Australia

November 1 - 13, 2014

 

November 1, 2014

We have gathered pine cones, emptied and flushed the cassette toilet, we are ready for our GOLF!

We messed up at the first course, maybe a quarter mile from the caravan park and wandered around the golf course for thirty minutes, looking for the first tee. As we walked back towards the clubhouse, we saw a lone individual carrying a golf bag. Annette confronted him and asked him where the tee was and he pointed back towards the entrance, to a spot maybe thirty paces behind where we had parked the bus. He made some remark about not having played golf in nine months and strode off to the north, into the wilderness; what for and where he went, we don’t know, because we never saw him again. The locals just call him the “Phantom golfer” and he only shows up in times of dire need........... 

First the pine coneFore!Annette's turnThe puttCeduna courseteeing offthrowing the ball?Annette putts

OK, now we know where the tee is (that’s the place you start hitting the ball from) and there is a sort of colored map on a post nearby, showing where you might find the flag, that is where you are hitting the ball to. We haven’t actually hit anything yet, so we begin by dumping out the bag of pine cones, gathered from the caravan park this morning. A few practice swings convince us that this might be harder than it looks. A quick conference and a rules revision is proposed, voted upon and unanimously passed. We will play the game according to strict rules of golf (whatever they are) and make up any other rules as needed. To speed the ridiculously slow game up a bit, we will use but one ball, the day-glo orange one that was mixed in with all of the boring white ones. This means that I hit the ball and then Annette hits the ball etcetera and we will keep track of how many strokes it takes to get the ball from tee to hole. If we miss the ball completely we assume that just like in a game of chess, it doesn’t count. Then we use the Clinton / Obama rule that if you hit it and it only rolls a few feet, you get to try again. Using these enhanced rules, we managed to play the first hole, “Oyster Beds”, a 485 meter par 5 in only 16 strokes. Denial Bay came next, a 370 meter par 4 that we sank swiftly in 11 strokes – we are getting the hang of this! Denial Bay even had a water hazard; four agricultural sprayers that were at work mid-way down the “fairway”. We timed them, rather like the “chompers” on “Galaxy Quest” and then ran like hell for the ball. My golf partner might have picked the ball up and thrown it clear but I’m not sure, I was dodging a hosepipe torrent of water at the time.

The next hole was 75 kilometers away at the Penong Roadhouse, so we drove our Toyota Coaster golf cart over there. The drive was through vast wheat fields and we saw no other golfers. This hole was called Windmills, a par 4, 260 meter hole but the drive had made us over-confident and we slipped back to a disappointing 15 stroke hole.

Feeding the kidsThe golf cartAustralian Farmer's monumentdead wombatwombat holeputtingwombat hole

By now you are wondering why it was necessary to empty and flush the cassette toilet before beginning the game and the truth is, it wasn’t. We had these courses pretty much to ourselves. Leaving Penong, we headed to the Nundroo roadhouse, 86 kilometers between holes and the course was marked with warning signs to beware of kangaroos and wombats. We saw no dead kangaroos but we saw several dead wombats, including a recent kill, just beginning to bloat nicely in the sun. The hole at Nundroo is called “Wombat’s Hole” and is a par 5, 520 meter. This presented us a problem in that we couldn’t see the hole from the tee and the mowed area of wheat field ran in a broad swath up a hill, in a direction that did not appear to match the map at the tee. We bashed along on limestone, rocks and wheat stubble until we were part way up the hill and then I set off in a reconnaissance, leaving Annette to guard the ball and thereby locate it upon my return. Bingo! There was a flag in the distance, so unless they have two holes, we are golden. This may be a par 5 but it seemed a long way to us. By the time we got back to the bus we couldn’t remember if it was 14 strokes or 18 strokes, so we compromised on 14 for our scorecards.

Heading westMore dog proof fenceWestward Ho!

It was still fairly early when we again fired up the ‘ol golf cart and set off west again, bound for the Nullarbor roadhouse and the fifth hole, about 148 kilometers away. The wheat fields were gone and the trees beginning to thin out. We passed a section of the dog-proof fence and marveled that it was nowhere identified as such on the highway, although there was an adjacent parking lot so you could pull over and take pictures. The Nullarbor proper begins here and like throwing a switch, the trees were gone. A road sign warned of kangaroos, wombats and camels. We scanned the horizons but no camels to be seen anywhere. By five o’clock we pulled into the road house to get our score cards stamped but were tired and hungry and took a caravan site for the night. We could see the flag for the fifth hole from our bus but it must wait for the morning.

