Alice Springs: May 1992 to July 1995
Self ..Alice Springs ..Fern Falls ..East Macdonnell Ranges ..Rainbow Valley ..Canning Stock Route ..Desert Apparitions ..Davenport Ranges National Park ..Ruby Gap and Glen Annie Gorge ..Gregory National Park 1995 .. On the Wallaby 1995 to 1999 .. Our house.
We set our caravan up in the G’day Mate Caravan Park with ensuite facilities. Judith brought her company car, a Toyota Lexcen, a GM Product collaboration also sold as Holden Commodore in Australia.
I needed to find employment and started collecting aluminium cans discarded at select drinking places and roads leading in to Alice Springs.
I won a prize from Sims Metal for collecting the most aluminium cans for and individual in a month. I did clean up the Todd River and roads leading in to town and sold the cans to Sims Metal Recyclers. I also did various short-term jobs for a variety of people and this kept me busy. We still did Markets in the Todd Mall that were run by Jenny and Sonny Mason.
I came up with an idea to draw up Mud-maps Booklet of Alice Springs and surrounding country and sold them for $6 at the Markets.
We had joined the Field naturalists Club and had gone out on many interesting walks in and around Alice Springs as well as doing some caving. One evening at Palm Valley we joined with the Parks Rangers and listened to the noises that the different Bats make.
One Saturday Bill came around to our place and the three of us went a short way south of the town near to the railway line where there were some underground caves. We found the shaft and crawled down. Bill, being as skinny as a rake, slipped down along the cavern apertures like a cockroach with Judith following and me in the rear. At one point, Judith got her hips stuck and was struggling and Bill and I simultaneously grabbed her hands and feet and pulled. She yelled at us and we let go stating that she would wriggle her own way out.
In the mean time we managed to do some trips.
Fern Falls 1992
Not many would believe you. But sure enough, there it was, hidden away behind a facade river gums, mulga scrub and acacia bushes.
Fern Falls Forest
Although not a raging waterfall by tropical standards, a shower of water cascades gently down a series of small waterfalls. Located in the Chewings Range in the foothills of Mount Giles, which is the third highest peak in Central Australia and 1389 meters above sea level, this waterfall is not known to the wider public and I have given it the name of Fern Falls.
We had only been living in Alice Springs for a short while and most of the surrounding attractions were unknown to us. So at every available chance we were out exploring the magnificent gorges in the West MacDonnell Ranges.
We had heard of these falls from members of the bush walking club and drove along a very rough track west through the Alice Valley to reach our destination. There is a track marked on the Hermannsburg 1:250,000 Topographical map and it goes through 8 Mile Gap after leaving the bitumen off Namatjira Drive. The 47km from the turnoff to Giles Spring Yard is a slow drive and it can take up to 5 hours to complete. Then a further 2km on over some horrendous rocks and a deep gully you come to an open space and a place to camp.
If you value the paintwork on your vehicle then it is best to use a hire car or the company vehicle as the body is bound to be badly scratched. The last 23 km of this track is very rough and low range first and second gear is the order of the day. Mulga scrub, gidgee, corkwood and ironwood trees as well as river gums and acacia bush lie close to the track as it winds its way over one in one climbs, descents, washed out gullies and creek beds which have to be negotiated at acute angles and with extreme care. Jagged schist rocks protrude above the ground surface to rip the side out of your tyres while broken timber lies scattered along the track to trap the unwary.
Fern Falls is an amazing contrast to the surrounding harsh and desolate environment. Spring waters which accumulate in a fault line in the quartzite rocks high up in the Chewings Range feed the falls and a number of smaller waterfalls to the east and keep them flowing year round. As the waters reach the lowest pool it disappears underground to feed some very large river gums and bloodwoods.
These springs now lie within the boundaries of the newly gazetted West MacDonnell National park which stretches for 220km from Alice Springs in the east to Mount Zeil in the west. This new park will be world class encompassing all aspects of visitor requirements. Its diverse fauna and flora, unique to Central Australia, may be viewed by those willing to walk the full length of the ranges along the Larapinta Trail. This trail has been hacked out of the rocky terrain along the top of the ridges. You will be able to walk the trail for the full length of the park or do it in stages. Significant tourist attractions such as Simpsons Gap, Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek Big Hole, Serpentine Gorge, Serpentine Chalet Bush Camp, the Ochre Pits, Glen Helen Gorge, Ormiston Gorge and Ormiston Pound, Redbank Gorge, Mt Giles, Mt Sonder, Mt Razorback and Mt Zeil, are all included inside the park.
Ernest Giles, regarded as the last of the nineteenth century Australian explorers, travelled through this country in 1872, marvelling at its diversity and the stark beauty of the ranges now known as the West MacDonnell Ranges. From the top of Mt Giles a panoramic vista spreads before you. Gosse Bluff, a horseshoe-like comet crater, formed 130 million years ago, when a comet collided with the earth, can be seen from Mt Giles. Mt Sonder and Mt Zeil stand out majestically in the distance.
These breathtaking views along with exposed geological landforms which heighten your sense of timelessness, are there to be witnessed by the fit and the healthy. Whichever way you look at it a climb to the top will be at least four hours of hard slog, crunching over loose rocks and pushing your legs between extreme prickly Spinifex clumps. Proper clothing is a must for this climb.
At Fern Falls, along the tumbling waters of the stream, thousands of ferns grow in profusion. Some so dense that you can hardly push your way through the thickets. Cycads and mosses, as well as many other inland plant species are prevalent in these small gorges. We noticed bottlebrush, ficus and also caustic vine. One of the fern species common name is Tender Brake. According to a botanist who works at the Arid Lands Research Centre in Alice Springs, much of the plant life in the Chewings Range is unique to this area and the world and is of important scientific significance. The ferns are of remnant native vegetation that has survived from the days of the dinosaurs in the shelters of the rock crevasses.
Post script: Latest information in 2003 is that there is a fence around the spring as some very rare new plants have been discovered there.. The NT Government has bought the Station over which the access track runs. This land borders on to the West MacDonnell National Park and may be destined for inclusion into the park.
Published in 4×4 Australia Magazine March 1993
Driving into the early morning sunrise along the scarp of the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges you can smell the pure aroma of the Gidgee bush. This rugged part of Central Australia contrasts with the red soils of the ever advancing desert from the east. Scattered thickets of Witchetty shrubs, fuchsia, corkwood, ironwood and bloodwood trees as well as the magnificent Red river gums gives one the feeling of peace and serenity.
The Eastern MacDonnells are not as widely advertised as the Western MacDonnells which feature Standley Chasm, Ormiston Gorge and Simpsons Gap and therefore there is slightly less traffic into this area.
On leaving Alice Springs along the Ross Highway, a bitumen strip road that services this area for 72km, the first places of interest are Emily Gap, known as Caterpillar Dreaming to the eastern Arrernte aboriginal clan, and Jessie Gap Nature Reserves. These are good picnic spots and depending on the time of year you may even jump in for a swim at Emily Gap. The next place of interest is Corroboree Rock which lies just a few hundred metres off the highway. The rock has had significance to aboriginal culture in the past but is no longer regarded as important. A walking path around the rock with information signs gives you and idea of what life would have been like in the distant past.
At the 67km mark you turn off towards Trephina Gorge, John Hayes Rock Hole and the Biggest Ghost Gum. John Hayes Rock Hole is a popular picnic and camping spot with no facilities. There is a scenic ridge walk which overlooks a series of rock holes which are usually full of water. I found a ripe wild fig tree at the end of the gorge and had as good feed. Trephina Gorge is very scenic and offers good camping with pit toilets and drinking water, plus ridge and river walks. Black-footed rock wallabies live in the crevasses of the gorge and go about their daily business quite oblivious, or so it seems, to the human intrusions. Ghost gums and Snappy gums line Trephina creek and in the early morning you may sense the freshness of your surroundings.
A short distance on your return journey to the highway a sign directs you to the biggest Ghost gum in central Australia. This gum tree, growing on mud and sand deposits of Trephina Creek, is truly magnificent. Nearby, bitter wild melons lie scattered, waiting to be devoured by birds and insects.
Back on the bitumen it is 14km to Ross Rover Homestead. Formerly Loves Creek Station, this pastoral property was developed by Centralian horse breeder Lewis Bloomfield. Today Ross River Homestead caters for tourists with camping facilities, motel accommodation, restaurant, bar, trail rides, camel safaris and an outback station experience.
Following the Ross River to the south along a sandy track, you will see the uniqueness of the various geological formations of the MacDonnell Ranges and the pressure which the rocks were subjected to some 350 million years ago. The track crosses the river numerous times and is designated 4×4 only. N’dhala Gorge lies 11km from Ross River Homestead and is an important site for the Eastern Arrernte aboriginal clan. It is also a very important archaeological site for the world as it contains close to 6000 petroglyphs (rock carvings). These carvings are estimated to be between 2000 and 10,000 years old. Some of the carvings are of significance to the custodians and they relate back to a story about the Caterpillar Dreaming. This nature reserve is also a refuge for several rare plants including the Hayes Wattle and the Peach-leafed poison bush. There is a small camping are and bush toilets are provided. A walking track leads into the gorge and it is a comfortable 1 hour return walk.
The drive further south eventually takes you past Shannon Bore and on to the Ringwood Station road. Turn right and it is 43km of reasonable gravel road and 30km of bitumen road due west into Alice Springs.
1994 Solo trek from Bililuna to Wiluna in Western Australia. Some photos updated 2011
We did a Solo north/south crossing of the Canning Stock Route commencing at Alice Springs and along the Tanami Road via Billiluna Station in the north and visiting Wells 51 to 1 and on to the goldmining town of Wiluna in the south. Then we drove along the whole of the northern section of the Gunbarrel Highway, across the Gibson Desert to Giles Meteorological Station and then back to the Northern Territory via the Olgas (Katatutja) and Ayers Rock (Uluru). On the CSR, at Well 42, we did a special 200km round trip to the east and Helena Spring. The total distance driven over the 25 day journey was 4700km.
It took twelve months of planning and research and six months of preparation to take part in this adventure. We spent close to $2000 upgrading parts of our vehicle and spares, $400 on food and Super Petrol cost just a whisker under $1000.
In 1906, Alfred Canning, a surveyor with the Western Australian Government, was commissioned to survey and provide water for cattle and humans along a stock route from Halls Creek in the Kimberley Region to Wiluna in the south. This stock route would be a short cut to the beef markets in Perth, the capital city of Western Australia. The route would also bypass the traditional droving route through the West Kimberley region which was infected with cattle ticks. In all 51 wells and watering points were established. Supplies were brought in by camel and with the help of resident aboriginal clans, Alfred Canning and his men survived the four years it took to accomplish the task. The stock route was used for the last time in 1958 when road transportation was taking over from cattle droving.
The first motor vehicle intrusion along the route was claimed by Michael Terry in 1925 when he visited Wells 51 to 48. During the 1960’s more survey teams, including that of Harry Johnston, established a motorised track along the route and Len Beadell crossed it with his Talawana Track. By 1977 the first commercial tour completed the CSR and today a journey along the Canning Stock Route provides a real challenge for four wheel drive recreational users. It is also a chance to visit four of Australia’s desert regions namely the Tanami Desert, the Great Sandy Desert, the Little Sandy Desert and the Gibson Desert. Along the CSR we crossed more than 950 sand dunes and a further 50 along the Gunbarrel Highway. Seven dunes gave us trouble but we crossed them eventually without assistance ( five rushes at one dune alone!!).
Saturday 9th July
We are off on a leisurely start along the first 150km of bitumen road north-west of Alice Springs. We are driving our 15yo petrol powered Toyota Landcruiser named Gertie. Then on and across the Tanami Desert with 600km of pot holes and corrugations to Rabbit Flat Roadhouse where petrol is $1.20 per litre and oil $25 for 4 litres. Because we do not complain about the fuel prices we are invited by Bruce Farrands, the owner of Rabbit Flat, to camp in his specially cleared area of Mulga scrub and Spinifex. We accept. A few light drinks and a good camp fire feed put us to sleep quite early. Today we have seen Wedge tail Eagles, Finches and Spinifex Pigeons. Gertie blows a main fuse and I wonder why but cannot isolate the problem. She also drinks a litre of oil.
Sunday 10th July
We are up and about early and soon on our way over a corrugated road to the border of the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Judith left her sneakers on the bull bar overnight and only realises this 50km down the road. There is still one sneaker sitting on the bar. But what can you do with one shoe? We have morning smoko at the border and talk to a fellow traveller also driving a Landcruiser FJ55. The word is that Bililuna Community is out of fuel and we need to top up the tank before setting off on the CSR. Along the way to Bililuna we come across a bloke and his companion and a puppy. Flat tyre, no jack, no spare, no wheel brace. They are next to a water hole. He didn’t want any help and we move on. We arrive at Bililuna and yes, there is no fuel but it is on its way. The manager of the store suggests we can camp on Sturt Creek and wait for the fuel tanker to arrive. We do that and set up camp in the shade next to a billabong. Grevillea and wattle in flower. Did some washing, had a cold dip in the billabong and then a warm shower. Long billed and short billed Corellas fly by in the late afternoon. Crows and finches in abundance. Pleasant day and mild evening. I talk to Kevin in Darwin on the HF Radio on 6950 but he sounded very far away (which he was!!). Too much static interference on the radio waves. Lost part of the winch today. The brake dust cover rattled loose and fell off. Sundown at 5.30pm. We had to retard our time by one and a half hours to WST (Western Standard Time). Listen to fire crackling and frogs croaking in the billabong. Very peaceful. Judith has sinus from all the dust. Not very happy.
