LTD11

In 2004 my mate Brian and I traveled through Queensland, the Territory, Arnhem Land and back to Brisbane via the Simpson Desert. At the Daley Waters pub we were asked what we were up to - I replied Lookin', Talkin' and Drinkin' so all such trips became simply LTD followed by the year - hence LTD11. Read on..... Weather perfect, road good, fuel tank and Engel full as I pull out of Northampton, 50ks north of Geraldton. I've been living there for a week with my brother-in-law and his brother. 73 and 75 respectively they had a huge litany of stories about fishing, hunting and life in general. They argued over the details for hours and kept me entertained for a full week. Northampton is a very historical town; one you can drive through in five minutes but if you stop, there are plenty of interesting stories. First settled in the 1850s by Welsh and Cornish miners who come in search of lead. They found the lead and early graves as the lead ore took a toll. Convicts were landed at nearby Port Gregory and buildings and roads bear their mark. We went out the Hutt River Province about 50 ks out of town. A wheat farm of some 18,000 acres, the owner, Len Casley, took umbrage at the wheat quota he was allocated in the 70s and while politicians weren't concentrating he seceded from the Commonwealth. He instituted, by royal decree, a monarchical society and appointed himself Prince Leaonard. More over the fold.... It's a good story in the telling but years down the track it's a bit tacky. We were met by Prince Wayne who was badly in need of a shower, clean clothes, a dental plan and some education to round out his diction. He took us to the Post Office and I was nearly hung up by the cobwebs in the doorway. The Province is not taxed by the Commonwealth of Australia so one would expect some entrepreneurial chap could surely make a go of it but I got the impression from the locals that the old man Len had the get-up-an-go and the sons, Prince Wayne included, don't. The Hutt River Province website I took a day trip back to Geraldton looking for the grave of one of my diggers from the Vietnam days. That exercise failed but I did visit the HMAS Sydney Memorial. My father served on the Sydney and was sent ashore to go to hospital the night before the Sydney went out to meet her doom so it is very significant to me. The Memorial website has the story with pictures I headed for Sharks Bay arriving late and went out and camped on Eagle Bluff overlooking the Bay. I arrived in Carnarvon and stayed with my sister and brother-in-law for a week. You might recall during our flooding Carnarvon got flooded twice in a couple of weeks and the town was still recovering when I was there. Family obligation box now ticked…Mother and three sisters all very well visited by self. Leave Carnarvon and head north. The road is getting more and more like the Nullabour with few trees over two metres and miles of nothing but it does have huge dry river beds that turn into raging torrents in the wet season. Dropped into Coral Bay and was frightened away by the crowds. The few streets were packed with walking tourists so I got out. These bloody grey nomads are everywhere with their large vans and Nissan or Toyotas. I chose to go along the road less travelled from Coral Bay to Exmouth called the 4WD Beach Access road. Signs warned of rough roads, 4WD only and don’t try it in the rain. It took me 5 hours to do 58 ks and several hours to repair the damage done to the trailer. I would have passed several hundred roos in big mobs – seriously..that many- my trigger finger was itching. They weren’t a problem until the road became bitumen on the last 70 ks to Exmouth where I cleaned up two of them but they went under rather than over and other than bit of blood and gore, no damage - I also got a slow leak as well and then every NP camp site was full. I continued onto Exmouth, arrived late in the evening and camped on the side of the road. I had been to Exmouth before when I sailed off the NW coast. I recalled an RSL Sub Branch that had a great BBQ on Fri evenings. Then I met lots of old friends and made some new ones. This time I booked into the caravan park ($40 a night – thank you) cleaned up and went to the RSL. No longer big crowds but some guys and gals and a good night. I had seen a vehicle town with a rego plate “Woofer” and the SAS badge on the back window. Instead of “Who Dares Wins” he had “Who Cares Who Wins – I’ m retired” Woofer was a character from my old days in the regiment and he turned up and we had a good lubricated chat. Further north. The next town of note is Karratha. It’s a Rio Tinto town with the company having most of the money and the Toyota dealership the rest. It is non-stop. 300,000 ton ships are loading 6 at a time and turning around in about 30 hours. The trains are miles long and continuous. The town has about 12,000 residents, mostly doing 3 by 8 hour shifts moving the iron ore out. Dress du jour is hi-vis shirts and I counted 58 Toyotas in a line during peak hour before one Nissan turned up. I had limped into town with a blown trailer bearing and as you can imagine there was absolutely no parts for Land Rovers in Toyota Town. I had to get a new hub up from Perth. Three days to make….three days to courier (if you pay us $50 express rate) and don’t count the weekend. Come back next week with $220! I had booked into the Dampier Transit Caravan Park just near the wharves. This gave me an added feature of red iron dust being blown through everything I owned whenever the wind exceeded 2 knots. The park was run by a hippy type chick and I hadn’t realized the significance of the word “Transit” in its name – three day max - which conflicted severely with bearing man’s 8 days for parts. They didn’t want people living there – fair enough, but as I have no wheel attached to my van can we make an exception? No says Hippy Chick even though she took my $20 for another night. I raised my attention span to “Panic” and went and brought the new bearings – they were common – put the buggered drum back on as a quick fix and went to get my $20 back. I was greasy, otherwise dirty and not in the best of moods. She didn’t blink said “No – you can stay” and then “ Why didn’t she tell me you wanted another night?” There was no other “She” It was either a case of bipolar, split personality, drugs or alcohol. I smiled politely and sidled out of the office and went to bed. I get out of town feeling like a shorn sheep. I went to Port Sampson and booked in for two nights at the caravan park, watched the State of Origin – mores the pity – and then went bush looking to save some money after the drum/bearings shock. I camped