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Christmas in Brisbane then to Tamworth via Glen Innes and Lake Keepit

Jimboomba, Brisbane

A week before Christmas we hitched up our caravan and left Toowoomba for the drive to Jimboomba and the long awaited reunion with our dear friends, Ross and Jan Taylor. Jimboomba is about 35 kilometres south of Brisbane and lies in peaceful, green, gently undulating countryside.

Reaching Jimboomba we were crawling along the road looking for numbers when a car came alongside and a voice called, Are you looking for Ross and Jan?. The driver was Scott, one of Ross and Jan's many sons, and he guided us in. As we approached the entrance to the property we saw that the fence had been decorated with yellow ribbons and a 'welcome' banner. What a fabulous reception! We were really touched. Ross and Jan were holding a family get-together so we were able to meet many of their large family immediately.

Cliff

We spent three very happy weeks with our friends and enjoyed plenty of Happy Hours, too. (Remember, there are 180 Happy Minutes in each Happy Hour). Ross, Jan and Terri Anne, their only daughter, were so kind and easy to get along with that our Christmas with them was just fabulous, one that we'll never forget. And I must give Cliff a mention too because we may go back one day and access is always subject to Cliff's approval. He is a very powerful and very intelligent Rottweiler so it's advisable to be nice to him. I still have the scars and he was only playing with me.

Meet Cliff.

Jan's birthday and mine both occur on New Years Day - as close together as it's possible to get. Ross and Pam's birthdays, however, fall on 14th of February and 14th August - six months between them so as far apart as it's possible to get. Just thought I'd share that with you.

Birthday Card

On the left is a photo of my birthday card from Pam. I thought it was so good it deserved reproducing. During our stay, Ross and Jan took us out and showed us many beautiful places in the Brisbane area. One evening Ross, Jan, Terri and I climbed the Story Bridge over the Brisbane River which was a memorable experience, going up as daylight faded and descending against the backdrop of the city lights. Pam and Cliff stayed home and cooked the dinner. Sounds like a fair distribution of labour to me.

Climbing the bridge was a long-time ambition of Jan's so Ross had bought her the ticket to celebrate her CENSORED birthday. And it would have been no fun going alone, would it? Thank you, Ross and Jan, for your generous birthday present. I really enjoyed the climb. And thank you, Terri, for your present.

What struck me about the bridge climb was the attention to safety. Before setting off we were all breathalysed. (Had our reputations preceded us?) We were then togged out in smart blue and silver jump suits and relieved of all pocket contents, watches, cameras and even some jewellery. Spectacles were secured to loops on the suits. We were each equipped with a sturdy belt, a radio receiver, a head lamp, a precautionary waterproof jacket and a handkerchief, all of which were also attached to us, even the handkerchief. Strong lanyards attached each of us to a steel security cable which ran up one side of the bridge and down the other; we were not disconnected at any time. Before commencing the climb we were given comprehensive instruction in the correct use of all the equipment.

Bridge



I couldn't help but compare all this to the Ayers Rock climb which was infinitely steeper, higher and very slippery. There were no aids except a heavy chain attached to the rock for part of the ascent. There were no safety measures - the climb was not even supervised. It's true that they ask you not to climb the Rock but they know that thousands do every month.

The Story Bridge. Inset: Terri, Jan, Ross and myself
togged out like astronauts for the climb.

So which approach do you prefer, discerning Reader? The nanny approach where the organisers have the words 'litigation' and 'insurance' burned into their brains and prices are set accordingly, or the 'do it if you must, but at your own risk' approach?

And how about this for an interesting fact - preparing the Story Bridge for tourists to climb cost more in today's dollars than the bridge's original construction had cost. No wonder they need to charge so much for the tickets.

So, what do you think? Would it be so difficult for our politicians to legislate to give you and I, as adults, the right to take responsibility for our own safety if we so wish? Of course, lawyers and insurers wouldn't like it much. (How many of our politicians are lawyers?) But there I go, rambling off the point again.

I'll not elaborate further on the wonderful time we had with Ross, Jan, Terri and Cliff, I'll just say that in those three weeks my weight increased by nearly 5 kilograms and let that speak for itself. Instead I'll show you some pictures.

