Australia

July

 

July 1, 2013

Another cold morning and instead of cold cereal and fruit, Annette cooked a healthy breakfast of fried Spam and toast in the bus, in a vain attempt to warm it up. Thus sated, we continued our drive to Windorah and civilization. Mike and Barb had departed some minutes before us and we pulled over when we spotted them, parked on the side of the road. There were two feral sows plus nearly a dozen piglets nearby. Annette tempted the sows with bread but the piglets were far more wary and scampered back and forth in a miniature porcine herd. Mike, the farmer, estimated their age at perhaps one month, whilst I noted that they would fit our barbeque nicely.

feral pigferal pigletsMike and Barbara

A half hour later and pigless, we arrived at the Windarah visitor’s center where I again got internet access and Annette found coffee and tea, very welcome to restore our core body temperature. We next explored the adjacent museum including a “slab” hut built in 1906 to house the “Rabbit Board”. This organization was charged with the construction and maintenance of a “rabbit proof fence”, most of which were abandoned sometime in 1930’s. The hut was pretty spartan and the planks were obviously cut with a hand adze rather than milled. There was a bath-tub with kerosene drip heater adjacent and I marveled that the hut was younger than my boyhood home and boasted a bathing system far more advanced than that we enjoyed in inner-city Birmingham, England.

slab hutslab hutslab hutWindarah solar farm

Our destination for the day lay in the town of Longreach, some 300 kms to the north east, where we hoped it would be warmer, plus provide cell-coverage. This seemed a long drive because the route was mostly on single lane tarmac in so-so condition. Sometimes badly pot-holed and buckled by recent floods. We stopped in Jundah for boulder opals but all vendors were closed. Outside of Stonehenge we stopped at a field where previous travellers had spelled their names in the gravel plain by arranging stones to form huge letters. Annette added “E + A” but wouldn’t pillage and rob the other names for rocks as I suggested. I would have helped but since the authorities on the island of Cocos Keeling have removed my 2006 carving of the name “Doodlebug”, I am on strike.

Our contributionpebble fieldpebble field

As we drove, we passed other vehicles, at perhaps the rate of one vehicle per 30 minutes. In spite of the paucity of traffic there was an astonishing quantity of roadkill on the highway, more than we have witnessed anywhere else in Australia. I tried to estimate the density of body count (15 per kilometer) divided by the estimated decay rate (3 months?) but failed utterly in achieving a kill-rate per vehicle. We saw but a single ‘roo that ran the other direction. It was near dark before we arrived in Longreach to be told that the caravan park was “full”. Either our dismay or the prospects of another 28 bucks must have touched the heart of the manager, as he eventually found us a spot on the roadside that fulfilled our need for power for heating plus cell-coverage.

July 2, 2013

Today was a “chores” day, meaning Annette was out of clean socks and had begun to borrow mine but by early afternoon, we had roused ourselves enough to walk to the downtown shopping center. Annette hit the post office and gift shops whilst I made my major plumbing purchase of a shut-off valve connector for our grey water tank. This is the third time I have done this and how and why they break is a bit of a mystery. The valve connector lives about mid-way along the side of the bus and doesn’t stick out particularly. It may be simply that gravel thrown by the wheels when driving on unpaved surfaces is sufficient to break the fitting. The good news is that the requisite part comes from the “irrigation supplies” section of the hardware store, is held on with nylon cable ties and only costs seven bucks. We found a recommended restaurant that will actually be open for dinner this evening and made reservations. Again that evening we made the pilgrimage to town and back, only this time we were driven by hunger and the prospect of “Beef Wellington”. This was the first real exercise we have had in a while and realized that we have almost lost the use of our legs. Good meal though.

July 3, 2013

Longreach was the place where QANTAS airlines began its existence and we drove over to the museum that has been established next to the original hangar. The story of the airline was fascinating as it involved the earliest days of aviation, returned airmen from the 1914-1919 war, plus the rigors of outback travel and the politics of the time. I was impressed with the 1929 de Havilland DH-61 “Giant Moth”. It carried 8 passengers and boasted an onboard toilet. I particularly noted that it had way more leg-room than today’s airline offerings.

