Three months in Australia
14th - 17th April '06
|Me and Les set off at 5am for the long drive to New South Wales. As we got further north-east, the first difference I noticed was the bird life. Sitting like grumpy old men wearin' flat caps, waitin' for the boozer to open, Kookaburras on power lines were abundant.|
|We arrived at a friends house near Nowra. Here I was shown a species of flora which is not native to this country. Our friend had diligently been cutting down the large plants in his garden, presumably to control their rapacious alien growth. He also hung out the cuttings to dry; I thought this was to kill them, so that they were unable re-establish themselves. However this resourceful auzzie put the dried weeds to use. They provide him with a herbal alternative to Drum rolling tobacco. I tried some of this self-sufficient tobacco substitute, just to be polite. It smoked OK, but was a little stronger than Drum.|
|After returning to this planet, I arose early the next morning. We shopped, then drove 60km along unpaved roads to the Bark Tree Pub at Nerriga. This boozer is remote, frequented by down-to-earth locals, bikers and that peculiar breed of folk - gold panners. Fortified by pies and beer we drove the remaining few km to O'Allen Ford. This is a timbered bridge over the Shoalhaven River. A few people were camping by the riverside, basically in the middle of nowhere. After a brief scout 'round, and after I'd crawled into a Wombat burrow, I tried out purchases made a few hours previously. A shovel & pan.|
At this point I must point out the level of unpreparedness this expedition boasted. Only a minute or two into our journey, after setting off from Les' at Narre Warren, he'd asked whether I'd packed the gold pans and stuff. No. Also I realised that I'd forgotten any form of bedding. Not to worry! Buying such things was not difficult at Nowra, NSW. I again forgot about bedding. Provisions as we reached O'Allen Ford consisted of two cans of coke. We set the tents up and wandered down to the river.
the camp lizard
Amber, the early years
|I moved a couple of stones and unleashed the might of the brand-new Chinese-made collapsible shovel upon the river bank. The virgin black plastic gold-pan filled, I started the back-breaking work of panning. The first pan anywhere rarely contains much. The gravel is from the surface, and gold is found in the lower layers; having made it's way there because of it's density. I was therefore amazed, delighted, and not a little excited, when this first pan revealed 50 odd tiny flakes of gold! Panning the second lot was interrupted by a loud "seet-you...., seet-you" call from the sky. A really huge black raptor soared above, soon joined by it's mate.|
|Wedge-Tailed Eagles are truely massive, with wingspans of 2.5m - they can bring down the largest and fastest of kangaroos working in pairs! Normally when presented with such avian magnificence, I would have been beside myself with excitement. However I was in the throes of Gold Fever and a problem had occured. Having spent many, many hours at gold panning, I... (Wait a bit, I got a better sentence)... My experience at gold panning spanning back to '77, I thought I'd never lose any gold from a pan. But with this second pan I'd noticed a flake of gold disappear over the lip! Oh No! Bastard! What the hell are you doin' Rog?|
|Upon finishing the pan, doing the final swirling to reveal gold, I noticed a couple of flakes actually floating on the surface. The stuff looks plentiful in the pan, but the flakes are ultra thin, like that gold leaf in those sickly expensive liqueurs that w**kers drink. Two more pans after this I'd got down to elbow depth scooping gravel from the hole. No sign of black sand, bedrock or more substantial gold. My back was also giving me gip, so the prospect of more digging caused my enthusiasm to dampen. Packing the gold panning in as an experience not likely to significantly enrich the expedition, we set off exploring the surrounding bush.|
|After investigating wombat burrows and digging a hole in the side of a termite mound, we discovered ants were using the trail with us. Those coming towards us carried eggs. Those travelling in our direction going back for more. We followed the ant trail some thirty meters to their nest, a flat area about a meter across with multiple entrances. Standing to one side, away from the ant activity, I poked into a main entrance using (the now essential) short stick. They got angry. They immediately started coming right at me in fcukin' droves! Champion I thought, getting the camera out to take a vid. Les shouted that they were on me boots and that finished the nature film.|
AntAttack (Quicktime vid, 3.3MB)
|On the way back we saw a large flock of yellow-tailed black-cockatoos. Big noisy bastards. Got back to our camp-site... and left it immediately, in favour of a drive to the pub. A couple of pints, pies (that's all they have), games of pool an' listenin' to some good music all went down well. It was dusk so we set off back, to be presented with a view of a Wedgie which was, to me, the highlight of our times in New South Wales. As we rounded a corner the Eagle took off from the road. It flew in front of us a few feet above the surface for quite some distance. Jet black, its wingspan nearly covered the road! Only seeing these beast alongside things to give a sense of proportion, can you appreciate their great size.|
It was getting dark at our camp. We hadn't collected firewood. We didn't have a torch. Les had a duvet, but I had nothing. We still had the two cans of coke, which were for breakfast. I retired to my tent and put on all my spare clothes. I don't really want to relate here the mental and physical torture I went through that night. I would have gladly traded my collection of Cornish thumbscrews and soap carvings for a sleeping bag. Or a coat or jacket. I was fcukin freezin, even wearing a pair of shorts on me head an' socks on me hands.
Getting up the moment I saw a glimmer of dawn, I staggered out to shiver under the full moon. All the plants were covered in hoar frost and steam rose off the surface of the Shoalhaven river. I could hear Les snoring in the other tent, obviously nice n warm under his duvet. Hoping me feet hadn't contracted cryogenic trench-foot (I'd "slept" in me boots) and enjoying a warming can of ice-cold coke, I set off on a solitary bush-walk. And saw neither fur nor feather. Nothing stirred in this valley except the unprepared. The sun came up. It was brilliant! Now slightly above hypothermic, I returned to the camp and Les emerged to run over to the car. Engine on. Heaters full blast. Fcukin' luxury!
Giving the camping up as a dodgy game of soldiers, we determined that a slap-up breakfast, the seaside and proper digs were in order. In that order. Kiama is a nice place. We found a cheap boozer/hotel (the one which had been recommended was temp. closed 'cos of a stabbing or shooting an hour or two before). Gannin' along to the rocks, we were well chuffed that the wild weather and high tide were causing the Kiama Blowhole to perform with enthusiasm! The noise it made was a low booming as seawater fountained up some 100ft. The "rainbows" in the spray were erm... pretty. Almost took me mind off me arm, which had got fat and was starting to ache alarmingly at the joints. Some wee chitinous beastie had got me.
|And so, the next morning, we set off back. It had been an eventful easter weekend, and the return journey gave us good views of wildlife; black swans by the hundred, white-bellied sea eagles, white kestrels, the inevitable flat-capped avians and a roadside echidna.|
A plethora of unusual
science & engineering
Book of Amusement
Hundreds of entertaining
experiments from 1854