Wagga Wagga dawn Wagga Wagga dawn

This foggy, frosty early-morning scene belies tragedy hidden in clear view.

March 5 2012, will be remembered as the night almost 9000 residents of Wagga Wagga were forced from their homes by the worst flood since 1853 — nearly 160 years ago.

Fortunately the city’s levee held and two months later its citizens’ lives have basically returned to normal.

However, the surrounding districts have hundreds of kilometres of fences swaddled in dead grasses and branches as a result of the recent floods. The slowly rotting debris has to be removed to save the fences from rusting and a small corps of volunteers is working to help the local farmers.

It is a daunting task. A strong team of four on a good day might manage to knock the debris off less than a kilometre of fencing.

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When country folk celebrate they do it with infectious enthusiasm, and the annual Xmas pageant at Oatlands was no different.

But, when I first saw the fire engine, above, go past with its flotilla of go-karts following in a cloud of fumes I felt sorry for the young tykes driving them.

Initially what I thought was the fire engine’s exhaust turned out to be their own foul fumes from their noisy stressed little engines which sounded like a few lawnmowers from my past (when I had a hated lawn to mow).

It appeared that any vehicle in town and the neighbouring farms that moved — trucks, utes, cars, motorbikes, quad bikes, police cars and fire engines — had been dressed up for the occasion.

While everybody appeared to be enjoying the festivities there were some notable exceptions, including these two working dogs who were obviously very embarrassed to be marching with glittery reindeer horns.

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Finding an overnight campsite in any city can be a bit of a problem, but I’m lucky that I have a fairly regular spot in Hobart right outside a friend’s house.

Naturally I operate in stealth mode … curtains drawn and no lights after sunset.

Normally a fairly quiet spot, it becomes a bit hectic nearer Xmas and this is what greeted me this morning. The butcher and the delivery man were having a loud joke-filled conversation which woke me.

Of course, the jokes might have had something to do with the angle of the delivery truck too.

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Revisited a favourite pub yesterday in Hobart — The Crescent — and had a lively session with some old friends (and don’t they look like everyone’s grumpy grandpa?).

They were in a nostalgic mood, tuning in to YouTube for some jazz classics — on an iPad which Dave, the pub owner, had commandeered so that he could watch while he served.

The pub also has a lot of books under the counter, some of which can be seen above. They’re not for lending, they’re a superb tool for settling pub arguments, and like all good pubs a lot of lively discussion takes place.

The library does wonders to settle bombast and prejudice. Somehow using the iPad to Google the facts would seem out of place in The Crescent.

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Just spent a few days blobbing at Stanton, a lovely bed-and-breakfast establishment at Magra, north of New Norfolk … and yes, I camped as usual in Madam Plush.

However, mine host Mark, has decided he has had enough of ‘clients’ and decided to return the property to being a homestead, and a major transformation has begun in earnest.

Martin and Adele, his live-in boarders are both keen gardeners, and together they have begun to revive the veggie gardens of yore, the neglected orchard, and introduced chooks and a horse.

I’ll have more to report when I return for a working bee in a few weeks time.

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A high pressure system provided two days of welcome relief from constant wind and drizzle and also brought Lake Dulverton’s trout to the surface for some fine catches.

Here’s the end of one epic battle with a light line and rod. The three-pound brown trout created an impressive whirlpool as attempts were made to net it.

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The whopper brook trout caught yesterday morning was given a honourable farewell last night in Terrance’s smoker.

Just 20 minutes of smoking and a half hour of resting and served simply with Turkish bread (the only fresh loaf we managed to get in downtown Oatlands), a splash of lime juice and a cheeky young red wine. Delicious.

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Arrived yesterday at a favourite campsite on the shore of Lake Dulverton to find the level has gone up to the highest it has been in 40 years.

Could not fish because of the heavy south-easterly winds, but knew a high pressure system was on its way overnight.

And I got an early view, at about 5.30am, because my mate Terrance was tapping at my window. A few pleasantries were exchanged but he was insistent.

I looked out to a mirror-calm lake and then my view was blocked by Terrance holding up the 5lb brook trout he had just brought ashore.

Plans were immediately made to smoke a fillet for dinner.

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Many of the buildings along Oatlands’ High Street are lovely Georgian sandstone edifices, especially the old municipal and courthouse buildings.

Unfortunately, some time in the 1960s ‘Progress’ arrived in this small Tasmanian town which in those days still embraced the Midlands Highway.

One of the victims of the jackboot of progress was the local Post Office which had a makeover along its High Street frontage, luckily leaving most of the existing sandstone extant.

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Its what you do when the weather is inclement and you have a new camera to play with.

A quick sortie between wind squalls and showers, and a dozen or so clicks later you return home, fire up the computer and see what you’ve got.

