Page 66

Adelaide Then North To Alice.

Back In Adelaide For The Third Time.

Our reason for diverting to Adelaide before setting off up through the 'red centre' was not to see the city again, but to catch up with friends. We arrived and set up the caravan in a most beautiful park bordering the beach. The mobile phone rang and it was Phil and Dawn Sedgmen whom we had visited recently in Mildura, 400 kilometres away. Dawn spoke briefly to Pam then told her she didn't want to talk any longer. Puzzled, Pam was just saying goodbye when a loud car horn sounded outside the caravan - and there they were, Phil and Dawn. They had arrived the previous day and their caravan was only a few metres away from ours. What a long happy hour we enjoyed that evening!

The next afternoon, Greg and Marilyn, whom we had met in Cairns but who live in Adelaide, called to see us. The four of us joined Phil and Dawn for a few hilarious hours before finally taking pity on the neighbours, some of whom were doubtless trying to sleep. SA Friends

Some of the lovely people we met again in Adelaide. (Phil and Dawn are pictured on page 63.)
Top to bottom: Marilyn and Greg. Don and Lois. Gavin, Jo and us. Lyndon, Ann and us.

A few days later, returning from the shops, we found a note pushed into an empty wine bottle on the caravan step. The note had, purportedly, been written by a person of Aboriginal extraction who wanted to meet up with us to sample some red wine. The location within the caravan park was given on the note so we set off to solve the mystery. It was, of course, a joke. It was Gavin and Joanne Gittos with whom we we had recently renewed our friendship in Renmark. Now, with Dawn and Phil, we were six again. Yet another even longer happy hour.

One evening we had dinner with Lyndon and Ann whom we first met in Tumby Bay. They too live in Adelaide and we met up with them twice.

Another evening we were invited to dinner with an old friend and work colleague, Don Bell and his wife, Lois. So our short stay in Adelaide became one long - and extremely pleasant - social occasion.

Adelaide by Night

One evening Phil and Dawn took us up to the top of Mount Lofty to see the lights of Adelaide. Are you wondering what the dotted line is across the sky? The camera shutter was open for half a minute. During that time an airliner with flashing strobe lights flew past, descending into Adelaide Airport.

Our stay in Adelaide brought home to us the dire shortage of water in the city. While places to the north had received good summer rainfall, South Australia had not; the situation was desperate. Severe watering restrictions had been imposed and people told us their allowance was insufficient to keep their gardens alive.

The caravan park, however, appeared to have water to spare. One small strip of grass next to our caravan had the sprinklers running most of one day, then again the next. About a third of the water landed on the grass, the rest on the road or an adjacent concrete slab. The tap to which the hose connected was behind our caravan and leaked the whole time, the water spraying all over the grass. Nobody bothered. It seemed criminal but they told us that all the 'grey' water from the showers, washing machines, etc., was recovered, treated and used on the grass and to flush the toilets. It certainly resulted in the park being beautifully lush and green. Ideas like that may be the future for many towns.

Adelaide's drinking water supply is piped from the Murray River and if you've read the previous pages, you'll know the plight of the Murray. While we were staying in Adelaide the state and federal governments met to discuss the situation and this time they seemed more positive of a resolution. Unfortunately talk doesn't solve problems on its own and the politicians track record on action - if they even have one - is lamentable.

Both the Torrens and Sturt Rivers flow through Adelaide (if 'flow' is the right word). Below is a picture of the Torrens near its estuary. The Sturt looked the same but without the remaining pools.

Torrens River Bed

The Torrens. Just a few stagnant puddles which attract horses and birds. The trees which thrived in the moist soil along the banks still look healthy, but for how long if the drought continues?

From Adelaide To Alice Springs In Four Three Days - stage one.

We left Adelaide Shores Caravan Park at 07:10 on a Sunday morning. The sun was just rising and - as we initially drove east - it was full in our faces. Even with the visor down I could only just see the road ahead due to the very low angle of the sun which reflected off the road and everything else. Luckily we were only moving slowly when I drove straight through a red traffic signal that was screened by the sun visor; I never saw it. I doubt if I would have seen the signals even if the visor had not obscured them, as the sun would have totally blinded me. Anyway, the driver of a car coming from the right saw me as I saw him and we both took evasive action. He was not a happy chappy and I don't blame him. Anyway, there was no collision and fortunately Mr Plod wasn't around. (It's no use asking the cops if you can use credits for all the times you've stopped at a green light, they won't have it.) It quite shook me up, actually. It could have been much worse and it was entirely my fault, as the Tour Director, Short Wheel Base, readily agreed. From there on she helpfully called every traffic light and its colour as we approached.

