Last time I posted I was reporting of snow in the Blue Mountains. Now we’re in the high end 30 degrees in the Top End aka Darwin. Yes, 4,000 miles in and we’ve made it to the top spot! Not the highlight though by any means as you will soon discover, but lots of things beginning with the letter B.
Yes! And not just one but two in two days!!!! First to join us was an early starter for Will & Nicky. Baby Caden Oscar Quinion Turner (Caden pronounced Cayden – it’s got Cornish origins so best to get it right please!) arrived on 29th August at a cutie weight of just over 6lbs and what a handsome chap he is too. Second to arrive on 30th August and another early starter, this time for Hannah and Bruno, was Eva-Isabel Kehlani Brito at an even more cutie weight of just under 5lbs. All are doing well and looking gorgeous. Congratulations all and much love.
Yes, all very swanky but when one visits Ligtening Ridge – the Black Opal Capital of the world – what can you do? Having softened Tim up with a very nice coffee and massive cake at the cafe, I managed to sneak in to ‘Peter’s Opals’ which just happened to be next door – be rude not to I thought. Anyway after much discussion and useful information about the merits and otherwise of triple, double and single opals, I opted for a lovely pair of (small but beautifully formed) single opal ear-rings. They are amazing and change colour each time you move direction. Beautiful! However, coffee and opal purchasing complete, there was really little else left to do or say about the place. Like most of the towns we visited along the way, they are pretty small and workaday (not surprisingly) but the distances between them are HUGE. We did a series of single night stop overs which is fine as we share the driving, but is still very tiring. Mind you, they do help establish a routine in terms of unpacking, storing and packing away which we have actually got off to a fine tee. Weather dictates how much of the van gets unpacked and extended out, but either way, Bondi Bob is really proving to be an excellent mode of travel. Big thumbs up.
Although we have already spent many hours and covered many many miles driving through the bush, passing through NSW, Queensland and latterly into Northern Territory, I can honestly say that the scenery is never boring and literally changes every half hour. From vast plains that you can see no end to as far as the horizon, to dense tree covered areas and bushland scrub, to rocky hills and mountains that seem to spring out of nowhere. It’s really amazing. However, one little game that can help to while away the hours when we’re not singing along to Abba (well, me anyway), is to have fun with some of the placenames. Now, I won’t go though them all but some amused me more than other so here we go. How can you not want to live in Humpty Doo. I know I do, but you wouldn’t catch me sitting on any walls anytime soon. Then there’s ones that you assume must be short for something else (like Servo for services and Rego for registration number) – Dubbo and Tambo. Great to think what their longer version could be. Best of all so far though are those you can turn into very untrendy songs – Kakadu National Park, whilst amazing, is hard to not break into ‘Ka, ka, du, du, du, push pinapple shake the tree…’ or indeed Mataranka becoming the start of that very annoying but totally unresistable dance thing when you’re tiddled and swiveling your hips to ‘hey… Mataranka’. Anyway, cabin fever is a weird and curious condition….
The best bit of bushlife information was that gleaned from the Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach. Really well put together with great exhibits and a range of audio stories to choose from, it was fascinating to hear just how determined and resourceful those early settlers and stockmen and ladies were. Truly gruelling distances to drove cattle in largely hostile and unchartered terrirtory. Incredible.
Banjo Patterson and big dinosaurs
OK, so that second one’s a bit weak to hit the B theme, but there you go. Now, these two little gems were encountered in the very nice, small town of Winton. Literally in the middle of nowhere, Winton was the ‘birthplace’ of the writing and performance of the Aussie classic and unofficial national anthem ‘Waltzing Matilda’ by Banjo Patterson (1846-1941) He penned the words at Dagworth Station in the Winton Shire in 1985 and gave the first piblic performance in Winton in April 1895. Largely a poet, Banjo Patterson wrote many poems about the Bush during his life and is said to have set the trend for Australian literature in its infancy. The other claim to fame for Winton, if that wasn’t enough, is that it is the dinosaur capital of Australia. The town’s first significant dinosaur find was made in 1972, and in 2009 discovered a new species called Wintonotitan wattsi (Watts being the grazier that discovered the bones). Several other finds followed but maybe the most evocative of them was the discovery of the workd’s only known dinosaur stampede at Lark Quarry Conservation Park. Here, in a single moment 95 million years ago and now ‘frozen’ in stone, are the stampeding footprints of over 150 small dinosaurs as they ran to escape a bigger meat eater. Quite something.
Blue Heeler Roadhouse
Now, we’re both partial to stopping over (sometimes there’s no option) at the occasional roadhouse as they inevitably provide some ‘interesting’ moments. The Blue Heeler pub and roadhouse was no exception. Basic, to say the least, it was also a happy(?) conincidence that we were staying there at the same time as over 50 Series 4 classic Landscruisers (all had to be 40-50 years old, even if some were considerable modified and souped-up, which were taking part in a charity run ‘ a long drive for drought’ working the the Drought Angels charity. The charity undertakes long-distance runs to raise money for Queensand farmers in need – either as a result of drought, or conversely, flooding, or any other form of hardship. They look to cover 18 towns and nearly 3,000Kms over 8 nights (I think we could nearly join in!) but clearly over unsealed roads as opposed to our routes which are very definitely tarmac’d. Anyway, a nice jolly bunch who got jollier and jollier the more booze they consumed (and what is the fascination with ‘alco-pop’ type drinks in these places??) to the point where there were a few of the younger bucks that were literally projectile vomitting in the car park before carrying on. Mmmm, suffice to say that we took our leave at that point and I have to admit to giving the camp facilities a miss the next morning….
Bush National Park – Kakadu
Finally, we made it up to the National Park having picked up some interesting scenes like the Crocodile Dundee Hotel – used in the 1986 film – and the less glamorous Mount Isa developed around an enormous mineral mine. The mine is one of the world’s largest mining complexes extracting copper and zinc from mahoosive great holes in the ground, and is the second largest copper producer in Australia. The town is absolutely the result of the mine which opened in 1924.
Kakadu National Park is vast too and we were lucky enought to take a scenic flight over a good chunk of it to really get an idea of the scale and diversity of the landscape. Olly, our pilot (who I swear looked about 17) was really informative and pointed out some amazing geological formations in the rock country as well as the plains, rivers and wetland areas. Mainly a tourist operation in the dry season (April to November), the airline and pilots become a vital source of transportation when the wet season arrives and roads and communities are completely cut off over land.
Another stunning trip we were lucky enough to do was the sunset cruise on the Yellow River. Hosted by the amazing Ritchie, who was able to tell us about his people who lived along the river and who had lived there for countless years, he was also able to show us many of the crocs, birdlife, fauna and flora that makes this landscape so unique. Quite concerning though for him to relay that they hadn’t had a ‘proper’ wet season for over 10 years…. Mind you, the best story of the trip has to of his family out in their car discovering a rather large python. ‘This would be good to take home to show the kids,’ says mum. So, there they are, brother driving the car, mum holding the middle of the snake and Ritchie holding the head (bravely) and having to use his full strength to do so (and he’s no small unit) until such times that eventually, the snakes breaks loose, he throws it out of the window only to find his mum won’t let go of the middle as she really wants to show the other kids….. priceless! If ever there was a fly on the wall moment, that was it!
As we write this up in Darwin, we have awoken to hear the sad, sad, news of the Queen’s passing and I couldn’t leave this blog without mention of just what a loss she is to us all. The number of Aussie’s who have passed their condolences is amazing and very touching. A sad day. Rest in peace Ma’am and thank you.
See you next time.