Best Way to Spend a Weekend.

 

Greetings my friends. By golly it seems like the last time I wrote a blog post was just after Jesus Christ opened the batting for the Jerusalem Under 13s cricket team. But there’s a good reason behind it, I’ve been working on a video blog, or “vlog” as they’re known (I am soooo up with all this modern intergoogle web lingo stuff) about Australian History. But now that’s up and running (smoothly on occasion), I can hopefully devote some time to normal blogging as well.

So we just got back from taking Mighty Matilda the MU-X to Magnificent Moreton Milsland (yes the M is silent). Turns out that in Brisbane at least, the purchase of an Isuzu gets you a free return trip on the Micat ferry to the island, so that’s just too good an opportunity to pass up, even for a bloke like me who has always preferred bush camping to beach camping. So with an RDO on the Friday, a long weekend it was.

To say I was a bit keen would be an understatement. The barge was due to depart at 12:30 and due to an outburst of exuberance we arrived at 11:00, while our travel companions/tour guide arrived just before kick-off. While waiting in the queue to barge it up, the sound of air hissing out of a couple of dozen tyres convinced me that now would be a good time to take care of this important task. And this is where it pays to pay attention to what you’re doing good people. Sitting there letting air out of Matilda’s front tyre I got to talking to the bloke beside me, another MU-X owner. While distracted, and deciding the tyre was sufficiently deflated, I undid the tyre deflator only to have the tyre valve come out with it. While the tyre was quickly going flat, a mad search of said valve was conducted only to find out it was still in the gauge. No worries a quick reinsertion and a discreet 30 seconds on the air compressor and all was good. I don’t think anyone noticed………….

 

Anyhoo, an hour and a bit later, with the big smoke long far behind us and invisible to the naked, or even the fully clothed eye, the rumble of dozens of fourby engines signalled the charge off the HMAS Micat, onto the beach and Tony and Janita took us North to what is quite possibly one of the nicest camp grounds I’ve been to in a long time. A wide open clearing, ringed by tall trees which kept the whole thing nicely shaded, and a gruelling 10 metre walk to the beach. Pretty rough, hey.

The contrast in our camping set ups was a sight to behold. Me and my much better half have a standard swag/gazebo/table and milk carton kind of an arrangement. Our guides had the latest Patriot Camper trailer completed with hot and cold running water, dunny, kitchen and the list goes on. But to be fair, they also had two young’ns aged 5 and 2, so if I was camping with mini-humans I’d probably take whatever was needed to maintain sanity. With that said though, they are fantastic kids and we enjoyed every moment of their company (so stop apologising Janita..)

 

Camping on Moreton Island
                                  Nice and simple

The rest of that first day was dedicated to some intensive relaxation with a bit of fishing, a bit of sitting, a bit of eating, a bit of drinking and ending with a bit of sleeping. There was a little bit rain around but about the only real effect it had on us the entire weekend was heading to bed about half an hour earlier than we normally would have. It kept up for most of the night but the worst of it was done by the next morning.

After a lazy start to the next morning we headed off for a bit of an explore as our fearless leaders took us inland and then to the northern most point of the island where the historical Moreton Island Lighthouse hangs out. The view from up there is something to behold as you look back at the island disappearing off into the distance, with the waves crashing into the rocks behind and below. I’m reliably informed that at the right time of the year you can sit up there and watch the whales cruising by, but alas not in mid-May.

 

New Zealand, Lighthouse, Moreton Island
New Zealand as viewed from Moreton Island Lighthouse

In the same area are the Champagne pools, which taste nothing like champagne I can assure you (maybe the brochure could point this out??). It is so called due to the waves coming over the tops of the rocks, getting all bubbly and forming pools in the sand on the landward side. Sitting here with a couple of beers in summer wouldn’t be too hard to handle I reckon.

Now, on the way back we were planning on driving along the beach, rounding the point and heading south back to the campsite, but as is the norm on an island built entirely of shifting sand, things had changed a little since our guides were last here, and so a u-turn was required and an alternative route was needed. No worries, said our guides and quickly ploughed through some soft sand and were up and over. But unfortunately this is where it became apparent my tyres were not low enough. When I’d deflated them before hitting the barge, it became apparent that my gauge had been bouncing around in Rusty the old Landcruiser, for too long and was somewhat inaccurate. So I did a bit of a ‘rough guess’ based on how much the tyres were bagging out. So far it hadn’t been an issue, but this one little bit of soft sand caught it, and we got stuck. Nothing too serious though, Tony and Janita back the big Pootrol up, delivered the Max Trax and we were soon on our way. But do you think they just left it at that dear readers? Of course not – pictures were taken, facebook posts were made and disparaging comments were provided by all and sundry. All part of the fun really.

An un-requested deficiency in forward momentum. Also known as ‘stuck’.

