Monday, January 31, 2011

The Coorong

We've just spent two days camped in Coorong National Park, which is our first foray into seeing how self sufficient we are in our van. Also to see how the kids went camping in a place where there are no facilities specifically for them. No big bouncy cushion, no other kids running around everywhere, no swimming pool, just nature. We pretty much have all mod cons in the van. A good sized fridge; gas stove with a griller and full size oven; 4 large batteries connected to four solar panels; a dedicated 80 litre drinking water tank and three other 80 litre tanks for general use; an electric inverter and a series of power points allowing us to run 240 volt appliances off the 12 volt batteries; a toilet and little shower.

Many people have told me how beautiful the Coorong is and we were greeted on the way in to the national park by a couple of emus running alongside the road. There was the promise of some good wildlife encounters. But when we arrrived in the camp ground, everyone was a little shocked I think. It was predominantly surrounded by low lying scrub and grasses and was not really a place of outstanding beauty. And we've sort of got used to living in the comfort and often sterility of caravan parks. I was a bit nervous to unhook the van as we still have the dodgy jockey wheel and hooking back up just never seems to be an easy operation. So we spent the first night with the van remaining hitched up to the car. There were a few other campers around in their tents or camper trailers. I decided to have a bit of a chat to some of our new neighbours to find out some first hand information on the Coorong. All indications were that it was a bit of a long walk from our campsite to the beach over the hilly dunes. With temperatures in the 30s, it was going to be a bit of a tough trek for a pregnant woman and two young children. There was a sandy 4WD track down to the beach, but with no recovery gear and no real experience yet in four wheel driving, I felt a bit nervous of that too. The thought of getting stuck just seemed too real. To add to that, I discovered that our toilet wasn't working and so it was going to be a hole in the ground for everybody. Tori said she found it liberating sitting bare arsed over a hole. Jazzy needed to go before bedtime and so I took her and a shovel for a walk through the scrub. The hole was dug and she made a legitimate effort, but the strangeness of it all seemed to get to her and after a couple of attempts, she no longer had to go. Our initial leap into off road camping had a bit of a tentative start to say the least.
The next morning everything had a new complexion on it. Jazzy successfully completed the mission she'd begun the night before. I found some new confidence of my own and unhooked the car from the van, lowered the tyre pressure to around 20psi and decided it was time for some sand driving. So we hit the 4WD track to the beach. Up over a steep dune we ploughed through the thick white sand, the car and driver doing admirably. On happily making it to the top I could see that we would have no real problems. If we could get over that thick sand hill so easily, there would be nothing more difficult. So we drove on down to the beach. It is actually possible to drive the sand dunes along the full length of the Coorong, some 100km or so. We drove perhaps 500m and then decided to stop for a play at the surf's edge and have a picnic. The waters around here are not swimmable.
The currents are strong, the waves choppy and fierce and the water becomes deep very quickly. It is a place where surf fishermen come and drop their lines into the deep gutters fishing for mulloway, salmon and bream. We lazed on the beach. The kids played in the sand. When we got hot we all lay on our backs down near the water's edge and waited for the wash from the waves to run over our bodies and cool us down. It was a beautiful afternoon. When we got back to the campsite, we fired up the barby, played some games and I had a few very cold, very enjoyable and self satisfied beers. I even managed to fix the toilet.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Caravan park living

