We are full time Australian house sitters motivated by a devastating business loss and moving from house to house with usually a couple of days to up to a fortnight between ‘assignments’ or ‘sits’ depending on your choice of nomenclature.
Fortunately, we love it, not that we had a lot of choice having one’s business life snuffed out just months from retirement.
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.
One thing that can’t happen is for us to be late. People depend on our being there on schedule, often in order that they can catch international flights, so in setting off from Glenrowan Victoria we were conscious that in 2 days, we needed to be in Adelaide, South Australia.
That’s why I should have consulted a map. As you can see below, I made the embarrassing mistake of just heading west which resulted in having to cover many more kilometres than necessary.
Not that this is the first time I have committed such a sin, but I guess at least not as bad as the time I took off in my plane to travel from Townsville in North Queensland, 1600 kilometres south to Brisbane without a map (left the folder in the hangar) and without navigational aids.
It was in the days before GPS and I was just cruising along at low level with my arm out the window at just under 300 kilometres an hour, where navigational aids are useless and at times looking for signs on the roof tops of hotels to see where I was. I had flown the route many times before but always at altitude, snoozing on autopilot while Julie kept an eye on progress and where one has nav aids (and a map) but fortunately I ended up virtually on the airfield boundary in Brisbane with no ill effects.
I was not so lucky with my ‘head west’ theory this time and put more than an extra 200ks on the clock, so I was none too popular when we finally stopped at a lay-by where the Wimmera River crosses the western highway 700 kilometres later.
It seems that for us, travelling any distance almost guarantees something memorable will occur of the type one hopes does not occur. While not as dramatic as having a trailer wheel disappear as happened on the first day, several months ago, it was once again a trailer issue, not this time with the trailer itself but with the tow bar.
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 a meeting with your navel.
The thing is, they are invisible on a hot day on a long flat road, especially if you are trying to make up time because some idiot took the long way round. These ‘undulations’ put more than a little downwards pressure on to the tow bar. Of itself, that should not have been a problem but I had severely overestimated the engineering competence of the person who, 30 years ago, before there were standards, designed and fitted the tow bar.
It now seems more than likely that our valiant little battler (the mighty Nissan Urvan) had never been called upon to do much by way of towing, because that is the only way it could have survived all these years.
Not to be too uncharitable, the tow bar is, there is no other way to accurately describe it, a piece of pipe, a very strong pipe to be sure and that’s not even the problem. The problem is, the dill that fitted the tow bar neglected to put any bracing under the floor. Yes, believe it or not, someone had simply bunged a couple of bolts through the tissue-thick metal floor and out through the chassis on the other end. That is the engineering equivalent of holding a building together with gaffer tape.
Our undulations simply pulled the bolts down further and further as the metal floor stretched further and further, all the while eating through the bolts, sawing back and forth through the holes in the steel chassis.
By lunchtime on the second day we had successfully made it all the way to Tailem Bend a town with slightly more people than that required to run the service station, not more than a 100 kilometres east of our Adelaide destination. We stopped for lunch near a little park with our first view of Australia’s longest river the mighty Murray and the busy ferry that served the local farming population on the other side.
That’s when I noticed the cock-eyed position of the tow bar and a quick inspection revealed the aforementioned damage. There was no way to responsibly tackle the steep freeway descent down Mount Osmond into Adelaide only an hour ahead of our current position. After a few minutes to consider the possibilities we carefully limped forward to the next service station half a kilometre down the road.
It was one of those places where they just serve petrol and food (in separate containers) it did not have a service bay and in any case, it was Sunday, but we had the good fortune for our conversation to be overhead by a couple of young blokes returning to Adelaide from a 4WD boy’s weekend.
One of them graciously offered to tow the trailer for us and went some distance out of his way to take it right to the house where we had our appointment to meet the owners for whom we would be house sitting. We followed him every inch of the way, not least because of the mismatch indicator wiring that set blinkers working when he touched the brakes and tuned on lights whenever he took a turn, even forgetting to take a photo of the steep descent, but this is an image of what we would have had to contend with. It just seems to keep going down forever and in places is quite steep. Fortunately we did not have the trailer trying to race us to the bottom as our little camper also has a 30 year old braking system. Enough said.
Our white knight Matthew is in the business of lawn care and landscaping which does not offer much scope for us happy campers to patronize but one day we hope to restore the balance of yin and yang.
The week before we arrived in Adelaide, a truck, which was apparently ill-prepared for the challenge and possibly didn’t have the correct low gear range selected , went through the intersection at the bottom of the freeway at 150 kilometres an hour, killing a few people in the process.
In response to the poor decision making process of those connected to the offending truck, the politicians addressed the problem very quickly by lowering the speed limit for cars by 10 kph.
You mean you don’t understand the logic either?
