Reflections on Australia


Lucy

 

Australia was fun. Sometimes it was so hot, it felt like we were baking and then one day came when it was so cold and raining that the truck wouldn’t start.

 

Australia is one of the only countries that have marsupials, mammals that have pouches. My favourite is the wallaby, like a kangaroo but smaller and it normally has different markings. I like because it scared Daddy one night in the dark, it touched his hand and he screamed. Wombats are marsupials too but their pouch faces backwards, so the baby doesn’t get all mucky when the mummy is digging holes.


I like the animals in the seas too: turtles, rays, colourfulfish and corals. I loved swimming with the whale shark it was very big and grey with white markings.

 

I love Australia, I will be sad to leave it behind. But after all I will still have it in my memory.


Alisha

 

It is rather hard to talk about all 9 months, if I told you about what we did everyday you would still be reading this 2 years later.

 

My favourite was Sovereign Hill and the history of Australia. My least favourite was the first time we went out on the boat in 1770, as everyone was violently ill. We heard the boat actually sank a few months later but everyone was OK. The Solway Lass boat trip in the Whitsundays trip was so much better because it was calm. It was an old fashioned sailing boat, we helped pull up the sails and we had a nice long sail.


Australians are all really friendly, it was nice to speak English and not have to learn another language.

 

I have found one of the most annoying things in Australia is the mosquitoes and the flies. In the Outback, there are several different types flies, there is one that goes in your eyes, nose and mouth. They want to drink the moisture in there. We bought really stupid looking hats to keep them off of our faces.


Gilly
It has been a wonderful 8 and a half months doing a circuit of the country, it’s hard to summarise the country properly in a few short paragraphs. From the coast to the outback, the scenery is absolutely awe inspiring.
Of course the Aussies themselves, make it a great place too. Friendly; laid back; straight talking; and passionate about their country without being inward looking. Catching up with old friends has also been a joy.
With a shared language; partially shared culture; great food and drink and easy camping (the wikicamp app has even the most remote wild camping spots mapped out) it has been an easy 8 months overlanding. The Aussies are great campers and love being outdoors. There are lots of Grey Nomads (retired Australians) usually in caravans, spending years travelling around the country. In some places like the Kimberleys the travellers must have outnumbered the locals by a thousand to one. You can understand why there are so many people on the road, what a great way to spend your retirement.


They may have long ago got rid of the £10 Pom scheme but pockets of the country seem to be almost entirely populated by recently arrived Brits. I can see why emigrating Down Under is so attractive.
I love the fact that Australians “call a spade, a spade”. Top End, Red Centre all accurately describe their locations. It also applies to products to: “Start Ya Bastard” for a spray to start a car in the cold. Alisha made a list of some of her other favourite place names: Dead Horse Creek, Hangover Bay and Useless Loop.
The differences between the Outback and the Urban areas is distinct. They could be entirely different countries and it is not only the difference between Indigenous and Western cultures. Personally I’ve come to love the Outback over the last few months although I’m still not sure I could live there full time but the sense of space is extraordinary and good for the soul.
We have absolutely loved our 8 months in Australia, I’m sure we will be back.


Steve
We are really glad we spent so long in Australia. It’s a fantastic country and there is an amazing amount to see. Looking back for me it’s like three different countries. The first is the major cities (there are only five of them) which are like cosmopolitan international cities you find in many parts of the world. The second is what I would call small town Australia. These reminded me a lot more of England and like small towns anywhere in the world had their only little nuances. And then the third is the Outback which is very different. The Outback is just so vast and the distances between places is huge. The scenery varies from some amazing sights to just flat and boring but you really get the feel of been in the middle of nowhere. Camping under the stars there was amazing.
The scale and size of the Outback defies belief. Whilst most places are extremely remote there is still a tourist infrastructure as many Australians as well as foreigners are out there travelling and camping. And who can blame them when it is so magnificent. To put it in perspective we drove 15,000kms and in that time only passed through 2 towns with a population of more than 40,000. Australia is a huge country but with a low population and even then most of the population lives in the main cities and along the East Coast. To put it in perspective it’s nearly the size of the US but with less than 10per cent of the population.


It is an easy country to travel around and has meant we have started to take things for granted. Camping was easy with a mixture of wild camping, camping in beautiful national parks as well as campgrounds everywhere. Shopping and getting supplies was easy and it was nice to be able to buy some British staples such as pork sausages and marmite.
Each state had its own fantastic stand out features: we loved the Flinders Range in South Australia; the Alps and Great Ocean Road in Victoria; all of Tasmania; Sydney in New South Wales; the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland and the Red Centre in the Northern Territories but if I had to pick my favourite state it would be Western Australia. That state may in some ways be the most “remote” in Australia but it has it all. Great outback up in the Kimberley, the fantastic Ningaloo reef, a wonderful wine region and the most amazing beaches. We also loved Perth, a laid back city with a wonderful setting. Of course it helped that we were so well looked after there.


