Thursday, June 30, 2011

30 June 2011 - Central Tourist Park, Mackay, Queensland

Another windy day, with rain about, threatening to spoil the day, but never coming to much. We ventured out twice during the day, the first time to visit Artspace , the council gallery which was mostly closed in anticipation of a new exhibition opening on Friday evening. Bonney Bombach, the artist of this exhibition, saw us studying her one art piece, complete and hung, titled  Memento Mori: Tree of life and came over to speak with us. The work is a collection of her grandfathers’ memorabilia, both of whom emigrated as refugees from Austria in 1938, and both of whom died recently having reached over 100 years of age. For me, with an interest in genealogy, I enjoyed this visual realisation of their stories and lives. She suggested we return to the gallery on Saturday morning to view the rest of her work; we assured her we would if we were still about.

Heritage buildings in Mackay
Leaving the gallery, otherwise disappointed, we walked up and down the main streets, enjoying the palms growing lushly through the middle. One had the feeling that the CBD was just ready and waiting for the sunshine and the tourists to fill the otherwise empty streets, and that business are hurting from the reduced tourist trade through the region.

Bluewater Lagoon
After lunch we drove back into the town, parking beside the Bluewater Lagoon, a wonderful recreational area of pools, and fountains, and weird and wonderful water features. The appeal is mostly to children, however I am sure that anyone would and could have lots of fun here. Sadly apart from us, there was only one very bored life-guard wandering about and a woman sunning her legs on the bank above one of the lagoons. While it is winter, it is also school holidays here in Queensland, but the dismal weather was just too much of a turn off to would be fun-takers. Many millions of rate payers money has been spent on this project and the promenade area all along the Pioneer River. The use of the facility is free; an absolutely wonderful asset for Mackay.

We walked over a kilometre along the river, toward the sea, marvelling at the wonderful seating and picnicking areas along the way. Rain lurked about the city, but never quite arrived. Cautious however, we turned and headed back toward the cruiser. From there we went on over to the Canelands Shopping Centre and wandered about there before coming back to camp. The multitudes missing from the CBD were congregated in the foodhall at Canelands, and we enjoyed some serious people-watching over a couple of Scottish sundaes.
I did make contact with my parents on Skype, but unfortunately the second linkup was marred by the lack of sound their end. We did communicate a few necessary items of news with me asking questions and great shaking or nodding of heads their end for responses. It is frustrating when these technical hitches spoil what would otherwise be a bonus; they make one question the positives of modern communication.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

29 June 2011 - Central Tourist Park, Mackay, Queensland

Rain fell through the night, heavily before we tucked into bed. The General Gordon was rocking, with the help of a DJ and it was only Tuesday night. Perhaps there was a crowd of sugar cane workers in unwinding after work? We will never know but we did enjoy the mix of music that filtered through the ventilation in our van. By the time I put my book down, the music had already faded so the frivolity did not bother us unduly.

The road back to the Bruce Highway and then north to Mackay was less than thirty kilometres, and we made our way to this Tourist Park on the north side of the river, detouring to Porters, a supplier of construction products. We were after a fitting to match a piece of pipe Chris had picked up a week earlier to make an outlet for our grey water. The plumbing department of this amazing store that has been operating since the 1880s had just the right part, and dazzled us with the extent of goods on offer. Of course Bunnings offers similar products, but Porters do it with style!

The camp here has 120 self-contained units and 100 caravan sites.  We read the other day that Mackay is bursting at the seams with workers requiring accommodation, and in need of extra “beds”. Many of the occupants here are those very people described in that article, those working in the mines and supporting services. There is a nice swimming pool, although not quite as classy as that at Gracemere, however no one is making use of the pools at this time of the year. It is winter, even if the temperatures of late have been in the early 20s. Again, like Gracemere, the amenities are old, but very clean and big enough to serve the customers well. We are within walking distance of the CBD but the rain or threat of the same, does not encourage an outing on foot.

After setting up and having lunch, making use of the electricity and using our toasted sandwich maker, we headed back across the river, firstly to visit the caravan accessories place we had spied as we entered the city, and again back to Porters to seek a tap handle so that we can take water from taps in parklands that have had their tops off to stop such practices. This is done of course to deter young vandals, not such fine persons as ourselves!

We also found the Toyota dealer who was able to provide us with a replacement bulb for one of the headlights. The bulb is more than that, a whole fitting costing more than a simple filament that one would expect.

En route, we fell upon a shop called Vegies Unlimited and stopped to check their prices out. Bananas at nearly $13 a kilo, tomatoes at nearly $9, apples at nearly $5… such prices have made us pause and consider whether we actually need these particular food items. This greengrocer was like Pandora’s Box. The further we ventured into the store, the more bargains we found, the more we unloaded those first seen and replaced with better. We exited with a large bag of spuds, carrots, tomatoes, an avocado, apples, pears, a portion of pawpaw and a beautiful "topless acid free” pineapple. We indulged in the pineapple after our wonderful dinner of butter chicken, rice, carrots and broccoli. It is years since I ate such a large amount of fresh pineapple, what a treat! And so appropriate in this subtropical region.

We were dismayed to learn on Facebook that our wonderfully athletic India had broken her wrist playing soccer at school; we were glad to touch base with her mother to hear that matters were under control even if still unpleasant for our granddaughter. In fact it was quite a night of catch up; we ended up speaking with all three of our kids and their partners on Skype, always a pleasure even if there is sometimes less than happy news to impart.


28 June 2011 - General Gordon Hotel, Homebush, Queensland

It rained much of last night; the creek did not flood and we were safe and sound in our little home. It was very soon after eight that we broke camp and came further north. The road continued as it had the previous afternoon, but the cattle farms were replaced by sugar cane fields the further north we came.

Last night, in the absence of television, we watched a couple of travel DVDs we have, with particular attention to the Mackay episode of Spider Everitt’s “The Great Australian Doorstep”. We had seen this at least twice before, however it was all the more pertinent given that we were closing on this city of more than sixty thousand, about ten thousand less than Rockhampton. And it was just as well that we did because we were keen to do a tour through a sugar mill and knew that his wife Sheree had done so somewhere near Mackay. Wonder of wonders, it was at Sarina, the place we planned to stop and gather local maps from the Information Centre. The Sugar Shed is part of the complex on the southern entry to Sarina called “Field of Dreams”, a very fancy name for the Centre, the Shed, an Art Gallery and a museum. The Plane Creek sugar mill stands beside this “field” billowing out great clouds of steam; a living monument to the region’s industry. The next tour was due to start within the hour of our arrival, so we signed on at once. Again Chris’s Queensland’s Senior Card proved useful; it is surprising how often this comes in handy.

