Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Day Was Almost Spectacular

We had a very pleasant Christmas Day 2011, with the sole exception that our grandson Tory wasn't with us. Had he been present, it would have been a spectacular day.

However, as I cooked roast lamb, chicken and pork in our backyard barbecue amid a 39C temperature, I couldn't help but ponder how inappropriate many of the traditions brought to Australia by our English forefathers were in our climate. Roast dinner in the Central Australian heat? I wonder.
With the rather hot outside temperature and lack of breeze, we decided to have lunch inside in airconditioned luxury. Around midday we untabbed our first cans of beer and blew the cork off a bottle of Moet Champagne for the women. (Real men don't drink campagne ... and it tastes terrible too).

The meat was cooked to perfection, but some of the vegetables were slightly overdone. Not to worry, we managed to have a lovely feast from about 2 pm and topped off the roast, vegetables and salads with two different types of cheese cake. Nobody complained about the food.

Friends Tina and Vivek had also contributed some Indian food, some of which, because I can never recall the name which sounds something like the politically incorrect gollywog, I call mystery bags. Whatever they are called, they are very tasty and usually come with an equally tasty sauce.

Incredibly, my total alcohol intake for the day was two cans of beer (1 x 500ml, the other 375ml) and a large glass of red wine. I can't recall a time in the last few decades when I have consumed so little at Christmas. I really must get a grip of myself before I become a teetotaller.

Above are photos of Dale and me with the vegies and Christina and Meredith taking a break from preparing something in the kitchen.

We hope you had a lovely Christmas Day too.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Season's Greetings!

To all of those who celebrate Christmas, we wish you a

Merry Christmas and Happy 2012.

Robin and Christina Henry

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Day My Blundstones Died

In 2009 I wrote a post about the Betts Shoes for Old Feet  wherein I described the many years of service I had from a pair of Airflex shoes. Today I have to decry the death of my Blundstones.

That death occurred in a very embarrassing and messy way. Having not worn my Blundstones for a while, I decided to wear them to work yesterday, the fateful day.

I work at what is known as "Q Block", the Prisoner Services Section at a correctional facility and have a modest office with a carpeted floor and share the block with 25 other people. The hallways consist of painted concrete and after a short while my colleagues started commenting on the black flecks appearing from one end of the block to the other (from coffee room to photocopier).

Eventually, the black flecks also appeared on my carpet and I realised that I was the offender. Within an hour or two, my carpet looked like the Stuart Highway (connecting Adelaide with Darwin) when a road train has a tyre blowout ... pieces of rubber everywhere!

As I had nothing else to wear, I had to continue walking and depositing shoe rubber for the remainder of my day. By the end of my shift, the two heels of my boots were almost completely demolished and parts of the sole were falling off too.

The photo at left shows some of the damage.

Now I'm left wondering why a pair of shoes that were so comfortable and which have walked the hills of Oman, the streets of Al Ain and Prague, visited the Louvre, and been many other places all of a sudden decided to fall apart.

There's a kind of sadness when you end a relationship with a friend that has provided so much comfort for so long.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Alice Springs National Transport Hall of Fame

Having visitors occasionally is good, because you get out of the house and take them to local venues that you would not normally visit. Like the National Transport Hall of Fame

According to the home page on the Internet site:
"The Road Transport Historical Society is a volunteer based project dedicated to the preservation and presentation of Australia's unique road transport heritage. It does this through its magnificant Shell Rimula Hall of Fame in Alice Springs, the traditional birthplace of the roadtrain.The charter is not only to remember the great trucks, buses and vehicles of the past, but recognise the contribution of the men and women who drove and lived with these great machines of the past."
It must be 15 years since I have visited the Hall of Fame. Since then it has expanded greatly and improved it's stock of old trucks and equipment. What surprised me most is that many of the vehicles in the Kenworth Museum are straight off the production line. They must be worth millions and the Kenworth company still owns them, but stores them at the museum.
There are dozens of photos of people, places and transport from the early days in the Northern Territory as well as the obligatory cafe and tourist shop. Adjoining the NTH of Fame is the Ghan Railway Museum, which we didn't visit today.
If you ever get an opportunity to visit Alice Springs and you are interested in transport you must visit the National Transport Hall of Fame.


