Stage 2: Cairns to Darwin across the Savannah Way
Estimated kilometres: 3200
Towns visited: 37
Modes of transport: 1
TITLE: Go Time!
Day one was a long time in the making, so long in fact that it was difficult to believe it was finally happening. I’d played this moment over in my head so many times since work began on this stage and now here I was standing at the airport checking in my overweight bag (no surprises there). A mere 28kg – those extra 5kg were of course essential.
Stage three was about to begin, but this time I would not be setting off alone. Goncalo, a friend from Portugal would be joining me to film the journey, to help me tell the story and provide further insight into my time on the road. It was a good feeling to have company, though the prospect of being filmed on a daily basis was daunting to say the least.
Filming had officially begun three days earlier on the evening of Dad’s Anniversary so I’d had a taste of it. From this introduction I’d gained a tiny bit of confidence, just enough to know that given time, I may become comfortable enough to ignore the camera and ‘act’ naturally.
I wasn’t quite there yet though and also needed to stop directing questions at Goncalo while he was filming.
“I’m not here.” He kindly reminded me. After I’d given him a big grin as I walked by wheeling my bag to the check in counter.
The first leg of the journey was the flight from Hobart to Sydney, uneventful and pleasant. It was nice to just be for a while, after so many months of planning I was exhausted well before this day! In Sydney we used the time to catch up on emails, calls and post on Facebook before getting some lunch. Due to board at 1.40pm we made our way to gate 45 and joined the line of people. Moments before having our tickets scanned a chirpy voice came over the PA, “Reminder, Virgin Australia flight 1421 is now departing from gate 34.” We were in the line to go to Australia’s country music capital, Tamworth. Not part of the plan.
On the right plane we stowed our carry on luggage of which we had three items each, Eye Spy signage for the vehicle came in one large bubble wrapped cylinder and a big flat bubble wrapped square, we had a camera bag each and our laptops as well as the jackets we’d each discarded as the temperature was 10 degrees warmer than Hobart, a balmy 17.
A child cried for much of the three plus hours in flight but this didn’t bother the man seated alongside Goncalo. He had his earphones in and was switching between reading comics on his iPad and play air guitar. Across the aisle was a women we’d spotted earlier in the bar where we’d eaten lunch. I don’t think she’d eaten lunch but she’d made up those missing calories in alcohol. This resultant inhibriated state turned her into the baby whisperer and even though the screaming child was three rows in front on the opposite side she instigated a game of “peek-a-boo” which was surprisingly successful. Either that or the child was in shock. Whichever it was, we were surrounded.
On the ground in Cairns we were met by Jason, he would be driving the support vehicle on this stage. Jason took us all to our accommodation in Cairns. Tropical North Queensland Tourism had put us up at the Mantra Trilogy for two nights which afforded us a wonderfully comfortable base from which to prepare the vehicles and gather supplies.
By this stage it’s 6.30pm, just enough time to have a quick shower and head to the Boatshed for dinner with friends. Over a well earned beer and a tasty meal of kangaroo we shared stories of adventure before walking back to the hotel to fall into bed.
TIP: You never need to be so rushed that you resort to peeling away the foil underneath the cap of the complimentary shampoo bottle with your teeth. More shampoo in ended up in my mouth than would’ve been required to wash my hair sufficiently.
KMS: Only 5 by road today
TRACK: Flight Facilities – Clair De Lune (feat.
TITLE: Preparation (more)
I slept for six hours straight without moving, it was as if the bed had been remade with me in it. Good thing too because we had a massive day ahead, but first, breakfast. Fuelled on bacon and eggs we took a walk along the esplanade and then headed down to pick up the 4WD.
It was waiting for us, loaded with camping gear and a recovery kit. There was no room left! The manager offered us a roof top bag which we jumped at. He handed it over and left us to it. Goncalo and Jason set about securing it on the roof. After ten minutes I went and got the manager who seemed a little perplexed that two blokes couldn’t work it out – they would have, this was just quicker. Back inside I filled out all the paperwork and signed the umpteen pages of terms and conditions, all the while being reduced to the vulnerable tourist he clearly saw me as.
“See this?” he asked, pointing to the scar on his forearm. “A croc did this.” he said. “I went down to the river and never saw it coming, you won’t, you don’t see them, they see you though.”
“Right.” I said trembling as I scrawled my initials across the pages in front of me.
“They look for patterns in your behaviour.” he continued. “Never repeat the same actions at the same time of day, they’ll catch on, they’ll be watching you.”
“Okay.” I said, racking my brain for something to say to change the topic.
“How many kilometres will I get to a tank?” I asked
“About 1100,” he said and in the same breath, “it’s their breath that’s the worst though, the SMELL, I’ll never forget that smell.”
“Okay all done.” I said backing out the door. “Thanks.”
We decided it would be best to leave the seats down in the 4WD, for extra space and because after those stories I was adamant I would be placing my belongings in a tent and sleeping in the vehicle. They wouldn’t go down and our illustrious crocodile guru couldn’t help us either. He did however call a local mechanic and point us in his general direction.
Seats flat, or close enough, a couple of spare fuses and a “she’ll be right” from the mechanic and some confidence had been restored.
Back at the Mantra it was time to put the signage on the vehicle, Eye Spy signage in Hobart did an amazing job, nothing was too much trouble and the result was exactly what I’d hoped for. It just took us a while to put it all on! We wanted it to be perfect and so an hour and a half later we’d done one vehicle. Jason’s ingenious idea to spray soapy water (brought all the way from Burleigh Heads) saved the day, we’d still be there now if he hadn’t. With one vehicle complete I suggested Goncalo (affectionately now referred to as Fred) and I go to the supermarket to gather supplies for the journey while Jason tackled the other vehicle – marginally easier to do alone.
Upon arriving at the supermarket we grabbed a trolley and began working our way through the list. Water was first up and after loading 75 litres into the trolley we had to go back for another.
Second trolley over flowing we headed for the check out and manoeuvred our way across the road to the car. With the shared shop done it was back to the supermarket to get snacks. What road trip would be complete without chocolate – this took pride and place in the fridge, and we’ll have no shortage.
At the Mantra we took five before thinking about dinner, given we’d been too busy to stop for lunch we were pretty hungry. Fred stayed behind to catch up on some work while Jason and I walked back down to the Marina for dinner. With Barramundi on our minds we looked at the menus out front and made a decision.
“Sorry, we couldn’t seat you until 9.30pm.” We were told. We were kindly recommended a couple of other places nearby and phoned ahead to both, it was a case of third time lucky at a restaurant quite literally two minutes walk from our hotel, we’d walked off dinner before dinner! Never-mind, the barramundi was worth the wait.
TIP: The soapy water from Burleigh Heads is simply the best in the country.
KMS: 8 today
TRACK: Angus & Julia Stone – Main Street
TITLE: Cattle Safari
So it’s time to begin for real. Bags packed and loaded into the vehicle we filled up with diesel and bought cord so I could attach my iPod, no road trip would be complete without a playlist. Then it was time to meet with a photographer from the Cairns Post for photo to accompany an article that would run in the following day’s newspaper.
Just as I was beginning to feel marginally okay with being filmed by someone I know I was back to pretending this happens all the time and that I was completely comfortable sitting on the bonnet of a 4WD at the entrance to the Mantra Trilogy having my photo taken by a complete stranger. The whole ‘acting’ naturally went out the window. I felt and probably looked more like one of those mannequins you see in the shop windows, unable to move freely, looking somewhat robotic and smiling like a moron.
Photoshoot complete it was time to get the last of our gear and head off. As we made our way out of town we began the gradual climb up the Gillies Range, famous for its 263 corners, and 800m elevation change in only 19km of road. Seemed to go on forever but the views were spectacular.
It was nearing lunchtime so we called into the highest pub in Queensland at Ravenshoe, having envisaged a traditional pub meal we were surprised to find that Sunday lunch was on this day an Indian buffet, with pavlova for dessert. We gave it a miss and pushed on to the next town Mt Garnett, the roadhouse there does great burgers so we each devoured one and returned to the vehicles.
The cattle safari began on the way to Undara, with no fences they roam free. I spotted a small gathering off to the left but neglected to see the one camouflaged right by the road. From then on the local contingent was out in force, what a welcome.
At Undara we were greeted by Kane the manager who had set us up with some accommodation for the night, he led the way on his quad bike and we promptly unloaded our gear and drove back to the restaurant for a beer and barramundi. Tired and content we piled into the 4WD to navigate our way back to camp. The first attempt was unsuccessful, the second attempt was just as unsuccessful because we ended up in the same spot. After the fourth failed attempt where we had to reverse out of a campsite we decided to go back to reception, Jason went and asked the way, even brought Kane to the car to ensure we all heard the directions so he couldn’t be held responsible. We made it!
