Escape to the Country

The senses are heightened as we escape the confines of Brisbane and head south west towards Boonah. The colours seem brighter, yellows, greens and browns drift by, all offset against the deep blue sky and the intoxicating smell of wattle/mimosa.  We are escaping to the country for a few days. Queensland winter days are low 20’s Celsius and clear blue skies.  I cannot think of better motorcycle riding weather, even if the mornings are a little nippy.

After a false start two weeks ago, when we woke with colds on the day of departure and ended up swapping the bikes, “Bee” aka Honda CB500X and “the Bird” aka Triumph Thunderbird for a slot in the COVID testing queue, we are finally away.  A negative COVID test result a couple of days later was expected, but in these times one always has a small question-mark over the outcome.  The all clear came via text and we were able to reschedule once we had thrown off the last remnants of our colds.

Unlike Streak and Storm, the Bird and the Bee are not equipped to take everything bar the kitchen sink. Space is limited but with some judicious packing we are able to fit everything we need for three days in the Bird’s not so cavernous panniers and we are off for our first road trip with these two bikes.  “Streak and Storm” our usual mounts are a world away and who knows when we will get to ride them again.

Leaving the city traffic behind, we wend our way to Boonah, a small country town about one and a half hours from Brisbane. A regular stop for us for coffee but instead of returning to Brisbane as we usually do on a day’s ride, we are heading west, up over Cunningham’s gap where the sound of bell birds ring in our ears.  We can feel like we are really away with the dividing range to our backs as we travel towards Clifton in the Toowoomba region for lunch and the air decidedly cooler.

Anne has a connection to this area as some 25 years ago she was member of a team that competed in a national innovation competition. Her team won the State (Qld) competition and then travelled to Perth for the national finals. They did not win but secured best national ‘Marketing’ prize which was the area Anne led. The product you ask?  The processing of pig waste! We’re not sure what happened to that product but Anne found it a fascinating experience, apart from the smell.

On the road again, north of Clifton Qld

As we like to take our time, and be off the road by 4pm at the latest, to avoid meeting wildlife head on, our first night is at Oakey.  We have not made a booking, with all the uncertainty, but head to the same motel we had booked a couple of weeks back and were allowed to cancel on the day with full refund because of our COVID hick-up.

As the local school finishes for the day, we hear pop music coming from the school speakers. The motel manager tells us that each month the best class gets to choose the song to be used instead of the school bell.  What a good motivational tool. As we walk to the local shop in our motorcycle gear the younger children wave and say hello. Not sure that you get that in the city.

The motel manager offers to run us up to the local club for dinner, which as always in the country serves up a hearty meal before a constitutional walk back to our motel.

Wildlife is always a concern with country riding, but given that we avoid riding at the start and end of the the day as a rule, we see little wildlife close up which is a good thing. Very occasionally we are surprised and watching a pheasant rise up and fly within a wing’s length of my helmet was enough to increase my heart rate in spite of the medication I take. I was just envisioning what a pheasant emblem would look like embedded on my jacket when it veered away.  Minutes later a large eagle glided a couple of meters above our heads and then a really large goanna decided to cross in front of us, and immediately turn across the road again in the opposite direction, all in the space of 10 minutes.  They say things happen in threes so that’s enough excitement for one day.

We have not been to the Bunya Mountains for 20 years, so what will have changed – not much I hope. The mountains rise up to over 1000m / 3000 ft. from the surrounding plains providing great TV and mobile phone coverage for the locals. The Bunya Mountains National Park, which covers some 19,000 hectares, is the second oldest National Park in Queensland. It is named after the Bunya tree which is famous for nuts that saw Australian Aboriginal people travel from hundreds of kms to harvest the nuts every three years until European expansion into the region in the 1840’s and the subsequent farming and logging in the region curtailed this practice.

The road from Jondaryan to the Bunya’s still has a section of dirt that we remember from our previous visit. Some things do not change.  A twisty single lane road with hairpin bends takes us up from the open plains east of the Bunya mountains to in the cool and quiet of the magnificent Bunya and Hoop pine trees that surround us. We were lucky not to come across any vehicles making the decent. It really is a single lane road. We will be coming back a different way.

Looking south from Bunya Mountains
Heading towards the Bunya Mts from Jondaryan.
The Bird and Bee resting after a strenuous climb to the top of the Bunya Mts

One of the great pleasures we have riding is meeting other motorcyclists. This time we meet those from 2 years old to over 70. The two year old was not talkative but just loved motorcycles and was enthused just by seen our helmets. The parents were at a loss to explain his love of motorcycles as neither rode although his mother had ridden dirt bikes on the farm as a child, so maybe it’s in their DNA.

