|trivial tales from someone who's always in it|
Thursday, September 30, 2004
Here are some of the more common species you're likely to encounter if you're travelling in Australia's north between April and September:
These, if you're not familiar with the term, are retired or semi-retired folk who travel north in vast numbers from the southern parts of Australia to spend the winter in warmer climes. There's a few subsets within the group, the two largest being South Australians and Victorians. (Note: if you ever want to 'get away from it all' in the winter months, go to Victoria -- the bloody place is empty.)
Habitat: Caravans, camper trailers and tents, although there's an older, frailer variety that travels in tour buses and stays in resorts.
Identifying Characteristics: Very gregarious and lots of fun. Generous with their supplies and quick to offer help and advice. Fond of beer and red wine. After setting up camp and doing the obligatory seven-kilometre brisk walk, they'll relax by playing 1950s music at volumes even a teenager would consider excessive -- but only until 8:00pm, when they retire for the night. Extremely early risers.
(I feel compelled at this point to make the distinction between Grey Nomads and Going Grey Nomads. The Dreamboat and I fall into the latter category.)
German and French Tourists
Habitat: Britz campervans
Identifying Characteristics: Shy unless they're with compatriots, in which case they'll talk non-stop late into the night in very loud voices. Fascinated by fire, they insist on building roaring campfires visible a kilometre away ... even when it's too hot to wear anything other than the skimpiest of swimwear. If they're camped in a place that offers a variety of walks, they'll do every one. If there are four waterfalls to see and swim in, they'll visit the lot, trudging off in the early morning light with determined looks on their faces.
The intrepid wildlife watcher will also spot specimens from other European countries - Swiss, Danes and Belgians in particular - but not in the same numbers. One nice couple we talked to in Far North Queensland stands out in my mind: he was from Chile, she was from Belgium and the language they used when speaking to each other? Dutch.
Habitat: Tents if they're Grey Nomads, swags if they're younger
Identifying Characteristics: Frank, friendly, no-nonsense people who love the land so much they'd rather spend their holidays seeing more of it than eating in restaurants or lolling around swimming pools in swanky resorts. These are fascinating folk to talk with and if they see you're genuinely interested they'll respond with more enthusiasm than a prize ram at tupping time.
Identifying Characteristics: Self-effacing types who enjoy talking on any subject except teaching ... probably because they're doing their best to forget about all the challenges inherent in moulding the minds of the nation's youth for as long as possible. Often well-travelled, they'll entertain you with tales of fording leech-infested rivers in Borneo and sampling the delights of Nepalese cuisine. Just don't talk about kids.
Identifying Characteristics: They'll look at you uncertainly when you pick the accent, as if they're not sure what sort of reaction they're going to get, but will relax visibly when you inform them that you too hail from the Land of the Long White Cloud. After ascertaining what part of the country you're from they'll nod politely and move on -- after all, if they wanted to hang out with other Kiwis they'd still be in NZ ... or on Sydney's Bondi Beach.
Young Families from England
Habitat: Camper trailers, tents
Identifying Characteristics: A typical group will consist of a chatty, slightly apologetic father, an exhausted and harried-looking mother, a hyperactive three-year old and a toddler with a penchant for wandering off and devouring animal fecal matter at every opportunity. The adults have a tendency to flinch and look around nervously whenever one of the kids starts screaming ... which is pretty much all of the time. Treated with a great deal of tolerance by other campers out of sheer pity.
Tour Bus Safaris
Habitat: Customised 4X4 buses and luxury swags
Identifying Characteristics: Ranging in age from 20s through to early 40s, these people love the idea of an Outback camping experience without any of the hassles of cooking their own food, driving their own vehicle or lugging all their own gear around. In the absence of such mundane considerations, they have vast reserves of energy to devote to activities like partying and yelling to each other across great distances well past the witching hour. Larger camping grounds pen them in areas away from everyone else due to their reputation for being totally fucking inconsiderate, but in smaller places their arrival is noted with dread.