So anyway a good roast up in the camp oven followed the day’s drive and after another wet night it was unfortunately time to pack up, have a last dip in the sea and head back down to the barge for the imminent re-entry to the big smoke. It was only a quick trip and although I maintain that bush camping is still my preferred option, I will definitely be heading back for a longer stay in the not too distant future and will have a more thorough exploration of the remaining 95% of the island which we didn’t get to this time around.

Life is indeed good.

The Soul of the Wolf Runs Deep

 

No doubt for many of today’s domesticated dogs the call of the wild and the soul of the wolf lies buried deep in their hearts. Right down the line from your Huskies and German Shepherds to the ferocious yapping of your average Chihuahua. But somewhere along the line  an individual dog will miss out.

I have two such hounds. Siblings and rescue dogs, both with their own unique neurosis and quirks. The first inkling that they were not made of sterner stuff was the very day we bought them home. Not for them the territory-dominating process of patrolling the perimeter, marking their new territory to send word of their arrival to any other dogs in the area. No, it was straight through the front door, onto the bean bag and that’s pretty much where they stayed until a couple of years later when the bean bag was retired and their new cushioned mattress was provided.

Upon moving into our new abode with the wonderful lady of my life, a rule change meant these hell-hounds would now have to be outside dogs. Despite having the aforementioned cushioned mattress out on the covered and sheltered back deck, the first week was filled with rather pathetic looking animals sitting at the back door and whining miserably.

Why am I telling you this? Well as you may have noticed, if you’ve read any of my other stuff, I don’t mind a bit of camping. Camping is even better when you can take your four-legged companions with you and enjoy the great outdoors and see your hounds in their natural environment. I’ve managed to get my two out on two occasions so far and both outings have had mixed results.

First time was a bit over a year ago. We’d loaded Rusty, the faithful and ever-reliable (sometimes) old Landcruiser, kindly assisted the dogs to find a place to sit in among the camping equipment and headed off to Gordon Country, just the other side of Cunningham’s Gap. Upon arrival I flung open the door and stepped aside in expectation of the flurry of legs and tails of stampeding dogs as they burst forth to explore the wilderness.

What actually happened was two dogs looking out the window with expressions on their faces which could only be interpreted as “I’m not going out there.” Throughout the entire process of unloading the truck, setting up the swag and tarp, collecting firewood and lighting a fire, these two denizens of the wild sat securely in the front seats looking on and not daring to set foot on the ground.

It wasn’t until around two hours had passed and we were sitting comfortably by the fire, enjoying a coffee that they finally plucked up the courage to come and join us, although this foray was cut tragically short. From a distance of over 150 metres a cow mooed, and the fearless K9s bolted straight back to the car and gazed back at us wondering how we could be seated so calmly when death was obviously only moments away.

But to their credit, over the next couple of days they became almost relaxed in their new surroundings, although they were careful not to venture any more than a quick sprint away from their ‘safe place’. The smiling faces and wagging tails when we arrived back home as they were re-introduced to their mattress did give a hint to the fact that they never quite achieved ‘rugged bush-dog’ status though.

Cruza in his safe place.

So it’s been over twelve months since this outing and a combination of vehicle failures and other commitments meant that the required follow up to the initial trip has been a long time coming but last weekend it happened. We were back out to Gordon Country, this time in the nice comfy Isuzu MU-X, with a bit more room for the hounds.

Upon arrival the door was thrown open and unlike last time they bounded forth with enthusiasm, until a mate’s dog had stern words with them and Misha in particular fled to the security of the open car door, where she stayed for most of the weekend.

But my mighty boy-dog, Cruza, was made of sterner stuff and came over to hang out with the crew, although if he knew what awaited him he probably would’ve preferred to join his sister. You see we were sitting nice and quietly around the fire, Cruza sitting beside me so I could casually scratch the top of his head, and all was right in his world.

Then from out of nowhere he jumped, bent down and started licking his nether regions with a savage intensity. This was followed by desperate dragging of the bum across the ground, reminiscent of the worm-drag, followed by more licking and even more enthusiastic dragging. The poor bugger had just received an ant bite directly on the freckle. And did he receive any sympathy from the heartless human bastards he was camping with? No way, we all just laughed at him while he suffered the humiliation.

Fortunately all was forgiven by the following morning and both of them were happily gallivanting around the camp as we all surfaced. It wasn’t long before Misha headed back to the car, but Cruza chose to put last night’s horrors behind him and joined us for breakfast. It has to be said though that he did manage to climb onto Agnes’ chair and was careful to keep his bum a good foot or so off the ground.

So anyway, eventually we packed up and decided to have bit of a drive around Janowen Hills prior to heading home. Again poor Cruza probably wished we’d decided differently. All was going well, the tracks weren’t difficult and apart from a few bumps it was a peaceful interlude for the two troubled hounds. So much so that they even managed to lie down and have a brief snooze.

