September 2014


September 27, 2014

“UTC +10” That is what my computer tells me about our time zone and I believe it! We landed in Brisbane this morning, a few minutes before 5:00 a.m. and just before a glorious dawn. The sun had finally caught up with us. Our Qantas flight had taken off from Dallas Fort Worth airport in the darkness of 10:30 p.m. and we had followed the shadow of the earth around the planet, fleeing the sun for the next sixteen hours. A long night.

The Brisbane airport was empty, as you might expect at this time and as we emerged from the Customs area, we were hailed by our friend Ray Home, who works at this airport and who had arrived early at his workplace in order to meet our flight. We first met Ray with his wife on Easter Island a decade ago – they were on theirOZ Parrot honeymoon and we were taking a break from our circumnavigation, while our boat S/V DoodleBug was being hauled in Raiatea, French Polynesia to replace the propeller shaft oil seal. Small world! We sat with Ray at the terminal snack shop while we drank our first Australian beers and Ray, due to begin his shift, stuck with coffee. A short taxi ride to our hotel found it locked and barred with a sign indicating that they would not open the office for another thirty minutes at 7:00 a.m. The nearby coffee shop opened at the same hour, thus we sat at their outside table, drinking in the dawn, the scents of tropical flowers and the unfamiliar bird calls. Parrots flitted through the branches of the trees and we were amused by the strange laughing cry of a Raven.

Eventually the motel office opened and although we had requested an early check-in, this had been mistranslated as a “late check-in” and they were fully booked anyway, so no chance of an empty bed. They did find our reservation though, which always provides a good feeling. Okay, we had some hours to kill so we parked our suitcases and walked a half kilometer to a nearby shopping center, patiently awaiting the first batch of doughnuts to appear from the oven at the doughnut shop. Annette rarely buys doughnuts because she admits to zero self control when faced with collective pastries but this morning she was disappointed. They were not the hoped for Winchell’s clones but “yeast” or “cake” doughnuts. Shattered dreams – poor baby!

By 10:00 we were back at the motel with a room, shower and bed! A long trip but we are here, back in the Land of Oz! For those of you who are temporally challenged, the “UTC + 10” means that after correcting for “daylight savings”, we are now 15 hours ahead of Texas time.

September 28, 2014

We awoke this morning in pitch blackness at 0200 hours, abandoning further futile attempts at sleep. It is 1100 hours yesterday in Texas but it is already 0200 hours here in tomorrow. We scoured our suitcases for chargers, Australian power adapters and the now mandatory accouterments of modern life in the form of cell phones, laptops, iPads, Kindles and Wi-Fi servers. Once everyone had been updated and fed electricity, we ascertained that the world hadn’t changed much since we moved to the Southern hemisphere and whiled away the hours until the hotel restaurant opened and we could treat ourselves to a “full” breakfast. The temperature was around 60F, our fellow travellers dressed in shorts while Annette and I wore long pants and sweaters.

In late morning Ray picked us up to visit his beautiful home for a BBQ lunch and when we arrived, his two children, Jesse and Dakota were playing in their unheated swimming pool. Brrrr!! Ray and Jodi fixed an incredible amount of food to eat but around 5 o’clock we were falling asleep again and probably poor company.

September 29, 2014

This morning we managed to sleep an extra hour until 0300 hours. We took a taxi to a nearby Toyota dealer and rescued our Coaster motor-home. Torque Toyota had Jessie and Dakota help sort suppliesreplaced the heater core that failed during our trip last year and their body shop had similarly repaired the effects of our collision with a Wallaby. We set our next destination in our GPS and pulled out into traffic. The GPS that I had tested at the hotel yesterday, immediately died. Lost in Australia!Fortunately a nearby discount electronics store was able to remedy this defect with another GPS and we thus made our way to the driveway at Ray and Jodi’s house, plugged into their power and water before borrowing their car for an emergency beer run. What great hosts!

September 30, 2014

While Ed checked all the tires – a tedious process using a 12 volt compressor, filled the water tank et cetera, Annette unloaded the bus contents onto the driveway, sorted and repacked all. I performed the same process with the various tools, plus the stern locker that carries our BBQ, power cords and plumbing pieces. We are ready to go! Annette has been researching snail farms, bat rehabilitation and red kangaroo skins, so our destination is set for tomorrow to visit a snail farm in the Glass Mountains north of Brisbane.

