The beer economy, a 4WD through the floorboards and a lost ostrich: My 2018 4WD adventure

The advantage of having your four wheel drive stolen (August last year) is being able to start again and improve on the earlier model. I bought another Hilux, mainly because my first was such a great vehicle and because they’re so common in rural and remote areas there will always be parts and someone who can fix it if something goes wrong.

So I designed a canopy set up that met my needs and had it fabricated in Brisbane. My Hilux is my home so I pretty much carry everything I own in it. My canopy design allows lots of easy access to storage and room to sleep if camping conditions outside aren’t ideal. (By the way, my idea of camping is a rolled out swag so I’m pretty low maintenance.) 

Brisbane to Kalgoorlie as tracked by my GPS tracker
Brisbane to Kalgoorlie as tracked by my GPS tracker

I left Brisbane on February 21. I had a few weeks to get to Adelaide where I’d lined up a week’s work and then I was heading across the Nullarbor to the West Australian Goldfields.

Travelling alone

My first night was spent at a great free camp at Chinchilla Weir. My second night was spent at a fantastic campsite at Wyandra. Cost was a donation in the donation box. It was here I met an interesting couple that reminded my why I was so lucky to be travelling on my own.

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On occasion I’ll sleep in the back of the Hilux. Most times I’m in my swag on the ground or on my stretcher. I only use a tent when there are others around or when the nights are cold.

The retired lady was a former teacher and absolutely lovely. We were having a wonderful chat when her husband walked into my camp and proceeded to talk all over his wife, ‘mansplain’ to her, talk down to her, discredit anything she said,  and generally be a dominant ass. 

They eventually returned to their caravan and I raised a glass to travelling solo.

Camping 30km from the closest human

I was so excited to be going back to Currawinya National Park. I’d been there in the early 90s when the Queensland Government had just taken charge of it. Formerly a sheep station, and 830km west of Brisbane, it’s now one of Qld’s biggest national parks and plays a critical role in efforts to save the bilby.

Not worried about snakes and creepy crawlies, I rolled out my swag on the banks of Caiwarro waterhole. Still summer, it was hot, really hot, but that meant wildlife would come to the waterhole to drink. 

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My campsite at Currawinya National Park, far western Queensland.

The following day I explored the park in 40+ degrees and moved camp to the Ourimperee Waterhole. Nearby was an amazing open-air shower using bore water that is naturally heated in the black pipes.

When a wrong turn takes you to the place you’re supposed to be; My favourite day of 2018.

Upon leaving Currawinya National Park I crossed the New South Wales border at  Hungerford and headed towards Wanaaring on a rocky dirt road. Well, I thought I was. Turns out I missed the turn-off and was unknowingly en route to Bourke. And what an accidental detour it was! 

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The border gate at Hungerford,  far western Qld. The other side is NSW.

A few hours and 150km later, I stopped  at Fords Bridge. I really was at the back of Bourke! There’s not much to Fords Bridge: a pub, an old community hall, and a fire brigade shed. I always stop at remote pubs. Always. That’s where the adventures are! And the Warrego Hotel at Fords Bridge was no exception.

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The publican wasn’t in the pub though. He was in the community hall next door and he was having a hell of a time. Peter Thompson is an old fella with limited mobility. He’d had his car stolen by Bourke locals. The vehicle had been recovered but the engine was ‘cooked”. He’d planned to put it into the hall and that’s where he was going to fix it. But the century-old hall floorboards had other ideas. His 4WD had fallen through the floorboards and onto the ground half a metre below.

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Oops. The floorboards in the old Warrego Hall at couldn’t hold Peter’s ute.
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Peter and the hall had seen better days.

Peter wasn’t giving up, even though his body just about has. He was going to pull the car out with the tractor, then get long planks to cover the holes in the hall floor and have a second attempt at parking the car in the hall. 

And that’s where I came in. I’m not sure he knew what hit him. We discussed his plan, fine tuned it, I got bossy and he followed my direction. One of my favourite things to do is problem-solve.

I dragged the planks in place for him, then guided him in, and then laid palings under his tyres to spread the load across a wider surface area.

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The finished product. Phew!

Peter’s was quietly grateful. I let him buy me a lemonade before I bid him and his dog Cappy farewell. I jumped in my 4WD with a sore back, splinters in my hands and a big, tired smile. He offered me a room at the pub for the night but I was keen to continue my adventure. 

No doubt for the next week he told the story about the smart, bossy, middle-aged woman who came out of nowhere to help him and his 4WD out of all sorts of bother. 

Heading south

From Fords Bridge I headed south of Bourke and camped at the Yanda campground at Gunabooka National Park. There was no-one else there. Bliss. The next day I continued to follow the Darling River and camped at Neila Gaari Station, 90km from Wilcannia. I can highly recommend this place for a stunning place to camp.

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My campsite on the Darling River at Neila Gaari Station.

From there I stayed at Pooncarrie at another gem of a campsite on the Darling River. (Great pub in Pooncarrie with a young publican called Josh). I met three couples there and told them my story about Peter at Fords Bridge. They were excited to pop in and say hi to him on their travels north.

Kangaroo company and an extraordinary national park

I can’t understand why I’d never heard of heritage listed Mungo National Park. It’s rich in aboriginal history and is home to a beautiful shearing shed built in 1869.

I was there on March 1 so it was still very hot. I got a hell of a fright when i heard something at the back of my great campsite in the ‘main camp’ campsite. Kangaroos were drinking from my washing up bucket! Several little wallaby and kangaroo families came to drink from the bucket which I refilled countless times for the next few hours. Each would drink for about twenty minutes! While I never feed wildlife, I didn’t see a problem giving these guys water.

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What’s that Skip? You’re thirsty?

After a night of listening to wallabies drink I packed up and ventured on my to Adelaide where I worked for a week and then continued to my trip west. 

Putting the Hilux in low range at Coffin Bay: my second favourite day of 2018

South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula is one of Australia’s best kept secrets – lovely seaside towns and camping opportunities everywhere. At the southern extremity of the Peninsula is the glorious Coffin Bay National Park. The first campground is accessible via sealed road but getting deep into the park requires sand and beach driving.

I hadn’t had much experience on sand so I was nervous, almost to the point of not going into the park. But I was well-prepared, I have a personal locator beacon, I have a UHF radio and knew the rangers were contactable that way (there’s no phone coverage there), a friend knew where I was going, I have all the equipment needed for a recovery, I know how to put my tyre pressure up and down, and I know all the theory about sand driving. It was time for the preparation to meet opportunity. And what an opportunity! The place is magnificent.

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Coffin Bay National Park on the Eyre Peninsula is magnificent.

The driving was fine and AWESOME FUN. I used my gears effectively and didn’t come close to getting bogged. I felt in control at all times. On one of the narrow tracks a ranger in his 4WD gave way for me. We stopped and chatted about conditions further up the track (ALWAYS talk to a ranger when you see one. Local knowledge, stories, tips and advice are invaluable). “You’ve got this far, you’ll be fine!” he smiled. And he nodded approvingly when I told him I’d dropped my tyres down to 13PSI. (I’d passed a bunch of P-platers who hadn’t put their tyres down and were having great fun trying to get through the sandy tracks. When you’re young and silly you can take those risks, I guess.)

At no stage did the ranger say “oh, you’re on your own?” which is something I’ve grown very tired of.  Women tell me I’m brave, some women tell me how lonely I must be (they’re usually the ones who have husbands who do everything for them),  and men assume I’m running away from something and take the opportunity to invade my campsite unannounced to ‘see that I’m ok’ and invite me to sleep in their caravan. (Boy, that future blog’s going to be a doozy!)

Nullarbor bound and a camel and poddy calf friendship

While there are a few places to stop and look at the amazing Great Australian Bight, the Eyre highway across the Nullarbor itself is pretty uneventful.

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Nullarbor views aren’t too shabby.

There are lots of places to bush camp on the Nullarbor, and my new friends Mr Squiggle and Bozo offered a nice reprieve at Fraser Range Station, a great place to spend the night at the western end of the Nullarbor.

