On arrival at Mount Isa I took a room for two nights at
the Mount Isa Backpackers. The town has all the fine
characteristics of a great mining town. For a start it’s
stinking hot in the middle of summer and the winter nights are
freezing cold. Winter days in Mount Isa are glorious. But do
they pay for it when the summer comes around and the heat rolls
The mine sits
right next to the shopping center, with tall smoke stacks from
the smelters towering over the town. The town’s shopping center
is large and has a variety of shops, clubs, pubs and
restaurants. Copper was first mined back in the 1880’s. Today
the mine is the world’s biggest producer of silver and zinc,
ranking in the top ten for copper and zinc.
Next morning I
left the backpackers and drove into town. I stopped at a stop
light and Hewie conked out. I pulled on the starter a few
times but there was something more seriously wrong than that for
him to just stop for no reason. With the help of a couple of
bystanders I pushed him to the side of the road. Up with the
bonnet, the first thing I checked was the ignition, but
everything seemed okay. I kicked over the engine again and he
started up again, first turn of the starter. There was something
else wrong. I’ve still not found the problem, I thought to
myself. But what could it be - the ignition system appears to be
good condition and so does the petrol pump. Maybe it’s the
condenser? The condenser that was in the distributor was the
same one that came with the engine, maybe it’s getting a little
old. I searched around in the tool box and found a spare
condenser and fitted it. Hewie kicked over again first
run of the starter. Hopefully I’d found the problem – hopefully.
Mount Isa had a
large spare parts dealer so I drove over and picked up a spare
length of radiator hose, enough to fit the top and bottom hoses.
I spent the next morning going over Hewie with a grease
gun and checked the gearbox and differential oil.
I set of on the next leg of the journey
which was 464 kilometers through to Barkly Roadhouse in the
Northern Territory. The only stop along the way was the small
town of Camooweal, a distance of 192 kilometres from Mt. Isa.
I thought about stopping the night at Camooweal but I arrived
there before midday so I filled up with petrol and continued on
to the Northern Territory and Queensland border for the 272
kilometer run through to Barkly Homestead. The wind was coming
from the east, the day was slightly cooler, a perfect day for
motoring along in Hewie. I put my wide brimmed hat on and
took down the hood. About 20 kilometers out of Camooweal I
passed a cyclist, towing a trailer and headed east. I gave him a
wave, he looked up and waved back
We sat on a
constant 40 mph, Hewie’s favorite speed and the hours
ticked by as did the kilometers. Each two hours I’d stop, stretch and check the engine for oil leaks and any other
problems. The cool following wind helped push us along and stop
any overheating due to the poor condition of the radiator core.
Rain had recently fallen in the area and shades of green were
starting to appear on the otherwise flat, barren, desert
I was about five
kilometers from Barkly Homestead when the car ahead of me
stopped with the bonnet open and two guys out on the road waving
me down. I pulled up and they came over. They both spoke in
strong Irish accents.
“Can you please
give us a hand, something is wrong with our car. It’s overheated
and out of oil and water. Do you have some spare oil and water”
said one of them with a very nervous look on his face.
“Out of oil?
That doesn’t sound too good” I said.
The engine didn’t look good! It was very
hot and covered in oil that was still hot and bubbling. I got
out my water bottle and slowly topped the radiator up and added
“Okay start it”
He turned the ignition key and the engine
kicked over, bang bang bang bang. It sounded like it’d blown a
piston or done in a big end bearing.
“I think you’ve got a major
problem!” I said.
“Yeah, it doesn’t sound good,
what should we do?”
Just as he asked the question, another car
going the other way stopped. The driver poked his head out the
“Are you guys Okay?”
“I think the engine’s blown,
we’ll need a tow” I said.
“Barkly Homestead is another
five kilometers. You can get help there.”
They introduced themselves as Eddie and
Dave from Ireland. Eddie came with me in Hewie while Dave
stayed back to watch their car.
“What model is it?” I asked.
“It’s an 85 model XF Ford
Falcon. We bought it in Sydney about three months ago. We were
originally with two other backpackers who shared in the cost and
running expenses, but they’ve since returned to Ireland. It’s
just Dave and me now. We’re on our way to Perth via Alice
Springs. How about yourself?”
“Around Australia via Darwin -
hopefully” I said.
He looked Hewie over. I thought he’d
ask about Hewie’s ability to do such a trip, but instead
“It’s small isn’t it!”
