16 May 2021



 I arrived home safe and sound late Thursday afternoon after driving down from Port Macquarie and calling in to see a friend in Newcastle on the way.

I travelled 3318 kms in the three week trip and the fuel consumption according to the trip computer was 6.8 litres per 100kms ( 41.5mpg) As there was very little city driving most of the time I was driving long legs at 100kmh or faster so the fuel consumption/economy was excellent particularly as the car runs on 95 RON fuel.

Apart from the stressful leg in the storm coming out of St George last Sunday the driving was uneventful.

The past two days have been spent on domestic duties and giving the Mini a really thorough clean inside and out. The front of the car was spattered with dead bugs. At the motel in Warwick last Sunday I saw two honeyeaters picking off and eating the dead bugs. A buffet for birds.

13 May 2021

Early morning-Port Macquarie

 I am on the last leg of my 3,500km road trip. Yesterday there were no photo ops, just a long tedious 460 km drive on motorway from Merrimac in Queensland to Port Macquarie in NSW so no blog photos . After the first few kms of heavy traffic in the Gold Coast area it was a very quiet road going south so I just set the cruise control, turned on Spotiy-my constant companion for the whole trip-and sat back and watched the scenery flash past.

After a very enjoyable evening last night I was up with the sparrows for my early morning walk and the coastal path in Port Macquarie is one of the best. The health app on my iPhone shows that I walked 5.2kms today just bettering the 5.1kms I walked yesterday morning. The best part of today's walk is the photo I took this morning-above. I think this may well be the best shot from the trip. And yes it was taken with my iPhoneSE. And it is "as shot" no adjustment except for a slight cropping at the margins..Serious food for thought.

Why was I not carrying a Leica camera? Quite simple I am trying to exercise hard nowadays to both keep fit and reduce my weight. Hopefully I am succeeding on both counts but carrying a camera for me is not compatible with walking quickly.

The surf conditions at the southern end of Town Beach in Port first thing today were idea and the surfers were literally running down the beach to hit the surf. I'd say that 40% of the surfers this morning were female.Times may not be changing in our misoginistic parliament and government but they certainly are a'changing in the Australia where most of us live and with one daughter and three granddaughters I say "go girls"

11 May 2021

Surfers Paradise-a distant view

It's been many years since I was last in Surfers Paradise. It is totally unrecognisable. It is like being in a different country. Photo shows the view of Surfers from a distance - taken this morning. 

10 May 2021

What a difference a day makes

What a difference a day makes. On Sunday I was driving 400kms on very empty totally isolated roads for half the drive in appalling rain. Today a totally different story driving from Warwick to the Gold Coast in Queensland. Beautiful sunshine, gorgeous scenery but way too much traffic and road works every few kms.

9 May 2021

Storm runner

 I drove the 395 kms from St George to Warwick today. It had been raining heavily for about an hour when I left St George. I had a schedule I wanted to keep but I had serious reservations about travelling in such heavy rain as the country is so flat it soon floods and with the Mini I could easily have found myself marooned in the middle of nowhere. Mini Roadside Assistance would not have been of any assistance.

For the whole journey the roads were almost totally deserted and I was pretty worried by the conditions for the first 2 hours but eventually I managed to outrun the massive storm front and hit dry roads and then when I started to relax I started to see a few kangaroos near the road so I had to keep my speed down. For the only time in the trip I was questioning the wisdom of coming in the Mini. On the stormy section because the side of the road was flooded and the water was rising rapidly for long stretches I had to drive down the middle of the road with the wheels straddling the centre line. The Mini should be renamed "Puddle Jumper".

Below is a quick grab shot through the windscreen of one of the Oversize loads I met on the dry part of the run. Even with the Mini I had to pull right off the road to avoid the parts of the implement on my side of the road. A bigger vehicle would have been bushbashing to get far enough over. 

8 May 2021

They grow underpants out here

 St George is a major centre of Australian cotton cultivation. The problem is that cotton cultivation is totally water dependant and it uses a lot of water. In years when there is very heavy rain in the headwaters of the river systems then it is fine. But in years when the rains don't come or are light the draw off for irrigating the cotton deprives the major rivers in the south of the country of desperately needed water and the health of the rivers suffers.

It is a very contentious issue and despite numerous studies and various agreements and rules it continues to be a major issue. The simple inescapable fact is that they should not be growing cotton in a semi arid region.

It is cotton harvest time now. The sides of the roads are full of cotton fibres which have come off the rolls on the trucks. Huge paddocks have been stripped bare by massive harvesters. Rolls of picked cotton fibres stand in fields waiting to be picked up and transported to the cotton gins in St George. A cotton gin is a machine which separates the cotton fibres from the seeds. Yesterday I encountered a few three or four trailer long road trains taking the cotton to the gins. A huge road train with a big Kenworth prime mover going in the opposite direction at 110kmh takes up most of the road and creates enough turbulence to blow the Mini off line or even off the road so as soon as I see an approaching road train I slow right down and hold the steering wheel tight.

After processing in the gin the cotton fibres are shipped off overseas. Australia is the second largest exporter of cotton in the world. In the past the largest percentage went to China but since China declared an economic war on Australia in 2020 in an attempt to turn us into a vassal state exports  there have dwindled to almost nothing. The good news is that the other major Asian markets-Thailand, S Korea, Pakistan and Japan are still thriving. So despite China's bully boy tactics the Australian economy is thriving and thanks to Chairman XI we are enjoying some very good cheap Australian wine. 

The exported cotton does return to Australia as finished good so it is almost  true to say that we grow underpants here. Such a pity that we screw the major river systems to grow them.