Here are two examples, both of which are only showing about a 10th of the full image. Both show impressive detail in shadows and highlights in a potentially difficult high-contrast lighting situation.

I’m impressed. The new camera, a Sony NEX-5N, with an 18-55mm zoom and a 16mm prime lens, is an amazing little camera.

Light, versatile and easy to use, it handles tricky lighting situations with ease. Focus is swift, the shutter impressively smooth and fast (thanks to its mirrorless design), and initial results indicate it is a keeper.

Rather than list its technical capabilities I’d refer you to this review which says it all.

I’m looking forward to putting it head-to-head with my Nikon D100.

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This splendid wall of green overlooking the Meander River at Deloraine was taken through the back window of Madam Plush early this morning.

With office views like this, and the gradual return of energy following the traumas of the medical dramas earlier this year, I am beginning to feel rather restless.

A lot of ideas have been simmering through the fog of surgery and recovery, and I’m looking forward to some new creative adventures.

It could be interesting …

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While waiting to board the Spirit of Tasmania ferry in Melbourne yesterday afternoon, the temperature sat above 33°C. It was also humid, and a large thunderstorm was building up in the west.

I was not a happy camper, high temperatures and muggy weather did not suit me at all and I was looking forward to a change of scenery.

After an uneventful, very calm crossing, I knew I was back in Tasmania this morning when I hit a coffee shop in Latrobe for an early breakfast and captured the scene above of a young German backpacker cosily rugged up for the weather.

She had been camping and bushwalking for the past five days and was quietly tapping out a series of long emails to friends and family concerned about her whereabouts for the duration.

She was also annoyed with her former male companion who had reneged on the classic Overland Trek just 5 hours into a three-day hike.

“He was a wimp,” said this waiflike young lady, “I thought I’d be struggling to keep up with him, and instead it was me who led the walk until he quit.”

She said she would make sure she did the trip before her visit to Australia was over. In the meantime her goal was to catch sight of the elusive platypus in the wild. With her determination I don’t think it will take long.

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Been camped next to the freezing snowmelt waters of the Ovens River near Bright for nearly a week and I am convinced it has restorative powers.

True, the camp might simply have coincided with my ongoing recuperation, but I’m giving Mother Nature the nod.

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Despite its ominous name Dead River Beach is a delightful, peaceful campsite on the Victorian side of the Murray River.

It is a popular stopover for river travellers — lone kayakers, groups of schoolchildren on rafts, motley convoys of river craft travelling together, and the usual hoon or two in a beer-fuelled tinny.

Behind the campsite was a small brackish pond where one evening I spotted a pair of wild ducks and their dozen young. Unfortunately I ran out of ‘film’ on my digital camera at the crucial moment and captured this less than ideal exposure of the family outing.

Two days later the adults were back, but without any of their brood, likely taken by foxes.

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For decades I have made a living as a publisher, journalist, author, photographer, web designer and blogger.

At the heart of all these ventures for the last quarter of a century were my Macintosh computers — starting with the Mac Plus in 1986 with its 8Mhz processor, 800Kb floppy drive and tiny mono screen.

Over the years many iconic Macs came and went through my small enterprises and all played a major role. They made the ventures viable and profitable, and were always a joy to use.

Today, they are still essential tools as I travel full-time across Australia. They include the MacBook Air, a stunning lightweight powerhouse, the iPad 2 (a wonderful machine for web browsing, reading, email, and a multitude of other tasks made possible by magical apps), and my iPhone 3GS — a miniature computer with more power than the computers that sent man to the moon.

The genius who made them possible was Steve Jobs, the enigmatic CEO of Apple who sadly died this week at the young age of 56.

The wonderful products he inspired were more than technical marvels of the computer age — they were magical for their users, powerful creative tools … agents of change.

In Steve’s own words:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

And a prescient quote from his famous commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life.

It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.

And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.


The logo silhouette of Steve Jobs was created by Jonathan Mak, 19, a Hong Kong student.

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From a distance, the wake coming across Numurkah’s Broken Creek looked like a snake at first, but its course was too direct. A platypus perhaps, but again too determined, and the platypi I had observed before always left a meandering trail.

Grabbing a camera I trailed the creature as it cruised ahead along the bank of the sluggish creek.

I froze as it changed direction and headed my way. No platypus had short spiky ears like this. It spooked and dived and as its brown body disappeared I saw its white-tipped tail.

It was Hydromys chrysogaster — the Australian water rat, once trapped for its fur, but now a protected species and making a comeback.

Its body length, not including tail, can be up to 40cm, and our mate shown above was pretty close.

The species have partially-webbed hind-feet, water-repellent fur, and abundant whiskers.

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Thought I’d head off about noon today, but was cut off at the pass.

One by one, from mid-morning on, an amazingly eclectic collection of classic and vintage cars began to surround my Mt Franklin campsite.