The tour is actually around a mini mill, one that replicates the processes but in miniature. An excellent DVD explaining the industry, the processes, and promoting the Mackay area as a tourist destination starts the tour and then we were led about a manicured garden to see machinery used in bygone years in the harvest of the cane, some of which have simply evolved with time and technology and are otherwise in use today. The guide then took us into The Shed and explained the process, demonstrating with real cane, extracting real juice and allowing us to taste the results of his labours. We were then led to a further tasting section where we were able to try liqueurs, schnapps and sauces manufactured within this mini factory all manned by volunteers. Neither Chris nor I were tempted by the products on offer but had both enjoyed the tour very much.

The information highlights for me were:

  • The sugar cane after being harvested is left to shoot again year after year, and will do so successfully for about four or five years. Sometimes the ground is left fallow for a year, sometimes replanted in an entirely different crop. When it is replanted, the canes are laid horizontally in the ground rather than vertically as I would have expected.
  • I was interested also that the mill next door produces raw sugar for export, some of which finds its way to Birkenhead’s (in Auckland) sugar refinery. That in itself is not surprising but what is surprising is the following: the raw sugar produced in this mill is not able to be sold for consumption in that form because it is an open working agricultural mill. When it is refined elsewhere, the true raw sugar it receives from here is white. The refinery then melts it down, and goes through the extraction process again to reach crystal form. Simply, the fine sugar that falls through the sift is sold as icing sugar, the less fine, as castor sugar,  the regular sugar as white sugar and the larger sized crystals are coloured  with molasses and sold as coffee sugar or raw sugar. That means of course that the raw sugar one buys in shops is actually more processed than white sugar and thus probably less healthy.

Hay Point
The rain had persisted all morning; we ducked back to the caravan between heavy showers and had lunch before heading to our next destination. We were keen to see the port at Hay Point which is one of the biggest and most efficient coal ports in the world. Unlike Gladstone, there are no tours of this port however there is a lookout with excellent explanatory panels from which the two separate coal terminals, the Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal and the Hays Point Services Coal Terminal can be viewed. They operate independently, each with their own rail loading equipment, stockpiles with stacking and reclaiming equipment, conveyors and ship loaders on offshore wharves. Their combined throughput totals 88.5 tonnes of coal.
We turned into the road on which this lookout is situated, to find that caravans and trailers are banned from travelling beyond the sign. There was a suggestion we could unhook and drive on, but we decided to simply park and walk on. Rain threatened yet again so we donned raincoats and set off. A government vehicle pulled up beside us and we asked how far the lookout was. He in turn asked us if we would like a lift to the top. We accepted of course and he, an employee of the Quarantine Service, went out of his way to run us up the very steep but relatively short road. A wonderful gesture; yet another from the wonderful people that live in this land.

A squall came over as we arrived at the top so we sheltered out of the wind until it passed. Below us lay the industrial scene. It was a shame the weather was not better however we were able to make out over a dozen coal freighters waiting out on the horizon to be guided in by the pilots, who are all helicoptered out, as in Gladstone. We walked back to the caravan in the sunshine, away before the rain recommenced.

We set Tomtom for Homebush, with no other description or GPS co-ordinate. The Camps Australia 5 had this hotel as a low cost camp, the cost undefined. Tomtom had us wandering about the cane fields through narrow potholed roads, and then emerging far from any hotel. Homebush does not have a centre; the school and the hotel are at least two kilometres apart. We stopped at some kennels to ask directions and were duly rewarded.

The view from our kitchen window
The hotel is an old two story wooden structure, poorly maintained and partly camouflaged by wandering vines, situated between the road and fields of sugar cane. We went in to the bar to ask if we could stay and the proprietor, a portly middle aged woman who does not waste her time beautifying herself, came out of the kitchen, took our ten dollars and offered the facilities of the shower and toilets, up the top of the back stairs. Chris checked them out and was duly shocked at the run down state of the amenities. Needless to say we showered in our own bathroom tonight as normal.  

After dinner, we rang through to a camping ground in the centre of Mackay, booking for a couple of nights. Tomorrow we will enter the city and find out what else it has in store for us.

Monday, June 27, 2011

27 June 2011 - Waverley Creek Rest Area, near St Lawrence, Queensland

This afternoon we have sat the rain out at this rest area about 170 kilometres north of Rockhampton beside the Bruce Highway. It is a large area with a small kiosk in the centre manned for a few hours a day by members of one of the service clubs, handing out free cups of tea or coffee to drivers; part of the driver reviver schemes that one happens upon from time to time. We arrived about two o’clock; the rain started soon after. From the window I can see cattle grazing amongst the eucalyptus trees..

We left our camp near Grassmere later than planned because so many lovely fellow campers kept stopping beside our camp on the way to the amenities, and engaging us in conversation about many matters that interested us; the pros and cons of varying styles of external rear vision mirrors, the price of registering cars and caravans, locations of fuel stations where one should or should not top up with diesel, et cetera. Finally after saying farewell to all, we were gone.

We called yet again in to the central post office, this time with no success. Five of the six pieces of mail, forwarded twelve days ago from the Sunshine Coast have successfully arrived, one remains in never-never land. We left instructions for it to be forwarded on when and if it turns up, but how crazy is this!!

We called into Marlborough, one hundred kilometres north of Rockhampton, for lunch. The posts beside the road stated the number of kilometres to travel to the destination; MB for Marlborough. We were expecting a little more when we arrived and apparently once upon a time there was, when the main road intersected the town. Now there is a store, a pub which offers free camping or rather, a gold coin donation, for the privilege of parking in its back yard, a swimming pool and a rest area with clean toilets. The population is similar to Boomi, of our cotton picking days, but is occupied with cattle farming instead. Several groups of the touring public found their way from the highway to this poorly signed spot and stayed to enjoy the peace and birds while they lunched.

