GRAYnomad Nature Photography :: The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #053



Well here we are then, back on the road after way too long, sort of. We don't consider that we are really on the road until we leave the Gold Coast as until then we're still tinkering with the truck in the same places we've been tinkering with the truck for the last who-knows-how-many years.

Yes we're still working on Wothahellizat, but it's just small tuning jobs, nothing serious.

We're heading south because I've organised to do some bushwalking with a couple of mates plus I also plan some solo walks in some of my favourite old haunts in the Kosciuszko high country. Having got that out of my system we'll go back north, but let's not get ahead of ourselves, that's months away.

We reach Canberra and find that our old home town has changed in many areas, one thing we find that hasn't changed though is the weather, so prepare yourself for some more whinging about the cold.

I swear there will come a time when we decide never to come below the Tropic of Capricorn and we'll thow away our thermals. But in the mean time there's still a lot we haven't seen or done down south so the long undies are staying close to hand.



Till next time then, and remember,

Don't Dream it, Be it!

Fri 4 Sep 2009

That's it then, we're heading down the highway, finally back on the road after being grounded for about two and a half years.

It's great to be travelling again although we will miss the block and the wildlife, especially the birds, B1 and B2 the magpies, C1 and C2 the currawongs, K1 and K2 the king parrots, and of particular note Gaffer, the butcher bird.

So how come the butcher bird has a real name?

Some time ago it stood on a piece of gaffer tape we had on the deck and for weeks it flew around with the tape stuck to its foot. At first it tried to remove the tape by pulling at it with his beak, which may have worked if he wasn't always standing on it at the same time.

On one occasion when he was on Chris's leg she held onto the tape in the hope that it would come off when he flew away. Unfortunately though it didn't and the poor bird spent several seconds flapping wildly while suspended upside down by one leg.

After that rescue attempt we let the tape be. It didn't appear to affect the bird in any way and he soon ignored it. We figured that eventually the tape would lose its sticky and sure enough one day he turned up with a tape-free foot.

Anyway that's in a past life now, and today we drive down to Glasshouse Mountains to stay a few days with Peter & Marie.

Mon 7 Sep 2009

Today we take the car down to Brisbane to see Peter Cox's new toy. We met Peter a year or so ago when he introduced himself as a prospective WORT builder, it's taken a while but he's finally purchased a truck and is about to start construction.

And what a truck, a MAN 13.280, brand new. He also bought a new workshop to do the job in, man am I in the wrong branch of photography.

 Peter's brand new MAN 13.280 in his brand new workshop.

I see a chassis like this and can't help but think of the possibilities, on the other hand I look at the size of the job and any construction thoughts are instantly quelled.

I envy Peter his new truck, but not the job he's about to undertake.

Tue 8 Sep 2009

For ages now we've had a problem with our batteries, we could be sitting at 24.7v one minute and suddenly drop to 23.1v for no apparent reason. We have two banks of 4x6v batteries plus one bank of 2x12v (the 12v batteries are only there because they were in the Landcruiser and I didn't want to throw them out).

I measure the batteries and find that two of the 6v ones are dead, reading 4 and 5 volts respectively, and one of the 12v batteries is reading 11.

We're going to have to replace something, the only question is "What?".

The 6v Powersonics are hard to get and cost more than their 12v equivalents. The 12v batteries are Fullriver and, despite the fact that one is dead and they are made in China I believe they have a pretty good reputation.

So I think we'll start changing over to 12-volt batteries. This will mean replacing 6v batteries with 12v ones every time two of the 6-volters die. As we have two dead ones now we can make a start.

Now I know all you sparkies out there are going to say you shouldn't mix batteries and that's true, but I don't have enough money to replace all the batteries at once, especially as most of them are still good.

So for some time, maybe even several years, we are going to have a weird 12v/6v/series/parallel combination until all the 6v batteries have gone to meet the great recycling bin in the sky.

When finished we will have slightly more capacity as well, about 1100AH at 24 volts which is a nice amount for a motorhome.

Wed 9 Sep 2009

Still here, doing some jobs on the truck. For a project that's supposed to be finished there sure are a lot of things to do on it. Mostly small things like adding isolation valves to the water tanks, installing a fan in the cab, and fixing a broken hinge.

One job we did today was change the magnets that hold up the lounge room fly screens. Each of the two screens has two magnets that hold it up with the shutter when screens aren't required. The magnets I originally used were standard units with little power and no hole in the centre for a screw or bolt, this meant that they had to be glued onto the fly screen and it seemed that no matter what type of glue I used it eventually came off.

Also they were only just strong enough to hold the screen up when the shutter was horizontal.

So the other day we bought some rare-earth magnets and today I modified the screens to handle them. Not only do the new magnets have a hole so I can screw them on, but they are unbelievably strong.