October 1 - 15, 2014


October 1, 2014

Jodi and Ray are fantastic hosts and we reluctantly bade them farewell this morning and set off on the second stage of our walk-about. The Glass House mountains lie about an hour’s drive north of Brisbane and were so named by Captain Cook in 1770. I’m not sure how he spotted them from the coast but they reminded him of glass production in Yorkshire – presumably “slag heaps”. They are vertical volcanic plugs of hardened lava that stick up through the softer eroded material.

Snail FarmSnails roostingSnail

This is a beautiful and relatively undeveloped area lying in close proximity to a major city, traditional hunting grounds of the Gubbi Gubbi people (I’m not making this up!) and now home to Glasshouse Gourmet Snails, Queensland’s first commercial snail farm. Our Coaster ground its way up a very steep driveway and at the summit, we were met by the snail farmer Cliff and his trusty snail dog. Cliff was a fount of knowledge on all aspects of terrestrial pulmonate gastropod molluscs and began his tour with a pitch on the advantages of farm raised versus free range snails. Although snails have been part of the human diet for millennia, successful farming is a very recent development and very much a work in progress. There are three products, meat, serum and caviar. The snail meat we understand but the serum (basically snail slime used for cosmetics) and snail eggs are both labor intensive products to obtain and fetch a correspondingly high market price. The meat snails take some 9 months to grow to maturity, before being harvested and sold to a gourmet foods wholesaler for about 75 cents each. Cliff’s snail dog rooted around and behind the snail pens seeking mice and similar predators that might eat the livestock. Cliff spoke disparagingly of competition fuelled by the cheap labor costs of Yugoslavia, Columbia, the Philippines and beyond and seeing his tidy little farm in the Glass House Mountains, we were utterly convinced of the superiority of Queensland snails. Cliff offered Annette a snail to keep as a pet and I was astonished when she declined. She was concerned that the environment of the Coaster would be inadequate for such a charge.

October 2, 2014

We left the Glass House Mountains campsite this morning and headed north towards Beerwah, skirting the peaks of the mountain range, before heading west towards Kilcoy. Banks of mist lay in the folds in the ground and the low cloud layer provided a subdued light as we glimpsed the individual peaks of the Glass House Mountains. Just beyond Kilcoy, we turned south towards the Somerset Dam with vistas of Lake Somerset on our port side. Once past the dam, the road switched sides of the valley and Lake Wivenhoe lay to starboard. A very pretty drive.

Our destination was the town of Ipswich where Brian, a local taxidermist, had promised Annette some Red Kangaroo skins. Brian’s house was on stilts and he had converted the entire area below into a workshop. He had a wild boar’s head that he had just completed mounting, plus several heads of African game that were under construction. Brian explained that Red Kangaroos were protected by government law but that he owned a recreational permit to shoot some number. He was not allowed to sell the skins, so he simply gave them to Annette. What a kind gesture! He was looking for a “good home” for his skins and Annette promised just that.

Red kangaroo skinsMaryvale hotelMaryvale hotel bar

Leaving Ipswich, we headed south, crossing Australia’s Great Dividing Range through Cunningham’s Gap. Our goal was to reach the Old Maryvale Hotel for the night. This pub was built by an American survivor of the Great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. When he arrived in Maryvale he decided that the geology was similar to San Francisco so he built the hotel with a steel frame in order that it would be earthquake proof. The current owners are in the process of renovating this building and showed us the exposed steel beams and framing. We are not yet adjusted to this time zone so we had a couple of drinks in the bar, ordered our dinners for 1800 hours and took a nap in our bus, parked behind the hotel. In good time our alarm woke us so that we could stagger back to the pub for an excellent dinner of macadamia nut crusted barramundi. The landlord showed us the various treasures he had collected over the years and we admired his “moonstone”, one of the largest we had seen. He disappeared into the bowels of the pub and reappeared a few minutes later to give Annette a cut and polished half of a smaller moonstone.

