Tuesday, December 31, 2013

1 January 2014 - Ipswich Showgrounds, Ipswich, Queensland

Happy New Year to all, ourselves included! May we all stay well and safe and be contented with our lot in life, and if not, strive to do better.

Yesterday saw a general exodus from our camping ground: Graeme and Pam in the motorhome next to us, together with their sea-lion-like Labrador, headed home back up the escarpment, hoping for cooler temperatures or at worst, the comfort of their large air-conditioned home. Our caravanning neighbours on the other side headed to another showground, tentatively trying out the grey nomad lifestyle, still not quite game enough to head off into the complete unknown and loosen family ties. And the orange singleted chap up the end of the park returned from hospital, which was just as well because his generously built wife, lame and breathless, was in danger of falling as she tended their two dogs living under their caravan. The very young couple across the park in a very small, very ancient caravan continue their holiday with their very small, well behaved baby. Such was the scene here at the show-grounds  as we all readied ourselves to see the new year in.

We finished the ice-cream, the last of the Christmas goodies, the wine and beer all long gone, and sat watching the build up to the celebratory fireworks on the television, until the nonsense drove me to bed and my book instead. Before I drifted off I heard the fireworks going off here in Ipswich, accompanied by thunder rolling around the region, all well short of the midnight hour. Later I woke to find Chris sound asleep beside me, just minutes before the twelve, and heard folk counting down the last few seconds of 2013 before I fell asleep the next year. Such were our New Year celebrations; the years of wild raging are but distant memories, and some better forgotten.

This morning dawned no different from last year’s yesterday, although the birds were a little more excited about the rain that had fallen through the night and the fact there were less campers sharing their space. I had put in my demand for the day a week ago; I don’t ask for much these days but when I do, I am generally rewarded. A picnic outing was all I asked; lunch was duly packed and options of destinations proffered to the driver. He decided that filling with diesel was the first priority, and that we should find the nearest Coles Express to cash in on the supermarket discount vouchers that were accumulating in his wallet. The practice of driving to the far boundary of the city to fill with fuel that is sold at a highly inflated price before any discount, is, in my book, a foolish practice, and is supported by my husband every time we do it. He comes out from the cashier huffing and puffing about the price and saying that it is all quite pointless, and I refrain from saying, “I told you so”, and then we do the same all over again when the tanks run dry. Such is life.

From the northern edge of the city, it was not too far to the Kholo Botanic Gardens, which are, according to the promotional blurb, Ipswich’s best kept secret. Given that this was New Year’s Day, a compulsory holiday for most, I had expected the car park to be full and the lawns and BBQ areas to be already reserved for the masses of locals, but of course it is the best kept secret. There were about three parties there, one well set up under a picnic shelter with the swing-ball pole already set up for post-picnic games, another wandering about wondering what was on offer and ourselves who were doing the same.

Actually the reserve is quite lovely, although to call them “botanic gardens” seems a bit remiss. The small park, located on the banks of the Brisbane River, was established in 1988 as a bicentennial project. The same blurb speaks of “meandering boardwalks through bush land and sub-tropical rain forests”. I also read somewhere about “a waterfall”. In truth there is bush, and paths do meander through them, and there is a lovely lily pond into which water falls over a rocky wall. Amongst the trees are two trees planted by the early settlers, a fifty metre tall Queensland kari pine and a sixty metre tall hoop pine.

The track we had chosen to walk was barricaded off and as we peered down through the scrub, we saw that the bridge at the bottom of the gully had sustained damage, yet to be dealt with. In fact much of the track along the river was overgrown and unkempt, which abbreviated opportunity for any real exercise.

Beside the Brisbane River
Of potential interest are two fenced off sites, 1878 vintage pump wells, the original source of water for Ipswich. It is just a pity there is no explanatory signage at all; I only found this out by googling on our return. In fact there is a paucity of information all about the park.

Beyond the picnic areas is a relocated church, originally built at Redbank, moved in the late 1990s, and a rather quaint historic building that is available for weddings and the like. It would have been interesting to learn the history of the house as well as the workings of the waterworks.

It was still well before midday, so we decided to head for Colleges Crossing, where the Mount Crosby Road crosses the Brisbane River little above water level. It is at this point the river becomes un-navigable, although it remains tidal even further up river, or at least according to a couple of fishermen sitting next to us at lunch time.

As we drove down to the recreational reserve, we were shocked to see it so changed from our last visit, however on consideration we realised that we had only been here once before and that was when we did our original week-long recci trip from New Zealand in November 2010 to purchase our rig. Then we had thought it to be a delightful spot; plenty of shade, well-patronised, an attractive swimming spot despite the shark warning signs (a fact that had surprised us given how far up river we were and a fact that did not seem to bother the parents of the swimming children at all).

Since then the riverfront reserve has seen two flood events. In January 2011 a combination of high velocity floodwaters, massive levels of debris and severe scouring and washout, caused by the controversial release of the Wivenhoe Dam, destroyed much of the 23.5 hectare recreational area, damage valued at nine million dollars. Then just weeks after the repair works were completed, the floods of January 2013 caused extensive re-damage.

The second round of restoration has been costed at over four million dollars and is this time better engineered to sustain predicted flood levels. To our untrained eyes, we could see that most of the work had been completed although there is still a large area fenced off, including buildings with roofs partly down and playgrounds twisted and squashed. What heartbreak for those who had worked on the first repair!

Needless to say the established shade trees are mostly gone and while the structures and picnic areas, relying mainly on shade sails for protection, are all very trendy and smart, there is a certain sterility about the place. We wandered about lamenting the situation then settled under artificial shade wrestling the newspaper in the breeze, watching the many dog owners come and go, the fishermen down below us in the river, then dead on midday, had lunch, as we do. 2014 has not weakened our resolve for punctuality and routine!  

