Cape York 2012 Satellite Telephone Trial

Note: New post 6 November- scroll to end

The goal

We are on the road at last and heading up to Cape York. We are heading for Chuula Outstation near Lockhart to help the Claudie team there set up for and access the Internet via the Satellite phone system. 

Beth from the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy rang us and asked us to do a late trip to Chuula, and so we packed up as soon as we could and headed away. We have been installing public telephones in Indigenous out stations in Cape York for the last few winters under the Indigenous Communications Program. There are more than 36 of the now familiar big boxes all over the Cape along with 10 or so of the Satellite handsets. The fixed phones actually work on Skype and so the potential was there to hook up the Internet. When we knew a trial of the Internet phones was a possibility we offered three Cape York locations and Chuula was chosen. Chuula is an exciting trial site because the community includes families of children being home-schooled, connecting to the School of Distance Education. There are also teams of rangers on site undertaking training and work, along with many visitors to support the Claudie family work at Chullagan Indigenous Corporation. Lots of activity all year and lots of real need for this Internet access. We are really happy to work with Chuula to see what difference Internet connections can make.

We will be conducting tests for stability and reach of the signal from the box to where it is needed; helping folks set up devices and computers to connect and showing off lots of cool tools, apps and sites to use and also doing some cyber safety training. Should be a fun visit. We also hope that by the time we leave,  we hope all the little niggling technical connections and issues will be solved and people are enjoying their new found connectivity. 


The ComplicationMichelle busted knee

This trip has an interesting complication because while in Vietnam in the beginning of August, Michelle fell off a bicycle and damaged her right knee considerably. She has been on crutches and hobbling ever since.  Although relatively mobile now, she needs an operation to reattach a ligament, which is not possible until the knee has repaired and it is much stronger. Now this means some of the trip is all about Michelle. She would not try to get up on the bed until after we left, probably so she could not be left behind. This knee excuse means she can't set up camp, unlatch anything, get stuff out of the truck quickly, fetch water or firewood, or carry anything heavy. She can't get down into the lockers and may not earn her keep. :). The biggest issue (apparently) is bush toilet. So armed with a collapsible seat, she can hobble off to find thirsty trees. Should be a hoot.


The journey

12-16 Oct

So we headed off from the South East on that really cold October day. Lucky we added on an extra jumper to wear just as we were leaving. What a cold morning. We went via the beautiful Blackbutt range to avoid Brisbane during peak hour and arrived at the bottom of the range about 15 minutes before the hour. Lucky for us, because we discovered that the range is only open once an hour on the hour, so it was not too bad to wait. Little did we know that this was the beginning of many many long and boring roadwork stops ALL the way to Rocky. We stopped at Goomeri to make some lunch and found it was too cold to stay outside even to make sandwiches, so shuffled against the truck with the top half of our bodies sheltered from the wind. The Darling Downs was a shocker. It was more than 2 jumpers cold, so we kept going. We unfortunately met up with the Bruce highway south of Childers and had constant roadworks. It added over 2 hours to the trip.

So we finally arrived in Rocky to visit cousin Ros Lukritz and all the wonderful family, Alyson, Rex and Karl. They waited for us for a delicious dinner and we had a great night catching up and sharing stories of travels. The team had just come back from a motor home family holiday in New Zealand. It was also wonderful to see my second cousin, Marina (Keith's daughter- for the family reading this). The Lukritz gene is strong with Alyson and Marina having those beautiful Lukritz looks I seem not to have inherited. Then it was off to have morning tea with Uncle Darryl one of the patriarchs of the family tree, before a nice leisurely run up to Cape Hillsborough ( Photo) north of Mackay. Paul spent the morning taking the reversing camera apart and drying it, cause water leaked in on the one day of rain we had in Ipswich for months and it was giving us cloudy images of the traffic following us. I'd actually prefer he looked through the windscreen at the road ahead than worry about what we had already passed. There are too many distracting gadgets in the front cab now, but that is the subject of another blog entry.

We headed from there up to Cape Hillsborough National Park. It was a bit dark when we got there to find someone in our booked campsite, so after upsetting another camper who was not happy about sharing his very large spot, we had a quick dinner and then delayed a beach walk till the morning. Its a lovely spot, one I hope we go back to. From there we headed to Townsville so Paul could cuddle all the grandkids.

Unfortunately when we arrived at Kerry's, Deisel Dog had been bitten by a snake. So he was rushed to the vet and had a sleepover. Thankfully he pulled through and we could pick him up from the vet to babysit for the day. By lunch time he was his old self and was taking on Buddy the bigger dog. Good news. Paul has managed to get in lots of cuddles with Maddie, who seems to be attached to him.

