Thursday, December 6, 2012

7 December 2012 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

The intervening days seem so pale compared to my excitement about catching up with all our progeny; three children, their partners and the six grandchildren. Even the inconvenience and kerfuffle of getting there seems irrelevant, although I know that tomorrow morning we will be up soon after 5 am. Not only will we have to ready ourselves, but all our possessions kept in the landcruiser will have to be moved into the caravan and we will have to trudge up the hill to the Miranda Railway Station to catch the connections through to the airport, carrying our luggage. Once in New Zealand, we will have the initial delight of spending twenty four hours with the boys and their families, then we have much to sort out with our motorhome. The registration is out of date which can only be done after the Certificate of Fitness is in order. It is two years since the vehicle was serviced although it has done few kilometres since we have been travelling over here and there are whispers that the batteries are stuffed. And yet, despite all this, I am as excited as a small child heading for the circus.

We spent Wednesday morning driving from one garage to another. The chap at the auto electrician recommended by the NRMA saviour was most helpful, however was unable to diagnose the problem there and then.  He suggested we get back to him when we return in February and it looks like this might be the best solution. We did call into the Toyota franchise; they were busy until Thursday next week and not very helpful at all. The turn off was probably a good thing anyway; you can guarantee their charges would have been a whole lot more than Dino’s. In the meantime, the cruiser has started each time without incident which make us wonder if we imagined the whole affair!

We spent the latter part of the morning at the Hazelhurst Regional Art Gallery enjoying an exhibition of works by local artists but most of all, the free exhibition of work by Brett Whiteley titled “Brett Whiteley on the Water”. It would appear the inspiration of his work was not some hideous inner turmoil but rather a penchant for hallucinagenic drugs. These finished him off rather prematurely at the youthful age of fifty three, which is a shame because we liked his work immensely. He is, of course, one of Australia’s favourite artistic sons.
The afternoon was spent fiddling about with matters relating to our impending trip when it really would have been better spent doing a good long walk. The weather was just beautiful even if rather blustery.

Yesterday was yet another superb day weather wise and we made the most of our last opportunity to go touring for the year. With lunch packed, yet again, we caught the train into the city, firstly to Central and then on to Circular Quay. Two cruise ships were in the harbour yesterday, the massive Carnival Spirit at Circular Quay and the Pacific Pearl around the corner at Barangaroo. On the quay, we filled time listening to a didgeridoo player and watched the cruise ship tourists posing with “Uncle Max”, an elderly aboriginal chap, wrinkled, painted and wearing nothing but a nappy arrangement, for photos. The didgeridoo player was similarly painted and clothed, however spoke well (in English) and was running quite a professional little tourist attraction; no pressure for tips and CD sales but encouraging none the less.

Soon it was time to catch the ferry to Cockatoo Island, a short trip of no more than ten minutes or so. There was a brisk breeze blowing, I was glad we had packed warmer clothing for ourselves.

Cockatoo Island covers eighteen hectares, and is just 500 metres long and 360 metres wide and makes for an excellent day trip or for those in a hurry, a few hours, so long as you check out the ferry timetable. The island has had a varied history and it is that history, and the fact that it is now open to the public that makes it such an excellent destination. That terminology suggests that one might go spend a day or weekend, even a week there, and so you can if it takes your fancy. There are heritage homes available for holiday rent and numerous safari tents for camping. For ourselves, a couple of hours did the trick.

European history has seen Cockatoo Island a prison, a reformatory, a naval dock-yard and a great ship building and industrial enterprise.

In 1839 the island was established as a prison, as an alternative to the overcrowding of those further up the coast. Convicts excavated the sandstone cliffs and from 1847 constructed Fitzroy Dock.

In 1871 an Industrial School for Girls was opened, and orphaned or homeless boys began receiving some naval training on the Vernon, anchored off-shore. To recognise the change in use, the island was renamed Biloela.

Shipbuilding began on the island in 1870. In 1913 Cockatoo Island became the Naval Dockyard of the Royal Australian Navy.  By World War I over 150 dredges, barges and tugs had been built and at the peak of World War I, some 4,000 men were employed on the island.

Naval architects, engine and electrical draughtsmen and tracers worked in the Estimating and Drawings Offices. Full scale moulds were created in the Mould Loft and then sent down to workers below for fabrication. In the Pattern Storage and Joiners Shop, practically  all wooden furniture, fittings and linings installed in ships were crafted and constructed by workers on Cockatoo Island.

As World War II approached, the tempo of activity increased and continued for the duration of the war. Merchant ships and luxury liners were converted to troop transports, stores and hospital ships. Cockatoo Island’s contribution to the war effort was enormous.

After World War II, a large labour force continued to build and refit ships and submarines until changing economic conditions led to the closure of the island in 1992.

In 1979, the contract was signed for the construction of the last ship to be built on Cockatoo Island, the HMAS Success, the largest naval vessel built in Australia.

