Copper Coast & a Chat Show



If we’re honest, we’d never heard of the “Copper Coast” in South Australia. Even Paul, who’s lived in South Australia before, hadn’t heard of it. Australia does seem to like coastal regions named after precious metals or gems though. Most of us will know of the Gold Coast & Sapphire Coasts, and there are plenty of towns named after the metal or mineral that the town was founded on. It’s quite fun actually, to name as many as you can, without Googling!

On the Yorke Peninsula, Port Broughton adjoins the Copper Coast, and is only half an hour south from Port Pirie. The Big 4 Port Broughton Tourist Park had set aside a large partially grassed site for us, and we were welcomed most heartily, with the lady even exclaiming “you’re raising awareness about the Black Dog. Thank God!”. It was a long weekend for Victoria and South Australia, so the park was quite full, and we were grateful that we had a site. Camp set up, banners raised, and we stopped to look at maps and see where we should drive the next day.

The forecast was for heat, and with so many people in the park, we decided to head to Port Pirie in the morning, to have a look. Groceries sorted, we drove around the town, largely deserted due to the long weekend. There is a great children’s play area near the waterfront, and so Paul & Kirstine sat in the shade while the kids ran around with some other children. How it is that kids will still RUN when it’s 37 degrees outside, we’ll never know.

Making the most of the Legend’s air conditioning, we then drove south, back through Port Broughton, to have a look at the Copper Coast region. Driving through Kadina, (it had a major fast food outlet, so that tells you how big it is), we had a look around Moonta and Wallaroo. The Copper Cove Marina area is massive, and there is a lot of new development. The man-made waterways, and houses with private jetties, are reminiscent of Gold Coast residential developments, and is a very modern contrast to the old town with its historic buildings and homes. We were surprised to see that there is a ferry which runs from Wallaroo on the Yorke Peninsula, across to Lucky Bay on the Eyre Peninsula, crossing the Spencer Gulf. Thought currently not running due to wharf upgrades at Lucky Bay, we thought this was a fantastic service to have in the area, particularly if you wanted to avoid having to drive four hours up through Port Augusta and back down to achieve the same destination.

Port Broughton itself is a pretty town, and the boat ramp was getting a good work out from visitors for the long weekend. The beautiful jetty also had plenty of hopeful fisherman lining its length. We watched the boats come and go from the caravan park, and it brought back a lot of memories for Paul, having learned his trade as a boat mechanic many moons ago.

Gawler is only a couple of hours from Port Broughton, back towards Adelaide. The Gawler Caravan Park had offered us a powered site for our stay, and couldn’t have been more helpful in offering local advice and potential contacts, even giving us a copy of the local newspaper to have a look at. Kirstine took full advantage of that, and sent our media release to The Bunyip newspaper, ABC Adelaide, and a couple of local politicians, of whom we’d read had personal interests in the area of mental health. Of course, with the South Australian State Elections only a couple of days away, meeting a politician didn’t eventuate, but at least we tried! We were pleasantly surprised though when the ABC Adelaide made contact and asked us to come in to chat with Peter Goers as part of his Evening (7-10pm) chat show the next night. We were to be there by 9pm. The kids were excited, and once we arrived and were welcomed, they were super chuffed to be seated in the studio with us, AND in front of microphones, AND they got to answer a couple of questions. We haven’t been able to grab the soundbite, but we were live to air between about 9.16 and 9.28pm, and you can find the recording on the ABC Adelaide website for Wednesday March 14.

The adrenaline of the evening had worn off by the time we got back to Gawler, and the kids were asleep by the time they closed the zip on their swags. Paul and Kirstine were really pleased with the evening, and even moreso that the ABC in Adelaide wants to hear from us again when we have the book and documentary ready.

The next morning we met with The Bunyip newspaper, for a photo shoot and interview. The photographer mentioned that usually working with kids and animals is difficult, but all of ours were perfectly behaved! The Bunyip has a great area of circulation around the Gawler area, and online readership as well, so we love the opportunity to get to speak with print media. Time constraints often mean we can’t cover areas as “in depth” as we would like to, but with a written account of our visit for everyone to read, the message we are sending still gets through. Once the article has been published in the coming week, we’ll be sure to share it on Facebook for you.