A group of young families arrived, happy and noisy, but not conducive to our peaceful contemplation of action on the river, so we packed up and headed south to the Haig Street Quarry Bush Reserve in the north-west corner of the city in the suburb of Brassal.

The former quarry, once a source for sand and gravel, handed to the city in 1989,  has been rehabilitated into a reserve for local wildlife and plant species, although the only local wildlife we encountered were three woolly looking young men trying their hand at fishing in the quarry lake and a couple of crows.

Water lilies in the Kholo Botanic Gardens
We wandered along the Willy Wagtail Trail, a kilometre long path up through the eucalypts, looking for the charming little wagtails, then pausing at the top lookout from where we had wonderful distant views to the Scenic Rim to the south. There we also spent time chatting with a chap who was intent on checking in with as many likeminded men on elevated peaks as possible before his battery ran out. He was armed with a small portable Ham Radio, a butty looking aerial and extensive cord. I have known ham radio nuts myself, known them well in fact, as well as the nuttier CB-ers, but this was a first. There are indeed some oddballs about.

Back home, still relatively early in the afternoon, we caught up with all three of our children to wish them the best for the new year and give loose promises of our return. What would we do without Skype and email!

There are fires on North Stradbroke Island off Brisbane causing great distress to the holidaymakers who have been evacuated. I should not complain about the smoke that has drifted west to us at Ipswich; there are people much worse off.

Monday, December 30, 2013

30 December 2013 - Ipswich Showgrounds, Ipswich, Queensland

Yesterday was one of those days when the weather forecast was spot on. The 40.4 degree temperature kept us inside for much of the day, or at least drove me inside to join Chris and the cricket mid-morning. We sat in the air-conditioned space, 37 degrees better than the simmering heat, even in the shade of the awning outside, while the Australians wiped out the Poms yet again.

I really do have to make another observation about this whole cricket affair, or at least that on television; why do they keep showing portions of matches from years ago or earlier in the game, in the middle of the current one? Another one out! No, that was back in 1985. The words “Replay” across the top of the screen would lessen the frustration. Now if I had an iPhone and the appropriate app, I could advise the commentators to fix this incredibly annoying facet of the game, but I don’t, so I guess I will just have to accept it. Thus endeth the grumpy meanderings of this blogger.

And then I learned after we returned from a short outing to the shopping centre that the big tennis match over in Brisbane had started and was live on air too! What other joys were there for a wilting woman?

Severe weather warnings scrolled across the television screens, for here and all the area north to the Sunshine Coast and down as far as the Gold Coast; wind, rain and hail. As night fell, so did the even darker skies and torrential rain. For us the hail and winds did not eventuate, but according to reports around, we were lucky. Thunder and lightning crashed around at maximum volume terrifying all the pets in the park and yours truly. This time we did not rush out and dismantle our outdoor arrangements and were none the worse for not doing so. In the meantime Cyclone Christine was gathering force on the north west coast of the continent readying itself to decimate Karratha.

Again, as per the weather soothsayers, we woke to temperatures far more pleasant; they have not risen much above 30 degrees all day. We donned our sunhats and wandered up Warwick Road to the service station less than a kilometre away, hoping to find our favourite newspaper waiting on the shelf for us. Alas we were out of luck, but did find one when we walked back past the showgrounds and beyond to the little fish’n chip place.

Over lunch we agreed a dose of culture would go down well, so set off into the centre of town, easily found a vacant spot in the metered parking area and made our way to the city’s Art Gallery. On our way there, I had a decided sense of déjà vu; today we found the gallery, supposedly open seven days a week, closed as it was on our last visit. Frustrated, we carried on into the commercial centre of the city, a rather dismal area compared to the vibrant Riverlink Shopping Centre immediately across the Bremer River, even though business has resumed between the statutory holidays. In support of this stagnating part of Ipswich, there is a lot of free parking available, but alas it is all under cover and not for vehicles standing taller than 2.23 metres high. Needless to say we were rather annoyed to have fed the parking metre so well when the intended destination was not available. Instead we called into a DVD outlet and purchased five DVDs at half the marked prices, which were already quite reasonable. We now have no excuse to be bored.

We decided to check out the Conservation Reserve on Denmark Hill, a pleasant refuge in the city we had wandered through on our visit here in 2011 but were unable to find the entrance on the lower section of the park. Instead we gave up, came home and buried ourselves in the newspaper and our novels.

This evening reports of the cyclone on the west coast are dire; it seems that too few are taking them seriously. Here on the east coast, the dangers are of lightning strikes and heat waves. It seems we are to have a repeat of yesterday’s soaring temperatures on Thursday. Perhaps that will be a good day to catch another movie in an air-conditioned theatre.

Friday, December 27, 2013

28 December 2013 - Ipswich Showgrounds, Ipswich, Queensland

We left Lowood early yesterday morning, really early, having woken to the sound of roosters and pigeons, before the magpies had organised themselves for their own choral practice. Temperatures overnight had not dropped below 20 degrees; it was good to be up and to throw the windows wide open. To the east the morning mist over the river was visible, that which the caretaker, who rises super early every morning, had spoken of. He, like many people with dogs, is bound forever to attend to their daybreak needs, far worse than dealing with babies and small children who do at least grow up and learn to do stuff for themselves. Thus speaks a non-dog owner; we can always justify our choices in life.
We called briefly at Fernvale to pick up a newspaper and then came on to Ipswich, down the Brisbane Valley Highway and then eastwards along the Warrego, a distance of about thirty five kilometres; hardly qualifying as a road trip. Pulling into the showgrounds, we found the spot we were hoping for already occupied, so settled into another between folk who were surely here before. The sad fact is that most of those “resident” in these showgrounds are aging invalids who have no problem acquiring a medical certificate giving good reason for staying put near their specialist or surgeon. Chris and I are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Maya, the caretaker in residence, soon arrived to reacquaint herself and take our money. Before long we were set up and Chris was settled in front of the television, the Poms all out for 255 and the Aussies ready to do them like a dog’s dinner yet again.

