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Page 10



From Darwin, South Again Via Many Places We Missed Going North.

Litchfield National Park

Litchfield National Park lived up to expectations and we couldn't disagree with my cousin Anne's view that it was even better than Kakadu. The countryside varied from areas of cleared farmland through bushland, rivers, floodplains, wetlands, dense monsoon forests, towering rocks and several stunningly beautiful waterfalls such as the Florence Falls, pictured below. Wangi (pronounced wong-eye) Caravan Park, where we stayed, was simple but adequate, given that it was so far from anywhere. Its water was taken from a stream and electrical power was from a diesel generator. Situated in a beautifully peaceful setting, this caravan park had none of the usual list of rules; it was laid-back and friendly. The nights too, were peaceful, free of the screeching of owls and other night creatures.

Florence Falls

Beautiful Florence Falls in Litchfield Park. Look at the dare-devils climbing the wet rock face from the pool.
The pictures below show what they were about.


Girl jumper

Long drop



Mrs B and I watched in amazement as one after another of these daring young people - that's a girl in the pictures in case you hadn't noticed - plunged to the black water below.

The pictures above don't show how high the waterfall was. The one on the right gives a true idea of the scale.

We were in perfect agreement, Mrs B and I; if someone put a gun to our heads and ordered us to jump off that waterfall on pain of death, we'd have simply said, Shoot!

A few days after we saw these kids jump, a girl slipped on the slimy rocks at the top of the falls and fell, injuring her back and necessitating an emergency rescue.

Sometimes, in the monsoon rain forests, the tree canopy would be so dense that little light filtered through to the ground. Although humid, it was beautifully cool. Mrs Water Bucket enjoyed a paddle. However, at Litchfield, as at Kakadu, there was the ever-present danger of crocs where there was water.
Water Bucket

We took a boat trip to explore the Reynolds River and some of its inlets. There we saw many crocodiles, both 'Salties' and 'Freshies'. Our guide had eyes like a hawk - he could spot a croc under cover on the opposite bank of the river, and even when he took the boat across we still couldn't see the creature until we were within a few metres of it. We began to suspect we were being 'set up' and they were plastic replicas . . . until one suddenly came to life and raced down the bank into the river, frightening us all to death.

Crocodile

Lord Jesus I was kidding! I do believe in you and I'll be really good, I promise.

A saltwater crocodile, and certainly not a plastic replica. However, not all the sights were so scary. Wherever there was a waterfall there was a pool . . . and some of the scenery was very easy to look at.

Girls in Pool

Mid-winter, Northern Territory style.
Left: Buley Rock Hole. Right: Florence Falls, view obstructed by an inconsiderate bather.

Tolmer Falls


The Tolmer Falls (left) were viewed from a platform built out over the edge of the gorge which provided an exceptional view of both falls and gorge.

On leaving Litchfield our next stop was at Douglas Daly. The Douglas River flowed past the caravan park and later joined the Daly River. There were several swimming holes, some small water falls and even a rock arch through which the river flowed. A short way upstream were the Douglas Hot Springs which we visited and where we lay on the sandy river bed and let the warm water wash over us for so long our skin became all wrinkled. Well, okay, even more wrinkled.

The spring water was too hot to bear but a little downstream it was joined by a tributary of cold water which mixed with it to give a perfect bath-water temperature.

By the time the river reached the caravan park and the swimming holes it was much cooler but still warm enough to bathe in indefinitely. It was quite deep too but there were a few rocks to avoid. A rope hanging from a tree branch kept the children amused for hours, swinging out high over the deep water and plunging in. One little thing was hardly big enough to walk, but she swam like a fish and swung on the rope with the rest. A certain geriatric was itching to have a go but would probably have broken the rope.

Each Sunday and Wednesday the caravan park at which we were staying put on a roast buffalo dinner. We were a teeny bit sceptical about the buffalo meat. It tasted just like beef but . . . perhaps buffalo meat does. There was no denying that there was a real live buffalo in the paddock next to the park.