Add caption
Mining gear on the move along the Bruce Highway under police escort.

The road on from Marlborough, now signed with S for Sarina, may be travelled at 110 kph, and has long straights through easy contoured country, but the surface makes that higher speed unsafe. There are dozens of caravans on the road, some heading for the warmth as we are, and some travelling the wrong way.

Here we already have at least ten fellow camping parties in at four o’clock, but no television reception so Chris will miss seeing Australia’s own Tomac attempting yet another round to stay in the lead up to the Wimbledon finals. It is a busy time for Chris, what with Wimbledon and the Tour de France starting next week. He is resigned to the fact that he will miss much of it, since television reception seems so whimsical. He says, “It is hard work being an armchair sportsman.”


Sunday, June 26, 2011

26 June 2011 - Gracemere Caravan Park, Queensland

Tonight is our last at this caravan park and on power for at least a couple of days; how many can never be guessed because who knows what the days ahead hold, apart from the fact that there will be new places and new experiences. Camera batteries have been charged, cellphones are charging and the computer battery is charging as I type this. The crock pot has been packed away as have the loose parts of the microwave, so our departure in the morning should not be held up by such matters.

Yesterday, Saturday, dawned a little warmer than the days before after a night similarly less cold. My mother was celebrating her eightieth birthday amid food and family. We had arranged with Olly to purchase and deliver a web-cam to her as a gift, so that she could no longer say, “It’s so long since we have seen you!” We were aware that there is a two hour time difference, that Olly had to travel south to Tauranga from West Auckland with his family, including two wee boys, and that when he arrived there would be in excess of twenty other family members all eager to greet my mother. We hoped that in the middle of all that, there would be an opportunity to connect briefly with her and so demonstrate the wonders of Skype. As a result our plans for the day were very loose, to the point of dropping whatever we were doing to accommodate the convenience of the situation.

Lovely Kershaw Park
As it turned out, telephone calls, text messaging and then a brief Skype greeting all happened very successfully and efficiently, hopefully not disrupting their day too much and certainly not ours. And so by eleven o’clock we had lunch packed up and were off into Rockhampton, first to check out BCF (Boating, Fishing and Camping; a franchise here in Australia, at least in New South Wales and Queensland, that caters brilliantly for the likes of us who spend so much time outdoors). Chris is seeking a flat tank, preferably on wheels, for the purposes of a mobile grey water tank, such as we have seen caravanners use in New Zealand. A modified water tank of the right shape and with the outlets located strategically might just do the trick; it is a challenge that will keep him occupied for a while yet. BCF however were not able to assist so we headed to Kershaw Park which we had visited a few days previously, but this time beside the waterfall, a modified rock structure with water pumped so that it falls into a palm surrounded pool. It is the very best artificial waterfall we have ever seen, and was a delightful place to pause for lunch.

The Rockhampton Art Gallery was the next port of call. We arrived dead on one and were offered the opportunity to hear a talk by the curator of an exhibition launched the previous evening. The exhibition titled “Big Eye – Aboriginal Animations” was presented by Jenny Fraser, a woman who identifies herself as aboriginal from an area south west of Boonah, the carrot capital we stayed in. The exhibition is screen based and on-line, which is to us a strange concept. When I think animations, I think Mickey Mouse, Smurfs and Homer Simpson. The works, compiled by both Australian and North American aboriginal artists, that we observed, were mostly a series of stills with subtitles, many aimed at young people with messages targeting potential challenges and problems that are most prevalent in that realm. But was it art? Apart from this, the presentation was not inspiring. I am sure that Ms Fraser is passionate and committed to the artists she is working with, but her reserve did her no favours, coupled with the fact that her power point presentation was spoiled by the computer not functioning as she needed it to.

The gallery also had an exhibition titled “1888 Melbourne Cup”, which may have appealed more to those who feel Melbourne Cup rather than know of it as we do. There were also some wonderful works by greater artists squeezed into the stairwell and hallway, and no doubt even more stored away in the basement, all of which would have better impressed had they been hung in the rooms that were usurped by the projected images of non-art.       

This morning was even warmer than yesterday, about 14 degrees on rising. I set the computer up to send a birthday greeting to our two year old grand-daughter Isabella, or rather to her parents, and was delighted to receive the first Skype call from my parents. Olly was tutoring them and it was just serendipitous that we happened to go on line at that moment. I was on battery, without my magic aerial wire suspended from the ceiling, and so the contact was poor, hopefully not so much as to discourage future effort.
Today we had ear-tagged for a tour of the Capricorn Coast, and we were off soon after nine o’clock, north through the city and west 38 kilometres toward the seaside town of Yeppoon. We passed through rolling gum-clad hills from which we could see many of the volcanic peaks lying north; Black Mountain, Mt Jim Crow, Pine Mountain. I am constantly surprised to come across evidence of volcanic action in Australia; it is something that does not come to mind when one thinks of all things Australian. We walked about the town, which even on a Sunday morning, was busy with people enjoying the outdoor cafes. Despite that café culture and the wind blowing in from the sea, the whole place was still very simple and quite appealing.

We then drove on south down the coast to Rosslyn Harbour, a man-made harbour, home to the largest marina in Northern Queensland, a boast we were rather puzzled with. I would have thought that Cairns offered something more sizeable, however we will have to reserve further comment until we get there. The well sheltered harbour is shielded by a very strong wall topped by great chunks of concrete, so big I was unable to get a foot hold and climb up to get a view from the top.

Further south we stopped on the northern shore of the Causeway Lake, really just an inlet. A half-hearted market was in the process of being packed up, but a garage sale nearby rendered a rather ancient (1969) edition of the Readers Digest Complete Australian Atlas. You may well wonder why we bothered with such when we have so many maps and books already cluttering up our on-board library, but this one is topographical, a feature missing with all others.

We found a picnic table out of the wind, and from where we could see the caravan park that had been our second choice had we found the Grassmere one full or come on to the seaside in preference to the city. A charming spot but very crowded, so we felt vindicated by our choice of camp.

The Singing Ship
From there we proceeded further south to Emu Park, where we found the Singing Ship, a monument commemorating the area’s legacy of the historical explorations of Captain James Cook. Three fluted pipes stand tall as ship’s rigging, catching the wind, producing a musical sound, fortunately only heard on the grounds around the monument. It would drive you nuts if you were constantly subjected to it.