We arrived at Barkly Homestead, which
consisted of a service station, restaurant, bar, motel and camp
ground. We were met at the counter by a woman who organized a
“How far down the road is it”
“About five kilometers” Eddie
“That’s easy then. The towing
rate is fifty dollars and three dollars per kilometer. That’ll
be sixty five dollars. That’s cheap, I’ve seen other people get
hit with bills for over three hundred dollars. So you’re lucky
to break down so close to the homestead”
A four wheel drive with a car
trailer came around and picked up Eddie to head back to the car
while I headed over to the camp ground and pitched my tent. I’d
just got it up when they arrived back with the Ford on the back
of the trailer.
“What’s the verdict?” I asked.
“Not good, the engine’s blown,”
said the driver as he looked towards the guys.
“Got a spare one?” asked Eddie.
“Your best chance is to take
the car back to Mount Isa and get a reconditioned engine fitted
there. You could get a lift in the road train that takes it
back. It would cost about four hundred dollars to get it to
Mount Isa. That’s cheap, it’s back-loading rates.
“What’s back-loading” Eddie
“About 99% of the freight in
and out of Darwin is in. Most trucks return to the southern
states empty” said the tow truck operator.
“What about the cost of the
re-conditioned engine when we get to Mount Isa”
“You’re probably looking at a
thousand for the engine and five or six hundred to have it
Dave and Eddie looked at each other deep in
“I think we’ll leave it here
and hitch hike to Perth. We only have four hundred dollars each
invested in the old girl – we call her Bertha. It wouldn’t be
worth spending all that money on a car we only paid $1600 in the
first place.” said Eddie.
“I’ll park it over near the
camp ground for you, so that you can get your things out.
Tomorrow morning I’ll tow it down the back” said the operator,
whose name I never did get.
“Does this happen much I ask” I
“Sure does, a lot of old cars
coming through here die. We’ve got a junk yard down the back
it’s got about 35 wrecks in it. Each year a scrap metal dealer
comes through, crushes them all and takes them down south.”
After the tow
truck operator bought the car over to our campsite, Eddie and
Dave started sorting out what personal possessions and items
they needed and what has to be left behind.
“We’ve got an extra sleeping
bag here. It belongs to one of the other part owners of the car.
Here you can have it. Take this also.” he handed me the sleeping
bag and a twenty litre plastic fuel container”
“Hey thanks, just what I
needed, a sleeping bag!”
“Thanks for rescuing us!”
“You guys don’t have to thank
me for that. People are good out in the bush. There’s only a few
out there who won’t stop when someone is in trouble. It’s give
and take. I like to give as much as possible when I’m on the
road in old Hewie here. The same thing could happen to me
tomorrow” I said.
“Here are some cans of gas,
will they fit your camping stove?”
“Sure will, thanks”
“Join us for dinner, we’ve got
plenty of food that we need to eat or give away.”
They cooked up a spaghetti bolognaise and
opened a bottle of red wine. After dinner we went over to the
bar at the roadhouse for a beer.
The next morning, was icy cold,
I was glad for the sleeping bag Eddie and Dave had given me the
evening before. After breakfast we tried to start the Ford – she
was seized tight. Eddie and Dave got their cameras out and took
their last photos of her before packing up what possessions they
could carry. Then they headed over to the side of the highway to
hitch-hike a lift to Tennant Creek where they could catch
Australia’s crack new train, the Ghan. This would take them
south to Port Augusta where they could change for the train to
They’d both gone
over to the bar the evening before and had met some other Irish
folk there. These people evidently promised them a lift to
Tennant Creek, but next morning they didn’t turn up- they’d
disappeared out of the park before any of us were out of bed. I
thought that was strange to offer someone a lift and not keep
your promise. Bad karma. It’s a big land out here in the bush,
but it’s a small country if you count the number of people.
I waved goodbye to Eddie and
Dave as they stood hitch-hiking on the side of the road. There
was a car or truck passing every 10 to 20 minutes headed west,
most pulling into the roadhouse. They were reading their books
with one eye on the oncoming traffic. They were going the same
way as myself. I felt guilty passing them. But Hewie was
just too small for one extra person on such a long trip, let
alone including their mountain of luggage. If they didn’t get a
lift, a bus headed for Tennant Creek was due to arrive late that
evening. So they wouldn’t be stuck there forever if they didn’t
get a lift.
As I drove passed them and
swung left to the west I had a few quiet words to Hewie.
