Chasing the coast & charity

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It was very windy as we packed up at Richmond, with the camper canvas billowing like a jumping castle as we packed it up. It’s not much fun packing up in windy conditions. The canvas was being pushed by the wind as we tried to tuck it away neatly.

The trip to Charters Towers was somewhat frustrating, as the preparation we had done in mapping BP service stations along our travel route, proved pointless. Many had become Puma servos (some of which accept BP cards, just not the ones we were stopping at). This is why we carry jerry cans, but we only had two of the five full at the time. It goes to say that we rejoiced when we found a BP in Charters Towers, where there wasn’t one on the map!

The Big 4 Aussie Outback Oasis Holiday Park had offered us a powered site for the night, and with Kirstine’s back and neck playing up, we planned a quiet evening. The camp kitchen at the park lends itself to communal eating and discussions with fellow travellers. While the kids did school work and Kirstine cooked tea, Paul conversed with the couples that came in to cook.

One couple were very supportive of our travels, as they have a family member in the emergency services in Melbourne, who has asked for help with their mental health, and was denied assistance by their employer. Workplaces which don’t support their employees are a real bugbear for us. Staff who are treated with compassion and given support in seeking treatment for mental health concerns CAN return to work as loyal and effective employees, but for some employers in the stories we are hearing, it’s all too hard. It takes courage to make organisational change to shape the positive attitude of a business towards mental health. You can’t just talk the talk, you HAVE to walk the walk! If you know of a business who “gets” that it’s okay for staff to not be okay, please let us know! We love hearing positive stories and we might even be able to catch up with one or two for our documentary.

It was an early night and start the next morning, to get over to Townsville and run a couple of messages at Bunnings, AND fill ALL of our jerry cans!

Driving over to Kurramine Beach brought another change in scenery, as sugar cane fields and banana plantations began to appear, much to the kids’ delight (and ours). The kids were fascinated by the small gauge rail used to move the harvested cane around.

We were greeted by Ian and Glenda at Kurramine Beach Top Holiday Park, who had offered us a powered site for the night in support of our trip. What truly AMAZED us is that they had also organised a sausage sizzle to raise funds for our beneficiaries!

Camp was set up and Kirstine took the girls to swim in the giant saltwater pool. Apparently for some residents of Far North Queensland, it was too cold to swim (26 degrees C) so we had the pool to ourselves. After a quick shower, it was sausage sizzle time, with the vivacious Glenda walking the camp, ringing a cow bell and calling campers to come and join us. Paul was invited to speak to the group, to give a bit of context to the charity aspect of the sizzle.

We were amazed at the support given & stories that were shared with us as we stood and talked with people. One couple had lost a son twenty years ago, and are still reeling from the loss – “it changes you forever”, the mum said. Another lady spoke with us as a carer for her husband, a Vietnam veteran. Her story included another instance of a careless employer causing a mental breakdown. This lovely lady was keen for us to take time for ourselves on the trip. Questions about Luna, her training, how to access training – Paul was pleasantly surprised by the interest shown. These people were engaged with us, and not just eating a sausage in bread and then leaving.

One lady heard Paul speaking and didn’t stay for the bbq, however returned a few minutes later and handed us a $100 donation. Ex-military, this lady knows the world of PTSD and poor mental health all too well. She couldn’t stay, but her generosity and that of the campers who came to join us in the camp kitchen, raised a grand total of $171.25 for Lifeline & mindDog.

We are absolutely blown away by the spirit of charity we are experiencing. From a donated powered site, to a sausage sizzle, Queensland is constantly lifting our spirits as we continue Driving Oz with the Black Dog!

Driving, Dinosaurs and Duty of Care

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Kronosaurus Korner at Richmond

We lingered at Mount Isa long enough to listen to our interview on the ABC while cooking back & egg rolls for the journey. While packing up, we were visited by a couple who’d just heard us on the radio! Instant recognition! They thought it sounded great and said they’d follow our journey online. Taking a moment to drag Peter in front of the camera for a photo, we bid farewell to our hardworking host.

The landscape from Mount Isa to Cloncurry is beautiful – rugged hills and valleys, dotted with ant/termite mounds. Those mounds create quite the impression of being in the Outback, or indeed another planet!

We passed many caravanners towing varied units. Some indicate when it’s safe to pass, and we always wave and/or thank them on the UHF radio. Ours is always switched on and at CH40, so if you see us, call us up and say hello!

