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Old 11-10-2012, 05:05 AM   #46
Red Zebra
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Old 11-12-2012, 01:02 PM   #47
platypus121 OP
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Birtles vs Australia




ACT 16
Yulara to Oodnadatta


In which the World still burns, we travel on Surfaces most foul, meet the
Gibber Brothers, see decorated Hills, blow up Balloons, and stay in a
Cabin with its own Jug.


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------




From Yulara to Erldunda the road is a continuous roller coaster of gentle
inclines and descents, hardly noticeable in a car, but Birtles sure knows
about them, speeding and slowing as we climb and descend each one.
It would be so tiring on a pushbike … speaking of which … here’s another
one, battling into the wind on an expensive looking bit of kit. This is not your
usual trans-continental rider - he’s English of all things and quotes Nathan Millward’s
epic ride as his inspiration. He is ok for food and water, just needs a bit of
bucking up as the winds have eroded his dedication to the task.
Before we part, a rousing chorus of “Rule Britannia” is briefly considered
but it probably wouldn’t have helped. He may make it to back to Alice,
but to Sydney? … he may be some time.

Yulara to Erldunda seems longer than the same road in reverse direction
where there was always the expectation of spotting Uluru popping up from
the horizon at the top of each crest.





Mt Connor. Those pyromaniacs are at work again.







Erldunda has a good camp area, but it is still early afternoon so we press
on to Kulgera where the statutory backpacker receptionist is German
and very pleasant. She has worked here for two weeks, one week too
long by the sound of it - "I’m stuck here, here where there is nothing! Nothing!"
- and soon she has to return to Germany. She hopes see Uluru before leaving.
I really hope she does, too. What a tragedy to be just a few hundred kilometers
away and not get there.





Somewhere south of Kulgera …







Could this be the very spot where Cracko, Cilla, Phil and Tessy
abandoned the BangWagon after making it to Brissie, doing a spot
of surfing, and then deciding to go to Perth via the Great Central Road?







We enter South Australia, going from Dry to Driest.







At one of the New Ghan crossings Birtles goes down to look at the track.
Minutes later, on the road, there goes a train - a little while longer and
there would have been great shots of Birtles and the train discussing rights of way.







Fuelled at Marla and on to Cadney Roadhouse for the night. The tent
area is better than most and we have a choice of a space. Lucky we
are there early as around five o’clock a tenting tour group arrives and
fills the area.







Kaye and Lyall appear again, so it’s cuppa time. This is the fifth time our
paths have crossed. They spotted Kota about 30 kilometres north of
Kulgera, so he is making good time.


Is it one cuppa too many, or the anticipation of heading into the emptiness?
Is it the buzzing exhilaration that everyone experiences at the apogee of their
travels - when they are on the very brink of seeing Oodnadatta for the first time?
Or could it just be the bloody road trains, charging with blind faith through the
dark a few metres from the tent, engine and tyre noises delicately enhanced
by machine-gun fire from their air-brakes?






Whatever it is, sleep does not come easy. I try counting sheep, the herbal tea
of the sleep-induction world, but they are not potent enough. Like an addict
climbing the drug hardness ladder, I need something with a bit more punch.
Counting cattle might work, there are enough of them being hauled to their
deaths just metres away, but I take the easy option and settle for Zopiclone.


Next morning we leave before Kaye and Lyall are up, missing the promised
eggs on toast breakfast and settling instead for a couple of pages of my
everlasting compressed loaf. The tour group is also up early, ready to go
and able to offer advice on our way ahead. They came over the
Oodnadatta-Cadney road yesterday and say it is rough in places, rougher
in others, and yes, there is sand, plenty of it. Birtles is not daunted.
He sees the group is travelling in Oka vehicles - it will be very different for him.


And it is. The newly graded first 30 kilometers are encouraging. Birtles is
the first to leave his tyre marks on the pristine surface. In the still cold of
early morning we cast long shadows while behind us a two metre high
dust tail loiters above the road for a minute or so then gently settles,
waiting for something a bit more stirring than Birtles 2.75 x 17 footprint.







Far too soon the grading stops: corrugations and sandy patches begin.
In the floodways deep gritty sand sucks so hard on Birtles’ wheels that
he is down to first gear and oft-times comes to a standstill.


In the floodway channels I walk alongside, pushing while revving away
in first. One channel seems to go on forever - Birtles is overheating and
so am I. Fortunately floodways mean trees so we have shade to sit in
while we rest, thinking about swimming pools, comfortable deck chairs,
and a can of Coca Cola - just at the moment when the tab tears off, and
there is that lovely hissing sound and it bubbles out, cascading over your
hand, feeling so cool, so everything’s-right-with-my-world …. and, of
course, we think about the way to tackle the current situation.







There are not many options. More pushing, puffing, and perspiring through
the glue-like grit, then we crest a slight rise, leave the floodway, and the
sand stops … for the moment. The rough surface, peppered with rocks,
that we previously cursed now seems like a gift. Now and then there are
patches of harder rock that have resisted becoming corrugated and we
make the most of them, sometimes reaching 60 kph, then panic braking
as the next batch of sand appears.





Riding off the track into the gibber plains makes a welcome break as
they are glassy smooth in comparison.







On one of the plains we meet the Gibber brothers. Barry and Robin have
prior engagements, but Maurice (below) joins us for the rest of the tour,
showing off his polish and entertaining Grimpeur with a repertoire of
old disco tunes.







“Why would you ride there?” is a common reaction to my route across
deserted areas. ‘Empty’, ‘dead’, ‘uninteresting’, ‘mind-numbing’, and
most of all - ‘boring’ are used to describe the desert and semi-arid areas.
To which I reply: “Balderdash, Sir! Pure bunkum and tommyrot!”


In defense of desert riding: The Cadney to Oodnadatta road is the
most varied we have been on. There has been a graded section,
then gravel, rock, sand, gibber, and dirt surfaces; surroundings have
been semi-arid, wooded floodways, and barren plains; it has been
dead flat in places, rolling in others; temperature has ranged from
moderate to stifling; the light has gone from a gentle glow to a fiery
glare; travel speed has gone from a swift canter to walking pace.

How can this be boring?


Then there is Birtles - he ensures there is never a dull moment. To the
DR rider the Track is just another bumpy road to be smoothed out by
an efficient, long-travel suspension, but ‘efficient’, ‘long-travel’ and
even ‘suspension’ are away on leave from Birtles’ vocabulary.
The DR comes to an easy agreement with the road: we need to go to
arbitration, hammering out a peace treaty for every meter of changing
road surface.







There is one constant here - the silence. Who would think that you could
feel silence as it presses in from all sides like water at the bottom of a
swimming pool? It is so palpable I expect my ears pop. Nature abhors a
vacuum, so when I strain to hear something - anything - the sliceable silence
is filled by the sound of blood rushing through my inner ears.


The feeling of isolation is greater than the Dawson Development Road,
the Mereenie Loop Road or the vast emptiness of the road to Boulia.
Traffic is almost non-existent - a Series 70 Landcruiser passes us a few
kilometers out of Cadney and then Birtles has the road to himself, at least
until we get to the junction with the O-Track proper.