November 2, 2014

The golf tournament continues. It was cold this morning and the wind picked up somewhat causing the contestants to bundle up with extra clothing. This made it a little difficult when we climbed the fence at the rear of the caravan park and crossed the airstrip runway towards the tee. I began my first shot by swinging magnificently and missing the ball completely. This was repeated. I reviewed my Arnold Palmer on-line tutorial and the fourth swing connected; a solid “thwack”, sending the ball up the fairway, across the first bend and into the bush. How do you lose an orange ball that quickly? We searched for some time but the wombats must have eaten it. Fortunately we had five more balls and the ball that Annette had colored up with red “magic marker” was substituted. We finished the hole, “the Dingo’s Den”, a 538 meter par 5 in only 16 more strokes. I took a penalty stroke for losing the ball and Annette surged into the lead with a score of 17 for that hole.

Crossing the runwayThat WayIn the roughThe tee

The next hole was 182 kilometers away and our drive was interrupted several times by short side trips to the coast. We could see the Southern Ocean from the highway but until we approached the rim, we did not appreciate the towering, multi-layered cliffs that mark the southern boundary of Australia. The clear blue waters crashed in a welter of white foam at the base of cliffs over 200 feet tall. With the wind blowing strongly I could not help but shudder at what an awful lee shore this would make and we watched the power of huge waves expend their energy, eroding and undercutting the rocks. We searched for whale spouts, knowing that this is the wrong season and similarly searched below for great white sharks or their seal prey. Nothing but wind, waves, blue skies and sunshine. We headed onwards towards “Border Village” and the sixth hole, the tee located tastefully behind a giant fiberglass kangaroo holding a water barrel sized beer can.

Southern sea cliffsSouthern sea cliffsBorder Villagepreparing the driveLooking for lost ball

The hole was a par 3 and we dispatched it easily in just 9 strokes. We then drove perhaps two hundred yards to the border crossing into Western Australia and our bus was searched for quarantined contraband. We discussed golf tournament strategy with the quarantine officer before setting off again for the “Nullarbur Nymph”, a 315 Nullarbor Nymphmeter par 4 at Eucla golf course. We were puzzled as to why we had to drive some 15 minutes or so on dirt / gravel roads but all was made clear when we arrived at the former Eucla shooting club, with its weathered and abandoned targets. Here we had a brush-free, broad fairway which we zig-zagged down in only 11 strokes. The hole was named “The Nymph” because in 1971, a couple of kangaroo shooters claimed to have seen a blonde, naked, white woman, living amongst the kangaroos. A grainy photograph was produced and the world media, including a BBC team, descended upon Eucla, with its population of 8. The following year an inebriated kangaroo hunter admitted the hoax but by then, Eucla was on the map!

We sped onwards another 65 Kms to the “Watering Hole” at Mundrabilla, where I lost my second ball of the day. If we can hold to the current wastage we should be able to complete the course but it is worrisome. Annette is now two points ahead of me due to my penalty strokes and she finished the hole with a beautiful 3 foot put.

November 3, 2014

Day three of the tournament and we are on the back nine. We spent last night at the Madura Pass Roadhouse, site of “Brumby’s Run” a par 3, 125 meter hole. Our first task of the day was to play the hole and we almost got a “birdie” - but at the last minute it flew away before the ball clobbered it. The road we had travelled had paralleled sea cliffs and an escarpment but as we left Madura, it finally climbed up the face of the escarpment to the plateau above. The view from the summit looked down upon of a vast, hazy, flat and waterless plain below. Somehow we had expected exposed, wind scoured, white limestone but the rocks are hidden below several feet of soil and a thick layer of bushes. Far more vegetation than we had been led to expect with the name “Nullarbor” meaning “treeless” and perhaps the Aboriginal name meaning “no water” was more accurate.

Brumby's RunBrumby's RunThe escarpmentThe escarpment

At the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse, we aced the par 4 hole “Eagle’s Nest” in only 9 strokes and returned to the tee where the bus was parked, searching the edges of the “rough” for any lost balls. We spotted a “skink”, looking like an orange / black / brown pinecone and when he hid under a tuft of grass, we poked him with an ever useful golf club until he emerged to have his picture taken.

BugBugEagle's Nestskink90 mile straight

The hole at Caiguna was described as “through the trees” and Annette finally sank this hole with a perfect 10 foot putt. In 1841 Edward Eyre, together with John Baxter and three aboriginal men, set out to cross the Nullarbor. When they reached Caiguna, two of the aboriginal “guides” murdered the sleeping Baxter, stole the weaponry plus half the supplies. The remaining aborigine “Wylie” continued travelling with Eyre to Rossiter Bay, both arriving in “poor” condition, where they were rescued by a whaling ship. Nevertheless they become the first people to transit the Nullarbor plain. Our experience of Caiguna was better.