As we travelled around Australia it was great to meet up with both old and new friends. Australians are very welcoming and friendly and this made our time their even more enjoyable. One thing that amused us as we travelled round was the amount of signs there were telling you what you could or could not do or warning you of something. Sign making must be a very lucrative business in Australia. To be honest with common sense most of them were unnecessary. I think other countries also suffer from this “nanny state” mentality but at least the Australians you meet just laugh at it and are a pretty pragmatic bunch.

Completing the Circle

After more than 8 months and having driven nearly 32,000kms we completed our circuit of Australia and returned to where we had started, Perth. It’s been a fantastic journey and Australia is a wonderful place to travel around. It was quite strange coming back to Perth as we had not been in a city for months. The last real one was Brisbane, 4 months ago.
Before we arrived back in Perth we had one last sight to see, New Norica is the only Benedictine Monastery town in Australia. We took a tour to hear the interesting story of the Benedictine Monks and how they had set up the town with a thriving farm and flour mill to support it. The town and the lands are still all owned by the monks but there are currently only six of them. One of them treated us to a short piano recital.


We took the tour with some Australians visiting in the school holidays. It felt strange that what for them seemed very historical, for us coming from Europe seemed very normal. Victorian era churches are ten a penny in England but in Australia that’s not so.  


Our last night before Perth was spent camping in one of our least attractive spots on the whole circuit, in a roadside stop just outside Perth. The reason for this is we were booked into the MAN garage to have some work done on the truck at 7am the following morning. As we had been travelling there were a number of little issues that needed to be seen to and of course been in the Outback and remote areas there had been nowhere to get these sorted so we hoped to get everything fixed up in Perth. Also at New Norica we had found that we were loosing coolant which was a worry. The garage identified that our intercooler was broken. Fortunately they had the part and even though timings were tight with needing to get the truck to the port they did a great job of getting everything done. We also had new brake disc covers fitted, which you may recall fell off on the Gibb River Road. We have had these come off a number of times so were glad to get the parts and the fitting for free. MAN have accepted these parts are defective so will now replace them without charge.
From the MAN garage it was off to the tyre garage and after a couple of hours the truck was looking splendid with its 6 new tyres fitted, hopefully these will see us back to Europe.
So with everything sorted we headed across Perth to stay again with our friends the Gregsons. On the way over I noticed a rattle on the truck that kept coming in at 20 and 60kmph. I was sure it was the disc brake covers as I am very familiar with that sound. Climbing under the truck though I could not see anything so the next morning we were up early and I had Gilly running alongside the truck to see if she could identify the source of the sound. But no, so I rang the garage. We needed to be at the shipping agents at 11 so had to dash across to the garage. As suspected it was the disc brake covers and after fiddling around with them we were good to go. It was a straight forward process dropping the truck off at the agents and we thought great, the truck is fully repaired, new tyres and all set to be shipped and we could enjoy the last few days stress free with our friends in Perth.
On a trip like this though it’s foolhardy to think things could be so easy. Firstly late on Friday afternoon we got a call from the shipping agent to say the port wanted to inspect the inside of the truck for dangerous goods so could I meet the agent outside the port with the keys to the back first thing Monday morning. This was our fifth shipping and whilst the rules say you are meant to ship empty nobody usually cares and this would be the first time anyone had looked in the back.
Secondly the ship we were shipping on sailed into Melbourne on time. It had been on time at every port since it had left Europe, crossed to the US, transited the Panama Canal and then onto New Zealand and Australia all on time. Great we thought, Fremantle was the next port after Melbourne. Unfortunately rather than the usual 12 to 24 hour turnaround the ship was going to spend 5 days in Melbourne so it was going to be late.  
Following the inspection of the back of our truck the agent had to remove some things. Firstly the empty refillable gas bottle. This was a nuisance as it is not a cheap bottle and we can use it when the local bottles do not fit our adapters. The shipping company said it had to be empty which it was as the agent demonstrated by turning on the valve with nothing coming out. But that is not enough it needs a certificate saying it is empty. With all the steps to go through it was easier to just dump it. They also wanted us to remove random food and toiletries but also left lots in. The agent brought the offending items out so the truck was cleared to go. He was also swearing about how pedantic they had been and I suspect we had just been unlucky.
We spent our time in Perth relaxing and taking it easy. Richard and Alina were magnificent hosts and could not have looked after us better. Alina is a fantastic cook and so each evening we were treated to wonderful meals.  


One evening was a Russian evening. Even though the weather was miserable Richard was determined to cook shashlik on the barbecue. Clearly to be authentic this had to be accompanied with a couple of shots of vodka and then relaxing in a steam room followed by cooling off in the pool. It was a lovely evening.


On our last night we caught up with some more former colleagues from Moscow. Anthony Sacca, who is originally from Perth, and his wife Katya Osipova were back visiting their family so we all caught up at the local Indian restaurant for a great meal and a good chat catching up with what we have all been doing. It was great to have a child free evening as Hannah, Richard and Alina’s daughter kindly agreed to baby sit and the kids were treated to pizza and ice cream and a parent free evening.