October 3, 2014

Last night was cold and since we were free camping in the pub parking lot, we had no electricity to run our heater. Breakfast consisted of several cups of coffee and tea and we decided to just hit the road early so that we could run our newly repaired in-cab heater. It didn’t work! Cold air poured through the floor vents as we drove. Eventually the temperature gauge had moved up to its normal position and so our hope evaporated. We pulled into a highway rest area and I removed the engine cover. This is inside the bus, between the front seats and the engine heat warmed the bus even though it was a little smelly. I gazed in horror at the heater hoses that were capped and not hooked up to the engine. I pulled the invoice from the dealership. The invoice read, “road tested, all OK”. Bullshit! It was still too early to call the dealership but we reversed direction in the hope that they might fix the problem on the spot. We were three hours drive from Brisbane and after an hour, we pulled over to call. The sales rep assured us that their first opening for service was a week from today. The manager was on holiday and there was no “Assistant Manager”. We asked to speak to the representative we had been dealing with but she was unavailable for another hour but would call us. Two hours later, we called again and were given the message that they would fit us in, first thing on Tuesday morning since Monday is a holiday in Queensland. By now we were back on the outskirts of Ipswich and we found a large auto-parts store. I bought hose clamps and anti-freeze and then tried to work out the heater hose combination. The bus originally had two heaters but the rear heater for the passenger compartment had been removed during conversion to a motor-home. There were three hose outlets from the engine. Each heater used two. Two outlets would work if the heaters were in series or four if not - but three? After an hour of puzzling through internet diagrams and crawling under the bus in the parts store parking lot, I found a “T” junction on the return pipes. Mystery solved!

Checking for leaksRobert and his Shetlands

While we had been occupying the parking spaces in the parts store parking lot, a couple had approached us to admire the Coaster bus. When I told “Robert” our plans, he invited us to park on his property where he could provide power and a water hook-up. The clincher was that he told Annette that he had “baby horses” on his three acres. Sold! Our GPS found its way to his property and while Annette explored the horse situation, I worked on reconnecting the heater hoses to the engine. This took me two hours of struggling as I hoped to retain most of my skin while struggling at odd angles to remove rubber hoses that had become welded to their various pipes. Finally it was done and I fired up the engine. The good news was that the system did not leak. The bad news was that the heater still did not work. Bugger! In times like this you do the obvious thing. Take a shower, drink a pre-dinner beer and then we headed out with Robert in his car to a nearby restaurant. Robert had served in the Vietnam War as a member of Australia’s 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, attached to the US 173rd. Airborne Division. He had recently returned from a reunion held in San Antonio, Texas, just north of our place on Padre Island. He was a charming host and fun companion.

Annette reports that Robert had purchased his two Shetland ponies to keep grass down on his property and thereby limit the number of snakes.

October 4, 2014

There seemed two possibilities concerning the recalcitrant heater. The first was that somehow there was too much air in the unused heater hoses, heater core and the like and there was some kind of air-lock. I topped up the radiator reservoir overflow in the hope that this might “bleed out” in the act of driving. The second option was that the repair shop had forgotten to connect the cable that operated the on / off valve. This would not be pretty but I determined to see if I could access this after we stopped for the evening.

To this end we bade Robert farewell and headed back along the highway towards Brisbane. After ten minutes or so, hot air was coming from the heater outlets, it was working! We exited the freeway and pulled into the parking lot of a large shopping mall in order to regroup. A check of the engine compartment and no coolant leaks - victory! Now we don’t have to hang around Brisbane until Tuesday.

It was still way too early for shopping and Annette fixed bacon, eggs and toast at our parking lot campsite as we waited for the mall to open. There was a movie theatre in the mall and after shopping for a few grocery items, we bought movie tickets for the 10:00 a.m. showing of “The Maze Runner” a similar theme as “The Hunger Games”, perhaps appealing more to teenagers or to the kind of people who watch movies at 10:00 a.m.

During Annette’s various shopping expeditions she had found gifts for Jodi’s family and now wanted the chance to deliver them, thus we fired up the bus and headed back to the north to Jodi and Ray’s place, camping out again in their driveway. As before, Ray overwhelmed us with the food he cooked on his backyard BBQ. He is a fine BBQ chef but by the time we had finished off the second round of appetizers, we were replete and there was no hope of cramming in dinner, at least not without resorting to Roman methods involving chicken feathers.