Monday 11th July
Last night we had a snoring competition. Jude feeling better. Lots of birds on the billabong including Budgies, Corellas, Spoonbills, Doves, Finches, Teal Ducks and White-eye Ducks. We drive into Billiluna. Still no petrol. Due in today. We drive back to Sturt Creek and camp for the day. Lazed in the sun. Went for another cold dunk in the billabong. Ran generator, played classical music. Got the 500mm camera lens out and took some photos of the Inland Dotterel and the White-necked Heron. Repaired my boot with Araldite. Reset the tie-rod clamp on Gertie. Billiluna Community Manager came down in the afternoon to tell us that the fuel has arrived. He stays for a cuppa. Flies annoying today. A few mozzies around. After dark we counted satellites as we sat at the camp fire. No other campers. Very quiet. In bed by 8.30.
Tuesday 12th July
Mob of wild cattle passed close by our camp last night. Lovely morning. Weetbix and hot milk, bacon on toast and a cuppa. Drove in to Billiluna and refuelled. Bought a pair of sneakers for Jude and some other last minute goodies at the store. Could not find the way on to the CSR and had to ask directions. Problem was that the Community had built an airstrip across the track. Track corrugated whilst following through Desert Oak forest and some Spinifex country. Meet up with a tour group of ten vehicles including a large MAN 4×4 truck. Tour leader gives us directions around the flooded Lake Gregory. Then as they pull away he makes an uncomplimentary comment about me over the radio channel. I tell him that I had heard what he had said. Silence. The instructions given prove to be wrong as we follow them right into the lake. We backtrack and take the right route, annoyed at having wasted fuel. We visit Well 51, the last well on the CSR. It is under water with just the identification tag protruding above the water. We are starting to run along the dunes now and the track becomes soft in places. We push on to Well 50 which has caved in. Drive across country over some very rough Spinifex for 4.6km searching for Gulvida Soak and a small gorge mentioned in Michael Terry’s book, A Land of Promise. Eventually we come to the gorge and walk up the dry creek for 1km. There we find petroglyphs and some more modern names etched out on the sandstone walls. The cave, as described in the book, has been silted in and would need some digging to open. There are also lots of spider webs across the opening with a large yellow resident spider looking at us hungrily. We decide to give it a miss. Startled a Barn Owl on the way back. Funny thing, Michael Terry writes about a Barn Owl in his book of 1932. Maybe the same one or a descendant?
Its getting late and we make for some Tea trees on a claypan near Well 50. Hoisted our NT flag on the whip aerial with great pomp and ceremony. This is to warn other travellers of a vehicle approaching on the other side of a dune. Today we saw Brolgas, Pelicans, Darters and lots of Crows along the fringes of Lake Gregory. Two Major Mitchell Cockatoos are resident in the Tea trees. Played scrabble in the dark. I won despite Jude getting SQUID on a triple word score! Milo for nightcap and in bed by 10pm.
Wednesday 13th July
Sunrise 6.13 over dune
Cool night. Slept well. Photographed the Major Mitchell’s who are unperturbed by our presence. Gertie refuses to start. Puzzling. Judith suggests I fit the new spark plugs. I do so and Gertie fires up straight away. WELL…….Jude sits there with a smile on her face. We drive on to Well 49 to replenish our water. The bucket will not tilt over when lowered to the water. Water is about 10metres down. I tie a shifting spanner to the handle of the bucket using some wire and that does the trick. The bucket tilts over and sinks below the water. The windlass is still in working condition and we use that. We fill our containers and the water trough and do some washing. The finches arrive in their thousands chatting merrily to us within arms length. Some travellers come by and we swap notes. Then two Brits Rentals with German tourists on board stop for a chat. We refill their small water containers. They have very little food, no safety equipment and did not know about the deviation around Lake Gregory. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread!! We push on to Well 48. Meet travellers in a F100 with exhaust fallen off and some panel damage. Just limping along. Decide to take a photo of the South Esk Tableland from Mt Earnest (also known as UFO Hill). Drive off road to the base of the hill. On leaving the site Gertie sinks to her belly in the soft sand. Luckily there are lots broken and flat shale rocks around. And after an hour of digging and jacking and letting air out of the tyres and cursing, we laid out a path of rocks to drive over. We managed to extricate ourselves from our situation and pushed on. This is the start of the Great Sandy Desert. These deserts are not like other deserts which have pure sand only. These deserts are covered with prickly Spinifex grass as well as other grasses, shrubs, bushes and trees. This area was once part of a giant river system which has dried up and the water now runs under ground less than 5 metres below the surface in places. Well 48 is caved in and we make for Breadon Pool. We take the wrong track however and find a secluded camp site in a sheltered valley. There is good wood and we have a scrumptious meal of Apricot chicken with sweet potato cooked in the oven on the coals. Played Yahtzee and in bed by 8.30pm. A calm quiet night. At midnight a wind sprang up and scattered embers from the fire and started a grass fire. It took three attempts to get the fire under control. We were camped in an area surrounded by lots of dry grass.
Thursday 14th July
Drove out of valley around to the south side and found the right track to Breadon Pool. Spoke to a couple camped on open plain. They were deserters from the group we had seen when leaving Billiluna. They told us that they were unable to find Godfrey Tank. We pushed on to Breadon Pool and then found a track on to the plateau and an easy 20 minute walk to Godfrey Tank which was visited by the explorer, David Carnegie in 1896. His initials and that of Canning, Trotman and others are carved out on the sandstone walls. Godfrey Tank is a natural water fall and pool set in the Breadon Hills. Above the falls there are some very interesting rock formations. We returned to Breadon Pool in time for smoko and had a cuppa. We were fascinated by the beautiful white butterflies with red spots on their wings and the multi-coloured wasps that inhabited the pool. Close by in the small escarpment there was an aboriginal hunting cave. The early inhabitants closed off part of a hollow in the rock face so as to hide from animals coming to drink from the water hole. We left this beautiful oasis and made for Well 46 as on inspection Well 47 was caved in. We started to cross the first dunes. Well 46 has been reconstructed with a new windlass, timbers, bucket and cover. The bucket would hold about 60 litres of water. We washed our clothes, had a shower and burnt the Spinifex seeds out of the radiator. A few flies annoy us but they go away at sunset. Gertie is behaving well. Been driving in 2wd in the corridors and high range 2nd gear over the dunes. Quiet night with crickets, frogs and night birds calling. Get in to a very warm bed. Realise that we have put our swag over another camper’s fireplace. We moved the swag just in case. Opened the second cask of Port.
Friday 15th July
Beautiful fresh morning. No wind, no flies….yet! Took photos of Well 46 at piccaninny daylight. Buried other camper’s rubbish. Had breakfast and the drove on to Well 45. Medium dunes. Visited Gravity Lakes and explore the caves in a small rise to the east of the lakes. Took photos of very ancient rock paintings. Gave Wells 44 and 43 a miss as they were reported to be caved in and the track overgrown. Got our first look at Samphire plants on Guli Lake and Well 42. Getting into big dune country now. Still manage to drive in 2wd in the dune corridors and 4×4 High Range over the crests. Mid afternoon and the sand is hot and very loose. In some instances we only crawl our way over the top of the dunes. Gertie is fitted with all purpose bush tyres which are probably not all that suited for sand driving. Drop tyre pressures down to 20/20. Temp outside is 30C. Temp inside the car is 40C! The highest dune on the CSR at 17 metres gives us trouble. We cross over on the fourth attempt. Have oil pumping past the rings and Gertie is blowing black smoke and running rough. We take some photos of Honey Grevilleas in flower. Then we turn on to Helena Spring side track. It is quite faint to find but according to recent history was last used in 1992. In October 1896 explorer David Carnegie was shown this spring by an aboriginal guide. Here he and his expedition partners spent a leisurely 5 days recuperating and washing their clothes. Carnegie named this spring after his sister Helena. He called it the ‘Diamond of the Desert’. Such a vivid description prompted me to seek out this place as I might pass this way but once. We had made provision for excursion by carrying an extra two jerry cans of fuel sufficient for the 180km plus return trip. We did a quick inspection when turning off on the track and found the left hand front shock absorber leaking gas. We had fitted new shocks in Alice Springs and they were 12 days old from date of purchase. I am not very happy. We struggle down a very washed out and overgrown track. No one had been here for a while. A two metre high tree is growing in the middle of the track. We are both tired and Jude’s face is clouded. Never mind, we can turn back. No, go on, says Jude. We camped on the track. Deflated the tyres, topped up the oil, brake and clutch fluids. Tightened all the nuts on the suspension. Gertie running OK. We have supper and a glass or two of Port. Asleep by 8.30pm.
Saturday 16th July
Sunrise 6.20am behind dune
Another beautiful morning. Slight easterly breeze. We bounce along the rough track at 28kmh. We have to cross about four dunes. The rest of the track runs along the corridors. The Spinifex grass grows thick in this part of the country and it is in seed. Looks like fields of wheat interspersed with desert oaks, bloodwoods, grevillea, holly, salt bush, samphire and many shrubs and small bushes. One of the most beautiful scenes so far. We drive into Warrabuda Native Well and have a look at it. I dig by hand and get some seepage.
Then we push on to Helena Spring and arrive after about four hours of driving. The Speedo cable gets hooked up and kinked on some foliage and is not working properly. There is a sign at the spring to dig it out and to open it up and then to close it up again when we leave so as to avoid it being polluted by animals falling into it. This sign also states that the Carnegie Historic Expedition visited this place in 1982. The present track to Helena Spring was made by Peter Vernon of Melbourne who dragged some sort of blade behind his vehicle to make the track more permanent. He did this in 1990, four years earlier. We dig the soil away from a depression in the ground and discover the spring after about half an hour. The soil and water is black and muddy and smelly. Not quite the oasis that we were expecting, conjuring up thoughts of shady palm trees and crystal clear waters. No, just a couple of claypans surrounded by tea trees and covered with scaly salt crust. A limestone reef covers the whole water course and in this reef a hole has been dug out, probably by early aborigines. It is about 1 metre deep and about 1 metre wide. Dig the hole out and the water seeps at about 100 litres per hour. We did not test the water for drinking but it was salty. Used it for washing and a bath, though. As soon as the hole is opened two crested pigeons walk out of the Spinifex to inspect. Then they walk back over the dune and within a few minutes about fifty fly in. Then the Galahs arrive and then the Budgies and the Finches. Amazing stuff. Generator won’t run properly. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and photographing the birds. Played with the speedo cable, cleared grass away from the radiator guard and worked on front body mounts, which had become loose.
Sunday 17th July
Today was supposed to be a rest day but Judith is getting edgy and nervous about being so far away in this remote wilderness area. Democracy reigns and we move on. Find an old back-pack on the track and wonder where it came from. Spoke to Peter Vernon some months later by phone and he said that it fell off his truck. A bumpy three hour drive out. We are able to make better time following our own tracks. We were going to miss all the dunes and take another seismic track to the south but in the end decided that that would be too risky. With the sun from behind the scenery is even more beautiful. Two camels get on the track in front of us and keep us amused for fifteen minutes. We have to cross the biggest dune again and after 5 attempts we struggle across the top after letting the tyres down to 16psi. The rest of the dunes are OK and we arrive at Well 41 in time for lunch. This well has been rebuilt and a stainless steel bucket has been provided. I have trouble with this bucket and go back to our own one. I am not happy with the camp site. There are prickles everywhere and we are sharing the camp with 7 other vehicles but to save an argument I relent. I hate cluster camping but we talk with a few fellow travellers and share notes. Worked on Gertie’s carburettor. Kangaroo for supper. In bed by 9pm.
Monday 18th July
Just coffee for brekkie and we are on the track again. Gertie starting to bounce badly on the south side of the dunes. Here the sand is very scalloped out and we need first gear to get down some of the dunes!! On inspection I find that the right front shock absorber is now leaking gas as well. We do not need this! From here on the trek becomes a bit of a nightmare. The front of the vehicle bounces up and down severely at the slightest bump and consequently the rear of the vehicle reciprocates by bouncing as well and all the gear in the back of the vehicle lifts up and crashes down. Our gallant little Engel fridge has endured many rough bush trips over the past 8 years but has succumbed to this rough handling and the little plastic body has been smashed to pieces. But the motor still keeps purring away making everything inside icy cold. We push on to Well 40 and then find that we have missed the turn off when we drove out on Lake Tobin. Here we pick up a red flag lost off some vehicle. We back-track to the well and then have a look at Michael Tobin’s grave and the unnamed grave of his attacker. Tobin was with Canning’s party and was fatally speared by an aborigine whom he killed with a gun shot. From Well 41 to Well 39 there are lots of dunes. At Well 39 we meet a solitary dingo who relishes on our melon peels. The well has a snake ladder which is a branch of a tree put into the well so that if a snake falls in it can crawl out via the tree. To Water (Well) 38 which is also known as Wardabunni Rock Hole Lots of multi headed sand dunes. We hit a rock ledge in a dune and lift both front wheels off the ground. One dune takes five attempts to get over after dropping tyre pressure down to 16/16. Pumping oil on to the pistons again and blowing black smoke. Gertie will not idle and fuel gauge needle is lying on EMPTY!!! Worried about fuel to Well 23. Pump up tyres to 25/25 at Wardabunni as track is reputed to be rocky to Well 37. Judith takes pics of finches. Track is rocky for about 2km and then sandy again. Let down tyres to 20/20. We meet a solitary vehicle in a dune corridor. Stop for a chat. He says he has two mates following. We wait and wait and wait…. and finally give up and drive over the dune. Halfway up the other side there is a Nissan with a jacknifed trailer. We have a chat and question the sensibility of towing trailers on this route. The reply is impolite and contains many words starting with F. We watch these clowns get over the dunes. First Nissan takes 3 attempts. Second Nissan takes 5. Dune pretty messed up by now. We drive off after the entertainment. We get to Haunted Well 37. More graves to inspect. Those of drovers, McLernon, Thompson, Shoesmith and a Chinaman, all killed by aborigines between 1911 and 1922. Drive through pretty country with lots of Desert Oaks. We find a good camp site amongst the Tea Trees at Wanda Well 37. Rest day tomorrow to lick our wounds and recover from bouncing. Food boxes have been thrown around today and the margarine containers have disintegrated. Oh what a mess!! Rear door panel is broken. In bed by 7.30pm.
