Destination: Longreach – Part 1 (Roma to Mitchell)

21 04 2009

Our morning unintentionally started at 0:Dark Hundred, thanks to the oil contractors staying in the hotel room next door. The men, themselves, were extremely quiet – until they turned on the TV. Why anyone would want to watch American Current Affairs shows on regional Queensland TV at 3.30am is completely beyond us, but in the wee hours of the morning, we endured stories about Fluffy the cat, who enjoys an pre-work morning surf with its owner, and some woman living somewhere in the United States of America that had a fascination with collecting coloured paper clips. We could only imagine the visual footage that accompanied these stories… Plus wonder why Americans found these sort of stories so engaging and newsworthy…

The oil contractors departed shortly after 4.30am and we settled back in to sleep-land until we were woken, once again, by a local rooster at the more civilized time of just after 6.00am. Hearing the rooster, Tan’s brain went into overdrive in the kind of way that only Tan’s brain is capable of. Whilst Dodge had all types of romantic thoughts travel through his brain, Tan could only think of Ferdinand the Duck from the movie ‘Babe’, and his daily routine of imitating the rooster in order to remain useful (and thus prevent himself from being eaten). Tan visualized the scene where Ferdinand ‘tackled’ the rooster as it began to crow and thus stifling the rooster’s wake up call, then immediately imitating the rooster before it could regain its composure. Tan’s thoughts then fast-forwarded to the end of the movie, when Ferdinand had learnt to imitate the new alarm clock is his relentless pursuit to remain useful.

So, Dodge awoke and immediately turned to romance, and Tan responded, echoing the words of Mrs. Hoggett – “We need to do something about that duck.” Dodge saw no other alternative then to get up and start preparing to leave.

We departed not long after.

We left the motel, turned left and saw our first real sign of country living – a gentleman taking his pet Shetland Pony for an early morning walk down the street. Not an Irish Wolf Hound, Border Collie, Chihuahua, Great Dane or any combination of dog, but a real live Shetland Pony. We quietly wondered whether the Shetland played ‘fetch’.

From Roma, the Warrego Highway took us towards Muckadilla. Muckadilla was once a thriving community, but nowadays, the only sign of life (at 7.27am at least) was at the Muckadilla Pub. The pub itself is a typical country pub – very welcoming and aesthetically very attractive. And it provides free camping – or if you prefer, a small fee for powered sites. The outside verandahs of the pub are lined with the bottle trees that are customary in the region, and two bench seats are positioned on either side of the entrance. One is named the ‘Bench of Bullshit’ and the other is called the ‘Seat of Knowledge’. Dodge was not exactly welcome to the photo opportunity the seats presented, as he knew he’d be relegated to the Bench of Bullshit whilst his beautiful, angelic wife naturally claimed the Seat of Knowledge.

From Muckadilla, we headed towards Amby. Somewhere along the 22 kms between Amby and Muckadilla, Dodge broke into song and invented the tune and the lyrics to “I’m too sexy for my underpants.” It’s a country-style tune in a similar style to John Williamson meets Colin Buchanan kind of way. In other words, Tan turned the iPod up to try and drown him out. You probably won’t hear his tune on a radio station near you in the foreseeable future…

We arrived in Amby. Dodge was captivated by the name of the place and kept reciting possible tourism slogans referring to the ‘ambience of Amby’. Tan let him ramble on, as the more he thought about promoting Amby to the tourist market, the less inclined he’d be to reprise the “I’m too sexy for my underpants” song.

Travellers should note that the Amby Pub also offers free camping!

Next stop: Mitchell. We needed petrol.

Although we’d only travelled 107 kms from Roma, we’d noticed that as we headed further west, the vegetation had already began to change. Between Amby and Mitchell, fewer bottle trees could be seen the odd Ooline tree was now noticeable. Mitchell was somewhat larger than both Muckadilla and Amby, and in addition to the  thermal spring baths, the town featured a large number of historic buildings (including several pubs!). More importantly for us, Mitchell marked the Eastern border of Western Queensland! We were well and truly on our way!

