Warning: This page contains a lot of aeroplane 'stuff' which may seriously damage your attention span.
Welcome to Page 50. Never did I imagine that this site would grow to this size.
Hey, I've just got to tell you this story. As dinky-di Aussies would say,
Ya wouldn't read about it!
Imagine this scenario. You're staying in a caravan park 4,000 kilometres from home. A complete stranger stops to chat. He mentions that he has a daughter. There's twenty million people living in Australia and half of them are daughters. He tells you his daughter lives in Western Australia. That narrows it down to two million people, half being daughters. She lives in Perth. Better still, only one million people live in Perth. He tells you the suburb; it's your suburb but thousands of people live there. He tells you the area of that suburb. Another coincidence but hundreds of people live there. He tells you the street name. Now it's really getting spooky - it's your street. He tells you the number. His daughter is your next door neighbour.
What are the odds of that happening? Yet that is precisely what did happen. Hello Karen.
Having chatted to a chopper pilot in the pub (on page 49), the very next night I met a fixed wing pilot who offered to take me 'airside' to take photographs of another Dakota which had flown in with a load of passengers and wasn't departing for three days. It belonged to 'Air Nostalgia' and looked in beautiful condition. The two pilots were about to taxi over to the bowser to refuel when I arrived and I was offered a ride to the bowser and back, standing in the cockpit doorway.
Getting right away from aeroplanes, I read an article on the motoring page of a newspaper advocating the use of nitrogen to inflate car tyres. The arguments put forward were as follows:
Taking the first point, atmospheric
air is already 80% nitrogen. If the oxygen molecules are smaller
and leak away faster, the nitrogen content in your tyres will increase
above 80% as you periodically adjust your tyre pressures.
Taking the second point, every air compressor has a water bleed valve on its pressure tank because moisture is 'squeezed' out when air is compressed. It pools at the bottom of the pressure tank and has to be drained periodically. Therefore compressed air supplied on garage forecourts is dry.
The third points seem to be drawing a very long bow. It's under-inflation that causes wear, reduces economy and increases emissions, regardless of the gas used in the tyres. What do you think, dear friend? Do you want to pay to blow up your tyres, provided you can find a service station supplying nitrogen? And is it in the least bit necessary?
Good, if unnecessary, advice.
The photo on the right and item above show the level to which I've sunk, vegetating in Longreach while waiting for the long overdue Boeing 707. For the benefit of any who may not know, a caravan park dump point is where the toilets from caravans and motorhomes are emptied. God bless dump points.
There were some errors in the original posting
of this section. I am indebted to my Chief Adviser (Aviation) - brother,
Mike - for correcting them.
Now back to that Boeing 707 which went into service with Qantas in 1959. It was the first jet airliner to be purchased by an Australian airline. For their fleet requirements, Qantas ordered a shortened version of the 707 known as the 707-138. This gave the aircraft a lower passenger capacity but greater range. After ten years service Qantas sold the aircraft and it subsequently passed through several hands before being purchased by the Saudi royal family who lavishly refurbished the interior. Around 1999 the Saudis put the 707 on the market and it was parked at Southend Airport in the U.K. The aircraft deteriorated for eight years and was due to be scrapped, the aluminium was to be converted into beer cans (urban myth?) when Qantas found it. The company decided to restore it and fly it back for ground display at Longreach. It was a humongous task! Volunteers worked 18,000 man hours to restore it to flying condition. Its tail and its engines were totally removed, corrosion was treated and the engines were rebuilt. It was then flown to Sydney prior to continuing on to Longreach. Delay after delay then ensued, but eventually a date - Sunday, 10th June 2007 - was fixed for the aircraft's last flight.
The long awaited day finally arrived and Pamela and I were were positioned at our chosen vantage point at the back of the airport by 9:30, an hour and a half before the 707 was due. The camera was set, its battery charged, and we waited, tingling with excitement, at the airport's perimeter fence. Okay, okay, Pam was actually knitting in the car, but I'm sure she was as excited as I was. She has a way of hiding her emotions behind a bored, long-suffering facial expression, but she can't fool me!