One that caught my eye was the 1927 Double-T Ford truck, above, that came from Kyneton. It started its working life trucking fruit at Harcourt.

There are about four dozen so far, and they’re lovely. Spotlessly clean and polished, and lovingly restored, they indeed evoke fond memories of a different era.

Madam Plush has even been sharing in the glory as the other campers flock over to view them.

Of course, my fickle friends, the Guinea fowl, immediately made a beeline to a 1950s Studebaker and preened themselves in its mirror-bright hubcaps.

And more trophy cars …

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A geological pimple on the flat surrounding plains, the dormant volcano Mt Franklin, was a popular destination for miners from the surrounding goldfields a century or more ago.

The cheerful group above, had come all the way from the gold mining village of Eaglehawk, 70km to the north, to picnic at Mt Franklin in 1908 according to Museum Victoria.

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I slept in a volcano last night — a first. Admittedly is was dormant, and had been for millions of years.

This nearby copse of deciduous trees, above, belied the dormancy with its skeletal white trunks and carpet of white, bleached leaves discarded last Autumn.

Mt Franklin is just north of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs, popular Victorian holiday spots for the many goldminers that worked the digging in surrounding areas more than a century ago.

With the gold long gone, the two townships now mine the tourists instead.

Technically, according to Parks Victoria, Mt Franklin is a ‘prominent, conical scoria cone with deep crater open via a narrow breach in the rim on the southeastern side’.

On arrival, after an easy drive up, I had my pick of campsites as the only vehicle there.

With that sorted I soon settled in, with my only company three cheeky and obviously spoilt Guinea fowl begging for tidbits. I buried thoughts of the lovely Guinea fowl curry recipe I enjoyed on trips through Southern Africa.

They were fickle though. Just on sunset a popup camper-trailer arrived to set up camp on the other side of the volcano’s bowl and they soon scarpered over there.

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Digging through my photographic files to find comparison shots of Lake Dulverton before the 2011 winter rains I found these two that show the heavy waterweed growth that is now totally submerged.

They also revealed two potential new sports for the Olympic Games — the 100m dash on water, and syncronised ducking, below.

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It has been a while, but finally I’m on the road again.

For seven long months I was forced to hover near Hobart for various medical appointments, operations, and followups. I won’t bore you with the details (some of which I’ve talked about elsewhere in the Ghostgum Chronicles), but suffice to say I did not enjoy the bleak views I was often saddled with — inner-city streetscapes and rundown caravan parks in particular.

There were brief respites here and there visiting with old friends living in the country, but often the views were blocked by curtains of rain as Tasmania succumbed to one of its wettest winters in history.

So, imagine my joy when I finally left Hobart and headed north to catch the ferry to the mainland in a few days time.

I made it to Oatlands, a longtime favourite free camping spot, and reversed into my chosen campsite to give me uninterrupted views of Lake Dulverton which, thanks to the same winter rains that kept me cold and depressed, was enjoying its highest water levels since the early 1900s.

From my ‘office’ windows I could see the ongoing variety show being offered by a new generation of coots, being silly. There was also the stately parade of a family of swans, and an old friend, the comical and basically ugly musk duck.

The high water levels also attracted the fishermen; with the best catch, a 1.5kg rainbow trout, going to a young guy from Launceston who’d spent hours drifting across the lake in his kayak.

Then came sunset, a glowing tribute to nature, and a fitting sequel to the first day on the road for my next adventure.

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In April 1861, the explorers Robert Burke and William Wills — sick, starving and desperate to survive — abandoned their surveying instruments and other ‘non-essential’ items in outback Queensland and continued south on their ill-fated journey.

Almost 150 years later, in a discovery being proclaimed as the holy grail for Burke and Wills enthusiasts, a Melbourne academic claims he has found some of the equipment buried in a creek bed hundreds of kilometres inland from Brisbane.

The site, known as the Plant Camp, is integral to the Burke and Wills story because it tells of the increasingly desperate state of mind of the explorers who were unwell, low on supplies and had to abandon everything but their food after a camel died.

At that stage a party of four, the men struggled on from Plant Camp to Cooper Creek (also known as Cooper’s Creek) in South Australia, only to find their support party had given up on them hours earlier. All but one of the explorers, John King, died.

Melbourne academic Frank Leahy discovered the buried instruments in 2007, after a painstaking search that began more than 20 years earlier. Now Mr Leahy and the Royal Society of Victoria want the Queensland Government to declare the site a heritage area.

Items recovered include rifle and revolver bullets, a spirit bubble used for surveying, buckles from belts or strapping, a canvas and leather sewing kit containing pliers and needles, hinges, latches and a paperweight.

“Reading about Burke and Wills and their paperweight,” writes Paul Oxenham, of Haberfield (in a wry note in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Column 8), “reminded me of the ill-fated expedition led by Franklin to find the north-west passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

“After his ship was trapped in ice, part of the expedition set out across the ice, dragging a whale boat to be used when they reached open water.