Sat 12 Sep 2009

We leave Peter & Marie's for what will be the last time for many years. Just down the road is a weighbridge so I drive over that to get a final weight, 12.7 tonnes but we could probably put 200 litres of fuel in which would take us close to 12.9. That's way better than the 16.5 the original truck was at first, but still a bit heavier than I'd like.

No matter.

After the weighbridge we fill up with the aforementioned fuel then drive around to the national park. Sum total travelled for the day, about 5 kilometres. I think that will do.

Sun 13 Sep 2009

Early start and down to Brisbane to see friends from our Canberra days, Steve & Madeleine. They live in a flash estate that doesn't allow cars to park on the street let alone ex-army trucks, so we park in a mostly unused lot across the road. I say "mostly" because there are some shipping containers in residence, I ask one of the neighbours who owns them and he informs me that a nearby business does. We drive down to the business to ask if it's OK to park with the containers but it's closed so we park the truck and head around to our friend's place.

 Camping in between the shipping containers.

What a great house, it's still unfinished but bloody nice all the same. Steve is a real gadget freak and the house is dripping with wires to control the AV systems, computer network etc.

Mon 14 Sep 2009

We're on our way south to do some bushwalking but none of the towns between here and my first walks will have proper bushwalking stores like Paddy Pallins, K2 and Mountain Designs.

Brisbane is the last opportunity to buy some much-needed equipment and in an example of great planning on someone's behalf all those stores are within a few hundred yards of each other in the suburb of Fortitude Valley, and "The Valley" is just a few kilometres down the highway from where the truck is parked.

So we drive into town to get the bushwalking gear. Just as we're about to turn onto the freeway however we decide that we should do the right thing and ask about parking Wothahellizat between the containers.

Man is it lucky we ask, the owner of the containers tells me that there's some trucks coming today to take them away and as they are side-lift container trucks they will need access between them. And we are parked right in the way.

I reverse the truck up into the bushes and we head into the city.

What a rat race this is, no worse than any other city I suppose but as far as we're concerned you can keep them all. We make a wrong turn and find ourselves on the Story Bridge heading away from The Valley. Eventually we find somewhere to turn around, re cross the bridge and start looking for a car park.

Last time we paid for parking in Brisbane it was $6 a day, that's a bit much really but probably worth it to be under shelter for the day so we're gobsmacked to see that it now costs $20 for three hours. There's no way we will pay that much so we reverse from the entrance and go looking for something cheaper.

We find another multi-story car park and try again, it's the same price but by the time we read the signage there's a dozen cars behind us so we have to proceed.

We spend a few hours browsing in the bushwalking stores, I buy an umbrella and a sleeping mat but baulk at the cost of a new tent. I'd love one because my current options are too heavy for an old bloke (that's me), but we feel we just can't justify it, especially as I have two other good tents.

Then we find a really good one that's pretty small (1.5kgs) and at $300 is not too expensive, we are dealing with a trainee shop assistant though and when we say we'll take it the boss gets one out and asks for $375. The assistant was confused about how the discounts work in the current sale, but having just talked ourselves into $300 we falter at $375 and say forget it.

When we return from the city the trucks are loading the containers, if we had left Wothahellizat where it was they would have been unable to operate and would have been very unhappy chappies.

The moral of the story? If possible always ask for permission to park.

After a quick cuppa we hit the road again, it's about 2PM and we reason that this will be a good time to brave the freeway traffic and move operations down to our favourite spot near Capalaba on the south side of Brisbane.

Somewhere along the way I lose Chris, I hope that she's ahead of me but know that's not likely because, even though she's been there several times, it's always been as a passenger and I know from experience that as a passenger in a car the route never really sinks in.

Sure enough when I arrive she's nowhere to be seen so I leave the UHF on in case she calls. I set up everything then sit down to wait, I figure that she knows the name of the spot, she has a map and can speak English (well it's a funny kind of English she learned at school in the UK) so eventually she should find the truck.

And eventually she does.

Tue 15 Sep 2009

Over to Camec to get a water pump that's been put aside for us. It's the wrong one. Despite quoting the part number and being told that's what they have, we get here to find that it's the "nearest one they had".

I just don't get people who cannot understand the concept of two things being equal. I told them we wanted part number

2088 174 144

and the pump they put aside is

2088 173 143.

Can you spot the difference? My dog could, if I had one that is.

The pumps are similar but the difference appears to be that the one they have is only rated to 30psi and my old one is 40. Eventually they decide we can have one of the new models for $200, it looks similar mechanically, is rated at 45psi and has a higher flow rate than the one I'm replacing so I take it.

Then it's on to Photo Continental to get a couple of goodies to complete my camera kit. I buy another camera bag (that makes about 350 of them I own now), some memory cards and a filter. At $202 the filter is by far the most expensive of the items, but it should be worth it.

It's called an ND400, it's a neutral density filter with an 8-stop density. This will allow me to use really long exposures even in bright sunlight to get that nice feeling of movement in water and foliage, something that's not normally possible with digital cameras but was the norm with my old 5x4 view camera.