I was so looking forward to getting some sleep, I went up the stairs to my little cabin and had a quick look around the room to check for creepy crawlies, lifted the curtain. Big mistake, a yellowish, almost translucent gecko fell out. I screamed. Those things aren’t pretty. It fell on the floor and disappeared. Fred came in to see if I was alright, I told him what had happened.
“What way did he go?” he asked
“Left!” I said with urgency. Fred went back to his room to get his camera tripod and ushered it out after taking the scenic route around the walls.
I couldn’t sleep.
TIP: Don’t check behind the curtains
TRACK: The xx – Islands
TITLE: A Long Day on the Road
Good morning. Apparently I slept, but only for 4 hours. Geckos may have featured in my dreams, I swear the curtain moved again during the night. Nevermind, breakfast awaited. Not just any breakfast either, an authentic bush breakfast, billy tea and freshly brewed coffee. We cooked our own toast over the coals of the campfire and then enjoyed bacon, sunny side up eggs and sausages.
Kane met me at breakfast and we talked at length about the history. The Undara Experience is a product of the Collins family, the earliest white settlers in this locality whose cattle grazed in the area since 1862.
Gerry Collins, a fourth generation member of this pioneering family, applied to develop a tourist facility in 1987 to showcase the Lava Tubes located on his family holding, Rosella Plains Station. Working closely with regional and state government bodies, the Collins family proposed a national park should be gazetted around the caves, and tours to the lava tubes be accessed from a lodge facility managed by the family.
In December 1989, the theme of the Undara Experience accommodation was born when Gerry discovered eleven de-commissioned Queensland Railway carriages on a siding in Mareeba. The carriages were duly purchased and restored to provide the unique style of eco-accommodation that Undara Experience has become well known for.
I listened intently whilst enjoying my breakfast and strategically working my way around my plate saving the sausage until last. I was most surprised to see it swiftly taken from my plate by a kookaburra who, unbeknown to me, had been watching from a prime vantage point, a nearby gum tree. He timed it perfectly and for such precision I let it go, as if I had a choice. I went back for some cereal, he wasn’t nearly as keen on that.
We left just after 8am. Five minutes down the road I looked in the rear view mirror, no Jason. I thought it best to pull over and wait. He showed up eventually, his vehicle wasn’t ready to leave having had a minor tantrum, fortunately not a lengthy one and we were soon on our way again.
We were bound for Georgetown, The furthest West in Tropical North Queensland that Dad had been in the area and officially our starting point. The concept of The Bold Line is to join the lines on the map, to start and end where Dad left off so to be here was significant.
Jason’s temperature gauge kept rising so while he did a tour of the town’s mechanics we went to the Ampol for fuel. I decided to call in here because it was the biggest and I imagined if Dad had needed fuel before he left this may have been where he went.
In Normanton, much further down the road Jason stopped at another mechanics while Fred and I went onto the Albion Hotel to check in. Carolyn kindly gave us rooms for the night and we unloaded our gear. Fred went for a walk and took some photos while I stared almost cross-eyed at my computer screen writing a blog entry before my eyes glazed over and I gave in to a power nap.
For a meal that evening we walked all five metres to the bar, ordered pizza and a beer and sat on the deck talking about he day as a cool breeze blew. So refreshing after a day of intense heat. One beer felt like liquid gold. I recalled saying in an article for Australian Traveller back in 2011 about the first stage how I had come to fully comprehend the joy a beer could bring at the end of a long, hot day and today was yet another example. Dad’s beer of choice was Cascade Premium Light, it meant that he could enjoy a couple and not be over the limit. I remembered then my twenty first birthday when Dad had given me some money to buy drinks for my party. “Get whatever you like, just make sure you get me a carton of Cascade Premium Light.”
Not a beer drinker back then, I came home with Boags Premium Light. I still feel bad about that to this day.
Jason had taken off to Karumba for the night to check out the town, while there he saw an up turned crocodile, a golf course mowed regularly by wallabies and the Sunset Tavern, a hive of activity – a typical outback pub but on the coast.
With more still to write a glass of red was in order before returning to my room to call it a night.
TIP: When stopping on the road to photograph a passing lizard (big one) make sure all your cargo is strapped down, otherwise your stopping time is much slower. The lizard will have time to cross the road and make a cup of tea. We didn’t get a shot of the lizard.
TRACK: Blue Kind Brown – All Nations
TITLE: All Aboard!
There’s nothing wrong with chocolate and half a banana for breakfast. I don’t suggest you take bananas on a road trip though, they don’t fair well in the fridge and they’re worse left in the heat.
Once packed we headed through town to the train station. The officer in charge, Ken, had us on the 9am departure for Critters Creek, a two hour round trip on the Gulflander Train – I’d been looking forward to this.
The Gulflander train journeys through savannah floodplains and goldfields on original heritage listed steel rails and sleepers that were constructed in 1891. The affectionately named “Old Tin Hare” rattles and rolls along with great commentary, informative stops, lots of history and still delivers the mail. The 5 hour trip from Normanton to Croydon overnighting in Croydon before returning to Normanton the next day is what it’s known for but in the tourist season the train also does 2 hour return trips to Critters Camp – this worked in well time wise for us so we took our seats and settled back to enjoy the ride.
There’s something relaxing about travelling by train, for me I think it was also the chance to stare out the window at the surroundings and not with unwavering concentration on the road ahead. On the return journey Ken pulled the train up on the bridge and let Fred and I off to take photos and film. He backed the train up and crossed the bridge once more. Me with camera poised standing in a dry river bed and Fred positioned up alongside the tracks ensured we got some great images and footage with plenty of passengers waving as the train rolled by.
Before leaving town we dropped by the BP to see Wayne, the local mechanic who’d been giving Jason some advice. Wayne’s workshop was a photographer’s dream, even for an amateur photographer such as myself. I’m sure he knew where everything was but to the passer by it was a sight to behold! I’ll post a photo on Instagram as soon as I can use my mobile – at the moment I can only get WiFi on my laptop and have no reception.
Burketown was our aim for the day, it was to be five hours on the road by the time we’d made a few stops. The first of which was Burke and Wills Campsite 119, this was their most Northerly campsite during their expedition in 1861. On February 1861, four members of the Burke and Wills expedition attempting to cross the Australian continent from South to North established their most northerly campsite adjacent to the Bynoe River in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Two of the party camped at this location for three days while expedition leader Robert Burke and surveyor William Wills ventured further North in an attempt to reach the Gulf Coast. During their occupation of camp 119 the party blazed fifteen trees to mark it’s location, all of which were marked. It was surreal to be there, reading the history and imagining what it would have been like for them back then – all before returning to the comfort of our air-conditioned vehicle loaded with supplies.
The road conditions varied, much of time it was only one lane, you’d have to move off onto the gravel if a car was coming in the other direction. Other times it was all gravel – you always need to concentrate on the road but on these roads I needed to take it to a whole new level, you’re constantly judging where best to position the vehicle for a smooth ride, dodging the big rocks, looking out for wildlife and what’s up ahead.
It was hot and I wasn’t drinking nearly enough water, we pulled over for a bit of a break and while Fred was shooting some footage I stood talking to Jason.
“Look.” I said pointing to the ground. “That was a big lizard.” I said staring at what I thought was a leathery version of the lizard’s former self.”
“That’s a dried up cow pat B.” Said Jason.
“Oh.” I said. “I think I’m going to get some water, could be I’m dehydrated.”
The afternoon was getting away from us but as we crossed Leichhardt Falls the riverbed either side of the causeway was completely dry so we pulled off onto it to make ourselves a snack and take a look at the nearby gorge.
75kms on and we’d pulled up in front of the Burketown Pub, the original pub was the oldest in the Gulf area but it sadly burnt down in 2012. Nevertheless it’s now back better than ever and owners Peter and Ian had put us up for the night in the well appointed cabins at the back. Peter used to be a truck driver himself so The Bold Line story meant something to him too having lost a number of close friends during his time on the road. He made us feel right at home and we propped ourselves up at the bar with a beer and me with my laptop. Fred and Jase took to the pool table to while I worked on the blog. A local Aboriginal man stood alongside me, ordered a drink and asked my name, in the same moment Peter popped Jason’s room keys in front of me and said, “don’t leave those lying around.”
My new friend piped up assuming the keys were mine and said, “Jeez you’re making it easy for me, is that an invitation?”
“You should give stand up comedy a go because you can’t possibly be serious.” I replied glancing over in Jason and Fred’s general direction hoping they’d come back soon.
They did and we ordered dinner. The Wild Barramundi on the menu had caught my eye and I was not disappointed!
TIP: UHF radios are great on a trip like this. Today two road trains pulled off the road to let us pass by. I said “thank you” over the radio and then heard Jason’s voice “It’s peak hour traffic today!” He said.
“Yep,” I replied “at least they moved over for us.” Turned out I wasn’t speaking with Jason, it was one of the truck drivers. Oops. Must remember it’s not a private line.
