The little things

 After the blustery morning packing up from Wilpena Pound we got to Hawker to find a mechanic shop on the main road so I thought I’d try my luck and ask if they could help straighten these stabiliser legs for me. They offered to take a look and seemed impressed that I’d already removed them on my own.
It was a big relief to have them fix them for me and they were kind enough to let me drive into their workshop (out of the rain and wind) to reattach the legs once they’d fixed them. While I was under the van doing up the screws to the stabiliser legs the ratchet spanner fell off in my haste and landed smack bang on my eyebrow bone – I swore as quietly as I could and could feel the instant lump on my head. I can now add black eye to my list of mishaps I think! For a little thing it can hurt a lot.

After spending a few hours in Hawker we abandoned the Port Augusta plans and headed north to Beltana, a sheep and cattle station with potential for a camel ride and the chance for Miss6 to feed animals. It would also buy us a few days to see if the Oodnadatta Track would open up to small 4WD while we were there. On the way out I had a little sob in the car – quiet enough so the kids wouldn’t hear as I’d done the night before in the camper after they’d gone to bed. It’s only a few little things that had gone wrong so far but sometimes these things get to you and it’s times like this I often think about how different it would be if I wasn’t doing all this on my own. The sobbing didn’t last long, after a few unrequited waves to passing caravanners, I got an enthusiastic wave back and that was enough to slap a big smile on my face.

When we arrived at Beltana another family had not long arrived and they had a little girl – Miss6 was stoked! We enjoyed a home cooked roast in the Woolshed restaurant with some other travellers and workers on the farm and a great night sleep with no alarm the next morning. After we got up we went for a walk with the husband and three kids from this other family and it was so great to see the kids enjoying some new friends. I met Miss6 new BFF’s mum later in the day and for the few days we stayed at Beltana she was just what I needed – a down to earth real mum who understood those moments you love your kids but just want to leave them behind or remind them that they’re not the grown ups (Sometimes parenthood is a dictatorship not a democracy).Sharing stories and meals by the fire and watching the kids have fun with their new friends was enough to pep me up again for the next leg of our trip (that, and the fact that we had a successful touch down and take off with the stabiliser legs!).

We’d hoped to follow our new friends across the Oodnadatta track but it remained closed to everything but heavy vehicles so we said farewell and headed south again to Port Augusta via the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna. We stopped in at the hotel after our Beltana family friends had mentioned their feral antipasto platter (Emu, Kangaroo, Goat, Camel). Even our wannabe vegan tried everything on the platter (I told her they’d all died of old age or natural causes) and we thoroughly enjoyed our lunch.

For the rest of the drive we had no radio (regular occurrence) so once again I listened to the Taylor Swift CD that workmates had packed for me. I find driving days are my time to think about a lot of the things I left behind – surprisingly, I’m appreciating some of Tay Tay’s words of wisdom and can even sing along to a few of her songs. Music and singing has always been my therapy – it’s another little thing but it means a lot.

Port Augusta was about as I expected – though our dining out experience served up a pretty impressive parma to Master14 – it looked like it came off a camel it was that huge. Portugutta didn’t fail to disappoint though when, while packing up the next day to leave we realised that I had no lights to the trailer – again! Found an auto electrician who figured out the problem, fixed it up for me and even checked my other battery and lights on the van before we got out of there just in time before it meant a second night stay.

We’re heading to Coober Pedy next but stopped for one night along the way at Woomera. It’s a little caravan park with a little bar in an old shipping container but with a friendly barman and $4 Corona (even with a wedge of lime) I was pretty happy with this small town. We even walked down to the footy club for dinner – three meals, another Corona and water for the kids $23 – got to be happy with that!

The last few stops have reminded me that the little things can be the most significant – they can bring you down for a little while but it’s also the little things that make you realise what life’s all about and that it’s all worth while.

Noah’s Ark

We swapped the grey nomads for the Flinders Ranges and ended up camping next to a family of four kids at Wilpena Pound. They were doing a similar trip to us except they only survived with the camper fridge for all six of them and home schooling was something they did in real life too. Me? I’ve packed enough food in the fridge and second freezer to go AWOL for months and the idea of permanent home schooling makes going AWOL (solo) very tempting!

We decided to have a crack at a mountain hike, the weather was a cooler 22 degrees with a few spits here and there – how hard could a 7km hike be? I read the promo brochure and decided we’d go straight to the ‘difficult’ hike and follow the advice of packing some supplies into a backpack and giving Pa a quick call to let him know we should be back in four hours. He was on his way to the footy so I figured he’d remember us once the game was over and he’d gone home, if anything went wrong he’d figure something out.

They weren’t lying when they said ‘difficult’ the terrain was very rocky and often times vertical – these bits were OK, it was more the yellow reflectors stuck to rocks as ‘guides’ to mark the ‘path’ that we had to think about! All in all, it took us nearly five hours as we added the long way back to the end of the hike.