Tuesday 19th July
North east breeze comes up. Heard ‘Glunk Glunk’ of emus passing by last night. Judith thinks that this is the prettiest camp site and we have it all to ourselves. Clean spark plugs. Gertie is idling better again. Both front shocks demised. We wash all our clothes and ourselves. Refuel last of Super in jerry can and one of Unleaded Generator fuel. Picked seeds out of air filter. Travellers with new Range Rover and new Toyota stop for a chat. Judith spends time photographing birds. Flies bothersome. Went for a walk in the dunes. It started cooling down by 4pm. Played Yahtzee. In bed by 7.30pm.
Wednesday 20th July
Temp 0 C no frost
Work on carby. Stop at Bungabinni Native Well which has been restored. Water salty. Write in visitor’s book. Gertie won’t idle properly. Get the toolbox out and fiddle with carby again. Well 35 has bore casing and we cannot reach the water. Give Well 34 a miss. We are now on the open plains and the track is badly corrugated. Have to sit on 70/80kmh to stay on top of the corrugations. Everything is shaking loose. Good water at Well 33 where a windmill pumps water relentlessly into a soak. We fill our containers. We miss Wells 32 and 31 to economise on fuel usage. Track to Well 30 is very rough. Drive from Well 30, which is caved in, to Mujingerra Caves. Rope ladder into the cave looks a bit suspect as a piece of rock wall comes away in my hand. Tales of adders, taipans and pythons in the cave. Look but see nothing. Decide against going into the cave. We push on to Thring Rock. Speedo cable not working. Carby not functioning properly. At Thring Rock I take the whole Carby to pieces, clean every bit and reassemble it. It’s after midnight when I get the whole shebang back together again. By this time I hate Aisin Carburettors. Put last jerry of generator fuel into the tank. Fuel needle still lying on EMPTY. We use our HF Radio and call up the RFDS VKJ base at Meekatharra, 800km away. Trying to ascertain information about a possible fuel drop. Will keep on track to our fuel drop. Arrange to call them again tomorrow. Judith takes photos of sunset, Thring Rock and the rising Moon. We find some Gastropod and Nautilus fossils from the Ordovician Period some 500 millions years ago. In bed by 8.15pm Very worried sleep.
Corrugations near Well 33
Thursday 21st July
Awake at 5am. Count satellites. Work on carby again. Gertie is running rough. 150km to go to Well 23 and our drum of fuel. Take the wrong track out from Thring Rock and detour an extra 10km. Did not need this! Let tyres down again to 20/20 just before Well 29. Plains country with dunes and rocky outcrops. Track has a lot of switchbacks. Wondering how far I will have to walk to get to our fuel. Track very bumpy. More dunes. Two dunes we have to rush to get over. Wells 28 and 27 caved in. Good water at Well 26. Snake and Goanna living in well. Put bucket down to rescue snake but it swims away. Water level at 10 metres. We fill our containers. The Police from Marble Bar in the North-west of W.A. patrol this area of the Canning every three months and this is written in the visitor’s book at Well 26. Wells 25 and 24 are virtually non existent. Near Well 24 we meet the ‘Circus’. Two single Toyotas cross a dune. They then stop on the dune and hook up in tandem to a third Toyota with a boat on the roof rack. This last vehicle is towing trailer 4 metres in length and at least 2.5 metres in height. In it they have two welders, two generators, large freezer, lounge, TV, food etc and a microwave. They are on their way to Cairns and thought that it would be a good idea to take a short-cut along the CSR! We wait for them to cross the dune. I tell them that the road ahead is fraught with danger and they are foolish to try and attempt such a crossing with the gear that they have. They become aggressive and I back off to the confines of our vehicle. We have driven now for more than 100km with the fuel gauge needle lying below the E. The track gets better towards Well 23. With a sigh of relief we reach our fuel drop near Well 23 and our pre-paid 200 litre drum of Super petrol ($225 for the drum delivered). Our fuel siphon does not work very well so we position the drum on a large tyre which has been left behind by someone and we decant the fuel into a bucket. We do not spill a drop and we put 193 litres into our 207 litre fuel tank. The rest we decant into our jerry cans. We also try all the empty petrol drums and find another jerry can of fuel from the dregs. I call up VKJ Meekatharra on the HF Radio to say that we have reached our fuel and that we are safe and thanks for being there. We used 333 litres of fuel over 1237km and have averaged 3.7km/l or 27lts/100km or 10.5mpg from Billiluna. Now we have 700km to go to the mining town of Wiluna which is where we will be able to fuel up again. Should have enough fuel as the driving will become easier. We relax at last and push on to Georgia Bore which lies 21km south of Well 23 and where there is excellent water and a hand pump courtesy of CRA Exploration. We have a hot shower, do the washing and relax around the fire. Had to scrounge for wood though. In bed by 8.30pm.
Friday 22nd July
Slight south-east breeze this morning. Moon up all night. Full Moon tonight. Collect fire wood. Drive on to Wells 22 and 21. Both caved in. Replaced fuel filter. Part of inside of mudguard on Gertie is badly cracked and battery holder is flexing. We stop on a claypan and do some thinking. We use a turnbuckle, 100x10mm bolt, some builder’s straps which we attach to the outside mudguard of Gertie by drilling holes into the panel and attaching it with bolts and nuts. The bolts hold the turnbuckle and the turnbuckle holds the battery against the inside mudguard. This invention lasts until we arrive home in Alice Springs.
We pass a convoy of mud bespattered vehicles. They are unhappy and tell us that they have spent 7 hours getting through Savory Creek and that we do not have a hope in hell getting through on our own. When we arrive at Savory Creek I turn to the west after seeing tracks coming in from the east. We drive about three kilometres and find an almost dry crossing. We reach Lake Disappointment after a very bumpy ride cross country to find the track again. We collect more wood. Finally we end up on a small peninsula jutting out onto Lake Disappointment. Shortly afterwards two identical Toyota Troopcarriers arrive about 5 minutes apart. One driven by a man with a pony-tail, dressed in Country and Western clothes, the other driven by a very pretty female dressed in white moleskins and cowboy boots. They stop for a chat. They are together but driving their own cars. We invite them to camp nearby but they do not like wide open spaces and decide to leave. Before she goes the female gives us all the firewood in the back of her vehicle. She does not have anything else in the back of her vehicle. We are puzzled. Maybe they just slipped in from another dimension by mistake? We have the peninsula to ourselves and a nice fire. Full moon comes up over the lake. We take lots of photographs of the eerie light. We drink some port and go for a walk on the lake in the moonlight with Vivaldi blaring in the distance. Surroundings very serene and quiet.
Saturday 23rd July
Out of bed before at piccaninny daylight to take photos of sun rising and moon setting. Today we are heading for Durba Springs and Killigurra Gorge where we will rest up for a few days. The dunes coming up are supposed to be the most difficult on the Canning. It is not that they are high but that their texture is different and that they are very soft. The sand grain size is very small and sharp and this makes the sand flow more easily. The track is very bumpy and we lose our red flag. The dunes do not give us any trouble however. Gertie has got hiccups. We change the fuel filter again. We meet a solitary lady of 70 years of age( or that is what she told us ). She is driving a white Daihatsu Rocky Turbo and is very well prepared. She is going all the way to Halls Creek. We wish her well. We drive over lots of rocks into an overgrown gorge. We find the one and only camp site and set up camp. We have running water 20 metres from camp. Other visitors come in the afternoon and walk by our camp 100 metres in to the gorge. We have a chat to all and they leave to camp at Durba Springs. Go for a walk into gorge and look at rock paintings. Goanna painting behind rock ledge very beautiful. Had tea and Jude made custard in Dettol bowl in the dark. Yuk!! In bed by 8pm. Two jets fly over during the night.
Sunday 24th July
Sunrise 6.30(not in gorge)
Temp 12 C
No mosquitoes last night. A few flies during the day, but not too bad. Walked up to the pool again and took photos. Climbed up to rock ledge and found more paintings. We do some more washing. I pull the carby down again!! The float ball in the fuel pump is jammed and is not repairable. Reassemble the carby and advance the engine idle speed to solve the rough idling problem. Pulled speedo cable to pieces, reworked it and reinstalled it. Tightened all suspension nuts. Jude made scones in the camp oven. Dozed in the sun for a while and then went for an icy cold dip in the pool. Very refreshing. Did some sketching. Finches and Spinifex pigeons flew in. Talked to members of NSW Toyota Club. Swapped notes. Played Scrabble and Judith won this time. Cooked pumpkin in foil. Very nice. Chased tea down with some port. Listened to music. Tiny bats flying around. Big old bullfrog making noise like didgeridoo. We take the torch and go looking for him. Find him under a rock ledge all blown up and looking for a mate. Sounds fantastic as the droning noise reverberates off the gorge cliffs. Later we were to hear that Killigurra Gorge is haunted because some campers heard the aborigines playing their didgeridoos at night. They packed up and left in the dark!! Boobook Owl calls his mate all night. Just very softly. We are alone in the gorge. Estimate that there are 20 vehicles camped at Durba Springs, 5km away. In bed by 8.30pm.
Monday 25th July
Another warm night. The owl kept us amused but we could not find him with the torch. Very elusive. Walked down gorge to collect fire wood. Went exploring under overhangs and side creeks. I went to collect water from the creek, tripped and fell, hurting my knee. Ouch!! A lone Emu walked into our camp, twice! We baked beer bread which was scrumptious. Did some more sketching. Relaxed in sun. North-west breeze sprang up. Flock of 20 Red-plumed pigeons fly in. Took lots pf photos with the 500mm lens. More visitors pass through. Hear of convoy of 50 vehicles coming up the Canning. Hear of bloke with 2wd Ute and using sand mats to cross the dunes, coming up the track. (We heard later that he did not get very far before he gave up). Ate some Kangaroo jerky we had made in Alice Springs. Very tasty. Chased it down with some port. In bed by 7.30pm.
Tuesday 26th July
Crickets very loud last night. Saw Boobook Owl high up in tree. Still, quiet morning. We break camp and head for Durba Springs. Oi! Speedo cable is working again. There are 10 vehicles at Durba. The rest having made an early start. Durba has 2 acres of camping space set on couch grass. There is a thunder-box pit toilet. There is water but not of good quality. We go for a walk up Durba Gorge where we see Fire-tail finches. There are also rock engravings and the usual graffiti left by early travellers. We push on to Biella Spring and walk up the gorge for about half an hour. We saw lots of paintings though they are not very good. Not much water in the spring. We took a photo of Canning’s’ cairn high on a hill but were too lazy to do the climb. Got back into dune country again and drop the tyres down to 25/20 as sand is quite soft. Found a camp site off the track at Well 13. The track is improving all the time and we should be out of dune country by tomorrow. In bed by 7.30pm. Had too much exercise today. Slept like bears.
Wednesday 27th July
Cooler last night. Early breakfast and on our way by 7.30am. Saw two camels this morning. Since Durba Springs we have seen no humans for two days. Fill our water containers from Well 10, have lunch and pump up the tyres again. From Killigurra Gorge to Well 10 there was no drinkable water in the wells. After Well 10 we leave the dunes behind and the countryside flattens out a bit. Went for a walk on Aerodrome Lake.
Mulga scrub and Spinifex still dominates the landscape. The track twists and turns through the trees. There are lots of wash outs and progress is slow at times. We come across 3,1,1,14, 1, vehicles in the late afternoon. Drive past Willy Willy bore. Weld Springs and Well 9 is inundated with cattle and Emus. We push on and camp at Well 7 in and amongst a dense forest of Mulga trees. Purple native Violas in flower as well as Mulla Mullas. Quiet night. Took our NT Flag off aerial as it was getting caught up in the trees. In bed by 7.30pm
Thursday 28th July
Quiet morning. Meet solitary man in his 70’s driving a black Daihatsu Rocky. He has no bucket, no rope, no recovery gear, not enough fuel and is almost totally unprepared for the journey ahead. We shake our heads in disbelief.(We heard some months later that he had to be rescued by fellow travellers). Butcher birds singing this morning. Hot coffee with baked beans and beer bread for breakfast. A Red-capped Robin pays us a visit. We set of for Well 6 and Pierre Springs. Along the way we stop at Mt Davis. Saw some weird rock paintings and also some ‘graffiti’ paintings of unknown heritage. At Well 6 there are tall gums and lots of shade, a reconstructed well and a bucket. Water at about 5 metres. Throughout the day about twenty emus come down to drink from the trough at the well. Travellers always tip some water into the troughs for the wildlife. Judith takes lots of photos. Greater Bowerbird and some Galahs frequent the water as well. Ten vehicles pass through before lunch. We stoke up a hot fire and bake more beer bread. We burn the crust but the inside is very tasty. Have and early feed. Then two vehicles from Perth arrive with noisy campers and they park close by. We watch with amusement as they try to fill their water containers with a cup. They prove to be too disruptive and we pack up and move off at sunset to find a quiet camp in a secluded setting 5km down the track. In bed by 8.30pm
Friday 29th July
On the road by 6.45am. Saw Kangaroos and Emus. We have breakfast at Well 5 and Windich Springs. Track horrible. Lots of bulldust, ruts, stakes. Very bumpy ride. We cook breakfast at Windich Springs and talk to travellers from South Australia whom we had met before. Today we drove through mediocre country. We crossed part of Lake Nabberu. Had lunch at the Granites water hole. Dead emu nearby. There is a cold south wind blowing. We keep on driving. 40km out of Wiluna we come to a graded road. Oh, what joy!! We visit North Pool. Very uninteresting and lots of rubbish left by locals. Then we visit our last well, Well 1. There is a dead goanna in the water and it stinks! So, that’s it for the Canning Stock Route. We push on to the Wiluna pub and find a spare room in the motel. Book in and relax. Go down and refuel tank and all jerry cans to have a full 340 litres of fuel on board. Hot shower, heated room and a good feed at the motel. We meet up with our South Oz friends who also book in. Party on that night and play pool. We slept well in a comfy bed.
