NEWSFLASH! My book hits the road! Did you miss my Channel 7 Weekend Sunrise 'Downunder Dunnies' appearance? Watch the Video HERE!

Saturday

Exercize, Excellence and Exactitude

One of my friends has signed up for 'boot camp' to toughen up and get fit. HHHMMMmmm... I thought. Maybe this is for me. But after recent rigours - firstly of 'Farm Gym' then more recently, its intermediate upgrade 'Shack Attack', it sounds too much like a doddle.

I discovered the pre-requisite 'Farm Gym' comprehensive graded exercise program with added leadership modules earlier this year, and described it in a previous post. But I didn't realise then that it was just the beginning!

SO … enter 'Shack Attack'! This package upgrade moves from the farm to the seaside where as we (figuratively) speak the moist, salty air is quietly working its magic on any non-moving metal surface. Happily, 'Shack Attack' counteracts this through a comprehensive rust removal and repainting program!

So what new skills does 'Shack Attack' bring to the table?

I'm glad you asked!

Also offering a blend of exercise and management skill development, 'Shack Attack' fine tunes the skill groups honed by 'Farm Gym'.

Activity modules include the ladder multiple climb - with added grades of balancing on uneven ground; then a further upgrade to balancing on multiple surfaces ie various combinations of sand/concrete/dirt. Advanced upgrades building on these include 'reach for the sky', with a paintbrush in one hand and paint can in the other and 'remove one foot from the ladder', allowing a full stretch to reach inaccessible bare spots! A 'pass' is only given for this module when all the above are achieved while simultaneously fending off approximately 1,000,000 flies crawling into nearly every orifice …

'Fun' game modules hone the valuable situational leadership skills developed during 'Farm Gym' participation. These include 'Coordinate This!' - where the participant is given the following:
  • a shack with 3 levels and several different surfaces;
  • several preparation products (eg sugar soap, sandpaper, wire brushes)
  • 3 ladders and several other climbing devices;
  • 5 paintbrushes in various sizes;
  • several paint products (eg rust converter, red oxide base, undercoats, top coats) in both water and oil bases. 
Your task: using the products above, coordinate 2 participants (one with vertigo, one [anal] Virgo) to correctly prepare and re-paint the shack to prevent further rust damage and enhance street appeal, within a week. Can it be done? You decide!!

AND … if anyone cares, the rigours of this challenge rendered me temporarily incommunicado!!

Was it worth it?

Well … when I wake up in the morning, this is what I see!

AND ... now for something completely different!  The spelling police have caught up with me for repeated misspellings of 'thanks'! You hadn't noticed? Then stop reading NOW!!

In my defence, I submit that LOOOOONG before Twitter's arrival tacitly sanctioned use of inappropriate abbreviations, I saw it spelled 'thanx'!

I admired this spelling's a) brevity and punchiness; and b) it's inclusion of the under-used letter 'x'. I was outraged and appalled to find the relatively small amount of space allocated to the 'x' words in the dictionary – a wrong I now seek to redress!! I've been encouraged in this goal, most recently by a younger co-worker who, when I shared these thoughts with him, replied 'Red, you are SO COOL'! Now how can a girl ignore that kind of feedback?

So … apologies in advance if it offends you – but it's now a habit that I'm likely to continue. I leave it to you to decide if it's a sentimental affectation, a sign of wilful ignorance or an ingrained blip in the spelling bee of life.

Feel free to call me on any other spelling/grammatical errors you find!!

Till next time!!

Tuesday

Signs #7 - Today's the Day!

Note to overseas visitors: DON'T PANIC!  This ISN'T a standard Australian road sign.  In fact, it just MIGHT be the only one of its kind in Australia!  Let me know if I'm wrong ...

Other than consistently having the coldest minimum winter temperatures in Queensland, the town of Tambo on the Matilda Highway is also on the map as home of Tambo Teddies, a local teddy bear production business!

So what, I hear you ask?  Plenty of places sell teddies.  Why mention this one??

Well, glad you asked!

Tambo Teddies is different.  Plagued by killer drought and plunging wool prices, this predominantly wool-producing area came up with an alternative way to promote and market their product.

