My friend since 1968 was going to visit us in Australia about now. Randy and I had many adventures in our life: the 1960s in Los Angeles and San Francisco the 1970s in Hawaii and New Orleans and we even had our first child around the same time. We all lived together in Hawaii in 1980 while our wives (my first and his second) were pregnant. Soon after giving birth my lot moved to Australia. I saw Randy a few times between 1980 and 2016. Sometimes in Hawaii sometimes in Oregon – the last time we saw Randy was toward the end of December 2016. Narda and I stayed with him in Eugene, Oregon for part of a week, then with him and his friend Tony, in Portland. Five months later I was Facetiming Randy in his hospital bed on his last day of life. We remarked “we have had a good run, haven’t we?”. I won’t get into the last forty-five or so years; actually, I have a couple of books that do that: ‘Leaving Australia – Before the After’ and ‘Leaving Australia – the After’ available on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01HZZON6Y) and Papertrill (http://nightstandreads.papertrell.com/id004005007/Leaving-Australia-Before-the-After). Bottom line; Randy was supposed to be doing a road-trip with us in Australia. He was going to visit in the 1980s when I was a single-parent, in the 1990s when I was doing academic stuff; and again in the 2000s in between Narda and I living around the world. He did visit us in New York City in 2010 and I went white water rafting in Oregon with him a few years later but he was going to visit us in Australia. Today we are taking a few weeks road-trip north. It may be a week or two or longer. The idea is that we will go to Coober Pedy and maybe further. This is that trip that Randy was going to go on with us. And in my mind, did.
We decided to take a trip to the ‘outback’; Coober Pedy seemed a good place to start. Peter said, ‘Pt Augusta, stop for petrol, then you’ll make it in a day’. Ha!
We spent the whole day packing, checking lists, tidying up the house and finally on the road. Our first stop was Owen. A flat little town, near Hamley Bridge, made up for a grid of about 16 squares. Only about an hour up the road. I think if we are to retire to a county town, (who knows) it has to be flat…for the bikes.
Then we realised that we had forgotten LOTS of things. Bike helmets, bike lock, all my chargers for the computer and everything else, the good torch, the HDMI cable…..OK, so the next town had to have a Kmart, to get all this stuff cheap. Which was Pt Pirie.
Here we are all together finally doing that road-trip, just a short one, in Australia, that I said we would do one day. Narda and I sleeping in the caravan and you sleeping in our truck. That may not sound very groovy but with half of the back seat down we had planned to put a mattress in the back and it would be comfortable. I know we are in winter and we could end up in the outback where the nights are getting cold but we are used to free-camping and just rugging up. Tonight, we have hot water bottles being the wussies that we are. Last year when we camped in the snowy mountains it did get to zero with forecast of snow and we just put on more layers and we were fine. Then again, we may buy a tent. I once lived in a tent behind Randy’s house in Hawaii in 1980 for a month.
We said we would leave Wednesday but here we are already settled in by Tuesday night at our first stop. This has happened a few times in the past. Once we decide to do something off we go, why wait? People tell us they make it to Cooper Pedy in a day, like driving to Melbourne, only a thousand Ks away. We are planning to take a week. For example, this morning we said at seven am we should be on our way well before noon, perhaps as early as ten am. We drove out at 3:30. Not sure what took us so long; we just fiddle and fart around too much. Then when we did get to here, embarrassingly an hour and a half from home, we realised we have forgotten things: our bike helmets along with the bike lock and lights. Narda’s Mighty Bright light she reads with every night, year after year. We forgot several other basics too. We have become old space cases but not too worry. Here we are. Of course, I remembered to download several videos to become familiar with our new camera, Nikon D7500 – which is ideal for us though some have complained it has only one card slot and is not much different than the D7200 but of course it is, with the same inner workings as the top camera, D500. The video is the important part and this is tops for that recording in 4K. We were lucky to even get this camera before we left as the release date for Australia was the end of June and the local shop rang two days ago and said it had arrived. Whoopee. And we discovered that the USB cord for the camera also fits Narda’s phone and my monitor that sends information back to the doctor every day about my implanted defibrillator/pace maker. I had left that plugged in next to my bed at home. So we are all charged up and ready to sally forth.
We have been using a free-camping book for the past couple of years. On this side road to a back road of a country road is this town called Owen. I wanted to get off a/any main roads as soon as possible. I know there are a lot of country roads in the States but this is different. Tonight, I was thinking of how there are so many people in the world, so many with so many issues/difficulties but here there is no one. Here at the Owen Oval – free camping place. It is a bit spooky, being so dark, so quiet, and we just watched an episode of ‘Fargo’ (# 8, season three) which was a bit off-centre. Narda thought she heard some sounds outside – but after investigating we realised it was just the telly and some wind outside sounds.
Owen is a bit small. Sixteen blocks square is the whole town; four streets in each direction. And being of this size makes Owen one of the larger towns in this part of the Adelaide Plains area. We are surrounded by the towns of Stockyard Creek, Salter Springs, Giles Corner and Hamley Bridge. This area made the world news two years ago when bush fires wiped out huge areas and people died; Pinery is only 10 Ks away and the fires became known as the Pinery fire (at least 86,000 hectares (210,000 acres) of scrub and farmland were burned. I personally was teaching at a school in the area that day and our school was surrounded by fire. A scary day). There are seven churches from the 1800s in the area so when the folks were not doing bush stuff I supposed they hung out at churches; though there are several pubs too so the folks could stagger from one extreme to the other. The town of Owen had two churches in the 1800s which combined in the 1980s.
