Volunteer Caretakers at The National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame

We were very excited to arrive at our long awaited destination and home for the next three months.  The museum is located in the Heritage Precinct of Alice Springs which also houses the Royal Flying Doctor Service Tourist Facility (RFDS) and the Reptile Centre. A variety of tour buses base themselves outside the RFDS and their passengers don’t have to walk far to see all three attractions.

The museum is located in the old Alice Springs Gaol and Labour Prison. It is heritage listed and like most gaols, is surrounded by barbed wire along the perimeter fences. We were going to be staying inside the facility and had to pull the caravan through two sets of gates to get to our site.  When we first enquired about the position we had to measure the height of our van.  It had to be under 4 metres high to fit under the barbed wire that went across the top of the first gate.  Even the barbed wire is heritage listed and therefore cannot be cut or removed. So unless we could drive under without dragging the wire with us, we would not have been able to apply for the role.

Entry gateIn the picture above you can see the sliding gate in the brick wall. Above that is the roll of barbed wire.

Gateway inIn this next photo you can see the two padlocked gates into the grounds of the museum.

img_20180716_201028_0715038817467861321999.jpgThanks to the brilliance of Ray’s driving skills not only did he get through the first and second gates, but he reversed in to the site in one go! He breathed a huge sigh of relief!

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After a few days to settle in and have our orientation we jumped into our roles with gusto. The staff and other volunteers have made us feel very welcome. Ray is in his element keeping the grounds tidy and doing odd jobs. He even has access to a man shed! He is also a whiz at covering library books with sticky contact! Jude is enjoying her role as a Volunteer in the Old Gaol Shop. This involves greeting visitors, processing admission fees, giving people a brief overview of the museum and selling merchandise. We are meeting so many interesting people from all around Australia and overseas.

The National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame is one of two women’s museums in Australia. It is dedicated to preserving the place of women in history for their special contribution to Australia’s heritage.  It was founded in 1993 by a lady called Molly Clark who lived at Old Andado Station, south east of Alice Springs.  Molly was disappointed that the Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach, Queensland, was only about men. The museum has been based in the Old Alice Springs Gaol since 2007, and also explores the history of the Gaol which was in operation from 1938 to 1996. We would highly recommend you make a special trip to Alice Springs and come visit the museum!

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From Julia to Alice….Alice Springs that is!

In August last year whilst caretaking in Tasmania, we saw a job advert in the Grey Nomad Times asking for Volunteer Caretakers in Alice Springs.

Caretaker Advert

The line that caught our eye and our attention was “Have you ever wanted to stay in an historic gaol?” Well of course we did and in fact we had already done so. In 2016 we stayed in Fremantle Gaol in the converted Women’s section for our wedding anniversary. Ray and I made contact with the Business Manager and had a good chat about the role. We didn’t have to think twice before filling in the application form and emailing it off. Referees were contacted and a few days after applying we were delighted to find that we had been accepted to start in July 2018.

So over the next eleven months we carried on travelling and attending various events that we have written about in earlier blogs. But throughout that time, hardly a day passed where Alice wasn’t mentioned. So many people told us that we would love the town and gave us ideas of things to do and places to see whilst there.

Mid July, we left Julia Creek, Queensland, and continued along the Overlander’s Way, passing though Cloncurry, Mount Isa and Camooweal, before finally making it over the border into the Northern Territory.  We had finally made it into all the six states and two territories of Australia!NT sign

It was another 966km from the border to Alice Springs, so we only drove 457km to Tennant Creek. We broke our journey there and stayed for two nights. Tennant Creek is an interesting town and we had heard many stories from various folk we had met on the road. Half the people said to avoid it due to issues with the local indigenous population, and the other half said it was worth exploring. We can only go on our experience, but we would stay there again. We stayed at the Tennant Creek Caravan Park which is on the highway and next door to the BP Service Station. We had a drive thru site, the amenities were good, staff friendly and we felt very secure. We walked downtown and had no problem with the locals. We wouldn’t walk around at night time but then we wouldn’t walk the streets at night in Perth or any other major city! We do acknowledge that there are many social issues and problems with the locals and alcohol is probably a big cause. The media has also documented many problems including domestic violence and child abuse. However on the days we visited we did not experience any discord ourselves.

