Tuesday, May 31, 2011

31 May 2011 - Ipswich Showgrounds, Queensland

Again settled in to showgrounds; such excellent use of huge grounds and facilities not always fully utilised, or at least not every day of every year. There are about seven or eight different parties in here tonight, all enjoying the fair tariff without all the fluffery that is offered at smart camping grounds charging equally smart prices.

Another showground camp
We left Boonah soon after nine this morning, travelling directly north to Ipswich via the back road, a mere fifty kilometres, arriving here soon after ten. We set up and lunched very early before setting out to the Information Centre, enquiring after the Toyota service agents. We duly found them on the eastern edge of the city, booked the cruiser in for a service tomorrow afternoon, then made our way to the Riverlink Shopping Centre on the northern bank of the Bremer River, walking distance from the CBD which is on the southern side. The shopping centre has been open for less than five years and there are still areas that have yet to be leased out. The occupied part of it was busy with shoppers and shop windows advertising aggressive sale prices.

Our first stop was Kmart, and then only because we came to that first. Chris was able to pick up half a dozen items of clothing for an excellent price to replace those ruined in the cotton fields or those he has grown out of. Our diet has been healthy over these months of travel, and that combined with exercise, his work and my regular walks, we are fitter, healthier and slimmer than we have been for years, even decades. Retirement agrees with us, for sure!

The city of Ipswich
While he was trying on this and then that, I chatted with the woman manning the fitting rooms. She was grumbling about having no relief staff; they were all stock taking in readiness for the financial end of year, 30 June here in Australia. Being aware that Ipswich had featured in the news during the 11 January floods, I asked the location of the action. She told me that the river had risen right up to the floor level of the shopping centre, submerging the entire lower car park level. The water had come lapping at the service entrances and caused the whole centre to be closed for just less than a week.

Chris suggested that I might have been suffering from retail withdrawal, and so offered me a little relief in suggesting I buy a lovely little top I had admired in the window. “Oh, no!” I said. My wardrobe is after all just bursting at the seams, having added to it with warmer clothes since these colder temperatures, however as we walked back toward the exit, I succumbed, tried it on and just had to have it! And so it was treat time all round, and we came home, unpacked our parcels, opened our compact storage units and wondered how to squeeze the extras in.

Our visit to the Information Centre reaped copious brochures and information regarding the attractions this city of 140,000 people offers. We had done some reading up before we embarked on our way here and decided that we should climb the water tower at Denmark Hill Conservation Park and visit the Art Gallery that doubles as the social history museum, and then move on.

We have discovered however that there is a rail trail just north, that starts at Lowood, just a little north west. We have no bikes, but are keen to attack a small part of it on foot, as did my parents do the Otago Rail Trail. Unlike them however we will not make much more than a token effort, but perhaps give ourselves a taste tester for a future adventure. Perhaps….

Monday, May 30, 2011

30 May 2011 - Boonah Showgrounds

A thunderstorm surrounds us this late afternoon, just as the one we experienced in Murwillimbah all these months ago. Then we were in a caldera, now the geology is similar, and we are not really that far away. The sun is setting and the sky is dramatic, but then here in Australia, it so often is.

We have returned from a wonderful day, tikki-touring up and around this Scenic Rim. We woke late, the rain having spent itself after twelve hours and the grounds were awash with puddles.  
Once our lunch was packed, we headed off SSW back in to the Main Range National Park. The road passed through beautiful cattle country, then steeply up a sealed road which was forbidden to trucks, buses and caravans. We noted on our map that we travelled several kilometres just skimming the state border. This was highlighted by signs on the tracks up to farms. It must be quite bothersome to live so close to the border and have to deal with differing agricultural and bio-security laws.
Queen Mary Falls
Once we reached the summit, the views both north and south west were spectacular. What a lovely country this is, not the barren dry brown country with a perimeter of surf beaches, not a country of abos playing didgeridoos on Uluru Rock or yobbos hanging about pubs or beach cafes or 5 star restaurants. It has all of these for sure, but they are not the essential Australia. This country sells itself short by portraying itself in films such as the Thornbirds, Australia and McLeod’s Daughters. It is as varied and beautiful as New Zealand.

Curious cattle
Lake Muggerah
Enough of that! We stopped and took the obligatory photos, some of which are shared here, and proceeded to the Queen Mary Falls, the Spring Creek’s forty metre plunge before it continues on to join the Condamine River’s upper reaches, just 64 kilometres from Boonah. After walking the circuit down and then up to the top again, we had lunch, and were joined in conversation by retired teachers from Victoria who had wonderful travelling tales to tell. Finally they left, heading toward Boonah at our suggestion, and we followed suit returning by the same route as far as the foot of the Rim.  
We then turned north west to skirt around the eastern shore of Lake Muggerah, a water reservoir constructed in the very early 1960s. The reserves developed for public use on the shores of this lake are truly delightful, and we agreed that this was one of the most beautiful man made lakes we had ever visited.  It did not take us long to travel on to Boonah, call in to buy some excellent local carrots but alas no newspaper, since they were sold out, and return to our camp. The aromas of dinner cooking in the crock pot met us when we opened up, and we were settled back in for what might well be another wet night before the thunder and lightening started.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

29 May 2011 - Boonah Showgrounds

This morning we woke in the midst of another leisure pursuit. The banging and neighing of horses was soon explained when I raised the blinds to find that we were surrounded by dozens and dozens of horse floats. The action started soon after eight, loud speakers announcing names of both riders and their horse, but in a manner that confused us as to the nature of the activity.