Monday, September 27, 2004
I thought it was about time I started bestowing a few of these but first, to give you some idea of the ground we covered, here's what 10,125 kilometres looks like when translated into an aureate line on a map:
Looks impressive, yes? And now ... on with the prize-giving. My journal still hasn't arrived from the Northern Territory, so I'm awarding these by memory. Some won't hold much interest unless you've made the trip or are planning something similar, but I'll try to throw in a few general-interest categories as well.
Category One: Most Fun Getting Drunk (Great Outdoors)
- Swigging beer around a campfire at Windjana Gorge, West Australia, with the following people we'd just met: a farmer from Victoria and his hairdresser wife; a retired Kiwi engineer from Darwin and his Australian wife, who's a community nurse working with Aboriginal people; a French couple who'd just finished four-year teaching contracts in Tahiti and are on a whirlwind six-week tour of Australia with their four children; a taxi driver from Victoria and his wife; an Aboriginal girl from Broome who visits remote Aboriginal communities on projects including diabetes prevention, along with her half-sister who's a second-year student at NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) in Sydney; a sheep-farmer from southern WA.
- Champagne and nibbles on Sunset Hill at the Mount Hart Wilderness Lodge, WA.
- A bottle of port quickly downed while shivering around a camp fire on the Blackdown Tablelands, Queensland
Category Two: Most Fun Getting Drunk (Rural and Remote Bars)
- The Whim Creek Hotel, WA. I love this place.
- Annie's Bar at the Drysdale River Station, WA -- also wins The Worst Resultant Hangover award.
- The bar at the Territory Manor caravan park, Mataranka, Northern Territory -- story to follow soon.
- The restaurant at the Gulfland Motel, Normanton, QLD -- the place was full of Kiwis ... what do you expect?
Category Three: Most Fun Getting Drunk (Towns/Cities)
- Public bar at the Derby Boab Inn, WA
- Shennanigans, Darwin, NT
Category Four: Scariest Places to Get Drunk
- Public bar at Hotel Kununurra, WA -- where everyone knows everyone else and if they don't know you ... they stare intently until you sidle away.
- Public bar at Theodore Hotel/Motel, QLD -- unless you wear a checked shirt, denim skirt (if you're a female), cowboy boots and a stetson the local women will point, whisper, laugh and you'll never fit in.
Category Five: Breakfasts Worth Paying For
- Mt Hart Wilderness Lodge, 50km off the Gibb River Road, WA -- every morsel of food here was superb.
- Kumbidgee Lodge Tea Rooms, just out of Katherine, NT -- a popular place with locals as well as travellers, this place offers an all-you-can-eat cooked buffet breakfast for $10.00.
- Gulfland Motel, Normanton, QLD -- the scrambled eggs are made with cream. Seriously delicious ... and naughty.
Category Six: Best Hot Shower
- The Gulfland Motel at Normanton wins by a long shot. The water pressure damn near blew all Your Correspondent's hairs off.
Category Seven: Worst Biting Insects
- Without a doubt, those at the Merl camping ground in Kakadu National Park, NT. The mosquitoes were so bad, the Dreamboat and I went without dinner and fled to bed at 8:00pm. Around thirty mozzies got into the tent in the fifteen or so seconds we had the insect screen open. It took us over half an hour to annihilate them.
Category Eight: Best-Kept Secret
- Gunlom camping ground, also in Kakadu. The on-site manager was very friendly (as are all the Kakadu staff) and there were virtually no mozzies. The nearby waterfall was down to a trickle so we made the (very steep) climb to the pools above the falls. They're worth half-killing yourself for, believe me.
Category Nine: Worst 4WD Track
- The road to Limestone Gorge, Gregory National Park, NT. We blew two tyres on this one -- one on the way in and one on the way out. Don't even attempt it unless you have a vehicle with high clearance. The last 500m of track was washed out by floods during the last Wet.
The crystal-clear, croc-free billabong (water hole) near the camping ground more than compensated for the chewed rubber. However, Limestone Gorge also wins the Ickiest-Smelling Pit Toilet prize.
Category Ten: Best Camping Facilities
- Drysdale River Station, WA. The ablution block was designed by a woman ... and it shows.
