A stumble in Seymour

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Our stop in Seymour has been an interesting one, but a very trying one for Paul. The day that we arrived at the Big 4 Seymour Holiday Park to take them up on their offer of a powered site for a few days, we were also due to speak at the Rotary Club of Diamond Creek. For those that follow our Facebook page, you’ll already know that Paul was having a bad day, with his anxiety and panic having an advantage in the daily struggle to keep them contained. He was completely exhausted, and so we arranged for a raincheck, the Rotary Club being very understanding of Paul’s health, and happy for us to come back when we’re in Victoria in January. 

As if a battle with mental health isn’t enough, Paul now has a physical one too. On Wednesday evening, he stepped out of the camper trailer (which we’ve done hundreds of times now!), and onto a patch of uneven ground next to it. His ankle rolled, making a sickening crunch, and he dropped to the ground, crying out in pain. The kids saw him fall and were extremely upset. Kirstine checked to make sure he didn’t have pain anywhere else before helping him to sit up and grabbing a packet of frozen veg from the freezer. Looking at the growing lump on the side of his ankle, we got everyone into the Legend and headed to the Seymour District Hospital urgent care department. 

The nurse on duty didn’t bat an eyelid as Luna walked in with us, and dropped to the floor next to the hospital bed that Paul was instructed to lie on. With radiology closed for the day, the kids watched with great interest as Chris prepared a back slab cast for Paul’s ankle, to give it support till we could get back the next day. Interestingly, Chris told us that her parents took her on a trip around Australia too when she was young. She fondly remembers the journey, and in her words “turned out just fine!”. Chris has had a varied nursing career, including working in remote communities, so knew some of the places we have been to.

We headed home with some pain relief, a pair of crutches, and concerns about what the x-ray would show the next day.

The radiology staff and hospital staff fell in love with Luna on Thursday, as did the brilliant staff at Seymour Medical Centre that afternoon when we had an appointment to get the x-ray results. An undisplaced fracture of the malleolus is a better outcome than it could have been. The back slab cast was bandaged on again, and another x-ray needs to be done on Wednesday this week, allowing time for the swelling to subside, to assess if there was only one break, and whether Paul can move to a moon boot, or is doomed to a full cast for six weeks. Getting the pain under control is also key, as Paul’s body is resistant to some of the controlled forms of relief. Either way, the trip will continue, and with Kirstine driving, Paul can concentrate on documenting his thoughts about the trip. 

The staff here at the Big 4 Seymour Tourist Park have been brilliant. Kirstine went to speak with Andrew to let him know that we need to extend our stay due to Paul’s injury. Prepared to pay for the unexpected extension, Kirstine was blown away when Andrew said “just see how you go. It’s fine”. Even more than that, the cleaning staff helped move a chair into the disabled shower for Paul, and provided us with a sign to close the amenities while he showered, so that Kirstine could assist in making sure he didn’t slip and break the other ankle!

The kids insist on sitting in the camper to keep Paul company as they do their school work. Luna knows that Dad has a bung foot, and uses every opportunity to lie next to him on the bed.

So, Seymour, we’re here for a bit longer, but for medical reasons. Your hospitality and kindness is so appreciated, and helps to ease the stress of this unexpected stumble in our trip. Thank you!

 

Taggerty tranquility & Camping Adventures!

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Taggerty is a haven of tranquility beyond the Yarra Valley, nestled alongside the Acheron River. The Big 4 Taggerty Holiday Park had provided us with a site for four nights, and graciously changed it to a powered site once we saw the overnight temperatures forecast. We’ve become quite accustomed to the warmer weather from Queensland, and Victoria is known for taking her time to commit to Spring/Summer temps. Being close to a great camp kitchen was a wonderful bonus – we had a full oven available and were able to have a roast lunch on Sunday!

We met up with Graham at Camping Adventures in Carrum Downs, and this wonderful man, enjoying a change to retail after a career in IT, was more than happy to support our trip and provide us with two new camping chairs, two tables, and a new LED strip light (with the orange light option to reduce bug attraction). Graham has full respect for Paul’s career. He’s known others in the emergency services front line, and admits it’s not a job that he could have done. Graham radiates contentment, and it was a real pleasure to meet someone who has changed from an office based career to retail. He was raised in a retail environment, and is thriving in it now as his own boss. 

