On the move

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 …]

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.

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.

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.