October 5, 2014

Since we no longer need the Tuesday service appointment, we pointed our bus to the south in the sparse traffic of a Brisbane Sunday morning, only this time, our route lay along the Lindesay Highway to Woodenbong in New South Wales and from thence to Bonalbo. We camped beside the river, amongst tall trees and birdsong. In the river below there was a turtle sunning itself on a log and a pair of large lizards doing whatever it is lizards do in springtime. A couple who had been camping nearby had stopped to chat when a four foot long black snake with red underside, slid by us some six feet away. The Australians jumped backwards with alacrity exclaiming that this was one of the deadliest snakes on the continent. They must have been city folks though, because our snake guide book states that there have been no known fatalities in adults from this specie. Nevertheless we were suitably impressed when we saw just how fast that sucker moved through the undergrowth when alarmed.

Black Snakechanging the flatWoodenbong campinga beggar

Annette planned to BBQ this evening and as I hauled the grill out from our stern locker, I was discomfited to see that our front left tire was near flat. I dragged out the 12 volt air compressor and plugged it in. After the tire was perhaps 80 percent re-inflated, the compressor quit and in the ensuing silence, I could hear air hissing from a leak. Not the valve stem - I was going to have to change this for the spare. The location for a jack was poor, hard dirt on a slight slope but it worked, we didn’t drop the bus off the jack and managed to get the spare tire installed. The air compressor did not reset itself after a temperature overload as I had hoped and a meter showed that the fuse in the 12 volt “cigarette” type plug had burned out. We have no replacement fuse but the spare tire itself has enough air in it to be drivable. Meanwhile, Annette had lost none of her cooking skills and our supper was grilled steak, green beans, marinated and grilled aubergine plus a huge Australian avocado. The adventure continues.

October 6, 2014

This morning marks the first time we have seen “live” kangaroos in Australia! A mother plus her “Joey” grazing on the opposite side of the road from our parked bus. Today is a national holiday throughout Australia and a “down” day for us. By 9:00 a.m. we were the only inhabitants of the caravan park other than the magpies, parrots, doves and the like. If the large black snake returned, we didn’t see him.

October 7, 2014

First thing on the schedule after leaving the campsite this morning was to drive over to the local tire repair. The mechanic was obviously busy and made muttering noises about previous work commitments but I nevertheless unloaded the wheel from its stowage under the bus and rolled it to the door of his business. He continued to roll the wheel into the depths of his workshop and reappeared some twenty minutes later showing me that the inner tube had split along a seam. He had replaced the tube with a new one but because he was “rushed”, I didn’t ask him to remount the tire on the front and instead, stowed the now repaired tire back under bus. I do want to run my newest tire on a front wheel and will need to find the combination of level, hard ground for the jack, plus willing mechanic / operator.

(Note: "split rims" used to be common on heavy vehicles that might be used "in the bush". The split rim had some mechanism, circlip or whatever, so that the rim could be separated safely from the wheel as long as the tire was deflated. You could then slide the tire off the wheel without special tools and repair a "flat" by either patching or replacing an inner tube - just like a bicycle tire. Thus our Coaster uses tubes inside the tires. I am told that "for safety reasons", the modern buses uses tubeless tires like modern autos) 

Clarence River bridgeroadside flowersgas pumpmailboxguarding the drive

We wanted to continue driving south on the Dividing Range but our proposed route through Baryulgil and Barretts Creek lay along unpaved roads. We have just paid to have the paint on the front of the bus restored from the ravages of stone chips and saw no point in repeating the procedure. Instead, we cut through on a minor road, little more than single lane width blacktop, to the tiny village of Tabulam, before heading west to Tenterfield and then south to Glen Innes. The mountain roads were near empty of traffic, winding with steep inclines followed by equally steep descents. We growled down these slopes in low gear with the diesel exhaust brake snarling. During our previous Australian visits I had remarked upon the near total absence of sheep. Now the passing fields were bursting with the creatures, if fields can burst that is. The spring lambs were gamboling and brought instant thoughts of mint sauce. The signs at the driveways to the various farms claimed Merino sheep; just wool then, no mint sauce?

That afternoon we passed through Glen Innes and pulled into the “Glen Rest” caravan park where we had stayed in March, 2013.