Arkaringa Painted Hills.







A track over the hills is difficult when wearing riding gear but is worth the
effort as it gives some great vantage points.











At the Painted Hills I discover two water bottles have gone missing.
They have disappeared from the handlebars, bounced out of their carriers
right before my eyes without being noticed. I put it down to the tunnel
vision caused by concentrating so hard on the road. Nothing of more
importance is missing, though out here a missing water bottle could be
very important. I have three others, so it is not serious this time.



What is becoming serious is the state of the hands. Pounding over the
corrugations has caused them to swell so that gloves are difficult to put on.
Which (saw it coming, did you?) provides a timely segue into ….


Music for road trips! On long trips SD cards are loaded with
1) Van Morrison
2) Pink Floyd
3) AC/DC
4) Anugama.

From these, there are tracks to fit any situation and match any mood,
though on this trip Pink Floyd has been in demand. PF is seemly for
the exploration of deep space - or the Outback - and the lyrics are often
appropriate. At the side of the road with swollen hands, we select
“Comfortably Numb” :


Hello,

Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone home?

Come on now
I hear you're feeling down
I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again

When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons
Now I've got that feeling once again …








----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



The Cadney road merges with the Track from Coober Pedy fifty kilometers
before Oodnadatta and this is where the real thrills begin. The gravel
thickens, the traffic is manic, unabated, and fast. It’s a motorway compared
with the day’s ride until now and within the space of a mere twenty-five
kilometers, three vehicles pass us, then two more before we reach the Big O.




Sometimes it is hard to see where the road ends and the plain begins.













Oodnadatta’s roadhouse sign breaks the horizon a kilometer from town.
Not quite the chimneys of Mount Isa, but enough to give warning that we
are almost there and should start slowing down - or, if you are the driver
of the ute that has been sitting behind us, speeding up.







We cruise slowly through the town, expecting streets lined with cheering
locals excited by Birtles’ throaty exhaust. There is no bunting, no cheering,
no people as far as we can tell, just an over-slender dog intently making its
way in the opposite direction - what does he know that we don’t?


The campground is checked before committing to a night under canvas
and it is exactly as expected. Looks like it will be a cabin tonight, we’ve earned it.







As long and hard as today’s road has been, worse awaits on approaching
the roadhouse, and there is no cure or escape. A repeat of today’s riding
could not be worse than what is reflected in the windows as my helmet is
removed. Then we go inside.


There are more "assistants" here than at other roadhouses. These are not cheerful
backpackers with seductive accents, these are five teenage girls and to them I
am an irritating interruption to their shrill gossip and busy pretence. I can’t hear
what they are saying, but (Oh-my-God) the script is (So) easy to (Oh-my-God) fill:


"Oh-my-God, someone’s there"
"Shit-yeah, some old dude"
"Yeah, it’s your turn, Pandy"
"Fuck-off Mags, you seen his hair?"



When a cell phone outlet opens here, it will have a ready-made staff, skilled
in customer service, right down to the strategic delay that tells the customer
that being “attended to” is a privilege of which he could never be worthy.
Pandy wanders over, stopping on the way to check shelves and her fingernails,
looks me unflinchingly in the hair and welcomes me to Oodnadatta …


"Yeah, wod-yuh-want?"
Graphic details spring to mind, but I just ask for the cheapest cabin.
"Naaah, got a lug-shoo-ry sweet, $140, last one, nothing else left."
"I'll have an unpowered tent site, then.”
"Or...yuh could-ave a bazic cabin for $65. Only one left."



Pandy reads me like a book, albeit one with large print and “Janet and John”
in the title. She senses a rise in my interest and the saleswoman in her awakens,
she fans her cards and plays the winning ace. Leaning forward, she whispers
huskily … "Even got it's own jug."





I’m only human. I can’t resist a cabin with its own jug. There is a deposit on
the key, in case I do a runner and sneak back into No.3 to make merry with its
own jug every time I’m in town. No worries, though, if I wait around until 8:00am
the next day (or 8:30am if I am German) I get the deposit back.








That evening, while taking flagrant advantage of No.3’s own jug, a count is
made of the bazic cabins. Out of seven, only mine is occupied.
Aaah, Pandy, you little minx!



……………………………………………………………………………………..




Disused railway lines are wretched, distressing things …







… but is there anything as forlorn as an empty playground?
Lower the lights, play a bit of spooky music and it could be a
scene from The Twilight Zone.







I’m really glad I came to Oodnadatta, everybody should visit at least
once if only to appreciate Pandy’s cheerful service and numeracy skills
but it would be a trying place in which to live. Sure, there’s the Railway
Museum (with another key deposit in case you do a runner then sneak
back, etc…) though whether it generates enough opportunities for a
lifetime of fulfilling experiences is debatable.



-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Next morning I call at the shop to collect the key deposit. A voice from
behind the door advises there will be a delay in opening the door as there
is a ‘new person’ in training. I try to imagine what door-opening training
involves while a minstrel entertains me on the verandah.







After three tunes, a word used with some misgivings, the ‘new person’ has
completed her training and is able to open the door. I collect the key deposit,
express my satisfaction with No.3 (especially the performance of its own jug),
give the key deposit to the minstrel so he too may enjoy the railway Museum,
and head south.







In case I forget, we stop just out of town to tick the Big O off my
list of places-to-go-before-I-die.



To be continued ……………….



Bernard
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Old 11-12-2012, 02:36 PM   #48
clintnz
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Location: Rotoiti, New Zealand
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Quote:
Originally Posted by platypus121 View Post


“Why would you ride there?” is a common reaction to my route across
deserted areas. ‘Empty’, ‘dead’, ‘uninteresting’, ‘mind-numbing’, and
most of all - ‘boring’ are used to describe the desert and semi-arid areas.
To which I reply: “Balderdash, Sir! Pure bunkum and tommyrot!”
Amen to that. Maybe it's just the contrast to hilly, green & compact NZ but I also find desert travel fascinating & enjoyable.


Quote:
Originally Posted by platypus121 View Post
To the
DR rider the Track is just another bumpy road to be smoothed out by
an efficient, long-travel suspension,
Being impressed by the suspension on a DR is a sure sign you have spent way to much time out in the noonday sun on postie bike. Keep up the good work.

Cheers
Clint
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The wilderness, the desert - why are they not crowded
.................................................. .....with pilgrims?
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Old 11-12-2012, 04:22 PM   #49
glitch_oz
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Quote:
Originally Posted by clintnz View Post
Being impressed by the suspension on a DR is a sure sign you have spent way to much time out in the noonday sun on postie bike.
Cheers
Clint
You haven't seen him riding his broomstick yet...




Another installment of pure reading pleasure, this yarn is all class.
FAN-BLOODY-TASTIC!!
Hope, the journey never ends...
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A Dozen Years Of Adventures
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Old 11-15-2012, 10:10 AM   #50
platypus121 OP
CT.110 NZ
 
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Location: Hamilton, New Zealand
Oddometer: 106

ACT 17
Oodnadatta to William Creek


In which we find a Lookout on the Level, become bewitched by a Bridge, hit the Dirt,
meet a Tiger, and receive a Prophesy.