At Robe Caravan Park they sure pack 'em in. It's serious high density living where your neighbour is almost right on top of you. It's quite amazing really. People leave their homes to travel hundreds of kilometres to go camping in the wild outdoors and end up living in a zone that's more crowded than the city. I guess the idea is that you spend most of your time away from the van site swimming at the beach or fishing. It's not quite as densely packed as an English music festival at least. I recall pulling into Reading station and getting a glimpse of the Reading music festival site for the first time. I'd never seen so many tents before in my life. English festivals resemble a refugee camp to such an extent that Oxfam test out their portable toilets there before sending them off to war torn countries. They figure that if they can handle the worst that English youth can throw at them over a few days of drugged out mayhem, then they can probably  handle 100,000 displaced people in Darfur.
We never went to caravan parks with Mum and Dad when we were kids. In fact we never went camping at all. My first experience of a caravan park was when I'd just finished high school at 17 and flew up to the Gold Coast with 3 mates. All of us were in that euphoric state that is now called schoolies week. That period of pure celebration after exams are over and before the drama and angst of receiving results comes along. In essence it was the same then as I'm sure it is now. Basically two weeks of consuming as much alcohol as possible and somehow trying to get laid. We were staying in a studio style cabin with bunk beds and had been warned about keeping the noise levels down. It hadn't been too much of an issue as we'd mostly been partying out at pubs and clubs, only coming back to the cabin to pass out. That was until we decided to stay in one night and do our drinking there. I don't remember a whole lot about the night but I do recall that it went until around 5AM. At 6AM we were woken harshly by a ferocious knocking on the door. Somebody else got it together to open the door for the irate manager and I remember surveying the scene from the relative comfort of my bed while taking in his tirade. There were bottles and cans all over the pace, along with half eaten takeaway food and their wrappers. Clothes were strewn everywhere. And in the middle of the room there was an upturned table and some bench seats that only hours before had been fixed to the wall. The place had been uncompromisingly trashed. He told us that we had one hour to clean the place, pack up and be out of there. I think we were only 5 days or so in to a two week stay. Somehow, on one hour's sleep, we managed to put the place in a bit more order. We moved out as demanded and after some momentary panic of where we were going to sleep, we booked ourselves into the caravan park right across the road.
Here in Robe some thirty years later, it's fair to say that things have been a lot more calm than that. While visiting with some neighbouring campers a few nights ago and sharing a couple of quiet beers, a security guard came by at 10pm just to let us know that it was now late and  that we should ensure that we kept our talking levels down, so as not to disturb the other sleeping campers. Jazzy looked up at me with raised eyebrows. It seemed early even for a 10 year old.
Since we left Dean and Mel's place in North Warrandyte a couple of weeks ago, all of our stays so far on this trip have been in caravan parks. They are very convenient places providing electricity hook up, showers, washing machines and playgrounds for the kids. But it's not really my true view of camping. We're moving on from here today, up to the Coorong National Park. There'll be no facilities of any sort there other than a spider inhabited toilet perhaps. But there will be a lot more space to camp in and hopefully some wildlife to see other than the rugrats of other campers. I think we are set up now with all that we need and have a lot more familiarity with the workings of our van. We'll see how we go.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tori's Birthday

I've known Tori since she was 20. We've lived together since she was 22. We married when she was 26. We became parents together when she was 32. Then again when she was 33. And a decade later, we're soon to be parents again it seems. Today is her birthday, so Jaz, Finn and I took her out to celebrate her life. She is somebody very special and with many talents. Somebody who has often passed her deeds off as insignificant thinking that anybody could have achieved them, yet most people sit back and admire with awe. She has a grace about her and a generosity that is beyond most people's comprehension. She usually puts the feelings of others before those of herself, often committing to help when she is already over committed. She doesn't like to feel that she has let anybody down. In my time with her I've seen her be an exhibiting artist, a performing musician, a school teacher, a bartender who got the sack for giving away free drinks to fellow employees, somebody dressed up on the side of Glenhuntley Road as a giant red capsicum, a girlfriend, a wife, a mother, an exceptional swimmer, a graphic designer, a personal fitness trainer and a yoga teacher. All to good effect and with total commitment. When I've gone through my inevitable cycles of doubt about lifes' directions, she has been my greatest counsel, giving me confidence in myself to choose the right path. Often that has been to help me to choose the more fun option. We've travelled around the world together. From Australia across America and the West Indies with backpacks to live in England. Across Europe and through the Middle East in a VW Transporter van.  And now we are off on a new big voyage together. This time we've set off in a caravan across Australia with 4 and somewhere along the journey we're hoping to become 5. To me, Tori being  pregnant is still a totally intellectual concept. For her it's a constant physical state of being. She's been carrying a growing baby inside her now for more than 18 weeks. It's in there rolling and kicking. Making her nauseous at times and often worn out. She's handling it all with a grace that is admirable.
So this is the 23rd birthday of Tori's that I've spent in her company. Her 21st she let pass without fanfare. Her 40th was an extravaganza with Steve Kilbey and Ricky Maymi playing in our front garden in North Warrandyte. Tonight was just with Jaz, Finn and me. We went to a fine restaurant in Robe, gorged ourselves with great seafood and consumed a few drinks. And at times laughed ourselves silly. On coming back to the van that is now our home, we had supermarket cake with candles and cups of tea and a whole lot more laughter. It couldn't have been better. Happy birthday Tori.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A glorious day of nothing