We always have a list of messages to run when we’re near a metropolitan/regional centre, and it was tiring negotiating the traffic we’re not accustomed to anymore. It was nice to be able to kick back a little and interact with other campers. We had no less than three families tell us how wonderful our kids are in playing with younger children, and using their manners. Parenting is hard work! and while we’re strict with the kids behaviour, we always pass on the positive feedback we receive about them. We’ve seen plenty of kids who receive no guidance from their parental figures, so for people to seek us out to compliment us about the children, means a huge amount to us. 

Friendly but bold magpies, unabashed echidnas, rushing rapids and secluded shade, the Big 4 at Taggerty is a wonderful place to go and unwind. We’re never “off duty” but it was easier to try and enjoy down time here. 

We’re so grateful to Big 4 Taggerty Holiday Park, and Camping Adventures, for supporting our trip as we prepare for the journey into the outback and up to the Northern Territory!

 

Clearview Clarity

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Paul has been conscious of a lack of visibility of vehicles behind us when we tow. We reached out to Clearview Towing Mirrors, and they were thrilled to be able to help us out with a pair of their mirrors. 

They fitted them for us during a visit to their offices in Craigieburn, and the size difference is amazing. We have the original mirrors and will be refitting them once the trip is done. 

No fiddly “attachment” mirrors to supplement the existing ones, Clearview Mirrors have already spared us from a rear end collision on a Melbourne freeway! Not only can you see clearly down the entire length of the vehicle, thanks to model specific design, you also have blind spot vision. 

In the case of this near miss, we were on our way back to Dandenong, and Paul saw a vehicle change lanes at speed, not seeing the Legend already occupying the space. I’ll let you put two and two together as to why the “mobile” driver was distracted. Paul took evasive action, seeing clearly in our new mirrors that the lane beside us was unoccupied, and by doing so spared the foolish driver rear ending the Legend. Not only would this have injured our daughter, who travels in the third row, we would have had lengthy delays with police reports and repairs.

We can definitely see ourselves enjoying a safer drive thanks to the amazing clarity of Clearview Towing Mirrors, even when we aren’t towing!

Thanks Clearview!

 

Sublime support (literally) from Dobinson Springs & Suspension

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Chris Kelly from Dobinson Springs & Suspension in Melbourne doesn’t mince words when it comes to PTSD and depression. He believes that whilst attitudes are starting to change, there is much more to be done to support those suffering, including family and friends affected. Chris has seen the calming effect that canines can have on a person in a state of anxiety and panic, and as a result wholeheartedly believes in our mission to get people talking AND listening, and make mental health assistance dogs more visible in the community.

Chris offered to upgrade the suspension and shock absorbers in the Legend. Paul used to have Dobinsons in his GQ Patrol when he was racing 4WDs, and knows the outstanding quality and improved ride that comes from these products. One of the owners of the Big 4 in Taggerty is an ex-mechanic, and also swears by Dobinson Springs & Suspension.

The Legend is towing the 1500kg (approx) Cub Camper 90% of the time, and already through very rough corrugations and terrain. This puts a lot of strain on the Legend, and we had noticed compression in the rear springs. You know things aren’t quite right when oncoming vehicles flash their lights, thinking we’re on high beam, but it’s really the downward pull at the back, tilting our front end up.

Failure of suspension components though excessive strain (such as towing an off road camper trailer over 80,000km) could not only cause an accident, but also result in us being stranded till parts and repairs could be done. Not an ideal thought when we’re headed outback again soon!

The Legend is our much loved and reliable workhorse, so upgraded suspension and shocks is some pampering that she deserves for all the hard work she does for us! Dobinsons are holding the original parts for us, so that we can change her back when the trip is done.

We spent the morning with Chris, his team, and Tim Bates (of Tim Bates 4WD Adventures fame), who Chris had invited to come and do some filming to highlight the trip and document the change in suspension. The kids worked solidly on their school work, and Luna lapped up the attention. It was fascinating to see observe the work being done on the Legend, and see the vivid teal coloured springs, and yellow shock absorbers being fitted. Chris treats every vehicle that he works on as if it were his own, and was very particular in ensuring that the Legend was handling correctly.

Tim & Paul spent a lot of time in conversation – 4WDs, accessories, DJI drones, and Tim’s new TV show in the works. Tim reckons we need new tyres for the remainder of the trip, and was good enough to contact his own sponsor, Goodyear, on our behalf to see if they can help us out.

Since leaving Dobinsons that afternoon, Paul has been amazed at the change in ride and handling of the Legend, and towing – well, there’s no sag in the rear when we have the Cub hitched. We stopped in to show Chris the before/after with the trailer, and he could see the change as well, and was glad we are happy. He also gave us a Dobinson 40” LED light bar, giving us super bright illumination for the outback.