---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



It is a barren landscape south of Oodnadatta. North, east and west aren’t too
lush, either. Birtles knows which direction to go as there is only one road
going south - also I have taken the precaution of photographing a road map
at the information board before we leave town.







Many of the Old Ghan structures are still here, preserved by high temperature
and low humidity, waiting for the day they will be turned into the longest,
hottest, most grueling rail-trail ever. Or … a stage of the Tour Down Under
cycle race.







In an almost flat landscape, a “lookout” seems odd, but here it is, towering
a full three meters over its surroundings - the Little Cadna-Owie Lookout …







… sporting an example of the many eccentric signs found around the district,
erected by the late owner of the Oodnadatta roadhouse.







The big attraction for me on the Track is the Algebuckina railway bridge.
The Railway Museum at O has this picture from the early days of the bridge.







Urban legend says the bridge was built for the Murray River but at 578 metres
it was still too short, so it was used here. It’s a good yarn, but that is all it must
be, a yarn. 19th century engineers were capable of measuring the widths of
rivers, even the then undammed mighty Murray. As for ordering nineteen
30.9 metre spans to be made in England without a double check, or not just
adding another span? Naah, don’t believe it.


It is a beguiling structure, almost hypnotic. I know what it is and why it is
there, but without the rest of the railway to testify to its original purpose it
becomes a huge, incongruous illusion. It is hard to look away, and when
I do, there is an urge to spin round to check it is still there, that it hasn’t
disappeared like a mirage or figment of my imagination.


It is an old, rusting railway bridge, no longer of practical use.
But, as an object of awe it’s a champion. I can’t photograph it without
coming over all monochrome, high contrast, and grainy.




Everyone gets this shot, but this one is special to me … it’s mine.





















We are not alone out here, there are others, silently waiting for us to find
them - Chippie and Shardie, artifacts of an age when Rail was King.
Admirers of railway crockery (yes, really) find bridges to be rich sources
of collectibles. Bridges were tempting spots for bored travelers to hurl
empty teacups and plates out of train windows, and sometimes their
retirement from railway employment was made in one piece.

No such luck for Chippie and Shardie, though they still believe that one
day they will be proudly added to collections and be encased in climate
controlled glass cabinets in the company of other railway remnants.
I point out that they may find that rather dull after their free roaming
open-air life at Algebuckina, but there is no changing their minds.
The glass always looks cleaner on the other side.

(Readers under 30 should remember that this was before Gears of War,
Need for Speed, or even Pong. Entertainment was just so much simpler
back then - people made their own clean and wholesome fun, even on
public transport).








Birtles hits the rail trail at Duff Creek Siding …







… and the dirt a little further on.







Between the edge of the shingle and where the sand is banked up a
meter high is the smoothest part of the road and we use it where we can.
This leads to the first “off” of the trip. The bank sucks at Birtles’ front tyre,
pulling his wheel into the deep sand.


He handles it like a gentleman. As the front wheel disappears into the
bank, he veers to the left, crash bar and left pannier scrape along the
banked sand, and he comes to a stop before I am tipped off.


It is not a fall, just a slow toppling into the hot sand, body ending up at
45 degrees, one leg beneath Birtles, the other in the air. Before I can
extricate myself, the road which has been ours alone since O sprouts a
ute. With one leg at still at eleven-thirty, the ute driver gets a wave that
I hope will say "Didn't fall off, just practising a new dismount technique".
I think he was convinced.



You have to laugh - and take a photograph. When the same thing happens
a few minutes later, I skip the photograph. After the next two dismounts,
I decide to save time by skipping the laughing bit as well. Birtles has given
me a gentle warning - push me too far and look what I can do.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


We go a couple of hundred metres off the road to reach this tree for
some shade, then there is the sound of a bike in the distance. It’s Kev
from Tasmania, riding a Triumph XC800, a bike that Triumph have
great faith in, according to their promotions -


“Built to take it. Tough. Rugged. Built to last. Loves the open road, devours
the rough stuff. The one bike that can do it all, Tiger 800XC sets new
standards in the adventure bike sector. With its big wheels and long
suspension travel, the Tiger 800XC just loves getting its claws dirty.
Let the adventure begin.”







Kev has different ideas - no devouring rough stuff or dirty claws for this
XC. Kitty is not allowed into the dirt box so we meet half way between bikes,
then go from one bike to the other, each checking out the other’s equipment.
Kev is awestruck by the technology he sees and takes photographs so
his mates back in Tassie will believe him. When he heads off, it’s my turn
to be amazed by the speed at which bike and rider disappear, leaving just
a plume of dust and the noisy desert silence. He is probably in William
Creek before Birtles and I make it back onto the Track.


When we eventually get there, William Creek so impresses us that we
don’t envy Kev his extra time in the place at all, we even wish that we
were back out in the heat, battling corrugations with a balloon in each hand.




Religious alert !
References to fundamentalist nonsense in next two paragraphs.


William Creek is where water costs three times as much as petrol,
four dollars for a 600cc bottle. That is 666 cents per litre - is it a
coincidence, or a prophetic warning that William Creek is what awaits
us in the post-apocalyptic world? And what is to be made of the
town’s abbreviated name - WC ?

Flushed with the implications, I wander across the road to the pub,
avoiding the four horsemen galloping through.



Pub







Campground







Main street







And that’s about all I have to say about William Creek.



To be continued ……


Bernard
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Old 11-17-2012, 12:14 PM   #51
platypus121 OP
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Oddometer: 106
Birtles vs Australia



ACT 18
William Creek to Marree


In which we see a Snake, Bubbles and Blanche, find Shangri-La in the Desert,
and become Desperate.





----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



A few kilometers south of WC, we see our first snake! I don't know if it is on the
most-deadly list, but it sure looks beautiful, about a meter long and three centimetres
in diameter, glossy brown and slow moving, but not so slowly that it hasn’t
disappeared by the time I stop and walk back. Going into the road bank are
holes about ten centimeter in diameter. Someone in one of those holes could
be in for a surprise.




Coward Creek.
Wycliffe Well brands itself the “oasis in the desert” - Coward Springs is a far
better candidate for that title. Palm trees and a mass of green surround a fast
flowing spring that creates its own small wetland area. Near the spring source
there is a wooden tub big enough for three or four people - even more than four
if you are of slight build, gymnastically inclined, or highly sociable. There are
three bodies already enjoying a spa-like experience in an unlikely location,
but none of them has a Swedish accent so I decide not to join them.
The lack of swimwear also plays a part in my decision.







Camping is just $10 in beautiful surroundings so different from WC where I had
to borrow a hammer to break up a rock to use bits of it to hammer in the tent pegs.
It would have been nice to stay here, but after coming from Cadney Roadhouse,
the extra 74 kilometers would have made an impossibly long a day - besides,
that would have meant missing the Pandy experience (and the own jug).







Off the Track to see a couple more oases.







The Bubbler meets all advertised claims and performs exactly as expected.
Not many things do that.







I forget what this one is called.










------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------




Some place names have a magic about them. Some that spring to mind are
Atlantis, Shangri-La, Valhalla, and Woop Woop. Then there’s ..............

