Bowral. Wild Ducks and The Piano

This is not our first visit to Bowral. In fact Julie was a resident here somewhat briefly in September 2014 when the doctors gave her a new hip. At the time we were house-sitting, or should that be farm-sitting, a thousand acres near Crookwell as part of our Travel Australia adventure. On our first day Julie was helping me tension-up a fence wire when it snapped. In the resultant stumble and fall, she broke her hip.

We’d already met our hosts Bruce and Diane when we came to visit their magnificent home about two weeks after Julie’s little adventure and she was doing a test run on the new hip. On that occasion we enjoyed Diane’s hot fresh scones for morning tea and we were joined by Bruce’s parents, Arthur and Olive who would be keeping us company while we looked after the house and grounds.

Now we were back to stay for a month and it was like meeting up again with old friends already. I could forget about the bush-fixed tow-bar for now and learn about the workings of the palace.back yard

Quite aside from the beautiful house, the grounds and gardens are a work of art in their own right, designed by Diane who happened to pick up a degree in horticulture to book-end her accountancy degree. There are acres of lawns and a lovely small lake making it feel like one is living in a manicured park. Calling it a palace sounds like I am being disingenuous or ungracious but Diane and Bruce worked hard for their piece of paradise and deserve to be acknowledged for it. My task was mainly to ensure the lawns were maintained as the gardens were largely under irrigation, however the mowing is not something to be underestimated, not least because of the acres of green to be monitored.mowing

Ducks

One can’t skip the ducks or should that be, one can’t skip the ducks’ tracks (careful where you’re walking there mate). The common Australian Wood Duck population seems to have its headquarters in Bowral. Maybe that’s why the ground is so fertile, these ducks are waddling production lines for fertilizer.

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How To Snap a Tow Bar

How to snap a tow bar. Its ‘on the road again’ day as Willie Nelson so eloquently put it, the day when we say good-bye to our newest friends here in northern New South Wales and head off on another Travel Australia house-sitting assignment, 750 kilometres south to Bowral, 110 kilometres the other side of Sydney.

We were pretty well organized the day before our departure from Grafton and Julie went through her routine of purifying the house from floor to ceiling. Over previous weeks I’d made a few improvements to the van, installing a carpet off-cut to make the cabin as quiet as practicable and fitting a volt meter and the remote control for our (apparently ‘over-kill’)  battery charger / inverter into the dashboard.

Years of experience with our ex-trawler led me to over estimate the power requirements of a camper-van, embarrassingly so. Our petrol powered generator produced more than a hundred times the power of the solar panels that most caravaners use and the inverter needed that kind of power to drive it’s 9,000 watt needs, which we used to power our domestic bar fridge etc. It was all wrong.

We stopped at Coffs Harbour, an hour from Grafton and about 4 hours from Brisbane. This city of 70,000 people was on the stop list so we could do a tyre upgrade, which was completed while we did some shopping for essentials.

Planning. Not

In planning the trip to Bowral we’d made the ‘decision’ or what passes for a decision anyway, to stay in a National Park camp ground called Mungo Brush.  We could cover the 400 kilometres in one day easily, hopefully stopping about 3pm to enjoy some peace in a quiet camp before moving on the next day.

As if I needed any reinforcement to the notion that planning was a waste of time, our arrival was impeded by missing the first turn off and having to travel an extra 40 kilometres, inducing a little frustration.

To exacerbate our irritation, we discovered that National Parks in New South Wales no longer belong to the nation and have been re-evaluated by the bureaucrats as a commercial enterprise that charges rent to the owners (the people)  should they wish to access their property.

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A Beach Lunch To Savor

Remember that lunch at the beach, that lingering moment of happiness? Iluka and Yamba The second ‘Grafton surprise’ we found on this Travel Australia house-sitting assignment is the easy access to beaches. For a city that we think of as being ‘inland’ it seems incongruous that one can get to the beach faster than most … Read moreA Beach Lunch To Savor

The Amazing Grafton Bridge

The Amazing Grafton Bridge.   

We knew before we arrived in Grafton on our Travel Australia adventure we’d like Chike and Bridget. We’d emailed and phoned Chike about the house-sitting a couple of times so it was a great meeting them in person. It was one week to Christmas and they were all but packed up tapping their foot at the door (not really) when we drove up.

We were introduced to the neighbour Lyndon who would help out if we needed anything and met our new furry friends, Leonard a Chihuahua and Norman a Jack Russell.

That afternoon a very determined storm made its way over Grafton, splitting a large tree at the end of the street and generally spreading debris across the area. split treeNorman and Leonard didn’t seem to notice, which was a relief. The last thing we needed was panicked dogs within hours of our arrival.