- Edith Falls, Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park, NT. When you've spent a month hammering tent pegs into solid rock with an axe, camping on soft, green grass is an indescribable relief. There's plenty of shade, great showers and gas barbeques that park staff assiduously clean every day.
- Lync-Haven Rainforest Retreat, Daintree-Cape Tribulation National Park, Far North Queensland. Just gorgeous, with the added bonus of a proper camp kitchen -- a covered eating area, gas stove and sink for doing dishes.
Category Eleven: Worst Camping Facilities
Wollogorang Station, NT. Very little shade and ablution facilities in dire need of repair and refurbishment. It's a remote working cattle station so I guess it's not easy for the owners to find the time or the tradesmen to effect the repairs. On the other hand, the camping fees aren't exactly discounted.
Category Twelve: Best Road Sign
We spotted this little gem not far from the NT/QLD border.
Coming soon: posts dedicated to special places we found, special people we met and more awards, including prizes for the Stupidest Thing Said by a Male and the Stupidest Thing Said by a Female (there were so many examples of the latter, I'll be putting the award to the vote).
Thursday, September 23, 2004
DB: Why are you angry at me?
Niki: I'm not angry.
DB: Well, why are you grumpy, then?
Niki: I'm not grumpy. (pause) I'm vexed.
Yep, Your Correspondent's moods are swinging all over the place right now. One minute she's dancing the tango around the apartment; the next, she's on the verge of tears, informing the Dreamboat in very strong terms that the wedding will be off if she hears he pashed strippers at his Stag Night. The White House may be seething with emotional blow-outs at the moment, but at least Your Correspondent is using beautiful, poetic words like 'vexed' to describe them. That makes everything alright.
On the up-side, I am totally loving the people who are supplying our wedding necessities. Yesterday I had my trial make-up session for the wedding. The make-up artist and I hit it off immediately, once we'd ascertained that we'd both been married twice before and were Pisceans. We swapped life stories in that tribal, girlie way that's incomprehensible to blokes, while she plastered goop and brushed mysterious powerdery substances onto the cracked canvas that is Your Correspondent's face. Our conversation was deep and far-ranging. She taught me many things:
Niki: So, do you think I've got enough time before the wedding to have all the skin on my face, neck and chest re-surfaced with laser?
Make-up Artist: Nope.
Make-Up Artist: Well, the florist will discuss it in more detail but I'd steer away from apricot flowers if I was you. Your dress is pale pink, you see. You're talking about two totally different places on the colour wheel.
Niki: Yeah, I'd wondered about that. Damn.
When she'd finished, she walked me out to the fiery chariot, where the Dreamboat was waiting. He stared wordlessly at my maquillage and continued to stare for the next hour. In an uncharacteristically optimistic frame of mind, I concluded this was because he approved. My belief persisted right up until that moment when, after a period of intense scrutiny, he asked, "Do you have bags under your eyes?"
The dear man. There'll be no more of this 'speaking the truth' shit after we're married. Of that, superheroes, I can assure you.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
So, you were in the CBD just before 5:00pm last Wednesday, minding your own business as you waited to cross the road, when you noticed a woman squawking in her male companion's ear through a rolled-up photographic catalogue: "I'm bored. Brissie sucks. Can we drink Kilkenny now?".
I blame hypoglycemia.
We look for somewhere to live.
Dreamboat: (on phone to any one of the numerous real estate agents we contacted) Yeah, hi. I was wondering if you have any two or three-bedroom properties to rent?
Real Estate Agent: Well ... maybe. Furnished or unfurnished?
Dreamboat: Either/or. There's just one thing ...
Real Estate Agent: (frostily, because his/her Agent's Radar is on High Alert) Yeesss?
Dreamboat: We can only take a short-term lease.
Real Estate Agent: How short?
Dreamboat: (with ear frozen solid and adhering to the icicles that have formed on his earpiece) Two months, maybe three ...
At which point the response takes one of the following forms:
1. "No. Goodbye."
2. Bursts out laughing and hangs up.
3. "Well, I may have something. Let me take your details and call you back." (We're still waiting.)
We continue to look for somewhere to live.
Today we decide on a more direct approach ... which is to say, we drive to large apartment blocks and talk through intercoms to building managers who generally respond in ways remarkably similar to those of the real estate agents the day before.