Apparently the fix was less successful than they had hoped when another truck, with smoke pouring out for under the body, went through the same intersection the very next week at 90 kilometres per hour finally coming to a halt another half a kilometre on. Fortunately the smoke from the burning brakes had been seen by the traffic monitors which gave police a 60 second head start. They cleared traffic from the intersection with, oh, a couple of seconds to spare.
Before we left Adelaide we heard that someone had mentioned that perhaps the $8,000 to $10,000 fee for pulling trucks out of the arrestor beds may have something to do with the decision making process of the driver in panic, finding himself with a choice between losing his job and risking death.
North Haven house.
After expressing our deep gratitude for our rescue, we knocked on the door and met our hosts and new doggy friends.
One of the best bits of house sitting, thanks to our new friends at Aussie House Sitters is feeling the contrast as you adopt the home the contents and the life of someone else. In this case we were leaving behind five acres in Victoria where space and neighbours are your security system, to living in a suburban house in a capital city. All gates and doors were carefully locked, always locked, and heavy security drop blinds were in position on all street facing windows.
It was dark inside and a little ‘doggysome’ and but we put our gear in our room and spent what was left of the afternoon getting to know Kandie and Napoleon. (They were the dogs, not the owners.) The next morning we were given the detail and demonstration of tending to the feeding and medication of the dogs, the budgie and the gold fish.
Six weeks earlier, when we arrived in Glenrowan Peter, an electrical tradesman, had generously invited me to use the shed and whatever tools I may require for either looking after the house or for my own needs. When I spoke to Tony about the shed his comment was “it’s locked to keep you out of it” which I hope was just a poorly executed attempt at humor but indeed it was tightly locked up. By 11am were we mercifully on our own.
In order to get comfortable one normally has to move a few things around, a coffee table maybe, move a few books or some such thing, making a note to ensure everything is back where they came from when the owners return. It’s a matter of respect.
In this case it was more like moving house. We cleaned the windows, took down the kitchen security screen and the redundant insect screen because we couldn’t see through the window, pulled up the security blinds, pulled back the curtains and did a full make-over of the kitchen bench and cupboards to create some bench space.
That’s when Julie discovered there were no pot and pans and to our amazement, no stove. The microwave worked though. We fetched our portable camp stove from the van and were in business.
It took a couple of days working together to get the house and the kitchen especially, to a condition where we were comfortable using it and from there on I could concentrate on fixing the tow bar.
There are a couple of traditional ways to feed dogs but most involve a variation of one feed in the morning or evening and a top-up at the opposing end (of the day not the dog). Come to think of it, on a few occasions the latter thought had some appeal.
In this case, their routine was a hearty breakfast, then medication, all-day biscuits (not common dog biscuits either) and other tidbits left out during the day in case they got hungry, treats at lunch time and afternoon tea, after a walk or any other successful event including just making it to the yard for toiletry purposes and all that followed by a substantial evening meal, which was unsurprisingly difficult to coax them into. Water buckets were placed in five separate locations, perhaps because they might forget or more likely, if you looked up ‘fur-kids’ in the dictionary you might see a picture of them.
While we always try to follow instructions and keep animals on their routine, the proscribed method of delivering a half-size pill by pushing it down poor Napoleon’s throat was not on. The first morning I crushed up the miniscule half-tablet of pinkish-coloured veterinary profit between two spoons and added the resultant pinch of powder into a folded piece of ham. I’m sure I saw gratitude in the poor bugger’s eyes.
North Haven itself is a pleasant but unremarkable patch of middle class housing set between Adelaide’s Inner and Outer harbours about 20 kilometres from the city centre. It boasts the presence of the Cruising Yacht club of South Australia and has three railway stations. Not bad for a suburb the size of a half a dozen sports grounds. The reason for this proliferation is that just a little further from the main estate, the rail terminates at the Outer Harbour. Our station was only 200 metres along the street and a few kilometres away it stops again at the main Osborne shopping centre which serves a much larger area to the south.
We did very little sight-seeing around the area, a trip or two on the train into Port Adelaide and one into the city centre but this was mainly due to the degree of difficulty in re-building and refitting the tow bar. Without wishing to belabour the point, this job would have been difficult with access to a workshop and equipment but unfortunately the only cover at hand was just out of reach. An arch had been built over the driveway and the clearance was so low the van, although only 2.1 metres high, could not fit into the car port.
In short, after the removal of the tow bar I cut off the old fittings, made cardboard models of reinforced versions, had them made up by an engineering shop and later welded onto the bar. While I was waiting, I put in new reinforced floor plates, located some high tensile threaded rod and fitted the complete unit with steel bracing spacers between the floor and the chassis. Job done but our time in Adelaide was short and the bare two and a half weeks was over before we knew it but I was confident we were not going to lose the trailer. My confidence was misplaced as you will see.
With a quick reference to our ‘before’ photos, we put back the bits and bobs on the benches, put our stove in the van, refitting the by now very clean screens, dropped the security blinds into position, pulled the curtains closed and all was dark again and ready for the owner’s return. By 11am were we on the road.
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