 Heading North 20 Oct

We had a great visit with the Nimmos at Babinda. Nice weather. Great swimming at the Boulders and good shared food. I know we only live a kilometre apart but it was fun to share a distant spot. Floating in the ever so clear water of the boulders was just wonderful. A nice treat. It was a tad scary for Michelle to get into the creek without enough knee bend but nothing a lunge cant fix. Then she had to get out.

 The fire fly display at the campground was well worth the trip in itself. Such a large collection of flies in and around the trees, it was natures Christmas lights. So it was with a heavy heart that we left the Nimmos and travelled on into Cairns to stock up and head through the Tablelands to Mareeba. We had enough coffee so there was no stop at the various Mareeba coffee plantations. Drat! We made a few phone calls to the family while we could and headed to Mt Molloy to camp before going onwards. We did a good test of all the systems so we are confident we can a survive for 4 weeks or so without shops. It is important to test gas bottles, water supply, diesel supplies and all the bits.
We travelled into Lakefield via Laura primarily to test the Internet site at Laura Festival grounds. iPhones worked a treat but scarily nothing else would connect to the wifi enabled phone system. Both computers (Mac and PC) and the tablets (Android and iPad), would not connect. So have documented tests and wait for advice on why we got the result we did. Think maybe the Site has restricted access for site testing outside of the festival. Hope so or our trial will be quick and the report brief.
While driving aparticularly long lonely stretch north of Mt Carbine, we picked up a bloke who had blown up his truck. Boe the concreter was happy we came along and took him to Lakelands. This gave us an excuse to have a local Laura coffee. Yes you get Laura coffee at Lakelands. BIt confusing.  It was good and It's the last coffee machine.........
So here we are at Lakefield now called Rimeri, and have had a great evening watching sunsetting, bats travelling along the river and watching the eye shine of too many crocs. The bats have been dipping into the water to drink. We had not seen that before. Fascinating watching them drink on the wing, especially since a number of floating lizards had got a bit excited by all the splashing. As I write this we just heard an almighty splash in the river. Glad we are camped on a very high bank. Photo: Rimeri camp. Paul cooked his tradional carrot cake and Roast pork, and also potatoes in the coals, so he is happy now.
The river is actually very low - much lower than we have seen it in various years. Paul went fishing and caught a small barra on his first cast. Too small - threw him back but all the fish were small so no luck so far. I kept watching for crocs finding two where he was playing. The river bed is really pretty with all the flowering Melaleucas so must remember to take some photos before we leave. I found a gentle slope into the river bed, so should be ale to capture some early light photos.
(Note: found a mum and her joey as a reward for getting up - worth a big picture.) Unfortunately, we also saw too many wild pigs coming down into the waterholes.
We need to check on the phone at Michael Ross's place at Kalpowar Crossing and then heading up through Coen to another Nat Park Mulkan Kanju, now called Oyala Thumotang National Park. where we have installed one phone for the local community. We are using our trip to talk to all the community folks and keep in touch and check contact details. We will need them all next year, if our trial is successful.
Also Nimmo said we had to fish for him at  the Hahn River.
Post note: Pity cause Paul lost his fishing rod there. It was a pleasant spot for lunch and gave us a chance to finish some map notes about all the camping spots in Rinyerri. If anyone wants to travel to Cape York soon, we have all te good oil. This pre-booked camping routine is a big pain. We are always in the area and need to just camp wherever we are. Pre-planning is not in our lifestyle choices. The only prep we make to go to Cape York is to pack the freezer. 

 Oyala Thumotang  23 October

We did a little run into Mulkan Kanju National Park (Oyala Thumotang) which is 60 K off the Development Road and so rarely visited. We don't mind having a giant national park to ourselves. We went to a different end this time to Ten Mile Junction at the end of what turned out to be a pretty long track. The river is pretty dry with only a few small water holes still in it. So that meant no fishing but the variety of bird life was terrific.
Paul spent a lot of time trying to photograph a rarely seen Long Tailed Night Jar but he did get pics of the chicks. They were so small they nestled on leaves on the ground. No nest. So amazing. We had huge volumes of yellow orioles so that was a treat cause you normally only hear one. Paul spent much time writing notes of his sitings in the bird book. When we saw the ranger on the way out he was commenting on the bird life at Ten Mile this time of year. It was amazing and probably is as prolific as that in Iron Range National Park. I love the trees in Mulkan Kanju. The green-grey paperbarks are wonderful. We checked out some campsites along the lagoons and made notes on our maps for next time. Lots of photos in the photo gallery on our web site's front page.