We braved the week long Boxing Day sales down in the city after lunch, returning our delinquent Navman to the store whence it came. There we were served by an apology of a salesman, a tall broad shouldered young man, well dressed but for the earring, with a fine head of wavy auburn hair, who wandered about as if he was on something mind numbing and was altogether uninterested in the work he was supposed to be doing. Needless to say we were very unimpressed by the service; he did his employers out of a further sale. We were in the market for a more expensive and sophisticated navigational device but insisted upon a refund and went elsewhere, joining the throngs well served at JB Hi-fi. We brought our new Tomtom home, shinier and brighter than the old one which died, but familiar nonetheless. 

The oppressive humidity threatened rain all afternoon but came to nothing.

This morning after getting waylaid by our neighbours on our return from the amenities, we breakfasted late and then headed off across the river to the new Limelight Cinema at the Riverlink Shopping complex. There we sat for nearly three hours, slowly freezing in the air-conditioning, otherwise enjoying the second episode of The Hobbit, this the Desolation of Smaug. Apart from another dose of wonderful New Zealand scenery, this would have to be the most action packed (dare I say, violent) of all Peter Jacksons ventures into Middle Earth. I sat on my hands to prevent the suspense removing my fingernails and was glad we were not like some others in the theatre who had brought their too young children along to share the excitement. True, there is no swearing or sex, but there are other reasons to choose an alternative movie. The current showing of Frozen is no doubt more appropriate to the under-10s.

Back home over a belated lunch, Chris caught up on the cricket excitement and I spent a peaceful afternoon in the gentle breeze passing through under the awning, computer and novel at hand. Tomorrow the temperature is forecasted to reach 40 degrees. I may have to resign myself to sharing an air-conditioned caravan and furthering my cricket appreciation. Quite frankly, I cannot abide all the group hugs there are after a player is either bowled or run out. Surely sport wasn’t always like this?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

26 December 2013 - Lowood Showgrounds, Lowood, Queensland

Whew, another Christmas done for the year and we all survived! Better still, we caught up on Skype or telephone with the most special people in our lives; our children and my parents in New Zealand and Chris’s sister in England. We ate and drank, but not to excess, although there is still much to be finished off during the next week.
We sat around all morning as the temperatures climbed up to 35 degrees or more. Chris had been looking forward to cooking himself boiled eggs on toast for breakfast, but then thought this time-precise exercise might be interrupted by a call; instead he opted for his normal cornflakes. His decision was well made, because Olly called us while I had a mouthful of rock melon and muesli, to wish us a Happy Christmas. The kids were strapped into their car seats and so were a captive audience to the Skype call, and in case you are thinking that this sounds very dangerous and illegal to boot, they were quite stationery. Kit was easier caught up with by telephone, already out breakfasting with his in-laws, and my parents, likewise doing so, with one of my sisters and her brood. We lunched on bacon butties before setting out for a walk, having given up on catching up with Larissa until later in the day.

Tunnels houses along the way
Yesterday was an introduction to the southern end of the Lowood to Coominya section of the BVRT; we wandered up through the deserted township with the smell of melting tar in our nostrils then set off quite alone up the wide grassy track, past the back of Lowood suburbia greeted by barking dogs. I regretted that I had not brought my walking pole, however when I picked up a branch for the return pass, the canine brutes had wilted in the heat and all was silent. We walked perhaps three kilometres up and the same back, past hobby blocks with token herds of cattle and the mandatory horse or three, plastic tunnel houses , their use not in evidence, reservoirs full of lilac flowering hyacinths. Along the pathway small sweet pea plants had sprouted with a show of delicate burgundy flowers. Christmas greetings were exchanged across the spaces between the shady farmhouse terraces and the rail trail; no doubt those enjoying a quiet drink with family wondered why a couple of middle aged walkers were out at this time of the day. We were back at camp within an hour and a half, showered and ready ourselves to put our feet up and crack open the cold bottles waiting in the fridge.

A bovine audience
Dinner was experimental, something Chris considers an absolute no-no when entertaining or for special occasions, however we had had a dummy run with the red-claw Neil and Pauline had given us when we met up on the Sunshine Coast. Chris had cooked them up and served them with a jar of ready-made Honey Mustard Sauce, of the Chicken Tonight variety, served on rice with a side salad. This had proved to be a great success, so he thought that scallops and surimi could be served in the same manner. It wasn’t, although it didn’t really matter much; the wine, the salad, the ice-cream and the rest of the Christmas goodies made sure we still enjoyed our Christmas dinner. So good in fact that we were unable even to last the re-run of the New Zealand movie “Boy”; the day had proved too much for us! 

An eye patch
Boxing Day is the real rest day of the Christmas holiday unless you are subjecting yourself to the queues and crowds at the MCG for the fourth match of the Ashes series. After such an early night, we were up soon after the birds this morning and out on the road heading for an access point to the BVRT before 8 am. Unfortunately the map we had did not show that the road we sought was closed, so we had to back track and find ourselves another. 