Surrounded by horse floats
The Stetsons, jeans and check shirts spelled out a rodeo style activity, and sure enough, when I quizzed a guy parked next to us, I found they were “camp drafting’, a process of drafting out one beast from the herd, and taking it through a gate and on to an allocated point – a bit like sheep trials on horse without the dog, replacing the sheep with a cattle beast. This is obviously a popular activity here, and I suspect that most of the contestants were like my new friend, not farmers at all, but life stylers with their little patch of dirt and their horses soaking up their wages income.

I trapsed back and forth through the horsy crowd, to and from the laundry, attending to my washing, and then Chris and I set out on foot up into the village which was seething with activity even on a Sunday. I had in fact popped up to the baker earlier, at about eight thirty, purchasing a couple of buns and a handful of change for the washing machine. I had been surprised then to see so many people in the cafes having brunch at such an appropriate time rather than the later time of eleven or twelve so often observed elsewhere. (I just don’t know how they can wait so long before eating in the morning!)

Views from Mount French
Chris and I visited the Regional Art Gallery where there was an excellent one (wo)man exhibition by someone Bailey, on to the old Butter Factory to see sculpture, stained glass work, photography and painting, the latter done by a woman who paints with her mouth, then on to the Art and Soul Gallery which featured among many local artists, work by a geologist Dr John Hindle Jackson, who interprets the earth secrets with vibrant acrylics. While these took our breath away, we agreed that we could not live with any of his works in our own home. 

We returned for lunch and to enjoy the ongoing equestrian activity, before setting off in the Cruiser, firstly up to the top of Mount French at 468 metres (Boonah is at just 184 metres) from where we enjoyed views all around this magnificent scenic rim of mountains, taking two short walks to do so. We then descended and made our way north west to the little settlement of Kalbar, the source of the carrots Chris is preparing for our dinner tonight, and visited the Wiss Emporium where an assortment of artists were exhibiting their eclectic collection of artistry, from patchwork, painting, fashion design, jewellery, photography, and so much more.

We wended our way back to Boonah via yet another back road, popped up to the top of Mount Carmel, the town hill, then back to our camp, now slowly emptying of horses and their owners.

28 May 2011 - Boonah Showgrounds, Queensland

Here we are again settled in to another showground, this time in Boonah; carrot country. Apparently 95% of Queensland’s carrots are grown here and they can’t get enough labour. Perhaps we shall decide to give them a hand? Or maybe we will simply store the knowledge in the memory banks for another time when we have a burning desire to work.

Another cold morning and company in our little camp next to the go-cart track. There had been late arrivals during the night, and one lot left even before we raised our blinds. Soon after eight thirty, the boys (and maybe some girls; who would know inside those suits?) warmed up their machines on the track. I came out soon after to find Chris leaning over the fence deep in conversation with one of the track marshals. There were three age groups racing, roughly from seven to eleven, twelve to seventeen, eighteen and over for the seniors. The weekend was a qualifying trial run for the national finals to be held in the same location in a couple of weeks. Apparently the carts get up to speeds of 100 kph. That must feel quite something sitting so low on the ground. I had thought it might be a bit of a trial to tear Chris away from the action, however not so. We headed off toward Warwick, found the Information Centre and parked up.
Warwick, otherwise known as the Rose and Rodeo City, is the administrative centre for the Southern Downs Regional Council, with a population of over 11,000 people, growing at an alarming rate. Last year housing stock increased by 5%. The town is situated on the banks of the Condamine River, which is famous for a song, so I am told.
Warwick, Rose City
We had a look around the Art Gallery adjacent to the Information Centre, found the Super Cheap Auto where we purchased a replacement fuse, then walked up and down the main street of the town. It was a while since we had seen exotic trees shedding their golden leaves, and rose bushes in bloom even if rather stressed by the cold. Warwick is a very pleasant rural town however by lunch time we felt we had seen it. After lunch was enjoyed on the banks of the river, we headed north east, still on the Cunningham Highway.
We travelled on through rolling country, both grazed and cropped, heading toward the peaks of the Great Divide. The road did not climb much, contrary to our expectations, but passed on through the Main Range National Park, through the Cunningham Gap, and descended down very steeply toward the coastal region. The road was undergoing significant repair, and because of that and the incline, I was reminded of our descent from Toowoomba further north, taken some months back.

We had, over lunch, decided to head for Boonah, ten kilometres off the main route, and base ourselves there for a couple of days, from where to discover the Border Ranges. We called into the Information Centre and spent some time chatting with the two women there, soon convinced that we should spent three and not two nights here. In fact it might even take longer.

27 May 2011 - Darling Downs Hotel, near Warwick, Queensland

Outside my window, maybe just twenty meters away are tens of go-carts, racing around at high speed, like a swarm of angry bees. Chris is in his element; live motor racing at his doorstep, literally. A far cry from the dusty dry cotton fields of Koramba.