Saturday 30th July
Cooked breakfast at motel. What luxury!! Got out of town at 8.30. Last night the vehicles got locked in to the pub. They close the gates to the perimeter fence and lock them until 7am. Sign on road reads Alice Springs 1886km of which 1350 ended up being corrugated dirt. We visit the Emu farm and saw lots of emus. We see lots of Wedge tail Eagles picking at carcasses of sheep, kangaroos and emus along the road. Also saw lots of live Sheep, Emus, Kangaroos, Cattle and wild Horses. We pushed on to Carnegie Station some 351km from Wiluna along a very rough and stony road. We refuelled there and then tackled the Gunbarrel Highway. The Gunbarrel was constructed from 1958 to 1963 by Len Beadell and his party to provide access for vehicles servicing the Woomera Rocket range. It has not been maintained since. From Carnegie Station the Gunbarrel is only an overgrown track with numerous washouts almost every 100 metres and corrugations so bad that your false teeth could rattle. We found a camp site 100km from Carnegie atop a hill near a new Telecom Tower site. Had to use low range first gear to get up the virtually unmade track. Tightened nuts on the suspension. Both centre pin nuts off the front springs have rattled loose and fallen off. I do repairs from my bag of tricks. In bed by 7pm.
Sunday 31st July
Low cloud on southern horizon. Hope it does not rain. Freezing cold morning. Jackets and gloves today. Highway very rough. Saw six camels. Staked a tyre. Had breakfast while we repaired the puncture. Passed the ‘Gary Highway’
The Gunbarrel Highway
turn-off. Another track that leads to virtually nowhere. Saw Plains Turkeys. Changed fuel filter again. Track washed out and corrugated. Fixed speedometer twice. Landscape very scenic. Winch rattles apart and I tie it up with a strap. The snorkel rattles loose and falls off but we retrieve it and stow it in the back of Gertie. We come up behind three other vehicles. They are travelling at 15kmh over the corrugations. They get a big fright when we come boring down on them at 80kmh. They move over and let us pass. We have a short chat. The whip aerial keeps turning itself loose. We meet 7 vehicles coming towards us. Their faces sag when we describe the road conditions. We stop at a bore and fill our water containers and give the finches a drink. We take a photo of the Len Beadell tree and plaque. Everything is rattling and dust keeps pouring in to Gertie. She is like a vacuum cleaner. With our front shockies out of action we jump at the slightest bump. There are side tracks and side tracks off these side tracks but no matter where you drive, the corrugations are still there. We turn left at Mt Samuel and inspect the native wells at the top of the rise. We push on to Jackie Junction. Now the Highway is really a track. Near Jackie Junction I see a four footed animal in the distance that looks and moves like a cat. It is the size of a Rottweiler. It darts off into the scrub and out of sight. At Jackie Junction we meet a big graded road running south-north. We follow that to the north for 90km. It is sandy but nice and smooth in places and a welcome relief from the never ending corrugations. We then turn east off this road along the ‘Abandoned’ track 165km to Giles Meteorological Station and the Warakurna Roadhouse. We camp just down this track at 5pm. We have travelled 400km today. Have a hot shower despite water restrictions. A flock of Cockatiels fly over at sunset. Asleep by 8pm.
Monday 1st August
Fresh, still morning. Ice on swag. Refuelled from jerry cans after breakfast. Track rough again but easing in the dune country. This must be one of the most beautiful desert scenes in Australia. Desert Oaks, Spinifex, Desert heath, Grevillea are all set amongst the rolling sand dunes. We visit Christopher Lake. We come to the Warburton Road just on lunch. We have not seen any other vehicles or humans for the past 550km. Road is corrugated. Refuel at Warakurna Roadhouse. Look at the Meteorological Station from the outside only. Nothing exciting. We drive through the Petermann Ranges and the Schwerin Mural (so named by the explorer Ernest Giles) to Docker River Community in the Northern Territory. The road is badly corrugated. After a look around Docker River we head off to the west and get our second puncture. Now it is time to repair the punctures or we will have no spares. I have trouble breaking the bead on one split rim. Some young blokes from Perth who, incidentally, work for a tyre company, stop and lend a hand and we have both tyres fixed in no time. We share a few beers and they take off into the setting sun. We make it to Lasseter’s Cave. It is dark and I share some wood with a couple of old fellas in a Troopie. They crack a bottle of Champagne and we sit around the fire and yarn. They are both in their 80’s and travelling around for the last time “before we fall of the perch” they said. Late night. In bed by 10pm!
Tuesday 2nd August
Sunrise 7.33am CST
Some ice on the swag. We take a look at Lasseter’s Cave. Road very corrugated for 80km. Then it becomes graded for 70km and just near the Olgas we are on the bitumen. We stop and take some photos. Tourists everywhere in buses and rented vehicles. Everyone is rushing around. We have something to eat at Yulara Village. We get another puncture at Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse. Have a cuppa whilst changing the wheel, then a good wash and set off for home in Alice Springs some 250km away. We sit on 90kmh. Gertie is hard to start and there are lots of repairs to be done. What a way to spend a holiday!
It took three days to wash and clean everything. Gertie was very sick. I had the front chassis cross member welded, built one carby out of three, repaired the broken mirror and one parking light. Fitted a new speedo cable and mig welded cracked body panels. But the old car has 360,000 on the clock and is heading for the scrap yard.
POST SCRIPT: We rebuilt Gertie’s engine at 380,000km at the beginning of 1995. There were lots of broken rings and I had to replace all the pistons and bearings. From there on Gertie towed a 27ft Viscount caravan around Australia until February 1999 when repeated electrical and rust problems forced us to trade her in. She had done 551,000km. The old FJ55 was one of the best large off-road vehicles I have ever owned and she served me well.
Desert Apparitions 1994 & 2007
It was late afternoon in July of 1994 when we crossed Savory Creek, just to the west of Lake Disappointment in the Little Sandy Desert. The crossing had some wetness to it but it hardly required four-wheel drive mode.
Not long after the crossing and after some cross country driving to find the Canning Stock Route Track again, we were making our way towards a small peninsula which juts out into the vast expanse of the dry salt of Lake Disappointment. A convoy of vehicles approached us from the east and we were advised by them via radio that there was no wood at the end of the road for a camp fire. We pressed on regardless as we had a small amount of wood with us.
We arrived at the edge of the lake and looked out over this vast white expanse, shimmering in the late afternoon sun. Soon we had our swag and chairs and paraphernalia rolled out that one needs for a restful camp. We built our meagre wood supplies into a fire mound and then went for a walk to look for more. We were about to walk over the first sand hill to the south when we heard the noise of a vehicle approaching.
Now one has to bear in mind that the places mentioned are iconic names along the famous Canning Stock Route which runs in a north-easterly direction from the town of Wiluna in the Goldfields of Western Australia to Halls Creek in the sub-tropical north. The distance is around 2000 kilometres with the first 700 kilometres without a chance to refuel. Vehicles contend with a range of obstacles such as washouts and sand hills. When it rains it can become very muddy. So whatever you are doing along endless dusty tracks, your vehicle is going to get dirty.
This late model beige coloured Toyota Troopcarrier trundled into our camp. The first thing I noticed was that it was spotlessly clean. No dust, no mud and no foliage scratches. There was only the male driver in the vehicle. The bloke got out and said “G’day”. He was quite tall and was wearing embroidered RM Williams cowboy boots, cream moleskin trousers, a white western style shirt with fringing and a black Akubra hat. He had a neatly clipped beard and a long pony-tail of hair. He was very out of place amongst we dishevelled looking desert travellers!
We were so dumbstruck that we could hardly say anything. But the conversation went into chit chat mode and we said that we were surprised that he was travelling alone. “Oh no!” he said, “my girlfriend is following me in her four-wheel drive. She should be along soon”. Without trying to be too obvious I started looking at the Toyota making comments about it and so was able to look in the back of the vehicle where I saw only a small suitcase, a swag and a small esky. He had no recovery gear, no camping gear, no chairs, no radio, and no food supplies from what I could see. This was very puzzling.
Soon enough his girlfriend’s vehicle came into view and stopped beside his. This was a white Toyota Troopcarrier of similar vintage as the other, also in spotless condition. This young lady alighted from the vehicle. She was very attractive with full make-up on and could have been a model on a catwalk. She wore full length embroidered white high heel boots, white jeans, a white western style shirt with and embroidered top and a white Akubra hat! She was very friendly and pleasant and spoke with a cultured voice. After some chit chat, we said that they would be welcome to camp close by if they so wished. The bloke then said that he had symptoms of Agoraphobia (the fear of open spaces) and that he was going back to west to camp amongst the trees. And without much else to say he shook our hands, got into his vehicle and drove off. His girlfriend was rather disappointed and she confided in us as she would have loved to camp with us. But she was following her friend and had to leave. Just before she departed she stated that we might as well have the logs of wood she had found along the way and promptly gave us all of her wood. After cleaning out the wood scraps from the back of her vehicle I saw that there was no other luggage or camping gear. And with that she hurriedly shook our hands and was off, following the dust trail of the other vehicle.
We stood there dumbfounded. How? What? Who? There were no answers. It still puzzles us to this day.
We had a roaring campfire that night!
In 2007 a mate and I took a slow journey from our place in South Australia to Darwin, driving all the dirt roads heading north until we hit the bitumen near the Roper River in the Northern Territory. My mate had flown down from his home in Darwin to accompany me on this journey.
We departed from the Flinders Ranges in mid-July and set off on a leisurely pace north along the Birdsville Track. We turned off that iconic road and crossed over at the Warburton Crossing to enter the eastern section of the Simpson Desert. Our journey took us further towards Poeppel Corner and along the French Line. Along the way we met up with a group from the City of Geelong in Victoria who were doing a similar zig-zag trek through the desert. In fact we caught up with them three times before the incident happened.
We had met the group again along the WAA Line where they came in from Lynnie Junction. I could tell it was them from their radio chatter. We let them go so as to wait for their dust to settle.We were within two kilometres from where we met the group and only minutes behind when we crested a dune and saw a brand new Nissan Patrol, spotlessly clean, and stationary on a claypan. The person must have seen our vehicle approaching as we crested the dunes in the late afternoon sun. The vehicle was seemingly waiting for us to pass. As mentioned, it was spotlessly clean. Even the wheels had no dust on them. We stopped as we drew alongside the vehicle and I spoke with the solo male driver who was immaculately dressed in denim clothes. He was well groomed and with his hair combed back into a pony-tail. I noticed that he did not have a dune flag nor any radio aerial on his bull-bar and asked him about that. He said that he had not had time to fit a dune flag to his vehicle. He also told us that he did not have any radios or for that matter a Satellite phone. He said that he was just out for a desert drive. I asked if he had spoken with the mob ahead of us. He said he had seen no one all day. I asked again and he stated emphatically that he had seen no one. We left it at that, said goodbye, and drove on. The following day I spoke with the group from Geelong at Purnie Bore, and they said that they had not seen the vehicle nor the driver at all. That would have been seemingly impossible as there was nowhere to turn off the track unless you ventured cross country. Strange. Very strange, indeed!
Maybe these people have been crossing over in a time warp from the 5th dimension. Maybe in the time-space continuum there are indeed parallel worlds and that we may cross over into one another’s dimension inadvertently. Maybe the man with the pony-tail is the same man crossing my path like a guardian angel. Who knows?
It’s all a mystery………………………
Davenport Range 1994
As we rush headlong through time towards the dawn of the 21st century a myriad of changes in technology and social structures are taking place. There is a concentrated push by governments of states and countries to develop infrastructures that will carry the populace through into the future, enhancing diversification of cultural needs and social behaviour. The Northern Territory Government, mindful of its sparse population base and its need to raise revenue to pay for the needs of the future, is concentrating its efforts towards international and domestic tourism.
A series of 4×4 Loop routes called Territory Explorer Routes, have been devised and marketed throughout Australia aimed mainly at the domestic market. These loops will take the traveller all the way from the southern border with South Australia to the northern coastline along bush tracks. The routes take in themes such as desert diversity; mining, minerals and fossicking; pastoralism; fishing and other recreational activities. Negotiations with outlying stations and communities to provide fuel and basic domestic commodities are coming to a completion and it is envisaged that the whole 4×4 route will be operational by 1996.
The new Davenport Range National Park lies along the main route approximately 470km by road to the north-east of Alice Springs and 240km south-east of Tennant Creek. It encompasses a biological inter -zone between the tropical north and the arid south of the Northern Territory. Stretching in a north-west/south-east direction the Murchison Range, lying south-east of Tennant Creek, joins up with the Davenport range and forms a barrier between the woodland savannah of the north and the arid desert of the south. It has a wealth of ancient history, recent history and the bio-diversity to its credit.
The Frew River flows through the Davenport Range and there are many permanent water holes which are an important refuge for a variety of fauna especially water birds. Seven specie of fish are found in the river system as well as fresh water crabs. The crabs are subject to an intense research project at present and are quite unique in this inland water way. So far 44 bird species have been counted. Desert mice, Antechinus, Dunnarts, Spectacled Hare Wallabies, Northern Nail-tailed Wallabies, Black-footed Wallabies, Euros and Kangaroos all play a part in the ecosystem of this area.
At present this new park is still in its developmental stage. It is managed by the Conservation Commission of the N.T. and surveys are being carried out on how much infrastructure is going to be needed to develop the park. There are a number of problems at hand and one of them is the control and eradication of feral donkeys and the removal of domestic stock from within the park boundaries. The park itself borders on four pastoral stations and the Anurette Aboriginal Land Trust. And there are no fences at present. A section of the access road passes through the land trust, though the road is a gazetted road and opens to the public. Consultation with the traditional land owners for future development within the trust lands is ongoing. The owners of Kurundi Station which borders to the north of the park are also looking towards private tourism development within the confines of the park. The park will have access by conventional vehicles to some areas and there will also be some very rough 4×4 tracks to secluded camping areas at water holes o9n the Frew River where one may camp for a total wilderness experience.