From the first outing of 20 bears at the Charleville show in 1993, unique woollen 'Tambo Teddies' are now sold around the world, and the business is one of the town's largest employers.  The company has even branched out into Teddy Bear clothing and other animals!!  And for serious collectors, there's a limited edition bear every year ...

Sadly, space was limited during our June 2010 visit so I couldn't take on a traveller.  BUT ... Good News!  Ponder no longer about my Xmas present - I'm MORE than happy to accept a Tambo Teddy!!  Anything in black will do nicely ...

I defy any random focus group of politicians (or public servants) slaving over a hot sheet of butchers paper to come up with a more lateral solution - AND a simpler, more easy to understand 'mission statement'!

Stay warm & fuzzy!!

Saturday

Don't Miss This! The Plane in the Paddock, Longreach QLD

Well OK, it's not actually a 'paddock' as such.

And it's certainly NOT just a plane!

It's a fully operational Qantas 747 Jumbo Jet (aka 747-200 VH-EBQ for those who care about such things!), the centrepiece of the Qantas Founders Museum - today celebrating 90 years of Qantas.

It's parked on a fenced off section of of the Longreach Airport grounds, right next to the car park. And when I say 'right next to', you can take that to the bank!

Longreach, in outback Queensland, is one of several towns with claims to be the birthplace of Qantas, (an acronym for 'Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service') along with Cloncurry (site of inital planning and inaugural flight destination), Charleville (inaugural mail run flight) and Winton (first board meeting). The small town of Tambo has a lesser claim as site of a fatal Qantas mail run crash.

As the original Qantas HQ, Longreach has the museum with enough oomph to support its claim. This still-operational jet – 'The City of Bunbury' – can be toured, and is therefore a magnet for aircraft obsessives! Don't let that put you off though – in July 2009, for a bargain $19 each, we easily found enough of interest in the many and varied exhibits (including several aircraft) to spend several hours in the museum.

But if you're a REAL die-hard, you'll probably tack on one or more of the tours that take you inside the prize exhibits - or on them, if you choose the 'wing walk' tour - the ultimate fantasy 'must do' for aircraft-obsessives!

A few days in Longreach, and the 747 looming high above the cars, caravans and coaches in the car park becomes part of the landscape. But take an evening stroll and stand under the tail, as I did, or under a wing or engine to really appreciate its awesome size in these incongruous surrounds.

Only just long enough to land the jet, the Longreach airstrip isn't long enough to fly it out.

SO … the plane in the paddock is here to stay!

Thursday

Weird Stuff #2 - Bowen, QLD


After a wet and windy flying flit from Cairns, we arrived in Bowen intending to set off early the next morning.  Why the rush?  We'd foolishly dallied in Cairns for too long, so had limited time to meet pre-arranged commitments in Ballina.

As it was 12 years since our last visit, we shook off the travel-weariness of the 600-odd km drive, and headed for the Flagstaff Hill lookout.  The rain that dogged our drive down the coast had thankfully cleared - but the haze in the heavy air merged the sea and sky to give the scene an ethereal aura, as if the islands were floating in limbo.  The guaranteed-photo-shop-free photo above shows what we saw!

Later that night, a killer storm broke, the thunder, lightning and strong winds interspersed with torrents of rain.  I called it the 'Bowen Curse' in a previous post - and still do!  

BUT ... every cloud has a silver lining.  Feeling a bit fragile after the rough night, we stayed an extra day, indulging at the FAAAABULOUS Jochheim's bakery (also beloved of the cast and crew of the movie 'Australia') AND sampling the Horseshoe Bay cafe's magnificent mango cheesecake!  Well ... you can't visit the mango capital of Australia and NOT eat mango products, can you? 

After eating ourselves into a stupor, we returned to Flagstaff Hill lookout to check out the view again. 

AND ... completely hidden the previous day, the islands in the background were now visible, changing the seascape considerably!  The guaranteed-photo-shop-free photo below shows what we saw!



Is the mystery of the disappearing island yet another facet to the extraordinary powers of the Bowen curse? Sadly no. The moisture haze obscuring the islands - more like a thick fog - was blown away by the storm. Once the air was clear, the islands were again visible! Logical?  Yes, but pretty dull!!