Today I finally rediscovered the art of essentially doing nothing. Slept in, had breakfast, read my book, had a bit of a phone chat with Mum and Nat, cooked up some sausages for lunch accompanied by a leisurely beer, read my book some more, had a siesta (worn out from all the strenuous activity), rode my bike down to the Robe supermarket to get a couple of supplies, had a couple more beers, ate dinner and then read a bit more of my book. That's it. The rainy weather helped put paid to any further activities. Great justification for not going to the beach, not playing a game of cricket, not going for a walk, not even making my way over to the shower block. A perfectly lazy self indulgent day. I can't remember the last time I had a day anything like this. They used to be my specialty. Those uni days of waking in the morning with a groan at the thought of the suite of lectures I had waiting for me. Then the delicious feeling of freedom at the moment I'd decide that I wouldn't go in today and instead would just roll over in bed. An emotion of true bliss that all of a sudden I had a day completely unhindered by any obligation. Many of the days when I did actually get myself into uni were spent playing cards in the coffee shop. At a point when the next lecture was scheduled to begin, Bruce and I would look at each other over the 500 hands we'd been dealt and have a standard conversation.
"Are you going"?
A pause for considered reflection.
"Nuh. Are you"?
Another pause.
We'd then just continue the hand and play for another hour until the next class was scheduled to start, then have the same conversation. That could go on all day from first thing in the morning until mid-afternoon when, tired of cards for the day and having been to no lectures, we'd decide that it was time to go home. Some of this may give some insight into why I spent the entire decade of the 80s as a tertiary student to eventually come out the other end with a 3 year degree.
Over the last few years, there just always seems to be too many things to do. That seems to have accelerated even more over the last 12 months. Such a busy time, particularly with work. It had come to dominate my being so much that even when I wasn't at work, it always seemed to be occupying my mind. No holiday for 18 months didn't help matters. I often hear people fantasize about working for themselves and being able to take time off work whenever they want. Unfortunately the converse seems to be true. When you have your own business, it seems harder to take time off. And harder to only work 9 to 5. It certainly consumed me last year to the point where I was particularly burnt out by the end of the year. With family and household type commitments to contend with also, life fills up very quickly. And then with all of the other layers of real and perceived crap that we manage to pile on top, it can be overwhelming. I know that it is the lot of the majority, especially those with kids, to be time poor. I certainly don't think I'm alone in this predicament. There's never enough time to do everything that needs to be done. For whatever reason, I don't ever seem to be able to find the personal space or time at home to read anything at all other than the morning paper over breakfast. There just always seem to be more pressing things to do than sit passively reading a book. So to have removed all obligation from my life, to the point where I can just laze around reading for the majority of the day, is sheer bliss. I think I'll go now and read some more.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Van domesticity

A miraculous event in our world of domesticity has occurred. In the relatively short period of a couple of weeks. Jazzy and Finn have become willing participants in helping around the "house". We've moved from a perpetual state of "I did it last time". Or a moan of "It's his/her turn" whether it is or it isn't, to having two very helpful young people who are willing to happily do their bit without complaint. This was unheard of back in Warrandyte. Tori would frequently take on any chore of theirs because it was easier for her to do it than having to continually scream and yell at them to get it done. They knew that if they put it off for long enough, Mum would end up doing it for them. But now, Tori and I can actually sit and relax while the dishes are being done. And be entertained in the process as the dryer rejects any uncleaned item back to the washer with a sing-song "uh uh uhhhh". And importantly, they don't just do it, they do a good job.
I guess one of my main motivations for the trip was the hope of evolving us as a family and trying to help the kids establish some positive patterns for living. Not that the dishes themselves are that huge a deal, but a psychological shift has definitely occurred. There's a realisation that we're all in this together. A willingness to accept responsibility and pitch in to help get the job done. The close proximity of living in a van just seems to have made it more obvious that we all need to help each other to make our lives smoother. Even the battle of the iPods seems over. They are hardly being used at all now. Other options such as cycling, playing cricket, swimming, running around with other kids or reading seem to have replaced the time that was otherwise spent playing games on a tiny screen. I was watching Finn on the beach today. He's a big strong boy for his age. Spending more time outside and leading a more physical existence will make him even stronger and hopefully help his self-image and self-confidence. Such a sensitive beautiful boy. I have to remind myself at times that he's only nine. Spending more time together is already helping me get a little more understanding of what he's going through. There's some tough issues to contend with as a kid, so hopefully my being in closer continuous contact will allow me to help him to negotiate some of them in a positive way. Perhaps provide him with some new strategies for dealing with certain types of situations.
They are both lovely little people. I'm looking forward to watching them grow over this 12 month period.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Drunk in Robe

