Prowse Gap to Alice Springs

We awoke early from the peaceful night at Prowse Gap and were packed up and on the road well before sun rise. We wanted to be at Aileron early to meet Vicki and Rick as we didn’t want to hold them up if they arrived early for our breakfast date.

We pulled into the roadhouse just as the sun was casting its magnificent blanket of orange colour over the eastern plains just prior to peeking above the horizon.

Sun just peeping over the horizon.

Sun just peeping over the horizon.

We had time to look over at the huge statues at the roadhouse before a distant rumble broke the silence of the early morning. It was Vicki and Rick’s truck announcing its arrival before we even saw it. It looked awesome as it made its way off the highway with its 3 refrigerated trailers in tow and rumbled up to us as Rick drove right next to the Aussie Wide.

A large statue at the back of the road house

A large statue at the back of the road house

Another statue on the ground

Another statue on the ground

It was so nice to see them and also nice to know that even here, so far away from home there was someone we knew.

The Aussie Wide wasn't even the length of the truck and first trailer.

The Aussie Wide wasn’t even the length of the truck and first trailer.

We had breakfast in the dining room of the roadhouse with its walls adorned with beautiful outback paintings, some of which were painted by Albert Namijira, the great Aboriginal painter who grew up in this area.

We could easily have talked to Vicki and Rick for hours but they were on a schedule that would take then into Darwin by about 1:00am tomorrow morning.

We said our goodbyes and waved as we watched as Vicki took the huge, beautiful Kenworth slowly out of the roadhouse grounds and out to the highway, gathering speed all the time.

Rick and Vicki on their way to Darwin

Rick and Vicki on their way to Darwin

We took the equally beautiful Nissan and the Aussie Wide in the opposite direction to complete the last 170 kilometres of the trip into Alice.

As we approached the outskirts of Alice Springs there was a hint of the red centre scenery, (crumbling red rock hills framing stands of white trunked Ghost Gums and small rocky waterholes), that would be our home for 5 months.

After a quick ride around the town we drove to the Sandrifter Safaris headquarters in Sergeant St where we found Corinne and Gerry, our new bosses, working and preparing for the forthcoming seven safari camps that we’d be a significant part of.

We had a great catch-up chat for an hour or so before a tour of the yard and the mobile camp which would be ready for setting up at Trephina Gorge in one week.

We looked over the all-terrain mobile kitchen and food prep trailers, the showers, toilets and the bus that would take the paying gets from Alice Springs out to the camp.

What struck us most was the ingenuity of the set up. It’s all solar powered and fully self contained with large freezers, refrigeration, hot and cold water tanks and toilet facilities.

You don’t go out and buy this sort of stuff; it needs to be put together piece by piece over years of trial and error. Gerry has done this himself from a workshop which is packed full of every conceivable tool you could think of as well as timber, steel, nuts and bolts, car and truck spares and mechanical pieces of every kind.

All the vehicles, both the ones that are currently used and ones that are no longer used regularly, are housed here.

In addition Gerry’s yard is like a museum in itself. It’s full of fossils that he’s collected from all corners of the Australian Outback (and he can tell you the history of them all) along with collections of bottles, axes and picks, tanks and a myriad of other fascinating bits and pieces. Old mining sites and settlements have provided many artefacts from 40 years of living in the outback.

We saw some of Gerry and Corinne’s photos of the various campsites we’ll be staying at. They are wild, beautiful and often remote and some are never visited by white folk.

As we learnt more about the camps we realised that, from our part, very little about the forthcoming few months has to do with the actual cooking. The menu Corinne has designed over many years is simple but nutritional and interesting and it will be easy to prepare well. The main challenge is learning the system. Everything will be prepared from the camp kitchen that is highly organised to utilise the very limited space. The food must be prepped from solar power and gas which although is ample for the task cannot be wasted. The water is carried out there with us. This includes washing up, showering, drinking and cooking for 25 people. There’s no room for wastage or mistakes.

The first 2 camps will be a little more forgiving as we are close to the bitumen road and only 80 kilometres away from Alice. Also there’s water there, but once we get to Illara Gorge, an uninhabited area over 250 Kilometres from Alice on rough overland tracks, we won’t have this luxury. We’ll need to be fully experienced with the system by then.

We felt even more excited about the whole venture after talking and dinning with this fascinating couple into the night.

Avon Downs to Prowse Gap

We awoke early again with the sun rising over the silence of Avon Downs and once again, for the thousandth time we pinched ourselves at the great blessing of being able to live like this.

A slight flurry of activity was taking place as the over-nighting grey nomad population stirred slowly into life, prepared breakfast, and got underway to their respective destinations with most heading west.

Does the beauty of the outback ever diminish? We were again treated to vast ever changing open spaces, this time dotted with millions of termite hills growing in size as we moved further into the interior.

Termite mounds slowly getting larger. Can't wait to get a photo beside one that is higher than us.

Termite mounds slowly getting larger. Can’t wait to get a photo beside one that is higher than us.

The recent rains over these magnificent plains had bought a good tinge of green to the grass on which the huge Northern Territory cattle grazed in multiplied thousands. Brilliant blue sky and mild temperatures accompanied our trip ever onward across the Barkly Tablelands until we finally came upon another pocket of civilisation at Barkly Homestead.

Seemingly stuck in the middle of nowhere, but conveniently about ¾ of a tank of fuel from Camooweal, this oasis has food, souvenirs and fuel – at $2.02 per litre. We met another grey nomad filling up next to us and were amused at his remark that he needed a bank loan every time he stopped for fuel out here.

It's the dearest diesel we have paid for so far, but not the dearest we've seen.

It’s the dearest diesel we have paid for so far, but not the dearest we’ve seen.

We topped up with fuel at the Barkly Homestead and made our own coffee and eats before again heading west.

By the time we made Three Ways, the spot where the Barkly Highway meets the Stuart Highway and where a right hand turn takes you to Darwin and a left turn to Alice Springs, we realised that we had only seen three houses, (The Avon Downs Police Station, and the Barkly Homestead, and the long ago abandoned Wunara Store), in 481 kilometres. There are homesteads along the way but most are many kilometres inland off the highway.

Most Grey Nomads were heading north to Darwin.

Most Grey Nomads were heading north to Darwin.

We headed south onto the Stuart Highway and headed toward Alice Springs.

Tennant Creek was our next stop for fuel; empty the toilet at the dump pit and a look around.

The dump pit was in the local football grounds and there happened to be a Sunday footy match on so we parked and emptied the toilet amongst literally thousands of Aboriginals out for the game. Being city folk we had never encountered a full community of Aboriginal people before. They were enthusiastic about the forthcoming game and hundreds of them looked on curiously as we emptied the toilet with the Aussie Wide standing out, looking rather out of place amidst the sea of dark skinned people who were obviously more at home in this unique outback town.

