Monday, 5 August 2013

Violin all over Australia

Elizabeth began learning the violin in Year 3 through the school instrumental music program.  This involved a 30 minute lesson once per week and very little practice between lessons.

When we enrolled in Mount Isa School of the Air (MISOTA) at the start of our trip in 2011 it was an added bonus that it was a strings school, meaning it offered instrumental music in stringed instruments.  Other schools specialise in brass, woodwind, percussion etc.

We really had no idea how learning the violin in the distance education mode would work in practice, but essentially it is no different to all our other distance ed lessons. We use a Bluetooth device for amplification and our mobile phone.


It works like this:  Once a week, for 30 minutes, Elizabeth telephones the instrumental music teacher who is located at the school in Mount Isa.  There is usually one or two other students 'on-air' at the same time.

The teacher will listen to one student play while the others practice.  When she moves on to another student, we mute our phone, Elizabeth practices and we listen out for her turn again.  It works!  Amazingly, the strings teacher, Ms Moore, can even correct Elizabeth's posture and finger positioning over the phone!

Of course, the logistics are a bit trickier in that the violin, music stand and all music has to be packed away when not in use.  So each practice is a bit more complicated than just picking up the violin and playing.

She has literally played all over Australia!  Larry tends to oversee this subject, so will hold music in windy weather, swat flies away from her legs when necessary and generally assist wherever he can.

Needing to wear a fly net to keep away the pesky flies near Woomera SA
Larry's job was to swot the flies from her legs.

Playing 'Waltzing Matilda' at the Combo Waterhole, the billabong in north
west Queensland the song reputedly refers to. 
In bad weather the lesson is conducted in the van.  Standing room only!
Larry is managing the 'mute/unmute' on the phone during the lesson.
If we pull up at a free camp and she practices, she regularly gets positive feedback from any grey nomads camping nearby. We also had some Norwegian tourists stop and videotape her when she was practicing by the side of the road in remote South Australia.  They couldn't believe it and nor could they quite understand how the whole distance education/telephone system worked.

Practicing in the sunset, Coorong NP, SA

A lesson at Tumby Bay, SA

We regularly forward photos of Elizabeth practicing to her strings teacher, Ms Yvonne Moore.
Little did we know she was blowing up the photos and putting them in the school foyer!

Towards the end of 2012 Elizabeth decided she wanted to try busking so started learning a group of 20 favourite songs, however during a visit to a music store in Tamworth, she was advised to just have 5 songs and repeat them the whole time, as people will only stop and listen for a few minutes.

Her first opportunity to busk was at the Tree of Knowledge Festival in Barcaldine in May 2013.  We were very proud of her, she didn't make a lot of money (although she had a small mountain of loose change in her case), but overcame the nerves and knows what to expect, as well as some tricks of the trade such as having breaks when the crowd thins out, playing upmarket happy tunes and making eye contact when people put money in her case (a bit tricky when you are trying to also read the music).

First busking experience at Barcaldine, May 2013

When we visit Mount Isa in May once a year for Activity Week (NAPLAN, science, art, drama, disco, sports day), Elizabeth will have a one hour lesson with her teacher in person. She may also attend a rehearsal with the Mount Isa Junior Strings Orchestra which she finds odd as she doesn't know anyone and is not used to playing in a group.  In 2013, Activity week coincided with the Eisteddfod so she performed on stage for the first time and loved it even though she had only rehearsed with the group once. 

She also entered a number of violin sections for the Eisteddfod of the Air (performed over the phone) and was awarded a 1st place and two 2nd places.  Not bad for her first music Eisteddfod.

Receiving her 2013 Eisteddfod trophies from Mrs Mills, the Eisteddfod Coordinator
 at Mount Isa School of the Air

Ready for her first Eisteddfod as part of the Mount Isa Junior Strings Orchestra, May 2013

We also returned to Mount Isa for the city's 90th birthday celebrations which included a concert with Troy Cassar-Daly and James Morrison.  These types of experiences (working within an orchestra) are invaluable given she mostly plays on her own.