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Best friends: Mr Squiggles and Bozo

The camel was orphaned when he was one week old, and the calf was abandoned by his mum. I stayed at Fraser Range in mid-March and these guys had spent the previous eight months as best friends, united at one week of age.

WA’s goldfields: a 4WD explorer’s delight

What a surprise the Goldfields are! Rich in pioneering history, brilliant 4WD tracks and camping opportunities, and a plethora of fascinating cemeteries that tell stories of incredibly hard yet interesting times, you should definitely put the Goldfields on your bucket list. 

There are these sorts of tracks all over the Goldfields. Make sure you have a good map and lots of water. It’s not hard to work out why many gold miners perished here. This country is not forgiving.

The salt lake at Menzies, north of Kalgoorlie, and the art installation there has to be seen to be believed. Again, I’d never heard of Lake Ballard until I wandered into the Menzies pub. 

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Lake Ballard near Menzies.

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And the Goldfields sunsets are hard to beat…

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Taken near Warburton, WA

NEXT STOP: Birdsville!

My route from Kalgoorlie to Birdsville
My route from Kalgoorlie to Birdsville

After working in Kalgoorlie and exploring the Goldfields for four months I was Birdsville bound for a great three-day concert in the Simpson desert called the Big Red Bash. 

By now it was winter (June 20) so the nights neared zero in many places. I now slept in a tent because of the extra warmth it offered. I took two weeks to get to Birdsville via Uluru and the Oodnadatta and the Birdsville Tracks.

There was so many highlights on this 3,000 kilometre trek which was predominantly on dirt roads. Particularly memorable moments were the lovely grey nomads who drank me under the table somewhere on the Oodnadatta track, the wonderfully welcoming people of Maree (South Australia), camping under a full moon over Lake Eyre and the horses running through my camp at sunrise on the outskirts of Kaltukatjara  (Docker River, just over the NT border). 

Two bloody big surprises

Why have I never heard of the Painted Desert? I didn’t know what to expect and I was blown away by what I saw. 90km south west of Oodnadatta, this incredible landscape is on private property, Ackaringa cattle station. Click on the link to see photos. My own pics don’t do it justice. The homestead offers great camping. And the view’s not bad either.

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Camping at Ackaringa Station.

And then there was this fella! North of Maree on the Birdsville Track I saw an ostrich! I posted the pictures online and did half a dozen radio interviews about what I’d seen. It even inspired a really interesting ABC News story. Read it here and watch my video. Ha – you’ll hear my amazement!

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This male ostrich was on the Birdsville track. I’ve never done a U-turn so quick in my life!

The Big Red Bash

Nine-thousand people made their way to Australia’s best live music event. (Big call, I know.) It’s called the Big Red Bash and it’s held annually on an organic cattle station west of Birdsville with the famous Big Red sand dune in the background. I met my friends Rob and Paula there and we had a ball dancing and singing to the likes of John Farnham, the HoodooGurus, Kate Ceberano, Busby Marou and Travis Collins. 

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My friends Paula and Rob travelled from Sydney to meet me at the Big Red Bash. Cheers!
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I’d crossed three state lines to get from Kalgoorlie to Birdsville for the Big Red Bash.

My pet hate: caravanners who don’t know how to use their UHF.

I had a few weeks to drive from Birdsville to the Broome where I had a few months work. By this stage it was mid-July which is peak grey nomad time. Because I’m not towing a trailer or caravan I’m quicker than they are so I try to avoid them as much as I can.

You see, my pet hate is vehicles on dirt roads who don’t use their UHF radio how it should be. Yes, if you’re travelling through regional Australia you should have a UHF and you should have it on and scanning at all times. If you’re scanning, people like me can contact you and let you know that I’m planning to overtake you or ask you what you can see ahead. SO many travellers keep their UHF on one channel which means, unless I know what channel you’re on,  I can’t communicate with you. Ha – and I wish you could hear what the truck drivers and road workers are saying about you when you piss them off by not being contactable. 

Keeping in touch

I avoid caravanners as much as I can by taking the road less travelled. In fact, the roads are actually tracks and it means I go pretty remote and often don’t see anyone for days. Bliss! It also means I have to be self-sufficient. I have a GPS tacking device that allows me to send a daily message to a few friends letting them know I’m out of range but okay. If I don’t send that daily message they’re able to look at my last location via my tracking website and alert the nearest police station. I carry enough food and water for at least a week, plus I carry extra fuel.

From Birdsville to the Kimberley

My Birdsville to Broome route
My GPS tracker reveals my Birdsville to Broome route

From Birdsville I headed to Bedourie for the annual camel races. Such a fun day!

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Then it was up to Boulia and then left into the guts of Australia! 

The Donohue Highway turns into the Plenty Highway at the Northern Territory border and its condition leaves a lot of be desired. But it’s a good drive if you take it easy and don’t mind lots of shakes and bumps. Not all vehicles can handle these rough outback roads though. 

I got off the highway and turned onto a track called Binns Track. I’d planned to head north until I hit the Sandover Highway. 

Travelling on these tracks you see the real outback and no people. Below are photos of my refueling stop (for me as well as the Hilux). I was carrying 60 litres of diesel in jerry cans.

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I kept travelling north, got onto the Sandover highway which was very rough and eventually headed north on a track yet again, passing through two cattle stations before popping out near Ti Tree on the Northern Territory’s Stuart Highway. I love having cattle company.

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The beer economy

It was a treat to be back on bitumen for a while.  I was to head north on bitumen for about 750 kilometres before hitting the dirt west towards Top Springs and then  continuing west to the WA border. 

But first I needed to give the Hilux some care. I had snapped one of six bolts holding my tray on and the remaining ones were loose. Eek. Tennant Creek was chockers with travellers and I was sure that there was going to be a long line of vehicles needing attention by the town’s mechanics. But I stumbled across a brilliant and friendly mechanic who I offered to pay in beer. He smiles and says “see you in 40 minutes” and with that the deal was done and my car was ready within an hour. 

The Northern Territory is well-known for having a beer economy and I can vouch for its effectiveness! 

On the road again

I camped in Tennant Creek the night and headed north for another 400km on bitumen. I turned left north of Newcastle Waters and started the stretch west to the WA border, camping at Top Springs pub, and staying at Humbert River cattle station which the local cop had arranged for me. (Always talk to country cops as well as park rangers!) 

I drove through Gregory National Park which was amazing but very rough on my tyres. There’s no way I’d drive in that park without a second spare tyre. It was slow going and I needed low range a couple of times. FUN!  I took the Wickham and Gibbie tracks, camping at Fish Hole Yards where there’s a gorgeous creek. 

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Made it to the west!

I had one last remote camp site in the NT, this time by the side on the Buntine Highway, near the WA border. Then HELLO KIMBERLEY! Halls Creek, the Wolf Creek crater,  Fitzroy Crossing, Tunnel Creek, Windjana George (flat tyre), Derby and finally Broome. 

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The best of Broome.

I started work in Broome in early August and finished my contract in mid-December. Most weekends I was able to explore the Dampier Peninsula. (I’ve already blogged about that here)

I really enjoyed seeing Broome at its busiest during the dry season and at its quietest from October when it really heats up and the tourists (and some residents) head south. 

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So much more.

This is just a glimpse of ten months on the road. I’m currently in Darwin and will head east in the new year. I’ve challenged myself, surprised myself, learned lots, seen incredible wildlife and landscapes, met some brilliant people and had lots of fun. Let the adventures continue! 

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My birthday celebrations on Cable Beach – Sept 29, 2018.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER: 
Lisa Herbert is houseless not homeless. She’s the author of funeral planning guide ‘The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan’ . She’s been travelling around the country for about four years, occasionally filling short-term contracts for the ABC in places like Kalgoorlie, Broome, Tamworth and Darwin. Lisa enjoys blogging about the unusual graves, memorials and cemeteries she finds on her travels. 
Get in touch with Lisa via Facebook.

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You don’t have to go off-road to see cool things and amazing wildlife

Driving between Derby and Broome in the Kimberley yesterday, I stopped at two bridges on the Great Northern Highway, just south of Willare. It’s bloody hot at the moment – temps in their 40s. The creeks and billabongs are starting to disappear and wildlife is started to congregate. The wet season will be here soon but until then watering holes offer so much potential if you like spotting wildlife.