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The stories of the Warumungu people and their culture are showcased in the Nyinkka Nyunyu Cultural Centre. The Warumungu and other Aboriginal groups including the Warlpiri, Kaytetye and Alyawarra people have a history in the area spanning 40,000 years. Unfortunately we were too late to visit the centre on the day we were in town but will definitely check it our on our return.

The European history of the town began in 1860 when the explorer John McDouall Stuart came through during an attempt to cross the continent from South to North. The town was also home to one of the Overland Telegraph Stations which was constructed in the 1870’s and in the 1930’s it was the site of Australia’s last gold rush and at that time was the third-largest gold producer in Australia.

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We left Tennant Creek and headed the 509km south to Alice Springs. On the way we passed the Devils Marbles; Aliens in flying saucers, Anmatjere Man, Woman And Child and wild camels.

And then there was the iconic sign to show that we had finally made it to our long awaited and highly anticipated destination!!dsc_24875623992878927110029.jpg

Burke and Wills DID NOT visit Julia Creek…..but Ray and Jude did!! 😄

Julia Creek – we spent eight nights at this amazing little town that is on the Overlander’s Way, the route from Townsville, Queensland to Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.

dsc_2017.jpgJulia Creek, population 500, is the main town in McKinley Shire, with a population of 1100, but an area of over 40,000 square kilometres. The shire has gone out of its way to make up for its small population by attracting tourists, particularly grey nomads like us.

We stayed at the Julia Creek Caravan Park and highly recommend it. It is owned by the council and the manager Phil and his son Jamie were brilliant with excellent customer service.  It has a brand new amenities block and provides four enclosed bath houses each fitted with two large claw footed bath tubs that fill with the hot artesian waters.  On Monday nights, the two pubs are closed for meals so local not-for-profit groups cook up a bush dinner at the caravan park and Council provides a free courtesy bus from the RV campsite.

The country around Julia Creek was originally stocked with sheep but drought master and brahman cattle have taken over in recent years. The town and surrounding properties are sustained with water from the Great Artesian Basin. Authorities are now managing the taking of water from the Basin far better than the early days. It is the largest and deepest artesian basin in the world covering over 1.7m square kilometres, including most of Queensland. The water comes to the surface at between 30 and 100 degrees celsius. Coal seam gas extraction is believed to be affecting the quality and quantity of water in the Basin. In Julia Creek water from the Basin is stored in in a 100,000 gallon capacity 30m wine glass shaped water tower. It is illuminated at night by a blue light and can be seen 2km away.

The town is also home to the endangered Julia Creek Dunnart, an extremely shy nocturnal hunter found on the Mitchell grass downs around the town. The marsupial is only about 160mm-240mm in length, including its tail. Their numbers were decimated by introduced species such as foxes and cats and the prickly acacia bush. To breed up their numbers, a seven kilometres fence has been erected around a section of grass downs to exclude predators. They are very timid and nocturnal, but they can be seen at the award winning ‘At the Creek’ Visitor Centre during feeding times.

After we saw the Dunnart being fed, we stayed behind and watched a number of short videos about the history of the town and local area. One of these video’s was of the towns folk talking about the naming of the creek and those who had explored the area. Burke and Wills were mentioned. Burke’s connection with the creek is unlikely, as most accounts put the explorer’s route at least 50 km west of the junction of the creek and the Cloncurry River. It became very apparent and was stated very strongly by various residents that “Burke and Wills DID NOT come to Julia Creek!” It was very funny and a few of us kept quoting that for the remainder of our stay. (One of those times you had to be there to find the humour in the situation.)

Image may contain: one or more people and textWe were very fortunate to be in town when this luncheon was on and to be able to attend. The food was devine and plentiful! One of the Visitor Information ladies, Joanne, was a superb greeter and server! It was great to hear Cr Shauna Royes talk about life on the land, and meet Cr Janene Fegan and Mayor Belinda Murphy.DSC_2081

The pictures below show a mural depicting the early history of the town being a Cobb & Co Coach exchange, Spirit of the Light Horse Brigade sculpture outside the RSL, and the main street of Julia Creek.

