2104 - Northern Territory Internet Project

Our blog contains a diary of our journey so far about interesting things that can only happen to you while on the road.

Reading: The most recent entries are at the top.

Masked Wood Swallow, Central Australia  Orange Chat Central AustraliaFinal words

We are on the final leg before heading west to Townsville. We have a few return visits along the way to tidy up some signal strength issues and conduct two more training sessions. We have to back track 600km for one turn on.......

But, we have done over 12000km over 8 weeks and visited 20 out stations, several cattle stations and 8 national parks. We only got bogged once. We had to turn back for one river and have seen endless square kilometers of red dirt. We were amazingly lucky to travel after the rains in most places and were treated to amazing bird and plant life as a result. We are so so lucky we get the chance to do this job and get to wonderful places where great people live-they inspire us and we welcome their trust and friendship. Images Masked Wood Swallow (left) and Orange Chat (Right)

 

 Endless highways

    

12 May             Whistleduck waterhole

It is Saturday night and all is well. We are at Whistleduck Creek by fluke. The camp oven has a roast in along with potatoes and we have pumpkin in the coals cooking away. We have had a warm shower and we have cleaned the inside of the truck van. It was incredibly filthy – we have been living in red dust since I last blogged. Sometimes when you travel in these conditions, you get to a point when cleaning everything, changing your clothes, washing your hair and showering have to happen. I feel better now and even have clean feet at tonight's camp, something not possible for the last week. Bit of grass here and a creek with relatively clear water, that does not come out of a bore.

Track to Policemans waterhole davenport rangesThe fluke to be here started because we could not connect the last phone. There was a funeral on and the families from Ali Curung went to Alice Springs and won't be back till Monday. So they could not come out to Immerenth with us over the weekend, and there is little guarantee of them being home by Monday anyway. So we decided that the nearest camping was about 100k up at Policemans waterhole, where we camped about a month ago when it was raining and the track was boggy; and the river was too deep to cross. It is dry now so none of that issue needs to be faced. So we decide this at 5.30 pm. Not really prepared because we had expected to be in Tennant Creek for the weekend where you can get things like water, fuel, food even. Not a problem apparently with 300-350 k of fuel left. There are two cattle stations on the way where we could get fuel. We have 40 l of water and about 6 meals and 8 slices of bread…… and as it turned out a hidden bottle of port which neighbour Michael will never taste, even though it was for him. It was very nice Michael!

The Binns track that we could not get through 6 weeks ago actually travelled along the river bed which thankfully was gravel and dry by now. It is still a tortuous track. We had an o’nite camp just before the Binns track turn off because it is certainly not the thing to do at night and I was cranky already.

So today we tackled the river bed and eventually arrived at Hatches Creek where we installed Internet access a few weeks before. Then someone decided to take the shortcut into Policemans waterhole for morning tea –only 15 K. Over two hours later, we made it to P waterhole for lunch. See Photo above on left.

Apart from the very tortuous road for the tyres, it was quite a close encounter with the top of the ridges we had admired weeks before. It is incredibly rocky, dry and sparse and just a wild landscape. Even so I found a new plant I had not seen yet. It's been a biologically wonderous trip. So our long shortcut was worthwhile and since we did not burst a tyre, all is well. Ironically we decided to keep heading into a Tennant Creek to get a wheel-alignment and keep the warrantee valid on these incredibly expensive tyres – all 4 have been replaced already….. And there was no fuel so far. Poured in our spare 20 litres and hope to get fuel tomorrow at a second cattle station on the way. So we have had to camp at Whistleduck – we could have had either national park camp to ourselves. No one here as usual. Nice water and good weather and no bogging. Works for me, esp while sipping a port.

We have 8 potatoes, 2 sweet potatoes, half a pumpkin, 1 zucchini and one onion in the Fresh dept; about 6 meals in the meat dept and now we have a carrot cake (camp oven baking this afternoon) and a spicy beef pre-cooked for jaffles in the morning and with pasta for lunch tomorrow. It works. I have dipped into the tinned food the last two days using up the tin of tomatoes, the champignons and the water chestnuts.  I dont carry tinned food much. Weighs too much and has poor nutritional value. We do carry pickled onions. Saved me a few times when we run out of onions. I have been lower on food before so was not too stressed. Quite ironic that so people spend months planning a Binns Track run (so we have been told) and we have now done it three times, mostly without a plan - or even a plan to go there…..


Art at IlperleSo before this weekend
Over the last week or so, we turned on 6 more internet sites with some very happy communities happily chewing up bandwidth. We went to Angula which was not where we thought it as and not where the Office of Prime Minister thinks it is either. Found a lot of young women there – talented in many ways and very tech savvy. As soon as the switch was on, out whipped ipads, phones and computers. Boy were they ready. One girl had just bought a computer knowing we would come and help her connect. Awesome. We showed a few things and then the girls were showing the men. The women are certainly the tech power houses out here. Talented artists too.

Speaking of Art, we had an amazing trip to Ilperle where the incredibly talented Christine paints. I have been fascinated by the wildflowers after the rains and this is precisely the theme that Christine uses as a signature. (see image on left). We were lucky to gain a whole set of her work before she took it to the marketplace and we have commissioned one large piece, just for me. Interestingly on this trip, it has been the new women artists that have attracted our attention. We camped in the river bed at Ilperle – it has not run water for 7 years. Paul did some amazing sky photography rom the centre of the riverbed. It was here at Ilperle where the baby Kanga was – which captured our hearts with its antics. Got great cuddles. Where else can you play with baby big red kangas? Well. Maybe Cassie’s place.