The Deputy Prime Minister and several other members of the Federal Parliament arrived in a Boeing 737 and a Royal Australian Air Force Challenger 604 executive jet, doubtless at taxpayers expense. This, of course, had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that this is an election year - how can you be so cynical? A new stretched version of a DeHavilland DHC-8 called a Q400 also made its inaugural appearance. It will fly to Longreach on a regular basis henceforth.
Finally there was a stirring in the crowd (which by then numbered several hundred in 'our' paddock) as a twinkling light appeared in the southern sky. It grew slowly closer until the shape of the descending Boeing 707 could be distinguished, landing lights ablaze. She circled the airport and the town a couple of times then made an approach to the runway with her gear (undercarriage) down.
She flew low across the airfield while cameras clicked furiously, then increased power and climbed away with black smoke trailing from her four engines - see the photo below. Next she made another low pass, this time faster, with her undercarriage retracted, and again performed a climbing left turn with black smoke trailing.
Finally she made a long approach and touched down perfectly. The engines screamed like Paris Hilton being escorted back to jail as reverse thrust was employed to assist the wheel brakes in slowing the aircraft. She stopped safely with runway to spare.
Pam and I quickly started our own engine and joined the queue to escape
the little paddock, pushing and shoving to get out as quickly as possible.
We then took a wrong turn and rejoined the main road behind all the
cars we'd shoved in front of. C'est la vie. Long before we
arrived at the airport's entrance there were cars cluttering the grass
verge on both sides of the road so we grabbed a vacant spot and parked,
walking the remainder of the way. On arriving at the entrance all the
police had gone and we could have driven straight in and parked with
no trouble. Ho-hum.
Initially the 707 was besieged by dignitaries, Qantas employees, spectators and a lovely young thing in red wearing a miniskirt. Pam and I retired to the restaurant as we just can't do with crowds and politicians droning on (and Pam hadn't spotted the nymph in red). After a coffee Pam wanted to look around the museum shop so I went outside again to look at the
nymph aircraft. By then the crowd had thinned considerably. The
P.A. system, used to broadcast the profound words of the politicians,
announced that the 707 would be pushed back to her final stand, next
to the giant 747, at two o'clock.
The crew seemed reluctant to leave her. They seemed
unable to tear their eyes from her beautiful lines.
In keeping with the history of the 707's arrival, there were further delays. The R.A.A.F.
Challenger 604 jet that had brought the politicians to Longreach apparently
had a hydraulics failure and had to be towed out of the way. Finally
the huge tractor returned and connected its towbar to the 707's nose
wheel and began to push it slowly back. By that time all the crowd had
gone . . . only I and one or two other true believers remained. Even
Pam had gone, leaving me to walk home. Under the blazing sun. All alone.
I walked around to where the 747 was parked to photograph the 707 being reversed into position. Suddenly it seemed tragic that such a beautiful aircraft was never to grace the skies again, especially after all the work the volunteers had contributed to her restoration.
It took a crew of eighteen to back her onto the prepared concrete stand as the surface adjoining the concrete was rather soft. A path of large plywood slabs was laid behind her wheels, and as she was pushed slowly back the crew worked furiously to retrieve the plywood slabs from in front of the wheels and replace them behind. As the aircraft's weight rolled onto the wood there were many ominous creaking and cracking noises. After a few realignments the crew was happy and the 707 was parked alongside her younger, but much larger, sister. There were not too many possible angles to photograph the two Boeings together so I finally selected one showing a photographer (who clearly knew the right people) standing way out on the wing of the 747. I have not tampered with this picture to make the photographer look smaller - this is exactly what the camera saw.
There are grand plans to rebuild the whole airport. These include new terminal buildings and a longer runway to accept modern jets. This begs the question: Why? Will more people come to the little country town of Longreach? Not unless a lot of other things also change. However, at this stage it's just 'pollie' talk in an election year. Enough said. The plans for the museum include a huge roof over all the displayed aircraft which would be very good for both the aircraft and their visitors.
Two days after the 707 arrived, we left. We drove 640 kilometres to
Julia Creek. We hadn't intended the journey to
be anything like as long but Alice, our GPS Navigator, had plotted the
shortest route which included a very useful short-cut along a dirt road.