 

 

 

A tourist, a traveller or a tickboxer?

So what are you? And what are we? There is no right or wrong answer and one is not necessarily better than the other. It really is just a matter of personal choice. Why then, do we ask the question?

Well this month is our two year anniversary of living “on the road.” We meet heaps of people along “that road” and we are regularly asked “where is home?” People also say to us – have a great holiday / safe journey / travel safe / have a good day / enjoy your holidays / have a great life!

We get asked “how long have you been travelling / are you on long service leave / how many times have you been around Australia / are you retired / which way around Australia are you doing the lap?”

We meet many people who are on their big lap of Australia. We too ask them these same questions. We are intrigued by the variety of answers. What intrigues us the most is the shortest length of time people are “doing their lap”.

The total road distance around Australia is 15,097 km’s / 9,380 miles via National Highway 1. This doesn’t include the area in the centre of Australia between Darwin and Adelaide. Based on towing a caravan as we do, averaging 500km a day, we could have driven this distance in 30 days. Therefore in two years, we could have gone around Australia approximately 24 times! The reality is……….we haven’t done one full lap yet!

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Driving around Oz

Now we fully understand there are many, many reasons why people only have a limited amount of time to travel. They may never have the opportunity to travel again, therefore they want to see as much as possible in their timeframe. PLEASE NOTE: We are not knocking anyone for the choices they make in regard to their journey.

However, it has made us assess our journey and the way we are doing it.

We read the following on a travel forum:

  1. Tourists go on holiday.
  2. Travellers go travelling.
  3. A tourist wants to see all the sights.
  4. A traveller wants to see some sights, but also to find something interesting that isn’t in the guidebook.
  5. Tickboxers go to places to tick that box but don’t necessarily experience anything.

So why did we set off?

  1. We were in a rut, stagnating
  2. Our work/life balance was see-sawing out of control
  3. We didn’t have any immediate ties to keep us home
  4. We didn’t want to work another twenty years to pay off our mortgage
  5. We wanted to expand our mind not our waistline
  6. We didn’t want to be couch potatoes
  7. We didn’t want the characters in Coronation Street or Home and Away becoming part of our everyday conversation as if they were family/friends!
  8. We wanted to step out of our comfort zone and be challenged
  9. We wanted to think out of the box and be open to new experiences
  10. We do it because of our favourite quote: Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

PART THREE – PAJINKA (CAPE YORK), AN EPIC ADVENTURE!

Day Two, Archer River to Bramwell Junction Roadhouse

Archer River to Bramwell Map

After driving nearly 500km over rough,corrugated gravel roads on our first day, we decided to have an easier second day. We would drive to Bramwell Junction Roadhouse and stay the night there. It was only 166km but the road condition meant it would still take us about 4-5 hours to get there.  On the way up we had noticed small ant/termite hills on the sides of the road. Gradually they were getting wider and taller. As we entered the road to Bramwell Junction, the ant/termite hills were huge.  Jude, in particular, was fascinated by them and took loads of photo’s of them, from daylight, to moonlight to sunrise!

Termite not ant – Cape York certainly is full of termite mounds. Termites live in nests that are under ground.  Even the mound building termites have a nest under ground, under the mound. The mound is built on the top of the nest for ventilation, so it makes sense that the mounds are built by termites that live in hot, tropical climates.Inside the mounds, there is an extensive system of tunnels that, together with the shafts that go down to the nest, create ventilation to the nest.The mounds come in different colours depending on the soil, which is used in construction.They also come in different shapes and sizes, and that depends on the species of termites (it sometimes also happens that a different mob of termites may take over an abandoned nest and it may in fact be a different species). Some are tall, some are thin, others are short and/or thick. Some are large, others are small.

Magnetic Termites. Some that are distinctive are Magnetic Termites. They build nests that are thin in one way – to avoid sun exposure during the hottest time of the day. So their mounds are all lined in the same way, usually in the south-northerly direction.

