Monday, 25 February 2013

25-30 February 2013 - All aboard the Nullarbor!

We crossed the Nullarbor from west to east with Norseman, another old gold mining town, being the last proper town on the WA side.  We'd  heard all the 'Nullar boring' jokes, but were strangely excited about the prospect of the crossing.  We'd been to the tip of mainland Australia at Cape York and here we were almost 2 years later crossing the Nullarbor!

The Nullarbor is technically only a 94km stretch of treeless plain or 'nullus arbor" and located just inside the SA border.    However the term 'crossing the Nullarbor' seems to refer to all points between Norseman WA and Ceduna SA and consists of a series of roadhouses spaced between 100-200km apart.  You are never really alone during this crossing, even in February there were plenty of caravans and road trains.  It would be a real highway during the main grey nomad tourist season.

First stop, Balladonia, which made worldwide headlines in 1979 when space debris from Skylab landed about 40km away.  The roadhouse includes old newspaper articles, photos of the debris and even some actual wreckage.  Apparently hundreds of reports flocked to the area at the time, together with plenty of souvenir hunters.  I do vaguely remember seeing it on the news, I would have been about 15 at the time and not overly interested in what was going on outside my own adolescent world!

Actual Skylab debris. Much was collected by NASA but later returned.

The other memorable think about Balladonia, specific to our family, is the cold pizza Larry, Kate and Elizabeth had for lunch.  The wood-fired pizza was left over from dinner the night before when we decided to eat out for our final night in WA.  Remember we stayed in a small town called Salmon Gums to catch up on washing (with the twin tub).  I'd read some reviews about the delicious pizzas made at the pub, and they were delicious.  The leftovers went into our fridge for lunch the next day. 

So here we are, parked at Balladonia, with Larry and the girls tucking into their cold pizza (there were only 3 pieces so I opted out).  Kate asked what the white stuff was on the pizza.  Larry responded it was probably parmesan cheese.  Kate then asked why it was moving!  Larry gagged and spat out what was in his mouth.  Baby maggots!  How gross.  All three pieces went into the bin before we could even think about taking photos.  Needless to say it was some weeks before we could face another pizza!

Next roadhouse was Caiguna which was closest to the Baxter Cliffs. This was also the beginning of the longest straight stretch of highway in Australia.


Nearby was the Caiguna blowhole, where you could hear wind whistling up through a series of underground caves.  It felt like standing in front of a strong air-conditioner.

Caiguna Blowhole

Cocklebiddy (love these names!) roadhouse was next along the highway.  It was initially an Aboriginal mission and now has the Eyre Bird Observatory located in an old telegraph station.  As birds aren't really our thing, we didn't visit the observatory.

Inside the Cocklebiddy roadhouse - it was a dump! 
Just outside the front door was an old washing machine!

The Madura Roadhouse, the mid point between Adelaide and Perth was once a station that bred horses for the British Army in India.  There were fantastic views over the plains out towards the Southern Ocean from the top of the pass.

Yet another roadhouse, Mundrabilla, provided fuel.  Its claim to fame is also the location of Australia's biggest meteorite weighing in at over 10 tonnes.  Unfortunately the track to it was definitely 4WD and we had the van attached so that detour wasn't practical.  Next time!

Our favourite stop was Eucla.  The roadhouse had a funky sign, playground and small museum but was only a few km from the Eucla telegraph station ruins. 

A long way to anywhere!

Kate after spraining her ankle at the Eucla playground. Good
opportunity to catch up on her maths! Fortunately this occurred after
we had been to the old telegraph station.

In the early 1900's, Eucla was once the busiest telegraph station in the country outside the capital cities.  It first opened in 1877 and helped link WA with the rest of the country and the world, sending over 11,000 Morse code telegraphs per year.  As you can see by the photos, we all had lots of fun playing around the ruins, which are slowly disappearing beneath the sand.

Ruins of Eucla telegraph station

On the actual WA/SA border is a, you guessed it, a roadhouse called 'Border Village.  170km east is the Nullarbor roadhouse, and the official beginning of the true Nullarbor Plain.  Once part of the ocean floor, the Nullarbor is the world's biggest, flattest piece of limestone, covering an area of approx. 200,000 square km and up to 300 metres thick.  And it is flat!  And treeless! 

12km off the highway is the technical location of the 'Head of Bight' and a popular whale watching point. This area also has the Bunda cliffs where the plain drops 90 metres into the pounding ocean.  There are a series of look outs and overnight camp spots and on one night we had the area entirely to ourselves.

Very dramatic coastline stretching 200km to the WA/SA border.

Bunda Cliffs on an overcast day

This taken about 2.00pm.

Next stop is Yalata, which has the famous 'look out for camels, wombats, kangaroo' signs.  The same sign first appears on the road and must be the scene of many near misses as they are not easy to stop at, however a replica has been installed at the roadhouse for safety reasons.


A Rio Tinto iron ore train being transported across the Nullarbor by roadtrain!