Today, again on the Lowood – Coominya section, we passed through real farm land, some surprisingly, dairy farms complete with rotary milking sheds and silage eating cows, some sporting eye patches, and all with their quota of horses. Paddocks spanned the trail much of the way and so with all the cow and horse poo about, we were subjected to summer flies en masse. Today I upped the fashion stakes, adding my fly veil to the umbrella ensemble, which made me a much nicer person; I do not suffer face hitch-hikers well.  
Lockyer Creek; the defunct rail bridge
We reached the old rail bridge across the Lockyer Creek,  that which wiped out much of Grantham three years ago, checked out the crossing access which was labelled “advanced”, an exaggeration but good warning if you are extremely disabled. The river is crossed at current levels on stepping blocks but after rain would indeed be impassable. This is nine kilometres from Lowood, four from Coominya; these last will have to be done another day from that end.

It was still mid-morning when we returned to camp, but the temperatures were soaring; it was 37 degrees in the caravan even with the fans going. We showered and changed at once, Chris settled in front of the cricket on the television and I set off up the street to the laundry. The town was not much busier than yesterday although there were queues at the service station. I sat in the airless shed which acts as the laundry for half an hour, enjoying women’s magazines and trying to catch the occasional breeze through the barn doors. By the time I arrived back at the caravan with my two heavy bags of wet washing I was ready for another shower and another change of clothes.

or stepping stones
This afternoon we relented and sealed up the caravan before turning on the air conditioner, so it is now chugging away successfully having lowered the temperature to a pleasant 27 degrees. Showers and storms are forecasted for the area, although there is no visible evidence. The blue silhouette of the ranges beneath the patchy sky, viewed from the caravan window, look as they have for the past few days. One report suggests it is 41 degrees out there; I think I will stay inside for the rest of the day.

Our week in Lowood is coming to an end and we will move back to Ipswich tomorrow. I am looking forward to catching three of the newly released movies although I will miss the rural aspect of our camp here.

Monday, December 23, 2013

24 December 2013 - Lowood Showgrounds, Lowood, Queensland

Only one more sleep until Christmas! Something that is totally irrelevant to us sitting in Lowood, however there are millions upon millions of folk, not all of them under-fives given the advertisements all about, who will be counting down, days to hours. But at the risk of starting to sound like the Grinch, I shall desist right here.
Views over Lowood

Although neither of us admitted to the other, yesterday morning we were both too tired from walking in the heat of the day before; instead we busied ourselves with laundry, pinning down the caretaker to pay for the balance of our allowed week and attending to telephone calls and email correspondence with a chap who is showing definite interest in our caravan.

The afternoon was similarly spent, driving out briefly to the lookout at the reservoir above Lowood. From here we enjoyed views down the valley to Fernvale and up towards Esk, all confirmation of what a lovely area this is.

Reading further information about the Rail Trail, I learned that two towns called “Stinking Gully” and “Harrisborough” once made up the area now known as Fernvale. In the 1860s the area was the centre of cotton farming in the Brisbane Valley but floods soon made the industry obsolete. The spot became a regular camping place, and in 1875 it became known as Fernvale; so much more attractive than “Stinking Gully”!.

During the course of the afternoon one of our neighbours came over to chat with Chris while he was cleaning part of the caravan exterior and tried to sell him a book. We learned that we have an author in our midst, a poet no less, the ex-truckie Dave Delaney, winner of the 2011 Open Poetry Award run by the Reef Writers & Port Douglas Gazette. Perhaps we will be treated to some of his talent over the Christmas period? Who knows how the days ahead will pan out?

This morning we were a little better organised as far as getting out on the road to Fernvale to undertake yet another part of the BVRT (Brisbane Valley Rail Trail). The section to Wanora is only eight kilometres, but even at this slightly earlier hour, too long for enjoyable walking. We preferred this section, or at least the four kilometres and back that we completed, more than the section from Fernvale to Lowood; this is more a cleared grass track along the original embankment, and more attractive to walkers than cyclists which suited us very well. Today there was no one else on the trail, although horses had come through fairly recently as was evident by their calling cards. On the Lowood to Fernvale section we had encountered four cyclists on our first day and no one on the second. It would seem that Australians are far too sensible to be out on rail trails at this time of the year, which leaves them to Mad Dogs and Englishmen, as the saying goes, or rather, Aussie-Poms and Kiwis.
 Alongside the remnants of an old railway bridge

Today we walked past more lily filled “tanks”, found ourselves caught up in the sticky silk of spider webs, were bombarded by the din of crickets or cicadas who seem to live in colonies, all competing in noise output with those further along the track. We saw dozens of lovely flowering weeds including lantana, the dreaded woolly nightshade and a small pungent ground plant that took me right back to my after-school carer’s garden, fifty five years ago; funny how smells trigger memories. We walked down through three shallow gullies, previously bridged for the rail, only the concrete piers left; in wet weather the trail must surely become impassable. Dotted about the rural landscape were dozens of boulder shaped ant hills and flitting about our path were masses of brown and gold traveller butterflies, perhaps sustained by the many swan-plants, heavy with the swollen bristle covered seed pods. Filtered shade made my umbrella a little superfluous, but I persevered anyway, dressed to kill, or to be ridiculed. I am already quite sunburned enough.
Walking the trail

The trail follows the main Brisbane Valley Highway for a few kilometres, then sweeps away towards the old and now non-existent Fairney View station; there we decided that an hour’s walking was far enough and turned back.