The harvest came to an end at about five o’clock on Wednesday afternoon, over six weeks since beginning. There was no great celebration or beer-in-the-mess, just general relief for everyone, no more so than for the bosses I am sure, who probably have never thought to mark the end by a shout because it is after all only the end of one stage and the beginning of yet another. Those staying on for other tasks fronted up at the gate the next morning, and we were up as usual so that Chris could make sure his final time-sheet was dealt with correctly and to say farewell to some of the "lads”.

We took our time uprooting our long term camp, watched by The Dog who came over and pressed his head against my knees which wasn’t very helpful when I was trying to pack up. We took our leave of Diego, wishing him happy and safe travels with his fiancé when she arrives in early July. He shook our hands warmly and gave us two litres of milk, telling us that it would have to be otherwise dumped. He then went in to a lengthy diatribe of how difficult it is to buy correct quanities; last week he was catering for 31 and this week only 21, all explained with great latino gestures. Again we wished him well, and shook hands with the chap who had taken it upon himself to assist that day with the lasagne which would use up nine litres of the aging milk, who neither of us had met, and made our exit.

As we passed back through the barracks, the first time for me, we passed Tom, the long haired guy from Grafton who is unable to speak a whole sentence without including the F-word; he told us that he was leaving as well for he had just learned that his father had died the night before. His sad eyes set in a surprisingly sweet face belied the opinion I had of him until then. Tebby, who was supposed to have departed a couple of days before, was still standing around baffled by the contents of his car boot still lying in a great heap behind the car, and the confusion under the bonnet. We bade him farewell and drove on out of our park, met by Kathy at the gate, who was duly introduced to me, and who I thought to be as lovely as all reports. A shame that she had been too busy running men and parts and other errands around the farm twelve hours a day and could not have called for a coffee and a civilised chat. I do think we could have been friends. She said that she and her partner were looking forward to the weekend off, as were the rest of the crew. We tried not to rub in the fact that we were having more than the weekend off!

Finally we were off, out onto the dirt road, north to Talwood where we stopped to buy bread and farewell the storekeeper. For Chris it was the first time he had travelled the road to Gundy, west to east through Queensland, and for me the first time travelled in that direction. He agreed that it was a wonderful road and far more interesting with the opportunities to stop at settlements such as they are. We did pop in to Bungunya to adjust the side mirrors and chatted a while with some fellow caravanners travelling in the same general direction. When  we reached Gundy, we drove straight to the Botanic Gardens which we had visited when we were there first as tourists, and had lunch. The Gardens were even lovelier than remembered, because the day was clear and not threatening to rain as it had previously.

Our chores in Gundy; at the bank, the Post Office, the Newsagent, the supermarket and finally the service station, were soon attended to and we set the Tomtom to the GPS co-ordinates of a bush camp that was mentioned in our CMCA bible; the Bengalla Reserve, just 34 kilometres east of Gundy, listed under Yelarbon. Yelarbon was the first town to be reached on our planned trip east along the Cunningham Highway toward Warwick and on to Brisbane.

We found ourselves on a small road, sealed but narrow, that took us out past the MacIntyre Gin we had discovered again as tourists, becoming more and more narrow. We marvelled that this could be the great Cunningham Highway, but then after the Boomi Road, nothing really should faze us. We drove on and on past many huge cotton farms, but an otherwise prettier scenery than our Koramba. Perhaps that is simply because the brown cotton fields are set back further from the road and the levees are less of an eyesore. Secretly I was thinking that this could not be the right highway, but I was content that we were heading in the right direction. This is the problem when you entrust a robot to navigate instead of using it only to assist.

Camp at the Bengalla Reserve
At last we were instructed to pull into a gateway, where the sign did indeed confirm that we had arrived at the right reserve. The dirt track, pitted with water filled holes did not inspire Chris, even with my bullying that he proceed on down to the river which surely must be over by the dense trees. Instead we walked, until he said that it was silly to be walking when we could drive, and so we returned to the Cruiser, and drove slowly on down the track until we came to the edge of the bush, from where we could see the track ran down steeply through muddy mysteries. We found a flat place on the grass covered reserve, between the many stumps of trees, and set up camp, without unhitching.

It was by now late afternoon so we did not delay in setting off down the track on foot to see what we were missing. Alongside the river, which we later discovered to be the Dumaresq which we had encountered upstream, but further south east, at Armadale, there were some delightful camping spots, providing one was willing to risk getting stuck, flooded or bombarded by falling branches. The birds here, as well as up by our camp, were many, more than we had ever encountered before in one place. We had been escorted by a family of roos as we had crawled in and now were being greeted by a cacophony of Australian birdlife. 

Yet another fabuous sunset
We returned to the van, closed up tight because the night promised to be cold and we were without heating. Just after six, as dinner was close to ready, a Police vehicle turned up and the officer came over to us, asking us whether a yellow ute, stolen that afternoon, had come on down our way. He cautioned us to lock everything up securely, and to give him a call if we should see anything untoward. He said there was a mission about ten kilometres up the road, and "the little brown people there liked to steal things"; his words, not mine. After he left I remarked to Chris, that while we had already ascertained that he had no Telstra reception, I only had one bar of Vodafone, and then we were not quite sure what to ring (000?) and where were we again? Fortunately none of the above were a problem. We went to bed early in an effort to keep warm and were not disturbed by man or beast all night.

This morning we were awake to see the sun come up, but alas the windows were too steamed up for us to see any roos heading off to wherever they go for their day. The birds were as noisy and as delightful as the previous day, and it was almost with regret that we set off on the road once more.