TRACK: Moonrabbit – Cloud Control
TITLE: What Day Is It?
A pie with sauce from the bakery across the road to start the day. I went for a standard meat pie, not tempted by the camel version sitting alongside. It was too early in the day for a pie as it was!
Fuelled, the car and ourselves we set off for the town of Gregory. As it was still early we continued on from there following all the signs to Lawn Hill Station. Belinda and Lux were going to put us up for the next two nights and we were looking forward to having a day where we didn’t have to be anywhere. Part of the road we were travelling on was being sealed. We’ve all seen men and women holding the stop/slow sign in road works directing traffic but for someone to be standing out in this intense heat on a remote newly tarred road was something else. And he still had a sense of humour.
The sealed road ended as quickly as it began and the corrugations shook any remaining sense our slightly dehydrated, little bit hungry selves had left. The dust was thick and prompted Fred to get on the radio to check on Jason. “Falcon one to falcon two, are you up there?” Falcon two do you copy?”
We entered the gate at Lawn Hill Station and drove up the hill to see what could only be described by us in that moment as an oasis in the desert. We were met by Belinda who offered us a cup of tea and answered all the questions I had, a big glass of water and I’d suddenly come back to life.
Made to feel instantly welcome we all took a walk around the grounds and admired the view from the cliff top at the back of their home. This view was not like any other I’d seen, from this commanding position it made you truly appreciate the region through which we’d been travelling and contemplate what lay ahead. It made me feel inspired. I could have stared out at the horizon for hours, but there would be plenty of time for that.
We met Belinda’s husband and Station Manager Lux shortly after and their two children Regina and Jack. Belinda suggested we head down to the creek to cool off – we didn’t need to be asked twice and quickly hopped in the troopie to follow Belinda, her grandfather Mr Hall and the two kids in their buggy down to the water.
“Are there any crocodiles down here?” I asked four year old Jack.
“No,” he said, “just freshies.” These of course being freshwater crocodiles. I’d established over the last few days that “freshies” weren’t of major concern to locals, predominantly because they were smaller, their jaws too. Still let me tell you, if I entered the water and felt something brush past me I would be propelled out of the water in fashion reminiscent of one of those jetpacks you see launching people skyward above the waves at the beach. Needless to say I took photos, went in up to my ankles and enjoyed myself immensely. Jack and Regina we curious about our cameras and took great pleasure in learning how they worked and trying them out for themselves. Between them they took some great shots, albeit well over 200 so the odds were good!
Back on the hill sunset was fast approaching so we headed back to the cliff top to enjoy a beer with new friends and watch the sun go down.
Chris is the cook at Lawn Hill and does an amazing job, she’s up early preparing breakfast, baking for the 9am ‘smoko’ break and thinking about lunch and dinner long before anyone else. That evening she served up roast beef and veggies which we shared with the Lethbridge family and all those who make the community at Lawn Hill one to admire.
That night Fred, Jason and I shared a bottle of red. We talked about our first days on the road as I took notes and Fred worked on the photos and footage. By 11pm we called it a day, and a wonderful one at that.
TIP: It’s the people you meet when you travel that make the journey come alive, our time with everyone at Lawn Hill was to be no exception.
TRACK: Death Cab for Cutie – Little Wanderer.
TITLE: Home Away From Home
Breakfast was being served at 6.30am so I was up early to shower. So was another Lawn Hill resident, a frog. He was perched on the shower door and didn’t seem all that keen to leave. I showered without taking my eyes off him for fear if he jumped on me I would wake up anyone who wasn’t already up. Best behaved frog ever, he didn’t budge. I emerged feeling very grateful and got dressed for the day.
Fred and Jason were yet to have any close encounters and couldn’t quite understand why I was having all the ‘luck.’ Neither could I. Regina had an online class at 9.30 so I went along to observe. It was great to see. She has her own desk and laptop set up in a quiet corner of the school house. Headphones on and reading material close at hand Regina interacts with her teacher and her classmates from other remote cattle stations. She is even able to see the other children’s work on the screen once it is submitted, such an important element when you’re not in a classroom environment. I thought I’d slip away unnoticed so I wasn’t cause for any distraction but she caught me. “Where are you going?” She asked.
“I’m going to leave you to it, I’ll see you at lunch time, you’re doing a great job!” I said.
At 10am we set ourselves up out on the cliff top to catch the weekly mail delivery. Every Thursday the mail comes in by light aircraft, this we did not want to miss. With the runway off to the right were in a prime location to film. The plane flew in over the run way and off into the distance to turn. Flying low overhead it came in for landing, what a sight! Belinda went down to the runway in the buggy to collect the mail making my daily trudge to the mail box back home seem rather mundane.
Adels Grove was only a 30 minute drive away so we left the station to head there for a look. Jason and Fred swam at their own risk and used the tree rope to swing out over the water. There clearly wasn’t anything lurking beneath the surface at this time while they were offering themselves up as bait.
Back at Lawn Hill Station is was time for lunch, Jason was given directions to a creek nearby where he might find a crocodile so he and Fred got ready to head out. Four year old Jack decided he’d like to go too, with his cowboy boots and hat he was all set to go. Little Jack was a wealth of information and his sense of direction – enviable! The three boys set off in a cloud of dust at which point I wandered around the back to the clifftop and raised my arms above my head stretching while breathing in the fresh air and taking in the surroundings. Lack of both sleep and no time alone was catching up with me and I was looking forward to having some time as well as a much needed power nap.
As I walked around the front to my room I saw Jason’s car pull up, they’d only been gone twenty minutes! Jack jumped out of the back and came over as they took off again. “Did you change your mind Jack?” I asked. He had his head down but was nodding. I figured I’d find out more when they got back. Lux pulled up in the landcruiser and wandered over to where I was seated outside the office on the verandah.
“How are you?” He asked. “You’re looking a little washed out.”
“I’m great Lux, just tired but so pleased to be here.”
“Would you like to go down to the creek to practice a couple of water crossings before you have to do your first tomorrow?” He asked.
“I’d love to!” I replied. I knew doing this would give me the knowledge and confidence to do it on my own. Lux has a knack for reading people and I have no doubt he knew it was just what I needed.
We took my car and the lesson began, four crossings later I felt great, I was even looking forward to the next day’s crossing further up the river and grateful for the opportunity to learn from someone who understood my apprehension.
Back on the hill I went to my room thinking I might just shut my eyes for ten minutes. I woke up and hour later when Fred came by with Regina and Jack calling my name. The sun was beginning to set so we all met once more at the back of the house to watch for the last time at Lawn Hill, enjoy a beer and the wonderful company.
Talking about family Lux was saying his parents were in their 70s. “That’s not old!” I said.
“Bloody oath it’s not.” Said Mr Hall who was entering his ninety first year. We all laughed heartily, packed up and made our way inside for dinner.
Seated at the table Fred asked, “So tell me, what’s your secret for being so good looking and full of life at ninety years of age?”
“My wife looked after me well for sixty years.” He said.
“And you had four daughters.” Said Belinda.
“Oh, you think that helped do you?” Mr Hall said with a grin.
I headed off to my room at a reasonable time, and then back over to borrow Fred and Jason’s bathroom. A big (well bigger than the one in the shower the day before) green frog had take up residence in my toilet and I thought I’d let him be.
TIP: Jason told me later about his afternoon; He and Fred had missed a turn to the right believing they were following the directions Belinda had given them. Jack was sitting in the back and said, “You should have turned Jason.”
Moments later Jack said quietly, “I need to see my Mum.” The poor little man! He must have wondered where they were taking him! Lesson; never underestimate a four year old’s sense of direction on a cattle station, it’s second to none.
TRACK: Xavier Rudd – Let Me Be
TITLE: How Many Calories in Dust?
The big green frog was still in the toilet, I could see his leg poking out from under the rim. I wasn’t taking any chances.
Lux had offered to drive the road train across the creek so Fred could get some footage, I hopped up into the cab and went with Lux while Fred and Jason took off in the troopie. It felt good to be sitting up in a truck again chatting to someone who reminded me of Dad in many ways. On the way back we began talking about doing what makes you happy and also about family, both struck a cord with me and as we approached the yard my eyes were welling with tears, Lux handed me a hanky just as we heard Jason’s voice come over the radio. “Fred would like to do an interview with you and Lux, wants to come up and sit in the back of the cab.” He said.
“Okay just give me a minute.” I replied wishing the conversation didn’t have to end.
I suppose in a sense it didn’t have to, but in my mind having that conversation on camera was not me and I was finding it more difficult to be myself on this stage as it was. I’d put my heart and soul into this for over twelve months and loved every moment of it so I needed to be stronger, to stay true to myself before it came to an end and I was left wishing.