We chose to fuel up the car at the local BP Service Station. And it was a service station – not used to the traditional operations of a such a petrol station, Dodge was pleasantly surprised when Gary, the owner, insisted that Dodge step away from the pump and allow him to fill the car. Not content to stand by and watch Gary do the work, we got chatting. Gary was not quite a local in the Mitchell district – he’d married a local Mitchell girl 42 years ago and been living in town ever since, but was not yet considered to be a ‘local’ himself. We headed in to pay for our purchase, and as Gary continued the conversation, another ‘not-quite local’ (whose name shall remain anonymous in case he is ‘run’ out of town) proudly stated that if it wasn’t for people like himself and Gary, all babies born in the town would have 13 fingers and 15 toes by now.

With that comment, we decided that it was time to leave Mitchell before we were called to appear as witnesses at any possible public lynchings that may be held in the near future…

An Evening in Roma

20 04 2009

Once we found accommodation for the evening, our first major undertaking was to check the vehicle aftIMG_4438er its day of long haul duty. Dodge meticulously checked oil and water levels and then climbed up to check how the restraints securing the fuel supplies on the roof had survived the drive. Then he checked the dual battery. Because it had taken so long to install the battery, we didn’t have time to ensure that it was working adequately enough to keep our fridge running in the back of the car. Tan’s father, an electrical engineer, had checked the wiring (unloaded) and given it the tick of approval, so we were fairly confident it was getting voltage, but was it getting enough to keep the fridge at a suitably chilled temperature?

Dodge moved to the battery and flicked the test button. Half-charge. Oh sh1t. Not good. Dodge immediately started to panic, not so much about the consumable items in the fridge, but about the pieces of meat he had packed to roast in the camp oven over the course of the next two weeks.

Dodge called The Grand Poo-bah (Tan’s father) to discuss the problem. The Grand Poo-bah was initially just as concerned as Dodge as they discussed possible reasons for the problem and quick fixes that could made to alleviate the problem until we got to a auto electrician the following day (or hopefully not at all). Eventually, the Grand Poo-bah asked “Have you unplugged the fridge?”

“No” answered Dodge.

Dodge couldn’t believe that in his panic, he forgotten to check the battery without appliances drawing current from it. Once he repeated the test correctly, the battery was found to be operating as expected and Dodge let out a long, relaxing sigh as he realized his roast meat would be entirely safe for the time being.

The second major undertaking for the evening was preparing the evening meal. The fact that we were staying across the road from Woolworths and the fact that we had a large amount of food packed in the back of the car that we were too lazy to extract meant that we didn’t want to spend money on a pub counter meal or take away dinner. Eventually, we settled for two varieties of instant pasta and some ginger beer to add to our rum.

While Dodge was paying for our purchases at the checkout, Tan, being the sticky-beak that she is, started reading the staff notices on the bulletin board next to the cashier. She found a staff roster, which she read for no other reason that the fact that it was there, in plain view of everyone passing the counter. Each staff member had written their own name, followed by their department and then indicated their availability for shifts over the upcoming fortnight. Tan’s eyes scrolled down the list, then paused on a particular female staff member’s entry – more so because her employment department was listed as ‘penis holes’. Tan felt a bit embarrassed for the poor girl, thinking that someone was having a go at her for being the ‘girl that gets around’ or the ‘town bike’. Tan re-read the line many times, just to check she hadn’t misread it, but no, it definitely said ‘penis holes.’ The more she looked, the more the laughter swelled up inside her. She turned to Dodge to show him what was so funny, only to find that as she looked again, the girl had really bad handwriting and she actually worked in ‘perishables’.

Dodge had a good giggle at Tan.

We made our way back to our accommodation and Tan started to prepare dinner while Dodge surfed the Austar service for the evening’s quality TV viewing. Cooking dinner was a little awkward – the motel room was equipped for oil and mining exploration contractors to be comfortably accommodated for a week at a time, yet the biggest microwave dish was the size of a breakfast bowl. Tan then proceeded to divide the packets of instant pasta evenly up between four bowls in order to properly cook them (Dodge, being less pedantic than Tan, couldn’t understand why Tan didn’t mix the pasta with mushroom sauce in with the cheesy macaroni pasta dish to make the cooking time shorter and the whole event less bowl-intensive. Tan just rolled her eyes and ignored his (un)helpful suggestions).

