After my evening meal yesterday I thought I’d take a little nap. I was asleep in an instant. I didn’t wake until half past midnight. Wide awake and full of beans. I worked a little on one of my craft hobby projects that have gone unattended for some time.
At 04:30 I was really hungry so I had an early breakfast. Feeling more spry than I have for a while I then took the bike to the beach and watched the sunrise. Not a particularly photogenic one, but all the same it was most pleasant to listen to the surf and the birds in the early light.
The tide was halfway out. It would be low at 08:15. There was enough hard sand exposed for a morning ride along the beach. So I rode down the wheelchair access mat and through just a bit of soft sand then along the beach for a few km. What a great way to start the day. I was not the first. Someone had already set out in a 4WD. I passed an elderly couple who had already walked a couple of km, and a man fishing.
Every traveller in Australia has, or aspires to have, an Engel.
With Japanese technology and made in Thailand, it is as iconically Australian as the Holden. A brand on the verge of becoming a generic term here.
The Engel is a portable, dual voltage refrigerator/freezer that runs on 12 or 24V battery, or mains power. In the less expensive models, such as the one I could afford, the refrigerator/freezer option is an either/or choice. The unit I bought has a single 38 litre compartment. Larger costlier units can do both at once.
It operates incredibly efficiently. I am running mine on my secondary solar panel and battery. Even overnight, my battery voltage didn’t drop below 13.1 volts. I found that remarkable. The fridge in my caravan can only run on 12v from the car when the van is being towed. It needs a motion sensor to turn it off when the car is parked, or idling at the traffic lights because it draws too much current. Should you stop for fuel, or to shop, it’s possible the car won’t start again.
The Engel is silent. The only way you can tell it is operating is by touching it and feeling the faint vibration when its Japanese motor is running, and by the green LED on the panel. Also, by the fact its content is nice and cold. Something my caravan fridge struggles to manage even on mains power or gas.
It is strongly constructed and can handle being bounced around in the back of an off-road 4WD in desert temperatures. It even operates for a time even on an angle of 30 degrees.
The Engel is not cheap. It is far more expensive than other brands, even its closest rival, the Waeco. But it has a solid reputation for strength, reliability and efficiency in even the tropical outback. So when I saw my small one on special discounted offer for less than $800 I was waiting outside BCF for them to open at 8:30 the next morning. My Christmas extravagance this year. Possibly the most sensible purchase I’ve made since I bought the caravan, apart from the bike.
The road trip has begun. We have left HC. Dave is flying in a helicopter over the bungle bungles and I have been talking to motorcyclists. The car is heavily laden with the detritus of my life. She is carrying her burden bravely. Tyre pressures @ 40 & 42. Onward Japanese Juggernaut!
Tomorrow I finally get to see lake Argyle by boat and on Thursday the long drive begins with no firm itinerary.
A quick visit to Halls Creek on the weekend to collect a backlog of mail and parcels. I was almost caught out of town once again by the Wet.
I set off home this morning just in time. I ran into a storm that caused the Shire to close the Tanami Road even as I was travelling on it. Rain and flooding added over an hour to my trip.
I had to wait at one creek crossing for the water level to drop a bit before I could drive through. I took this photo just before I waded the troopy across after waiting about three quarters of an hour, in which time the level dropped almost half a metre. Even so, the water was over my wheels. This is why it is advisable in the Kimberley to drive a 4WD diesel vehicle with high clearance and a snorkel.
Such is the pattern of weather here that though the first part of the road from the Great Northern Highway as far as Ruby Plains was inundated by the downpour, shortly after wading the creek I was driving on dry dusty road that had not seen a drop of rain for at least a week. At Wolfe Creek and again just before I got to Bililuna I encountered more puddles and mud. The troopy, which I had cleaned nicely after the rescue trips out bush last week, is all muddy again.
At one point I had the good fortune to spot some brolgas dancing on the roadside. I stopped to take photos. Unfortunately my presence upset them and they headed away into the bush. Shooting from the car made getting a clear shot through the trees tricky on full 600 mm zoom. Most of the best display poses of the dance were obscured.