Eight stops is not 8x the exposure, it's 2^8, which is 256x the exposure length.

Thu 17 Sep 2009

We've been here a couple of days now and have expected Michael to stop by. He's an old bloke we've chatted with several times over the years we've camped here, we first met him in 2001 when he was walking his dog. Later that day he returned and bought us fish and chips for dinner.

He's a nice bloke and last time we were here we struck up a bit of a friendship so we're surprised that he hasn't made an appearance.

Anyway, after baulking at spending money on a new tent the other day we now decide to get the one we looked at, a Mont Moondance 1.

The Mont Moondance 1

The decision was made after I weighed my home-made tiny-tent and realised that these days I can get a real tent that provides full shelter and that is even lighter than my half-sized version. At 1.59kgs the Moondance is about as light as you can buy without getting into really expensive tents designed for cross country and cycle racing.

It weighs a whole kilo less than my other walking tents which are both Macpacs and both weigh over 2.5kgs. Now a kilogram might not sound like much to you but after walking all day it makes a big difference. Also, because this is a one-man tent it's quite a bit smaller so there's a fighting chance of getting it inside my pack, something I could never do with the Macpacs.

We drive back into The Valley to buy the tent, while there I get a new fleece jacket and pants, my old pants are threadbare and my jacket is too bulky. I'm desperately trying to get a full walking kit into my 60-litre pack and with the smaller jacket and tent I just may be able to.

On our return to the truck I get all the gear out and do a test packing, it looks like everything will fit. I also erect the tent to make sure all the bits are there.

 Trying out the new tent.

While packing the gear away one of the locals drops in, his name is Frank and he's seen us here several times over the years.

We ask if Michael is around, he's not, he died two weeks ago. Apparently his dog died shortly after, it pined so much for the old fella that it just faded away.

I feel quite upset by this news, it's not as though we were life-long friends or anything, we'd only talked a few times, but he was such a nice old bloke.

Fri 18 Sep 2009

Drive down to the Gold Coast to stay with Mark and Gail.

Sun 20 Sep 2009

Our water system has two pumps running in parallel, partly so we have a backup and partly because we have such a large accumulator that it can take forever to bring the pressure back up to 40psi. With two pumps that will only take forever ÷ 2 which has to be more better.

Ever since day one though one of the pumps didn't work, the motor runs but it won't pump any water. Not wanting to tackle its replacement until I a) have fitted the tank isolation valves and b) have a new pump, I've left the job until today.

Unfortunately, as mentioned above, Shurflow don't make the same model any more and the new version is different. The mounting points are not the same and the pressure switch switches the negative lead rather than the positive as the old one does.

The mounting points just need four new holes but I also have to modify my wiring a bit to accommodate the switch. The reason for this is that when running two pumps in parallel you have to use the pressure switch from one of the pumps to control both of them.

If you don't do this then one of the pumps will never turn on because its cut-in setting will be lower than the other. The pump with the highest cut-in setting will cut in first and start raising the pressure, so the other one will never get to run.

To do this I disconnect both pressure switches from their pumps by cutting the appropriate wires and use one of them to control two relays which in turn control both pumps. You could probably just tap into the wire from one switch and connect it to the other one, but this would mean that the working switch is carrying twice the current it was designed for, hence my use of relays.

You could also use just one relay but in my case the relays are in turn controlled by two switches on the control panel, as each pump sucks from different tanks this allows me to select which tank we draw from.

Simple eh?

Anyway after some time I have the new pump installed and working and the pressure builds up twice as fast as it did with one pump. Job well done, now let's look at the old pump.

I pull it apart and find that the valves are full of crap, it looks like swarf from the tanks, probably from when they tapped the threads. Guess who didn't rinse the tanks out before installing them?

With a good clean the pump will probably work just fine so I'll keep it as a spare.

Another thing we've done today is weigh an example bushwalking meal. The walk I had planned has changed from two 4-5 day walks to areas not very far apart, to a single 10-11 day walk that encompasses both areas. That means a lot less backtracking because rather than walk in/out, move the truck, then walk in/out again we'll just stay in there.

Ten days worth of food is a lot to carry, but exactly how much?

We put together some food that constitutes a typical day's eating while on a walk, and it comes to a tad under 700 grams. So that's 7 kilograms for ten days, 7.7 really because you normally carry an extra days worth in case there's a delay. Quite a lot so we're contemplating a food and water drop the week before.

Tue 22 Sep 2009

For some time now I've been interested in getting back into some electronics, specifically embedded microprocessors. In fact I talked about it over a year ago. I pretty much dropped the idea but it was never totally out of my mind, and then a couple of weeks ago my 24-105mm lens shat itself.

Faced with a $450 repair bill for the lens (plus the $900 I spent on it eight months ago) or $1400 for a new one I got pissed off with the whole affair and started wondering if maybe I could spend that money on setting myself up to do some electronics instead.