She's programmed not to do that, we don't drag the caravan
along unsealed roads, but the girl has attitude. We only discovered
her little trick when we were well on our way. We then had to re-plan
our course via Cloncurry then backtrack to Julia Creek which added
a lot of kilometres. Ho-hum.
We stayed two nights in Julia Creek. Exploring the little town took about an hour - and that was on foot. There were no tourist attractions except the artesian bores which we'd covered pretty thoroughly at other towns. Worse, there was only one fuel supplier and he charged like a wounded bull. We, in company with Julia Creek's residents, were outraged but had no choice but to grit our teeth and pay up. As one resident said, you need a full tank to get to the next service station.
We left Julia Creek for Normanton and, 100 kilometres out, we pulled over for a 'comfort stop' and discovered we had a broken spring on the caravan rear axle.
What were our options? We were in the
middle of nowhere - we'd only seen one vehicle in the whole 100 kilometres
- and the nearest town was the one we'd just left - tiny Julia Creek.
We were out of mobile phone range. Fortunately the broken end of the
main leaf had dropped onto the next leaf of the spring and, despite
the fact that it was only resting there, not secured at all, it seemed
fairly stable. We decided to gingerly continue 350 kilometres to Normanton
at much reduced speed, keeping all our fingers and toes crossed, hoping
we could purchase a new spring there. This made it another long day
and certainly did the tyres no good, the wheels being well out of alignment.
The country along the way was almost dead flat and our view was only limited by the curve of the earth. We could often see the road ahead run straight as a die (if I can misuse a cliché), all the way to the horizon. Most of the journey was on single track road. Fortunately there were few oncoming vehicles but when we saw one in the distance we cautiously moved completely off the bitumen and stopped. If we hadn't, then the oncoming vehicle, usually a large truck, would have to put its left wheels onto the gravel verge and shower us with stones and grit as it roared past, leaving us coughing dust.
We saw many brolgas close to the road. These are the largest of the crane family of birds and stand up to 4' 6" tall. They are silver-grey in colour with the backs of their heads and necks bright scarlet. Their formation flying is amazing - if anything their flight is even more graceful than that of the pelicans and that's saying something.
We arrived late at Normanton without further drama and booked into the Tourist Park. Next morning I removed the offending spring from the caravan. There was nowhere in Normanton to obtain a new one so we tried phoning Jayco, the caravan's manufacturer, in Victoria. They kept us on hold for ages and finally fobbed us off by giving us a disconnected phone number, purportedly for AL-KO who make the caravan's undercarriage. Pam found the correct number on the good old internet. AL-KO referred us to a trailer manufacturer in Cairns where a wonderful lady called Linda went to a lot of trouble to locate a spring for us. She had to order it from Brisbane and then forward it on to us in Normanton. The new part had to travel 2,400 km. by road, so wasn't going to arrive anytime soon. But thank you Linda, you've restored our faith in human nature. What a shame Jayco didn't provide us with the same level of service - or any level of service, for that matter.
While we waited for the new spring to
arrive the weather turned feral. There we were, in tropical Northern
Queensland, freezing! Day after day it rained. One day it seemed
to be easing so we visited Karumba which is on the southern shore of
the Gulf of Carpentaria. That place is a haven for people who are hooked
on fishing (pun not intended) but even the most hardy of fishermen had
stayed in their accommodation with their heaters on. We drove around
and discovered that the town is divided into two parts a few kilometres
apart, Karumba and Point Karumba. Neither excited us very much under
the grey sky with a cold wind blowing and occasional spatters of rain.
We came across The Animal Bar in a Karumba hotel; we'd been told it was a 'must see' place so we went in. Why we'd been told to visit it was a mystery at the time; it was a large barn-like room with one wall missing so the cold wind blew straight in. Not surprisingly there were few other customers but the inevitable television was blaring away at full volume with nobody watching it. We later learned that the bar area used to be protected by a strong wire mesh fence with small holes cut just large enough for drinks to be passed through. The 'patrons' at that time were wild fisherman and trawler crews who brawled so frequently the bar staff needed protection. With the wire mesh gone there was nothing worth looking at so after a quick drink we headed home.