I warned him to behave himself and not give any trouble or break
down. If he did he might just end up in a lonely graveyard like
Bertha, out here in the middle of nowhere.
The run through from the
Barkley Roadhouse to the t-intersection called Three Ways where
the Barkley highway from the east meets the Stuart highway which
runs from north to south (Darwin to Adelaide) took about four
Last time I
visited Three Ways was back in 1969 when I spent a day and a
night there waiting for a lift through to Mount Isa. I remember
it as a lonely roadhouse out in the middle of an arid plane. But
this time there were more trees. I’d expected to arrive with the
roadhouse on my left, but when I arrived at the intersection,
there was no roadhouse. I’d been to Tennant Creek a few years
back so I decided not to take the 18 kilometer run down there.
Instead I made a right hand turn in the direction of Darwin.
Less than a kilometer up the road I found the roadhouse on my
right. It still existed but it seems they either moved the
roadhouse or moved the road. I stopped in to fill up and buy a
sandwich for lunch. I asked the waitress who served me why the
location of the roadhouse has changed.
“A few years back they
re-routed the road to Mount Isa south of the roadhouse hoping
that people would think that they needed to turn left and head
down to Tenant Creek to fill up with fuel and food. Tennant
Creek wants its share of tourists. Too many were just stopping
at the roadhouse then continuing their journey to Darwin. That’s
why there are so many trees. They kind of hide the roadhouse
from view as you drive in from Mount Isa.”
“But did it work?” I asked. She
looked a little unsure of herself and smiled.
“I don’t know.”
I ordered a salad sandwich and
a cup of tea for lunch and took a seat at one of the tables.
While I sat there eating and drinking the tea I thought back to
the time I was here in 1969. Thee were no trees, it was a hot
barren dusty place. I’d arrived about mid-day. Drinking water
was a scarce commodity at the roadhouse. You could purchase beer
or soft drinks at the bar. If you wanted drinking water you
virtually had to beg the people who worked at, or ran, the
roadhouse for it. You couldn’t buy bottles of it back then like
you can today. It seemed that few people drank the stuff back in
those days, beer being the favoured beverage when thirst struck.
That afternoon two English
girls arrived by thumb. Once they found I was another hitch
hiker they joined me sitting in the shade of the road house
restaurant. We were sitting their telling each other our
travelling stories. They both were wearing cowboy style hats
with corks they’d tied around the side to chase away the flies.
A tourist bus came in and stopped. The door sprang open and out
climbed a bus load of Australians on a tour to Darwin from
Adelaide. They saw myself and the girls sitting on our
backpacks. A few of them walked over and asked if they could
take a picture of the girls in their Aussie style hats.
Obviously they were all city slickers. We heard one say to the
“Look at those girls in those hats with the corks –
real Australians!” Little did they know…
I finished my sandwich and drank the last
drop of tea, stopped my day dream and jumped back to the present
day. I filled up with petrol and checked the oil and water and
headed north on the Stuart highway, destination Darwin.
That evening I
stopped at a caravan and camping ground at the back of a service
station at the town of Elliot. With a population of about 500
Aboriginals and 100 whites Elliot was established during World
War II as a camp for troupes heading north to Darwin. The town
was named after the camp commander, Captain Elliott. I set my
tent up in a camp ground. It was pretty rough, but there was
little else. I sliced up some tomatoes and cooked up some
potatoes on my camp stove for dinner. After dinner I walked
around to the front of the service station. There were two car
loads of aboriginal people at the front. As I appeared on the
scene, one came over and introduced himself and asked if I had a
cigarette I could spare for him.
“Sorry, I don’t
smoke” I said.