CURDIMURKA

Here the Track presents us with a treat that makes amends for all the hurdles
it has placed before Birtles. It is just an old railway siding, but it makes me forget
what slow progress we are making, and an hour is passed here, soaking up the
atmosphere, watching the kites circling and the swallows that have made nests
in the buildings swooping after insects. The wind in the desert oaks is relaxing.
If Birtles decides to quit, this would be a good place to do it - at least until the
666 water runs out. Caravans clatter over the corrugations on the Track without
turning off. Do they miss the sign, or are they so focused on ending their
rivet-loosening ride that they are willing to rush - even to WC ?

Either way, they miss a transcendental experience at Curdimurka.


Not to mention a yellow and brown butterfly that wafts past - upwind.
How do they do that? I have seen them in winds that slowed Birtles to less
than 50kph, seeming to be thrown about yet still making steady progress upwind.
Birtles could use their aerodynamics to battle the wind.


























------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------




It is not the road that calls me away from Curdimurka, it is the need to complete the
next stage to Marree, past Lake Eyre South.







The balloons inflate again.







Someone else got sick of the corrugations, and has done something about it.







The results of dehydration out here can be severe.







My 666 water is gone. I know it’s time to get into Marree and to down a cold
ginger beer or two when things like this start to appear…







But, the Track has no mercy and the corrugations continue. Distance markers
creep by more slowly and with less than 40 km to go I pull onto a "No entry without
permit" track, leave Birtles in the sun making a buzzing sound and find some shade
in which to strip off. Could have a touch of the sun. I'm not thirsty, not hungry,
just weary - but I sure wish those pixie things would stop jumping around me like that!

The riding jacket is cool from sweat when it goes back on and the buzzing noise is still
there, coming from the small electric toothbrush that has been bumped on who knows
how long ago by the rough ride.







At the far end of a straight, twenty kilometers out of Marree, there is a flash of warning
lights that grow into ..... road graders! Two of them working in tandem on the same
side of the road, my side, leveling bumps and corrugations to create a smooth, hard
surface like that we had for the first thirty kilometers out of Cadney Roadhouse -
just pity about that 526 km middle section!



Must be nice to have a job that everyone loves you for.



A week or two later the whole Track would have been graded and all the drama
avoided, but then I think that it is better the way it turned out because we have now
ridden the Track at its worst and at its best.



-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------










Marree, the town that claims "A hundred years romance with the railway" comes
into view from the top of a final crest. I don't feel romantic, just relieved and too tired
to make much conversation with the three Birdsville-bound postie riders filling up
at the servo. Checking out Birtles and pointing to their unburdened bikes and the
4WD support vehicle filled with spare parts and replacement engines, one of them
says "It feels like we're cheating".
I feel like sleeping.







Free camp is made in the hotel grounds. A quick wander about town, food at the servo
and then race the sun to bed. The wind comes up and rips at the tent. I don't care.
Tomorrow there is a final 80km dirt stage before the seal starts at Lyndhurst.





Obsolete forms of transport at Marree.







Hot sun and disused machinery like this locomotive always get me wondering.
How many thousands of hours went into crafting and assembling all her bits?
What is happening to all those work-hours stored up in her components - are they
lost forever, or are they being slowly released as the parts disintegrate? Is there a
way of extracting all that exertion? And, if the energy put into making the parts can
be collected and stored successfully, is it ethical to reuse it without reimbursing
the original generators of that energy?

















Another desolate Twilight Zone playground.







Marree hit us right between the eyes with this one. After struggling through
600 kilometres of dirt and dust, some lazy bugger expects us to just give him
our hard-won trophies of the Track. Not likely, he can do the hard yards
and collect his own bulldust.





The cheek of it !
You wouldn’t find that sort of thing in New Zealand.





To be continued ……….



Bernard
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Old 11-18-2012, 11:25 AM   #52
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Birtes vs Australia


ACT 19
Marree to Flinders Ranges


In which we get Wind, become Pregnant, disturb a Burial,
lose Sleep over Hermione, see a Gum Tree.




----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



During the night the wind picks up, coming in ever sharper squalls until it almost
pulls the tent over. The guy in a tent close by gives up and gets a room. His now
unballasted tent pops its pegs and makes a bit for freedom, blowing around the
camp area like a tumbleweed. There’s an early start under a sky loaded with clouds.
If it rains the road will turn into a skating rink and we will be stuck here - or stuck
there, if we still decide to leave. The weather starts badly, then, praise Soichiro,
the sun breaks through and the sky clears.








The monument to John McDouall Stuart is not a very good likeness of him at all,
looking more like Robert O’Hara Burke on 27th June, 1861.







As I circle the structure it looks more and more like a megalithic site, where
the forces of Nature may be tapped; the cusp of universes where any with the
key may soar into the fifth dimension and beyond, freed from the surly shackles
of mere physical existence. As this dawns on me, the urge to climb and paint
a smiley face on the head fades - now all I want to do is unlock its power.


The usual things are tried: lining up the stones with the mid-winter sun; passing
my hand through a hole; cracking an egg on the statue’s knee; blowing three
times on a daisy while standing on one leg and pressing on the statue’s right
leg with my left thumb. None of these well known and usually sure-fire methods
has any effect. I remain three dimensional and earth-bound.


There are no clues to how to make all my wishes come true. In desperation I take
a punt and crawl between the statue’s sturdy legs … and instantly feel much better!







Even before we leave, the ulcer has gone, thinning hair is growing back, the
warts have dropped off, and I am pregnant with twins.


-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



We pass a solo emu. It acts wisely and runs away from the road. It keeps
on running into the distance, straight through a group of kangaroo who also
start fleeing. They are last seen disappearing behind their own cloud of dust.
Maybe they are like people - sensible on their own, a wee bit silly in a group.







Farina ruins are close by the Old Ghan line, which has been turned into a
walking trail, but as the sign shows, it is exceeding short.











Farina camp ground - better than it looks in the photograph. If I rode the
Track again, Farina and Coward Springs would replace Marree and WC
as stopping points.







Approaching the Upper Flinders Ranges.







How can anyone say Rural Australia is empty - it’s full of
contradictions for a start.







Off the main road at Parachilna, heading to Blinman where I plan to stay the night.







The folk at Blinman pub have tent sites. Despite carefully straightening my
hair before entering, they do their best to discourage me - the ground is
too hard and not level, facilities are not as good as they could be, the camp
is very exposed. Nothing is right about their camp area according to them,
yet I had already taken a peek and think it would be fine. When they start
suggesting that I would be better off (and safer, too) staying at Wilpena Pound,
I take the hint and do just that.

Better to stay clear - give them time to clean up the bloodstains and bury the body.


At Wilpena I book in for three days and choose a camp site as far as possible
from centres of population, close by the boundary fence and right by the
place where the Heysen Trail passes through. Nice and quiet.