Our next stop was the Stockman’s Hall of Fame on the other side of the highway. This place had little chance of impressing me, compared to our visit to the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. When we visited the latter, we were joined by the entire cast of contestants from the Miss America Pageant, presumably taking a break between bikini wax sessions. How does Longreach compete with that? As it was we didn’t have too long to linger here since we had a 2:30 p.m. appointment to catch a stagecoach.

Cobb stagecoachCobb stagecoachroadside emus

The stagecoach was operated by Cobb and Company on the mail run from Winton to Windorah. To have made this journey sometime during the period 1850 to 1920 would have taken two and a half days and in 1900 would have cost 5 dollars, about a week’s wages. Our ride was a little shorter at 45 minutes and included a run across Longreach common with the four horses at full gallop. This was a really cool experience since the Australian version of a stagecoach looks pretty much like the American version and we thus got to experience a nineteenth century form of transportation, along a dirt track that would have been typical of the era. In fact, when we arrived back at the Longreach stables, we were both liberally coated in fine dust. The stagecoach travelled at around 50 miles per day at a daily cost of $2 (about $400 / day in 2013 dollars). I tried to imagine a long journey by stagecoach, realizing that robberies by highway men and Indian attacks were also real hazards. A great experience, a lot of fun but we didn’t get to shoot anyone.

We concluded the day with another late afternoon drive, arriving at the Matilda Caravan Park in Winton in time for their outback poetry evening. An excellent show (www.melandsusieontour.com.au)

July 4, 2013

We walked into downtown Winton this morning and stopped at the information center that also hosts the “Waltzing Matilda Center”. Winton was the town where the song was first performed in the North Gregory Hotel. Like much of Australian folklore and legend,Banjo Paterson monument there is an undercurrent that puzzles the overseas visitor. For example, why would Australians choose this song as a second national anthem? The lawyer and poet, Banjo Paterson wrote the words to the song in 1895 while staying at the Dagworth Homestead near Winton, to accompany a tune that homestead family member Christina Macpherson played on her autoharp. The song is about a drifter / hobo / itinerant shearer who while camping near a Billabong or waterhole, steals and kills a sheep. When the landowner brings three policemen to arrest him, the hobo jumps into the the Billabong and commits suicide by drowning himself. By now all of the Australians reading this are laughing and everyone else is going, “Huh?”.

The song was published as sheet music in 1903 and the same year was used as an advertising jingle for “Billy Tea”, thereby making it nationally famous. Australians had voted two years earlier in 1901 to become a federation and so for the first time as a nation, sent volunteer troops to fight in the First World War in 1915. I suppose that “Waltzing Matilda” was such a popular song with the Australian troops because it was so “Australian” - with the lyrics generally incomprehensible to outsiders. The author Banjo supposedly had just learned the expression “Waltzing Matilda” (meaning to wander from place to place, searching for work with your worldly belongings on your back, wrapped in a blanket) during his stay at Dagworth and he liked the expression. Similarly, we have noticed that “Coolabah Tree” goes much better with the lyrics than “Gidgee Tree”.

In 1977 Australians voted for a national anthem and Waltzing Matilda received 28% of the vote, versus 43% for “Advance Australia Fair”. Of course in 2006 we were at an RSL (Returned Servicemen’s League) club in Cooktown, the crowd remembering ANZAC day suddenly got quiet and stood to attention. We did likewise but didn’t recognize the song being sung as the Australian National Anthem. However the whole world recognizes “Waltzing Matilda”, which Wikipedia notes is also the official song of the U.S. 1st. Marine Division.

The undercurrent we learned about was that there had been a shearer’s strike in 1894 at the Dagworth Homestead, a shearing shed had been set on fire and sheep burned. The strikers fired their pistols and rifles into the air and the station owner, plus three policeman, pursued striker Samuel Hoffmeister. Supposedly Hoffmeister shot himself at the Combo waterhole, rather than be taken alive. So now you have early Trades Union activity, a suspicious suicide and a 31 year old lawyer, engaged to someone else, writing lyrics for a 21 year old cutie with an autoharp. Now why would he do that?