We stopped the other side of Tennant Creek to make a sandwich for lunch and have a cold drink before once again heading south. This was a long non stop leg of 241 kilometres to Barrow Creek with me sleeping as we passed the Devils Marbles, a collection of unique rock formations just in from the road. Kerrie decided not to wake me nor stop for photos as we will be coming back along here and in about 3 weeks time and will be stopping more frequently to explore as we travel to Kakadu and Darwin.

The landscape had significantly changed again with huge, ancient and weathered red rock hills forming a brilliant backdrop to the magnificent white trunked ghost gums that were everywhere.

Flat for hundred of kilometres then unusual rock outcrops.

Flat for hundred of kilometres then unusual rock outcrops.

Barrow Creek was an interesting stop. Although its appearance today is that of a small wayside stop on the highway, Barrow Creek was originally an important telegraph station. It was also the site of an 1874 punitive expedition against the Kaytej people by police after a telegraph station master and linesman were killed during an assault by 20 Kaytej men. This attack is the only known planned attack on staff of the Overland Telegraph.Now It’s a small roadhouse with $1.93 per litre diesel and is a strange collection of buildings that has evolved into a shop and a bar.

Barrow Creek Telegraph Station.

Barrow Creek Telegraph Station.

This is where Joanne Lees, the girlfriend of the allegedly murdered Peter Falconio ended up the night he disappeared. His body has never been found.

We fear that the owner may get ripped off frequently because the fuel pumps don’t register amounts inside at the cash register and you must remember the amount you took so you can tell him what to charge you.

From Barrow Creek we rolled on to Ti Tree where we stopped at the roadhouse there to ask if we could have some water. We have gotten into the habit of filling up with just enough water for the next day as nobody has ever refused us a half a tank of water – except here at Ti Tree!

We did find another store over the road which was closed but had a tap close to the road. We couldn’t find a living soul anywhere so we filled up with some water – just enough for showers and toilet etc for tonight and the morning as we would be in Alice tomorrow at about lunch time.

We found we had phone reception at the Barkly Homestead so we’d phoned Vicki and Rick in Adelaide to see if they were on the road yet on their weekly run in their truck from Adelaide to Darwin and back.

They were just hooking up the trailer in the yard in Adelaide and we arranged to meet for breakfast around 8:00am at Aileron about 130 kilometres north of Alice Springs. They leave Adelaide with one trailer and then stop at Port Augusta to pick up two more before heading up to Darwin and they always stop at Aileron for breakfast on Monday morning, so it would be a great opportunity to meet briefly.

We decided to stop for the night at Prowse Gap a free camping area only 7 kilometres north of Aileron.What a great, peaceful little spot with good water available and toilets. About 15 other caravans and motor homes were parked up for the night by the time we got in. It had been a big day with 770 kilometres travelled between about 7:30am to 6:30pm when we pulled in.

Again the moon created the best evening visual display at it rose, big and orange over the outback Spinifex. Wild dingoes? wailed at it as we settled into the peace and quiet of our wonderful home on wheels again and were thankful for the faultless and comfortable performance of the Nissan for another 770 kilometres.

The moon is spectacular on the open roads

The moon is spectacular on the open roads

Kynuna to Avon Downs

We awoke early from our peaceful night the Wanora Downs Rest Area to find a truck and 2 cars had joined us during the night. After a hot breakfast we made off toward the tiny hamlet of Kynuna just as the sun was rising.

The colours of the wide flat plains take on fascinating hues in the early morning sunrise and as the eagles and other birds soared all around us the hundreds of kangaroos and emus were searching for morning food.

We stopped at Kynuna amongst a fleet of huge cattle trucks, perhaps the biggest users of the roads in these parts, and tried to get some air to increase the pressure in the air shocks to ease the affects of the road condition but alas air hoses were not available at this tiny truck stop.

3 Carriage's long and double storey. A lot of cattle.

3 Carriage’s long and double storey. A lot of cattle.

On we went in the still of the early morning to McKinlay.

Now I worked at McKinlay some 30 odd years ago when I was an Operations Controller for SHRM. We had a camp here at the time for a road gang housing and feeding about 35 – 40 men working on an upgrade to the road. We had received urgent complaints from the client about the running of the camp and I flew to Mt Isa and then drove out here to sort things out.

I remember walking into the kitchen at evening meal time to find no meal had been prepared and the two cooks sitting at a mess room table too drunk to stand up and a bottle of Johnny Walker, mostly consumed, on the table between them.

I asked them what was going on to which I received the reply, “And who the F*&%# are YOU!”

“I’m the Operations Manager for this camp and I’m the one that’s just sacked you both”, I replied. “Get your gear and be off the camp in 20 minutes.”

Of course the trouble was there was no-one to replace them so I had to grab a couple of ladies from the caravan park nearby and we had a meal up within 30 minutes. It was a few weeks before the company could find a couple of new cooks so I was stuck here for all that time.

I was able to clearly identify exactly where the camp had stood, next to the large water tower just a short walk to the old Walkabout Pub – where the first Crocodile Dundee movie was made – which was still there. I recall it in a slightly different location and much more dilapidated than it is now so they must have relocated and renovated it. I used to walk down to the pub just for something to do during the days that I was here at the camp.

The camp was just over by the water tank.

The camp was just over by the water tank.

We were too early to have a look inside.

We were too early to have a look inside.

We drove out of McKinlay and on toward Cloncurry, where we stopped briefly for a look at the town before heading to Mt Isa.

This was Kerrie’s first visit to Mt Isa where we found a bustling and very busy community.

Like Broken Hill the mine at Mt Isa is in the centre of the town.

Like Broken Hill the mine at Mt Isa is in the centre of the town.

The huge Mt Isa Mine is the focal point of the town and the reason for the town’s existence.

After emptying the toilet, fuelling up and buying bread and milk we headed out of “The Isa” to an old world war 2 memorial park to have lunch.

On we headed with the Nissan humming beautifully and the van towing perfectly.

The increased pressure I’d put in the air shocks at Cloncurry had smoothed the ride a lot, (should have done it 2 days ago), and as a bonus the roads were west of Mt Isa were in much better repair.

The ever changing scenery had gone through another transformation and now rugged hills with gigantic red rocks jutting from them surrounded us.

The country never ceases to be spectacular. Sometimes, when we’re not driving, we try to catch an hour’s sleep but we find the ever changing country mesmerises us almost forcing us to stay awake so as not miss some other landmark.

We finally made the little border town of Camooweal where we topped up with fuel for the long trip across the Barkly Tablelands along the Barkly Highway to Three Ways.

We crossed the border into The Northern Territory with a degree of excitement at being in yet another state to explore.

Northern Territory, every state and territory is so different.

Northern Territory, every state and territory is so different.

The first thing we noticed was the speed limit – now 130kpm – and then the vast improvement in the condition of the roads. The Nissan seemed to be floating on air compared to the last few days.

