Cape York 2013

It all started at Yass.

Now Yass is a nice town and we met some really helpful fellows at the Yass men's shed, who sold me two exquisite Rosewood wine goblets for $10. But we gotta bit sick of Yass after 3 days. I had just taken over the driving on our trip back from Tassie to pick up Budda, and had just texted ahead to Jeff and Rick that we would be on time to get the boy on the Gold Coast. I jinxed everything. Driving into Yass to get fuel, a loud clunk caused us to stop at the men's shed, cause they had a big carpark and a huge awning under which we could park. We tried to duplicate the thunk and very time I drove the car it thunked  but not always when Paul drove it....

To cut a long story short, and to keep to the point, a wheel bearing had fallen apart. Try getting parts or a mechanics attention in Yass three days out from Easter. So at 6.00 pm on Good Friday eve, we finally started driving home. Unfortunately amongst other unfortunate outcomes, I missed Juli Rush's, Champagne  Breakfast on Good Friday, because we were camped in a paddock 100k from Yass, but not traumatised at all.

One of the fortunate consequences of having multiple blokes crawl under the truck to work out what was clunking, was that Paul and others discovered that three of our four brand new, very expensive tyres were splitting off the rims. Lucky they were under warrantee and we could get new ones delivered from Sydney to Yass, while we waited for a wheel bearing to be delivered. Given the potential disaster of blowing multiple tyres off the rims at once, the wheel bearing probably saved our lives. Bad batch of tyres apparently.


Travel 2013

 We had spent 10 weeks on the road, having the most sensational time in Tasmania, after which we actually stayed home for six days, before heading off to Canberra to undergo training for the Australian Civilian Corps, which we must have passed, because now we are on the ACC, a group of 500 Australian experts available to deploy to post disaster situations around the world. We came back from Canberra for another 6 days before heading north for our annual Cape York work assignment.

In this 6 days, Paul decided not to risk another wheel bearing failure and after what seemed like endless discussions with Nimmo, the other back wheel bearing was finally replaced. (Now all this detail is relevant, I promise.)

As we were packing the camper at night, I climbed up a step ladder in our storage room and fell off, gashing my eyelid and banging the eye socket rather hard. So with 80 percent of the packing done, we were at an emergency doctor. Even so we set off next morning with my shiny eye and my headache, after a great brekkie with Gary, Vicki, Brooke and Ryan.

We had to travel via Townsville to see the twins and Maddie, and Lockie and Shaylee. By the way, had a really nice overnight camp at Lake Murphy near Taroom on the way up. It's a great camp spot, with amazing bird life and quite a contingent of sugar gliders. Well worth a weekend or so. I digress. So after a couple of nights for Paul to catch up with all his grand kids, (while I had a really nice day with Romena, who happened to be in town), we set off north through the dozens of roadworks. The Bruce Highway  is atrocious these days with roadworks, adding about 2 hours a day to your travelling time.


And yet another thing.....

Stopped in Ingham because we discovered in doing a checklist of what we had on board, that both of us had packed wine into the truck and we had no chance of drinking that much before hitting Chuula where we can't take any alcohol. So we dropped off Paul's supply at the Cameron's in Ingham (hee he!). Lucky, sort of, because Paul discovered the back wheel was leaking oil and he could not work out why. Kept driving and got as far as Mt Molloy outside Mareeba and asked a mechanic there to have a look. As luck would have it for us only, it was 5pm on the eve of Anzac  Day, and according to locals, everyone was taking a 4 day weekend off. Looked like the wheel bearing fixed in Yass, was failing. Lucky the free camp at Mt Molloy is very nice and  we had a nice Anzac Day practicing cooking in the camp oven. I even got some sewing done.

On the Friday, the mechanic we use in Mareeba did go to his shed and he had a look and ordered parts - nothing in till Tuesday.  Great! Well here we are in the nicest part of the country on the Tablelands and we can drive the car, so long as we are not too silly, and we have 4 days to play. So first stop, Mareeba Coffee Works for lunch, then a few road side stalls for fresh veges, and a bargain 3-buy at the bottle shop at Atherton. Headed off into the Herberton Hills for a weekend on the river.

Hills in Herberton State Forest.

It was wonderful. There are lots of old logging tracks in the Herberton ranges but we were not exactly in a position to explore them. So we found a great campsite on the creek with a perfect natural pool for bathing. It was a tad cold in the mountains but our trip to Tassie had trained us somewhat.