Since 2001 Cockatoo Island has been managed on behalf of the Australian people by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust.

Cockatoo Island
We wandered about the island through a couple of tunnels, through huge abandoned workshops, through shells of barracks and convict accommodation, ate our lunch on the steps of the lovely Biloela House with views to die for, watched an advertisement for Red Bull being made on one of the docks and part of television reality series, The Block, being filmed in some of the huge sheds. Finally we returned to the jetty to catch the next ferry back to the city. After a half hour wait, we found ourselves speeding across the harbour to Woolwich, then Balmain and then past the cruise ships back to busy Circular Quay.

We decided that we would run with an idea hatched earlier in the day, to call in to the Brett Whiteley Studio situated in Surrey Hills, a fifteen walk from Central railway station.  Central is quite a maze if you are trying to target a particular spot outside the station, however we managed to find ourselves outside the Devonshire Street exit without too much difficulty and started on our way. Chris stopped and asked to see the brochure again. Oh dear, we discovered that our cursory examination of the promotional literature had failed to note that the studio is open only from Friday to Sunday. Yesterday was Thursday.

We returned to the station and caught the train back to Miranda, to the camp where we dined on a motley lot of perishable foodstuffs still remaining, after receiving confirmation that our sons and their families were quite safe. They both live and work in West Auckland where a deadly tornado struck this afternoon.

And so here we are today, almost packed and almost ready to move the rig across the park on to storage. We will spend our last night without power and with just a minimum of matters to be attended to tomorrow morning.

 We will be gone for a couple of months and I shall add nothing more to this journal until then. And so I will wish you, the reader, a safe and happy holiday season and may the new year, 2013, be a fabulous one, a healthy and happy one, for all of us.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

4 December 2012 - Sydney Tourist Park, Miranda, NSW

The last few days have past so quickly, even as we have been only marking time until we leave. Saturday which had been so very hot and sticky did not offer too much respite through the night. It was still about 30 degrees Celsius when I went to bed. Overnight the wind changed and while there was scattered rain about, the day that followed was altogether more pleasant. We did little on the Sunday other than grocery shopping and Chris washing the rig, all wrapped around the third day of the cricket test.

The following day was supposed to have been fine with the odd shower. We woke to rain which hung on for most of the day. Chris was keen to visit the exhibition at the Gallery of NSW, “Francis Bacon – Five Decades” so we set off, catching connecting trains to a station as close to the gallery as possible. We emerged from the underground to be met by more rain and walked the relatively short distance across the Botanic Gardens, now rather damp. While the gallery is free to all, special exhibitions such as this attract an entry fee, which we duly paid and were yet again pleased to be in possession of a Senior Card.

Francis Bacon, not to be confused with he of the same name who  made his mark in the very early 17th century as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England,  was an Irish born British figurative painter, self-taught, and productive through the years 1940s to the 1980s. His works are tortuous, pensive, shocking;  clearly products of his struggle with both asthma and homosexuality.  Can one saw you “enjoyed” such work? We certainly appreciated it and were glad we had made the effort.

After lunching under the shelter of the narrow porch, from where we watched the rain mist engulf the skyscrapers across the park, we returned to the interior and spent time viewing the entries to the 2012 Dobell Prize for Drawing. The winning entry was not at all to our taste or, in our opinion, worthy at all of any place near the top. We would have awarded first to any one of a dozen others, but then art academics are so much more discerning than us.

Our return to the rail station was as wet as the our arrival had been. We caught a series of trains in an attempt to find a McDonalds without venturing back out into the rain. We were unsuccessful however we did do plenty of walking. Eventually we caught the train back to Miranda and settled for soft serves at our local. The rain had stopped at last so we were able to enjoy our leisurely walk back to camp, before checking out the death throes of the Australian cricket team in Perth.  

Today we were greeted by the very best weather Sydney could possibly offer. We packed our lunch in the eski and headed out first to track down a plumbing supplies outlet. Last night the fancy stainless steel plug insert in our very fancy round bowl hand basin gave up the ghost, the tiny spring too exhausted from all the travel. The search turned out much easier than expected, the second supplier visited could provide the part however we did have to buy the complete fitting.

From Kirawee, it was only a short distance to the northern entrance to the Royal National Park, one of the places we had originally planned to visit from Wollongong, but gave up due to the inclement weather. Matters had worked out well in the end, as they so often do. I used to believe that was God’s reward for patience but now simply put it down to my ability to look on the bright side of life; the Eternal Optimist, that’s me.

The Royal National Park covers over 15,000 hectares and was the first National Park declared in the world. Yellowstone Park in the United States was established in 1872 but was not officially designated a “national park” until 1883. This was four years after the Royal National Park here in the Sutherland Shire of Sydney was legislated.