So I think I'll stick with the powers of the Bowen Curse!

Monday

Only in OZ #7 - The Ambulance Train, Blackall,


Medical emergency, but too far from the nearest doctor or hospital?  Never fear!  Help is at hand from the Blackall Ambulance Train!! 

Or would have been if your emergency had been a) last century; b) in Queensland's central west and c) within cooee of the train line to or from Blackall!  Sadly, the ambulance train is no longer operational, and it's now housed at the Blackall railway museum. 

This unique part of Blackall's history - a railcar equipped with medical supplies - provided medical aid and assistance to locals in the region when help would not otherwise have been available. 

While clearly limited to areas accessible by rail (!), the train was often used to attend emergencies when the area was flooded and roads were blocked.  How?  The railway track embankment was often above the high water mark!  In an emergency, the victim was able to be taken to an area accessible by the train, or train staff transported to the victim.

Despite its retirement, the ambulance train is another fine example of Outback innovation in action! 

And you don't even have to be a train buff to appreciate it!!
Happy travels!!

PS  And the other photo?  Other than showing the view from the Ambulance Train, it serves no real purpose other than my deep satisfaction in taking a photo like this with my trusty 20-year-old non-digital point-and-click camera!!  Oh ... and also that I really like it!!  See you next time!!

Saturday

Traveller SHAME Files #4 - The Hills are Alive!!

I can't wait to see the most recent addition to South Australia's 'anti-hoon' laws enacted! For those unfamiliar with laws peculiar to this sometimes draconian state, legislation penalising certain automobile related behaviours – such as drag racing, laying rubber and doing burn-outs – can result in the offender's vehicle being impounded or confiscated.

That's the simplified version, anyway. And while not explicitly stated, the legislation clearly targets a particular population demographic! Go on – look me in the eye and tell me you didn't immediately think of young males!!

BUT … playing loud music in one's car is now also a punishable offence!

So add the city and suburban Saturday night 'DOOF-DOOF-DOOF' to the list of no-no's and who's the likely target? Young urban males, I hear you say??

Not necessarily …

Picture, if you will, a multi-faceted landscape, with views from the highway to the horizon. Happily, there's a car park, picnic table and lookout to enhance your viewing pleasure...

Actually, do MORE than picture it – check it out right here! This shot from the roadside lookout between Hawker and Quorn, may prove or disprove the concept that it's virtually impossible to take a bad photo of the Flinders Ranges, but you'd agree that it looks like a quiet, restful spot, right?

Think again!

Imagine the view with a soundtrack. A car, doors and windows ajar, is sprawled across most of the available parking spots. The state of the art stereo system is getting a workout. One of the occupants is out taking a photo. The other is still inside reading a magazine. The photographer calls out something unintelligible to the reader in the car. 'WHAAAT?' she shrieks back. 'I can't hear you!!'

NOW – think about it, and describe them!

Yes, of course! It's a Grey Nomad couple, unable to correctly park their huge new 4WD while recreating the 'wall of sound' by playing ABC Classic FM at full bore!! In fact, so loud as to preclude all rational thought!

I BET that's what you were thinking, right? And no, I'm not joking. It really WAS a GN couple as described above.

Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against Classic FM, or listening to the radio or any other music, for that matter. But I want to choose when, where, how or even IF I listen to it. And I certainly don't want to have it shoved down my neck when I'm sightseeing, touring or in a caravan park.

SO ... I can't wait to see South Australia's laws enforced, and this thoughtless couple's car impounded!!

What do you think my chances are??

Happy travels!

Wednesday

Walk the Dutchman's Stern! Southern Flinders Ranges, SA

'Visit the Crazy Horse – but not on Monday' the log book entry read. Who knows why, with the magnificent panorama from the Dutchman's Stern summit all around them, two German hikers were reminded of an Adelaide nightclub 300-odd kilometres away? (Note to self – what IS the Monday deal at the Crazy Horse, anyway??). However, irrespective of the origin theory to which you subscribe, the Dutchman's Stern has dominated its eponymous Conservation Park only marginally longer than the Crazy Horse has dominated the west end of Adelaide's Hindley Street. And that's the only connection I can find between the two!!

