24. Farewell Australia

So we have wended our way down this fantastic continental east coast. Sue lives in the hinterland of Sunshine Coast which has confused me somewhat. Initially I thought it was an area then it appeared to take on a more specific dimension as if it was a city but has now reverted to the the collection of towns in this particular area. Much like Gold Coast, a little further south.

imag4111She took us on a little tour of this area behind the beaches, our first stop was a walk through a section of rain forest. We hadn’t managed to really visit one so far despite our original intentions to go to Daintree when we were to have travelled north of Cairns. However, this gave us an opportunity to experience a sub-tropical area with relatively few visitors. The fig vines were amazing, the seeds embedding themselves high on the trees and then releasing huge long ‘roots’ down  to the ground, in endless spirals, before almost strangling the original hosts. The noise of the bird-life ensured that there was no quiet but the peace was still remarkable.

imag4110Across the road from the car park we could gaze down on the Glass House Mountains. A succession of rather large hills and mountains, rearing up out of the coastal plain. There was a degree of similarity to the mesas of Monument Valley in Utah but then some of the monoliths were rounded rather than jagged. Something else I will need to look up when wifi allows.

Our next stop was lunch outside a pub in Monteville, of which Sue was interested to hear our impression. The place was supposed to be akin to an English country village. I would have to admit that I haven’t come across as picturesque a place on home shores as this was. Perhaps it had the advantage of being built on the top of a precipice overlooking the coast, maybe it was the colonial style verandas on most of the buildings whose previous role had been residential but was now commercial or even just the glorious sunshine!

imag4125It was lovely to indulge in a long lazy lunch with no real concern about the time, probably more-so than a prolonged evening meal if you are able to sit outside under the dappled shade of spreading boughs whilst being entertained by an acoustic guitar and vocalist performing popular 80s rock numbers. We were in no rush because our next stop was Sue’s camel dairy and we would try to coincide with them. coming in for the night when the mums and calves are separated (except for the really little ones) until after milking in the morning; they aren’t milked in the evening.

 

imag4120The camels were a very peaceful placid bunch, a fast walk being the most strenuous activity.imag4121 The babies, ranging from 6 weeks to 18 months were very used to humans and handling. They go through the dairy with their mums and can even suckle on one teat if need be, whilst the others are attached to the portable milker. The 16 or so cows deliver around 50 litres a day (whilst feeding their calf as well) of rather lovely and apparently very healthy milk. We tried some from Sue’s fridge which was less than 24 hours old and unpasteurised, it was delicious, creamy without being claggy, with no particular flavour. We didn’t try it pasteurised, which it has to be to be sold, though, not for any particular reason, it just wasn’t available.

Unfortunately, due to politics and personality issues, Sue is working her notice and is rightly concerned about the ongoing welfare of these magnificent beasts but has had enough. What is it about camel owners?! Whilst we were there she had been rung by the camel keeper at the nearby Australia zoo run by Steve Irwin’s legacy so hopefully she will be able to pass on and extend her knowledge of these vastly under-appreciated (in the western world) animals.

imag4149imag4158Our final stop was Brisbane. We arrived at lunchtime and were due to fly out the following evening. I had booked us in to a rather quaint little guest house beside a row of backpackers hostels! It was surprisingly quiet and we appreciated the peace as well as the history of this heritage listed building. Despite being a last-minute booking we did manage to secure probably the largest room in the house with generous bathroom to boot. imag4155We walked down to the river after dumping our bags and jumped on the free river ferry which meanders up and down the inner-city area. It was a beautiful sunny day (again!) so we enjoyed our cruise from the top of the boat, appreciating all the views. Towering corporate blocks dwarf the not inconsiderable historical buildings along the waters edge and the motorway has been built out from the north bank to run along the river, the south side being preserved for parks, gardens and recreation.

imag4165Our final day dawned grey and humid, by the time we departed in the late afternoon it was raining, as it had on the day we arrived in Adelaide! We seem to have spread rain (and subsequent happiness) almost everywhere we have gone in this notoriously dry (at this time of the year, just coming in to the wet/cyclone/flood season of summer) climate. However, due to the warmth, the rain wasn’t a problem and we still managed to enjoy a free guided tour and then a wander around the botanical gardens where we learnt that the rather dainty but very common large bird we had encountered in several places was an ibis and that we had visited the city in one of its most picturesque 3 weeks of the year when the Jacaranda trees are in full bloom. We had started to notice these glorious lilacy-mauve trees from just south of Hervey Bay and their almost iridescent blooms had become more and more prolific the further we travelled. This is their prime time and they did look magnificent.

We are now sat in Dubai airport after an uneventful first leg of our journey home. We are now delayed because it was only on looking for our gate number for this connection that we noticed that somewhere in amongst our travel information our destination had changed from Gatwick to Heathrow! The car hire is booked at Gatwick but the luggage is going straight through to Heathrow. For the first time Emirates’ service did not shine when we pointed this out, as if it was our fault that we didn’t notice that they had changed our destination as well as the flight time (which we had noticed). A bit of a black mark against them and as a now avid Trip Advisor contributor, comments may need to be made!! Heyho, could have been worse, could have been diverted in to another country but 5pm on a weekday is not a good time to be having to drive around the M25 any more than necessary after nearly 5 months in the outback. Driving cars, particularly on motorways is going to be enough of a culture shock as it is after such an amazing experience ‘sans voitures’.