While travelling, some of the music books come with a CD so she will practice along with that to get an idea of the correct timing.   Her playing has improved significantly in the last few years, proving that face-to-face instruction isn't always necessary to progress as a musician.

Practicing in the van using the computer

While in Karumba in June 2013, she had another go at busking at the local Sunday markets and made over $65 for less than two hours work.  Not bad for an 11 year old!

Busking at the Karumba markets, June 2013
Every cent counts.....
During our travels, Elizabeth outgrew her 3/4 violin and we had to purchase an adult sized instrument.  We made a deal with Elizabeth that we would invest the money (almost $1000), if she would invest the time and effort to play through to Year 12.  After that, she can decide to continue or not but at least she would have a reasonable grounding in an instrument.  She agreed, so is looking forward to continuing with the violin at secondary school in Toowoomba in 2014.  Our Toowoomba house is quite close to the neighbours so thank goodness she has improved so much over the last three years that we are more likely to receive compliments than complaints!
When we were last in Mount Isa for the 90th birthday celebrations, Ms Moore casually mentioned that students at Elizabeth's level would normally start to play a second string instrument and Ms Moore suggested cello or viola.  My first thought was 'there is no way we can fit another instrument in the van'!  The cello was obviously out of the question, but we accepted a school loan viola, found a space for it in the van and Elizabeth has started to practice with it.
First practice with the viola, July 2013
Our experience proves that it is possible to learn an instrument (or two!) and continue to receive musical tuition while living in a caravan and travelling around Australia.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Our Rig

Our tow vehicle is a 2003 100 series diesel Toyota Landcruiser, towing a 2005 24ft Regal van.  The van was purchased through the online Trading Post, while the Landcruiser was purchased privately after a great deal of searching.

The Cruiser has an after-market snorkel, cargo barrier, bull bar, rear air bags, long range fuel tank, dual heavy-duty batteries and heavy-duty roof rack.

The van includes 3 bunks (the bottom bunk is used for storage), a combined shower/toilet and, its greatest asset in my view - a front loader washing machine! 

Washing machine bottom left hand corner,
shower/toiler behind glass door on left,
triple bunks on right.

The washing machine alone would have saved us conservatively over $2500 ($4 load x 4 loads per week x 52 weeks x 3 years) and doesn't include extra loads of linen, sleeping bags when we've been camping, van curtains etc.  $4 is also pretty average for a laundromat these days, with many now up to $5 per load and some caravan parks charging $6 per load. 

The van has three separate living areas, the kitchen/lounge/dining is in the centre, the bunks/shower/toilet/wash machine is at the front of the van and our bedroom is at the back of the van.  The three areas are separated by concertina screens.

Looking towards the bunks/bathroom, van entrance door is on the left with green curtains. 
Noticeboard was added before we began the trip.

All the internal hanging clothing cupboards have been converted to shelves which quadrupled our storage capacity.

Main bedroom at rear of van.  Plenty of storage and storage
under bed.

One thing many so-called 'family' vans with bunks don't have is a decent sized fridge.  We have a 160 litre fridge (we had a 520 litre in our house!).  We have become used to it and purchase differently  with just enough fruit/veg to last a few days and meat for a week only.  The fridge is 3-way, running off gas when we are stationary, the car battery when we are on the move and AC when we have electricity.  We do have an archaic Engel which we can use, but it seems to have morphed into a bar fridge only.

Half size oven with grill. 4 gas burners on top,
under bench top. 160ltre fridge under the microwave.

Another limitation with vans that are designed for four or more people, is they tend to have quite limited water tank capacity.  We have 2 x 70lt tanks attached to the van and carry an additional 70 litres in a variety of containers.  I suspect the reason for the smaller water tanks is about the overall weight of a large van, but many vans designed for a couple seem to have better water carrying capacity than large family vans.