We love seeing travellers who put their names and UHF channel on their caravan – Leon & Julie CH40, Mike & Mabel CH40, Gypsy Tess CH40… not only does it put a personality to the vehicle you’re travelling behind or passing, but it shows that they have an alternate form of communications on board. In our opinion, and Paul’s experience, this is vital if you are going to travel away into rural/remote areas. Phone coverage is often non-existent outside of towns, so how else do you make contact in an emergency? We have a Hytera UHF radio which was supplied by Future Systems. Kirstine can use it, and also knows that CH5 (unless otherwise signposted) is for emergencies, CH40 for truckies or travellers, and CH18 for caravanners. We also have a HF radio supplied by Barrett Communications (it’s the giant antenna on the front of the Legend!). With this, we can reach 1000s of kilometres depending on the weather/atmospheric conditions. By way of example, when we were at Bordertown in South Australia, we listened to a radio sched where a couple were bogged in the Northern Territory. Other travellers had already checked in and were within a day of that location, so were able to make their way there to assist. VKS737 and HFOz have given us access to their radio networks, so regardless of where we are, if something goes wrong, we can contact someone somewhere.

On the way to Cloncurry, we were travelling behind a 5th Wheeler, who for some unknown reason, had two empty plastic tubs ratchet strapped to the top of the caravan, except that one had worked its way loose and was about to fall off from a great height onto anything behind. Paul tried to raise the vehicle on the UHF. Nothing. Tried again. Nothing. When we were able to safely pass, with Kirstine trying to gesture to the driver about the tubs, Paul noticed that there was no UHF radio fitted. Considering the immense dollar value of 5th Wheeler caravans, why not spend a couple of hundred dollars more to fit a UHF? The driver was oblivious to anything, and also any information being relayed ahead by pilot vehicles for oversized loads. The mind boggles!

In a moment of phone reception, we received a call from our wonderful Platinum sponsor, the Nissan Australia Foundation. Kate was calling to confirm receipt of a report we’d written for her, but also to do a “welfare check”. She understands that talking to people about his illness can be very emotionally taxing for Paul, and wanted to make sure that he was coping. It’s easy for people to forget that Paul is trying to recover from his illness as we travel, because he tries hard to be positive around people. It’s Kirstine who sees the façade crumble in the evenings after a long day, and tries to keep Paul’s demons at bay. It means the world to us to have sponsors who understand the dynamic of our trip and the pressure it puts on us, and that CARE about our health. Kate always keeps an eye on media we don’t get to access very often, and points us in the direction of useful tools, inspirational people, and ideas. Thank you Kate, and the Nissan Australia Foundation!

The Lakeview Caravan Park at Richmond, along the Dinosaur Way, was our destination after a long day of driving. Lyn had offered us a powered site for the night, and it was large, grassy and in a prominent position. Paul was excited to see that there was Free WiFi, and Lyn pointed out that the password was on the back on the map amongst the Terms and Conditions. She said that if Paul had to come back and ask about the password, she might have to get out her ruler and and give him a smack for not reading the form properly. Kirstine suggested that Lyn might want to give Paul a smack anyway, so that Kirstine could watch and have a giggle. Paul was a spoilsport and said he’d read the form instead – Boohoo!

We had a lovely chat with a couple of campers and set to work feeding the kids so we could get them to bed. We had lots of blogging to catch up on! Kirstine has taken to writing the draft for the blog as we drive during the day, however with some of the roads we are on, deciphering the chicken scratch at the end of the day can be rather amusing!

You, dear readers, have the easy part – following our story in a simple typed font! LOL!

Incredible “Isa”

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Peter at the Sunset Top Caravan Park in Mount Isa was more than happy to offer us a powered site for our stay, having reworked our itinerary so that we could meet with the Rotary Club of Mount Isa. When we arrived, Peter knew exactly who we were, and told us that he’d set aside a shady spot to keep the kids cool. A large site, near the amenities block, camp kitchen and pool, it was ideal for the entire family! Once we were set up, Peter came over and we had a quick chat. The first of a few actually! He’s a great bloke to talk with, and we really loved seeing him come over for a quick chin wag when he had a few minutes spare. He took over the park in May, and has been busy since day one. In fact, three of the four nights that we were there, all the powered sites were booked out. It was not lost on us that Peter donated the site for our visit at the busiest time of the year in Queensland.