It's almost worth the 10.5 km round trip just to read the log book at the summit. A pot-pourri of demographic information (eg names, dates, weather reports, wildlife sightings, a surprisingly high number of countries of origin) is supplemented by a range of comments – both comical and asinine – and I'll leave you to decide which best describes the one above!

But nothing, NOTHING detracts from the jaw-dropping view – almost a complete 360º taking in Port Augusta and the top of Spencer Gulf to the west; then Devil's Peak, Mt Brown and the Richman Valley further south; then Quorn (the nearest town) and Wilpena Pound and the Elder and Yappala Ranges as you turn to the north. Although apparently we were the lucky ones - according to the log book the view has been blocked by fog more than once! I can't imagine walking all that way to see NOTHING! Especially when if you CAN see something, it's such a spectacular, stupendous something!!

The medium grade hike to the 820m high Dutchman's Stern summit, one of several walks in this former pastoral lease and intersected by the Heysen trail, is less difficult than lengthy. And if I say it's not a hard walk, you can depend upon it, as unlike those who recorded in the log book the exact (short) length of time it took to reach the summit (like anyone cared!!), I'm not a martyr to fitness – or one-upmanship! Just look at my profile picture if in any doubt ...

So I and my mate – apparently known to his siblings as 'Pilchard' – meandered the ever upwardly zig-zagging trail through low grassland, purple with Salvation Jane (Echium plantagineum) and dotted with the endemic Quorn Wattle (Acacia quornensis); and Sugar Gum woodland, before reaching the wildflower extravaganza (still flowering in October 2010) of the heathland, then the more sparsely vegetated rocky outcrops towards the summit. After sighting the summit's resident Peregrine Falcon, we descended along the 10.5 km loop rather than the shorter 8.2km return walk, through Drooping Sheoak and Sugar Gum woodlands into the steep, scree-lined slopes of Stony Creek gorge before returning to the trail head.
Chestnut-rumped Heathwren's (subspecies pedleri) appearance ALMOST made up for the Gilbert's Whistler absence. But … if I had a choice between an un-fogged summit view and a GW sighting, I'd choose the view any day! Just don't tell Pilchard!!

Happy hiking!!

Sunday

Signs #6 - Dune!

If not for my mate pointing it out, I would never have noticed this sign on the dunes near the Largs Bay Jetty, South Australia.

It's pretty small, and doesn't have any of the visual cues that indicate warning.  If I noticed it at all, it would have been to subconsciously dismiss it as a kind of yin/yang sign, and therefore pretty much irrelevant to me. 

BUT ... look at the detail, and you'll see that's not the case at all!

To state I have an antipathy towards snakes is like saying Winston Smith (of '1984' fame) didn't like rats very much!  The prospect of snakes in the dunes therefore bothers me A LOT!!!   They tell me the Brown snake has apparently taken over from the Death adder of yesteryear - but I'm not sure whether that's something to be sad or glad about ...

So am I alone in wondering why anyone would set up a SNAKE WARNING SIGN that was a) small, b) barely noticeable and c) obscure in both image and intent??

The great irony is that in order to get this photo, I had to get pretty close.  And to get pretty close, I had to - yes, you guessed it - climb up onto the dune!  Where the snakes were!!  And I couldn't say I hadn't been warned, either.

It didn't occur to me until afterwards that this might not have been the best plan - but luckily the cold air kept the snakes away.  This time, anyway!!

Such are the sacrifices of blogging ...

Stay calm!!

Wednesday

Australia's Scenic Public Toilets #8 - Gunnedah, New South Wales

At first glance, this public toilet in Gunnedah, Central NSW seems unremarkable, right?

Especially when compared to the wonders and delights of the Australian public toilets already on display in these pages ...

BUT ... Gunnedah's offering can hold its head high in the public toilet pantheon, because it offers a complete poetry-themed amenities experience!

At the end of Gunnedah's 'Poets Drive' featuring 16 Aussie poets, the brochures encourage tourists to visit the 'Lyrical Loos'!  If you think, as I first did, that this is just a cutesy way of describing a convenience block, you'd be wrong!  It's a literal description - the continuous loop recording of famous Australian poems plays throughout the building to match the external silhouettes of poetic scenes!