The park area envelops the traditional lands of the Warumungu, Alyawarre and Kaytetye aboriginal peoples. Artefacts relating to an earlier occupation of the land may also be found and areas close to water have small flint quarries dating back to an unknown era. In more recent history missionaries came along to save souls, then pastoralists settled in the area, next came the miners to dig for wolfram, gold, copper, bismuth, tin and scheelite along the tributaries of the Frew River and especially at Hatches Creek. For a while there was a flurry of activity. Wolfram, used in the hardening of steel and especially when used in the manufacture of armaments, enjoyed good prices up to the end of WW2. By 1938 up to 200 men were working in this area. That year a severe drought and high summer temperatures were cause to the main water supply almost drying up. The shortage of water contributed to the deterioration of the general health of the miners who threatened to abandon the area. The Australian Inland Mission provided the miners with a pedal powered wireless so that they could call up the doctor at Tennant Creek using Morse code. After the Korean War in the early 1950’s mining activities eventually subsided and came to a completed closure by 1968.
The main access to the park and the only official camping area at present (Old Police Station Water Hole) is from the Stuart Highway at Bonney Well 27km north of the Devils Marbles or 87km south of Tennant Creek. From the turnoff it is 171km to old police Station Water Hole via Kurundi Station and Epenarra Station. Diesel, Unleaded and Super petrol and limited food supplies may be obtained from the Epenarra Store. There is also a public access road from the Barkly Homestead Roadhouse between Three Ways and Camooweal on the Barkly Highway, along what is known as a ‘fire trail’. This road runs for 122km to Epenarra Station. Access from the south is along the Sandover Highway to Ammaroo Station, 315km from Alice Springs and then north for 110km towards Murray downs Station. Another access road turns east, 43km north of Barrow Creek Roadhouse on the Stuart Highway, past Murray Downs Station and 75km to a gate on the left. Access maps are available at the CCNT offices in Alice Springs.
This year tremendous thunderstorms have cause floods throughout the park and adjacent areas and debris in trees can be seen 5 metres above the normal water level in the creeks. Trekking along the tracks is slow going and you have to be watchful of washouts and gullies.
Our trip into the Davenport Rage NP at Easter was very pleasant having come at an idyllic time for temperate weather conditions. Cool nights and warm days and plenty of water to cool down in. One of the highlights of our trip was finding a Stone Age axe-head lying close by a rusted corkscrew relic from the 1950’s. Camping at Goat Hole Water Hole on Hatches Creek we were visited by a feral cat, a family of dingoes, donkeys braying into the middle of the night and a scrub bull that almost stumbled over our swags. Bird numbers around the water margins was quite prolific and we had good fun feed bread scraps to the fish and fresh water crabs. The crabs made sure that we humans did not intrude into their domain for too long by nipping us with their claws.
We had a good look around some of the old abandoned mines and at all the rubbish that had been left behind by the miners. There is a wealth of old bits and pieces to rummage through if you have an interest in that sort of thing.
Ruby Gap/Glen Annie Gorge 1994
Where the Hale River cuts a swathe through the Amarata Range, 150km east of Alice Springs, the river sands glitter with fragments of sparkling stones.
When explorer David Lindsay sifted through the sands of the river bed in search of water, his thirst was quenched. On seeing the brightly coloured and red rock fragments he thought that they might be rubies. In 1886, after reporting on his travels and his find of sparkling stones, the first mining rush to Central Australia was on. Hundreds of fortune hunters swooped in from the southern cities to this remote part of the Australian Continent.
But they were to be disappointed. The bright pink, red and opaque rock crystals and fragments were only beautiful garnets with no commercial value. Down on their luck the fortune seekers drifted away only to discover gold, mica and copper at Arltunga nearby. One of the miners, who became destitute, took his own life in a fit of despair. The gravestone of J.P.Fox, carved with a pick axe by his fellow miners, stands lonely on a windswept rise at the northern end of Glen Annie Gorge.
Glen Annie GorgeThe Hale River, known as Lira Altera by the Eastern Arrernte aboriginals, has its head waters in the Harts Ranges, floods through the plains to the north of the Arltunga Ranges, cuts through the gorges of Glen Annie and Ruby Gap and finally, after flowing some 400 kilometres, dissipates into the Simpson Desert beyond the Allitra Tableland.
Ruby Gap Nature Park, which encompasses Glen Annie Gorge is run by the Conservation Commission of the NT with a resident ranger stationed at Arltunga where there is an information centre. There you may see a small museum and get advice on what to see and what to do in the area.
Arltunga, a historic gold mining reserve, lies 110km east of Alice Springs along the Ross Highway. From there the track winds east towards the Amarata Range and gradually deteriorates in condition. The 38km from Arltunga to the entrance of Ruby Gap will take about one and a half hours. It is quite a scenic drive along the foothills with numerous small gullies to cross. This harsh arid land which would seem to have very little ground water supports a great variety of flora and a good number of bird species may be spotted by the keen observer.
Once at the entrance of the park the track drops down into the Hale River and the next 5km could take up to an hour to drive as you wind your way in and out of the sandy river bed. This part of Australia depends on late summer or early winter rains to tide it over from season to season and there is almost always running water in the river. Care should be taken when on where you drive in the river as the water stream may flow underground and a dark patch of sand may prove bottomless. Some inexperienced drivers have been caught in the quicksand. The drive through the red cliffs of Ruby gap is very spectacular. This drive should also only be attempted by high clearance vehicles as there is a fair amount of rock hopping to do. Nearing the end of the gap a sign reads “IT IS NOT ADVISABLE TO DRIVE BEYOND THIS POINT”. You are not prohibited from travelling further but no responsibility is taken for your actions should you decide to proceed.
Glen Annie Gorge lies another 2km or half an hours walk further on. The main obstacle, apart from rocky ridges in the river bed, is a section of large loose boulders about 100 metres wide which could stop even the most experienced four wheel driver in his/her tracks. Having diff locks or and winch fitted to you vehicle would be a distinct advantage. When we did the trip we were driving a Toyota Landcruiser FJ55. At one stage we had all four wheels clear of the ground and had to winch off to get traction again. Once past this obstacle there is a short section with very soft sand which will bring you to the water hole at the mouth of Glen Annie Gorge. This is as far as you can travel by vehicle. Here you may have a total wilderness experience in the solitude of the tranquil waters of the gorge, interrupted only by the croaking of frogs, the rasping noise of crickets and the occasional eerie call of the Thick-knee Bush Curlew. In the early morning dawn, you may see Black-footed Rock Wallabies go about their business high up on the cliff face while Teal ducks and Little Grebes paddle around the rock pools foraging for food.
The fit adventurers may hike up into the ranges to get panoramic views of the surrounding gorge and hills. At present this remote area is under survey for further development. The most likely scenario would be for entry on a permit system so that visitation numbers may be restricted on any given period. There may be camping areas set aside and toilet facilities provided.
We spent many weekends driving different tracks within a fifty-kilometre radius from Alice Springs, even one that followed up through the West MacDonnell Ranges following Ellery Creek right through to Hamilton Downs Station.
More than fifty kilometres we explored a track that connected Namatjira Drive with Larapinta Drive following along Ellery Creek. Another track we took follows the James Ranges all the way to Hermannsburg. Then there was the Finke Waterhole run along the riverbed to Boggy Hole. There is also a track running along the south side of the James Ranges. About 6 kilometres from Stuart Highway along this track is a shale quarry used by aboriginals for cutting tools for thousands of years. We also went out to the Horn Valley and scratched around looking for artifacts and petrified sea creatures. The Horn Valley became well known as there was a Scientific Expedition in 1896 to this area. In the nineties we were able to access Tnorala/Gosse Bluff.
Judith’s contract was due to be renewed on 1st July but she felt like she had been under a lot of pressure virtually running the whole newspaper while the Editor chased other pursuits. She came and told me that she had had enough. We mulled over what to do decided to go Walkabout for a while. Two days before the end of her contract I received a call from my mate, Ron Moon, asking if I could help him out by researching, photographing and writing up 4×4 tracks for a book that had to be published soon.
I was happy to help out and next thing I received phone call from a bloke called Gordon and that he was happy with Ron’s recommendation and that he would send me a contract air express return pre-paid.
Well the contract arrived and was full of legal jargon. I took a black felt pen and deleted most of the contract, rang the bloke and told him I had made some changes and that was the contract that I would sign and they agreed. Contract signed we were on our way. We dragged our van to various spots and drove out to see the places, photograph them and write up about them
Gregory National Park 1995
The bash plate that protects the underbelly of our Landcruiser scraped loudly over the jagged dolomite splinters, as we crunched slowly over the exposed limestone ridges. I inched the vehicle forward in first gear low range until it had cleared the obstacle. Then I had a quick look underneath. No worries, just a few marks, I thought. I smelt petrol! Sure enough, there it was. A hairline fracture had been made in the upslope steel plate of my long range fuel tank and a small seep of petrol. The old soap trick made a temporary repair and she was good as gold again. Soon we were bouncing along the bumpy track once more. We were driving into the late afternoon sun making for the Spring Creek camping area in the northern section of Gregory National Park in the Northern Territory. This park lies 190km east of the Western Australia/Northern Territory border. The turnoff to the park lies a short drive past the Timber Creek Township on the Victoria Highway to Katherine. Progress had been slow this day as the track winds its way over limestone ridges and around large boab trees silhouetted against the setting sun.
Tired and dusty we crept into Spring Creek camp to find that we had it all to ourselves. The creek was flowing and a refreshing swim was the order for the day. Back at the camp the flies welcomed us in their millions. This particular camp site is situated on a slope and I wondered why the land managers could not be bothered to provide a level camping area. We were able to get a good rest however as the resident mob of mosquitoes did not appear. Early to bed and early to rise, that’s the way to beat the flies!
Gregory National Park has been developed to cater for recreational four wheel driving. This is in direct contrast with so many parks and trails which have been closed of to 4wd travellers throughout Australia. The park, which is managed by the Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory, 10500 square kilometres in size and is made up of acquired section of the pastoral leases of Innesvale, Auverne, Delamere, Humbert River, Bullita, and Victoria River Downs(VRD) Stations. To a larger extent the country acquired from these leases was of marginal pastoral use. The park was declared in 1990 and after a successful land claim by traditional aboriginal owners; it was split into two sections. The section south of Timber Creek on the Victoria Highway is the larger of the two sections and designated 95% 4wd access. The northern section is reserved for aboriginal cultural use. Some area will be opened for tourist access in the future. Development is ongoing and there are three major access tracks throughout the park at the present time.
Augustus Charles Gregory footslogged through this harsh country in the year 1855 in search of pastures and mineral wealth. Gregory’s expedition was the first European expedition to this part of North Australia following almost in some of the footsteps of Ludwig Leichhardt, who traversed the eastern region of the Tropical North in 1845. Then on his next expedition, in 1846, Leichhardt disappeared without trace. Some historians are of the opinion that he was killed by aborigines somewhere in the North-west of Australia not far from where Gregory had explored nine years later. Gregory explored the catchment area of the Victoria River and concentrated his efforts around the Wickham and Baines River areas. Thomas Baines, one of Gregory’s party, was an artist and explorer and was credited for ‘discovering’ the West Baines and East Baines Rivers. Gregory had the honour of having the Boab tree named after him, thus……adansonia gregorii.
The Australian Boab tree is closely related to the African Baobab tree.
There are two trains of thought as to how the seeds made their way from Africa to Australia. One is that seeds were washed into the sea along the coast of Africa and drifting along sea currents to the northern Australian coast. There they were devoured by birds who deposited them inland. The other thought is that Africans migrated via Asia across the land bridge to Australia some 60,000 years ago and became the first Australian Aborigines. They might have brought seeds with them. Later, the modern-day Australian Aborigine migrated from Central Asian and intermarried with the African Aborigines. The Australian Aboriginal legend of the Boab tree is very similar to that of the African legend. It goes something like this and no doubt, there are many variations to the theme. “When the tree God created the Boab Tree it was to be the most beautiful of all trees in the universe, with the most beautiful flowers and bearing the juiciest fruit. But as the tree grew to maturity its flowers were mediocre and its fruit had a bad odour and tasted vile. The Tree God became so angry that he yanked the Boab out of the ground and slammed it back in the earth upside down and that is why today, when you see a Boab tree, it looks as if its roots are growing up in the air. So there.
Many of the plants of the Top End of Australia were named by Ferdinand von Mueller who was a botanist and member of the Gregory Expedition.
The first track of significance is that of the now abandoned Bullita Stock Route which starts at the Bullita Homestead camp ground. From Timber Creek on the Victoria Highway it is about 60km to get to the camp ground. On your way there you may drive in to Limestone Gorge to camp, and enjoy a swim or to go for an interpretive walk through the gorge or both.
At the start of the Bullita Stock Route you must fill in the intentions book so that the rangers may know if you become overdue at the termination of the track. Your first challenge is to cross the East Baines River. Now, there are markers across the river. On the left side is an easy flat run and on the right side some heavy duty rock ledges. I chose the easy run and almost to my peril. The rock ledge is about ten metres wide, less than 30cm of water with mosses growing on its surface, and very slippery indeed. Traction was minimal and I let the vehicle idle through and the thought of slipping odd over the edge into a dark green watery chasm caused a rush of anxiety. I was very relieved when we reached the opposite side and clambered out over the embankment. It is best to take the difficult route. There are no warning signs to inform you. Now the track meanders along through open timber country where the twp predominant trees are the Boab and the Nutwood. After 9km from the river you come to the Spring Creek Jump-up. Well, more of a jump down. And it is rough. Great chunks of limestone karst lie scattered along the track and this is where we split the fuel tank. Another 4.3km and you are at Spring Creek camp site where a dip in the perennial pool is worth its weight in gold.
Gregory’s report on the possibilities for a cattle industry in this area saw that only 37 years after his visit, such an industry was thriving, working of course, to the detriment of the local traditional owners. During the period from 1893 to the advent of the road train in the late 1950’s, drovers led their stock to Wyndham in Western Australia for shipping to the markets. Mobs of up to 500 cattle at a time were moved along the Bullita Stock Route. The drovers rested up along this track under the Boabs and close to water holes. They left their marks on the Boab trees and carved fictitious names into the bark. Modern-day travellers are requested not to do the same, most likely for the reason of political correctness.