October 8, 2014

This morning we visited “Manuel” the goat, the famous tire eater. Since our 2013 visit he has been relocated to the far end of the park to reduce the impact of his vehicle chewing habits. He had also had his horns trimmed, and owner Brigitte related the tale that when he was loaded into the back of the vet’s “ute” (pickup-truck), she realized that he had never been away from “home” before. He let out a single plaintiff “Maaa” as the truck drove off and she burst into tears. Sorta like the first time your kindergartner leaves on the school bus.

Manuel and his mother Spirit of the Southern Cross Mountain pastures

Our drive continued south through the towns of Armidale and Walcha towards Gloucester. A beautiful drive on near empty highways, between mountains, and blazing green pastures fed by spring rains.

October 9, 2014

We camped the night in Gloucester, adjacent to the Gloucester River and set off south again in the morning, along the “Thunderbolt’s Way” highway, to the coastal town of Newcastle. The highway was named for a local bushranger, Captain Thunderbolt. Captain Thunderbolt was a famous criminal who escaped from a work gang at Cockatoo Bay. I suppose that the USA has celebrated criminals such as Al Capone, Jesse James and Billy the Kid but we usually only name highways after successful criminals that have served in Congress.

We now seemed to enter a different Australia. Gone were the signs advertising brick throwing contests, the sleepy towns surrounded by fields that reminded us of Wales but without the stone walls. Now we were back in the realm of heavy traffic and urban sprawl. We wanted to visit a Sydney based RV consignment broker on Friday morning and headed for a nearby caravan park in the Sydney suburb of Emu Plains. However the park was renovating their power system and had no sites available for us to stay. Instead they kindly called around and found us a spot at Avina Village in the suburb of Vineyard, some 40 kms. back to the northeast where we had just driven from. The Avina Village campsite remains memorable in that it is the only place we have seen live “wild” bunnies on this trip.

October 10, 2014

We visited the “Sydney RV Group” since they advertise themselves on the internet as “consignment brokers” and we had successfully sold our USA based motorhome through consignment broker PPL Motorhomes in Houston, Texas. We are not ready to sell yet but wanted to avoid surprises when we do come to sell our bus. The Sydney RV Group people were very friendly and helpful but it soon became apparent that “consignment broker” means something completely different in Australia. In the USA, you agree with the broker on a commission rate and thus the broker is incentivized to sell your vehicle for the maximum price possible - which is good for both parties. In Australia, you agree to a price with the broker, which is the price you "might" receive. If the broker sells the vehicle way above this price, he keeps the difference. If forced to take a lower price, the broker returns to the seller and they agree to lower the price the seller will receive, so that there is “sufficient” profit for the broker. It is like selling your car to a used car salesman but you don’t get paid until he resells your car and if he doesn’t get enough margin, he can come back to you and lowers your take. What a sweet deal for the broker! No inventory costs, no downside risk. Of course this is true of USA consignment brokers but in the latter case, the good fortune of a high sale price is shared between the parties.

Somewhat despondent, we left Sydney with its traffic and drove to Australia’s capital city of Canberra, camping at the spacious Exhibition Park campground.

October 11, 2014

Laundry day! It was more of a catch up on everything day and we “hung” at the Exhibition Park Campgrounds, reading, chatting to people, catching up on e-mails and the like. Last evening’s supper was grilled lamb chops, grilled marinated potatoes, grilled chipati (flat bread) plus Bok Choy salad with Ranch dressing. This however was just the warm up and today the fare escalated to grilled bacon wrapped shrimp, cashew pilaf, grilled zucchini, grilled pineapple and iceberg lettuce salad with tangerine segments in a dressing of balsamic vinegar and basil infused olive oil plus tangerine “zest” (that’s little bits of chopped up tangerine rind for the ignorant - like me). Yes, camping involves so many hardships.....

October 12, 2014

This morning we roused ourselves from our calorie induced torpor and set off to go sightseeing. Our first stop however was a level piece of empty parking lot where I swapped the “spare” tire on the front axle for the tire I had repaired a couple of days ago. This is the fifth time I have removed a wheel from the bus and now have the procedure down to around thirty minutes. Another six months of this and we will be ready for the pits at the Indy 500.