Bunya trees heading for the sky
Footholds in a Bunya tree trunk
Bunya and Hoop pines
A walk though tree, room for a motorbike?

The restaurant at the start of the national park allows us to leave all our motorcycling gear on a table between our coffee and lunch bookings while we meander between the impressive pines.  They also have the Shackleton scotch bar with over 100 Scotches on offer.  We will have to make a return trip and spend a night in front of the log fire sipping single malts.

Shackleton’s Whisky Bar, Australia’s highest in the Bunya Mts.

Onward to Kingaroy the peanut capital of Queensland and original home of our former state premier Sir Jo Bjelke-Peterson. Before our time I hasten to add. When he was premier, Queensland was sometimes known as “Jo’s Place” and he was famous amongst other things for deflecting questions from reporters with “don’t you worry about all that”. His wife Flo was famous for her pumpkin scones and also became a Queensland state senator. An interesting couple.

Warmer weather greets us on our third and last day on the road,  heading home on our wedding anniversary. We celebrate with coffee and cake at the Goomeri Bakery. We had learnt that the owner while spending time in France offered the local baker her time for free to learn the baking trade.  The result a wonderful french bakery in central Queensland. 

Street art in Murgon
Street Art in Goomeri
Now there is a water saving idea.

We always enjoy travelling down new roads and the Goomeri to Gympie will be worth riding again. We stick to the back roads up from Gympie via Kenilworth and Maleny to Woodford and finally a twisty ride up over Mt Mee.  Three days of good weather and riding over 830km and we are home. A wonderful experience, the riding, the people we met and the weather and one that we will repeat.

Happy Anne near the end of this trip
Old Windmill in Goomeri

The thirst for adventure has been rekindled and we are lucky to be in Queensland. Our state is seven times the size of the UK and two and a half times the size of Texas so there is much to explore, so next week we swap two wheels for four and our adventures continue.

– Anthony

Tasmania Explored – well, a little bit.

We have delivered the 4×4 to our friends’ farm outside Devonport and are now planning on spending five days exploring parts of Tasmania, not on motorbikes sadly, but in a hire car.  We do see many and talk to a few motorcyclists as we travel around and watch wistfully as they mount up and ride away.  It is a great way to travel which we both love and are still drawn to. While 2020 will not see any such activity for us, next year will come around and I am sure that Streak and Storm will get an outing to destinations unknown.

Vehicle delivered in Tassie, job done.

While we have been ambling between villages, from Sheffield to Strahan to Swansea, we have watched as I am sure everyone else has, the spread of COVID-19 and the impact it is having around the World: Travel, Businesses, Stock Markets and potentially our return to Brisbane in a week’s time.  Until something of this magnitude strikes, we cannot fully understand how complex our world is and the fragile nature of the world’s economies to such a blow.  Perhaps it would have been better to have had the entire world self isolate for 14 days at the same time to kill the virus, but this still would have left us vulnerable to one infected person who had not followed advice starting the process all over again!

Wombats, Wallabies, Pademelons, Tasmanian devils, Possums, Echidnas, Flatapus, A broad swathe of Tasmanian wildlife, we have seen them all, squashed on the Tasmanian roads. Having driven from Queensland to Victoria without seeing a single carcass in over 1500 kms it has been a shock at the amount of carnage we have seen here.  Only very occasionally have we driven past live specimens.  Anyway do not want to dwell on this but perhaps the wording on the Tasmanian number plates should change to reflect this, “Tasmania – The Roadkill State” perhaps?

Anne is in her element at Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park, part of another World Heritage site to add to the collection. Anne really enjoys the outdoors and the peace and tranquility that we do not get at home.  We are blessed with an amazing blue sky day and the pictures tell a better story than I can in words.  We only do a circuit of Dove lake but there are many other tempting walks.  We will come back here again. Lucky rain is forecast so I can avoid the tent again, I am getting good at this with the help of the weather.  I must be getting soft  because I do enjoy aspects of camping, just not the packing up wet equipment in the morning, probably too close to last year’s Icelandic trip’s camping memories.

Anne’s happy place, Dove Lake, Cradle Mountain, Tas
It’s pretty cool at Dove Lake early morning
Gondwanan species Pencil pines can reach ages over 1200 years
No wombats, just pretty Button Grass tussocks, Cradle Mountain, Tas

We overnight in Strahan on Tasmania’s west coast and enjoying a spectacular sunset and meal at the local pub. The weather the next day in Queenstown was the reverse.