In Darwin a couple of weeks ago, we witnessed the comic “Thommo” singing Waltzing Matilda almost as funeral hymn in front of a somber audience. Whatever the origins of the song, it is obvious to us outsiders that the sacrifices that Australia has made in two World Wars has imbued this little song with meaning far beyond what its creator had imagined.

Across the street we walked into the bar of the North Gregory Hotel. We raised a glass to Banjo Paterson, the author of Waltzing Matilda, “The Man from Snowy River and many other poems and ballads. We toasted Australia herself and we wished the United States of America a Happy Birthday upon the anniversary of her Declaration of Independence. We hope and pray that the freedoms won by both nations at such human cost will not be cast lightly away by their descendants.

July 5, 2013

We somehow managed to get up early enough to join a tour of the Lark Quarry dinosaur trackway, some 100 kms. north of Winton. At eight o’clock, our driver stubbed out his cigarette and we joined nine other passengers in climbing into a truly filthy mini-van for the two hour drive over a mixture of sealed and unsealed roads leading to the quarry. The driver growled a sort of commentary as he drove but the noise generated by the corrugations we were hammering over, drowned all possibility of intelligibility. By now Annette was regretting the multiple cups of tea she had enjoyed this morning and our driver showed no signs of stopping as the van swayed alarmingly crossing cattle guards and washouts. I was pleased to note that the bus had been modified with the addition of a roll-cage and further that I was not subjecting our own bus to this particular road.

Dinosaur tracksLark quarry area

The tour of the quarry was far more pleasant and we entered a hangar like metal building that had been erected to protect the dig from atmospheric erosion and the depredation of souvenir hunters. The dig shows some 3,000 individual dinosaur prints that were formed about 95 million years ago on the edge of a lake. The adjacent river flooded within a day or so of the “event”, thus the prints were preserved by successive layers of mud and sand. The prints were first discovered in the 60s but were thought by the Station Manager to be bird prints. In 1971, scientists from the Queensland museum identified them as dinosaur prints and a dig was organized in 1976. It was only after detailed mapping and analysis of the individual prints that the scenario shown by the fossils has been reconstructed. The prints show that about a 150 small dinosaurs were drinking at the lake’s edge when a 4 ton carnivorous theropod (smaller than Tyrannosaurus Rex) charged into the drinkers, scattering them in a so called, “Dinosaur stampede”. This display is truly amazing and we were further impressed with the enormous amount of work it took to painstakingly remove the 60 tons of rock that had obscured the dig and then dedicate years to matching the prints of individual animals as they fled from the huge predator. An advantage perhaps of having no television coverage or nearby pub in the outback. All in all an excellent tour.

July 6, 2013

This morning we headed over to the Winton truck museum that lay on our departure route out of town. The trucks and machinery take up a lot of space and the best exhibits were housed in a huge metal shed. In the nearby grounds were scores of other donated vehicles, jammed together as though in a wrecker’s yard, together with engines, pumps, and machinery whose function was indeterminate. All were rusting gently in the near desert environment of Winton. I thought that it would be a shame if all of this was lost to posterity but the huge amount of money it would take to preserve this collection is daunting.

truck museumtruck museumworking truckat the musical fence

Adjacent to the museum was a musical fence where someone had whimsically assembled all sorts of “found objects” into tuned conglomerations, so that they could be “played” by hitting them with “drumsticks” of flexible plastic pipe. In addition, a section of wire “stock fence” had been “tuned” and there was music and a guide for playing “Waltzing Matilda” on the fence, rather like playing a child’s xylophone. This was a fun interlude before setting off northeast-bound for Hughenden, over the “Kennedy Development Road”. We saw over a dozen emus plus a half dozen Brolgas and we stopped so that Annette could try out the “emu caller” she had purchased at the Waltzing Matilda center. The “caller” was a short, hollow section of tube that you strike with the palm of a hand to produce a sort of “whop, whop” sound. Supposedly emus are inquisitive and would seek the origin of the sound until they were close enough to be speared by the aborigines. The Kennedy Development emus weren’t buying this however and scorned Annette’sthe emu caller efforts. As we drove we fought to keep our bus from becoming airborne and flying off the “development” road. There were scores of road sections showing signs of ongoing repairs and we assumed that this road has suffered heavily in past flooding. When we arrived at the caravan park in Hughenden, we listened to our park neighbors complaining about having “bottomed” the frames of their caravans on this same road and then discovering upon arrival that their fridge had opened at some time during the transit and disgorged its contents into the interior of their van. Made our bitching sound sorta trivial.