Our next destination was the Royal Australian Mint where Australia’s coinage is produced. They use German manufactured machines to strike the coins and these are fed Canberra mint Spanish dollars and served by robots. The men who watch the robots weren’t working on a Sunday so the machines sat idle, surrounded by mountains of coin blanks and finished product. The building security seemed very light and I was reminded that the UK ships their coins to the various banks as rail freight and without any security whatsoever. The mint had exhibit examples of coin mis-strikes, made during the manufacturing process plus coin forgeries. I was puzzled as to why anyone would bother to forge a coin, considering the effort it would likely take. Then I saw the examples of forged 1930 pennies. Only about 1500 were actually minted because this was during the Depression and the coins were not distributed that year. Apparently someone decided to hand them out about a decade later. It is thought that perhaps they were exchanged with tourist’s coins during mint tours in the 1940’s. Nevertheless, they are extremely rare and we saw examples where forgers had glued a zero onto, say a 1936 penny, after grinding off the “6”. Other attempts had been to change the “8” to a “0” on a 1938 penny. Interesting place.

Annette had picked up a brochure for an Aboriginal Art Gallery on the north side of Canberra and we next drove out to take a look. The gallery was fairly small although the owner indicated that they carried more than a 1,000 pictures of Aboriginal art on their web-site – available for viewing “in the flesh” by appointment. They did have a painting hanging in the gallery by an artist (Ningura Napurrula) that Annette has already collected but the asking price was unattractive. They also had a decorated “burial log” that she has been lusting after but the proprietor indicated that they would not provide assistance with shipping, so we moved on.

We parked at the Australian War memorial and immediately heard the sound of bagpipes and drumming. Scattered across the grounds of the memorial, usually in the shade of one of the beautiful mature trees, was a man sitting at a portable table and nearby a solitary piper or solitary drummer. What we were watching was a solo performance competition for pipe or drum, for the Canberra Caledonian Society band members. Just about everyone was wearing a kilt and sporran – even the police officer on duty. I pointed out to Annette the near mandatory dirk tucked into the the right sock. When Annette asked a group of pipers if she could take their picture, I was amused when one of the pipers restored himself to full highland dress, by swapping the more practical Australian stockman’s hat he was wearing for a Tam O’ Shanter. The pipers were amazing and I could but think of when Alan Breck Stewart challenged Robin MacGregor to a battle of the pipes, rather than settle their quarrel with swords – OK, so it was fictional – “Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stephenson but a great story.

Drum competitionPiper practicingHighland competitorsSimpson and his donkey

There was a 17 year old girl (according to her grandfather we were chatting to at the time) who played a solo drum with the most amazing “flourishes” of the drumsticks. This is baton twirling on steroids but when you come down and bash the drum with the stick, you actually have to hit it in time with the rest of the music. Tricky.

Inside the memorial is a museum with all sorts of aircraft, guns, uniforms and weapons on display, covering the various conflicts that Australia has participated in from the Boer War, then nationhood and the blooding at Gallipoli in the First World War, before the slaughter of the Western Front; The desert war in North Africa and the amphibious jungle wars against the Japanese in the Second World War; Korea, Vietnam, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan in modern times. We had visited this museum and shrine before in 2006 but it remains a humbling reminder of the sacrifices that Australia has made in such a short period of history, on behalf of freedom and at what a cost.

It was now getting late and we headed towards the Exhibition Grounds and our campsite, looking out for a restaurant. There were busy shopping centers, likely crawling with restaurants but with multi-story car parks and nowhere we could fit a bus. As we left the downtown area we spotted an establishment promising “Turkish Pizza”. We parked in front, ordered our pizza from the Asian cook and walked next door to buy beer. We then sat drinking beer at a sidewalk table and the Asian Turkish cook Bird protectorsbrought out our pizza. I had ordered lamb pizza and it was very tasty. More of a “Calzone” than a pizza but excellent nonetheless. As we sat eating our supper, there was a group in the park opposite skipping ropes for exercise and several bicyclists rode past wearing helmets of course but with what looked like electrical nylon “zip” ties sticking out of the top of their helmets. We had similarly seen motorcycle riders with such appendages and had speculated as to what their conceivable purpose might be. Annette returned to the liquor store to ask and was told that they are used to dissuade magpie attacks. Before you laugh, we have been warned about magpie attacks in several parks and have even seen warning signs. Hitchcock, you were right!