They were all
watching to see if I’d give him a smoke. When I shook my head
they all got in their cars and took off. I had the impression if
I’d had given him a smoke the whole tribe would have bitten me
It was about a
kilometer walk up the road to the pub. I looked up along the
street there were lots of black fellas and their families
sitting under the trees. It was clear that I was about the only
white fella around the town. Even the shop and service station
was run by Indian people. I decided to walk up to the pub for a
beer. Before leaving I went into the store and bought a cheap
packet of smokes. The first packet of smokes that I’d bought
since I gave up smoking back in 1994. I wasn’t even out of the
shop door before a local on his way in stopped me and asked for
mate – here’s one.” A big smile came over his face as his pitch
black hand moved up and took a cigarette from the freshly opened
brother, have you got a light?” His eyes were big, bloodshot and
watery. His face was as black as night, and he was ever grateful
that I’d given him a cigarette. He told me that he wouldn’t be
paid until tomorrow. I wished him a good evening and headed out
onto the footpath. Two women came over and each asked me for a
ciggy each. As they each took one I looked up the street
where about 10 or 15 more stood there watching two of their
womenfolk get a cigarette from me. By the time I reached the pub
the packet was finished. I looked back and they were all merrily
sitting under the trees puffing away
Underway the next morning, I stopped by at
twenty kilometers north of Elliot. Newcastle Waters is a ghost
town but it was once an important cattle station. With a large
expanse of water in Lake Woods just south of Elliot, Newcastle
Waters was an important stop back in the days of stock routes
and drovers. The local store has closed and is now preserved as
a museum. After having served its last beer back in 1960, the
old pub still stands. The doors where open so I walked in an sat
on one of the old seats, looked about and thought about what it
must have been like when the place was full of dry and dusty,
beer swilling drovers.
Back out on the highway again I
continued through to Daly Waters. I’d been looking forward to
visiting this small town again. Like Newcastle Waters it was
built on the old stock route and is seven kilometers west of the
highway. On my first visit, I’d arrived there in a road train
late in the evening in December 1969. From memory, the main
street was still dirt, many of the townsfolk were sitting around
a campfire in the middle of the street drinking beer. On one
side of the road was the Daly Waters Hotel, on the other side
was a mountain of empty beer cans. Instead of sitting inside the
pub the locals all sat out in the middle of the road. As they’d
finish their can of beer they hurled it onto the pile. Since
drinking beer was most of the inhabitant’s main form or
recreation, hobby, pastime and interest, you can imagine how
high the pile of beer cans was. That evening, back in 1969 I
slept on a bench seat out front of the hotel.
My arrival at Daly Waters this
time was a little after midday and not much had changed. The
hotel which is built of corrugated iron, still stands and
appears very much as I remembered it 35 years ago. But the pile
of beer cans had gone. I asked a few locals if they remembered
it. None did. Most said they hadn’t been living in the town that
long. Most of the locals I’d met back in 1969 had moved on or
died of sclerosis of the liver. In place of the beer can
mountain was a small shop and service station. The town still
had its charm. The pub was open and full of tourists who’d
arrived by bus. The pub also offered accommodation in the simple
corrugated iron rooms. But they all had air conditioners. It was
too early for a beer, although certainly hot enough for one. I
kept moving for another hour before arriving in the town of
The dream of a railway down the
center of Australia, the Darwin to Adelaide railway ended at
Larrimah. Before World War II the government of Australia came
to the conclusion that they were wasting money building a
railway line to what appeared to be nowhere and gave up work
when the line reached a point eight kilometres south of Larrimah
at a place called Birdum. But it was found that the ground
around Birdum was too unstable for a railway, worse still it was
a flood plain during the wet season. So Birdum was abandoned and
Larrimah made the railhead – the end of the dream. For many
years the line carried ore, goods and passengers up and down the
track from Darwin. The short length of railway line saw most of
its traffic after Darwin was bombed by the Japanese in 1944.
Getting troupes and supplies overland to Darwin was a monumental
effort. Everything for the war effort was transported overland
from the southern cities to Mount Isa by rail. Here troupes and
supplies were off loaded onto trucks and trucked through to
Larrimah for the final distance by train through to Darwin. Most
of this was on rough unsealed roads.
I’d wanted to ride a train on
the line and when I arrived in Darwin in 1969, by train was the
way I’d planned to leave. When the day came I headed down to the
station, a freight train sat at the station with two passenger
cars attached to the end of the train. The cars were full of
Aboriginals, all having the time of their lives and most totally
drunk from drinking cheap red wine out of large bottles, then
known as flagons. Some had their arms of out the windows and
were waving the bottles of wine around. There were women and
kids, people were yelling and shouting, a party was happening
but I didn’t feel like I’d be welcome. I’d be the only white
fella on board. I walked up to the road leading out to the
highway and put my thumb out. I soon got a lift, and in a short
time I was sitting up the front of a road train on my way south.
