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Page 187




Cotton Growing at Goondiwindi

Pam has covered our tour of Goondiwindi's cotton industry pretty well in her journal. The tour guide informed us that the word 'Goondiwindi' translates to bird sh-t, or more specifically the droppings of a particular teal duck. Wikipedia, however, translates it more genteelly as 'the resting place of ducks'. I suppose it amounts to much the same thing.

One of the things that appealed to me was the clever way they manage pests in the cotton crop. The perimeter of the field is planted with trees and shrubs which are highly favoured by the insects that destroy the cotton plants. When the insects arrive they are not going to move into the cotton crop when their preferred food is all around the edges of the crop. Likewise, an area of every cotton field is reserved for a different crop, one which is more attractive to pests than the cotton. Thus, when the pests infest the 'sacrificial' crop, that area alone can be sprayed with insecticide. The bait crop may eventually be harvested and used for animal feed.

We inspected a large cotton harvester - long gone are the days when it was picked by hand. The machine we looked at was already out of date but the concept was really interesting. The picture below shows two cotton plants in pots to simulate the harvester about to process them.

Cotton Picker

The harvester about to engulf two potted cotton plants. How could it remove the cotton without damaging the plants?

Cotton Picker

The answer lies in hundreds of these stainless steel pins which snag the cotton
as they spin, wind it around themselves and pull it off the plant without damage.

Each of these pins is tapered and has three flutes milled along the taper, the deep side of each groove is slightly undercut leaving a sharp edge. Then multiple diagonal grooves are cut into the resulting sharp edges to form little hooks.

The picture below shows how horizontal bars gently squeeze the stems of the plant together as it enters the harvester. From between the bars emerge all the tapered pins, spinning so that all those little hooks snare the cotton and wrap it around the pin which then retracts through the bars, pulling the cotton off the plant. That column of pins moves backwards to deposit its cotton as a fresh column of pins takes its place to repeat the process. Back in the hopper the pin again moves forward, reversing the direction of its spin to throw off the cotton and then retracts allowing the cotton to fall into the hopper. That column of tapered pins then continues round to the front of the machine to do it all again.

Stripper pins.

Here the tapered pins can be seen clearly inside the harvester.

As the harvester continues along the row, cotton plants emerge from its rear looking like freshly shorn sheep. The tapered pin that Pam is holding in the picture above is one of many that were in a box. They are worn and their useful life is over; we were free to help ourselves if we liked. I was very impressed at the quality of the pins. Each one had a bevelled gear on the end to facilitate its rotation. I asked the question - how much do they cost? Amazingly only $4 each. I wonder why the word China immediately sprung to mind?

Three Days at Possum Park

To recap, Possum Park is twenty kilometres north of Miles along the Leichhardt Highway and a short drive into the bush. It is totally peaceful. During WW II it had been a munitions dump with underground storage bunkers to avoid detection from the air. It was connected to the railway system and though the rail link has been removed, some rolling stock remains in Possum Park and has been converted to accommodation, as have some of the bunkers.

The latest acquisition was in early 2013 when a Vickers Viscount airliner fuselage and tail were purchased from a scrapyard in Toowoomba and trucked to Possum Park. The Viscount was in very poor condition ...

Viscount1

This once-proud airliner looked very sad on arrival with many windows broken or covered over
but park owners Julie and David had big plans for it.

Viscount2

By late 2013 it had been cleaned up, raised and all the windows had been replaced.

Viscount3

By May 2014 the tail assembly had been replaced, wings and engine nacelles had been fabricated
and though there was still a long way to go, the Viscount was regaining her self respect.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the Viscount again later in the year. Julie and David will be converting it into guest accommodation which, I imagine, will make it quite unique in Australia. Who knows, perhaps Pam's idea of spending a night in it will come to pass.

Emu Park on the Capricorn coast ... again.

We were the first of the winter 'family' to arrive, but only just. Soon old friends were pouring in and the park began filling. From June onwards you have to book a year in advance for a site in this popular park. In one way this is unfortunate as some people with whom we've become friends are having to leave to make way for the regulars.

Much of our time is being spent preparing for the Tour Director's operation, now only days away. Some years ago she broke her right ankle on a loose kerbstone in the dark but thought it only sprained. Consequently the broken bones set wrongly and it has caused pain ever since. A cortisone injection had little effect so the doctor decided to fuse the ankle which will necessitate keeping it in plaster for six weeks followed by a further six weeks in a 'moon boot'.

Scissor Lift Even in normal circumstances this would cause considerable inconvenience; in a caravan it raises additional problems, the greatest being how to enter and leave the 'van. The floor is 72 centimetres (two feet four inches) above ground level. That's 47% of Pam's height! On crutches and unable to place her right foot on the ground, getting her in and out has given us pause for thought. If you know Pam, you'll be aware that athletic she is not!

In the end we decided on a 'small platform scissor lift', a hydraulic device designed mainly for warehouse use to prevent staff having to lift heavy items from floor level. Placed outside the caravan door, Pam will be able to hop onto it, support some of her weight on a crutch while holding either side of the doorway for balance. Then I'll pump away until the lift reaches its maximum height of ... yes, 72 centimetres - floor level. Then she just walks in. That's the theory, anyway; the lift hasn't arrived yet.

We have hired a wheel chair, bought a pair of crutches, borrowed a shower stool and some moon boots plus some small steps to get her into the car (gravity gets her out again), so we're about as prepared as we can be.

I'm telling you all this because we won't be climbing Kosciuszko or skydiving for a while.