Then ... success! We actually get to see two apartments. This is a major breakthrough. We spend the rest of the day trying to decide between them. Eventually, the Dreamboat caves in to Your Correspondent's pressure to take the bigger one with the balcony, as opposed to the smaller one with the leather furniture, mezzanine floor and no balcony. (Your Correspondent is not about to give up smoking less than a month before the wedding ... nor is she prepared to run down three flights of stairs every time she wants a cigarette. Hence, the need for a balcony.)
There is, however a price to pay for this bigger-apartment-with-balcony: it's completely, utterly, totally white. And after two months camping in the Outback, everything we've brought with us is completely, utterly, totally covered in red dust. No prizes for working out who's going to have to clean it all ...
We take the friends we're staying with to dinner at e'cco. What can I say about this famous Brisbane restaurant? Well, the food is superb, the wine list's good, the service is excellent ... but there are too many tables jammed into the space, it's very noisy and the room echoes. It wouldn't be my choice for an intimate dinner, but then again I got the impression that simply being seen in e'cco is as important a reason for going there as anything else.
We're talking to our friend Rachel about the forthcoming nuptials:
Rachel: Wouldn't it be funny if wedding guests were classified like airplane passengers ... Economy, Business and First Class?
Dreamboat: Yeah ... "Excuse me, Madam, I'm sorry but you can't sit here ... Economy's over there."
Niki: And you could seat them in tiers, like a wedding cake ... Economy at the bottom, bride and groom at the top.
(everyone laughs heartily)
Yes, wine was involved. Are you surprised?
We move into the new apartment ... but before that, we meet our Marriage Celebrant for the first time.
Celebrant: It's always nice if we get all the family members up the front at the beginning and introduce them to the other guests ...
Niki: Uh ... no. Our families are kind of undemonstrative when it comes to stuff like that. I don't think they'd feel comfortable.
Celebrant: (slightly deflated) Okay. How about you both say a few words at the start about how you met and how your relationship blossomed?
Niki: Well, we were drunk. It was at a party. It was a one-night stand that just sort of continued on.
Celebrant: I see. So, when your car arrives ...
Niki: I don't think I'll be having a car.
Celebrant: But how will you get there?
Niki: Walking, probably. Or catching a CityCat (note: CityCats are high-speed catamaran ferries that transport people up and down the Brisbane River). I quite like the idea of jumping on one with all the commuters going home from work. I think it'd be really cool, as long as my dress didn't get dirty.
Celebrant: (brightening) Yes, you should look into that. Now, what about passing the wedding rings around the guests so they can put all their good wishes for you into them?
Having dashed around yesterday buying bed linen (the bed in the apartment is a King Size and we had nothing to fit), a towel set (dark green, for the ultimate in decorative fluff-value in our completely, utterly, totally white bathroom) and houseplants with coloured foliage (to combat snow-blindness) we realise that the term 'fully furnished' as applied to apartments is somewhat elastic.
Your Correspondent skilfully deploys her arsenal of newly-acquired cleaning products in her protracted war against red dust. The Dreamboat sallies forth to find a laundry hamper that doesn't offend his aesthetic sensibilities, along with a cable to connect his laptop to the TV so we can play music CDs.
Thusly, does life in what I've dubbed The White House (of course) gain a certain semblance of order. Tomorrow morning I'm having a trial make-up session for the wedding. That should provide me with enough pathos for a cracker of a post. Stay tuned.
Monday, September 13, 2004
Well, it's almost over. After two months of driving, setting up and dismantling tents, drinking our way through three States, praying for overnight destinations with hot showers, battling other camping ground patrons for the use of washing machines and getting up-close-and-personal with some of Australia's fruitiest drop toilets, tomorrow morning we'll arrive in Brisbane ... home for the next couple of months.
What an adventure it's been, my superheroes. What an adventure.
We're in a motel in Crows Nest, about 120km from Brisvegas. I have one hell of a head cold and the Dreamboat, seeing the effect it had on my mood this morning and factoring in the freezing night temperatures we've been experiencing over the last few days, wisely decided to eschew the whole tent business and opt for something considerably more comfortable tonight.