October 13, 2014

Monday morning in Australia and Annette calls the Casella winery in Yenda, New South Wales to see if they do tours. Casella’s brand is “Yellow Tail” wines, found all over the USA and Yenda is a tiny hamlet lying at the southern end of the Lachlan Range in the middle of the State. The red lines indicating major highways thin out on this part of the road map. Annette spoke to Les Worland, who checked his schedule and set an appointment for the morrow. We left Canberra northwards on the Barton Highway towards Yass on a cold morning with overcast skies and rain showers. Beyond Yass, we left the motorways and drove northwest towards Harden along empty two-lane farm roads. We were now grateful that we had taken the time to repair the cab heater.

Kelpie monument Ardlethan main street Mother's mailbox Wet roads

Afternoon found us in the delightful village of Ardlethan where we stopped at the tiny IGA grocery store. Ardlethan is the “home of the Australian Kelpie”, a working dog, famous for its prowess in herding cattle, sheep and goats. There was a plaque and bronze statue extolling the virtues of the Kelpie both as a working animal and as a pet, plus a warning that bored and idle Kelpies are famous for amusing themselves, in manners that their owners might not find so entertaining. There were other places we could have camped that were closer to our destination but Ardlethan was the only location that promised powered sites and we wanted to run our cabin heater for the anticipated cold night. Across from the IGA was “free” overnight camping, adjacent to the local bowling club which even offered four metered power outlets at the rate of $2 for 12 hours power. Unfortunately this great deal had already been taken by four fellow travellers. The next option was an in-town caravan park and our iPad based guide indicated that we should “pay and get the key” from the IGA. The IGA sent us next door to a “sundries” store selling local crafts, knitted goods, jewelry, crockery and the like and the proprietor said that her mother was now operating the caravan park. We paid her $20, $10 for the overnight plus a $10 deposit for the key to the toilet / showers / laundry. Since we were leaving relatively early in the morning, we would drop off the key at “mother’s” mailbox and she would similarly leave the $10 refund in the mailbox. This is so charming and a reminder of country values. The other occupants of the campsite were extended members of a large family, attending a reunion / birthday party a 100 attending the dinner and 300 attending the reception. They had travelled from all over Australia and New Zealand and although we chatted for a while, the cold soon drove every into their respective campers.

October 14, 2014

Early start for us. By 8:30 a.m. we were rolling, heading for “mother’s” mailbox to drop off our key and hopefully collect our deposit. Sure enough, we found the driveway marked by two stone lions and the mailbox containing an envelope enclosing our $10 refund. Our destination this morning was the Casella winery in Yenda and we followed the signs for “Staff Entrance”, parked and pressed a red button next to an impressive turnstile entrance. A disembodied voice enquired as to our business and apparently the security cameras were satisfied, as a loud click enabled the turnstile security gate to operate and we were admitted. It was still cold and rainy and we filled out a form with our details, so that we could be outfitted with security badges, day-glo safety vests, helmets and safety glasses. By this time our guide “Les”, the plant Public Relations, Education and Training manager had arrived to tour us through the sprawling facility. The winery is the largest family owned operation in Australia, exports more than 12 and 1/2 million cases of wine per year to 50 plus different countries, accounting for a third of Australia’s wine exports. They process almost 10 percent of Australia’s grape crush in this facility, seemingly in the “middle of nowhere” (each kilo of grapes produces a 750 ml. bottle of wine). For the next two hours Les took us on a bewildering tour through warehouses, fermentation vats, bottling plants, laboratories, packaging, shipping and crating operations. Although the period of grape harvest and wine-making is only for three months per year, the storage of product, packaging and distribution is a year around process. Some of the rooms we visited required us to sterilize hands and cover jewelry and hair with sterile surgical type caps before we entered. Les was a fountain of knowledge and we remain so very grateful that he took the time to take us on this memorable and amazing tour. We will likely never in conscience be able to drink anything other than Yellowtail wine ever again. The Casella family came to Queensland in 1957 from Sicily and worked as seasonal workers in the cane fields. In 1962 they moved to New South Wales and three years later purchased a small mixed horticultural farm in Yenda. Today the original family farmhouse stands in the middle of this industrial scale complex, dwarfed by million lire storage tanks as though in the middle of an oil refinery. An amazing story of business success.

