tiny yet perfectly formed, with a display that puts
a diamond to shame … … maybe I could fall in love with opals after all.

The four images below are from the Yowah Opals website : At the lower right is opalised wood.

Lake Bindegolly, between Eulo and Thargomindah where there
are good riding tracks around the lake.

Plenty of pelicans about, too. I’d like to see Jack Sparrow ditch his budgie and
get one of these babies up onto his shoulder - that would make him a real pirate in my book.

Before Thargomindah there is a reserve for a string of mud springs called, very
sensibly, Mud Springs Reserve. The springs once served as release valves for
pressure build-up in the Great Artesian Basin. Irrigation bores now replace this
function. Each spring has created around itself a dough-nut shaped mound
3-4 meters high.

In front of this mound is a more advanced example of stane-stook. This one appears
to be a Grade III attempt - good enough for competitions at regional fairs and exhibitions.

Emus are great fun. They add yet another element of uncertainty to travel in the
outback. Here, a couple on the right side of the road look across to two more on
the left side of the road. They are waiting until we get level with them before they
start playing their favourite game. It’s called -

“Hey, Let’s all run to this side of the road! No, that side! No, this side! No, that side!”

Peggie shouts encouragement to them - “Run ‘til die! Run ‘til die!”

Thargomindah is great fun too, once you learn how to spell it. Birtles reckons it is
even better than Cunnamulla and, although I’m still undecided, he may be right.

It is a tidy town that has everything you would need or want for a comfortable,
if quiet, life in the country. We can’t figure out why it’s not over-run with Grey Nomads
and retirees - perhaps it’s too far from their usual North/South migration routes.
The shire operates the caravan park, so good service comes before profit and this
really shows. It is well maintained, spotless, and run by friendly and helpful people.
The $40 cabin that lures me away from the tent for the night would have
cost $100 in most other areas.

When I hear the manageress talking about London, Paris and Thargomindah as
if there is a close link between them, I ask her to please explain. The local claim,
a foundation stone in the town’s tourist drive, is that these were the first three cities
to have electric lighting. Hmmm … she speaks with an Irish accent, she has red hair,
she probably can handle it … so I tell her about Reefton, a NZ town that also claims
to be first town with electric lighting.

In Thargomindah this is heresy, I might as well say that the Earth goes around the Sun.
Will she summon the Inquisition, set me alight over Birtles’ fuel tank? No, she has
heard foolishness like this before, takes it calmly, and looks at me with quiet tolerance and pity.

“I’ll check that on the internet” her mouth says.

Her eyes are much more eloquent - “ Woe, for Truth is not upon this man. I must
redeem him from his blasphemy. I must Search, Search the Word of Google Almighty
and bring the misguided one back into the Light of the One Truth!”

When I next see her there is a neat pile of printouts on her desk. They bear out Reefton's
leadership in the electric lighting matter and expose Thargo’s claims as a mere fantasy,
a fragile house of cards on fraudulent foundations.

As the one who has seen a local town deprived of its glory, the chance to set the
record straight, to elevate Reefton to its rightful place, is offered to me - I must take
the printouts to the electricity exhibition and prove the displays wrong.

Maybe I’m a lazy bugger, but it would take interest, energy and misguided patriotism
to undermine the town’s claim to fame and I just can’t be bothered. Thargomindians
have a lot invested in the lighting story - all those displays, pamphlets, exhibits - and
they are happy with it. Let sleeping dogmas lie, I say.

Or not. The way those printouts are being straightened and filed, the locals may soon
hear the sound of cards crashing down.

Our best find in Thargo … Thargomindah Caravan Park cabins.
I don’t know if these are the best value in cabins Australia, but it would be hard to better them.

Our second best find in Thargo … Marmite !!!
There were 12 x 250g jars stacked here, a couple of cartons of them out the
back of the IGA. They are sitting on a small fortune!