The driver dropped me off at Larrimah station many hours before
the train was due to arrive. In fact, the train was so slow it
was probably a day or more before the train would arrive. There
was no one in attendance at the station, I lay my sleeping bag
down on the bench seat and spent the night there. I got up the
next morning and walked over to a water tap, washed my face and
took a drink – yuk! it was bore water. That was the last memory
I had of Larrimah, before again setting off on my trip
hitch-hiking trip hitching from Darwin back to my home town of
I hadn’t been to Larrimah in 35 years and
was keen to see the town again. When I drove in, the old pub was
still there but the railway station and goods shed had been
demolished, probably when the line was closed back in the early
70’s. The concrete slab where station once stood was still there
and also what appeared to be the ruins of a cold room. Various
other pieces of railway equipment were scattered around the
area. The track appeared to still be in reasonable condition.
I sat there in Hewie
visualizing the past and how I wished I had of braved the
aboriginal party and had have ridden the train back in 1969.
As I sat there daydreaming, I
saw a flash of yellow appear a little way down the track. I sat
up and there coming up the old railway line from Birdum was a
quad or more commonly known as a “track inspection vehicle”
towing a small trailer full of people. I took my sun glasses off
and cleaned them on my t-shirt.
“Is this real?”
I thought to myself.
It sure was real. When it came
to a stop just past the old station ruins I went over to ask the
driver and passengers what was happening. A woman spoke up.
“We’re a local history group,
we call ourselves The Friends of the Northern Territory Railway.
Some of our members have faithfully restored this old quad car.
We loaded it onto a trailer and bought it down from where we
keep it at the Adelaide River railway museum. It’s the 75th
year tomorrow since the first train arrived in Birdum. We’re
running shuttle trips back and forth. Most of us are camped down
at Birdum for the weekend. Early tomorrow morning we’re all
going to get up early, stand by the track and celebrate with a
small glass of port each. We’re also erecting an anniversary
plaque down there to celebrate the occasion.”
“Any chance I can get a ride
down there with you?” I asked.
“Yeah sure, we’ll be going back
and forth all weekend. We’re having lunch over at the pub and
we’ll head back down after. Lunch is just five dollars and it
includes steak, sausages and salad. Why don’t you come over and
join us” she said.
“Sounds like a good deal to me.
Count me in!”
Another member of the group looked over
“Hey mate can you give us a
hand to turn the quad around. They dismantled the turntable
years ago. We all have to lift the quad up and turn it around by
hand, and it’s bloody heavy,” he said.
“Can’t you just run it down
there in reverse gear?” I asked.
“You can, but the radiator is
pointed the wrong way and the engine tends to overheat.”
I helped them turn the quad which was named
I was hoping to drive
down to Birdum and set up camp with the group but they all took
one look at Hewie and advised against bringing him down.
“The road into Birdum hasn’t
been maintained for years. There’s no town there anymore. The
road is only suitable for 4 wheel drive vehicles.” A member of
the group told me.
After lunch I got the offer to ride down in
a four wheel drive vehicle along a back track via an old
bushman’s grave, early settler wells and past the Birdum River.
The first run to Birdum on the quad was full, so I took up the
We headed out on a rough track
and came to an early settler’s grave, then stopped by an old
well. Our leader was a local who sat in the front and who
introduced him self to me as Uncle Fester. As we continued, the
track got rougher and rougher and the two others sitting on the
back seat started to look nervous.
“Where are we?” asked the
The track had disappeared altogether. We
were driving through the bush pushing over small trees and
bushes, making our own track. I started to get a little nervous.
I hoped Uncle Fester knew his way around these parts. Does
anyone have a compass?
“Are you sure you know where you’re going?”
asked the driver. Uncle Fester looked over at the driver with a
look on his face of total displeasure. He didn’t say it, but the
words were written all over his face.
“How could he
think that I didn’t know where I am. I live here!”
I was by this time looking around the
vehicle to see if I could find a compass, looking at the fuel
gauge and wondering how much water was in the jerry cans that
were tied to the luggage rack on the roof .
We continued on for another half an hour
until we came through a clearing and there in front of us was
the Birdum river, cattle grazing and a group of people camped by
the riverside. Uncle Fester leaned down to the cooler between
his feet and pulled out another can of beer and opened it.
“See, there was
nothing to worry about. I know where I’m going!” as he pulled
the ring top on the can of beer to open it. I looked his way and
“What do you do around these parts?” I assumed he’d
say that he had some cattle or something of that nature. He
didn’t appear old enough to be retired. He had grey hair and a
ragged face from what appeared to be a lifetime dedicated to
drinking and smoking. But he looked me in the eye and answered
my question in one word.