Australia has been a wonderful country and I think it has lulled us into a false sense of how easy travelling can be. As we boarded the plane to Singapore we were sad to leave Australia behind but excited to be starting the next leg of our journey: Asia. Let the challenge of crossing Asia begin.

The Biggest Constituency in Australia

The constituency of Durack is Australia’s biggest, so big that it has taken us over 5 weeks to drive across it. An area of 1,629,868 Sq Km with a population of just 177,000. It is about four and a half times the size of Germany. From Geraldton, the town where the electoral office is, to Wyndham its most remote polling station is 2,033km. It’s like an office in London trying to run a polling station in Kiev! The reasons our mind are on politics is that it has been Australia’s federal elections this week. To be honest we have seen little evidence of the election in Durack, it has appeared very low key, apart from the guy waving a “Vote for Gary the Goat” placard outside the Geraldton polling station.

Politics were also on our mind as we drove the long slog down south towards Perth. Coming into Internet phone coverage after being out in the wilds, we were set reeling about the Brexit vote in the Uk. Really? Is this the same country we are planning on moving back to after nearly 20 years of absence, it has made us think. Still in horrified shock we received another piece of bad news, Thailand was about to ban most foreign vehicles from passing through their country. Just 2 weeks from shipping to Singapore, our route out of South-east Asia is effectively blocked. As you can imagine this is a huge upset for us, we frantically tried to come up with an alternative plan. Should we ship at all? Or ship somewhere else? Or…..or…..or….. We already had plans a, b, c etc. etc. for Asia but this meant everything would have to be rethought. Asia is likely to be the hardest continent for us to travel through, there are so many vehicle restrictions; visas; paperwork issues and a blocked border we hope will reopen – it’s a nightmare. It might be a fascinating and beautiful nightmare but still a nightmare and now it had got a lot harder. In the end we have decided to continue with our shipping to Singapore and hope that the issue resolves itself. If not we have a few options but none of them look easy. Still compared to working, normal life, Brexit, other problems in the world etc. I know this is nothing.

Monkey Mia is known across Australia for its dolphins, it is on a peninsula sticking out into the Indian Ocean. It was a long haul up to Monkey Mia and to be honest we couldn’t get that excited about the morning feeding of the wild dolphins. It was all rather canned and busy. DSC01844 DSC01870
What I could get excited about was my biological pilgrimage to see the stromatolites in the bay. The family kindly humoured me. Stromatolites may just look like lumps of slimy rocks in the sea but they have an amazing past. Their ancestors, over a billion years ago, produced the oxygen that animal life on this planet needs to exist – a very cool organism indeed. They are found in the modern word in very few places and I’ve always wanted to see them. The girls have been studying how the Earth and how life was formed, so at least they understood why I was so thrilled about seeing these seemingly uninspiring colonies of cyanobacteria.
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Part of the girl’s project about how the life on Earth formed.DSC01887
Even further south we spent 3 nights at the little seaside town of Kalbarri. Away from the sea are beautiful red gorges; there are dramatic cliffs; and white sandy beaches backed by dunes. Alisha and I took a morning ride from our farm campsite, the horses started with a gentle warmup down to the Murchison River. We then zigzagged across the river on the sandbanks, it was a gently flowing river but very wide. It was about a kilometre of riding through the river, all the way up to our feet in places. On the way back, the local boat cruise passed us midstream pointing us out as one of the sites. Both the horses and guide were quietly confident, very reassuring for the two of us as beginner riders. From there we went over the dunes and along the beach. It was just beautiful, birds and kangaroos just ignored our presence, so we were able to get really close. We were looking forward to a good hike to Nature’s Window in the national park but the road was closed due to the recent rain.DSC01896

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On the way south we have camped in a couple of lovely basic beachside camps. At Eagle Bluff, near Monkey Mia, up on the dunes for the night we had views out over the turquoise waters. A few days later further south at Seven Mile Beach, we were parked up right on the edge of the beach with just 3 other campers. Not bad for a free council rest stop. DSC01879

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Thankfully the truck doesn’t need to be spotlessly clean to be shipped out of Australia, unlike when we shipped it in and spent 8 days cleaning it. However it does need to be clean, we’ve been looking for a car wash big enough for the truck for the last month with no luck. So in the quiet fishing town of Cervantes, the caravan park let us wash the truck. Let’s hope they don’t notice the 50cm dirty strip at the top that none of us could reach, even with a ladder. Each day, a few more cupboards and lockers got cleaned out ready for the boat.

A few kilometres south were the Pinnacles, limestone pillars rising up from the sand. There are thousands of them standing up straight in dunes, we chose to wander around them rather than drive, to admire their unique forms. As we get closer to Perth the landscape has changed and there is much more farm land and we can feel we are returning to more populated Australia.DSC01910

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