Our Diary Australia - Part 3

From Melbourne to Sydney

In Melbourne we had hoped to catch up with Amber, Christine's niece, but unfortunately she was on holiday camping at the NSW border. After a few phone calls, we arranged to meet up at Mallacoota in a few days time. I drew a line from Melbourne to this rendezvous and it crossed the southern end of the Great Dividing Range - and a trip through the mountains seemed like fun! This area is heavily forested and the drive was very different from the desert. We spent the night camping alongside a stream and next morning looked for the 4WD route across Mt Selma. At the top of a rise we came across a paramedic trying to pick up a radio signal on her hand held radio.

"Is this the road to Licola," we asked, "and is it open?"

"Yeah, the main track's open, used by loggers all the time, just follow the track past the burnt forest (most of the smaller tracks are closed due to the bush fires last year) then down to Licola, I'm not sure about the tracks around Licola, though, as they were washed away by the floods earlier this year - but yeah, people get through OK."

We took this as a positive and drove onwards. We soon found what the paramedic meant by "loggers" - huge articulated trucks full of logs, hurtling along at 80km per hour along

narrow forest tracks! Fortunately they heralded their arrival with huge clouds of dust and by broadcasting their position on UHF radio - which allowed us to tuck out of the way as they raced past. The loggers were trying to clear as much of the scorched forest as they could before the timber deteriorated. The extent of the fires was huge - for hundreds of square miles the bare trunks pointed straight up like black flag poles. Amazingly, new shoots were appearing, demonstrating the resilience of nature in the face of natural hazards. As we approached Licola there were signs of washouts culminating in a road closure and detour - yes, the road was open - but only just, via a rickety farm track through a valley with signs of water erosion. We celebrated our arrival to Licola with a meat pie at the store!

We had a great day with Amber and Darryl celebrating Amber's birthday at Mallacoota. The town's 1040 population swells to 6,000+ for six weeks a year during the summer school holidays. The whole town turns into a giant campsite as Sydneysiders and Melbournites transport themselves from one suburbia to another! Their campsites usually include fridge/freezer, mobile kitchen, dining table and chairs - and often large screen TVs! This phenomenon continues along the SE Australian coast - all the way from Melbourne to Sydney!

From Mallacoota we headed north towards NSW. We had arranged to meet fellow cruisers Tom and Nicolette from Katanne at Batemans Bay, 250km north. We last met them in Curaçao in the Caribbean two years earlier. We linked up at a beachside caravan park - we were given a campsite in the "overflow" area which was lovely and quiet. The good facilities here allowed us to enjoy a great few days catching up on news and taking the odd trip into the hinterland (away from the crowds).

One of the two purpose-designed capital cities in the world is much maligned; Canberra. Yes, I agree it is easy to get lost; yes, it is the only city where they have to put direction signs to just about everything - from shops, garages and other places that you normally find easily in cities. In appearance Canberra is just trees, gardens and the odd government building - and walking around it is impossible. But the whole city, surrounded by rolling green hills, does have the ambience of a sunny Sunday afternoon in the park, not the hustle bustle of London or Washington here.

The Aussies are quietly proud but openly critical of Canberra, although it is the symbol of their 'unique' democratic system - and both the Parliament buildings are open to all. The impressive new Parliament, opened in 1988 is 'buried' underground and the roof is grassed so that the whole edifice is intentionally understated. The 'temporary' old Parliament is now a great museum/historical record of Australian politics, covering most of the major turmoils in the history of the country from Federation in 1901 through the depression in the 1930's and the dismissal of the Prime Minister by the Queen in 1975.

Most Aussies are incredibly loyal to their home State, but compulsory voting in Federal elections ensures their loyalty and interest in Federal issues. Although there has long been talk of an independent Republic of Australia, it is my opinion that they are comfortable with the Queen being their Head of State.

Enough of this serious stuff! What about the fun bits? Like a lazy day at the cricket, afternoon drinks at the sailing club and our nightly BBQ's with Tom and Nicolette… Yes, it was just a series of lazy Sunday afternoons in Canberra.