It was exciting and interesting just being in the Northern Territory and we amazed the huge expanse of uninhabited land on each side. As we looked at the map we realised even more the vastness of the country as except for Camooweal behind us and Tennant Creek some 700km in front of there was little else. For hundreds of Kilometres to the north and the south there were just a handful of cattle stations.

One of those stations is Avon Downs just a hundred or so Kilometres from Camooweal. Avon Downs has a police station, a homestead and a wonderful free camping spot. We pulled into the camp spot late in the afternoon to find it full of grey nomads. This felt good and gave a great sense of not being alone in such a vast area, although being alone is quite ok as well.

The free camping areas are now getting busy for the annual "Grey Nomad" migration.

The free camping areas are now getting busy for the annual “Grey Nomad” migration.

We again watched the spectacular sunset and moon rise and felt the chill of the night air as the sun disappeared from the sky before spending a blissfully peaceful night tucked up cosy and warm in the silence of the outback.

Dalby to Kynuna

There’s an extraordinary volume of traffic between Brisbane, Chinchilla and Roma these days. It must be the mining activity in the area as there’s just convoys of trucks and traffic of all kinds.

We’re not sure if this has combined with the recent flooding in the area to affect the roads but I have to say they are in a shocking state. The Nissan and the Aussie Wide are standing up to it well but it is a very uncomfortable journey indeed and I wouldn’t like to be doing it regularly as no vehicle would be immune to it for long.

The UHF is full of truckies complaining about the road as well. It’s not so much the potholes, it’s the waves. It’s as if the hold road from Toowoomba to the North West has been shock waved by an earthquake. The shaking just goes on and on relentlessly. The waves in the road are not long ones; they’re short and steep causing constant jarring of the whole body. I’m concerned about Kerrie’s back as the jarring is obviously telling on her.

Kerrie has packed the van well but even her diligence in storage has not stopped stuff being thrown about in the cupboards. We never have had this happen before.

The conditions cannot remove the thrill of being back on the road again.

Spinefix caught up on fence posts gives the impression of soft little hay stacks.

Spinefix caught up on fence posts gives the impression of soft little hay stacks.

As we move past Roma the traffic gets sparser and the further we travel the less general traffic there is. As we pass Blackall the traffic consists of 50% trucks (largely cattle road trains), 40% Grey Nomads and 10% other vehicles. Man there is so many caravans and motor homes out here.

We had as phone call from Martyn, our boss at Koramba, giving us an update on how things had gone for the first week after we left.

He has fine tuned the rosters a bit but there are some early danger signs of the system we left in place not being followed.

I’m hoping that the first stocktake, which will be completed next Friday, will show that it’s been profitable for him.

Heading into a storm on the way to Blackall.

Heading into a storm on the way to Blackall.

We free camped at Blackall for night 2 among about 10 other vans and we both had a wonderfully peaceful sleep broken only by the arrival of two cattle trucks in the early hours. The unsettled cattle clattering on the steel decks and the mooing kept us awake for a short time as they soon settled down completely oblivious to the fate that awaited them very soon at the abattoir.

Blackall is still pretty, maybe even more so than when we were here a few months ago, as the rains have “greened up” everything.

We were in no hurry to leave and it was about 8:00am before the Nissan hummed its way out of Blackall towards Barcaldine and Longreach.

We didn’t stop at Longreach this time but kept on to Winton. We were going to stop and take a look at the Australian Dinosaur display but it required us to unhook the van as the hill up to the display is too steep for vans.

The time and hassle of unhooking and re hooking up the van, coupled with the $30.00 per person entry fee made us decide to give it a miss this time round and so we headed on into Winton, parked the van and took a walk around the town.

There’s a lot of history in the town and we would have liked to have stayed overnight and take in a bit of it but there’s a purpose in this trip and that’s to reach Alice Springs as soon as possible so once again we headed on.

Heading on out of Winton the landscape to the west was dominated by the distant Tully Ranges framing the millions of acres of flat country between us and them.

We were thankful to stop at a pleasant little rest area called Wanora Downs about 74km South East of Kynuna. It was so nice to put an end to the constant jarring of the atrocious roads we had spent the last 2 days on, even if only for a night.

A wonderful sunset one way and the moon the other.

A wonderful sunset one way and the moon the other.

The rest area was wonderfully quiet with only a few birds and the crickets call as night approached and the roar of the occasional truck or car speeding northwest. A herd of beautifully conditioned cattle wandered close to the fence beside the area and looked us over curiously before putting their heads down into the lush grass to eat as if dismissing our presence as inconsequential.

You could hear them munching away on the grass it was so quiet.

You could hear them munching away on the grass it was so quiet.

Before retiring for the night we were treated to one of those utterly breathtaking sunsets that only seem possible amidst vast open spaces. It was spectacular as the sapphire sky turned into a blaze of orange and deep red and we were in awe of the colours and the sheer beauty of it all.

Spectacular sunset

Spectacular sunset

Then as if to complete the scene the huge silver moon that had arisen to the east lit up with the sinking sun and simultaneously a billion stars appeared.
Standing there alone, seemingly in the middle of nowhere and in the silence and the coolness of the night, we felt that this display was scripted for us exclusively.

After a nice hot shower and dinner we settled down to watch a movie, a little sore but totally content with the world.

Brisbane is behind us again

Here we are on the road again and the excitement of new places and faces is building once more.

It’s been a hectic week after leaving Koramba Cotton Farm and arriving back to a non stop, dawn till late night round of catching up with our precious family and friends, (at least some of them).

We parked the Aussie Wide at the Aspley Tourist Park this time so we could be half way between friends and family on both the North and South sides of Brisbane.

There’s been a host of things to attend to in preparation for our 5 months at Alice Springs such as a car tyre repair, car detail (to get rid of the burs and bugs from the farm), new magnetic brake pads on the caravan and the wheel bearings checked and repacked. We ditched most of our clothes from the farm and I painfully underwent the clothes shopping thing at my least favourite of places – The Shopping Centre.

We needed to have my phone repaired which resulted in a mind stretching, temper testing 3 hours at Telstra in Chermside.

Kerrie had 2 Physio visits and a doctor’s visit as well as a hair cut and a massage.

I had my first ever professional massage as well which was a pleasant experience indeed.

We also took some more unneeded items to our storage shed and picked up my Chef’s knives from David and Lacey’s at the Sunshine Coast, (I thought I’d never need them again).

Kerrie also had a dinner date with the Netball Girls and we seemed to be non stop for a week.

One of the highlights of the week was the visits with our new 5 week old grandson, Riley.

Riley at 5 weeks.

Riley at 5 weeks.

What an experience! He’s so beautiful and we already miss him.

We had a wonderful lunch with Lish’s family, finally getting to meet the majority of them and we felt immediately at home with this lovely bunch of people.

The Jones and the Smetheram family gathering.

The Jones and the Smetheram family gathering.

Riley of course was the centre of attention with every facial expression and every movement watched closely by everyone. Emily (our only daughter) had the opportunity to change him, feed him and burp him. As he was lying over her shoulder with her hand gently patting his back he let out a loud burp causing Ems to cackle delightedly. It was the first time she’d ever experienced it.

