header

Page 35





More From Emu Park

The Coffee Spot.

In Emu Park we had the good fortune to discover the Coffee Spot. Good fortune because Moe Peach (she's really called Joanne but it's a long story) served wonderful coffee, and cheesecakes to die for. Mick, her husband, had been a tour guide in a previous life and knew all the places we should visit. Indeed, Mick had pointed us towards most of the attractions we visited on Page 34. He was invaluable to us during our stay in Emu Park.

The Coffee Spot

Moe and Mick's Coffee Spot in Emu Park. Miss it and it's your loss. Believe me!*

*Please note that the above was true in 2006 but the Coffee Spot subsequently changed hands and we can't vouch for it now, in 2013.

Fancy Dress and Old Engines

One Sunday we visited a heritage village just north of Rockhampton where they were having an open day with a market. There were to be people in period costume, a Cobb and Co. stage coach drawn by two horses, camel rides and many other attractions. Best of all, from my perspective, was a shed full of old engines, many running. Pam dumped me there and went off to look at all the stalls and other boring stuff.

I quickly latched on to a Rider-Ericsson Hot Air Engine, circa 1890. I watched it slowly rotating and had a quite a struggle to grasp the concept of it. The mechanic attending to the engines didn't seem to have any more idea than I did. It didn't use steam or any energy source other than a wood burner under one of its two gigantic cylinders. It didn't appear to use valves and the same air was pushed back and forth from one cylinder to the other, gaining heat from the fire in one direction then giving it up again in the other. One crank was 90° out of phase with the other. The engine had been used to pump water in bygone days.

Hot Air Engine

These ladies in period costume were very pretty but . . .
not nearly as interesting as this hot, greasy, smelly hot-air engine.

Much prettier was another external combustion engine, a 1882 mobile steam engine which was used for powering the old shearing sheds in N.S.W. She had been beautifully restored and christened Miss Yakandandah after the town where one of her previous owners lived. She, too, was steamed up and running.

Steam Engine


Miss Yakandandah, over 120 years old but hot and ready to go.

Eventually Pam returned and claimed me, but not until I'd had my fill of all the engines and driven the staff crazy with my questions. Pam had found a source of excellent coffee - as she usually does - so we went and enjoyed a cup.

The Capricorn Caves

Our next stop that day was the Capricorn Caves near Mount Etna. Well, it was supposed to be our next stop but we found the Caves Hotel first and had lunch. That Pam!

The Capricorn Caves were very interesting. One large chamber has been christened the Cathedral Cave and fitted out with two rows of church pews. There were some steep steps on the front wall leading to a 'pulpit'. Couples have even been married in the Cathedral Cave.

Our guide told us that the natural acoustics in that chamber were equal to those in the Sydney Opera House. (How do you measure acoustics?) A symphony orchestra has played there, as have several bands. The cave was fitted with a hidden sound system and once we'd all finished taking photographs the guide asked us to sit down on the pews. He played us an Enya track and it sounded wonderful. As Enya sang, our guide turned out the lights one by one until we were listening in absolute and complete darkness. I've never heard anything so beautiful. Before the track ended the guide switched on an indirect red light in a cavity in the roof, flooding the cave with a soft pink glow. Absolutely magic. (Am I getting soft here?)

Cathedral Chamber

Deep underground, Pam takes a pew. There was another row of pews behind the lady standing.
The steps at the front lead to the pulpit. The dark object on the right that looks like a vertical
pole is, in fact, a cluster of fig tree roots growing down through the roof.

In another chamber in the cave system there was a 'chimney' in the roof through which, provided we stood directly beneath it, we could look up and see the sky. For about two weeks either side of the summer solstice (22nd December) the sun is directly above the hole at midday and shines straight down to the cave floor, lighting up the whole chamber. If a coloured object is placed in the beam, the whole chamber glows the colour of the object.

Camel Chamber

Yet another underground chamber. The well-lit rock formation just left of centre
is supposed to resemble a camel. Our guide is on the left of the group.

On leaving the caves we called in at the Caves Hotel for a drink - as you do - before heading home to Emu Park.

Rockhampton Botanical Gardens

On another occasion we paid a visit to Rockhampton's Botanical Gardens. The gardens were shady, restful and rich in bird life.

Emus and F-16

Left: See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.
Right: And it's the F-16 by half a length from the Sacred Ibis.

Of course, the right hand photo is a fake - a combination of two pictures - though both photographs were taken within minutes of each other. While at the Botanical Gardens two jet fighters repeatedly passed low overhead with deafening roars. I wasn't sure what they were so I asked Google on the Internet. They were identified as General Dynamics F-16D Fighting Falcons but the Royal Australian Air Force doesn't fly this type. A close-up of one of my photos revealed the number 638 on the tail fin of one. Back to the Internet. 638 was delivered to the Republic of Singapore Air Force in April of 1998 and is currently flown by their 143 Squadron. All of which has little to do with the Botanical Gardens . . .