The spot we had was in a rainforest gully and was surrounded by lovely hills of scerophyll forests, so we had some rather strenuous walks. We actually had to walk up the hill to get phone signal and Internet signal. This connection was useful,  because I managed to break the handle off the camper door and we were in serious danger of locking ourselves in the camper. This follows me breaking the outdoor kitchen latch half way round Tassie. I am consistent in my treatment of the truck, you would have to say. So from the top of the hill, we ordered  a new handle from Cairns and got it couriered up to Mareeba. It beat the wheel bearing. (Not sure why wheel bearings travel slower than other things.) More camp oven cooking and I actually got some more sewing done, finishing off the embroidery of a three piece duchess set. We were also starting to plan a job application for next year's work. Did some brainstorming around it and read the Request for Tender.

  Lake Tinnaroo

On Sunday night, we heading for Tinaroo Dam, which was pretty well abandoned as the unofficial long weekend for locals was over at last. Had a bit of a fish (no luck) and a wonderful couple days hanging about and walking round bits of the dam. We were beginning to think there was no one on the Tablelands as everywhere we went, we were the only folks about. It's an amazing country when you can go to these huge National Parks and have them to yourselves and when you can pick the best camp spots and not see anyone for days. It's been like that for the whole trip, as readers of our face book posts must get tired of learning.

Zane was coming

By the time we got back to Mareeba, a cyclone had emerged. So while getting the wheel bearing looked at, we anxiously watch Zane become a category 3 and head straight for Lockhart. Just where we wanted to go........

Now, it seems that our mechanic in Yass left out a seal on the wheel bearing. This meant that the new wheel bearing was no good and had to be cleaned up and replaced. Thanks, and thanks for another $500 of wheel bearings....... So we have now replaced 3 wheel bearings in 2 weeks on 2 wheels. Lucky the camper is a company car and the sting does not feel too bad. So all that detail was important, and it is not over yet.......

The waiting around meant that we had time to begin writing our job application and playing the seemingly endless game of working out what all the multiple clauses and sections really meant. Unpacking tenders so literally and responding just as painstakingly literally, means you really unpack the flaws in the tender docs. This one had a set of criteria and a different set of technical requirements, with different again evaluation points. It also asked for a business solution (fair enough) but then had no space to put such a thing in the template, we were required to use. Interesting games as anyone who has written tenders, funding applications or job apps will know.

By Tuesday night, after a lovely dinner with Mick and Helen in Mareeba, we decided we had better not drive into the cyclone. Not exactly a good place in a truck like ours and we also thought the rivers would cut off the road anyway. All the National Parks were closed and we had nowhere to hide inland. The cyclone was still heading for Lockhart. So we figured we would not get north for another week.

Now on Sunday the twins were being christened, so we figured we might as well head back to Townsville and join in the party. So we began travelling down the range and ended up at our favourite site in the South Johnstone. You guessed it, no one was there (or any other of the camps at Henrietta Creek etc). We camped near the bridge as it was raining a bit and the Misty Mountains were indeed being very misty. If ever you want to know the best camp spots on the Misty Mt trails, just ask.... The river was just pristine and clear and so we had a lovely time. It is a magical rainforest site and the only place where we have seen such a large forest of giant King ferns, which is a tremendous backdrop to your campsite. The next morning, we were having our usual slow start to the day, with breakfast of fruits, yogurts etc and realised it had actually rained a lot and was still raining. Not the best place to be, at the end of a long dirt track on the river, with a few muddy patches to navigate.

Was not an issue in the end. Coming into the Coast, we checked up on the cyclone to find it had nicely  disintegrated  and we probably would have been all right. Didn't know that before we made the decision to delay the trip north a week.

Family business

Travelled into Townsville a couple of days out from the christening in time to help Lisa and Danny prepare. Twas a lovely christening with all the family about. Annabelle had a loud cry for her introduction to God, but Immogen seems to think it was a pretty good thing. The cake was beautiful and everyone had at least one cuddle. With three babies in the house, there is plenty of cuddles to share.

It was really nice to have a chance to participate in this milestone. With how things had been going, it was unlikely we would have be back in  time for the event, so thanks cyclone Zane.