Montage While driving with Ross I became intrigued by his GPS navigation system. It spoke to him in a female voice, advising when a change of course was approaching and then how far it was to the next turn. It was very clearly an invaluable aid when finding your way around unfamiliar places, especially busy cities, and the beauty of it was that the spoken instructions permitted the driver to keep his/her eyes on the road. If you think that sounds like I was talking myself into some unwarranted expenditure, you're absolutely right. So we bought one (note the 'we') and christened her Alice. I love Alice, she never gets bad tempered when I miss a turn, she just calmly says Recalculating and gives me directions to bring me back on course. If only she could cook!

Alice proved herself invaluable when returning from a visit to my old boss, Peter (and Chris) Neech, late one night in darkness and pouring rain. My superceded navigator, Mrs. B, had fallen asleep as she was wont to do on these occasions. Alice, however, remained alert and guided us unerringly home.

Peter and Chris, thank you for a lovely evening. Likewise Paul and Helen Kidd and Tony and Judy Van der Putten. Paul and Tony were also colleagues from my working days who were always there when I needed help and from whom I learned a great deal. Thank you all for your hospitality while we were in Brisbane, it was great to see you all again.
Glen Innes, New South Wales

Van at Glen Innes

When the day came to leave Jan and Ross, our planned early start never eventuated. We dawdled and found excuses to delay. However, we finally departed in rainy weather with Alice programmed to guide us on the 390 kilometre trip to Glen Innes. This involved crossing the state border from Queensland into New South Wales and a new time zone (NSW employs Daylight Saving). We were very impressed to find that both the GPS and the CDMA mobile phone knew about the time difference and corrected themselves automatically.

Trees and boulders surrounded our caravan.

Being at an elevation of 3,497 feet (thank you Alice) in the Great Dividing Ranges, we found the temperature at Glen Innes very different on arrival and were actually cold on that first night. The Craigieburn Caravan Park was a beauty and we camped between huge boulders with trees all around and no close neighbours except for a pretty spider (pictured below).

Glen Innes was founded by a Scotsman and the town had a Scottish theme though there were Welsh and Cornish influences too. We learned that there were duckbilled platypuses in the local river and spent some time on the bank in the hope of seeing one. However, all we saw was a turtle that had surfaced for air and even that disappeared rapidly when it saw us.

Spider

Left is a picture of our 'neighbour'. The scale is approximately full size - well, it is on our screen - and I took the picture because of the unusual web design. Surely, the essence of a successful web is its invisibility to both the spider's insect prey and hungry bird predators, yet here the spider had made the web very conspicuous. From several metres away I could clearly see the white cross - I was viewing the web from the 'back'. I looked for it the following morning and there was no trace of spider or web. Could it possibly be that this dainty, colourful spider had decorated its web for Christmas? Okay, rotten joke. But look closely at the cross; it definitely reminds me of the Christmas streamers I used to make out of crepe paper when I was about six.

Many thanks to Senior Constable Josh McKenzie of the Tamworth Police for identifying the spider pictured as a Saint Andrew's Cross Spider. So named for obvious reasons, says Josh, who is pictured holding his son, Tom, at the Tamworth Country Music Festival lower down on this page.
Lake Keepit

Glen Innes was really a staging stop for us on the way to Australia's annual Country Music Festival which is held at Tamworth every January. Securing a caravan site in Tamworth involves booking up to a year in advance, so popular is the Festival, so we opted to stay 55 kilometres west of the town at Lake Keepit. There is no town, village or settlement of any description in the vicinity of the lake which, together with a caravan park and a large gliding club, is situated in a State Park. Now I know what you're thinking but you are wrong. I had no input into this decision; good old Pam booked it for us and she had no idea there would be a gliding club just across the lake.

Anyway, with a little help from Alice we arrived safe and sound and set up camp about a hundred metres from the water. Lake Keepit is reputed to be two thirds the size of Sydney Harbour which has become a de-facto national standard for quantifying any largish body of water.

The caravan park at Lake Keepit is totally unlike the Craigieburn Park at Glen Innes where nature determined where a caravan could be placed between rocks and trees in a pleasantly random fashion. At Lake Keepit the caravans and chalets were in orderly rows with trees planted to fit in with the plan. Despite this formality the organisation was very laid back without a plethora of do's and don'ts. The park sloped gently down to the lake which had been created by building two dams. The water is used for crop irrigation though the level was well down on its maximum capacity.