We did have a little side trip into the West Macdonald ranges. Wow! We will definitely come back just for all the places we did not get to either side of the ranges. We did a quick trip into Palm Valley. Amazing place. We could have stayed days there. The road to the camping area was adventurous but light weight compared to the track to the valley itself. It would have been quicker to walk and it was not far and would have been far more enjoyable. The fridge twozone nose dived into the floor and now needs to be strapped on. I had to wade a creek keeping the truck from falling in holes and many new creaks emerged. Some tracks are not worth it and if there had been anyone else coming towards us, it would have been very tricky. It's one that should be closed off for the safety of vehicles and walkers. The landscape is just awesome and unique and spectacular. We will definitely walk in next time to enjoy it.

We  found sites around Alice Springs pretty neat. We really enjoyed the Olive Pink Botantical Gardens which had the best labelling on flora we had seen anywhere. It was free and extremely informative. the cafe was good too. We also had a great visit to the Desert Park and really could observe many birds we saw in the wild at close quarters. there were lots of things we did not see in Alice Springs, so it will be a return trip. We also missed the amazing gorges of the West macDonald Ranges and saw none of the East Macs. It would take about a month to really immerse in the Alice Springs area; something to note if you are planning a visit.

Otherwise, life has fallen into a pattern of turning on wi-fi, connecting folks, doing some training and camping where we can. Was a bit interesting camping at Barrow Creek where Peter Falconio disappeared. I reckon it was dingos. There were so many howling around our camp.

We are on the final leg before heading west to Townsville. We have a few return visits along the way to tidy up some signal strength issues and conduct two more training sessions. We have to back track 600km for one turn on.......

But, we have done over 12000km over 8 weeks and visited 20 out stations, several cattle stations and 8 national parks. We only got bogged once. We had to turn back for one river and have seen endless square kilometers of red dirt. We were amazingly lucky to travel after the rains in most places and were treated to amazing bird and plant life as a result. We are so so lucky we get the chance to do this job and get to wonderful places where great people live-they inspire us and we welcome their trust and friendship.

The excitement of first connections.

 

 
28th April

Since Easter, we continued the journey through the Tannami. We ended up doing 1600 Km over 8 days to visit two places. The key destination was Mungurrupa on Tanami Downs Station. After Micks waterhole we had a pretty uneventful journey for a day to reach the station. It is huge in every way - a million acres and we only drove in 100K or so into the station. It is a much more arid with red sand and spinifex across the country. Because it had rained, there was some water in the few lakes across the station so it was a very pleasant drive in. Roads are being graded everywhere and so we had smooth conditions. We turned on the Internet at Mungurrupa which is about 3 K from the main station. The station is owned by an Indigenous corporation and managed by a great family – 5 children, all boys and one on the way for Tanya and Murray. Tanya home-schools the kids and cooks for all the station workers – gutsy capable lady. Then she tells us she is a preschool teacher and often does relief work 350 K away at Lajamanu.

They were great, made us very welcome and made sure we had everything we needed. The kids on stations get so much responsibility and have to pitch in, making them very used to adult conversations and thus making them great and funny company. Loved seeing all the kids pile on a 4*4 and go and get the mail from the mail plane. They came back quite excited because they got easter eggs in the mail. The recent rain meant that the local lake was full and so we were invited to drive out there. It was fabulous and Paul had an amazing time recording yet more new birds and taking 1000 photographs. The bird life was amazing - just the most spectacular we have seen. I thought the wild flowers after the rain were pretty special too, so we both had a visual feast.

 

Tanami Downs is the most remote cattle station in the NT and is more than 700K to the nearest service town (Alice Springs). So we had a 2 day journey to get back to the Stuart Highway. First we had to get back to the Tanami Highway, dubbed the worst road in Australia. It was a shocker in places, with other bits not too bad. Even so it was slow going without much relief. Pretty ordinary desert sand and flat flat plains. was really slow. We camped over night and had an early camp because it was so slow and a very tiring. Had a camp oven dinner and Paul made damper, seeing we had no bread left. We also have hardly any veges, but still enough to make the usual scrumptious dinner. We did get treated to a pretty awesome sunset.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tamami downs and desert after rain

 

 

We still had 400 K to go and it looked like endless corrugates and drive arounds. Blew a tyre too. Nice stop, no terrible lurching or spinning, so it was okay. Lucky Paul is so very handy, cause we had to do a bit of mucking round to use the two spare tyre system. In his words….


“We have arrived safely in Alice Springs about 7pm this evening after a long day on the Tanami Road. Blew a tyre about 30km north of Yuendumu still on the well corrugated gravel road so spent 45min or so changing the tyre. It is complicated by having 2 spare tyres slung under the camper which takes longer to extract the spare and remount the damaged on with the second spare but it is not too difficult - just time consuming and very dirty on a red dust road.

Spent some time in the Yuendumu art centre but were not tempted by much other than a painted bowel Michelle liked. Now a well bubble wrapped and a fellow traveller on the bed.

Stopped for a nice lunch further down the road under the shady tree. Bit of an exaggeration as there are many trees but few taller than the camper close to the road. Country is still well grassed and looks great after the rain a couple of weeks ago “


We had one night in Alice Springs which enabled us the next day to get a new tyre for $375, get some food and a bottle of wine. We got a few wheel nuts and some other stuff to replace things we broke. I would have liked to spend more time there, so hopefully next week, we’ll have a couple of days having a look around.

We stayed one night in a caravan park. That was an experience. We don’t usually stay in tourist type parks – didn’t even so that in 3 months in Tasmania last year. So we are not used to the culture or type of thing. People wear dressing gowns around the park – who on earth takes their dressing gown on holidays with them? I had to find us new clothes and clean shoes – we looked like scrags coming out of the scrub, compared to the beautiful people. And it was horribly crowded. Bit claustrophobic seeing we see about 4 people at a time, usually. I was also amazed at the size of beauty cases. There must be thousands of dollars of stuff in those things. One woman had one last night that was larger than my clothes allowance space in the camper; and I brought too much this time. It was bigger than my Qantas hand luggage size. Truly amazing that people need that many cosmetics.