Friday 26 October and all is well. We are camped at the top of the Claudie River in Chuula. The river is running nicely after rain earlier in the week before we got here. The water is therefore beautiful, clear and pure. We have had a couple of delightful swims - spent much of the afternoon floating on my back in the river listening to the waterfall watching the clouds and birds fly over. Kept disturbing the elusive Nankeen Night Herron who was very beautiful.
The moon is currently out and nearly full. The fire is cooking the camp oven roast and we are having a cup of tea while we wait. If it sounds idealic, it is. Chuula is a very beautiful patch of earth and I am so glad we have the opportunity to visit here so many times. The Indigenous families here do a fantastic job in protecting this land. We are very very grateful and lucky to have such a tough job to visit them.
When we arrived everyone was ready to have the Internet turned on and so we quickly made that happen. Nirav from Activ8 was his usual very helpful self and worked with us till we got connection talking to everything. We tested every device we had and everyone one else had plus started to test the filter. A few things did not work as well as we want. You tube and downloadable PDFs were blocked. This meant some of the cyber safety videos we wanted to show were not possible. Pity cause we wanted to show some from Elcho Island which are really cool. The kids all need You Tube for school so Nirav is solving that for us.
There are three families with 7 kids living here this wet season and they are all home schooled. Their mums and dads help them complete school and everyone tunes into the Schools of Distance Education for lessons and the general program.
Everyone is doing really well and we were impressed with the kids literacy. There are so many computers here. More than one per person. Just cause these kids are remote, does not mean they are not really tech savvy. Kids making great movies and really being very computer literate. The Internet is going to be great here. They can now join into video sessions and participate in the live sessions and download all they need.
The little ones are participating in e-kindly trials and it was fun to see them using reading eggs and doing their craft activities today. Now, as their dad said, they will be able to see the book their teacher is reading to them on the screen and their maths will improve. Not really but we were told the story today about a session when the teacher was asking the kids at Chuula to count the apples on the screen."3" they said. "Would you to try again?" Said the teacher. "3" they said again. They were right, only half the image had downloaded but the teacher did not know the kids could not see what she was seeing. Hopefully that won't happen again.
Judy and David at Chuula build their own web site so now they should be able to upload pages without timeouts and everyone's banking will work. We tested the speeds and signal strength over a couple of days and it is fast and fabulous. Paul got a signal right to the other side of the airstrip while Michelle chatted with Melissa and nursed the new baby. So it should be good. Bit of a download on the first night but hopefully all the computers have done their updating now and the 20 gigabytes will last the next 2 weeks or so. That's an interesting find for our report. On the first connection there is lots of computer updates to do, so we need to recommend the first month of a connection has a bigger download limit before shaping.
We have had great speeds, up to 300 kb per second. Except for the 30 mins or so when Paul was trying to complete our BAS and we were trying to book a campsite into Iron Range National Park. Typical. Otherwise it is very good - better than we get at Ipswich.
It was good for us to have some Internet too. Had been out of range for a while except for a slight connection at the ranger station in Lakefield. Paul had a chance for a 5 min Skype with Adrian, Janet and Ella, and we got the message that clever talented Nat is in the under 20 Australian squad for Rugby Union. It's nice to be connected and able to share the news 2500 km away from home.
We miss Budda ( and Timmy ). But Scruff reminded us so much of Budda. He had the same spots and had the same -"Well pat me!" look. He soon had Paul under control and was a great help testing the signal and websites.
So we are off to Lockhart in the morning and going to spend the weekend at Chilli Beach. Might even write the report between beach walks. Looking forward to catching up with Jasmine, Rikki and Paul too. Hope to see denise and visit the art gallery. Should be a big looong weekend, as our visits to Lockhart always are.
For those interested, my knee is holding up pretty well. Not brilliant but well enough. More later.......
 Chilli Beach

Chilli Beach Weekend Wednesday 31 October

Its hard to know what to write about the weekend as we did not do anything, and thus it was a pretty neat weekend. We drove into Lockhart to find the place pretty deserted for the long weekend. We bought some fresh bread and some sweet potatoes but that was about it.  Chilli was at its brilliant best. It was deserted, light breeze, brilliant sunshine but cool. It was such a visual delight. It is an amazingly pretty beach with white sound with a long palm tree rimmed beach edge.  Its my idea of perfection.  It was probabaly as beautiful this year as it was when I first saw it in 2002 and fell in love with the place. It's nice not having to share it much. We did see the odd local family and one other tourist and a ranger in 4 days.
So Paul baked cakes and roasts (again) , and spent lots of time  checking out the local birds and recording them in his book. I managed to walk the beach a few times, did some sewing I brought with me, read a book and managed to cook a few times. We have Internet now at Chilli so periodically we checked in on Facebook and email. We actually enjoyed doing nothing and think we could do it for a long time. It's been a nice realisation. I can't belive how long it takes me to do  nothing at all.