Emily feeding Riley for the first time.

Emily feeding Riley for the first time.

Our son Ashley seems to have matured substantially after the birth of Riley and he obviously adores the baby and Lish. It was a wonderful thing to see him in the role of a dad and doing it well.

Our oldest son Wayne was there and cooked most of the lunch and of course Barry and Christine.

They dropped around to the caravan later as we couldn’t have visited Brisbane without at least one long session with the best brother in the world and his partner Christine. Being with them is a bit like a narcotic for us, we need our regular “fix” of their company.

We spent a wonderful day up the Coast with David and Lacey as they installed their new kitchen, totally transforming the little house and it was great to experience Roxy (the dog) in her absolute excitement at seeing us again.

David and Evan putting in the new kitchen with Lacey watching over.

David and Evan putting in the new kitchen with Lacey watching over.

We had a great morning with Chris and Natalie at their new home and an evening with Ben and Alecia where I fear I bored Ben with an in depth discussion on the future of housing in Australia.

Chris and Natalie

Chris and Natalie

 

Ben and Alecia

Ben and Alecia

To top off the busy week we had a lovely dinner with Nola and Lloyd at their favourite eating spot, Nando’s in Aspley. Nola always seems so excited about what we do and how we live and I always feel that she would love the life of a Grey Nomad and would take to it very easily.

So it was after this busy but rewarding week that we finally pointed the Nissan toward the West and the familiar stretch out to Toowoomba and then to Dalby and beyond where we would spend our first night in a truck parking area finally free of the heavy traffic that seems to have increased markedly.

New features added to Blog

We’ve added 3 new features to the Blog which we hope you’ll find interesting.

The first is an Events Calendar which indicates where we’re likely to be in the foreseeable future. Just click on the blue lines that indicate each event and the details of that event will pop up.

It can be accessed from the Menu Bar at the top of the posts as indicated by this image…

How to acess the Event Calendar

How to acess the Event Calendar

The second new feature is an interactive Tracking map that shows the path we’ve travelled so far.

It can be accessed from here…

How to view a the new Tracking Map that shows the track we've traveled so far.

How to view a the new Tracking Map that shows the track we’ve traveled so far.

 

The third feature is a “Places” page which highlights the places we’ve stopped at so far and can be seen from here…

The "Places" page can be viewd by clicking here

The “Places” page can be viewd by clicking here

Hope you like these little additions.

The new direction revealed

After turning our future and all our plans over to God we slept that sleep of pure peace that seems to come when you “know that you know” beyond doubt that you’re in good hands and He’ll never leave you nor forsake you. Some people will no doubt be puzzled by this habit of trusting in a Being you can’t see and who most of the world doesn’t even believe exists. We understand that – but we’ve always lived this way and we are more sure of God’s existance and His guidance that we are of any other thing in this world.

The previous day I’d happened upon a website that I’ve never seen before called Grey Nomad Employment and I spotted a job for a cook on a Cotton farm feeding 30 cotton pickers, (mostly backpackers), for 6 weeks. I had emailed an enquiry about the job.

Awaking early Saturday morning I had received two emails; one from Tucson Arizona which confirmed that the desire for the new program was still there. This was a huge email for us as it confirmed that whatever we did we needed to continue to work on the programs.

The second email was from the company advertising the job for a cook.

The pay was fantastic for such an easy job and it was on a farm an hour away from Goondiwindi starting early March, which would put us just 5 hours away from Brisbane at just the right time for the birth of Ash and Felicia’s baby.

I phoned immediately, even though it was Saturday, and got such a positive response that we decided to head for Goondiwindi forthwith! We were told they had no objection to Kerrie sharing the work and that we could park the Aussie Wide on the farm free of charge.

This was a fantastic answer for us.

It means I can still complete the program while doing a job I know so well and not only will we be earning some great money we’ll be spending nothing at all, not even for food.

Kerrie will get the chance to chat with people again, something she’s not been able to do as much as she likes with me absorbed in concentration with the program for long hours.

We had already entertained the possibility of working our way around and we’ve had many conversations with people who live permanently on the road and work as they travel. There’s no shortage of work out there.

Just as we were packing up another van rolled up with a couple about the same age as us and they told us how they had lived on the road full time for the last 6 years and how they worked all over the country from kitchens to cattle stations. They are never without work that pays well. We‘d heard this before of course but these people were so similar to us and our situations were so much alike it was uncanny.

The conversion of the computer programs and the contract at La Trobe University are the only reasons we’ve not worked while travelling as yet.

We decided to hook up and leave for Goondiwindi immediately.

We finally got under way and pointed the Nissan North and headed towards Balaklava and from there North East towards Broken Hill. We spent yet another day in awe of the scenery we were passing as it changed constantly and turned into the now familiar grain fields we were used to.

Saturday night found us at a peaceful rest area beside the Highway at a little place called Mount Bryan.

Mount Bryan was one of those towns where we wonder what people do there and how much longer the once prosperous town will exist for.

The backdrop of the town was the huge array of windmills on the hills to the north of the town.

Many thousands of these huge windmills line the hills for miles

Many thousands of these huge windmills line the hills for miles

It's hard to appreciate the size of these mindmills till you're up close to one

It’s hard to appreciate the size of these mindmills till you’re up close to one

Small towns came and went as the Nissan purred along past beautiful grain fields and many ruins of farm houses that had long since hosted the laughter and tears of families. We’d like to know why there are so many of them.

There are a great many of these ruins of farm houses in the Mt Bryan area. Why? What caused their abandonment?

There are a great many of these ruins of farm houses in the Mt Bryan area. Why? What caused their abandonment?

Ruins are everywhere

Sunday morning found us seemingly alone inside a vast land of grain and rolling hills. Another enormous wind farm with the gigantic blades of the windmills slowly turning provided the only other movement save for the odd cow or sheep.

We rolled on as again and again the country offered up its variety of changing landscapes.

The closer we got to Broken Hill the sparser the country became and the road straightened into a seemingly endless ribbon stretching forever into the future, our future.

Ribbon of highway to the future?

Ribbon of highway to the future?

Vast plains spread to the horizon in every direction

Vast plains spread to the horizon in every direction

We finally made Broken Hill in the late afternoon, the home of the greatest and largest Australian Company and one of the largest in the world; Broken Hill Proprietary or BHP.

This is Silver town, founded on lead and silver.

We made our way to the Racecourse where we were the only other living souls for the night having power, water, beautifully clean toilets and green grass. What a great night. Kerrie got all the washing done and we were able to watch TV with unlimited water, microwave, jug, toaster, air conditioning – everything.

Broken Hill really is a town on a broken hill

Broken Hill really is a town on a broken hill

Broken Hill - Mines are in the centre, the town is built round them

Broken Hill – Mines are in the centre, the town is built round them

Broken Hill is a bustling, modern city mixed with heritage and history

Broken Hill is a bustling, modern city mixed with heritage and history

At the Broken Hill Racecourse in the shade and overlooking the racecourse - we had it all to ourselves!