23. Hervey Bay

We have enjoyed a week long holiday in that well known resort of Hervey Bay! We possibly were the only non-Antipodeans in residence. It is actually the jumping off point for one of the best whale watching areas on this continental east coast and to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. Much like the Isle of Wight of our youth we just sat on the beach looking at it but didn’t actually venture across the narrow straights to explore this world heritage sight.

imag4108We were fortunate enough to secure a rather nice one bedroom apartment for a reasonable price and spent considerable amounts of time sitting on our balcony, overlooking the marina. Unexpectedly, the best time was between 5.30 and 7am! The sun was up, shinning on our little patch but not yet too hot, that came at about 8am! From this position we could observe the marine community waking and opening up. It may have been early but it is certainly the more comfortable time of day. The first whale watching boat departed from beneath us at 7am followed by 2 more at 8.30, by which time were ready to start the day, having already luxuriated in a lazy start and several cups of tea. Fortunately this time did suit us because if it hadn’t we would have be woken by the ever efficient waste disposal trucks executing their processes alongside our building any time from 5am onwards!

imag4093imag4100The only day that this didn’t happen was Sunday, a day of rain, all day rain, not unlike England in its greyness. We were compelled to stay in, but didn’t object. After all we just had to make use of the spa bath (an unexpected upgrade) and had done a shop for groceries only the day before. There had been quite significant winds the previous evening and talk of a storm but it didn’t materialise in any dramatic sense. We had been seeing cyclone planning alerts on the TV and even the resort information booklet gave details of cyclone procedure along with those for fire. Our first taste of the potential hazards of living in this seeming paradise. However by evening the clouds were beginning to break up and we were treated to a magnificent sunset, endorsed by a huge but entire double rainbow, too extensive to capture its full semicircle in one photo.

imag4090All the other days involved a trip to the beach, usually in the morning before it became too hot as the heat continues to gather in the afternoons. I was delighted to see this couple making excellent use of their rollators, taking some exercise on the beach. There did seem to be a profusion of electric wheelchairs, some perhaps not very necessary as obesity would only worsen without exercise! The ultimate was a little terrier in a front basket with an umbrella over it to shelter from the sun but also sporting a pair of sunglasses and a head visor! Unlike its owner who had no hat or shade, very much frowned upon in this country of skin cancer awareness (dermatology ‘clinics’ present on every high street). The wild life, as opposed to the bonkers-life, continued to prove interesting. Roger spotted a turtle from Urangan pier and we both enjoyed watching the dolphins frolic by the end of the harbour wall on an evening walk. 

imag4105Low tide was around lunchtime and we became fascinated by the activity between the tide marks at this time. Legions and legions of soldier crabs amassed across the sand, resolutely marching, at some pace, towards the water. Weirdly they seemed a little reluctant to advance onwards into what we assumed to be their natural habitat but then they walked forward, not sideways, so may have acquired some additional peculiarities. As the sea advanced they would scurry back towards the land but eventually burrowing their little marble sized bodies into the sand by the hundred. We had some fun herding them around as a single amorphous mass, listening to the clatter and chatter of their tiny legs until they had all managed to seclude themselves into what must be an almost complete sub-terrainian layer, a few inches below the sandy surface.

imag4106What, amongst other things, had been surprising about them was there didn’t appear to be a predator despite the huge numbers freely available to anything with wings. There were plenty of potential candidates, including sea eagles, but presumably there was insufficient meat or too much shell to be appetising. The bird life looked very exotic to our northern European eyes. These ‘big dippers’, seemingly a cross between a swan and an oyster catcher, appeared to be regarded with the same level of indifference as a (Canadian) goose or (mallard) duck would at home.imag4109 The only attention, other than ours, this received was from a dog. We have been mesmerised by the beautiful parrots all over this country, their brilliant colours proving how ‘natural’ tones don’t have to be based on beige! The ‘Charlie’ birds also make a glorious splash with their bright yellow splashes on an otherwise white body. It is just surprising that they are called ‘sulphur crested’ cockatiels as that has such connotations of a nasty smell. We also came across the Aussie versions of herons (smaller than ours) and pelicans which appeared to be the marina sentries.

We are now beginning our journey home but are lucky enough to have a little interlude at Sunshine Coast as we head south to Brisbane. We met a lovely lady, Sue, on the clinic at Genine’s and she has invited us to stay with her on our way past. We had struck up our initial conversation when we found out that she is the manager of one of the few camel dairies in Australia so we are going to meet her camels, without any histrionics!

22. Tin Can Bay

We landed here for a three night/four day break. As we had left John earlier than expected in plan B (we would have been in Cooktown, north of Cairns, in plan A) we had to find somewhere to go. Our main criteria is a stop on the Greyhound bus route. The 7500km pass we bought before arriving here has proved very worthwhile. Ok, it does give us some limits but with so much choice, that narrowing down can be helpful. So Tin Can Bay is a sleepy little town situated on the mainland at the southern tip of Fraser Island. There isn’t much here but it is surprising how you can fill your day.

imag4060We walked around most of the town on our arrival afternoon, enjoying a coffee and cake at the Barnacles cafe on the waterfront where you can feed the dolphins at 7.30am. I didn’t know that marine life could tell the time and thought their attendance would be more dependant on the tide as they are at Channonry Point, but I’d be wrong! The cafe closed around us at 3pm but the owner was no keener to move us on than we were to move, so we stayed a while longer with the place to ourselves.

imag4061The following day we returned to this quayside and hired a little fishing boat, minus the rods as we had no intention of using them. We pottered around this fairly extensive inlet for several hours. We’d hired for 3 but the owner was in no hurry for the boat to be returned as long as we were back for 4.30pm. imag4062I’m still unsure whether we had enough fuel for 4.5 hours though! We had a packed lunch with us including some seafood we’d bought from the wholesaler at the marina including ‘bugs’ which we had to have explained to us prior to adding them to our scallops and fresh prawns. They are quite tasty, a bit like crayfish, despite their resemblance to sci-fi film aliens.