Arriving back in Fernvale, we found it as busy, if not busier, than it had been on Sunday, with all the last minute shoppers clearing the shelves in the supermarket and liquor outlets. We joined them and spent more on luxury foods that normally do not find their way to our simple caravan. Chris is determined that even in the absence of family, we will indeed enjoy the gastronomic delights of The Big Day. This causes me great dismay as I seem to have been battling with my weight ever since leaving Tasmania; we have done so little exercise in recent times despite our dabbling with the Rail Trail which fills these recent postings. I have no wish to become like so many of the bonny bulging women in this country, those well matched with their husbands and partners who look about five months pregnant, despite their masculinity. However in defence of these well-fed Aussies, New Zealand has its fair share of fatties too!

In fact I read today in The Australian that the average Queenslander male would need to walk from Brisbane to Rockhampton to burn off the excess food consumed this Christmas. I felt quite vindicated by that; our over-indulgence will not add up to anything like this. However on checking further, I found that the Diabetes Council was referring to a two week period when the average Queenslander male attends about six Christmas functions. So actually there was no comparison at all, and I returned to my guilt ridden thoughts.

We were back in time for lunch, after which Chris gave the rig a thorough wash, we bought ice-cream, yet another treat to add to the fridge, than retreated to the shade of the caravan awning to rest after all our day’s adventure, in readiness for the feasting that is planned for tomorrow.

I am currently reading a fascinating book compiled by John Laws, titled It Doesn’t End Here, which is a collection of vignettes about people who have left their mark on Australian history. Many are tales I have learned during our travels, such as the First Jihad, the story of the two Muslims who attacked a train load of picnickers between Broken Hill and Silverton, and New Australia, the disillusioned Australians who headed off to Paraguay to start a new country back in 1893, aboard the Royal Tar (now where did I learn about that?) This is a book I will want to take back to New Zealand with me but alas there are already too many that fit that category; they may well have to be left for others to enjoy as I have.

On television the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and various Christian Church leaders are offering their Christmas messages, on email we have, this afternoon, received an audio song-message from 12 year old India along with many silent wordy ones, all most appreciated.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

22 December 2013 - Lowood Showgrounds, Lowood, Queensland

Let me assure you there is nothing sleepy about the Lowood Darts Club, if that is the name they operate under; it was a real humdinger over in the adjacent buildings last night, the band or the overworked sound system operating right up to midnight. Fortunately we are at some distance from the action and none of this was of any inconvenience to us, although I suspect the neighbouring townsfolk will be pleased it is all over for another year.

Instead, we sat up watching a rerun of “Rabbit Proof Fence”, a 2002 Australian movie that paints a very touching, indeed heart wrenching, side to the story of the Stolen Generations of aboriginal children, in this instance to those in Western Australia at the Moore River settlement. We learned much about this during our time in that part of the country and this balanced well with any social engineering theories we may have embraced along the way.

This morning after breakfast we headed across to Fernvale to the Sunday Markets, far superior to those in Ipswich, but not a patch on the Eumundi Market up on the Sunshine Coast. We wandered about admiring some fabulous steel sculpture that would have gone so well in our garden, if we had one, checking out the caged birds and laying fowls, sorting through DVDs and books, reminding ourselves that we are supposed to be downsizing rather than gathering, and finally came away with three over ripe rock melons and five kilos of potatoes. The melons were a disappointment because while they are massive, they require immediate consumption, and while I am a glutton for melon, indeed for most fruit, there is only so much one can consume. I asked the man selling the spuds where his garden was and was disappointed too to hear that these were “red dirt” potatoes and he had no idea where they came from. So much for “the garden to the customer” promotional spiel for market sold vegetables. Worse still, he had probably been there from 4 am so they were sitting out in the heat of the day for six and a half hours before we bought them. Fortunately I am speaking of potatoes not lettuces.

Quiet little Fernvale was buzzing with all the market traffic, even this late in the morning , as well as the holiday traffic heading up the Brisbane Valley Highway. We finally managed to cross the road to our vehicle and drove up to the Information Centre where we donned our trusty shoes and set out to complete the Lowood – Fernvale section of the Brisbane Rail Trail started yesterday. This short section was the most attractive, a sweep through farmland away from the main roads, past horses covered up from the sun, a small family of grey kangaroos grazing in the shade of someone’s garden, a pond full of water lilies just starting to bloom, all in the company of crows, passive magpies, peewees and willy wagtails. It was quite delightful and took us just under an hour. Now we can say we have walked the rail trail from Lowood to Fernvale, twice.

We called into the large modern Woolworths supermarket in Fernvale and spent as much as we do in any big shop, joining the queues and families, crowds and tempting goodies, and then headed home just in time for lunch. An excellent morning all round.

As we drove into our camp, we found dozens of cars parked up and all their occupants sitting at tables dressed in white tablecloths under the shade of the big open ended shed; another Christmas party underway. ‘Tis the season indeed.

Friday, December 20, 2013

21 December 2013 - Lowood Showgrounds, Lowood, Queensland

Lowood Railway Station

We woke to the bluest skies promising yet another sizzling day but despite the heat, we headed off after breakfast with nothing but sturdy shoes, a couple of full water bottles (and, of course, our clothes). Today was to be the first of many conquering the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail; part of the Fernvale to Lowood section.
Trees full of flying foxes

The 148 kilometre rail trail is all that is left of the rail that linked Ipswich with Yarraman on top of the Great Dividing Range near Nanango, constructed in various stages spanning the years 1884 through to 1913 but decommissioned in 1988. In 1993 work commenced on ripping up the track and almost every other reminder that trains once passed this way, which in retrospect was very short sighted of the authorities, particularly given that the concept of rail trails for recreational use was already about.