At the Broken Hill Racecourse in the shade and overlooking the racecourse – we had it all to ourselves!

Early Monday morning we spoke to the company we were hoping to work for and again we got a cherry and positive response. The lady managing the Goondiwindi operation was efficient, encouraging and extremely easy to talk to.

Off we drove again and after a good look around Broken Hill we headed toward Cobar.

The same vast plains and dead straight highway stretched endlessly before but as we drew nearer Cobar the scenery became intermingled with rugged rocky hills that have sprung into the landscape from one of the cataclysmic ancient upheavals that formed this land. The dead straight highway once again accompanied us as the miles rolled by.

The seemingly endless highway again

The seemingly endless highway again

We made Cobar lateish in the evening and settled down for the night in a truck stop on the outskirts of town in the company of a few trucks and other travellers

Monday night was spent in Cobar

Monday night was spent in Cobar

We had a look around Cobar Tuesday morning before fuelling up for the final drive to Goondiwindi.

The scenery changed yet again this time reflecting the recent rain in the area by the appearance of much more greenery than we had seen for a while.

There was a proliferation of feral goats feeding on the green grass that was now growing along the roadsides. There were many thousands of them stretching for maybe 300 kilometres.

Masses of feral goats along the roadside

Masses of feral goats along the roadside

We pulled in to Goondiwindi in the late evening and headed for a Caravan Park. A Caravan Park! They’ve become few and far between for us. We just don’t need ‘em much anymore. It’s still nice to have the facilities and the power and water though and Kerrie loves to catch up on all the washing such as sheets, doona covers etc.

We were unable to see Michelle from the new company on Wednesday since she was out of town so we had a great opportunity to catch up and relax after traversing 3 states in 3 days and moving over 1740 kilometres.

Thursday saw us in the company office in Goondiwindi where we were immediately made welcome and were promptly offered the job.

The job doesn’t start till early March and Kerrie had just received some bad news from an old friend whose mum had passed away. This meant that we now had time to go to the funeral at the Sunshine Coast as we were only 5 hours away.

Michelle from the company kindly offered to let us keep the Aussie Wide on her 5 acre property for 3 days while we made the trip, all further displaying God’s wonderful promise of “All things work together for good for those that love the Lord and are called to His purpose”.

There’s a good possibilty that when we return to Goondiwindi there will be more work up until the job starts but even if not we are very contented and thankful for the outcomes of the last few days.

So here we are, once again on the Sunshine Coast at David and Lacey’s place. We never thought we’d see it or them again so soon but it was really wonderful.

We’ll use the few days after the funeral to catch up with our precious family before embarking on the next exciting stage of our constantly changing lives.

A day in Coober Pedy

My first night sleeping underground was quiet, cool and dark giving a great night’s sleep. It would be perfect for anyone working night shift. There was no electical plugs in the cool cavern that was our room, only a light switch and light. There were also no toilets or water of any kind. The temperature below ground in the pinky white rock burrow was always a constant, between 24 – 26 degrees, no matter what the weather above ground, but the air must be circulated via air vents coming into the room from PVC pipes that run from the room to the ground above. These can be seen sticking up out of the ground everywhere.

This is how you can tell where homes are. They can't have large hole as people have fallen down some and landed in someones lounge room.

This is how you can tell where homes are. They can’t have a large hole as people have been known to fall down them, landing on the surprised occupants inside.

We went for a walk around the town with the first impressions not real good. Some of the indigenous people were out and about, (well mainly lying in the park). Some were painting, others were drinking and smoking. Some were already drunk as they staggered to meet the rest of the crew. Not the welcoming committee you hope for but it does seem a part of life out here. That’s not to say the’re all like this of course. The indigenous members of the motel’s cleaning crew were friendly, clean and very hard workers. The town consisted of a couple of pubs an IGA store, pharmacy, newsagent, takeaway hamburger and pizza place with Camel Pizza on the menu. There’s lots of accommodation with 2 Caravan Parks, many B & B’s and plenty of Motels. The biggest trade was, of course, from the many Opal shops.

I loved the arches cut into the room.

I loved the arches cut into the room.

Bargaining would start at the moment of entry. “You get good bargain here Miss,” “Best prices in town.” There was every piece of jewellery and nic nac under the sun, with all types of opals in them. We saw the old Drive-in theatre as well as the old football field. We did find out later that there is another wonderful football field with real grass.

Unfortunatly this closed down in 1978 but still show's a film once a month.

Unfortunatly this closed down in 1978 but still show’s a film once a month.

 

Only Aussie rules down here.

Only Aussie rules down here.

There’s a lovely hotel in town called “The Desert Cave Hotel” and this is where we headed for coffee.

They did offer the public, use of their facilities.

They did offer the public, use of their facilities.

They also have a wonderful interpretive display that told us a lot about the area.

A great display all about opals and the outback.

A great display all about opals and the outback.

Below is a photo of a digging machine commonly used to excavate the opal mines and the underground houses. Now I understand how the rooves of the underground rooms get their interesting grooves while the walls look like they’ve been carved with a circlular grinder. Thats the way theses machines cut out tunnels.

They push forward while moving the machine up and down to cut away the rock.The dirt is sucked out underneath to the outside.

They push forward while moving the machine up and down to cut away the rock.The dirt is sucked out underneath to the outside.

 

The groves in the ceiling while the walls look like they have been grinded.

The grooves in the ceiling and the patterns in the walls look like they have been cut with a circular grinder.

Of the 3500 people that live here we saw very few. My disappointment was showing a bit and if we hadn’t already booked and paid for a tour of the area we may have just packed up and left, marking the Coober Pedy thing off the bucket list with and moving out as quick as possible. I’m so glad we didn’t! “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover” – So true and that is why we go to Information Centres in the towns we stop at becasue there’s always a treasure trove of knowledge and interesting facts to be found from the locals. This was definately true of Coober Pedy as well. Our tour guide was Jimmy. He’d arrived in Coober Pedy from Greece when he was 17 to visit his brother who worked here and he’s never left. He’s now in his 49th  year here. He raised his two daughters here and is totally in love with the place. He knew everybody and every thing about the town and its surrounding area. He’s been on most of the town’s committees and organisations as well, a real key player in the town’s life. We started down the main street with Jimmy showing us a house owned by an Italian family who don’t care how much it cost’s for water as long as they have Tomatoes, Olive trees and other vegetables. I didn’t get a photo but their garden was as good as any home in the city, even down to the lush grass in the front yard. We took in the Coober Pedy golf course next. A round of golf anyone? No grass on these fairways – you do have to roll the putting greens up after use.

1st Tee the hole is behind the water tank in the distance.

1st Tee the hole is behind the water tank in the distance.

 

"Keep off the grass" good luck in finding a blade.