I was incredibly proud of the kids – Master 14 looked out for his little sister and Miss6 channeled her Dora the Explorer experience and raced up the mountain, exploring and having a great time.

Back to camp after some yodelling down the mountain (Sound of Music style after we’d seen a mountain goat high on a hill… – my life story could be told in song lyrics and movie lines!). We were pretty impressed with our efforts and all a little knackered so decided not to pack up the following day to leave (it was Mother’s Day and I gave myself the day off) so booked an extra night, built a fire, enjoyed a cold beer, toasted some marshmallows and baked our first campfire scones just before it started to rain at bedtime.

Did I say rain? I’m no expert at religion but it bloody poured non stop for 24 hours – between rescuing our water logged awning and outdoor furniture, our campsite started to resemble my idea of Noah’s Ark! Minus the animals (much to Miss6’s disappointment- they’d had the sense to magically disappear when the rain came), if I could’ve got our stabiliser legs up we would’ve floated away. 

I was grateful the rain stopped in time for me to dry off and wipe down what I could with nappy wipes and a beach towel, before heading to a Mother’s Day dinner at the restaurant that included a complimentary wine. Boy did that go down well! Hopped into bed in our water logged Jayco Ark, electric blankets on, set for a toasty nights’ sleep. 

Bang!! I woke at 2am with a start – it seems the rain may have stopped but now we were on the tumble-dry cycle with the wind going gangbusters. I went outside, took the awning poles down and tied down the bed end fly’s then back to bed. I thought beds were supposed to be for sleeping – not this night – all I did was lie there trying to identify the noises and whether anything (else) was getting broken by the wind!

It’s a miracle! Nothing got broken by the wind (that wasn’t already broken anyway!). We packed up in pretty good time compared to our first few attempts… Until I got to those damned stabiliser legs – even though we’d sorted out where we were going wrong, they needed repairs and weren’t going to wind up. I got a free blow wave, wash and second tumble dry from Mother Nature while I took two of the legs off but eventually we got going and were only half an hour late for check out.

The rain had closed some of the roads we’d hoped to travel so I plan to head to Port Augusta to get some repairs before we head off and start our journey north. Hopefully without the rain, though Uluru has water and the NT is seeing its wettest April/May in 21 years – I could very well be the rain goddess here to break the drought! 

The Cockatoo Kid

‘There was movement at the station, for the word had got around

That the Kickarse Mum had got away,

She’d fought ol’ Jack the cocky – his dance moves were renowned

So all the nomads had gathered to the fray.

We finally headed out of Broken Hill after a hot shower and grocery shop by around 11.30 (one day we’ll get this quick pack up thing right) and had a nice easy drive out to Peterborough. Stopping for some photos, fuel, lunch and the quarantine check-point (apparently it’s fruit AND vegetables so I had to give up a couple of veggies though I was allowed to keep the bag of potatoes I’d just bought).

We arrived around 3.30 and were set up by 4 (hard to believe but we stop quicker than we start in this family!). I called and booked us into the Sound and Light show at the local Steam town attraction and enjoyed a free taxi-ride there for the show.

By the time the show finished and we waited for the taxi home, I reckon nearly all the other guests knew of my dance with Jack the Cocky – Miss6 was off spinning a yarn to the nomads of our adventures so far and made a great story out of Jack and the nasty gash on my little finger. By the time we left there I had advice to visit the local hospital first thing as it would be the easiest way to get a Dr to check it out.

Waiting at the hospital the next day all I could hear was the chatter at the nurses station ‘yes a cockatoo’, ‘the cocky bit her finger’, ‘I’ll gave to check with the Dr about a cockatoo bite’ – finally a very handsome young Dr Tom strolled through the door to take a look at the now infamous cocky bite (it’s moments like these you miss the manicured acrylic nails). A quick clean, redress (of the wound – this is a G rated trip!) and a tetanus shot later and we were on our way.

We’d booked for the evening sound and light show plus the guided tour the following day so we headed back to Steam town. We joined the tour and Miss6 was again in her element with doting nanna’s and a lady who’d brought her two dogs on the tour.

It wasn’t long before I could hear the whispering again through the crowd ‘yes it was a cocky’, ‘a cockatoo bit her right on her finger’, ‘it was a nasty bite from what I’m told’ – eventually one of the lovely older ladies asked me if it was me that had been bitten and how was my finger.

When we returned to the caravan park I overheard two ladies talking about the cockatoo bite in the toilets – when I came out they asked me how my finger was and if I’d gone to the hospital to see the doctor. I’m considering renaming my blog now to the Cockatoo Kid!