This crisis-management ability of his has a lot to do with why I'm marrying him.
I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all the anecdotes, stories, information and experience accrued over the last couple of months. My handwritten notes are now about three weeks behind, so maybe I won't do anything. On the other hand, there are a few things that really deserve a mention, so I'm thinking along the lines of an awards system. That way, you'll get to read about some of the highlights and I won't be tempted to rabbit on too much and bore us all senseless. It's a moot point at present, though. Other things need to be taken care of first -- such as finding somewhere to live in Brissie -- before the tales of the Niki/Dreamboat Sellout Tour of Australia's Northern Regions can be told.
I'll share one thing, though. If you ever want to be spoilt rotten when you're on the road, just tell people that you're travelling to your wedding. We were inundated with good wishes everywhere we went. Age, country of origin, personal circumstances didn't seem to matter; as soon as we said the magic words 'getting married', people would light up and the congratulations would start. They were always genuine.
These reactions blew me away every time. I thought we'd get at least a few cynical responses, considering how many marriages fall apart and how many people consider the institution irrelevant and outmoded ... but not so. Everyone seemed just as thrilled about the whole thing as we were. This was really brought home to me when we stayed in the Daintree National Park Rainforest in Far North Queensland.
We'd booked a tent site at Lync-Haven Rainforest Retreat and had dinner at the restaurant there the first night. (Incidentally, this was one of my favourite places on the whole trip. We saw more wildlife there than virtually anywhere else -- every night we had bandicoots hopping around at our feet.) Cecilia, the owner, presented us with free champagne. The huge Tasmanian family at the table next to us toasted us. We never swapped names or chatted for any length of time but various members of the group came up and wished us well the rest of the night.
The following day, we drove north to Cape Tribulation and jumped on a shuttle bus to take us to some local stables for a half-day horse trek. This experience really deserves a post to itself, but I'll skip the horse-riding bit and focus on the bus driver, one of the most irrepressible individuals I've ever met. He must've been in his early sixties and had more energy than everyone in our group (the Dreamboat, Your Correspondent and eight Scots and Irish backpackers in their early twenties) combined. He quickly wheedled our names and backgrounds out of us and then proceeded to flirt outrageously with every woman in the group.
When he came back to get us after the trek, he made the bemused backpackers form a Guard of Honour and instructed the Dreamboat and me to walk through it while he played The Wedding March on a harmonica he'd somehow procured in the interim. It was a damn good version, too.
With such an outpouring of goodwill from everyone over the last couple of months, I've decided I almost wouldn't mind if no-one turned up to the actual wedding.
Almost, I said.
(P.S. Thanks for the comments you've left. Sorry I haven't responded ... I would usually, but my online time is curtailed at the moment. How about I invite y'all to the wedding instead?)
Nominated for stuff in the 2004, 2005 and 2006 Australian Blog Awards.
This means I should be taken very, very seriously. You hear me? Very.
meditate on this, Noddy
Hurley: Maybe the dog can find water. I mean, dogs can find pot and bombs, so I'm sure they can find water.
Created by JJ Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber and Damon Lindelof
Niki (Your Correspondent): a shy, retiring, sweet sort of soul who wouldn't say boo to a goose. Born in NZ of Irish parents, jumped across the ditch to Oz in 1998. Hates cabbage and has always craved a life of complete obscurity. So far, this wish has been granted. Dammit.
Karratha, Western Australia ... again.
from the cheap seats
"This person is not a team player."
High school Biology teacher
"... an idiot."
The Dowager Empress
"... powerfully irritating."
A former spouse
"... dangerously mischievous."
current attention grabbers
Curling up with:
The View From the Valley of Hell
Drowning out the world with:
Your Favourite Driving Songs
Staring fixedly at:
Directed by Jonathan King
Trying hard to:
Reassure The Cat about The Dog
other recommended blogs
Bad News Hughes
John Howard: P.M.
S.A.F.E. (Saving Animals From Euthanasia)
Bert Is Evil
Ask Sister Rossetta
the good old days
webrings and cliques
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