Ship Ahoy!

Albany WA. I’m over in the west looking after my Mother’s estate and learning all about probate and wills.  In between I get some R & R and yesterday I signed on as crew on a tug.  I didn’t do any work, just took pics and asked questions, but you can get away with that when your cousin is the Captain. Cousin Len started when Albany had a whaling station and spent his days hunting and killing whales working his way up the ranks. After whaling finished he moved to tugs and now skippers the Karoo, one of two tugs working the port of Albany.

The Karoo

No helm on modern tugs, just a joy stick. The bar above his wrist adjusts the revs and steering is by rotating the control.  The two props rotate 360 degrees independently for maximum agility.  Len’s other hand is on the port control. That’s left for you landlubbers.  2,500 horsepower on each engine making it marginally more powerful than my Rangie V8. And more thirsty.   The engineer had spent 25 years in the navy so we had something in common.  He took me through the engine room and explained the process. Two cat engines are connected to the propellers via a z -drive IMG_1712which is a type of marine propulsion unit. Specifically, it is an azimuth thruster. The pod can rotate 360 degrees allowing for rapid changes in thrust direction and thus vessel direction. This eliminates the need for a conventional rudder and makes the tug very maneuverable. We sailed through Princess Royal Harbour out to King George Sound where the ships were anchored waiting their turn to be taken in. As an aside this is the harbour that the ANZAC fleet left from in 1914. (See map below)    

One of four ships anchored overnight waiting for the tugs

The ship to be brought in weighed anchor and headed to the port under it’s own steam.  The two tugs come about and match the speed of the ship fore and aft on the port side.  The ship’s deckhand drops a line that is then connected to the tugs towing line on a huge winch that is marginally bigger than the one on my mate’s Nissan.  In fact it’s bigger than the Nissan. That line is hauled in by the ships capstan and that line hauls up the large towing hawser.     AURORA_LIGHT
The ship, Aurora Light, weighs in at 54,000 tonnes and is a woodchip carrier operating between Albany and Japan.  The two tugs now take the weight and slow the ship down as she enters Princess Royal Harbour and the Port of Albany. The Captain of the ship controls the tugs as they bring the ship to a halt level with the dock but a hundred metres or so away. Then by one pushing and the other tugging, they turn the ship through 180 degrees and then nudge into the dock.

Map of Albany showing Princess Royal Harbour on the left and King George Sound on the right

  3 hours of bloke bliss, 5,000 hp under my feet and a competent Captain maneuvering the tug like an extension of his hand. A good day.    

Sailor Kev

This afternoon I am boarding the P&O cruise ship ‘Sun Princess’ for a circumnavigation of the southern most island of the shaky isles. I’m not big into cruises but my wife is so picture me on the sundeck, beer in hand watching the scenery, both on-board and off. By the time we get to the southern most point of the voyage I’ll most probably be forced to drinking warm rum toddies but the scenery in Milford Sound should make it all worthwhile See you all in a couple of weeks.

Grey Nomads

Observant readers may have noticed, I did a bit of travelling recently. Ostensibly I was visiting my 92 year old mother in Albany WA as well as a bevy of sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunties etc all living in the state. Coming from Brisbane, I traveled through NSW, SA and then onto Albany. With family matters attended to, I then went North with a view of circumnavigating Australia. I sport a full head of grey hair, am nomadic and of a certain age but I developed a dislike of the Grey Nomads. Not the nomads themselves, more what they have done to the country, or, more so, what the country has done to accommodate them. As an example, two iconic outback pubs – Heartbreak Hotel and the Daly Waters Pub have both degenerated into Grey Nomad Caravan Processing Stopovers. As a younger man I traveled to these exotic place, long before they were included in every Grey Nomad’s bucket list and enjoyed the company of drovers, truckies (modern drovers) local black guys, graziers, local lovelies winding up for a big night out, all of whom were serviced by an Aussie publican and bartenders. Subjects of discussion varied but were mainly about the area and its problems, politics, sex and religion – all basic ingredients for a good night, Now the truckies are still there but they are swamped by well dressed, cashed up nomads served by packpackers with an accountant in charge all involved in incessant chatter about Jayco versus Kimberly vans, superannuation, medical procedures, the stock market and ‘have you been to the Pilbara yet’ type conversations. The soulless thoughts of urban life have replaced the soul of the outback. Pity really.