The interview was revealing in its own right, I was beginning to feel a little more at ease with the camera when I was conversing with someone, it felt more natural than speaking one on one with the camera. It also helped that we’d spent a couple of days with Lux and Belinda and the conversation flowed naturally. We talked about his experiences on the road and what it was like to bring up children on a cattle station. Fred was perched up behind us in the sleeper part of the cab with the camera rolling.
We all purchased a Lawn Hill Station shirt – our memories of the place so good we were proud to wear it like a badge! We waved goodbye, Jason leading the way with a mud map Lux had drawn that would alleviate Jason’s navigation by elimination approach and take us across the property and over the river I was now looking forward to crossing! This part of the river was beautiful, it was wide; trees dipped their branches into the clear water looking down over the rocky river bed. It was all over too soon and we were almost into the next town, Doomadgee. I’d planned for us to stay here the night originally but as it wasn’t that far along from Lawn Hill I thought we’d push on to Hells Gate Roadhouse.
At Doomadgee we met with Paul the Manager of the Roadhouse, he gave us some insight about the road ahead. Jason and I bought ice-creams and one for Fred. We devoured these outside while watching three aboriginal children ride by on horseback and others darting in and out of the shop with their parents.
I’d phoned ahead to Hells Gate Roadhouse the day prior, Leona and Bill said there was a couple of campsites with our name on them and that they’d recently had fuel delivered so it looked like we were in luck.
Wild pigs bolted across the road and into the scrub, wedge-tailed eagles soared above while Fred and I shielded our faces from the dust each time a truck went by as we inched closer to our destination.
At Hells Gate Roadhouse the three of us got to work on the tents and undertook a moment of frantic searching when it appeared that all the tent poles were missing – they showed up eventually, tucked away at the bottom of the big bag we had strapped to the rhino rack. Phew! Okay so we had the poles, five per tent. We were pretty sure we had two of them where they were meant to go, that left three and some corner bits with seemingly no function. It’s fair to say we’ll get to Darwin and still not know for sure where they were to go.
One of our campground neighbours called out, he had a book he thought I might find useful so I borrowed it for a couple of hours and went off to write for a little while. Turned out he used to be a truck driver too and was born the same year as Dad – same month aswell. He runs a transport company but loves to get away with his wife and see Australia.
It was fine dining this night, Fred and I were working on our laptops in the roadhouse when chef Jason arrived with beer and a tub of rice and tuna each – forty five seconds in Leona’s microwave and dinner was on the table!
TIP: There were no bugs or reptiles in the toilets back in the campgrounds, possibly due to this sign:
LIGHTS ATTRACT INSECTS
INSECTS ATTRACT FROGS
FROGS ATTRACT SNAKES
PLEASE PUT THE TOILET LIDS DOWN
AND TURN OFF THE LIGHTS
THE ROYAL FLYING DOCTORS ARE TWO HOURS AWAY”
TRACK: The Very Best – Hear Me
KMS: 195 – these kilometres are no reflection of the hours spent in the vehicle!
TITLE: The Eight Hour Drive.
A hot shower, an oversized bowl of cereal and yoghurt each, tents packed away, mats and stretchers folded our gear rearranged so it could be secured better, vehicles topped up with diesel and we were out of there! Given it’s the last place with fuel until Borroloola Hell’s Gate Roadhouse has a certain feel about it and everyone there had a story of their own to tell. Leona had certainly looked after us and I was feeling very fortunate to have such wonderful people supporting The Bold Line.
It wasn’t long before the scenery changed, taller green trees lined the dirt road, the dips in the road became more pronounced and the signs that usually accompanied them missing. The attention required was intense, but as far as dirt roads go I was pleasantly surprised, what I’d been imagining was far worse. We powered on, dodging the big rocks, navigating sandy patches, pulling right off the dirt into the dirt to let the big road trains pass, tackling more water crossings and generally just enjoying the ride!
Seven Emu Station was close enough to hold out on lunch, about 35kms off the Savannah Way we crossed the Robinson River and made our way up the hill to the Station itself. Frank Shadforth is the station owner and he was there to greet us. I’d spoken to him a number of times in the lead up to this stage. Frank had a dry sense of humour that I appreciated. Just the day before I’d phoned to see what the water crossing was like.
“Oh it’s REAL deep.” He said
“Oh.” I said already worried. “Perhaps you could be more specific?” I asked
“Well I saw a duck cross it and it was up to its waist.” He said, no change in tone.
Needless to say I’d not been worried about the crossing at all that day.
Frank let me use his landline to give Mum a call as we’d not had reception and wouldn’t have it for a few days yet. He then pointed us in the direction of the campsite, a further 6kms through the scrub on a track forged by other campers and mustering vehicles. It seemed to never end and the further into the bush we went the more isolated I began to feel. By the time I reached the camp the prospect of setting up camp for the night had lost it’s appeal somewhat. In saying that the view from the cliff top we’d emerged out on was incredible, the Robinson River was quite a site from up there. We were pretty hungry now, it was about 2pm by this stage so we decided to make wraps. Back in Cairns we’d made most of our selections at the supermarket based on not having a huge amount of fridge space and well, we wanted food that would last. This is my justifying the fact we were about to eat spam. I upended the spam into a bowl and Jason sliced it, there were flies everywhere! We had cheese, pickles and much to our surprise, avocado. We were surprised because the avocados had suffered immense trauma on the road, so much so the flesh inside had dislodged and we thought we’d open one to find it inedible, rotten and brown. But no! Unable to cut it we squeezed one and out came the most vibrant green ready made guacamole. Perfect. It’s likely that Jason consumed a little more protein than us the flies preferred his wrap to ours.
The long drop was stationed a mere fifty metres away, I vowed to make this the quickest visit to any loo I’d ever made. No roof, the missing wall to allow those brave enough to sit longer to enjoy the view and Frank flying overhead waving from his helicopter was more than enough to have me out of there in seconds.
Road trains showered us with dust as we pushed on to Borroloola, about another hour and a half down the road. It was here that I would join the lines on the map and complete this part of the journey. Between us, Dad and I, we’d travelled right around the country. It was a great feeling and as always, quite surreal to be standing in a remote town that Dad had been to however many years ago. I shook hands with Jason and Fred and thanked them both – Fred snapped a photo of me by the ‘Welcome to Borroloola sign,” grinning proudly.
By this stage it was 4pm I made a quick call to Cape Crawford, another hour and a half further down the road. We weren’t expected there until the following night but Kerry the Manager there didn’t mind at all and told us there’d be a room for us that night too if we wanted to keep going. We did. Jason led the way at a top speed of 80kms an hour – still a bit concerned about the thermostat. Given the time of day slower was certainly the way to go anyway!
We pulled in at The Heartbreak Hotel more than ready for a meal and a cold beer. Jason and I worked out we’d been driving for nine hours with a one hour break for lunch. We were tired but it hadn’t felt like that long. I suppose when you’re concentrating so intensely time flies!
TIP: Trust your own instincts!
TRACK: Eyes the Behaviour – Electrical
TITLE: Rest Day
We’d been given a little room each at The Heartbreak Hotel and with a day to ourselves I chose to spend mine writing for the most part. People came and went during the day, some just passing through, others settling in for a night or two before continuing on their way.
They say it takes a certain kind of person to love this land, for people to come to terms with the remote and sometimes harsh environment. “The Heartbreak Hotel,” an established icon in these parts gives weary travellers a reprieve and before long they’re all ready to hit the road once more.
The day began having been woken by a nearby traveller coughing for the best part of thirty minutes. I’d have gotten up to see if he was alright but I figured while he was coughing he was probably okay – plus I could hear the cigarette lighter getting a work out. Nevertheless I couldn’t go back to sleep and so showered and parked myself at the table out the front of my room to write – until it got so hot I needed to relocate.
Come midday Fred escorted me up to the “phone box,” this being the nearby hill upon which (once you’ve scrambled to the top of) you’ll be rewarded with two sticks of reception. Enough to receive messages and post an Instagram photo or two.
There’s a chair up there, and a few dozen empty tinnies. Clearly it’s frequented by locals and tourists alike – there’s no reception at The Heartbreak Hotel but you can purchase WiFi and a mini hike up the hill makes whoever you’re calling feel pretty special. You’re standing on a rock on a massive pile of bigger rocks having made your way up the overgrown path in thongs, silly really when being bitten by a snake in these parts would be most inconvenient.
Beer o’clock comes around early here, I met Jase at the bar that afternoon. He was already there so technically I was late. My laptop was becoming quite at home in a bar but it wasn’t long before I got sidetracked and writing took a backseat for the rest of the evening. Jase was chatting with “Bazza.” Bazza was in his 70s and spent the winter travelling through warmer climates. We spoke with him for hours, the afternoon turned into evening and before we knew it we’d missed dinner. He told stories of his time on the road, of losing his wife and daughter in a car accident and the various places he had worked along the way. His face came alive when he laughed and his smile lit up the room – his enthusiasm for life was infectious.