Sausage Tree

Eat your dinner, Joe. Those sausages cost money - d'you think they grow on trees?

I told you previously that Pam has an instinct for seeking out good coffee. Well, it didn't fail her in the Botanical Gardens where she found us a nice café which served iced coffee with a huge blob of ice cream and lashings of cream. She demonstrated her will power and drank a Diet Coke while I illustrated my pathetic weakness and indulged in one of their iced coffees. Stuff it, you gotta die some time! But I wasn't the only one; we were soon joined by two lorikeets which shared my preference for the good life.

Lorikeets

Guess what these lorikeets were licking off my finger? Clue: It wasn't Diet Coke.

Back at the emu enclosure a Purple Swamphen thought it had found some shade from the burning sun . . .

Emu and Swamp Hen

. . . but decided on reflection that fresh air, however hot, was preferable.

The Big Bats of Emu Park

Do you like bats? I do, but I've found that many people either fear or hate them. In the Rockhampton area there are many Grey Faced Fruit Bats, also known as Flying Foxes. They roost in colonies by day and fly off in search of food by night, returning before dawn to their favourite trees where they hang inverted in large groups, resembling broken black umbrellas. They do not seek shade from the fierce sun and often gently flutter their wings to circulate the air around their bodies.

Hanging Bats

Twenty five or so Flying Foxes hanging by their toes.
Dark objects against a bright background don't make ideal subjects.

Flying Foxes are one of the world's largest bats having a wing span of about one metre (39 inches). Their flying skills are phenomenal as they can almost infinitely vary the shape of each wing which consists of a fine membrane stretched between their elongated fingers and their feet. In flight the light penetrates the membrane so the shape of their fingers is visible, as are the blood vessels running through their wings.

Bat Wing

This lucky shot reveals a lot about a bat's anatomy.

Clearly visible is the outline of her arms, elbows and hands. Even the long radiating fingers which allow so much control of the outer wing surfaces in flight. The thumbs protrude forward of the wing leading edge and are used for scrambling along branches. Her feet protrude rearwards as she flies but when she lands, it is her feet which catch a branch. See the small puncture in the membrane of her left wing? Not so easy to see is a large baby clinging to her chest.

When a bat approaches to land, its feet are lowered to catch the branch, much as a navy aircraft lowers its arrester hook to catch the wire when deck landing. As the feet contact a branch, the toes wrap around it and the bat rotates forward until it is hanging vertically below its perch. It folds its wings, often wrapping them across its chest like a priest with a black cloak on a cold day. Hanging thus it's hard to tell whether there's a young bat beneath the 'cloak' but in flight the baby is more easily seen as it spoils the mother's streamlined shape.

Bat

Right: Not the greatest photo but it illustrates how the bat uses its fingers to vary its wing shape in flight.

Shortly before dusk the bats come to life, some flying 'circuits' around the roost before settling back. I like to imagine that these are the bats that have been in for maintenance during the day and need a test flight to confirm all systems are operating before the nightly flight which may cover long distances, sometimes against very strong winds. Contrary to popular opinion, Flying Foxes have excellent eyesight.

The reasons for human dislike of bats are smell, noise, their corrosive droppings, damage to fruit crops and disease. Reason enough, you may think. However, let me defend them as nobody else seems to want to.

On the other side of the coin, bats do a very useful job in spreading seeds over a large area since they roam so far. They also cross-pollinate many plants.

Bat landing

In conclusion, we have camped below feeding bats and close to roosting bats. Their noise or smell never bothered us in the slightest. Their 'poo' was an occasional nuisance and I suppose I'd feel differently if they were raiding my fruit trees. But they have given me hours of enjoyment watching their antics and their skilled flight.

A bat about to land.

Clever! When a bat lowers its legs to the landing position its wing trailing edge is pulled down resulting in increased lift enabling the bat to reduce its speed as it approaches touchdown.

This, of course, mimics an aircraft lowering its wing flaps to increase lift in order to reduce speed for landing. Except bats were doing it long before aircraft were invented.

Hanging Bats


Left: I'm not sure what's going on here
but there's too many feet for one bat.

Pam, a Palm Tree and a Tiger

I have to give you the background first or this story won't work.

As you will know well by now, young Pam has a partiality for red wine and is known for 'conning' me into various hostelries.

On the afternoon in question she had a small mountain of Christmas cards to post (after promising to do it all by email this year) but no stamps. She needed me to lick the stamps, she said, when she'd purchased them. Right, I should have seen through it immediately since the Post Office and the Pine Beach Hotel are but metres apart. However, I desperately needed the exercise afforded by the walk to the Post Office and back as I was trying to lose weight so that I could regain it over Christmas. As you do.