I saw black-necked storks, brolgas, plumed whistling ducks, and three freshwater crocs – all within 20 metres from where I’d parked by the side of the road.

One of three fresh water crocs spotted from the Cockatoo Bridge.
In the dry season Cockatoo Creek can become a series of waterholes. Both Ski Lake and Cockatoo Creek are anabranches of the mighty Fitzroy River. They’re on the very western side of the Fitzroy catchment, “one of WA’s last remaining areas that retains its wilderness areas”. 
There was a pair of brolgas at both Cockatoo Bridge and Ski Lake.
It was about 43 degrees when I stopped. The creeks and waterholes are part of Yeeda cattle station so cattle share their water with the wildlife. Or should that be the other way around? 
When the wet finally arrives Cockatoo Creek
will be water as far as the eye can see.
Plumed whistling ducks at Ski Lake, easily seen from the bridge. 
This black-necked stork was on his own at Ski Lake (Formerly known as a jabiru but that is actually the name of a Brazilian stork)
The Great Northern Highway is notorious for having cattle on the road. Driving north of Broome yesterday I saw several animals on and very close the road, drawn by puddles from recent storms. This little guy’s mum wasn’t far away but he hasn’t learned that she knows best yet!
Sometimes it’s worth stopping at bridges. Ski Lake is just south of the Willare Roadhouse, about 130km north of Broome, WA.

 ABOUT THE BLOGGER: 
Lisa Herbert is houseless not homeless. She’s the author of funeral planning guide ‘The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan’ . She’s been travelling around the country for about four years, occasionally filling short-term contracts for the ABC in places like Kalgoorlie, Broome, Tamworth and Darwin. Lisa enjoys blogging about the unusual graves, memorials and cemeteries she finds on her travels. 
Get in touch with Lisa via Facebook .

Crocs and Curtis Stone: More reasons to love WA’s Dampier Peninsula.

The drive up the Cape Leveque Road isn’t for the faint-hearted, but my gosh it’s bloody worth it. And so is a good bra.

Cape Leveque, the most well-known place on the Peninsula, is only 240km from Broome but it takes more than three hours to get there. You’ve got to concentrate on the drive because you don’t want to run over any bits and pieces that have been shaken off cars, trucks, trailers and boats ahead of you.

The first 100kms is red dirt, pindan, followed by 100km of bitumen. There are a couple of communities worth visiting on the way. Beagle Bay and Lombadina have incredible missionary histories and their churches have to be seen to be believed.

Cape Leveque is spectacular. It’s the northernmost tip of the Peninsula. Kooljaman is a wilderness camp that’s worth a visit. Facilities are pretty basic and can be expensive (I paid $130 for my beach shelter) . It can be really busy during the dry season but I’ve just had a glorious weekend there in November.

The east beach offers incredible swimming and snorkeling. If you squint you can see me! There are tides like no other in this part of the world. Nine metre tides aren’t uncommon. I was swimming at an almost-high tide.

The west beach offers some awesome fishing (below is a gratuitous photo of the Hilux on the pindan – I just love it!). There’s sand on the other side of that pindan.

Now, it is the Kimberley after all. And while they don’t often mention crocodiles in the tourist brochures, they are around albeit infrequently.

I was chuffed to see evidence of a saltwater croc on my pre-dawn walk at the very location I was swimming at the day before. Yup! Croc tracks!

And check out the brilliant imprint he left behind after relaxing on the beach for a while. I estimated him to be about two metres. There’s a creek about 6km north of the beach so I’m assuming he lives in the mangroves there and just wanders from time to time.

THE PEOPLE YOU MEET

I meet great like-minded people on my travels and every now and again I meet someone who’s worth bragging about. Celebrity chef Curtis Stone is one of those. He was genuinely lovely and was very excited to share his passion for Western Australian produce with me, including some bush tucker that he and some local guides had collected at Kooljaman. He had lunch at Kooljaman and made a point of making his way to the kitchen to thank the young chef. That story made its way to ABC radio. Listen here to hear how over-the-moon the young chef was and how much Curtis was loving his trip north.

Curtis isn’t the only one who can cook up a feast! This is the breakfast I cooked from my beach shack overlooking the East Beach. Not a bad kitchen! The tide was going out at this point. During a high tide the rocks on the beach can’t be seen. If you look closely you can see my ground sheet. That’s where I rolled out my swag.

And how’s this for my bedroom! I often roll my swag out and sleep under the stars. I have to admit this bedroom will be hard to beat. In the far right of the photo you can see the sun coming up. The Dampier Peninsula has the best sunrises I’ve ever seen. (Darwin has the best sunsets, btw.)

GUMBANAN BUSH CAMP.

It’s dubbed the Dampier Peninsula’s best kept secret and I absolutely agree! Gumbanan is about twenty minutes drive east of Kooljaman (close to One Arm Point), and a camp site there is fraction of the cost. For $15 I camped in the most delightful spot (see below). Ridiculous, eh? The bathroom and showers are just as basic as Kooljaman but they do they job nicely. And I didn’t shower or pee alone. There were green tree frogs to keep me company.

I slept in my swag in the back of my Hilux. Heaven really is a great view from a $15 camp site.

The tides are pretty incredible in the north. I sat and watched the tide come in and go out from my camp. Check out the difference in just a few hours!

And a different tidal point of view: Just magic!

It’s a pretty easy place to pour yourself a drink and watch the tides and the wildlife go by. While it be warm in September (the start of what’s called the build up) there’s usually a sea breeze to cool you down. Gumbanan is no exception.

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU’LL SEE

Feral donkeys aren’t uncommon on the Peninsula. You’ll see their calling cards on the road and, if you’re lucky, you’ll see some.

MIDDLE LAGOON

Another gem of a place on the Peninsula! Again, I was there out of season. And look what I saw from near where I was camped! I was up pre-dawn and saw a whale from my swag. On closer inspection she had a new-born calf with her. More magic!

This German tourist Lars was camped beside me so when I saw the whales in the bay we jumped at the chance for a closer look. After a couple of hours of whale watching (yes, hours) Lars went snorkeling and this very active whale made a bee-line for him (photo below). I was watching it all unfold from land. Check out this video I took. The drone vision isn’t mine but the other shots are.

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Middle Lagoon has both unpowered campsites and cabins. Of course, I was more than happy with my $15 campsite (low season price). This photo was taken at an almost-low tide.

A MUST SEE

The Dampier Peninsula is a most worthy detour if you’re around Broome. Sadly plans are afoot to bitumen the rough Cape Leveque road, making the Peninsula’s communities more susceptible to grog running and drugs, and providing much easier access for tourists to the Peninsula’s relatively unspoiled environment. The Peninsula’s beauty lies in its unspoiled simplicity. An influx of people and a lack of planned infrastructure to cope with those increased numbers threatens that.

I’ve mentioned just some of the great camping spots. There are quite a few more. And there’s also the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm which is a great place for lunch and a swim (See below. That’s me on the left. Tough gig, right?) It also offers a range of accommodation options.

The Dampier Peninsula is a very, very special place – one of my favourites. You’ll need a four-wheel drive to get there.  And it’s probably best to put your tyres down a bit. The road can be very corrugated in parts and sandy in others.

Oh, and take your rod if you’re going camping. The Peninsula’s got great fishing!

 

ABOUT THE BLOGGER:

Lisa Herbert is houseless not homeless. She’s the author of funeral planning guide ‘The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan’ . She’s been travelling around the country for about four years, occasionally filling short-term contracts for the ABC in places like Kalgoorlie, Broome, Tamworth and Darwin. Lisa enjoys blogging about the unusual graves, memorials and cemeteries she finds on her travels. 
Get in touch with Lisa via Facebook .

When laziness gets you bogged and preparation gets you out.

 

I’d had a great weekend camping and was heading back into town but decided at the last minute to do a little bit of exploring on my way home.

I followed old tyre tracks on sand in an area I didn’t know and where there wasn’t a clear path. While I was in 4-high (high range 4WD), my tyres were still on road pressure. Up until that point I’d had no dramas so I was a little bit over-confident and a lot lazy.