There being little to do or see in Normanton, we resorted to propping up the bar in the Purple Pub where we soon became friendly with the staff. The owner and the manager were both women. There were also two backpackers, Donna and Shira. Donna was my favourite barmaid and Shira was a wonderful chef to which our waistlines can attest.
Two lovely ladies, Donna worked the
bar and Shira was the wonderful chef.
There was a culture of the Aborigines
drinking outside on the veranda while the whites drank inside. This
was by choice, there was no rule and some Aborigines did drink at the
bar. We found them friendly and smiling, and most would return our greeting.
A few preferred to avoid eye contact.
One evening an Aborigine man started begging drinks at the bar until he ran out of goodwill from the whites stupid enough to oblige (Pam and I).
He then ordered another drink. When asked for the money he pointed at an old Aborigine man and said
Uncle will pay.
This started a big blue as 'Uncle' was not even from the same tribe
and had no intention of paying. After a lot of shouting the old fellow
had him by the throat. Liz, the lady manager, separated them but the
shouting and foul language continued with the young black now pushing
and threatening the old man who walked away into the back of the pub.
He soon returned and when the young black started towards him again, the old bloke suddenly produced a knife and lunged at him. The younger one rapidly selected reverse gear and bolted outside, chased by the old man. Liz intercepted the old guy at the door and retrieved her kitchen knife.
After that the situation simmered for a while but didn't boil over again. At no point during this cabaret did anybody even consider calling the cops, which maybe speaks volumes about Normanton.
We'd become friendly with two white blokes, known locally as the 'Dodgy
Brothers'. They warned us that whites should never interfere as long
as a dispute remained black on black. They said the evening's drama
had developed because we had bought the younger black man alcohol. I'll
tell you what, we won't again! I later had a chat to the old bloke who,
to my surprise, was five years younger than I am. Notwithstanding what
had gone before, he seemed a pretty decent bloke. He couldn't stand
seeing Aborigines cadging money or drinks.
If he can't afford a beer he should go home.
As the weather became colder and wetter
night by night, the Aborigines all came inside, outnumbering the whites.
The atmosphere was very friendly with a lot of laughing and everybody
getting on well. One black man grabbed my arm and jabbered away to me.
One of our two white friends quickly murmured,
He's a good guy. He's okay.
So I smiled at the man who was as black as soot with a mop of frizzy hair as he jabbered on to me. I laughed when he laughed and nodded when it seemed appropriate, patted him on the back and nodded towards where Pam was standing at the bar. We both laughed again and shook hands, and I went back to Pam. I hadn't the faintest inkling of what he'd said but it didn't seem to matter. A black woman tapped me on the arm and pointed to a black man near the door.
He win the draw tonight - he getting married soon.
The draw to which she referred had a prize of $1,900 and the groom-to-be had won it. I had to smile at her obvious happiness for him. I went over and shook his hand.
We heard a story about a Normanton butcher who slept under the counter in his shop in case anybody tried to steal money from his till. One morning, after a few beers the night before, he awoke to find the till empty. He went off his face, yelling he'd been robbed. Several days later he found his money where he'd hidden it - in the cold room where he hung his meat. Apparently his customers entered the shop with some trepidation. If he was in the wrong mood he might refuse to serve them. We had to visit his shop after that and, despite him being very surly, he sold us some excellent meat.
One evening in the Purple Pub I asked for a glass of port to round the evening off.
Sorry, was the reply,
We're not allowed to serve fortified wines due to the Aborigine situation.
But you serve wines and spirits I protested,
Why not port?
That's just the way it is. Sorry.
How crazy is that?
Normanton is nicknamed Normal-town because, perversely, nobody in the town is 'normal'.
Still awaiting the new caravan spring - we discovered it had reached Cairns - we took a trip on a tourist train called the Gulflander. This little train, they proudly informed us, has now operated for one hundred years and has made a loss for every one of those years. What a strange claim to fame!
To liven the experience up, the train
was ambushed by a Mexican bandit on horseback. The guard tried to escape
with the money but the bandit rode him down and stole it at gunpoint.
My photos of a galloping horse through the glass window of a rocking
train were not worth reproducing.