Lounge/dining/schoolroom, opposite the kitchen work area.

We have a full annexe, which we have never erected. On the other hand, we regularly use the pull out awning, ground mat and side shade awning.

We have two laptops, an iPad, a Bluetooth (used for amplification when we phone school), a touch phone and 3 iPods.  We have a small inverter so we can charge everything except the main laptop from the van power supply.

The van has a CD/radio player with 3 internal and one external speaker.  It has a TV (mounted above the sink), however we decided to leave the TV in storage. 

We have recently purchased 2 freestanding 120kw solar panels and we have a 2 kva Honda generator.

The van has a reverse cycle airconditioner.

We carry two bikes, 2 boggie boards, scateboards, scooters and roller blades.  Most of which get fairly regular use.  We are carrying a large plastic box of board games which we never use, mainly because they are too difficult to get access to.  We do play alot of UNO though.  The toys I wish we had brought more of - Lego.

We named our van after 3 weeks camping in Cape York in
July 2011.  We used to talk about returning to the comfort of the van
after being in the tent and someone began calling it 'The Mothership'
 and the name stuck.
The van and cruiser have been perfect for our family and our journey.  Both were purchased specifically for this trip and will be available for another family's adventure in January 2014.  As a reliable and comfortable rig, not to mention home for three years, it will be hard to see them go.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Broken Hill NSW

16-20 March 2013  

Before arriving, I knew very little about Broken Hill apart from a few vague memories from about Year 5 Geography that it was a mining town.  It is in fact the birthplace of BHP - Broken Hill Proprietary Ltd. It began in 1885, after the discovery of a huge ore body of lead and silver.

Many of the streets are named with mining terms, such as Zinc, Silica, Silver, Chloride and Bromide, Zinc, Silver and Silica streets.  Yuk!  On the upside, you can still buy renovated workers cottages (3 bed) for about $145,000.

These days Broken Hill is also known for its tourism, movie making and, surprisingly, its art galleries, including NSW oldest regional art gallery and many private artist galleries.  We visited the Pro Hart gallery and loved it.  It was welcoming, inexpensive and both camera and child friendly.  We also appreciated the comfy lounge to watch the 55 minute video of all things Pro Hart.  He certainly was a complex man and artist, born and bred in Broken Hill. He worked underground in the mine for a number of years before his art was able to financially maintain his family.  He certainly didn't live like a rich man, apart from his collection of Rolls Royces', all of which he hand painted, you'd never even guess he was as successful as he was.  His form of art was considered quite controversial in its time and you either seemed to love it or hate it.  Either way, I wouldn't mind owning a few right now, whether I liked them or not!!

One of many hand painted Rolls Royce at the gallery.

The interior of the Pro Hart Gallery, constructed at the front of his home.

One of the 'Masked' series of paintings
Painted on carpet for the Dupont paint series of TV commercials


Pro Hart's studio, just as he left it.

 You can still view his studio, which looks like he has just been working in there, including his jumper hanging over the back of his chair. I had a lovely chat to an older woman working in the gallery about a cabinet full of antique baby rattles and it turned out she was the collector and was also Pro Hart’s wife!   

About 10km out of Broken Hill is The Living Desert Sculptures, each of which tells a different story.  One sculpture was in a direct line to Fred Hollows grave site at Bourke.  Clearly the artist was a friend (or a stalker!).

Looking directly towards Bourke where Fred Hollows is buried.

We did a day trip to Silverton about 25km from Broken Hill. This was once a thriving place with a mine in operation before the ore body at Broken Hill was discovered.  It’s now a ghost town but with the remaining stone buildings still standing and scattered about, it was easy to see how the town would have been laid out.  We didn’t go into the pub as the Recovery after the Broken Hill Cup (horse race) was on and many patrons looked worse for wear, but the pub has a long and interesting history and has regularly played host to movie productions and their  crews, including Mad Max and Priscilla Queen of the Desert.   There is even a Mad Max museum to visit if you are a fan and outside the Silverton Hotel is a replica of The Interceptor - the car Mel Gibson drove in Mad Max. Other movies include Razorback, A Town Like Alice and heaps of commercials, especially beer ads.