But wait!  There's more!!

Choose a cubicle by your preferred poet and poem - conveniently etched on each door to aid the selection process.

Then, when seated inside doing what comes naturally, take the time for quietly reflecting on your selected poem, against the backdrop of the recorded recitation.
   
Alas, the rain that had dogged our trip was drumming so loudly I couldn't hear the recording, but full marks for a unique Australian experience!  Perhpas it was just as well - I'm not quite sure how I'd react to hearing one of my favourites, 'My Country', in these circumstances...  Maybe next time!!

And I couldn't hang about, either!  One is looked upon with deep suspicion when entering such premises with a camera - so a couple of quick snaps and I scuttled out of there before anyone could peg me as a nasty perve ...

One day we'll return to complete the experience.  Gunnedah is not only famous for commemorating Australian poets, but it's also Australia's Koala capital!  Perhaps appropriately for this post (!!), the only evidence of koalas on this visit (August 2010) were the droppings around our camper trailer under the eucalypts in the caravan park ...

Happy travels!!

Monday

7 Days in ... Ballina, NSW

Thank goddess for Byron Bay! The Byron tourist magnet sucks a conglomerate of backpackers, yuppies, new age-ists, surfers, whale watchers and regular local and overseas tourists into its vortex, leaving the fabulous, diverse and bakery-filled Ballina region relatively uncrowded. This is good.


This 7 day teaser is only an introduction – complete with 'bakery alerts' – as a week isn't enough to 'do' it properly. I've found new things to do on every visit, most recently in August 2010.
Day 1: Ballina Orientation (Bakery Alert!)

If you're not a bird watcher (if you were, you wouldn't need me to tell you to go straight to Flat Rock!), head for the Visitor Information Centre then take a tour of Ballina's main street. When (if?) you tire of the array of shops, galleries and cafés, grab a little treat from the main street bakery and wander along the Richmond river bank, or check out the Naval and Maritime Museum. Trek up to the lighthouse for great views north towards Cape Byron and south to the breakwall and surfing beaches.

We stayed at the Ballina Headlands Leisure Park between Ballina and Lennox Head. An excellent base, we've enjoyed many morning walks to nearby Skennars Head, almost always sighting whales, or to Flat Rock, almost always seizing a fantastic (in my opinion) photo opportunity!

Day 2: Cape Byron (Bakery Alert!)

Yes, yes, I know I slagged off about Byron above, but that's just the crowds, and you can safely handle them for one day, right?

It could even be comical as we found when our 2009 visit coincided with Halloween. While this festival isn't widely celebrated in Australia, we Aussies use anything for an excuse to party!

While waiting in the ATM line behind a hungover Brit backpacker waging a losing battle to recall his PIN, a heavily made up young blonde female lifestyle icon approached. Dressed, I guess, as a witch - if not, the hat was a REALLY bad choice!

'Are you coming to the street party tonight?' she asked, flashing a smile. Not at me (wrong demographic ie female), or my mate (wrong demographic ie male, but over 45 and sober) – we weren't just irrelevant, for her we didn't exist! But the Brit's mate perked up immediately.

'Yeah, sure,' he spluttered, nodding and nudging the Brit, to whom she was clearly issuing the invitation, sadly distracting him from what (please goddess) must surely have been his 3rd and final attempt at entering his PIN.

But the Brit wasn't playing along. Clearly more hungover than my initial assessment, he mumbled something about needing a night off the tiles and prepared for a final PIN attempt.

The girl took another look at the Brit's mate, made a visibly conscious decision to cut her losses and started edging away. Thank goddess, it must FINALLY be my turn at the ATM. But ... alas, not yet.

The Brit's mate became agitated as the vision of loveliness, possibly his sole reason for visiting Australia, de-materialised.

'He'll be feeling better tonight,' he pronounced, simultaneously maintaining eye contact with the witch and nudging the Brits arm. 'Won't you, mate?' he implored.

The Brit gave up the battle with the ATM, and turned to us.