at Cleaverville for a night. No facilities but $7 and later I read the sign that said “No Chemical Toilet – No camping”. I went bush near Roeburne (the bush is better than the town) and waited there for my parts. Parts collected and now I head for Meentheena Station, 80 ks east of Marble Bar on the western edge of the Great Sandy Desert. A WA Vet had secured the rights to an abandoned cattle station as a Veteran’s Retreat and I thought it would be a good place to hide away and as it had some infrastructure – a good place to do my trailer wheels. I arrived and there were some vets there but it was remote and shitty country. On the road there I passed a 4 dog road train every k or two full of manganese. It appears the state government had resumed the property to get rid of cattle wandering over the roads and disrupting the flow of manganese. Even these big rigs have trouble when they hit a half ton beast with a front wheel. The resulting prang is not a good thought. I did the work on the trailer. I replaced the buggered drum and bearings on one and replaced the bearings on the other. It was not ideal working conditions and near the end of the job I’m distracted by a willy willy that disassembles my tent and nearly puts it in the trailer. Dust and shit everywhere and I spend some time recovering debris, food and clothing and then finish the job. I had lost my place and concentration. On the road out next morning the rent falls due. Because I was distracted I didn’t tighten the nuts on one of the wheels fully as was displayed by the heart sinking vision of a wheel bounding off into the bush and my trailer on a serious lean behind. I’m still in the Great Sandy Desert although on a good road. The studs had been torn out of the hub and the bolt holes in the wheel machined out to about two inches. I’m sitting contemplating the problem in very poor humour when I hear on the radio channel used by the road train cowboys “ Careful – old guy changing wheels around the corner” I throw a rock at him but as he is carrying 80 tons of rocks my message is lost. I managed to use bolts I had securing the spare trailer wheel to the trailer as make shift studs but could only get two tightened. It is hot and I’m tiring and hyperventilating from effort so decide to risk it at 20ks an hour into Marble bar which, happily and coincidently is the hottest town in the world. Note from Wikipedia: Marble Bar has an arid climate with very hot summers and mild to warm winters. The town set a world record of most consecutive days of maximum temperatures of 37.8 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) or more, during a period of 160 such days from 31 October 1923 to 7 April 1924.[5] I get there with fingers crossed and the abuse of road train drivers ringing in my ears – where’s the mechanic…there isn’t one….where’s the closest one…Port Headland – 200 ks away. I check the nuts every 20 ks and drive at 70 k/h all the way and with fingers crossed I make it. Along the way an o ring that had been inserted 10 years previously into the cars air suspension system by some Pakistani ‘couldn’t-care-less’ worker in Britain decided it had reached its use-by date resulting in my doing the 200 ks with the added attention grabbing accessory that had the car on its bumper stops. I pull into South headland Caravan Park to read the sign ‘Full”. Nevertheless I went into the office and asked what time I should come by in the morning to get a site. Unknown to me I was black from grease. Grease on my hands from the bearings had transferred to my hair, face, arms and clothes. The delightful and sympathetic girl behind the counter said she couldn’t turn me away and I got a site and shower a12.50 a night which must be the cheapest rate in Australia. The fact that I may have looked like I was about to cry might have had some bearing on the matter! The next morning my luck changed. I pulled into the first Mechanic shop I saw and although initially he was reluctant to get involved in my problems I won him around. First problem – the drum. He made a call and a guy come around with the Land Rover hub studs he had kept for years in a drawer. While this was going on I searched for common ground. Eureka – he was a politically involved conservative and wanted dearly to start a blog but didn’t know how to go about it. He could have been a politically involved tree hugging hippy – I just would have adjusted! I say nothing but I feel I have won lotto. With my drum fixed and no bill so far I went back to the caravan park and fixed my trailer, paying particular attention to nut torsion. The next morning he comments “ You know, I have no idea why I decided to help you – I never help tourists. I have two month’s work backed up” Whilst chatting about politics he replaced the o ring – a job that would entail several hours labour in Brisbane as the procedure is to take the entire EAS air suspension system out and fix. He did it in situ and after an hour the car has suspension. While doing the work he notices my slouch hat in the car and questions me and it all comes out. Army…Vietnam vet…blogger…computer fixer. No bill yet but I offer to come back after work and give him some lessons and maybe set up a dummy blog for him to practice on. He’s keen. I give him about an hour of coaching and set up a trial Word Press blog on my server and give him enough knowledge to start. He’s excited and I’m quietly anticipating a reduced bill. You’d best give me a bill I say – don’t worry about it he replies! He is building a house for his wife an self so today I will go to my new mates place and help him – life is a two way street Yesterday my trailer batteries started getting low and being in a cheap ($12.50 a night) non-powered site I went to the office and asked if I could move a bit and tap into a power outlet in the wall of a nearby shed. Yep – no worries! I move and put the batteries on charge. I just went up to the office and paid for another two days and they only charged me the non-powered rate I am sitting down writing this in peaceful composure knowing that bad luck is never forever and there are good people in the world.

2 comments

  • Kev, good fortune follows or is in sync with good nature!! Can’t wait for the unprinted stories!!

  • I can’ t wait to tell you either.The shady deck (if it still exists) is calling. I’m currently weary of this monastic travel as my bride is still three weeks from arrival. After that – 5 weeks in the Kimberly then drop her off at Darwin airport and then more weeks across the Gulf country to Cairns and then the run south. And…I’m virtually teetotal.

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