We had an interesting encounter at the Munno Para Shopping City while picking up some groceries. This centre specifically lists “No Pets” as one of their conditions of entry. Now, we all know that Luna doesn’t fall into the “Pet” category, but we take note when we visit shopping centres which state that “Assistance Animals are welcome” (or similar). We really do cheer on centres which display their affirmative attitude and understanding of the laws regarding Assistance Dogs. This inclusive attitude means so much to people to struggle to go out in public, let alone a busy mall to pick up the necessities of life.

Having said that Munno Para didn’t have such a sign, their security staff are obviously well versed in their responsibilities. We were on our way towards the exit, and a tall guard fell into stride beside us, saying hello and asking what sort of assistance Luna provides. Having thought for a moment that we were going to have an issue and need to show Luna’s ID, and Kirstine dreading the inevitable emotional outfall of such a confrontation for Paul, we were pleasantly surprised when the guard told us that he sees a few dogs with various vests on in the centre, and he’s interested in the type of skills they have. Everyone understands how guide dogs work, but with assistance dogs for a multitude of serious health conditions now, this man was genuinely interested in what Luna can do, and was happy to take one of our business cards before moving on and wishing us well. For Munno Para Shopping City Centre Management, we can provide you with “Assistance Dogs Welcome” stickers, if you get in contact with us!

Though only a brief stay in Gawler, it yielded positive results for our media release, and therefore the important need to destigmatise the talk around mental health and suicide. It’s these boosts that keep us travelling!

Coastal changes in South Australia

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Sometimes we know that the kids are enjoying a place, because they don’t want to leave. Robe was like this. Beautiful location and beaches, lovely community, great caravan park hosting us. It’s not easy for us to drag the kids away, but they keep enjoying the adventures each day brings.

By the way, for those NOT following us on our Facebook page, we are posting little videos where we can, till we have the internet access we require for Paul to upload some of our proper footage.

At Meningie’s Lake Albert Caravan Park, we were spoiled with an overnight lake front site, beautifully grassy and shaded, with lovely amenities across the road. The kids marvelled at the small sail boats and paddle boaters on the water, and kept pointing out pelicans to Mum, knowing full well she doesn’t like these birds, whose beaks can hold more than their belly-can. It’s a long story, and one of those involving a sight that can’t be unseen or forgotten, so don’t ask!

From Meningie we rounded the coast to Cape Jervis, with it’s lovely seaside towns en route, and very hilly and curvy sections of road. It’s always interesting towing a camper in these areas! The big hill and straight road on approach into Cape Jervis really is an encouragement for drivers to test the limits of their own skills, and their cars, but in a few of these areas, we did spot the local gendarmerie in side roads waiting for drivers giving in to their daredevil aspirations.

Cape Jervis Accommodation and Camp Ground had offered us a powered site for four nights, and we were able to choose our own, rather than the usual allocated type. For the first time ever on this trip, we were partially set and trying to level the camper, before we realised that even our usual “tub step-up” system for sloping ground, was not going to be enough. Our mistake? Looking at the stunning view down the paddock to the ocean, and across to Kangaroo Island. We wanted to be able to wake up and look straight out at the view. We put Practicality back at the fore front of our minds, and moved to an alternate site.

It was very windy with gusts measuring, as it turned out, nearly 60km/hr. We put out the awning, which was an adventure in itself, and pegged it down. We even put ratchet straps to hold the camper in place, so strong were the winds. No sooner had we strapped the camper, than we decided that we needed to take down the awning before the wind did it for us, damaging the Cub in its wake. This time, we loosened all the ropes, and simply unzipped it, which we’ve never done before. The noise difference and effect on the camper was instant. It was still a rough night, with winds pushing against us from all sides, but in the morning, it was still.

We put in a lot of driving time at the Cape, visiting Normanville and Yangalilla, Rapid Bay and Port Lincoln. The Legend was always turning heads, and the kids waving at everyone, put a smile on the faces of passersby. Definitely a feelgood moment for people! Seeing the dolphins at Rapid Bay had all of us grinning all the way home too.

Despite the wind, and challenging terrain (which some people drove with careless abandon, crossing onto the wrong side of the road with their trailers and caravans..frightening the heck out of us!), the elemental nature of Cape Jervis needs to be experienced. The wind some days will try with all its might to blow you from the mainland, yet the magnificent sunset over the Southern Ocean will nevertheless hold you transfixed. In some locations, you realise how very human you are, and how small in the grand scheme of things. Mother Nature’s elemental forces are not to be reckoned with, however in those same moments where She demonstrates her power, She also offers you sights, such as those sunsets which hold your gaze, and these are akin to finding calm in the eye of a storm.