Image: Henbury Craters campsite. So Paul needed to escape I think and next night we headed south. I want to go to Uluru (seeing we are that close). We headed south and managed to get as far as the Henbury Craters. We turned 20 K off the highway and there were no tourists. They don’t venture far off the highway. Eventually we did have one other couple turn up, but they were kindred spirits. Steve and Lyn had worked in many Indigenous communities doing training similar to us and Steve had great local knowledge to share – knew lots about the geology and plants, so it was a great campfire night drinking bottles of white wine. The craters were really interesting and had great wildlife. Terrific pair of nankeen kestrels and an elegant grey falcon, amongst others. Paul is up to 119 in his bird app. I made the hughest Green curry veges – must have had cravings for veges after our shop in Alice Springs. It was full of green veges.

We continued onto Kings Canyon today (as I write this). Paul has developed a really sore knee – he is not sure how but I think it might have something to do with changing tyres and reslinging the tyres up under the truck. So he had to rest his knee today and found it pretty hard to even do the short walk to watch the sunset over the magnificent ranges here. He did manage to struggle to the pub for a beer though. His enforced rest gave me a chance to do a wash and write more of those long reports for our project…… Hopefully the knee will improve enough for a visit to the canyon itself tomorrow.

Next day..... Paul’s knee has had a miraculous recovery – thank goodness because I would have left him behind…… Kings Canyon is amazing – hard to describe the beauty and the variety of environments in an area. It was a magical place to go and the spiritual nature of the landscape is over powering in some ways. It was a gruelling 4 hour plus walk around the top of the canyon and it got extremely hot. I am pleased Paul’s knee kept behaving. Mine was good too, so we had a great walk. Also walked to another canyon off the road and had it to ourselves mostly – anything off the bitumen is deserted. There is a great camp ground at Kings Canyon and we had a welcome beer. With dinners at $48 a steak, I was glad we stocked up in Alice Springs and had fresh stuff and nice thick steaks – for $10…Did the washing and got another of our endless reports under way. Off to Uluru tomorrow. Going to do an overnight camp along the road. Campgrounds are $45 a night down this way – we usually pay $6.60 or nothing.

 

Monday.

All is well. We have been tourists over our extended weekend and currently at Ayers Rock Campground near Uluru (no they have not changed the name of the campground, even though everything else is now using Indigenous names and labels.). We had have a marvellous few days here. We stayed at Curtain Springs cattle station on the way here – they offer free camping, have a pesky pet Emu called Mongrel and sell a mean port which is drinkable but has an unmentionable name in this medium. They also breed flies which stick to your eyelids, which is why they sell you the port I think – to forget that flies have crawled in your eye sockets for hours. Mongrel decided to sleep next to our camper door, which meant we both had to negotiate with him to visit the wee bush most of the night.

Image: Olgas at sunset. We arrived at Uluru and just love it. This is apart from sharing the dressing gown and beauty case requirements for showering, our first tourist experience this trip. The camp ground is crowded but we have an okay spot and managed to gain a bit of privacy. Paul has me up at dawn each day to see yet another red rock in the dark come to light. When there are perfectly good sunsets, so I have no idea why sunrises are so important. It is interesting to reflect that when being a tourist, seeing the sights, there is hardly anything to say. They are spectacular and it is a very spiritual place and nothing like you imagine it might be. The Olgas (now Kata Tjuta) are really quite astounding and past the first lookout, you can have the place to yourself. We actually found no one at Uluru the first day – it was pretty deserted. Apparently, apart from sunrise and sunset viewing and a quick drive around the rock, the buses seem to stay at the resort. We had viewing areas to ourselves for two days if you don’t go at sunrise and sunset and any walk more than a K long is deserted. Suits us.

Been doing some reflection on the patterns of tourists. It seems strange to us that folks spend so much money to go and see the Australian Outback and this area in particular, but see so little of it for such a short time. We did not realise that most of the bus loads only do a sunset viewing, a sunrise viewing, a drive past the rock and maybe the Olgas' and maybe only two 1- K walks. That's it. They really don't experience any of this land or the culture. I feel sorry that they don't, for they miss out on so much. We saw a few family groups doing much longer walks and actually experiencing the the landscapes and interacting with Indigenous culture but usually past the 500 M ark of a walk, you might see 2-4 people in a day. Even on the walk around the rock, there were probabaly only about 20 people - which is extraordinary given sunrise had about 4 bus loads at 1 of 4 spots. After 8am of a morning, the place was almost deserted and no-one was around until about 6pm. Such a shame that people put in so little effort to feel the most amazing place. There is so much Indigenous culture to learn about and enjoy here.

The Cultural centre is very well done and very comprehensive too. It took us a while to absorb everything ( and there were so many bill boards……)

Yes, looking at things is not the same as experiencing them. I guess that is why we walk the areas, rather than look at them and drive off. We are not good tourists. There is always something more than the visual delight (of which there is plenty). We met the same Indigenous ranger a few times and he really gave us additional insight. We have touched the places and it is amazing that after having been amongst the plants and formations, you see the visuals differently to “pretty colours”.

  Images: Tourists at Dawn and tourist 30 minutes later.

In saying all that, we did the ultimate tourist thing today – we did a helicopter flight over the rock and Kata Tjuta. What a treat – the landscape if very different from the air. We did not realise that spinifex grew in circles, and that the sandhills had such an intricate pattern of formation.  we now understand so much more of the art we saw. The flight seemed quite special after walking the major areas for a few days. Flying was a very different take on our previous experiences.

We have thousands of photos but they really do  not tell the story of how you feel when you are here…….. that is all.