Eventually I managed to get the idea passed Chris and started doing some research on modern microprocessors, soon narrowing the field down to the Picaxe, PIC and Atmel AVR chips. The Picaxe is very easy to use but it runs an interpreted BASIC which means it's slow (relatively speaking, it's still pretty quick) but the biggest strike against it is the BASIC programming language. Coming from an Assembler/C engineering background I somehow just can't get my head around using BASIC in an embedded application.

I remember when first PICs came out, what brain dead processors they were, they didn't even have a stack if I remember correctly. They have certainly grown up since then and are now very powerful, but I guess I have a thing against them.

So it's the AVRs then, and I started ordering some gear last week.

When we arrived at Mark and Gail's most of the stuff was waiting for me and I've been sorting it and generally checking things out until today when I decide it's time to actually do something.

After much ado with serial ports (Remember RS-232? The STK500 development board I bought uses it to talk to the laptop. Haven't they heard of USB?) I actually manage to write and download a program tonight. All it does is flash some LEDs, the embedded-processor equivalent of the "Hello World" program we all write when first trying a new language or programming environment.

Here's the program.

.include ""

  ser  r16
  out  DDRB,r16
  ldi  r16, 0xff
  out  PORTB,r16
  ror  r16
  dec  r17
  brne DLY
  dec  r18
  brne DLY
  rjmp LOOP

Impressed? I am, but then my standards aren't very high.

Wed 23 Sep 2009

After seeing some amazing images from Sydney with red skies caused by a dust storm so thick you couldn't see one end of the harbour bridge from the other we have a similar experience here on the Gold Coast.

 This unbeleivable dust lasted all day.

Sat 26 Sep 2009

We're off again, this time to the small coastal town of Evans Head, about 150k south of the Gold Coast. We have a friends there (Hugo and Wendy) so we'll stay with them for a day or so.

Hugo is Dutch and makes his living building motorhomes. We've known him for several years and always assumed that he was naturalised or at least had permanent resident status, so apparently did everyone else except the Department of Immigration who—six years after his three-month tourist visa expired—finally rang him and suggested it was time to leave the country.

That was about a year ago and normally he would have been banned from reentering the country for three years, but as a "prospective spouse" you are allowed back in and fortunately for Hugo he was living with Wendy and her young son and marriage was not out of the question. We wrote a letter to the D of I saying what a nice guy he was and that the relationship with Wendy was genuine.

Despite our endorsement he was granted another visa and—after being exiled for about nine months—is now back in Australia restarting his motorhome-building business.

We pull into the yard outside his workshop, he did offer a spot at his house but we prefer not to be in suburbia, after all these years we're well comfortable in an industrial area.

 Camping outside Hugo's workshop.

Mon 28 Sep 2009

It's off in the direction of Grafton today to visit more friends. I first met Bob and Jackie about 30 years ago when I was living in Grafton and we stay in occasional contact. I moved on but they still live in the same house and I try to drop in if we're in that neck of the woods.

As I cruise down the highway I see a sign, "How fast are you going?" it reads. Well actually that's a good question as my speedo broke a couple of years ago, I never bothered fixing it because we've hardly driven in that time, but now it's becoming a bit of an issue, not on the highway, there's no way I can get done for speeding with a 100kph limit, but even Wothahellizat can go faster than the 50kph speed limit that applies in most towns.

As Chris is usually driving behind she's got into the habit of telling me my speed over the UHF if I'm going too fast, but she's not always there and anyway that's not a very satisfactory arrangement.

So I'm going to build a new speedo, a flash microprocessor-controlled digital one, which was part of the argument I used to convince Chris to let me spend a fortune on electronics stuff recently.

If it works out alright maybe I can sell a few to help recoup the costs, there's a lot of old vehicles that have been converted into motorhomes and many of them have imperial speedos (in miles) or speedos that don't work. So who knows, but meanwhile I've got a stack of things to learn about AVR microcontrollers, hall effect sensors etc.

We pull into a truck stop just a few kilometres out of Grafton then take the car to look for tonight's camp site, I told Bob we would arrive on Tuesday because we figured we'd have a quiet day relaxing in a rest area somewhere between Evans Head and Grafton, but none of the rest areas we encountered were very pleasant so we wound up driving all the way.

We spend an hour or so searching with the car and do find a nice rest area 9k south of the town. We also check out the greyhound race track as I know you can camp there, but they want $11 a night, I don't think so.

Now maybe you think we're being too much of a tight arse baulking at $11, but if we did that every night that would cost us over $4000 a year or, to put it another way, four months living expenses. And $11 is actually pretty cheap, a caravan park would charge two or three times that much. And what do you get for $20-30?

  • A shower? We've got one.
  • A toilet? We've got one.
  • Power? Got that too.
  • Security? The only time we ever had something stolen was while we were staying in a caravan park.
  • Noise from other campers who've been sited 3" from you? You got me there, we don't have that.