I still have not done our Chuula Report but it will happen, when we have more continuous power. My laptop battery is not in good shape any more after 4 years, so might have to invest soon.

Spent too much at the Art Galllery but some nice gifts and a couple pieces for us.

So we are back in Chuula now, doing the last techncial tests. Hoping to start heading back this afternoon towards Cooktown.

Cheers folks!

Drivin trip back down the cape - 3 November


Pictures: 1.  220 K to next turn off.  2. Driver's Distractions  3: Maybe we could just look through the windscreen to see the road.

We  decided to head back pretty fast. We had a call from Lisa to come back and help out in Townsville, so we had a speedy drive back along the dusty Cape Development Road and did not do our return trip into Mulkan Kanju. 

This might be a good time to talk about distractions in the cab. On the drivers side, we have the iphone in a holder tracking where we are going, which is handy for when we get lost and have to back track. The iphone also can play music, do texts and take phone calls - blue toothed to the radio. Now the radio has multiple knobs and dials, all which can be played with while driving. It also has a remote which can played with too. There is also a Reversing camera screen which apparently needs to be on constantly while driving forward just in case you want to watch the streaming dust video behind you. We also run a real GPS which takes at least 30 mins of fiddling with every start up even when you know perfectly well where you are going and you can check your speed on that round thing called a speedo. I try to keep the hand held GPS in the glove box but it comes out occasionally to check the other two, just in case...... Then there is the CB and its handset both of which need constant fiddling. I won't mention the Cruise Control and its indicator light or the spotlights with their separate switches or all the battery switches with their dials. On my side are the paper maps, a coffee cup holder and sometimes my iphone.

It was on this trip I decided when the GPS read 220 km to the next turn, that I would play with the video making and picture apps and amuse myself through the windscreen - at least one of us was looking forward. It was not all that exciting for most of the trip because red roads and trees don't change much but the changing light added interest. So after a welcome hamburger stop at Archer River Road House and a top up of fuel, we hit the road, again. You will note the bent aerial - it broke last year and in hanging in there with its two tent pegs though the corregations this time made it wobble through to interesting angles. I try not to look at it, cause it makes me car sick.

The roads in Cape York are improving. It tooks 6-8 hours from the Development Road to Lockhart on our first drive in and now we can get through in 4 or so. Usually by now the corregates are awful because of all the tourists, but they were not too bad this time round.

 We headed into Lakefield for a overnight camp before heading into Cooktown. It was very pretty at night and we had lots of animals crossing our paths. A couple of roos, but lots of birds. The paperbark trees in the river crossings were really neat in the spotlights.

We headed into the Hahn River - there was no one there for its full length. Had a cup of tea for supper and then decided to check out the local lizard population. Paul managed to drop his leg down a very large hole in the dark. It was a miracle that he did not break his leg. He managed to fall to his hip, not twist a knee and not encounter any ledges. He also did not fall forwards or sideways. So after dressing his abrasions, we went to bed, no matter how close the crocs were.  The morning revealed the hole. The view was as always, sensational. We cooked the chops we never had the night before and savoured our last view for the year of the park. Then we headed off again for the trek down Battlecamp Road into Cooktown, managing to find a sniff of signal at the ranger station for an email update, a check on Nan Sutton and the obligatory FaceBook entry.

 We spent the next day, what ever that was, driving to avoid the bushfires in Lakefield. It was interesting watching the big birds circling round waiting for their lunch to pop out lightly toasted. There was no traffic through Lakefield so even with the smoke, there was no much chance of running into anyone. Had an interesting moment when we stopped at one point to watch the rangers put up "Road Closed" signs across the road, for them to realise their car was parked on the wrong side of the barriers they just bashed into the road. Whoops!.  Battlecamp was okay and the sceney is always spectacular heading towards Hopevale. The mountain range there is very distinguishable with its caves and rocks. There is now bitumen over the range and no danger of sliding off it sideways, so you can relax and enjoy the view. Had lunch at the crossing at Isabella Falls, which is  nice place to bath before going into town.....



Much of the reason for finishing off this blog is because we went to visit Cassie and Rick as we always do and it always produces a story. Esme is the new addition to the family and she entertained us no end. She does like the afternoon dip and crackers with her beer. The other treat was to see some fighting roos in the paddock just near the house the next morning. I have never actually seen roos do that, so that was neat. Was a quick overnight stop over before a couple of meetings in Cooktown next day.

Townsville   6 November

On the jorney back to Townsville, we got to stay 24 hours in Cairns to catch up with Sue and Drew, Sue, Anne and Kev before we had to dash to Townsville to see Lisa and Danny. The twins seem intent on arriving too early. So with hopes and prayers in our hearts, we await the safe arrival of Paul's grandchildren numbers 5 and 6.


Till next year, Merry Christmas.