Next roadhouse is Nundroo and 70km down the road is Penong is known for its dozens of windmills and wheat silos.
Penong has over 100 windmills, most operational

There are a few detours into beach locations which we also decided to save for the next trip.  We finally reached Ceduna, which despite being 481km from the WA/SA border, was the location of border control and a very strict quarantine station so all our fruit & veg had to be either eaten or discarded prior to reaching Ceduna.  This was also the first major commercial centre we'd seen since leaving Esperance in WA, so we made a beeline for a supermarket to stock up, a decent coffee shop and a caravan park to catch up on washing.
The entire journey from Norseman WA to Ceduna SA was 1194km and took us a leisurely 4 days.  You could easily stretch it out just by staying longer in the free camps along the way and just staring at the gorgeous cliffs and the Southern Ocean, however we had overcast weather the whole time and it certainly wasn't 'sitting in camp chairs looking at the ocean' weather!  This crossing is certainly not the uncomfortable rigorous overland trek it used to be, but we still felt a sense of achievement in seeing this beautifully rugged part of southern Australia.

Travellers Tips:  The entire road is good quality bitumen with plenty of fuel stops.  The tourist office in Norseman will give you a small slip of paper with distances between each fuel stop and their opening hours. A few have full mechanical workshops. The price of fuel during our trip ranged between $2.05 per litre diesel to $1.62 per litre at Nundroo. There are plenty of free camp spots along the route.  Mobile reception was available for much of the journey. Quarantine is strict in both directions and fruit and veg are not able to be taken into either state.

Monday, 18 February 2013

18 February 2013 - Gnomesville WA

Now this was something quite unique.  Between Bunbury and Collie is 'Gnomesville'.  Not a town as such, just an area near a roundabout that is full of garden gnomes, not just a few, but thousands.  I love these quirky Australian .....what?  Things, locations, activities, attractions, simply weird stuff?

Just a small section of the gnomes

The story goes that in 1995 a roundabout was built at a very quiet country intersection and created public discussion as to the cost of such a roundabout in a deserted mill town. An unknown resident of the area placed a gnome at the intersection to watch as the roundabout was built. Then a second gnome was placed at the roundabout and so on.

An example of a family of gnomes

New gnomes are added by tourists and visiting clubs and groups and a wedding has even been held at Gnomesville. There are well over 5000 gnomes now happily residing at Gnomesville.    I guess if we had known what to expect, we would probably have purchased a gnome and added it to the collection as well.

Many gnomes were quite funny
You basically just park your car and follow the various trails which branch off in all directions into the bush, around a bridge and down into a stream.  We spent nearly an hour there.  Many of the gnomes have been hand painted and have funny captions added.  There is no charge to wander around, it is completely unattended which is amazing in itself.  Apparently it’s bad luck to damage or steal a gnome, so that may explain how it survives largely intact save for storm damage and animals in the area.

Some were a bit rude....

I can't find the right word to describe Gnomesville.  I'll let the photos do the talking!  Needless to say, the girls loved it. 
Kate's favourite gnomes

Elizabeth's favourite gnomes - Roam Gnome More.

Travellers Tip:  Purchase and decorate your own gnome (Big W, Kmart, Reject shop, Bunnings).  A great activity for kids to add their own creation to this bizarre but special collection! Gnomesville is an easy detour from Bunbury.


Monday, 11 February 2013

11-18 February 2012 - Boyup Brook Country Music Festival

Having volunteered at the Canberra Country Music Festival in 2011 we thought we'd apply to volunteer at WA's biggest CMF, held each year in a small town a few hours from Perth called Boyup Brook.  Most music festivals around the country go for 2 or more days and as a family can be pretty costly, so volunteering a) saves us money,  b) gets us up close and personal to the artists and c) we just enjoy festival volunteering!  This years WA festival also headlined our favourite country artist, Kasey Chambers, and as we were going to be in that part of Australia, it seemed only logical that that's where we should head!

We arrived in Boyup Brook on a Friday afternoon, expecting there to be lots of visitors around and things happening, instead found a quiet, sleepy little town with very few shops and even fewer people about.  We actually wondered if we were in the right town!
We made ourselves known at the Music Festival shop who sent us to the Community Resource Centre to finalise camping.  The young girl there, not long in the job, knew very little about the camping arrangements, but she finally found our booking so we made our way to the football field where we would be staying for the next week.  We were the second caravan to arrive at the football field but within a day a few dozen vans arrived.

Football field 24 hours later!
Football field before vans stated arriving.

Our volunteering duties were about 10km away at the Harvey Dickson Country Music Centre where we had to clean approximately 300 plastic chairs (oddly enough, this was the same task we had at the Canberra CMF!)  Harvey Dickson's country music centre needs to be seen to be believed.  We were working in a large tin shed that houses all sorts of old items/memorabilia/antiques hanging from the ceiling – vacuum cleaners, wagons, canoes, T chests, old records, mix masters, you name it, it was probably there!  Many items were very heavy (the old 1940's vacuum cleaners were hanging directly above our work area) and would injure if not kill you if something fell.  Harvey also has a passion for Elvis memorabilia. I did take a few photos of the ceiling, but as it was dim lighting, they don't do it justice.  The whole place was eccentric and eclectic in the extreme!