Truth is we don't need any of these things, nor the games rooms, communal kitchens, or any of the infrastructure that is the root cause of the high prices, if there was a $5 option to park on some nice grass without using any of the facilities we would almost certainly stay every now and then. But there isn't so we don't.

With the exception of the occasional national park we haven't paid for accommodation since 2001, that's eight years. And that's part of the reason we can afford this lifestyle without working (much).

Anyway, after all that we decide to just stay where we are at the back of the truck stop car park. At first we think that we might stick out a bit, but before long the area fills up with trucks, mostly huge B-doubles and our little truck is lost amongst them.

Tue 29 Sep 2009

I go over to the loos and find a sign that says overnight camping is not allowed because of the danger from the trucks, oops. Still we are a truck (when we want to be, sometimes we're a motorhome :-) and truckies are allowed to sleep over night so that's OK. We've camped in these sort of places for years without any worries mostly because we ARE a truck, not a Winnebago or a caravan. Admittedly the car is now a bit of a give away so it remains to be seen how we go in future.

We spend the morning in a nice spot on the side of the Clarence River then drive over to Bob & Jackie's. The house hasn't changed much in the 30 years since I helped them renovate it, the garden has though, despite the house being right on the street you can hardly see it for the palm trees.

 That's Bob and Jackie's house under all the palm trees.

Wed 30 Sep 2009

Bob's right into flying remote control model planes these days and Wednesday is the club's flying day so we all trot out to have a look. I've always been interested in models, especially those that do something but I'm not that keen on planes because, while they obviously do something, the stuff they do is mostly 300m up in the air and half a mile away and therefore difficult to see. Even when they are close they're usually travelling too fast so see clearly.

I prefer model trains, cars, and boats. I remember designing a 6x6 off-road tank as a teenager, each wheel was chain driven and mounted on the end of a long arm, all six arms could move independently with a huge amount of articulation. It also had a cut down .22 rifle as a cannon. Maybe one day I'll build it.

One thing I did build was a model of a Roman assault tower, although I confess to taking a few liberties with the original design. For example mine had a catapult that fired small Molotov cocktails (made from Christmas tree baubles filled with petrol), and a javelin thrower that fired javelins equipped with incendiary heads. The heads had a small petrol reservoir, a match was held in contact with the lighting surface from a match box and the end of the match protruded from the head. When the javelin hit a target the match was forced along the lighting surface and (usually) burst into flames thereby igniting the petrol.

But what really set my tower apart from the Roman original was the tank tracks powered by two windscreen wiper motors. Mine didn't need 300 slaves to push it, a simple 12v battery did the job. As this was long before my electronics days I had to have an umbilical cord and a stack of switches to control the thing, imagine what I could do now with microprocessors and radio control hardware.

It's good to know that my youth wasn't entirely wasted, and come the apocalypse I should be well in demand.

Thu 1 Oct 2009

After a late start (around 10) because we've been chatting to Bob and Jackie we head off from Grafton.

The road south from here is not fantastic being only dual lane but there are a lot of passing lanes so I find that it's hardly ever necessary for me to pull over and let people past.

We eventually pull into a rest area just south of Taree, a total of 344k for the day.

 Another day, another rest area.

Fri 2 Oct 2009

We get up before dawn, have a quick breakfast, then hit the road, hoping to get through Sydney before the long weekend traffic starts. As this weekend and Monday is a holiday (Labour day maybe?) presumably the traffic will get pretty heavy this afternoon as people take early marks from work, hitch up the trailer and head to their favourite holiday spot and we'd like to be off the road by then.

After 11 hours and 524 kilometres we pull into a rest area we know at the south end of Lake George. A weather front has just appeared, it's cold, windy and raining. Welcome back to the south.

In distance at least that's the longest day we've ever done in Wothahellizat. The previous record was 505k but that was on crappy roads and took about 19 hours. Today was actually quite good driving; thanks to the new M7 Sydney bypass most of the trip is now on four-lane with just a small section of the original Cumberland Highway where I have to deal with city traffic.

Indeed the entire drive down the east coast has been surprisingly good, not the nightmare it used to be a few years ago.

We batten down the hatches and get some warm clothing on. The heater is going to get a work out tonight.

Sat 3 Oct 2009

Still cold and raining but at least the wind has died down. I go for a walk to take some photos.

 Wothahellizat in the rain.

 "Lake" George.

Lake George is something of an enigma, there are no known inlets or outlets and yet it periodically fills with water then drains. It's been dry for some time now but looks a bit soggy in the above photo.

We'll be heading into Canberra in a day or two so we decide to drive in with the car and check out the lay of the land, also we need to get our weekly newspaper fix.

We enter the downtown area and discover a strange world populated with beings wearing big furry boots, scarves wrapped over heads, long jackets and down-filled vests. It all seems vaguely familiar, then I remember that we used to dress like that when we lived in Canberra. What were we thinking living in this climate for 20 years?