PS: Double click on the photo strip at left to enlarge the images.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Some Visitors Bring Wine ...

Some visitors bring wine ... others come to simply graze and provide photographic opportunities. Like this old kangaroo that grazes on our grass several times per week.

When I looked out the window Sunday morning, there he was busily eating our grass. Remarkably, he seems to leave the weeds as though he doesn't want to do me out of the job of spraying and pulling them, all too often.

Unfortunately, he's not a big eater, so I still have to drag the electric mower out of the shed and cut the grass every so often.

Our friend the kangaroo is accustomed to we humans and when I took my pot of coffee, camera and book reader outside onto the pergola, he didn't give a jot that I was now much closer. He simply gave me a glance, tweaked his ears and returned to the laborious job of feeding.

After about 20 minutes he simply hopped off into the adjoining hills.

Throughout most years we have a variety of colourful native birds, lizards and the odd snake visit our yard. While the snakes aren't all welcome - most are deadly, it's nice to see that our wildlife is still all round us and surviving despite our impact on much of our environment.


Monday, August 01, 2011

Life's Philosophy and How Time Flies!

Today is 1 August 2011. It's now just over three years since I finished my contract with the Higher Colleges of Technology at Al Ain and headed back to Central Australia via Durban, Cape Town and Stellenbosch in South Africa.

I occasionally reflect on one of my favourite quotes by either William Shakespeare or Louis Safian (I forget which), "Time goes you say, oh no, Alas, time stays, we go."

As the years pass, I'm increasingly aware that at some time I will go. I'm not sure where, but I'll undoubtedly "go". Most likely, and if my wishes are followed, I'll finish up as a few kilograms of scattered ash floating about somewhere in my beloved Northern Territory.

This brings me to the many things I still want to do before I go. There are only two very important things on my bucket list. One is too private to tell the world and perhaps too naughty, but the other is to have a beer with my grandson Tory when he turns 18. If I'm still here in nine years, I'll probably be able to stagger down to the local hotel and lift a beer to my lips. But if I leave my first bucket item too long, I may never be able to carry it out as it takes a bit more energy than lifting a schooner to one's lips.

Today at least, I'm still here and everything seems to be going well. So there are some other things I want to do before I'm too old to do them, or before I go. They include to:
  1. caravan extensively around this huge country called Australia to see in detail those places through which I have passed fleetingly, and to linger in those places to which I have not travelled
  2. learn more about the universe in which we live, the billions of others that surround us, and the physics involved in keeping this magnificent show rolling along
  3. meet more wonderful people and socialise more often
  4. improve my golf to the stage where others say, "He's an excellent golfer." (I may have to live a LOT longer for this to materialise)
  5. help keep Australia free, democratic and progressive in honour of all those men and women who died that we might live in a good country; to keep out those who would turn Australia into an ignorant and backward country under a totalitarian regime
  6. continue living a good humanist life not doing unnecessary harm to anything
There are others, but these seem the most pressing today. After a 30 year search I've already found the solution to the meaning and purpose of life, so I can relax a little now and focus on more material and mundane things.

It's indeed a great life for most of us and we need to make the most of every moment.

How about you? What remains on your Bucket List? What do you want to do before your life certificate expires? 


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dubbo's Western Plains Zoo

It's quite a few years since we visited the Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo, so we were interested to find out what, if anything had changed.