I knew I was in trouble the second I hit the soft sand. With some experience it becomes an unmistakable feeling and there’s an instant difference in your vehicle’s handling. I whacked the Hilux into low range and started reversing. I’d got in that way so I was hoping I could get out that way.

Er … Nope.

I carry a fair bit of weight over my rear axle so my rear tyres weren’t able to lead the way. I had successfully reversed about six metres before she started digging in. I was going nowhere.

And it was my fault.

WHAT NOW?

I had three choices.

  1. Keep trying to reverse. But spinning my wheels would have been dumb. No matter how hard I hit that accelerator she wouldn’t have gone anywhere other than further down into the sand.
  2. Try rocking forwards and backwards. That is, go forwards and back trying to get some momentum.
  3. Swear. Get out of the car. Assess the situation. Swear some more.

I went for Option 3.

On this occasion I didn’t try #2 as there was no point. I was foolishly running my tyres at 40psi. (It hurts to admit that.) Any further attempts to drive out of there would have only resulted in my wheels digging deeper into the soft sand. 

LESSON #1.  Stop immediately when you realise you’re bogged. You’ll only make things harder for yourself later on when you try and dig your vehicle out if you don’t.

PLAN AND PREPARE

Okay. You’re stuck. Now what?

Take your time to work out how you’re going to approach your situation. It can be overwhelming when you’re realise you’re in a bit of trouble but a cool head is critical. Take a deep breath and apply the “oh well” rule. Getting flustered and angry or worried or screaming at your partner isn’t going to help. I mostly travel solo so screaming at someone else isn’t going to work.

Damn.

It was bloody hot and humid when I got stuck east of Broome. Two people had died of heat exhaustion in WA in the week prior. One was a hiker at Kalbarri, the second was a well-prepared motorcyclist on the Gibb River Road. Getting out of a bog can be long, hard, physical work. Heat exhaustion is a serious threat and I was keen to avoid it.

Despite being foolish with my tyre pressure, I like to think I redeem myself a little by carrying some essentials in my vehicle at all times. A hat, sunscreen and at least 20 litres of water are permanent features. And there’s usually a bottle of scotch in there for when I’m really in trouble.

I lathered on sunscreen, put on my hat and put my water where it was easily accessible so I could have regular water breaks.

LESSON # 2. Slip, slop, slap and slurp.

LESSON # 3. Sips of water don’t cut it. The experts say you need a glass of water every time. 

LESSON # 4.  Take a photo for use on social media for when you’re back at camp and feeling a lot better about your situation.

LESSON # 5. Tell someone if you can. I was in phone range so I rang a friend, sent him the photo and discussed my plan with him. He wasn’t particularly helpful when he asked if I had a winch. He knows I don’t have a winch and the photos clearly show a lack of bloody trees to attach my non-existent winch to.  

MY PLAN

My plan for the Great Unbogging was a text book plan for a text book soft sand bog.

  1. Drop my tyre pressure.
  2. Dig out the sand behind all four tyres.
  3. Put my recovery boards/MaxTrax behind the rear tyres.
  4. Reverse out.
  5. Vow never to drive on sand again without dropping my tyre pressure.
  6. Take photo to prove the Great Unbogging was a success and, in some small way, redeem my credibility after stupidly getting stuck in the first place.

TYRE PRESSURE

The most important thing you need to know about driving on sand is don’t be lazy like I was. PUT YOUR BLOODY TYRES DOWN. The less air in your tyres, the more the tyre is able to spread out on the sand, giving you more surface area for traction. The prime objective is to maximise the length of your tyre so it behaves more like a track on a bulldozer or tank.

On soft sand I usually run my tyres at about 13-15psi. Sure, ask ten people about what tyre pressure they run and they’ll all give you different answers because tyre size and vehicle loads all vary. You can go down to 10psi apparently if you’re in real strife but I’ve never done that. Keep in mind that running low pressures in your tyres increase the risk of rolling your tyres off their rims. Avoid cornering and sharp turns and it shouldn’t be a problem.

DIGGING OUT

You can’t dig out your tyres if you don’t have anything to dig with. Always carry a shovel of some sort. Shovelling sand isn’t too bad. Shovelling mud is the worst thing ever so a pissy little spade won’t cut it. Buy your shovel accordingly.

My rear tyres needed my attention most. They were the ones that were going to save the day/save my arse. But they were also the tyres that were buried the deepest – no surprise there because of the weight of my canopy.

So I dug the sand out from my back tyres and laid my recovery boards (or MaxTrax) firmly against my tread. The boards work best when not laid flat, instead protruding at an angle. That will guide your tyre onto the top of the sand.

 HERE WE GO!

So I’d let my tyres down, dug out the sand from around all four tyres and laid my recovery boards behind my rear tyres. The hard work was done and took less than half an hour. (The last bogging I was involved with took 6 people, 2 shovels, a winch, an airbag, 4 maxtrax, 2 snatch pulls and 5 hours to rectify. (In Top End mud, not my vehicle).

I walked my escape route and worked out that the best place for me to reverse was on the path I had driven in on. I’d planned to follow my tracks until the sand was relatively solid again – about 25 metres. There were no obstacles that I had to dodge.

All going to plan, my low tyre pressure would give my tyres lots of traction on my recovery boards and I’d be on my way.

I started the engine, took a breath, checked I was still in low range, put her in reverse and accelerated slowly. The slow wheel rotation allows your tyre to grip your boards. If it doesn’t work, stop and reposition your boards. You may even have to dig some more to ensure the boards are firmly wedged against your tyre.  Spinning your wheels now would only wreck your boards and dig you further in.

My tyres gripped my boards easily and the Hilux reversed effortlessly.

 

YAY FOR ME, MY PLAN, MY PREPARATION, AND MY EQUIPMENT! 😊

NAY FOR GETTING STUCK IN THE FIRST PLACE. ☹

I drove out of the sand and once I was on solid ground I used my trusty air compressor to pump my tyres back up.

Phew. Time to go home!

No heat stroke, no hissy fits, no damage (except to my pride) and no scotch required.

 

ABOUT THE BLOGGER:

Lisa Herbert is houseless not homeless. She’s the author of funeral planning guide ‘The Bottom Drawer Book: an after death action plan’ 

She’s been travelling around the country for about four years, occasionally filling short-term contracts for the ABC in places like Kalgoorlie, Broome, Tamworth and Darwin.

Lisa enjoys blogging about the unusual graves, memorials and cemeteries she finds on her travels.

Get in touch with Lisa via Facebook .

 

Lisa Herbert lives on the road in her well-equipped 2010 Hilux SR

 

 

Corrigan dog cemetery a tribute to lost furry best mates.

Two-and-a-half hours from Perth in Western Australia is a beautiful tribute to man’s best friend. The Corrigan Dog Cemetery came about in 1974 when Paddy Wrights buried his best mate, Strike. Then Alan Henderson buried his best mate next to Strike and added a headstone. A cemetery was born!

Nestled beside a wheat paddock, the cemetery is five kilometres from the friendly WA wheatbelt town of Corrigan, on the Brookton Highway. It’s no surprise that most of the dogs buried here were working dogs, often the only daytime companions of farmers who worked long hours in their paddocks alone.

These days, anyone is allowed to bury their dog here. The local council will happily allocate a site for your best friend. Your dog will have lots of company too. There are about 200 dogs there now (and the occasional hooman).

Imagine the mischief they get up to after dark! I loved visiting there. It’s a special place for anyone who’s ever loved and grieved a dog.

What Bella baked next: a lot of love from a lonely kitchen

Isabella Britton is a go-getter. She’s a 21 year old cattle station cook in remote western Queensland. She also studies an agribusiness degree full time.

While her Facebook page What Bella Baked Next may appear to be a food blog, the page is about connecting with people from the kitchen at Alderley Station, north of Boulia.

“I wanted to show people what I was up to in rural Australia because some people, city people, don’t understand what I get up to everyday,” she said.

“I want to share with them and show them. I’m passionate about living this way. You can’t beat the lifestyle, the experiences, the work ethic. Everything changes when you come out here.”

She juggles her fulltime online studies while cooking for about a dozen hungry mouths, spending three hours each afternoon doing her university work.