Two Weeks Later

The Tour Director is home, the operation behind her. It seems to have gone well. Bone was removed from her hip to rebuild her foot and ankle. The surgeon said her foot bones had 'crumbled'. As a result of the additional operation, Pam has two wounds on her right side and the bruise on her hip is enormous - about the diameter of her head! It began as solid dark purple then slowly faded from the centre outwards through every colour imaginable. Today it is much improved with just the outer edge still dark. The hip wound hurts more than her ankle which she describes as less painful than before the operation. Most of the stitches have been removed and she is in a full cast to just below her right knee.

Pam and crutches are like ... well, they're practically incompatible. She hops along on her left leg with her weight supported on her arms. The problem is that her knees are already bone-on-bone due to arthritis and hopping is very painful. She tires very quickly to the point where, after about three torturous metres, she can't lift her left foot off the ground to hop, thus the wheelchair has become invaluable. For short journeys inside the caravan she has developed the Tour Director's Shimmy; wearing a thick sock on her good foot she lifts the ball of her foot off the smooth floor and pivots on her heel, then puts down the ball, lifts the heel and pivots on the ball. In this way she moves slowly along sideways without all the jarring and risk of a fall. Ever see a sidewinder snake move? Sorry, Dear.

Pam on scissor lift

Pam on her personal lift. Thank you Wayne Carter for emailing to warn me of the little habit the scissor lift has of slowing as it descends, then dropping suddenly when a little more trigger input is applied. You were spot on, Wayne.

A Tragedy at Bell Park

Jim The charismatic manager of the Bell Park Caravan Park, Jim Waterman, succumbed to cancer on Sunday, 15th June. Jim was a larger-than-life figure with enormous energy and infinite plans for the future. The word can't was not in Jim's vocabulary. In his younger days he had been a champion cyclist and yachtsman. He even designed and built his own racing yacht which was very successful. More recently, after being released from hospital, Jim organised a tour of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos for himself, his wife Sue, and a party of his friends ... but first he went off to China!

Jim Waterman, the man that made Bell Park what it is today.

Ten feet tall and bulletproof was how Jim was sometimes described and he believed to the bitter end that he would beat the cancer. However, while overseas he contracted shingles and within a day of returning from Laos he was back in hospital in severe pain. Within three weeks he was dead.

Jim was a lovable rogue who would do anything for anyone and it's no exaggeration to say that the people in Bell Park were devastated. It took a day to sink in that the indestructible Jim was no longer with us. He died with his wife and daughters at his bedside. To heap more grief on to the family, Jim's younger sister died in Adelaide a few hours before Jim. Jim and his sister are survived by both their parents.

Happy hour in Bell Park will never be the same. Goodbye, Jim, you've left a huge hole in all our hearts.

On a more cheerful note, paradise!

Fisherman's Beach

The scene from a hill near Bell Park. The bay in the foreground is Fisherman's Beach and the caravan park is
hidden by trees. The white yacht-like structure on the right is the Singing Ship, a monument dedicated to
Captain James Cook who was pottering around here in 1770. The horizon is dotted with distant islands.

Emu Park Airfield

Looking inland from the same hill; the threshold of the main runway at Emu Park International Airport.
More accurately, Emu Park's single, sloping, grass airstrip. Quite long enough to accommodate a helicopter.

The Tour Guide is once again mobile

Pam on crutches After six weeks in a plaster cast, the Tour Director's right leg is now free. However, it has another six weeks to spend in a moon boot. At least now she is allowed to progressively increase the amount of weight she puts on her right foot whereas with the cast, no weight at all was allowed. And the moon boot can be removed at night and in the shower - no more wrapping her cast in a waterproof garbage bag.

It might appear that very little has changed, the boot just replacing the plaster as a support device for her ankle. However, being able to use that foot to balance herself has improved her confidence immensely and it's hard to hold her back.

Mobile again and oh so happy.

As her ankle had not fully knitted when last scanned, this is the danger period when she might damage it if she tries to do too much, too soon.

Not only is Pam walking a little but she now negotiates the caravan steps without using the lift. Anybody want to buy an almost-new scissor lift?

For any distance further than fifty metres we still use the wheelchair. I've come to loathe that badly designed contraption; most of the weight seems to be borne by the small, castoring front wheels and it steers with all the finesse of a supermarket trolley. Anything larger than a match stick under its front wheels causes it to stop dead, threatening to tip out its cargo. If there's the slightest left or right slope to the surface under its wheels it's a constant fight to keep it straight.
A Python causes a stir in Bell Park

At first the Bell Park caravan dwellers were unsure what make of this rather large visitor ...

Python

This Coastal Carpet Python lay along the top of a fence, enjoying the warm sunshine
and totally unaware of the stir it caused amongst the human population.

Python's Head

Good snake, just keep still for a minute.

Actually, large though they may be, carpet pythons are not venomous and can be kept as pets. They feed on frogs, small animals and birds. This beautiful specimen hung around the same place for a day or two and then disappeared.

Rounding off page 187

This year - 2014 - we remained in Bell Park for five months which, for me, was far too long. It was quite stressful with dear old Jim dying in June. Then there was Pam's ankle operation with all that entailed. Pam's recovery has been little short of miraculous and now, in mid October, she is walking without any aids and without pain.

We left Bell Park on 12th October and headed south. As 'Tour Director', Pam prepared a meandering route which will take us back to Goulburn before Christmas. The route consists of eleven stops which are a mix of old favourites and places new to us. Our first stop, as usual, was Banana for fuel and an overnight stay at the back of the pub. The next morning we hit the road again to one of our best-loved stops, Possum Park.

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