Page 85: Carnarvon
     
  Goodbye Coral Bay, Hello Carnarvon  
  By the time we left Coral Bay the water situation had deteriorated further. We'd used every drop in our caravan tanks and the bore water to which we were connected had dried up. It seemed to work the park's multitude of lawn sprinklers all right but didn't have the pressure to rise up into the caravan. The only place left to obtain water was to walk over to the tap near the toilet block and fill a container. Yes, I know, real campers have to do that all the time but we're spoilt and soft.

The drive to Carnarvon was without incident. We ambled along listening to a 'talking book' on the CD player with the air conditioner blowing cold while the outside temperature rose to 39° C. and then fell back to 30° as we approached the coast at Carnarvon. On the journey we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn; we were out of the tropics.

We have now all but completed a full circuit of Australia. Our initial trip, when the caravan was brand new, took us north from Perth to Shark Bay. We are now approaching Shark Bay from the opposite direction to complete the loop. In another week or so we'll have been right 'round the block', as some describe it.
 
     
  Coral Coast Tourist Park became our home for twelve days. A lovely park in which to stay.  
     
  More Caravan problems, this time the air conditioner  
 

Our air conditioner, so necessary, had developed a nasty habit of dripping water on us. The most obvious reason seemed to be that the trough that collected the condensed water from the cooling radiator was overflowing, probably due to blocked outlet drain(s). To access this part required climbing on to the caravan roof. The manager of the park was amenable and lent me a ladder. Usually they tell you a long, sad story in which the words "public liability" occur frequently and which, in the end, means No.

It was a tedious job removing lots of screws while the sun beat down unmercifully but eventually I found the blocked drains and cleared them. With everything reassembled we tried the air conditioner and it worked perfectly . . . until the next day. While removing the stubborn top cover I'd fractured a gas pipe and all the gas leaked out overnight. The two refrigeration companies in town were flat out but the gods smiled upon us and two service engineers arrived within four hours and had the job finished in no time. Sometimes you just get lucky.

 
     
  Carnarvon  
  The town was gazetted in 1883 and named after Lord Carnarvon, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies. I seem to have been wrong in believing it was named after the Welsh town of Caernarvon - or Caernarfon as they spell it in Wales. But, hey, I've been wrong before. Anyway, the population of Carnarvon is about 7,000 which includes Aborigines - we had seen none in Exmouth or Coral Bay.  
     
  Carnarvon town centre. Leafy, spacious and colourful.  
     
  Carnarvon is situated on the Gascoyne River from where its water supply is drawn, and lovely water it is. We passed over the broad river as we drove into town and, guess what? There wasn't a drop of water to be seen, just a wide, sandy bed stretching away into the distance.  
     
   
  The mighty Gascoyne River as it looks for 99% of the time - bone dry. You wouldn't know it, but it's still
flowing under the coarse sand, supporting a town of 7,000 people and a thriving agricultural industry.
 
     
  The water, however, is always there beneath the sand which rests upon an impermeable layer of rock or clay. As well as the town, local agriculture draws its water from the 'underground river' and when there's rain inland and surface water is expected to flow, all those with pumps on the river bed hasten to remove them before the flood arrives. On average, it flows for a few days once each year, replenishing the underground supply. Water rationing is very strictly monitored and the plantation owners have adopted some clever water saving measures to survive.  
     
 

Seedless Water Melons . . .
These seedless water melons (pictured below) are planted under long strips of black plastic sheeting. Water and fertiliser are applied beneath the plastic but only where they are required. The visible soil was bone dry but a sample from below the plastic was moist. The plastic prevents evaporation and raises the soil temperature about 1°C. so the water melons grow faster.

Seedless Water Melons Growing In Carnarvon.

Compare this system to the one we saw in Kununurra where they have, quite literally, more water than they know what to do with. There, water flowed in open furrows between each row of the crop from where it could freely seep into the ground and evaporate into the air.

. . . And Table Grapes
We also saw a large area of table grapes being grown under mesh which prevented birds attacking the ripening fruit. This enormous mesh enclosure would cost about $250,000 to replace and it is uninsurable.

When they decided to plant a second area of table grapes, the family opted to try technology in place of a mesh cover. They purchased a sophisticated bird scaring system which emitted the most horrible screeching noises. The sounds were specially chosen to target the birds which attack the grapes.

Last year they carried out a test to compare the product from under the mesh with the grapes protected by the bird scarer. The two crops were otherwise treated identically. They found that the bird scarer was just as effective as the mesh.