Tim, it was great to meet you, and we look forward to seeing your video when it’s ready. All the best with your new show!

We love Chris’s passion for our cause, and are proud to have Dobinson Springs & Suspension driving with us around Australia.

Goodies from GME

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Mary at the Big 4 Dandenong Tourist Park has been wonderful in providing us with a powered site for our stay. With a few sponsor meetings in the area, it has been a peaceful and convenient location to enjoy, with great camp kitchen facilities.

While Paul was checking us in, Kirstine chatted with a Jayco staff member who’d noticed Luna and had a relative who used to train Military Working Dogs. This man had suffered with depression all his life, and now recognises it in others and encourages them to talk. He loved what we are doing, but wondered why we didn’t have a Jayco! “Go straight to the big boss if you need one”, he suggested. A lovely gesture on his part, but we love our Cub. It’s conquered the Cape and has more tough roads ahead. We know it’s up to the task.

Mary received a parcel on our behalf, with GME having sent us two super tough UHF handheld radios and accessories in a custom Pelican style case. These units are waterproof and dust proof, completing our communications package. We are now extremely well kitted out for the upcoming remote travels on our itinerary. Thanks GME!

Incredibly cool – Icom

 

We met with Jason and some of the management team from Icom once we arrived in Dandenong. Paul & Kirstine were so comfortable visiting this engaging team, and they were so very focussed on hearing stories from our trip.

We were particularly honoured to meet Mr Komoda, the Managing Director of Icom Australia. He admired the signage on the Legend, and was very observant about the accessories fitted. Icom are partnered with the Nissan Motor Sports team (NISMO), and now have another Nissan association, this time with Driving Oz with the Black Dog and the Nissan Australia Foundation.

In support of our trip, Icom have provided us with a UHF and hand held airband radio, so that once Paul completes his Aeronautical Radio Operator certificate, as part of the Remote Operator certification with FPV Australia in Brisbane next month, he will be able to ensure that his drone flights don’t interfere with aircraft flight operations.

We’d been a bit stressed negotiating Melbourne traffic again, but left our visit to Icom feeling much better. Mr Komoda even made sure that the kids received a couple of goodies, so they weren’t left out.

We look forward to a great partnership with Icom. Oh, and Marty – Cooper’s watch says 9.09pm at the time of typing this. What time do you have? 😛

Retreat to the Goldfields

 

As with every set of school holidays, the kids visit with family for half of them. The first hour after dropping them off is a strange passing of time. Every so often one of us yells out, reminding the kids to be quiet, purely for the childish glee of watching the other jump with fright, having settled into the peace of a vehicle carrying only two adults and a dog.

We knew that this would be ‘down time’, as everyone across the country is unsettled during school holidays, either as a traveller, or someone having to cope with the extra traffic on the road during their everyday commute.

Maryborough was our destination for a couple of days. It’s a pleasant town, and the Maryborough Caravan Park is situated by Lake Victoria. Danny was good enough to give us a discounted rate for our stay, and a site near the new and stunning camp kitchen/amenity block.

It was a peaceful stay, and we even enjoyed a sleep in or two! A walk around the lake was relaxing – with newly hatched ducklings keeping their parents busy, and a couple of comical black swan cygnets waddling on land before collapsing on their bellies to eat the grass around them.

Luna proved popular again, and at one stage a lady brought over some leftovers from her bbq, and asked if Luna could have them. This lady had lost her German Shepherd, and it was those fond memories that lead her to seek us out. Anticipating a positive response, this gorgeous lady had already chopped a large amount of steak into small pieces and wrapped them in foil. What a treat for Luna!

Paul was approached by a couple of campers, who had already “googled” us to see what we were doing. They were interested in the FPV & Mongrel Gear stickers that Paul was putting on the Legend, as they had just observed a drone flying over the campground. It’s a field that has taken Paul’s interest, and he chatted with them for some time.

We moved on to picturesque Creswick, for a change of scenery. Frank runs the Creswick Calembeen Lake Caravan Park, and loved what we are doing. He gave us a great rate for our stay, and told us the kids stay for free once we picked them up that weekend.

The resiny scent of pine in the air, mingled with spring blossom, was intoxicating. Kirstine found herself breathing deeply and enjoying the sweet fresh air.

Creswick brought people to us, who needed to share.