I met Chris today when we arrived in Robe and I was struggling to get the van unhitched from the car. The hitch pin just wouldn't budge. Damn! I thought we were over all that stuff and it would all be smooth sailing now. But it seems not. I tried lowering and raising the mangled jockey wheel, but it didn't seem to make a difference. Until Chris suggested that perhaps raising the jockey wheel might do the trick. I'm sure I'd tried that only minutes before he arrived but it didn't work. Don't you hate that. But I felt mostly relief because he was actually right and the problem was resolved.  And then he took no credit for it whatsoever and was completely gracious. What a true gentleman. I've managed to achieve a very good level of relaxation when we've been already setup in camp grounds. But the hitching/unhitching part still seems quite stressful.
Once we'd eventually unhitched, Tori and the kids went to the beach. I needed solitude and went into town. The sound of live music was enough to lure me into the Caledonian pub. Well that and the thought of a nice cold beer. In the beer garden, a dreadlocked guitar player was doing decent cover versions from Cyndi Lauper to U2. There's something about live music. Even songs that you don't necessarily like can sound amazing when performed live. And better still with a cold beer in hand on a warm sunny day. So I stayed for the end of his set and drank my beer.
On getting back to the campsite, it seemed only reasonable to wander over to Chris's campsite and have a beer with him. Chris, his wife Bernadette and their 5 kids, live in St. Arnaud, which is about 100km west of Bendigo in Victoria. They raise turkeys, in fact providing one day old turkey chicks to 50% of the turkey producers in Australia. That's a lot of turkeys. Half of all the turkeys eaten in Australia are born on their farm. They breed turkeys to go off and be slaughtered for us to eat. That seems a really harsh profession to me, the urban city slicker. I like to eat turkey. But doesn't it just come in sandwiches? Or from a deli or supermarket freezer? The thought of somebody nurturing cute little turkey chicks and then sending them off at only one day old to be raised to be eaten seems a tad harsh. I have friends who are vegans for godsake! There's a real disconnect between city folk and country farm type folk. Most of us city folk eat meat, but the thought of how it gets to our table is not as palatable as that nice juicy turkey breast or porterhouse steak. The belief that this was once actually a living being is removed from us, usually thanks to styrofoam packaging and cling film. It's very difficult to imagine that neat little package contains a body part of a living thing that somebody has had to kill and chop up for us. I barbecued up some minced cow parts for our family to eat tonight and they were particularly good. Flavoursome and juicy, served up on a bun with some cheese, tomato, cucumber and ketchup. We called them burgers. Anyway, I've gone off on a bit of a tangent. Chris, the breeder of turkeys to be sent off to slaughter, is a really fine fellow. With a very nice family. We consumed a good number of beers together and had a really great time in conversation about all manner of topics. I expect I'll meet many people on this trip that do all sorts of different things to make their living. Ultimately, that's all everybody is doing really. Making a living to feed their family and lead a satisfactory lifestyle.  I asked Chris how he got into the turkey raising game. He said that his father just sort of "fell into it". An opportunity presented itself and his father recognised the need. Pretty much the way I got into the whole computer thing. Just sort of fell into it. Chris helps to feed the nation. I help large corporations keep their computer systems running so that they can continue to profit off the people, often by ripping them off. I'm not sure that I'm really in any position to judge anybody. I also just do what I do. But I'm happy to not have to worry about doing that for a little while longer. I'm still on holiday, so I think I'll just have another beer.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Is this the life?

