The next morning we set off for the Tidbinbilla Deep Space Tracking Station which was way out beyond the Black Stump where there would be less likelihood of interference from mobile phone towers and other sources of radiation. There we found several large dishes pointing skywards, one was the largest in the southern hemisphere and is still one of the biggest in the world for two-way space communications.
That huge dish (theirs,
not ours) can be turned with an accuracy of 0.005 degrees. The turntable
floats the 4,000 tonnes of dish on a high pressure film of oil which lifts
the structure 0.017 mm. Below the ground, the base of the antenna extends
down 11 metres and weighs 3.5 million kilograms. That's 3,500 tonnes to
you and I. For all that, I'd still like to see it in a high wind.
Tidbinbilla has been involved with the American space programme for many years and some of the coverage of the first moon landing was relayed from there.
The Novotel Balloon Fiesta was a lot of fun - except that we were to be at Old Parliament House by 06:00. Yes, in the morning. Naturally we weren't. Luckily, it being the first morning of the Balloon Fiesta, all the balloonists were running late too, so we arrived in plenty of time. The sun wasn't up yet and the air was freezing. Our hands and feet were soon numb with cold.
We watched them lay out
the bag thingies - I think they're called envelopes - along the ground
and blow cold air into their mouths with powerful fans to make them billow
up. When they were sufficiently open, a roaring jet of flame from the
balloon's L.P.G. burner was directed into the envelope. This was repeated
in short bursts and the envelope started to lift itself drunkenly off
the ground. After a few more burns it rose saggily above its basket and
filled out, the creases disappearing.
There were many 'ordinary' shaped balloons and a few very different . . .
There were between 30 and 40 balloons in all, and they straggled off in a westerly direction.
Soon, all except The Monster had disappeared so we wandered back towards the car, chewing on bacon and egg rolls that were stone cold before we got halfway through them. As we passed a parked balloon trailer there was what appeared to be a coat on the ground. We took a second look . . .
Balloons just bore me to death but at least I'm warm.
So there you have it,
the Novotel Balloon Fiesta. Where all those balloons came down we have
no idea, neither do we know whether The Monster ever got airborne. It
must have used up most of its gas just keeping the envelope full for so
The Balloon Fiesta was the last attraction that we visited before moving on. The final verdict on Canberra? A fantastic capital city by any standards with loads for the tourist to do and see. Walter Burley Griffin and his wife did a magnificent job on the design of the capital and they would be thrilled to see it today. Would we live there? No, not in a fit. It may be the capital of Australia but it's not the heart and soul of Australia - that lies out there where the real Australians live, whether that be Longreach, Albany, Katherine, Mount Gambier or wherever. And back to the bush is where we're going next.
Our journey to Orange was plagued with problems at the start. Ada (that's
Alice's mother on the computer) had shown us turning away from Canberra
and travelling through Queanbeyan, so that's the way I turned. Alice was
having none of it and instructed me to do a U turn.
Alice, you b--ch, have you ever tried doing a U turn with a 21 foot caravan on a busy road?
I asked plaintively.
Alice didn't reply. I eventually turned round by doing a tour of some back streets. I wasn't happy, I was sure Ada had said the opposite way was correct. (And, in fact, she had. The conflict was due to Alice being programmed NOT to take us on unsealed roads, but Ada wasn't, so she directed us along a shorter route using an unsealed road. Yes, my fault yet again.)
I was even less happy when we approached a cross-roads in the centre of Canberra and Alice wanted me to go straight ahead. That road, however, had been closed by the police so some demented lunatics could run a marathon. I took a left turn and Alice immediately griped. Ignoring her, I kept going, expecting her to eventually capitulate and give me an alternative route. She didn't. I finally gave in and turned back to the cross-roads to try the one remaining option. No good, that road was closed for construction work. That only left one way to go - back the way we had first come. Alice immediately started bleating again so as soon as possible I pulled over and had a heart to heart chat with her. There are things in her programming called 'avoidances'. The marathon road, I explained, was one such 'avoidance' and the construction road was another.
Now, I said,
us to Orange. And she did, as good as gold. Is there a moral to
Orange is a fairly small town with a fruit growing industry. I suppose you'll have guessed which fruit, but if so, you'd be wrong! The name, Orange, was bestowed by an early explorer, Major Thomas Mitchell (1792 - 1855), who carried out a lot of exploration in eastern Australia. Major Mitchell was a friend of Prince William VI of Orange and he named the area in his honour.
Major Mitchell, later Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, contributed a great deal to the opening up of the Australian continent by leading four exploration expeditions. Ironically, if you say
Major Mitchell to the
average Aussie, they will only think of a parrot. The Pink Cockatoo is
commonly known as the Major Mitchell Parrot. Poor old Tommy, after
all he contributed
The fruit grown in Orange is mainly apples, stone fruit and berries. It's a nice, clean town, though with nothing exceptional to recommend it except that Andrew Barton Paterson, better known as Banjo Paterson, was born there.
We came across a lot of
places containing the name 'Canobolas' (pronounced ka
nob oll uss with the emphasis on the 'nob').
There was Mount Canobolas, Lake Canobolas, the Canobolas School and the
Canobolas Caravan Park (where we stayed). So where did this name originate?
The staff at the Tourist Information Centre thought it came from an Aborigine
word meaning Twin Peaks. The same staff recommended we drive out to an
old Cornish village called Byng where many Cornish people had settled
in the 1800s. There were supposed to be a lot of old cottages built in
the Cornish style, so we went to have look.