“Unfortunately most of the party died before rescuers found them and their boat, which contained, among other necessities of life, coat button polishers.”

As I prepare for my next road trip I’m trying to be careful as usual about what I take on board, but I feel sure I’ll also end up with a few ‘essential’ paperweights and coat button polishers of my own …

Having recently celebrated two years of life on the road its time to sum up the journey so far.

The short version: I wish I had launched this adventure at least 10 years ago.

The long version: It would have been a lot harder to do back then considering the need to work and the available technologies of a decade ago. It would also have been a lot more expensive to get started.

But let’s not dwell on that. Here’s why it is working for me now, and for many hundreds of other full-time travellers across Australia.

Let’s perversely start with some of the negatives.

… converted in Japan into a mobile bordello …

The vehicle I live in, a 1985 Toyota Coaster bus, converted in Japan into a mobile bordello (Too true and a story for another time) has a second floor — the ‘penthouse’ — which adds another dimension when its popup roof is extended.

After its raucous beginnings it was exported to Australia as a motorhome, but spent most of its time in a paddock as temporary accommodation for visitors.

[Read on …]

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Just weeks ago I posted this promise to myself: … I’m heading north before June.

Well June has come and gone, and I’m still stuck in Tasmania, and as Robbie Burns said:

The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

The image above showed the early-morning scene as I peered out of my window this morning.

It had a perverse bonus later in the day when I captured the wintry calm of the Derwent River as it flowed through New Norfolk.

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Life can throw a few hardballs every now and again, but today’s sunset at Sorell was a good omen.

Remember the biopsy that was delayed that I mentioned at the end of this entry?

Well, luckily for me my doctor wasn’t prepared to wait for me to get on the public list again and insisted I go see Tasmania’s leading urologist as soon as possible.

I did, and had the tests done later in the week. Days later I was called in. “Bad news,” says the urologist, “of the 18 biopsies we did, 14 tested positive for cancer.”

The next step was CT and nuclear bone scans. And judging by the names the manufacturers give their weird looking machines they at least have a sense of humour.

Back for results with my new best friend (half our sessions are taken up with discussions about our iPad 2′s). “Good news,” he says, “the cancer has not spread to the bones and is confined to the prostate which give us another option — brachytherapy.”

Compared to the original options — total removal or intense chemotherapy, but with attendant side-effects including incontinence, impotence and variations on the theme — this choice was a natural for me.

Brachytherapy, which basically consists of the insertion of precisely-measured radioactive ‘seeds’ directly into the prostate, while not having the same odds of success of the previously mentioned options, does come with apparently fewer side-effects.

As usual, everything comes with a cost. In this case the ‘seeds’ which have to be ordered from the United States cost more than $7000.00. Word is that my medical benefit fund might be able to cover most of it, despite their paltry contributions to the earlier operations.

UPDATE: Well, the op has come and gone, and I finally have enough energy to write this.

What you see to the right is an ultrasound showing the placement of the 72 radioactive ‘seeds’ directly into the prostate.

A booklet I was given has the warning that for two months I’m not allowed to bounce children or pregnant women on my lap, and I’m also not allowed any caffeine for the same time.

I managed to keep the children and pregnant women off my lap, but succumbed to coffee before the allotted delay.

A month after the procedure my Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is more than halved — a very good result according to my specialist.

However, one of the unfortunate side-effects is lethargy and fatigue. It comes and goes, but is unpredictable. In bed by eight and up by nine o’clock with attendant restlessness appears to be the norm at the moment.

Judging by the stories of friends and acquaintances though, I’m happy enough to be tired. Many of them who’ve had the alternatives, chemotherapy or total prostate removal, have had much worse side-effects.

Since I got the bad news I’ve been a boring old fart with friends and acquaintances, insisting they go and get checked, and already two of them have had negative results. One, a friend of 30 years, is being operated on next week.

However, I’ve not succeeded with another friend, a 72-year-old Chinese accountant, who insists that he is mentally controlling his PSA levels. And blow me down, his last checkup was lower.

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Roaring Beach on the Tasman Peninsula deserves its vocal reputation on days like this when strong southerly gales combine with southwesterly swells to send wave after wave crashing to shore.

It produces a tumultuous white carpet, beautiful to watch, yet awe-inspiring at the same time.

And the roar is constant, magnified by the cove’s unique acoustics.

Roaring Beach changes mood endlessly as the video below (recorded on my iPad 2 the day before I took the photograph above) demonstrates.

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After another round of visits to the dentist (big, big, ouch financially) and doctor, I finally managed to escape the city in preparation for a visit to a very special place on the Tasman Peninsula.

Here’s tonight’s office view where I’m parked on the edge of a 12-metre cliff which is just beyond the fence overlooking Dunalley Bay.