She’s lucky. The internet access on the remote station is reliable, allowing her to access the University of New England’s curriculum, lectures and tutorials online without any problems. This is not the case for many, many people in regional Australia.

Keen to enter the live export industry upon completion of her three-year degree, Bella is majoring in marketing and management.

“I want to help negotiate trade [deals]. It fascinates me when agents come and they’re on the phone constantly negotiating deals. I’d love to be involved in that,” she said.

Bella admits the Alderley Station kitchen can be a lonely place when the station hands are out in the heat and the dust.

“They come in for dinner after a long day and they’re telling stories about what happened and sharing a yarn,” she said.

“Those fellas work very hard, I know they do, and I just want them to come home at the end of the day and say, ‘Thanks for doing that for me, Bella’.

“They’re very polite and I’m grateful for that because it helps me stay motivated.”

What Bella Baked Next is fast becoming an online hub for sharing recipe and kitchen tips.

“It’s great to be able to connect with these people who have been doing it a lot longer than I have,” she said.

Bella credits her mother and grandmothers for her interest in cooking, calling them “fantastic cooks”.

She believed putting love into her food made her a good a cook.

“I imagine that if I was eating it, I would want someone to respect the food and what I was about to eat,” she said.

Station hand Martin Bolton chuckled as he said he could taste the love.

“She does well keeping all of us happy. It’s the best feed I’ve ever had,” he said.

“She puts a lot of time and effort into everything. She puts a lot of heart into her food.”

I tasted that love for the bush and her station team when I ate dinner with them all. Bella’s lasagna went down a treat. The ringers went back for seconds, washed their own plates, and said “thanks for that, Bella. It was yum”.

Station cook Bella

Life on a remote cattle station: my visit to Alderley Station

Working on a cattle station is high on my bucket list. I’m just not sure what I could offer to a station manager though. I’d love to be a station cook. But I can’t cook …

Looking after 15,000 cattle is a big job. On Alderley Station in remote western Queensland, a team of station hands joins the bosses for breakfast even before the birds have started stirring.

I dropped in on my way to Darwin and was welcomed with an offer of beer and bed.

The sound of a diesel generator that powers the station’s few houses and workshops breaks the early morning silence — a sign that the boss is awake and the workers should be too.

The generator chews through about 1200 litres of diesel a month. It’s turned off overnight, leaving the property with no power. When I got up to pee in the middle of the night I was thankful for my trusty torch.

It was 6am when I joined the team for breakfast. The station’s owners, Frank and Radha Blacket are my age. They dine with their team which isn’t that common. Often cattle station managers and bosses tend to do their own thing. But this couple is very hands on and accessible.

The work for the day was dished out at breakfast. Some of the team will spend the day putting in a cattle grid and servicing the motorbikes, while a few ringers will join the boss mustering. About 1000 cows and calves needed to be brought into the yards. It will take most of the day.

The Blackets own three properties in the Boulia region in western Queensland, totalling more than half a million hectares.

The number of cattle is forever fluctuating, with stock being bought and sold all the time.

“We run Charbray cattle because they’re versatile. They can go to live export and they can go to the southern, domestic market as well,” Mr Blacket said.

Prices dictate where the cattle are sold. The Blackets’ biggest market recently has been the live export trade.

“They’ve needed a lot of cattle and we’ve been able to supply them,” Mr Blacket said. “Sometimes they want emergency loads so we can supply them pretty quick.”

Mrs Blacket does not only spend time in the station office crunching numbers and doing deals. Like her husband, she is hands-on, often behind the wheel of a road train, trucking her cattle to market.

“We’re in a good position to be able to go to whichever market is paying the premium at the time,” she said.

Despite Alderley Station being closer to Townsville Port than Darwin, the Blackets’ cattle are exported to Indonesia from Darwin. That’s a 1,850km on a truck from the property at Boulia to Darwin Port.

The rowdy ringers.

Meal times on Alderley Station can be a fun, loud affair. The station cook, Bella, is a 21 year old studying an agribusiness degree via distance ed. She’s one hell of a cook and the ten station hands are big fans of her work. (A blog about Bella is coming.)

Most of the ringers (station hands) are young guys who love the lifestyle and sense of family at the station. They’re a rowdy mob – sitting together laughing, spinning yarns, teasing and even flirting with the guest who’s twice their age!

Dillon Fox, from Boonah in Queensland, is a carpenter by trade. Keen for a change, he joined his brother on Alderley Station five months ago and has not been fazed by the long working days on the property.

“It’s a good lifestyle. You don’t really notice it as work,” he said. “We’ll have a few days when the work slows down, go to a campdraft or something.”

Martin Bolton is helping Dillon put up a new fence. Once working in property development earthworks, he has recently taken a new career path.

“Out here we get a go at everything — cattle, welding, tyre fitting. You’ve got to be an all-rounder here,” said Marty. “It’s good to learn different things.”

Away from the wind and the hot sun, Ethan Tindale relaxes with a beer after dinner. Originally a Townsville lad, he is happy living and working in western Queensland.

“The people, the community — it’s like being a big family,” he said.

“You know everyone in town and once you get accepted here it’s a really comfortable place to live.”

Travel trip #1. Always sit at the bar.

“I’ll have a scotch and coke, thanks. And a story.”

People who sit at the bar after ordering their drink or meal are either locals or travellers who are up for a chat. Both are a source of information, adventure, amusement or frustration.

I met the owner of the Tatts Hotel in Winton 18 months ago when I sat at his bar. Three strangers, also bar-sitting travellers, and the boss ended up having a rather large night.

Paul immediately recognised me on my return this week. He’s lost 12 kilos since I last saw him so he wasn’t as familiar to me. He quickly sidled up to me and the chatting began, right where we left off. About 60, he’s the best publican I’ve ever met – he’s a ‘people man’. The pub’s steaks are easily the best pub steaks in the country, his staff the most efficient, the pub is character-filled, and his friendly, welcoming ways earns every repeat customer he gets. And there are a lot of them. Myself included.

He buried his wife, aged 56, just a couple of years ago. Always an active, smart, worldly chap, he continues to travel and pursue his hard core extreme interests, dodgy knees ‘n all.

Paul’s just returned from a caving expedition in Borneo. He didn’t see daylight for three days. He, his guide, and two others climbed and abseiled within a series of 55 metre high caves lined with bats and with a carpet of cockroaches. His enclosed suit fended off the shit of thousands and thousands of bats, his pack held everything he needed for three days, including port. You see, he was tethered from the cave ceiling to sleep. (The cockroaches make it impossible to sleep at the bottom of a cave.) After making a rope cradle for a bed and, without any cushioning or pillow, the port would help him sleep.

Knowing Paul would not let his screwed knees stop his adventurous endeavours, a young, innovative sports doctor worked with his stubborn client to ensure he’d make the trip. A weight loss program and controversial platelet injections directly into knee did the trick.

A similar regime (but increased six-fold) will be in place next year when he tackles Borneo’s most difficult and highest peaks and, after that, Galapagos.

Not bad for an ol’ western Queensland publican, eh?

Put the Tattersalls Hotel in Winton on your bucket list. Order a steak (medium rare) and make sure you sit at the bar because that’s were the stories are.

image

A camel tow

When Glenn Bainbridge from Winton in far western Queensland noticed his six camels had been in the good paddock for too long he decided they needed some exercise.

So he and wife Sue hitched them up to a homemade wagon and hit the road.

Pulled by Teddy and Blondie, the cart is packed with everything the Bainbridges need for a few months on the road.

Four other camels tied to the wagon will take turns pulling it.

Just a few days into the journey the destination remains unknown.

“Just going on a trip, a working holiday, there’s no time limit, maybe Alice Spring or may change our minds. We don’t know,” Mr Bainbridge said.

While the camels adjust to life on the road and get fitter they will travel up to 25 kilometres each day, however that will increase soon.

“In their peak they’ll be doing 30 kilometres in six hours.”

Mr Bainbridge admitted the interest his camels attracted from passing traffic could be difficult to manage.

“If I hear a car coming up behind us we pull off and let them pass.

“I try not to stop because if I stopped for everybody I’d never get anywhere.”