One neighbour, and older gentleman who’s been coming to Creswick since he was six weeks old, told us of his brother who went to Vietnam and was “not right” when he came back. This man, perhaps uncharacteristically for his generation, encouraged his brother to talk. His brother’s response was that “those who have been over there, don’t want to talk about what they’ve seen”. Interestingly, this man recognised that frontline military service has always resulted in some coming home and not being able to cope, though the naming conventions may have changed – shell shock, post Vietnam syndrome, post traumatic stress disorder. His brother sought help, and has found a way to cope with his condition. Paul was given a genuine invitation to join this gentleman for a counter meal at the pub, if Paul felt he needed to chat. Sadly our plans didn’t fit in to make this happen, but Paul was nonetheless touched by the support being offered.

Another visitor came past to pat Luna, and ended up visiting us three times over the course of our stay. He was genuinely concerned for Paul, as he had experienced a mate who had a breakdown after years in the ambulance service. His mate one day walked into a freezing cold river, and couldn’t be coaxed out, but had to be physically returned to shore for treatment. This man knew then that not only is it emergency services staff that are vulnerable, it is the men in small communities who hold important public roles and feel they can’t “show weakness” by admitting they are upset by things they experience. Paul was surprised when this man hugged him, in an utmost show of empathy and compassion for our situation. Our visitor also went to great lengths to make sure Kirstine was taking care of herself, knowing the pressure that carers and family experience in supporting someone with mental illness. When we eventually left Creswick, we were certain that this man had more of his own experience that he wanted to share with us, but hadn’t quite gotten to that point before we left, instead focussing on making sure that WE were okay, and that Luna had plenty of belly rubs!

While making coffee one morning in the camp kitchen, Kirstine got into conversation with a lady regarding assistance dogs and the life changing effect they have on those with mental illness. This lady told me that her teenaged daughter suffers from PTSD, and struggles to function without her mother near her in public. Sometimes her daughter will take the dog and go for long walks, and they seem to calm her anxious mind. The mother acknowledged the frustration that carers can experience, in having to assist with even simple tasks when away from home, but said that since she went to counselling with her daughter, she understands now WHY her daughter becomes so stressed. It has helped the mother to exercise more patience, and she was very interested in how a mental health assistance dog may bring her daughter more support and confidence. Kirstine reminded this lady to also take care of herself, and find a way to replenish her emotional energy stores. Caring is very much a labour of love, and it can take its toll.

Paul’s nightmares disturb his sleep every night, but they seem to abate so that he sleeps more peacefully in the hour or two before dawn. Kirstine is usually retiscent to wake him until she needs to. With the children away, and Paul sound asleep, Kirstine spent a quiet half hour with a coffee and a piece or two of chocolate at a picnic table, watching the ducks drifting about on Calembeen Lake in the morning light. A simple pleasure, but add in that pine scented air and quiet of the morning, and you have a recipe for self-care, and contemplation of the many in depth conversations we had during a “week off” as parents. Whilst we share our experiences with those who ask, we’re always ready to listen to those who need to talk.

Harassment is NOT OK!

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So it seems it’s time again to vent a bit about attitudes of some businesses towards assistance animals.

Kirstine booked overnight accommodation for our family of six, at some expense due to school holidays, using Booking.com. As always, she specifically notes in the booking that we are travelling with a registered service/assistance dog, and are more than happy to provide her ID when we check in. We’ve done this several times since Luna passed her Public Access Test, booked all online, and with absolutely no issues whatsoever. Thankfully, most hotels, motels, caravan parks are aware of their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. We have given copies of Luna’s ID, and had some fabulous discussions with people about the amazing work that mental health assistance dogs do for their handlers. 

In this particular instance, we actually had a lovely stay in a pleasant location, and even had the owner/manager compliment us on our purpose of raising awareness for such an important issue. Kirstine thanked him for the great stay when she returned the key the next morning.

Imagine our shock then, when today (3 days later) this same owner/manager calls to abuse Paul for the presence of dog hair in the room, and to complain about the cost to him to clean the unit. From the way he carried on, you would think that we had trashed the place!!

“Kirstine specifically mentioned Luna when she made the booking online – you knew she was with us”, Paul said

“Why do you need the dog?” the Owner/Manager asked. 

“Because I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. She is my mental health assistance dog”, Paul replied.

“Why did she need to be on the couch or the bed?”, the owner/manager continued. 

“Because that is where she does most of her work”, said Paul.

For new followers, one of Luna’s tasks in support of Paul’s mental health, is that she wakes him from PTSD nightmares by jumping on the bed, and/or lying on him, “grounding” him until his anxiety is reduced or dissipates. She will also do this if he becomes anxious or distressed and there is space for her to access his lap to get into his face, ie, if he is sitting on a chair or couch.