Today I met Kim and Jen. The former being a gruff white haired bloke in his mid to late 50s, probably slightly hardened by having to grow up with a girl's name, but an extremely amiable bloke all the same. Jen is his wife. I stopped by to admire their rig (that's what you do here in caravan parks) for it was quite impressive. Kim said that he and Jen had sold up everything they owned to be living in their van and constantly travelling around the country. They towed their caravan with some kind of big diesel transit van that housed two Harleys in the back. They invited me inside and it was luxurious. Nice lounge area, good looking bedroom setup with a full ensuite at the back and loads of room for two. Apart from the fact that Kim had a kidney removed last year and needed to drop in to hospitals around the country for the occasional check-up, it sounded like they had it completely sussed and loved the life they were living. Kim was full of advice for a novice like myself, very eager to show me his water filtration system, solid wood cupboards and other features of their set up. They were heading back to Mt. Barker, just out of Adelaide, to have a new diesel central heating system installed while they waited for the Victorian goldfields to normalise themselves following the floods.
I know I've been on holiday so far on this trip and that it's early days, but it seems to me that I could certainly live this life, just like Kim and Jen. I guess in a way it was the life that Tori and I had loosely planned for a decade's time when Jaz and Finn were older and doing their own thing. The wandering plan was certainly not limited to Australia and involved also a considerable amount of time exploring Europe. Perhaps even back down to the Middle East and Africa. That was before discovering that a baby was on the way. So how will that affect things I wonder. As evidenced by the fact that Tori is pregnant, making any concrete plans for life seems a little fraught with danger. I guess the real question for us in the short to mid term is how a newborn baby will affect this particular trip. It's all unknown. Things will clearly vary depending on the health of the baby and Tori's recovery. In my Utopian vision, after having based ourselves in Broome for 2 to 3 months for when the baby is born, at about 6 to 8 weeks old our new son will be metaphorically flung into the back of the car and off we go down the Gibb River Road, through the crocodile infested Kimberley region and onward to the Northern Territory. Maybe we'll decide we're not up for that and that it's all too difficult. I hope that's not the case. We'll just take it as it comes I guess. And tomorrow we're heading to Robe.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A blue lake

Mt. Gambier has the bluest of very blue lakes. It's so blue that they called it the Blue Lake, just so that you knew what it was. In Australia, we love to name things as they are. We aren't very imaginative, but we are usually quite accurate. Just as the mountain range here where it snows is called the Snowy Mountains, the large desert constituting predominantly sand is known as the Great Sandy Desert, the Great Ocean Road is the long road running alongside the ocean, and snakes are variously called the red bellied black snake, the yellow bellied black and the brown snake, so the blue lake is called. It is definitely a lake. And it is very very blue. In fact I've never seen a lake as blue as that. I would have preferred that they called it the Really Really Blue Lake to give it a more accurate description.

It took us a while to get moving today, but eventually we managed to get out the door of the van and walk the 3.6km path around the Blue Lake. A very nice leisurely family stroll with a fair bit of amusement along the way. And one of those great moments as a parent where you have the opportunity to extract crap you learned at school from the dusty archives of the brain and turn it into one of those annoying educational lessons that made you cringe when you were a kid.
"How far do you think it is directly across the lake Dad"? asked Finn.
Having been so bored in year 11 maths that I'd decided to learn pi to 100 decimal places instead of listening to the monotonous drone of Mr. Brock (I gave up at 50 places and instead tried to tunnel my way through the brick wall using a compass), I knew I had the answer at my disposal.
"Well that'd be the diameter, Finn. And we know that the circumference is around 3.6km and pi is 3.1415926535897932384626433 approximately, so if we assume that the lake is perfectly round...". I could see Finn's eyes rolling back in his head and knew the feeling well from those past maths classes. I felt like I was channeling Mr. Brock and he may want to tunnel out quickly himself, but when I was able to tell him that it was roughly 1.1km, he seemed interested and satisfied with the answer. Phew! Given that I'll be their maths teacher in the home schooling aspect of this trip when it unfolds some time in February, it was an interesting taster.
We managed to make it around the rest of the lake without further mathematical interlude, just a whole lot of silliness interspersed with periodic comments about how very very blue the lake was. That seemed far more appropriate.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bound for South Australia