In the distance I could see a huge sand dune carved out of the tree-covered hillside over towards Rainbow Beach. On our bus journey there the following day, I kept a keen but unsuccessful look out for it. We hopped off the Greyhound at the edge of town with no idea where we were or where to go, but Paul, the owner of the accommodation had recommended a visit. We headed for what looked like the centre of town and passed the shop we had rung the previous day trying to arrange a surfing lesson. Unfortunately, due to the tides it would have been at 2.30pm and we would have missed the bus back.

imag4064The waters edge looked lovely; a long white sandy curve extending towards Fraser Island to the north and steep colourful cliffs reaching out to the south, giving the town its name. We started to follow the latter and came across some steps down to the beach. However, due to the high tide the bottom was already covered and the wind whipped waves made it somewhat precarious to negotiate despite not being particularly deep. We sat there for a while, feeling the rise and fall of the steps from the imminent swell crashing beneath us. It was only as we were leaving that we noticed a barrier which could be erected to shut off the access when the swell is too high and dangerous.

imag4067Unusually, we hadn’t found any kind of tourist information kiosk so decided to follow some brown signs to Carlos’ Sandblow. This took us along a cliff top path which seemed to be rather pleasant and taking us in a suitable direction, eventually coming out, not at a blow hole as we expected and were pleased that it would be high tide, but at the huge sandune we could see from Tin Can Bay.imag4071 This is a natural phenomenon where the wind blows the sand straight from the beach through a gully, eventually smothering all the flora in its path. This particular one had the added attraction of the multi-coloured sands described in the town’s name. imag4072From the top of the dune you could see along the cliffs to Double Island or back through the gap to the inlet and Tin Can Bay. It was a rather unexpected treat, often the best type.

imag4085We headed back towards the town and made our way down onto the beach. Roger then gave a cry to attract my attention. Following his pointed finger out to sea I suddenly noticed the huge grey form rearing up out of the water, hanging in mid-air for a split second before crashing back down with an almighty splash, and again and again! Humpback whales frolicking in the waves! We watched the pod for about 15 minutes, by which time they had moved across the bay. Despite our pointing and staring out to sea from the waters edge on a reasonably populated beach, no-one else seemed to be bothered. Perhaps it is a regular occurrence but we were mesmerised and hadn’t even had to pay for a whale watching trip!

Later on we partook of a little liquid refreshment at the surf club bar, perched on the top of the cliff and the performance started again. Our elevated position meant that we didn’t see the animals as clearly but were more aware of the splashes. From there we also couldn’t really discern what I had thought to be the spray from their spouts when there was a fine grey tower for a few seconds on the horizon as we watched from shore level. Alternatively, these later displays may have been dolphins. Either way we felt very fortunate.

imag4087We checked out this morning but the bus doesn’t leave until 4.30 so with time to kill we took a walk along the shore in the opposite direction and found ourselves among the mangroves. Not swampy fortunately but growing amidst the white sand, turning it slightly muddy in places but otherwise good to walk on before the advancing tide covered everything. We didn’t notice any evidence of ‘salties’, salt water crocodiles, although there were plenty of fresh largish holes below the high tide line whose architects we didn’t discover.

We are heading back north to Hervey Bay for a week of holiday! Can’t be bad, except that there is no free wifi at the hotel so we will be hunting for suitable cafes etc. to keep in touch. Next Friday we travel back to the Sunshine Coast, just north of Brisbane, where we are going to stay the weekend with a lovely lady we met at the horse starting clinic at Genine’s who happens to manage a camel dairy! Its a small world.

21. Another Goodbye

imag4059We have left our final place, a little earlier than expected but not due to any adverse circumstances on our part. John, our boss, is leaving to find paid work. He was ‘managing’ the ranch for Ray who has gone off for some other work as well, so things aren’t working out there quite as planned. Ray pays John and our costs so we have no further food or fuel and one of the trucks has died so things are a little complicated and we thought it might be a good time to depart. We have had a very interesting time here. John has developed his own way of breaking-in and training horses which he has used for 45 years with a significant degree of success, albeit with some mishaps but perhaps that is just horses for you. We just couldn’t accept wearing flipflops around horses (not to ride in obviously!) in order to make one more aware of one’s foot position! He obviously likes his animals and trains them with tough love, Ray just appears to be tough.

Monday wondering why the gate is closed.

Monday wondering why the gate is closed.

Monday, the chestnut, is a case in point where he wants to allow the horse to use their own brain and personality; Monday has plenty of both, even if he is quite young, reminding us of a certain Freckles at Bodalla. We have left him with Jamie, who is a big help and Shauna, who isn’t! They will be continuing to pack John’s life into the storage garage but as John is fairly incapacitated and she is unable/unwilling to do anything resembling work it will mean that Jamie (who is as thin as a lathe) has a lot of lifting and shifting to do moving furniture, ontop of doing a double shift to compensate for her lack of productivity, which he does to ameliorate the hard time she’ll give him if he doesn’t. Perhaps that is another reason why we were ready to leave, coupled with the fact that she refused to talk to me for the last 2 days as I suggested that she shouldn’t be so wasteful with food when we were running out! i.e. not boiling the limited eggs and then eating only the white and chucking the yolk out to the hens when others would eat the yolk and the snakes or iguanas are eating the eggs before we even get to them! Heyho

imag4057There are a few things I wont miss, like the mouse in the bedroom, tucked behind the case and exposed on our final morning or the rather large cockcroach which materialised beside the bed (mattress on the floor, very comfortable and at least we didn’t need to check under the bed for beasties, they’d be in with us!) on our penultimate morning. Also the ants, which would swarm out from between the wall panels of the bedroom during the course of the afternoon. When we started to help clear out the sheds John was very insistent on us being careful when we opened any kind of container to check for snakes, none were revealed but this rat skeleton in an old washing machine tub is fairly illustrative! imag4050We were observed, throughout these tasks, by a little kooki which appeared most afternoons and although sitting on a fencepost, not an old gum tree, he did seem to keep a proprietorial eye on all our activities.

