Chapter 10 First visit to Australia
So my youngest son Alan and I flew out to join my daughter Janet in Melbourne, this coincided with their annual school holidays and she and Donald had planned a trip from Melbourne to Springsure in Queensland.
Donald had bought an old blue van which he had fitted out as a camper with two bunks, the plan was that Alan and I would sleep in the van with Donald and Janet in a tent outside, we travelled up the inside of the mountain range and in 1976 the roads were pretty primitive, mostly dirt and used by huge trucks with multiple trailers called Road Trains, usually full of animals, and many a heart stopping moment was had as we tried to get out of their way as they roared passed with horns blaring,
We drove through swarms of locusts and the huge insects that landed on the windscreen were trying to eat the wiper blades, we had to have the side windows open because of the heat and every now and again one would fly in only for us to throw it out again, it’s amazing what you can get used to.
We got to a campsite which was down the side of a hill and the only road down was like an old stream bed of washed boulders, I drew upon my army experience and negotiated this obstacle in fine style, going back up was not so easy but we managed.
The spot itself was idyllic a quiet river with trees on the banks, Gellar’s and cockatoos making a noise in the trees and on the opposite bank a flat field where we could see kangaroo and Emu grazing.
I took along a little cine camera to record our trip and whilst filming a steam train I was stung on the ear by an insect that I never saw coming or going, the poison flooded into my system, as ones ears are full of blood, I think it took me about two weeks to get over that.
A memorable trip, the cine record is now with Alan.
The reason for going to Springsure was to visit my ex sister in-law Ann and her husband Tony who were up there in the middle of Queensland, share farming a property of some 80 thousand acres at Wealdwandangey,
An aboriginal name which means “the place with the spring that never runs dry” there were two families living on the farm, they had all the modern conveniences and typically never worried about appearances, there was no paint covering anything but they had television, deep freeze, solar water heating and massive farm machinery, you didn’t open the gate to get into the field you had to take the fence down, they had cattle and actual cowboys on horse back.
The son of the house, Johno and his sister Anto would show us where the local swimming places were and all over the farm, there was a small fence around the house to keep the kangaroo rats out and a shotgun in the kitchen for the occasional snake which ventured under the floorboards.
They had huge lizards called goannas living under the tennis courts and occasionally swarms of stinkbugs, like little black ladybirds that had a very objectionable stink when stepped on, the children used to take their pajamas to school because if the creek was up they couldn’t get home.
Australia was a wonderful experience, in England we had poisoned most of our wildlife, but there every stone you turned over was a new experience, the sky at night seemed to be so close and absolutely full of stars, from the farm across the fields and rolling hills you could see the mountains in the distance and spectacular electrical storms of lightning.
Ann introduced us to a good friend of theirs called Clarry Otto and is his wife Joyce they lived in the nearby town of Springsure where he was the local builder and handyman, they were also the only undertakers. He was certainly a character and very helpful he had never bothered to finish his house the whole place had no front wall, was built on stilts and had stingless bees living downstairs the walls were covered with animal skins and trophy heads and once again not a lick of paint, they had many interesting tales to tell, including how he welded two cars together to make a hearse, how Joyce and her friend had to go out into the bush to pick up a body that the police would not go near, and the time they got to the cemetery only to find the grave not dug yet so they drove around the cemetery killing time.
Clarry took us to see Koalas in the wild, old abandoned steam traction engines lying in the fields enormous termite nests and ants nests in the fields that looked like bear patches of earth in a grassy field, that when you stamp on the ground swarms of ants emerge ready to attack, on some smaller nests there would be one ant guarding the entrance and as you approached he would rear up on his back legs in a threatening manner, I doubt he was 2cm even in that position.
A truly memorable trip. Our return journey to Melbourne was made by going down the coast road seeing all the holiday spots like Bondi beach, surfer’s paradise etc.
We have another trip from Melbourne and into the woods on a nature trip, being teachers Janet and Donald could make use of a building situated in the forest that was normally used for educational trips for the children.
There was a big notice board in the hallway with warnings for the children about what animals and insects to be wary of because some of them are dangerous, we were busy reading all about the spiders and snakes when one large spider which we thought was pinned to the board started walking up the wall, after little panic he was captured in a cardboard box and taken outside
We went on a trip walking in the forest where there were snakes and spiders with birds and insects everywhere, but not before Donald was carefully wrapped with cardboard and newspaper up to its knees, we shouldn’t have laughed really.
Everybody knows the dangers of Australian spiders and the principle is usually if you see a spider, kill it. We were staying in Melbourne is some friends and Donald was busy sweeping out the garage, on hearing some strange loud whoops and cries together with slapping sounds we went to the garage only to find Donald leaping about in his sandals trying to kill dozens of baby Redback spiders he had disturbed.