The dart board beckoned. I’d not played darts for years and could only recall playing once, at my cousin’s place when I was just a kid. The normal technique for throwing a dart was lost on me, too restrictive I thought. I threw mine like a baseball player, left knee up, right arm back with dart in hard, left arm out in front for balance and then *THUNK, the dart would hit the board. Where on the board it hit I didn’t mind, I wasn’t playing to win so a good score was simply a bonus! The odd one went astray and ricocheted off the tin wall behind, a couple of the men at the bar seemed to be reconsidering sitting so close. Can’t say I blame them.
We had tinned spaghetti and meatballs for dinner from the back of the Prado.
TIP: You’d be better off just going to bed than having tinned spaghetti and meatballs.
TRACK: Boy & Bear – Walk the Wire
KMS: None today
TITLE: Station Life
It was time to get moving, today to Anthony Lagoon where a family friend was working as a cook. I was looking forward to seeing Maz and spending a little time with someone who had known Dad. We headed off at 10am. The road in was pretty good when compared to our last day on the road – all dirt. This was a single stretch of bitumen, we had to pull off to one side if another vehicle was coming and it was a bit up and down but good fun. About halfway there the road became totally straight, we could see nothing for miles, it was so flat, so windy too. I was enjoying the nothingness of my surroundings immensely.
The road did resemble an oversized cricket pitch so we pulled over to bowl a few balls. In keeping with the oversized theme Fred supplied Jason and I with a bright orange tennis ball three times the normal size and we laughed as I tried to bowl into the wind and burned some energy running down Jason’s efforts propelled by the gusts.
It wasn’t long and we were pulling off the road and into Anthony Lagoon Station. We’d be here for three nights and we were all looking forward to another station experience, meeting the people and living a small part of what life was like here day to day.
Yet again we were made to feel right at home welcomed by station managers Anthony and Cassie Cox. I could see Maz on her way over and smiled, she looked the same as always and had come straight from the kitchen where she’d been preparing lunch. Maz had been working at Anthony Lagoon for three years cooking up a storm and we’d arrived at midday, just in time for lunch!
In the afternoon we took a walk to the Lagoon guided by eight year old Marney, the head stockman’s daughter. Marney was an incredible guide, she knew so much! She told us about the different rocks and we looked for spearheads beneath the trees and ribbon rocks at our feet. Marney told us all about the different bird life and pointed out the brolgas off in the distance. She opened mussel shells and told us about the small fish you could find in the lagoon. She never missed a beat as we tried to take it all in.
On the way back she spotted the bones of cattle and in next to no time had begun piecing parts of the skeleton back together. While we watched in awe, little did we realise we were being watched too, about a dozen cattle arrived seemingly from nowhere curious to see what we were doing. Amongst them was a lone donkey. The scene was quite surreal – for us at least! Marney went right up to the donkey and put her arms around its neck. Fred snapped a wonderful photo of this moment. Further on as we were approaching the gate we were joined by six horses. Marney was of course right at home with them too. I wasn’t – I’d forgotten you don’t walk behind horses, never mind the fact it was difficult not to since we were surrounded!
That evening over a beer with everyone before dinner I told Marney’s Mum and Andrea, the governess about her tour. “It was the most informative tour I’ve been on in years.” I said praising Marney’s efforts.
At dinner we met more of the team, around twenty people came through the doors that night to have a meal. Nothing beats a home cooked meal and at the end of a hard day’s work Maz’s hard work in the kitchen was well received, admiration written all over our faces, or maybe that was the chocolate pudding.
Sitting on the deck with the Barkley breeze blowing I was reminded it was actually winter. We talked about our memories of Dad. We laughed, cried and laughed some more, we might only have memories now but they’re good ones!
TIP: Just because the food is so good doesn’t mean you should eat more than you usually would. Just because the food is so good doesn’t mean you should eat more than you usually would. No? No, saying it over again didn’t work for me either.
TRACK: Vance Joy – Fire and the Flood
Breakfast is served at 5.30am. The guest quarters however were extra comfy and I woke up at 8am. Seven hours sleep, the most I’d had in months! “Smoko” is at 9.30am and at this time of day Maz serves up the works, homemade sausage rolls that are, I guarantee you, twice as good as you think is the best you’ve ever eaten. Scones on steroids with jam and cream, carrot cake that’s out of this world and plenty of fresh fruit. I might have missed breakfast but I was certainly not about to go hungry!
Fred and Jason had gone out on a bore run, bores need to be maintained – they pump water from the depths into a network of ‘turkey nests’ (water storage ponds) and troughs. Fred with Georgia and Jason with Matt they took off early in different directions with a packed lunch and a long but interesting day ahead. I on the other hand was going to spend the day catching up with Maz, after four years we had plenty to talk about!
In the afternoon I went out with Matt (another Matt) and Georgia to “get a killer.” Why? Well when in Rome. Matt would select a beast to euthanise humanely for personal consumption. It’s a cattle station after all, not having beef on the menu would be a crime and everything else is quite expensive given the remote location. And so it began, I was propped up between Matt and Georgia in the front of the land cruiser ute as we took off on the dirt roads to check out the first of three paddocks, the third of which was where Matt found “the one.”
The truck with the crane had been caught up on another job and was running a little late so the cruiser was driven to steer the cow away from the heaving herd in an attempt to keep it there while we waited. Soon it was time, Matt took the rifle and took aim, I had my camera poised. For what purpose I would ever use the photo I did not know but out of habit more than anything I took aim too. A shot fired, I jumped ten feet off the ground and I’m now the owner of an image of a cow that could be any cow in the world sleeping on the ground. We drove up alongside it. It couldn’t be mistaken for being asleep on closer inspection. I’ll skip a little here because as humanely as it was done it was never going to be pretty.
The next stage was for it to be skinned, knives out, these two had it down to a fine art. Mid way through Georgia turned to me and asked, “Have we turned you into a vegetarian?”
“No.” I replied. “But I’ve gone right off custard,” I said having forgotten what fat looks like before it cools and hits the supermarket shelves.
The truck had arrived so I watched it being loaded onto the crane and hoisted onto the back of the trailer before jumping in the cruiser and heading back to the station, just in time for dinner. A station favourite, crumbed Anthony Lagoon steak and veggies. And… there was custard with dessert!
TIP: Sleep in, get up for “smoko” – a luxury afforded only to visitors I know, but still it was win win!
TRACK: The Waifs – 6000 miles
TITLE: Where Am I?
Today for “smoko” I had two mini meat pies, not like the meat pie I had for breakfast in Burketown which, I might add was actually okay. These were real meat pies, as in the beef melted in your mouth and not because it had been processed within an inch of its life but because the beef had been slow cooked and then shredded and placed in mouth-watering pastry. I rarely eat pies, I rarely eat pastry but on the road a pie is often the ‘healthy’ option so I’d succumbed in the past. But Maz’s pies on the other hand were an essential culinary delight.
The afternoon came around quickly and it was time for us to see the poddy calves, these are orphan calves that have lost their Mother. They’re cared for and hand-fed – usually starting on milk, then hay and/or calf pellets (or just good grass) until they are old enough to be weaned, to fend for themselves and begin their life as it was meant to be – back with all the other cattle.
Sophie took us with her to bottle-feed the poddy calves, they’re so small of course, nothing like the adult version I’d been surrounded by the previous day. I was feeling much more comfortable, maybe it was because I was taller than them. This of course it not logical because I’m bigger than both a gecko and a frog but they’ve had me run a mile on more than one occasion. Never mind logic, the poddy calves were cute in their own way. Geckos and frogs aren’t.
After our last evening meal at Anthony Lagoon we had a beer with Maz on her deck under the banana tree, one she’d planted for shade that had shot up in next to no time and was now as high as the roof. I’d never heard of anything growing quite so quickly but then what would I know? I don’t have a garden and I’m not a horticulturalist. Also I did once look after a friend’s plant while they were on holiday, it was no holiday for the plant and I think my returning it with a tan was most unexpected.
Jason and Fred were sharing the room next door to mine, the walls were paper thin and as got into bed I could hear them chatting – though not for long – I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. About two hours later I woke with a fright. “Jaaaaason!” I yelled at the top of my lungs.
“Are you okay B?” Jason or Fred replied from the other side of the wall.
“Yeah sorry” I said sheepishly. “I didn’t know where I was, all okay now.”
TIP: The Barkely breeze is a force to be reckoned with, if in doubt double peg – you never know where your washing might end up.