With only a few days of our holidays remaining and the knowledge that there would be at least two more overnight stays before we arrived back at Alice Springs, we decided to have a lay-over day at Dubbo so we could revisit the zoo. Driving for 8-10 h per day is boring and wears one out, so a rest every so often is necessary, especially since the trip between Mildura (our next stop) and north through South Australia and back into the Territory is fairly ordinary. Especially when you've done it (the latter) dozens of times.

According to the Dubbo tourism site:
The City is a thriving regional home to some 40,000 people who have health, education, retail and professional services at their finger tips…and time on their hands. It’s the best of both worlds: city and country. There’s plenty of work ... great opportunities ... and the time to enjoy it all.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of regional towns throughout Australia that could be equally described. They are nice places with friendly people where life can be very comfortable. Having the Western Plains Zoo just outside the town is a bonus, especially for tourism.

The Western Plains Zoo is owned and managed by Taronga Zoo which is in Sydney.

Many of the unique African animals are present, there are some Asian animals and of course some Australian animals, all located in their own areas with nice roads and walkways wending among them. I perhaps like the meercats most as they are the animal most likely to make a lovely domestic pet (I think!). They seem to be a great example of synergy within a community ... everyone working together for the common good. Even in the safety of the Western Plains Zoo, one of the clan always finds a high spot and stands watch to protect the others from attack. They take this duty in turns and there is never a time when there is nobody watching out for the enemy.

The animal at the top, for anyone who hasn't seen one before, is a hairy-nosed wombat (unique to Australia).
If time permits, do look up the Western Plains Zoo link ... there is some interesting stuff there ... for anyone interested in animals that is.



Saturday, June 25, 2011

Escaping to Coolangatta - Queensland's Gold Coast

When you live in Central Australia, an isolated place about 1500 km from the beach and "Big Smoke" of the capital cities, occasionally you have to escape.  

During our recent escape, we spent five nights at Coolangatta, part of Queensland's popular Gold Coast. It was an unplanned part of our escapade, but never the less, pleasant.

We had intended staying at a time-share we had booked further south along the east coast of Australia at Port Macquarie (New South Wales), but unfortunately, flooding within the area put a stop to that. As a contingency measure, we headed for Coolangatta where it's sunny with warmish days and cool mornings and evenings.

The whole Gold Coast Strip is an entertainment and holiday region. Hundreds of thousands of people come here annually to soak up the sun, surf, fish, visit the numerous tourist attractions, gamble, shop, and have a break from the every day monotony of their mostly mundane lives. At the end of the calendar year the "Schoolies" flock to the coast to party, party, party and celebrate their success (or otherwise) at grade 12.

Coolangatta is far enough away from Surfers Paradise (often called Sufferer's Paradise) to be out of the glitter and high paced entertainment activities. It's more peaceful and you can find a parking place most days.

There are thousands of restaurants, cafes and hotels. If you can't find the food you want somewhere on the Gold Coast, you aren't really hungry. Attractions like Sea World and Dream World are still popular despite having been here for decades; a little like Disneyland in the USA.

Fortunately, there is a high speed highway at the back of the Gold Coast strip that enables one to drive from place to place without having to wend through traffic and 50 km/hr streets and traffic lights etc.

Only a few kilometres from Coolangatta and north of Surfers Paradise is Mudgeeraba, where our house is situated. We called in to have a look at it and the nearby Robina Shopping Town which is the largest shopping centre in the Gold Coast.

One day in the not-too-distant future, we will relocate to our Mudgeeraba house and be 3 km from Robina Shopping Town and far enough away from the entertainment strip for our quality of life not to be diminished. We are looking forward to it, but still have a year or two of caravanning to do first.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

In Gordon's Backyard

In Gordon's backyard, there is a variety of interesting things.

When his cat died leaving him with a supply of fish-based cat foods, he decided to keep filling the cat's bowl hoping the neighbours' cats would trespass and help him get rid of it. 
They didn't. In their place came the magpies who descend every morning and most evenings to have their fill of cat food. As I watched them I couldn't help wondering if they'd continue eating it if they knew it was cat food. Of course they would ... I'm Caucasian but I eat Asian food. If I was really, really desperate, I'd probably eat cat food, or indeed the cat.