A good night’s sleep: No Bull

imageThe amount you pay for a motel room is directly proportional to the said motel room’s wall thickness.

When you quit your job you have become mindful of expenditure. While planning to sleep in my swag or a tent most nights, I simply couldn’t be arsed setting up a campsite in the dark and while tired. I treated myself to a motel room on the main drag into Rockhampton, Australia’s beef capital.

And what a treat it has been!

Paper thin walls meant I was woken by a woman discussing bread. I went to sleep to the sounds of a guy talking on his phone. He kept on thanking his caller for ringing. Over and over.

I can feel every spring as I lie on this mattress. The sheets are white, crisp and clean though. It’s always with trepidation that I slowly peel back the sheet, as if waiting for something to jump out at me. There’s no carpet or even a little cake of soap in this highway motel.

I’m looking forward to heading west towards Longreach today, for it means I’ll be able to roll out my swag tonight. And I know who has been between my sheets.

Serendipity: a chance meeting and an affirmation

imageserendipity: “The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.”

My little adventure was off to a slow start. A late night/early morning drinking and chatting meant my northern departure was delayed. After driving the most boring road in the country (the Bruce Highway) for five-and-a-half hours I’d had enough. I checked into a dodgy motel in Australia’s beef capital, Rockhampton.

200km behind schedule and a little knackered I walked into the Great Western Hotel, a brilliant pub with the heads of stuffed bulls ‘decorating’ the walls as well as dozens of photos of bull riders in action. Out the back is a huge bull riding arena. I think you’d struggle to find a vegetarian meal in this pub.

I instantly recognised a guy at the bar. I worked with him 16 years ago. “Lisa!,” he excitedly said as he opened his arms. A hug from him was quite a treat. He is a favourite of many. A kind, gentle nature, sparkling eyes, and a genuine smile has always made the girls swoon. Now in his mid-40s, with a peppering of grey, he still makes the girls swoon. SWOON.

A 15-minute chat followed as we stood at the bar, him with a lemon lime and bitters, me with a scotch. He’d just finished walking across the Simpson desert, fundraising for YoungCare. He and his adult son rode motorbikes around Cambodia – his son decided to stay. Mr Swoon plans on retiring soon, moving down to the coast with his new partner, and going off the grid. His prognosis is two-eight years, thanks to a brain tumour.

He told me of his adventure plans. Among them are Cradle Mountain and Everest.

“You’ve got to live life, Lisa.”

I smiled and nodded. Yes, yes you do.

When knickers are like friends: decluttering to hit the road

imageClutter: a large amount of things that are not arranged in a neat or orderly way : a crowded or disordered collection of things.

Getting rid of most of your possessions is a taxing task that leaves you wondering if you own them or do those possessions own you.

Packing ‘your life’ into boxes that must fit into a single 4WD is like fitting my size 14 arse into size 10 knickers. No matter how much I try it’s still not practical or comfortable, nor is it necessary. I’ve reached an age where I’ve realised no one really cares how big my arse is and, if they do, they’re not my kind of people anyway.

If you had to pack your life into a vehicle, what would you take and what would you sell on Gumtree or give to the Salvos? And if you had 32 pairs of knickers would you pack them all?

While I’m still coming to terms to the ridiculousness of that number, I’ve likened my assorted range of knickers to my eclectic group of friends.

There are the trusty, faded, comfy ones that don’t let you down; the frivolous, frilly, pretty ones that only see the light of day on special occasions; the uncomfortable g-strings that you don’t really like but you’ve got to grin and bear them because they’re practical. There are the knickers that used to fit but you (and your ever expanding middle aged arse) have grown out of; and then there are the undies that you just can’t throw out because they’re part of your history (Come on. Don’t deny there’s at least one pair in your drawer that holds a memory).

Ridding yourself of possessions and underwear is an exploration of self and what’s important to you.

For the record, for me, trusty and comfy wins every time.

Let’s have a count. How many knickers do you have? Which pair is your favourite? Why?

Gumtree or dumbtree?

imageGumtree is an online selling system that is an eye-opening indictment of your local community. There are people among us who blatantly disregard the common elements of a polite and decent society while trying to score a bargain and therefore reign superior.

I sold every piece of furniture in the above photo via Gumtree, much of it just three months old. This is what I learned while doing so…

If you want to become ‘at one’ with Gumtree you have to abide by these basic rules:

At no stage be polite. When contacting a seller always get straight to the point. And, while you’re at at, forget any form of punctuation.

Haggle, even if the price placed on an item is exorbitantly cheap. Three month old furniture in perfect condition offered for half price is not a bargain. Make sure you attempt to screw the seller for ever dollar you possibly can. They owe you, after all.

If the seller refuses to negotiate on her as-new, half priced furniture you have every right to behave like a child, stomp your feet and walk out of the apartment in a huff.

If the advertised article is offered at no cost you should expect free delivery as well.

In conclusion, if you use Gumtree to buy anything, all elements of human decency are null and void.

What happens to your teddy bears when they can’t come along for the ride?

imageGetting rid of most of your belongings ahead of any big move is a challenging mission. Many possessions are practical while others offer a reminder of times gone by.

It’s taken a while but I’ve given away or sold most of my possessions or, as I call it, ‘stuff’.

Stuff has two values: sentimental or practical. My old teddy, Yogi, is nearly 50 years old. There are lots of once loved, cuddled, slept-with and cried-on teddies for sale on Internet selling sites like eBay, but a new home will never, ever be as loving as their last.

After much soul searching and exhausting all avenues to find Yogi a new home I’ve been able to secure a roof over his head in my old bedroom at my dad’s place.

I was deeply touched by the friends who offered Yogi a home in their children’s bedrooms – proof that people are inherently aware of the significance of a dear childhood friend, even if they do smell of moth balls and sawdust. I like to think our childhood teddies, and our treatment of them, shaped a part of our future.

Dollars and dreams: the reality of life on the road

imageToday is pay day. More importantly today is one of my last pay days. Every second Wednesday a couple of grand lands in my bank account for me to spend as I choose. No kids or mortgage means I get spend it as I choose, even save some. I’m hardly a slave to fashion so very little of it goes on clothes. I buy lunches most days, eat dinner out every other day and am partial to the odd bottle of scotch or a few drinks after work. My major expenditure is rent and paying off an investment loan. I’m not really sure where the money goes but I do know that as pay day draws nearer I’m certainly looking forward to it.

Throwing in a perfectly good job isn’t a good move if you’re a materialistic sort of person, nor is it for anyone easily daunted by the prospect of not knowing how you’re going to pay your next phone bill.

I’ve spent most of my savings on a second-hand 4WD – one that will become my new home, carrying everything I own.

Work will set my travelling route. I’m hoping to get a month’s worth here and there with some travel, hiking, learning and exploring in between. I can pull a mean beer and love being outdoors. If fruit picking and directing traffic is good enough for backpackers then it’s good enough for me.

Yes, I wonder if quitting my job is career suicide, particularly at my age. I’ve spent 4.5 years with the ABC as a rural reporter and executive producer. In that time I’ve earned a very good reputation for being innovative, hard working, reliable, a team player, and a good manager. I’m hoping my reputation will secure me short-term ABC contracts from time to time.

The biggest hurdle I face is re-evaluating the role of money in my life. In theory, it’s relatively easy to spruik “money isn’t everything”, but I’m not silly enough to think that life without a regular wage will be easy.

Wandering feet and a wondering heart

lisa in grade one

That’s me. The one with the embarrassing year 1 photo. Not much has changed, yet these days I embrace my quirks.

I’ve recently quit my dream job, sold everything I own, bought a bigger vehicle, and decided to head north. You see, life’s too short for a long bucket list.

A forty-something tertiary educated, single, mortgage-less, childless female, I yearn for new challenges and experiences. And, with no ties, there is nothing to stop me from seeking out those experiences except complacency and fear.

Currently living in Tamworth, New South Wales, whatever I’m looking for isn’t here. It’s a beautiful region and my work as a rural reporter is interesting and satisfying, yet there’s something or somebody missing.  So join me here as I venture into my future with little other than enthusiasm, a lost passion for writing, all of my possessions packed tightly in my new second-hand four-wheel-drive, and a healthy respect for the practicalities of living life on the road as a solo, female traveler.