TRACK: Gypsy & The Cat feat .Paul Kelly – Climb into the Music
KMS: None today
TITLE: Leave Pass
Maz was able to take a night off so with meals prepared for the next twenty four hours she packed and joined our mini convoy back to Cape Crawford. Once there and settled we all sat on the deck outside our rooms and lost an hour or two talking. We lost an hour or two more at the pub over dinner and before we knew it, it was getting late and time to call it a day. It had been so lovely to have some extra time with Maz and I was excited that she, Jason and Fred would be up, up and away the next morning in a helicopter flying high over the Lost City. Preferring to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground I wouldn’t be joining them but I knew there would be plenty of great images to see when they returned.
TIP: Old friends, new memories. New towns, new faces – nothing quite compares to life on the road.
TRACK: Florence + The Machine – Queen of Peace
TITLE: Back To Where It All Began
It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining, the birds were out in force singing at the tops of their lungs – not a breath of wind. Ideal for a flight over the Lost City in a helicopter. The Lost City is on a plateau amongst surprisingly hilly country. It is spread over about 10 square kilometres and is estimated to be 1.4 billion years old. The eerie sandstone spires are the result of an inland sea. Water penetrated the rock and eroded it breaking it into columns up to 25m tall. They resemble skyscrapers which is the reason Lost City was given its name. I wasn’t going along for the ride – but I was certainly looking forward to hearing about the experience once the others returned.
Leo, the pilot gave them the run down and shortly after they were in the air. From all accounts on their return it was amazing, the photos and film said it all.
It was time to say goodbye to Maz, not easy when you’d spent time sharing good memories with someone who knew you and your family well. A big hug and plenty of tears and we were on the road again. This time to Daly Waters, back to where it all began.
This place was significant for me and for this project, it was the furthest North Dad had been in this part of the Territory and was therefore the official start of stage one back in 2011. There was something about arriving into a town which I knew Dad had visited. This was the case in Georgetown and Borroloola but to be returning to where it all began was even more emotional. After putting five years work into this project and enjoying all that involved, this was a memory I needed just for myself. Having finally gained some confidence after a couple of long and challenging days on the road I was looking forward to travelling this single lane of tarmac alone, to be alone with my thoughts and be able to be myself, cry if I felt like it and ‘let go.’
I’d missed this feeling, one Dad would have experienced himself alone on the road. As the kilometres fell away and Daly Waters came into view I smiled, this was it. A huge moment for me, not that anyone would have picked it there and then, sometimes my emotions come tumbling out but otherwise they’re locked up, hidden behind silence and a smile.
I pulled into the pub at Daly Waters, it was four years since I’d last been in town and many more since Dad had been there. I got out with that same smile on my face, then Jason asked if I was okay, it turned out I wasn’t and my eyes filled with tears. I was feeling so many different emotions all at once.
The magnitude of what I’d worked so hard to achieve had hit home, the journey itself had taken its toll in many unexpected ways and while I was proud to have completed the loop, I missed my Dad. Being on the road had always made me feel closer to him but here in this moment, it was overwhelming. I was certainly at my emotional limit and wanted nothing more than to take the time required to assimilate it all, in my own way.
The Manager at Daly Water’s Pub kindly put us up in the camp-grounds for two nights. I had phoned the day before to let them know we were on track was given a room. Receiving that news was both wonderful and unexpected and given the significance of being in this town, timely as well.
We were directed to a campsite and place to park the vehicles by the caretaker of the Daly Waters’ Caravan Park – Scottish born immigrant Ed. He’s a well known character and adds to the welcoming vibe that Daly Waters had in abundance. Ed gets around on his bike, a plush toy, a horse or maybe it’s a camel perched between the handle bars greeting weary travellers at the campground gates. A psychiatric nurse in a previous life it’s little wonder he enjoys looking out for people and wants them to have a good time.
A celebratory beer was shared as I read a little more about the history of the place; Daly Waters was named in honour of the then governor of South Australia Sir Dominic Daly in 1862. It was then that John McDougall Stuart successfully crossed the continent from south to north and here that he discovered water.
The telegraph line followed Stuart’s route north, the untamed environment caused the project to fall behind schedule which resulted in the Pony Express carrying messages between Daly Waters and Tennant Creek 400kms south of Daly Waters. An original telegraph pole dating back to approx 1878 was found out bush in 2009 and is now erected outside the pub. The name ‘Pony Express’ was given to one of the rooms, each of them had the names of explorers or other important historic references.
Prior to the 2nd. World War, Daly Waters was also the site for the first International Airport in Australia and refuelled planes and passengers en route to London. The trip cost 275 pounds and took 8 days. These days The Daly Waters aerodrome is in semi-retirement and used more locally.
I went outside to make a call after a lovely meal – better reception out the front in the middle of the street. On my way back I spotted a familiar face, “Tom?” I enquired.
He gave me a blank look at first and then his face registered recognition, “You were starting out with The Bold Line! I took you from Alice Springs to Darwin, we stopped here in Daly Waters too!” He said.
“You sure did!” I replied happily. “I’m doing the third stage now, I can’t believe I’ve run into you, here of all places!” I said, surprised by the co-incidence and happy to see him.
When I sat back down I saw I had an email, it had come via my website. The subject, “I was a mate of your late Dad.” I felt my face light up.
“I heard about your trip, (a friend saw it in the newspaper) and I have just read about you online. I went with your Dad for a couple of weeks on his first interstate trip in the late 80s, we shared the driving. If you want to, drop me a line sometime or give me a call.”
I took down his number thrilled to have heard from not only someone who knew him but someone who knew so much about his first ever interstate trip.
A third co-incidence was still to come.
TIP: Wake up. I wheeled my bag down the red carpeted hallway to my room, unbeknown to me I had taken the rug with me and it was neatly rolled and sitting in front of my bag at the other end of the hall.
TRACK: Hunters and Collectors – Holy Grail
TITLE: A Day in Daly Waters
After a breakfast of cereal and yoghurt self served from the back of the Prado I set myself up at a table in the sun at the back of the pub, it was only mid morning and already nice and warm. It was lovely to be able to sit alone and write, chat briefly with those passing by and enjoy being back. Fred came by needing somewhere to work with a powerpoint and by that stage my laptop was in the red too on only 5% so Rachael told us we could shift over to the barbecue area and use the power there.
The morning had disappeared in a haze of words and it was almost time for lunch. The pub meals at Daly Waters are great so we were spoilt for choice as we scanned the menu. I went for the barra wrap and was not disappointed.
Jason and I went for a walk after lunch across the road to the gallery. We looked at the artwork and then sat down at the old wooden table that had a sign on it inviting visitors to sit and flick through the books. We didn’t need to be asked twice! There was a big fan off to one side and it was refreshingly cool inside. I’m sure this is a ploy, they’d sell more works for this reason alone with weary overheated travellers taking up their offer! We sat and talked and flicked and talked some more before we thought we’d better move on and let others enjoy the art and cool off.
Back at the pub two bikes were angle parked out the front (any angle mate, as the sign said). Both were fitted out for the conditions and would be the envy of any off-road fan. One had panniers made from 20 litre fuel drums; with the tops cut off and covers fitted it made them easy and cheap to replace in the outback where the real deal would be hard to come by. Jason found the owner sitting at a table nearby enjoying a beer in the sun, a baker by trade he was enjoying travelling around the country on his Suzuki DR650 and getting work where he could. He told Jason he got 650 kilometres to a 30 litre tank. He also mentioned he wanted to sail around Australia next. He would just need to learn to sail first.
On the bar, or almost anywhere in the pub you can find space is where you can leave a something of your own. A business card, a sticker or cap – and for the extroverts maybe even your underwear. I had found a spot for The Bold Line sticker on the bar earlier in the day and just before our Beef and Barra BBQ that evening I borrowed the staple gun from the man at the bar, made a gold coin donation and stapled The Bold Line card to the window ledge near our table – right beneath a couple of signed work helmets.
While we ate our meals I spotted a short list of surnames on the side of the helmet. The last of which was ‘Mahony’. I did a double take and pointed it out to Jason who picked it up. On the front was written; ‘Mahony’s Lap Around Oz.’ My jaw dropped. This stage of The Bold Line had completed the lap of Australia for Dad and I so it couldn’t have been more fitting that I unknowingly stapled The Bold Line card right underneath. Mahony was even spelt the same!
As Jason popped the helmet back on the window sill and I came back to earth I heard him say, “that’s Brad at the bar.”
“Brad from Anthony Lagoon?” I asked.
“Yes, the road train driver!” Said Jason, convinced.
“Brad has glasses and a beard.” I said.
“Not tonight, that’s definitely him.” He said laughing.
“Brad!” Jason called out.
Brad gave us a blank look for a second and then registered, a big smile spreading across his face.
We’d met Brad five days earlier at Anthony Lagoon Station, he was passing through town and had never been to the pub so he’d decided to pull up here for the evening. He joined us for a beer before calling it a night.
While Jason and Fred played pool I spoke to David who was sitting one table over with a group of mates and his daughter. He shared with me why they were all in town. David’s brother had recently passed away – he’d been the one who had organised this trip so they were all there in his honour. They’d travelled from Alice Springs and looked to be having a wonderful time, their brother there with them in spirit.
