Page 91: heading east again
     
  After much discussion we decided that, world financial crisis or not, we are going to continue our travels. The pull of the open road is just too strong. Since our resources have severely diminished we will now seek employment as we go. Our first destination will be Tamworth in N.S.W. for another Annual Country Music Festival - our fourth.

Our journey of 3,848 kilometres to Tamworth will be divided into seven stages 'overnighting' at Coolgardie, Domblegabby, Nullarbor, Kimba, Broken Hill, Cobar and then to our destination, Tamworth. Each leg will average a little over 500 kilometres. Pam is going to do some of the driving. It will be a first for her, towing the caravan on the highway, and a first for me riding shotgun.
 
     
   
  A rough map of our proposed route from Byford (Perth) to Tamworth.  
     
  Monday  
 

We got away at 07:30 and our 569 kilometre journey to Coolgardie went without incident. Initially we had a strong easterly wind opposing us which made our consumption figures disappointing but, hey, you can't win all the time.

Big news! I now have a co-driver. Pam bit the bullet and drove for two and a half hours. She is unnecessarily self deprecating - her driving was very competent and I certainly couldn't fault it. Big trucks approaching from behind worried her but they worry me too. If they have to slow to our speed they take a long time to accelerate past us when the road is clear. I think the best way to deal with them is to find a stretch of road with a wide verge while the truck is still at least 500 metres back, then slow down and pull over. That way we are clear of the carriageway before the truck has to slow down and it can speed straight past. Most truckies show their appreciation with a toot on the horn or a left-right flash of the indicators.

While travelling we discussed what very good friends we have in Perth. They treated us like royalty during the month we spent there and we are already missing them. We feel very fortunate and honoured to know such lovely people. Unfortunately we didn't manage to catch up with everybody and I sincerely hope nobody is offended.

As for Coolgardie, it's almost a ghost mining town these days. The main street was made remarkably wide to accommodate the turning of long-gone camel trains. These days the town rumbles to east and west bound road trains. We didn't stay to explore the town, we parked overnight in a caravan park and departed early the following morning for Domblegabby.

 
     
  Tuesday  
 

We were again on the road by 07:30. This getting up in the middle of the night has got to stop. We had a second breakfast in the B.P. Roadhouse in Norseman then set an easterly course for Domblegabby.

Well, Domblegabby was a big disappointment. The single toilet on this free roadside camp was a place in which Pam would not be seen dead. It had no door so any prospective user would not know it was occupied until he/she stood before the embarrassed incumbent sitting on the throne, pants around his/her ankles. The smell and the flies were also a strong disincentive. So we ate an apple each (in the car, not the toilet) and proceeded to the Caiguna Roadhouse Caravan Park thirty kilometres further east which was infinitely better, despite having no water supply to which we could connect.

Pam had again taken a share of the driving and again excelled herself.

Tracey, Pat, you especially, are going to love this . . .

There was nothing to do when we arrived at Caiguna except plug in the power as there were no water taps in the park and we didn't unhitch the car. So we had a glass of wine each then went over to the 'facilities' for a shower. There were only two shower cubicles in the 'Gents' and, one being occupied, I quickly bagged the other. As I undressed I thought I recognised the throat-clearing sound of the occupant next door. I wasn't sure what was happening so I nipped out of the cubicle to check my bearings. Yes, thank God, there was the urinal - I was in the right place. I went back into my cubicle and continued to undress when my neighbour coughed. By now I was 99% sure and I was laughing so much to myself that I could hardly shower. Even more so when I noticed that all my dirty water was flowing under the partition into my neighbour's cubicle. That gave me an idea. Squatting down I looked under the partition and saw a pair of purple shower shoes covered in bling. It was her!

"P.J?" I called.
"Yes" she replied.
"You do know you're in the Gents, don't you?" I asked.
"I'm not!!!", she replied, "You are kidding me aren't you?" More than a hint of panic.
"No", I replied. "There's a urinal in here so unless you girls have learnt a new trick, this the Gents."
"Wait for me. Don't leave without me in case more men come in, " she pleaded.

We escaped safely without anyone noticing. On the walk back to the caravan - she had decided not to dry her hair in front of the mirror in the Gents - we both giggled like a pair of schoolgirls.

