The Platypus

The platypus. Saturday was drizzly weather, this second week of the Tasmanian Travel Australia, perfect for working inside, in this case putting together some business cards. Friday night at the pub and illuminating conversations reminded me that I need something to give people so they can find the Diary of the Universe website and tell them how to contact us directly.

But, I can’t postpone it any longer, tomorrow, weather permitting I am going to start on the expensive and for me, herculean task of bringing the van up to a reasonable standard again. I’ll start by at least removing the tail-shaft and replacing the dodgy rear universal joint, but first I need some quick pointers from You Tube about the process.

Fair enough, I’m doing the easier one first and it was obviously not technically difficult but I would have to improvise on facilities. To create a work environment, I slung a tarp between the trailer and the lean-to that served as a wood shed.

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As it happened, Sunday was fine and the whole tail shaft process was completed without too much trouble. Next morning, with the encouraging success of the uni joint behind me, I almost reluctantly removed the front passenger side wheel and got to work on the ball joints.

For those joining me on this adventure without the joy of intimate knowledge of the front end of a motor vehicle, these are the swivels that allow your front wheels to point towards where you want to go. Rather important elements, I think I don’t need to say. That’s a crude apophasis for the word collectors out there.

They come as a pair (not the word collectors)  basically a big C shape chunk of metal with a ball in the top and the bottom. So far, so good.

Getting the big C section (no birthing remarks please) off was not too difficult (due to my having learned to replace brake pads and rotors in Ballina) but according to all the experts, removing the ball joints from the C section was impossible without a 20 tonne press.

Imagine this, engineers can machine a tapered socket and shaft so accurately that when the shaft is pushed into the socket, the fit is so close, so perfect, it takes force to pull them apart. Now imagine what force it will take after the shaft has been driven into the socket by years of pounding by the front suspension.

You can see my dilemma. This will take a force much greater than brute strength, this calls for the greatest force of all, mind power. OK maybe not mine, but the question has been put before this.  How can you apply enormous force on a piece of steel with no workshop, no hydraulic press, no engineering gadgets, not so much as a vice to hold the dam thing?

If you think about it, a long time ago someone figured out that turning a screw created pressure and one needed no convincing if it was your thumb under the screw. In this case a short piece of threaded rod (a bolt with no head) a few washers and a couple of nuts (we’ll talk more about mine later) was all we would need to create some massive force.screw jack

It’s called a screw jack and you can make one at home that will move anything. Ok, maybe not your ‘significant other’ off the couch but almost anything.

Essentially it was just a matter of putting the bolt between the two ball joints and tightening the nuts pushing them outwards. When I say ‘just a matter of’ this does understate the case a trifle.

If I’m honest about it, the procedure was probably moderately dangerous as the forces generated are really enormous and if the bolt shattered, shrapnel would render my voice permanently falsetto. This was a clear cut risk as it became evident with the high tensile rod beginning to bend under the massive compression load. Goodness knows what would happen with the long one because once the first was out, I had to make another, longer than the first, to push the larger and therefore more obstinate joint out.

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Having survived the removal of the smaller top ball joint and observing the dangerous bend forming in the threaded rod, I reinforced the longer bolt with a steel tube partly to prevent it from bending more than a little and partly to add some protection to the nether regions in the event the load went past the point of tolerance. Happily the large, bottom ball joint gave up before I did and the photo above shows the clean shine of the shaft (near my finger) that has not seen light of day for a very long time.

The whole process had taken a full day to work out how to create the force and to exert it with the attendant problem, one does not know when or if the result will come, knowing the danger level increases up as one ratchets up the pressures and comes closer to success. This is a process that should be done slowly.

All the squeaking that no amount of grease had been able to stifle was gone, as was the spine-tingling crack that occurred in many corners and removed the need to move the steering wheel a full second ahead of schedule when taking curves as speed. All in all, barked knuckles aside, a very satisfactory result with just a few more bits to  polish the job, but that can wait.

