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A quick but rewarding trip to Ballina

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On Monday I happened to hear of an opportunity of work providing meals for a series of outback art camps from May to September this year.

Fascinated by the possibility I conducted some Google searches and found Gerry Gerrard and Corinne Fletcher.

I spoke to them on the phone and not only was I fascinated by their business and the tours they offered I discovered a couple of down to earth people who, on the phone at least, felt like the sort of people we love to engage with.

The longer I talked to Gerry and Corinne the more my interest peaked and I felt I had to meet then ASAP.

It’s another week until we move out to the Koramba cotton farm to begin our 6 week cooking job so we arranged to head off to Ballina to meet the next day.

We were underway by 4:30am, deciding to take the Boggabilla to Tenterfield and Casino route, one we’d not driven before.

The GPS took us down a road that narrowed dramatically as the kilometres we travelled mounted, finally morphing into a dirt track that meandered through wide scathes of farmland and over narrow bridges. This certainly wasn’t the Bruxton Highway we were expecting!

The road morphed from a highway to a dirt track

The road morphed from a highway to a dirt track

The GPS does this occasionally so we usually practice a habit I learnt many years ago at sea and which seafarers still live by today – NEVER RELY ON TECHNOLOGY ALONE! Maybe it was the excitement and anticipation of meeting Gerry and Corinne or maybe it was the early hour, whatever, we left the trip to the GPS.

It wasn’t exactly a negative as this back road took us past spectacular scenery, huge farms of varying crops and livestock and a wonderful array of wildlife. We pulled over to watch yet another awesome sunrise as the golden beams of light picked out the beautiful bushland we found ourselves surrounded by. Yet again we found that tranquillity and peace that comes when time is taken to stop and just be a part of the natural beauty that we live amidst. We’re grateful for that diversion. We may never have seen this little pocket of Australia had we not taken the wrong road.

The rays of the rising sun touched the surrounding bush and the mist rising from the earth

The rays of the rising sun touched the surrounding bush and the mist rising from the earth

Another awesome sunrise

Another awesome sunrise

The bush was teaming with wildlife and birds

The bush was teaming with wildlife and birds

The enquisitive Rabbit

The enquisitive Rabbit

As the morning matured we passed through quiet little towns and on to Casino where we stopped and booked into a motel. We’d spoken to Geoff, one of my oldest and dearest friends, and arranged to have dinner with him in Casino that night. He’d drive from his “Bush retreat” in the mountains near Kyogle to meet us when we arrived back from Ballina. We’d then stay the night in Casino and head back to Goondiwindi early Wednesday.

We found Gerry and Corinne’s magnificent acreage in a beautiful secluded valley near Meerschaum not far from Ballina. Interrupting their lunch we sat at their dining room table and as we talked we became even more fascinated with their business and the job.

We loved talking to these practical people who seemed to be totally without pretence and who appeared to have little time for the vagaries that have found their way into the business world at every level.

We felt that these were people whose skills had been honed by years of going where few others have gone, doing what few others have done and being forced to solve their own problems. They are inventors of the sort that constantly strive to improve and perfect by looking at a problem and then creatively thinking outside the box to gain a solution.

I don’t know yet if Gerry and Corinne fall into this category but often this sort of person, although always abiding by laws and government requirements, usually have little respect for the bungling bureaucratic nonsense that is so often born from people with little or no practical experience in the things they are bureaucratising.

Gerry and Corinne’s business is Sandrifter 4WD and art tours.

They’ve a 4WD coach and other support vehicles specifically designed to transport 20 people at a time comfortably into the outback and the desert around Alice Springs, (or anywhere else in Australia).

They’ve designed and built their own fully functioning stainless steel mobile kitchen, showers, toilets and solar power generation so that the whole camp is transportable and completely self sufficient.

They specialise in Art tours where passengers are transported into the outback where they camp in comfortable tents with beds, bedding and good quality food provided. These guests are then driven out to places of their choice in the desert where they will capture the beauty of the outback scenery by brush on canvas. Many of these guests will display their works professionally in galleries while others do it for the sheer pleasure.

Often the guests will stay out in the desert for the whole day with drinks and packed lunches and be picked up in the bus by Gerry in time to return to camp for a wash, dinner and to enjoy the evening camp environment.

Gerry is the kind of character perfectly suited to host these tours as he has over 40 years experience in travelling and living in the outback coupled with a comfortable earthy no nonsense personality and Corrine, being an artist herself and committed to providing the absolute best for her guests, compliments the  hosting package perfectly.

As we talked I hoped that this couple would see in us a possibility to further enhance their business.

Kerrie later told me she felt the same and that she knew she would get on well with Corinne as she loved her straight talking, no nonsense attitude. You all know Kerrie; she has little time for beating around the bush and usually makes life long friendships with straight shooting people.

At some point in the conversation Gerry and Corinne offered us the position.

We are very excited about this as it gives us the opportunity to see parts of Australia that we just would not see on our own and all in the company of someone who has an intimate knowledge of these places. We believe we’ll learn an extraordinary amount from these people and a bonus for me is Gerry’s interest in geology and paleantology and bush medicine and bush tucker.

We’ll finish up the job at the Koramba cotton farm at the end of April and travel to Brisbane where we’ll probably stay one night on the Southside and one night on the Northside to catch up with you all before taking the 2000 kilometre trip to arrive in Alice Springs via Longreach, Winton and The Isa by the 10th of May.

After a great afternoon we returned to Casino and the motel to await Geoff’s arrival from Kyogle after which we had a meal together at the RSL club and a long chat at the motel. It’s always a pleasure to catch up with my old friend and as usual we could easily have talked the whole night through. I swear he gets younger and fitter looking every time I see him lately. He’s one of those people that age backwards!

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