July 7, 2013

We continued our drive towards the coast at Townsville, with lots of live emu sightings and a couple of dead possums, the first road-kill possums we have identified. Maybe we have simply passed others that were just mashed fur and gravel. We casually passed by a couple of nice free camping areas on the Flinders Highway as we wanted to stop at Charters Towers and perhaps do a little shopping on Monday morning. When we arrived at the Charters Towers caravan park, we were informed that they were completely full, as were all other parks in town. We knew that it would be a waste of time to drive on to Townsville since the latter was hosting a “V8” car race week-end and similarly fully booked. As we pondered our options, the nice lady at the caravan park suggested we might try the “Burdekin Duck Roadhouse” some 20 kms. further down the track and even called to make sure that we had a space. This was a very pleasant little park and even had internet connectivity so that I could “Google” Burdekin duck. There really is such a thing and it is a white duck that looks like it is wearing a brown cape. Google even has recipes.

July 8, 2013

We continued our journey to Townsville arriving downtown by noon. There is but a single caravan park near the action i.e. the beach and we called to be told that they had no powered sites available. Fortunately, this was not the case and we picked up the last site before heading over to the shore and walked the “Townsville Strand”, a two mile beachfront with bars, restaurants, hotels and lots of joggers. The sea was empty of swimmers of course and the multiple signs warning of the the hazards of jellyfish was the obvious cause, even if potential bathers had ignored all of the white posts bearing “mailboxes” and spaced every hundred yards or so. The boxes contain “emergency” bottles of vinegar that might supposedly treat jellyfish stings.

We sailed here on April 8th, 2006 aboard S/V Doodlebug after making an instrument approach anchorage behind nearby Cape Cleveland at 0400 hours. At the time, the weather sucked so we edged cautiously in towards the land in the shelter of the cape and dropped our anchor when we got to a depth of around thirty feet. Dawn had shown we were about a half mile offshore and we had motored over to the Townsville Marina sometime after daylight. My log shows that we next walked into downtown and found breakfast of eggs, bacon and beer. How civilized!

As we walked the sea-front today, we enjoyed the fact that the temperature was pleasant and it wasn’t raining. Too late for breakfast though; we had Barramundi, chips and beer instead.

July 9 through July 12, 2013

The weather here has been fine but we have bummed around for the past few days, preparing for our return to the USA. Annette has been collating her souvenirs and I have been lining up hotels and connecting flights, since we had only made reservations to Los Angeles. We have located a place to store our bus and believe that we have the battery maintenance issue under control. On Friday we decided that we needed a break from logistics and drove north to the Billabong Nature Park, just outside Townsville. The “koala encounter” had already begun but I hustled Annette over to the animal handling area and she got to hold a female koala. It was probably tranquilized on eucalyptus leaves but she reported that the fur was soft and smelled “sweet”. The closest living relative to the Teddy bear. We fed kangaroos and ducks, watched the saltwater crocs being fed and finished with a “dingo encounter”. They’re just dogs! You scruff their ears and pet them and they react just the way they look like they should.

July 13, 2013

This morning we broke free from Townsville and began our trek south. Today was the first day in a while that we have experienced rain and the heavy clouds on the horizon promised a downpour. This area is all sugar cane production and the highway is criss-crossed with narrow gauge cane-railways. We haven’t seen anyone actively harvesting the cane but the evidence is everywhere, with loaded cane wagons along the sidings and a crushing factory we passed that was in full production. The highway is a sealed two lane but the traffic is noticeably heavier than we have been enjoying for the past few months.

We stopped to examine a dead echidna at the roadside but the rain was now coming in earnest so we didn’t linger. Airlie Beach wasthe dead echidna our destination for the night and with a name like that, we had hoped for a pleasant beach-walk. As it was, the literature at the “Big 4” park we stayed at boasted a “bus service” or “short taxi ride” to where the action was. We hid in our bus from the rain and buffeting wind and blew off any attempt at walking. The call of the first kookaburra we have heard in months rang out across the park, temporarily lifting the gloom.