Sunset near Strahan
Rainy Queenstown, Tasmania
Lake Burbury, Tasmania
Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, Tas
Nelson Falls, Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, Tas
Mushrooms and moss on a tree at Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, Tas

We stop at “The Wall in The Wilderness” near Derwent Bridge, which is a series of carved panels by Greg Duncan done as  a commemoration of those who helped shape the past and present of Tasmania’s central highlands. Done in marine grade Huon pine on panels 3m /10ft high this amazing structure, which is not complete and deliberately so, has to be seen, as the artist Greg Duncan intended: he does not allow photographs, which would not do the work justice and spoil the effect.  We were lucky enough to meet Greg, who can be found working behind  the counter where you can taste Tasmanian  whisky and spent an informative 15 minutes talking to him. We learnt that it took him 10 years working up to 16 hours a day to create the 100m long sculpture. A real labour of love.

The Wall brochure signed by Greg Duncan for us
Tarraleah power station – notice the leak/escape vent?!

Our artistic side’s exposure continued with a visit to The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) just outside Hobart is the brainchild of David Walsh.  David built the largest privately funded museum in the southern hemisphere. We had visited MOMA in 2009, but the full museum had not been started then and only a few pieces of David’s collection were on display.  Anne had followed the construction but as usual I knew nothing about it. As I found out it is all underground!  There is a first, it is carved into the rock which forms and amazing backdrop fo the art. A mixture of art old and new is on display, commissioned pieces and famous artists.  No signage on the artwork exists, all information on the artwork comes from an App that is sensitive to your location within the museum. If you do not have a smart phone they provide one to use.

Entrance to MONA, Hobart, Tasmania
Stairway down into MONA, Hobart, Tas
Fountain with written messages, MONA, Hobart, Tas
MONA, Hobart, Tas

A current exhibition is called MINE and it explores data mining, cleverly using large cardboard cutouts of current rock mining technology including projects that were underway during my time with Technology and Innovation at Rio Tinto. We saw only a small part of the museum and if we are back this way will definitely return.  There is even a board game called Excavator based on data mining between today’s largest internet companies for global domination.

Longwall mining shearer, MONA, Hobart, Tas
Cardboard displays and augmented reality at MONA, Hobart, Tas

Swansea on the east coast of Tasmania is home for friends Bob and Felicity who own Felicity’s Vintage and Tea Room – not to be confused with the similar sounding Felicity’s Vintage Tea Party in Leeds Yorkshire England as Google may do.  Superb home made cakes and scones with coffee from “Roberto” the barista, set to a backdrop of the stunning Great Oyster bay and Freycinet National Park make this a place to stop at if you visit Swansea.

View from Felicity’s Vintage and Tea Room

Launceston contains a number of beautiful old buildings that reminds me of Glasgow, on a much smaller scale, in the sense that is because the city has not lost its old buildings to population growth. Most of Australia’s major cities have lost their old buildings to be replaced with modern skyscrapers – still, being small has its attractions. The Customs building caught my attention as we had seen a similar combined Post Office and Customs building in Strahan. When everything came by sea each town needed a Customs office to insure correct duties were paid on goods being imported and any duties on timber and minerals being exported. I wonder since it was only built in the the early 20th century how quickly the facilities became obsolete as communication technologies improved.

Old Customs House, Launceston, Tas
Old Newspaper Building in Launceston

We notice that Launceston seems to close early on Saturday night as we finish dinner in a local pub on our last night. As the pub empties, tablecloths are removed which seems a little strange, then the tables go and we have not even finished. Err no they are clearing the floor to let the DJ setup for the night’s entertainment though to 2am. We are definitely getting a little older and slower, back to the hotel for tea and tele for us.

On our last day found the area to the NE of Launceston had both beautiful countryside and quaint towns. It seems a little less busy than to the west.  We visited Lilydale and walked thought their very personal war memorial with photos of every person from the district who gave their lives in WW1.

Lilydale poles depicting the town’s history
Lilydale church and a most exquisitely scented rose
Lilydale Anzac memorial

We meandered northwards from the lavender fields ending up in Bridport, a very pleasant town with stunning ocean views as we drove along the main road. We find a great large vacant block for sale in town over looking the ocean,  a place for us to live? Err no, comes with planning permission for a hotel and restaurant.  Ah, what might have been…

Bridestowe Lavender Estate, Nabowla, Tas
Delightful Bridport, Tas

A full plane back to Brisbane, but there is only one direct flight a day from Launceston to Brisbane, we are home, planning to stock up per government advice and like the rest of you, wait to see what happens next.  At least I have the next half of the “to do” list we made in Thailand to work through. 