And as we sign off from this frivolity , we head back to work. We need to do the second half of the NT journey. We also need to prepare for another trip to the cape. Yehaa…..

   

 

 

 

 


 

 

From the ground and the air....

21 April

It is Good Friday and all is well. We have just had a swim on the road south through to the Tanami. I never thought I would spend part of Good Friday swimming in the desert. Pleasant surprise. Clear granite and gravel bottom, running through so water is sweet and clear. Perfect really. Pity all those real tourists crowded into Materanka Springs a few hundred K up the highway. We have our own oasis here and we are not sharing. And sweet water to refill. We have an extra 20 L container with us this leg, not expecting such sweet rewards just off the road a hundred K in.

Paul is sneaking round the waterhole, taking pictures of his 100th bird, a white breasted wood swallow. He has a new bird app and been logging the sightings for a couple of months. He wonders Sue Cameron if he has more birds logged than you now.

Image Right - white breasted wood swallows.

Image Left- Micks swimmig hole

 

 

 

It's amazing what can happen. We are relatively close to a road crew camp, being on the creek. It is late afternoon and the crew looked like they were on the last run of the day about 30 K back. Mick the grader driver, just rolled up and made us a camp site right on the edge of the waterhole. Get us further off the road, on a level spot and right beside a cute short path to the waterhole. For ever to be known as Sutton Camp. Mick was a Great character too. Where else but the territory do you get people to make you campsites just where you need them. And he gave us the hint for tomorrow nights camp at his “million dollar spot” further along the track. We asked him why he was working on a holiday. Reckoned he was on the phone to Tony (Abbott) who told him to work to pay some tax because the country is broke. So here we are in a custom made Camp, having a terrific sunset listening to the frogs and watching the birds come in to drink. Don't think money can buy what just seems to happen to us, and we are grateful to be off the tracks and highways using local contacts to see country. It's becoming a pretty special trip.

We have actually turned 10 communities on, so we are half way through the job, and clocked over 5000K, also about half way. We are actually going faster than we expected though we may soon start taking our “rest and repair” days. We do have to repair the back locker which the spare tyre intersected with, while looking for the river yesterday. Image right - Mick making our camp.

Catch up

Since our last blog, we met the great family from Burudu. What a switched on team. The station looked great when we were there and the family obviously are smart operators and really terrific to boot. We began the visit with a handshake and ended with a hug and an invite to always come back. The family was All about helping others, mentoring their young people and setting up real businesses. Burudu is already a very slick cattle station on a huge tract of land. They are going to set up tourism there, seeing they are the site of an old store and driving spot which many folks go past on the way to and from Borrooloola.

We restocked and headed north out of Tennant Creek to go to Kumunu. We had looked at Google earth to work out how to get there, but it is a 9 year old map. My Facebook friends will know of my in trepidation of the route eventually taken, especially when the axe came out to cut our way through the track. It was in my opinion OBVIOUS that no one had travelled that track for a long time and this was not the track used weekly by the family or the maintenance team a few days before, but what would I know. But here is Paul's version of events…….

“Currently in Muckaty waiting for the WiFi to activate. Easy run into here this morning in contrast to yesterday's adventure. Was given directions to Kumunu by the Government Engagement Coordinator (new name for intervention manager) in Tennant Creek and they used to be the correct directions. However, in the last few years a manganese mime has opened up on the eastern side of the Stuart Highway and built a nice bitumen road to the rail line on the western side of the Stuart Highway north of Kumunu. The access road we were given is to the south of Kumunu. The track west was graded till it bogged the grader and the excavator that went to pull the grader out & was rough but OK from there on. Until the railway line.

There we discovered the track had not been used for some years and was pretty overgrown. A local at Blue Bush assured us this was the right track but William (owner of Kumunu) usually went the bitumen road. He said the track was a bit overgrown for the first bit but then opened up onto a graded road. 36k up look for a turnoff to the right. No problems.

The overgrown road almost had millable timber on it. We pushed through a lot of it, hacked back the thickest parts with the tomahawk and finally made it to the "graded road" after an hour and a half of literal bush bashing. While overgrown, the road underneath was firm and dry so it was safe enough, just slow and messy. The graded road may have been graded several years ago when the railway was built but had not felt the kiss of a graded in quite a while. At least it was pretty open and did not involve undue tree dodging.

Got to Kumunu and got the job done. Carefully planned a complex alternate route out to the north with GPS coords from Google Earth pinned and entered into the phone nav app. Took a while but we figured it was worthwhile insurance. By now it was almost 4pm and we resigned ourselves to a slow trip out and a camp hopefully by a creek overnight. Only concern was that the latest Google Earth image was 2005. A fair bit can change in 9 years.

About 5k up the track beside the railway line, there was a well used track off to the right. No evidence of it on Google Earth. First uncertainty. Decided to go a bit further along the rail line to our first planned turn & come back if that was not as well used. 200metres up the track and around a corner was a huge clearing, piles of manganese ore, huge front end loaders and a new looking rail siding. Clearly a mine site. We were concerned about truck activity so stopped near a sign saying “ Channel 2 Vehicle leaving Muckaty siding”. Not sure what it meant so called for advice on channel 2. Got a garbled response so decided there must be no big trucks nearby to run us over so decided to go around the corner where the road seemed to lead and see what was there.

Behold the bitumen road that our new best friend at Blue Bush had mentioned. 30 minutes later, we were back on the highway via the easiest route to any out station we hd ever found. Shame no one mentioned it for the trip out there.

The road is not marked on any maps so our guess is that it is a private mine road. There is an underpass under the Stuart Highway letting the trucks get from the mine to the rail without crossing a highway carrying triple trailers doing 130kph. Good move really. Access to the underpass and the mine site on the eastern side of the road has multiple restricted access signs but the road to the rail does not so we are still none the wiser about public access to it.