After walking up and down the street which offered little more than cafes and many many real estate offices, we decided to return to Rockhampton. Once back in the city we drove to the large Stockland’s Shopping Centre on the north side of the river, and indulged in some retail therapy before stocking up with groceries. We now have a DVD and some fishing gear to occupy us at some future time when we are at a loss to do otherwise. Watch this space!

Today had been less sunny than those over the last week, but warmer. Spots of rain fell on the windscreen at one point of today’s journey but thankfully never came to anything, and the washing was quite dry when we brought it in on our return. The forecast is for similar weather for the next week which means that we might actually believe we are travelling in more tropical climes. Fingers crossed.

Friday, June 24, 2011

24 June 2011 - Gracemere Caravan Park, Queensland

What an interesting day we have had! Yet another lovely sunny day, perhaps a little cooler after a slightly warmer night. After breakfast, dressed in jeans and sturdy shoes, we headed to the Gracemere Saleyards. Today was the weekly prime beef sale and while cattle auctions might well be a mundane event for many pastoral people, the sales here in Gracemere are well promoted as a tourist attraction as well as being a major part of the running of the main industry here: beef.

Here at Gracemere, the yards hold 200 holding pens, 20 sales pens and a covered arena seating 1,000 people for the stud auctions or other special sales that happen here. The Friday sales average 3,000 head of cattle per sale which equates with 150,000 head per year, generating cash flow of $100 million annually. Apart from these weekly sales, there are annually 20 stud cattle sales, property auctions and sales of quarter horses, camels, Shetland ponies and saddlery.

In Central Queensland, Brahman and Brahman Cross derivations make up an estimated 95% of the cattle breeds. The Brahman are bred from the Indian Zebu and have an excellent resistance to ticks. The Brafords which I have referred to much earlier in this work, are a cross of Hereford and Brahman, who apart from resisting the ticks, also cope remarkably well with drought conditions. Charbray are the result of breeding with Charolais bulls and Brahman cows in the USA in the 1950s; they cope very well with heat. And finally the Droughtmasters, a Brahman and Shorthorn Cross, red in colour, are excellent foragers and have a quiet temperament. There are a total of 50 breeds here in Queensland, including Australia’s own Belmont Red, who evolved in North Queensland.
The salesyards at Gracemere

We latched on to a cattle farmer, older than us, (or rather he latched on to us). He has three land holdings, tiny in the scale of Australian holdings and more in line with New Zealand farms. He has Belmont Reds and is fiercely passionate about them, as is any single breed cattle farmer the world over.

However for all these grand figures quoted above, the sale today was a shrunken version of the normal event. The recent political crisis concerning live exports of cattle to Indonesia, and the temporary ban in place, has pulled the plug on cattle trading. The whole future of the industry is in question, at least for now. I was pleased to learn that there are abattoirs still operating in the region, two just locally, so there is still an outlet for cattle ready for kill. However the crisis remains for those ready for export, ready to be finished in Indonesia in their feed-lots. According to the media, who was responsible for raising this issue, there are those farmers who are ready to go out and shoot their herds rather than see them starve to death. While this is a real problem ethically, the knee jerk reaction has not considered the repercussions. There are not the abattoirs to handle the quantities of livestock and even then, Indonesian people do not have the resources to stock the frozen meat.

We stayed for just under an hour, careful to keep our hands in our pockets; we did not think it would be very humane to have a beast on a rope behind our rig. We do travel slowly but not that slowly! From there we drove into the "town” of Gracemere, expecting a less classy suburb of Rockhampton. I had seen or heard media reports of a negative nature about the place, however bad stuff can go down anywhere. Instead we found a small country town with a shopping centre as big as Onerahi, but with service industries such as light engineering on the outskirts and the residential area no more or less than anywhere else. We purchased fresh bread for lunch and the daily newspaper and returned to our camp which is just down the road toward Rockhampton.

I quickly packed up our lunch and we headed off to the Botanic Gardens. These are situated on the south western edge of the city, beside the Murray Lagoon, and were established 130 years ago. There are many tropical plants and trees here and it is just lovely to wander through the plantings. We walked quite randomly along the pathways confused by the poor map but found our way easily back to the cruiser. The park also houses a small free zoo, an absolute gem with a variety of Australian wildlife. There we saw kangaroos, snakes, monitors, dingoes, wallabies, wombats and most especially, koalas. This was the first time I had seen a koala here in Australia apart from those on road signs, although disappointingly not in the wild, not so confined that they could not find their way into the gardens if they had a mind to escape.

My first koala in the flesh
When I was very small, but old enough for my youngest sister to have become a real person, my mother’s brother came across to Australia for a holiday. This was quite something in our family in those days, and he returned with three stuffed koala bears, one for each of us. The smallest one was given a haircut by my youngest sister and never really recovered, I think the middle sized one still sits in a place of honour in my second sister’s house and my own one split and disintegrated just recently. He must have been nearly fifty years old; he’d had a good innings. Because of this early encounter with koalas, I was looking forward to seeing one in the flesh. The three in today’s zoo were just as cute and charming as my own veteran, but I was disappointed to discover that their rear ends were reminiscent of wombats, rather than the tidy flat back ends of their stuffed counter parts. Now interestingly one of the interpretative signs confirmed that the wombat is most closely related to the koala. This disappointment is commonly experienced by those who view monkeys in the flesh for the first time, unless they have followed National Geographic documentaries carefully.

After leaving the gardens we drove into the city, stood in a queue at our bank for longer than is acceptable, picked up the fifth of the six expected pieces of mail and indulged in sundaes at our favourite Scottish restaurant. Our trip home was slow; we thought ourselves caught up in Rockhampton’s rush hour however discovered closer to home that there had been a car accident and rubber-neckers were causing mayhem.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

23 June 2011 - Gracemere Caravan Park, Queensland

Another day in the tropical paradise of Rockhampton. I spent the early part of the day with laundry before we headed off into town, across the river to Kershaw Gardens. While this was not on our must-do list, it seemed to be a good place to walk and lunch before heading to our next destination which was. We spent about forty minutes wandering the paths of the park, along the banks of Moore’s Creek which eventually finds its way to the Fitzroy. Lunch was taken under the scrutiny of ibis, crows, butcher birds and peewees. Chris succumbed to the plaintive cries of the young butcher birds and fed them the crusts of his sandwich. It was the first time that we had shared our picnic so closely with these birds; their behaviour was just like that of cheeky house sparrows.