The downtown area has changed quite a lot, with the Canberra Centre (a shopping mall) now about twice the size it was a few years ago. We get our paper and a few small items from the bushwalking shops, eat lunch at the lookout on top of Mount Ainslie, then go scouting for a camp site.

We have a favourite spot at the end of a disused road in a car park for a wetland area. It's a good spot we've used before and the wetlands are a magnet for birds so I might even get some photos.

We'll come back here with the truck.

Sun 4 Oct 2009

It's time to move into Canberra, we drive straight to the wetlands and setup camp. The weather is still terrible but things quieten down for a while so I go for a stroll around the area with a camera.


 Superb fairy wren

 Purple swamphen.

 Autralasian darter.

Mon 5 Oct 2009

Chris is spending the day out in the car so I'm left to my own devices. I spend most of the day wandering around the wetlands again.

 Gotta luv those bunny rabbits.

 Red- browed finchs.

 Red wattlebird.

 Black mountain tower and pigeons.

 Black swans.

 Bird on a wire.

 Duck in the weeds.

I seem to be getting some reasonable shots, and as you may have guessed they are all taken with my new 400mm lens. Good to see it's starting to earn its keep.

Tue 6 Oct 2009

One of the guys I'm doing the Budawang walk with is David Houlder, an old photographer friend of mine from Canberra and part of the reason for us coming to Canberra before heading into the wilderness as originally planned is to allow David and I to discuss walk options over some maps. It's just too difficult trying to sort out details via email.

So this afternoon I drive around to David's place, he brews some coffee and we throw ideas up on the wall to see what sticks.

Nothing seems to work, the original idea was to do two 5-day walks, one to Hidden Valley and Mt Sturgess, and the other to Monolith Valley and the Castle. The trouble is that each of these areas are a good 1-1.5 days walk in and another 1-1.5 out again along the same tracks, so that's a total of 4-6 days walking just to get to the places we want to photograph.

Given that the two areas are only about a day apart it seems reasonable to combine the walks into a 10-day epic thus only losing 2-3 days getting there and back.

The trouble with this plan is that we just can't carry that much food—not with several kilograms of camera gear as well—and we can't seem to come up with a plan to drop some food at the half-way point.

One plan that sticks for a while was for us to do a quick walk in from the nearest access point to the Castle on the weekend before the epic. But David hasn't got a car so the logistics of getting him there are a pain, we would have build a rat-proof container then carry said container out with us, and anyway how would we make the container, etc etc. It all got too hard and that idea slid down the wall to join the 200 others that we couldn't make work.

Eventually we decide on three plans, rather cleverly called plan A, plan B and plan C, these being...

A. Chris drives into the Castle trail head on the day in question and meets us with food, two of us walk down from the Castle to pick it up.

B. I drive in sometime before the walk and drop off the container that we don't yet know how to build.

C. I've already forgotten what plan C was.

We have a preference for plan A but it's not perfect mostly because we'll lose a whole day just getting food, but that's the best we can come up with.

When I return home Chris agrees to plan A, thank goodness for that.

Wed 7 Oct 2009

We've been here a few days now and don't want to wear out our welcome, however we're not quite ready to leave so before breakfast I move the truck to the opposite side of the car park just to make it obvious to anyone who's been counting the days that we are about to leave.

Firstly however we have a few things to buy in town, most notably some water purification tables for the upcoming walk and some maps of the area we'll be walking in. My maps are years old so it seems reasonable to get some that are up to date.

At around 1:30 we fire up the motor and head off to the Warri Reserve rest area about 70k away. This rest area is on the banks of the Shoalhaven River about 15k to the west of the small town of Braidwood and we plan to stay here for a few days. It's still about 40k from the walk trail head but we need to do a recce first to see where we can fit the truck for two weeks so Chris has a nice place to stay. Also this rest area has mobile phone reception and I need to keep in touch with David and Glen (the two blokes I'm walking with) so we can organise final details about the trip. Once we get in the bush I'm fairly certain we won't have any reception.

Thu 8 Oct 2009

Today we drive around to various potential campsites to see where we'll park the truck for the next couple of weeks. After driving around the bush for most of the day we decide that an area just outside the Wog Wog campground will do just fine. We select a spot "just outside" because it's a very small campground with tiny bays and although we could squeeze the truck into one of them we'd take up the space of three normal campers. As we don't really need to be in a campground and use the picnic tables etc it's best to leave those spots for those who do.

Even though we find other places that are better as campsites per se we plan to end the walk at Wog Wog so it makes sense to have the truck right there with a fridge full of the beer that I'm sure we'll be gagging for after 12 days in the bush.

On our return to the truck it's freezing of course so I put the heater on, or at least turn the knob that's supposed to put the heater on. After several minutes I realise that not much is happening. I turn it off and try again but there's little response from the thing.

I look outside and sure enough there are plumes of white smoke belching from the heater's exhaust. I think we've been here before.