The wallaby and the platypus

On Friday we donned our Sunday best for the 11 kilometre drive to ‘town’ which means the next and slightly larger village of Branxholm, for here one will find an IGA supermarket.derby 19

It is well known in Dan circles that I am partial to a bit of kangaroo steak, kangaroo sausage and just about any other way one can imagine turning these omnipresent hedge clippers into something useful. Now it seems to me that Tasmania is barely a member of the Australia club if it doesn’t have kangaroos but local lore has it that finding a kangaroo in Tassie is like finding a Thylacine. Maybe not quite but the local version of the mainland grey hopper is totally protected here.

After partaking of marsupial steak, one can find cows pretty bland,  so they are not a good choice of the epicurenly-challenged (I know, its not a real word and epicures will rail against taking their name in vain).

But all is not lost, here the supermarkets have wallaby and I’m damed if someone will convince me that wallabies are not little kangaroos. Anyway, close enough for my palate and very fine they are too.

One creature known to be among the shiest and rarest of animals is the platypus, so rare in fact that very few people have seen one in a sandwich or even in a sanctuary let alone in the wild, but then, this is Tasmania.

Julie was browsing the aisles of the supermarket and I wandered off as men tend to do when their wives are doing important business, to the bridge over the river about 50 metres away. The road carries local traffic and a few trucks every hour or so, moving timber and supplies across this part of the State.

While gazing aimlessly, a past-time in which I have developed some outstanding skills, what should I spy but this little fella.

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Now before you say it just a dead rat someone has chucked in the river, let me present my evidence as he or she happily (it seems to me) goes about the business of rooting out crustaceans and insect larvae from between the stones on the bottom of the river. In fact, I managed to persuade David Attenborough to drop by and tell you all about it.

I’ll bet you won’t find any three-toed, clipped-nail Bridge Platypuses behind the Mt Druitt shopping centre, not that I’ve been there to take a look, just that I don’t reckon you would.

After packing my wallaby and other goodies in the fridge, we went for a gentile stroll around the village and took a few pictures just for you (and it was too early to be seen going to the pub).

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Derby is a beautiful peaceful village and the 200 people that live there will have no dispute with that description. Every day a trickle of travellers, tourists if you will, dawdle down the main street, their passage mirrored in parallel by the understated Ringarooma River, which for most of the year could pass as a stream, creating a tranquil background to the ebb and flow of village life.

In most places on the main street (and there are few others to choose from) one can not only sense the river but hear its chatter as it rattles over the stones, just faintly drawing your attention to itself. It’s always there but never intrusive and for those lucky enough to have their home close by, life in such a village is lived at a pace only found in the dreams of city dwellers.

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The beauty was not always so. A hundred years ago, the population had grown to 3,000 and the whole area rattled to the sound of machinery blasting out tin and other minerals from the mines that filled this tiny valley. Before this the founding settlement was called Brother’s Home, but possibly because the locals were negligently forgetting to use the apostrophe (that’s my theory) in 1885 it was re-named Derby.

The prosperity of this dirty noisy environment was not to last. Disaster struck in 1929 when the dam burst and swept away mines, houses and people. The tin was so rich, it rebuilt the town and the dam which stands to this day but eventually mining became uneconomical. Derby declined over the following decades.

It was now late enough to go to the pub with some decorum and while chatting with one of the locals this Friday night, learned that he paid just $100 for his house in 1970 and $30 for the adjoining half acre. Apparently there were plenty more at that price for the asking.

Another thing I learned though, something that really has my interest, is the hole, that massive hole that used to be the mine is right here in town. I just can’t see it from this vantage point. Even most of the locals have never seen it despite its being located 300 metres from the main street. “It’s on private land you know” and “really you shouldn’t be going up there” and “the cliff edge is dangerous”. Now they really have my attention. Tomorrow I will climb the cliffs behind the river to a promised view of a lake totally hidden from passing travellers. With so many attractive nah-nah’s how can I resist?

Anyway, maybe I will find some interesting geological feature that will in some way relate to my real work, writing the Diary of The Universe essays. That’s all the excuse I need. You can forward this article to a friend, assuming you have one, by clicking on the little envelope below.

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