Tomorrow I head on down to Windgrove, an artist’s retreat above Roaring Beach.

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Here are three good reasons for wanting to head north before June.

All were taken in Tasmania in June.

That’s London Lakes in the Central Highlands above, and Lake Dobson in Mt Field National Park, below.

Mt Field

And here’s what my windscreen looked like several days in a row last June.

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Camped at New Norfolk recently, I was surrounded by backpacking cherrypickers in their tents and whizbangs (Kombi-type vehicles with very noisy sliding doors). They’d be off early each morning and arrive back exhausted about mid- to late-afternoon.

An hour or two of online activity, a quick meal, and off to bed they’d go. The few I managed to speak to said it was all worth it. On a very good day the hard labour netted them $2-300. Enough to build the nest egg for the next travel adventure.

Among them were Adrien and Veronique, a young couple from Paris who had been following the fruit picking trail for some months.

Adrien had some unusual tattoos with a whimsical and creative literary bent.

Below the oak tree on his left arm was the first chapter of Cul de Sac by Douglas Kennedy which took five hours of inking.

When not travelling Adrien and his cohorts have a rather interesting band — Dinosaurus Volcanosaurus Dawgs — and together they create a bit of online mayhem.

Veronique is a direct descendant of King Behanzin of Benin. The Wikipedia entry is worth reading as the Kingdom of Dahomey (now Benin) was the last African outpost to fall to colonialism.

It was also home to the Dahomey Amazons or Mino who were a Fon all-female military regiment. They were so named by Western observers and historians due to their similarity to the semi-mythical Amazons of ancient Anatolia.

Talking with her it is hard to believe that her ancestors were rather fond of beheading opponents.

[Headhunter image courtesy Wikipedia]

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There I was, sitting quietly on a park bench nursing my still sore knee, when I noticed two young girls in bright orange jackets striding along the road above my campsite.

Cars and a caravan arrived and the occupants all joined the two teenagers — Teagan and Olivia — for the last 100 metres.

Apparently it was Day 7 of a 300km walk from Devonport to Hobart to raise money to help Make-A-Wish Australia

All money raised (about $7000 already) will go to the foundation whose mission is to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to “enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy”.

Despite their long day’s walk the girls were cheerful enough to set up a photo opportunity for their team, and I managed to hobble forward to get my own shot of them mounted on a topiary horse on the shores of Lake Dulverton.

Follow their adventure here.

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As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted …

I’d been cruising across Tasmania for summer in big loops based around Hobart as I sorted out a number of medical appointments — annual checkup, dentist, optician, brain surgeon (just kidding … I think).

Was booked in for a precautionary biopsy in late February, attended the pre-op sessions, and then took off for a few days of well-earned relaxation.

Met up with an old friend at Sorell, shared a fine meal and good wine while twilight lingered.

Next morning, in the midst of my daily housecleaning chores (one-minute sweep, one-minute vacuum) the phone rang.

It was the surgical bookings office at the Royal Hobart Hospital. “We’ve had a double cancellation. Can you get to hospital tomorrow for pre-op procedures and be available for a full knee replacement in five days time?”

Could I ever!

For years I’ve been in constant pain with my right knee in increasing decline, and was unable to get on the elective surgery waiting list. About two years ago I was ambulanced to hospital with a knee twice its normal size, and in such pain that even morphine had no effect.

I was rushed into theatre and emerged to wake up from the anaesthesia with a drip in my arm and a drain emerging from my heavily bandaged knee.

A few hours later a very cheery orthopaedic surgeon came round to check his handiwork and asked how long I’d been on the waiting list. “You’ve just got bone on bone and no cartilage.”

When I explained that I was still trying to get on the list, he looked a bit shocked but replied: “You’re on it now.” and kept his word.

Coincidentally, he was also the surgeon on duty who did the full knee replacement nearly seven weeks ago. Thanks Mr Harvey.

The x-rays above show the before and after results, and the x-ray on the right with what looks like a row of fish bones, is actually revealing the the 29 stainless steel staples that held the scar together.

Since the operation I’ve managed to walk a fair bit with only the occasional limp, drive the bus several hundred kilometres and go cycling with comparative ease.

And the biopsy? I’m now on another waiting list. UPDATED.

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Sometimes on the road I envy those earthly citizens who have been rooted for so long in an area that they can predict the weather with as little as a sideways glance at the sky.

And, at my age, it appears I can no longer rely on aches and twitches in various body parts and joints to predict tomorrow’s weather with any reasonable accuracy either. The pain is basically too persistent to appreciate the nuances of the degrees of agony as related to barometric pressure.

So, naturally I’ve researched various solutions for a ‘home-based’ weather station on the internet.