Morning mist
When Tomtom took us to Yelarbon, we were able to confirm that we had come east on a secondary route south of the Cunningham Highway, but with no regrets having enjoyed every bit of it. From there I took control of the navigation and we have remained en route for the rest of the day.

When we reached Inglewood, we walked up and down the street, filled our water tank and lunched by the bridge over the McIntyre River, at the end of the town. Inglewood is a settlement of 1,000 souls, which is coming back to life slowly after having died a death in the 1956 floods. It had previously been a thriving community around tobacco growing, and regained some vibrancy after the Coolmunda Dam was built, now growing irrigated crops such as lucerne and grains.

The Coolmunda Dam is just off the highway, so we stopped by to look over this very pretty lake. It was too early to consider stopping for the night, so we pressed on and decided that we would come right on through to this place which is just 10 kilometres west of Warwick.

After we left Inglewood, the plains gave way to steadily rising hills, the first of any consequence we have encountered since leaving Orange. We have yet to climb back up on to the tablelands, from whence we will descend to the coast. No doubt the days and nights will get colder before then.

The Darling Downs Hotel is a lovely old homestead style building which has a flat paddock alongside. This area is directly adjacent to the West Warwick Go-Cart Club track, and this weekend is obviously a busy one for the club.

There are no facilities at this camp except for hot showers at the back of the hotel should we wish to use them. Obviously there is a cost for that, but otherwise it is all for free. I guess they would hope we would patronise their establishment, which is actually what we normally consider ourselves duty bound to do, even for one drink

Monday, May 23, 2011

24 May 2011 - Koramba Cotton, NSW

Nearly always a comment about the weather as I start. Tedious perhaps, but so often the weather sets the mood for the whole day and certainly when one is not working to the beat of the regimental drum, it is likely to direct the events of the day.

Yesterday the weather certainly had a big impact on our day. The previous night it had rained, long and hard. Even as the alarm went off, even without checking for messages left in the mess by the powers-that-be, we knew we could turn over and enjoy an hour more in bed if we so chose; pure luxury, and more so for Chris with his working 24/7, eleven to twelve hours a day. In fact the day dawned clear with a light breeze, however the ground was a mess, and even if the cotton had dried off by midday, the machines and vehicles could not have operated in the boggy conditions.

I had been lamenting to Chris that he was not able to share in my delightful country walks, and so he suggested we head off out and make the most of the opportunity. We did so, wearing raincoats in the event of rain, which was predicted but not evident. The black soil clung to our boots like heavy treacle; it was like walking in a bog. The mud would build up on the soles of our boots to about three or four centimetres; it reminded me of the high platform shoes I had in the early seventies. After a while we discovered the trick; a dozen steps then a kick out to one side then the other, to shake a wad of mud off. I am sure that we must have looked pretty funny progressing down the farm track like that!! However we persevered along the bare tracks that have previously eased my route and now were just a curse. We reached the Serpentine Gate, I showed Chris where I had seen the snake, and we decided to cross the fence there anyway, rather than slide under the fence on the other side; no snake and an easier passage. We reached the river where the pump draws the McIntyre out on to the cotton, then pressed on to the billabong. I can normally do this route in just over three quarters of an hour, but it took us a lot longer plugging through the heavy mud. It was much more of a workout than normal!

Chris was delighted with the wildlife, as I am everyday when I head off out. The birdlife was not quite as evident as some days, however we did watch a duo of roos bounding gracefully along the top of the levee parallel to our route, before they came down, across in front of us and off in to the scrub. We remarked too how far apart the tracks were of these roos and others that had passed this way, given that these are the smaller Eastern Grey Kangaroos as opposed to the Big Reds we will no doubt discover in Western Australia. (It is these Big Reds that one sees in cartoons of roo versus man in boxing gloves.)

We returned in time for lunch, having taken nearly three hours and were relieved to remove our boots. After eating we headed in to Boomi, it being the first time that Chris had left the farm since arriving here in late April, apart from the small trip we had done one rainy afternoon to Talwood. It was certainly the first time he had seen Boomi, since the road turning toward Koramba from Gundy barely touches the northern corner of the settlement and then it had been on dusk.

Boomi was a buzzing! The pub was busy, the outside tables full of idle cotton pickers. The camping ground was full of at least a dozen caravans, and an overflow parked around behind the store. A couple of trucks lay idle on the road side, and as we discovered soon, their drivers were hanging about waiting for the ground to dry so they could proceed on to farms to collect cotton modules.

Chris was as (un)impressed with the store as I had been, however the one very friendly woman behind the counter offered us two kinds of bread; frozen white or frozen multi-grain. She also held up a bag of buttered bread telling us that they had not required it for sandwiches this morning after all, and we could have that if we preferred. We elected for the frozen multi-grain and asked her to hold it for us, then went next door to the Boomi Artesian Spa pools which are part of the camp.

Now I did do an injustice to Moree when I told of our passing through on a dead day over Easter. Moree is a major agricultural centre, noted for its part in the Australian cotton growing industry which was established there in the early 1960s. It is also home to artesian hot spring baths which are famous for their reputed healing qualities and was a focal point of 'freedom-ride' protests against racial segregation in the 1960s.