 

A plastic problem for a genuine people: how rubbish is threatening south east Asia’s future

March,  2017.

Plastic bottles, plastic bags and the stench of rubbish greeted us as we left a suburban train station in Kuala Lumpur to spend a few hours at one of Malaysia’s most revered Hindu temples and natural attractions, Batu Caves. It was a sign of things to come as we made our way past filthy souvenir stalls, more rubbish and tacky attractions to the temple. The Malaysian Hindu women were dressed to the nines in their elegant, colourful and immacuate saris, but their overwhelming beauty was tarnished by the litter they passed as they made the trek up 272 steps of the temple which has been built into the side of a huge and impressive limestone range and cave system.

Rubbish greeting tourists and pilgrims as they make their way to the world’s most prominent Hindu temple outside of India.

 

The Hindus removed their shoes for their pilgrimage while the tourists kept theirs on. As we climbed past a huge gold statue of Lord Murugan, the pavement and steps were wet and dirty rubbish, thieving monkeys persecuted those carrying food and roosters strutted wherever those chose. The magnificence of the huge cave, now with a cement floor and railings, the partly vegetated cave walls, and the beautiful statues embeded in the cave’s natural ledges were interuppted by the souvenir shop selling clocks with flashing lights that played Hindu chants, minature versions of the statue which stood so valiantly at the entrance to this great contradiction and hundreds of trinkets to remind the traveller of their visit to Kuala Lumpur. My memory won’t be of the Hindu god of war. It will be of filth.

Standing at 42.7 m (140 ft) high, the world’s tallest statue of Murugan, a Hindu deity, is located outside Batu Caves, near the city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

There is litter beside every one of the 272 steps leading to the Batu Caves temple and shrine.

 

It was obvious religion was cashing-in on both tourists and pilgrims. As a non-Hindu, I felt like I was western, white privileged voyeur. I was invading a special place I had little understanding of. But like most tourists, “it was cool to see”. It was something encouraged by the locals, keen to make a buck.

Without the rubbish, the cement and the souvenir shops, the Hindu pilgrimage to the temple within the Batu Caves is a sight to behold.

My cynicism and sentiment was echoed by a woman I met in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands.

“There is corruption here and religion has sold out too,” she scorned as she explained the unregulated and poorly planned development that dominated this once peaceful and beautiful part of the world. Monstrous blocks of ugly flats encroach on mountainous rainforest that I had a glorious time hiking through in Tanah Rata. Highrise apartments spoil the views of guesthouses that have been operating for decades, nestled unobstrusively into a hill. A local businessman alleges a mammoth sum of US$100,000 would have been made to the person or people responsible for the approval of a large apartment block nearby. He shrugs forlornly as he tells me he’s lived in the small town all his life.

The picturesque and rainforest-rich Cameron Highlands is fast becoming a place of unregulated development which is threatening the tourist potential of the region.

 

Effective waste management is non-existant in south east Asia. And the use of plastic bottles is rampant, with no effort to even acknowledge the problems they cause let alone to manage them. They and plastic bags litter roadsides, streams, culvets, gutters, yards, roads, bloody everywhere.

Bottled drinking water is provided in all hotel rooms with only some of those hotels providing opportunities to refill them with filtered water. You see, few people drink the tap water. And with the ever-increasing number of tourists flocking to these cheap holiday destinations the plastic problem is a looming disaster for both the environment and tourism.

It’s not only visitors contributing to south east Asia’s plastic pollution. Gifts from the locals to their Gods also contribute. A shrine on every corner is littered with food and drink gifts in plastic – chips, cokes, sweets.

The tidiest shrine I saw in my month-long Asian travels. This was beside on of Bangkok’s main roads.

I’m not sure which God would appreciate the destruction of the natural environment and I’m at a loss to understand why people so dedicated to their God and religion would let any place of worship get so ugly. South east Asia is an incredibly beautiful part of the world. You’ve just got to look past the plastic.

In Cambodia my local guide explains “it’s a cultural thing” as I question him about the litter strewn at a pretty lotus farm not far from Siem Reap.

“As a child we were allowed to throw it by the roadside. Everybody did it. It’s only now, as an adult, that I realise how bad it is. But not many people care. The plastic will last 400 years, you know.”

A polluted creek is used to irrigate the lotus plants on a lotus farm not far from Siem Reap.

 

I queried the role of government in offering waste management options as I explained the large emphasis that Australian local governments place on managing waste. He looked at me gob-smacked as he said there was no rubbish collection, no waste management, and no litter education, let alone recycling options.

Another guide told me it is each household’s responsibility to manage their rubbish. As a result most of it is burned in piles that sit close to each house, contributing to toxic dioxin emmissions and the stink of those villages that tourists pay big tourist dollars to see. Even as I sat on a small boat to tour the remote floating villages on the floodpains of Tonle Sap lake at the floating community Kompong Khleang, my tour was interupted twice as the boat’s skipper struggled to remove the pastic bags that has enveloped the boat’s propeller.

Rubbish is burned on the banks of the river that provides the livelihoods of a Cambodian fishing village.

 

But all is not lost. There is a very small movement starting to bubble in the dirty and polluted streets of Cambodia. Driven by international interest there is evidence that at least some people recognise the looming disaster. There is at least one campaign encouraging businesses to join the “war on waste”.

Refill Not Landfill is working to minimise the one-use plastic bottles that the initiative says amounts to “355,000 bottles discarded by tourists every day”. It aims to offer refilling opportunities but, during my travels throughout Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia, I saw few establishments that offered a filtered water refill opportunity.

Cambodia is an evolving tourist mecca, with predictions tourism numbers will more than double to 10 million per year in just a few years. Any waste initiative will only work if more business come on board, and quickly.

By far one of the most encouraging example of waste management education in Cambodia is by non-government organisation HUSK. Funded by a popular local tourism venture that offers guided tours, HUSK has built two schools made of plastic water bottles. Yes, the school walls are made of bottles filled with plastic bags covered by a concrete render. The local community in Kompheim was paid for their plastic rubbish and, with the help of generous western donors, a school was born. The locals call it the plastic bottle school. I call it a good place to start.

South east Asia has a monstrous plastic problem. As tourism continues to boom it’s a problem getting worse by the day. It’s not going to go away until governments offer waste solutions for their people. The plastic problem is threatening the health of villagers, their agricultural production and their tourism lifeblood.

It’s a beautiful part of the world, filled with lovely people, great adventures and memorable experiences. But, for me, what I will remember about the month I spent in south east Asia is poor countries drowning in plastic thanks to ignorant and allegedly corrupt governments who would rather count their short-term tourist dollars instead of encouraging the long-term economic, agricultural and ecological prosperity of their people.

You look like a movie star!: cheeky tuk tuk driver swoons exhausted traveller AKA me.

MARCH 10, 2016

It’s been a big day. A good day. Ten-and-a-half hours of travel has seen me travel from Siem Reap to the Cambodian capital. It’s only a few hundred kilometres but it took an overloaded bus, two “speed” boats (read two old wooden boats without a life jacket between them) and a tuk tuk to get me to a US$30 hotel in the heart of Phnom Pehn. It’s cheap, cheerful, clean and safe. And breakfast is included. Winning!

The hotel pick-up bus to take a bunch of tourists from their hotels to the ‘harbour’ was over capacity. Uncomfortable giggles ensued as close friends got ever closer and strangers huddled together.

We clambered onto the “speed boat” an hour past its designated departure time and off we went south on Tonle Sap, a huge freshwater lake that is the lifeblood of Cambodia’s fishing industry.

It’s like suburbia but on a lake. Fishing villages, schools, shops and markets – all floating!

Fast forward the EIGHT HOUR boat ride, give or take a boat change in the middle of the lake during which their was NO communication from the skipper as to why and how, and I find myself wandering the streets after dark in the centre of the bustling Phnom Penh. It being DARK is an important piece of information in this story.

Making up for a long day. 