That day we had lunch in a little place called the River Gum Café which was situated on the banks of the Gascoyne River. Between the flowers and trees we could see the expanse of dry sand that was the river bed. A photograph album on our table illustrated that this part-time river needed to be treated with some respect. Once in a while it comes to life, filling its bed from bank to bank with a torrent of surging, muddy water. Occasionally it burst its banks, inundating the flat country all around and causing mayhem for the growers.

 
     
  Carnarvon Heritage Precinct  
  After lunch we visited the Carnarvon Heritage Precinct where a volunteer force is trying to preserve all that was good in old Carnarvon. First we took a train ride out along One Mile Jetty which, unfortunately, had lost a section to fire. Only a kilometre is now accessible - you could say the One Mile Jetty has gone decimal. Efforts are being made to raise the money to replace the burnt section and they hope it will be open again in 2009.  
     
   
  We took the Coffee Pot train out along the One Mile Jetty and saw where the rails sagged over the edge where vandals had burned out a section. The line looks a bit 'wiggly' on the other side but the Coffee Pot travels at walking pace.  
     
  While we were at the end of the jetty we began chatting to a woman who was obviously a Pom. I asked her where she was from. She had lived in Bramhall, Cheshire, (the village where I grew up) before emigrating to Melbourne. She expressed surprise that my English accent was still so pronounced, considering that I grew up in Bramhall. What she really meant, I think, was that I had a 'working class' accent and Bramhall used to be very la-de-dah. She was very pleasant so I resisted mentioning the old adage about Bramhall women wearing fur coats but no knickers.

While at the end of the jetty, one of the train crew suddenly exclaimed:
"Look, there's a bloody great hammerhead shark!"
And he was right. It swam around the jetty for several minutes while I tried to get a photograph that wasn't all reflection off the water. Then I had an idea. One of the crew was wearing a pair of polaroid sunglasses. Suppose I held one lens of the sunglasses over the camera lens? Would you believe, of the sixteen pictures I took of the shark, the ones through the sunglass lens were the best.
 
     
   
  Not the clearest of photos but unmistakably a large hammerhead shark.  
     
  It seems we were in the right place at the right time. These volunteers were keen fishermen and they spend a lot of time on the jetty. Never before had they seen a hammerhead shark there.

Remember the famous WWII battle between the HMAS Sydney and the German raider HSK Kormoran which occurred in 1941 off the west coast of Australia? Both ships were lost, the Sydney with her full complement of 645 officers and men. Many German survivors were rescued and brought ashore along that very jetty. Two of Kormoran's life boats also came ashore north of Carnarvon and one of them is on display in the little museum near the jetty.
 
     
   
  One of two steel lifeboats which came ashore from the German raider, HSK Kormoran,
She is now badly rusted and full of holes but 46 men owed their lives to her sixty seven years ago.
 
     
  Recently the remains of both ships were located on the sea bed (where else?) reviving interest but not yet explaining the mystery of why not one single man survived from the Sydney while more than three quarters of the Kormoran's crew lived.  
     
   
     
  “Chaine Helice”? Old English for Chain Helix, perhaps? Across the road from the railway is the lighthouse - two of them, actually - and a lighthouse keeper's cottage which is open to the public. Neither the lighthouses nor the cottage were of particular interest to me but near the cottage was a really simple but very efficient water pump. It had been mounted on top of an underground tank and fitted up with an electric motor for demonstration purposes in place of its original petrol engine .

The pump consisted of a loop of chain running over a pulley. The rest of the loop dangled down into the water in a tank or well from which water was to be lifted. Around the chain was what looked like a coiled spring - the helix.
 
     
Left: The stationary loop of chain dangling down into the water. Can you make out links of the chain inside the coil?
Right:
Motor on, chain rotating, water is carried up the left loop of the chain with barely any loss. The right side of the loop descends dry.
     
   
  Centrifugal force spins the water off the chain as it passes over the pulley. Good for raising water in situations where pressure is not required. Few moving parts, little to go wrong. Here, the baffle directs the water back into the tank.  
     
  Neat and portable. Have you ever seen anything like it? I haven't.  
     
  HMAS Sydney II Memorial Avenue  
  Carnarvon remembers HMAS Sydney. The HMAS Sydney II Memorial Avenue has a plaque and a palm tree dedicated to each of the 645 lost men.
 
     
   
     
  The death toll had been just a number to me. A lot, certainly, but hard to quantify in my mind. Driving down that memorial avenue put it into perspective. The plaques, on both sides of the road, were spaced about ten paces apart. They went on for two and three quarter kilometres. I imagined a sailor standing next to each and every plaque. That really brought home the true immensity of the tragedy.  
     
  On to page 86 and a little more on Carnarvon.