After Tan’s obsessively prepared instant pasta meal and a few Dark n’ Stormy rums, we were ready for a good night of sleep. Tomorrow – an early morning departure to reach Longreach before dark (hopefully).

The Road to Roma

20 04 2009

The departure from Toowoomba marked the start of the long journey ahead of us. The Warrego Highway firstly took us towards Oakey, then through Jondaryn (the home of the Woolshed tourist attraction) and on to Dalby, without incident. The further west we travelled, the emptier the roads became and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves alone heading towards Roma.

One of the best things we love about travel are the names of the small towns and localities we pass through, and the proud achievements each has accomplished throughout the years that they feel you should know about as you travel through at high speed.

We can therefore tell you that Warra, a small locality west of Dalby, is the BBQ Capital of Australia. In 2008, Warra produced:

  • Beef for 79 million sausages (and a few steaks as well, we presume)
  • Wheat for 68 million loaves of bread (to wrap the sausages in)
  • Wheat for 7 million stubbies of beer (it’s just not a BBQ if there’s no beer)
  • 14 million chickens (and how many eggs?)
  • Tonnes of mung beans and chick peas (vegetarians catered for as well)

Not bad for a community that owes its continued existence to the railway siding that serves to transport the beef, grain, coal and quarried rock from the surrounding areas to the rest of Australia!

It wasn’t until we passed a picket sign in the front yard of a house as we travelled through Warra that advised us to visit the ‘Coal 4 Breakfast’ website did we realize that the reason for Warra proudly proclaiming its BBQ importance was the fact that the mining industry had been granted approval for expansion, which didn’t make the local agricultural industry very happy.

From Warra, the highway travelled towards Brigalow, another small locality that again owes it’s continued existence to the railway line. Brigalow didn’t appear to be proud of anything, but its emblem was a sheath of wheat. Dodge quickly made the link between wheat and the name ‘Brigalow’ being a main brand of home brew beer products and declared Brigalow to be the home of home brew. Of course, this needed to be celebrated in song and Dodge devised the Brigalow Anthem – a tribute to the stouts, pale ales and lagers made from Brigalow branded products that may or may not come from Brigalow – that he continued, over and over again until Tan turned up the iPod and drowned him out.

The Warrego then took us through Chinchilla (best Queensland high school in 2002) and the localities of Cameby (no, we drove past very quickly) and Ry Wung (which Tan first thought said ‘Wy Rung’ and pondered aloud the unfortunate name and why she would ring until Dodge corrected her mistake). Then came Baking Board, which made us both drool with hunger as we imagined meadows full of freshly baked ANZAC biscuits, chocolate muffins and banana cakes begging us to eat them.

As we travelled through Chinchilla, we began to pick up the conversations of a pilot vehicle for an oversize load on the UHF radio. Halfway between Chinchilla and Miles, we caught up with the oversize load, only to learn that it was the second of two 4.5m wide loads making their way west along the highway. Not long after we’d caught up to the second of the loads, we heard the pilot vehicle for the first load once again warn a road train that a ‘2 by 4.5 looking straight at you’. It must have been a boring day for road train drivers, because despite the time (1.45pm) the truckie decided that it was a bit close to peak hour and responded quickly with ‘it’s a bit late for a 4.5, matey’ in reference to the travel time restrictions placed on oversized vehicles on major roads (which the oversize vehicles were operating well within).

And that started it. When alerted about the approaching twin 4.5 loads, every truck driver responded with ‘it’s a bit late for a 4.5, matey.’ At first, the pilot vehicles were a bit bewildered, and judging by the response they gave to one truckie, were a bit alarmed that the rules for oversize vehicle movement had been changed and they were not aware of it. However, as the message was repeated ad nauseam, the pilot drivers realised that they had become the brunt of ‘truckie humour’ and bore the brunt of the joke in good humour.