Like so many towns, Owen grew due to the railway. See our blog about Tarlee (https://neuage.me/2017/04/05/terowie/) for the low down of a larger rail town. 1880 was when the train chuffed up to the local newly built station. Because of different track sizes (Adelaide had a broad gauge 5’ 3” and the system in these paddocks was narrow gauge 3’ 6” – obviously engineers had a communicational issue, they should have used 3D printing and made all the tracks the same.) there had to be a central place where the two tracks would meet and Owen got the guernsey. A nice little town to stay in…
What a quiet place. We easily found the oval which was listed in our free camp guide, off the highway onto Railway Terrace and down a dirt road behind the grain silos
– there was no one else camping/caravanning so we could run amok, ever what that means. There was a toilet block and a large rain water tank so why pay for a campsite that would have children, noise (those two go together) and charge $40? We didn’t need the electricity as we are getting more self-sufficient with the ability to charge our laptops on the car battery our phones on the caravan battery along with watching telly and for a backup we have solar panels. The only thing that will push us into a paid site will because it is too cold and we want to plug in and have heat and electric blankets and I could use my vitamiser (I made four days of blended gook before we left so I can go four days at a time without going into super-smoothie withdraws).
The next day – this morning, we rode the length and breadth of Owen, all four streets. We took a chance because we had left our bike helmets at home and there are steep fines in South Australia for riding without a helmet (there are steep fines for everything in this nanny state) but as there were few folks in sight the chance of a police patrol driving through Owen was extremely remote.
We did get on the road by 11 and did the long drive to Port Pirie almost an hour and half north. So far we have taken three days to put one-hundred kilometres behind us. This is what retirement is about; we are where we are and we are not in a hurry to get to where we are not yet. I have come up with a new line; not sure where or when we can use it, ‘DON’T JOIN THE CIRCUS, BE THE CIRCUS’. I will work on it. (you kidding me? You’ve done that ever since I’ve known you) Maybe that will the title of my next novel, well, my first novel.
It has a bit of a bad reputation, with all the lead pollution and concerns about children with high levels of lead in the blood. So we were surprised that it is actually a nice little port town. Great bike riding, flat. We found a bridge that took us over to an island surrounded by mangroves, with a great view of the smelter works. We also discovered the one free camping place at an oval. A nice spot, very quiet. The came the footballers for their Wednesday night training. We were kinda glad that we had not parked behind the goal posts. It was fine, they did not bother us and we slept well.
We had a little minor crisis where we needed the internet, so we nipped out to MacDonalds for brekkie. I had thought about ringing Jane, who had move to Gladstone some years back, and was planning to swing by for a coffee. But I had no phone number. So here I was, lining up at Makkas, in Pt Pirie, for my free seniors coffee, and there she was, standing right next to me. She joined us for breakfast and we had a nice chat about family, old times, and moving to the country. What are the odds!!!!
Watched the first episode of “the Leftovers”. Not sure yet.
We stopped here once many years ago when we were on the way to Port Augusta to see about a teaching job at the School of the Air; going to remote stations and checking on students around the Outback. The job involved a lot of 4-wheel driving in remote areas that would take a day at a time to get to. We wanted the job but I think they thought we were too old. In reality, it was probably for the best as we get lost quite easily and we have no remote outback driving survival skills. Also, due to not getting jobs as outback station teachers we applied for international teaching and spent three years in Dalian, China which was so much better than living and teaching in Australia.
Port Pirie is a smelter town – not sure what that means but it is heavy industry and there are issues with lead and there has been for a long time. We did learn at our stay here on our return trip that iron ore comes from Broken Hill by train and is smelted (not sure if that is the word, no internet where we are now). Four photos below show the city from the water side:
The first thing we did was go to K-Mart and get new bike helmets for $7 each and a five-bucks lock and chain.
We stayed at the local footy oval – listed in our free campsites guide, ‘Camps Australian Wide 8th edition’. Being unsure whether there would be footy practice with hordes of young men yelling and kicking balls, we went to a far corner amongst some bushes of the property. Narda having raised three footy playing sons thought there would be practice because it was on a Wednesday. Sure enough after dark – flood lights on – they were there and I was happy that I had a footy mum with me as I wanted to park next to the toilet block in back of the club rooms which would have been a nuisance.
Now we have made some progress, still only just up the road. We drove through Pt Augusta and then stopped at the roadside place called “Tent Hill” or something like that. Real outback style, red dirt, salt bush and we need to do a little 4 wheel driving to find a nice site. Knocked over a few shrubs to make our way.
Tent Hill Rest Area -32.241672, 137.545887 Stuart Highway Barndioota
‘The Wallerberdina station near Barndioota in the Flinders Ranges has been picked as the possible site for the nation’s first nuclear waste dump.’
We loved Tent Hill. So dark with galaxies and stars we rarely see due to city lights. It was quiet too, with a few road-trains throughout the night and three or four trains. I wanted to go for a night walk following a trail but then we thought what happens if the batteries of our torch (flashlight) fails, it was that dark, so we stayed inside our van and watched some horror flick to scare the poop out of us.
No, it’s not three trucks! They call them road trains and they thunder along pretty fast.
Overnight along the way – put up solar panels and Narda did laundry.
Fast becoming our favourite meal; frozen peas and carrots, fried Vienna sausages, and a yummy salad with spinach leaves and lots of blue cheese. Terrell has some vegetarian concoction there!
Drove couple of hours. We did one of the many roadside truck stops.
Narda found the best way to wash our ‘smalls’ was by filling a bucket, adding detergent, then let it bounce about in the caravan. By the time we got to our stop for the afternoon – night – next day, things were clean and hung out to dry. We used this method a few times though we did use a proper laundry machine once along the way for sheets, towels, pants, jumpers and life was good. And clean.
Next day we headed off at around 9; I did not sleep that well as we were worried about being completely cut off. No internet, no Vodaphone. I even though perhaps we should turn back and go to Eyre Peninsula instead. Well by the light of day, things look normal again, still no connections but it no longer mattered, and we continued on our way.
The next day (Friday, 16th June) we made quite decent progress. We stopped at Pimba; pulled into Spud’s Roadhouse, ate a meat pie and some potato flap things. There were so many caravaners there. Blimey, every grey nomad had hit the road.
Then we pulled into Woomera, which is still a town, and not dead. It has a school, functioning, a swimming pool, and a sort of museum and some lived in, normal houses.