Back to Banka Banka Station for the night. A little green oasis in a generally brown plain with superb water. We dumped the very mineralised and chewy Tennant Creek water and filled up with the good stuff. Have filled an extra 20l container for the trip across the Tanami Desert which will probably start Wednesday or Thursday at the rate we are going. One more stop tomorrow at Lilly Hole Creek. Apparently road in is rough but OK in a 4WD so it may be slow but unadventurous.

Internet is activated here so we will have a coffee before I run some signal tests on the system here spend some time with the locals and move on.”

So yes, the perfectly good road we knew about hours before….. One of the more beautiful things on our visit to Kumunu was the amazing wildflowers around the community. It was an awesome desert garden, one you would pay thousands to travel to and visit. The common plants stretched for kilometres – just spectacular country.

And so it was onto Elliot where a couple of families were, while attending meetings about local mining. Scary amount of mining going on out here. The rate of digging up the earths resources is dramatically accelerating. Locals hope to get some work from the current expansions. We talked to one family from Lilly Hole creek who had a contract to develop the seedlings for revegetation. Great active make-it-happen family. So delighted with their phone and Internet connection. They told us about using the phone to get medical attention after a spider bite. They are VERY happy to have a phone.

Easter
Next it was a westly heading on the 500 k leg to Tanami Downs via Lul-Tju. We had hoped to camp on the Victoria River for Easter but the community was an unhappy place and the flies and mozzies were savage, so we left after one night (Thursday) and found the beautiful spot we are at tonight. All is good.

Easter Saturday. We have only come 60 k or so to find another of Grader Micks camps. That lad knows where all the best waterholes are, makes a road to them, clears a level pad to camp and then tells ya. It's great having access to local knowledge. So we are beside an amazing and large and deep waterhole, under a gum tree that is filled with budgie nests. Every 15 mins or so we are treated to seeing the young being fed. One is trying to fly and keeps falling onto the ground beside my chair. There are amazing bird flocks hanging around and seems like Paul runs off with his camera every few minutes. He is stalking a breeding pair of kestrels as I write. We had a wonderful swim before, washed my hair and now relaxing with billy made tea in the cool. It is blessedly cool, no flies to speak of and very lush at this oasis. It is hard to believe we are 100 k south in the desert. It is quite green after the rain and filled with energy and life… Mick called it the million dollar campsite and he was not wrong. Even if you paid thousands of dollars for your central Aust safari, I doubt you would be taken to a place as beautiful, unspoilt and biologically rich as this. We are so lucky to have the chance to be shown it and to spend as long as we want here, with no one in sight, except for Mick, about 100 K back. Hope everyone else is having a camp the bush as good as here.

Sunday did not bring the Easter Bunny but did bring me savoury damper and brewed coffee, so that was better anyway. Done the washing, changed the ice into the esky,and thought about dinner. Pulled out my bush cooking book for ideas and we will have marinated lamb with coal cooked veges. We can't have alcohol so I have to substitute with ginger beer in my marinade and sauce. We have no green veges left, not having seen anything available since Tennant Creek, so it's creative uses of potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot and onion with the usual range of condiments and some home made tomato based pasta sauce and two homemde curry sauces and a couple tins of mushies. Dried herbs now- nothing fresh…..

About to do some writing for Glen before my afternoon swim. It's a hard life on the road.

 

 

 


 

 

 

12 April

 

  

Tennant Creek has become home for the moment. Everyone we talked to did not think much of it, so we had some in trepidation in making it a base for so long, but it has turned out quite well and we like it. We have plenty to do here and there are some very beautiful places to see. We started the week with a night at Devils Pebbles, a sacred women’s place and one which has a great campsite nearbye. Surrounded by red rocks, we really felt like we had arrived in the NT. Nice walk about the rocks and a simple dinner with a cup of tea. Arrived in time for sunset which was a treat, and began what is becoming an obsession of sunsets on red rocks. (Photos Above - Devil's Pebbles)  My poor Facebook friends will be sick of them. The Pebbles campground is very near the Old Telegraph Station which we now have visited (days later) and had a great impromptu tour by ranger Mark. That old restored station is worth a visit, even to visit the brickwork and use of kerosene tins as a chimney and other ingenious solutions. The more you looked, the more you could see. Great collection of photographs of the station over the years too.

Our first stop here has been Pitulki about 25K from Tennant Creek. We saw a great example of bush ingenuity there – a basketball court made from a car bonnet, plastic crate and old rope and hoses. Have now seen one other similar basketball court so it might be an NT thing. Was also amazed to see a very old PC with a broken keyboard and one man was typing on the computer using an onscreen keyboard, with a mouse - created by using the Assistance controls. Very patient. Wonderful to also see Paul showing the B2M cybersafety video and the dad in the family talking to the young fellas about the contents in home language. Got the Internet working – Sydney seem to have their bug fixed now and all is well. Judging by the usage stats we monitor daily, the Internet is very welcome there.
We had a number of meetings in town and so shouted ourselves the next night in the local caravan park – a wash-your-hair shower and a washing machine plus AC. Heaven, given it has been 33 degrees at 10pm…..