Of course I couldn’t pass up a visit to the pioneer cemetery.  It must have been vast in its day, as now only a few scattered headstones still exist, but they are spaced quite a distance from each other.
Just a few lonely headstones remaining in a what must have been a very large cemetery.
We drove out to Mundi Mundi Plains which is a huge, flat expanse of land where you can apparently see the curvature of the earth on a clear day.  If you think back to the Mad Max movies, you’ll remember the environment – desolate, hot, just a whole lot of nothing.
Back in Broken Hill, we visited the Miners Memorial on top of the old mine workings.  The shape of the memorial reminded us of a ship, but it was very moving, as it lists the name, age and cause of death of every miner killed in a mining accident in Broken Hill’s history.  Quite chilling really, especially the age of some of the miners and the description of the way they died, which included rock fall, lead poisoning, fell into pit, fell down shaft, suffocated on fumes, crushed by wagon.

We thought the memorial looked like a ship side-on.

The memorial listed every man ever killed in the Broken Hill mine,
including a 12 year old who suffocated on dynamite fumes

After warming up with coffee in the visitors centre, we went outside to goof around on the big chair.  It was quite a way off the ground so required a bit of clambering to get onto.  Someone had started to knit a scarf for it.

Enjoying a cuppa in the coffee shop which overlooks all of Broken Hill

We didn't expect to find this unusual but fun public art at such
a sombre location.
The main street of Broken Hill is full of character buildings, and runs directly below the now closed mine.  In this respect, it reminded us of Mount Isa where the main business district is not far from the original mine, however in the case of Broken Hill, the main street is even closer.  In the winter, volunteers take tourists on walking tours and this would have been great to do, but our timing was out so we had to settle for a wander around instead.

The main street was full of these two leg seats.

Another attraction was the 100m wide landscape painting.  We hesitated at the entrance fee but decided to have a look.  I'm glad we did, as this painting was amazing.  The 100m long wall of canvas include paintings of all the main geographic features in the area and on the ground were tons and tons of red earth, flora and stuffed animals of the desert that looked so real.  This was truly impressive, not only from an artistic point of view, but the sheer size of the artwork and then how it had been presented to the public.

Notice the bottom edge of the painting and the real soil starts.
We had read that there was an original milk bar still operating in Broken Hill so set out to discover it.  Bell’s Milk bar was last renovated in the 1960’s and still predominately sells milkshakes, sundaes and hot dogs.  It also included a small museum about milk bars and how milk bars rose to prominence in the 1950’s and were predominately worked by Greek immigrants.  We’ve been to plenty of 50’s themed cafes and diners, but this one felt authentic, right down to the worn lino, laminate tables and paintings of dancing fruit on the walls.
Bell's still has the original fa├žade from the 1960's.

We managed to fill in 5 days in Broken Hill and think we covered most of the main sights.  There was quite a bit of public art by Pro Hart.

The Workers

The Ant
Of course, a visit to a mining town wouldn't be complete without seeing headframes, mineshafts and lots of rusting mine equipment!
The 1890 original mine headframe

Discarded mainframe components.

Now that's what you call coils of rope!  Headframe in the background, the coil
was used to operate the mine lift
Workers lift
I would like to have seen a few more art galleries but that can be pretty dull for the girls, so again, it's somewhere I look forward to returning to during our grey nomad travels!
Loved this building we found!
Farewell to Broken Hill.  Trying to capture the sunset as we left town.

Tips for travellers:   There is a free camp about 10 km north of Broken Hill in a rest area.  Not overly pleasant, but OK.  There are some great parks in Broken Hill for littlies and a miniature railway operates opposite the Visitor Information Centre.  During the main tourist season (May-Sept) free volunteer walking tours are available and I’d heard they are worth doing.