Drove about three hours or less
The next stop was supposed to be a couple of hundred Ks short of Coober Pedy. We had a site in mind, but it took a while to find it. In the end we used the latitude/longitude coordinates successfully.
So here we are, another roadside stop, pretty littered. Some people are so revolting. The first thing I did was don some rubber gloves and clean up a bit, at least around were we were sitting. There is much less traffic now; the caravaners have ‘pitched their tents’ for the night, and the trucks have taken the turn off to Roxby Downs.
A favourite pastime in caravan parks is to sit with drink in hand in the afternoon and watch folks come in and park. OK, not everyone is good at it like Narda, we all know I never attempt it; but holy guacamole – seeing people do five, six, maybe a dozen tries at getting their caravan straight, it is such entertainment. You would think after being on the road for a while they would be good at it. Granted some are quite large – 25, 28 feet or more without the towbar, but why bring it to a caravan park until, well, one knows how to do it? I practice when we are in the bush with no one around but I have a long way to go. Granted I am young, only 69, 70 in August, but backing up with a trailer has never been my speciality; of course, we are still searching for what is. If you were with us Randy, I wonder if you would like a shot of backing up this thing we live in, into a tight spot. Our caravan is only 18 feet, 24 with the tow bar and a couple of tonnes. Narda gets it into a small area in our driveway at home something I may never attempt. Saying that, I can drive on a dirt track all day – unfortunately we got scratches on the side of our van from going too deep on the track back at Tent Hill Rest Area and we aren’t too pleased with that, but that is life in the fast lane.
Went to the Umoona Opal Mine and museum. Really worth the visit; it was free and had a lot of information. There was once an inland sea which covered vast areas in the centre of Australia – due to an ice age or some other reason – faulty mind and all – it all dried up. There are fossils and lot of photos and explanations about this, which I obviously do not remember but nevertheless it was all very cool. Next to the museum is the hotel, all of which is underground. There is a backpacker’s abode too so it is all very inexpensive. Except for the opals, some of which were in the $6 and $7 thousand-dollar range. I know little about opals though we have lots or a bag full of them at home. A collection from Narda’s father over the years. We all had something made with one of his opals; I had a tie clip, Narda some earrings and sisters and daughter-in-laws and sons all some thing or the other made with an opal. We once had a dude come and look at them but we have no idea whether he was a hustler or what so we kept them. They are mostly of the white kind which I gather are not worth as much as ones with colour.
There are about 3500 folks in Coober Pedy currently not counting all us caravan folks. There are a lot of caravans here; everywhere, it seems to be the main population that we saw, so the 3500 residents must for the most part be in their underground homes or at mines looking for opals. The dugouts that they live in have a constant temperature around 23C, which, considering it is in the mid to upper 40s in the summer (well over a hundred F), is lovely. A sign informs us that ’73 opal fields extend for a distance of 40 kilometres north and 15 Ks south of the township. 80% of the world’s opal is found in Coober Pedy – “the Opal Capital of the World”’. The pipes going up through the ground in the photo below are air vents for underground homes.
Finally on to Coober Pedy. It was a good, easy drive, only 200 Kms left to go. We pulled into the first caravan park, which also gave us a 10% discount as we have membership. So $31.50 per night. That’s OK, showers were hot, the place is dusty, and you have to buy water, but this is a desert. Bright sunny days, no clouds, and really cold nights. But tonight we have electric blankets!! Very nice.
This town is the weirdest place. Ramshackle, dusty, full of discarded trucks, and machinery. Also many lost looking Aboriginal people wandering around, some have a glass jar of opals, which they try to sell to tourists. I have yet to witness a sale. They look poor; sad sight.
But there is lots to see. Its very weirdness makes it interesting. Some of it looks like the set of Mad Max; actually I think it was. Today we did some tourist things, visited an underground house, called “Faye’s House”. This is a dugout built almost entirely by Faye herself, with the help of some friends. It’s quite big. She did eventually strike some great opal, as she dug deeper. In the 60’s , folks were using pick axes, not jack hammers. Hard to imagine doing that.
We also wandered through a very interesting museum/opal shop/ hotel/mine called Umoona. It was really beautiful; also no admission charge, which was a surprise.
Faye’s Underground Home – We did the tour, rated as #5 of top things to do in all of Australia. The basic story as I hopefully remembered correctly is that Faye came to Coober Pedy – forget why – and got a job as a cook and in the meantime started digging for opals. She was the first female to do so. After a while she started digging out her home by hand – back in the 1960s, and after ten-years she was finished. She did have help from two other women and the home was dug out more to have a couple of extra bedrooms. Apparently, they were party women – well they worked hard but also liked to party – and there is a wine cellar and an entertainment area. There is also a swimming pool attached outside – thus the windows. Of course, I have not explained this well but it is worth the tour.
Faye’s Underground House
We’ve been riding through the town on our bikes. Coober Pedy is built on the only hill in thousands of square Kms, and we chose this one to do our bike riding. Oh well, got some decent exercise. We also had lasagna at the local roadhouse. Their pasta night, $12, not bad at all.
Having eaten our evening meals and breakfast in the caravan for the past six days we chose to venture out. What seemed most reasonable was the Outback Bar and Grill (not to be mistaken with the Outback Steak House chain in the States) which was next door to our caravan park, The Opal Motel and Caravan Park. Being Sunday there was a $12 pasta night on the menu , a vegetarian and a dead animal lasagne. Both were quite good and included a salad. I know that it is against my low-carb diet but a break from it occasionally keeps me from rebelling against the whole bloody thing. As we have not eaten anywhere else since leaving home, except for Spuds back near Woomera (that was dreadful; for lunch, a few days back Narda had some sort of animal pie and I had two fried-dried potato things) we cannot compare it to any other eating hole, but we were content.