It is amazing to meet the Indigenous leaders in a community. One family we met, run the Night patrol tirelessly and have been doing great community work for many years, not only for their own mob but for other families in town too. The young fellas in the family were terrific too and you could see how well the next generation of Indigenous leaders are being mentored there. It was really great to be taken out to Kurraya by them, to get their Internet connected. Multiple devices came out of the wood work from everywhere. Must say, we are beginning to really notice the dramatic difference between the connected people, and those who have not had connections before. The IT literacy of those connected people and the young people out here is the same as anywhere and boy, do they use it well and smartly when it is available. (Image above: Kuraya signal testing)

Image: Devil's marbles at sunset. Going to the outstations takes us off the highway and we are really glad about that. We went south during the week and stayed at the Devil's Marbles one night. Storms were brewing and because we did not know the terrain and the weather well enough, it was good to stay where it was hard and watch where they went. We have also had a very interesting journey out to Hatches Creek. It rained right where we had to go of course. The Devil’s Marbles are very close to the highway and the camping ground is far enough off the highway to be quiet, which was nice. We had a few campers into the campground – probably about 8 parties I think. We discovered that they don’t go more than a k or two off the highway. Good for us, but they do miss the best of the country. The marbles are quite spectacular and it would have been good to hike into the valley, but too many flies and too hot for me. Our sunset and sunrise walks amongst the rocks near the campsite was great and we have many many photos of the colours of the rocks in different lights. Its hard to stop snapping. One fella had a drone with a camera attached and was going great video. Another use for drones, but I hope they don’t become too popular or there will be another form of pollution….. they are noisy too.

From Devil’s Marbles, we headed west into the Davenport Ranges towards Hatches Creek. The scenery was spectacular. You would laugh, Mike Cullum at calling hills of about 100 feet, ranges…. But in this flat country, you take what you get. It was really terrific country – green of sorts after the rain and the trees looked healthy and refreshed. The greens and gray of the grasses contrasted brilliantly with the reds and browns of the rocks. There was slight hills and dips and each horizon gave a different view. It’s a special place out there and I can see why so many Indigenous communities continue to attract locals out there. The communities have all chosen to be alcohol free and many people stay there and have great lifestyles because of this. The communities, like Epanara, Kurundi and some of the outstations are on rivers. Interestingly, it is a closed river system – not connected to any waterways that go south or north and so there are unique species of fish, insects and plants. Image on Right: The astoundingly diverse Davenport Range National Park.

It had rained so we had some interesting moments and one nasty slide, where I was glad we did not slip into the bog. Paul’s driving and quick reactions kept us on hard ground this time and I did not give much advice…. (The advice given is unblogable! Paul) The Binns track is the main route and we travelled along it to Whistleduck Creek, which was really amazing. There was pretty clean water in the creek and so we had a bath. Very welcome. There was no one there, though as we left a hardy pair of souls came along the road.

We headed over to Old Policeman Waterhole to camp for the night. It was quite a nice spot, with a little water in the hole. The drive in was wonderful with small gorges and lots of interesting formations. The bird life in the waterhole was terrific and as a special treat we had budgies nesting in the trees above the camper. Image on left: One of 60K of bogs

Tim the other ranger came in to check the water levels, which were rising, much to our surprise, because it had not rained where we were but in the distance. It did cool down thank goodness. 30-33 degrees at night is a bit tough. We were going to take the Frew River track to Hatches Creek but Tim suggested that we should not try it and that with the river rising, we would really have trouble, so we drove the longer way round following Binns Track. The road was really wet, and there were substantial bogs making it very slow going. Tim had gone before us and we kept looking for his side tracks around the bogs. He was more adventurous than I wanted to be, but I was not winning that argument (as if I ever would). We came across some local folks (Paul and Sally) driving from Epanara, so we followed them around all the side tracks. Took a while but we got there. Image on Right - bath and swim at Whistleduck Creek

We set up the Internet connection and Sally whipped out her iPad and started using it. Amazing. The kids all knew what to do too and sat with our devices and had a lovely time. Some funny things happen – the three year old kept nicking her grandmother’s iPad when grandma was not looking and getting her games going. Interesting. Old Stanley was mostly interested in getting the ABC news and doing banking. He also seemed addicted to road runner cartoons and the Three Stooges. he had been out there a while!!. The family groups mostly live in Epanara because a school is there and so now they can use their devices at home and at the station. Interestingly, Sally was telling us, most people at Epenarra have an iPad  and some also have smart phones and there is free wireless access there. All ages use it. The skill levels of the women were very high and they were all self taught and shared which apps were good for what. They were addicted to games, especially the social games including facebook ones. Card games were also popular. They liked giving their kids puzzles to do online. The men were very unsure in comparison and would call themselves non users. The skill level was quite high amongst the women as was their general cybersafety knowledge. We left them very happy with their outstation connections. Paul had fun with a horse that insisted on being part of the action. he was a gorgeous little thing, except he stole my apple...

 

 

We then headed back along through the muddy track and sidetracks as we could not go forward. The river by now was too high to cross and still rising. We have a contract with the Commonwealth Government which gives us a wet season allowance until the end of April, because you often have to back track, drive the long way to somewhere or simply sit out the floods and bogs; all of which have happened to us in the past. For this trip, they rejected our wet season claim, telling us where we had to go was not wet and there would be no delays. So everytime, we get bogged, drive a 100K detour and camp beside a flooding river or cake the truck in mud, we joke about the non-mud and water the Canberrians think we are in. I notice they are not there helping us get dig out of bogs. Image: "It won't be raining where you are going." Flooded Policeman's Hole and more rain coming.

We camped again at Policeman’s Waterhole and enjoyed jaffles for breakfast. I have just rediscovered Jaffles and we bought a jaffle iron. Yum bush camping food. We then redrove along the Binns track which was a bit drier than before and were one again treated to the fabulous countryside and some beautiful coffee stops beside full waterholes. We finally got back into Tennant Creek.

So it’s the weekend and we are washing and done a butcher stop – its 15 days since we left home and so it was time to restock, re water and clean up. Even bought a beer and a bottle of wine which was an interesting experience. You can’t buy full strength beer till after 3pm and you need to show ID and have what you buy recorded if you buy wine. You can only have 1 carton of beer or 2 bottles of wine each per day. The local elders have set some restrictions in place to see how they go. Police guard the doors and check ID on entry. We have shouted ourselves a couple of nights rest (and time to write 6 reports) while doing some housekeeping before we head off on a long and arduous trek into the Tanami Desert communities. Need to be well resourced for that trip. Got two families to visit tomorrow for some training and two local connections, so that will keep us amused on Sunday. More later.
 