Perhaps it affected Paul on a subconscious level, the gusting and relentless Wind being a metaphor for the torment of his PTSD, and the Sunset a diminishing moment of sublime peace midst the tempest, a moment we fervently hope to attain greater hold of. Perhaps it was for this reason that a simple beard trim, turned into a momentous moment of shaving his cheeks clear of a beard for the first time in over 12 months, and clean of ANY facial hair for the first time in seven years.

Something changed for Paul on this part of the journey. Kirstine would like nothing better than to state unequivocally that he is “better”, but realistically she can’t. What she CAN do, is rejoice and take comfort in the fact that HUGE steps forward have been made. There will always be steps backwards in the battle with mental illness, but every success is a reason to keep hoping and trying.  

Of Surf and Sand and Secret Places

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The stunning shades of sapphire in the waters of the Blue Lake were a fitting farewell to Lake Gambier. There is much to discover around this part of South Australia, and it’s fair to say that we’ll be back to see more at some point.

The Tantanoola Caves are hidden away enroute to our destination of Robe, but with family admission at a very reasonable price, we had to go and see what secrets the caves had to offer. Discovered quite by accident by a boy out rabbiting with his ferret, the Caves are now cared for by National Parks South Australia, and are the only wheelchair accessible cave site in SA.

There is nothing quite like the sight that we beheld when the guide, Barb, opened the door to the Cave. Stalagtites and stalagmites, columns, colours – Mother Nature patiently does some of her best and most elegant work underground, hidden away from the outside world. These fascinating processes that take thousands of years to slowly form delicate needles of mineral deposits, are not behind barriers, but to deter tactile visitors from laying hands on the formations in reach, there was a fallen piece of stalagtite available on a light box. Barb told us that this deceptively heavy piece loves being held, so that no-one is tempted to touch other pieces. The kids were utterly entranced, and so were we. Using one of the torches that Barb had given us, we could illuminate the stalagtites, and observe the drops of water suspended from each one. Having trickled through the ground above, the longer the drop remains, the more minerals are left to grow the structure.

Robe is a gorgeous location, and we have thoroughly enjoyed our time here. The Sea Vu Caravan Park have been nothing but supportive, and the site they provided us with is sheltered and well located. We’ve enjoyed chatting with Lisa & Alan, who’ve been running the park for just over 12 months now. Lisa even offered for us to put one of our banners up on the verandah wall just outside the office – an elevated and high profile position!

As happens, we have some great conversations with guests. Sometimes it’s the Legend that brings them in, curious as to what we’re doing. Other times it’s other dog lovers who want to meet Luna, and it can also be the kids swags and general camp set up that sparks a chat. We met a well travelled man, who has participated in many motorcycle rides to raise awareness for mental health charities. His wife is positively lovely and considering that she was diagnosed some years ago with a degenerative disease, is fit and happy to be on the road with her husband.

At Long Beach while the kids played, a couple approached and asked if they could photograph Luna. As it turned out, their daughter had been chronically ill some years ago, and developed depression as a result of this. They bought her a German Shepherd, and he has been a shining light for her, helping to lift her from the dark place she was in. Interestingly, her fiancé has the brother of her German Shepherd, so now they are a household with TWO 50kg big German Shepherd boys. Certainly a handful! This couple adore Shepherds and weren’t at all surprised from a breed perspective to learn of Luna’s training and affinity to Paul and the family.

Back at the caravan park, Kirstine spoke with a lady who feels strongly about services being available for those with mental illness, as three of her grandchildren are diagnosed with depression, and her own mother had bipolar disorder, though kept this hidden from the family, till a secondary condition enabled her daughter to obtain her mother’s medical history. From a genetic standpoint, with what she knows know, the lady wonders if there are links between certain seemingly unrelated health issues, and depression. Certainly within her own family, she has noticed a pattern where carriers of certain conditions also have a mental health diagnosis. Separately, and rather shockingly, her grandson told her that the health system in the USA appears so ill equipped to deal with mental health, that many online services and information offered by Beyond Blue here in Australia are being access by residents in the USA, as they try and find support that isn’t available in their own country. That is incredibly sad, and yet, we hope that these people in need are finding information that helps.