Today we finally made it out of Victoria. Eventually we hauled ourselves out of the inertia we were stuck in in Warrnambool, packed up the van, addressed the hitch (no problems) and headed off down the road to Mt. Gambier. Me the driver, Tori the trusty navigator. Well... we were going alright for a while. To be fair, the signs didn't seem obvious for heading to Mt. Gambier along the C192 rather than the Princes Hwy, but somehow we ended up having a much more scenic detour via Cape Bridgewater. Despite all of her other sensational qualities, Tori's navigational skills with a map have been known to be slightly problematic. We somehow missed the border checkpoint from Greece to Turkey once and ended up driving an extra 200km north to cross the border at the next crossing between the two countries. When we got there we were told that that particular checkpoint was closed and we'd have to head back down the 200km we'd just driven to cross via the checkpoint we'd missed. In not too friendly a manner I might add. I don't think the Greek border guard could see why we would possibly want to leave his country and go to that other country. So we essentially drove an extra 400km for nothing. Today was not so dire and actually ended up quite well. Cape Bridgewater is a beautiful expansive white sand beach. Not too many people. Crystal clear blue water. Essentially a beautiful place to stop for lunch and have a quick frolic on the sand.

When we departed there we thought it best to let TomTom have a crack at the navigation. It seemed to know where we were and where we were going, but decided to give us our first semi-offroad adventure. The device, with a mind of its own, led us down a host of unnamed unmade roads coated in sand and minor corrugations, around the Mount Richmond National Park. Good to put the 4WD with a payload of just over 3 tonne of van and cargo through some minor paces. Sort of like a spring training run when the players first get back from their Christmas break. No footies out. Just a loosener before the real work begins. Hopefully that will all be coming later. Eventually we hit the paved road once more, unscathed and somewhat relieved to have made it through the session ok. Saw our first emu which definitely made it seem like we were somewhere out in the wilds. Well, Tori and I saw it anyway. The kids were too busy with their heads buried in iPods to see anything at all really. We're slowly whittling down the use of these electronic devices. With the kids at times just sitting inside the van playing games on these tiny machines, we decided to forbid their use except for during car travel. I can see that this edict will be taken further and include severely limited time of use in the car also. Finn thought that it was something, that as a family, we should all get to vote on. I had to explain to him that it may be called the Good Ship Utopia, but unfortunately in regards to him, it may actually be the DictatorShip Utopia. It seems that we all have different visions of Utopia.

Eventually we arrived in Mt. Gambier and checked into the very luxurious Blue Lakes caravan park. We thought we'd stay in one more holiday park before a bit of bush camping. Just to make sure that everything is right and that we can at least have one drama free stay before upping the ante on our choice of accomodation. We'll be here for 3 nights and then likely go bush.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I finally feel like I'm on holidays. Today I actually did some things that were non-organisational. Went for a bike ride with Tori and the kids to see the flooded Hopkins River empty into the sea, had an afternoon siesta, drove up to the Hopkins Falls for a bit of sightseeing, had a barby around our campsite and played some cricket with Finn out the front. It's taken a few days of officially being on holidays to feel like I actually am, but I finally got there. Hooray.
The general theme of today was checking out the impact of the recent rainfall on the Hopkins River. The towns of Panmure and Allansford are just a few kilometres up the road from Warrnambool and were both flooded by the overflowing Hopkins River. Having spoken to a couple of locals, it sounds like the river is normally pretty placid, somewhat akin to the Yarra through Warrandyte. That definitely doesn't describe what it is now. Seeing the mouth of the Hopkins River in the morning and the way that it was crashing out to sea was a bit of an eye opener, but that had nothing on the Hopkins Falls. I've never sween anything quite like it. The ferocity with which the water crashed over the falls was frightening. The foam that the river had generated from pollutants picked up on its course in combination with the force of the water had created a landscape that appeared set in clouds, or as Jazzy said, like a big coke float.