Our vehicle had been dubbed ‘little green one’ by the pilot vehicles, a tag line that we then used as we used the UHF to warn of our intentions to overtake. It got us thinking – what should we call the car? What should our UHF call sign be? (And did we really need one, if only to talk to the couple of sets of Grey Nomads with Campervans that we had passed so far?)

Suggestions included the Green Goblin, the Emu Stalker, the Gremlin and the Leprechaun. The discussion took us all the way to Roma, with no firm decision made.

We finally arrived in Roma just after 5.00pm, thoroughly exhausted and quite happy to find a motel for the night. The only problem – they all appeared to be booked out (except for the more ‘dodgey’ looking variety). After filling up at the local BP station, we made another loop around town, fully expecting to have to continue on towards Mitchell for the night. As we passed the Bottle Trees Motel, we spied a vaccancy sign and quickly pulled in. Luckily, the motel had had a cancellation whilst we filled up with fuel. The down side? It was only a twin room with two single beds. No problems – Dodge just wanted to stop driving, and Tan was excited to have a whole bed (albeit a single) entirely to herself.

As we parked the Green Goblen/Emu Stalker in front of our room, we heard the pilot vehicle for the first oversize load enter the Roma township, quickly followed by the reply “it’s a bit later for a 4.5, matey”. With a quiet chuckle (this had been going on continuously for 4 hours now) and pang of compassion for those still on the road, we turned off the engine and retired for the evening.

And We’re Off!

20 04 2009

April 20 – departure day! Scheduled departure time: O:Dark Hundred (or before sunrise (6.00am) for all you people unaccustomed to leaving your watches behind on holidays and not knowing how to tell time by sundial). This would leave plenty of time to make the 790km journey to Augathella and arrive hopefully before sunset (or before the next cycle of O:Dark Hundred time).

Of course, being MessyChambo, this meant we left at approximately 10.00am – only 4ish hours late – which is pretty good by our standards! However “Destination: Augathella” (said with a Mission Impossible type vocal emphasis) before sunset was now going to be a tough ask.

We quickly assumed the driving posture and mentally and physically prepared ourselves for the long drive ahead.

First stop: Gatton McDonalds. Why? Well, why not? After all, we’d been on the road for at least 40 minutes and the butt cheeks were starting to get a little numb (lets just ignore the fact that we had travelled approximately 75 kms of our total 4500+ km journey and things would be getting a lot worse real soon…). Plus, we were hungry. Lucky we did, because as we chewed our burgers, we began to take stock of everything we’d forgotten to pack and weren’t going to go home for.

Second stop: Clifford Garden Shopping Centre in Toowoomba to purchase the above-mentioned stocks and supplies that had failed to make the transfer from the garage into the back of the car. Useful things like the mandatory hi-vis flag required for the ‘Desert Anti-Collision Kit’ that minimised the risk of a head-on accident when traversing desert dunes on single-lane roads. And a fire extinguisher to put out the spinifex fires – it may sound like an OH&S overkill, but for the uninformed, a spinifex fire is a highly probable experience as spinifex commonly gets caught in the very hot engine and vehicle underbelly, then catches alight. Being in a remote location, you sort of want to put out the fire before it consumes the car as it takes a long time for the fire brigade to arrive (which of course, can only occur after it’s taken a few minutes to (a) locate your precise location on the GPS, providing it’s turned on; (b) find the sat phone; and (c) set-up the sat phone for use), and it’s a long walk to the next town if in fact your vehicle does get consumed by the flames before the fire brigade can arrive).

And, last but not least, sunglasses for Dodge. The only thing we couldn’t find was a reasonably priced Hi-Vis flag for the “Desert Anti-Collision Kit” (which was going to be a MessyChambo hand-made job – after quotes in the vicinity of $250-300 for a proper flag, we decided a cheap hi-vis vest mounted to a 14” surf fishing rod should suffice).

12.50pm and at long last, we were finally ready to tackle the remaining 680-ish kms to “Destination: Augathella” (once again, with a Mission: Impossible edge to it). Except we decided to change to “Destination: Roma and we’ll see how we feel when we get there” (which didn’t sound anywhere near impressive, regardless of how much Mission: Impossible intonations were added).

Clifford Gardens