We have been exploring Robe, a progressive town which runs the Robe to Recovery program, for military veterans who have returned from active service, and are in need of some psychological respite and support. We spent a couple of hours adventuring on the 4WD tracks that Robe is so renowned for. Paul was in his element again, 4WDing in the Legend, which thanks to the Dobinsons suspension lift, easily rode though the tracks. As always, we had our Opposite Lock compressor with us, as well as recovery kit and Treds. We gave the Treds a test run on a sand hill, as we hadn’t needed to use them, and wanted to see how they worked. What a dream! One under each tyre, and we had instant traction to continue up the sand. It was beautiful to watch.

With drone footage to review and edit, photos to look through and social media & blog posts to construct, we found the best way to still let the kids have fun while we work. We took the office to the beach! It’s rare that all the elements combine to make for a nearly perfect day, but in Robe, we’ve been completely blessed.

“Chilling” in Mount Gambier


We’re still in Mount Gambier and had planned on more exploring and taking the Legend into prominent areas. At 2am today, a change came through, bringing with it wind gusts of up to 100km/h, and I can tell you right now without checking a thermometer, that it’s definitely not 18 degrees Celsius outside! We’ve strapped the awning (which we hadn’t put up – thankfully!), to the Cub with ratchet straps, as the usual ties couldn’t handle the lift forces of the wind picking up the awning on the top of the camper. Because of course the wind is blowing from that side where the awning is tied when not in use!

The Limestone Coast Tourist Park has been fantastic in providing us with a powered site for three nights. All of their sites are ensuite sites (!!) so we feel particularly thankful that they are supporting our journey. On a day like today, at least we don’t have to run for the amenities block!

The Umpherston Sinkhole is very possibly the top tourist destination in Mount Gambier, aside from the Blue Lake. The cascading ivy, and stunning gardens are absolutely worthwhile. The kids loved it there, just sitting and breathing deeply the warm floral scented air, which carried resident bees in a gentle vortex, as they paused from their busy hive activity on one of the multiple colonies on the limestone walls. It’s quite strange to think that the sinkhole used to have water in it, enough that the Umpherston family back in 1886 actually had a boat down there for recreational sightseeing purposes. The Mount Gambier council has done a wonderful job in restoring the sinkhole to its former glory, albeit without the requirement for a boat now to enjoy the views.  

We decided to make the most of the warm weather yesterday, and take a drive to the coast, stopping to take a walk along the beach while Luna protected us from the incoming tide by racing up and down the beach in the water. A visit to Piccaninnie Ponds Conservation Park was purely to view the ponds, as you must have a permit and booking to snorkel here. You also need a full wet suit, so cold is the deep water. Diving is even more restricted, as you must be an accredited Cave Diver and be a financial member of that relevant dive body. That’s some deep cold water we’re talking about!

Ewens Ponds has similar diving restrictions, but no permit is needed, and snorkelers are free to be in the water, but no more than 6 people total at any one time. We timed our arrival well, with one dive team leaving, and three snorkelers packing up. We took a stroll around to the back of the pond, fins, masks and snorkels in hand. Kirstine braved the freezing cold water while Paul helped the kids get their kit organised. Initially the chill of the water took her breath away, the instinct being to either hold your breath, or take very shallow breaths. It took a few moments for Kirstine to take control and focus on her breath, before moving away from the pontoon to take a long awaited look through the crystal clear water. Looking down at the bottom of the spring fed limestone sinkhole took her breath away for another reason altogether. Never have we seen such a sight – like looking through a watery window at a sub-aqua garden. Kirstine tried a couple of times to swim down to the bottom, but even with fins it was not possible. The ponds are far deeper than they appear, and the cold water made it difficult to equalise the pressure in her ears, limiting her ability to swim any deeper.

The children came into the water one at a time, for only a couple of minutes, so they could look at the stunning view under water. Distracting them from the shock of the cold was easy, once they realised how far they could see. Despite the icy water, the warm sun soon had the kids raving about the amazing experience they had just enjoyed. Paul kept a close eye on Kirstine, who’d been in the water for nearly 45 minutes. Remember – he is a qualified rescue diver, so is aware of the risks of prolonged exposure in cold water. It did take a minute for her to get her “land legs” back!