It was a busy admin time at the Isa. It takes a long time to try and plan each stage of the trip – accommodation (if any), schools/community group meetings if possible, media interviews, as well as the mundane but essential things like supermarket/BP locations, and keeping the kids busy with their reading and maths school work online. Oh, and laundry, did I mention the laundry for five people???

Admin aside, we had some other commitments in Mount Isa. Paul really wanted to have the Cub Camper serviced before we head north, and Miners Mate Mechanical offered to do this for us. Repacked bearings, replaced seals, grease points attended to, and a once over of the underbody = clean bill of health and the all clear to head towards the Cape! How fabulous that Laurence and his team put their hand up to help us continue to spread the word about suicide prevention and mental health!

Out last day in Mount Isa was a busy one. We went into the studio at ABC Radio North Western Queensland to record an interview with Zara. Later that afternoon a reporter from the North West Star newspaper came to the caravan park to interview us. These should be on our Facebook page if you are following our page.

Then it was time to get ready for our penultimate engagement – meeting with the Rotary Club of Mount Isa. Getting the kids clean and dirt free was a carefully timed affair, but we arrived on time at the Irish Club. The kids haven’t had to dress up for a while, so they really enjoyed the whole evening.

What an evening. We were welcomed like family, not just guests, and it made being able to address the club easier. Whilst we are more than happy to talk with people about our journey, from Paul’s diagnosis to where we are now, there is still much pain and emotion in processing what we have been through, and how our lives have changed. Kirstine struggles to keep the tears at bay when she talks about how close she came to losing Paul. It’s raw. It’s real. It’s part of who we are. We don’t mind sharing to those who will listen – for themselves, their families, and their community.

Our eldest daughter won a raffle, and the prize couldn’t have been more suitable – a unicorn moneybox with a glittering pink horn! Some notes and coins found their way into the money box as part of the proceedings, and we gratefully accepted this in addition to the good company, delicious meal, and opportunity to share our story.

President Michelle, however, had another gift for us. Having asked what we needed, and knowing that our last laptop, so crucial to documenting our journey, is now suffering some bugs, Michelle and the Rotary Club presented us with a cheque for $500 to contribute towards a replacement. She had intended on buying one for us, but ran out of time. The kids squealed with excitement, and we felt tears rising again at this latest show of generosity from the Mount Isa community.

How we would have loved to have stayed and enjoyed the fellowship of this wonderful club! Our children, albeit so happily entertained by the very kind and mature son of a Rotary member, were nearly asleep on their feet, though they protested otherwise!

Mount Isa, we are trying to give to communities, but you have given us so much in our short stay. We are moved, and so very happy that we came to visit you!

REDARC ramps up their support

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We have had so many people comment on our Redarc 72W Amorphous folding solar blanket. It is the only one like it that we have seen, and is so much easier to pack away than conventional portable solar panels. Space is definitely at a premium for us!

Paul is all over the technical aspects of the trip, including the solar panels, and in calculating our power needs via the Redarc website, he found that we needed a bit of a boost. Paul applied to Redarc for a supplemental system, and we were thrilled when they came back and offered us a 190W Solar Blanket Sunpower Cells and adapter plug. This will allow us to join our blankets together and have a very impressive 262W input capacity. We will be able to stay off grid for longer, and with the seemingly endless sunshine in Queensland so far, we will be monarchs of the sun, harnessing its clean energy.

THANK YOU REDARC for your continued support of our cause!

Beautiful Booie of Boulia

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After our night under the most amazing night sky in the Bladensburg NP, we made our way to Boulia. Paul expanded his drone skills and had it follow the Legend for a couple of kilometres as we drove out of the park. It’s a strange experience watching footage of us driving, when we were the ones filming!

The trip through Winton and on to Boulia on the Developmental Road was an unusual one. The road is black top, but only single lane, with very intermittent “overtaking opportunities”. Oncoming traffic necessitated one vehicle moving off the road into the coarse gravel. In a perfect world, the oncoming party would also slow down a bit, to reduce the risk of stones being thrown at windscreens. Of course, we find sometimes that slowing down is a courtesy not extended by everyone, and one vehicle with a caravan even tried playing chicken with us – not slowing down at all as we tried to find somewhere safe to pull off the road for them. Towing in the outback, actually, everywhere that we’ve been so far, has shown us the Good, Bad and the Ugly of other caravanners.