It is 18.2km from Spring Creek camp to the second crossing of the East Baines River. Here, in the early morning sunlight, I managed to gouge the side out of the bottom sill panel because someone had chopped a tree down and had left the stump on an acute bend when entering the river. I have since asked the rangers to remove the stump. At this crossing there is a nice water hole to relax at. Bird life is as always, prolific and you may cast a line for the chance of a fish for dinner. A further 7.7km brings you to an intersection. Turn left and follow the track for 11km to a camp called Drovers Rest. The camp site is at the convergence of Barracbarrac Creek and the East Baines River. Close by there is a 3km long water hole which is good for canoeing and fishing for the elusive Barramundi. Silver Cobbler, also known as Catfish, are plentiful. Return to the intersection and from there the track follows on for 31.4km to the Bullita access road, the last 20km being an easy drive. Do not forget to sign the Exit Book. It is 18km back to Bullita Outstation.
The next track is the Humbert and that takes you on a 62km journey through some interesting country to the exit of the park at Humbert River Station. This trip should take about 6 hours.
The track is easy except at the Humbert River crossing where the driver should acquaint with the angled rock bar before attempting to drive across.
The Dingo Yard/Wickham River Track branches off about 1km from the Humbert River crossing. It is 48km to Dingo Yard and a further 11km to the Wickham River. At present you have to return to the Humbert Track to exit the park but in the future you will be able to exit via Mt Sanford Station, Daguragu and Kalkarinje (Wave Hill). The 59km to the Wickham River should take around 6 hours to drive.
The track follows along the ridges until you get to the top of the ranges and then it drops down into the valleys to the Wickham River. The track starts off as moderately rough and then progresses to very rough in places. It is overgrown and has rocky sections and sharp loose stones. Progress is slow as you meander in and out of gullies and ridges. The vegetation changes from Paspalum grasses to Spinifex with low heath at the top of the range. Wattle and Eucalypts form the main part of the open timber country. There are lots of feral Donkeys, Dingoes, wild Pigs and Brumbies. Along this track is an unnamed spring. Take time out to explore this spring and to see all the life forms that live so high above the normal water courses.
Gregory National Park offers the off-road enthusiast a chance to travel through some very remote country and to enjoy the challenges of driving over some pretty rough terrain.
Overnight campsites are located near water and after the evening chorus of the Blue-wing Kookaburra, a quiet, sets about the bush which is only broken by the croaking of frogs or the call of the Boobook Owl.
On the Wallaby, Jul 1995 to Nov 1999
For the next 5 years, after completing our contract with Random House Publishing, we were on the road, driving, making designs, cutting out designs, painting, lacquering and selling to shops and doing markets from, Geelong in the South of Victoria to Darwin in the Northern Territory and Cairns in Far North Queensland. We visited Fraser Island and many iconic places in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Northern Territory and ACT, missing out only on Western Australia and Tasmania. We worked out that we spent 10% of our camps in caravan parks and the rest bush camps and occasionally with mates.
The old Toyota went well but at 551,000 kilometres it was time to buy something else. We were in to Adelaide from Port Germein. My mistake was to take ‘She who must be obeyed’ with me to and she talked me into buying a Ford Station Wagon. Needless to say, we spent about $200 on parts in the first month and so on and then in Gayndah, Queensland, it spat the dummy and blew a head gasket. I managed to sell it to a car dealer for $2200 and then rang a mate in Bundaberg to come and rescue us.
After about two weeks I found a Nissan Patrol G60, a 1978 model with an after -market 5 speed gear-box. It needed a few small repairs and I had it on the road in no time. Although it looked a bit silly towing this huge van it had a thumping, big, 4-litre engine capable of towing anything.
There is not much I can write about being on the road for 5 years. The caravan I bought had serious water leaks and the roof area was unsupported so I made up a frame to keep it up. Water for the wash-up sink came from a 20 litre bucket with a small electric pump which was powered by a battery. We drove many highways and byways and found lots of interesting bush camps. We had solar showers in the bush or a various places across the States when we saw one. We called in on mates and stayed a while (a week or two), we took lots of photographs. One of the hi-lights of our travelling was when Richard (the guy in the plane crash) caught up with us at an NT Expo. And so we renewed our friendship.
In 1999 my mother passed away in South Africa having endured the last ten years of her life with Alzheimers disease. I flew to the funeral and my brother Bernie flew in from the USA where he had been living for the past 19 years. Both my brother and I inherited quite a sum of money in Rands, the South African currency but that had devalued by 60% against the Australian Dollar for me. However, I managed to secure some of the moneys and a few weeks after I returned home it arrived.
This is a story about two Mothers in the declining years of their lives
Our mothers carried us for nine months, bore us with pain, fed us, nursed us loved us, and looked after us, looked after all of our needs until we left school and beyond, without ever a murmur of complaint.
My Mother, Frieda, was born in Wellington, South Africa on 4th April 1915. At a later date, the family, which included her elder sister, Helene, and younger brothers Arnold and Ewald, moved to live at Somerset West. Frieda grew up by the ocean at The Strand which is part of the Somerset West area and which she loved with passion. She excelled as a scholar and was a founding pupil at Hottentots Holland High School where she matriculated with the highest marks in the Cape Province for that year. She returned to Wellington as a Mathematics and English teacher after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (Cum Laude) from the University of Cape Town, gaining distinctions in Applied Mathematics, English and Latin. She then attained her Teachers Diploma at Wellington Teachers College. She also taught at Pretoria Boys High School.
At age 27 she met Bernie Kempen at a New Year’s Eve Dance at Plettenberg Bay, where they were both holidaying. According to them it was love at first sight although they were both engaged to other partners at the time. They married in Rondebosch on 1 August 1942 and settled in at Victoria West, Cape Province where Bernie was the principal partner in the legal firm of Kempen and Kempen Attorneys. Frieda remained in Victoria West for 33 years. Three children were born. Willem 1943, Julian 1949, Bernie 1952. Frieda and Bernie were profoundly affected by the passing of Julian, the middle son, at the tender age of 9, whilst they were holidaying in Italy.
As Frieda emerged from her grief she focussed all of her energy and passion to help orchestrate the financing and building of a retirement home in Victoria West. When this establishment came into being, it was named Huis Frieda Kempen in her honour. She remained very active in the ACVV (Afrikaans Christian Women’s Association) for many years, and also taught English at Victoria West High School. She also assisted Bernie in the administration of the Andries Olivier and Willie Du Toit Educational Funds which sponsored students to the Universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch.
After Bernie’s untimely death in 1974, Frieda moved back to the Strand in 1975, where she could be frequently seen walking briskly on the beach, every day, at the edge of the ocean, where she had played endlessly as a child.
A Long Ten Years:
My story as I recall the events of that time.
Apart from letters written I used to ring my Mother once a month to keep in touch with her. I had been living in Australia since the late 1960’s with short term visits back to South Africa in the 1970’s and early 80’s. My younger brother, Bernie, was by then resident in the USA and so both children were living away from their country of birth.
I had noticed that my Mother was starting to repeat herself in our conversations and that she was becoming forgetful. This was brought to bear when we visited her in 1989. She was starting to forget names and places and happenings. We just put it down to old age and forgetfulness as Mother was 74 years of age by then. The next few years her memory declined even more. She was still travelling to the USA every two years to visit my brother. He also noticed the decline. Mother still had her car to get around in and we thought that it might still be good for her to have some independence so that she could move around freely. However, as her memory loss was accentuating itself, she left the keys in her car one day whilst visiting her local supermarket and her beautiful Turquoise Blue Ford Cortina got stolen. The car was eventually dumped and set alight and it ended up in a Police Compound for wrecked cars somewhere. This was a most traumatic time for her and added to her frustration of not being able to remember details. Luckily we were on our way from Australia to visit her and upon arrival we were able to sort the matter out after numerous phone calls and a letter to the Police Department asking them to dump the remains of the car. The car was insured but as it was now nearly 20 years of age and due to the fact that the insurance policy had not been upgraded we arranged for a claim to be made and small payout eventually was sent to Mother’s financial trustee.
A short while after our visit Mother decided on going to visit my brother in the USA. She became extremely confused on arrival at Kennedy Airport. Kind airport staff helped her on to her flight to San Francisco. Once there she would not get off the plane. My brother was making enquiries as to her whereabouts and was soon escorted on to the plane to help her off. In the hour drive back to my brother’s house from the airport he soon realised that something was amiss. Mother was speaking in riddles and getting confused with what was in her handbag and that the money she had changed looked strange. We learned much later on that airline travel may cause the acceleration of Alzheimer’s due the air decompression within the aircraft
I received a phone call from my brother a few days after Mother had arrived in the USA. He was in the midst of writing his legal exams and was at a loss as to how to deal with Mother who was getting more confused by the day. Could I come and help? This was easier said than done. I still had an open visa for the USA but now had to obtain a visa for South Africa. Consular staff of the South African Consulate in Sydney, were their usual casual self, stating that a visa would take two weeks to process. We managed to speak with a more senior official and explained the situation and stated that if I could not obtain a visa within two days the South African Government would have to provide an escort for my mother at their expense to accompany her back to her country of origin. This seemed to work alarm bells and within two days I had procured my visa and I was on a flight out of Alice Springs in Central Australia, where we were living at the time. I had to clear Immigration and Customs at Honolulu Airport. Here I was challenged by an immigration official who stated upon perusing my passport, that I had not left the USA since 1989 and how come I was entering again. They usually do not stamp your passports on a leaving a country. I asked to see the Supervisor and this person sorted the confusion out. But then I was asked why I had only hand luggage. I had to explain what I was doing and had to furnish names and addresses and eventually I was on a connecting flight to San Francisco.
On arrival at my brother’s house I found that Mother was in a state of confusion. Between the two of us we calmed her down however. A few days ensued and soon Mother and I were on our way back to South Africa with a 15 hour stopover at Heathrow Airport out of London. That wasn’t fun! After a time travel of 37 hours we arrived back at my Mother’s apartment at the Strand in South Africa both thoroughly exhausted and my mother more confused than ever. I was to spend the next six weeks with her.
Mother woke the next morning and looked at me and said “Who are you and what are you doing in my house” My heart sank as I now knew that I would need some resilience to get through the next few weeks. Over the weeks she lapsed in and out of reality and I soon learned to choose the right time to speak with her about important matters. Once she said “Look, you can go home now. I will be fine on my own” Unfortunately I had to be firm with what I had in mind and persisted gently in getting her to acknowledge that a change was inevitable for her. On another occasion she was puzzling over something and said “This great brain is dead!”
My Mother, in her wisdom, had foreseen a time when she may need to be cared for. When she made her move to the beach side resort of The Strand, she invested in an Aged Care Home stating that she would apply to become a resident when she felt that the time was right. The new home was filled immediately and my Mother’s name was placed on the waiting list. She came to the top of the list after about ten years but kept on putting the move off. Now, 17 years later, since she made the investment, the time had come to move in. Mother was very reluctant but I coerced her in to it gently but firmly. A small room with bathroom and toilet was available immediately and we took up the offer. The room faced north with a splendid view over the Hottentots Holland Mountains. Mother would have liked to have a view of the sea but this was not possible as the building was away from the beach sheltered by other buildings on the foreshore. I pointed out that she would be able to see the cloud mantle as it drops over the crest of the mountains when the Southeaster wind was blowing.
Getting mother to sign cheques was another marathon effort and took time in explaining over and over again what needed to be done. She baulked at the admittance deposit that had to be paid to the Aged Care Facility and it took two days for her to sign the cheque. I found that I had developed a patience that I did not know I had
I hired a small Pantech truck and a day-labourer and together we moved the necessary furniture to her room. The rest of her furniture and belongings which were no longer necessary I took to an Auction House in Somerset West for sale at a later date. Then it was necessary to get Mother in to her routine at the Aged Care Home. The staff at the home, were very helpful in reminding her when meal times were. A nurse also attended her every morning to see how she was doing. One of the positives about the move was that there were friends from long ago also lodging at this same home and so Mother had a connection. I returned to her old apartment at the beach, washed the floors and cupboards, painted the walls and handed the keys back to the Real Estate agents after an inspection.
Six weeks elapsed from my time of flying out to the USA to the day I arrived back home in Australia. I was totally drained of energy and took a week to recover from trying to deal with someone whose mind no longer followed a clear pattern. With me in Australia and my brother in the USA, the next five years proved to be a trying period for both of us.
At this point in time Mother was still coherent enough to manage her own affairs. She would walk down to the closest automatic teller machine and withdraw necessary funds or do her bank investments and transfers. I would ring her once a month to see how she was getting on. After about twelve months it became apparent that Mother needed help with her financial affairs and we consulted with our attorneys and they sent a representative around to collect Mothers books and bank cards to as to regulate her income and expenditure. He arrived there in the afternoon with his son who was now in his late 20’s and made the introductions. Mother knew these people but she had not seen the son for nigh on 20 years. After they had left with all of her personal financial details and access cards, Mother panicked and started ringing me. Luckily her telephone had an automatic number saving feature and all she needed to remember was to push that button on the phone. In Australia we had been out of range with our mobile phone and as we approached Alice Springs I turned my phone on and received no less than 16 calls from Mother. She kept on saying that a chap had come to her place and had taken all her bankbooks and cards and that he had his baby son with him. Although the son was now in his mid-twenties, all she could see of him was that he was four years of age. After a number of phone calls I managed to track down the details of Mother’s visitor, who to be an employee of the legal firm who was handling my Mother’s affairs. Brother Bernie and I had discussed the need for someone to control Mother’s investments as she was now prone to be taken advantage of by others.
Bernie consulted with friends in the legal fraternity in Cape Town and a suitable administrator was found for her estate. As there was no precedent to appoint an administrator legally, we had to obtain Mother’s consent to do just that. This proved a formidable task as Mother was very cautious when dealing with legal matters. After an exhaustive preparation of legal papers Mother signed her approval and we could rest easy with the knowledge that her affairs would be cared for professionally.