Warming up in the sun on the barefoot grassy walk back to the Legend, we were thrilled by having been able to enjoy the experience of Ewens Ponds. Add a wetsuit to the equation next time, and we’d love to go back! That way Kirstine doesn’t have to experience the strange sensation of knowing exactly where the bones in her arms and legs were, as they felt as though they were made of ice! A hot shower back at the caravan park soon resolved that.

As wonderful as the Sunken Garden and snorkelling experience had been, the best part of the day? Hearing Paul exclaim what a great family day it had been. “Great” days are rare for Paul, so in Kirstine’s books, the day was a massive success.


Safety first – with ECCO Safety Group

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There is something singularly exciting about having a new sponsor support our trip. ECCO Safety Group are a worldwide leader in lighting systems for emergency service and commercial vehicles, and are giving back to the emergency services community, by supporting an ex-fire fighter/ambulance officer & providing us with a lighting system for the Legend – a Britax Vantage (orange) LED light bar, ECCO LED self-adhesive surface mounts and LED work lights. We met Jon from ECCO at Creswick on Monday to pick up the package, and he told us about a new facility they are opening in Melbourne later this year. If everything comes together, we’re hoping to go and meet the staff and have a chat about our event and Paul’s career experiences in the emergency services.

Paul pays great attention to detail in wiring the lighting system on the Legend. He really does have a comprehensive skill set that has seen us through some interesting times! A day and a half did the trick, and now we have safety lights which beautifully complement the super bright Dobinson LED light bar.

Why the lighting system, you ask? Safety and visibility. When we pull up on the side of the road to fly the DJI Mavic Pro drone, we can turn the lights on to increase our visibility as well as draw attention to the Legend. Whilst we’re hard to miss with all our sponsor logos on the vehicle, you really can’t ignore strobing LED lights! More people looking at the Legend, means more people taking an interest in what we’re doing, means more opportunities to engage with communities.

As testament to the power of the signage on the Legend, we actually had a lady in Creswick send us a message, telling us that she just saw us in town! When Paul was testing the ECCO Safety Group lights in the evening, a couple of people from the caravan park came to see what the flashing lights were about.

This is a wonderful addition to the Legend, and Paul feels confident having the lighting system installed, having had experience with ECCO Safety Group products throughout his career.

Discovering the rest of the Stuart Highway

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If you recall from a couple of posts ago, we had skipped ahead in the timeline to let everyone know about our close call at Pinnaroo when the wheel bearing failed on the Cub Camper.

Going through the rest of our photos from our journey down the Stuart Highway, we realised we had some pretty awesome ones to share with you!

Heading south towards Alice Springs, we stopped to see some wonderful sights. Fuelling up at Elliot Roadhouse, a local indigenous man stopped to talk with the children and show them an artwork he had produced. The kids recognised some of the animals, and Johnny Devlin (as we came to know him) told them the names of the animals in his own language, explaining that when he and his family get hungry, they go out into the bush and hunt the animals like the ones he’s painted. Johnny offered to sell us the painting, and we were more than happy to buy this wonderful piece whose story we had just learned. The best part about this purchase – the money went straight to the artist’s pocket, not just a royalty as happens when you buy from many galleries.

The kids were raving excitedly about their experience at Elliott, as we rolled in to see Karlu Karlu/Karlwekarlwe, the Devils Marbles, after an overnight stop at Tennant Creek. Four local Aboriginal peoples of the Kaytetye, Warumungu, Anmatyerr and Alyawarr have strong connections to this sacred place.

Taken from an information board there, this story is haunting and timeless:

The dreaming is still here

Aboriginal people believe that people from the dreaming at Karlwekarlwe live in the caves under the rocks here.

“They’re real people like us. You can see them. A long time ago I went with my billycan down to the creek here to get some water. One of these secret people came out and started playing with me. I couldn’t go away.

My mother came and got me, saved me. After that we never camped at this place again, never. They’re kind these secret people, but they can make you mad. They can change you into one of them. They can say, ‘Follow me’, and you can’t go back.

It happened like that for my cousin. He disappeared. The old people made a big ceremony, singing the ground and the rocks to make them let my cousin come back. We’ve lost that song now. We’ve got no song to bring children back.”