Last flight for some time…

In the two weeks since our return, so much has changed globally, sometimes on a daily basis. We live in a different world today, but I am encouraged by the inventiveness and initiative people are taking to stay in touch. We will continue to stay in touch.

I started this blog after our return from Tasmania about two weeks ago.  In the time it has taken me to complete a couple of pages, so much has changed, often on a daily basis and will continue to do so for a while.   Stay safe and healthy and follow your government’s guidelines.

– Anthony

Road trip – street art

As those who have followed us know, I have an interest in street art and wherever we’ve travelled, street art has provided us with an interesting insight into local life, its struggles, beliefs and hopes – its heartbeat. This road trip to Melbourne in early March has provided me with a feast from day one.

Just two hours after leaving home, we come across Moore Trailers warehouse in Pittsworth, SW of Toowoomba and their 100m long mural celebrating all things and people important to the region. Arthur Postle, born 1881, a professional runner nicknamed the “Crimson Flash”, who set 5 world records, died in Wynnum, the subburb next door to us, in 1965. Pittsworth confectionary, a family owned business. The 84 ANZACS born in Pittsworth, including too many sets of brothers and a father and son. And of course, all things related to farming, agriculture and life on the land.

Moore Trailers, Pittsworth, Qld

Moore Trailers, Pittsworth, Qld

Millmerran is a small town of approximately 1,500 inhabitants which lies on the flat, fertile black soil plains to the west of Toowoomba. The likely origin of the name is two local Aboriginal words – “meel” which is thought to mean “eye” and “merran” which is a verb “to look out”, probably referring to a nearby lookout which was used as a viewing point by the local Aborigines from the Keinjan language group. The first Europeans arrived in the area in 1841. It prospered in the 19th century through mainly wool and sheep, changed to dairying during the early 20th century which saw the development of 2 cheese and butter factories and today engages in mixed farming with sheep, cattle, cereal grains and cotton dominating.

The Millmerran water reservoir mural was commissioned in 1988 and celebrates its history and the early days of transporting water.

Millmerran water reservoir, Qld

Millmerran water reservoir, Qld

Onto Goondiwindi – pronounced ‘gundawindi’ – I love that name! But had never looked into it’s origin before. Prior to the arrival of Europeans in 1827, the area was occupied by the Bigambul Aboriginal people. One of the early settlers, who had arrived in the 1830s, named a property ‘Gundawinda’ which was a Bigambul Aboriginal word for “a resting place for the birds”. There are other authorities which claim the town’s name comes from “goona winnah” meaning “duck droppings “. Goondiwindi is now a small town of approximately 6,000 people, on the border between Queensland and NSW.

A cheeky take on Australia’s Coat of Arms, Goondiwindi, Qld

Australia Coat of Arms

Goondiwindi steel sculptures, Qld

The Macintyre River with its water birds, reeds and the bank at sunset, water tank, Goondiwindi

In 1956 Edward Vernon Redmond, engineer to Goondiwindi Council, submitted a flood prevention scheme for the town. He and his foreman Bill McNulty had survived the flood by boat – marking the height on trees. The levee banks that he designed have saved Goondiwindi from major flooding ever since.” Up until then, residents used to gather under this tree and exchange flood stories and speculate on the time the next flood would reach the town. The Tree of Knowledge sculpture was created in commemoration of this time.

Next stop, Dubbo. Evidence of habitation by Wiradjuri Indigenous Australians dates back over 40,000 years. Explorer and surveyor John Oxley was the first European to report on the area in 1818 then the first British colonist settler in the area, Robert Dulhunty, arrived after 1829 and chose grazing land which he named ‘Dubbo’. It is believed to be a Wiradjuri word meaning either “cap”, “head covering” or “red earth”.