Heading west to Tidbinbilla, we explored the Canberra Deep Space Communication station jointly run by NASA and CSIRO. This station monitors many of the major deep-space, unmanned exploratory spacecraft currently plying the stars and planets. We were able to see live photos from the Mars Explorer, marvel at the signals still being received from the Voyager space craft - which was launched in 1975???? and, having left our solar system, is now heading for the next star - and still sending data after 23 years! We were so impressed by this that we decided to go and play homage to the 'Dish' at Parkes which played a pivotal role in the first moon landing and was immortalised in the movie 'The Dish'.

Cowra was an interesting lunchtime stop; scene of a tragic incident during WWII when a mass breakout of Japanese from the POW camp in this town resulted in a large number of unnecessary deaths. This incident is beautifully described at the Information Centre through an enthralling holographic presentation.

Apart from the 'Dish', our expectation of Parkes was of a sleepy Aussie town frozen in time. Spotting Elvis walking along the main street made us blink - but seeing a whole bunch outside the local pub was a surprised! And a park full of them just freaked us out! We had stumbled across the annual Elvis Presley convention when sleepy Parkes comes alive.

From global history to family ancestry took us along a tortuous mountain track to the historic mining town of Hill End. Following the end of the 1868 Gold Rush, Hill End never really entered the Twentieth Century and is now the preserve of the Hill End Historic Society. Their extensive research has led to the creation of detailed records of most of the inhabitants of this town, including Christine's great, great, great grandfather who came over from Ireland in 1841 to set up shop as a butcher - and stayed during the gold boom. She came away with records and photos which will make interesting research when we get a chance.

A quick zoom around Bathurst (Mt Panorama raceway) and a chance meeting with some fellow 4WD enthusiasts, led us to an adventure in the Blue Mountains off the normal tourist tracks. We went in search of the Lost City and the Glow Worm Tunnels just outside of Lithgow. The Lost City is still lost (as far as we're concerned) - the track to this appeared impassable! But the road along a disused rail track through tunnels carved out of solid rock led to a path through a second pretty amazing tunnel. Armed with a torch we walked alone into this once-major highway into the gold fields from Sydney; it has now been returned to nature. The roof of the tunnel glittered with glow worms and the fern-strewn chasm at the exit was a surprise discovery. So removed from the coaches disgorging their loads of tourists for brief visits to the Three Sisters at Katoomba, just 10km away!

We arrived at the Pacific Ocean at Wollongong. Our traverse of the continent completed we had driven 16,888 kms through some of the world's most inhospitable terrain. We sighed in relief - a little dazed but with a huge sense of achievement - and now focussing on the end game of our Australian adventure…

A big thank you to Brett and Debbie (fellow cruisers who have hung up the anchor for a little while… getting boat, body and soul prepared for their next great adventure; the Horn, Antarctica…who knows?). We arrived at their house shattered and keen to get 'Betty' ready for sale (we had already advertised her in the Sydney press so were keen to get all the red dust out of all the nooks and crannies. This meant we cluttered up their whole place with our gear (Sorry!). Even so, it was great to catch up with them and we had a fun few days. Then a phone call! An interested buyer who was prepared to drive to Sydney from northern New South Wales - that sounded really promising. So we waved a swift farewell to Debbie & Brett and headed for a rendezvous in North Sydney... As quickly as we had bought her we had done a deal and found ourselves abandoned on the side of the highway with our small mountain of luggage - just like a couple of bag ladies! We hastily rang our previously-booked hotel and were able to check in a couple of days earlier than planned and a passing taxi dropped us off in Woolloomooloo and we settled in explore Sydney and the lead up to Australia Day.

Sydney is a pleasant city to wander around as long as you stay out of the parks at lunchtime - where hoards of lunchtime joggers make walking hazardous! Our raison d'être for arriving in Sydney at the end of January was to join in the Australia Day festivities on 26th - and this we did! The day started with a 'religious' aboriginal event on the foreshore of Sydney Cove - our expectation was for a little chanting and drumming with a didgeridoo or two around some drawings in the sand. What we didn't expect was a full choreographed contemporary dance with flowing veils and a cello! Very interesting, but when the choreographer and clothes designer (a Caucasian 30-something) took a bow at the end, it totally confused us. Undaunted we leapt onto a Ferry and had a fun morning watching all the boats and people on the harbour just being Aussie and proud of it. We then relaxed for a while at a free jazz concert before heading to Darling Harbour and joining the throng waiting for the fireworks, parades, speeches, etc. A great day and so lovely to see everyone letting their hair down and being Aussie!