The floor of the shed was dirt, so cleaning the chairs was messy.  What a job!  I have no idea what the temperature was in there, but we all sweated buckets and drank a massive amount of water.  Harvey and his wife Rose were very hospitable and we enjoyed a cold drink with them afterwards.  They couldn't quite understand what this family from Queensland was doing there!

We returned for more cleaning the following afternoon and then again to put the chairs out for the Friday morning country show and on the actual day to serve breakfast.  The good thing about this work task is that it was completed before the main festival got underway, so we would get to see the entire show.  While helping to serve breakfast on our final morning at Harvey Dickson, we also got to see the country music show held at Harvey’s.  The show was excellent,  the big shed very atmospheric and the perfect country music venue and we saw a great band, Bob Corbett and the Roo Grass Band.  They had the place pumping, and all at 9am!
Kate cooling off during our volunteering

Yet another pile of chairs to be wiped down. There were hundreds!

The Boyup Brook Music Park, set in a bushland park with plenty of mature gum trees, was the location of the main festival.  We basically set ourselves up each day and sat back and enjoyed the music and the environment.  It was a great setting.  We had two very hot days and froze on the third day and had some rain.  Saturday morning also had markets and a street parade in the main street of Boyup Brook and we saw a fantastic Perth band Spoonful of Sugar (now knows as China Doll due to an issue with Mary Poppins!) perform a second time.  

Kasey Chambers was the main act together with Adam Harvey who was very good and cracked a lot of irreverent jokes at members of the Australian country music industry.  We saw Carter & Carter perform again after first being introduced to their music at the Canberra CMF in 2011.

With Kasey Chambers

With Adam Harvey

With Amber Lawrence

With Merelyn and David Carter

Elizabeth at work in the merchandise tent
We were very impressed with Elizabeth who volunteered to work another two full days in the merchandising tent during the main part of the festival.  She has a great work ethic. Her supervisor later told us she was initially annoyed she was allocated an 11 year old to work in merchandising, but later acknowledged Elizabeth was one of the best workers she had in the team.  What great feedback.

Like most country music festivals, a number of different workshops were organised and we all went to a boot scootin' (aka line dancing) workshop on the Saturday morning.   Larry and I lasted one routine, our brains simply couldn’t get the necessary messages to the feet fast enough.  It's so much harder than it looks.  Kate however seemed to have a natural aptitude for it and later at the music park got up on the dance floor and danced by herself in front of a couple of hundred people.
Kate happy to amuse herself in front of a few hundred people!

At the end of the festival there was a volunteer b-b-q, where Carter & Carter, Bill Chambers and some members of the Bob Corbett blue grass band we enjoyed stayed and mingled with the volunteers.  The girls had a good chat with Bill Chambers who told them that Kasey and her brother also did distance ed in primary school.  Just to repeat, an 9 and 11 year old chatting with Bill Chambers about Kasey.  I bet that wouldn't happen at Tamworth or the Gympie Music Muster!

So, all in all, it was a great festival and more so for such a small town with an even smaller group of dedicated organisers.  If we were WA residents, we'd be annual visitors/volunteers! 

Larry chilling out during the festival.

We were able to stay an extra day at our camping spot to catch up on school work before driving to Gnowangerup for a lovely overnight visit with Robyn and Bart Cummings who have relocated from Queensland to WA.  Robyn was the Principal at the school Elizabeth and Kate attended in Warwick.

There's no escaping school work, even when visiting friends!

Robyn and Bart Cummings, Gnowangerup (what a name!), WA.
We are now at the western side of the State again, camped at Salmon Gums, again to catch up on schoolwork and about 15 loads of washing (no kidding) before leaving WA and heading east along the Nullarbor.  In fact the reason we decided to stop in Salmon Gums (population 50) was because we had read reviews that the community campground included a free washing machine.  We have a washing machine in the van, but it's only a 3kg front loader so can't take blankets, curtains, doonas etc.  Well, there was a free washing machine, but it was a twin tub!  The last time I used a twin tub was in my first flat in 1985!  They are so high maintenance, you have to go backwards and forwards constantly checking it, moving washing one piece at a time from the washer to the spin.  More watching it. It was so tedious.  I'll never complain about washing ever again.
So this is my last WA post.  We have loved EVERY day in Western Australia and feel we have done it justice in our 7 months here, but it’s now time to start heading towards the east coast.  The girls are very, very excited as 'east' is also in the direction of family!

Traveller's Tips:  Volunteering at Boyup Brook CMF - if you love country music and want to be part of a great event, volunteering is the way to go!  Just check their website for more info  There is plenty of camping available during the festival and many of the schools and sporting associations open their grounds to accept campers.  Expect to pay around the $30 mark per night with a family.  Harvey Dickson also has camping and the shed is definitely worth a visit. I don't think there is anything like it in Australia!