Travelling across Victoria at the moment is not an easy things. All routes running East-West across the state have been affected by the floods and subsequent road closures. Our initial route to South Australia was going to be via Ballarat and the Grampians. That whole area has been affected with closure of Ballarat roads, Halls Gap being evacuated and the Grampians National Park being closed. Our alternate route was along the Great Ocean Road. Parts of that have been sliding into the sea, so that too was closed as an alternative. With the Hamilton Highway also closed for large sections, the Princes Highway was the only real alternative left. We were detoured off that at Cobden due to the flooding at Panmure, but were able to get through ok to Warrnambool. All just a minor inconvenience compared to the people who are actually living through the floods. As for the flooding in Queensland, well that is obviously at another level altogether. But it doesn't diminish the impact of seeing the effects down here.
As for us, having finally achieved a holiday state of mind, we're going to stay in Warrnambool for another day or two. Some more bike riding along the sea front and additional games of cricket beckon.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What's the hitch

Waking up at 3AM and trying to decide what the implications are of a totally screwed caravan hitch is not recommended. There's not a lot you can do at that time of day. I felt quite calm about it all when I went to bed, but woke after only three hours sleep with a pinched nerve in my neck and anxious about that bloody hitch. Was it beyond repair? What if I had to replace the whole mechanism? That would involve getting parts shipped to us and finding someone to fit it to the van. It could mean weeks of being in Warrnambool. And cost loads. Your mind can certainly run away with things at that time when you should be sleeping. Like Withnail, it seemed that maybe we'd gone on holiday by mistake and needed some major assistance. I thought I'd do the considerate thing and wake Tori around 4.30 to share the burden with her. Eventually, appeased by her soothing encouragement, I fell back asleep, unfortunately leaving her awake for another hour or so.

Unsurprisingly, I didn't feel too refreshed when I woke up again in the real morning. I dreaded what I would find. On trying the hitch again, it still didn't work. The pin wouldn't fit through the mechanism. Something seemed bent out of shape. And then all of a sudden, miraculously, it did fit and with some work slid the whole way through. I greased it up a bit and it started to fit easier and easier. Hmmm.... it seemed some strange forces were at work, but perhaps it was as simple as a little grease.

I hate not being good at something, and even worse, being crap. I watched the kids whizzing around on their bikes this afternoon. Before Christmas, neither of them could ride at all. Now they both seemed as if they'd been riding for ages. I'm hoping that my learning curve will be mastered just as quickly without too many more basic mistakes.

So the day was spent looking for things that I might need in the immediate future. A tub of grease for the hitch, a new jockey wheel, some pieces of wood to create a stable support for underneath the jockey and the van supports, and various other bits and bobs. The next moment of truth I guess will be when we need to connect the van back up to the cruiser. We'll see then whether the hitch really works or not. All this van drama reminded me of the problems we had with our campervan at the beginning of our journey across Europe and the Middle East some years back. Then it involved a petrol leak in France and a fallen off exhaust in Turkey. The first taught me some new french phrases while the second provided me with an insight into how helpful and resourceful Turkish people can be. A mechanic at a truck depot near where we were staying in Istanbul just welded the exhaust back together. Wearing no mask, with the flame inches from his face, occasionally flinching as a spark would hit naked skin, this guy fixed up the van in around 45 minutes and charged us around 6 quid for his services. After his incredible handiwork, the van travelled a few thousand kilometres across Turkey, through Syrian and Jordanian deserts, up the length of Israel from Eilat to Haifa and all the way back to England. I'm hoping that this time, after a similarly inauspicious beginning, we will soon have this behind us and some more relaxing times await. Though with the sound of helicopters in the air and flooding at Allansford only a few kilometres up the road from here, perhaps we still have a little way to go.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