After dining out we thought we would really tie-one-on and have an evening at the casino and throw caution to the wind. We had seven dollars in change in the glovebox of our truck and we decided to spend it all, knowing we would not get any of it back. Our last gambling spree was in Las Vegas in 2005 when we lost all four-dollars we put into the slot machine and we have not gambled since. Not at casinos anyway, we bought houses in the States and Australia and kind of broke even but not at casinos. To make a long story short, we went to the Desert Cave Hotel complex in the centre of town. It looked quite fancy and we did not bring any fancy clothes (well we don’t own fancy clothes full-stop because we are now retired). And in fact, looked a bit daggy/not feral but maybe close/bogins) so we cautiously went in. This is the best place we have seen in this town for information and exhibits. Everything seems to be underground. Long tunnels – signs telling lots of stuff. We didn’t go into any of the shops, probably because they were closed but we wandered until the museum closed at 8 PM. We would recommend this as the place to visit; especially all the way down to the lowest level. There is a restaurant, Umbertos, where people looked better dressed than us eating in a much fancier place than we would have chosen. Nevertheless, there is no charge to see the exhibits and to wander through the tunnels and learn about the opal trip. BTW, there is a ‘casino’ which is really a gaming room, which has five or six pokies in it. By closing time of the museum/exhibits/tunnels we felt like going home and never did spend our gaming cash.
Back on the road again. This time we covered a bit more ground and drove about 250 Ks, heading for Lake Hart. It’s amazing, a large salt lake, completely still and devoid of birds. The ‘beach’ is actually a crust of salt, so I’m guessing the water is pretty shallow and very salty. But it’s beautiful!
Terrell has taken some amazing photos here; the salt, the incredible sunsets and our great camping position with the million dollar view! So far we have been left alone here, and there are lots of other good possies….but none as good as ours. So we decided to stay 2 nights. Today we went cycling around the track, occasionally getting bogged in thick soft red sand. That’s when we had to get off to walk. There is also a railway line running past us, along the lake. I think about 4 goods trains a day pass us, with lots of carriages. Something like 40, though we haven’t counted them.
The drive here was easy, with so many caravans on the road. The majority, by far…3 to one, are cars towing caravans. All the grey nomads heading north for the winter.
We shopped at the local and only supermarket to have enough supplies for four – six days of free camping. At the IGA market, which BTW has everything we could want; even all the healthy, organic, vegan/vegetarian stuff we (or at least me) crave and use to keep the physical shell plodding forward. But that was not what took me to the next level of consciousness; for the first time ever, in any supermarket anywhere I heard a Dylan song – ‘Positively Fourth Street’ – that just floated my boat. I have always related to that song and in actual fact was living in Greenwich Village and hanging out on Fourth Street in 1965 when this was released. My whole life just mellowed in front of me. Even Narda was singing it. It was akin to Paul on the road to Damascus – I saw the light. Not sure which aisle I was transfixed in but I do believe it was the health food one.
Needless to say, and Randy of course understands, after that metaphysical experience it was time to merge back with the mass-mind, the rest of society so to speak, we found the nearby dump point (I will not explain what that is – caravan people would know), got petrol, water (we had to pay for it, a dollar for 40 litres and spent a couple of bucks filling up the caravan, because of the shortage of water in this part of Australia), and by 10:30 am we were on the Stuart Highway headed back to Adelaide. We are planning our real trip which will be to Darwin and we will take a month for that then maybe go over to Western Australia, Perth, and back to Adelaide taking another month or two. The best time for this is between June and August as it is too hot other times. So that is our plan for next year. After three months in India from January to April. This year we may do another trip of a month in October when we get back from overseas. I think we are getting prepared for a more intense trip. Of course I will be 70, getting close to 71 next June… and being a mature person I will be making mature decisions, like let’s go way off the highway and wing it.
We arrived at Lake Hart @ 3:30, after changing drivers every hour as well as getting petrol half way. And taking photos of ourselves in restricted zones; Woomera is a missile testing space run years ago by the Yanks so it should be alright for me to be here.
OK, so we went less than 200 Ks and we took more than three hours but we are here now. Watching the sunset. Lake Hart is so cool. A lake in the middle of this part of the outback and salt. We found a rather secluded parking spot and rode our bikes to the lake. Between the railroad track and the lake is salt – layers of it. We have never walked on salt before and it is just groovy. Of course, we had to taste it and sure enough it tasted salty. As we learned back in Coober Pedy there was a huge inland lake hundreds of millions of years ago and there are still a few pockets of it today; this being one of them.
Oh and one other thing. Three times there has been an explosion on the horizon! The Americans at Woomera rocket range testing something. Bit of a mystery though. We will investigate. Watch this spot!
So far today there have been three large explosions. The largest was this morning @ about 11. Our camera was inside and I took too long to get the zoom lens out but I got these at 300 mm. There were two more with a few hours interval between booms and each was smaller than the one before. We rode bikes around the tracks for an hour and that was the excitement for today; well, except for, Narda deciding she didn’t like the carpet in the caravan anymore and ripped it up and carted it outside then made a bit of a fire to vanquish past growing microbes which created quite a smell in our peaceful fresh-air space of the Outback. Not to worry, we now have bare wood but no microbes good or bad colonizing on the floor. Not agreeing or disagreeing to the redecoration of our home I quietly sat and played/worked/created stuff in Photoshop and AfterEffects and Premiere and learned more about our new Nikon D7500.
We left Lake Hart at 9 am, stopping for our first coffee break at ‘Rangers View Rest Area’, 220 Ks along the way. This rest area has toilets and a great view. From the signs about the habitat we learned that some of these bushes go for decades without water, there are trees more than a thousand-years old (makes us feel a bit bad for driving over any of this stuff when we do off-road camping).
stopped at Port Augusta for lunch, Flinders Ranges in background – saving that for another trip.