We were on our way to Woomera via Port Augusta. Woomera is the support town for the rocket launching facility some 500 kilometres north of Adelaide.

Leaving Port Augusta we joined the Stuart Highway north and were soon driving through desert. It was a long haul. I kept our speed down to 80 k.p.h. but as the air temperature outside soared to forty degrees and a stiff headwind sprang up, I was forced to slow to seventy as the car's cooling system was only just coping. Even a slight gradient had the needle of the temperature gauge climbing. A headwind is a killer at the best of times with the frontal area of our caravan, but when it is a really hot headwind it can push the car's cooling system to the limit and occasionally beyond.

Notwithstanding all the above, we arrived safely for an overnight stop in Woomera; the first of four stages from Adelaide to Alice completed.

A note on diesel prices: Passing through Port Augusta we stopped to top up the diesel tanks at $1.44 per litre. Two days later we purchased diesel at the Erldunda Roadhouse for $1.78 per litre. At that price we only took sufficient to give ourselves a safety margin for the last section to Alice Springs.
Stage Two.

We left Woomera at about 07:35. The air temperature was a pleasant twenty five degrees and we rolled along happily with the windows wide open. At 09:00 the temperature touched thirty degrees and we'd put 110 kilometres behind us. For a while we ran parallel to the trans-continental railway. The landscape was bleak to say the least. When there was any foliage it usually consisted of shrubs and a few stunted trees. Frequently, however, there were only rocks and stone rubble to look at. In one place it was similar to being in mid-ocean; the landscape shimmered flat to the horizon in every direction.

Soon after we set off a beautiful auburn-coloured fox had crossed the road in front of us carrying something unidentifiable in its mouth; its breakfast, no doubt.

Traffic was almost nonexistent - we may have passed one oncoming vehicle every fifteen kilometres. Approaching vehicles would initially appear to be hovering in mid-air, their image refracting in the hot air rising from the surface of the road. As they drew nearer the gap beneath them shimmered and disappeared.

About the only feature of interest along the way was a large, shining, white saltpan which had once been a lake and still bears the name, though water there is none. There were also some mysterious objects in the shrubs along the roadside . . .


Take a look at the picture above. Notice the objects in the roadside shrubs that appear to be litter entangled in the foliage? We repeatedly saw these in the bushes over quite a distance. In the end curiosity got the better of me and I stopped for a look. I discovered that the white objects were made of layer upon layer of silk, woven to make a very strong nest. Taking a stick I prodded one open, hoping it wouldn't be full of angry hornets. All I could see inside was what appeared to be rich, black soil, totally unlike the earth in that region. I stirred up this 'soil' and disturbed some fat, hairy caterpillars . . .

Nest and Grub

Left: Anyone for candy-floss? The nest, and . . .           Right: One of its inhabitants.

Their protection against predators was excellent, it took a lot of pulling and poking to open that nest. They must come out to feed, however, as the surrounding twigs had been stripped of leaves. What was the black 'soil' and how did it get inside the nest? I can only guess it's the excrement of the grubs themselves. It looked moist and would protect the residents from the heat of the sun. Alternatively perhaps, having had their fill of leaves, they wove a communal 'safe house' in which to metamorphose into a chrysalises and finally emerge as . . . what?

The temperature had reached thirty seven degrees by midday which was the time we arrived in Coober Pedy. We refueled then set up camp.

I won't describe the unique - bizarre, even - town of Coober Pedy for you here as we covered it on Page Six. If you haven't read that, perhaps you should - it's a town in which people live underground where the temperature remains between twenty and twenty five very comfortable degrees summer and winter. On this visit we tried a different caravan park but found it much the same as the previous place - a dust bowl with no water connection for the caravan, showers that cost twenty cents for each four minutes and water for sale at $1 for forty litres. Hey, but the urinal in the gents toilet - what a gleaming stainless steel beauty! Each of the three flush tanks must have held thirty litres of water and dropped the lot when the button was pressed. Having nothing else to occupy my mind while I stood facing the urinal, I calculated it could accommodate fourteen blokes simultaneously or about 42 per minute. That'd be 2,520 per hour. There were, however, only six caravans in the park.