This caravanning caper has several traps for young players. In the few days since we left I've managed to crush and mangle the jockey wheel, bend one of the van support legs and somehow, though I still don't know how this occurred, end up with a hitch pin that no longer seems to slide effortlessly through the hitch. All a bit of a drag. I thought that the hard part was just going to be towing a 3+ tonne van. But it seems there's a bit more to it than that. And so, we've stopped off in Warrnambool for a few days to try and take stock, and to find a caravan place where we can sort out the hitch situation and get a new jockey wheel. On the positive side, I did manage to get the annexe up, though it did take me about 2 hours rather than the 10 minutes I expect it will take me next time. We now at least look like we have a little home amidst the throng of holiday makers in the Surfside caravan park. I think it seems prudent to become a little more proficient at what is required to set up our camp before giving up the luxuries of electric hook up and heading bush. Warrnambool.... only a few hundred kms from Melbourne. At this rate we might not make it to Broome until 2014.
On the emotional front, everything seems a little chaotic. Jazzy and Finn are both quite seasoned travellers for their tender years and handle hours in the car extremely well. But it seems we've just hit a period where Jazzy can turn from bubbly affectionate daughter to snappy shitty drama queen in a few seconds if she doesn't get what she wants. Thankfully she can switch back the other way almost, but not quite, as quickly. Finn can go from an extremely compassionate fun loving boy to a stormy and sullen one, prone to abuse and lashing out. Hopefully as we get further into the trip and everybody adjusts a bit to the change and to each other's constant company, things will even out a bit more. I think so far I've been relatively calm, even as I destroy parts of the van. Though how calm is probably for others to say.
We've decided to stay in Warrnambool for a few days also to feel like we are truly on holidays. Now that our camp is all set up, we might as well make the most of it and just chill out a bit. So far a lot of it has seemed like a continuation of the work that went into vacating the house. But tonight I had my Maton out for a loving strum and am now sitting back with a fine glass of the Balvenie. So things are definitely on the up. The only thing troubling me right now is why there is a double R in Warrnambool?.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The launch of the good ship Utopia

Utopia - an imaginary place considered to be perfect or ideal.

Amid the continual barrage of questions from well wishing friends trying to guage how excited we were by our impending voyage, there was really just exhaustion. Days and nights spent packing and cleaning to try and make our house somewhat habitable for the tenants who are renting our house for 12 months. Then doing it all again the next day. And trying somehow to also get all required work type work done. There wasn't really any room for excitement. Or even for setting up the van. But we did it and finally moved out of the house on Monday while young Sam moved in. So now rather than being full of dirt and junk, the garage is full of parts for building skateboards - Sam's business - and a couple of surfboards. And who knew that the garage roller door actually worked and could close all the way down. He's already made our house better and he's only been in there for two days. We were going to do a condition report of the property, but figured that the house was likely to be in better shape when we got back so we might end up owing Sam money. He and his friend Lisa are renting the house fully furnished and have the responsibility of feeding and looking after Pusskana for a year.

So now we're in the van. Our third night camped out the front of Dean and Melissa's in North Warrandyte, a little under 2 km from our house. It's been great staying here. It's given us an opportunity to set the van up and finish doing all of the other things that didn't get done before we vacated the house. And it is truly a beautiful place - surrounded by tall gums, kookaburras, king parrots, Warrandyte bushland. And we've got to hang out with Dean and Melissa for a few days which has been fantastic. People's reactions to our first choice of destination have been very amusing.

"So you're having a trial run in the van before you head off are you"?

No, we've already "headed off" but the drive to the first camping destination was only two kilometres.

"Yes, but when are you really going? You know... off on the real trip"?

We live in a van. This is not a drill. We don't have a house. We are already on our way.

I think some people have a difficulty grasping that apart from living in a half built house in Broome for a few months around July/August when the baby is due, that we don't actually have any destination planned at all. Just some general feeling of heading west. We can go anywhere. We don't need to rush to relax. It's time to slow down the pace. This last year has been too busy, too crazy, and hopefully this trip will help me regather some perspective about what truly is important in my life. For me the journey is as much as anything about living in the confines of a van with my family for 12 months with all that that will entail. Sort of like being in a tiny Big Brother house with a few less cameras and no annoying voice over. Finn is nine years old today. Jasmine is exactly ten and a half. Tori is sixteen weeks pregnant with a little boy inside of her. Apart from being on holiday for the next two and a half weeks, I'll be working, albeit by taking telecommuting to a new level, with a continually changing panoramic view out of my office window. We'll all learn a lot about each other and a lot about ourselves. And a lot about Australia, as we sail around this vast land in the good ship Utopia. Where everything is for the best, in the best of all possible worlds.