And so it was … until two buses sign-written St Aloysius pull up and girls of
assorted and sometimes eye-catching proportions spew out, yammering and
shrieking. They set up a score of tents, considerately far from most others,
inconsiderately close to my doorstep. The noise grows louder at meal times
with the clattering of dishes adding to the verbal mayhem that continues until
well after I should have been asleep. When the row settles a bit, it is possible
to discern individual voices - "Jacinta, have you got my nail file?"

There is no lie-in the next morning. The bereft one is continuing her quest -
"Cordellia! Wake up! Did you borrow my nail file?" I have to get away from
the confusion of voices that is winding up for another day of multi-tasked babble.




Follow the signs to peace and quiet ….










Walking a couple of solitary kilometers on the Heysen Trail where all is
calm and soothing I decide that co-existing within earshot of the girls of
St Trinians is not possible - the tent will have to be moved. Then, lo, back
at camp, the world brightens and the birds sing sweeter. Their tent city
is being dismantled. Camp Mother does her best to squeeze helpfulness
from her charges, but seems to be doing all the work herself, in between
which she quizzes lounging individuals - “Now, Victoriana, tell me, you
haven’t got Hermione’s nail file, now have you? She’s really upset.”


Within an hour the St Aloysius busses lumber off and their trails of dust,
shrieks and squeals evaporate into the distance. All disruptions gone, peace
returns. It gets even better that evening when, in the dirt, I find a small nail
file engraved with the letter “H”.











The roads through Bunyeroo and Brachina Gorges are shockers, and this is
after I had promised Birtles that the Marree to Lyndhurst stretch would be the
last of the rough stuff. Bush flies are thick in places so on goes the Bushman's
80% DET, an invitation for a dozen more flies to join the un-repelled long-term
residents who are walking on my face, climbing up my nose, spelunking in my
ears and skating on my eyeballs. They really love that Bushman’s.







You will have seen this one before …





… maybe not with a CT, though.







As I leave to climb to a viewpoint over the Pound, a mother kangaroo and her
independent joey squeeze through the boundary fence and head into the camp.
Dad is too big to get through the fence so he watches them until they are out of
his sight, then moves away from the fence. He stays close and periodically scans
the camp for signs of their return. His actions are those of a concerned human
parent yet human conceit prohibits granting such a parallel. Besides, wouldn’t
the road train industry slow right down if we acknowledged Skippy had feelings
similar to those of Marge, Davo, and Aunty Becca?







On the way to the lookout I get ahead of other climbers so that when I reach
the top I can have a private photography session with the boys on the edge of
the cliff. The flies are not bothering me anymore. I have learned my lesson and
avoid the Bushman’s, but others are suffering: "Give me the Bushman’s, dear,
I'll have to put a third lot on, the flies seem to be getting thicker".








The Cazneaux Tree just outside the Pound is certainly a big old beauty, but
no grander than many other eucalypts in the area. This one just got lucky.
Cazneaux's photograph of the tree became his most famous, dragging the
gum with it, far enough into fame for the tree to get its own roadway in from
the highway and a couple of explanatory signs.





All trees should be so lucky!




To be continued ………….



Bernard
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Old 11-19-2012, 10:33 AM   #53
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Birtles vs Australia


ACT 20
Flinders Ranges to Murphy’s Haystacks


In which we get Grimaced at, see a Big Bird, there is Green everywhere,
we think Wattles are Over-rated, and come to believe in Fnerko and Haystacks.



---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Wilpena to Port Augusta is a gradual descent so Birtles seems to have more
power and has to be restrained from exceeding his speed limit. Which, after
some other much more creative and amusing interpretations, is what I eventually
figure this sign is referring to - keeping speed at a safe level. (I prefer the
interpretation that involves soft shoes, a nun, and an interestingly shaped turnip).







No turnips here, off the Eyre Highway where we take a break …







… and rescue yet another sleepy lizard from the road. Evolution has done an
exemplary job of equipping this guy with a defense mechanism against small
nervous predators that are terrified by the colour blue. Against everything else,
he’s defenseless - even his bite is like being chewed by a Gummy-bear.







The Eyre Highway is busy with trucks heading to and from Perth, and bored
drivers who are ignoring the signs about the soft shoes, nun and turnip.


Kimba is the furthermost I get before needing to set up camp. As darkness falls,
I search for Kimba’s claim to fame, the Big Galah. It is big, and it is a galah.
It also marks the half-way point between the east and west coasts - probably
the most useful thing a galah has ever done.







After weeks of red, orange and brown, the Eyre Peninsula, swathed in a blanket
of green, is both a relief and a bit disorienting. Parts of it look like I am back
in New Zealand.







When a mist rolls over the camp next morning, the illusion is complete. I have
been abducted by aliens, probed, and returned to earth in a different place -
just north of Ekatahuna, by the looks of it.






Yaaaaaaaaa…….HaaaHaaaHaaaaaaa
A spoil-sport crow teleports me back to Kimba.


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


At Wudinna I look for confirmation that it is a town with a secret as claimed
in the book Twisting Throttle. What I find is another Big Thing, one with much
more class than the usual BT’s, an eight metre, 70 tonne granite statue celebrating
the achievements of Australian farmers. Sun, wheat and sheep are represented
on this thoughtful work. John McDouall Stuart would be fulsome envious.







Much further west and we will leave the range of Australia’s floral symbol, the
Golden Wattle. It is on the coat of arms, has been on three postage stamps,
and inspired the green and gold uniform of sports teams.




I’d put money on nine out of ten people thinking that one of the gums would be
a better tree to represent the country. They grow in every state, are more useful,
and are a whole lot better looking than an unkempt acacia.






The brochure from the Port Kerry roadhouse says my next stop, Murphy's Haystacks,
are 26 km further west and have to be seen to be believed.
That puts them firmly in the same shoebox as the Yowie, UFOs, crop circles, and
honest politicians. I’m eager to see, and eager to believe.


The entrance sign at the Haystacks is a nail in my inner tube of expectation.
Geological facts strip away the suspense that has been building since I read the
brochure. They force upon me that these formations are not the work of dream
time monsters, nor are they encrypted messages of long dead civilizations, even
the possibility of landing beacons for alien spacecraft is denied me.
No, they are inselbergs. No mystery, no magic, no wonder … just your plain old
everyday inselbergs, that’s all.

I’m not going to let a scientifically accurate sign spoil my enjoyment! I will think of
Murphy’s Haystacks as I choose - free of cold logic and boring common sense.




Look! There are a couple of them now, two of Murphy’s Haystacks (or as I like
to think of them, fossilized spaceships) just to the left of Murphy’s Water Tank.







Remains of reception dishes for gamma-ray communication devices used
on the alien spacecraft.







Mooring bollard for the Giants’ ships that in ages past sailed along the
coast, trading with the aliens.







Pieces for the board game Fnerko, played by the Giant sailors, but never
mastered by the aliens. There is no modern day equivalent of Fnerko,
although some think it may have been like a cross between hockey and dominoes.







Another view of the vast array of gamma-ray aerials.






The coin makes a metallic noise as it hits the bottom of the donation tin,
its fall uncushioned by other coins, washers, bottle tops or buttons - the
current Mr Murphy isn't making much hay today.


I have seen. My step is light as I make my way back to Birtles, ready to
take on the world with confidence and conviction. I believe.