July 14, 2013

We put Airlie Beach in our rear view mirror and continued with our quest for a beach walk. Our destination was the tiny town of Seaforth, on the north side of Cape Hillsborough, north of Mackay. The campsite had an entrance barrier but the barrier was raised and there was a note on the office window saying to call Bob’s cell-phone. Some fellow campers stopped by to say that there were a few sites still open “at the back” but that the prime locations along the beach were all taken and you had to “wait for someone to die” to get in there. I called “Bob” and he told me to take a spot right on the beach, since we were likely staying but a single night.

This is a beautiful location with tall coconut palms, the beach directly behind and the calm waters of the inner barrier reef beyond. We walked the long beach from a swimming area for families, protected with heavy netting at one side and mangroves a mile further, where a creek flowed into the sea. The beach was littered with fine shells and Annette struggled to leave them undisturbed. No point adding to the pile of souvenirs at the same time as we are trying to pare it down for our departure.

Back at the park were scores of “Whistling” ducks, Burdekin ducks, multi-hued parrots as well as the Red tailed Black Cockatoo, plus several Kookaburras. Naturally Annette fed the ducks with the ample supplies of bird seed that we carry, plus added a dish of fresh water. By the time dusk fell, the ducks could barely waddle as they were so stuffed with seed. 

July 15, 2013

This morning Annette told me that she would like to lie in bed for a little since she had not slept well. Not ten minutes later, a cacophony of sounds erupted from all around the bus and I too added to the noise by laughing out loud. When I had peered out of the window, there were around a score of Whistling ducks, plus a half dozen Burdekin ducks, calling or whistling for their breakfast and standing in a semi-circle at the bus door. Annette sat groggily upright and looked out of the rear windows for the source of the additional raucous laughter, where she enjoyed a ringside view of the butts of two Kookaburras, perched on a branch not three feet from her pillow. Naturally she gave up any thought of sleep and proceeded to feed her feathered fan club.

Burdekin ducksswim areajellyfish fence

We stopped at the netted swimming enclosure as we were leaving the park and confirmed that its primary purpose is to exclude box-jellyfish. We don’t know if the tiny Irukandgi jellyfish are a problem on this part of the coast but if so, that net wasn’t going to provide protection. The leaden sky promised more rain as we headed south towards Mackay. We stopped at a sugar cane factory that promoted tours but had missed the morning tour. By now it was raining hard and we decided to blow off tours today and try again tomorrow. We spent the night at the Hilltop Caravan Park in North Mackay. The park was oriented more towards long term residents, rather than visitors like us but we enjoyed a very pleasant evening chatting with some of these residents. The park manager’s husband gave Annette a chunk of “raw” aluminum from a smelter for her mineral collection and I was pleased to note that for airline baggage allowance purposes, it weighed a whole lot less than rock.

July 16, 2013

This morning we returned to the Mackay Sugar Cane Mill and unlike yesterday, we were the only visitors. We were soon outfitted with safety glasses, ear plugs, hard hats and high-visibility waistcoats so that we could safely begin our tour of this working mill. I did notice that my safety helmet was slightly sticky but what would you expect from a sugar mill?

sugar cane traincutting the canesugar millcane cars at the millinside the millEd tastes the sugar

While we were waiting for the tour office to open, we had watched rail cars being emptied, two at a time, by a machine that rotated them through 360 degrees with the raw cane dropping into a subterranean hopper. By the time the tour began, the flow of railcars had paused and Kelly, our guide, explained that each car held about seven tons of cane and that it had to be cut, transported to the mill, unloaded and processed within sixteen hours. If mechanical failure delayed this process, the mill might owe compensation to the grower. When we travelled in Fiji, the extensive groves of sugar-cane were cut by hand, loaded onto trucks and these incredibly overloaded trucks would sway alarmingly as they crept along the narrow roads towards the sugar-mill. The chaff from the cutting operations was then burnt and the Fiji air was always thick with smoke. If we were unfortunate enough to be anchored downwind, our white boat was covered in ash from the fires. By contrast, the traditional species of sugar-cane had been replaced with a thinner variety for the Australian plantings. This was so that the cane was easier to cut and could be harvested by machine. The chaff is then disced back into the soil to prevent erosion and add nutrients rather than be burnt.