Last time this happened the glow plug and a fuel filter had gummed up with some sort of deposit from the diesel. I didn't fix it myself but hopefully can remember what the fellow told me about the job.

It's too late now though to do much except reach for the thermals and unpack my electric blanket. Chris has been using hers for days but so far I've resisted because I normally generate enough heat to keep warm. Last night I was borderline though, I felt a bit chilled on a few occasions, so I think it's time.

Fri 9 Oct 2009

My God it's cold, 5°C in the truck this morning, just a week or so ago the temperature in the fridge was higher than that! I kid you not, just the other day we were struggling to get the fridge below 7°. At this rate we'd be better off just leaving the fridge door open.

I can't believe the heater has packed it in now, we haven't used it for a year and in all that time it worked great.

I ring Dometic head office to be told that the technician is on another call. I ring again ten minutes later, he's still on a call so this time I leave my number. An hour later no call so I ring again, he's still on a call. Yeah right.

I also ring Peter, the fellow from the Brisbane office that helped us last time but he's out on a job.

I'm going to have to remove the thing and try to clean the glow plug and fuel screen, trouble is you need a special tool or two. For example to remove the glow plug you need a socket-like spanner with a slot down the side to accommodate the wire that runs to the plug. Why this wire can't be removable is anyone's guess, but no it's fixed so you need a special tool.

You can make one from a tube spanner which of course I don't have but hopefully I can get one in town. We drive into the hardware store but they don't have any tube spanners and there ensues a discussion between myself, the boss, and several staff members about how to remove the glow plug.

I'm about to buy a long socket for $14 when someone says "Why don't you just try some long-nosed pliers?". He grabs a pair from the wall display and we give it a go. Sure enough it turns, I guess I don't need the socket.

"Thanks" the boss says with just hint of sarcasm to the staff member. "Yeah you owe him 14 bucks" I say.

We return to the truck and I pull the glow plug out. The fuel screen is covered in black grunge so I start to clean it as best as I can. Then I remember there's supposed to be a small hole that needs cleaning out as well.

I poke around with a scribe and find the hole, it's also full of grunge so I clean that out.

I put everything back together, jerry rig the fuel line and we give it a try. It works! I'll let things cool down, bolt it all in place and job done, no thanks to the Dometic head office tech section. When (if) the call comes I think the conversation should go something like this...

"Hello, Mr Gray's phone, who is this"

"Fred Latealot here"

"And the purpose of your call Mr Latealot?"

"I'm the Dometic heater technician calling back about a heater problem"

"Well mister Latealot my name is detective inspector Frost and you may be able to help me with my enquiries, Mr and Mrs Gray were found dead this morning frozen solid in their lounge chairs. Have you heard of the expression 'criminal negligence'?"

Don't laugh (OK you're probably not laughing but anyway) something very similar happened to me in the 70s. I was working part time for a photographer doing weddings, I absolutely hated it and had told BIll that I didn't want to do any more. A few days later, shortly after arriving at my day job, I got a call...

"Is that Rob Gray?"


"Inspector Manning here, do you drive a red Mazda?"


"Are you aware that this morning at approximately 8:25 on Athlon Drive your bumper bar hooked a cyclist and dragged him for 300 yards?"

I was only about 21 at the time and still pretty gullible so by now I was totally shitting myself.

"'ve got to be joking"

"Yes I am, it's Bill here, listen I was wondering if you can do a wedding this weekend"

Still recovering from the shock I agreed, but that was the last wedding I ever photographed.

While on a police theme, earlier on I thought I heard some laughter and applause from somewhere down on the river bed. I had a bit of a look from the landing but couldn't see anything and Chris said I was dreaming.

Later while outside I walk to the rear of the truck to have a look, there is obviously something going on because I see half a dozen Landcruisers and probably 20 people in blue overalls plus some with yellow hi-vis jackets. It looks like a four-wheel-drive training exercise and my gut feeling—based on general body language and the way they are tending to stand in orderly lines even though there's no obvious reason to do so—is that they are police, but the majority of the participants are obviously of islander origin.

There's a huge wombat hole down near the track so I go down there to have a look, quite by coincidence the hole is right near the track from the river bed up to the toilets and it's not long before my quarry walks passed, a big burly blue-overall clad islander bloke. I pounce...



"Where you from?"

"Ahh...the Pacific"

"You'd be feeling the cold then"


"Doing some training?"


Hmm a man of few words, this is going nowhere but even telling me nothing tells me something. Judging by his reticence to say where he's from, our proximity to the national capital, and the general look of the guys I'd say this is an AFP (Australian Federal Police) exercise.

Later the whole circus moves up the track and they start some winch training. One of the yellow jackets splits from the pack and walks up to the truck. He introduces himself as Hans and we get chatting. I was right about them being AFP, they are training their South Pacific people.