Melbourne artist Matt Adnate was commisioned in 2016 to paint this magnificient 6 meter tall mural of Pearl Gibbs, a passionate Aboriginal activist, and Dakota, a local young child who symbolises a positive future. Pearl Gibbs lead a remarkable life campaigning for Aboriginal rights, her work too extensive to do it justice in just a few sentences here – have a read of this:

Pearl Gibbs by Adnate, Dubbo, NSW

Then we arrived in Hay, NSW. I fell in love with this small country town, population 2,500, not because of the surrounding beauty of the land, which is flat as far as the eye can see (or maybe because it reminds me of northern France where I grew up) but because the town instantly felt loved, cared for and proud. And we met Craig which added the all important human connection. We didn’t know anything about Hay when we arrived but decided to pull over and have a mid morning break and tea/coffee there before exploring. Every block was a visual and historical surprise. It is only when writing this blog entry that I discovered there is a documented heritage trail available online with 18 places of interest. Hay was named in October 1859 after a local squatter and politician, a Secretary of Lands and Works, named John Hay who was later knighted and became Sir John Hay. Because this post is primarily about street art, you will have to read up or better still, visit Hay yourself.

Messages from Hay, NSW

Foodworks, Hay, NSW

Four days after leaving Brisbane, we arrive at Sea Lake, Victoria, where my feast of street art truly begins.

Sea Lake, Vic

Stitch the dog, by DRapl and Zookeeper, Seal Lake

Great murals, but this is not what we came here for. I had heard of the Silo Art Trail in Victoria and seen pictures of the old grain silos but it is not until you get up close and personal that you truly comprehend the scale of this art. The Silo Art Trail is Australia’s largest outdoor gallery. The trail stretches over 200 kilometres, linking Brim with neighbouring towns Lascelles, Patchewollock, Rosebery, Rupanyup, Sheep Hills and Sea Lake. The art and concept of bringing life back to decommissioned grain silos became such a success after the first silo was painted in Brim in 2016, infusing the community with newfound energy and optimism, that the Silo Art Trail began.

We start with the latest addition to the Silo Art Trail. We were lucky that the owner of the accommodation I chose for the night in Sea Lake, Julie, was directly involved in the commisioning of the artists for this silo artwork and was happy to share its history with us. Brisbane based artists Travis Vinson (DRAPL) and Joel Fergie (The Zookeeper) wanted to capture the beauty and grandeur of the Mallee region, in particular Lake Tyrrell. But it was important to Julie and others to capture the Aboriginal connection to the area. The little girl on a mallee eucalyptus swing refects on her aboriginal heritage, looking towards Lake Tyrrell, moving between the past, present and the future.The Boorong Indigenous name ‘Tyrrell’ means ‘space opening to the sky’ – the Boorong People were known to have more knowledge of astronomy than any other tribe,

Julie also told us about a phone app on the silos – pity our mobiles didn’t have reception in those areas to make the most of the technology. The virtual reality app is called Wimmera Mallee Tourism.

Sea Lake Silo, Drapl and Zookeeper, Vic – can you spot me?

Sea Lake Silo, Drapl and Zookeeper, Vic

Sea Lake Silo

Anthony often bemoans how he keeps being told to reduce his waistline in no uncertain terms:

Anthony wishes they would stop going on about his waistline!

This Speed sign on our way to Patchewollock though brought a smile on our faces – a village named after us?!

Welcome to Speed!!

Brisbane artist Fintan Magee booked a room at the local pub to get to know the Patchewollock community. When he met local sheep and grain farmer Nick “Noodle” Hulland, Fintan Magee knew he had found the perfect subject for the 35 metre high canvas of the twin 1939 GrainCorp silos: he was the perfect rugged, lanky local who exemplified the no-nonsense, hardworking spirit of the region. I particularly love Hulland’s evocative expression which reflects the challenges of life on the land here, as he squints under the harsh Australian sun.

Patchewollock silo art

Nick Holland on Fintan Magee’s silo at Patchewollock

Like Fintan Magee, Melbourne-based artist Rone wanted to capture the true essence of Lascelles so spent time in this town of 100 people in mid 2017 before taking 2 weeks to transform the two 1939 decommissioned grain silos. He chose a local farming couple Geoff and Merrilyn Horman, part of a family that has lived and farmed in the area for four generations. Rone says that he “wanted the mural to portray his subjects as wise and knowing, nurturing the town’s future with their vast farming experience and longstanding connection to the area.” The peaceful, contemplative gaze depicted in this artwork moved me – I saw warmth, strength of character, wisdom and the fragility of life at the same time.

Lascelles silo art

Lascelles silo art

Merrilyn Horman on Rone’s silo art at Lascelles

Renowned Melbourne street artist Kaff-eine spent time with Rone when he was working on his Lascelles project. She too travelled around the area, meeting and connecting with local business and farmers before completing her silos in Rosebery in 2017. The character on the left represents today’s generation of young, strong female farmers. The one on the right represents a contemporary farmer showing the connection between him and his trusted companion.