Obviously there is always the Australian Bureau of Meteorology with its encyclopaedic statistics, charts, maps and predictions. Great information buried under a tsunami of data gleaned 24/7 from countless weather stations, radar, offshore weather buoys, satellites, and weather balloons.

However, it can be a daunting process accessing the particular information you need.

Then along came Oz Weather (in iPhone and iPad versions) to do the essential data filtering and present it in a clear, concise manner.

All I now have to do is pick a destination, or request with the tap of a button that it finds a weather station near me, and up comes the current information — including temperature, forecast maximum and minimum, windspeed and direction, rain (if any) and UV index.

There’s more … current and apparent temperatures, extremes of maximum and minimum temperatures and times, and extreme wind gust speeds and time, barometric pressure, humidity, and 7-day forecasts (pictured most effectively below).

A tap on the forecast button lays out a week’s predictions in a clear, easy-to-decipher design. And, if I am in a particularly nerdy mood I can continue investigating via radar (national and local), browse historical data, and even capture screen shots to email to friends already in warmer northern climes.

Bet these two annoy a few of them:

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Tasmania has a curious autumnal attitude.

While it is a beautiful time of the year, with steady weather patterns which ensure lovely windless days with clear blue skies, along come Forestry Tasmania with their non-essential burnoffs.

This ‘sunset’ is typical. A lovely day at New Norfolk suddenly goes dark with low-lying clouds of thick smoke which filter the mid-afternoon sun and create a Sisyphean illusion.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

At times I felt like I was living that nursery rhyme.

Take Madam Plush’s makeover, for example. It started with ripping out the existing carpet in the back lounge, a weary, stained excuse for a floor covering.

As I lifted the first corner I noticed a big damp patch and had no clue as to its origin.

[Read on …]

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I recently found this oasis of retro charm while passing through Oatlands.

All was spotless, and everything had its place. I missed a chance to talk to the owners, but I would not be surprised if they lived in one of these houses I spotted the next day in South Hobart.

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Because of her bulbous ‘penthouse’, Madam Plush called for an unusual solar installation, and two years’ later the combination of flat and angled panels has proved a winner.

The setup for Solar Freedom 1:

  • 1 x Morningstar PS30M 30A regulator
  • 1 x Sinergex 24volt 700W [1400W Surge] pure-sine wave inverter
  • 1 x Sinergex 24volt 12A 3-outlet battery charger
  • 4 x 12V 100Ah AGM batteries [wired for 24V]
  • 2 x Suntech 75W 12V Solar Panels
  • 2 x Suntech 135w 12V Solar Panels

What Solar Freedom 1 provides:

  • Free electricity to three 240V and six 12V outlets — in the office, kitchen and lounge
  • Free power via the 700W inverter which is on most of the time, charging computers, phones, radios, torches and cameras
  • Free power for interior lighting which is all converted to LEDs which barely sip power
  • On sunny days I often use the electric kettle and rice cooker
  • On cloudy days I simply try and cut down charging too many bits and pieces
  • After two or more cloudy days in a row, I usually bunker down with the iPad and its excellent 10-hour battery life
  • But, even on cloudy and rainy days, the solar panels still gather in enough usable energy to keep things ticking over
  • In two years I’ve only run the batteries down to about 60% twice
  • The 80-litre Waeco fridge/freezer is connected directly to the 24V battery bank with heavy wiring to minimise current losses. It cycles on about 10-12 minutes each hour [24/7] and is very economical with power use

Some notes:

  • The price of the solar panels has dropped 35-45% in those two years.
  • The price of household electricity in Hobart alone has increased nearly 30% in two years

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February 6, 2011, 2pm With the 80-litre Waeco fridge/freezer humming gently in the background, and the computers all being charged, I switched on the electric kettle for a cuppa, and glanced at the solar regulator.

Would you believe, the solar panels were pumping in 16.4Amps — that’s 32.8Amps at 12V!

The kettle dropped the battery readings during the four-minutes it was on, but within a minute or two the batteries were back in float mode.

Thanks Sol.

[Image courtesy NASA]

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The white quartz flank of New Harbour Point juts through the wild breakers stretching hundreds of metres out to sea.

A setting sun gilds its reflective canvas, throwing it into cheerful contrast with the grey hulk of De Witt Island and the bleak swells queuing up for their death dance on Hidden Beach.

For nine days the sun has hibernated deep in cloud cover and now its sweeps across the storm-washed beach and out to sea over the frothing wavecrests which have welded together in a turmoil of foam.

On the beach the noise is numbing, not unlike the roar of a steam locomotive at full bore — going nowhere.

That was the opening paragraph of the Tasmanian chapter of my book: Australia the Beautiful — Wilderness [Weldon, Ure Smith].

For the remaining two weeks of my journey through the bottom fringe of the Southwest National Park, the weather was a little kinder.

Click the link below for a small portfolio which hopefully gives a taste of the wild diversity and beauty of this, one of Australia’s last wildernesses. Allan Moult

Explore the South West Wilderness portfolio.