To be continued …….


Bernard
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Old 11-19-2012, 11:26 AM   #54
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Hi Bernard, I am really enjoying your style of writing. Its good fun, looking forward the rest of your journey.
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Old 11-19-2012, 11:32 AM   #55
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Birtles vs Australia

Thanks, David,

Not far to go now.
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Old 11-20-2012, 11:17 AM   #56
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Birtles vs Australia


ACT 21
Murphy’s Haystacks to Elliston


In which we see Big Birds, Escher steps, a Pier with old Love Letters,
and a Camel swimming Home
.


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



After the fossilised alien spacecraft, there is a short backtrack to Port Kenny
where Birtles visits the seashore, meeting pelicans and gulls.







Bigger than your average sparrow.







Talia coastal caves are signposted with one of those unhelpful signs that tells
what, but not how far. It turns out to be a fair trek, but necessary - anything described
as a geological wonder is worth a few kilometers of gravel.




Getting to the caves involves a series of staircases reminiscent of an Escher painting …















The caves are cut by wave action into the shoreline.
Worth seeing - probably not quite geological wonders.







The views from the cliff tops, now they are wonders !







----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Elliston campground does not differentiate between powered and unpowered
sites. To this confirmed Socialist, it sounds splendidly egalitarian, smashing
the barriers between the high and the low, between the haves and the have-nots,
between the Voyager Majestic Supreme (with annex) and the leaky,
single person K-Mart tent.


In reality, it just means that everyone pays for a big, powered site whether it is
needed or not. The Voyager Majestic Supreme, with its annex and tow-truck,
spreads over forty square metres, runs three air conditioners, a wide screen
television, electric barbeque and a kitchen full of appliances. My tent uses no
electricity and including Birtles’ parking space, takes up less than four square metres.


For the caravanner, it is a deal to good to refuse.
For the tenter, it is a wee bit irksome to be subsidizing the rich.
Courage, comrades, the revolution will come!


In the kitchen/dining area it might very well have started in the form of fellow
tenters Ben and Linda. They look like they are in their mid-twenties, but from
all the places in which they have lived and worked, they must be somewhat older -
unless they started travelling when they were four. They have the TV on,
the fire is lit, a jug is boiling, empty stove elements are glowing, and the microwave
is rotating. "We had to pay for a powered site, so might as well use everything"
is Ben’s answer to capitalism’s exploitation of the working class.





Usually unpowered tent sites are far removed from the powered caravan area, but here
in this hotbed of non-differentiation, it’s all into together, so I set up next to a power point
and a lamp stand - might as well use everything, right?


Two matching Prados towing matching caravans arrive and park on either side of the tent.
Occupants get out and look hard at my setup. In the spirit of road-trip bonhomie I open
with that sure-fire gambit: "Howyagoin."
No-one expects hugs and kisses, just an echoed “Howyagoin” would do.
Instead, the wife of the eastern couple whines "Looks like we will just have to do, then."
A shrug of shoulders, crestfallen looks at husband and at the western couple,
"We'll just have to do, just have to do".

“Yep, we’ll just have to do”, the western male manfully agrees, and that settles it,
both couples will just have to do.


What they will have to do is not clear, but what I wish they would do is park in any of
the dozens of alternative sites as Westie is blocking the sun and Eastie’s door opens
onto what would be my back garden if I had one - right where the petunias would be.


More just making do, then Westie drives off, does a half-loop and parks in the same spot,
but facing the other direction. Eastie drives off, does a full loop and parks on the other
side of Westie, ending up facing the same direction. I’ve seen my first game of
musical chairs with caravans.


I can only think they were annoyed that they were not able to park either side of the light,
but if that was it, why they didn’t simply go to another light?
The mysteries of caravanning are beyond this simple tenter. At least there is no more
glaring … and my petunias are safe.





Sand patterns at Elliston






Elliston seaweed







Elliston pier. I start to walk to the end of the pier at about 8:30pm. The pier lights are
dim and so far apart that, in the sections of inky blackness between them, it is hard to
trust that the pier will still be there under the next footfall. No moon, no sound other
than the lap of water on the piles. Halfway, I stop in a puddle of dim yellow in the middle
of a black universe, just the place to imagine tentacles reaching up out of the sea and
wrapping around my ankles. The walk back is a lot quicker - the horse world would
think of it as a trot. Tomorrow I will definitely go right to the end.
The tentacles will have gone by then.















Start packing at 6am, but everything is so wet that I decide to wait. Birtles is moved
close by the nearest caravan and gets a bit more of a warm-up than is necessary.


I walk the pier as the sun is rising, right to the bus-stop at the end.
No tentacles, and also no graffiti other than the initials MC and JR, carved into the
planking. M and J must have come equipped with a sharp chisel and hammer as
the wood is as hard and dense as railway sleepers.








Where they are now? Do they come back every so often to relive that night of frantic,
secretive chiseling? Or was Mike fated to die in WWI, their children to be lost to
childhood diseases, and Joyce to manage the farm as best she could until, at thirty-seven
and already worn out, she is fatally bitten by one of Australia’s Most Deadly?

Just wondering.










By 9am things have dried out, Westie and Eastie are hovering about, eyeing my site
covetously, warming up the Prados and ready to relocate once my tent comes down.

As it must.



To be continued ….


Bernard
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Old 11-20-2012, 02:14 PM   #57
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When you first came up with that idea of "doing the lap" on a Postie, I vividly remembered our Midgets-to-the-Cape ride and thought: "better you than me".

Seeing how this turned out though...I should've gotten Eugene ready and gone along.

There's also something to how your pics are subtly changing the longer you've been on the road.
Said it before...this yarn is setting new standards, it's absolutely outstanding !!

I'll also give Birtles a wash and shine on the weekend, poor little thing is wasting away under the cobwebs at the rear of the shed :

Well done, mate...well done!!


PS There'll always be "Westies" and "Easties"....they're just small-minded decoration adding to the general texture of the big picture.
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Old 11-20-2012, 04:26 PM   #58
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Thanks Pete,
(and for hanging in there, it's been a long one).

Pics changing? Do you mean the lack of food pics lately? Sorry about that, but I felt
obliged to stop doing meal reports after complaints from the health authorities - they
reckoned that hospital admissions for bikers with nutrition related problems tripled after
the road report started.

Thanks for caring for Birtles. Tell him I will return one day.

Cheers,
Bernard
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Old 11-21-2012, 01:21 PM   #59
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Birtles vs Australia


ACT 22
Elliston to Lincoln National Park


In which we see ugly Sheep, Little Bobby loses Brownie Points, Hope is fading,
we frighten a Snake, and we farewell an Old Friend.



-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------




The green and pleasant lands continue. No wonder the rest of SA is so dry,
the Eyre peninsular gets all the rain.


Not that these shoreline succulents need it.







Crikey, these sheep are ugly! Rams at a Princess Leia look-alike contest.
Don’t think there’s a winner here, though the farmer must like them - each
one has a blue heart-shaped mark on its back.







Farmer McDougall got really cross when he found out Little Bobby hadn’t
turned off the pump when the trough was full !