Not so impressive was the timer on the ablution block light switch. It expired while I was under the shower, leaving me naked and wet in total darkness. Don't laugh!

Well, that's it from this opal mining town; tomorrow we have another 500 km run to Erldunda.
Stage Three

This time we were away before the sun rose. Now here's a conundrum for you; is it more credible that we were early or that the sun was late? Once again a beautiful morning with the temperature at twenty five degrees. We turned on to the main Stuart Highway pointing north and gently eased the speed up to eighty, locking on the cruise control. This must be the easiest driving anywhere. The road is good, the traffic all but non-existent, there are no sharp bends or steep hills, all you have to do is sit there and sing along to the CD player. Well . . . until you notice the Tour Director's grimace. We managed without the air conditioner until the outside temperature reached thirty four degrees, then the Tour Director, who was busy knitting woollen squares for the 'poor people', lodged a complaint. After a token protest and a short delay to let her know who was boss, I closed the windows and turned on the air conditioner. She didn't appreciate my muttered comment about the 'poor people' getting off their arses and finding a job, either.

And so we rolled along, the hours passing. Every so often we'd stop and have a stretch. We were the tortoise to the other vehicles' hare. Time and again a vehicle would rocket past us to disappear over the horizon; an hour later the same vehicle would zoom past again. We came across a car with a camper trailer on the side of the road, the trailer's right tyre completely shredded. Did they need any help? Had they all the tools they needed? Yes, they were fine, thank you. The tyre was brand new and had only done 600 km. Them's the breaks.

Again we were accompanied by the trans-continental railway, but we only saw it spasmodically as the railway drifts away then comes back, as if needing the security of the road in that vast wilderness.

Many of the commercial vehicles on the Stuart Highway were road trains with three, and sometimes four, huge trailers. Each time I saw one closing from behind I'd indicate left and pull over in plenty of time so the driver could move out and roar past without the need to slow. Then I'd give him a headlight flash as his last trailer passed us to let him know it was safe to pull in again. These drivers appreciate this consideration and either toot as they pass or flash their indicators left and right as they draw away. One thing that really makes us cringe is the sight of an approaching caravan with a convoy of cars and trucks stuck behind it as it crawls along, the driver either unaware or just plain inconsiderate. We can sense the collective teeth grinding together as the trucks fall behind schedule. We feel like yelling, Pull over you bloody idiot! at the irresponsible driver as he passes.

Midway through the afternoon we approached our destination, the Erldunda Roadhouse, where we had planned to stop overnight. I suggested to the Tour Director that we should carry on a further two hundred kilometres to Alice Springs. She protested fiercely, then passively, then declared it was up to me as I'd do whatever I wanted regardless. (Getting a feeling of déjà vu, husbands?) I was feeling as fresh as a daisy and the car and caravan were behaving impeccably so we took on sixteen litres of diesel 'in case' and pushed on. At a $1.78 per litre this fuel was the most expensive we've ever bought by a country mile.

The engine overheating problem didn't manifest itself at all. It seems that the cooling system can cope with air temperatures up to about 37°C. but at 40°C. with the weight of the caravan to drag, a headwind, and a gradient, well, I just asked too much. Okay, Billy, point taken.

Just before Erldunda we had crossed the state boundary, leaving South Australia for the Northern Territory. On checking the mobile phone, the Tour Director announced we had gained an hour. Having previously stated categorically that the N. T. was in the same time zone as S. A., I'd once again demonstrated the chronic fallibility of the weaker sex. (They are in the same time zone but South Australia employs daylight saving and the Territory doesn't so I wasn't really wrong, was I guys?)

We rolled into Alice at five o'clock (N. T. time) after nearly eleven hours on the road, having put 700 kilometres between us and our starting point, Coober Pedy. We booked in to the MacDonnell Range Caravan Park for two weeks - we'd stayed there on our last visit to Alice - and set up the 'van. Time to relax.
Alice Springs


Meet Mr. Wise, our next door neighbour in Alice Springs.