The next hole was at Belladonia and the roadhouse roof is decorated with a piece of Skylab, with additional artifacts displayed in the interior. In 1979 the orbiting laboratory Sky-lab re-entered the earth’s atmosphere and debris rained upon the area around this roadhouse. A local policeman is said to have sent notice of a littering fine to Washington DC but they never paid it. We too had an airborne problem as we played the hole, “Skylab”, a 175 meter par 3. The golfing guide warned us to beware of snakes but the true hazards were biting flies, locally called “March flies” (we would call them “horse flies” in the USA). There was little refinement in our golf drives and we beat off the little beasts that were attacking bare arms and legs with our useless face fly nets while racing to get back to the safety of our bus.

SkylabSkylabSkylabSkylab

As we headed for the next hole, we noticed a Toyota van at the roadside, people milling about and unloading luggage. We stopped to see if they needed assistance and discovered that the van had just died. There had been a “burning smell”, a little later the engine had stopped abruptly and there was “oil pouring out”. Contradictory symptoms but to compound matters, there was no cell coverage at this location. We picked up Richard, the driver, leaving his parents to camp out at the roadside. Richard is from London, here on a “Working Holiday” visa and his parents were visiting him for a short and adventurous road trip. About 20 kms. down the highway he was able to get cell coverage and contact a towing service. I suggested that he wait at the next point of civilization, where there was both a bar and a phone and have the wrecker pick him up there but the towing service wanted him back at his vehicle in “90 minutes”. Good luck on that! We reversed our course and returned him to his parents, simultaneously restoring his status of incommunicado. We will check the internet to see if desiccated bodies are discovered along a major Australian highway in a couple of weeks time.

We stopped at the Fraser Sheep station, had our golf course card stamped, set our bus up at a campsite and began to walk over to the tee, carrying camera, golf clubs and beer. We never made it to the tee but were driven off by biting flies, within a hundred yards or so. We will try again tomorrow, with more protective clothing and we will do it the “American way”! We will drive the bus to the tee before exposing ourselves to the golfing hazards.

November 4, 2014

We fired up the 'ol Coaster golf cart and drove to the tee, a good choice since it was further than we thought. The tee and green had been located in a beautiful meadow lying in shallow basin, a very pretty location and the silhouettes of kangaroos looked down on us in puzzlement from the ridge above. Probably wondering why we weren't using a four iron. The biting flies weren’t awake yet and we enjoyed the peace and solitude as we beat our golf ball down the 141 meter par 3.

Fraser Sheep stationFraser Sheep stationSheep's Back

Next was a drive on to Norseman, where we played two holes on a "real" golf course. There was nobody else on the course and the “clubhouse” was tightly locked up, the rubber stamp to validate our course cards sitting on a table on the clubhouse porch. No biting flies here but a swarm of the annoying "mucus" flies made us glad we had remembered our hats with fly nets protecting our faces. From Norseman, we called the pro’s shed in Kalgoorlie and set up a tee time for 3:00 p.m.

With fly swatterWith fly swatter

At Kambalda, another golf club and again the course was empty but here the clubhouse was full of people eating and drinking. The course itself was similar to Norseman with black, oily, scraped dirt for the “greens”. When we returned to the clubhouse, we were told that today is the Melbourne Cup horserace and we were invited in for drinks. A beer would have gone down nicely about now but the pro's at Kalgoorlie were expecting the US team and we needed to push on.

Our GPS had difficulty locating the golf course at Kalgoorlie but we persisted and finally found the parking lot. Last week the Kalgoorlie Golf Club hosted the Western Australia "Goldfields" PGA Championship and if we had pulled in then, it might have been a little harder for us to get a tee time on an hours notice. We had heard that one player was fined $5,000 for not using a "correct" putter in the competition. For us, this is a non-issue since we don't have a putter.

We dressed nicely and correctly (no denim; shirt with button down collar; shoes not flip-flops), checked in with pro-desk and then returned to the bus for our equipment; two drivers, two wooden "tee" pegs, the cut off base of a 500 ml. plastic water bottle (used as a tee when the ground was too hard or rough for those little wooden pegs) and two golf balls, (the second as back-up in case the first was lost). We had watched the other players hitting 3 kilometer drives like robots, with their shiny golf carts parked nearby and their bulging bags of golf clubs all wearing little wooly hats.

KalgoorlieKalgoorlieKalgoorlieKalgoorlie

We confidently approached the first tee, in full view of the loungers at the clubhouse and were invited to "go ahead" as this group were waiting on additional players. I explained that we were "not very fast". They said they would wait. I asked if they had flashlights and they laughed, thinking we we were kidding. Annette teed off and we wandered nonchalantly down the slope taking two strokes to get the 100 meters to the ladies tee. Here we found our form and slaughtered this hole in only 8 strokes, Annette sinking a long putt from the edge of the green that bounced off the pole I was holding and into the hole. We high fived and headed for the last hole.