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When friends and family asked me why I was heading off to live, work and travel fulltime on the road, I referred them to this quote by G.K. Chesterton:

The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.

It still resonates — two years later.

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Earlier this day my friend Jim Hill had caught a beautifully-conditioned four-and-a-half pounder [sounds better than kilograms] which he passed on to my small group of fellow travellers.

That caught everyone’s attention, including these curious swans, and various passers-by, all hoping to see another epic battle. It was not to be.

But the next day, while smoking his generous offering, Jim upped the ante and hooked a five-pounder — a record brown trout for Lake Dulverton at Oatlands.

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The Bus aka Madam Plush appears to have a strong affinity for birds and animals.

Dogs, cats and birds have all visited freely, but a truly unexpected trio came aboard at Campbell Town recently.

Three welcome swallows flew in through the open door and had a good look around. When I got up to get the camera they were very relaxed, and two stayed to pose for a little while, both taking turns to enjoy the view from the steering wheel.

Also relaxed, and cheeky, were the Australian magpies who came to visit me everyday when I was camped on a friend’s front lawn in downtown Canberra.

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On assignment for a Sydney ‘foodie’ magazine when Japanese cuisine was still a rarity in Australia, I was lucky enough to be presented with this plate of sushi to photograph. How could you go wrong? No fancy angles or lighting needed.

And best of all was the tasting after. I’ve been a fan of Japanese food ever since.

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Welcome to the first of a new series of mini-portfolios of worldwide destinations salvaged from a repository of nearly 90,000 colour transparencies filed away in six filing cabinets at a long-suffering friend’s home.

They’re the carefully-culled selection of a four-decades’ long career as a freelance writer/photographer.

Below is a small selection taken on assignment in the Fitzgerald River National Park in southern Western Australia.

The 250,000 hectare park is about 300km east of Albany.

Click here to see the gallery

It is a harsh environment encompassing a bleak landscape of spongolite cliffs honeycombed by the elements; scraggly dry streambeds outline with salt tidemarks; bronze-toned granite flecked with red flashes of weathered flaking rock; a coastal barrier of sand dunes as white as snow; broad valleys carpeted with low scrub, paperbark, rough mallee and wiry melaleucas; and three low ranges each topped with a small barren summit named Barren.

The three peaks — West, Mid and East Mount Barren — are remnant islands, once barely 90 metres about sea level.

Their existence is responsible for the botanical abundance found in the threatened boundaries of the National Park,

While still islands in an ancient sea, they provided refuge for the fertile flotsam of the plant world seeking anchor during the mammoth upheavals of the Proterozoic period some 3000 million years ago.

This was the age of Gondwanaland, the super continent formed when the world’s land masses were one and the fertile Fitzgerald River area was joined to Antarctica.

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What happens when a musk duck, above, accidentally surfaces directly underneath a laid-back Pacific black duck?

A big chaotic splash …

… and an ongoing bitch and moan from said duck.

Pacific Black Duck

Just another bird story from Lake Dulverton, a favourite camping spot at Oatlands.

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One of master luthier John Ferwerda’s violins starts to take shape in his Melbourne workshop.

“The challenge of violin making,” says John, “is to create something new from a shape and concept that is hundreds of years old.

“The design of a violin is eternal.

“The skill lies in bringing the instrument alive … in gluing together 72 basic bits of sculpted wood to create an instrument that ‘speaks’ … that is unique within its narrow paramenter.”

John is one of 34 highly-talented craftsmen and women who featured in Craft in Australia [Reed Books], a book I wrote and photographed during an earlier career.

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Fly-tying is a skill not mastered by many. It takes countless hours of observation, concentration, and deft manipulation of fur, feather and cotton, not to mention supple fingers and keen eyesight to achieve the tiny works of art.

This small sample below also highlights the variation in size, colour and detail.

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Don’t worry what people think, they don’t do it very often.
(unknown)

Was hunting for a dump point in Campbell Town, Tasmania’s unofficial border town between the North and South, when I spotted this beautifully-weathered Kombi getting more than its fair share of explosive guffaws from passers-by.

The lichen appeared to be doing a sterling job of holding in the windscreen.

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Nature’s prime favourites were the Pelicans; High-fed, long-lived, and sociable and free.
James Montgomery, Pelican Island

The first pelicans I saw today were in flight … about a dozen soaring effortlessly overhead in formation. Their necks curled back, and beaks jutting forward like sharp knives. They swooped and soared.

Then came the landings on water. Oops.

This fellow later came in close, perhaps thinking I was gutting a fish and preparing to throw the entrails his way.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed the quiet of this slice of waterfront, which some decades ago, was apparently a caravan park.

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A great office view and hard to believe I am camped barely two hundred metres from the heart of this lovely little town with a decidedly old-fashioned feel.