But Hans is more interested in our lifestyle, he's 49 and has already had a heart attack so he's prime lifestyle change material. He still has kids at school though but apparently the AFP likes its staff to retire at 55 and he's thinking towards that time and maybe hitting the road then. I gather the missus is less inclined and he seems like a nice bloke so I offer a guided tour of the truck when we get back to Canberra.

If you're reading this Hans the offer is still open if you want to show your other half that life on the road can be the right vehicle of course.

Sat 10 Oct 2009

I need to sort my bushwalking food out to this morning that's what we'll do. Chris has a nifty vacuum packing gadget so the first thing to do is take the dried pasta meals from their standard packaging and vacuum pack them. This has no affect on their weight but makes a huge difference to the volume, reducing them to about half the size. Next we divvy up the rest of the food into daily portions and vac pack them.

As Chris will be dropping food off to us on day seven I have to carry six days worth of food to start with, so we weigh six lots and it comes to just under 5kgs. It also fills and entire plastic shopping bag and I don't know how I'm going to fit this lot into my pack but that's a job for another day, it's 2PM and we haven't had lunch yet. I think we'll just goof off for the rest of the day.

 Just after the rain.

Sun 11 Oct 2009

To make this long walk possible we have to drop food at around the halfway point and the nearest place you can get a car to is the base of the Castle. Chris will meet us there on the 21st but she's a little unsure about the trip so today we're doing a dry run so she feels comfortable doing it by herself.

We drive down the Kings Highway to the bottom of Clyde Mountain then turn north up the Western Distributor, a dirt road that leads to Yadboro Flat, the usual access point to the Castle walk. We didn't plan to walk down here but we could think of no other (or at least no better) way of doing the drop, so on the night of the 20th we'll camp near the top of the Castle and the following day two of us will walk down to Yadboro Flat to collect the food while the third member of our party will stay with the camp to mind our gear.

It's only about a 6k return walk but it will take us all day as the terrain is pretty rough and steep. I'm not looking forward to it I must admit.

One of my earlier plans was to take the truck into Yadboro, we scotched the idea for many reasons but the main one was that I seemed to remember there was a bridge with a weight limit on the road. I was right, you have to cross the crappiest old bridge and it's only rated at 3 tonnes.

 There's a 3-tonne limit on this rickety old bridge.

Just as we near the Yadboro trail head we see the Castle, it's a pretty impressive sight.

 First glimpse of the Castle from the Western Distributer.

On arrival at the trail head we go for a short walk along the Castle access track. Within a hundred yards or so we reach the Yadboro River, normally you would cross this then trek up the notorious Kalianna Ridge, hours of uphill purgatory, especially with a full pack.

Today we'll just enjoy the scenery.

 Yadboro River where you cross to walk up The Castle.

Chris is now happy that she won't get lost and we've timed the run so she knows what time to leave on the 21st so we return home, buying a couple of pies at the famous Braidwood bakery.

On our return the sun makes a brief appearance so I take few photos of the campsite and river.

Our campsite at Warri reserve.

 The site appears to be on the approach to the old bridge.

 The new bridge.

Mon 12 Oct 2009

I'm packing some gear today, I start with my camera equipment and plan to do my pack as well but the bad weather returns. I'll have to sort my backpack tomorrow as that's the last opportunity I will have to put an order into Chris for anything I've forgotten. As she is picking up Glen from Canberra on Wednesday she can buy any last-minute goodies I need while in town.

I really hope things clear up for the walk. Not that we can't handle the bad weather, Glen and I spent two weeks in the Tarkine in 2003 and it rained every day, admittedly we had occasional car backup (every 3-5 days) but we still camped out every night and were perpetually wet.

But just because you can handle something doesn't mean you want to. Setting up and pulling down camp is a pain if it's raining, and taking photos can be challenging as well.

The only bright side is that bad weather usually makes for good photos.

And speaking of bad weather, at around 8PM a howling gale sweeps through and we get a bit nervous about where we've parked the truck. If you look in the above campsite photos you'll see a huge tree leaning towards the truck. Despite appearances we're not actually parked under it but we feel that in this wind anything could happen and if it does we don't want to be too close, so I get out in the rain and move the truck. Ah the joys of motorhoming.

Tue 13 Oct 2009

It's time to move operations into the Budawang wilderness, specifically the Wog Wog campground, but the bridge between here and there is closed until 3:30 because of road works, so I spend the morning sorting my walking gear while Chris uploads this years tax returns.

When done I weigh everything...

  • backpack = 17kgs
  • camera gear = 10kgs

That's a total of 27kgs on my back, oh dear. No more than I was used to a few years ago, but that's just the point, it was a few years ago. Here's hoping I can carry that lot now.

Tomorrow we'll pick David up from Braidwood and Glen from the Canberra airport and the day after we'll put on our walking boots and hit the track.

As I'm certain we won't have any phone reception at Wog Wog this seems like a good spot the wrap up chronicle #53.

Wish us luck.


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