“Drink beer. I'm a beeroligist.” he said.
I thought that there would be a house or two at Birdum but there
was nothing. Just a few posts and old foundations of what was
once a small town. Down at what was left of the freight yard and
railway station we found the rest of the group who’d set up camp
there. The only remnants of the railway equipment were the
tracks, the old water tank and a few remains of the old coaling
stage. We all walked to the end of the line for a group photo
Just before sunset I bid
farewell to my new found friends and rode aboard the last quad
car heading back into mah. Here I pitched my tent in the
camp ground next to the pub for the night.
The further north I travelled,
the warmer it was
becoming. The maximum daily highs were around
34 degrees centigrade. By 10 am the temperature was well up in
the mid to high 20’s. By midday it wa
s well over 30. Not only
was it too hot for me, I was more worried about Hewie and his
old radiator. But, so far, there hadn’t been any problems with
overheating since Julia Creek. Keeping him cool was just a
matter of keeping my foot off the gas as much as possible and
running before a following wind. Since turning north back at
Three Ways the wind had swung into the southeast, or on the
quarter as an old sailor would say. Dead behind, on the
quarter or beam on, was acceptable to push Hewie along,
comfortably and without boiling. But not a head wind, then we’d
be in trouble, that’d probably bring us to a standstill.
Elliot I’d got into the practice of getting a head start and
leaving an hour before sunrise. The added advantage of this is
that I’d catch the sunrise each morning. As I drove along I’d
watch the red ball rise up over the red, bushfire smoked
landscape. A beautiful sight, shades of red, purple and fire
orange over the harsh and dry landscape. Now that I’m back here
in the city writing this book, that sight and the smell of the
burning bush is engraved in my mind. I want to go back and do it
I departed Larrimah at five in the morning
and passed by bushfires that were burning alongside the road.
Each morning now had become a race against time to get to my
next destination before 10 o’clock to avoid the heat.
Furthermore, if the wind did decide to change direction it would
blow the hardest in the middle of the day or late afternoon. The
mornings were generally calm and cool.
Mount Isa was my last taste of
fresh food, since then I’d basically lived on steak sandwiches
and a bag of apples I bought before leaving Mount Isa. There are
not too many stores on this leg of the journey, and when I did
find one, all the food is frozen apart from basics like potatoes
and onions. That’s fair enough, very few people live between
Mount Isa and my next stop at Katherine.
Arrival at Katherine bought me back into the world I’m used to –
Woolworths. I’m sorry to say, being away from it gets a little
hard, I actually started to loose some weight – amazing. But
that all stopped when I rolled into Katherine, there it was, the
big green, yellow and red sign saying “Woolworths”, a sign we
all know and love. As usual there’s a big car park out front,
where I sat Hewie. The entrance is via a small arcade of
shops including a cake shop, next a coffee shop selling
cappuccinos and then Woolworths. Now, which one will I enter
first? Ah! the coffee shop!
The population of Katherine is about 9000
but you could probably more than double that at any time
due to the massive influx of tourists. It’s generally easy to
spot a tourist, especially in this part of the world. For a
start they’re either sun burnt or well tanned. The other is that
they all seem to dress the same. Light cottons, always a hint of
khaki and leather sandals. While shopping in Woolies I stopped
for a moment and looked around to try to spot a local. Of course
there were the shop assistants who basically looked like Woolies
shop assistants at any other Woolies store in any other part of
the country. None were neither nicely sun tanned, nor horribly
sunburned. Most of them were a pale white color. Apart from the
local Aboriginal community, everyone else looked like a tourist.
I went to the check-out. After the woman put through my
groceries I asked her were there were any locals in the town.
“It’s mainly tourists in here all the time. The
closest Woolies (or any store that is like Woolies) are at Mount Isa, Alice Springs, Broome and Darwin. So it doesn’t matter
where you’re coming from, there’s a good chance you’ll have to
stop here for some fresh food. We get everyone in here.”
I had no way to cool water
while travelling, I didn’t have a fridge in Hewie
because of the the extra current it would draw, which would put
extra load on the generator. Occasionally I’d stop at a service
station and buy a cold bottle of water. But that didn’t taste
all that good. It was too cold, the water I carried in a plastic
bottle in Hewie tasted like hot plastic soup in the middle of
the day. There was a camping goods store in town where I
purchased one of those old fashioned car water bags. It’s a
simple heavy canvas bag that I filled with water and strapped to
the front of the car. The water keeps the canvas wet. As you
drive along the heat and the wind evaporates the water from the
wet bag which in turn takes the heat out of the water inside.