To Port Pirie Globe Oval to camp by three pm. Here again. Did this place on the way north, exactly a week ago. We had planned to spend a couple to three weeks but it looks like we will be about ten-days. The weather has been great, no rain, sunny warm days about 20 degrees Celsius and cold nights at about 4 – 6 degrees (close to freezing in Fahrenheit reading). We find ourselves getting up on the late side of seven in the morning, once we have the gas burner on to have coffee and a bit of a bath the van warms a tad. We have hot water bottles that still are warm in the morning, which is about 8 – 10 hours of keeping us warm buried under blankets and a quilt. We sometimes watch a video in bed and other times wrapped in a blanket but by 9:30pm we are either asleep or close to it. We did not set up for TV as there is so little worth watching. We have some of the latest movies we collected at our last stay in Cambodia couple of months ago, but for the most part we watch TV series. We were able to download this week’s episodes of ‘Better call Saul’, ‘’Veep’, and of course ‘Fargo’ with the park’s free WIFI, which made staying at the caravan park worth the money; along with heating our van, having electric blankets all night, showers; the little comforts in life. Lately we are watching ‘The Leftovers’ which is a bit ridiculous, though we have now started season two and read that season three was filmed in Melbourne so we will stick with it. For the most part, it is dark and quiet at night, even here in Port Pirie. Here now at the oval at 5:30 there is footy practice – 5:30 and the sun has already set. Today is the shortest day of the year, probably the longest in the north. Imagine watching something like the ‘Leftovers’ and it is dark and quiet outside. Once in a while Narda will say, ‘what is that sound?’ so being the protective husband I put on my robe (to cover up my PJs covered with monkeys – have to look a bit macho in the face of a threat) and go outside making a loop around the van and saying ‘I think it was just the wind dear’ or ‘perhaps an animal’. It was worse when we were watching ‘The Walking Dead’ and camping in remote areas – especially near train tracks. That was spooky. ‘The Leftovers’ is just dumb. It is by the same dude that wrote ‘Lost’. We were a bit addicted to that one.
Once in India we were staying at a resort and after four days of watching for hours a day someone checked on us as we had been in our room so long, seeing if we were OK. We are not so bad anymore usually not watching more than two of an episode in the evening. Still, camping in remote areas or as now at the local footy oval in perhaps a not-too-good part of town; it can get creepy. Not as bad as a few days ago, when there was no phone coverage or radio as we spent three days too far from any town. Often where we camp there will be no one else within sight so if some cannibals or thieves or Republicans realise we do not have healthcare insurance decide to do the bad on us we are a bit stranded.
To finish off with our daily life on the road, we start dinner early. The easiest is sweet potato and spinach boiled and mashed, (Dutch stampot!) a salad, mushrooms or some veggie burger, schnitzel, or other happy-animal-not-being-eaten product and Narda has road-kill or something similar. We eat well; I have my low-carb grainy/nutty bread I made back in Adelaide, and low-carb – sugar-free cookies, and my low-carb seeds and nuts breakfast with a smoothie of yogurt, kale (I use powder on the road as my smoothie is really a shake as we don’t have electricity), protein powder, coconut drink, spirulina, and whatever else I can shake in the mix. Narda has more of what she refers to as a normal diet (and I always thought mine was the normal diet). Randy of course would be eating road-kill or whatever else was fished out of the meat section, but it would have to be grass fed and organic. Our solar panels give enough to keep our laptops and TV charged and our gas stove takes care of the cooking and if we are too cold, it does warm the place up a bit. Life is good.
Next morning, back on the road after two nice quiet days at the salt lake. We are now camped in Pt Pirie at the free site on the oval, and yes it has been a week, and the footballers are training again. They probably think we never left. Just chatted on the phone ( WhatsApp…who knew) with Bren who is currently in Pai, Northern Thailand, enjoying his summer break.
We put up our shower tent today as we decided to stay here at the oval for another night. Having hot showers is not too difficult. We have a ten-litre tank we put on the stove and get the water to about 40C and it has a shower hose and that’s it. Clean hair and bodies. Taking a shower while people play outside. Feels kind of strange to be naked in a tent and hear people kicking a footy nearby but the result is good. This is the first time we set up our tent on this trip, now I think we will more often.
We had breakfast out this morning. Something we rarely do, but a break from my seeds and grains is OK once I suppose. And we have saved money and our budget line is looking good so I thought ‘what the heck, I will take the Mrs out for breaky’. So we rode our bike to McDonalds where I had an egg and cheese muffin for $3.60 and the free senior’s coffee (they don’t do that in the States, but in Australia if one purchases a three dollar item they get a free coffee; if a senior. And surprise, surprise they never ask me for ID to see how old I am. Some places give a large cappuccino but here it is just a regular, which is still a $3.50 value) and Narda got the deluxe breakfast; a muffin with meat and a piece of lettuce (and yummy tomato chutney) and an egg for $6 and a free senior’s coffee.
So, Randy. I am happy you came on this trip with us. Last night I laid awake for quite some time thinking how everyone from my past is dead or I can’t find. I mean people I have had experiences with outside of Narda’s family (who, by the way, I have really enjoyed for the past seventeen years). I have contact with two people that I knew long ago (Marta, my brother’s girlfriend and who wrote a book about him, who I knew from her visits to my brother in about 1963 and Kathleen who I knew from about 1964 and who could have been my first girlfriend – she remembers me as that, so it could be correct. I saw both a few months back when we were in New York) and I am friends on Facebook with a friend from New Orleans in 1973 but I find it frustrating I cannot connect with anyone else and say ‘remember when…’? So, it is amazing Randy, though dead, has decided to come on this trip. I wanted to bring a few other dead people (my son, Leigh, my brother, my other best friend after Randy, who died in Guatemala a few years ago, couple of people I was in a cult order with in the 1970s, some tripping friends from the 1960s and a few others I have had some in-depth experiences with) but no one would join me, so it is just Narda and Randy and me here exploring the Outback.
23 June Friday
Then 2 more nights at the ‘free’ camping ground in Pt Pirie. As we were about to leave, we discovered two things; 1. Our battery was completely flat and 2. We were not supposed to camp here. So for the battery we rang the RAA, who were there in ½ an hour, pretty good. As we were waiting for him, a council guy came by and informed us that we should not be camping here. He said some neighbours had complained. He was very nice about it though. I guess when the locals saw our shower tent, and all the washing hanging on a line strung between 2 trees, they might have thought that we had moved there permanently. Oh well. We did get 3 good nights there.