The greens and fairways were immaculate. No rocks, no scrub, no abandoned partially burned out motorhomes, old drill pipe or mixed, industrial detritus. Instead, smooth green hillocks weaved between sand traps to velvet greens. On this hole we were alone, that is out of sight of other players and although we were enjoying the experience, it was taking us much longer to navigate the final hole with the high number of necessary Mulligans. Finally we sank the ball. We are done! What a beautiful course and what a fun experience. We walked back down the fairway a little towards the clubhouse, just as the following group started showing off with their machine accurate, 300 meter drives, when three kangaroos ran into the middle of the fairway and began grazing. They were oblivious to the golf balls dropping around them. So too was Annette trying to get as many pictures as possible. An amazing Australian finish to a really fun adventure.

November 5, 2014

Guy Fawkes Day in Australia, election day in the USA and we head for the Kalgoorlie Mining Museum. The museum is identified by a huge mine head gantry that supported the elevator used to transport both workers and mined rock from nearly a mile underground. This elevator now has less work to do and easily transported Annette and me up to a viewing deck, where we could see the town laid out below and the active mine operations, seemingly all around us. The town was founded in 1893 during the Yilgarn-Goldfields gold rush and the multiple gold mines we see, constitute the richest square mile on earth. There are also nickel mines here plus the extracted gold is contaminated with about 8% “silver”. Bummer! The elevator next took us a level underground to a vault where we saw gold nuggets from various mines, plus jewelry that the successful prospectors had custom produced to celebrate their finds or to honor their current spouse. Professional jewelers followed the successful gold strikes and it is not a stretch to say that their customers were unsophisticated. Big hunks of polished gold predominated.

Downtown KalgoorlieDowntown KalgoorlieMine Head gantrydown to the vaultsO'Connor's pipeO'Connor's pipeO'Connor's pipe

The museum also had examples of extinct megafauna discovered in nearby caves. There was a sheep sized echidna and a marsupial lion, the latter looking like a huge beaver with very sharp teeth. There were all sorts of displays of period buildings and it was obviously hard living with the heat and lack of water in a goldrush boom town.

Next stop was Mt. Charlotte Lookout. C.Y. O’Connor was the engineer who conceived the plan to build a water pipeline from Perth to Kalgoorlie, a distance of 330 miles (530 kms). The pipeline was commissioned in 1896 and construction completed in 1903. The designer got caught up as a foil in a political campaign, was accused of incompetence and corruption and ridiculed in the local press. Although a later investigation completely cleared him of any corruption charges, 12 months before the pipeline was completed, he committed suicide. A meticulous planner to the end, he rode his horse out into the sea at Perth and then shot himself. A tragic end to a brilliant engineer. Mt. Charlotte is the site of the town water tank and the terminal of the pipeline. Examples of the pipeline construction methods were on display here. Two rectangular sheets of steel were bent into semi-circles and then inserted into an “H” shaped extrusion, sealing the joint between the sheets and thereby eliminating rivets. For the time, this was a daring innovation, since the customary rivets provided both potential leak points as well as disrupting the smooth flow of water. Although O’Connor’s pipeline has been upgraded in the past 110 years, I was impressed to note that over 50% of his original pipe is still in use.

Since it was lunch-time, we next visited the “Shaft Bar” at the Metropole hotel in nearby Boulder, where allegedly miners would pop up out of the ground for a quick beer before descending again to their diggings. The mine shaft is now covered by a plate of glass and you can peer down into the depths as you order your own beer. The bartender explained that the sides of the historic shaft are now collapsing due to shocks and vibration from the frequent nearby blasting operations in the working gold mines. However, the floor of the bar did not fall in whilst we were there.

Metropole HotelThe nut clubThe ShaftBrothelgold strike

Our final stop of day was for a tour of one of the last two working brothels in Kalgoorlie. The “madam” met us at the doorway, invited us inside to hear a lecture on the history and operating procedures of the house and then took us on a tour of the various bedrooms. The brothel is still operating as such but is down to a single girl (we didn’t get shown that bit). Back in the early days, the Kalgoorlie local government had moved all working girls to a single street and the local police force had rigidly controlled the trade. This lucrative arrangement had been destroyed by the Western Australia government easing all restrictions about fourteen years ago. Now the brothel faces fierce competition from foreign girls on a six week visitor’s visa, plus internet advertising has changed the whole sex trade. In addition, many of the miners are “fifo” meaning fly in, fly out and are no longer trapped here for years at a time, with only sheep and fellow miners for comfort.