Our best shot at identification suggested that he is a Barking Owl though our human neighbours believed he's a Southern Boobook and they could be right. Both look very similar in the illustrations in The Birds of Australia. Either way he's one tired owl and barking mad at being hastled by small birds and humans with cameras.

Mr. Wise is quoted as saying: You lot might think it's a hoot but it's not funny. I'm on nightshift and I need some kip. Now bugger off. And he closed his large eyes and fell asleep.

We found Alice much the same as we left it. The Aborigines still sat about all day in patches of shade and when we encountered them in the street or supermarket the stench of some of them - not all - was overpowering. That is not a racist remark, it's just a plain statement of fact.

The relationship between the races in Alice is quite different to any town we've visited over the past three years, except perhaps Katherine. From our own observations the Aborigines outnumber the resident whites, though if you include the tourists the numbers would probably balance. In the town centre the blacks totally ignore the whites. They studiously avoid eye contact so even if you look at them, intending to say, G'day, you don't get the opportunity. We couldn't tell whether they disliked us or resented us; it was as if we weren't there.

The Aborigines all speak their own language, a harsh jabbering which is limited to a narrow pitch range and has very little inflection. They shout at each other a lot which sounds aggressive but probably isn't - it's hard to tell when you can't understand a word.

The small children are very attractive, especially the ones with a yellow or copper tinge in their black hair which is unusual in a black race. As they grow older many develop match-stick thin legs and sometimes large stomachs, characteristics which seem more common amongst the women.

The Aborigines never showed any sense of urgency as they drifted from place to place, but then why would they? Today is no different to yesterday and tomorrow. Their lives are devoid of purpose; they are trapped somewhere between the stone age and the space age. They apparently mourn the loss of their old lifestyle as hunter gatherers but when they are granted the rights to vast areas of land, do they all flock back there or do they remain clustered in a white man's town, living on hand-outs?

Between Adelaide and Alice we had developed a problem with our caravan fridge. We discovered everything melting and the freezer box dripping. Alice Springs is no place to be without a fridge. With one day to go before the Easter break we implored two separate refrigeration businesses to take pity on us. The first said they had a three week backlog already and the second said, Take the fridge out, turn it upside down and shake it. Yeah, right.

To cut a very long story short, there was nothing wrong with the fridge. During three days of travel it had been powered by the car's twelve volt supply on which it only attempts to maintain its cool. However during that time we had experienced outside air temperatures of forty degrees and the poor fridge just could not cope. 'Absorption' type fridges cool very slowly, mostly at night when the door is left closed and the air temperature is lower. Once we'd settled in Alice it slowly cooled until it was back to normal. No more drinking ice cream.

Heavitree Gap

Why Alice is where it is; the Heavitree Gap in the MacDonnell Range through which squeeze the road, the railway and (occasionally) the river. This photo was taken from Annie Meyer Hill which is part of the Botanical Gardens.

Dead plant

Pam was keen to visit the Alice Springs Botanical Gardens and so we went. Question: How do you distinguish the Botanical Gardens from the surrounding scrub? You don't know? That's a pity, I was hoping somebody could tell me. There was a small hill there of 'great cultural significance to the local Aborigines'. It had a path to the top where there was a good view of the town, the MacDonnell Range and the Todd River, so up we went. The picture above was taken from the lower slopes.

The plant pictured left probably looks like dead grass to your untrained eye. And mine.

The Todd River puzzled Pam as several bitumen roads pass straight across its bed. In fact, the road between the caravan park and the town is laid across the river bed. What happens when the river flows? The road becomes submerged, I suppose.

Did you know Alice holds an annual regatta on the Todd River? The boats have holes in the bottom through which the crew put their legs, then they run along the dry river bed and attempt to beat all the other crews to the finish line. Sounds fun.

From the summit of Annie Meyer Hill - yes, we're back in the Botanical Gardens - you can get a good view of the river where it flows under the long Stott Terrace bridge.

Todd River Bed

Ladies and Gentlemen, the mighty Todd River!

Well, enough of this nonsense. Let's move on to Page 67.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 66 was completed on 15th June 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.