Roxy, Jolti and Ice

Roxy, Jolti and Ice

We will, as usual, miss our 4-legged friends. John’s very well behaved cattle dogs (apart from Jolti who would get too excited and come around in front of the herd and Roxy, who copied Jolti) but they were good when they were back in the yard. Also the yard paddock horses whose whinnying would wake us in the morning, but not too early.

Dallas, Omega and Monday

Dallas, Omega and Monday

Omega is the last of that blood line, hence the name and, whilst still in possession of his bits, not for much longer and despite being a good 2 years old is still unsure what to do with them (Pip, our little filly would tell him if she could!) Dallas is one of Ray’s horses, brought back here to finish his training and is lovely and friendly although we are not allowed to pet him when he isn’t working. John was very concerned that we may fall over a sleeping horse when we retired to our cottage at night in the dark. This seemed unlikely as horses sleep standing up don’t they? Not this bunch!

20. Bush fire!

imag4034By the time we left the yards on our way back to house, approximately 10km along a winding and undulating dirt track, it was getting quite dark. This wouldn’t normally be a problem unless, of course, your lights didn’t work! Added to this was the complication of very light drizzle and guess what? the wipers didn’t work either! We had set off in the ute, in front of John and the others towing the float (horse box) but with his lights shinning past us on either side, the road ahead was complete darkness so had to swap round. Following his tail lights wouldn’t have been too bad if we hadn’t had to lean out of the windows on either side as the windscreen was almost obliterated by damp dust! At any left hand bend Roger lost all view of the tail lights and I had to shout (because both windows were down and the engine noise was almost overpowered by The Who backing track which seemed to be stuck on a loop on the CD player) directions to stay out of the undergrowth until he resumed visibility.

imag4035As we neared the house we could see enough to notice the orange glow in the sky, not too far away from where the rubbish had been burnt the previous night. This had been eventful enough for the boys when some unspent cartridges, aerosols or other pressurised containers exploded. The dump is just over the side of the road about 2-300 yds from the house. When we had retired to bed that night I did wander around the corner of the garden to check the state of the previously towering flames, under the impression that all would have died down, only to note that the flames, which must have been over 10 feet tall, were still visible. The boys returned to throw some buckets of water on to it and all seemed to be ok.

imag403624hours later the glow had shifted along and after dropping everything off Roger and I went out with John to investigate. We jumped back into the ute but before going any distance both of them leapt out, leaving both doors open whilst John yelled at me to put the break on. I stupidly tried the hand break but nothing happened as I trundled towards the fencing! I should have remembered that it didn’t work as I’d nearly been run over by it previously when I’d had trouble opening some ‘gates’ which were actually just the join in 2 fence panels so John had got out to help me, not really noticing that we were on a bit of a slope until I was just about to be nudged into the panel by the front bumper!

Anyway, the starter motor had failed so they were fixing that before setting off to check the fire which transpired to have spread along the bottom of the gully and ignited a little copse of trees further along that track. We drove past, noting the flaming tree trunks adjacent to us, checked its furthest limits and returned, just somewhat hampered by 2 trunks which had fallen across our path in the few minutes we’d taken to turn around and come back!

imag4037We returned to the house and John rigged up a pressure tank with hose which worked off the car battery. As the wiring was a bit dodgy and the cable traversed the passenger side of the ute we 3, now joined by Jamie, had to stand on the back of the flat bed whilst we drove past the burning trees again! At least we were able to gain full advantage of the lovely aroma of burning eucalyptus!!

The plan was to set up a back burn i.e. burn off all the highly inflammable fuel (grass, weeds, etc) in the path of the fire by burning back towards the main body but damping down the edge where we wanted it to stop. I was to operate the pump switch from the passenger seat which I had to climb in to from the drivers side, without knocking it out of gear as that was the only breaking mechanism! As these trucks have long gear sticks it left me about 3 inches through which to wriggle my leg, (maybe once a long time ago!) Also I had to ensure that I didn’t cause it to stall as it probably wouldn’t start again. All this within a few feet of a blazing bush fire, headed towards me before I could reach the switch which operated the water pump! No pressure then?!

imag4038Somehow I managed it, but am still unsure quite how, then Roger jumped in beside me to drive up and reverse back along the advancing fire line which Jamie was exacerbating by igniting frequent bunches of dead grass under direction from John, who was soaking the front line from the tank on the back of the ute, powered by the car engine. Amazingly it all seemed to be working well, even though we were unbelievably close to the inferno, studying particularly burning tree trunks which would reach us if they fell towards us, until the engine stalled and died spontaneously!

Aftermath

Aftermath

John calmly said to wait 5 minutes and start the engine again by knocking the starter motor with a big metal crow bar as the key was turned. This happened 3 times in total with each engine sound becoming progressively more ropey with each restart. Finally John was happy that the fire was contained enough for us to leave it before the vehicle gave up completely and we returned to the house with me still trapped in the passenger seat. I had already decided that I would sacrifice the pump’s power supply if I felt in any immediate danger! We returned to the house relatively unscathed but after a long day in the saddle, up the hill, fencing and having our ‘lunch’ at 6pm, followed by a hairy drive with no lights through woodland and 2 hours fire-fighting I didn’t feel like waiting for an evening meal so collapsed into bed, after what had been a very eventful day in the outback. Thank goodness they haven’t all been like this!