Sun-kissed and tired, I really am a sight to behold. So bad I actually put makeup on to go wandering in the DARK. And a dress. A $10 dress I bought in Siem Reap, made in Thailand. My thighs have rarely had the opportunity to rub together during the past month’s travelling so wearing a dress makes a nice change from the long shorts and hiking boots that are my staple adventure wardrobe. It’s only the second time I’ve worn makeup on this trip so one could say I’ve gone all-out to look human-like today.

Cue the jovial call from a young tuk tuk driver which I belly laughed at as I walked past on the opposite side of road.

YOU LOOK LIKE A MOVIE STAR!

My blonde hair often attracts looks here in Asia (even had a lady take a photo of me from behind in Malaysia), even if I am middle aged. It’s freshly washed and has grown substantially of late so it’s bouncing on my shoulders tonight. (As much as fine hair with split ends that hasn’t seen product or a hair dryer for a month can bounce). I even washed it using my Aussie shampoo. No cheap hotel shampoo for me tonight! #classy  #fluffy

So it seems even a middle aged, exhausted blonde can look okay when it’s DARK.

I continued to exchange polite banter with said tuk tuk driver as I walked away. “How long you been here? How long you stay? You from Australiaaaaaa?

They can be annoying but they’re only trying to make a living. Once you engage with them other than a ‘no, thank you’, they smell blood and an opportunity to play tour guide. It may be a tuk tuk eat tuk tuk world here in Cambodia but the drivers remain polite and jovial if knocked back with a smile.

Nek minnit the young, chatty and cheeky driver is behind me. He’d turned the ignition on in his tuk tuk and sped the 30 metres now between us faster than you can “Asian gastro”.

He was vying to be my tour guide and played a hard, knowledgeable game. He suggested he would take me to the killing fields and the genocide museum. Short but good looking and charming I told him he was being cheeky and was playing me. With a glint in his eye he knew he had me.

So Tom is meeting me at my hotel at 11:30 tomorrow where, for US$20, I’m not only sure to learn about the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime, but also have a lot of laughs getting to know a young lad working hard to make a living on the tough, competitive streets of Cambodia.

Oh, and he invited me for a beer tonight. I declined but did wonder if he’s moonlighting as a gigolo. He’s certainly got what it takes. Too bad I’ll be wearing my long shorts, hiking boots and no makeup tomorrow.

Singapore travel: the great Australian misunderstanding

Street art in Tiong Bahru

February 2017.

“It’s so expensive.”

“You’re not allowed chewing gum there, you know.”

“It’s soulless”

These are just some of the comments made by Australian friends when I mentioned my upcoming holiday to Singapore. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Sure, chewing gum is a no-no, but there’s a reason for that. My second observation of this amazing city was its order and cleanliness. Everything has its place. There’s no rubbish in the gutters, the grass on roadside verges is mown and edged, even the cars and trucks are clean. All of them.

It costs ten of thousands of dollars to put a car on the road here in Singapore. Cars must be less than 10 years old and there’s no shortage of high-end vehicles. But cars aren’t a necessity here. Public transport is nothing short of brilliant. If Singapore is a 10/10, Australia’s transport system is a 4. There is no graffiti, there’s no rubbish on train platforms, everything is well signed, the ticketing system is easy and efficient, buses and trains are frequent, on-time and very cheap.

I made my first observation as I caught the train from Changi airport to my friend’s place near Outram Park station. (The journey only cost me $3.50. In Australia, the train from my dad’s place to Brisbane airport costs about $23.) I was the only one wearing sunglasses. For some reason few Singaporeans wear sunnies. They also rarely seem to wear hats or caps. (It’s funny the things you notice …)

I feel safe here despite police being rarely seen. I’m told that if there’s any sign of trouble they come from nowhere. There are CCTV cameras everywhere and there’s little doubt there are many eyes watching the day-to-day activities of residents and visitors alike. As a result, crime is very low. It’s a very safe city to wander, any time of day. As a keen walker I’m happy to report there are footpaths along every road: Clean, easy to traverse footpaths, possibly another legacy of the enormous cost of owning a car in Singapore. Taxis are plentiful and Uber is well-utilised here too. I can also report that Singaporean drivers are heaps better at reverse parking than Australians. Hands down.

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Roads and abundant footpaths are well maintained and free of rubbish.

So let’s address the most common misconception about Singapore, the one about it being a terribly expensive holiday destination.

Look, if you want to shop and get pissed repeatedly on your Asian holiday, don’t come to Singapore. While the range of shops and size of shopping strips blow Australia’s out of the water, there’s little that’s a lot cheaper here. The range is larger but you’re still paying similar costs for shoes and clothing in shopping malls. And if you want to have a few wines with lunch after a morning’s shopping, you’re in for a shock. Booze is bloody expensive here so grab your bottle of Moet or Johnny Walker duty-free in Singapore airport. In fact, in my many wanderings around this city, I haven’t even spied a bottle shop. Corner stores sell some alcohol, as do some bars, but the range is limited and the cost rather large. A Johnny Walker black label on the rocks will cost at least $13, a beer around $15. I guess it’s the Government’s way of making sure alcohol isn’t the bogan problem it is in Australia or other Aussie favourite holiday destinations like Bali or Phuket.

BUT if you want an interesting holiday and an adventure that doesn’t involve shops and bars, Singapore is a great option. There is so much history here, some of it confronting, but fascinating none the less. It is far from “soulless” as was described to me before I ventured here.

Fort Canning Park is worth several hours of your time, even if you’re not a history buff. Close to public transport, this now-beautiful parklands with sprawling lawns and stunning heritage-listed trees is an iconic hilltop landmark which has witnessed many of Singapore’s historical milestones. “The hill once sited the palaces of 14th century Malay Kings and served as the Headquarters of the Far East Command Centre and British Army Barracks. The decision to surrender Singapore to the Japanese on 15 February 1942 was also made on the hill, in the Underground Far East Command Centre, commonly known as Battle Box.” There is even a fantastic display of artefacts that were unearthed on the site in the 1980s.

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This Burmese Banyon at Fort Canning Park is a huge strangler fig. This particular tree was named as a Heritage Tree in 2015.

And the great history walks don’t finish there. Fort Siloso is the only restored coastal gun battery of 12 such batteries which made up “Fortress Singapore” at the start of World War II. It’s an awesome walk through beautiful grounds with beautiful views of the harbour and all the ships awaiting loading at Singapore’s huge port. Fort Silosa is a fantastic, free military museum full of surprises.

Singapore is a melting pot of cultures and food. Yes, dining at a nice restaurant can come at a price, but there is an enormous range of inexpensive options if you’re happy to eat like the locals. My first meal here cost $5 at the Tiong Bahru markets – a divine Hainanese chicken cooked on the spot.

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The chicken was so delicious I forgot to take the photo before I ate it.

I decided against the $4.50 mixed pig’s organ porridge and the $5 fried intestine porridge. Maybe next time.

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There are many inexpensive meal options in Singapore. Not all will appeal to westerners.

 

Groceries can be expensive so it’s often cheaper to grab your lunch from one of the many local eateries. All fruit and vegetables are imported and I was surprised by their freshness and quality. Depending on what you’re buying and where, the price of produce is comparable to that of Australia.

Yoga classes are abundant here but they are expensive. A couple of drop-in classes near where I’m staying cost around $30. So I decided against a downward dog and instead found a great meditation centre called Kadampa where I did an $8 beginner meditation class.

A very fun day out is at Sensosa, an island resort very popular with tourists. As well as Fort Silosa, it houses a golf course, more than a dozen top of the range resort-type hotels, Universal Studios, aquarium, beaches, bars and restaurants, nature walks and a stack of adventure activities. You could easily spend a couple of days there and prices are fair.

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Sensosa has something for everyone. The zip line cost $45 and was great fun and I felt very safe. A second go was an additional $18.Thankfully my friend Rachel was up for some adventure too.

 

The best free activity remains standing in awe of the high density housing, tall highrises and mind-boggling construction techniques, with washing hanging on washing lines that stretch from highrise windows thirty stories up. There’s no room for broken pegs in Singapore. And there’s no room for pre-conceived ideas either. Come here with an open mind and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

 

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High density living condominiums dominate the Singaporean landscape.

 

 

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The view from the 26th floor of my friend’s condo in Tiong Bahru. It’s a magical city full of stories.