November 6, 2014

For several days we had been hearing an occasional squeal from our Coaster bus, usually indicating a slipping engine belt. The main engine access for routine service is under a cover between the two front seats and from here you can only see one belt, a very wide one and it seemed tight enough. I checked the power steering fluid and it was OK too. This morning I decided I would “do the dirty” and slide under the bus to see where the power steering pump is, etc. To my horror, I immediately noticed that the main alternator bolt was unscrewed, protruding about an inch and held in place by friction alone. The alternator was serviced last year and apparently they never bothered to tighten this. I now had to undo the upper bolts, seen only with a mirror and flashlight from below, in order to get enough slack on the alternator belts so that I could coax the main “hinge” bolt back into position. I have now probably over-tightened the alternator and will blow the bearings next week. What a relief that this did not “let go” when crossing the Nullarbor! The vehicle would have been undriveable without that single bolt.

We had booked a tour of the Kalgoorlie “Super Pit”, the largest open pit gold mine in Australia and our Coaster drove to the downtown parking area without so much as a whimper. Kalgoorlie had some 3,000 traditional underground mines in the “golden mile”, dating back 110 years. They extracted the highest concentrations of gold ore but left “haloes” of rock, still containing gold but at lower concentrations. The “Super Pit” mine was begun in 1998 and targets this “left over gold”, producing about 22 tons of gold per year, by moving 15 million tons of rock in the process. I calculate that this is a little over 40 cubic feet of gold; that is a cube, three and a half feet per side.

We met our tour bus and predictably were issued with “day-glo”, high visibility shirts and safety glasses; our safety helmets we would receive when we stepped off the bus at view points. For me, the most spectacular objects on the tour are the 40 dump trucks used, American made by Caterpillar Corporation. They weigh 166 tons empty and carry 240 tons of rock per load. Their 2,300 h.p. engine can drive the truck at up to 35 mph and I would hate to step out in front of a 400 ton loaded vehicle, since the braking distance was not mentioned in the literature. These trucks cost $4.4 million apiece and would be a lot of fun on the freeway.

Dump truckThe pitshot hole drillsold workings visibletrucking out the ore

We drove between moving trucks, past maintenance yards and rock crushing operations to a view point at the edge of the pit. The excavation has reached about two and a half miles long and a mile across. The walls were sloped to reduce the risk of slides and so the base of the pit is about 2,000 feet down. We could look across empty space and see the far pit wall, riddled with the worm holes of previous traditional mines. It was strange to consider the men who had toiled deep underground for long decades, to dig these tunnels that we so casually glanced at. Below we could see the current “working level” with four immense “face shovels” lifting near 70 tons of blasted rock at a scoop and loading it into a waiting dump truck. There were exploratory drills taking core samples as well as shot hole drills preparing the next layer of rock to be blasted with ammonium nitrate charges. The drill core samples are analyzed and the results fed into a three dimensional computer model of the ore body indicating it’s quality. It is this model plus GPS tracking that determines whether a truck load of blasted rock is processed to extract gold or directed to a waste dump.

The original miners had denuded the surrounding countryside of timber for 20 miles in any direction and the subsequent dust storms were historical. This wasteland has now been replanted and water trucks sprayed “bore” water on all of the active roadways in order to keep down dust from the current mining operations. The bore water is reported to be some six times saltier than sea water and tremendously corrosive to machinery. The original miners used timber for posts, props and railroad ties in their mines and of course all had been abandoned below ground as the mines were worked out. The current open pit operation would dig up these abandoned artifacts and the ancient wood and twisted steel rails cannot be fed through the rock crushers and have to be separated from the ore. This must be done by hand and is the apprentice task of the mine, low paid and dangerous work.

Our bus then drove through the various rock crushers and these are multi-stage, reducing the blasted rock to a fine slurry. The slurry is processed in what looks like an oil refinery with a forest of tanks and pipes and a cyanide / electrolysis procedure is applied to extract the gold. An incredibly complex and expensive procedure to produce such a tiny volume of yellow metal having miniscule industrial uses. I am reminded that all of the gold discovered throughout human history, if gathered together, would make a cube of metal, about 65 feet per side.

A really good tour and we felt as though we understood the gold mining process as we headed out of Kalgoorlie, bound for Coolgardie. The rock shop in Coolgardie was a disappointment to Annette and the camel farm too was closed (potential site of petting baby camels), thus we didn’t linger, heading west again to the town of “Southern Cross” for the night. As we drove, we followed the route of O’Connor’s pipeline and noted that almost all pipe sections had the distinctive barred seam indicating that this was the “original” pipe from around 1900.