Lake Keepit

Lake Keepit in the morning.

Many of the campers at Lake Keepit had tinnies. 'Tinny' is Australian vernacular for either a can of beer or a small aluminium boat to which an outboard motor may be attached. I'm referring to the latter here (though the former undoubtedly applies equally). Very many 4x4 cars towing caravans sport upturned tinnies on their roof racks. We even saw them in Alice Springs which is as far from water as you can get. They are used, of course, for fishing which is an obsession Mrs. B. and I have so far resisted. If we want fish there are shops that sell them already prepared for the pan at a very reasonable price. Why buy a boat, trailer, outboard motor, rods and all the other paraphernalia, then sit for hours in the hope that you just might catch something edible? But we are in a minority. In fact, consensus is that there is something seriously wrong with us.

On the same theme, I visited the Lake Keepit Gliding Club and was told by a keen gliding enthusiast that it should be a criminal offence to give up flying. There were few people at the airfield that Saturday but they were a nice, friendly bunch and I was made very welcome (despite declining to fly). Where, I asked, did such a large club draw its membership since Tamworth is the only sizeable town in the region. Many come from Sydney, I was told. I asked Alice to check the road distance from Sydney and she informed me it was about 450 kilometres so I expect that having a nice caravan park so close is a blessing.
The Tamworth Country Music Festival

Tamworth is a large country town which goes berserk for ten days every year for the Country Music Festival. The centre of the town is closed to traffic and live music is heard everywhere - on the streets, in the pubs and clubs, in the parks and sports grounds and in the shops and cafés. Many big names in country music come to Tamworth and you are likely to find yourself rubbing shoulders with the famous as you wander through streets which have been taken over by buskers and stalls of every description.

Pam and I were in a restaurant when a tall Aborigine man in a red shirt and cowboy hat came in alone. He was quiet and dignified. Pam whispered, I'm sure that's Ernie Dingo and, of course, it was. The gentleman in question is a movie and television celebrity in Australia. As we left the restaurant, Pam stopped at his table to have a quiet word. It seems that Ernie and Pam have a mutual friend. This woman never ceases to amaze me.

The Toyota Venue

Left and Centre: Kirsty Lee Akers seemed to be everywhere.
Right: No, it's not a poster, these are the Atherton Bothers who were very good.

Kirsty Lee Akers is so tiny that, even on 5" heels, she made Pam look tall. But what a voice; close your eyes and you could be listening to Dolly Parton. We saw her at the Toyota Country Theatre where, not only was the show free, but so were hats and sausages.

Obtaining tickets for events proved difficult as there is little co-ordination. Some tickets were available from the central Visitor Information Centre but others had to be booked at the actual venue. We also had to double check fixtures as there were many mistakes in the advertising literature with performers seemingly appearing at two or three places simultaneously, and a firework display set down for nine o'clock in the morning. Paying to see performances, however, was far from a necessity; there were many free concerts featuring top names such as Kasey Chambers, Lee Kernaghan, Tania Kernaghan and Troy Cassar-Daly. The quality of many street performers was also outstanding.

Treacle Line



Several free concerts were given by Treacle Line, a bluegrass 'quartet'.

The drummer has been missing ever since the group was formed, they explained. But it doesn't matter, you can't improve on perfection.

They provided two hours of hilarious comedy and good music.

We attended the festival's opening concert which was held under the stars in Tamworth's Bicentennial Park. The crowd was enormous and we were lucky to find a fairly good spot to put our folding chairs. After the usual (thankfully) short speeches from the Minister for Tourism, the Mayor and an Aboriginal elder, the concert got under way with many acts to entertain the happy spectators who hailed from every state and territory, as well as overseas. Tania Kernaghan rounded off the evening with many songs and some fun with the audience.

A little unplanned entertainment was thrown in as the concert began. Some clown a few rows in front of us stood up and began jigging around, waving his arms in time to the music. The silly old twit probably thought he looked 'cool' but he was blocking the view. For a time everybody ground their collective teeth. One or two yelled Sit down! but to no avail. Then a large woman stood and marched up behind the buffoon. She tapped him sharply on the shoulder and said a few choice words which, unfortunately, we couldn't hear. However, he sat down promptly. As she marched back to her seat, spontaneous applause and a rousing cheer arose from a grateful section of the crowd. The man didn't stand up again.
Street buskers

The town was packed with buskers, so much so that visitors walking through the closed-off streets were bombarded with sound from every direction. They were spaced so closely that there was no escaping the noise. I had to hide in a distant corner of the Post Office in order to make a mobile phone call. Sometimes a singer between two groups operating with amplifiers would be inaudible.