19. Extreme Fencing!

imag4017Well this was quite an eventful day. We were going fencing, right up to the top and back of the paddock where we had previously looked for elusive cattle. So armed with our coils of wire slung over our heads and one shoulder and my trusty steed acting as pack horse with 3 different sets of fencing pliers in saddle bags, we set off. John had been a little critical of some ‘backpackers’, the ubiquitous term for us lot, (although some people do struggle with referring to ourselves by this even though I am using a backpack) having wrecked the horses by making them walk slowly instead of the purposeful rhythm they are trained to adopt. I ended up in front so was determined not to be accused of the same so set a decent pace assisted by my familiarity with the country. I was also quite chuffed to be the person who spotted the aforementioned escapees, despite having relinquished pole position to John by that time.

imag4024When we reached the back fence we commenced our ascent along to the left and soon rose to some giddy heights. As I/Quantum was tool carrier we had to follow John even to less hospitable places than the others, but she performed with the steadiness and steadfastness which is essential for stock horses in this country. We negotiated a basalt bluff rather tentatively, apart from yours truly, bringing up the rear with confidence in my 4 legged carrier. She did however make a huge stumble at one point but immediately righted herself with a  vigorous buck to release her back end, which is just as well as some stock horses get shot if they are prone to falling over on difficult terrain!

imag4023The fence damage was quite extensive and by 4.30 we had used up all the spare wire and most of the daylight prior to our return journey. As we had eventually set off at 11am, having breakfasted at 7.30, we were pretty hungry, as lunch was back at the yard! By 5pm we were starting our descent but John was continuing around the top boundary to check the condition of the fence further on. He arranged for Roger to trot all the way back to the yard, once we had reached relatively level ground, so he could grab the ute (utility vehicle) and meet him at the far end of the paddock. The remaining 3 of us were to take it steady as Shauna was riding poor old Bungee, who had toiled up the hillside with relative ease, despite her disgust at riding an old horse. She did however, see fit to keep whipping him all the way back even though he was keeping up! hmmm! That was in between comments akin to ‘are we there yet!’

imag4022We finally reached the yard paddock and I was able to open and close the gate from my saddle which I was quite pleased about (Roger had managed the same a bit earlier from Star) despite Jamie’s puppy-like eagerness to do everything for everyone. This time I had just managed to get it closed as he hit the ground from his dismount. Heyho.

18. Mustering

imag3986Fortunately this didn’t work out quite as hard as we thought it would be for 2 reasons. Firstly we managed to find most of the cattle reasonably easily and they came without too much trouble. They are trained to the dogs and horses when they are young, moved around just to  become used to it. Secondly we lost a horse so there was one less mount than riders. A gate was inadvertently left open the night before we were due to start so the working horse decided to explore new pastures and not come back nor be found. Consequently, on that first morning we offered to do half a day each, sharing our horse, as we thought we may struggle with the intensity of the riding.

imag3990So my first job was to bid farewell to Roger and the others as they set off with the dogs and sat in the shade of the Koolibar tree with my book. I was entertained by some beautiful blue kingfisher type birds with bright orange undersides to their wings, dipping and diving, possibly in a mating ritual, but flashing brilliant colours in the reflected sunshine. I was ‘serenaded’ by the indigenous kookaburra, now that we know what that is. We had become aware of the sounds in the trees resembling a group of monkeys ooh, ooh, ooh, ahhing to an ever increasing crescendo. At Bodalla we asked Rob what this ‘monkey bird’ was as we had managed to confirm that there were none of the aforementioned primates in the vicinity, only birds. He was rather surprised and amused at our ignorance of this Aussie icon as he explained it being a kookaburra and even after our description couldn’t hear the resemblance. We were reprieved by our compatriots thinking exactly the same as us before we enlightened them with our new found knowledge. It may sound a little bit like the laughter of a ‘merry merry king of the bush’ but he must be slightly hysterical or even maniacal.

Poor sweaty horse!

Poor sweaty horse!

At lunchtime on this first day Roger and I swapped our, at that stage nameless, mount who transpired to be called Bungey. He was an excellent horse, a fast walker which is very important and a real worker. This was fine apart from the fact that he could have been somewhere between 18 and 20 years old. I had been told not to take him up into the high country but thought that the slopes he negotiated, amazingly steadily all things considered, were too steep for him but I was apparently being too soft. imag4004We were trawling steep hillsides which were cut with even steeper gullies which we descended and ascended with increasing regularity, sometimes not even being able to see any ground ahead of us as horse and rider plummeted down the slopes before jumping across the ditch at the bottom and leaping up the seemingly vertical wall on the other side. I quickly realised that the best tactic was to let him do what he’s good at and just make sure I stayed on. I’m quite proud to say that I didn’t even need to use the sh*t strap, so called as its requirement is usually when one is thinking ‘oh sh*t’! Obviously though these were not really photo opportunities for a rider of my standard but I did just manage this one on an easier gully.

Poor Bungey was given a reprieve the following day and Dallas had remained elusive. Ray’s daughter wasn’t joining us so we were still one horse down and guess who dipped out again as I had wanted to ride all day this time. I wasn’t too pleased at this as there were at least 2 other people, both complaining of aches and pains, who could have taken a turn to sit out but declined, so I missed the next morning’s ride. Fortunately Jamie went off with Ray to take the weaners in the truck back to his paddocks so we were back to the same number of riders as horses in the afternoon. I rode Quantum Leap who I should have ridden in the first place before it was determined that Shauna wasn’t quite as accomplished rider as she claimed to be. They were both experienced English style and arena riders but this wild/rough riding on stock horses was a very different method which Jamie has picked up quite quickly even if his cattle experience does only extend to 3 days unlike my 7 months! but that’s another story!

imag3995imag3998The cattle had to be sorted in the yards which Roger had done at Bodalla and in Canada last year but was new to Jamie however the 2 of them did seem to be able to take on a calf successfully! There was also a tiny calf who was struggling to feed as all 4 of mum’s teets had prolapsed and each was about the size of an udder, dangling rather close to the ground. The poor little mite couldn’t get low enough and certainly didn’t have a large enough mouth to latch on independently. This difficulty was compounded by the flap of loose skin these Brahman breeds have hanging from their necks, to aid heat loss, which is at the wrong end but suckling babies don’t seem to be able to differentiate back from front initially!

