Page 67

North To Katherine And Across To Kununurra.

Still In Alice

As Pam says in her journal, that most excellent of caravan parks, the MacDonnell Range Holiday Park in Alice Springs, even provided an area where patrons could change the oil in their vehicles. Most parks ban such activities and with good reason. I looked at the facility and, though it was crude by any standard, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

There was a hollow in the ground - rather like a shallow grave - over which you parked your vehicle. You then squirmed under it and lay in the hollow while you drained the sump oil into one of the dirty, black buckets provided. There was a two hundred litre drum with a funnel to receive the waste oil and a wheelie bin for empty oil containers, filters, etc.

Had I been born with a modicum of sense I would have realised that fine sand and oily tools are not a good combination. Indeed, had I paused and thought for an instant, I might have wondered why the hollow in the ground showed no sign of oil stains. However, I didn't think. I just grabbed a large bucket, laid out my nice new socket set and squirmed under the car.

Removing the engine protection tray, the sump plug and the filter cartridge entailed a deal more squirming around. It wasn't until I emerged to empty the bucket and saw the state I was in that I realised why I'd seen no oil stain in the hole - a veneer of fine dry sand had covered the black paste below. I'd been wriggling around in waste engine oil from countless engines over the years.

Oily Pit

The shallow grave hollow lies between the tyre tracks. When I started work, the sand in the hollow was the same colour as the surrounding the sand.

Had I been born with a modicum of sense I would have realised that fine sand and oily tools are not a good combination. Indeed, had I paused and thought for an instant, I might have wondered why the hollow in the ground showed no sign of oil stains. However, I didn't think. I just grabbed a large bucket, laid out my nice new socket set and squirmed under the car.

Removing the engine protection tray, the sump plug and the filter cartridge entailed a deal more squirming around. It wasn't until I emerged to empty the bucket and saw the state I was in that I realised why I'd seen no oil stain in the hole - a veneer of fine dry sand had covered the black paste below. I'd been wriggling around in waste engine oil from countless engines over the years.

I don't suppose I need tell you what I looked like by the time I had finished and everything was back in place. I had even scooped the mess into my sandals and worked it well into the soles of my feet. Had I sat cross-legged under a tree in Alice with the other black fellas, nobody would have looked twice. I was in the shower for almost an hour trying to shift the black oil so that the Tour Director (Short Wheel Base) would allow me to sleep in the caravan.

The following day I had to wash all my precious tools in petrol. I'm really beginning to think this is no way to be carrying on for a bloke who is nearer 70 than 60. But I say that every time I do an oil change.
Threeways Roadhouse

Leaving Alice Springs we set off north up the Stuart Highway. Along the way we changed our minds about stopping at Tennant Creek (where we stayed on our last foray up through the 'red centre'), deciding to continue another twenty five kilometres to 'overnight' at the Threeways Roadhouse. From there, if you so wish, you can take the Barkly Highway east to Queensland. We didn't wish; we planned to continue on north up the Stuart Highway the following morning.

Diesel Pump

Fortunately we had filled up with diesel at $1.72 per litre as we'd passed through Tennant Creek. That was bad enough, but at least there was some competition in the town. The Threeways Roadhouse was charging $1.97 per litre which would have cost us an additional $23. I suppose we should accept that it will soon cost us over $2.00 per litre.

You think this price (circled in
yellow) is bad? Then read on.

The camping area behind the roadhouse was quite nice but to charge $28 per night for what was provided was robbery - there wasn't even hot water for a shower in the morning. Why do they charge so much? Because they can. Anyway, we remained hitched to the car and left the next morning.
On Up The Stuart Highway

What did I just say about diesel prices reaching $2.00 soon? On our way north from Threeways we stopped at Renner Springs Roadhouse where they were charging $2.03 per litre. We decided it was too valuable to risk carrying around so we left it in the pump and settled for coffee and biscuits instead.


A fairly typical view through the windscreen. Really easy driving.