So, in one day we visited two toilets in which Pam would not be seen dead. But in one she took a shower.

 
     
  Wednesday - Christmas Eve  
  We left Caiguna early, though the 07:30 start had slipped to 07:45. During the day we drove from Western Daylight Saving Time through Central Time, which is not widely recognised except by those that live within it, and into South Australian Daylight Saving Time. The time difference cost us an hour and a half. Additional leisurely stops along the way had further set us back so it was six thirty in the evening before we arrived at the Nullarbor Roadhouse.  
     
  The Nullarbor Plain on Christmas Eve. As the name suggests, no trees, only shrubs to the horizon in every direction.
The Plain is 550 km wide, east to west. The Eyre Highway, Australia's main east-west road conduit,
is as you see it - one lane in each direction.
 
     
  Pam had done quite a lot of the driving. Being Christmas Eve I spent the time, as we continued eastward, scanning the tundra for a glimpse of a virgin or three wise men. Pam assured me that I was wasting my time. One virgin was asking a lot, one wise man was really stretching things, but three wise men? Pure fantasy.

We were greeted at the roadhouse by friendly staff who were already in the Christmas spirit. As the place was almost deserted - as indeed the road had been - we all piled into the bar for dinks and an evening meal.
 
     
  Thursday - Christmas Day 2008  
  I was awakened on Christmas morning by a most violent thunderstorm. The wind was rocking the caravan and rain was lashing down. I couldn't find Pam at first, she was outside struggling to push our folding chairs under the 'van. The storm passed over and left the day overcast and sultry though the sun broke through later. We had decided to spend Christmas Day at Nullarbor and press on the following morning. This decision was possibly influenced by the Christmas lunch being prepared in the roadhouse kitchen and, just possibly, the close proximity of the bar.  
     
  The Nullarbor Roadhouse seen from the Eyre Highway. There's our caravan to the right of the motel sign.
No, not to the left of the sign, to the right!
 
     
  The meal prepared by the roadhouse kitchen staff was really exceptional. Pam has described it in her diary so I won't duplicate it here. The lunch was primarily for the roadhouse staff who were joined by the staff from the Eucla Roadhouse just 200 km. to the west, on the W.A./S.A. state border. The chef from Eucla was the mother of the Nullarbor chef so there was a family connection. They all sat around a large square of tables in the middle of the restaurant.

There was only one other visiting couple in the caravan park apart from Pam and I. They were from Sydney and they, too, joined us for Christmas lunch. They had decided to have a complete change from the usual family Christmas in the city and brought their caravan out to the shores of the Great Australian Bight, far from the maddening crowds.
 
     
  Friday - Boxing Day  
 

We were again awoken by a violent thunderstorm and heavy rain. The rain continued into the morning with no sign of abating and we departed with our windscreen wipers getting some unaccustomed exercise. The 610 km. journey to Kimba passed uneventfully and we arrived in fine weather but with a very dirty car and caravan. Since the park receptionist had not specifically told us we couldn't wash the caravan, I decided to do just that until somebody told me I couldn't. Nobody did.

 
     
  saturday (and Sunday)  
 

We were on the road by 08:00 in light drizzle which soon stopped. During the morning the overcast cleared and we continued under a sky littered with billowing cumulus clouds and bright sunshine - a sight to gladden the heart of any glider pilot.

The 570 km. journey to Broken Hill took us about ten hours if you include a refuelling stop and a lunch stop. We had now passed out of Western Australia, through South Australia and into New South Wales. For some inexplicable reason Broken Hill - though in New South Wales - is on South Australian time. Thus another time change was not necessary but when we leave we'll have to advance all our clocks by half an hour. Ho-hum.

If we seem to have taken a long time to cover 570 kilometres from the Nullarbor it is because, for some time, we have travelled at 70 km/hr. This speed is much kinder to our car (and our pockets) and time is not an issue. I'd love to have a car with two more cylinders and another litre of engine capacity but we haven't. (Takes out handkerchief and dabs eyes.)

We decided to remain at Broken Hill for two nights. That should time our arrival at Tamworth perfectly after an overnight stop at Cobar (where we've previously stayed). I will not be covering Broken Hill here as we explored the area fairly thoroughly earlier this year - see pages 61 and 62.