Sheringa Beach has sheer cliffs, pounding surf and white sand dunes.
It’s so pleasant that Birtles wants to go nowhere else.







Ho-humm, just another beautiful beach all to myself.







I have a hard time keeping Birtles away from the cliff edge.







A lovely crop of Yellow ready for harvesting.











In NSW we passed through a location optimistically named Mount Hope.
SA’s version is not so optimistic. How long before they lose all hope?







Port Lincoln is not a big city but it is big enough for me to get lost.
The woman at the servo doesn't know where the RAA is, although she
thinks there is a “car place” three streets down on the left just after
a pedestrian crossing. She is correct, but as I don't really need a new
Toyota at the moment, I carry on looking until, success, the colours of
the RAC building come into view.

Armed with a map of South East Australia we are ready for the next
major navigation challenge - getting out of Port Lincoln and into the
Lincoln National Park for the night. The Park’s self-registration station
flummoxes me with its Day of Entry question. With no need of date,
day or time for so long, it could be Shrove Tuesday for all I know,
so I take a stab at it and write in Today.



The camp spot at Lincoln NP is perfect. Right by the steep cliffs,
with Port Lincoln on the other side of the bay.







A glossy snake is already here, politely moving away when we arrive.
A couple of blurry photographs of Slippy are all I manage to get before
he disappears into the bushes.








Mental note: wear Tevas for nocturnal motion(s).




Just as we are both cooling down, getting into the mood of the spot,
some nomads arrive. I glare at them and mutter “I'll just have to make
do, that's all"
. They leave. Whether it is the making do, the socks drying
over Birtles' mirrors, or the thrusting stabs with the pocket knife doesn’t
matter - Slippy and I are left in solitude.


Funny ol' world, in’it? Kids are not allowed to ride their bikes on the road,
or swing on a rope, or face challenges greater than the automatic doors
at Coles, yet I can set up camp with a snake, next to the world's highest
long-drop - and not a Health and Safety Officer in sight.







When the sun goes down, real darkness takes over. The faint glow-worm
lights across the water at Port Lincoln are useful only to warn me of the
direction in which it would be sensible not to walk, and the anorexic moon
is fast disappearing in the west. A small campfire gives a subtle ambiance
to the scene, doubling as a Koala deterent. As a further precaution,
I loosen Grimpeur’s zip ties.



Crunchy is added to the flames. Crunchy has been with me since
Thargomindah, adopted from the general store along with a jar of
Marmite that has long since been left at some camp kitchen along the
way. Crunchy has sustained me for weeks, I would be pounds lighter
if not for him, but there is no room for sentiment in this camping game.
Besides, I now have a newer, slimmer model, a small jar of smooth
peanut butter.



When the flames of Crunchy’s pyre die down I zip up the tent and settle
for the night, playing some Van Morrison to cover the slithering sound
coming from the bushes - “Slim Slow Slider” seems appropriate.





To be continued …..


Bernard
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Old 11-22-2012, 12:37 PM   #60
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Birtles vs Australia


ACT 23
Lincoln National Park to Broken Hill


In which we Leave Signs, see Socrates’ dad, meet an Angel and stay two Nights,
muse on Mr Horrock’s sad Demise, walk with Alligators, almost see the
Emperor’s New Clothes in Broken Hill.


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------




Last night's clouds turn to rain in the early morning. It is gone by sunrise and
I have a million dollar view from the long-drop.







Signs are left for anthropologists to interpret: “In the Long Ago, a magic
starfish came from down south. Here he came out of the sea and walked
onto the land. In one hand he carried a fire stick, in the other, a 2.75x17
Shin Cheng tyre ….”








Leaving our fire stick behind, we set off to the main reason for coming here,
stromatolites, which are found in another part of the park. At Sleaford Mere
we get directions from a couple of ancients who are out for a stroll. One is
clean-shaven, the other has a beard fit to thatch a gazebo. At the word
stromatolites, they both start to beam. Stromatolites seem to be their reason
for living there - possibly for living itself.

"They are right next to where we live," boasts Gillette, taking credit for
their location, "just by the cottages at the lake".

Methuselah, beard rising and falling in the breeze like a semaphore flag,
looks dreamily into the distance and says
"Stromatolites….. Ahhh ... from the dawn of time, the dawn of time.”
(Wistful pause) “Stromatolites. You know, we wouldn't be here without them".


Appearances suggest he knows their history from personal experience.
I agree they are indeed venerable objects. I wish them no harm, just want
to pay my respects. Gillette likes this idea so much he tells me to go through
his cottage garden where I’ll find a path that will lead me to some of
the better ones.


They are there, ancient and crumbling, mere shadows of their former selves
and more like mounds of rock than once-living formations, some left high by
earth movements and sea level changes, some still in the water.







It is unlikely that any of the ones here are still active, but their kind once pumped
the first oxygen into the atmosphere, enabling all other life to follow.
Methuselah is right, without these ugly buggers there would be no human life.







I see one that may have helped fuel Socrates’ lungs, others that might have
fed da Vinci, Dickens or Lenin. I thank them for their aeons of toil on our behalf.
But, just wait until I find the one responsible for Justin Bieber - it’s going to
get a right old kicking.











Fish enclosures in Boston Bay.







Cowell sees us join Ben and Linda’s Revolutionary Movement and raise barricades
against the disparity of camp charges. It's "No thanks" to the lady at the camp
who offers a $29 tent spot, the same paid by two people with a 4WD and caravan.
She's not bothered, there's a stream of caravans lining up to check in.
The second camp does little better.




We push on to Whyalla.











Where, at the Whyalla Foreshore Caravan Park it's even worse. There’s a Butlin’s
holiday-at-the-seaside atmosphere and $36 for an unpowered tent site - $46 if it
has a view of the sea. It's hot, I'm grumpy and want to get settled for the night,
but I'm not paying two times the usual rate, whether I can see the sea or not.
It feels wrong to patronize this mob and confirm their right of extortion by
agreeing to it.


A final sweep turns up the Whyalla Caravan Park a few kilometres south, off the
main road and passed un-noticed on the way into town. It’s a quiet haven after
the hoopla of sites with sea views, and Kerry is a real gem.







She has a tent site for me for just $10, and …. since you look so hot after your
ride, here's the key to caravan 13 so you can use the air conditioning to cool
down before pitching your tent. No, hang on, number thirteen isn't booked tonight.
It's only small, but you can stay there if you like - save you putting up the tent.


I ask how much, not wanting to spend an expected $70 for a caravan when a
cheap tent site is available . "Just the ten will do", she says.

Here is a photograph of Kerry to prove she is real. Again, I manage to time it
perfectly to capture a blink.







The caravan is great, the air conditioning is a boon, the camp area is so much
better than Butlin’s, and Kerry restores my faith in whatever it was that I had
lost faith in.

After a shower and some housekeeping, I return to reception to check that I
had it right. Yes, $10, and since it's not booked tomorrow I can have it then,
too. "Give you time to see the sights. Don't worry about paying now, do it when
you hand the key in".



This is Ross River over again. When I do the shopping, I buy Kerry a box of chocolates.