We’d planned to stop at Middleton on the way to Boulia, and were bemused to find it nowhere in sight by the GPS coordinates! Someone had moved Middleton!!

40km down the road, the blink-and-you-miss-it settlement of Middleton appeared in front of us out of the heat haze, much like the fabled Brigadoon of Scotland, appearing once every one hundred years. Middleton has been around longer than that, and was one of the 9 Pillars of the Cobb & Co coach route. They even have one of the original coaches out the front of the pub!

Arriving in Boulia during daylight hours (so no, we didn’t see the mysterious Min Min Lights!), we had only planned to stay for one night. The lovely Manager waived the fees for the children, in light of our charity trip. We were very appreciative. Kirstine asked to change a note for some $1 coins for the laundry, and the Manager, Booie, gave Kirstine the change AND $6 in coins. We thought there had been a misunderstanding, and offered Booie the note, but she refused to accept. The coins were a bonus! Booie showed us to a lovely shaded grassy site, and promised to bring her German Shepherd (GSD), Jessie, to play with Luna.

True to her word, Booie and Jessie came to visit, and the two Shepherds hit it off straight away. I don’t think we’ve laughed so hard in a long time, watching the GSDs playing chasey and tearing around the grassed area as if the devil himself were after them. Booie turned on the sprinkler for the kids, which added a new element of fun for the dogs! Kids and dogs were soon soaking wet, and we were enjoying a wonderful warm afternoon in Boulia.

The next morning we weren’t ready to leave, and went to ask Booie if we could stay another two nights. Busy with cleaning, she said she would catch up with us later. Bringing Jessie for a play later in the afternoon, Booie told us not to worry about payment for the rest of our stay. Our jaws dropped, and we thanked her heartily. Booie told us that Jessie doesn’t get many opportunities to play with other dogs, so she was enjoying having us there!

We were near the entrance to the park, so the Legend was a talking point for all the guests. One camper shook Paul’s hand and wished him a good recovery. Others came to speak with us because the kids had been chatting to them in their adventures around the park. Booie and Kirstine had a talk while the dogs were playing. Booie is also the wife of a first responder, so Kirstine wanted to make sure that she and her husband have support if they need it, in their remote location.

On our final morning in Boulia, Jessie came back for a final play with Luna. Booie hugged us and asked if we’d be back, even giving us a tea towel as a souvenir of our first visit to Boulia. As if she hadn’t gifted us enough with the free site, laundry money and her company!!

If you’re in Boulia, please stop and see Booie the Beautiful, and her wonderful caravan park and German Shepherd.

Natural beauty – people and places

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From Morven we headed north to Augathella. Kirstine still had the lyrics from Cunnamulla Fella in her head, so finally having been to Augathella means the song is no longer on constant replay in her head. We’d had a recommendation that the butcher in Augathella is fabulous, so Kirstine popped in to grab some fresh meat. Turns out the butcher is a volunteer in the Fire & Rescue service in Augathella, and he had a couple of stories to tell about call outs, including a couple that were too confronting to put in the blog here where younger readers may find it. Kirstine will try and remember the stories for when the time comes to write the book about our journey!

We arrived in Tambo, having heard great things about this friendly little town. We were not disappointed! The lady currently running the caravan park was nothing short of an angel. Narelle told us that when she turned 40, she took five years off work to travel and reconnect as a family. They didn’t want to own anything, or owe anything. The peace in her demeanour was infectious, and she refused to charge us for staying overnight (or longer if we wanted) at the park. She put us alongside her house so we had power and water, and told us to use the pool and make ourselves at home. Narelle believes in doing good for people and putting kindness out into the world. We were incredibly touched.  A dip in the gorgeous salt water pool was truly refreshing!

Paul returned a missed call on his mobile, and it was to an indigenous radio station in Charleville. Their boss had just returned from leave and passed on our media release, and they were disappointed to have missed us. They recorded an interview with Paul, to be played the next day. Hopefully we can track down the audio to eventually link here.