imag40083 days of riding, mustering, searching and driving were interspersed with the yard work so we are quite relieved to find ourselves remarkably unscathed, if just a little saddle sore. We had a super time on the last day when we spent nearly 4 hours checking a paddock where there may have been some elusive cattle hiding out. imag3994We didn’t find them but enjoyed the ride, particularly when we were sent off on our own to check 2 fence lines. On return from that we went straight out into another smaller paddock and collected 172 (I had to count them in the sorting) head, not including calves, from that and an adjoining paddock before finally stopping for a break and well needed water. Roger has been lucky enough to enjoy a few canters on his new, fairly inexperienced mount, Star, and now has another equine shape engraved in his heart. In tyring to keep the cattle fairly calm and steady one does have to keep the speed down. Chasing after them just makes them run away faster and the terrain is so rough that a horse tripping at speed could result in fairly nasty injury so the opportunities to canter are few but grabbed when possible.

Monday offering to drive!

Monday offering to drive!

After more sorting and worming we drove 75 of them back down the lane into yet another paddock to join the 8 bulls which we had brought in the previous day. John’s only precaution with these huge beasts was to get the hell out of there if 2 bulls were sizing up for a fight. Fortunately we didn’t have to take this evasive action but were on our guard anyway. I had taken over the herding of a cow and calf from Ray as he would be more useful elsewhere. This particular pair were rather slow as the the little one had been attacked by dingos, not uncommon unfortunately just more rare that he survived. However he had a big abscess on the side of his hip and a chunk out of the top of his rump. We were heading up slowly, quite well behind the main herd when they all turned to charge us down, or so it seemed. What was actually happening was that the dogs were keeping them in a group whilst others joined them. As the cattle wont stand still in these circumstances the dogs keep them moving back and forth as a complete mass. This was a little disconcerting as I watched over a hundred head running straight towards us, quite spread out so there was no way I could evade them at either end so decided to stand side on (bigger area) and hope that Quantum stayed still. Fortunately she is an old hand and never flinched a muscle despite my probable tension. Anyway my charges were swept into the mele and were only disgorged at the end of the day when babe became separated from mum and had to be taken to the rest of the herd by transport, having his abscess lanced with a penknife (causing Shauna to vomit!) before being released for mum to lick clean. We aren’t going to think about what will happen to the little girl whose mum has the swollen teets 🙁

17. Last ‘Resort’

We have been here at our final ranch for 5 days and are just chilling out in preparation for 4 consecutive, potentially long days in the saddle mustering cattle, up hill and down dale! Fortunately the horses have been trained to walk fast which is refreshing change for me as my lack of confidence usually puts me on a safe but slow plodder (sorry guys). We arrived as another helper was just leaving and were joined the following day by a young couple from…..Dewsbury, barely 10 miles away from home! imag3983They are both much more experienced riders than we are, having competed in show jumping but she made the mistake of extolling her ability which John quickly challenged on a demanding ride for anyone not used to stock horses/saddles and rough riding which is most of my experience now. He is a pretty good all round rider but may need some more padding on his bottom for the long hours mustering. They have both become quite excited at being able to collect tobacco leaves to dry for their roll ups. They were going to give up smoking at the end of their current pouch due to the cost and lack of availability as a result of our isolation; 44km south of Miriam Vale and 11km along a very rough track.

The four of us occupy a separate house whilst John lives in the main house where we join him for all meals. He is Gary and Sue’s tenant here and then we travel to an adjacent property to work the land where he is a manager for Ray, although he does his horse-work (mostly other people’s) back at the homestead. Is that clear? It took us most of this time to get it straight.

imag3971imag3974The house is not bad at all and could be really nice if it was done up, the only slight problem is all the squatters. Spiders aplenty, but no serious ones. I wanted to get rid of all the cobwebs but they do collect the flies and mossies very effectively. The toads come out in the evening but are fairly quiet and don’t tend to come in the house so we just have to make sure that we don’t stand on them in the dark. I don’t think that they are the narcotic type that Murphy, the jack Russell at Bodalla, enjoyed so much. imag3973We have had a resident frog in the toilet who almost looked unreal, particularly as he matched the bin but Jamie had to evict him as Shauna couldn’t use the toilet when he was there. We have had a couple of ant invasions in the bedroom but only between the hours of 2 – 4pm. Normally we wouldn’t see these at this time but as the weather has heated up we have started early in the mornings, 5.30 and had a siesta after lunch, ant-time! The final resident has, fortunately, been quite elusive as he is poisonous; a brown snake lives under the bath. It does have a side panel so that should eliminate the problem, however, there is a 12-14 inch gap along the end where you can peer down through the floor boards into the basement. As if it wasn’t bad enough to view all the rotting wood, which is supposed to be supporting the over bath shower, I now find out that there is a venomous resident. Heyho, Australia.

imag3982We have a lovely little buckskin filly to train, Pip, a 2 year old, so quite mature compared to our little princess Frankie. She has been handled, mostly by children, poor thing, so we are having to start from scratch to assess her level of training and experience using quite different methods to those we learnt with Genine. We haven’t had to use a stock-whip (purely for sound) yet and do hope that we can inveigle some of her techniques to eliminate the necessity.

imag3977We have enjoyed a relaxing afternoon today and took to the kayak on the creek. It is just a little bit too reedy and still for my liking however the little cruise, with Roger on the paddle was very pleasant. The other 2 had taken it down the banking at the back of our house the previous day when we just observed.imag3980 Jamie was brave enough to have a swim but Shauna struggled to fish and row at the same time but at least they were able to lay the crayfish pot/trap, not that they will be big enough to eat but are in a huge, rather dirty (don’t look Theresa) tank. We could eat the eggs that are laid by the half dozen chooks but something is beating us to them! Possibly legless, i.e. snake, or could be a goana, name for iguanas in these parts. John said that they’d stopped laying but I found one egg the other day so collected it with glee. The following day there were 3 so I collected 2 and left one to remind them what they were meant to do. This morning there were none and no debris, so something is definitely taking them whole!!