Meanwhile I spotted a conga line forming in the outdoor part of the pub. A live band was playing and the grey nomads were enjoying themselves immensely. Running Bear may not have inspired me to join a conga line but the pace was well-suited to the evening’s clientele and anyone in need of a little light aerobic activity. Good on them I say!
TIP: People are on the road for reasons other than just seeing the sights. I was, as were so many I’d met along the way – each story as heart-warming as the next.
TRACK: Powderfinger – My Happiness
KMS: None today
TITLE: Mum’s The Word
It was sad to be leaving Daly Waters but I was looking forward to seeing my Mum and G. They had arrived in Darwin the night before from Tasmania and were driving down to meet me in Nitmiluk National Park that afternoon. It was lovely to imagine them heading south as I drove north and that we’d soon meet – after fours or so hours each on the road.
It was important for me to drive away from Daly Waters alone as I had arrived so we moved off and headed slowly out of town in our mini convoy. Following the Stuart Highway we were on our way to Bitter Springs en route to Nitmiluk National Park.
Set amongst palms and tropical woodlands in the Elsey National Park, these spring-fed thermal pools were crystal clear and the ideal spot for a dip, Fred and Jason dove in taking the GoPro along for the ride. Two older couples were drifting with the flow down the stream that connects the two swimming areas. A walkway circles the spring area to bring you back so they fixed their sandals to the ends of their ‘noodles’ (a cylindrical piece of foam that helps you float) and leisurely floated with the current until they were out of sight. The water is so clear that freshwater turtles are often seen swimming by so it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled!
Distracted, I drove over the bridge in Katherine instead of turning off before it to head to the National Park. I took the opportunity to phone G while I corrected this. As soon as I heard his voice and Mum’s in the background I finally felt I could let go, there had been a number of situations throughout the journey that had taken their toll – so to speak with them, knowing they were so close was really comforting. It turned out they were only ahead by minutes so they pulled over to wait. As I rounded each bend the anticipation of seeing them grew. Up ahead I saw their white 4WD parked by the roadside, they both got out and came over as I pulled in behind. In this moment I let all the emotion of the last two weeks on the road, the year of planning and having finally achieved what I set out to do five years earlier tumble out. I was shaking.
G suggested that Mum jump in with me, I was more than happy with that – it was so good to see her! There wasn’t far to go – Nitmiluk Tours had kindly put us up for the night so we all met in the carpark. It was here that Mum and G met Jason for the first time. Jason’s support of me during our time on the road and my goal for The Bold Line was unprecedented. So too that of his Father Robert back home in Hobart whose belief in who I am as a person and what I wanted to achieve was humbling, still is. It was Jason’s brother Michael who was originally going to join me on this journey and to him I would be forever grateful for introducing me to his family.
Mum and G were well aware of the role Jason had played throughout the stage and were looking forward to meeting him. “I’ve been waiting for one of your hugs.” Said Jason to Mum who hugs everyone she meets.
We walked together to reception to collect the keys before taking some time out, more hugs followed by a shower with no geckos were high on my list. Later we joined Fred and Jason at the licensed poolside bistro for a beer and more barramundi, I’d been ordering it wherever I could.
Last drinks were called so we filed out to sit by a roaring campfire, swatting mosquitoes as conversation flowed before we all called it a night, wandering off beneath a sky full of stars.
TIP: “We’re stronger in the places we’ve been broken.” Ernest Hemingway
TRACK: Avicii – Wake Me Up
TITLE: Darwin Dreaming
Rise and shine! The beautiful Katherine Gorge awaited! We had all chosen to book onboard the Nit Nit Dreaming cruise. We were about to discover the beauty and cultural significance of the first two gorges to the traditional landowners – the Jawoyn people. I had done the cruise once before, four years ago on the first stage but I was looking forward, in particular, to sharing the experience with Mum. Nitmiluk National Park covers a vast area of escarpment country including thirteen gorges carved from ancient sandstone that wind along 12km of sheer rock extending more than 70m high.
Stepping aboard we took our seats and cruised through the first gorge listening to the informative, yet unobtrusive commentary. Upon reaching the end of the first gorge we disembarked at the crossover. From here we walked beneath the gorge walls while taking in the aboriginal art as we made our way to the next boat awaiting our arrival four hundred or so metres up ahead. Onboard our guide skilfully manoeuvred the vessel out into the second gorge. It was difficult to imagine this place in the wet season when these striking cliffs are swallowed as the river becomes a mighty torrent.
What a stunning and relaxing way to have spent the morning.
Sadly this was the day we were due to part ways with Jason so, in order to prolong the inevitable, we decided to a visit to Edith Falls together – about an hour further up the road and say farewell there.
The lower pool at Edith Falls is a mere 150m walk from the carpark and well worth it for both the view of the waterfall and to take another refreshing dip. Paperbarks and pandanas fringe this natural swimming hole creating a scenic bush setting that could easily entice you to stay. The small kiosk back near the carpark was an oasis of a different kind with children and adults alike enjoying an ice-cream and some shade.
The time had come, we couldn’t put it off any longer. My friend and confidant who had been, without doubt, the best support vehicle driver anyone could ever hope for was about to set off on a journey of his own, continuing on the Savannah Way to Broome and well beyond as it turned out. I gave him a big hug, “thanks for everything Jason, I couldn’t have done this without you.” Then a few tears fell out, lately it seemed they were never too far from the surface. Jason has his sunglasses on but I spotted a tear or two slip down his cheek – I pointed them out, just in case he thought he’d gotten away with it. His trademark grin soon returned and with another hug we were back on the road, albeit without Jason and his troopie visible in the rear view mirror. About an hour into the drive I realised I still had his spare UHF radios we’d been using since Cairns (I’ll sort this Jason).
The Stuart Highway was a haze of smoke, when driving in the Northern Territory, it is not uncommon to see fires burning on the roadside or in nearby bushland. These fires are usually ‘prescribed’, controlled burns, which are conducted by the emergency services to control the spread of wildfire. Still it does create a lot of smoke and can be a little disconcerting.
We pulled into Adelaide River Inn a while later, this local pub is brimming with character and ‘Charlie’ the Buffalo certainly adds to this. Charlie, made famous by Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan) whilst being hypnotised to the ground on the movie Crocodile Dundee passed away in 2000 and now stands proudly on the bar. After a nice big glass of icy cold water we were back on the road with another hour and a half to go before we reached Darwin.
Mum and G had already checked into our hotel having had a night there before driving down to meet me. The hotel was perfectly positioned on the Darwin Waterfront so even though it was getting late by the time Mum and I arrived and G returned having dropped Fred as his hotel we showered and went downstairs for dinner. The next day was to be the first of five relaxing days together in this wonderful city.
TIP: Take your room key with you.
This tip comes from two nights earlier when Mum and G first checked in at the hotel.
Upon arriving back at the door to their room Mum said to G, “Do you have key?”
“Yes, I’m just looking for it. He says. “I can’t find it, have you got it?” He asks.
“No I haven’t got it.” Says Mum.
“I’ll go downstairs to reception.” Says G.
“I’ll sit here and wait then.” Says Mum – the walk to the room longer than any of us could have anticipated.
Downstairs G had some trouble getting a new set of keycards, mainly because he wasn’t me.
“Hi I’ve locked myself out of the room, could I please get another key to get back in? Asked G.
“No problem, what room?” He asked.
“Room ***” G replied.
“Bridget Mahony?” He asked.
“That’s right”. Said G.
‘I’ll just need her to pop down and show her ID so that I can confirm you have authority to be in the room.” He said.
“Sorry, she’s not actually here at the moment.” G said.
“Oh, okay. We’ll need to give her a call to confirm then.” He said.
“Um, well you can try, but she might out of range, she’s on the road. I checked us in yesterday without her being here, are you sure there isn’t some other way?” G enquired.
“I can escort you up to the room to confirm your belongings are there, and confirm your identity?” The receptionist suggested.
“Well that might work. But I paid for the room yesterday on my credit card, would that be enough to confirm?” Suggested G.
“Yes that’s fine. I’ll re-program you some new keys.’ He said.
Having finally won out in the end G returned to the room to find Mum sitting against the door eyeing off the lamb shanks our neighbour would soon enjoy courtesy of room service. She’d been there a little while.
TRACK: Lanks – Hold Me Closer
TITLE: Darwin Daze
Queen sized bed, soft white sheets, no geckos. Must be in heaven I thought as I opened my eyes the next morning. G was looking at me. “You snored.” He said smiling.
“Why didn’t you wake me?” I asked.
“You only snore when you’re over-tired so I thought I’d leave you be.” He replied.
“I’m not sure I would have afforded you the same luxury. Thank you.” I said with a grin.