Tambo was a lovely little town to walk around, and the kids just about had kittens when they had a look in the famous Tambo Teddies shop, and saw the Teddies Crossing sign out the front. Overhearing an older female traveller staying in Tambo complain about “there’s nothing to do here, two pubs, and nowhere to get my hair done!” was disappointing. She was from a metropolitan area in the south of the country, and we had to wonder why she would go to the Queensland outback, if access to entertainment and services was so important to her??? We’re thrilled if we find a supermarket!

We bid farewell to Narelle the next morning, and popped around the corner to Tambo State School, where Kirstine had arranged for Paul to present to the kids about Assistance Dogs. Paul engaged really well with the kids, and they had some very intelligent questions to ask. Proving the point about Luna being “on duty” when she’s wearing her vest, Paul removed it, and Luna proceeded to run full pelt around the seated children, prompting gales of laughter. When Paul called her back, Luna sat to have her vest clipped on, and then dropped at his feet “on duty” again.

Our travels took us north a bit more after Tambo, and we decided to stop at a camp site located on a cattle station just south of Barcaldine, known as the Lara Wetlands. It was about 20km into the station, and we were quite amazed at the number of caravans there. A huge shallow body of water, which is over 100 years old and heritage listed, the station owners are not allowed to let it dry out, as it is a huge ecosystem. They even have a large allocation of water from the Great Artesian Basin to ensure it remains full of water, though only ankle deep.

We actually watched people taking photos of the Legend as we drove past in search of a spot for the night. The couples on either side of us later commented on how quickly we set up camp, and how all the kids helped. One gentleman we had spoken to earlier, was quite candid in telling us that he also suffers from PTSD, after being sexually abused as a child. His story was included in the Royal Commission, and he told us he still struggles sometimes. He also has a mate who had been a Police officer for years, and became suicidal. Thankfully these two talk to each other, and support each other in their tough times.

The kids had a lovely afternoon walking out into the wetlands, testing their senses as they walked further out, expecting the water to get deeper, only to find the ankle depth remained constant. The sunset was superb, and Paul has some wonderful photos to upload when he has had the time to edit them. He even got to fly the drone, after some initial hitches with what he believes was a mobile phone signal extender causing interference.

For the first time, we left the windows open on the camper all night, and woke up to the view over the wetlands. Of course, the peace of the night was disturbed initially as someone a few caravans over decided to play their television very loudly. We’re always amazed that some people visit the most splendid places in nature, but can’t do without their television at night. The outback skies must be seen to be believed, and there is such peace to be found in just sitting, watching the stars.

The next morning we drove through Barcaldine (Bark-olden in pronunciation), and had to stop and see the Tree of Knowledge, which played a role in the Shearer’s Strike that led to the formation of the Australian Labor Party. The original Coolibah tree itself was poisoned and died, and they have retained the stump and roots, erecting a MASSIVE sculpture to represent the canopy. It was a serene place to visit, with the inner “branches” being individually suspended on wires, and moving with the breeze much the same way a tree in nature does. The sounds of the branches bumping together echoed serenely in the space underneath. The kids were fascinated.

We didn’t linger long there, or in Longreach as we headed west. Not to say that these towns don’t have anything to offer, but they were busy with tourists and caravans, and we really do enjoy the smaller town experience.

Topped up on groceries from Longreach, we drove to Winton and south into the Bladensburg National Park. 20km off the main road on dirt tracks, Paul had read a review stating that it was recommended only for 4WD and off-road camper trailers. Challenge set! Had it been a wet winter, anyone attempting to enter the park with a 2WD and/or caravan would have been in trouble, but in dry weather, it wasn’t as much of a challenge as we’d hoped! Once we made camp, Paul had to walk around trying to get a text message out to the kids’ other parents, so that we could reschedule the communications we had planned for that evening. We found that we had no phone or internet once we got to a kilometre or so from the camp site.

Having been invited to meet and speak with the Rotary Club in Mount Isa, we are reworking our itinerary again. We love speaking at schools and watching the kids reactions to Paul & Luna, but it is really exciting to have a booking to speak with a community group next week.

Paul was able to fly the DJI Mavic Pro up and down the dry Bough Creek bed for one kilometre in each direction, and was actually able to pinpoint where water lay in a billabong. The life-saving possibilities of being able to use a drone are really thought provoking.

We even watched a Cub Campers Brumby arrive at the campsite .. yes, we find them everywhere!