“Keep off the grass” good luck in finding a blade.

We visited one of the underground churches. Here Jimmy is showing us the alter which is an old winch that was used in the past to bring up the soil from the opal shafts. We’d already visited the first underground church built in  1965 earlier in the morning.

Jimmy showing us the unique alter.

Jimmy showing us the unique alter.

 

St Peters and St Pauls Catholic Church.

St Peters and St Pauls Catholic Church.

The site of the original post office was next. There are now 12 homes in this hill. I did ask how the postman found everybody but was told he couldn’t, so every one has to go to the post office themselves.

12 Homes on this hill. Can you see them?

12 Homes on this hill. Can you see them?

 

Double click to read about 3 men who had nearly every job in town.

Double click to read about 3 men who had nearly every job in town.

Then we saw some of the equipment used to mine opal. Usually this consists of a truck with a motor mounted on it effectively making it into a large vacuum cleaner. The pipes and tubing of this big vacumn cleaner are placed in the opal shafts where the excavated dirt is sucked up by means of a powerful pump driven by the motor on the truck and into a drum that’s been fastened to the top of a derrick. When enough dirt is sucked up into the drum the weight will open the flap at the bottom and deposit the dirt on to the “Dump” mound where it will be meticulously sorted through for opal.

Simply but very productive.

Simply but very productive.

Opal claims around Coober Pedy must have no more than 3 men per claim. That means no large mining camps for 55km down the Stuart Hwy from Coober Pedy. A claim holder must also work the claim for a minimum of 20 hours per week in order to keep it. A small claim is 50 x 50 metres and a large claim is 50 x 100 metres. There’s also an Opal Development lease of 200 x 200 metres which can only be held for 3 months, cannot be renewed and must be on virgin land. With all this you still have to “guess” where you think opal is. There is no known method of detecting opal. A miner needs a basic knowledge of the geological landscape to understand where and what to look for before sinking a shaft, but from then on its pure luck. Jimmy had mined here most of his life and advised us never to start. He worked one spot for a year, put over $2500 in to it and got a whooping $13 out in opal. Others while excavating their houses pulled out between $100,000-$200,000 worth. You would have to be the biggest gambler on earth to commit to a life of digging for opal. Most other minerals, such as coal or diamonds, can be found by sensing equipment and geological knowledge, but not opals!

So many types, so hard to find.

So many types, so hard to find.

Opal is formed from a solution of silicon dioxide and water. As water runs down through the earth, it picks up silica from sandstone, and carries this silica-rich solution into cracks and voids in the rock that are caused by natural faults or decomposing fossils. As the water evaporates, it leaves behind a silica deposit. This cycle repeats over very long periods of time, and eventually opal is formed. You won’t find large amounts of opal gathered together in clumps as you would say coal or diamonds. It’ll suck you in like a Poker Machine causing an addictive, “Maybe I’ll win with the next push of the button,” attitude. Opal may reveal itself anytime – with the next blow of the pick or with just one more stick of explosive.

They like the obvious here.

They like the obvious here.

On to “Boot Hill” cemetery. Now, I had read about Karl Bratz who passed away from cancer at 52. He never lost his sense of humour and designed his own coffin of corrugated iron. He had spent most of his  life 50 miles from anywhere and said everywhere he went everything was built from corrugated iron. Jimmy the Guide who was Karl’s  friend, said in the last few days of his life he left hospital and organised an 18 gallon beer keg and a few bottles of wine for the wake, “To have a drink on me”. That’s what they did, it ended up with 6 of his mates staying to finish the keg. They then used it as Karl’s headstone. The rest of our tour guests, an English couple and 3 Swedish backpackers didn’t seem to relish going into the cemetery but I enjoyed this bit of “Aussie humour”.

Karl Bratz had a sense of humour.

Karl Bratz had a sense of humour.

 

The fence keeping people from their own stupidity.

The fence keeping people from their own stupidity.

Our next port of call was to the “heart” of Coober Pedy, the mines. There is a fence running down the Stuart Hwy 50 feet from the road to stop visitors from stopping and going to “have a look” and then falling into the shafts as they take photos.  Unless you have a license you can’t go into the mining areas.

Each entry is numbered, otherwise it all looks the same.

Each entry is numbered, otherwise it all looks the same.

This is not the place to walk or drive at night with 1metre holes that are up to 30metres deep everywhere. They say more people go missing here than anywhere else in Australia. Jimmy swears they find them… eventually.

Driving past these holes was scary enough let alone walking around this area.

Driving past these holes was scary enough let alone walking around this area.

There are rules everywhere about not walking backwards, not throwing anything down shafts etc.

Signs of safety everywhere.

Signs of safety everywhere.

This give you an idea of how claims are set up.

This give you an idea of how claims are set up.

 

A "Noodling Machine"

A “Noodling Machine”

This claim used the Noodling Machine. Dump material is loaded into a hopper which feeds onto a belt in a darkened cabin and passes under an ultra- violet light. Any opal shows up white and is removed. They usually put women in there so “it’s not so squashy” I could think of so many other jobs that I’d prefer to do.

You never know if there is a fortune in the rock at your feet.

You never know if there is a fortune in the rock at your feet.

Finally we got to “Noodle” for ourselves. It does suck you in as others would cry out they had found some opal it’d make you look harder. We were the only ones who found “colour”, 95% of opal found is potch or common opal with no colour. Chris found a large piece of rock with colour showing in a section, the excitement grew as Jimmy told us to break it. As we cracked the rock our fortune turned out to be a tiny spot on the once, fist size rock. You could feel the hope rise and fall in all of us. This is what the miners feel all the time. Instead of walking away it made you go back to crack open other rocks to see if they were holding the next “big one”. The rock is light and easy to break but it didn’t take long to be covered in fine white dust.

Our opals. Don't think they'll turn in to jewlery.

Our opals. Don’t think they’ll turn in to jewlery.

Jimmy had to drag us away to move on to the next part of the tour. Crocodile Harry’s Underground Nest. This old lecher declared himself to be Arvid Von Blumentals,  Latvian Baron who was forced to leave his country after World War II. He worked as a crocodile hunter in Northern Australia before coming to Coober Pedy to fossick for opals in about 1975.

Crocodile Harry's home was a mixture of art and junk. I suppose it's in the eye of the beholder.

Crocodile Harry’s home was a mixture of art and junk. I suppose it’s in the eye of the beholder.

His underground home was featured in the movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The cave is adorned with his own artwork and the walls of the dugout are covered with the names and photos of girls who he claims to have seduced. Point being, he liked big breasted women.  Apart from all that he did have an interesting dugout and adjoining opalmine. When you look at the amount of dirt that was excavated it stills amazes me the work they got through.

Each room has memorability hanging everywhere.

Each room has memorability hanging everywhere.

 

This was his interview room.

This was his interview room.

This was Harry's mine. Jimmy was showing us mini bats that live in the holes.

This was Harry’s mine. Jimmy was showing us mini bats that live in the holes.