I kept up my letter writing every two weeks now and rang her once a month. Bernie and I visited South Africa on an alternate year basis.
We decided that Mother needed some help with her daily needs as the Aged Care Facility did not cater for this type of personal attention. So we put the word out and a suitable ‘carer’ was employed by the administrator. This lady came in three times a week and did shopping and other duties. Mother had been left some money in her bank account so that purchases of necessary stuff could be made. Life went on.
In 1997 we arrived in South Africa on a visit and the Manager of the Aged Care facility called me in as soon as she saw me. I was told that Mother was becoming a problem as she was wandering off and becoming difficult at meal times and that the home did not have the resources to cope with people with memory loss. I asked how long this had been the case and was told that it had been so for the past six months. I said that I could have been contacted earlier but the manager said the cost was too great to ring overseas. I ignored this comment.
What to do? Mother was clearly now in a state of distress as she became very confused about things. We hired a car and drove to my old hometown of Victoria West, 700km inland from the coast. We were extremely lucky to find a room for Mother in the Old Age home that bears her name and the decision was made to move her there. I consulted with my brother in the USA who was at first hesitant to let Mother make the move but eventually he saw the logic in it. So back to the coast we went.
Now, dealing with someone who has Alzheimer’s can wear you out very quickly. We had no consultation with any Healthcare Professionals. We would not have known where to start anyway, as we were in unfamiliar surroundings. We had to fly by the seat of our pants on everything we did. Mother would ask the same question over and over again and we had to be patient and give the same answer over and over again. A lot of our doings had to be subterfuge. We had Mothers Carer pack her bags and necessities and I slipped the cases down into the car when the coast was clear. We then suggested that we take a ride in the car to see the sights and to this Mother agreed to as she liked going for a ‘Drivey’. After about an hour we were approaching the Du Toitskloof Tunnel and Mother became apprehensive of going into a dark place (although the tunnel is lit up). I suggested that she closed her eyes and think of the sea for a few minutes and that way we averted a potential problem. But Mother was becoming agitated and so we suggested morning tea soon and luckily a roadside café loomed into view in the nick of time and we stopped for refreshments.
After leaving our morning stop Mother was alert enough to the fact that we were still moving away from the coast and questioned our motives and so we started espousing a little holiday in the country and that we would go and stay the night at the Lord Milner Hotel at Matjiesfontein, a place renowned for its opulent bedrooms and fine dining. Matjiesfontein is a unique little historic Victorian village at the Railway Siding comprising only a few residents. It was founded in 1884 by the Scottish railwayman James Douglas Logan. It was originally an outpost of the British Empire and Post Office and Loading place for sheep farmers in the surrounding country. This settled Mother down for a while and she enjoyed the scenery of the Matroosberge as we sped past on the N1. The evening at the Hotel was superb and Mother enjoyed herself but we had to order for her as she was not used to eating out.
The next day we kept on heading north and Mother was relaxed until the afternoon when she started asking difficult questions again. Luckily we reached the guest farm of Melton Wold Guest Farm about 30km to the west of Victoria West by mid-afternoon, and settled Mother down in a nice room. That evening I asked her if she would like a Whiskey….her favourite evening drink……and she said “Oh yes, if I am allowed to”
The following day we went into Victoria West to familiarise Mother with her surroundings. That maybe was not a good idea as Mother became disturbed by historic events. We were falling around and tumbling through space trying to figure out how to approach Mother in a kind and calming way and giving her pleasing answers. At Bernie’s grave she said “No one let me know he had died” and at Julian’s grave and that of Aunt Vera and Uncle Lex she did not know who they were. We took Mother for lunch at the Motel and then to sit quietly in the Lounge at Huis Frieda Kempen so that I could go and organise to get her furniture and belongs from The Strand.
I grew up with most of the business people in town and knew them well. Despite this I was unable to hire a vehicle anywhere. I eventually borrowed a ute (bakkie) from Shorty MacIntosh, a chap who used to work for the company I managed some years before, and a trailer from Besters Garage. The trailer was designed to carry motorbikes and did not have a spare wheel! And there was none to be had. Andre Bester said that they had never had an issue with the trailer and that the wheel-bearings were fine and it should work without hassles! The ute had a cracked windscreen and I wondered how I was going to explain myself should the Traffic Constabulary stop me. Then I found out that the ute didn’t have a jack. I borrowed one from a friend. As it turned out I had a successful 1500km run there and back without any issues with the ute or the trailer, even though I managed to load about two ton of furniture and personal gear onto the two vehicles.
At the Aged Care Home they looked at me in awe as I moved the furniture down from Mother’s room on the second floor and loaded the ute and trailer. I had hired a day labourer that I knew and after arriving there at 8am we had the room cleared by 11am and ready for the handover of keys. Luckily I did not have to clean the room as a contractor would be brought in to clean and refurbish it.
While this was happening Judith was out at Melton Wold supervising Mother. By all accounts Mother was very good and listened to what Judith asked of her. We thought that she may have thought that Judith was a nurse.
I was back in Victoria West the following day and unloaded the furniture into Mother’s new room and set it up in the same fashion as her old one. The following day we brought her to her new abode telling her that she would be staying here for a holiday. As we approached the building she said “What is my name doing up there on the front of the building”. We had to tell her but she shook her head in disbelief and said that she didn’t remember. Once in her room she said “I have a carpet just like this one and the TV is similar as well”.
Mother settled in quite well but as her mind was becoming more befuddled we employed a Carer to be with her on a daily basis between 8 am and 5pm. At Huis Frieda Kempen, she was among old friends, where she received very attentive, excellent and compassionate care for the remaining time of her life.
As we drove out of town back to the city and the airport the tears welled up in my eyes as I knew I would never see her again
She passed away on the sixth day of September 1999 at the age of 84 years and 5 months and 2 days, relieved from the terrible time she had to endure.
One of her two wishes in life, was to see Halley’s Comet as it had appeared last in the year that she was born in. This she saw with great glee and excitement in 1986. The other one was to see in the new millennium. Unfortunately she passed on just 4 months short of that event.
Frieda will be remembered for
Her infectious laugh
Her non-judgemental and compassionate attitude towards all who crossed her path
Her love for travel, car drives, astronomy, sport, and her ability to quote poetry at length.
Her love of intellectual challenges, mathematical formulas, cryptic crossword puzzles and endless Scrabble Games
Her unwavering, and unstinting support and devotion to her children.
She chose to be cremated and a plaque in the Garden of Remembrance, in Pinelands, Cape Town, reads
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
FRIEDA AUGUSTE KEMPEN
APRIL 4.1915-SEPTEMBER 6.1999
WIFE AND BEST FRIEND OF
BERNIE JOHANNES KEMPEN
WILLEM, JULIAN, BERNIE
A KINDRED SPIRIT OF LOVE AND DEVOTION
A similar stone plaque was placed on the grave of Bernie Kempen, in the New Cemetery at Victoria West.
My Mother, Edith, was an exceptionally talented person and had a flair for dressmaking and cooking. In later years she and my Father, Keith, bought land by the sea at Anglesea, Victoria and built and sold a number of houses. Mother was a precise and calculating person who knew what she wanted and did everything to perfection.
I was an only child. Of course I cannot fathom what my Mother’s mood was when I was born but she had psyched herself up that the baby was going to be a boy and his name would be Geoffrey Richard. She was bitterly disappointed when I was born and refused to discuss a name with my Father. I think she had Post Natal Depression but those conditions were not recognised in those days. My Father and my Grandfather eventually went to register me and came up with the name of Judith Louise. Then they realised that this was the name of a well-known racehorse and so they changed it to Judith Kay.
I had a happy childhood and upbringing and my Mother and I were best friends. Then I moved away from home, met Willem in Darwin, Northern Territory and we got married at the end of June 1969. My Mother and Father declined to come to the wedding as my Father said that he had work commitments at that time. My Mother never forgave me for doing her out of a wedding.
A short time later we got itchy feet and I wanted to show my husband off to the family and we drove south in a battered old Volkswagen Beetle. My Mother took an instant dislike to Willem and that carried on for many years. I stayed in contact with my Mother but she kept her distance from me. My Mother and Father retired to the Gold Coast in 1977. We saw them on a few occasions when we were living in Surfers Paradise. We also stayed with them for a few days in 1982 on a visit to the coast from the Northern Territory.
In 1990 my Father passed away from cancer. We were in the Northern Territory and I had wanted to come down to the Gold Coast to see him, but my Mother stopped me from doing so. She did not even let me know when my Father passed away. My Aunt rang to tell me and made arrangements for me to come to the funeral.
Life went on but Mother shunned me and returned Birthday cards and letters with Address Unknown written on them. So I made sure that I kept up to date with what she was up to through her younger brother Bob as he was in contact with her periodically.
Out of the blue in 2006 she made contact with me as there were devastating fires about in South Australia where we were living now. I tried to pick up the thread again with Mother but she returned my letters again. Then in mid-2007 I started receiving phone calls from Mother who sounded in real distress and talking gibberish about the Second World War and other things. I was due to have a knee replacement and so I rang and conferred with Uncle Bob. He had also been receiving disturbing phone calls from her. Uncle Bob then, at the age of 79, decided to drive 2000 kilometres up to the Gold Coast to see Mother. His report was not good stating that she seemed very confused.
A Long Seven Years:
We started making arrangements to see what we could do for Mother through the Alzheimer’s Association and our 7 year nightmare started. Letters and phone calls to health care professionals flowed freely. Mother had not made any provision as far as we knew for Power of Attorney to any family member or friend if something went wrong. Eventually we drove the 2000 kilometres to the Gold Coast. Mother was herself just like she was years ago. Cocky and assertive but we soon learned from her conversation that the brain was out of order and that something had to be done soon. We had spoken to all of her neighbours who told us various crazy stories about Mother wanting them to keep her jewellery and other valuables. At one stage she dug a hole in the garden to bury her pearls. We saw her Doctor who told us that he was of the opinion that she was well into the first stages of Delusional Dementia. He had taken her licence off her the year before as she had a slight accident involving another vehicle. After her vehicle was repaired, her local RSL, where my father was a Member, came and removed the car and sold it for her. She told us they stole it. We learned too that Mother would ring the Palm Beach Police Station stating all types of wild accusations against neighbours or people who visited her. Here we had to make peace with the Police but they were very understanding and had been willing to go around to the house and talk with Mother even if she was not coherent.
So with all our notes and visiting the Alzheimer’s Association and the Mental Ward at South Port Hospital and also obtaining the papers to apply to be Administrator and Guardian for Mother from the Queensland Tribunal, we set off home again worried as hell but were helpless to do much at that stage. Mother had not made provision for an Enduring Power of Attorney document or an Enduring Power of Guardianship.
And so it all started. I applied to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal to be my Mother’s Administrator and Guardian. The machinations of the government machine started rolling….slowly. I asked the family, that is Uncle Bob, Mother’s younger brother and Uncle Jack (Mother’s twin brother) and my cousins to become involved in the process with me, but only Uncle Bob accepted. Emails, letters, phone calls and video links that did not work were now the order of the day. I was appointed Administrator but not Guardian in January 2008 via a telephone hook-up to QCAT. I was still trying to organise my life to cope with all of Mother’s personal life when I had a phone call at the beginning of February to say that Mother had run out of her house in a distressed state at 4am in the morning and had woken the neighbours. They took her in and pacified her and then called an ambulance. Mother was taken to the Mental Ward of the Robina Campus Hospital on the Gold Coast.
On the same day I was appointed Administrator of my Mother’s financial affairs but not a Guardian as they deemed I was a Guardian automatically as I am an only child. The latter proved to be a thorn in my side for a while. We packed the car and drove the 2000km to the Gold Coast.
Now came a frantic few weeks trying to arrange accommodation for Mother. We were in contact with a number of Health Agencies and they were all very helpful. We had no idea of where we would find accommodation and we also had no idea of Mother’s financial state. So first of all we had to approach her bank to see what Mother’s state of affairs was. We followed the money trail from there and found out that Mother had good investments that may be applied to see her through her remaining years in a care facility. But of course we did not know where to place Mother? First we had to had a meeting with the on duty Doctors at the Mental Ward. I had seen Mother and she wasn’t too receptive. Needed the key to her house so that we could get access should we need to. I told her I was going to get her some clean clothes. She agreed.
At a round table meeting with us there were two Doctors, two nurses and a health care specialist. All were discussing what to do. Our hearts sank when the health care specialist said Mother was coherent enough and could go home as she thought that Mother was quite capable of looking after herself. Luckily the Doctors overrode this and the rest of us agreed that Mother needed to be placed in an aged care facility. After the meeting were introduced to a lady who kept her eyes open for vacancies in aged care facilities. She said there were possibly rooms available in government run homes but we did not like that idea. We needed her to be placed in a private facility. She said that she would look out for us. The urgency was that Mother had already been a week in the hospital and the administration told us that they needed her out to make way for more serious patients
On the way back to the motel we were pondering on what our next move would be with a million things running through our trains of thoughts. Suddenly the phone rang and the lady from the hospital told us that there was a room available in the Secure Ward of Bangalor Retreat at Bilamil Heights, Tweed Heads West, in New South Wales, just across the border. We were over the moon with this news and changed our direction to go and see the manager of this place. Realising that the home was in New South Wales and Mother lived in Queensland we rang the Tribunal first to see if this was going to be possible. The senior manager said that this was all OK and gave his blessing. This was to be proved otherwise later on.
Yes, the room was available and yes, we could do an inspection. We did just that and decided that this place, which looked more like a Casino, would suit Mother. It had a private library, movie theatre and hairdresser and two lounges on this floor with sweeping views over the Tweed River and further out, the sea. We went back to see the Manager and to find out what this was going to cost. Luckily we had done some research on entry prices to aged care facilities and knew that the price would be high. The cost came to $250,000 for the bond and the residential fee was around $2000 per month. A deposit of $20,000 was needed. I agreed to the terms and was so nervous writing out such a big cheque. When the contract was available to be signed an hour or so later Willem went though it thoroughly as he has experience with contracts. He soon saw that a timeline of 21 days was set for the bond money to be paid. We were worried that if Mother’s house was no sold by then we might be in a pickle as we did not want to liquidate some of the investments. So Willem negotiated for a 60 day time frame and the Manager agreed to that. After corrections I signed the document and then rang the hospital advising that we had a place for Mother to go to. Everyone was pleased. We said we hoped to be ready in two days. Two days?