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…. Continue reading »

Kampot Cambodia

A very small group of interested Cambodians, Australians and Dutch, myself included, are setting up a scheme to help Cambodians – well, a very small group of them – to come out of the horror and chaos that was Pol Pot’s genocidal regime. We have come to a small town on the southern coast called Kampot where years previously there had flourished a series of pepper plantations that marketed Kampot pepper to the world. As early as 1888 there are records of pepper being grown and exported by the Chinese and later when the French colonialized the area the pepper took on greater value and a French chef in Paris wouldn’t think of offering any meal without Kampot pepper along side the salt containor. The first part of our trip to Kampot is described here and takes us from Brisbane Australia to Kampot. When we arrived at Phnom Phen airport we were met by two people already involved in the project. One, a Cambodian national name Nareoun and the other, an expat Dutch woman name Jose. Jose had been involved in NGOs in Vietnam and Cambodia and has an abiding interest in lifting the circumstances of the local people. Nareoun was a survivor of Pol Pot’s genocide. He was a small child when his family were taken to the Killing Fields and on the road he was grabbed by a local peasant who could see what was going on and hid him behind some scrub. When the Khmer Rouge soldiers came back for him the farmer said he was his son and they left satisfied. The boy was smuggled out through the islands in Southern Cambodia and ended up in Hanoi at an orphange. He never saw his parents again. He grew up and later returned to Cambodia where he secured a government job involved in making sense out of the chaos that had been Pol Pot’s genocidal regime. When the Vietnamese attacked to quell Pol Pot, his brand of communism being too severe even for them, Nareoun’s potential was recognized and he received a scholarship to a university in Hanoi. At this university he met a Dutch Professor named Ardrie who also recognized his potential and a relationship developed. Some years later a son of my friend and friend of my son, Tim, moved to South East Asia and worked, and still does, for an American company that handles sea food processing plants in SEA. When looking for plant managers he sought out educated locals and eventually employed Nareoun as a manager in Cambodia. Tim went back to Cambodia where Nareoun had some land and a house on the river at Kampot; fell in love with the place and laid claim to a block himself. He looked around Kampot, saw the tragedy that it was with it’s poverty and aftermaths of war and decided to help. Through Nareoun, Tim met Professor Adrie P. van Gelderen at Hanoi and began to talk of the problems in Cambodia. Tim’s business of buying and packaging seafood for the US was a case in point. All produce from Cambodia was sent to Vietnam or Thailand and packaged there. Nobody wanted to buy Cambodian products so the country wasn’t even getting the flow on. Even today in Angkor Wat all the hotels buy their food from Thailand. The group decided to do something about it and the plan was hatched to buy some land in Kampot, install some farmers out of the Thai refugee camps, plant pepper and lift their lives. The land was duly purchased through the auspices of a Dutch ” Affiliate” roughly equivalent to a ‘Foundation’ in english and established by the good proffessor. Professor van Gelderen had spent years in South East Asia and had developed a desire to bypass the standard asian and western bureacracies to get help to the underpriveledged where it mattered; at their homes and villages and in their schools. He has been quoted as saying;
Education is the answer to structural and sustainable improvement of people’s living standards
…and so have I. At the same time as Nareoun was going through his ordeal a young Cambodian girl, Neang, was going through the same ordeal and ended up in the same orphange and both of them went through uni together. A long lasting friendship developed. Neang is married and lives in Phnom Pen but they have joined forces again to help their people. Neang came back to Cambodia after Pol Pot was displaced and ended up being the Private Secretary to Norodom Sirivudh, Supreme Privy Counselor to His Majesty the King and Parliamentary Member. Norodom Sirivudh was appointed King but declined, believing he could do more for his people as an MP. His nephew was appointed King and Norodom does advise HRH. Later on during the trip we had afternoon tea with this man courtesy of Neang. Norodom had heard of our project and wanted to hear what we had to say and likewise, wanted us to hear what he had to say. More on the smoko with royalty later. We met Neang for the first time at the BBQ and if ever a project was graced with a class act then Seang was it. Motivated, compassionate, educated, gracefull and an integral part of the ruling class of Cambodia she was obviously going to have an impact on whatever happened. On the trip down we had been promised a BBQ at Nareoun’s place on the river with transport provided in the form of a traditional Cambodian river boat, a cow on the spit and plenty of local beers. It sounded good and turned out to better. Our first sunset in Kampot we waited on the river bank for the traditional Cambodian boat to arrive the traditional Cambodian way – an hour late. We waited at the Rusty Keyhole Bar and developed a taste for Beerlau while waching the sun set over the river. waiting….waiting….waiting The boat duly arrived and after some fuel feed problems we were underway. The boat stopped at a local house to pick up more partygoers and I noticed a small dog scrambled on board. The dogs owner noticed it as well and picking it up nonchalently through it overboard….not invited! The boat took off and the dog was last seen swimming in circles looking for a landing point. We went upriver through magnificent jungles and eventually Brian points out Nareouns house on the river banks. The boat kept going. After some hundreds of metres I asked whether he knew if the boat ‘Captain’ knew where he was going. The question was raised; there were initial language difficulties to overcome but eventually it became apparent that the ‘Captain’ didn’t know where the hell were going and ‘Yes, they would now head back towards Nareoun’s place’ It’s reasonably dark now and we are headed for a landing that we can see by virtue of a light at the end of a jetty. What the light didn’t shine on was the Lantana bush that the ‘Captain’ unerringly targeted as we approached land. We alighted with some difficulty as the jetty was approximately 1.5 metres below the level of the bow and it all had to be done through the lantana. Woman and children first….many helping hands and then the men had to lower themselves down by their arms to reach dry secure land. We had arrived at the BBQ and it turned out to be a significant start to our visit. We met all the local players, expats, others with a dream to reinvigerate Kampot Pepper and still others who for different reasons have an impact on what happens in Kampot To be continued…..