A Senior Traditional Owner

After reading this, and from our perspective as non-indigenous people, standing at those rocks, listening to the wind and watching the shadows underneath beckon to us to explore, we wouldn’t at all have been surprised if someone had appeared from a cave!

Next stop was only a short trip down the road at Wycliffe Well, also known as the UFO Capital of Australia. Well, didn’t the kids have a ball here, with all the alien merchandise and photo opportunities. Inside the roadhouse, there are walls covered with newspaper articles about UFO sightings and alien abductions. Regardless of whether you “Believe”, there have been some fascinating close encounters reported in the Australian outback, so be sure to stop at Wycliffe Well, have your photo taken with the space ship and green alien, and grab a feed while you read up about visitors from another world.

A quick photo stop at the Tropic of Capricorn, marking the official start/stop between the Desert and the Tropics, and we pulled into Alice Springs. We had contacted the Big 4 MacDonnell Ranges to ask about staying in a cabin for a couple of nights instead of setting up camp in the heat. They were amazing, and gave us a special rate for our stay, airconditioned relief from the heat of Alice in the summer. As much as we love camping, staying in one of these beautifully appointed spacious cabins was a real treat. A shady carport for the Legend and our Cub, bunk beds for the kids, comfy bed for Paul & Kirstine, and great kitchen facilities.

We only had one full day in Alice Springs and decided to travel part of the Red Centre Way, to explore some of the famous gorges. The West MacDonnell Ranges are unique and utterly beautiful, and even the kids enjoyed the drive. Our stops in the West MacDonnell/Tjoritja National Park included the Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge, Ochre Pits, and Glen Helen Gorge. Swimming in a gorge in the middle of the desert, is a sublime experience, which should absolutely be on your Bucket List. The kids had their goggles and were on a mission to find the native fish in the waterholes, and they did!

Home in time for the kids to have a few rides down the waterslide, they fell asleep that night with smiles on their faces, exhausted from the day’s adventures. Sometimes our travel itinerary appears not very kids-friendly, but we always make time for them to have fun and be kids. It is a joy to have them appreciate being able to have free time, rather than expect it and drive us nuts asking!

We had been due to stay for two nights at the Voyages Ayers Rock Campgrounds in a cabin, but realising we had miscalculated a day on our itinerary meant that we had to leave after one. We are very grateful to Voyages for their support of our journey! Our eldest son was amazed at the size of Uluru and Kata-Tjuta, though we didn’t have enough time to go and visit up close and personal. With the high temperatures, many of the walks were closed or had to close by 9am for safety reasons. There is more to explore at this beautiful place, so I think we’ll be back!

We splurged and booked an underground stay again at Coober Pedy, with our eldest son having missed that experience earlier in the trip. The apartment at the Comfort Inn Coober Pedy Experience, is spectacular. Super spacious, it’s basically a house underground! Paul and Kirstine actually think it would be great to live there. Whilst we didn’t take photos, we did take some video, which we’ll put up when it’s been edited. The kids noodled for opals next door at the pit outside the mine, and we had some very tasty pizza for tea. It’s surreal climbing into bed underground. The lighting in the apartment highlighted the stunning colours and cut in the ceiling and walls. It’s dark, it’s quiet, and it’s peaceful, everything that many city dwellers would find disconcerting, having become accustomed to the noise and light pollution that goes with dense populations.

Even now as we write this, there are cyclones moving around the north-west of Western Australia, and Northern Territory. By the time we get back up north, the worst of these will have subsided, but then we’ll have tourist traffic to contend with. You know what? Bring it on – more people = more conversations = more people spreading the word about mental health. There’s method to our own Madness!

Changing lives in Clunes


Here we are in our second week in Clunes. It’s a beautiful part of the country, with rich gold mining history and family history for Paul!

The Legend is receiving some love and attention as part of an overhaul at Peter Stevens Motors in Ballarat. While we wait, the kids are making the most of their new swags and catching up on school work while we have internet access.

It’s been an eventful time here so far. We’ve befriended a retired truck driver, Mr D, who stopped by on a walk with his old dog to ask about the Black Dog reference on the Legend (before she went to the workshop). Paul and Mr D got talking on that second day here, and Mr D has been a regular visitor to our camp every day since!