Travelling further north we noticed the dry creek beds slowly giving way to damp creek beds with the occasional pool of water and finally to vigorously running streams and rivers. My two female companions, Alice (our GPS) and Pam, the Tour Director (Short Wheelbase), were not a lot of company. Alice contented herself with saying, Continue 645 kilometres then turn left after which she fell mercifully silent. Pam, who dislikes the travelling as much as I enjoy it, engrossed herself in such heady volumes of classical literature as English Woman's Weekly and Australian Reader's Digest. She loves doing the puzzles and was also reading the short stories.

Road Train

The speed limit on the Stuart Highway was 130 k.p.h. Plodding along at a sedate 80 k.p.h. it was unnerving to look in the mirror and find one of these leviathans bearing down on us with its trailers writhing like a snake. We moved over . . . FAST!

There wasn't a great deal to see during the journey. I saw one dingo and a snake or two towards evening but not a single kangaroo or emu. There were a few dead 'roos on the road verge but mostly dead cattle. As usual we saw a few (live) eagles but as we moved north the sky became the domain of the kites.

We'd been a bit slow getting started in the morning and hadn't left the Threeways Roadhouse until 08:45. Six hundred and fifty kilometres later it was getting dark as we dragged our caravan wearily over the Katherine Low Level Bridge spanning the rapidly flowing Katherine River and into the caravan park. The office had closed so we followed the written invitation to pick ourselves a site, set up camp, and pay them in the morning.

Katherine River

The Katherine Low Level Bridge spanning the rapidly flowing Katherine River. Last time we stayed here it was two months later in the season and the river had been much lower (see Page 8). This time 'the wet' had not long since finished. We heard that a 'saltie' - a salt water crocodile - had been seen in the river a few weeks earlier. Salties are the ones that eat tourists.

The large, beautifully manicured park was practically empty so we chose a site that was convenient for the amenities and into which we could reverse the caravan in a westerly direction. Thus the side of the 'van where our fridge is installed was facing south 'where the sun don't shine'. It all helps.

Low Level Caravan Park

We found the Low Level Bridge Holiday Park at Katherine almost empty.

On the Monday we went into Katherine town to check out fuel prices. We bought 110 litres for $1.51 per litre from Woolworths - that's after an 8ยข discount had been deducted. A h-u-g-e improvement on the $2.03 per litre they were charging at Renner Springs.

While in town we visited the Tourist Information Office where I wanted the answer to two easy questions:-
  1. From where did Katherine get its name?
  2. What is the story behind the wrecked aircraft on the side of the road leading to the Gorges?
The staff could not answer either question immediately but after some quick research they came up with an answer to question one. The second question baffled everybody so it was left to us to investigate. It looked as if the aircraft might have been placed there as a draw to some tourist attraction, only there isn't any tourist attraction near by. Anyway, back to that later.

How was Katherine named? An explorer by the name of John McDouell Stuart (after whom the Stuart Highway was named) passed through this area in 1862 and named the Katherine River after the second daughter of his patron, James Chambers. A settlement started to develop near here when Sir Charles Todd completed the Overland Telegraph Line. The town shifted location twice in the early days but finally settled near the river, adopting the river's name. This was around 1926 when the railway bridge was completed . Katherine's heyday occurred during WW II when the town became a major military supply and maintenance centre, being just out of reach of the Japanese bombers. Today Katherine has a population of 11,000 and hosts 300,000 visitors annually.

So there we have it; Katherine was named after Catherine Chambers. And no, that isn't a mistake . . . but somebody certainly did make one a long time ago. Katherine was named after Catherine. Isn't that lovely?

Well, that's taken care of the naming of Katherine. We started investigating the aeroplane on the internet by Googling the registration, VH-ANV. We got several 'hits' and discovered that registration VH-ANV had been used on two or three different aircraft over time, however the only reference to 'ours' contained a query requesting the same information that we were seeking. The best solution seemed to be to drive out to the location and talk to whoever owned the property on which the wreck rested.

Wrecked Cessna

The remains of VH-ANV, a Cessna 310 once flown by Air North.