To quote:

In 1895 the Great Artesian Basin which sits under Moree was tapped and yields over thirteen million litres of water every day. The bore was sunk to 3,000 ft (900 m) deep in order to provide water for agricultural pursuits but was proved unsuitable for this purpose. 
Moree was one of the destinations of the famous 1965 Freedom Bus ride, an historic trip through northern NSW led by the late Charles Perkins to bring media attention to discrimination against Indigenous Australians. It brought racial segregation in rural Australia to the attention of urban Australians, in particular at the Moree public swimming pool as well as pubs and theatres, where Aborigines were refused entry. At the Moree swimming pool, after a confrontation with the council and pool management, it was agreed that Indigenous children could swim in the pool outside school hours However, this was immediately reversed when the bus left Moree. Jim Spigelman, one of the Freedom riders who later became Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court, was king hit by a local outside the Moree baths after making sexual comments to a married woman, according to a Sydney Morning Herald report on the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Bus Rides.
In 2007 the Moree Plains Council announced plans for a $14m upgrade to the hot thermal baths.

We had found Moree deserted, I suspect all the population that day was either out in the rural lands in the cotton, or lazing in the pools. We did not linger there but pressed on to Gundy, not realising at the time how Moree would feature in our lives. Koramba’s offices are in Moree, as are the offices of other business’s that Dean Phillips, The American, dabbles in. Moree is the town of choice for the workers here to travel to when they are rained off, to visit internet cafes and to do their shopping. I suspect too that while the distance to Moree is similar to the distance to any settlement of substance from here, the road is probably superior to all others, once you reach the St George – Moree connection. Moree is also where the fourteen year old daughter of Greg, the supervisor, buses to school every day!

When we were well south of Moree, and I, with my navigator’s hat on, read in a brochure about an artesian spa north west of Moree, as an option to those of Moree, and one that suggested as being far cheaper to visit, I mentioned it to Chris. However we looked at the tiny dot on the map marked Boomi and decided that it looked if it were too remote, too far off our intended route and as if the roads were less than standard. We were not to know then that we would find ourselves here after all!

Sitting in the 40 degree mineral spa initially with four others, two the drivers of the waiting trucks and the others fellow gypsies from Singleton, we discovered that the caravanners in the park were all just travelling through, not there to work as we were. This astounded me, that they would choose this route through to Moree, or St George, or Goondiwindi, depending on the direction of their route. Some stayed for days, enjoying the spa which is open from two in the afternoon until about six.

The signage at the pools is an absolute hoot. You are requested to shower before entering the pools, and then in the changing room, you are excused from showering if you are already clean because that will help them conserve water. They ask that you cover yourself in a modest fashion from changing room to pool, or particularly if you should want to purchase something at the store, because they “at Boomi, are a conservative lot.”

As we soaked ourselves, half a dozen more bathers came to join us, and all were older than us and all at least as modestly clad as us. I suspect the signs are particularly directed at the few young backpackers who choose on their days off to bathe rather than booze at the pub. Are there any?

After two hours we emerged prune-like, and returned to the store to collect our bread. Chris spotted a newspaper but then noted that it was last Tuesday’s Courier Mail, seven days old. The store minder told us dryly that the news at Boomi was old news. She also told us that the bread came on Wednesdays, so obviously more frozen bread is sold there than fresh. We splashed out and bought ourselves ice creams, so all in all it was quite a festive day we had in Boomi.

We had been surprised at the extent of the roadwork outside the farm gate and the two kilometres down to the seal just north of the gin, I even more than Chris, because it was just one week since I had travelled that way. However the single lane of vehicle tracks was slippery and quite treacherous as we had headed down to Boomi. By the time we returned, the wind and sun had improved the condition and I was less concerned about the speed we did.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting out on our “veranda”, reading and just enjoying companionship that is like gold these days. It was also wonderful to dine at a civilised hour. Dishes were done equally early and we settled down to a couple of games of Scrabble, winning one each. Being rained off does have its plus side.

The day before, Greg had asked Chris if Daryl had been to see him; they wanted Chris to stay on. Obviously he is one of the star employees!! Daryl had not spoken to him, but it did give Chris a chance to sound me out on how I felt about extending our time here. I told him that I was willing for us to stay on until the end of June if that is what he wants but not beyond. We also spoke about the fact that it would be better if he were working ten hours rather than twelve; for the sake of our personal life and routine rather than Chris’s ability to work the longer hours. The ball is in Chris’ court; he intends to find out exactly what kind of work they have in mind before he further considers the possibility.

With only perhaps two days to go until the harvest is at an end, I am averse to heading the 100 plus kilometres in to Gundy to shop when we might be heading back out that way just days after, so I am eking out our supplies, thinking that we should get by, even if I have to pop through to Talwood for more bread and a cabbage or cauliflower if there be such a jewel. If however, we are to stay on, then I shall venture in to the big smoke for a big stock up later in the week.

This morning we woke to clear skies and light breezes, all suggestions of a normal work day. When Chris popped across to the mess for any special directions for the day, particularly as regards start times, he learned that they were all to head off down to the gin for the first part of the day, because the cotton was still not quite dry. So he headed off this morning to another new experience with promises to tell me all about it tonight.