We arrived at Bramwell Junction Roadhouse just after lunch and were able to choose from a number of great sites. We chose one with an undercover area with picnic table and chairs plus a fire pit close by. The amenities were a row of ensuite cabins with separate toilet and shower. Much better than we had anticipated. We set up our tents and swags, then spent time gathering wood for the fire, preparing the evening meal and having a well earned beverage or two.

Another exciting moment at Bramwell happened when Shane went over to set up his swag and bedroll. It was relatively early but the sun had set by 6.30pm so it was rather dark by the time he went to his car. He came back and called to me, Jude, to follow him quietly. He also made sure I had my camera with me. I was so excited because sitting on his bedroll was a beautiful Tawny Frogmouth. An even better opportunity than those seen at Mt Carbine.

Day Three, Bramwell Junction Roadhouse to Umagico

We were up early and on the road by 8.30am. We had a 170km drive to the Jardine River ferry crossing and wanted to get there before their lunchbreak between 12.30-1.30pm. We had also been told the road 20km south of the crossing was pretty bad and would slow us down big time.

Yahooooo!!! We were across the river and it was only a short 50km to Umagico and the campground we were going to stay at for the next few days. The road in was pretty good and before long we were back on a bitumen road. We stopped in a little town called Injinoo for fuel and then into Umagico to find the campgrounds. We got a little lost but some workmen gave us directions. We headed down the hill to be greeted with the most beautiful sight of blue water and white sands! Oh yes, this was paradise! We checked in and set up camp in quick time!

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Alau Beach

Day Four – to the tip, Pajinka!

Pajinka was only about 40km away but again then were some unknown dirt roads to drive on. We set off in convoy with Ray and Jude leading the way. We were heading first to the Croc Tent an iconic venue when going to Pajinka. The Croc Tent is renowned as a meeting place. At the junction of the Punsand Bay and Pajinka roads, it is an ideal place to stop and get a free map and up to date advice on the road conditions before heading on to the last leg of the journey north. It also the place to pick up great souvenirs. We stopped at the Croc Tent and the ladies there were brilliant. Great sense of humour and lots of good advice about the roads. We bought some lovely souvenirs too.

So off we went to our final destination – Pajinka. Red dusty roads, through beautiful green canopied trees either side of the road. Really breathtaking scenery and lots of comments made over the radio between the three cars. We also had our first real water crossing which, although it wasn’t that deep or difficult, generated great excitement. Then finally around a bend we come into a clearing and a sign that we had made it to the beach car park.  We parked up and discussed which way we would walk to the tip. It was low tide so we decided to walk around the edge of the hill. This was fine until we realised we had a bit of a tricky climb up over the rocks before descending down some more rocks to get to the sign on the water’s edge. But we were so excited and pumped that we pushed through, up and over. Then we saw the sign! There were a few other people on the hill and one of them was very kind and offered to take our photo.

We had made it.

We were standing at the northern most point of the Australian continent!

Part Two – PAJINKA (CAPE YORK), AN EPIC ADVENTURE!

Mount Carbine Caravan Park – Last year when we first began researching our Cape York trek we made numerous enquiries about where we could leave our caravan. The name that kept coming up in a variety of forums was Mt Carbine. There were a number of reasons for this and they included the stunning bushland location, great amenities, fabulous owners/hosts Nikki and Darryl, and the icing on the cake, free storage for the caravan.

Well we weren’t disappointed, it was everything, and more, that we had heard about. Nikki and Darryl were incredible people and hosts and really enhanced our stay.  We had an area all to ourselves with some undercover parking and a great fire pit.  We spent a couple of days doing final preparations for the trip.

We were so excited to see a family of Tawny Frogmouth birds which are very similar to owls but are actually part of the Nightjar family. They are very hard to see as they blend in to the trees where they roost.  We also had amazing moonlit nights.

 

Day One, Mt Carbine to Archer River

We set off with great excitement and anticipation of what was to come. Shane led the way, followed by Ray and I, then Doug and Sue.  We had about a 200 km drive before we hit the first of the gravel roads just north of Lakeland.