November 7, 2014

We continued west from the town of Southern Cross and the wheat fields appeared on both sides of the highway, plus occasional termite mounds, the first we have seen since Brisbane.

rabbit proof fenceO’Connor’s pipeline carrying water from Perth to Kalgoorlie was still to be seen, running parallel with the highway. As we approached Perth we saw that the pipe-line is of newer construction, machine welded and of bigger pipe diameter. There were sections with two parallel pipes and we assumed that the long term plan is to gradually replace all of the the 1900 vintage pipe with the larger, modern pipe.

We passed a railway train carrying some kind of ore and in fact passed it more than once, as we stopped for a break and it didn’t. Each time we just made it back in front before the barriers closed at the road crossings and before we had to do the “Dukes of Hazard” bit with a bus. On the outskirts of Perth our GPS hiccupped, (she gets bored occasionally) and took us off the four lane highway we were enjoying, onto a single lane sealed road with no center markings or verges. We humor her when she does this, because we get to see a part of Australia rarely seen by tourists. We passed isolated homesteads and pretty yards with flowering bushes and “muppet like” trees, resembling a sort of a giant yucca plant (Australian Grass Tree – Xanthorrhoea Preissii). I fully expected to see the fourteen camels pulling a wagon-load of of supplies on its way to the Wilson Sheep station but before this occurred, we popped back into civilization, onto a four lane highway with stop lights and signs telling you not to litter and killing people by driving fast is bad.

We were headed to a friends’ home, Tania, Barry, Jade and Lewis, whom we met in Broome last year. As we neared their home on the outskirts of Perth, a dozen or more kangaroos were hopping across an open meadow, just a few hundred yards from their driveway. It was a fun reunion and we parked our bus on their immaculate lawn, just inches from an impeccable rose garden (Tania told us to do it, honest!), while Barry fired up the barbeque. At one point in the evening, we heard in the background, a minor sibling squabble, “Mom, he’s come into my world and he’s shooting arrows at me!” The two children were on opposite sides of the room, each with an iPad, supposedly playing “minecraft”. I think that is truly when I realized, the world has changed and moved on. We are left behind.

November 8, 2014

Our hosts took off for scheduled ice skating lessons this morning and Annette and I took advantage of a slow day to catch up on chores. We first washed the bus, removing most of a thick layer of muck, accumulated over the past 3,000 kilometers. The day was sunny and not too hot and I took the opportunity to borrow Barry’s ladder to check out the bus roof. A minor paint blemish was fixed with Barry doing most of the work and then we headed to a marina / restaurant complex to see if we could get supper for six without a reservation. At the first restaurant we tried, we were told, “no way” and then moments later, the same waiter chased us down as we were leaving, to say they had a table of six, who had made a reservation but failed to show up. What serendipity! One of the few times when having a party of six pays off, as we waltzed past the waiting couples. A pleasant perambulation around the gift shops and boat docks followed. We always enjoy looking at boats and as you know by now, Annette simply hates gift shops.

November 9, 2014

Road trip day! Barry and Tania loaded us and the kids into the car for a trip to “the Pinnacles”, within the Nambung National Park, north of Perth. “How much further? I need to go potty! I need a drink of water!” – and that was just us; the kids were good as gold. The Pinnacles are thousands of limestone pillars, rising out of a sea of yellow sand the color of curry powder. The pillars are anything up to 15 feet high and are twisted, jagged and weathered. Some look like Halloween ghosts, some with sharp points and some “rather naughty”, observed Tania. We walked amongst these strange objects, speculating as to their origin. Some seemed to have fossilized worm tubes embedded, some looked like ferns and some with dendritic root structures. Our most popular postulate was that these were formed from a shallow reef system. At the visitor’s center, it was said that there were “conflicting theories” and the most popular was that these were the stumps of fossilized trees from a marsh environment. Rubbish! We have the correct idea - based upon our extensive research spanning over an hour!

The Pinnacles meditating Tania, Barry, Jade and Lewis Pinnacles, dunes and sea emu poop

From the Pinnacles we headed over to Hansen Beach to devour the wonderful sandwiches Tania had prepared, before the flies found us. We walked the beach and Annette found some kind of stranded sea slug, green and about the size of a small rabbit. She decided to “save it” by hurling it back into the sea but each successive wave dumped it back on the beach, looking a little more disheveled, if a slug can even look disheveled. Finally Tania came to the rescue with a long distance pitch that sufficed at least until we had driven away.