Alice had never heard of Byng so I cajoled my former navigator into guiding us there. After driving along a million miles of dusty dirt roads we found the place. Well, we found an old church and almost went speeding past it. Behind us trailed a choking cloud of billowing dust which enveloped us when we stopped, carried by a gentle following breeze. We waited until it cleared before disembarking. Only then did we notice a woman and her son standing near by. We were astonished - we'd never previously seen a mother and son both exactly the same grey colour. I apologised, of course, and they were very good about it. They were doing research for a project at the lad's school.
The little church was locked and not terribly interesting. Across the road was an old cemetery, the inscription on many of the headstones illegible after too many years exposed to the weather. One was almost new but that turned out to be a memorial organised by a family at a recent reunion commemorating their long-dead relatives, the earliest of which had been a transported convict.
We saw no other old buildings and travelled on to see the old town of Millthorpe, as recommended by the Grey Lady. It was worth seeing, whole streets of genuine old buildings with verandas and lots of iron lacework.
Down at the end of the
street was the old railway station which was in the process of being restored.
We didn't find out whether any trains stopped there, but the Indian Pacific
trans-continental train passes through on its three and a half thousand
kilometre journey between Perth and Sydney. Like so many little towns,
Millthorpe has its own claim to 'fame'. Its railway station is the highest
between the Blue Mountains and Perth. Well, I'll go t' foot of our stairs!
On the way back home we spotted a service station selling diesel for 10 cents per litre cheaper than everywhere else. As we were running low we drove in and noted that the diesel pump was dispensing 'bio-diesel'. While I'd heard this stuff discussed in the media, I'd never come across it before. Oh, well, here goes. While I was pumping in a hundred litres I noticed that the very strong diesel smell was absent. If anything it smelled like lubricating oil, and when it foamed up as the tanks neared full, the colour was baby-poo yellow. It had a higher viscosity than normal diesel, too. When I paid the bill the attendant told me it was 60% diesel and 40% canola oil.
Jumping forward a week or two, the next service station where we refueled was also dispensing the same bio-diesel, but there the attendant claimed the mix was 70% canola oil and only 30% diesel. Who to believe? Canola is a yellow-flowering crop (known as rapeseed in the U.K.). Oil is extracted from the seeds to make margarine and animal feeds. A visit to the Internet only confused the issue further, though I learned that bio-diesel is supposedly better from the global warming perspective because the growing canola crop absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere, some of which is returned when the oil is burned. On the other hand, diesel is a fossil fuel so its CO2 has been locked up for millions of years. When we burn it the CO2 is added to the atmosphere. On the practical side, the car runs perfectly okay on it. The exhaust smells like somebody frying chips.
Added later: At the next service the fuel filter was found to be partially blocked with a yellow wax-like substance and needed replacement.
We only remained in Orange for four days. The caravan park was not the greatest in which we ever stayed but everyone was very friendly and we felt very relaxed there, much more so than in Queanbeyan. We decided to modify our ten month plan and visit a town called Mudgee next because (a) our great friends, Ross and Jan Taylor, were staying there and, (b) there was to be an air show in Mudgee on the Saturday.
We arrived in Mudgee after an uneventful journey from Orange and camped next to Ross and Jan who had a brand new, shiny caravan. It was great to get together again and the next day, when the hang-overs had lifted, we all went out for a drive around the area together. We were quite shocked at the dry state of the countryside. Paddocks were brown and nibbled bare by sheep, cattle and horses trying to survive. This lack of water was emphasised when we saw the level of the Windamere Dam.
While we were in Mudgee (which means nest
in the mountains) the radio reported that the once mighty Murray
River was all but dry and the City of Adelaide was in dire straights,
being the furthest place downstream to rely on the Murray's water. Even
if the river didn't totally dry up, the salinity of the remaining water
could make it unsuitable for drinking. A highly undesirable solution was
mooted to drain all the wetlands along the river's course and build levees
to prevent the river water re-entering, the logic being that considerable
volumes of water are lost through evaporation from large areas of wetland.
But drain the wetlands and many species of both flora and fauna will be
lost. If rain doesn't come soon a lot of people are going to be in terrible
On a brighter note, the Mudgee Airshow was great, and that was the opinion of all four of us. The organisers had introduced a lot of variety to keep people entertained. It wasn't just an airshow, it was advertised as Wings, Wheels and Wine with many old and some very fast cars there, and wine tasting too.
There was a 'tractor pull' with two customised four wheel drive cars connected by a sturdy strap, each trying to drag the other backwards amid smoke, dust, spinning wheels and screaming engines.
There were races between cars and aeroplanes to the far end of the runway and back.
A brand new Harley Davidson was auctioned in the middle of the day. There was no reserve and the bike went for $21,500 which was to be donated to the local hospital.
The R.A.A.F. Aerobatic Team, The Roulettes, flew a very impressive sequence in their PC-9 trainers, then landed and left the aircraft on display all day.
A 64 year old Douglas DC-3 flew passengers all day, half an hour for $75. Guess who was sorely tempted?
There were some very
impressive displays by radio controlled models including a jet engined
F-18 fighter which was sensational. At a cost of $15,000 perhaps it should
have been, too. It had a fully retracting undercarriage and its gas turbine
engine sounded just like the real thing. And if was fast!
A fire-fighting water bomber displayed it's ability, flying low over the airfield and dumping 3 tonnes of water on an imaginary fire before landing and being refilled by a fire engine in five short minutes. It then took to the air again and demonstrated its ability to soak a line of vegetation ahead of a fire.
Then there were all the usual aerobatics, veteran aircraft, raffles, craft stalls, hot dogs and lost children that are associated with an event of this kind. If you'd like to see fifteen full width pictures from the Mudgee Airshow, click below.
Our four day stay in Mudgee was soon over and - together with Ross and Jan Taylor - we moved on to Dubbo. More on page 47 - click below.
Footnote: This re-working of Page 46 was completed on 10 May 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.