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Left "Riverbend" at 5 p.m. after having welcomed our house-sitters Peter & Marion. Passed through Goulburn at 6.30 p.m. and settled into a roadside motel at Raymond Terrace near Newcastle just before midnight after some 480 km. The dogs bedded down in the back of the car.
On the road by 7.30 a.m. Passed Taree around 9 a.m. Stopped for lunch at Nambucca Heads. An old mate of mine from my Bougainville days had settled there in the 70's and opened an accounting office opposite the post office. Alas, he had moved on and his office had become a café/bookshop. Took Padma's picture in front of the "Big Banana" at Coffs Harbour. Just one of the many "Big Things" seen along Australia's highways. Expected to go as far as Brisbane but the new freeway AROUND Brisbane meant that, before we had realised it, we were already on our way to the Sunshine Coast. So we kept going and booked into the Panda Motel in Childers at 7.30 p.m. after a 1,100 km drive for the day! The Panda is the kind of motel where the neon sign advertising the motel's pool is slightly larger than the pool itself but it'll do!
Beautiful morning at Childers! My old mate Noel Butler used to live here and at Mt Perry after he had come down from New Guinea in the late 70's. We had met aboard the "PATRIS" on the way to Europe in 1967 and
kept in touch all those years until he passed away in 1995. We drove out to Mt Perry, which experienced renewed mining activities,
to look at Noel's old house. Stopped at the not-so-grand Mt Perry Grand Hotel for a beer and a chat with the locals and some of
the newly-arrived mine workers who were a colourful bunch. It left me to ponder what I might be doing today had I taken up Noel's
invitation in 1985 to join him at Mt Perry which, as he put it, would have given him a new lease of life. His other place on the
outskirts of Childers was shaded by well-established trees and groves of banana and paw-paw trees. What a difference from 1990 when
I last visited him there! Left Childers for a beautiful, warm evening in Bundaberg!
[Mount Perry is a tiny and quiet little settlement
nestled under, you guessed it, Mount Perry. It is located 475 km north-west of Brisbane and 104 km south-west of Bundaberg.
The Mount Perry area was first settled in the 1840s when shepherds from the large coastal properties brought their sheep into
the area for grazing. This tranquility was dramatically disrupted in 1869 when Henry Dingle discovered copper. Overnight a mining
town sprang up and, at the turn of the century, it was actually bigger than either Mackay or Cairns. At its height the population
is said to have been greater than 30 000 and the town reputedly had 21 hotels. However, the settlement collapsed dramatically in
1914, possibly due to mistaken financial ventures by the mining company. The remarkable thing is that a town which was once so
large and thriving can leave so few signs of its former glory. Today Mount Perry has fewer than 300 people. It is literally
nothing more than a few buildings (none of which are particularly old) and an old copper slagheap where the old smelter used
to be. One of the most interesting sights in the area is the Boolboonda Tunnel near Mount Perry. Remarkably, despite the fact
that it extends 192 m into the rock it is unlined and unsupported. In fact it has the dubious distinction of being the longest
unsupported tunnel in the Southern Hemisphere. It was constructed between 1883 and 1884 as part of the railway line from North
Bundaberg to Mount Perry with the objective of opening up the mineral and agricultural resources of the area. If the tunnel is
approached from Gin Gin it is clearly signposted. If, however, you are coming from Mount Perry the only sign is about 12 km from
town. It reads 'Tourist Drive 6' and points towards a gate and a dirt road. After passing through two more gates the road winds
up the side of a hill and suddenly goes through the long, dark tunnel which is only the width of one vehicle. If nothing else
the trip is worth making because of the delightful bush track which makes you feel as though you are in some sort of time warp. ]
Spent a noisy night at Oscar's Motel in the centre of
Bundaberg. Looked at some houses in Bundaberg. Some were quite attractive but we couldn't buy until our own place down south has been
sold. Drove back out to Childers and called again at Noel's old house where we met the present owner, George, who had bought the place
three years ago. Apparently, Noel had not left a will and the Public Executor sold the place quite cheaply! It's 2˝ acres and everything Noel had planted was thriving! Had lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant in Childers. This was already our second lunch there and we were greeted like old friends. Their specialty was
"Fried Ice Cream"! Our house-sitters phoned to say that "Riverbend"
had experienced 120km/hr-winds and that we should prepare ourselves for quite a bit of clean-up work when we got home!
Another noisy night at Oscar's! Ben Hepworth from Pigeon Island phoned. He was in transit in Brisbane after an around-the-world trip with his mother. Looked at more real estate, then drove out to Childers again.
More property inspections! Bundaberg is a large friendly countrytown. It offers every possible amenity and a great climate! We could easily live there!