Anyway, another early night tonight, bed by 9pm for an early start tomorrow and then some very sore bottoms for the foreseeable future!

16. Great Barrier Reef

We caught the 6.20am bus from Townsville to Airlie Beach. The temperature was already a balmy 24 degrees. The humidity had hit us on our arrival the previous evening. What we didn’t realise was that it would make trying to dry clothes, beach towels etc considerably harder, which is important just prior to packing. At Bodalla, the washing had been dry in just over an hour, jeans maybe 2. Here they never really feel dry, even after 24 hours. This temperature discrepancy was also highlighted in the ‘real feel’ whereby the degrees increased unlike in the UK where it always decreases; our first experience of this. I’m just glad that we didn’t buy any bamboo socks as, despite their excellent reputation, I’d already noticed that they took 2 days to dry in the best conditions.

imag3936Our taxi driver took us the scenic route from the hotel and gave us a little guided tour and potted history of Townsville before dropping us off at the terminal. We arrived in Airlie Beach at lunchtime, found our budget accommodation and caught the bus back in to town. By mid afternoon Roger was swimming in the lagoon. The following day we were particularly lazy and it was quite a treat to not have any alarm set (not even to enable us to change to a bigger room). imag3937Late afternoon we caught the bus for the short ride back into town. Walking might have been an option for the distance but pedestrians don’t seem to be too well catered for here, even in terms of access to the bus stops which is a bit weird, must be to do with the almost continual need for air conditioning. We headed for the netted beach, this is one with an area cordoned off for safe sea swimming i.e. no stingers or jelly fish, crocodiles and sharks are not a particular problem here but the jelly fish strike can put you in ICU!

imag3941We had booked an excursion out to the Whitsunday Islands for the following day so were a little perturbed by the orange storm warning for the next afternoon. Fully expecting the trip to be cancelled we were unsure whether to be worried or reassured when it wasn’t. An hour across the waves to the far side of an outer island took us to our snorkelling location. We were mesmerised by the coral reef just a few feet underneath us, not really expecting to see such magnificence as we hadn’t gone scuba-diving on the outer reef but there was no need. This was the outer coast of the outer islands so produced the same hard coral as the bottom growing reefs further afield as they were subjected to the strong winds and currents.

We were thrilled and transfixed to glide over these amazing structures. I suppose the colours were more muted than I’d expected but the shapes and structures were so much more intricate and varied. Some resembled the convoluted surface and shape of human brains, others were a series of short tubes, there were huge mushrooms, floating plates, cauliflowers, blankets, boulders and trees. The beautiful pale blues, greens, pinks, lilacs and oranges were interspersed with flashes of vivid, almost neon blues, greens and purples.

The fish were not to be outdone even if some did try, very effectively to disguise themselves in the  camouflage of rocky brown. However the blues, greens and turquoise of both tiny and quite large, up to 18 inches, marine life gave the whole area a luminescence. Tiger stripes and flashes of silver swam lazily beneath our intent gaze. I don’t have a waterproof camera so no personal photos but there is plenty to google. I think we may be on a few other people’s pictures as we tried to see as much as possible in the hour given, despite getting a little chilly, even in our stinger suits. The problem was that we were doing a lot of floating around, just gazing at the multi-coloured light show displayed below and not much swimming. We had rejected the offer of a buoyancy aid or noodle and found the sea to be very salty and so had no need of any extra assistance.

Sadly there were areas where the coral had obviously died, grey and brown segments cluttering the seabed. I wondered if this was the effect of man and tourism on this very delicate eco-system, to which we would be adding. On enquiring, I was relieved to find out, from Capt Matty, that it is part of a natural process and the destruction is the aftermath of the cyclones which hit these parts most years. The ‘stones’ on nearby beaches are almost entirely comprising these battered corals. The delicate nature of this reef, and presumably all others, made it a little difficult to come upright in the water for fear of kicking and damaging some wonderful structure beneath so we developed a kind of rounded tuck when directing each other to another amazing ‘plant’.

imag3945imag3944Our next stop was a lookout at ‘swirly sands’, we were told. It sounded a bit of an anti-climax after the reef but was an amazing view of the changing depths and shifting silica sandbars. We could see Whitehaven beach on the left side of the spur, our final and lunch stop. We were supposed to be able to spot stingrays as well but when, after about 10 minutes, my fish hadn’t moved I had to concede that it was, in actual fact, a submerged rock.

imag3963Another short boat ride and we disembarked onto the pure white beach of Whitehaven. Beneath our feet the sand was as fine as icing sugar and even squeaked when you walked (or fell!) in it. Fatal for cameras apparently and has become so engrained in the seams of our bags I think we may, inadvertently, be bringing some back home, despite adhering to the adage ‘take only photos, leave only footprints’. The shoreline was strangely scattered with what appeared to be autumn leaves, adding an amazing colour dimension to the blue, white and green of this tropical paradise.

imag3956We ate lunch at a picnic table in the shade along the tree-line adjacent to the beach. A lace monitor, about 2 feet long with an almost equivalent tail, decided to join us, no doubt looking for scraps. A group of Chinese didn’t seem to know whether they wanted it to stay or go as feeding it and shooing it away at the same time must have been quite confusing for the poor thing! As we returned from our short walk along the shore, Braydon, our deckhand, was expertly handling a 2 metre long carpet python which had been snoozing at the base of a nearby tree. They, like all pythons, are not poisonous but are known to have quite a vicious bite. We were quite relieved that we actually shared our lunch space with the gentle little bush doves before the crows swooped in to clear up any debris; they don’t change. Our meal wasn’t spoilt by being 2 plates short when we were supplied with the lids of the Tupperware containers as alternative platters.

imag3965All too soon, although not for a rather sunburnt face, (a first after all this time!) we were hailed back to Big Fury for our return journey. The sea was a little rough but we were relieved to find that the storm had not materialised, not in our vicinity at least. The ride back was almost as bumpy as Genine’s truck trip back from the caves and we were most impressed by Braydon’s ability to serve a platter of cakes and biscuits in this heaving sea without appearing to drop any. The storm appeared to have passed inland if the foreboding clouds, which greeted us as we re-entered the harbour, were anything to go by.