Wonderful family fun


Take 2

Monday we finally headed north again. Needed a bit of a restock as we had eaten a week of supplies plus used up lots from the freezer while in Townsville. The Tablelands is so green this year and it was still raining, so we really enjoyed retracing our steps. Even though we go north every year and lived in Cairns for a few years, we never take the beauty of the Tablelands for granted. We finally got to the Mt Molloy camp ground to restart the trip. It was a bit busier, an indication of the coming tourist season. With most national parks closed till June, most were heading to Cooktown towing their vans.  It amazes me why 2 people need such monstrous vans. It's astounding how much air gets towed around the lower cape and Cairns regional areas.

Next stop Coen Bend. It's a great camp site with a beautiful shallow river  surrounded by paperbarks. The swimming is really nice even though it is shallow - more like a float really. Terrific bird life and in the mornings the reflections are so wonderful. You can get Internet access there if you have a next G modem and so it makes for a useful prep spot for us. We often camp there a few days, but unfortunately not this time. There were a couple campers but it is a very long camp site. Late in the afternoon, one car turned up and the only other camper in the whole space had a boom box at the ready and turned it on and up to warn off the new arrivals. Idiots!  Next morning they were leaving with comments like "Part 2 of our grand adventure!" As if travelling through the main areas of Cape York is very adventurous these days. Every year the road improves. 

We were glad to see a convoy of four trucks go past us at Coen. We were listening to them on the CB.  The first car has to warn all the others of every bend, dip, water crossing and cow. Why I don't know because they are all only a few meters apart eating each other's dust. Had no idea how to drive on dirt roads and hit water like freight trains. You could tell they are looking for the first bog, egging each other on in the drains and gullies. They passed us once quite early and we were glad because they would not have even seen our break lights on in the dust, they were so close. 

Given it was still rather wet, there were many dips and lots of water over the road, so it was a very slow trip all the way up. Got to Archer River for a fuel stop and a hamburger. Woollies fuel vouchers are no good up here..... And diesel was just over $2.00 a litre. Got the local gossip on who was where and what had been happening since last year.


Wretched wheels again

Now, back on the wheel thing, we had developed an occasional squeak in a front wheel. Maybe a front wheel bearing. Maybe not! Now Paul can't hear high pitches and I can hear them particularly well, so our conversation now had deteriorated to "Now, not now" and returning grunts of acknowledgement.  At Archer, we needed to make a decision about whether to go to Weipa, where there is a mechanic and an airport for part retrieval or go onto Chuula. Since the squeak was intermittent, we pressed onto Chuula. We were at least retrievable by a tow truck if the wheel fell off.

Chuula at last

Turned off for Lockhart/Chuula at last and drove the last couple hours into the Outstation.  Now because the cyclone delayed us, the School of Dist Ed camp was on. This meant The Claudie family were in Cairns for the week. We arrived on Weds afternoon. No worries, we can get started and have a camp by the river.

The job this time, apart from checking all the phones we pass, is to conclude a trial of an Internet connection into outstations. So we interviewed one family, did some observations, tested the signal and generally checked signal strength and reach. It was really fascinating.

The Internet most urban folks take for granted is actually making life harder for those who can't get it. It is nearly impossible for kids to do home schooling or dist ed without it. You can't bank these days or pay bills, or even get paid easily, without it. You can't access most Govt services and the list continues. It's not until you are connected that you realise how dependent business is on the Internet and how they assume you have access to the web, email etc. So for many Indigenous people and the communities and enterprises they are beginning, Internet is important. We have been really excited about the impact Internet access on outstations can be.

The impact on the lives of the women of Chuula is inspiring. They have joined an online weight loss - healthy life program and done an amazing job. The online community and online sessions have enabled them to do something they could do unless they lived in a city. They have reconnected with family, created everyday glimpses of their lives by their remote family, schooled their kids and generally survived a wet season with their sanity intact. The social nature of the Internet is everything. The Internet enables the women to stay and has been the primary reason why they can stay long term and even why one came to join her husband. It's simple stuff, but very rewarding. So glad we made a difference to this bunch of Indigenous families living on their country and managing the land. If you ever go to Cape York, drop in and camp at Chuula and say hi. You will find it a very rewarding visit.