We had a lovely chat with a couple travelling for 6 months with their 4 year old and 5 month old. Our eldest daughter went into “mum mode” and cuddled the baby, and later after dark went and sat by their camp fire while Paul worked on his night time photography. It is phenomenal to see that what the human eye perceives of the Milky Way as blue/black and grey in the sky, actually has other colours in it too. I’ll let Paul hand pick his favourite pictures to show later.

Some nights since we’ve been in Queensland, we’ve wished we had a skylight in the roof of the Cub camper, so we could lie in bed and watch the stars. Perhaps that’s a design suggestion we can make!

Charming Charleville & mild-mannered Morven

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Charleville became a two night stay at a caravan park, instead of a one night “get everyone showered, the washing done, and all batteries charged” type of stopover. We were really pleased to find a caravan park with a drive thru site for us. One of the owners showed us the sites available and told us to take our pick, which is always a pleasant surprise compared to the places that give you a highlighted map with your site number on it and leave you to it. The male owner knew of the Black Dog and was interested in the trip as he showed us the sites we could choose from. His partner didn’t seem to know what we were talking about when we spoke about “the Black Dog”, and was more focussed on taking payment for our stay. To be honest, we’re used to both types of reactions. We find it varies according to the size of the town. The bigger the town, the less they care and the more they are fiscally focussed. The small towns stop and have a chat before getting to the nitty gritty financials. In small towns we feel our good will being reciprocated in discussion.

We had all these plans to get things done when we got to Charleville (and we had a laugh that our nearby neighbours were a couple we’ve also met at Bollon & Wyandra!), but the 30 degree heat really knocked us about in setting up camp. At that point we didn’t have shade, so the 30 mins it took to set up in full sun in the middle of the day left us all a bit dizzy. Suffice to say, whilst the kids were showered in the evening, we knew we’d end up staying another day just to recoup and finish our planned chores! It really is lovely though to have such warm weather to dry washing on a clothes line. We know that some rain would be preferred by the locals, though just not as much as last winter. Apparently it rained every other day and made life rather difficult.

The morning we left Charleville, we headed out to the airport to visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) visitor centre. The kids found this completely fascinating, as did we. To think that the sheer expanse of the Australian continent means that a doctor is sometimes needed to fly in to areas to attend to emergencies, is mind boggling. Our eldest daughter just loved seeing the story of a man who’s on our $20 note – Rev. John Flynn, who founded the first aerial medical service in Australia.

One of our followers, who also works for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), met us at the airport to say hello and tell us how very important she feels our message is. A very positive lady, who by her own admission, has a history of mental illness in the family, she was disappointed to hear that we hadn’t had much uptake on our offers to meet with media and community groups in Charleville. There seems to be a real element of denial about mental health in the area, and with an average of one suicide per month, she and her peers are working hard to try and improve access to services for their clients. We’ve heard from others that the community is like others we’ve known, and if you weren’t  born there, you are never a local. This mentality is so damaging. We’ve seen the effect it has when people try to bring new information and services to a community in need, only to be shut out because they “aren’t local”. This follower of ours told us that Charleville is dying as a result. The empty shops along the main street are testament to this. It’s no wonder that there are so many people in pain in the town. How proud are these “local” families going to be, when they have no town to be a “local” in?

Rather than head north, we went east to Morven, having heard about a campsite at the recreation ground, where you could get a powered site for $10 per night if you got there early enough. Hmm..well, I guess “early” means two days ago at dawn! Lol! We weren’t bothered, and instead found ourselves a fabulous unpowered site in full shade away from the crush of caravans that had jammed in to access the handful of powered sites. Space is always going to be more important for us than access to power. The kids played at the playground on site, our eldest daughter was invited to play tennis with the local club after dark, and the magpies and pied butcher birds were very friendly and entertaining.

The next morning the kids woke us up just after 7.30am, which is a huge no-no usually. Cooper had something green on his head and it was sore. Kirstine stumbled out of bed ready to read the riot act, but pulled up short when she saw the bloated tick attached to his temple. Five minutes later, tweezers from the first aid kit and dad’s glasses perched on his face as he woke himself up, the tick gave up the prime juicy real estate of Cooper’s head. The girls were grossed out, but also intrigued, as we’d never had to deal with ticks up until now. We showed them before and after feeding photos, and they were happy. We aren’t in a paralysis tick area, but no-one wants to get fed upon by one of these little sods, so everyone had a once over and a lesson on how to avoid bites as much as possible. That night Kirstine got the kids out of bed again to see the two echidnas trying to hide by the reserve’s fence line behind our camp. The kids reached their fingers through the fence to touch the spines, and desperately wanted to see the sweet little faces of the echidnas, however these little guys (or guy and gal) were also trying desperately to be invisible, so we said good night and let them be.