We are bright and early, make that cold and early. Six AM, could not sleep more, stayed rugged up for another half-hour, then decided to go to wherever the next place is. Looking through our free camping guide another place looks fine and less than an hour away so by 8:30 we are fed, washed, and ready to drive off. As usual we check to see if all is ready and as Narda is driving first today I stand in back waiting for the blinker and break lights check. Narda is soon outside the truck saying the battery was flat. How could that be? Oops. We left the van plugged into the car and while blissfully watching the next two episodes of ‘The Leftovers’ (still think it is a bit lame though season two may be a tad bit better than season one, though can’t say why, perhaps the actors have had a season to practice working together and are more chilled. Spoiler Alert: now half way through season three, we love it, like ‘Lost’ more and more, and filmed in Australia; how good is that?) and charging the laptop and phones and having lights on drained the car battery. After an hour, the RAA dude showed up and got us fired up.
Fortunately, perhaps, we were packed up and ready to go as a council person stopped by to say we were not supposed to be camping where we are. The place to stop was along the roadside in front of the oval, not in back amongst the trees. He said a resident on the street behind us complained. What? Why would someone complain that we are camping? Surely, we were not bringing the tone of the neighbourhood down, it is a bit on the feral side already. Maybe it was our string of laundry between trees with socks and undies they didn’t like, or was it me showing Randy around and telling him about South Australia. Bunch of losers worried about our lot out there. Nevertheless, we said we were waiting for the RAA and the council dude said there was a good place to camp alongside a lake ten kilometres out of town so we will go there next time.
If this had happened a few days ago when we were at Lake Hart, out of reach of phone coverage we would have been in a bit of a bother. We will change our carrier when back in Adelaide. We have been with Virgin on the Optus Network for the past three years, and not being so far from towns has been fine. I pay $30/month for two gigs of data making it quite reasonable, but if it does not work in the Outback what good is it? Asking others who had full coverage in the Outback with internet and phone and they had Telstra. One lady, older than me, who was trekking past where we camped (in the image at the top of this scribble – on the dirt path) taking photos of plants and bugs said she uploaded her photos from her Canon to Facebook as she took them. Damn, I am behind the curve. I bought this Nikon D7500 because of SnapBridge “to have a permanent WIFI on the camera to upload as you go anywhere in the world” they said, “even without being on a mobile plan”. I cannot get the bloody thing to work and will be hanging out at “Diamonds Camera” in Adelaide where I bought it a few days before we left on this trip, until they have me online. I am sure I will be OK in Denmark in a few months, but we are planning to spend three maybe four months wandering India at the beginning of 2018 and I must be an absolute pro with this camera and be able to upload on the go by then.
Because the battery was so flat we drove a couple of hours to Blythe and are now set up at the footy oval in town for another night of free camping. This is our fifth night in a row without connecting to power or paying to stay so that is a record beating our two four night stays before going to a powered site. The solar panel is out but a cloudy day is not going to give us much but we should have enough for TV tonight. As we got here before noon we have a day to ride our bikes around town. As many other towns we have driven through, Blyth has houses for sale on every block. There are two churches: one is a private home the other an art gallery. A small one room library where we bought a new book which is a story about the Outback for later reading and there is a small deli where we bought milk and a finger bun (for non-Australians, a finger bun is a roll with raisins and icing, I rarely eat even a bit due to my low-carb, non-sugar, boring-to-a-fit diet, but I split one with Narda putting butter on it instead of peanut butter; which is typically what a Yank does with any bread like substance – but Narda says, ‘you’re not putting peanut butter on it are you?’ so I didn’t, putting my American tastes into a box for future reference). There is also a hotel which we visited in hopes of a good meal this evening but their prices were quite high so we are back to the van for sweet potato/spinach mash and my veggie burger and Narda’s who knows what sausage like sculpture desperately attempting to pass itself off as food and a salad. I am sure Randy would eat that kind of stuff, he is Polish/French and even in the 1970s as I was perfecting my vegetarianism he was eating more meat than he had on his body. A common line from me was, ‘you’re not going to eat that are you?’ and a common line from him was, ‘you’re not going to eat that are you?’ and to think that I was once a tofu and tofu products manufacturer for eight years here in South Australia, and now I avoid soy as much as possible. Who knows? Maybe one day after fifty years or so not eating meat I will wake up and just eat nothing else. After all I am not doing it for religious reasons, I think I just have always been like this. I like animals and believe for the most part they are smarter than me so that could be why. And for fish, after living in China for three years it is obvious why I won’t eat fish. There was a slight disagreement between Randy and me back in December (2016) when we were living together and I took over cooking as I usually do, not trusting others cooking so much, and he said he would stop smoking if I started eating meat. Narda says I agreed, but I don’t remember doing so. Randy needed to stop smoking, he was quite ill with cancer and several other things and I wanted him to stay alive; at least so he could do this trip we are now on in his body and not by spirit alone, but me to stop eating meat? – not sure about that. Of course, now if that was really the choice I would have. He did stop smoking then died a couple of months later. I am still a vegetarian and I am sitting outside writing this.
The last time he drove us was along the coast of Oregon last December from Eugene up to Portland. He was puffing on his vaporizer pipe (legal these days in Oregon) and driving 70 miles-per-hour in the rain and fog. We were too terrified to say anything so we didn’t.
Now we’re almost back in civilization. This area is called the mid-North, full of rolling low hills and farmland. Originally settled by the Germans, just as they settled the wine country in the Barossa and Clare Valley. So we found another free spot at the Blyth oval. We’re the only ones here so we’ll stay for a bit. Terrell’s asleep now; lazy Friday afternoon.
I sent a message to my higher Self but my higher Self said ‘refer to lower self’.