The strawberry patch has one huge, ripe strawberry, the garden bed some lovely colourful flowers, and near the shed, a potted plant that seems to say, "I'm here ... look at me, look at me!" Whatever they are called, they are among my favourite plant categories. I admire them. They have a beautiful simple symmetry that appeals to my sense of order, structure and space. Straight fronds, all parallel with each other, point towards the sky as if acknowledging the wonderful handiwork of the one true god, Mother Nature.

All they ask for is a little water and a place to grow. If only people were as simple.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

2011 Brisbane Caravan Expo

Visiting a caravan expo is something akin to trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant; in the latter, there's so much water pressure, it's difficult enough to stay on one's feet, let alone, take a small mouth full. At the caravan expo, there was so much to see, it was overwhelming. By the time we had seen the fifth caravan, it was difficult to recall the features of the second. Thus the Canon came in very handy helping us to preserve a photographic aides memoire of those features we preferred.

We visited the show with Christina's brother Gordon and his wife Lindy who are Brisbanites. On arrival at the show there was a slight sprinkling of rain which, after about five minutes or so abated and thankfully remained at bay for the rest of our visit. The thought of getting wet on our rare visit to Brisbane didn't appeal at all.

The Caravan Expo included camping and associated products eg, electric generators, tents, portable refrigerators, and a range of RVs (Recreational Vehicles). You know, the tortoise-like motor vehicles where you have your house at the back of the vehicle and take it wherever you go. These don't appeal to us as it means you have to pack up your belongings inside the van every time you want to go somewhere. With a caravan it doesn't matter if you leave your plates and cups on the table, you drive off and leave it parked.

As we looked at various caravans, it became quite clear that most of them are similar with features dictated to designers by the need to maintain low weight and specific dimensions. This was, of course, no surprise to us, but it was a surprise that almost all the vans used the same fixtures and fittings. There are obviously few companies that design latches for doors and caravan air-conditioners.

Being novices at anything to do with towing, we were delighted to get a comprehensive explanation of all the ins and outs of ball weight, gross vehicle mass, tare weight etc from a lovely lady called Dale Timms of Nova Caravans, who has apparently spent decades designing and selling caravans. Knowing that our Landcruiser Prado's maximum towing weight is 3,000 kg, is a first step in deciding which caravan to buy.

Now we have several months to research what is available, what we need compared with what we want, to compare prices and buy something suitable for our towing vehicle and lifestyle. Only the Crusader range offers two comfortable leather chairs instead of bench seats, so it's possible that one simple feature - seating - could be the strongest determinant of what we buy after weight and price.

The search continues, but at least now, we know one end of a caravan from the other.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

From The Alice to Cawnpore Lookout (Queensland)

When you drive east from Alice Springs to Queensland, there are only two ways to go; via Tennant Creek, 500 km to the north and then east along the Barkly Highway to Mount Isa or via the Plenty Highway. The Tennant Creek route is bitumenised (asphalt) 400 km longer and, when you've driven it hundreds of times, exceedingly boring. The Plenty Highway is a mostly gravel road that commences about 70 km north of The Alice and although rough in parts, is suitable for four wheel drive vehicles and trucks with high clearance.

With diesel fuel at $1.75 per Litre at Alice Springs, it's cheaper to go via the shorter dusty route and of course, a little quicker. As we hadn't been across the Plenty Highway for quite a few years, we decided to go that way saving money and revisiting the route we had taken two or three times previously, a good opportunity to see if anything had changed.

As you turn from the Stuart Highway (named after explorer John Stuart) into the Plenty Highway, you face a number of signs telling you about the road condition and the need for 4 wheel drive, this time after Jervois Station. (See photo at left). For at least a few kilometres, it was bitumenised, something new since our last trip. The Northern Territory Government extends the bitumen a few hundred metres or kilometres each year, depending on what funding is available. By 2090, or perhaps a little sooner, it will be fully bitumenised, but by then it will be of little benefit to me.