Sunsets over Silverton

We arrived at Penrose Park in Silverton after some great reviews from friends (thanks Tracey!), backed up by some Wikicamps users and the Camps 8 book. At only $25 per night for a powered site I’d planned to stay here for a few nights and trek into Broken Hill to look around or to Silverton.

We’d arrived around 4 o’clock and set up pretty quickly (we’ve got this part down pat for speed). While we were setting up we met KiwiBarb who set up next to us and started chatting – she was on her way from Perth to Brisbane to start a new life. Within five minutes of setting up a light rain started and before long it was absolutely pouring (I’m starting to wonder if the rain is following us?!).

There was a wedding being held that night in the Big Shed onsite and they raged all night with the music going until around 8am the next morning! Here I was thinking the Irish knew how to throw an all-night wedding, these guys left them for dead.

After a fairly sleepless night, KiwiBarb joined us for a drive into Silverton to check out the Mad Max Museum – a museum built by an Englishman and his wife so obsessed with the movie they moved here from England! There was a camera crew there filming a documentary, a deaf dog that liked cuddles and an owner obsessed with leopard print – Miss6 was in her element! She managed to flash a few smiles for the camera crew (signed a permission form with hopes of seeing the kids in the three-part doco sometime in November), cuddle the blue heeler and even scammed a new leopard print handbag and hair clip from the owner who fell for her charm.

After lunch we headed into Broken Hill to see the Silver City Mint (though I couldn’t justify paying $20 to see the world’s largest canvas painting – no matter how good it was!) and some milkshakes at the very retro Bells Milk Bar.

Back to Silverton to grab the camp chairs before driving out to Mundi Mundi lookout to watch the sunset. There were a group of older couples with the right idea – table, chairs, wine cheese and the most gorgeous sunset and views looking out over the outback. It seems to stretch for miles with nothing interrupting the views.

We farewelled KiwiBarb the next day before heading back into Broken Hill for a jam-packed day of sight-seeing taking in the highest view in town – Line of Lode Miners Memorial, Browne’s Mine lookout, ‘Bushy’s mining museum including his artworks made of minerals and his wife’s massive collection of dolls and teddy bears (impressive and disturbing all at the same time), the airport to check out the Royal Flying Doctor Service and museum, Pro Hart Gallery (only $5 to check out his artworks!) and then out to the Living Desert.

We decided to park the car at the bottom of the hill and take a 1.2km bushwalk up to the Living Desert and sculptures in time for sunset. I hope none of the other tourists up there were looking for some peace and quiet at sunset! Miss6 really loved the sculptures and kept yelling out ‘Mummy look at this one!’ while Master14 took the opportunity to add to his photography portfolio.

I can understand why there are so many artists inspired by this part of the world – the views and colours of the desert are just spectacular. It’s like getting that 72 pack of Derwents for Christmas looking at all those shades of gorgeous colours and not being able to wipe the smile off your face.

We were going to leave the next day but decided to stay a fourth night so we could look at Silverton a little more and take a tour of the Daydream Mine between where we were staying and Broken Hill.

The mine tour was great fun – the kids really enjoyed it and Miss6 surprised me, I thought she’d get clingy in the dark underground but instead she was tearing ahead asking if we could go further underground into the mine! No fear this kid – and so fashionable for the mine in her purple skirt and leopard print puffy vest!

I thought I’d do some washing before we left for our next destination so after hanging out the washing I wondered over to see what the kids had been up to while they waited for me. They were checking out the numerous animals at Penrose Park and were making Jack the cockatoo dance for them – I thought I’d be nice and donate some coins to help feed the animals. After putting money in the tin in his cage the kids encouraged me to give him a little pat – the sign clearly said ‘this bird bites’ but he looked at me with his little blue eyes and bowed his head encouragingly to get me to scratch the top of his head. I was sucked right in so I put my little finger in for a scratch and after a moment he shot his head up and latched that beak of his so fiercely into my little finger I think I gave him a few new choice words to add to his vocabulary!

The kids helped me loose and ran for some tissues to help hold the blood – as I’d driven with the laundry down from camp I had to drive us back to the van with blood pissing out of my finger trying to hold a tissue over the wound, hold my hand above my heart and drive manual – even I was impressed with my driving!

Caleb helped grab the first aid kit and go through it for some bandages (it was at this point I realised the kit didn’t include steri-strips or butterfly band aids (now on the ‘to buy’ list) and to grab the teatree oil to help clean the wound. Letting out a very loud “FARK!!” when I applied the tea tree Miss6 burst into tears thinking it was all her fault for encouraging me to pat the bird. She may be a bundle of attitude, humour and a bit of crazy but she sure has the sensitive empathetic soul that Master14 and I have.

Determined not to let a bit of blood, pain and swelling get in the way of our adventures I loaded the kids into the car and we headed into Silverton to check out the od Gaol Museum and then to the pub for an overpriced (delicious) lunch and a well-deserved pot of beer.