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Each car was fitted with a two way radio and we were Oddbods 1 (Shane & Kerry), Alby1 (Ray & Jude) and Emu1 (Doug & Sue). We kept in regular radio contact with each other and the chatter was initially about the stunning countryside we were driving through. Before we knew it, we were onto the first of the gravel roads. Overall the first section was in pretty good condition as it had recently been graded. However there was plenty of dust kicked up by each car so we had to keep a fair distance between us so we could be sure of seeing clearly. Shane was great on the radio constantly advising us of any deep dust holes/dips/corrugations/cattle on the road etc.

We stopped for a break at some of the roadhouses which were quaint and full of character. Hann River Roadhouse had an emu which followed us very closely, Musgrave Roadhouse was first built as an overland telegraph station in 1887, Moreton Telegraph Station also built in 1887 on the Wenlock River.

Finally late afternoon we made it to Archer River Roadhouse where we would camp for the night. There weren’t too many people there and we made camp at the bottom of the paddock. We were able to have a fire and cooked jaffles for tea.

 

STAY TUNED FOR PART THREE – WE MAKE IT TO THE TIP/TOP!

PART ONE – Pajinka (Cape York), An Epic Adventure!

“You are standing at the northernmost point of the Australian continent.”

The Germ of an Idea – In Winter 2017, we were caretaking at a caravan park in Tasmania. Fed up of howling winds, torrential rain and the biting cold, we started dreaming of warmer climes. Many of the guests at the park were from Queensland but they were trying to escape the heat! We had driven to the southern most point of Australia, Cockle Creek in Tasmania. Therefore why not drive to the northern most point of Australia, Cape York in Queensland. So began the initial research into achieving this goal.

In October 2017, Jude had a phone call with Sue, a friend from Perth. They discussed Cape York and that led to the idea of Sue and her husband Doug joining us.

In November 2017, we had to return to Perth for Jude to have knee replacement surgery and Cape York was put on the back burner. However recovery was quicker and easier than expected so Cape York was back on!! The end of May, beginning of June 2018 was chosen to head up and hopefully beat the crowds

Planning and Preparation – We decided to leave our caravan at Mount Carbine Caravan Park and head up in our Nissan Patrol and sleep in our Oztent RV-2. The caravan park had a deal where you could leave your caravan for free as long as you stayed there, the night before and after doing Cape York. Many other parks charged between $6 and $12 per night. That was money better spent on fuel as we were facing much higher prices in the Cape. Ray had the car fully serviced and checked out to make sure it would survive the many gravel and corrugated roads we would encounter. We bought a roof rack luggage bag so we could store our tent and other equipment.

Sue and Doug were driving across from Western Australia and visiting various friends and family along the way. We met them in Cairns at the Big 4 Coconut Caravan Park.

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Now the eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed that there were 6 of us in the picture taken at the tip…….well read on McDuffs!

On our journey to Cairns we spent a night camped at the back of the General Gordon pub in the middle of the cane fields near Mackay. There was only one other van there. Whilst having a drink in the beer garden, the chap from the van joined us. His name was Shane and he too was travelling around Australia. We enjoyed a couple of beers, much laughter and shared tales of our travels. The next morning we went our separate ways.

A few days later, Jude found a message on her phone. It was Shane and he was asking if he and his friend Kerry could join us on the trek to Cape York. Shane had been as far as Weipa but never to the tip. Ray and I discussed Shane’s request and sent a message to Sue and Doug. We actually managed to catch up with them in Ingham later that day and decided, why not, the more the merrier! Unless of course Shane was an axe murderer!! Well you are reading this story so some of us must have lived to tell the tale!

We all met up in Cairns where we spent a few days sorting out details for the trip. Shane was also going to leave his caravan at Mount Carbine. The day before we left Cairns and civilisation, we all decided to go on the Kuranda Scenic Rail and Skyrail. Wow, what an amazing experience and the town of Kuranda is beautiful. We went up on the train and down on the Skyrail. The Scenic Railway rises from sea level to 328m, passing spectacular waterfalls including the stunning Barron Gorge. The Skyrail is a 7.5 km scenic cableway running above the Barron Gorge National Park, in the Wet Tropics of Queensland’s World Heritage Area. Highly highly recommend doing this trip.

STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO – THE JOURNEY TO THE TIP/TOP!

A Seriously Good Adventure

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