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.

The Man With Five Pianos

As we travel Australia house sitting we have the privilege of living, for a short while, as a local. Even in this short window, we have been able to visit and get to know places that would otherwise be very unlikely to be found on our ‘must-see’ list, yet have been entertaining, surprising and educational.

We took the opportunity to spend a little time in Goulburn some 55 kilometres from home. As the regional ‘capital’ we had some business there in particular matters relating to Julie’s new hip after care.big merino front 65

Driving around Goulburn, it appears a nice enough small country city. The surrounding country is very pleasant, mostly farm land and scenic without being outstanding. It has a reputation for being cold and considering that even the average low temperature in winter is below freezing it’s not hard to see why this should be so. One frosty morning a few years ago, they recorded minus 11. The average maximum in winter is nothing to be too excited about either at a miserly 11 degrees Celsius.

Unfortunately we did not get to visit the rail museum which we heard was worth seeing but it was hard to miss some of its other ‘attractions’ if you consider the word in its full sense. The Big Merino allows no visitor to escape without a nod to its presence and if you are attracted by policing, you will most certainly have been trained in Australia’s largest police training facility. On the other, extreme end of the scale, some will also have been a guest at Australia’s most secure prison.big merino back

Notwithstanding these fascinating facts, take the road north-west to Crookwell and things change quickly.

Within a few kilometres, the country opens out to spectacular views across green open fields to the low mountains in the far distance. The road is excellent, not straight and every bend leads to a gentle climb after which another wonderful view comes up in front of you. The area looks well maintained, the farms are large with a fair smattering of sheep and cattle, half of them grazing, half lying down fully sated apparently.

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Bugger. I Think I Broke My Hip

The small problem of a broken hip. With a thousand kilometres and six interesting days of travelling Australia house sitting and free camping behind us, the short morning drive from Gunning our last camp, to this, our fourth house-sitting assignment was full of promise and just a little excitement. The hills presented the usual challenge for our valiant little Nissan Urvan, working through the gears, struggling up one side and being chased down the other by the trailer, a cross between a cattle dog and a rhino.

We were coming into Crookwell from the south west, the same track taken on departure from our brief introductory visit to the farm back in July. Just before the town, about 5 ks out, we reached the highest altitude of our travels so far, 1017 metres or 3,370 feet, before barrelling down the side of the valley into town.

Gunning to Crookwell 60 percent

We stopped briefly to pick up a few supplies and shortly afterwards we took up the side road north to places no one has ever heard of. It was just like the first time, up the hills ever climbing the last 1,000 feet, over the top then a little run into the valley beyond where the bitumen runs out and that country feeling begins. Just seven kilometres from where the gravel begins, we pulled into the driveway of our home for the next two months.

Ian and Jo were, as always the gracious hosts and although we were a day early, this extra time gave us confidence that whatever challenges lay ahead, we would manage. Ian produced a map of the farm with all the paddocks named and the approximate boundaries inked in. Acting on my request had also compiled a procession of items taken from his comprehensive “to do” list.

I understood some had been on the list for several years and few had been on the list for a long time but he stressed that I should feel no obligation to perform any of the outstanding jobs.

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There’s No Fish in the Murray

It was clean, quiet and sociable as most free camps are and we also had the company of a few resident pelicans. I don’t know what they ate. It can’t be fish as having had a line in the water for hours, I can say with some certainty, there are no fish in the Murray River.
We departed at a reasonable hour, well after those on a schedule had gone and 15 ks later we were in Victoria. An hour after that, we arrived in Mildura and I took the opportunity to buy some fishing tackle and long-life bait. Now I know what you’re thinking, if there’s no fish in the Murray why do I need bait?
As it happens, one of the stops will be on the Murrumbidgee River and I have it on good authority, there are plenty of fish there.

Tearing Out The Tow Bar

Everywhere in Australia is a long way from everywhere else, so we generally try to get at least a week in between assignments for ‘free-camping’. In this case we had to get ourselves 1,000 kilometres (600 miles on the old scale) in two days, which by Australian standards is nothing much but with our dodgy old camper and a heavy trailer, there is an element of risk involved.
On our wanderings on some roads that could more easily be described as bituminized tracks rather than roads we came across a few places, well a lot actually, where they forgot to put up the ‘dip’ sign. You must know them, you are driving along ‘dumb fat and happy’ well I was anyway, when the front of the vehicle takes a short sharp dive, followed by an upward surge as your seat tries to swallow your bum and your lower jaw seeks out engagement with your navel.

The Bridge That Doesn’t Meet in the Middle

The bridge that doesn’t meet in the middle. One of the big benefits of our plan to Travel Australia house sitting is being able to spend time exploring areas that we might otherwise just pass through. Beechworth was one little town we wanted to see to experience the ‘time capsule’ effect that seems to be associated with the town. From our base in the village of Ned Kelly’s ‘end of the road son’ nightmare, Glenrowan, Beechworth is only a half day excursion so we only set out at lunch time and it seemed no time we were there. Beechworth panorama

Beechworth panorama” by Taken byfir0002

It’s only 40 ks or so from the ‘capital’ of the area, Wangaratta and the first surprise was the presence of a lake in the middle of town.

For some reason this apparently insignificant detail was absent from the information I gathered before we set out. Lake Sambell came as a bit of surprise and although it is clearly a distinguishing feature and a little hard to miss. From what we read, it was a pit where gold was mined and later filled or allowed to fill in the 1920’s. It’s not like it’s something new that has just been overlooked and there’s a nice little caravan park too as one would expect. Beechworth S1The town was interesting enough and there’s a fair bit to see around the area but we were really only there to give it the ‘once-over’.

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Operation Destroy the Dam

Operation destroy the dam. In this, our second Travel Australia house sitting assignment, we had seen a lot of bumper stickers around Glenrowan about saving the lake, ‘SAVE MOKOAN’.
It was only to be a few days before we knew what they were on about.

The focus of much of our attention initially had to be in Wangaratta as this was ‘town’. Here we could find the supermarkets and other services one needs. I spent some time with the mechanic and a few trips to Bunnings for knickknacks to be used in upgrading the van and trailer.

It’s actually not a bad place with a population of 17,000 substantially larger than the nearby Benalla to the west.

If you can’t find what you need in Wangaratta another seventy kilometres to the north Albury Wodonga with a combined population of 100,000+ it has most offerings of larger cities.

We made the trip into town maybe twice a week and the mechanic loaned us his car while we worked on the van. Overall the van was much improved during our stay as we gradually found and eliminated small problems and rattles. We fitted extra sound proofing and re-cut carpet, filled door panels with insulation and lots of other little titivations.

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Glenrowan and Snow On The Mountain

Our previous and first Australian house sitting experience in Armidale did us a favour in our acclimatization to cold weather which was a jolly good thing because if we expected it to be cold in Victoria in winter, we were not to be surprised. It takes at least a couple of hours after dawn for the sun to warm the house through the big East-facing windows and when the snow on the distant mountains reveal their true white brilliance, you know it is safe to venture out into the garden.

Glenrowan sunrise SNot that we had to wait for the sun to warm the house as the reverse cycle air conditioner did the job very well.

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