You may not know it, but Christine is now a great aunt, or as she likes to say "She has a GREAT nephew!" - and we met him for the first time. Pippa and Xavier had just arrived back from the UK and we spent a lovely time at their place playing with 4-month Xavier and just chilling out - a fantastic way to finish off our Australian adventure.

On the plane to Christchurch we reflected on the whole trip and were really pleased that our selected route and method of transport had worked out so well. There are a couple of items that didn't really fit anywhere so I've added them on to the end as a sort of appendix - I hope you find them interesting:

Sorry! is the word on the lips of many Australians at the moment - another attempt at solving the Aboriginal problem. It is very difficult to talk about this issue without sounding racist, bigoted or rude - but I have been trying to understand the issues. You may have noticed that I have said very little about these mysterious people although throughout our travels we have come into contact with them. I have been trying to form my own opinion from observation, museum exhibits, presentations and an interesting evening with a white female anthropologist living with an Aboriginal community. A few facts first:

  • One sees very few aboriginals in 'normal' employment - although there are Senators and Community Leaders within Government.
  • They are not poor - the 500,000-or-so Aborigines own around 1 million sq kilometres in Central Australia and Northern Territory. That's 2 sq km per person (mainly desert). The majority rely on NOT-insignificant State handouts and are not short of a 'bob or two'.
  • Within some of the larger towns the most common gathering place was in a shady spot often near the local liquor store. This appears as if they are all waiting for a drink, but sitting outside in the shade is actually a sensible way to survive the heat of the day.
  • Until the Europeans arrived they were at a low state of technological development and their social structure was tribal with strict rules on 'intermarriage'. What I have difficultly in understanding is that throughout the Pacific Ocean islands there was significant inter-island trading and technology transfer - but there is little indication of trading with the aborigines. Their whole culture seems to have frozen for the last 10,000 years even before the Europeans arrived in Australia.

Our chat with the anthropologist provided a few further insights into the aboriginal culture, the most interesting is their etiquette on 'meeting' a stranger; they do not make eye contact and they keep in the background until invited to join the group. It had taken three months for the anthropologist to be accepted into the group - and this was despite working and living within the community. This impacts on their ability to communicate and hence cultural knowledge is quickly lost. The main aim of the anthropologist was to teach the community basic nutrition - including teaching the community about their own bush craft and survival skills! They learn by example and watching, hence they are easily influenced by TV and advertising; this has led to poor nutrition, spend-and-famine mentality, and behavioural problems - especially in the male community. They also appear a lot older than their age e.g. a twelve year old girl will look eighteen, a forty year old will look sixty.

Throughout history these issues have put the non-indigenous people in a very difficult position and there have been many attempts to deal with 'the problem' - from extermination by the early settlers, to integration and using their bush craft skills during the 'farming and homesteading' of Australia, then the controversial 'stolen generation phase' where Aborigine children were taken from their homes and brought up as 'white' people. The current attempt is trying to turn the clock back and give back (where possible) their land and culture - which lead to the incongruity of the Australia Day dance set. Not aboriginal, not western but a strange fusion of the two - is this the future of the aborigines? a strange fusion of ancient roots and contemporary arts, so that, hopefully, everyone 'feels better'? Could this be the main reason for saying sorry? It will be interesting to watch this story unfold and revisit the issue in a few years.

When a pair of accountants set off on an adventure like the Australian odyssey, they cannot help setting budgets and monitoring 'Actual against Budget' so here are a few facts and figures.

  • From reading and a little research we set our budget at A$200 per day for the two of us including transport, accommodation (buying camping equipment, etc), food, beverages, trips, gifts, etc.
  • We decided to purchase our own car and sell it after the trip, this worked out very well and cost us A$3,550 including spare parts, AA Membership, and transferring the ownership. A large part of this was A$800 for spare tyres. In total our trip was 90 days long and we did 16,888 kilometres.
  • A breakdown of our total daily spend (in Australian Dollars) being:

Food & Beverages




(A$0.18 per kilometre)
(including cost of camping equipment)

(including excursions, souvenirs, clothes, gifts, etc)

We are now in New Zealand touring the South Island before going back to the boat to prepare for another season of cruising.