 

6 April

Sunday and all is well. Its Shayleigh’s birthday but we can't catch anyone on the phone. Happy birthday anyway. 15 is a great age to be; lots of nice things can happen.

It’s been a long journey filled with many hours of flat grassy, treeless plains. We had a nice camp at Camooweal Caves National Park. For some reason, there are no tourists anywhere and so we are enjoying camps to ourselves. The Caves campsite is beside the Nowranie River and we had the usual sunset views which are always really special here. The flies were quite manageable and dinner was cooked without any legged sultana flavourings, though it is nearly dark before I bother doing anything. The Nowranie caves are not able to be explored easily. You can go to the holes in the ground where some caves can be seen deep below. They are for serious cavers who want to be winched in and then there are only a few months of the year where they are not flooded. It was interesting visiting but it is only a 10 minute experience really, to see the cave entrances. So it was off to Camooweal for fuel. I was able to get some great pics of a road train thundering through town for Kate, but that was about it. (Image: Little Nowranie Cave entrance, Camooweal)

We headed out to Burudu Station, 150K away. Tuned off the Barkey Highway onto Rankin Road and saw it had been raining and a bit wet on the roadsides, such as they were. Found the outstation, turned in and could see it in the distance. It turned out to be a long distance, because we bogged. I was pointing to what I thought was harder ground when we started doing down and sliding around, but I was wrong. So shovels out and try to dig very very sticky black oozy heavy mud. Paul used lots of great skills to drive out then and then took off leaving me to walk into the station. Good idea – better than digging.

So to work. It is amazing sometimes how comms has to work in these places. When we got to Buruda, the 1800 number we need to ring was going to an answering machine or dead extension. It was hard to tell. My organisation for weekend support fell over. So because we could ring landlines, I rang Lindy at Rainbow Beach who looked up a different number which was a 1300 number, so I used a phone card I bought in Ipswich to talk to a person who seemed to be in India who could not really hear us. They had the presence to ring us back, via an online and satellite connection probably thinking it was an emergency. After a few calls they seemed to understand we wanted the Internet on. They rang the trusty Nirav who was enjoying a weekend somewhere in Sydney. He found an Internet connection and reset the router remotely via the Satellite. So we had connection by dark. It reached a handy 50 plus metres so we could get a few online jobs done.

Thank goodness for Lindy who saved us a very long weekend looking at grass grow or a 300K round trip through the mud. We finally got a connection happening and although it was slow, it worked. Later we found out some settings were incorrect and with a tweak, all is going well and fast there now. Had a nice camp and in the morning, waited as long as possible to dry out the track. We have to come back to do the training later, but we have connected the Internet and it is exciting to see what a difference having the Internet will be for the team running the station.

Burudu is a great looking place, a very large working cattle station in the middle of grassy planes. Reminded me of the great novel, Kings in Grass castles. Very pleasant place to be. The book, Kings in Grass Castles comes to kind, as there are 360 degree views of incredibly flat grasslands as far as you can see on a very big NT horizon. Burudu is a very very large working cattle station and it was well established, with two houses and two sheds set up as houses. Everything was neat tidy and ready for use. Very fat cattle too. We enjoyed getting some nice tank water for drinking and we had hot showers. Even managed to wash my hair and do some hand washing. Had a nice night but it was hot. Managed to see a nice sunset.Can't wait to go back on the return trip and share the Internet with the families.

We let the tires down on the way out and Paul picked me up before driving the track which was better than the drive in on both counts. I walked for so long yesterday, I got sunburned. There are always nice but simple things that can happen. We stopped at a creek which had a sort-of shady tree so Paul could re inflate the tyres. The creek had a couple of ponds so I wandered around looking about to be surprised by flocks of budgies. Such a treat. There are so few these days and I have only seen them on two trips in my life. Such gorgeous distinct sounds. Also was treated to some flocks of zebra finches, peaceful doves and willy wag tails. Turned out to be a pleasant stop. So then it was back to the highway and the Barkley Roadhouse for one of their famous burgers for lunch. Yum.

 
 

   4  April

(Pics: natures roadtrains, and NT Roadtrains)

We left the big smoke and made the long journey west. It's a long driving day and not much to report except for stops which usually involve eating. Got as far as Charters Towers for breakfast where a fellow traveller gave us some fresh star fruit from their garden in Townsville. I had not had them before. Rather melon like flesh I guess, but thicker texture. Very nice. Been enjoying them ever since.


Had morning tea in White Mountains National Park which is our favourite native wild flowers NP. There is always something flowering there. Wish we could have stayed. Then it was off to Holdens Bakery in Hughenden for lunch. Paul knows every pie shop in the west.

I then got a turn to drive. You know it is a long drive when you see the Gps say 160k to the next corner and you watch it count down as you pass increasingly sparse paddocks. Count down ... 3 2 1 - corner. Then glance at the Gps - 250 to next corner. Got some great through the windscreen shots for Kate Cook to support her hit song, "Hit the Highway". I-tunes it folks! Gradually  got drier as we went further west. Near Cloncurry it was quite green, but otherwise it is dry out here.

I got the turn to drive because Paul developed a sore foot the night before we left Townsville. He has had a lump on his ankle for ages which looks like a bone spur. It decided to swell and go very red. Must have knocked it. Once the ankle and  foot started to balloon, and red started travelling up his leg, he decided to do an emergency doctor visit while he could. So next day it was still sore, so I got to drive. Lucky by Mt Isa the crisis seemed overted and all is well. I was imagining leaving him in Mt Isa.....