I spent the first part of the morning doing laundry and lamenting that the washing seems to come out of the machine little cleaner than it goes in, despite the extra washing powder I am using. While the clothes and linen were under going the above-said torture, I donned rubber gloves and gathered up one and a half rubbish sacks of debris. I am absolutely sick of the state of the camp and decided finally that instead of whinging, I should do something about it. Since then the wind has some up considerably and probably blown much of that outside the kitchen door all back down the drive and over the car park. It also started to rain, so I had to rush out and mess about with the line and laundry. More important however, I wonder whether the guys will have a full day. This must be so frustrating for Daryl and the supervisors, especially at this very late stage of play.

Once more we have no idea as to our movements ahead, but then that is the nature of this great adventure. I will await the next instalment, as you must.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

22 May 2011 - Koramba Cotton, NSW

Our Kiwi neighbours left this morning, as Chris headed for work. Mike popped over last night with their time sheets and asked Chris if he could pass them on to the appropriate people. He stayed for some time and we talked about friends we had in common.

I am sure that if you put a dozen people from a city of forty thousand together, none having met, and started chatting about people you knew or had done business with, you would find that you were all closely linked after all. Life is full of little surprises and it is with some regret that we have not had time to get to know them better. However they are heading in the general direction that we intend, so chances are our paths may well intersect again. I do hope so.

I thought it highly symbolic that as Lynette stood holding her rubbish, which I took from her offering to dispose of it so they could be on their way (Mike was champing at the bit), I noted that their fluoro vests were destined for the tip. I take it therefore that they will not be approaching Dick from Labour Solutions for another job!

The morning has dawned bright and sunny, with much warmer temperatures and as I write this, I am enjoying 21 degrees, back in a tee-shirt as opposed to the four layers I have been living in of late.

Chris and his team would by now have finished up in their field, and will be just heading off to join every other team in Field No. 39, the largest cultivated cotton field on the farm, measuring 655 acres (265.2 hectares). Apparently it is not all planted out but will still occupy everyone for a few days thus drawing the harvest to a close.

I was surprised to see Daryl turn up here this morning just before nine with two young men in their own clean car, and take them up in to the barracks. One would guess that they are to work here. They were still there when I left for my walk, but gone when I returned. Perhaps the young men, who were looking as clean and tidy as their car, decided that living in this hovel is just not for them. Who knows?

Photos above: The "barracks" from various angles contrasted by the neatness of our own abode.

Friday, May 20, 2011

21 May 2011 - Koramba Cotton, NSW

It is fortunately, for the purpose of the harvest, a superb day, neither too hot nor too cold, and the clouds that come and go, do not threaten rain. That is reserved for tomorrow, late in the day.

This morning I had to push myself out the door to go for a walk. Reluctance is too easily given in to; fortunately my knowledge that even an hour walking in the sun would lift my languid spirits. Perhaps three and a bit weeks are as much as I can take living this existence, mainly spent waiting for my husband to return from work here in this isolation. I am disappointed that I cannot exhibit more backbone, but there you have it. I am looking forward to being on the road again, experiencing new adventures and new sights, and most of all in the company of my fellow traveller.

As per the last two days, I only went as far as the pump on the river, and noted as I had yesterday, that the water level seems to have risen. This does seem rather strange given that the rain is yet to arrive. Perhaps the irrigation operators have chosen to reduce their bleeding of the river system in anticipation of that rain?

I sat long over lunch under the awning and was visited by a flock of small wrens and double-barred finches, who all but entered the door I had left open and unscreened. I sat there until I had reached the end of my book, and started yet another.      

Today is Saturday, although here just as any other day, for me at least.

Stefan and Diego’s fuel needs were satisfied by the farm reserves at no cost to themselves, but to recompense them for the loss they had suffered; full marks to Koramba. I was correct in my suggestion that the rappers risked being murdered after long and brutal torture; their fate was made very clear to them, should they choose to linger here. Naturally they chose exile. Full marks to the victims and their colleagues! Such should justice be, out in the greater world!

Our fellow Kiwis heading off to work
Our neighbours have embarked upon their fourth day in the field, however according to their rant last night, this could well be the last. Aside from discovering that their pay rate is $2 per hour less than they had been led to believe, and that the camp’s “bathroom” facilities which they were assured they could use, are foul and not fit for decent human beings, they were left yesterday, just the two of them, doing what is essentially a four man job. Certainly Chris’ team have managed well with three instead of the four they started with, however two is impossible.

Their third team member was the Frankie, the Italian with the flatulence problem who had been the module transporter driver, but was demoted, or rather transferred to module making because he was not up to it. However it seems he was not up to module assembly either, because he chose to bed down in the tractor that pulls the module maker about and have a kip more often than not. It all came to a head yesterday when Mike climbed up into the tractor needing action, and a chunk of wood that Frankie had left as some sort of warning system fell and smashed the tractor window, cutting Mike’s hand. The injury was not severe as was evident by the lack of bandaging last night, but the damage to the expensive tractor was. The chiefs were summoned, the truth revealed and Frankie was sacked forthwith. Which left our poor neighbours rather short handed. I am sure there will have been a reshuffling of men (and woman) today to equalise the teams, however this whole affair just served to further frustrate the already disillusioned newcomers. Last night they were talking about leaving forthwith, however a night’s sleep and new beginnings in the light of day may have changed their minds and have them resolved to stay with Plan A: a six week stint here to make Aussie dollars.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

20 May 2011 - Koramba Cotton, NSW

Another day here on the cotton farm, less sunshine but still better than it was earlier when I headed off for my walk. I was feeling a bit down, disappointed and more than anything angry. I am disappointed in human nature, my main problem being that I have a naïve trust and belief in my fellow kind, and even more so in those who come to share one’s space such as the workers here in rural border lands. You would think after all these years of evidence to the contrary, my Pollyanna nature would have changed or at least have grown a little realism.