To cut to the nitty gritty, the Cessna did not crash. In October 1980 it was involved in a refueling mishap at Darwin Airport when a fuel pipe did not disconnect properly and a fire started. Though the fire brigade quickly covered both the aircraft and the refueling tanker in foam it was too late to save either.

Later the aircraft was donated to the Aircraft Historical Society, a member of which is the owner of the land on which 'Alpha November Victor' now rests. It is displayed to highlight the role of aviation in the Territory since the arrival of Captain Wrigley and Sergeant Murphy from Point Cook near Melbourne in December 1919. Sounds as if there might be another story there, perhaps? And what a bizarre way to highlight the role of aviation.

The Cessna 310 has had both its engines and its instruments removed, probably prior to it being donated to the Aircraft Historical Society.

There's a sequel to the above story. The registration VH-ANV was later re-allocated to another Cessna, this time a model 404 Titan. On August 11th 2003 the Titan took off from Jandakot Airport (only a few kilometres from our home in Perth) with a pilot and five passengers on board. Before it had even cleared the end of the runway the right engine cut out due to a fuel pump failure. The pilot elected to continue the take-off on the left engine but had difficulty gaining height. He radioed his intention to return to the airport and began turning. During the turns the aircraft's speed reduced such that it was no longer able to maintain altitude. It descended into trees and scrub, shearing off part of the left wing and spilling a large quantity of fuel which ignited and an intense fire broke out which destroyed the aircraft. One passenger died in the impact and a second sustained such serious burns that he died some twelve weeks later. The pilot and the other three passengers also sustained severe burns.

So ... if ever you buy a Cessna and are allocated registration VH-ANV, don't take it.

Many years later, in June 2015, a pilot named Ross Martin was researching the eventual destiny of different aircraft he had flown in his career and the first VH-ANV was one of them. Google pointed him to our web site and he very kindly emailed me to give me the full story as he knew it. I'm sure he wouldn't mind if I reproduced part of his email. So here is another sequel:

VH-ANV was owned by Air North, obvious from the paintwork, back about 1980. As you correctly state, it was destroyed in a refuelling accident. Briefly, it was on a slope in the general aviation area of the old airport site, on the Stuart Highway, opposite side of the runway to the current airport. The refuelling tanker was on the downside of the aircraft wing, and the pump was run by a small diesel engine, both the pump and engine located on a deck very close to the ground at the back of the tanker.

The wing tank was over fuelled, and high octane fuel ran over the wing, onto the ground, and down under the tanker. The vapour from the fuel was ingested by the diesel engine and it over revved to the point of disintegrating, and a fire ensued. It was destroyed before the RFF guys could get there.

The wreck was stripped of anything of value, and stored on a property near Sadgroves Creek, Francis Bay, owned by the owners of Air North, earthmoving company Henry and Walker. Whenever a spare for the replacement aircraft VH-ANW, that hadn't already been pillaged, was required, somebody was dispatched to the property to strip it.

I left Air North in late 1985 to join Ansett, and it (the burned out wreck) was obviously subsequently moved to the site (where) it now rests.

Well, thank you so much, Ross. The picture is pretty well complete. Long live Google.

Park Bistro

The bar and bistro area at the caravan park. Still early in the season, only Pam and one other are to be seen though at other times it had been busier. And let's not forget the old bugger behind the camera.

Progress Update

Back in December of 2007 we wrote . . . Whilst in Singleton we formulated a new plan to commence when we leave Tamworth on February 3rd. It will take us, not only from the east of the continent to the west, but from the south to the north then back to the south again along the way. About half the places where we'll stay will be familiar to us - that's unavoidable - but the rest will be new. The total distance will be just short of 10,000 kilometres and our final stop on the plan will be our home town of Perth where we'll spend Christmas. End quote. So far we have stuck to that plan as the map below shows, though we did bypass a few 'en route' places that we'd visited back in 2005. The distance from Tamworth to Kununurra? Over 5,000 very enjoyable kilometres.


The purple spots show where we've been and the red spots indicate possible stops on the way to Perth.

