Riverland Ramblings

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Renmark was a busy town on the weekend that we were there, with the Renmark Rocks On festival & State Wakeboard Championships bringing in visitors from across the state and the border. We were grateful that the Riverbend Caravan Park had welcomed us for three nights. Our cause is near to their hearts, as their son is struggling with the loss of his best friend to suicide. We had people come and chat with us about our trip, and share various stories. One lady has an incurable illness which triggered depression. She found that helping look after her grandchildren eased the days when the dark cloud was harder to shift. Another older gentleman commented on our “No Room for Racism” sticker, which an Elder at Yulara gave us last year. He loved it, and went to tell us that his father was the Headmaster at a school in western NSW, at Euabalong. Of the small school population back in the day, many were indigenous, and this man’s father actually met with the local Elders, to ask them to teach him their language. According to this gentleman, “the Elders were amazed that an important white man wanted to learn from them”. They agreed, and the Headmaster went on to incorporate indigenous language lessons into the school’s practice, and even spoke it at home with his family. The gentleman then apologised for taking up our time and shuffled off, but of course we would have loved him to stay and share more of his childhood so closely integrated with the traditional owners of the land they lived on.

Our banners were displayed proudly both at camp, and at a picnic shelter overlooking the Murray. With all the houseboat and other boat traffic over the weekend, we’re sure a lot of people got to see them. The safe swimming lagoon was beautiful on a hot day. There is something magical about the Murray River.

Moving on to Mildura, we actually had a few offers of accommodation, but stayed at the Big 4 Mildura Getaway. Adele absolutely has her finger on the pulse of Mildura, and have us several great tips on local sights and tours. When the topic of conversation turned to the high rate of suicide in Mildura, she solemnly acknowledged that what we have heard is true. According to Adele, she was lucky – her kids survived. Even while we were in Mildura, Adele let us know that she had guests staying who had arrived for the funeral of a man who had taken his own life.

I guess as outsiders, it’s hard to see why the statistic is so high. Mildura is a large city, with tertiary education and employment opportunities, yet when we’ve tried to find reports about these statistics (28 deaths by suicide in the last three years to 2016) we’ve seen many reports blaming the figures on the insidious drug – Ice. It obviously can’t be the sole reason, and in 2016 Mildura was one of six Victorian locations targeted for specialised prevention support as part of the State Government’s Suicide Prevention Framework 2016 – 2025. The community is fighting hard and we love that!

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Mildura, though we disappointed that we couldn’t leave the children at the old gaol at Wentworth when we visited! Adele provided us with an ensuite site, which was a wonderful surprise! We made good use of the pizza oven in the bbq area behind us (you might have seen Kirstine’s attempt at Facebook Live while there). The full camp kitchen was a great base for Paul to supervise a roast pork, while Kirstine watched the kids throw themselves down the waterslide into the gorgeous pool, though they were torn between swimming and playing in the Play Room. There is so much to see in Mildura, and we hope to go back on a holiday as a family and explore more.

The Discovery Park at Moama provided us with a quiet powered site, which turned out to be a blessing, as Paul’s mental health plummeted on the way there, and he had a rough couple of days, and Kirstine had sleepless nights as a result. The kids spent hours playing at the spectacular water park and pool areas, Kirstine ensuring Paul had some peace and quiet with Luna to find his energy to push back against the cloud which suddenly fell on him. Some days the pressure of travel, combined with nightmares and lack of sleep, is too much, and it catches up with him. On days of lowered resilience or fatigue, it only takes a piece of bad news or sudden change of plans to shatter the barrier he keeps his “broken mind” in check with. If you’re wondering why I use that terminology, see the article I shared on Facebook from the SBS page, then it will all make sense, as much as the complex world of mental illness CAN.

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.