I love watching heavy machinery in action and this mill was no disappointment. Although the original structure belonged to the nineteenth century, the machinery within had been continuously maintained, repaired, replaced and upgraded as technology improvements had added to the efficiency and cost effectiveness of each stage. Our guide explained that the crushing mills and heavy motors were all steam operated, although there was little evidence of this in terms of vented steam. The process of crushing the cane and separating the sugar was fascinating and I was particularly interested in how the excess water was removed from the syrup. The huge vacuum pots were labeled “EFFET” which is the French word for “effect”. I checked the internet later and discovered that the process was invented by a French engineer, Norbert Rillieux in the mid-1800’s. His process was a “multi-effect evaporator”, hence the “EFFET”. What was also fascinating was to learn that he had been born in Lousiana from the union of an engineer and a “plantation slave”, although it is likely that his mother was actually “free” and perhaps only one quarter black herself. Norbert was labeled as a “quadroon” on his birth record in New Orleans and later sent to France for his education.

A great tour and we later headed over to the Black Beach caravan park in Mackay for the night.

July 17 through July 18, 2013

This is a beautiful caravan park here at Black Beach, Mackay, located right on the beach. We have walked the long strand a couple of times but we have spent the bulk of the time sorting through everything that has accumulated aboard our bus over the past five months. Annette has sorted all her souvenirs, she has reviewed all of her collected rocks and sea-shells and has agonized over each, as it came time to discard the heaviest. She has emptied every drawer and closet, reorganized and repacked. My task was to transport her “give-away” pile over to the group kitchen for donation and to haul the discards to the trash can. In addition, I have serviced both electric toothbrushes. “A man’s gotta' know his limitations”. We have woken each morning to the orchestra of exotic bird calls and have enjoyed the fine weather. The forecast has shown cold and rain to the south but that will be where we are heading next.

July 19, 2013

Last night we ran completely out of beer, the first time in recorded memory that this has happened. Time to leave! We drove through sprawling cane fields with the harvest underway and it was pretty drive once we had cleared the traffic around Mackay. We stopped for the night at a park south of Rockhampton where it looked to be a quiet spot. The park was the Kangaroo Caravan Park at Midgee and the park itself was a delight, with pet birds in large flight cages and pair of Shetland ponies that ran up the the fence edge looking expectantly at our hands. However we had failed to notice how close both the main highway and the railway tracks lay to our site. The huge trucks rumbled by all night long but in addition, there was a near constant passage of long ore trains.

July 20, 2013

We continued our drive south today through cane fields, interspersed with groves of Macadamia nuts and farm signs advertising “seedless” lemons and tangerines. The rolling terrain became hilly as we approached the town of Bundaberg. We drove through the town and the then made the pilgrimage along the Burnett River to the Bundaberg Port Marina, where we had first touched Australian soil in 2006. For us this was simply a trip down memory lane and although we had been told that the marina was wiped from the faceBundaberg Marina of the earth by the Christmas 2012 cyclone, in fact we found the marina untouched and unchanged from our previous visit. There was even an “Amel Super Maramu” ketch (just like our “DoodleBug”) tied up near the slip we had formerly occupied. We enjoyed the fine weather as we picnicked and walked the banks of the Burnett before setting off again towards Maryborough and the lowering rain clouds we could see ahead of us.

We stopped for the night at the Burrum River Caravan Park about 30 kms north of Maryborough and by the time we pulled into our space at the park, the heavens had opened and rain was bucketing down, such that we waited a half hour before it had eased sufficiently to connect the power umbilicals without getting electrocuted.

July 21, 2013

It was not far from Burrum to our destination at the town of Gympie but we stopped mid-way to scout our intended RV storage facility at Bauple. The facility looked perfect, securely locked and with security cameras and a trio of ferocious looking dogs roaming the grounds. The RV storage is a pair of huge sheds and is surrounded on all sides by cane-fields. Nothing else was in view but it did not appear vulnerable to either flooding or cyclones. We continued on to the town of Gympie and after barbequing the entire remaining contents of the freezer, Annette proceeded to launder everything that wasn’t nailed down.