So, what am I on about? Last night Chris came home with the story that both Diego and Stefan (the youngest and newest member of Chris’ team), had had all the petrol siphoned out of their cars. This had occurred the night before, so Diego’s day would have certainly ended up as one to remember. Just imagine the latino response to that last straw!

While there is no proof, it is believed that the culprits were the two hangers-on of the worker who set up the tent in the corner of our park. They were, according to him, his younger brother and his nephew. Some thought they were part aboriginal, but I do not believe so. I suspect they were New Zealanders of the kind that Australians do not welcome. They are the kind that made me a little embarrassed to confess to being a Kiwi in our first days is Brisbane. While I naively thought that the young and middle aged Kiwis who came across the ditch to settle were go-ahead motivated workers, carving out a new vibrant life for themselves, such as the Dutch who came into New Zealand back in the middle of last century, there are as many useless wasters , many who use the country of my birth as a gateway to this continent.

And so the alleged perpetrators of this crime are those who hung about idle, no doubt bored out of their tree, who I never felt good about, who left finally yesterday afternoon with a spin of tyres and the revving of car engine. I suspect they knew that if they were here when the workers arrived home, they might be hung, drawn and quartered. And so they should be! I have no idea as to what clearance Labour Solutions requires of its workers, because quite frankly Chris managed to woo Dick on the end of the telephone, and Koramba was desperate for workers. And of course there is no vetting of the hangers on, of which I am one. In the interests of the other workers, there should be! Not for me of course; I am lovely, or at least my husband tells me so.

On my soapbox again! Anyway, Chris had suggested to Stefan that I might be willing to go through to Talwood to get him some petrol. Boomi has one pump, a card operated diesel one, and of course the farm here only has diesel reserves. (This vindicates our decision to buy a diesel powered vehicle rather than one powered by petrol. Diesel is always available in the more remote areas, petrol not necessarily so.) While I do not actually need to do a top-up trip this week, I was quite willing to make the effort for the boys, however they were to have got back to Chris this morning after having been left a message last night, and did not, so perhaps they have made other arrangements.

Chris, in the meantime, soldiers on, assuring me that he is not tiring or suffering any ill effects of the relentless work. I have to say that when he arrives home late in the evening ready for his shower and dinner, his bloodshot dust irritated eyes appear to tell a different story. His hands have been an absolute mess, the skin protesting to the dirt and the cold. He has gone to work this last week with his fingers bound up with plasters and masking tape, which has stopped any further deterioration. But come the morning, he heads away looking as fit and healthy as any of the others, or even more so, because unlike the young ones, he does not spend his nights up late smoking and drinking.

Earlier this week they finished working in Field No. 58, an area of 193.97 acres (78.5 hectares) moving on to Field No. 54, an even smaller one of 138 acres (55.9 hectares).

I have also learned that the fields were originally leveled with laser levels for cultivation, and the reason that some are larger than others is all to do with the inclination of the fields which in turn relates to the flow of water for irrigation purposes. It is all very technical and all adds to the costs of running this enormous operation.

Last night Chris popped across to our neighbours with my internet aerial, however it did not fit their data card. Perhaps I have kept the extra fittings that came with the aerial; I will have a look for an adaptor that may work for them.
Apart from that we have had little contact. As they set off this morning, looking fresh and eager, I noted that Lynette had her washing done and hanging beneath the front end of the fifth wheeler. I asked if she would like me to get it in before the dew came down later today. A small service to ease what will surely become a difficult task for her here, working very long hours, seven days a week, and having to organize food and their normal housekeeping affairs. Chris and I would definitely pay the $25 per person per day to Diego, to be fully catered for, if we were both working. When we told Mike and Lynette this, they said that $350 per week was a big chunk out of their wages and I would certainly agree, however the practical nature of doing otherwise may force them to change their mind.

I am currently reading an excellent biography of Jane Digby, titled A Scandalous Life, and was thinking about Lynette coping in the wide open barren fields as I read about the difficulties of Jane coping as she traveled through the deserts of the Middle East 150 years ago. All I can say is that I am very glad that it is her and not me out there in the cotton!

Well I feel better already for having that off my chest and will return to the routine of my day and perhaps pause to enjoy and delight in the birdsong about me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

19 May 2011 - Koramba Cotton, NSW

Back from another walk and ready to put in an afternoon of work, trying to have everything out of the way before we head off on further gypsy travels. A futile thought, perhaps.

Another gloriously sunny morning, begun with slightly warmer temperatures, hence I did not sit with my current book so long in the sun before heading off with my walking stick and camera.

Last night I thought better of quizzing our new neighbours on how they had managed with cotton picking, but was outside to catch them this morning before they headed for the pick up. Their fluoro vests still looked clean and new, however I have forgotten how long it took for Chris’s to get so grotty. It is not something I can launder for him, because he needs it every day for work. They were upbeat about their efforts and looked keen to front up for another day.