'We're keeping these people waiting,' he announced, and modelling the diplomacy for which the Brits are known, guided the others away from the ATM. The other two looked at us like we'd just dropped from the sky.

'See you at the party,' I called as they departed. Maybe I just imagined their shudder of horror ...

Quite apart from fun with the tourists AND the superb bakery, Cape Byron's magnificent views over Australia's easternmost point often include the Byron wildlife trifecta (whales, dolphins, turtles), and the odd feral goat. The hungover backpacker, exercise freak, whale watcher and crowd-dodging local are also frequently sighted at the lighthouse and on the walking trail.

And if that isn't enough marvellous scenery for one day, drop in to Broken Head Nature Reserve on the way home and walk around the headland.

Day 3: Market Day

In the market for handmade soap, local coffee, sugarcane&ginger juice, hydroponics books, exotic fruits, massage implements, plants, handmade jewellery and clothing you won't find anywhere else? The major Sunday market each week is held at either Byron Bay, The Channon, Nimbin or Bangalow with a range of smaller markets at other locations.

My personal favourite? The Channon – also the kick-off point for a visit to Terania Creek, aka 'Protestors Falls' where the 70's blockades stopped logging and led to National Park proclamation. Worth it? Take a look and see!

Days 4 & 5: Somewhere on the Hinterland ...

The Ballina Hinterland contains a range of spectacular natural features where you can expend as much or as little energy as you wish. Or are able …

Rocky Creek Dam ensures the Ballinese rarely suffer water restrictions – well, that and the tropical strength rainfall! Platypus, water dragons, and a variety of birds (eg Paradise riflebird, Rufous fantail, White-bellied sea-eagle and the ubiquitous Australian brush turkey) can be seen on the various walks through the Rainforest Reserve.

Minyon Falls, in the Whian Whian State Conservation area, has a very short walk to a great viewing point opposite the falls, or a longer, steeper, more difficult hike to the base and back. HHHMMMmmm... which one to pick?!?! An icecream from the stall en route suits either choice!

Drive past the Nimbin Rocks to Nimbin itself for a glimpse of how different the world would be if the 70's peace and love hadn't been overtaken by 80's greed and capitalism. This fascinating place to browse, shop and de-tox on natural, organic food and beverages will leave you well able to tackle the delights of Mt Nardi, just up the road! Again you've got options - scenic drive/scenic public toilet OR reasonably strenuous hike! Or both, of course.

Please Note: Unless you're a masochist with a death wish, these activities will take more than a day!

Day 6: Ballina Esplanade Walk

The Esplanade walk from Ballina to the Richmond River mouth on a fine day is one of life's great pleasures. Spot for dugongs, nesting Ospreys, fish and birds (eg Mangrove gerygone, Superb fairy wren) along the way. Ponder why the kids at the skate park aren't in school, then cross the bridge over the inlet, pass the lake and head out along the breakwall. Lunch (or at least snack!) at the takeaway and cafe near the caravan park to restore the tissues for the walk back!

Day 7: Lennox Head (Bakery Alert!)

For some of the most spectacular scenery you'll see anywhere, take a walk from Skennars Head to Lennox Head over the headlands. Indulge in whale, bird, people, surf and extreme sport watching with the secure anticipatory knowledge that yet another wonderful bakery awaits at the end.

But even if you're unable to walk there, Lennox Head is worth a visit in its own right. Lake Ainsworth, Seven Mile Beach and the amazing (so they tell me) right hand surf break; boutiques and book shops; fantastic fruit and veg shops; a clutch of interesting restaurants – all this and more should see you right for yet another day in paradise.

For the best lunch experience on the coast take your bakery booty to Lennox Head itself – and envy the people who have chosen to live here!

And look all you want – you won't see any evidence of the mini-tornado that ransacked the town earlier in 2010!

You won't have time on this trip to take the Richmond River cruise; visit South Ballina; explore hinterland villages (with their own bakeries!!); experience other of the many National Parks, coastal reserves and conservation areas; visit nearby Evans Head and Brunswick Heads; surf, swim and fish; or just hang out!

Click HERE for fellow blogger L'Aussie's take on the same area and you'll see I've hardly scratched the surface …

Happy travels!
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