 
     
  Monday  
  Another eight hours on the road saw us at Cobar by five o'clock - happy hour. Not having all the rigmarole of unhitching is something I could easily get used to. It's just a matter of parking, connecting the electricity, connecting the water then sipping the wine.

Realising we didn't have quite enough fuel to complete the journey we stopped half way through the trip at a small town called Wilcannia. The place is infamous for it's Aborigines who, according to stories which I confess I can't confirm, were moved there from Melbourne. They allegedly burned down the Wilcannia supermarket - it certainly did burn down, the charred remains are still there. The few businesses that we saw had strong gratings across all their windows. There were several sulky-faced blacks hanging about the town centre. It certainly didn't feel a happy place. We have passed through Wilcannia previously and were warned by other caravanners not to stay in the Wilcannia Caravan Park; word spreads quickly. If the allegations are true, the Aborigines have certainly put paid to any reconciliation in that town by destroying any tourist industry it may have had.

Leaving Wilcannia we found ourselves crossing the Darling River flood plain. A plain it was, flooded it was not. The Darling originates in Queensland as the Culgoa River. There, a controversial agricultural company known as "Cubbie Station", claims it does the lower regions of the river a 'favour' by diverting all flood waters into its own giant storage lakes. This prevents the flood plains of the lower reaches of the Culgoa/Darling River, and thereafter the Murray River, from receiving the occasional floods so necessary for flushing the river and for the life of the giant trees and other flora on the flood plains. And when they perish - which is already happening - with them goes the animal, bird and reptile life.

On page 19 of this ponderous tome we reported that, while staying in a caravan park in the Queensland town of St. George, despite a violent thunderstorm and torrential rain all night, the park's sprinklers continued to spray water over a wide area. We thought this must have been an oversight or malfunction of a timer, so brought it to the attention of the manager. He was totally unconcerned and took no action despite the park being practically under water. That water was being pumped from the Balonne River which becomes the Culgoa River which becomes the Darling River. The Darling flows into the Murray which is dying for lack of water. Lower down, the Murray River supplies water to the city of Adelaide. Lower still it gives life to Lakes Alexandrina and Albert, both of which are now writhing in their death throes.

Why is this situation allowed to continue? Because of the parochial attitude of State Governments and the failure of the Federal Government to intervene. In this case the Queensland Government doesn't give a damn about water users in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Why should it? Those users don't have a vote in Queensland.

Okay, off the soapbox and on with our journey.

The 250 kilometre stretch of the Barrier Highway between Wilcannia and Cobar runs through open country. Along that stretch of road we saw small groups of feral goats near to the road verges, hundreds of them, all sizes and colours. It was a little unnerving but they seemed to have better road sense than most animals and either moved away from the road as we approached or stood still. We also passed a mature emu with at least ten cute half-grown chicks on the verge. Ahhhh!
 
     
  Tuesday  
 

The final 575 kilometre stretch, Cobar to Tamworth, took us along the Barrier Highway to a little town with the quaint name of Nevertire. From there the Oxley Highway took as all the way to Tamworth.

A busy road called the Newell Highway carries all the heavy haulage vehicles between Melbourne and Brisbane and for 100 kilometres between Gilgandra and Coonabarabran it merges with the Oxley Highway. Thus the traffic along that stretch is doubled, and much of it is heavy freight. By chance Pam was driving when we struck the busy section. To make it worse, the terrain is very hilly so she'd move over allow a truck to pass, then five minutes later the truck would be holding us up on a steep incline. There was no point in overtaking it because as soon as it crested the rise it would catch us up and want to come past again. To aggravate the situation further, the road was also winding but Pam coped with this 'baptism of fire' admirably.

We arrived in Tamworth at about 5:30 to find our grassy site on a slope. We were both tired but would have been okay had we not received so much well-meaning help from several of our neighbours with sometimes contradictory suggestions. As it happened I made a dog's breakfast out of parking the 'van but it all finished up okay and, not before time, we got into the red wine with two good friends, Greg and Marilyn, whom we first met in Cairns.

We'd made it! Perth to Tamworth without incident and now we have two drivers.