Back From Darkest Asia

Well, that’s what it seems like. Now resident in the Grand President Appartments, Sukhumvit, Bangkok, the appartment is decidedly presidential after the last eight days in Cambodia. Welcomed also is the front page of the Bangkok Post announcing “Ruthless Aust win back Ashes” All I need to make it a great day is a couple of Poms at the bar tonight

Cambodia – Day One.

We flew out of Bangkok just over a week ago with Bangkok air and had a very good short flight to Phnom Penh. Picked up at the airport by our Khmer contact we drove to Kampot in a Mercedes Van thus heralding my reinsertion into Asian culture. It was a hot insertion as well as the traffic can be best described as chaos in motion. Mitsibishi vans with 15 people inside, three 150cc Honda bikes on the roof and three other people hanging onto them. We watched amazed as one guy transfers from inside the van to the cooler upstairs seats (read roof) and we then pull out to pass a truck to be confronted by 10 Hondas coming straight at us. Everyone merges…against all apparent odds (to a western eye) and we get back into the comparative safety zone of the right hand lane. If the van had seat belts they were not apparent which would’ve gone some way to calm my fears as we risked head-on crashes at a frequency of at least 20-25 per kilometer.

We book into the Sen Monorom Guest House and get used to life at a different pace. The French have a lot to answer for in South East Asia but surely the legacy of their plumbing has to top the list. A bidet is the local answer to hygiene and the bathrooms are unusual to say the least. 2.5 metres square; a toilet in one corner, a hand basin in another, the shower on the wall with intermittant hot water; all with a drain hole on the floor in the furtherest corner from the shower head. This guarantees the floor and your clothes are always wet unless you strip before entering.