The NBN is starting to reach up here. For those with capacity to get a phone and a phone account, (not easy without a credit card etc), fast net access is becoming affordable for individual households, including in areas without mobile access. People were talking about $60 for 60 gig. That's reasonable, especially compared to previous costs. This extra availability, just makes us more determined to put in public Internet access everywhere, because most people can not establish an account or afford the costs if they could.

The goanna and the white lady.

Now the camp ground at Chuula is wonderful, on the banks of the pristine Claudie River. We camp a few metres from the river and have access to many swimming holes. The water is perfect and at this time of year, the run off is fast and actually creates a strong current. It is pretty secluded and perfect for swimming, washing and bathing.

When we were getting ready to head into Lockhart for some meetings, I decided to have a swim and wash my hair. Hair washing is not simple, because to avoid getting soaps in the river, I wet my hair in the river, take a bucket of water up the bank, shampoo up, rinse off and then have to go back to the river for more water for the conditioner part. It's easier to do this without clothes, as you can imagine. So here I am climbing up the river bank, gammy leg and all, starkers and carrying a bucket of water to find a very large goanna sitting at eye level, less than a metre away, right where my towel is and on the path we both want to use. We eyeballed each other, and even though he seemed keen to puff up and defend his path, the sight was too much and he scuttled back into the scrub. Lucky for me, because I had my good leg higher than my gammy leg and could not easily have gone backwards.

Such is a day camping.

Lockhart merry-go-round

The road from Chuula to Lockhart was a tad challenging. It had lots of water over the road and soft spots. The many dips were all full but nothing too serious. Potholes were the order of the day. The Pascoe River has a few ugly crossings and one in particular is a journey stopper. It is a wide crossing and you can't see from one side to the other so you can't really assess if there are any soft spots or deep holes in it. I should have been suspicious when there seemed to be a decided lack of traffic coming from Lockhart. We did see mayor Wayne Butcher drive out, which was a pity cause we needed to see him. With undeserved bravado, Paul plunged in (well not that fast), and part way over, the river seemed to be very close to my camera taking pictures out the window. We had found a hole. The Truck sort of floated and slipped sideways down stream and suddenly hit some higher gravel. Lucky, cause then the wheels gripped enough to let us propel forward. Cool.... But now we have to back through the river sometime to get back to Chuula and then go home. And it is raining. ......

We have a phone due for the old Lockhart site, but the wets and subsequent track damage, have made it impossible to install for a couple of years. We have stored the phone at Chuula, 160k from where it needs to go but can't get it any further. So we went to Lockhart to negotiate an alternative site. Been a bit troublesome because of how wet it is and how late the wet season has been. After a failed field trip, (too wet and I have a fear of bogging after the last time when we nearly lost the truck on that road), many meetings and lots of talk, we still don't know where it can go in the time we have available. At the council meeting, they suggested putting it on the banks of the Pascoe River we have trouble driving through. Sounds like a good idea to me. So we spent a lovely afternoon at Quintell Beach writing a quick report and recommendation and we will see what happens.

Dropping into Lockhart means we can go and spend time at Chilli Beach. All our blogs since 2008 have descriptions of what is such a neat place. I love it for the usual reason that we usually have it to ourselves and 60 k of white sand and blue water is heaven. It was deserted this time because it was incredibly windy and raining scuds of showers often enough to be unpleasant if you were not prepared for wet weather. We settled to campsite 17, which is very sheltered and with the wind roaring above the trees and with the awning angled to collect rainwater, we were snug and happy. I have written most of this blog there. Each year, the Lockhart kids do a beach clean up with Tangaroa Blue and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The prevailing winds and currents seem to wash up all the rubbish in the Pacific Ocean to this one patch of beach. I usually walk the beach with a couple plastic bags, and every year different things seem to dominate. I built a toothbrush forest one year which tourists kept going for ages. One year I collected hundreds of thongs for the thong trees. This year seemed to be the year for bottle tops and big plastic drums. I collected hundreds of bottle tops and left them in neat piles for the kids or the rangers to cleanup soon. So we had a pleasant and productive very Long weekend at the beach.

  While conducting meetings in Lockhart, we camped in the rainforest and it was really neat, even though it rained. Still managed to use the camp oven. There were a couple of scientists from UQ Gatton trapping micro bats on the track where we were camped so we had a great little tour of bat species in the area, plus learned about the other species they were looking for. We were able to help them too with some local info for further fauna surveys. We always meet really interesting people in the Iron Range national park areas. It's never dull.