For this first leg of our journey, we had decided to travel to Cawnpore Lookout, an idyllic spot (well, idyllic by our standards) somewhere between Boulia, the first town in western Queensland and Winton, the next along the track. The lookout is on top of a little hill and the surrounding views are magic; ancient hills turned into buttes and other rugged shapes by millions of years of wind, rain and sun. Cawnpore is about 950 kilometres from The Alice and therefore, a good day's drive away.

When we arrived where we thought Cawnpore should be, it was pitch dark with a miniscule quarter moon revealing very little of the surrounding hills. We had a little trouble finding our way, but eventually located the lookout and drove up the steep slope to park on the top. Not a sound could be heard except for some crickets. As is common in outback Australia, the display of stars in the sky was outstanding. The Southern Cross and Milky Way were particularly bright and a cool breeze came from the south.

We boiled the billy for coffee and tea, had a cold dinner and then sat for a couple of hours enjoying the isolation, peace, tranquility and the beautiful heavenly display before pushing back the seats in our Prado and going to sleep. As morning broke, a lone road train (truck with five trailers) rumbled along the road below towards Boulia and we prepared for another day's drive, this time to Emerald, a coal mining and cotton growing township close to Rockhampton near the Queensland coast.

Our new Landcruiser Prado handled the rough, dusty roads very well and was much more comfortable than our previous, beloved Toyota Forerunner. We still have a long way to go.


PS: Double click graphic to see larger size.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Coming Soon Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia Trip

Watch this space! Next Saturday we are off in our shiny, almost new Landcruiser Prado Turbo-diesel four wheel drive for a four week trip through the three States and back into our beloved Northern Territory.

We head east from the Stuart Highway along the Plenty Highway 900 km into Western Queensland, head for Rockhampton on the east Coast then south down the Pacific Highway to Brisbane, further south into New South Wales to Port Macquarie. From NSW we drive west into the top part of South Australia and then head north back into the Northern Territory.

I'm going to post photos and descriptions of many of these areas we go to or through during our journey. You'll love them, so watch this space.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Merano Italy ... A Very Liveable Place

While we visited numerous lovely places during our overseas jaunt, all lovely for different reasons, I think perhaps my favourite was Merano in Italy. Merano is a city set among vineyards, apple orchards and snow-capped mountains and has an ambience difficult to explain. It feels comfortable, homely, just right.

Early after our arrival I realised that although we were in Italy, the Austrian influence was very strong indeed. Dual names were used for many places and Austrian coats of arms appeared more often than I would have expected. There were few people we found who spoke English, but one of them I enquired of about the Austrian influence in Italy. He told me that Merano had been part of Austria before the First World War and that after the war, Italy had taken over the city. However, the Austrians who live there, which is the majority, have never let go of their language or Austrianness, despite almost 100 years since WW1.

One of the things I liked most about Merano is that the city has been built around the existing vineyards and orchards so that there are vast hectares of them outside the city and on some of the hill slopes. Unlike many cities, they haven't bulldozed their agricultural asset to build concrete and metal structures.

Many of the houses and buildings on farmlets are hundreds of years old, made from stone and cement. Some have religious boxes with a cross bearing their Saviours' image in crucifixion with candles burning. Such faith!

The town centre is nicely laid out with covered walkway arches through which the crowds throng from shop to shop, all classy, nicely decked out shops, restaurants and hotels.

As the locals follow the very sensible practice of having an extended lunch break during which everything stops except the restaurants, the latter are chock block full of Meranians (?) drinking wine and eating scrumptious foods.

If you ever visit northern Italy, try to get to Merano ... it's a lovely city with much to see and do. If you ski ... on snow, you can do that all year round.


PS: Photos posted soon