The town council issued permits to the buskers and supposedly monitored the sound levels. There was also a busking competition; several judges wandered around incognito, deciding which buskers would get their vote. All the judges would then meet to select a 'top ten' which would be judged by a celebrity on the second Saturday of the festival

Buskers

Above and below: On the streets, buskers were everywhere. They came in all shapes, sizes, ages and colours.


Buskers2

Buskers3

As we joined the traffic leaving town on the first evening there was a police road block.

Good evening Sir. Blow in here please.

Dear Lord, I do believe in you, I was only kidding. And I really need your help now.

Keep blowing until I tell you to stop, Sir.

Just get me out of this one and I'll go to church every Sunday and stop drinking alcohol, I promise.

Thank you Sir, that's fine. Have a nice evening.

Hey, Lord, you do know I had my fingers crossed, don't you? Alice guided us home safely. Alice, you may recall, is our new GPS Navigation System with a female voice which advises us when route changes are imminent. Like all females, she has her moments. One day she told me to turn right while her map simultaneously showed a left turn. The decision to obey the voice or the map was resolved easily - there was no right turn. Being well used to similar conflicts with my previous navigator, I wasn't too phased. However Alice then proceeded to guide us in ever decreasing circles. Can a GPS suffer from PMT?

The Tour Director, (better known as Pam), while searching through the festival literature, had found an event advertised as the Smallest Country Music Festival in Australia. It was to be held in a tiny country town called Barraba (population 2,500 - blink and you'll miss it) which lies 85 kilometres north of Lake Keepit. There was to be continuous entertainment from four o'clock in the afternoon until midnight with many acts performing, and entry was free. It sounded a bit different so we went.

Oh, it sounded different all right. The quality of the performances ranged from abysmal to excruciating. The one redeeming factor was that the people at the bar were talking so loudly that they almost drowned out the performers. We lasted sixty three long minutes and then slipped quietly out, the thought of seven more hours too painful to even contemplate. Instead we drove ninety kilometres to Tamworth where we had a lovely meal and then wandered the bustling streets in the warm evening air, soaking up the atmosphere.

Town Centre

Left: These ladies were belly dancers. Well, I think they were. They sort of wiggled and turned in circles.
Centre left: This suspect had been picked up by the police. He was refusing to answer questions without his brief.
Centre right: What was going on in this picture is anybody's guess but it looked intriguing.
Far right: That's me. Who says I can't still pick up a bird?

Alice Re-christened

Our GPS was re-christened by Pam after some disgraceful behaviour. She is now referred to as 'Bloody Alice'. Alice has, in her memory, the location of a large variety of different places that a motorist might need to visit including service stations. We needed fuel so we asked Alice for directions to the closest Woolworths fuel outlet (as we had a discount voucher). She duly directed us through a maze of back streets to a major road and declared, Approaching destination on right - only there wasn't a petrol station in sight and we weren't even on the correct street. We rechecked the setting and confirmed that we had entered the data accurately. The Woolworths service station was shown at 119 Bridge Street so we gave Alice another chance, this time entering just the address, and off we went again. This time she guided us straight to Bridge Street - and into a Coles service station! The only redeeming factor was that we also had a discount voucher for Coles, but Bloody Alice didn't know that. The same day she again pulled her 'ever decreasing circles' trick and in the same place.

On the other hand - and don't tell Alice I told you this - most of the time she's an absolute gem.
More Pics From Tamworth

Indian

Left: Not sure where this Indian fitted in. Centre: It was all just too much for some. Right: Just one of many hat stalls.

One evening I received a phone call from Don Woodward, an old gliding mate. On enquiring after the health of his parents I learned that they were in Tamworth! Next day, while in town, I called them; they were just returning from Lake Keepit. Our paths had probably crossed, but we met up with them later at their motel. It was nice to see you again, Dave and Pam. And good to talk to you Don. Good luck in upcoming events.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 20 was completed on 22 March 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.





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