Rosebery silo Kaff-eine

This is where the first silo was painted, before the concept of the Silo Art Trail was even contemplated. Guido van Helten was born in 1986 and raised in Brisbane. We first came across his work when we visited Reykjavik in 2018 and I was blown away by the quality of his artwork – so I was extremely excited to see his artwork on an even bigger scale here in Brim. Guido completed the artwork on the 30 meter tall silos in early 2016, with minimal funds. To this date, we do not know who those people are. Guido said in an interview that he wanted the mystery to remain as he wanted the artwork to be about the community and the Wimmera region as a whole rather individuals. He also feels that anonymity enables us to have our own connection to the work. I like that concept. It somehow made me look at each character in more detail. This work conveyed the harshness of life and of the environment on those people we rely on so much for our daily food.

Guido van Helten’s silo art at Brim, Vic

Brim silo close-up

Adnate spent 4 weeks in the community of Sheep Hills in 2016 to conceive and complete this silo. Adnate’s depiction of Wergaia Elder, Uncle Ron Marks, and Wotjobaluk Elder, Aunty Regina Hood, alongside two young children, Savannah Marks and Curtly McDonald celebrates the richness of the area’s Indigenous culture. The night sky represents elements of local dreaming and the overall image signifies the important exchange of wisdom, knowledge and customs from Elders to the next generation.

Sheep Hills silo Art by Adnate

Aunty Regina, Sheep Hills silo art cose-up

Savannah Marks, Sheep Hills silo art

Completed over several weeks in early 2017, Rupanyup’s mural celebrates the important and integral that sport plays in rural Australian communities. Russian mural artist, Julia Volchkova, vividly captures this spirit of community in the fresh faces of Rupanyup residents and local sporting team members, Ebony Baker and Jordan Weidemann. Fresh-faced and dressed in their sports attire (netball and Australian Rules football, respectively), Baker and Weidemann embody a youthful spirit of strength, hope and camaraderie. Such exquisite and extraordinary work and feeling.

Rupanyup silo art by Julia Volchkova

Ebony Baker, Rupanyup silo art

I’m interested in hearing what your favourite silo is and why. Ok, you can have 3 favourites because I have 3: Sea Lake, Lascelles and Sheep Hills. And I loved Patchewollock too. Oh, and Rupanyup! Is it because all those represent real people? And Brim was very special, maybe because it left so many questions unanswered. That makes it 6 out of 7 favourites!! Ok, back to my original question: which is your favourite and why?

At the end of day 4 of our little road trip, we get to St Arnaud, a small town rich in restored houses and street art, our last stop over for the night before getting to Melbourne.

St Arnaud, street celebrating local firefighter

St Arnaud, Vic

Melbourne is famous for its street art but our visit there is purely to catch up with a few friends before boarding a ferry to Tasmania to deliver the vehicle. We did get to see these though – in just an alleyway in Brunswick, Melbourne.

Brunswick, Melbourne, Vic

Street art on the ground, Brunswick, Melbourne

Street art in Melbourne changes regularly

There are so many silos and water tanks painted by different artists all over Australia, this was just a small introduction. When Covid-19 isolation is over, it would be great to go on another trip and discover some of Quensland water tanks. We’re so glad and grateful we managed to make this trip. Stay safe everyone!!

– Anne

Road Trip

Having signed off back in January, planning to sit back for the year and relax and hear of others’ travel stories in 2020, well me anyway, Anne having gone straight into a work opportunity for three months, why are we on a road trip in March?

The answer is three fold: first, Anne finished her contact early with the project being put on hold. Second, at the same time, friends wanted their 4×4 vehicle moved to Tasmania from Brisbane. We seized the opportunity to help our friends and to travel through central New South Wales (NSW), a region we have not explored in 32 years in Australia. Thirdly, it also gives us a chance to spend money in rural areas and while we are not travelling through any towns affected by the recent NSW and Victorian bushfires, we think that any spending on accommodation, fuel and food must be a benefit these communities often affected by droughts and floods. We also heard of a campaign to get people to take an empty esky or cooler box when visiting fire ravaged towns to buy goods there and help the local economies, what a good idea.

While COVID-19 is sadly playing havoc with most of our friends’ 2020 travel plans, we thought that the risk of travelling by car with a single domestic flight back was manageable and we could monitor the risk as we travelled. So far so good.