Paul is more often than not, happy to talk to people about Luna, seeing every discussion as a learning opportunity for the community. 

NOTE – 

DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION ACT 1992 – SECT 39

Harassment in relation to the provision of goods and services

It is unlawful for a person who, whether for payment or not, provides goods or services, or makes facilities available, to harass another person who:

 (a)  wants to acquire the goods or services or to make use of the facilities; and

(b)  has a disability;

in relation to the disability.

 

So, a two minute phone call “not wanting to discriminate” against Paul, but effectively harassing him instead, has sent him into a downward spiral again. There was no point to the call, except to complain and give Paul a hard time. 

Did Luna pee/poop inside? No. Did she chew on furniture or scratch the walls? No. Did she bark and make a nuisance of herself, disrupting other guests? No. Did she leave some hair on the (non-carpeted) floor, couch and bed? Yes. She’s a dog, and that’s going to happen, unless we shave her completely (which ISN’T going to happen).

In short, did she damage the property? No. We’d never allow it, and a genuine service/assistance dog is extremely well behaved.

Kirstine is furious. It is NOT OK to phone and harass someone with a disability. It is incredibly tempting to pick up the phone and call them back, and tell them that as a result of their callous and ill-conceived two minute phone call, I now have to watch my husband hit rock bottom again, and stay there while he finds a way to cope with this latest challenge. This person has NO IDEA how hard every day is for Paul. For him, answering the phone when it rings is a daily fight against sudden anxiety, and they get to simply hang up and go get the vacuum and wash some sheets, going about their everyday business.

Well, Mr Owner/Manager, I’ve complained to the Human Rights Commission of Australia. I genuinely hope you get a phone call soon that gives you a taste of the anxiety that plagues Paul, in every waking (and sleeping) moment. 

 

A walk in West Wyalong

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Growing up in country New South Wales and travelling frequently between Dubbo, Parkes, Forbes & Albury, it was tradition in Kirstine’s family to stop at the roadhouse at West Wyalong. Her dad would buy cheese sandwiches and a couple of buckets of chips, and we’d keep driving. Of course, once dad did the maths on how much money the roadhouse was making from a loaf of bread and block of cheese, it became mum’s job to make the sandwiches before leaving home. Chip & cheese sandwiches are still a road trip staple even now.

That’s all we knew of West Wyalong, until we decided to stop there as we headed south to meet some school holiday obligations for the kids.

Jodi and James at the West Wyalong Caravan Park welcomed us with a site for the night, and it is so wonderful to have people excited to meet you!

The kids did some school work (that’s how much they love the education program we are using – they NAG US to do school work!), and played totem tennis, while Paul & Kirstine caught up on trip admin. A storm was a-brewing, so we had a quick tea of chicken and salad rolls before watching a family movie and sending the kids to bed. The wind picked up, so we pegged down the annex to the roof top tent to stop it blowing in on the kids.

It was a windy night, and sadly not much rain travelled with it. Jodi had said that the farmers were really looking forward to some rain over the weekend. It’s certainly not the first time we’ve heard about farmers needing rain, and if we had one magic power as we travel the country, it would be to summon rain clouds bursting to the brim with soaking rain to communities that need it.

Kirstine got chatting with Jodi the next morning, and asked if we could stay another day. After checking their bookings, James came to tell us that we were welcome to stay another night. The kids were ecstatic – no need to pack up camp! Leaving Paul to work on some of his drone videos, Kirstine took the kids into town for a walk and to pick up groceries. We hadn’t known how large West Wyalong is! You don’t have to go through the main street of town when you are on the highway, so it was wonderful to see the heritage buildings and thriving businesses.

That afternoon the kids played with others that had arrived with their families, and even had turns at cracking a whip! This continued into the evening, and they eventually fell into bed after tea, though our eldest daughter almost didn’t make it to tea time. She was so exhausted that she fell asleep cuddled up to Paul.

Paul spoke to new arrivals from a caravan club about our trip, and we heard other stories about NSW Ambulance paramedics who left the job because there was no support when their mental health suffered, concerns of mothers for their children who’ve joined the military, and dismay at some so-called “communities” who turn their backs on people when things get tough. Thankfully West Wyalong is not one of those communities. Jodi spoke of the supportive townspeople, and how comfortable she is there with James, even though she’s not from town originally.

These inclusive communities have the best chance for survival, and resilience where mental health is concerned. James and Jodi are delightful, so if you decide to venture off the highway and see the town of West Wyalong, rather than just the roadhouse, stay at the West Wyalong Caravan Park, and tell them Driving Oz with the Black Dog sends their love!