The house was great, a long timber-themed home with history but it was sitting on a rather small block of land. On the southern side one could literally reach out and close the neighbour’s window, which also meant, there was the smallish problem of having no driveway.house Repairs and maintenance was not going to be easy. I unhitched the trailer and put a chain on the wheel, just because it was parked on the street, not that I expected any trouble. Then I sat down and had a good think, for a week or so.

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The Exploding Clutch

We completed our travel Australia house sitting assignment in Toowoomba on a Thursday morning, a month before Christmas. David and Nancy returned before lunch and were happy to find that after two weeks the dogs still remembered them.

We drove down the range to the family home in Ipswich and for the next week set about some good old fashioned home maintenance. In the afternoon, Brisbane’s worst hail storm in 30 years dropped by for a visit. Fortunately for us, it skittled along the eastern side of Ipswich so we got to see the show from the back steps, without having to pay the admission. Not so lucky for 70,000 others though and there was a lot of damage and some injuries.

The next week was devoted to some home repairs, the most difficult of which was the restoration of a couple of 40 year old concrete house stumps.

stump

Ballina

Hopefully the new clutch kit, organized the week before our trip by son Justin, will be waiting when we get to Ballina. We had a little delay on our departure waiting for a delivery of tent poles we ordered on the internet, but we managed to haul the trailer out of the yard and were on the road quite late in the afternoon. Heading along the Pacific Highway an hour later, it was obvious the clutch was not going to last much longer. By the time we were bypassing the Gold Coast, it was possible to increase the engine revs and have absolutely no impact on the speed. Still we lived in hope we would make it.

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No Brakes – No Problem

I doubt that most house sitters travelling Australia have an aversion to highways and freeways, but we were happy to plot a course north that kept us on the Great Dividing Range for as long as possible.

We could of course, stay on the Range for the entire 1,000 kilometres, all the way to Toowoomba (itself on the GDRange about a hundred ks west of Brisbane) but I was keen to stop off in Ballina to catch up with family and to take advantage of some free time to do some badly needed maintenance on the camper.Paul Carol Julie 65

We fueled up before leaving Crookwell so our next stop was in Oberon a few hours later, then Muswellbrook, not far short of Scone which was our target for the first long day.

Driving along any section of the world’s third longest mountain range (on land anyway) stretching the full length of Australia, is a very pleasant exercise. The Great Dividing Range begins off shore in the Torres Strait, just off the tip of Queensland and finishes in Victoria.GDR It’s between 150 and 300 kilometres wide and 3,500 kilometres long but in height probably only averaging 500-750 metres, although Mt Kosciuszko gets up to 2228 metres a fairly modest mountain in international terms.

Everest for example is 4 times higher, but then it has India pushing from behind making it taller all the time. Kosi on the other hand has had a couple of hundred million years of erosion to wear it down so it’s probably not a fair comparison.

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Country Mud Crab. What?

Few house sitters would have cause to ponder farm fence maintenance, unless like us, they’ve branched out into farm-sitting or they are absolutely crazy. Or both.

Aside from cattle and sheep, the most common rural fence problem comes from kangaroos but hidden away in all that, is the inexorable march of Mother Nature out to reclaim her own. Yes, I’m talking about trees. When we’re thinking ‘farm,’ getting plenty of practice with the chainsaw is guaranteed. Aside from doing the little things, like avoiding direct contact with the sharp, moving chain and dropping branches onto your head, to do the job properly, there is a lot of walking involved. After lopping overhanging branches, one must then pile up the debris for later burning or as they do in most cases, leave it to return to the soil. Cutting back the branches is not difficult if you keep your wits about you, but dragging the branches to a central spot is not the best fun you’ll have today.

Near the end of our stay I was especially conscious of the risks attached to being in the paddock with a chain saw but still managed to clear a kilometre or so of fence line, mainly in the area closest to the homestead, making piles of branches as I went. Actually it went without incident if we skip that part about the log that jumped onto my toes when I wasn’t looking and reminded me that I was supposed to be wearing steel caps not sneakers.

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Kangaroos Don’t Jump Fences

Once a week it was town day. It’s funny how simple things, a change of routine, a change into ‘town clothes’ can be something to look forward to, but every Thursday we’d get out our non ’work’ jeans and after chores, jump into the ute and head for ‘town’. A coffee in one of the half dozen coffee shops was first call after getting the mail. Then it was a little stroll, maybe a visit to the newsagent, before loading up the back of the ute with supplies from the local IGA supermarket. Our faces became so familiar, we chatted with the deli staff, we even exchanged addresses for a future farm sit for one of the locals and generally did what country folk do on ‘town’ day. This is an aspect of life in which I never imagined participating when stuck in my office 14 hours a day.