We had a wonderful camp at Corella Dam about 100k from Mt Isa. It is off the highway and round a hill to the dam. Lots of space and we had it to ourselves which was nice. We had finally caught up with the western Qld insects. Thousands of them while we tried to prepare dinner and eat. Lots of decoy lighting and eating in the dark. They are so tiny, they could get thorough the screens of the camper. So no lights..... And very hot. Was a beautiful morning but. Lovely reflections on the dam, and only a few hundred flies. Which we now know is nothing compared to a million flies. Had a nice view of some rather large crocs which I thought I could hear feeding in the night very close to us. They are all fresh water supposedly but I was not going to test. I would recommend it as a camp. Easy to get into and lots of space, and no highway noise. the other two camps in the camping books are right on the highway and with dozens of 4-wagon trucks going past. We had a good night away from the noise.

So we got to Mt Isa, replaced an unreliable shower plug and had a final cappuccino and made some last minute calls. Mining towns seem heartless to me. They have itinerant families and there seems to be few attractive public spaces. About the nicest spot in town is for the tourists at the new info and mining museum centre. It could be said the Irish Club in town is attractive, but we were too early for beer and gigantic steaks. Pity cause we have no alcohol now.

Image: Road to Irrandangi. Headed south and then turned off the bitumen to go to Urandangi. Found the North Urandangi road  - headed into the dust and the flies.  Some grasses in the landscape after some rain - and lots and lots of flat horizon.  Urandangi itself is an interesting place. Very small - a pub and PO and fuel bowser plus a school and some interesting painted car bonnets. The teachers here deserve a medal a day. Tough gig! Generator power. 10 kids but very low level literacy and attendance. As usual a couple of good parents doing lots to keep the school going and support their kids.

The community had no power at all. The houses were not in good shape and it seemed like a sad place. yet people who lived there told us they were not going anywhere and it was home. It suited them in many ways being so close to the town and with the good relationships there. For example, when a big dust storm blew in, everyone went and camped inside the pub which had some ability to seal out the dust. Judging by some of the conversations we witnessed between the publican and the community folks, there was a lot of care in the town. There was actually a lot of pride too, with historic displays open and available and lots of stories and info for visitors.

The phone  we have there, gets well and truly used but no one owns a smart phone or computer. The school has a couple. Was interesting talking to folks who were very Internet unaware but we did generate lots of interest in getting a phone that would receive Internet. It seemed like an abstract concept I think - everyone had heard of the Internet, seen others using it, but did not really have a model for what it was or how it worked. Phone banking and thus Internet banking made sense. That a mobile phone would not ring and yet you could get the Internet on that same phone was a mystery and fun to try and explain.

  In contrast there are more flies here than I have seen anywhere else ever. Very hard to do anything except wave towels over your face to keep them off. Glad I had a dinner we could just heat up ready. After flies, comes insects and it is very hot all the time. Urandangi is not a "return to" choice by any criteria but  it is one of those experiences you have to have. I don't know how the folks live here with the insects - they are beyond the annoyance factor. Makes me giggle to recall people back home  running round a kitchen chasing out their one fly. Unless they are in your eyes and mouth, you leave em where they are.  Paul had developed a technique of walking away from the camper and then running back to beat the flies. So funny to watch. Our night camp on the Georgina River was pretty awful with the insects.

But interestingly, the town is pretty neat and tidy. Biggest collection of  Lister and Southern Cross engines I have ever seen, all 72  available to visit. Nice couple of parks too. One of the parks contains a grave with a plague that says the unknown man refused to leave during a big flood and was washed away. The publican told us it was a scarecrow man that someone set up and the "realness" of the man's legend grew so much, they had to bury him when he "drowned". The publican had many stories to tell and gave us a great collection of postcards and local info.

  Images: Horizon with tree, Horizon without tree. Such is the view from here.

With the phone working and the Internet turned on and working, we decided to leave the flies behind. We headed up the road to Camoweal through Headingly Station. It was a shorter but less defined track with regular moments of debate about whether we were on the road or a side track to a bore or cattle yard. There was a storm through here last week and some of the track was a bit soft, requiring some creative track ploughing and table drain traversing. It was incredibly flat landscape with 360 degree views of grass to a very distant horizon for 280k. We found the lost nurse who had not turned up at a community down the road. She had (wisely) decided not to cross a river and was back tracking to come into Urandangi. Glad we found her cause I would not have been able to rest until I knew about her. I could imagine what I would do if I got caught stranded out there. 

We have camped the night in Camoweal Caves National Park. We have it to ourselves. Not a soul here. The fishing lines are in and all is good so far. The river was up, which is rare according to the info signs.

 

1 April 

Having a final day in Townsville, before heading out to the Northern Territory to install the internet into 20 Indigenous Outstations around Tennant Creek.Should be a couple of months on the road if all goes well. This blog will continue to tell the story of our interactions with communities and the many adventures getting to and from where we have to be.

We had some blessed rain just as we were packing to leave and that reduced the garden job list as I did not have to water and could not mow. Lucky cause I had a whopper dose of hayfever 1 day out from leaving which rendered me useless most the day.  Paul decided to leave a bit ealier than I anticipated, so every job was not ticked off, including poor Budda. Budda had just had some skin cancers removed and so we needed to check he was okay before we left. Lucky neighbour John and others were going to be about so he could get his stitches out, with me.

We also watched the road reports and decided to head up the coast and leave a day later. This meant I actually had time to clean the house for Ty and Emma, our wonderful housesitters and Budda minder.

So we are in Townsville, giving Paul a few special hours of Grandchildren cuddling, while I do the prep for our workshops and organise the first two weeks of visits. The last Woolworths shop for a long time is in and we have hopefully about 3 weeks of meals with us onboard.