From here we drove out of town to enter a part of this country I will never forget! It simply took our breath away – The Breakaways. The Breakaways are so named because when seen from a distance, it looks as if the land features have “broken away” from the main range – the Stuart Ranges.

An amazing area that was worth the visit.

An amazing area that was worth the visit.

Chris at one of the lookout along the Breakaways.

Chris at one of the lookout along the Breakaways.

This area was once covered by an inland sea. Fossils of the original sea creatures can be found very easily throughout the area. We drove down on to what was once the ocean floor past rock formations called the “Two dogs” or “Salt and Pepper” that were once submerged.

"Salt and Pepper" or  "Two Dogs"

“Salt and Pepper” or “Two Dogs”

What about this one “The Camel”. A camel lying down, it’s head on the right moving along his neck then to its hump on the left.

Can you see the camel?

Can you see the camel?

We then drove along the Dingo Fence or Dog Fence. It was built in 1880 and finished in 1885. It started out as a rabbit proof fence but it proved unsuccessful so it was converted into a dog fence. It is the world’s longest fence stretching 5614 km.

The purple line is the fence.

The purple line is the fence.

The fence stands 180 centimetres in height, is a further 30 centimetres buried underground and is completely made out of wire mesh. It spans two states. With the camel explosion in this area (Jimmy said from the original 9000 brought in from overseas there are over 1,000,000 today and we are exporting them back)  they are having problems with camels smashing down parts of the fence in search of water or maybe from amorous males when they are in heat. The worst affected spot is the 100km stretch near Coober Pedy. Even Vicki had to lock up the brakes recently when she was confronted with 30 camels standing on the Highway. They would definatley have caused much damage to the truck.

The "Dog Fence"

The “Dog Fence”

The desert-like moonscape along the fence has been nicknamed the “moon plain”. Usually this has no growth on it but due to the rains last year weeds are growing here. This area has been used in many films like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Ground Zero. The rocks scattered around here have iron in them and when hit together make a very metallic sound.

The shining is from Gypsum on the "Moon Plains"

The shining is from Gypsum on the “Moon Plains”

We came back into Coober Pedy along the Oddnadatta track.

The road between Coober Pedy and Oodnadatta 195km long.

The road between Coober Pedy and Oodnadatta 195km long.

Chris and I were so fascinated by the breakaways that as soon as we had arrived home we got back in our car and drove out there ourselves. Stopping on the plains to experience this “space” on our own is something you need to do. When the wind stops there is no other sound except your own breathing. I have never before experienced that. There was no leaves rustling, no crows, no cars, just dead silence. It is something I will take away with me forever.

The silence is unlike anything we had experience before.

The silence is unlike anything we had experience before.

Jimmy had told us the sunsets are wonderful and he often takes tours out there for that. As the day goes by, the passing of the sun changes the desert colours, creating photogenic scenes that appear surreal, he wasn’t wrong.

Everyone enjoyed the show.

Everyone enjoyed the show.

Up at the lookout we were joined by 2 other couples, luckily they too wanted to experience this and everyone was quiet and enjoyed the time. One of the couples had parked their van for the night. They not only got to see the sunset, but also enjoyed the full moon, the stars and the rising sun.

Breathtaking views.

Breathtaking views.

The colours were always changing as the sun set.

The colours were always changing as the sun set.

 

Sunset on one side.

Sunset on one side.

Moon rising on the other side.

Moon rising on the other side.

We stayed for the full show, with the sun setting on one side and then the moon rising on the other. The whole Coober Pedy experience certainly hadn’t disappointed. I will never forget this place or the feelings I have for the area. It was a trip of a lifetime. ——————————————- FROM CHRIS I was completely captivated by what lay before us. For five hundred kilometres in each direction, this ancient sea bed stretched before us. What did these mountains look like back then? Was there lush vegetation and prolific animal life? To stand at the edge of these jagged cliffs and stare into the timeless beauty of the stark desert was to indulge in a dreamtime, a dreamtime were the imagination mixes with the sketchy facts and suppositions of today’s geologists. No matter whom you are or what your scientific background this vast landscape leaves you with few facts and lots of theory. The silence assists you to lose yourself in your ponderings. You’ve also become part of the timelessness of it all. A rock picked up and thrown to the valley floor far below, untouched by human hand or foot, will lay there for how many centuries before ever being disturbed. A rare site of another living organism catches the eye; it’s an eagle soaring on the hot wind currents barely needing to flap a wing. The colours are spectacular, earth colours of reds, whites, pinks and blacks all melding together in a landscape no painting or photograph could come close to capturing. The only way to harness such awesome beauty is in the eye of the mind. An inner yearning wells up from deep inside somewhere, a yearning to stay here forever and become part of what stretches before you. What is it that causes this? Maybe it’s just an unwillingness to depart from something so spectacular, so awesome and overpowering. Maybe it’s knowing that many secrets still lay down there; in the fossils just a scratch under the surface, in the minerals that make up the colours in the rocks and in the nooks and crannies of ancient caves that have beckoned exploration for thousands of years. Maybe it’s the opal! How much more of this residue, made from the seepage of uncountable tons water of from long ago, is just under the surface? Whatever the reason, there’s a magnetic drawing to this place that is as undisturbed now as it was when the final drop of water dissapeared eons ago.

A new direction

After the trip to Coober Pedy it struck us that we no longer had anywhere to go! By the way Kerrie is doing the Coober Pedy blogs and we’ll post them shortly.

Strange statement when you think of the vastness of this country and when you’ve realised, as we have, that 2 or 3 lifetimes are not enough to see it all.

But you see Coober Pedy was the last “Bucket List” place, the final destination on the list of must do’s.

From now on we’re not actually “Going” anywhere special; we’ll be truly Wandering Australia.

Now more than ever our home is the Aussie Wide and our back yard is 7,686,850 Sq Km in size.

Our plans to go up the centre to Darwin and round the “Top End” just didn’t seem to fit somehow. Neither did our next plan of spending some time travelling the Ayer Peninsular, then crossing the Nullarbor into Western Australia.

These are places we’ll no doubt visit in time and, of course, new desires to see places and things will return, but right now moving on any further seems somehow wrong. Also we want to visit Brisbane when Ashley and Felicia’s baby is born next month and it seems the further west or north we go the more difficult that will be.

We have the financial aspect to take into account as well. We definitely don’t want to just travel for the sake of it and live off our savings alone.

The conversion of our computer programs into web based “Software as a Service” applications are coming along ok but slowly. The next program is the Church Campus Management System for a church in Tucson Arizona but that won’t generate income for a while yet as there’s a lot of work still to be done on it.

We headed to a free camp area called Port Parham, about an hour north of Adelaide, where we would sit and wait for a while.

Port Parham was a reasonable enough spot beside the sea, similar in landscape to Moreton Bay or Hervey Bay but with very few permanent inhabitants.

There were only a couple of spots available and a lady was packing up to pull out so we waited next to her for her departure.