The original home backyard storage home brew wine tank farm The pipes have names blended wines

ageing the wine American barrels The bottling plant Wine conveyor wine for shipment

As we drove south, the rain came down harder with a strong cross-wind tugging at the steering. At one intersection there was a barricade with police cars and we were waved off on a long diversion due to a traffic fatality that morning. The farm roads were almost empty but along the mowed verges were clusters of parrots, feeding upon grass seeds. Occasionally we would see the flash of iridescent green as they took to flight but mostly there were groups of a dozen or so pink, grey and white Galahs. These would launch airborne like a cloud of chrysanthemums but the magpies however, showed their equanimity by just walking a little closer to the road’s edge as though disdaining physical effort. Finally the bank of dark clouds were behind us, the windshield clean and unspotted with water droplets and the blue skies of a “screen-saver” sky ahead. We turned off the cab heater just before we stopped for the night at a caravan park on the outskirts of Hay, NSW.

October 15, 2014

When we had arrived at the park last night, I had asked the proprietor if we could get the bus serviced in town. He promptly called the local Toyota dealer and they agreed to fit us in for an oil change at 4:00 p.m. tomorrow. Great! I had been dreading the usual, “Might fit you in next May” response. Since we were now staying two nights in Hay, we had a slow start to the day and then headed out to buy a computer mouse, mine having conveniently died a month out of warranty. While I tested the new mouse, Annette stocked up on groceries and then we headed over to the Shear Heritage Museum.

spring bloomsspring blooms

This place was a great stop and brought home to us the importance of wool in Australia’s past. The original settlers in 1788 brought sheep with them but within twelve months, all but one had been eaten by the hungry convicts and guards. In 1796 the Governor had sent a ship to Cape Town to buy cattle and the expedition returned with 26 sheep of Spanish Merino descent. From this beginning the huge Australian herds were derived, with the number of animals peaking in the 1970’s. Then followed the collapse of wool prices due to reduced world demand plus competition from cotton and synthetic fibers. The problem was that wool was three times the price of these alternatives and although wool was still preferred for high quality fabrics, the new technology synthetics were having a huge impact on textile production. The Australian government tried to prop up the wool price by buying the surplus production but eventually this became too expensive. Australian output dropped by 35% in the 1990’s and only stabilized somewhat when the Australian producers began to concentrate upon the finest merino wool.

The flockshearing a sheepsheareda sheared fleecestoring the bales

The work of the shearer was much more physical than I had ever realized. They were (and are) traditionally paid per sheep shorn and it takes 2 to 3 minutes per animal. Before power shears were introduced, the men used “blades”, basically spring based scissors and so the effort to operate these required huge physical effort. The men worked in four two hour stints per day; a 30 minute "smoko" break in the morning, during which they would have followed their huge breakfast with tea and sandwiches; the next two hours session was followed by an hour break for lunch and an afternoon 30 minute break would include more snacks. While they were working, their heart rate would be steady at around 155 beats per minute and their calorie intake around 8,000 calories per day – very similar to Tour de France cycling competitors. Champion shearer Jackie Howe sheared 321 sheep in 7 hours 40 minutes in 1892 using hand shears. He is reported to have had hands like "small tennis rackets" and his biceps were so large, he supposedly cut the sleeves from his shirt in order to remove the constriction. The sleeveless shirts, since known as "Jackie Howe's" in Australia (and called "wife beaters" in the USA) are a de rigueur vestment for todays shearers. Howe was a trades unionist and active during the shearer strikes of 1891 and 1894 and of course we will remember that the song "Waltzing Matilda" concerned events at an 1894 shearer's strike at Dagworth station, Queensland.

It was an education to see and realize how many people were employed in a shearing operation, from the cooks who fed the workers to the "experts" who repaired and maintained powered equipment and cutting tools; then there were all of the workers to clean up the cut wool, sort and grade the wool as to quality, before it was packed and compressed into bales for shipment. We watched a live demonstration of a sheep being shorn in about 2 1/2 minutes (using power shears) and it was as well that the shearer was so swift, as we had our 4:00 pm appointment to get our Coaster oil change and we needed to scurry.