Next morning we decided that we should sort the furniture out for Mother’s room and we booked a Taxi Truck which duly arrived with two young blokes to move the furniture. We were lucky that there was one available at that moment and by 2pm Mother’s room was ready to be lived in. It was a nice cosy room with an en-suite and access to a small garden in an enclosed courtyard. So, with a day we were able to ring the hospital and tell them the news and they then told us they would deliver Mother and stay with her for an hour while she was settling in. I had decided not to be there but to come the following day as if nothing had happened and to stay clear of any questions about the house as her disturbed mind might go into freefall.
On the way to Bangalor Retreat, Mother apparently said, “I don’t like this, where are we going?”
It so happened that when Mother was admitted to Bangalor Retreat, the owner was there and happed to meet her in the front foyer. He took her hand and kissed it and said “Welcome to my Palace, Mrs Johnston”. Mother melted and did a curtsy.
Our next task was to put Mother’s house on the market. I engaged a very well-known and reputable Real Estate Agency and the Salesman came around soon after to nut out what we thought would be a good price. He left with all the details and my instructions. As there was still furniture left in the house and we would have to take most of it to the rubbish tip as Charity Organisations would not have wanted it, we decided that we would buy a trailer and take the majority home. But our little car did not have a towbar fitted so that had to be organised first. Around $2000 later we had a trailer on the back and ready to load.
Mother was not receptive to me on my first visit there. I asked if she liked her new surroundings and she was amiable enough to that but on the whole she was angry. Not much I could do about that but to smile, give her a hug and leave. It was very disconcerting but there was no other way for this to happen.
So it was back to Mother’s house where we engaged with the neighbours and gave them all the updated news. One neighbour came over with a bag full of jewellery which Mother had given to her. Then we started packing the trailer.
We visited Mother a number of times to settle her in but she was not happy and very confused. From this moment onwards I had a close relationship with the telephonists on the front desk of Bangalor Retreat. The staff of the retreat, were at all times very professional and would call me if anything untoward happened with Mother. I made sure that they all received nice Christmas Gifts every year such as biscuits and chocolates.
We hit the road for home over two and a half days taking it easy but still driving long stretches.
Mother was a difficult patient in the beginning. It took the home and doctors a fair while to get her on the right medication to keep her calm as she was very confused. The staff nurtured her and cared for her and we had just started cruising with good outcomes for all when My Uncle Jack, Mother’s twin brother, passed away. Not long afterwards his eldest son, my cousin made his way to the Gold Coast to ‘care’ for my Mother. What followed was two years of pure hell for us.
Mother was coherent at times at suddenly took to my cousin who used his father’s name to wriggle his way into her heart. He had met Mother in 2006 for the first time and on that occasion the meeting was not a success. Mother, now firmly living in the past and especially the Second World War, thought that her nephew was her brother. He concocted a plan to rescue her from this horrible place. She immediately said that she would leave all her money and her house to him. He got very excited and took her to a Solicitors office to have new Will drawn up. When it came to describing her assets Mother said she had a house and $5000 in the bank. But she could not describe the bank or where the house was. The Solicitors then suggested my cousin take her to Specialist Psychiatrist to have her assessed for dementia. Suddenly phone calls were coming in from people we did not know asking questions. The next thing my cousin found out which bank Mother had banked at and took her there and tried to withdraw $10,000 from her account. The staff on duty knew that someone else had total control of the account and as the Bank Manager wasn’t there as it was her lunch hour they gave him and Mother $1000. Next thing that happens she bank clerk gives Mother a print out of an account and my cousin rushes over to Brisbane the next day and taking Mother with him to lay a complaint against me accusing me of spending too much of Mother’s money. Then he asked for a review of my appointment as Administrator and then tried to get himself installed as Administrator. He somehow accessed Mother’s Will and spoke about its contents to other family members. Soon after he made application to be Mother’s Guardian in New South Wales as In Queensland I had not been appointed Guardian as it was prescribed that as I was an only child that I was automatically Mother’s Guardian. Of course Mother was living in New South Wales a very short way across the border from Queensland. All her assets were in Queensland. What followed was no less than eight Tribunal Hearings four of which we attended personally. The others were via phone link-ups. Needless to say we were able to thwart his efforts and gain control of all the necessary positions to make Mother’s life comfortable. But it took a lot of time out of doing other things and two trips to Sydney and two trips to the Gold Coast. Mother had been aggressive towards me in all this time and it was very distressing. Then, after the last Tribunal Hearing, and back at home with life settling down again, the phone rang one day. It was Mother, who apologised to me profusely for being nasty to me. It seems that Mother’s medication had been changed and that she now had a new working carer who fussed over her. She loved that lady
After that life settled down again. Two years of relative hell and worry we did not need to endure. The problem is that if a person lays a complaint against another person who is acting as administrator to an estate, the public servants are obligated to initiate a hearing and a review. No sooner had our lives settled down again when my Cousin asked me to pay all of his expenses while he was flitting around the Gold Coast taking mother here and there with Hire Cars, solicitor’s fees, Psychiatrists fees etc. I refused and eventually after another year of this hanging over my head, I was forced by the Queensland Tribunal to setlle the account through a Mediator. He got less than half that he had claimed for and had to sign a declaration that he was not allowed to make another claim against the estate. Life slowed down after this
When Mother turned 88 we were there with a big cake which we shared with all the ‘residents’ of Bergonia Ward. A good time was had by all. We visited Mother once a year and stayed for a week. The time with her was pretty stressing, as she was slowly regressing. She had moments of brilliance when she would remember a quote or a saying but overall I could not last much more than an hour at a time with her and her three fellow ‘residents’ at her table. Mother was the ‘Queen’ of Bergonia Ward and would stamp her authority when a stranger wanted to sit at her table…even if the seats were free. “Go away” she would say “ I have visitors coming”. At morning tea all the oldies in the ward would shuffle in or be helped in by the nurses and carers. Some were very far gone and could not communicate at all. They would get their morning pill which the carers had to make sure the oldies would take. Mother would hide them in her walker. They would get a piece of cake or biscuits. If the piece of cake looked too small for Mother she would exclaim her favourite saying “It’s not right, you know!” But there was always a second cake somewhere. The staff were very caring.
Mother has the inclination to look the best at all times and even at 89 she was still wearing High Heel shoes. But then she fell and broke her hip. So we threw our gear in the car, helped old Jeddah the dog into the car and off we went to the Gold Coast. Along the way we get a phone call from the specialist asking for permission to operate. I give my permission. Then the next day another phone call to say that the operation was successful and that Mother has no arthritis in her joints. We arrived at the John Flynn Medical Centre in Queensland across the border with New South Wales the day after the operation and in the morning. Mother is stressed out and won’t eat because she is confused. Only I go in the room to console here. She doesn’t know who I am. I have to tell her but she says she did not have children as she was never married. My heart tears in two. I hold her hand and a nurse comes in and Mother introduces me as a friend. So be it. We visit again in the afternoon and things have changed. The Home had sent a carer down that my Mother recognises and feeds her and calms her down. At the next morning’s visit Mother is chirpy, recognises me and Willem and is relatively happy. She is not sure why they had changed her room around but I tell her that she had an accident and that she is in hospital but she doesn’t believe me. She keeps on scratching her hand and even opening up the skin and also pulling her drip out. The hospital staff, seem to be at their wits end, and ask me for guidance and I reply that I don’t know other than to give her a sedative and then to cut her nails short. This they did but when the sedative wore off, Mother still pulled the drip our and tore the skin on her hand. So she had to have stitches put in and her hand wrapped up with multiple layers of dressing. They then also bound her other hand in dressing and this worked. Two days later Mother was due to be transferred from the Hospital back to her room at Bangalor Retreat but as she was living in New South Wales a New South Wales ambulance was required as the Queensland Ambulance Service would not take her there. Eventually this was sorted and Mother returned to her home. We stayed another week just to settle Mother in and did twice a day one hour sessions with her as she recovered. The bandages came off and Mothers hand healed again and so did her new hip. She was walking again 5 days after her operation. We drove home
I would ring Mother once a week on a Thursday morning while she was still bright. Some days she would ask me about my chooks at the bottom of the garden and other days she would make me cry when she would not know who I am. On 20th July 2012 Mother turned 90 and we arrived and bought the biggest cake you have ever seen. The icing on the cake read:
Mother still wondered who I was but played along with the birthday theme as she was the centre of attention. We stayed a week and then took off to northern destinations to relieve ourselves from the stress caused by these visits.
We visited Mother again in 2013 on her 91st birthday before continuing on with a camping holiday. At Xmas of that year I had a feeling that Mother’s time was approaching and so we made plans to go to Canberra to see some exhibitions there and then drive along the Great Dividing Range all the way to the Gold Coast taking in some back-roads and visiting friends as well. We stayed at our usual Motel at Chingera and visited Mother for a week. She was her usual self with lots of fuss and pretence and not quite knowing who we were. She ate like a horse but weighed barely 50kg and I could see her decline.
I was pleased that I had made the effort to see Mother on last time as I had a feeling in my bones. On 7th March 2014 I received a phone call to say that Bangalor had sent Mother to the hospital for a check-up as she was coughing. The hospital sent her back again two days later with the news that she had pneumonia. I rang and spoke with her in that day and she was quite lucid. We had a good old chinwag and at the end of the conversation she said “I love you”.
The next day I was about to call her when the phone rang. Mother had had her lunch, and was sitting in her chair when she just gave a gasp and passed away. She had lived for 91 years, 7 months and 18 days.
It was just the two of us at her funeral
Her ashes lie next to that of my Father’s in the Returned Services League’s Garden of Remembrance in the Tweed Heads Memorial Gardens Cemetery
Her epitaph reads…..
IN LOVING MEMORY
EDITH MAVIS DOREEN JOHNSTON
20.7.1922 – 10.3.2014
BELOVED WIFE OF KEITH
DEARLY LOVED MUM OF JUDITH
TOGETHER AGAIN FOREVER
NOTE: Both our Mothers shut themselves off from social contact in their later years.
They became solitary beings with their own thoughts and memories and maybe demons.
The Cosy Cottage
We had been looking around at houses as we now had to buy one to set it up for our old age. My brother had remarked that I was limping which was what I was unaware of. It was time to settle down although I was still keen on travelling.
We bought a house in Peterborough, South Australia in November of 1999 and received full ownership of the property for $17,250. It needed some work but it was sound and it was ours.
Our house, built of quarried stone and bricks has no foundation. Built in the year of 1900, the end of the Victorian Era, and Styled in the original Miners Cottage Skillion style, flat front and sloping roof. In the late 1920’s two front rooms both with fireplaces and chimneys were added on, a hallway and a front veranda in the State Bank style. A pitched roof was built this time. At the back door of the house there are two rings built in to the wall where the horse’s Manger was attached to. The was an outside toilet and outside bathroom. When the pitched roof was built it enclosed all of those rooms. A laundry, bath, outside washroom and outside veranda were all part of the rear of the house. The kitchen has a Metters Wood stove and shares the chimney with the lounge fireplace. It also had a gas stove which we eventually replaced with a new split oven and cooker stove.
Over the next couple of years, we painted the inside of the house. I built a Pantry in the corner of the kitchen, a Linen Cupboard in the Laundry area, a Shower recess in the Laundry area, a Clothes Cupboard in Judith’s room.
I also built bookcases in the lounge. Nothing flash, just out of MDF and some paint.
The outside walls had had cement screeding done to the lower part of the walls and this in turn ate away the bottom of the walls through Rising Damp. I took it upon myself to make up my special Victoria West mix of sand, cement and lime. I also got access to some land where there were ruins and systematically removed stones from there. I used the smaller stones to build up the bottom of the outside walls with stones and my ‘Daga’ and it took me seven years to repair all the walls and paint them Federation Cream and Heritage Green.
We laid out pathways around the house. There was still a small lawn at the rear of the house which we kept at bay with a roller blade mower. In the summer of 2001, we had a locust swarm pass over and they killed the lawn. So, I dug the lawn out an put it down in the middle of the back garden……and forgot about it as there were too many other jobs on the. When I saw the lawn again it had taken root and was a devil to remove and take to the rubbish tip. We flattened the area out and eventually lay concrete tiles and eventually built a pergola and trained our grapes over it.
When we arrived here the first thing I did, was to clean up the garden. There were still isolated three corner Jacks growing. My neighbour needed money to take a truck full of rubbish to the tip. I gave him the money and he was able to borrow a Front-end Loader and I got him to scrape the top off the garden and tip it into the truck. Then I took the trailer, which I had acquired from Noel Fullerton, to the Municipal Soil Dump and took twenty-five trailer loads of top soil, back to our backyard and spread it over the whole garden. I was pretty fit after that.
We went driving, looking for river-stones and found an isolated creek coming out of the Horseshoe Range out of Carrieton. We loaded 16 trailer-loads of stones and right on the last one a bloke stopped and asked if we had a permit to take stones and I lied and said yes, of course. Satisfied with the answer he drove off. We were unaware of regulations for the removal of rocks from creeks.
At this stage I could barely walk and bought a wheelchair to get around. In 2003 I had a full knee replacement to my left knee and in 2005 my right knee. Each one took twelve months to fully recover. By 2006 I was walking again without the need of a walking stick. Judith’s Auntie Vi passed away and left her a small inheritance. We decided to update all out white-goods, had a solar water heater installed and then we bought a near-new Nissan X-trail and a used Nissan GQ diesel.
Having done a huge amount of work to our house I teamed up with Milton Good, an old mate from Darwin days, and we went camping and exploring.