Indian Ocean Stromatolites deticking a skink

Just down from Hansen Beach was a salt lake containing Stromatolites, defined by Wikipedia as, “layered bio-chemical accretionary structures, formed in shallow water by the trapping, binding and cementation of sedimentary grains by biofilms microbial mats of microorganisms, especially cyanobacteria”. Got it? What we saw looked like giant warts, about a yard in diameter. The lake water is supposed to be one and half times more salty than the sea, thereby dissuading land animals from drinking or grazing here. These particular colonies were estimated to be 3,500 years old, amongst the world’s oldest living organisms. On the walk back along the trail to the car, Annette spotted a blue tongued skink, a chubby, short legged lizard about 18 inches long. It darted into the bush and hid but Annette reached in after it, pushing the scorpions and King Brown snakes aside and pulled it back onto the trail to examine. She then noticed that its ears were covered in bloated ticks; so she proceeded to de-tick it, whilst Jade and Lewis assisted by gleefully smashing the extracted ticks. I made her wash her hands afterwards and gave no sympathy when she itched and dreamt of ticks all night.

November 10, 2014

Last week we had a stone smack into the windshield and since then, there has been a crack, growing a couple of inches per day and bisecting our view of the world. We set out this morning for a nine o’clock appointment at O’Brien Glass Repair and with our allowance for rush hour traffic, arrived some twenty minutes early. Two men were already waiting for us at O’Briens and almost as soon as I put the brake on, they began tearing out the old windshield. These guys really looked like they had done this before and in less than an hour, Russell had installed a brand new piece of glass that sparkled better than when the bus left the Toyota plant. It is always instructive to watch skilled craftsmen. Unlike the USA experience, the bulk of the expense was picked up by our Australian insurance coverage and we were soon heading off down the road, willing the bugs to miss us.

Our destination was the Perth Mint, alleged source of Australian bank notes. We drove into the downtown area and found it clean, modern looking and bustling. Parking Found a nuggetwas an issue as the Perth downtown is business, not tourist oriented but we managed to squeeze into a “car” space, just overhanging a little and paid the meter. As we discovered, the Perth mint does not make the notes, just coins and bullion. The bullion is actively traded at the mint and so security was far more evident than at the Canberra Mint. Our parking meter time was limited, thus we did not linger and returned to our bus to find the wipers free of tickets.

Back on the highway again, we headed east from Perth to the town of York, a pristine little town with hundred and fifty year old, brick buildings lining the high street. We exited the information center and spotted a sign indicating a dump-site for our “cassette toilet” – an occupational habit of caravanners. This was located next to the town park with a sign advertising 24 hours, i.e. overnight parking available. Amazingly, there were unmetered power outlets along the parking area for use by the overnighters. We walked through the town and then headed for the Castle Hotel, established in 1853. The lady at the info center had given us a four page list of the eateries in town and then helpfully mentioned that the Castle was in fact the only one open. The meal there was great, as was the beer and we had but a half block walk back to the bus.

November 11, 2014

sock factorysock making machineThis morning we visited the York “sock factory”, the only one in Western Australia. Here we looked at the socks but instead bought merino wool / possum mix sweaters for each of us. Jackie, the energetic proprietor, plans to visit the USA with her husband in the near future and they want to rent Harley Davidson motorcycles and tour the famous “Route 66”. Until 1937, “Route 66” passed through Santa Fe, New Mexico, before the route was realigned to avoid some of the more daunting mountain passes and there are many historical buildings from this era that have survived.

Our road lay south along “The Great Southern Highway”. Tree lined, empty roads passing between hayfields with sheep grazing, some occasional cattle but no wildlife, except brightly colored parrots and the inevitable grey and pink galahs.

Aircraft museumplank gliderplank gliderflying fleaflying flea

Just north of Pingelly, there was a curious thump from the engine compartment, which didn’t sound like a rock. We pulled over and looked under the bus with a mirror. Just as suspected, one of two alternator belts was missing. In Pingelly, the lad at the fuel stop recommended we try Narrogin for parts and a mechanic. This was a further 50 kms. and I estimated that the remaining alternator belt was good for somewhere between two minutes and six months. We found the parts store immediately on the outskirts of town and they sold me a matched pair of belts before mentioning there is a Toyota dealership in town.

We headed over to Toyota Service and the service manager first told me they were swamped. He then looked over the bus, looked under the bus and disappeared. I was Working on the buspuzzled at first with his absence but assumed he would have been more definite with telling us to buzz off. He then returned, grabbed the bus keys from us, handed us another set of keys for a nearby Toyota Camry and told us to go and get a coffee back in town. We watched in fascination as he drove the bus to the edge of an ancient loading dock, with a junior mechanic guiding him. If the bus front wheels fell off the dock, it would have made for some interesting photographs but the edge of the dock did not crumble and the bus didn’t in fact roll over the edge. The purpose of the maneuver was apparent since the engine could now be accessed without a lift.