Mr D is an intriguing character who’s had a hard life and has some fascinating stories to tell. He’s travelled many of the same roads that we have over the course of his career as an interstate truck driver and has seen sights that continue to play on his mind in the quiet of night. Long hours alone and away from home are not conducive to positive mental health, let alone seeing accidents or being the first one to discover one, and the accompanying dread of approaching to see if anyone has been injured.

Perhaps it’s because of these experiences that Mr D has found a kindred spirit in Paul. The two men often go and sit away from camp, ostensibly because Mr D smokes and doesn’t want to do so around the children, but there is a genuine bond between Mr D and Paul, and Kirstine sometimes leaves them to talk. Share. Provide support. Mr D has friends who also suffer from depression and/or PTSD, and he makes sure to visit or phone regularly to check on them – the hallmark of a good friend.

Mr D invited Paul to go to the Men’s Shed in Clunes. Paul agreed to go, and Mr D arranged to come and collect him the next morning. When the morning came, the idea of turning up to a meeting with strangers, albeit a casual “coffee and cake” type one, without Kirstine’s presence, had Paul extremely anxious.

“I can’t do it. I can’t go” he said.

“Why sweetheart? It’s only for a cuppa and to look at their projects. You might even meet someone who knows about your family”, Kirstine replied.


Mr D arrived, and noticed straight away that Paul was not having a good day.

“You a bit rough this morning, Paul?”

Paul nodded.

“He reckons he’s not up to going with you Mr D, but I think it would be good for him”, Kirstine said.

Paul got up and put his shoes on, changed his shirt, and prepared Luna with vest and lead.

“Oh, you’re going to come and be sociable then are ya mate?”, Mr D offered, trying to lighten the mood.

Paul left, but couldn’t look Kirstine in the eye as she gave him a kiss goodbye. He was angry at her for being part of making him go. She felt guilty, but knew that sometimes she needs to support Paul by pushing him outside his comfort zone, ready to catch him when he returns.

Two hours later Paul returned with gifts of homegrown produce – vine ripened tomatoes, crabapple jam, and a gorgeous red cabbage. He also had stories to tell from his visit to the Mens Shed.

Currently they have a tram carriage, sans running gear (wheels etc), which was donated by a New Zealand company which only need the running gear, not the body of the tram. The Mens Shed is waiting on approval to do some work on the carriage, and turn it into “something” of use for the community. There were about 10-15 men at the meeting, and most had brought baked goods, jams, produce etc from home, to share with the group.

Paul was utterly inspired by talking with Don Vale, an octogenarian who has trekked the Kokoda Track four times, up and back twice in other words. Considering that in 2009, at aged 83, the first year that Don completed the Track, four Australians younger than him had perished while on the trek, this speaks volumes for his stamina, fitness and determination. In 2012, Don completed the arduous and gruelling 130km ONE WAY trek again, twice! A humble figure, Don told Paul that he did the journey for his best friend, who died during WWII on the Kokoda Track while serving in Papua New Guinea. His friend, part of the Stolen Generation, had lied about his age and name in order to enlist, and was only 16 at the time of his death. Don is believed to be the oldest person to have completed the Kokoda Track, the fact he has done it multiple times is a separate feat of resilience and dedication.

The Men’s Shed blokes told Paul that our trip is important, encouraging men (and women) to talk, share their problems rather than bottle them up.

Last Friday Paul and our eldest daughter had been helping Mr D fix his tv antenna to his caravan, when the weather changed suddenly. Lightning forked across the sky as they came back to camp, and the wind picked up. With no sign of rain in any forecast, Clunes was caught by surprise by the mini tornado event which swept through, wreaking havoc in its fierce presence. Thankfully we’d closed up windows and chairs, and put additional ropes on the awning in case of high winds, but the ferocity of the winds blew cups and plates from the sink, and spilled everything from the shelf onto the ground. The rain was horizontal under the awning, and the kids retreated into the camper while Paul and Kirstine remained outside to observe the storm. The kids swags were drenched by rain, and we fervently hoped that the seasoning we had done on the farm with some of our stale water, had done enough to seal them. The awning canvas bowed under the pooled water at each end, and we had to push up on it to release it four times during the storm. As suddenly as it had arrived, the tempest was over, and we surveyed our campsite as we heard the sounds of emergency services sirens begin to wail in the aftermath. Damage – none, mud and water – plenty, swags – dry inside! We were so relieved to find nothing more than a trickle in each swag, mainly from the water splashing against the zip under the front window hood.