Chris had learned yesterday morning while sharing the gate post waiting for a ride that we had friends in common. When he told me that last night, and I thought about those friends, and the fact that Lynette looked vaguely familiar, I decided I knew where I had met her, or rather seen her. (Had I actually met her or had anything to do with her on a personal level, I would not have forgotten.) It seems that she was on the Whangarei Boys’ High School PTA with Chris and I all those years ago. What an amazing co-incidence!

This morning we also spoke very briefly about television reception, or rather the lack of, and internet availability. I offered them my aerial and long extension; they can have it overnight.

I have just done a Google search of weather forecasts for Boomi and see that rain is expected for Sunday, and showers on Monday. While the harvesting is certainly coming to its end, it is unlikely to be finished before then. Perhaps that will however give us an opportunity to spend some quality time with our fellow Onerahians?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

18 May 2011 - Koramba Cotton, NSW

The sun is shining and the breeze seems to have dropped a little since earlier this morning. That will please Chris and his co-workers in the field. I am back from my walk, an abbreviated one hour, as per yesterday. I have a lot of book work to deal with this afternoon.

Yesterday brought a couple of surprises. When I got down to the “main” road, before setting off up “my” road, I found that the grader had been through, and the water cart was keeping the centre irrigated. I am wondering whether the woman at the Talwood store did in fact have a word in the ear of the road construction crew, as I had suggested, and ask them to just pop over the border and tidy up the kilometre to Koramba Cotton’s gate? If so, we will forever be in her debt!

This morning the water cart driver was passing doing his thing when I came back out on to the main road. I waved and gave him a thumbs up signal. Hopefully he understood what I was trying to convey.

The second surprise was one of those amazing co-incidences that occur in life. Late in the afternoon, a ute and fifth wheeler pulled in to the camp and set up beside our van. Another usurper, I muttered. I greeted them briefly as I moved our grey water hose away from their site, and then left them to set up.

Lynette came over after a little while, introduced herself properly and gave a brief overview of who and what they were. ”So where are you from”, I asked, having detected what I thought to be a non-Aussie accent.
“Whangarei”, she said.
Now my deafness does get things mixed up sometimes, so I said, “Pardon, where?”
She repeated the same, and I said, “So do we come from there.”
She then added, “Onerahi”.
Now how can it be after all these months of having encountered no other Kiwis, except for those we did when we first arrived in Brisbane and on the Sunshine Coast, even though everyone said, “There are so many Kiwis traveling – you will meet them everywhere”, that we should meet not only fellow Kiwis, but those who lived just a kilometre from us! (Now if Chris was editing this, he would have me correct the fact that it is I who am the Kiwi, not him. He is proudly an Australian, returning home after years in exile.)

Lynette and her partner, Mike, are employed by Labour Solutions, as is Chris. They were promised six weeks of work here, however only a further week on the harvest doing the same as Chris. After that they believe they will be involved in the mulching and replanting. This morning, they headed off in their very clean Labour Solutions fluoro vests with Chris to the gate. I do wonder how Lynette will find the work, however she is younger, fitter and probably more motivated than I.

Chris arrived home to find another camper in our lot, and to tell me that he had broken the module maker. On investigation, it turns out that the breakage has happened to others, and he was unlucky enough to be the person operating the machine when it fell apart. No doubt there was someone working away until the wee hours this morning, patching the thirty year old machine with sellotape and wire so that it will function until the end of the harvest.

This morning, on my return I discovered the rapper-boys dismantling their tent and they are now sitting in their car listening to their kind of music waiting for…. maybe the older person, who is apparently very smelly. I don’t know where the younger two were yesterday. They were conspicuous by their absence, as has been my Dog.

I also saw that one of the water tanks at the end of the men’s camp had water pouring out the top at an alarming rate. I went back and called to Diego who was at the kitchen window. He said something unintelligible, so I went in through the storeroom to speak to him. Boxes of food were laying all around the floor. Diego was visibly upset; it seems that the coolroom fridge had broken down, he had $3,500 worth of groceries purchased yesterday, needing refrigeration. The engineer had come to take a part and fix it, then was called away by the mechanic, now hours ago. And what was he to do? His arms were flailing around in true Latino style, his English broken and highly peppered with the F-word.

I told him about the water tank and so he came with me to see, but lumbered into the flood of water getting his chef’s pants soaked and his rubber clogs submerged. Again, the F-word featured greatly. Alas I am not close enough to him to explain that this is not correct language to use in front of “ladies” and ask him if he would use such language in front of his mother or his grandmother? Here in this camp, I am learning to let it float over the top of my head. Some may say this is letting my standards slip; perhaps, however it is not licence for my own children to use it in my presence, nor I to start as some of my peers seem to have done with great gusto in this modern day and age.

Anyway, enough! Diego leaped about trying to reach the pipe tipped on its edge at the top. I offered my walking pole, which he took, poked the pipe with this and became even wetter. He said he would tell Daryl. I said, “Good idea. Sorry to make your day even worse”.

He assured me that I had not, I probably could not, and disappeared back in to his kitchen muttering and cursing.

The cicadas have struck up a loud chorus, something I have not heard or possibly noticed for a while. Perhaps too I am becoming immune to the wonders of this land. I do hope not; surely that is not possible.