Each Thursday morning the park management put on a free Devonshire tea for the camp inmates which was yummy. We saw our first cane toad in Douglas Daly, albeit a dead one. All Australians will be familiar with the cane toad menace, but for the benefit of our other reader, the cane toad, a native of South America, was introduced to Queensland in an attempt to control insect pests in the sugar cane. It wasn't successful. The toads loved their new environment and bred alarmingly fast. The toad population is now spreading west across the north of Australia in plague proportions and nobody knows how to stop it. The toad defends itself with a poison that kills any predator that attempts to eat it, hence not only are its numbers a problem, but native species will be increasingly affected. These include many birds of prey, snakes and even crocodiles. The wildlife expert who guided us on our Reynolds River cruise predicted an impending tragedy in the northern wetlands as toad numbers increase.

Brown Snake

A snake, type unknown, at Edith Falls. Its first meal of cane toad will be its last.

Another menace that we came across in the north was sand flies. They give a mosquito-like bite which itches like the devil. What was frustrating was that we never saw the little buggers. Some people say that they don't bite, it's their urine that irritates the skin. I don't know about that but the only thing that stopped them driving us totally mad was a trick taught to us by a good friend and soon-to-be in-law, Scotty Cook from Townsville. You heat up the area of skin containing the bites until you can only just endure it. Hot water is one convenient way. Keep it hot for five minutes or so and when you remove the heat, the itching has gone. It may eventually return but not for several hours so at least you get a good night's sleep. Thanks, Scotty, you're a life saver.

Edith Falls


Katherine again

After Douglas Daly we set off back to Katherine where we planned to stay for a week.

The Top and Middle Pools at Edith Falls. We later swam in the Lower Pool (not shown here).

As we rolled merrily along, anticipating a nice drop of 'red' on arrival, I glanced in the mirror and froze! (Allow for over-dramatisation, as always.) The rear of the 'van was much too far out to the right. We were passing through the little town of Pine Creek so we found a convenient parking place and pulled over. Sure enough, the right wheel on the rear axle was well out of line - something had broken and the axle had moved several inches back on the spring. With the caravan jacked up and the wheel removed we discovered that the bolt through the spring that also locates the axle was conspicuous by its absence. We slackened the U-bolt nuts and pulled the axle straight, tightening up the nuts as much as possible. Replacing the wheel we resumed our journey. All was well until I applied the brakes which caused the axle to slip again - we were back to square one with the caravan crabbing. Nothing for it but to continue slowly and hope we didn't overheat the tyres or scrub too much rubber off.

We made it to Katherine safely, pulled the wheel off again, separated the axle from the spring, found the broken end of the bolt, bought the necessary bits* and bunged it all back together again. We then crossed our fingers.

A few days later we left Katherine to the tender mercies of the USAF which was carrying out exercises with FA-18 Hornet jet fighters which were operating out of RAAF Tindal. They climbed out in pairs over the caravan park, cracking the skies open.

*I actually bought four of everything which was to prove a very wise investment before too much time had passed.

Mataranka

Our destination was Mataranka, just over a hundred kilometres to the south east. This was the next stage in our long 'backtrack' down the Stuart Highway to the intersection with the Barkly Highway where we were to turn east towards Queensland. We had purposely 'saved' Mataranka for our return journey. Thankfully the repairs to the caravan axle were successful and the 'van behaved impeccably. And so it damned well should - it's only fourteen months old! Anyway, let's talk about Mataranka. The town, if it could be so described, was small and when we visited it one Saturday morning, nothing was open apart from a supermarket and three petrol stations. However, close by were two thermal pools, one was at Rainbow Springs (below left) and the other was Bitter Springs which was salty.

Pool, Peacock and Wallaby

Left, bathers in the warm water of Rainbow Springs. Centre is a shy wallaby and right,
a cocky peacock who took a liking to a Nissan Patrol.

Rainbow Springs was adjacent to the Homestead Caravan Park where we stayed. The pool was actually in the Elsey National Park but just a 300 metre walk from our caravan. The springs were surrounded by a dense forest of palms and paperbark trees making the environment very attractive. The water was about body temperature and plenty deep enough to bathe in, which we did. The springs supplied the pool with over thirty million litres of warm water per day which eventually flowed into the nearby Waterhouse River.