It was a pretty windy and warm afternoon so we decided to check out the old cemetery on the way back to camp and found the Silverton Photography Gallery by mistake on the way back. Helen Murray not only takes a beautiful photograph but she was an absolute delight showing us around her gardens and showing the kids her horses and dog ‘bandit’ who of course, took a liking to Miss6.

We ended up staying there for ages chatting, taking photos of Helen’s collection of old mining, farming and other memorabilia throughout the garden. By the time we got back to camp it was late afternoon and all I could think about was relaxing before making a start on dinner and some of the pack up before we left the following day.

In the tradition of packing up ‘kickarse mum style’ – we returned to camp to find that the wind had taken our little 3×3 marquee and blown it halfway across the sand completely destroying one of the legs and it had blown Master14’s bed so hard that the little plastic bracket holding the bar over his canvas had snapped off leaving his bed collapsed!

Some minor cursing and make-do repairs later, we managed to pack up the marquee (minus one leg) and I removed the bracket from Master14’s bed, made good use of the liquid nails and put all three of us into the other bed for the night while the glue dried.

As a fellow camping mum pointed out to me, at least with everything breaking on our trip so far, I’ve been able to fix or patch up most of it on my own with the aid of liquid nails, gaffa tape, ocky straps and some well-placed F-bombs. So much for Murphy being a home-body – here’s hoping he doesn’t make it past the quarantine line!

Another late set off the next day as our pack-up routine (who am I kidding – we’ve really only mastered the set up routine – packing up is nothing but a distant goal for us at the moment). Needless to say, during the pack up phase the cask of wine was moved in the cupboards so that now all I need to do is open the door and pour – no more pulling it out of the cupboard to put on the bench and pour!

Mildura meltdown

Pulled up camp at the Big 4 Golden River caravan park after around seven hours in the car (including stops) from Melbourne. The little RAV4 didn’t like some of the bigger hills and I’ve already resigned myself to a grey-nomad cruise speed of around 90km/h for the trip.

The kids were pretty happy – especially Miss6 as the park had a solar heated pool (though she was disappointed that Mum only swims in pools once it’s over 30 degrees outside), playground and a funky camp kitchen fashioned out of a shipping container with a TV and couch so I could get in a few desperate episodes of Home and Away (yes I am a River Boy tragic).

We were hoping to avoid as much of the well known cold and wet winter on this trip but alas, the rains came and it poured for around 24 hours while we were there. We didn’t let it deter us though and took to a paddle steamer on the Murray for the day (we were the only passengers under 50)  where the kids got  to have a go at driving and earned their Skippers Certificate – I’m sure Miss6 thinks this is her ticket to driving some serious boats as we get further along the road!

 Miss6 (aka Dr Dolittle) has managed to make friends with every nanna and pa in the park with pets including a couple with three cats that they like to walk in a pram and on a leash!

In an ironic twist while trying to have an afternoon nanna nap I was woken by the ukulele playing nanna from down the road who popped in  to show us how to play Rummy. The friendly game of her teaching the three of us how to play quickly turned competitive as she got a bit serious after the kids got on a bit of a roll :).  Lesson #1 don’t take on a nanna at Rummy!

After three lovely nights in Mildura it was time to hit the road. I thought I’d get a head start on the morning pack-up by pulling down the kitchen awning the day before. Having completely forgotten about the rain from the day before I lowered the poles only to have a bucket load of ice cold water drop onto my head and down my back!

It seems that the kids and I aren’t the only ones that aren’t morning people – in our attempt to pack up and be out of here by around 9am, the camper decided it didn’t want to play along. While trying to wind up the front two stabiliser legs it became apparent that the winding bolt was bent and wasn’t going to budge. We were stuck…

After some hard work, sweat, tears (all mine of course!) and a minor tantrum involving tools thrown on the ground and some F-bombs that may have shocked the grey nomads, I googled the local Jayco caravan stockist to find out they were open for another 90 minutes and possibly had some replacement parts for me.

It was at this point I had one of those moments where my good self had to be polite to the gentlemen that decided to pop past and offer their ‘help’ (after I’d already done all the hard work and figured out what was wrong of course) knowing that their offer to ‘take a look for me’ was only going to take up precious time I didn’t have and prove fruitless as both men that turned up soon realised what I already knew that the parts were broken and needed replacing… The impatient, independent part of me desperately wanted to yell “just get out of the bloody way and let me get out of here!”.

After removing the old parts and replacing them with new ones at Jayco, I was covered in sweat and grease and running around three hours late for our drive to Broken Hill. I decided five more minutes wasn’t going to change anything so I stopped at Macca’s for two iced chocolates for the kids and an iced mocha for me for the drive.

Then it was on the road again to Broken Hill and Silverton.