Just over a year ago I wrote about a goanna hunt with some of my boys. Trips like that out to the bush were a good way to get some engagement time with the lads.
Unfortunately I can’t do it any more since the troopies were declared unsuitable for transporting people. Once we were advised that insurance wont cover us unless passengers are wearing lap+diagonal seatbelts, facing forward, the CEO had to prohibit us transporting passengers in the troopies. It was stressed that apart from being sacked, the driver will be personally liable. Until we get more suitable vehicles I can only transport one passenger in the front seat with me. No more group trips out bush.
However, those same young men are a whole year older now, and they have access to a vehicle. So they have been out hunting by themselves. The other afternoon one of my young friends turned up unexpectedly. He needed assistance, he told me, as the vehicle they were using out bush had got stuck, not far out past Lake Stretch.
We headed out there. “Not far past Lake Stretch” turned out to be about 30 km or so out in the bush. It must have been about an 8 hour walk to come and get help. I asked when they had got stuck.
They had been out overnight, and no-one had raised an alarm.
I saw they had caught a goanna, but it had spoiled and was no longer edible. I asked why they hadn’t cooked it while they were waiting. They hadn’t taken a lighter with them.
Snatch straps are pretty amazing things and we got the other landcruiser out of the mud in no time. The boys had not taken any water with them of course, so they soon drank my supply. They piled back into and onto their tray back landcruiser and set off home. I followed them out in mine.
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You can see from the condition of my troopy what the bush tracks are like at this time of year. The only reason I was game to go in to where my young friends had got stuck was that I have the training and experience, plus a better equipped vehicle, with better tyres, and most importantly I carry a spade and recovery tracks.
These very expensive ($250) pieces of plastic are worth their weight in gold out here. They virtually guarantee I can get myself out of anything I manage to get into. Unless the car floats away.
Next afternoon, my young friend turned up once more. They had done it again. This time the trip out to where they were stuck was through mud and creek bed, and shallow lake most of the way. And it was getting dark. I have no idea where we ended up, but I remembered passing through one area I had been before. This shallow lake was dry last time I visited it. Yesterday it wasn’t.
I sincerely would not have thought we could actually get to where we ended up. Without my young companion’s assurance that the other Toyota had already got through, I would not even have ventured in there by myself. It beats me how he knew the way and remembered the areas to avoid. It also impressed me that he had walked all the way out to fetch me. Again.
It was well after dark when we arrived where their Toyota had bogged down. It seemed to me that the place they got themselves stuck was not any different to anywhere else we had already been. This time extracting the other vehicle took a little more effort, particularly because I had to be very careful not to bog my own in the process. But there were over half a dozen youngsters willing to help. A bit of digging and manouvreing, and some enthusiastic pushing and out she came. I love these kids’ cheerful confidence, which seems only to manifest out in the bush. Out here they never doubt themselves.
“Bililuna people don’t help each other”, the driver, and oldest of the young men confided as we were tackling the problem of moving his Toyota without bogging mine. “No one else would come out. That’s why we had to ask you. You always help”.
I didn’t know what to say.
This was the best bonding time I have had with my kids for quite a while. I really need to get back out bush with them. It’s where they open up and tell me things. They really are different people out there. More open, less shy.
Again they needed water, and again I lectured them on preparedness when setting out into Country. It seems very strange indeed to me that I, a gardia, should be lecturing young aboriginal hunters about survival in the bush.
Once again they all piled into and onto their Toyota with complete disregard for all the safety rules that I must stringently apply in the use of my vehicle. I took one with me as a passenger and guide to be sure I did not get lost in the dark on the way back. This time we had ventured way off the tracks, and in some places I might not have been able to follow my own tracks back where they were under water.
They got stuck twice more on the way back, crossing muddy creeks, but each time I was able to get past and get them moving again. We were all covered in mud by the time we were back on the “road” to Bililuna.
They had caught three big goanna, so it was all worthwhile.
They even remembered to say “Thankyou” before they rushed off to cook them.