We are off, a fully loaded 4×4 with no space to spare as our friends have packed the vehicle to the max. Anne loves driving a 4×4 from all her years traveling in the bush across the Northern Territory and Western Australia. It is a good feeling, with the reassuring thump of the diesel engine in our ears, to be out on the road.  Anne has planned a route that will take in a number of points of interest and, hopefully for her, some camping.  Not so sure about that myself.

Ready to start the journey to Tassie

Our route takes us west from Brisbane and over the dividing range on the new Toowoomba bypass that opened during our last absence from Australia. Soon we are out in the country and come across recent fire damage and regrowth. Anne refers to them as “fuzzy trees” due to the new growth on the branches and trunks.  With all the regrowth, the fire damaged tree shapes are different to the undamaged ones, they could almost be different species.  We do find the flies seemed to have returned after the fires very successfully and swarm on us at every photo stop. We drive away with a cloud of flies in the 4×4 cab each time.

What the bushfires have done to southern Queensland
After the bushfire, life is returning

Green is definitely the colour, the roadside has tall grass waving in the breeze, the country is transformed from the drought ravaged brown, we have been used to seeing on TV since we returned, to a lush verdant landscape.  The rain and green also mean that kangaroos are no longer gathering at the roadside looking for the last remnants of moisture, which makes driving in the late afternoon a little more comfortable.  We also see no kangaroo carcasses on the roadside until we reach Victoria, courtesy of the rain. I was surprised how small the Murray river seemed when we crossed at Tooleybuc and the size of the multiple pipes in the river used for irrigation extraction. The Murray Darling basin water issues seem a little clearer to me now.

New Orchards with irrigation pipes under water,
500km from the ocean, is this rain about to get worse?

Goondiwindi, Narrabri, Dubbo, Narrandera, places that until now have just been names on a map or news article. We find that each has its own character and feel. There are people working to restore old buildings, add new attractions and provide services for visitors such as ourselves. As an example in Narrandera we stayed at the Historic Star Lodge, where we were hosted by Angel, who in addition to running the hotel, is in the process of renovating and expanding the hotel. She was superb and our experience was matched by others when you read their comments. 

Vast breakfast selection at the Historic Star Lodge, Narrandera
Art Deco Hotel in Narrabri
Old and new communications technology, Post Office building in Hay NSW

In Hay we met Craig, a grass watering local who had not taken out his Harley Davidson for some time. After talking for a while, the next day Craig was on his motorcycle and out on the road. It is great to connect with people as we travel and get a better insight into the local life.

The Siding Spring Observatory (SSO) is situated outside the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran in New South Wales, great names are they not? The location was chosen for its lack of ambient light. Situated on top of a mountain, a number of optical/infrared telescopes, Australian, Japanese and Korean, scan the southern hemisphere skies adding to our astronomical knowledge.  When we visited we saw no one apart from kangaroos, the 30 or so staff are probably all asleep since they have to work at night.

The 3.9m optical telescope, biggest in Australia
Inside the 3.9m optical telescope housing at Siding Springs
Spot the Kangaroo at Siding Springs Observatory

Having visited the home of the visible spectrum observatories, we more forward to discover what we can learn about the non-visible spectrum which is so much broader.  North of Parkes is home of Australia’s largest radio telescope, some 64 meters in diameter which became operational in 1961. Given its southern hemisphere location, it was used in conjunction with NASA for the Apollo Moon missions and various NASA and ESA deep space missions. In over 50 years, upgrades have made it 10,000 times more sensitive than when it was originally constructed.  You must turn off mobile phones to avoid potential interference, no mobile coverage here please

Main Radio Telescope dish at Parkes, NSW

We have always said that we believe that truck drivers are the some of the best and most helpful on the road.  Somewhere south of Forbes, an oncoming truck suddenly started flashing his lights at us, he had seen as I had, a car, two behind him, making an impossible overtaking manoeuvre, as I plan to detour into the field on my left, the errant car driver realises his mistake, pulls back in and normal service is resumed. Thank you truck driver.

Beautiful trees in the afternoon sun in North Western Victoria
Great food at the Royal Hotel, Sea Lake, Vic

We spend a couple of days in Western Victoria’s wheat belt, following the Silo trail which has amazing artwork painted on old silos.  Anne has written a separate blog as part of her  ‘Street Art Series’.