Result – the water is naturally cool, just the right temperature
for drinking. Not too cold not too warm – delicious!
Katherine early next morning after a night at a local camp
ground and arrived into Adelaide River just before 9am in the
morning and pitched my tent in the camping
ground behind the
hotel and service station. The camp ground was well maintained
with a grassy area for campers. My tent is the older A frame or
triangular type of tent which makes it easy to erect between two
trees. I just tied the ropes which are connected the top of each
end of the tent to each tree. This makes pitching it an easy
job. I often see others with their modern dome style tents
struggling to put them together. The modern tents certainly have
more room and would be good if you were staying a few days, but
they appeared time consuming if you were just staying for the
Water sprinklers were set up
around the camp area which helped keep the lawns green and gave
the area a cool appearance. I lay my mattress under a tree, lay
down with my book and dozed off to sleep for an hour or so .I
woke up with some ants biting my leg and rushed over for the
methylated spirits (alcohol) to soothe the itch. I then ventured
to the opposite side of the highway to visit my new friends at
the Adelaide River railway Museum for the afternoon. We spent
the rest of the afternoon sitting around in the shade talking
Next morning, just before
sunrise, I packed up the tent, boiled some water for a cup of
tea and filled my thermos with hot water at the camp kitchen.
With everything packed
and ready to leave, just at sunrise I
pulled on the starter and Hewie refused to kick over. I got out
and first checked the ignition and took the top off the
distributor. The points were set to the correct gap. I pressed
on the starter button on the firewall near the voltage regulator
and held one of the spark plug leads about half an inch from the
spark plug. A nice blue spark jumped across to the plug. “No
problems there”, I thought, “what about the petrol?” I pulled
the line from the petrol pump off where it connects to the
carburetor, petrol gushed out and the petrol pump clicked
happily away. “Now where’s the problem, I’ve checked everything
but he still jump to life. A blown head gasket,” I thought to
myself. I put the bonnet down and got out my tea bags and the
last drop of milk I had and went back to the camp kitchen and
made a cup of tea while I thought about what the problem could
be. I sat there for about ten minutes, finished my cuppa, I got
up, wandered over to Hewie, turned on the ignition and
pulled the starter. Hewie immediately jumped to life and
ran like he’d just rolled off the showroom floor. Not exactly
that perfect, but you know what I mean.
As I stood there listening to
Hewie idle, a cyclist, who was camped next to me, came
over to enquire if I’d solved my car problems. He introduced
himself as John, a tall, thin, suntanned, cyclist who was
probably in his mid sixties and as fit as a fiddle. He was from
a town just north of Perth in Western Australia named Geraldton.
He was on a trip around Australia also, and had ridden across
Nullabor Plain to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Mt Isa
and here to Adelaide River.
“My next stop is Darwin and
then on to Broome and down the coast to home again.”
“You’re almost at the end of
your journey” I said.
“Yeah, only a few more months
and I’ll be home again.”
We got onto the subject of why we were
doing the round Australia trip, something that most Australians
dream of doing some day.
I told him “I suppose it’s
because I was born here, I’ve just got to see as much of the
place as I can before I die. I can’t explain it, it’s like I’m
doing the trip to somehow feel and smell the country.
Also know it, have you ever gone to a dinner party or just met
someone in everyday life and they tell you they’re from a place
in Australia that you’ve never heard of. And don’t you feel like
an idiot when you’ve got to ask them where it is?”
“Yeah, I know how you feel, I’m
like that myself. But I generally tell people that the reason
for my trip is that I’m on a protest ride. I’m protesting about
our involvement in the war in Iraq,” he told me.
“What I really want to do is
write a book about my experiences when I get back, a social
history of what it was like to drive a Morris Minor around
Australia in the year 2004. I may not sell many copies but maybe
someone will pick up the book in fifty years time read it and
think how wonderful and simple life must have been back then
when someone could just get in an old car and cruise off without
any restrictions or stress,” I said.
“Well you’re right, just think,
it might become a best seller in fifty years time. You might
become famous when you’re dead,” he said.
“I suppose until then I’ll have
to continue to live on rice and noodles.” I said.
“It’s getting hot I suppose
that we should make tracks” he said
We both headed out onto the
highway and in two hours I arrived in the city of Darwin.