Then would you believe a long, lanky streak of a bloke that looked for all the world like a large walking condom drove up beside the vacating lady and parked in the spot where we were waiting to park. He had his own van parked opposite.

Kerrie spoke to Mr Condom who informed her that he was “reserving” this spot for 3 other vans that were arriving some time soon.

Remember this is a free camping area – first in first served.

Now, there were two ways to handle this; cause a massive disturbance or walk away. I felt my anger starting to rise and if this incident was but a few years ago there would be no question about the outcome. I would’ve calmly unhooked the Aussie Wide, thrown the snap rope around The Condom’s vehicle and hauled it into the sea. Condom Gigantis himself would have been on the receiving end of a tirade of abuse that he would have no doubt never previously encountered.

A mellower attitude to unpleasantness has thankfully pervaded my soul of later years and with Kerries forceful threatenings to “hand it over and let it go” we just decided this whole place was not right for us.

It had the feel of a group of holiday makers gathering. We’ve encountered this phenomenon before. They tend to travel in groups of 3 or more and invariably the group has dominating individuals who are authorities on everything. They long for you to hear what they’ve done and what they know. They talk loudly, interupt constantly and never, ever listen. Everything you do or have done these people have done it better. They desperately want you to know that they know!

Our latest encounter with one of these groups was at Premer where, after we were invited over for a drink, 2 of the males in the group proceeded to overpower all conversation with their loudly delivered expertise on everything. No one could talk as no one was listening. As they downed more grog they became louder and all conversation became futile. We left quickly but the noise kept getting louder late into the night and the voices of the dominating males became unbearable.

This place just felt like a repeat of this so we simply started the Nissan and drove away.

It took me an hour to completely find my peace again and find the foregiveness I’ve come to realise is critical and essential to one’s tranquility.

We soon pulled up at the lovely, peaceful and friendly little town of Mallala.

The sports oval is a free camp area with toilets and water available and it looks over the lushest, greenest oval that would’ve done the MCG proud. It’s surrounded by exquisitely managed grain farms that come right up to the town boundary and the nights are so quiet with the surrounding grain farms bathed in the light of multiplied billions of stars.

It is here that we decided to put the next phase into God’s hands and its here we decided we would stay put for as long as it took until we felt God’s leading into the next direction of our lives.

We didn’t have long to wait!

Drections

Peaches ain’t Peaches

On our day touring around the beautiful Barossa Valley we stopped at Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with who Maggie Beer is she was the “Cook” in the long running ABC television series The Cook and the Chef. The “Chef” was Simon Bryant, Head Chef at the Sydney Hilton.

I loved the Cook and the Chef series. It was one of those quality programs that sparked the imagination and made you want to run immediately to the kitchen to try the recipes. I loved Maggie’s way with food and her passion for the freshest of local seasonal ingredients.

Her journey to the Farm Shop in the Barossa Valley is as inspiring as it is interesting. This excerpt is taken from the Cook and the Chef website…

Maggie & husband Colin Beer moved to South Australia’s Barossa Valley in 1973 and began farming pheasants on their new property near Nuriootpa. Colin was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to study game bird breeding in Europe and America and following their return to the Barossa Valley they opened a farm shop to sell the game birds they were breeding. This humble shop soon grew into the famed Pheasant Farm Restaurant. The establishment of the Pheasant Farm and restaurant marked the start of a career that now spans farming, export, food production, and food writing. After 15 busy years they decided to close the restaurant in 1993 and focus on production of their expanding range of gourmet foods, starting with the signature Pheasant Farm pate, a favourite with restaurant regulars, and in growing demand from gourmet food outlets around the country. In 1997 the then premier of South Australia, John Olson, opened Maggie’s next major venture, an export kitchen in Tanunda. A state-of-the-art facility, the kitchen was purpose-built for the production of preservative-free gourmet foods for the national and international market. The range of products soon expanded, and now numbers over twenty, including meat and vegetarian pates, olive oil, verjuice, preserves, condiments and desserts. They now export to Japan, UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the US. The pheasant farm was never far from Maggie and Colin’s hearts however, and in 1999 they returned to both the site and the original concept of the farm shop, re-opening the premises as Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop.

Now, we had a wonderful time at the Farm Shop sampling Maggies range of wonderful products and enjoying a lunch and what was one of the best coffees we’ve ever tasted, but that’s not the purpose of this post.

As we were about to leave the shop we spied a number of white boxes that each held about 7 lovely looking peaches. We were told that Maggie and Colin had recently purchased a 20 acre orchid in the region and we thought that it was unlikely that this dynamic couple would have done this just to grow some fruit. We’ll watch with interest to see the ideas that induced them to buy evolve as time goes on. We thought that, with Maggie’s famous passion for the freshest and best local produce, these must be no ordinary peaches.

Peaches definately aint peaches!

Peaches definately aint peaches!

We didn’t try one till we made it back to the Aussie Wide later that evening but the moment we did we were spoilt for eating any other peaches.

Now, I’ve yearned often for a peach that tastes like the ones we grew ourselves in New Zealand 50 years ago but the only samplings most of us are offered today are from the Supermarket chains and they always manage to present a product that is dry, and tasteless. Being one who learns slowly I always get conned into trying their produce, mainly because of their great presentation but they always disappoint.

Is it the growth hormones used in mass production? Is it the CO2 used to gas the produce enabling it to stay “fresh” for many months? Maybe it’s a combination of all of these but it is a fact that fruit and vegies just do not taste as good anymore as when we were young. I want to taste real eggs again, yellow and full of flavour.

I long for the exquisite taste of the tomatoes we grew at the Sunshine Coast and the Apples and Oranges from home grown trees.

The first taste of one of these Maggie Beer peaches bought back my faith in home grown produce.

It was good to know it wasn’t just deterioration in my taste buds preventing me from experiencing the “real” taste of food. As I bit into that peach it exploded in a taste sensation bringing back memories of real food from the past.

It was sweet but not sickly, juicy but not messy. It was firm yet perfectly ripe and the taste was purely orgasmic.

The colour of the flesh resembled a spectacular sunset that turned to a rich ruby red surrounding the seed in the centre.

I had honestly not tasted a peach so exquisite, so utterly delicious for as long as I can remember.

All I could do was call to Kerrie to try one and then close my eyes and allow the overwhelming taste sensation to totally overtake any sound or movement that was currently taking place around me.

The whole of life seemed to stop, suspended for a while to allow the perfection of that taste to be fully absorbed and enjoyed.

I found myself smiling inwardly as the taste stayed in my body for hours, even now, days later I can still experience replays of the sensation. This is how our food is supposed to taste.

How completely we’ve been duped by the misleading marketing today that touts supermarket chains as “Fresh Food People” and successfully convince us that they only buy the best with only us, the customer, at heart.

It’s all Poopycock!

Maggie Beer’s peaches gave me a truly wonderful experience in taste that I’ll forever long to repeat.