Before we set off we made certain (or tried to) that we had both the car and caravan mechanically sound - new tyres, batteries, services etc - because we knew that we would be travelling on outback roads. We also were keeping up with weather reports because we were travelling in the wet season and that area can flood quickly. Stopovers included Finley (largest irrigation channel in Australia), Forbes (home of Ben Hall's grave, he was an Australian bushranger for my overseas readers), and Gilgandra (home of the 1915-16 Cooee March). The bird life on the way up the Newell Highway was amazing and in many places water lying either side of the road had transformed the area almost into a wetlands. I loved seeing all the emus as you don't always see them closer to the coast.
We finally ran into both mechanical trouble and floods just as we were heading into Walgett, a small town in north western New South Wales which doesn't have a caravan park either, so we couldn't stay. Nor could we find anyone with the time who could help with the caravan dust caps popping off - Max being mechanically minded knew that there was a problem with the bearings so we decided to do makeshift repairs ourselves, gave up on trying to reach Lightning Ridge where we might have been flooded in for Christmas, and made a run back to Narrabri on a road that was 'open with caution', floodwaters having receded a little. We treated ourselves to dinner at the Narrabri RSL and their restaurant the Outback Shack is definitely worth a visit for both its amazing decor and food (real country servings). This is also a cotton growing area and it was interesting to drive through all this lush greenery when we expected dry and dusty.
We have Top Cover with RACV and we were aware that there was a reciprocal arrangement with other RAC organisations around Australia. So we also contacted NRMA but under the arrangements we only have basic cover in NSW which meant the caravan was not covered and they couldn't help us until we actually broke down and needed a tow. We need to look into this a bit more when we get back as breaking down in the outback with no mobile phone coverage is not something we really want to do. Nor do we want to take up membership with every RAC organisation either, although maybe you can't if you don't actually live in the state. I could rave on here about why isn't Australia a single country with a single RAC and all the other state differences (including fishing licenses) we have every time we cross a state border but I won't.
I was disappointed about not getting to Lightning Ridge as I do want to see where my great grandmother lived for a time. But she was also out at Thargomindah and Eulo so we will have to definitely come back in the dry season as those towns are even more remote. I always wonder how she managed to get that far out - coach? And of course, the big question - why?
Our repairs held so we moved on to Goondiwindi just over the Queensland border but by then we knew we were in trouble but again, only a day out from Christmas Eve, we couldn't find anyone that could help. So doing more temporary repairs on the other wheel too, we decided to try and make Brisbane. The RACQ advised the best road was via Toowoomba so we set off on the long lonely stretch between Goondiwindi and Millmerran, a town even smaller than Walgett. I was very happy to see the caravan park in Millmerran as at least we would have somewhere to stay as it was now obvious we needed to fix the bearings on the caravan wheels.
Advised there was only one mechanical place in town we went there seeking advice and walked in on them having lunch. To our surprise, they came outside straight away, checked both caravan wheels and said, yes you have big problems! This was more than we had been able to get anyone else to do but then they went on to say they could fix both wheels for us and have us back on the road within the hour. And they did, all still within their lunch hour! We gave them a bit extra so that they could have a Christmas beer or two - we would never have made it down the Toowoomba range without their friendly assistance.
I have always loved small Queensland towns and Millmerran is now one of my favourites for its hospitality and helpfulness. We wandered around the main street while the mechanics fixed the bearings which apparently hadn't been put back on quite properly when serviced.
We then made it into Toowoomba (Max's great grandfather was mayor at one time) and finally Newmarket (Brisbane) to spend Christmas Day with my family. We also caught up with Max's cousins in Burpengary and Redcliffe. We also spent some time in Toowong cemetery looking for family graves which I had last seen thirty odd years ago! Armed with my laptop we could look up Grave Location Search which gave us portion, section and grave number and a map to assist (but it still took some searching and Toowong is very steep in places). Sadly it didn't look like anyone had been to my grandfather's grave in the last three decades so we spent time digging up all the weeds and we then took new digital photos of all my relatives graves. I have old photos at home so it will be interesting to see the changes as the graves look more worn and one had even collapsed.
We are currently at Tweed Heads on the Queensland/ New South Wales border and catching up with friends and relatives before heading further south. Max is off visiting an old army mate who he recently found after forty years and I am taking the opportunity to catch up on my emails, enewsletters, blogs and so on. Before our next trip, I definitely need to get a smaller laptop (or whatever) as this is too big to set up daily, not that I have the energy, or even the inclination, every day. The other drawback is that we don't always have mobile phone or internet coverage and we spend long hours on the road some days.
However it's been great fun so far and we are learning more about our country's history and geography as we go around and I really need to do something about organising our digital photos and movies as we go or it will be an enormous job when we get back! So many interesting things to take images of but often the real thing is so much better to watch. I've seen some great outback sunrises and sunsets, not to mention the absolute beauty of the stars at night in areas where there are no streetlights.
Until I next log on, all the best for 2012. I hope it's a great year for everyone.