People had close calls during the storm, and one man’s life was changed forever. A large branch from a tree had collapsed, crushing part of his caravan underneath, and piercing through the hard annex roof of a neighbouring van, in which a lady was sleeping. No-one was injured, but the residents of the caravan park rallied around their friends as the realisation of the extent of the damage became evident, and the shock set in. It was heartening to see neighbours embracing each other, bringing chairs for those affected, as they looked in disbelief at the carnage. The SES from Ballarat were soon on scene, and worked for a couple of hours to try and secure the area. Park management staff came to check the campground to see if any of the trees near us had similarly collapsed. Paul spoke with them at length about what had happened, and told them what the SES would try to do, speaking from his past experience as a Unit Controller. He also told them about his experience with the ambulance service and fire & rescue, in the context of guiding them through the recovery process ahead. Paul went to check on Mr D, who had missed the commotion, having taken his hearing aids out and wearing headphones to watch tv! He was so incredibly grateful that Paul thought to come and check on him. Briefly watching the SES crew begin to work, Paul later found himself experiencing flashbacks to his SES days, where his emergency management career began, but also where his first emergency related trauma was experienced.

Fast forward to yesterday, and the tree is still in situ. The SES crew from Hepburn arrived in the later afternoon to continue the work in trying to remove the heavy branch, nearly equivalent in size to an actual tree trunk. Kirstine was working on tea, while Paul was in the camper sending some emails, when a member of the park management team came over asking if Paul was available, saying they needed someone to help with a medical emergency. Mr J, the man whose new caravan had been crushed by the tree, was having a possible heart attack. The staff remembered Paul mentioning his ambulance officer experience, so they hurried to fetch him. The kids were busy with school work, and were told to stay at camp. Kirstine followed Paul, concerned for his welfare after being thrown into a frontline emergency response role again.

An ambulance was called and was 20 minutes away in Ballarat. The SES crew asked what they could do to help, Paul sent them for the town AED (defibrillator), and Kirstine to fetch aspirin and Paul’s Nitrolingual spray (both of which Paul had used to treat patients with chest pain during his career with the ambulance service). His anxiety was suppressed as “ambo” Paul stepped forward & managed the situation, administering the medicine to Mr J and keeping him calm and talking. His clinical but human approach was inspiring, and when the ambulance arrived, he was able to “talk the talk” and give them all the information they needed about Mr J’s condition and treatment thus far. As one of officers said, “you’ve done our job for us mate! Thanks for all your help”. Impressively, Mr J’s pain scale had gone from 7-8, to 0 by the time the ambulance arrived, though he still had to go for a ride to Ballarat for more testing.

Paul stayed to watch the SES crew work, an excavator having finally pulled the tree from its inconsiderate resting place. He bantered with the boys, and the park residents all came to shake his hand and thank him for taking care of Mr J. One even said that the management team need to make sure there is accommodation available for us when we finish the trip, so that the Clunes Caravan Park has its own ambo as a resident!! We may have to look into that!

The aftermath for Paul of being pulled suddenly into an emergency and having to manage the crisis, was complete mental exhaustion. He fell in a heap back at camp, utterly spent by the evening’s events. His self doubt and anxiety returned as he replayed the situation, seeking faults in his actions and his handling of things. There was no denying how relieved the ambulance officers were to find one of their own in control when they arrived. It made their job easier. The SES crew were amazed to find that Paul had been a Unit Controller for the Geelong crew. The park residents found confidence in having Paul available and willing to help one of their own.

As Mr D later said to Paul, if the Legend’s overhaul had already been completed, we would have been gone from Clunes, and Mr J’s turn may not have had a positive outcome. This delay, as with the others in the past, has happened for a reason. Kirstine hopes that one of those reasons was to show Paul that he is still capable of using his skills and helping people in need. He has always excelled at that, and though the thought of being in those situations nearly paralyses him with anxiety, his decades of training enables him to push through when he is called upon. We’ll work through the stress, fear and trauma when the trip is done. There is a light far off in the tunnel that is PTSD and major depressive disorder. Hand in hand we’ll keep taking steps forward till daylight is our Today, and that tunnel is part of our Yesterday.