The Guest House looks good from outside;

but on closer inspection the painters could’ve used a tape measure;

and maybe R&M could be given a higher priority.

Just saying.

Notwithstanding all the above the staff were very friendly and helpfull and the rate was only $20.00US per day. We went down town and had lunch at a local food/drink bar. Food is good and very cheap while Beerlau costs less than 1.00 a glass and became the preffered drink for the group.

We are in town, fed and watered and ready to start. Through the afternoon we rest up in preparation for meeting the Khmer and expat players at a BBQ at a locals riverside house. We are promised a cow on a spit, plenty of local refreshments and transport to the event on a traditional Khmer long boat.

More tomorrow. I can hear some Poms in the bar and I need to chat to them. I might start the conversation by saying straight face..“We’ve been bush in Cambodia for a week…do you know how the last test went?”

On Leave

Today I commence a journey to Kampot in Cambodia with a view to help bed in a programme that will eventually see a small local village become self sufficient. More on the project after I spend some time on-site. I am looking forward to this weekend in old Bangkok where I spent time during the Vietnam war. Should be fun but not too much fun if you get my drift.

Monday we fly on to Pnom Penh and then to Kampot. I will hopefully be able to blog from there with my take on Cambodia with pics and details of the project. In the new year I will set up a website to publicise and help gain support for the project. Those old South East Asian hands who spent their younger days blowing this part of the world to pieces may consider putting up their hands to help rebuild a small part of a nation shattered by communism. There is more than one way to fight the bastards even if it is remedial rather than preemptive.

Must go…plane to catch.

Busy times

Marvellous how busy one gets post-retirement. Legacy takes up much of my days at this time of the year as we work to set up another auction of militaria. The proceeds go to help support widows and children of veterans and we will most probably field over 550 lots. This year it is scheduled for 2 April at Brisbane; the date being set by my social calandar as I am off on another trip on the 10th of April. My wife thinks that just because we are undertaking a 12-15,000 journey,(depending on side tracks) in a few weeks I should be attending to trip planning and vehicle preperation NOW. Trouble is I have to work for legacy NOW leaving me one week free to get the Discovery on track, packed and ready. I’m sure it’ll work out. We plan to drive from Brisbane to Adelaide 2000 kms (1250 miles) and then put the 4WD and ourselves on the Indian-Pacific
One of the reasons we are driving to Adelaide is that the Sydney-Adelaide trip has a height restriction on vehicles of 1.57m which doesn’t say much about our national infrastructure. How does the ADF move heavy vehicles from Sydney to Adelaide?
Two nights and three days on the Indian Pacific, a week in Perth attending a Regimental reunion, then south to Albany, the home of my fathers, to visit family including my nearly 87 yr old Mother and then back home via Broome. Broome itself is 3,000 km (1,900 miles) north of Perth and is a cosmopolitan town born of pearl diving.
Established as a pearling port in the 1880s, Broome has a romantic and often flamboyant history. It was populated by people of many nationalities – mainly Europeans, Malays, Chinese and Japanese, as well as Australias indigenous people – who flocked to the shores of Roebuck Bay in the hope of making their fortune from the pearling industry. The influence of the pearling industry, with its cultural melting pot, has helped to create the distinctive character and charm of Broome. South Sea Pearls are recognised as the best in the world and pearling remains one of the towns major industries due to the cultured pearl, which revived the industry after its near demise in the late 1950s.
From Broome it is a mere 3,700 kms (2,300 miles) to Cairns along the Savanah Way through the Northern Territory, the Gulf country of NT and Queensland, up onto the Atherton Tablelands and then down the range to Cairns. Cairns to Brisbane is only 1600 odd kms (995 miles) No big flash caravan or mobile home, just a good four wheel drive, a tent and two swags. Should be a breeze.