At one, we were at the Dreamtime Cultural Centre ready for the afternoon tour. This centre is on Darambal land, nestled amidst 30 hectares of natural bush. The guides, Wayne and Stephen, imparted the history of the region’s Aboriginal and Torres Islander communities. Wayne led us through interpretative panels hung on the “rock” walls of an artificial sandstone structure, telling the stories of the ancient rock stencil art in the Carnavon Gorge. After a spell with Stephen whose “lecture” we found extremely interesting and enlightening, Wayne revealed some of the secrets of Didgeridoo playing and we all had a go throwing boomerangs. Chris threw a wild shot that flew out and around, and we all ducked as it came looking for him. The tour was well worth the money spent and more, and we would readily recommend it to anyone travelling this way. We had of course had it recommended to us by Lance and Uta in Sydney, Spider Everitt on his “Great Australia Door Step” DVD and in two of our travel “encyclopaedias”. How could we go wrong!

We drove up to the top of Mt Archer to see the spectacular views of the city from the summit. We were duly rewarded however the haze did not suggest good photos. From there we came on down, called again at the post office to find two more of the letters forwarded by Pauline, and returned to camp.

Dinner was waiting in the crock pot (hooray for power!), the bird lady next door had managed to attract kookaburras, rainbow lorikeets and crested pigeons to her empty feeding trays and we managed to catch both Larissa and Olly on Skype; all in all, an excellent day.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

22 June 2011 - Gracemere Caravan Park, Queensland

We hung about the wonderful Calliope River Rest Area campsite until ten o’clock this morning, waiting for the condensation on the awning to dry. Wood ducks and peewees wandered around our rig; the ducks grazing on the grass and the peewees keeping them company. Perhaps they were checking out the manufacturers of the worm castings that had arrived overnight. Presumably there were big worms lurking underground; apparently there are some earthworms here in Australia that average a metre in length, however I think they hang out in Gippsland, Victoria.

We had spent eight nights bush camping, although I prefer the New Zealand term "freedom camping", especially since none of the camp sites were actually in the bush. Our batteries have performed well, and while we have been able to top up with water at parks about the place, we have also had to exercise economy with the water as well as with the limited power. Eight nights is a record for us; our previous record here in Australia was four. Of course this is far short of our New Zealand record of months, but then motor-homing in New Zealand is a far cry from caravanning in Australia.

The road north to Rockhampton is pretty good for its entire one hundred kilometre length, mostly fairly flat. We travelled through beef country although the cattle seen were few and far between. Construction of gas drilling works was more obvious. There has been much controversy over this, as farmers object to the loss of their land to the exploration, and yet it would seem that the final structures will be small and in the grand scale of things, not effecting the agricultural operation.
The approach to Rockhampton is just lovely, wide expanses of yellow pasture and shallow lagoons full of water lilies. As Beef Capital of Australia, the statues of Brahmin cattle decorating the round-a-bouts and road side are appropriate.

Posing on the Tropic of Capricorn
We stopped at the Information Centre situated right on the Tropic of Capricorn, the latitude at which the sun reaches its zenith at noon on 22 December. There is a pyramid shaped monument with a sun dial to mark the spot on the Bruce Highway. It is quite a coincidence that we should arrive on the southern hemisphere winter solstice. We gathered a handful of pamphlets to inform us of the city’s attractions and then headed west to Grassmere to this caravan park.

We selected this park over others for its distance from the main highway, the peace and quiet that should result and of course the price. In an area where most tariffs are in excess of $32, this at $26 seems cheap. It is in fact a very pleasant park, full of trees (including many palms) and a mass of birds. It is busy but spacious and suits us very well. I have however noticed that we are close to the railway line which is obviously busy with coal or some such cargo, with trains almost non-stop. The sound is steady and non-intrusive; hopefully we shall find it so during the night.   (Chris thinks that may come from seamless rails, but do such things exist?) 
Rockhampton's heritage buildings
After setting up and having lunched, we drove into the city centre to the central post office. We had asked Pauline to forward mail to us there last week. Of the six pieces that were supposed to be there, only two were. We will have to return on Friday to see if they have found the rest.

From there we crossed to the northern side of the Fitzroy River which runs through the city, to seek out the Queensland Transport Authority. There we took a number and waited our turn as is the system here. Once called, we were successful in being able to prepay our vehicle registration, and now just hope the sticker will be mailed out and be forwarded to us in time. This will of course be reliant on us being somewhere we can have mail forwarded to.

Before we returned to camp, we parked beside the river and walked through the city’s elegant streetscapes and looked at the majestic sandstone heritage listed buildings. 

We have booked for three nights here, but will probably extend. Rockhampton has several attractions we wish to enjoy, and two full days and the days either side will probably not allow us to do them all justice. Tomorrow is another day – we shall decide then what we shall do.

Monday, June 20, 2011

21 June 2011 - Calliope River Rest Area, Queensland

Fog surrounded us when we rose this morning and it was not until we drove up and away from our camp site that we were sure of yet another sunny day. Chris reckons the thermometer read 4 degrees this morning; I won’t bother disputing that. It was temperatures such as these that drove us into caravan parks west and inland of Sydney all those months ago; we are either hardening up or just buoyed by the fact that we are moving north, albeit slowly.

Our Industry Tour this morning left the Information Centre at 10 am. We called by Calliope proper and dumped before heading the twenty something kilometres into town. Again it was a small bus, but full of English and Australian tourists from the southern states. Sue, the tour guide from Gladstone Ports Corporation lacked personality, at least in the role of guide, and read out an absolute encyclopaedia of facts as we drove out to the R G Tanna Coal Terminal, then through the marina, the town and around to the Auckland Point Wharf. The scale of material in and out of this port is mind boggling and all the facts transmitted were very interesting, but after half an hour of such out-pouring, I have to admit turning off, or at least down. This was all the more frustrating when the very small child of perhaps a year, if that, decided that sitting in a bus, looking out the window at piles of coal was too tedious and decided to revolt. I can see that there is great merit in parents taking their touring holidays without small children, especially when they would otherwise subject them to non-child-friendly activities (which probably means anything that does not include food, playgrounds or swimming pools). However, in saying that, I thought of eight year old Jackson as we watched the huge monster bulldozers teetering on the apex of great coal reserves; he would have loved it!