Before we left, we met a lady whose son was in the Police force and struggled mentally with the job so much that he had to leave. It took him a long time to find his place in the world after that, but he’s coping better now with the support of his family. They say that Life wasn’t meant to be easy, and it couldn’t be more true in these cases. We felt really happy to hear that the right life changes and support network made the difference in this man’s life. It give us hope that eventually Paul will also find a new niche in life, and the peace that that may bring.

Of Wyandra’s “million star hotel” and a most wonderful bushman

Bushie

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We could well wax lyrical of our time at Wyandra, and so we shall!

Initially only planned for a one night stop at the free camp site at Wyandra, we pulled up amongst a group of various forms of travelling accommodation – caravans in all shapes and sizes, busses, even a Winnebago. It didn’t take us long to set up, and we had a couple of people came by to say hello and ask how long we were staying. They then commented that it was a lot of work to set up for only one night! We’ve heard that before, but then we also understand that most of these people were in caravans and are used to simply pulling up at camp, levelling, and then relaxing.

The littlies went off to explore till we had the roof top tent ready, and we had already noticed the fire pit was being shovelled out in readiness for a fresh fire. Cooper, distracted by the emus and kangaroos so close to camp, nearly walked straight into the hot coals. The man shovelling the pit stopped him, and Coops apologised for where he was walking, and both our youngest daughter and Cooper thanked the man for his help. You can imagine our concern initially when this man approached Paul and I, as we relaxed under the awning with set up complete, and told us that our children were very polite and well mannered. We breathed a sigh of relief and thanked him for the feedback!

Later while Kirstine was cooking tea, Paul and the kids joined the group at the communal camp fire, and shared stories of our travels. The kids seemed drawn to the man who’d reworked the fire, and had been quizzing them about building a fire. Earlier in the day he had asked them what “green smoke from a fire meant”, and was quite surprised when the kids responded “poison, stay away”. In talking to Paul about this, the man the kids were now calling “Bushy”, said we had some clever kids on our hands, and that Paul had done well to teach the kids that. We enjoyed a lovely evening by the fire, and retired early to bed, with Bushy promising Cooper that if he was up early enough, that he could help light the fire. Well if that wasn’t incentive enough to get the boy up and running in the morning, nothing would be!

Come 6.45 the next morning, Kirstine heard the zip on the annex of the roof top tent fly through, and little thonged feet take off towards the camp fire. “G’day Cooper! Mate, I was up before the sun today, and I waited and waited, but you were still asleep, so I had to get the fire going!”. Coops got over it pretty quickly, when Bushy offered him a giant marshmallow to roast over the camp fire. By the time Paul and Kirstine got up half an hour later, the kids had enjoyed a marshmallow each, and Cooper had been invited to go and cut more firewood with Bushy. At that point we knew we were going to be there another day!

With the last of the overnight guests gone, Bushy asked us about our story, and his piercing blue eyes saw to the core of us. We knew we were in the company of a man who had also seen much in the world, took no bullsh*t and understood the pain that grows and affects the health of many. Already the evening before when Paul had been talking with the group around the campfire about our trip, one man had commented “ah, men just go to the pub and talk there”. It caught Paul off guard when Bushy contradicted this. “Actually they don’t. No farmer that he knows ever goes to the pub to talk about his problems. They don’t go and celebrate that they got their farming welfare package because of the drought, and everything is right in their world. Most of the time they go for a quiet drink, and leave because they can’t justify spending the money on beer. It’s the ones that don’t come in at all that I worry about”. Bushy told Kirstine that she’s a hero too, for sticking by Paul through his illness. He’s known many that have just done a runner because it was too hard.

It’s not our place to share the hardships that Bushy has faced in life, but he could see past the brave front that Paul puts on as we travel, and with the kids occupied with school work and headphones, Kirstine left Bushy to really get to know Paul.