 

We are now entering our final stage of this Aussie adventure with fairly limited wifi so apologies for the, even more sporadic contact!

15. Final final chapter

imag3889So much seems to have happened in the final few days, not least the ladies from the clinic getting their breakers saddled and ridden in the arena and then out on a short trail ride. It was a massive achievement in 2 weeks and all credit to them, Genine and Robert. Others had the added complications of trickier horses and/or their own physical and emotional constraints to overcome as well as the learning curve to scale, but still accomplished significant milestones. We didn’t go on this ride as it was a special  moment for the students but had taken Myrte with us on a beautiful ride the previous day into an unvisited part of the station including an excellent canter along the creek bed where I finally started to get my rhythm sorted out.

imag3904We were able to take a slightly slower pace than the first 3-4 weeks, work with Frankie, absorb the sessions the ladies were undertaking and even have some downtime after lunch when the temperatures started to rise and rise. We were still responsible for the horse feeding which gave me the excuse to visit the kindergarten twice a day at least. Emy-Lou is growing rapidly and all her charging around, bucking and rearing on top of mounds, has taught her how to kick! This is going to be sorted out very soon. The little fella has the paddock name of Zen but is still to receive his full title. Historically the names have to begin with RE so we had an ever-increasing list of ideas and wait patiently to see what he will be called. He has been a super little chap, very friendly and inquisitive, possibly assisted by Mum’s initial indifference, unlike Jaz’s protectionism, but also from my initial contact perhaps ‘imprinting’ on him.

imag3862When I went to say goodbye to him and Lily (my soul sister/daughter) he was even more curious than usual and I got covered in mud rubbing and scratching him. We had had a short burst of torrential rain and he must have rolled in a puddle or slipped up because his coat, fortunately quite muddy coloured naturally, was caked in it. It didn’t stop me though because it was such a precious moment when Lily was in labour and came to me for reassurance, of which he was the product. I will never forget that experience and look forward to seeing him (via facebook) grow up into a very handsome lad.

imag3902This was his and Emy Lou’s first rain and when I say rain I don’t mean British miserable cold incessant drizzle. I mean a deluge, sufficient to block internet access via the satellite which can’t penetrate, even moderate, cloud. Whilst we, in the UK, often despair of rain, here in this and many other parts of Australia (although not all as there is bad flooding in South Australia) it is welcomed with open arms, sometimes literally as they can be so pleased to see it. Its not really cold and you dry off again very quickly, unless you get absolutely soaked going to look at the crystal caves!

img_476011431927085The rain had stopped, although the sky still looked very threatening. We had not managed the visit to the caves earlier in the programme as the ladies had been too keen to keep working the horses but the morning trail ride had been the finale so the afternoon was free. 2 trucks were loaded up with most of us in the back as there were only 3 seats available in each cab and 15 people. We used the noodles, most people would recognise these as the long foam cylinders from swimming pools, as seats and back rests. imag3907As we approached the area the heavens opened again, this time with a distinct temperature drop and no-one had any waterproofs. We ran across the country and clambered down quite a steep rocky, sandstone so very uneven, hillside and under the bluff. We wedged ourselves into the crevice just as the rain filled torrents started to pour into our shelter. Depending on where you stood or sat, there were some eroded ledges, you could either stay dry (although all clothes were soaked by now) or have a shower. No-one opted for the latter, intentionally. The ground was littered with lumps of pure white quartz both inside and out but we were more interested in the rain tipping in to the caves over the edges of the ground above illustrating exactly how they are formed.

After running back to the vehicles we had a bit of a white knuckle ride back along the dirt tracks at some speed, taking off over bumps, with those of us in the back leaving the bed of the truck by several inches. We had a loose tarpaulin to cover ourselves but this required holding up so that we didn’t suffocate. We were able to put the noodles to yet another use, albeit a bit feeble, when they were ‘erected’ as tent poles. Their lack of rigidity made this fairly unsuccessful so Krystal and Simone had to hold up the tarp most of the way back. I managed to get clobbered on the shin by the only one which could have been used as an offensive weapon as it had a carabina attached to one end. Back at the house I emerged from the tarpaulin soaking wet and somewhat battered and bruised. People pay good money for that kind of ride at an adventure park!

imag3931imag3927The following day we departed beautiful Bodalla at 6.30am for a stop off at the Texas Longhorn Ranch on the way in to Charters Towers, the first of its kind in Australia. It boasted the longest set of horns, tip to tip, until recently on JR (Johnny Red) as well as the oldest and heaviest beasts of this type along with water buffalo and bison. The highland cattle didn’t even get a mention but I felt very sorry for them in their thick coat in these 30+ degree temperatures and its not even summer yet.

imag3721We said our farewells in Townsville from where the ladies were flying back home. We were, very kindly, put up in a hotel room and enjoyed the room facilities but unfortunately didn’t have time to make use of the pool outside our door. The humidity had hit us when we got out of the car at this coastal city and even at night the temperature only dropped to 22 but still so sticky. It had been very difficult saying goodbye to the animals, particularly Frankie and little Jack Russell, Odi, but when it came to Genine and Robert words were totally inadequate. They have given us an amazing and totally unforgettable experience with so many highs we couldn’t really explain but we hope they know. Love you guys xx