After an hour travelling about this fascinating cauldron of activity, we returned to the Information Centre and on disembarking were handed a goody bag which included a smart ball-point pen and two glossy brochures summarising some of the points worth remembering.
Of course the port was first discovered in 1802, when Matthew Flinders popped up in his ship from Sydney. He spent about three days sussing it all out and returned with the good news. While the port was busy exporting wild horses and meat to India way back, and later meat from the abattoir, it was not until the 1960s that things really got going. This of course coincided with the refinery, the smelter, the power station and everything else that now makes Gladstone such an important place. 

Coal makes up over 70% of the throughput of the port, alumina following at about 24% , followed by cement, petroleum, aluminium, grain and then other bits and pieces. When coal was first handled through the port in 1925, the ship loading rate was 100 tonnes per hour; now it is loaded at 6,000 tonnes per hour. This goes on almost 24/7 because, as I mentioned earlier, ships are lining up outside the harbour ready to be guided in and filled up.
Stock piled coal
This PR woman was voluble about the great works of the Port Corporation for the people of Gladstone, the labour that is provided free of charge for so many projects, the wonderful environmental systems they have in place, and on and on. Between them and Rio Tinto, it seems that they have the whole town tied up.

Chris and I drove over to Barney’s Beach on the southern side of the CBD where there is respite from the industry; a sandy beach and a very pleasant park, no doubt courtesy of the Port Corporation. We picnicked on a hill overlooking the bay, the water glistening in the sunlight below us.

As we finally left this surprising town, we called at Coles and stocked up after wandering around the Stockland’s Shopping Centre, and made our way back to our delightful camp here by the river.

Chris has made an attempt at removing the worst of the dirt from the caravan and so we will look relatively presentable as we pull away on the Bruce Highway tomorrow morning, heading north toward Rockhampton.

20 June 2011 - Calliope River Rest Area, Queensland

Here we are back for another 48 hours, having absented ourselves to comply with the council’s regulations. We have spent an excellent day taking in more of the sights and experiences that Gladstone has to offer. Who would have thought that this place which I had not even heard of until about two years ago, could hold us for so long!

This morning we travelled back into Gladstone and visited the Tondoon Botanic Gardens, fifty three acres of wonderful wooded parklands. This was once the site of the water reservoir for Gladstone prior to the construction of the dam on the Boyne River, creating Lake Aroonga, and still has a chain of ponds and lakes which are home to many water birds. The trees are also home to a huge variety of other birds including blue eyed honey-eaters and kookaburras which made us very welcome. We wandered about the shaded paths and remarked that this would be a wonderful refuge from the heat in the middle of summer. This morning we were glad to have our hats, socks and shoes on, apart from the rest of our layers of clothing.

The café which stands elevated beside the main lake sells turtle food, which drew our attention to the fact that there were creatures other than ducks on and in the water. A more diligent search proved that there were in fact quite a few of these little fellows dog paddling in the water directly below the terrace along with a very large eel looking decidedly like his New Zealand cousins. We purchased a small bag of turtle goodies and began to drop pellets into the water. Ducks swam and flew from all over the park, gobbling it all up before the turtles could get a look in. They are either too well fed or most likely just whimps when it comes to battling their feathered fellow combatants. We gave up and came away with most of the food still in the bag, ready for braver turtles yet to be met.

After lunch we joined a small bus tour out to the Gladstone Power Station, again leaving from the Information Centre. This, like last Friday’s tour, is one of the free Industry Tours on offer to visitors and town residents alike. This power station is located five kilometres north west of Gladstone’s CBD, and of course is visible from the entire town, as are all of the other industries that are the life blood of this city.

Eleven thousand tonnes of black coal, railed east to Gladstone, are consumed daily, generating 1,680 megawatts, making this Queensland’s largest power generator. It was sited here to take advantage of the seawater used for cooling, unlike all others sited inland which use fresh water. Because of this, the generating capacity of the plant is not affected by drought.

Our guide, a retired employee of the station, was, apart from his body odour, just brilliant, and while the tour was less than one and a half hours long, we came away brimming with information, the rest I will not bore you with.

Our return to this camp was uneventful, apart from the fact that the rig is now as dirty as can be, having been exposed to muddy road works this morning. This will help to camouflage the fact that we have been here before, if the regulation actually is meant to be “48 hours in one week”.

19 June 2011 - Boyne River Rest Area, near Banarby, Queensland

Here we are back again beside the Boyne River. Sunday afternoon is already closing in, looking as if the night may turn out as cold as last. Alas this caravan is as poorly insulated as any other. According to Chris the only caravans with decent insulation are those manufactured by England’s Bailey’s, who have recently started catering for those who want to travel outside the heat of summer. 

After lunch yesterday we wandered up to the Heritage Village which is adjacent to the riverside camping area. The museum is made up of twenty re-located houses, a railway station, a school, an airport terminal, halls, a church and the like. As with most museums of this type, it is run by enthusiastic volunteers who have lots of time, but little resources and even fewer years left to them. The grounds are certainly well maintained and it is evident that a lot of work has gone into the relocation and initial restoration, but there the matter stands. To say I was not impressed would be unfair because there were two displays that particularly stood out; the railway carriage which had a corridor running down the side and the seating in booths, just as I have seen in films but never in reality and the authentic slab hut, cracks in the floors and walls included. Chris was even more impressed with this than I. Certainly they were a hardy lot that lived in these dwellings, far more so that the woosey lot that live now (me included).
When we returned to the caravan nearly two hours later, we counted about ninety camper parties in. A fellow camper did a later count arriving at one hundred. It is an under-statement to say that the Calliope River Rest Area is an incredibly popular spot.