We went to Quintell Beach every day to have lunch, make phone calls and catch up on email etc. It has a nice office window view. Had a treat seeing the rare palm cockatoos a few days and a large flock of frigate birds.

We have a final report in Lockhart tomorrow and we head off back to Chuula to do some interviews.




It is Saturday late morning, and all is well. It's a bit of a rest day, though we have two interviews to do this afternoon. We are back on the banks of the Claudie River at Chuula. It's good to camp with some wonderful clean water and have fine weather for a change. It's even hot; 28 degrees making a swim every couple of hours rather delightful. Done the washing, washed the mud out of the tiles and floor of the truck, washed the mats and Paul even dismantled the fridge/freezer and we cleaned under it. We had slightly mouldy toast crusts at breakfast and that ends the bread supply.

We have dwindling supplies now after 4 weeks on the road and 3 weeks since the last supermarket. I am on my emergency supply of soy milk which should last me 4 days. We have probably only 100 g of Mareeba chocolate coffee left. No bread, biscuits or anything remotely green, except for the mould this morning. We have tea, so all is not lost. Paul has just made a savoury damper for lunch. I had some flour, dried herbs, some sundries tomatoes in a bottle and some bacon. We have about 5 days meat left, a bit of pasta and rice and potatoes and sweet potato. We also have about 5 emergency ration packs we make up. We could probably go for 10 lean days if necessary.

We have to go up to Top Peach range tomorrow, and as much as we are looking forward to it, the track up might very well require us to use emergency supplies. In the meantime, dinner today is going to be some thick-cut bone-in steaks and potatoes and sweet potato in the coals. Mince, sausages and chicken pieces after this. Such is our domestic life on the road. Still lIfe is pretty good for a Saturday.


Top Peach was awesome.


Well that was a journey and a half. We travelled down to the ranger station and quarantine station and left our the truck safely parked. We travelled up with Bushy and family and some other elders from the family to see if it was possible to get a phone installation into the top camp. The first creek convinced me it was pretty unlikely and that was not the worst of it.

Three hours of spine jarring, knee wrenching bumps and dips later, we arrived. It was a beautiful area though and the pristine rivers were just wonderful. We had really terrific cuppas and chats and the characters in the family made the whole trip worthwhile. Funny funny stories plus lots of recollections of being a stockman through that country in the 60s and 70s. The area is also rich in Indigenous history with burial grounds, bora bora rings etc. it was a privilege to go.

One of the amazing things was the skills of these bushies and locals at driving. They could drive through anything and nothing fazed them. They cut trees, reshaped gullies, build ramps. Amazing. Water was a bit harder to tame.

We drove back in a bit less time but not before a few head bumps. We were rather exhausted by the time we got back but richer for the experience. The installers certainly won't drive in there but we have organised the delivery of the hone in parts and the local boys will drive them in. Hopefully the comms will do heaps to establish the Outstation facilities and keep everyone safe.

      The road home

Going home

After our adventure day, we finally headed south and had hundreds of K's on the dirt. It is still a great drive and there is always new stuff to see. We had to go via Crocodile Station and Welcome Station  to get two of the last phone sites signed up. We have been trying to get a phone for these Indigenous training sites for ages, so it was great to get the forms signed and sent in. It was also fun to cross the new Laura bridge, instead of having to play in the river. The cape roads improve every year, so much so there is little adventure left for the tourists. I remember driving the Laura river with Therese when it was flooded - you would not believe the bridge Therese.

We had a neat drive back to Cairns via Cooktown where we got to meet Ollie Roo, Cassie and Ricks new addition to the family. There is always a new addition to that family every year.....   Ollie was too cute for words. Cassie takes him to school every day in a shoulder bag. Only in Cooktown would you find a teacher with a kangaroo in her handbag.

Also had a great drive through the Daintree. Called in Wujal Wujal Art Gallery and got a nic new pot for the kitchen and a birthday pressie for Kerry. Went to our favourite spot for lunch. it would have been very easy to stay a few days but we had to keep going. Some spots are priceless.

Unfortunately in Cairns we found out nan was sick and so we drove quickly to Townsville where Paul flew home. On the way we had a teleconference while parked at the TiTo Wetlands and found out we have more Cape York work coming up, so at least we get to have our adventures in the north again. So till next time......