Marmite is a NZ product that has a dedicated following. It is the type of spread that
you either love or hate, but if you love it, you love it with a passion. My brother lives
in the US and he gets it sent over from NZ - $7 for the big jar, $35 for the postage - that’s
how people feel about Marmite. So, when the only factory that made the stuff burnt down
last year, production stopped and what was on supermarket shelves disappeared overnight.

Some of it is reappearing on Trade-Me and sells at quite a mark-up. At the time of
writing there are 214 lots of Marmite for sale - two typical ones below.
Buy at $2.75, sell at $34 - pretty good profit. The wise ones are hanging on to their
stocks for a year or two until 250g jars of Marmite have reached $200 a jar.

In an attempt to boost the local economy, I do some calculations on how much
profit there could be for the shopkeeper if she ships her supply to NZ, but she is
unimpressed - she’s probably been talking to the caravan park manager.

It is fortunate that the body is so well prepared by nutritious foods such as Marnite,
as today Birtles faces dirt roads. We could get to Quilpi on sealed roads past
Nocundra and through Eromanga, but that is 389 kilometres compared with
195 kilometres, 91 of them dirt, if we go on the direct route over the Dowling Track.

Track (noun)
1. A rough path or minor road.
2. Australia only - Unsealed road ranging from freshly graded dirt highways as
smooth as a new motorway, to goat tracks able to be traversed only in dry weather
by 4WDs with winches and sand ladders. Note that the term ‘track’ does not automatically
imply suitability for vehicular traffic of any type.

We consult the boys. “Climb, climb” urges Grimpeur, pulling forward against his
zip-tie restraints; “Ride ‘til die” shrieks Peggie, gripping the speedo cable more
tightly in anticipation; “… …” agrees Ringie through tightly closed lips.

That settles it - the Dowling Track it is.

My photographs of the Dowling are deceptive. They show what looks like a
typical dirt road, but this one has a surface like cracked glaze and is rock hard.
The area must have been flooded and when it dried the surface cracked open
similar to drying mud on a lake bed. The cracks are big enough to get Birtles’
forks pumping as if he is on corrugations. Unlike corrugations there is no magic
speed at which they smooth out and we progress at 50kph or less, stopping
every few kilometres to give hands a rest from the hammer blows coming
through the handlebars …

… and to pull the front mudflap off the wheel. Quite alarming the first time
it jammed, the screech it makes sounds much more serious than just a rubbing flap.
No matter how many times it happens, when that noise erupts the immediate
response is clutch in, engine off and stop asap.

Towards the end of the ninety-one unsealed kilometres we strike something completely
different … a pair of traffic lights. The second one is about two hundred metres further
on at the other end of a short strip of new sealing.

There has not been another vehicle for more than an hour and I can see the whole
of the controlled area. We stop and wait for the red to change anyway as we are in
Queensland now - there could be a surveillance helicopter hovering about just waiting
to catch a naughty rider. A bit of a smell wafts up into the helmet as we wait and
I assume it is the new wet tar.

Wrong ! At a pub between Thargo and Quilpi we pull over and park outside the
entrance door. As I get off, I see petrol running from the tank area and over the engine.
There is a bit of bubbling on the cylinder head but no flames. Birtles gets short shrift
and at a run is pushed away from buildings and cars. First thought is that the tap has failed.
That would have been preferable to what it really is, a split down the left side of the tank.

By the time the tank is off birtles, there is only a litre of petrol left. It holds eight litres and
the 120 kilometres to Toompine would have used about four of those, so three litres has
gone over the engine. Birtles remains calm and points out that we should be thankful,
first, for the split being on the left - if on the right petrol would have gone over the plug,
and second, for the tank under the seat - it is full and will easily get us to Quilpi.

Top: The split cleaned out, area around split roughened up.
Middle: Knead-It plastic steel forced into the split.
Bottom: Layer of Knead-It over whole area.

Patching and testing the tank took a bit of time, so no photographs of the rest of the day.
Tomorrow we fill the tank - how good is Knead It ?

To be continued …….

BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"

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