As instructed Annette and I drove our “loaner” into town, a few hundred yards at most and scoured the various stores until we got a call to say the bus was ready. The service manager had himself “helped” his junior mechanic work on our vehicle and warned us that the loose bolt had worn an “oval” hole in the alternator. To repair this the alternator housing would have to be replaced and what we have at present is a temporary fix that should enable us to reach an automotive electrical specialist shop in Albany to the south. The “old” alternator belt, sole survivor of the original pair was left inside the bus for us. I examined it and noted it had deep cracks in a half dozen places, extending more than half way through the rubber. Its life expectancy closer to the two minutes, rather than the six months end of the spectrum.

November 12, 2014

We continued south to the city of Albany, a pretty drive marred only by the fact that the wind was gusting violently, it was overcast and occasionally raining. We parked downtown and visited the information center, running between showers and leisurely ate our lunch in the bus while watching the downtown shoppers. I then realized that we were actually parked in a “one hour” zone and two slots from a “fifteen minute” zone. We hastily decamped and fervently hope that the enforcement mechanism isn’t some mysterious electronic version that sends you a bill a month or so later. We have an appointment to have our alternator checked at a shop tomorrow morning so we relocated a nearby caravan park and spent the afternoon catching up on chores.

November 13, 2014

Still blowing, raining and it’s cold! Thank goodness for heaters. We arrived promptly for our appointment with the auto electrical shop and everything was going swimmingly, until I pointed out that the Coaster has a 24 volt system. The required parts won’t be available until tomorrow morning and we decided to use the opportunity for some sightseeing. Our destination was “The Gap” rocks on the southern coast, inside Torndirrup National Park. The gap is a quarry-like, naturally formed “notch” in the south facing granite cliffs. The cliffs are around 80 feet high, the “gap” itself about 60 feet across and the drop from the cliff’s edge is sheer, to a rocky base with crashing waves from the Southern Ocean. We were later told that this is a popular local spot for suicides. The earth tectonics folks claim that this part of Australia was once attached to Antarctica and with the cold wind blowing over the ice floes and a faint smell of penguin, I believe it. We looked in awe as the waves crashed below us, gasping as the bitterly cold wind drove rain gusts at us and then we scurried over to the nearby natural rock arch where more waves were crashing below. If the weather had been a trifle warmer, I would have walked over the arch to see if it would bear my weight but we will need to “photo-shop” that picture.

The GapNatural BridgeAntarctic coastSucculentsCheynes bay

In the early days of settlement, the only viable industry as such, was whaling and the whalers arrived in numbers, about four years after the first colonists. Albany’s proximity to the Antarctic whale feeding grounds made it an important base for the industry and in 1952 the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company began operations. This was industrial scale whaling and continued until 1978, when the economics of whaling forced the company’s closure. The factory remains intact and together with the last whale chaser to operate in Australian waters, the M/V Cheynes IV, was preserved as a museum. The steam winches are no longer steam driven, hidden electric motors now turn the machinery and combined with hidden speakers and a sound system, provide a small taste of what it might have been like to work here. I say “small” since what was missing was the smell of decaying whale and the bang of rifles as a two man crew attempted to suppress the hundreds of sharks attracted by the blood. This factory was limited by regulation to a catch of 1,500 whales per year and the whale chasers would set out to the south on a two day trip, guided by Cessna aircraft spotters, to kill and harvest up to a score of the animals. The dead whales were towed back Cheynes Beach where steam winches would haul the 60 ton carcasses up a ramp for the fletching crew to strip the blubber for rendering to oil, while the balance of the carcass was boiled, ground and dried for animal feed. The huge whale oil storage tanks had been converted to movie theatres and we wandered from tank to tank watching short documentaries on the topics of whaling, sharks and the known biology of whales. In the old machinery shed, there were skeletons of various whales including an intact skeleton of a pygmy blue whale, nearly 80 feet in length. Adult Blue whales can be over a 100 feet in length weighing in at 200 tons. We had seen Humpback whales up close when we were sailing in Tonga but nothing like the size of these gentle monsters. An instructive visit but the lad at the grocery store checkout stated that he “hated” the Whaling Museum, because every year throughout elementary school and beyond, there was a school day trip followed by a necessary report. Perhaps if he had paid more attention, he wouldn’t be working as a grocery store checker today.

Whalersteam wincheshead sawcutting up whalescookerssperm whale skeleton

It was still raining, cold and blowing when we left the museum, so we called a “rain day”, to settle back at the caravan park with movies and popcorn.