We are sitting here reading the owner manual to our caravan. OK, so we have had it for more than a year and here we are, after running out of power, and other minor annoyances, finding out stuff.
24 June Saturday
We were bundled up watching ‘The Leftovers’ and again in the middle of a bit of a scary scene the TV went off. Everything did. We had no power left. I had thought the two-hour drive from yesterday would have charged up the van’s battery but it must just have charged up only the truck’s battery. As yesterday was our first cloudy day in ten-days we did not get much solar. End result, no power. Wow this would have really sucked in a more remote area. We still had gas so we went to bed with hot water bottles. This morning I put the solar panel out first thing as it was a sunny day. We also discovered that there were no footy games today here at the Blyth Oval where we were camped. We asked someone yesterday and they were off playing Clare meaning no one at the club house. I found several outdoor power points and now have my laptop charging, Narda’s phone, my phone, and my defibrillator/ pace maker will get charged. There is also a nice large sofa and a carpet in this enclosed area I am getting powered up in. Thanks to the Blyth Footy Club for keeping us going. As it is ten am there is still a chance people will show up and use the clubrooms but hopefully by the time they do everything will be charged up. There is activity around the place, kids on bikes, motor scooters and it looks like in the next paddock area over they are setting up for lawn bowls but no one has come into my little covered area in front of the footy club. There is a dump point, rain water, and a toilet so we can preserve the integrity of our own.
So life is good. Life is free. The fact that we are now only an hour and half from home shouldn’t matter. I feel like when I was a kid in Clifton Park, New York and I would camp in the back of our farm amongst the pine trees. I knew I was, at least within eye sight, out in the wilderness, but in fact I was only a run to home if a bear or whatever animals they have in Upstate New York began ripping my tent in the middle of the night. I guess I am really only a bit removed from being a television-surfing-the-discovery-channel-explorer. Maybe after next month when I turn seventy I will become tougher and more risk taking. We don’t really take risks now. We just do dumb stuff, like charge the van’s battery with the car battery and have it go flat, or drive into a place we can barely get out of, or leave our cables and things we need at home.
After a family meeting, realising the choice was going home or staying another night of free-camping without electricity and not enough sun for the solar panels to help which would mean no TV watching and with darkness surrounding us by 5:30, we made the big decision of going half an hour down the road to a powered site. Here we are in Snowtown, twenty bucks for power, hot shower, and as we are train lovers we watched three long trains go by behind us in the past hour. We are the only ones camped here, we are about the only ones in town. Saturday afternoon, riding our bikes around the five or six square block town and nothing was open and there were no people around. For history buffs Snowtown became famous for their bodies-in-barrels caper – there is even a movie about it (2011 available). Bottom line is that there were 12 victims between 1992 – 1999, with about four being involved. The trial was one of the longest and most publicised in Australian legal history. We were told by a dude working in a garden in the park we are in that there is a good feed at the footy club a few feet away from us (we are camped at the footy oval) on Saturday nights so we are off to find something different than our usual mashed sweet potatoes and spinach. No doubt I will be lucky to find something to eat but Narda and Randy will luck out. We’ll tell all when we get back.
Our final night on the road. Snowtown is known to Australians as the place where a mass murder occurred. The Snowtown murders were a series of 12 murders committed by 3 men between August 1992 and May 1999. The bodies were found hidden in barrels.
Hard for a town to shake this off.
We found a nice powered site in the Community Gardens, and joined a whole groups of locals for a teas in the hall, catered by volunteers, probably raising money for something. A nice warm night in the caravan because of the power (we used our electric blankets) , then home th next day, only another 1 ½ hours of driving.
So, there we were, a good feed for sure. Dot’s Kitchen every Saturday night @ the Snowtown Footy Club. As expected I had the salad bar which was better than some pub’s salad bar but nothing spectacular except for seven-bucks I can’t complain. Narda had a meat thingy for nine dollars and we were filled and had a good evening out. Eighty-seven percent of the people, or more, were older than us. It reminded me of church social meals I got dragged off to at the Clifton Park Methodist Church when I was too young to fight my way out and find food elsewhere. We shared a table with a couple who were on the road too and they had many interesting stories.
It is the Community Club House. Looking on the wall at all the trophies for everything from darts to footy to lawn bowls and plaques and photos that date back to the 1920s, I am intrigued and write down some of the awards. For example, there is a photo of the ‘Champions of Champions, regional B Lower North Snowtown Bowling Club, 1934’ with a happy group of chaps proudly holding their trophy. Does anyone remember them? Was this the highlight of their life? Do their grandchildren tell other grandchildren that back in 1934 a family member, or perhaps a friend of a friend of a family member once was on the Snowtown Champion of Champions team? How important are our achievements?
25 June Sunday
We left Snowtown at 10 am and got home about 12:30, put the caravan through a car wash, and that is it. We had told folks we would be away for about three weeks, then decided to make it two. Once we were on the road we got home twelve days later. We live in the moment and the moment got us to this moment and it was all good.
When we got home the rain began. It was a great trip.
The idea was that we were going to take Randy to Melbourne to see my son Sacha then to Sydney and put him on a plane back to Eugene. Sorry that this is not going to happen. Sacha and I have our surname because of Randy. Back in 1980, living with Randy and others in Hawaii I was changing my name for reasons that are in my e-book and Randy said, ‘you think you are such new age people, change to that’. I replied that it sounded tacky, Terrell NewAge but after a study of numerology and doing an astrological chart of his suggestion I found that by replacing the ‘w’ with a ‘u’ I would have a much better time of it so I became Terrell Neuage. What I discovered quite quickly was that I definitely was not a new age person so coming close to that term was a mistake. I spent the next twenty-years rather miserable, so numerology for surnames sucks to say the least. Of course, the past seventeen years since being with Narda have been great but I doubt that was due to being Neuage.
We have five weeks before we are off again. Next time we write here will be in August when we go on a Baltic Cruise, spending my seventh birthday in St. Petersburg, Russia, then six weeks in Denmark. We are planning to go camping again in November for five or six weeks, maybe heading toward Western Australia.