Much to my surprise there is a very attractive winery in St George- Riversands Wines.There are a lot of table grapes being grown under irrigation in the region but just one winery. As you do I stopped by to sample the wines and have some lunch there today. In theory as it is so hot out here the red and fortified wines should be their best offering but I had a surprisingly good glass of their chardonnay with lunch. I was not so impressed with the reds and I did not try the fortified wines-I was driving. I bought two bottles of the white but I have a suspicion that it will not taste so good in Terrigal. We shall see.


Sunrise on the Balonne River-St George

 There is a a beautiful riverside walk beside the Balonne River in St George. It's  paved and very tidy. It's 2.8kms in length and I was up at 5.00am to walk it end to end and back as the sun came up today. Photo taken with my iPhone.

7 May 2021

6 May 2021

Over the border

 I drove the 253kms from Lightning Ridge to St George over the border in Queensland this morning. It's  a lonely drive with no phone signal so it's a good idea not to have a breakdown or accident out there. In 150kms I saw five other vehicles and four of those were heading south in the opposite direction.The one heading my way flew past me. I did let the Mini have its head on one very straight section. No comment on the speed I reached. 

It is extraordinary flat county. Nothing but scrub. No buildings. No people. Just vast open sky country. Cattle rearing country. Closer to St George and the river systems there is massive cotton cultivation using irrigation water taken from the river systems-water which should be allowed to flow to the starved rivers downstream. Growing cotton in a semi arid region using river water is verging on criminal.

Just over the border in Qld is the tiny settlement of Hebden with its outback pub and petrol station. And a sign warning of the max A$30,000 penalty for owning a rabbit in Queensland. Buy the kids a guinea pig.

5 May 2021

Three Mile Opal Field

Just my luck that Lightning Ridge has had about 20% of its annual rainfall in the two days since I have been here. And to make matters worse there was an icy wind blowing today.

I decided to carry on regardless and had a really interesting morning driving out to the Three Mile Opal Field-one of the oldest and most productive opal mining areas around Lightning Ridge. The road was a mess -big potholes and very muddy- but I managed to get there and back although the Mini is now filthy. I did get some really odd looks from the drivers and passengers in hunking great SUVs as they drove past me splashing mud all over Elf.

Below is a photo is typical of what the whole mining field looks like. The Dept of Mines does not want open cut mining so mining continues as it has always been -individual miners going down small shafts and chipping away at the dirt. Finding an opal is really a matter of pure chance. One miner can be digging out dirt from his mine and find nothing for weeks or even months whereas the miner in the mine shaft next to him can strike it rich on the second day. And when I say strike it rich it is literally rich as the black opals found in this area are extremely valuable. Some miners are multi millionaires but they continue mining and living in little tin shacks on the mining fields because they are addicted to the opal chase.

The conical mounds are the dirt dug out from the shafts. It is either pulled out in a chain of buckets in a conveyor system or blown out with a blower. It is then tumbled with water-most likely in an old truck mounted cement mixer-where the clay is washed off and then the residual of gravel is carefully examined for opals.The conical mounds are dirt waiting to be tumbled or the discarded tumbled dirt. 

You cannot just walk onto the mining area and start scratching through the mounds yourself-fossicking as it is called-is most definitely frowned on and out here frowned on has various interpretations depending on whose mound you are fossicking. There are literally thousands of open mine shafts out here and finding a body in one would be impossible. There are some designated fossicking sites on private property and I was told that a tourist found an opal valued at A$3000 on one such site last week. 

Opals form in a material known as potch and it is relatively easy to find potch with traces of opal in it whilst fossicking. I can attest to this I actually found a piece of potch after just a few minutes of fossicking yesterday. 

I would also commend spell checker for true diligence in auto correcting my spelling of potch to pitch at least 12 times whilst I typed the above paragraph. 

After driving the Mini through potholes and mud to my surprise I came to a large modern shed where a volunteer-Bob-was modifying a projector stand to take a brand new HD video projector to show videos  onto the side of the shed which is next to hopefully what will be the site of the Australian Opal Centre (AOC) in a dramatic Gleenn Murcutt designed building. The Centre will show the history of the mining in the area and also show some of the many opalised fossils found in the area. The site is ready and the plans have been approved. They are just waiting for the funding to come through...... 

I had a very interesting chat with Bob-below- for about an hour. He told me that he had studied philosophy at university before becoming hooked on opal mining. He and his wife had  bought up a family for 11 years in the stone building below. I assume he now lives in town in a house with more amenities-like running water and electricity.

I do understand that having a beard is not mandatory for opal miners or retired opal miners but the chances of finding a opal miner without one are actually less than are the chances of finding an opal.

And finally to support my rating of Lightning Ridge as really weird where else in Australia would you find a rusting prewar car chassis on a piece of land on the main street opposite the post office?

4 May 2021

An extraordinary place

 I first went to Lightning Ridge, the opal mining settlement, in 1982. It was the real Wild West then. Very basic with few facilities.  It does have facilities now but it still is the Wild West. I went into the scrub today down rough dirt roads to some opal mining areas away from Lightning Ridge-not in the Mini.

It really is a very unusual place with many unusual people. The bush pubs I called in at are just tin shacks in the scrub. The facilities are the other side of basic although there is a strong mobile phone signal. The mining areas are full of rusting cars and trucks and mining equipment and spoil heaps and hundreds of open mine shafts. And a tree full of bras. 

On a 1 to10 scale of weirdness. With 10 really weird Lightning Ridge and surrounds would easily score 11.

Some photos from the day and two of the opal miners I met.