During this part of our journey we left New South Wales, snuck into Victoria for a week, then entered South Australia followed by the Northern Territory. A few weeks later we left the Northern Territory for the largest state, Western Australia.

Let me tell you the sad saga of the time differences between these places. It's a story of sheer stupidity and political incompetence.

In New South Wales we were on Eastern Daylight Saving Time until we reached the city of Broken Hill. Despite the fact that Broken Hill is in New South Wales, the town sets its clocks to South Australian time. So we changed all our timepieces to Central Daylight Saving Time. Next we entered the state of Victoria which sets its clocks to New South Wales time, so we changed all our clocks back again. A few days later we entered South Australia and again changed our clocks. As we were remaining in the Central Time Zone for a while, we thought we'd be okay when we travelled north to the Northern Territory, but not so. True the Northern Territory is in the same time zone as South Australia, but it doesn't adopt daylight saving while South Australia does. So we changed all our clocks yet again. Then we crossed into Western Australia and had to reset our clocks once more. Confused? Well, we damn well were.

To add to the idiocy of some states adopting daylight saving while others don't, the states that change their clocks don't co-ordinate the date on which they change, so twice every year we have this ludicrous confusion when nobody is sure of the time anywhere else.

It really isn't important whether daylight saving is adopted or not, but for God's sake lets all do the same thing and at the same time and to hell with politician's egos.

Nothing to do with politician's egos? Well get this. In Western Australia they held a referendum so the people could decide whether they wanted daylight saving or not. The people voted no, they didn't want it. This didn't suit the politicians so a year or two later they held another referendum to give the people a second chance to get it right. The people still said no. There could be no possible doubt that the people did not want daylight saving. The present Labor Government then imposed it. This, Ladies and Gents, is what passes for democracy. And then we criticise Robert Mugabe.

Wow, I feel so much better now.

Hey, while I'm having a whinge, do either of you (the number of our readers recently doubled) watch The Bill on the ABC? Does it drive you up the wall when the cops spot a bad guy and instead of quietly walking up behind him, grabbing his collar and saying, You're nicked, they yell Hey! from a hundred metres away. The bad guy takes off at the double and the dumb cops then have to chase him with varying degrees of success. They've been doing it for years; they never seem to learn. And another thing: when they follow a bad guy's car they drive so close behind him that they're half in his boot. Then, when he reaches his destination, incredibly without spotting them, they park directly across the street and stare at the premises he's entered, taking photographs of anything that moves. And nobody notices!!!!!

But we've drifted away from our travels. Where were we? In Katherine in the Northern Territory I think. Well, while I was waffling on about time differences and The Bill, we drove five hundred kilometres west sou' west, crossed the state border and were re-admitted to our home state, Western Australia, by the Honey Cops before fetching up in that town with too many 'U's, Kununurra.

Boab Tree

A Boab Tree in typical scenery beside the Victoria Highway between Katherine and Kununurra. What a wonderful journey that was. Inset is a picture of a Bottle Tree that we saw in Roma, Queensland. While the trunks look similar, the two species are not related.

Victoria River

The wide Victoria River photographed from 'the bridge that goes nowhere'. It belongs to the military and though you can walk over it, the other end is sealed by a large padlocked gate. Beyond the gate is a training range.

Okay, what are the Honey Cops? Before crossing into W.A. we were advised (on pain of a $5,000 fine) to ditch any honey, certain fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, plants, bananas and banana boxes, wooden ornaments, animals (other than human) and mud stuck underneath our vehicles. Fortunately the Tour Director was well on top of all these regulations and before reaching the border she made me eat up everything on the list - bananas, honey and mud, ground down wooden ornaments, etc. Thank God we don't have a dog. The border gestapo were so impressed that they let us pass.

Border Check Point

Stopped at the border checkpoint while the Honey Police searched the caravan.

On leaving the border we noticed an immediate difference in the terrain. It looked older, more worn and the rocks less jagged. In fact, because of the time difference, the rocks were an hour and a half younger.

Once through the checkpoint we were only a few kilometres from Kununurra so what better time to start a new page?

Footnote: This re-working of Page 67 was completed on 16 June 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.