While working on Birtles, there is a visit from an elder statesman of the caravan
world, eager to share his travel knowledge. He rolls out a long list of colour-coded
warnings. Opal petrol will rot your motor, they put stuff in it so the Abos can't sniff it;
don't stop near black marks on the roads, they are squashed Abos who were
sleeping on the road; always lock up your gear when there are Abos about, they'll
nick everything; never stop for an Abo, there will be a dozen more waiting in the
bushes for you.

How he knows all these things? “Take it from me, mate, straight from the horse's
mouth. Done a bit of travelling, me. Even went to Queensland once!"


Sounds like it's coming from the opposite end of the horse to me. After a sermon on
road safety peppered with dark dangers, my advisor ambles off to his caravan.
It is on blocks and looks like it has been that way for years - it’s too dangerous to
travel these days, what with all those Abos out there.







It's cold and misty as I leave No.13, my sanctuary from the rain last night. Past the
Coromals, Viscounts, Wayfarers, Jaycos and Supremes, leaving the key in the box
and Kerry’s chocolates in the fridge of Lucky No.13.



Point Lowly lighthouse, a proper one. None of your angle iron towers with a pathetic
LED on top. The sandflies like it too, and are so thick that I leave the helmet on.







Horrock’s Pass. A very nice ride - well done Mr Horrock !







Sadly, Horrock joined that proud elite of explorers who were shot and killed by their
own camels. The naughty camel gets no mention on the memorial plaque and the
fatal shooting is sanitized to Horrock being accidentally wounded. Even hardy
explorers have their pride.







Then, to Alligator Gorge by a very steeply undulating road.
Not an alligator in sight - fossilised sand patterns are what give the gorge its name.















Walks up and down the gorge and then Birtles is harassed out of there in first
gear and full throttle for most of the climbs. Across the road from the Alligator
Gorge turnoff is the Wilmington Beautiful Valley CP where I meet another long
distance Japanese cyclist. This one has come from Perth and is heading for
Adelaide - no problems so far other than a broken spoke. Unusually for a lone
rider, this one prefers silence to conversation.


We are in SA’s early wheat growing area, established after a run of high rainfall
years. The many ruins testify to the determination with which settlers battled,
believing that they could overcome Nature.







Good pub-quiz question -
What seven letter town name uses only two different letters ?







Peterborough uses the full Scrabble set.







I had expected the road to Broken Hill to be flat and straight, but it is constantly
rising and falling as it passes through the many ranges. There are plenty of
roadside rest areas - few of them with toilets. In this area travelers have to
toughen up, exercise control over their bodies and rise above basic human
functions … or just make do. Consequently, there are rest areas littered with
tissues where the weak and un-self-controlled had to make do, just had to make do.


Heeding The Horse’s Mouth at Whyalla, we try not to look at black marks on
the road, yet those I do notice are remarkably like skid marks - could this be
a flaw in Mr Ed’s advice?


Petrol at Yunta, where three riders on dirt bikes ask about Birtles and are not
easily convinced that I am travelling alone. Every few sentences the conversation l
oops back with phrases like "On your own?" "Without backup?" "No-one else
with you?"
They remain disbelieving. As I ride off they watch closely, probably
expecting to see a dozen others (who, just as Mr Ed predicted, were waiting
in the bushes) rush out to join me.



The village of Cockburn, which I modestly pronounce as Coburn, straddles the
SA/NSW border: the Border Gate pub is in NSW, the rest - a police station and
a half dozen residences - is in SA. A beef and gravy roll at the pub proves that
not all my meals come from a can or a bread packet, and is as close to a
Famous Mrs Mac Pie as I dare get.







Broken Hill is chock-a-block. The caravan park is more so, but there is room
for one small tent. Unlike Mr Murphy, the town is making hay with its dual
attractions, the artist communities with their endless galleries that range from
sophisticated to tacky, and the mining with its … mining.







You wouldn’t go to Paris and miss seeing the Eiffel Tower, would you? In Broken Hill,
the Pro Hart Gallery is the equivalent of Mr Eiffel’s erection. It is much more than
the gallery you want to see, it’s the gallery that you have to see as a patriotic
duty - miss it and Homeland Security will be taking an interest in you. It is in all the
brochures, a place of pilgrimage for those who fancy they know about art.
All of which makes me more than a little cautious.


Outside the gallery, devotees stand in respectful silence. One group has just finished
its long hadj across the desert and is preparing to enter the Holy of Holies, shuffling
in nervous anticipation, hopeful that they will be worthy of what awaits them.
Another group has completed the holy journey. They have partaken of Pro’s bread
and drunk of his wine. After the experience of Murphy’s Haystacks I can empathise
with their far-away eyes, their lightened steps and radiant faces: they have seen …
and they believe.


Me, I have never knowingly seen a Pro Hart painting before now. I see the works
here for the first time, without opinions to defend, sanction or champion.
The paintings do not appeal. They are either fiddly figures in a childlike mediaeval
style, or crude abstractions. To some it does make glorious sense - or at least they
imagine it does. Watching the self appointed experts and listening to their lofty
interpretations makes better entertainment than what hangs on the walls.


There’s spindle-shanked woman in a long floral dress, Roman sandals and grey
wool socks, giving a run-down of a mural to her friend. I move closer and listen
in to gain some insider knowledge. The dozens of small scenes in the mural
represent, she says, all the important events in Australian history. There
are sailing ships, the robbery of a Cobb coach, the Sovereign stockade.
Nowhere in the interwoven scenes can I see anything that took place before
14th February 1779, but before I can ask about this oversight she moves her
friend on to the next work ….




… which leaves me with Cynth and Dahl who are studying a painting at the far
end of the room. Dahl is giving Cynth the length and breadth of his knowledge
vis-a-vis art appreciation. Between the audible snippets of Dahl’s wisdom, I fill in the gaps -


“Marvellous picture, Cynth. It talks to me".
"What’s it saying, Dahl?"
"It’s ART, Cynth, not just a picture. The bank, there - whaddya see?"
"A bank with green doors".
"Yeah, a bank with green doors, but look at the doors, what are they?"
"Big ...? Wooden ...?
"Yeah, but what else they are? CLOSED. That's what Pro is saying - the bank has
CLOSED doors. Symbolic, see? The guy on the pavement with the ciggy - the
doors are CLOSED to him. He’s symbolic of poor people - you know, the poor
buggers not in mining. He's CLOSED outa the bank and outa what money can buy.
Bet you thought his ciggy was just a ciggy? Nah, that's symbolic too, Cynth,
symbolic of his long-term repressed ambition and schizophrenic internal conflict
if I’m any judge of the matter. And look how short that ash is! Very symbolic, that
is, very symbolic".
"What about that axe there, Dahl, looks like it’s got blood on it. What's it symbolic of?"
"Jezz, Cynth. Ya can’t just go around assuming that EVERYTHING is symbolic -
that’s just a bloody axe someone left laying around while Pro was doing his painting."



Somewhere in the gallery I suspect there will be a painting called
"The Emperor's New Clothes".


I’m not looking for it. I’m getting out of here …
(and as Dahl would say, that’s symbolic of leaving).




To be continued …

Bernard
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