The ‘shopping centre’ is a mixture of typical small-town one-storey businesses, and a disproportionate number of coffee shops [all good I say].

After the frenetic tourist trap atmosphere of gaudy Lakes Entrance, Paynesville is a pleasant change.

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A curious setting with level parking on a silt bank millions of years old.

I’m camped on a southern edge of the Mitchell River delta — a classic form of ‘digitate’ delta which ranks as one of the world’s finest examples of this type of landform.

That’s Paynesville, south-east Victoria, showing up at the bottom centre of this Google satellite view.

The river sweeps near the western shore of Lake King before hitting Eagle Point Bluff and heading east into the lake.

According to Wikipedia:

Where the river meets the lake a river delta alluvial deposition of sediment has formed, known locally as silt jetties, which extend more than 8 kilometres east into the lake.

Silt deposited by this process forms into long narrow banks which run many kilometres. The silt was deposited over millions of years to form silt banks or islets as the speed of the river slows.

The silt jetties have been nominated by geologists as a site of international significance, second in size only to those of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Here’s one of my early test shots taken with my new Nikon Coolpix S8000, my replacement “always with me” camera.

It is not much bigger than my ubiquitous iPhone, but it does come with a 10x optical zoom, a nice wide angle view, and macro-mode to .5cm.

It has proved a bit quirky to use but I guess practice will help.

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My yearning to hit the road again was severely hampered for nearly a decade with a mysterious ailment which would flare up intermittently and cause bizarre swelling of various joints and the need for several ambulance trips, extended stays in hospital and time flying by as morphine dripped into my veins, and drains leaked crap from the currently afflicted joint.

Blood specialists, orthopaedic surgeons, and other medicos were baffled, and all the many x-rays revealed were old battle scars from a life more hectic and active in my younger days.

Not a pretty vision and my rabbit pal, shown above, sort of sums up the Dorian Gray aspect of it all.

The rabbit was given to me by a maiden aunt the day I was born [a long time ago]. It was skilfully made out of war-issue stockings and stuffed with pure wool straight off the sheep’s back.

Apparently, according to family, the rabbit and I were inseparable for about seven years — literally — and I guess that’s where a lot of the wear and tear came from. About 10 years ago my mother found him again and mailed him over from Africa. He’s sat on a shelf in my office ever since.

Today I like to think I don’t look as battered as my rabbit pal on the exterior, even though some days I feel just like he looks. Be interesting to see how we cope with life on the road.

The last attack was just on two years ago [after getting them about 2-3 times a year, so that's a big breakthrough] and I am now ready to get on with my next adventure.

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Bluey, my treasured 1973 Kombi, and home on wheels for a number of memorable trout fishing expeditions, photographic jaunts, and general road trips, is heading north to to Tasmania’s North Island — Australia.

Bluey has been sold via eBay to a friendly Queenslander called Ray who is planning a series of 2-3 day trips. “Can’t wait to hit the road,” he says, “and there’s something special about Kombis.”

I’m sure going to miss all the friendly waves from other Kombis on the open road …

However, replacing Bluey is my ‘new’ 1985 Coaster, as yet unnamed, which I soon found out gives me membership to another ‘family’ of fanatics. They’re a helpful bunch too, as I have discovered on various online forums.

Here’s the new rig as it was pictured on eBay. Its an unusual design and the interior is a weird mix of Japanese fine carpentry and ‘she’ll do’ Aussie inventiveness.

A good friend has nicknamed her ‘Madam Plush’, and when I post some photographs of the interior you’ll see why.

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More than 25 years ago I travelled the length and breadth of Australia to research three books.

I travelled on commercial airlines, light planes and helicopters, in hire cars, battered outback Toyotas and Land Rovers, by camel and horse, on cross country skis, by hot air balloon, motorboats and yachts, on bicycle, in sea kayaks, canoes and rafts. And on foot — one memorable trip alone was a 23-day walk in South West Tasmania.

Over one 18-month period I spent 268 nights in my beloved North Face VE24 tent [shown above in company with Bluey, my 1975 Kombi]. Together we survived blizzards in the Snowy Ranges, torrential rain in the tropics, and idyllic days on the banks of lazy rivers.

The dome tent and I survived mosquito and sandfly invasions on Hinchinbrook Island thanks to our ‘no-see-um’ mesh, and waves of leeches in various swampy campsites in Tasmania and Queensland courtesy of our sturdy rainfly and mesh. At other times, snakes, frogs and toads also tried to enter the high tech haven.

These extended trips also taught me plenty about surviving with minimal possessions.

I am about to embark on another extended adventure, again to research a couple of books, but this time I’m taking my ‘home’ — a 1985 Toyota Coaster bus — with me.

The long-surviving tent will come along too, but this time to cater for overnight visitors.

Let the journey begin.

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