I was surprised to find the trail at the Lowood railway station still a jumble of criss-crossing rail lines, however soon found that these have been left to remind what was once here. Just a few hundred metres on, the trail became as you would expect, a wide gravel trail suitable for cycling, walking or horse riding. This particular section is just 8.5 kilometres, but still a distance too far in this heat. We walked toward Fernvale for an hour and a quarter; from the literature it would seem another half hour would have got us all the way. Perhaps we will do that last bit from Fernvale another day. The track as wide as it is, offers little in the way of shade, and is therefore less favoured by us than a forest walk. However it is our challenge for the next few weeks, so I will no doubt have more to say about this.
Brisbane River

Just east of Lowood, the trail, which follows the road most of the way, another feature that detracts from the charm of a country ramble, passes a copse of river side trees, full of flying foxes, these resting critters all hanging upside down like dark Christmas bells. Today few were restless, most were heat drugged. The same corridor is apparently home to koalas, however it was not until we returned home and read the pamphlet that we learned this was so. Had we paid attention, we might have enjoyed that bonus; perhaps a special outing to spot the koalas can be organised for another day.

Despite the “ordeal” of walking under the intense sun, we enjoyed the picturesque farm lands of the valley and marvelled at the railway cuttings stabilised with dry-stone itch rock and brick walling, or at least that which remained on view. We look forward to doing another stage although it would be more sensible to set out at about 7 am rather than just before nine.
Long straights in the sun

Needless to say the afternoon has been spent in a most sedentary fashion, enjoying the weekend papers, a small Nana-nap and readying ourselves mentally for party-time at the showground. The local Darts Club is having its Christmas “do” here tonight; the trestle tables are dressed in white, the glasses laid out, the sound system checked, now to wait for the revellers!

20 December 2013 - Lowood Showgrounds, Lowood, Queensland

Here we are back at Lowood and now having patronised showgrounds here, Ipswich and Marburg in very recent times, I must say that this is my preference. We have our camp set up in such a way that views of the heavily wooded ranges can be enjoyed from our dining room and “terrace” and views of the closer farmed hills from the kitchen window. Standards of cleanliness are superior and it is certainly quieter, away from main highways and the clamour of city life. There are only three other parties here at the moment however the numbers will change from day to day; there is a seven day limit to any one stay, however Christmas may blur the lines somewhat. Time will tell.

We left Marburg this morning, later than we had initially intended because we were caught up chatting with Wayne and Sharon again, learning much of their take on life on the road; there is no one definition or experience hence the fascination of chatting with all comers, something we should do more of. We bade the friendly Asian storekeeper farewell, until the next time, telling him that we did not need the newspaper reserved for us tomorrow, and headed off west for five kilometres and then north here to Lowood, a distance of no more than seventeen kilometres in total.
Our camp at Lowood

One short message on Skype after lunch caught us up in the last minute Christmas hype of “real life” out there in the cities; a matter that needed urgent attention with a chain of follow up emails and Skype calls, all of which should have been pursued a week or three ago. In the end, after all the fuss, it all proved too hard and we were all back to the position we were before initial contact was made. Christmas deadlines do not make for happy Christmas’s, only unwarranted stress. We thought we had escaped all that but how can you when you allow modern communication to be part of one’s life!

It was a relief to unwind after all the kerfuffle, read the paper, and check out the whereabouts of the local laundry and the starting point for the rail trail which we will make a start on tomorrow, buy a couple of bottles of wine to cover the days before Christmas and a few other surplus nick-knacks. There is no end to consumerism after all.

The high temperatures of Adelaide and Melbourne, all in the low forties have yet to arrive here in South East Queensland. In the meantime we are enjoying delightful breezes which relieve any discomfort caused by temperatures barely reaching thirty degrees. And the first of the Big-Bash, twenty-twenty cricket matches, start tonight televised for the masses. There is little else to entertain on the box over summer so I can look forward to learning all about this less dignified version of cricket.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

19 December 2013 - Marburg Showground, Marburg, Queensland

Camping here adjacent to the trotting track in the showgrounds brings memories of camping at race tracks in New Zealand over the years; Blenheim, Wingatui, Oamaru, to name but a few. It is just such a delight to watch the trainers with their horses late in the afternoons or early in the morning, to wake to the trot, trot sound of hooves or to listen to the trainers’ words of encouragement, sometimes bullying, sometimes more gentle. Although a sign at the gates suggests there are races this coming Saturday, there are also notices to advise that the local summer cricket series starts here this Saturday. I do not think we are to be treated to horse racing after all, but then we might have moved on again by the weekend. The jury is still out.

And so the days pass, the heat relieved by the stiff afternoon breezes which in turn act as a deterrent to having the awning out or even wrestling with large sheets of newsprint. The third test of the cricket series has finished, triumphantly for the Australians and I have learned more about the game, or at least the art of listening and watching it. I am sure there will be more to come in the weeks and years ahead. For a very non-sporty person, my retirement is turning my limited sport’s education on its head!

A morning after-breakfast  ritual is in place; a gentle wander down to the village for the paper, or bread or whatever falls in the need-to-buy category. Once we wandered about the main street, crossing the bridge over Black Snake Creek and learning that in 1912 the rail came through from Rosewood and that for many years road traffic was stopped by massive gates for the passing of the trains. Now there is little but a sign to remind us that this was once the impact of the rail. Now a concrete pathway stretches out along the side of the creek, or wet area, because the swamp-like depression hardly deserves the name “creek”. Flood measuring poles do confirm however that Black Snake Creek can at times become a force to be reckoned with. We have agreed, that my initial impressions were correct; this is indeed a charming little settlement we have temporarily settled into.

Returning from our walk one morning, we caught up with one of the trainers whose mare was improving form, having dropped her circuit time from one minute and three seconds to fifty eight seconds on the third trial. We watched as they continued on to a property overlooking the grounds; hopefully she spent the rest of the day grazing in the shade, resting her weary legs.