The caravan park itself fell into the 'adequate' category - no grass, just dusty bare ground, but plenty of trees and an occasional wallaby. There were also about a dozen peacocks and peahens. They looked very glamorous but sometimes gave the most plaintive cries at night, sounding like a female screaming Help, Help. One peacock got a little above himself and decided he'd make a nice mascot on the spare wheel of a Nissan Patrol.

The ablutions at the caravan park, so important to the ladies, were definitely at the lower end of the scale. But, on the positive side, there were discounted drinks at the bar for 'happy hour' - we always need to to keep our priorities in mind. We stayed at Mataranka for five days and visited Bitter Springs on one occasion. I have never seen such crystal clear water before. It was about two metres deep and every pebble on the bottom was visible. The temperature was a constant 34° Celsius and people were swimming.

That same day we visited Twelve Mile Yard (as in cattle yard) on the Roper River - a truly beautiful spot. I was fascinated by an ingeniously simple method of mustering cattle. The bush was too dense for stockmen to ride through but the cattle made their own way to the river to drink. A triangular corral was constructed, the river forming one side of the triangle and the other two sides were of sturdy fencing. In the centre of each fence was a double gate. The gates were hung so that they opened into the corral and gravity would swing them closed again. Thus the cattle soon learned to push the gates open to get to the river, but when they tried to leave again they couldn't. Clever, simple and foolproof. The cattle muster themselves. The cows were then branded and released. The poor bulls suffered a far worse fate. Makes my eyes water to think about it.

Palm Tree

Little Red Flying Foxes

We came across a most curious irony when walking through the palms to the thermal pool. The trees had been home to a colony of Little Red Flying Foxes. These nomadic bats would arrive in huge numbers about October each year to feed by night from the eucalypt flowers in the neighbouring woodlands, then rest by day in the palms and paperbarks. Each evening the sky would become dark as they rose from the trees and flew off in search of food.

An official sign by the path told us how valuable these bats were to the ecosystem, and how we should make every effort not to disturb them. The caravan park owner, however, saw it entirely differently. Two hundred thousand bats create an awful lot of bat poo, the stench of which was extremely unpleasant. Customer numbers at the caravan park dwindled alarmingly. Something had to be done but the bats were a protected species.

Mr. Caravan Park Owner, not a man to let a few bats stand in the way of profit, installed dozens of powerful water sprinklers high in the palm trees. The photo (right) shows the water pipe running up one of the trees. This solved his problem. There were no more bats - just a sign telling us how important they are and not to disturb them!

Even more ironical was the caravan park's own leaflet which listed the bats as one of its attractions. I quote: You may be lucky enough to see the Flying Foxes who love to rest here.

We of the never-Never

Did you ever read We Of The Never-Never by Jeannie Gunn? Or see the film from that book? Jeannie's story took place at the homestead of Elsey Station where Jeannie lived with her husband. He died there of malarial dysentery and is buried nearby. The building is long since gone but it stood close to where the caravan park is now. An exact replica of the homestead was built for the film and that replica is situated within the grounds of the caravan park. We had a look around the building then went in to watch a video of the film which is screened at noon every day.

Elsey Homestead

The reconstruction of Elsey Homestead built for the film We Of The Never-Never.

I'm not too sure about looking at a film company's replica of a house that was near the present site. Jeannie Gunn undoubtedly had a very hard life and her story is interesting, but she never lived in this house. The place had no atmosphere. It was knocked together by a film company's carpenters, used for a few weeks filming then abandoned to eventually be moved to where it now stands.
Why Mataranka?

We assumed the name Mataranka was derived from an Aboriginal word - so many place names are. We made enquiries but - as always - nobody seemed to know. Certainly none of the caravan park staff could help. They suggested we try the museum in the town. The museum was closed, as you'd expect at three o'clock on a Monday afternoon. Well . . . you would in Mataranka.

We tried the Post Office. They said, Try the petrol station, Sue has been here a long time.

Nobody at the petrol station had heard of Sue.

I joined Pam in the supermarket and asked the checkout chick. It was a long shot.

Try the art gallery, she suggested, there's a book there. And they do coffees.

The reference to coffee sold us. We walked to the art gallery. The art gallery was more of a café but there was 'a book' and the lady there had researched the origin of the town's name.