Brahman bully

I am involved with a boys college in Brisbane that offer a Cattle Club for extra carricula activities for country and city borders and day boys. The club has an arrangement with ‘Chudley’ a red Brahman cattle stud just north of Gympie, Queensland. I am a member of the club as an adult volunteer and mentor and yes; I do have a blue card. Coming from the land myself I have some understanding of cattle and can generally make myself useful.

This “Showing” cattle is no small deal. We are talking about boys as young as thirteen and cattle as big as 800 kilos. To be able to groom, lead, control and show cattle takes a lot of knowledge and a lot more courage.

This weekend we concentrated on introducing the novice boys and young cattle to each other. With both parties nervous and in unfamiliar circumstances there was ample opportunity for things to go wrong…and they did.

I was standing in the cattle pens trying to soothe a young bull and at about the time when I thought we had developed a meaningful relationship two young calves with small boys in tow skidded past, just behind the flanks of my new friend.

Cattle are lowing, boys are yelling and instructors coaxing. “One Eye’ the cattle dog is trying to direct 20 head in four pens and a yard all at once with the head stockman yelling ‘get in behind, you bitch” and I’m left with no where to go as I’m penned in with a lot of young and not-so young Brahmans.

I turn back from the mele to see the young bull, the same guy I had a meaningful relationship with only minutes ealier, rising up on his hind quarters with evil in his eye.

For a quadraped weighing about 4-500 kilos he showed amazing speed, dexterity and determination and accurately head butted me on the left side of my face. I was stunned and showered with about a litre of saliva and whatever in my hair, on my face and shirt. My reading glasses went flying and landed under the hooves of three other young excited Brahmans giving rise to my first note of alarm. The glasses were only a month old as my previous pair had been eaten by my young black Labradour pup and stirred on by visions of having to spend another $400.00 plus I leapt to save them.

Glasses saved, my superannuant budget secure and my hat back on my head in a matter of seconds I look to my physical needs in response to everyone panicking about how hard I might have been hit. Everone but me had seen that whereas the bull headbutted me, what he was trying to do was rake down my chest, and ……mmmm, lower, with his front hooves.

A sore neck and slight headache was a small price to pay for not controlling my space so the day went on. That night we had a country band in residence and we sang along with Slim Dusty, Johnny Cash and others untill almost midnight. The wife of the guitarist/singer had her own home brewed bourbon and this, along with some 4X helped to relax my stiff body.

Of course the bourbon and beer produced a hangover that pretty well replicates any symptons of concussion so it wasn’t until today that I can say the only thing hurt was my dignity.

The boys have a “bush Poets” society at school and during the evening one young lad recited “Turbulance” If you haven’t heard it or read it, go read it now. Light hearted and very ‘Outback’ ish it’s a story of a Rodeo rough rider handling the turbulence in a aircraft.

The young bull is now living in a fools paradise as he thinks he and I have battled and he won but the last thing I saw before he hit me was his yellow NLIS tag number (2156). I now have a trace in place on this number and the day he is converted to beef, I’m going to the town where it happened and shout myself a bloody big Brahman steak.

On the Road

Currently resident at Fishery Falls, NQ – just 10 odd kilometers north of Babinda at the house of an old Army friend Denis Quick. Denis has a weekly column in the Townsville Bulletin on current and historic defence matters and has agreed to providing guest posts on and this will commence on my return to Brisbane. Another opinion can only help. The trip has been uneventful in respect of vehicle or tyre damage with poor fishing (inclement weather) but I have met some very interesting characters and will post on them later. The Discovery handled the Old Telegaraph Track with ease and in due course I will post pics of the car going vertical into river crossings and climbing river exits that no sane vehicle owner would attempt. This week promises a few days R & R on Magnetic Island out of Townsville, a few beers with old army mates and then home by the weekend when my leave pass runs out. Until then.
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