Yesterday we relieved our itchiness to travel and explore by doing a short road trip, of about one hundred and thirty kilometres, taking in a good part of the Cobb & Co tourist route which runs from Ipswich to Toowoomba, more or less following the rail line.

We joined the route at Rosewood, about eleven kilometres directly south of Marburg passing over a low hill from where we enjoyed wonderful views north back toward our camp, up to Lowood and beyond, and south to the mountains of the Scenic Rim, before descending into the Bremer Valley to this charming township of just over 2,700 people.

We parked near the railway station and walked up and down the main street, past rather dilapidated commercial buildings full of people and business; the town was buzzing with commerce and friendliness, apart from one young couple who were obviously stressed by the whole Christmas affair and their two tiny children, exhibiting their discontent with the world by their foul language. It sorrows me to think that when we are all gone, we people of a certain age, the streets will be full of the sound of F-language, foul and unfriendly.

Coal mining commenced in Rosewood in 1904, and still continues today, and yet if it had not been for a glimpse of an open cast mine as we came down into the town, we would never have guessed it to be a mining town. We thought the whole place was quite delightful.

We travelled twenty five kilometres west, passing through more picturesque country, reminiscent of the sugar cane growing country around Mackay, but here now only supporting small holdings grazing horses, a few beef cattle and smaller mobs of sheep.

Passing over the low Little Liverpool Range, from the Bremer Valley into the Lockyer, through the tiny settlement of Grandchester , formerly Bigges Camp and once a coal mining settlement, we arrived at Laidley.

When we first arrived in Brisbane to purchase our rig, we then learned that Brisbane’s vegetables were all grown in the fertile black soils of the Lockyer Valley at Laidley, Gatton and Grantham. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is true that this area does produce much of the fresh produce that makes its way to the markets in Brisbane. Silt from the flood-prone rivers makes for good growing, even though those same floods hamper reliable and regular cropping.

In fact Laidley regards itself as Queensland’s Country Garden, the local industry being dominated by agriculture since the end of the 19th century. Today it has a population of about 3,000 and is a surprisingly vibrant place. I was disappointed that the town was not surrounded in tilled or heavily cropped vegetables. These we found a little further west. Here we walked up and down the street as we had Rosewood, and purchased an apple bun that turned out instead to be full of caramel rather than more healthy fruit, but we ate anyway. Here the maintenance status of the buildings was also like Rosewood. These old wooden buildings and the fine old Queenslander residences, albeit disintegrating, are expensive to maintain and the painting beyond the average Joe Blow, especially if they are of senior years.

Alan Cunningham, whose name graces the highway between Ipswich and Warwick, first explored the area in 1829, naming it Laidley’s Plain after the Deputy Commissionary General of the colony of New South Wales. The town developed around the Cobb & Co staging post, and later operated in the same way when the rail passed through. The land around was initially cleared for sheep grazing; horticulture came later.

A few kilometres further on, we called into Lake Dyer or the Bill Gunn Dam which offers camping and day recreation. We read the camping tariffs and stored the information of possible future use, however in the weeks ahead I suspect this will be full of holidaying families, an ambience we prefer to leave for the younger ones.

On we went, still westward, to Gatton, which we had mistakenly remembered as the centre of the Lockyer flood disasters of December 2012 and January 2011. We had also thought it to be a small settlement similar to Marburg where we are based for the moment. How very wrong we were!

Gatton has a population of about 7,000, traffic lights, a wide and long busy main street, an additional shopping centre, a MacDonalds and a Coles, all which announce the fact that this is a place of substance.

The area was explored by Major Edmund Lockyer in 1825, the town gazetted thirty years later and the post office opened eleven years after that, however it was not until the rail came through to Grandchester in the mid-1870s that significant growth occurred.

Gatton is very proud of its university, on the site of the Queensland Agricultural College and experimental farm, opened way back in 1897. The University of Queensland’s campus remains the base for much of the university’s rural focused research and teaching.

Gatton is also known for an ugly piece of history; the unsolved Gatton murders; in December 1898 three local youths from Blackfellow’s Creek were murdered. Such skeletons in one’s “closet” add an interesting allure.

On a more positive note, the town is part of the “Salad Bowl” of the Lockyer Valley, the area primarily agricultural, with vegetables making up the majority of the crops. Fruit was apparently grown extensively here until the 1990, when economic conditions caused many of the orchards to be uprooted and replaced by more lucrative crops.

We found our way to the Lakes Apex and Freeman, adjacent to the town’s Cultural Centre and picnicked in a shelter amid a colony of roosting cattle egrets; those beautiful graceful apricot tinged birds we first became acquainted with at Minden, just up the road. Perhaps graceful is an exaggeration, because they are anything but as they descend ready to land on a skinny bough with their great weight.
Cattle Egrets perched high

All about were a host of other water birds; ibis, ducks, coots, pelicans, Purple Swamp-hens, to name but a few. The recreational area and bird sanctuary are a relatively new addition to this surprisingly pleasant town. Lake Apex was originally known as Cleary’s Swamp which tells you a lot. In 1975, it was developed as a recreational park by the local Apex Club, then the Freeman’s, who lived next door, donated and area of land surrounding the adjacent lake. The council now cares for the lakes although you get the feeling that it has been left mainly to the birds. There are apparently 153 species of birds within the boundaries of the parkland.