The northern section of the Grand Pacific Drive passes through this park and so we were keen to complete this which we had missed from Wollongong. After paying the daily vehicle fee of $11 at the entry gate, we made a point of stopping at the Visitor Centre at Audley to pick up a map and tips and information about walks and areas to explore. Alas this new revamped Centre which shares space with the cafĂ©, is in the fashion of the two Information Centres we had visited in and about Wollongong; minimilistic and how you imagine such centres will be in 2030, all interactive and no paper. I like to get my hands on great piles of paper, brochures, maps and anything else on offer. I do appreciate that this is not doing the planet much good however this is how our generation are, and we intend to be around for a little while yet. We did manage to leave with a printed off map which had one of those maze thingies in the corner which you are supposed to point your iPod or iPad at, if you have one, or more the point, if you have access to endless and omnipresent internet.

The Hocking River flows over a causeway at Audley which these days is simply the Visitors Centre, a historic boat shed and wonderful picnic areas. Perhaps it was once a more substantial settlement. There is a paucity of information about the park altogether. The boat shed has hundreds of small rowing bats and kayaks, presumably available for hire. I imagine that if these were all out on hire on the river up from the causeway as they would have to be, the pond-like section of the river here would be like a public swimming pool on a Saturday afternoon. Without this chaos, it really is a very attractive area.

We drove on south up out of the river valley and across the moor covered in the kind of heath vegetation we have wandered through over the last month every time we have ascended the escarpment. Further south we came on down toward the upper reaches of the Hocking River, through taller forest and narrow winding roads. Soon we arrived at Bald Hill where we had hoped to see wind surfers leaping from the cliffs several days ago. Today was no more exciting although there were plenty of travellers who had paused to catch possible action, and instead had settled for an icecream from the Mr Whippy van. For us it was too close to lunch for such an indulgence, so we turned north again and pulled up in a small park by the river,  dining al fresco with our picnic blanket spread across an ancient concrete pew.

From here we returned to the route and then pulled off again, this time heading east to the coast, to Wattamolla, one of the most delightful beaches I have ever ever seen. An amazing number of youths were leaping from the top of the almost dry waterfall into the lagoon below. Signs on the rock wall warned against climbing, jumping and diving. In fact several kilometres back on the road we had seen a sign that stated “No jumping or diving in this Park”; the strangest directive you ever saw.

Wattamolla Beach
We watched these young men for a while then left before any of them came to grief. We wandered about the lagoon, I paddling in my barefeet and contemplating  a swim. Alas, there is a huge amount of rubbish everywhere; used nappies, plastic bags, drink cans, juice cartons, bread bag clips, and on and on. It was so disappointing given the natural beauty of the place. Back at the car park, the landcruiser failed to start. It turned over but nothing more. We sat for a moment then tried again and it fired up. Whew!

Further on we looked for the start of a small walk to the Crystal Pools at Flat Rock Crossing. I was set on swimming in these pools if they turned out to be as clear and precious as their name suggested, however we had trouble finding a place to park and any signage, and so gave up in disgust and disappointment.

We detoured out to Bundeena, a charming little seaside settlement, directly opposite Cronulla, accessible by ferry and also this rather round about route we had taken today. We parked near the wharf and watched the day trippers swarm on to the ferry, most likely to catch the train once on the other side, dispersing to their homes all about the city.

Back on Bertram Steven Drive, we returned to Audley and just across the Hocking River, we parked and took an hour long walk down river. We both agreed that the Royal National Park was indeed very beautiful, even more than Lane Cove National Park in the centre of Sydney. We lamented the fact that we had not seen any wildlife, remembering particularly the many water dragons we had seen at Lane Cove. No sooner had we discussed this than we encountered one eyeing us up from the top of a rock right beside the track. He was still there when we walked back past him and only moved when Chris approached him too closely.

We returned to the cruiser and moved on; I did not give the starting problem another thought, then. At the top of the hill toward the exit, we pulled off the road yet again, to visit the Bungoona Lookout. A short easy path takes one to a platform high above the river and the Visitor Centre, with expansive views across the park.

Back at the car, ready to head home we were met by an unresponsive engine. After ten minutes of trying and study of the manual, we rang the RACQ for assistance. Someone would be with us in one hour, we were told. Fortunately we still had drinking water and the day’s unread newspaper. Within three quarters of an hour, the Man in the NRMA rescue van arrived. We explained the problem, he asked us to try the engine while he stood poised to diagnose the problem. And guess what? It started straight off. Oh, embarrassment! We should have tried again and cancelled the cry for help! He suggested we turn the engine off and try again. And as luck would have it, it would not start. This process went on for some time, the mechanic trying various tricks, sometimes with success and sometimes not. After about half an hour, while the engine was running but the problem still a mystery, we left under his watchful eye, and came on home without further ado. Tomorrow we will have to find out what really is wrong with the Landcruiser, this mean machine that is supposed to be invincible and forever reliable, just not today.

Dinner was rather late tonight.