There was a well-informed commentary from the train driver as we travelled along with a good bit of humour thrown in. We passed a billabong known as Broken Wagon Waterhole, the surface of which was covered in water lilies. That time my attempt at photography from the moving train was a little better.
The railway was originally intended to go to Cloncurry, but then gold was found at Croydon so the line was to be built to both towns. In the end the Cloncurry branch was never built and the line just goes to Croydon. It does not connect to the main rail network anywhere.
The Gulflander runs to Croydon once a week but our trip went just as
far as Critters' Camp with a 'smoko' stop beside a waterhole. The Clarina
Waterhole had been an important stop in bygone days. The lagoon was
used to water the steam locomotives and there used to be a hotel there,
but now there's just the water. We disembarked for an hour and were
fed near the water's edge - all we could eat with either tea or coffee.
The caution that there could be crocs in the lagoon was ignored by most
- none had ever been seen there.
After 'smoko' (known as 'morning tea' in Britain) the train continued to Critters' Camp, so named because a railway crew that stayed there during construction of the track came across spiders, snakes, scorpions, centipedes and many other unwanted companions. At Critters' Camp there is a triangle of track with railway points at the apexes of the triangle. There the little train made a three point turn in order to return to Normanton, engine first.
We only stopped once on the return journey, and that was when we were entering the town. The train stopped quite abruptly and the guard, who was in our carriage, showed some consternation. It transpired that a bunch of little black children had dragged a railway sleeper across the track. Our driver saw it in time and stopped to shift it, giving the kids a good 'serve' as he did so.
A few days later two things happened. The new caravan spring arrived on schedule, and the weather changed to bright, sunny and cloudless. With the 'van repaired we should have been able to leave, however the radio broadcast a long list of road closures due to days of unseasonal rain. These would be unsealed roads so of no concern to us. However the sealed roads that we would be using were frequently single track, and the verges would be very soggy so we decided to stay three more days to give the verges time to harden up.
One evening I was sitting at the bar in the Purple Pub with Jeff 'Dodgy'.
An Aborigine woman - they're known as 'gins' just as white women are
called 'sheilas' - came and sat next to me and started groping me! It's
true! She kept jabbering to me, most of which was unintelligible, but
I gather she wanted us to go somewhere else. Jeff was laughing fit to
bust and the damned woman was so persistent that I swilled the remainder
of my drink, told Jeff she was all his, and set off back to the caravan.
On my way down the dark side street to the caravan park I glanced back and . . . she was behind me! Once again she was all hands and jabbered away, the gist of which I grasped but didn't particularly like. Next thing she'd grabbed my hand and stuffed it down inside her clothing. I finally found a phrase she understood when shouted loud and accompanied by a good shove. Hint: The second of the two words was off. I took a circuitous route through the caravan park, weaving in and out of many caravans until I was home.
Lock the door I said
there's an Aborigine chasing me, and I told her
the story. Her face was a picture!
Next evening the 'Dodgy Brothers' laughed so hard they almost fell off their bar stools. The story was common knowledge by then, and still spreading, though they didn't know what happened after I'd left the pub. The final episode of this yarn took place a few days later after we'd finally left Normanton and driven 300 km. to Georgetown where we found a rodeo in full swing. The bull ring was surrounded by stalls and sideshows. We decided to have a coffee and started chatting to the couple running the stall. Would you believe, they had already heard the story. It had reached there before us.
I'll finish this page with one last story from the Purple Pub, though
this happened long before our visit.
One evening an out-of-town man had been drinking at the bar when he fell backwards off his stool and lay motionless on the floor - not an unheard of occurrence. The barman asked a roustabout to drag him outside and the man did, leaving him lying on the veranda. At closing time he was still there so the barman threw a bucket of water over him. When he still didn't move they checked him over. He was stone dead.
And that's it from Normanton and the Purple Pub, Folks. I won't tell you about the night we went to the Central Hotel which is the Aborigine-only pub where even the staff are black. We went with the 'Dodgy Brothers' for a sort of dare. It was fun. See you in Georgetown on Page 51.
Footnote: This re-working of Page 50 was completed on 15 May 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.