The Cultural Centre is an even more recent development and houses the Information Centre, the library and art gallery as well as a café which stretches out onto a wide verandah overlooking the lake and the bird-infested trees on a few tiny islands. The current exhibition on at the gallery is one by local sculpture Birgit Grapentin, a woman of incredible talent, titled “Diversity in Stone”. Obviously we were impressed, as we were by other sculptural works about the gardens outside the Centre.

From here, looking west, we could see the sun glistening on the roofs of Toomoomba’s city buildings, high above us. You may recall that Toowoomba sits on the edge of the escarpment, accessed by a very steep road. Here at Gatton we were 94 metres ASL; Toowoomba is at 600 metres ASL.

It was Grantham that saw the worst of those terrible floods of the summer of 2010/11, and this was our next destination. There is little left where Grantham used to be, if our Navman was to be believed, but we could see new houses at some distance on a hill to the north. This is where most residences have been moved to and presumably commercial services have gone with them. We did not bother finding our way through to the new settlement; I know that three years have passed, but somehow it would have felt just too voyeuristic.

However on the flat land of the valley, carved out by the insignificant little Lockyer Creek, there were many hectares of cultivate horticultural land and vegetables at varying stages of growth. We had at last arrived in the “Salad Bowl”.

I was interested to read later that this is also a significant beef and dairy cattle farming area with a growing equine industry. The latter did not surprise me because all through this area are horses and the where-with-all that goes with owning these magnificent beasts, not least of all the trotting track beside us which is as I write this, receiving a good watering.

We returned via the Warrego Highway, a distance of about forty eight kilometres, which would have been speedy had it not been for all the road works. We realised too that most of the return route was new to us as we had only just touched part of the route before travelling further north of the highway to Esk and beyond, so this turned out to be an unexpected bonus and an excellent way to finish to a day that had exceeded our expectations.

It also had been an excellent opportunity to exercise the new navigational device; there is much about it we like and much that we do not. I miss our trusty TomTom.

This morning when we returned from our walk we spent some time chatting with Wayne and Sharon who have been living in their bus motorhome for some years, who suggested we were mad to be considering returning to New Zealand and ending our travels in Australia. One could not help agreeing with much of what they said; however there are always aspects of one’s argument that cannot be shared with all and sundry. It was interesting to speak with them anyway.

This afternoon as we returned from a walk up the Black Snake Creek, we noticed several cauliflower heads on the pub verandah across the road. I suspect they most of these were our fellow campers; a better commercial proposition to the village than the likes of us who returned to the caravan for a cup of tea and the companionship of several willy wagtails who never cease to delight.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

16 December 2013 - Marburg Showground, Marburg, Queensland

We had plenty of time up our sleeves this morning, between rising and the conventional time of departure, so wandered down to the Chinese Takeaway store to see if their one Australian was still unsold. We were not disappointed and it saved us walking the longer distance down into the city. Chris likes his daily paper and was concerned that there may be none at our destination; of course I am not averse to speed reading the days current affairs, the Letters to the Editor and the Sudoko.

Returning to the grounds, I suggested we take a quick turn of the perimeter, given that we had yet to explore our home of the last week and more. We had been subjected to the strangest of sounds over the past week, akin to an erratic leaf-blower. This morning we identified the source and spent some time watching the action. The Ipswich Greyhound Racing Club and facilities are all part of the show-grounds and every morning before the intense heat of the day, the dogs train. This morning we watched as the “hare”, probably a collection of smelly rabbit pelt strips, hanging from a contraption on a rail, complete with siren style audio (I had no idea that running hares made such a noise) whipped around the course while these poor dogs, one after another scampered after it at high speed. We were too distant to see what reward, if any, the dog received when he arrived at the end of his run. One does hear rather hideous things about the way these canines are treated and discarded when they don’t come up to scratch. Alternatively, you also hear that a retired greyhound makes an excellent pet; they are probably just so grateful for a bit of love and kindness.

Anyway, aside from all the blather, the scene kept us captivated for some time before we continued on around the property, spread over a round hill with views all about.

We followed a couple of other parties out and headed across the city to the Warrego Highway, aka Darren Lockyer Way, then headed westward, travelling only about twenty kilometres before arriving here at this quaint little rural settlement. As we pulled into the show-grounds here, we noted that the two parties from Ipswich, a large bus rig and accompanying sedan and another rig similar to ours, had arrived minutes before us. We all had the same idea and it struck me that there were probably a few dozen of us all moving about an area of no greater than twenty square kilometres, carefully not outstaying our welcome and all seeking low-cost accommodation.  Here the tariff is $15 a night; Ipswich charges $20. Their facilities are far short of those you would find at a commercial caravan park; no laundry, or pool, or kitchen, but they serve us well.

The show-grounds here are right in the edge of the small residential area surrounded in farmland; a very pretty spot. The trotting track is apparently considered one of the best facilities in South East Queensland; today it is the playground for a man on his tractor mower.

Marburg has a little more than five hundred inhabitants and is located sixty kilometres west of Brisbane. Like so many places in Australia, or even the world, its heydays have passed although its proximity to the Brisbane - Toowoomba highway does draw tourists to pause for a comfort stop, a poke around the two antique shops or a beer at the pub.
Our trackside camp at Marburg

German settlers arrived in the region around the 1860s, and by 1900 Marburg had a courthouse, police barracks, a post office, two hotels, five churches, a State school, a School of Arts, several stores, a blacksmith, a butter factory, a sugar factory and a rum distillery, all built on the dairying, timber and sugar cane industries. At that time nearly 80% of the population were of German extraction.

After lunch when Chris was settled in front of the fourth day of the cricket test, I popped back down to the village and checked out the general store and post office. The locals are so very warm and friendly; we might have to stay longer than our planned couple of days; I was assured we would be most welcome.