The day passed with the kids hanging off Bushy’s every word, and being fascinated as he boiled his billy or reheated his Bushman’s Stew (kangaroo) in his camp oven, on the coals of the fire. He gave them a bowl of the stew to try, and he was lucky they didn’t try and nick off with the rest! He was extraordinarily patient with them wanting to help him with all his chores, and we had to smile hearing “alright cobber, it’s your turn, come on then”, as he shared his attention around all the kids.

Going for a walk around town, the resident fauna (approx. 200 kangaroos on the school grounds), and a family of emus, wandered around enjoying the freedom of a quiet country town. The publican kept trying to give the kids icy poles, and we met up with a couple we’d seen when free camping at Bollon. The husband told us he knew he’d see us again, and we chatted about our journey.

An amazing talk around the camp fire before going out to tea, showed how well Paul engages with people on a good day. Talking about his mine experiences in the South Australian outback, everyone was fascinated at the stories he was able to tell about security and emergency response in that environment. He faltered only once in referring to a particularly nasty incident he attended, and soon after we left for tea.

The next morning while Paul slept, Kirstine and the kids enjoyed the fire with the campers already awake. There is something so wonderful about the communal aspect of some of the recent campsites we’ve stayed at. Travellers sharing stories, recommending (or warning about) places to stay and things to see. It is where we have had some very meaningful conversations with people.

We really did have to leave Wyandra that day, as we’d run out of provisions! The kids were on a go-slow in packing up, and kept running away to spend time with Bushy. He became like another grandfather to them, and there were tears when we had to herd the the girls and the newly-dubbed “Bushy Coops” into the car.

Bushy embodies the Australian spirit. He’s done his time in the cities, raised his family and is a very intelligent man. He lives off the land in a “million star hotel” and has found alternate work that suits his love of the outback and its people. If everyone were like Bushy with his perspective and life-ethic, the world would be a happier place.

Cunnamulla carnage

**Trigger warning – wildlife vs vehicles**

 

Don’t worry, not our vehicle!!

This morning we travelled from Bollon along to Cunnamulla, and Wyandra. We grabbed coffee and breakfast from the cafe in Bollon, as we like to support local businesses in small communities along the way. Mmmm…coffee!!!

In Cunnamulla we stopped off to see the “Cunnamulla Fella”, made famous by Slim Dusty’s song of the same name. Actually, Kirstine is tapping her toes to the song as she types this! Slim Dusty sings Cunnamulla Fella!

We’d been given a recommendation for a free camp at Wyandra, and needing to make a couple of changes to our itinerary again, we decided to head there from Cunnamulla.

The highway between Bollon, Cunnamulla and Wyandra can only be described as carnage for the wildlife there. Not only was it mentally tiring as driver & front seat passenger to keep an eye out for anything on the road, but it became distressing as well to see the sheer volume of animals which had been annihilated by vehicular traffic. There was no point counting the remains of kangaroos and emus, which necessitated a slalom type manoveur on several occasions, by drivers on both sides of the road.

Please, if you happen to travel these roads too, don’t drive them at dawn/dusk, and keep your eyes unwaveringly on the road at all other times. It did our spirits good to see other healthy families of kangaroos and emus along the way, and at one stage the side of the road flew to life as about three dozen falcons took to the air. We think we interrupted the underbelly meeting of the Cunnamulla conglomerate of the local falcon association!!! Perhaps they were divvying up the highway for feeding rights..no bird, falcon or crow will ever go hungry along this stretch of road.

Tonight at a free camp (donation requested), we have flushing toilets and hot showers available, and a communal fire pit. The sun is setting, the kangaroos are silhouetted against the fading light, emus stroll through the scrub, and a full moon is due in a cloudless sky. Regardless of the distressing nature of the drive today, there are natural phenomenons that remind us that Life is still very much present in the Queensland outback.

 

Lifeline and the life of drones

Today we had a discussion with the parents of a gentleman who committed suicide after his new wife died of an aneurysm.  It was interesting to hear that they had reached out ti Lifeline for support, but their requests for their son to contact Lifeline were not heard and he unfortunately took his life prior to seeking help.

Today we also proved how versatile the FPV Australia (Mongrel Gear) supplied DJI Mavic Pro was by each member of our family flying it, which included the 6, 7 and 8 year olds. The drone is so easy to fly that within a few minutes, the kids were happily taking photos of our campsite.  We also had several of the campers come past and talk about the drone and how easy it was to fly.

You can see our latest video’s at our new YouTube Channel.