July 22, 2013

Busy day today! We first drove over to the local Hyundai dealership, which is also the closest Avis car rental outlet. Here we picked up a rental car and after parking the bus, made the circuit of ATM, Post office and car parts stores in a failed attempt to find diesel fuel stabilizer. Next I drove the bus back along the highway to Bauple while Annette followed in the rental car. That is it! We have parked our bus and this year’s trip is over, at least for our bus. We will leave it here in storage until our future return to tour Tasmania and the south Australian coast. We have driven about 28,000 kms. (17,500 miles) over the past five and half months and it has been a fabulous trip we will long remember.

Now it was time to unload our “stuff” from the bus and hope that it will all somehow fit into suitcases.

Back at the town of Maryborough, we checked into a hotel room before walking over to the “Shamrock Inn” to imbibe Guinness stout and eat Guinness pie. It must have been all authentic Irish fare because both waitresses were Irish.

Around mid-night Annette’s discomfort from a suspected urinary infection had passed her pain threshold. Internet research and a call to an emergency medical service confirmed that the only medical care available at this time was the emergency room at the local hospital. It was raining when we drove over there and we parked under some “no parking” signs, before entering the facility. There were no other patients in the waiting room and Annette was soon ushered inside, weighed, blood pressure tested etc. and then parked back in the waiting room to await a doctor. In the meantime, the administrator appeared from somewhere and we confirmed that we had no Australian insurance policy and that the USA is not a “reciprocating country” when it comes to health care – that is, some countries like the UK or New Zealand provide free health care to visiting Australians so that Australia reciprocates when visitors from the UK or NZ visit Australia. She asked if Annette had a passport which I immediately whipped out from my shirt pocket. She blanched when she saw it and regarded it doubtfully. Could we return when the regular staff were on duty? I considered our schedule plus the hassle of returning and declined. She then announced that she would change the paperwork to reflect our residency to a reciprocal country.

We waited about twenty minutes for a doctor and when he appeared, he confirmed our diagnosis and gave us a prescription for antibiotics. The nurse gave Annette the first of her pills to take since the pharmacies were all closed and then she ushered us to the door. We returned to the now empty office window and rang the bell but the administrator did not reappear, just the nurse we had been dealing with. She assured us that we were “done” and not to worry about any paperwork. This ended our experience with Australian emergency medicine. We were in and out in less than an hour. In the USA this would have been at least a four hour ordeal with a minimum of a $1,000 charge.

July 23 through July 27, 2013

Annette recovered rapidly from her brush with the medical services and we cleaned and mothballed our bus for its extended storage before somehow stuffing everything we hoped to carry back to the USA into the rental car. Back in Brisbane we retrieved our suitcases from our friends Ray and Jodi who had kindly stored them and then utilized the surface of their driveway to see if everything would fit into three bags.  Somehow everything fit in the cases and we weighed them at 23 kilograms each – the maximum permitted on the return flights! The “Tardis” has nothing on us! Of course the reader must realize that we are not carrying clothing, toiletries etcetera, these we have either abandoned, or are carrying in small “carry-on” backpacks. The suitcases are stuffed with Annette’s souvenirs, including her collected rock and mineral collection. We flew from Brisbane late Saturday night for three looong days of journeying back to Corpus Christi, Texas via Fiji and Los Angeles.

August 2, 2013 (final entry from 2013 trip)

We arrived home on Monday and began the process of readjusting to a 15 hour time difference including driving on the “right” (means “correct” in American English) side of the road. We have really enjoyed our Australian adventure for the past six months. It has been truly unforgettable. The scenery, wildlife, hospitality and friendship of all of the people we have met have been overwhelming.

After surviving six months of the perceived Australian hazards of crocodiles, jellyfish, venomous snakes and equally venomous spiders and on our third day back in Corpus Christi, Texas, Annette received seven wasp stings while trimming bushes in the front yard and is currently suffering from pain, swelling and itching. We look forwards to our speedy return to the safety of Australia.