So that's how we came to be in the pub that afternoon. After two glasses of red the contrary woman insisted on leaving the pub - yes, it was time for Happy Hour in the caravan park. There she continued to sip the red wine during any infrequent moment when somebody else was squeezing a word in. Happy Hour is a misleading term; well, the 'happy' part is okay but the 'hour' has to be given a lot of poetic licence.

Some time later, as the sun slowly sank below the horizon, Pam's head slowly sank onto the table; it was time to go home. She roused herself, said goodnight, picked up her glass and (by then) empty bottle and set off unsteadily towards the caravan. To reach it she had to navigate around six large palm trees. I'm not entirely sure what happened next but either a palm moved or Pam miscalculated because she and the tree came into contact.

Pam, after hugging the tree better, extricated herself from it and, with a little help, reached the caravan comparatively unscathed. The wine glass and empty bottle were both intact. I keep referring to that bottle because each morning Pam refills it from a cask of 'plonk', ready for the next Happy Hour. She won't be seen drinking from a cask because it's 'common', you see? There's still an awful lot of Hyacinth Bucket in her. I must give her credit though, she doesn't pretend the bottle contains what its label claims. No, all the Happy Hour attendees know that it's plonk and it has become the subject of some good-natured mirth.

Where is all this going? Well, I'm coming to that. During Happy Hour the following day, as we all sat around the table drinking and telling tall stories, Jim (the park manager) brought a radio from his office and turned it on. The programme presenter, Tiger Wragg, is a friend of Jim's and he sometimes says a 'hello' to the group at the park. Indeed, when not broadcasting, Tiger attends Happy Hour in person so we knew him quite well. As the music ended, Tiger's voice was heard saying Hello to Peter and Pam at the Emu Park caravan park. He hoped, he said, that Pam was none the worse for wear after her little 'misunderstanding' with a palm tree the previous evening and he would dedicate the next record just to her. There followed a very pleasant rendition of Red, Red Wine. When it finished, Tiger expressed the hope that Pam's special bottle had survived the encounter. We were informed that Tiger's programme is broadcast right across Australia. We later learned it was only to the Rockhampton region.

Pam, Tiger and Bottle

The four of them - Tiger, the palm tree, Pam and that special bottle . . . empty again.

Two days later Tiger called at the park. Pam marched across and I followed, wondering who would need the first aid. When I caught her up, both of them were laughing and the best of friends! But . . .

Pam was soon in the wars again.

Two nights later Jim invited us to hop into our car and follow him to see two local houses which were spectacularly decorated with Christmas lights.

Christmas lights

Just a sample of the thousands of lights adorning an Emu Park home.

Having admired the lights on both houses, Jim and his lovely wife, Susie, were going on to visit a friend. Jim - with a bottle of wine in one hand and an open beer can in the other - began giving Pam explicit directions back to the caravan park using the wine bottle as a pointer. Somehow or other the gyrating bottle struck Pam on the nose. (Could there be a magnetic attraction between Pam and wine bottles?) Pam reeled back and Jim, mortified by what he'd done, quickly steadied her with his other arm . . . and tipped his ice cold beer all down her back!

In The News.

One morning a young lady arrived at the caravan. She was a reporter from the Weekend Bulletin newspaper and wanted to interview us. Park Manager Jim had told her that many visitors keep coming back year after year. This was our third year at Emu Park, he said. She'd picked a hell of a time to come and photograph us; Pam was busy cleaning the inside of the 'van and I had a wheel off and seized suspension shackles removed. Bloody caravan.

Newspaper Photp

The photograph in the Weekend Bulletin of Jim with Pam and I. We placed
chairs discretely in front of the missing wheel but my toolbox is in full view.

We were both in our working togs and I was covered in dirt. Anyway, we told her what a wonderful park it is and how much we love the village. This was all true but not one word did she print. The morning the newspaper was published several people stopped us as we shopped to ask if we'd seen our picture.

Do You Remember?

Do you remember long ago when semaphore signals were used on the railways? And even longer ago when the system used a horizontal arm for 'danger' and lowered it 45° down for 'go'? For safety reasons that was soon abandoned in the UK because snow could build up on the arm, causing it to sag down to the 'go' position when it was supposed to be at 'danger'. The later system still used a horizontal arm for 'danger' but the semaphore arm lifted up 45° for 'go'.

What am I getting at? Well, on the drive between Emu Park and Rockhampton there is a railway. It runs beside the road in places. Not a tourist railway, a real railway. There are several semaphore signals along that track in the 45° down position.

Rail Signal

Graffiti-covered wagons carrying ballast rumble past a semaphore signal.

To find out whether they are still used I re-visited the museum in Emu Park and was informed that their use was discontinued three years ago when trains stopped running between Rockhampton and Yeppoon. Only part of the track is now used for access to a large abattoir. Or to load ballast, it seems.

And so ends Page 35 and the year 2006.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 35 was completed on 19 April 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.