Nothing definite, of course, but this is the theory: Mataranka was named by Dr J A Gilruth who was the first Administrator of the Northern Territory. He was known to have spent time in New Zealand and it is believed the name is either a Maori word or derived from a Maori word and it probably refers to the hot springs.

And with that, we just had to be satisfied.

Apostle Birds

Peter and the Twelve(ish) Apostles. Apostle birds are so named because they are supposed to gather in flocks of a dozen. And, indeed, sometimes they do.

The 1998 flood

1998 water mark

The sign ringed in red at the top of the picture marks the water level in January '98.

On page eight of this tome I described the effect on Katherine of the 1998 flood - I expect you remember it clearly. You do? Good. Well, that same year the water level in Mataranka also rose, so high in fact that it almost reached the ceiling of the bar in the caravan park. There is a sign showing where the water finally peaked (see top of the photo). Elsewhere there are photographs showing the park under water. There is a general acceptance in the Northern Territory that this sort of thing will happen, to a greater or lesser extent, every summer. They're between the devil and the deep blue sea. Or, as Aussies would say, between a rock and a hard place. If they build high up on stilts, they're safe from floods - but then a cyclone will wipe them out.

There is another sign on the wall stating that neat and tidy dress is expected in the evening. The minimum acceptable being shirt, shorts and thongs. For my faithful non-Aussie reader I should just clarify the use of the word 'thongs' in this context. It refers to the footwear known as 'flip flops' in the United Kingdom. It does not mean that ladies may attend in G-strings. Sadly.
Fun reversing a caravan - especially when somebody else is doing it.

Departing from the subject of Mataranka entirely . . .

We've now been on the road for eight months and are beginning to cope with hitching and reversing a caravan. Since other people enjoy our embarrassing moments, we make no apology for enjoying theirs.

Occasionally the wife drives the car when backing onto the caravan, the car moving in a series of jerks while the husband stands behind and imitates a windmill with flailing arms. The outcome may be a loud crash and the caravan jerking violently backwards. What follows would be described by the police as 'a domestic'.

More frequently the husband reverses the car while the wife stands behind and gives the incomprehensible signals. The macho husband, suspecting that every caravan window conceals pairs of expectant eyes (and he's probably right), reverses boldly back towards his caravan. He doesn't need the little woman, he's done this a million times before. Just before the crash his wife, sensing disaster, leans forward and pushes desperately against the car with both hands. This has no effect whatsoever. Neither has the squeal she utters which probably means STOP! Or it could mean HELP! as she is standing between the converging vehicles. This, naturally, is followed by the usual crash and recriminations, each blaming the other.

Shirt

Perhaps that's why Mrs Bucket bought me this shirt . . . Reversing the car onto the caravan is comparatively easy compared to reversing the car and caravan into (or out of) a restricted space, contending with obstacles and possibly low branches (I've snapped off our radio antenna twice so far).

We have gone high-tech, using hand-held UHF radios so the one behind the caravan can instruct the driver. When reversing on a turn, which is usual, the driver can see nothing whatsoever either behind the 'van or down one side. Thus good communication is vital. Use of the radios also eliminates the need for hand waving and shouting; this really spoils the show for the neighbours.

Some years later: We soon abandoned the UHF radios and found a better way. Pam drives the car and only does precisely what I tell her. If, at any time, she loses sight of me in the mirrors, she stops and doesn't move until I reappear.

Why is this a better way? Because it eliminates domestic conflict. If something goes wrong, it is my fault - no argument.

We have devised a clear set of signals that we both understand so the 'windmilling hands' become obsolete.
I point up = drive forward.
I point down = reverse.
I point left = turn the steering wheel to the left.
I point right = turn the steering wheel to the right.
The halt signal is the usual one. It's my responsibility to determine which way the steering wheel should be turned. Pam just obeys. (Hell, it's the only time that she does.) That's the basis of it, five simple signals that, with a few refinements cover any manoeuvre we need to make.
Example of a refinement: BOTH index fingers pointing left = full left lock.

The only down side to this system is that when I get it exactly right, SHE gets all the credit.


Footnote: This re-working of Page 10 was completed on 13 March 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.





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