No matter where I go, Randy, I will miss you. Yes, the person all the way to the right is Randy; a combination of a hippie, individual, non-conformist, a metaphysical dude of the first order. A new age person who completely lived life on his own terms.
Robert said he heard his mate calling him from mid-north SA. So he and his wife packed up, and moved there. They bought a house for $90,000 opposite Robert’s mate’s garage. He told us about the murders in Terowie.
“Just like Snowtown”, he said, “Maybe worse. These victims were buried in a wall.” (any American reading this may like to Google “Snowtown murders, South Australia…chilling reading)
It was a warm Saturday night, around 8 o’clock when all the young ones are out partying, or having expensive dinners. Not in Terowie. There was one young one. We saw her sitting on the swing in the local, nicely kept, playground. This was in the afternoon, on the Saturday. We returned later and she was still there, swinging.
But the boys were out, with cans of West End, sitting on upturned buckets and some old car furniture, shooting the breeze with Robert’s mate. This was where and when we found them. We had just set up camp on the nearby railway siding. We were feeling quite pleased with ourselves, with our shady little spot, free, and our new bike rack.
Then we discovered one major puncture in one of our bikes. Bugger. We remembered passing this servo on the way in, so we walked along the main street till we found it. And there they were. Action in Main Street. Having nothing to lose we asked the mechanic (Robert’s mate) if he might have time to fix the hole.
He said, “No worries”.
Nice bloke. He was the only one working, among the boys and their West End cans. We returned later and joined the friendly banter. That’s when we learned of Robert’s life story, his mortgage, the murder and many other things. In the end the mechanic refused to charge us. Blimey. We felt a little humbled.
That is Terowie. A little town at the end of its life. In its hey-day there were 2000 folks living there; a town of lovely stone buildings, a bustling railway town, where broad gauge trains have to unload their passengers, their animals and their goods, and reload them onto narrow gauge trains, heading north. Now the town is sad. A few buildings; the blacksmith, the old post office, and the old general store have been converted into museums, but there’s no-one there.
And yet, it keeps on. A big “RV friendly town” sign welcomes you as you drive in. The toilets in the main street are kept clean by an unknown person, for the convenience of Grey Nomads, who camp at the railway siding for free. The mechanic, who is also the owner of the large Victorian hotel, used to offer counter meals. He recently decided to stop, because “the pub in the next town is also struggling, and there are not enough customers for us both”.
Why is this? There is a giant wind farm only 20 minutes south, with millions of dollars invested in hundreds of giant wind mills. Why is this not bringing some wealth into the area? Robert, who knows such things, told us that the money goes to NSW, and we don’t get any benefit as a state, certainly none as a town.
So there it is. We spent three days there; but it made quite an impression. The town has treasures, like absolute silence; what an unusual gift, and clear black skies where you see the colours of planets. It is enough. And if you’re wondering about the bodies in those walls, ask Robert. We have no idea.
Our Video – with kangaroos and real outback footage and heaps more – for first time internet users click on the white arrow in the image below – everyone else do the same.
Our first stop, real stop, not counting Elizabeth twenty-minutes from home was in Saddleworth, in the Gilbert Valley, approximately 100 kilometres north of Adelaide.
Wanting to be accurate I looked up Krispy Kreme store-locator. I am sure it is Elizabeth but I wanted to be sure. Perhaps their IT department needs to work on their location finder. It said the nearest one was in Missouri and Google provided a map to there which was most helpful.
Saddleworth is definitely a town that looked worth exploring. There is a caravan park there but we did not see a free site so we kept going.
We were having a bit of a bother with our Pajero which had an engine light warning. We had it looked at and some minor repair but ‘Billy’, our Pajero (our caravan is “Holiday”) was feeling a bit under the weather and the further we went the worst he felt. By the time the trip was over we could barely make it up a small hill even in first gear. Currently Billy is booked in for surgery next week and Holiday is at the caravan shop getting a review of her situation with some add-ons such as solar panel so we can go further afield and do more free camping. We did limp into Terowie, a town we had passed through several years earlier. I even bought a fridge magnet there. This time the town was very quiet and though the entrance sign boasted 150 residents, most of those have since gone and places are for sale at bargain prices. We looked at the post office that was for sale for $105,000 with land, four bedrooms, all modernized with beautiful floors – I want to be the mayor of Terowie and being a Leo is really all the qualifications I need to succeed and Narda could be the post master.
We were alone at the free-camping along the rail-line the first night and the second night there were four others. The area was so large that everyone was very spread out and we did not have any contact which is fine with me but Narda likes to meet people and get stories such as above. I just want to be in a quiet place to write a novel or another version of my memoirs. (you can read my original version of ‘Leaving Australia’ @ http://neuage.org/e-books/
We chose this town in part due to the flatness of it. After six-weeks recently in Holland and riding every day – even in the snow (this was January – February 2017) we were up for riding more. Our house in Adelaide is in a bit of a hilly area so we rode heaps – though there was not far to go; one end of town to the other – well there is five-minutes of our life gone. We did ride around the ‘suburbs’ which took another fifteen-minutes. This is a photographer’s dream place. I did not get anywhere near the amount of photos a ‘real’ photographer would have gotten. There are four or five old churches on one street, not Main Street, a couple old pubs and lots of buildings.
This was an important train stop between Adelaide and the North. One of their main claims to fame here is that General Douglas MacArthur paid a visit here with his family after WW II. For Australians MacArthur was some military dude for the USA, a five-star general – which is a lot, who was quite important during the time he was important.
We decided to go to a place called ‘World’s End Reserve halfway back to Adelaide. Due to a combination of not getting internet where we were and our GPS, which hates us (I have spoken of this in a previous blog) we got hopelessly lost on a gravel road and never did find the place.
We got to Eudunda, found some free camping spot: changed gas bottles, started cooking, smelt gas, panicked, drove home, got home two-hours later, and realised how good life is, once again.