Geoff, Denise, Charlie and Sue had gone off for the day into Gladstone, asking that we keep an eye on their unhitched vans. This we did but really quite unnecessarily. There were many who had done the same, and the calibre of the campers in suggested that nothing untoward would occur.
We wandered down to see them once we saw the smoke rising from their camp fire early in the evening, to find out what they had been up to during the day. Our intention was to spend only ten minutes or so with them, but we ended up staying more than half an hour. When we finally left, we had all swapped notes as to our future routes and parted sure that we would meet again in the not too distant future.

This morning we woke to seven degrees, later than normal, to yet another glorious day. The notices for the camp spell out that the space is available for travellers for no more than forty eight hours. There was a general exodus of those who had done their time, us included.

Lake Awoonga
We travelled about twenty kilometres south back along the Bruce Highway toward Benarby on the Boyne River, and then inland for about eight kilometres to the Awoonga Dam, the water storage reservoir for Gladstone. We intended to park up on the shore and pass our sunny Sunday walking, picnicking and relaxing. Alas the recreation area parking is minimal and steep, not really conducive to rigs such as ours. We did however find a spot high on the banks, screened from the shore, beside the road and lunched before walking down to the lake and along a well formed dirt walking track.

This dam is famed for its excellent fishing, apparently on the Bass to Barramundi Trail. Since 1996 in excess of two million barramundi fingerlings have been released into the lake, just waiting to grow up and be landed onto a dinner platter. Strange to say, weekend and all, we did not see too many fishermen. Perhaps it is not the season?

I am fascinated by the fact that the water reservoirs here in Australia, at least those we have visited, are edged by the dead trees submerged by the rising water. I have never seen this in New Zealand in the many man made lakes we have visited. Perhaps this is because the trees that would otherwise be lost (in New Zealand) are considered too valuable to discount, and are milled for timber before the dam is filled, whereas the trees here are generally gum and seem to be considered quite dispensable, because after all, so many of them are consumed by fire, even if in a controlled fashion.

We came away from the lake, rather disappointed in some respects, and returned to this camp on the Boyne River, downstream from the dam, pulling in at about three o’clock. Already there were about ten lots of campers in, many of whom are parked in the “No Camping” section of the rest area. Why do they do that? I do wish the powers that be would enforce these regulations regularly, rather than wait until the facility has been abused.

Friday, June 17, 2011

18 June 2011 - Calliope River Rest Area, Queensland

Late morning settled under the awning sheltering from the glorious sunshine; it is indeed the most perfect day here. We woke to about eight degrees and have certainly returned to burying ourselves at night in winceyette pyjamas under layers of duvets and blankets, but are forever appreciative of the clear sunny days that follow.

Today is Kit’s thirty second birthday; I made a very brief call to him conveying my love and wishing him a happy day. Co-incidentally, I spoke just two days ago with his father who had been chasing us for a travel progress report for the last couple of months. We spoke of Kit’s birthday then. It does not seem so many years since Kit came into the world, however seems decades longer since I was with his father. My travel companion seems to have been beside me for ever; it is only the existence of our respective children that remind me this is not so.

A load of hand washing is hanging on my rotary line and my hair is drying in the gentle breeze after having been washed in cold water over a bucket. Very invigorating, I tell you.

Yesterday morning we left this wonderful camp very soon after seven and travelled by a better and more direct road back in to Gladstone. Quite frankly I am not sure how the distance compared with our round about route of the day before. We parked in the same spot on the marina, breakfasted and then went over to the Information Centre as our fellow tour passengers were assembling.

Forty three of us boarded a large tour coach, were briefed by our guide Brian, who had been employed by Queensland Alumina from the time it opened in 1967 until his retirement. We were taken firstly to a look out, resplendent with interpretive panels and a view out across the refinery. Here we were allowed to take photos. While our cameras were not then confiscated, we were on notice that no more photos could be taken. This was a shame because I could have tried for some really arty shots. We entered the refinery and travelled around, remaining all the time in the coach, having the processes explained to us by Brian.

The bauxite is mined up at Weipa which is on the western side of Cape York and shipped the 2,000 kilometres around the Cape and down to Gladstone. We watched a ship being unloaded, and the raw mineral being carried on a conveyor belt across to the refinery. We were shown the great rust coloured tanks, vats and other receptacles where the bauxite is refined step by step down to the fine alumina powder. From there it is taken back by conveyer belt to the wharf and shipped to Japan, America and New Zealand. Some is transferred across again by conveyor belts to the Boyne Smelter, just eleven kilometres away as the crow flies. We were also shown the buildings that housed the laboratory, the canteen, the workshops, the medical centre which houses a doctor and two nurses, and the showers.

Back in 1960, Gladstone lost its one industry; the Meatworks closed its doors. At that time it was still a fairly small seaside town of perhaps 5,000 people. Fortunately for Gladstone, given its sheltered deep water port, nearby rail access and the coalfields at Moura not too far away, in addition to the fact that there were now workers sitting about twiddling their thumbs, in 1964 a consortium of organisations, Comalco, Kaiser, Alcan and Pechiney joined forces and chose to construct their planned refinery here.

Today QAL, which started in 1967 with a production of 600,000 tonnes of alumina, now turns out four million tons a year. It is one of the world’s largest refineries, and of course saved Gladstone from oblivion.

Needless to say, we enjoyed this tour very much and also the one that immediately followed. Col, the driver, took us back to the Information Centre for a comfort stop, then we were driven out to Boyne Island, about twenty five kilometres by road, to the Boyne Smelter. At the gate we were met by another guide, a bubbly woman, who took any aluminium or tin container from the passengers, including inhalers. We had all been instructed to wear long sleeves, sturdy covered shoes, and long pants. Given that we all remained in the coach for the entire time within the confines of both factories, this was all quite ridiculous. However company policy is company policy and it seems that Australian Health and Safety regulations are even more rigorous than those we left behind. (We see that this is being made patently clear by a coal miner who left Pike River Coal just weeks before the disaster last November, who is making sure that everyone knows his opinion on New Zealand’s backward safety regulations.)

Any way, I digress. We drove around the mine and peeked in doorways of the huge buildings hoping to catch glimpses of various stages of the process. Fortunately we had been shown an excellent DVD on the trip out to Boyne Island, and so those things we did see were simply evidence of their existence.

We were back at the marina before one o’clock and drove around to Spinnaker Park on the end of the seawall, formed during the dredging for the marina, where we enjoyed the birds and the lovely views as we ate.