We spent the morning exploring town a little before meeting Mum for lunch at Fiddler’s Green, just a short stroll from our hotel. Darwin has a unique laid-back feel about it, it’s a remote city embracing a territory of amazing contrasts, the weather, the landscapes, the culture – they all make Darwin the beautiful, fascinating, tropical destination that it is and we were loving it!
ABC Radio Darwin phoned earlier in the day to see if I was still dropping by for a live interview – I was. Nervous as always I walked back into town to the station with G. I met the producer who introduced me to the host and then took off to find a song from the list on The Bold Line site, one which she would play after the interview. I felt a little more at home this time than I had previously. Remembering to speak to the host directly and not stare at the huge microphone thinking of all the people who might be listening in helped!
That evening we had all been invited onboard the ‘Charles Darwin’, a 25 metre tri-level catamaran for the sunset cruise. Seated on the top deck we were presented with champagne and generous platters, laden with seafood, antipasto and cheese. With a bird’s eye view of some of the major highlights of Darwin and the sun slowly setting over the horizon there was little doubt we were in for a relaxing and indulgent two and a half hours.
Next morning it was off to Crocosaurus Cove – invited along for an up close and personal experience with some salt water crocodiles. While there we had the opportunity to have our photo taken with a baby crocodile, Mum was up first. She thoroughly enjoyed herself, though it seems her grip may have been a bit too firm at one stage, the little croc grunting and thrashing about gave away its true feelings on the matter, but Mum wasn’t too perturbed. I was. I had to go next and she’d got him riled, fortunately he had his jaw taped shut.
James, our fantastic guide for the visit took us next to platform where we found ourselves surrounded by almost 100 juvenile crocodiles. With a makeshift fishing rod in hand we fed whichever crocodile was first to propel its entire body length out of the water and snap at the meaty morsel swinging directly above its nose.
The Cage of Death was booked for midday, but not for me, I’d already come a long way – from running from a gecko to holding the baby crocodile, so getting in a cage to be lowered into a pen housing one 5 metre, 900kg crocodile? Uh uh, no chance. G on the other hand, well he was all for it. G was going to visit Axel, Axel was captured in the mid 1980s at the mouth of the Roper River, he’d been making a bit of nuisance of himself snapping at boat trailer tyres and puncturing them. Needless to say Axel had attitude.
The suspended cage became semi submerged with G on board sporting a big grin and an equally sizeable pair of goggles. GoPros at the ready the handlers fed Axel while both G and Fred got a 360 degree view of a prehistoric creature from the safety of an oversized biscuit jar. I was allowed to tag along with the photographer so we’re not short on images – she kindly supplied us with all of her shots too.
Axel had eaten his lunch and we were due for ours, Curve Restaurant and Bar was right near our hotel so G and I headed there with Mum. We had a lovely meal watching people pass by, all enjoying the weather and the relaxed atmosphere as much as we were.
I was merely an hour away from taking ‘relaxed’ to a whole new level. G had booked me in for a massage that afternoon and I couldn’t wait! After a luxurious hour and a half I floated back to the hotel room and promptly fell into bed unable to string a sentence together. G was pleased, said it was the most relaxed he’d ever seen me. I hoped so, if I was that relaxed regularly in public I’d be snoozing on park benches, slurring my words – people would get the wrong idea.
For dinner that evening we were off to the restaurant Wharf One where we were due to meet Owen, a friend of mine I’d not seen since the first stage four years earlier. Owen had been a huge help and was eager to hear how stage three had unfolded. We were just stoked we were able to see him at all! He was due to fly out that night for Melbourne and onto Queenstown, New Zealand for his wedding. We shared stories over mud crab, prawns, whole baby barramundi and a lovely bottle of pinot gris – but the evening flew by and it was soon time to say our goodbyes and manoeuvre our well fed selves in the direction of the hotel.
The next day a little lazing by the lagoon in the sun was in order. I took my laptop to catch up on some writing while G read his book. Another layer of suncream would have been a good idea but we weren’t to realise this until later – when we returned to our room and noticed our reflections were an unfamiliar shade of pink. I also returned with half the park on my towel. I’d grabbed my microfibre travel towel to lay on and the microfibre grabbed everything, grass, leaves – you name it. And there’s no shaking it off, unless you have an hour to pick at it you might need to do as I did, roll it up and take it home. I’m sure there’ll be a rainy day sometime this century when I can think of nothing better to do than remove turf from a towel with the required precision of a monkey grooming his mate.
Mum and G had both succumbed to the gelato stand during our stay. I did by proxy.
“Do you want gelato?” G asked.
“No thanks, I’ll just have a spoonful of yours.” I said smiling hopefully.
G came back with half sesame salted caramel half coconut and two spoons.
I ate half. But, I never ordered any so it doesn’t count does it? I’m going with no.
As the sun dips into the Arafura Sea every Thursday and Sunday evening, most of Darwin descends on Mindil Beach for the Sunset Market. Besides the sunset itself food is the major attraction. During the mid 80s, six entrepreneurs shared their vision to bring a taste of Asia’s night markets to this tropical town and they’ve certainly achieved that, so too the relaxed, creative lifestyle that typifies Darwin.
G had phoned ahead to reserve some seating so after a couple of laps – when we’d narrowed down what we would share and made our purchases we found our spot. Reserving space means you have a private area with front row sunset viewing, personalised signage so you can come and go as you please, seating with tables and chairs or bean bags and an esky with ice provided, nice! We’d decided on crocodile, barramundi and prawns – with so many different stalls to choose from deciding had taken far longer than we thought so it was time to tuck in!
Visitors to the market get a taste of tropical life as stallholders converge on Mindil to sell their hand made wares. Mum bought me a great hat. I wished I’d had it with me on the trip but I’ll be sure to take it along on the next one! We watched the sun go down with the thousands lining the beach, saw a little of the fire show and returned to the hotel feeling very content.
The night wasn’t over though, it was time to remove all those stickers we’d so painstakingly applied back in Cairns three weeks earlier. I’d been worried they wouldn’t come off easily but within ten minutes, fourteen had been removed, they’d come off easily! G and I gave the inside a clean too, not to mention the fridge, pulverised fruit anyone?
The wave pool was calling, not that night – the next day. While they’re not surf-able waves as such and more reminiscent of ocean chop caused by a mini squall it looked like fun. We paid our entry fee, stuck our wrist bands on and headed for the water. Floating on our backs we sailed over the waves, occasionally copping a slap to the side of the face from a rogue wave, no crocodiles or box jellyfish to worry about here! G made an energetic break for the back wall powering through the waves but returned looking a little less animated. It was harder than it looked.
We’d worked up an appetite so Mum, G and I went to Il Piatto for dinner at the Skycity Casino. I’d bought a new dress earlier in the day and so was delighted to be able to wear something different after two weeks on the road rotating the same wardrobe. Hadn’t given much thought to which shoes I might wear though. It seemed to have slipped my mind I’d just crossed the Savannah Way with only a pair of Blundstones and a pair of thongs. Never mind. We soon found ourselves seated on the deck with a stunning view overlooking the water. We enjoyed yet another spectacular sunset and a lovely meal – me in my new dress and… classy black Havaianas.
The next day was Saturday and we were keen to pay the Parap Markets a visit while in town. One of Darwin’s longest running markets it’s considered by many an ideal meeting place for breakfast. Try a big bowl of laksa if you can alter your idea of what breakfast should entail! Alternatively grab a fruit salad, a smoothie or a freshly roasted coffee.
From there it was a bit of a hike out to where we were to return the vehicle, just like Cairns the depot was quite out of the way. Unlike Cairns though it was not within walking distance. Mum found some shade while our vehicle was inspected. “Thanks for washing it and cleaning it out,” said Bill, “is the number plate still on the front?” He asked.
“Well yes” I said, surprised by the question.
He sensed this and said, “they usually come back without them, come off going in for water crossings usually, you did well.” He smiled.
“How many flats?” He asked.
“Ah none. I said.
It was his turn to look surprised. “You were on the Savannah Way right?”
“Yep!” I replied, feeling a little proud.
That evening Mum, G and I had dinner at the Oyster Bar. We sat outside eating oysters and watching all the activity down on the waterfront – each of us sad to be leaving. Come midnight we would be on our way to the airport. Spending the last five days together had been brilliant, so many wonderful memories and a fitting way to bring to a close an emotional journey.
Thank you Darwin, we had a lovely time and we’re coming back!
Early the next morning through the brain fog of not sleeping all night, I heard the pilot say. “Welcome to Melbourne, it’s a cool 4 degrees outside.”
Oh my, it had dropped 30 degrees and I was wearing shorts.
TIP: Follow your dreams, never lose sight of your goal and surround yourself with good people.
Mosquito Coast – Call My Name
Rufus – You Were Right
Pilgrim – Mo
Boo Seeka – Kingdom Leader
Gorge Ezra – Wanted on Voyage