While in Melbourne we visited the Hotel Esplanade in St Kilda, known locally as “The Espy”, our Australian penchant for shortage words at play again. Originally opening in 1878, it was recently refurbished in 2018. The top floor hosts the cocktail bar “Ghost of Alfred Felton”. The bar reflects one of the hotel’s most famous guest, Alfred Felton who took up residence in 1891 and took over many rooms, knocking out walls, redecorating and changing lights and never checked out until his death in 1904. A business man who left half his wealth to women and children charities over 100 years ago. The other half of his bequest went to the National Gallery of Victoria which in 109 years has allowed the gallery to purchase some 15,000 works estimated today to be worth more than 2 billion Australian dollars.

Friends Gavan and Anna at the Esplanade Hotel in Melbourne
Anne trying a stylish pose!
Friends Rick and Jane in Melbourne

A weekend in Melbourne catching up with friends and then onto the “Spirit of Tasmania II” ferry for a very smooth sailing to Tasmania.

All aboard for Tasmania please

– Anthony

Winding down in Thailand and welcoming in 2020

After a hectic schedule over the last couple of months we were looking forward to taking it easy in the run-up to New Year’s Eve in Bangkok to welcome in 2020 with our friends Dave and Sky.

Chang Mai.  The last time we were here was on Streak and Storm in November 2014. Today we are flying in to spend a few days with our friends Micheal and Nuch. We first met Micheal in Myanmar in 2014.  They are waiting to wisk us across the city out to their new home in the countryside. They entertain us royally and we spend our time visiting some of the local sights and enjoying good food and company.  We even had an afternoon of food and music at a local cafe.  We had a diverse group of musicians, both Thai and some originally from as far away as Switzerland and Malaysia entertaining us with their renditions of good 60’s and 70’s hits.

Michael, Nuch and us in an Orchid Garden

Our visit with Micheal and Nuch is over all too quickly, but we need to get to ourselves down to Hua Hin before Christmas where friends have lent us a resort cottage. We plan to just veg and do nothing but relax, sleep and eat. Which we do. Apart from relaxing, we start on a list of activities that need to be undertaken when we get back to Brisbane.  By the time we leave the list has over 70 items on it.

Feet up over Christmas at the Spirt Resort Hua Hin

We are in Bangkok for new year to catch up with Sky, whom we knew in Manly but had returned to Bangkok to be with family. We and our friend Dave decided back in June 2019 that we would come and visit Sky for New Year.  Sky had organised a dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya River which was a great way to see the city at night.

Dave, Sky, Lek and us on the river in Bangkok
Rama VIII Bridge in Bangkok

The rest of the time was spent visiting eating out, visiting silk stores and admiring the communication network wiring that festoons every pole in the city.  Seems there is no plan and extra cable is just left coiled up for future use.  Perhaps Australia’s NBN program could have learnt a thing or two about keeping costs down.

Nature and technology can co-exist
Anyone got the network diagram?
Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple Bangkok
Flower stall outside the Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple
A small part of the Bangkok Skyline
The King Power MahaNakhon Building with glass bottomed skywalk
You see something new every day

We had a quiet New Yearks eve with Dave, we celebrated with fireworks and single malt. The proper way to see in a new decade.

Happy New Year for 2020 from both of us
Happy New Year 2020 from Bangkok

An overnight stop in Singapore to collect the other suitcases from six months of travelling give us a chance to see the Marina Bay Sands resort and nearby 101 hectare / 250 acre Garden by the Bay. Amazing to find such a park in somewhere so densely populated as Singapore.  We had heard that the newly opened Jewel at Changi airport was worth a visit with the world’s highest, 40 meter,  indoor waterfall  aptly named ‘Rain Vortex’ as the centrepiece.  It certainly is spectacular and worth the detour even if you are just transiting Singapore.

Walkway in the Garden by the Bay, Singapore
Marina Bay Sands Hotel and me
Waterfall at Jewel Centre Changi Airport
What a wonderful six months

So what will 2020 bring?  Many have asked us what’s next. Our answer is we have no idea, except that we will visit family in Europe sometime in the year. We would like to digest this adventure first before making plans for the future. Streak and Storm are still waiting for us in storage.

Latest News: Within days of our return Anne had secured a three month project management contract and started work immediately.  Well done Anne!  I will be working, slowly, through the list of now some 80 items we wrote up over Christmas in Hua Hin so that will keep me busy. 

Welcome home flowers from Anne’s sister
Getting used to domestic chores again

What about your adventures? We want to hear from family, friends and readers of their holiday adventures undertaken this year.  Keep well, be happy and travel safely.

– Anthony