Returning to this camp, arriving soon after three o’clock, we found it to be as busy as the day before. No sooner had we set up, did we receive a visit from Geoff whom we had become acquainted with in Bundaberg. He invited us to join him and Denise, together with the couple they are travelling with for drinks by their camp fire. Chris and I went for a walk about the camp, then spying smoke from the direction of our friends’ camp, took our mugs of coffee over. Charlie and Sue are also from Western Australia, having met up with Geoff and Denise in Tasmania. We thoroughly enjoyed about an hour and a half around their camp fire. When they started to test their foil wrapped potatoes, we decided it was time for us to return and cook our own dinner, the preparation having been done earlier.

We sat up late watching a movie we had missed at the cinema a few years ago, The Last Scottish King, about Idi Amin, and retired later than ever, but knowing that today we had little to do but enjoy this wonderful spot.

16 June 2011 - Calliope River Rest Area, Queensland

This morning dawned clear, blue and fresh while we slept later than we have for a while. When we finally were ready to leave, we were delayed firstly in engaging in conversation with a fellow camper whom we had encountered at the hideous Country Stopover Caravan Park out of Maryborough. He is an ex-policeman in his early fifties, pensioned off with ill health. He has been on the road for the past ten years and while travelling in a small Toyota van, is very well set up, with kayak, bicycle and generator. I do hope that when my health fails I will be able to still enjoy all these gadgets!

The second cause of delay was a chatty encounter with a highway worker with whom we had passed the time of the day just after arrival yesterday. He was dead envious of the fact that we were travelling without time constraints, and longed for the time he was at our stage in life. I had actually thought he looked about my age; obviously he thought we were both in the grey nomad bracket.

We finally tore ourselves away and travelled the short distance in to Gladstone, east of the main Bruce Highway. As we neared our destination, we travelled over low tidal mangrove flats. The sun glistened on the residual water and it was the very best of conditions to enter a seaside settlement. We followed the Information Centre signs around the city and down across a canter lever bridge to the marina.

The woman in the Centre was just wonderful. This is a city that promotes itself well and has excellent staff to follow through with the message. She handed us an excellent map of the city and marked the location of the lookout points, the art galleries, the museums and the route to each. She also suggested that we could unhitch and leave the caravan at the parking spot opposite the Centre while we spent the day tikki touring about.

Views of Gladstone
This we duly did, or at least Chris did, while I threw together a picnic lunch. We then drove to Mount Auckland, a small hill behind the port area, on the sea side of the CBD. From there we could see the wonderful waterways, bays, islands, the marina and several of the large industries which dominate the city and shoreline. From there we drove up to Round Hill to gain a more expansive view, this time more of the residential area and more extensively of the region. We took our camp chairs from the cruiser and sat on the edge of the hill. Unlike Mount Auckland with its charming park, this had nothing but a mown space beside the railings, but still offered the very best of outlooks.

After lingering over lunch and the view, we drove back down into the town and parked just off the main street. From there we walked up and down as is our habit, and called in first to the Regional Art Gallery where we enjoyed an exhibition of fashion shots taken in Australia during the 1960s and 70s, titled "Strike a Pose" compiled and edited by Lee Lin Chin, a stunning Singapore born woman of about fifty, who fronts the SBS One news here in Australia, our most preferred channel for such updates. This exhibition made me feel quite nostalgic for many of the weird and wonderful outfits I had owned and worn during those years.

The second exhibition was compiled mainly by aboriginal artists inspired by plants and wildlife in the northern territory. The only feature that marked it as aboriginal rather than anything else, were the comments or stories about how these  natural subjects might have featured in a more primitive existence. For instance, there were comments regarding the edibility of water lilies which seem to abound in the wild here in this country; their very young leaves, the flowers and the seeds, the latter either raw or cooked.

The third exhibition was of photos take by citizens of this city depicting life here, part of an exchange exhibition with Gladstone’s Japanese sister-city. It was interesting but generally as amateurish as my own photography.

Tucked away behind a shopping block, we found another gallery recommended to us, featuring the work of local artists. The gallery is sponsored by Rio Tinto, shareholders in the aluminium smelter, and of course is a PR exercise. There was some good work there as well as some unimpressive. I have to say however that when one no longer has a house in which to hang artworks, one has an entirely different take on the art featured in these places.

By this time we had decided that we wanted to spend several days in or near Gladstone. We were interested in the Industry Tours and had discovered at the Information Centre earlier in the day that each of the industries who offer these tours, do so only one day each week, and we needed to remain in the area through to early next week. Again, as so often seems to happen, we had arrived at the wrong time of the week, and we would be stymied by the weekend.

Our camp beside the Calliope River
We set the Tomtom for a campsite advertised in both the CMCA bible and the Camps Australia Wide, on the Calliope River, some twenty or so kilometres east of Gladstone. We were led north on the road toward Rockhampton, across more mangrove flats, past factories belching clouds of steam and smoke, and on roads that led to Mount Larkham, a place far north of Calliope. Several times we were directed into factory entrances, and then having done so, Tomtom cried out “Turn around as soon as possible!”.
“Well why did you tell us to go this way?” we responded.

We pressed on and were finally taken in a round about way out on to the Bruce Highway more or less opposite the turn to the camp. While frustrating to say the least, it had been a very pleasant drive, but far longer than we expected. We will return to Gladstone tomorrow morning by an alternative route and will then judge whether Tomtom’s route was better than the one we would have otherwise taken.

This camp here on the north side of the Calliope River is just a-maz-ing! There are wide grassy areas either side of the river. These two areas, north and south, were once joined by an old concrete bridge spanning a low part of the river, but the bridge has now been closed, considered to be unsafe. We are on the higher northern banks, the area on the southern banks is lower and could be flood prone in different conditions.

At about four o’clock, there were about twenty five rigs or motorhomes on each side of the river. Subsequent to that time, many more ventured in. I was reminded of the scores of motorhomes that one sees lining part of the seabird coast, the south western shores of New Zealand’s Firth of Thames; perhaps as many as a hundred around Easter.

We are just flabbergasted by the number of campers and absolutely wowed by the beauty of the place. We sat outside before sunset and listened to the birds readying themselves for bed, before settling in for the evening ourselves.