Left Bundaberg and Oscar's. We didn't buy a house but I bought a pair of shoes - fair compromise? Back again at Childers
we booked into the Avocado Motel. Enjoyed talking with Jenny at the Mawara Aboriginal & Islander Arts & Crafts. Promised I'd build her a website when we come back to Childers to live. Checked my email at Childer's internet café where we met Tony, another interesting expatriate, who now called Childers his home. Had another dinner at the Vietnamese restaurant and called in at the Childers Hotel for a drink. It was a quiet night with only Sheeba the dog,
Stir Fry the cat and Cameron, the young barman who was born and bred in Childers, behind the bar (if you read this, Cameron, take a bow - you'll go far!) but we ended up talking half the night away with the publican Lorraine who'd been everywhere - including some of my "old stamping grounds" New Guinea,
Burma, and Saudi Arabia. It's a small world! Heading back south tomorrow morning!
Getting the old CAMRY ready for the home run! Some 2,400 km from "Riverbend" to Bundaberg and about the same distance going back and the old car is holding up well! Should rename it "B.R.M."
because that's how smoothly it runs: bbrrrmmmmmm bbrrrmmmmmm! Just south of Childers we turned off the highway towards Howard and onto the Fraser Coast
Tourist Drive. Burrum Heads was a real discovery! Beautiful spot! Continued to Pialba and along the scenic drive through Gympie and then onto Noosa
Heads. Throngs of tourists! Not what we were looking for! Off the highway again onto the scenic drive through the Blackall Ranges (Mapleton-Melany)
but too cold to stay for the night. Stopped for the night at the
Glasshouse Mountains & Beerwah Motel which offered the best facilities encountered so far.
A beautiful morning! Crossed the border back into New South Wales. We looked around Beachmere and Bribie
Island and also drove past Noel's old place near Caboolture, and the cheese factory (where I had applied for a job once!) Big changes
everywhere! Bribie Island was simply awful! Took the Murwillumbah turn-off to visit Tropical Fruit World, then continued on to
Nimbin, Australia's hippie capital!
Padma didn't want to stop,
let alone sit down for a drink, or stay the night! Strange people everywhere - and not a bar of soap between them!
We didn't exactly see anyone injecting chemicals into themselves but the overall impression of the place was rather unsanitary. Some consolation can be taken from the fact that these hippies were a 'one-off'. No one has been that stupid since, and although there were predecessors (the beatniks) there have been no successors. Spoke to a Pom who ran the Information Centre. He wanted to book us into a hostelry but I said we would take pot-luck to which he replied, "We don't use that expression around here." While talking to him, and listening to his tale of having dropped out ten years ago and now wanting
to "drop in" again but finding it impossible, a distraught tourist called in to inquire about his lost wallet. It had contained five hundred dollars and all his credit cards and driver's license. I didn't like his chances of ever getting it back! Drove on to Woodburn on the Richmond River where we stopped for dinner and a bed at the St George Hotel.
Left Woodburn after an almost sleepless night during which we were kept awake by the countless lorries passing along the highway. Arrived at Yamba which is a nice spot with very expensive real estate. Continued to
a quiet little town on the Clarence River which advertises itself as "Australia's Scottish Town." And so it is, with Gaelic street signs and every telegraph pole covered in a different clan's tartan. Booked into a van at the Riverside Caravan Park. Friendly owners whose daughter, who is going to Germany next month as an exchange student,
tried her German on me. Chatted with another caravan park inhabitant who, despite his young age, looked all grey-faced and swollen up.
It turned out that he was suffering from advanced cirrhosis of the liver after years of drinking a whole bottle of bourbon after the pubs
had closed down. The sins of a mis-spent youth!
A beautiful morning on the banks of the Clarence River! We
stayed for another night to give us a chance to explore the area. Went out to the coast to a place named Brooms Head - how apt!
An absolutely desolate place which didn't stop its real estate going silly: an ugly "pseudo-Italian" monster of a house was selling for $975,000!
Back to Maclean where we crossed an old rickety bridge and before we knew it found ourselves on a huge chunk of land completely surrounded by water: Woodford Island. Very peaceful!
Another beautiful morning! Should we stay, should we move on? Well, we did move on: Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Nambucca Heads, Kempsey, Taree, then inland towards Gloucester which, according to the sign,
had a population of 2,500 - but we didn't see ONE of them! Along Bucketts Way to Dungog and Singleton. Overnighted at the Benjamin Singleton Motel. Nice facilities but, like all such roadside motels, noisy at night.
Left Singleton and drove through the moonscape of the Hunter Valley's coal mining district. However, nothing could prepare us
for what followed: 170 km along the dreaded Putty Road! 170 km of nothingness! Luckily we had filled up at the last petrol pump at Bulga.
Somewhere along the long and winding road a sign pointed to the loneliness of the orthodox coptic monastery of St Shenouda the Archimandrite. Then more of nothing! Finally, through Kangaroo Valley back down to the coast and a smooth run all the way back to Nelligen and "Riverbend"! Home Sweet Home!