That was until a particularly steep downhill drop came upon us, the type of drop that’s as near to vertical as you can get while still feeling reasonably comfortable. The type of drop where the seatbelt is all that’s keeping you from flying forward into the dash……..unless you’re a dog asleep in the back. It was just as the back wheels left the flat and we were at full tilt that a tan and white bundle came tumbling though the gap between the two front seats and a rather shaken and surprised looking Cruza joined us in the front. He must’ve been wondering why the Gods of Doggie Fortune had it in for him by this stage. After we’d successfully negotiated the obstacle we were less successful in negotiating with Cruza about his return to the back of the car. Eventually it came down to a rather hefty push which left him no other option.

Anyway, he’s back home now and I’m sure the memories of the weekend have faded. They will both require a few more trips out bush before they are properly comfortable with the wide open spaces. Maybe I should take their mattress with us next time………

These New Cars Are Alright eh!

 

So I’ve crossed to the dark side. I’ve betrayed all that I hold dear. For years I have been an advocate that old four wheel drives are better than the new ones. I’ve punted my old Hilux, a Ford Courier and my beloved old 40 Series Landcruiser around tracks that owners of newer vehicles are not game to, as they don’t want to scratch the paintwork. The simplicity and no-nonsense nature of these old beasts is what kept me bouncing around with a smile on my dial and only occasional internal injuries from the rock-hard suspension.

So what has lured me away? In a nutshell, it’s the Isuzu MU-X 4×4.

With the recent end to my carefree bachelorhood, I no longer have only my own requirements to take into consideration. As much as my immeasurably better half understands my passion for old machinery, she also prefers not to be stuck halfway up a steep slope with an engine which has suddenly decided to stop working (yes it did happen). So with reliability becoming a problem we started looking around at different options.

And what an absolute plethora of options there are these days. Now picking a new car is a lot like marriage, not to be entered into lightly, and if you get either of them wrong it’ll cost you thousands and bring years of misery. Trust me, I’ve been there.

We test drove quite a number of different vehicles, but none of them really hit the mark. They were either uncomfortable, contained all sorts of extraneous and pointless bells and whistles, lacked headroom (I’m looking at you Toyota Fortuner) or contained a price tag that could feed a small African village for a year.

And so it was, in a rather despondent state of mind, I was filling up the little hatchback at the local service station. In front of me was a vehicle that I’d not really seen many of, but on the back was the 4×4 badge, so I looked a bit closer. As it turns out I was looking at an Isuzu MU-X, which was an unknown entity to me at that stage, so I did a bit of research.

The first point in its favour was the price. Now for a person whose last vehicular purchase was for the exorbitant sum of $1500, the price of a new MU-X is still enough to invoke a mild heart attack. But when compared some other chariots on the market, with price tags of tens of thousands dollars extra, the price is quite reasonable and so it was still in the game.

As always the next step is ‘what do other people think of theirs’? You can go to the usual places such as Carsguide or similar review sites, but I’ve always found they never put the vehicles to the type of use that I would. I mean, yes it’s great to know that it holds the road well, is a zippy little number or has a great driving position, or any other motoring review cliché you’d like to name. But if you want the real story, you need to find the opinions of real users, the owners.

I found a thread on 4X4 Earth where a member asked for any issues or problems with the MU-X. One user did complain that the cup holders don’t fit your standard cycling water bottle. Oh the humanity, deal’s off, let’s all go home. But wait, the overall theme of the thread is that everyone is over the moon and happy with their purchase. There was a bit of concern about the traction control if you have diagonally opposed wheels off the ground at the same time, but helpful advice was given on how to rectify that with the accelerator. So maybe we’ll just have to leave the water bottle at home and just concern ourselves with the important issues, and by and large the MU-X seems to handle itself well out in the real world.

So by this point I’m thinking it’s probably time for a test drive and so a test drive was duly undertaken. The first thing that strikes you when you hop in is that fact that nothing strikes you – there is plenty of room so you avoid banging your knees, head or elbows onto the various protuberances that you need to negotiate in some other cars. Sitting in the driver’s seat I didn’t feel enclosed, I had space all around me and I’m reliably informed that the same can be said while sitting in the passenger seat.

The next thing that stands out is the simplicity of the layout. I recently sat in my son’s 2014 dual cab ute and seriously the thing is lit up like a Christmas tree. From near the door, across the instrument panel and nearly three quarters of the way across the dash there are just little orange lights illuminating a galaxy of buttons and switches. Now I understand that for the ‘tech-savvy’ generation all this is considered necessary, but for me I just see a whole lot of useless gimmicks that are going to fail at some stage and require a massive bill to fix it. Not so in the MU-X. Everything you need and nothing that you don’t, well not a lot of what you don’t. The instrument panel consists of a speedo, tacho, temp and fuel gauges and bugger all else, and what more could you want I ask.

So to the test drive. For a bloke accustomed to old diesel engines which sound like tractors, the drive was initially a bit disconcerting. I had to turn the air-con down so I could hear the engine. It is rather quiet. But that doesn’t mean it won’t let out a satisfying animal growl when the loud pedal is stomped and that poor little Barina gets left behind on the Gateway Motorway. Handling and braking is also all that you’d expect of a vehicle of its size. It’s never going to set the lap record around Bathurst, but that’s not what it’s designed for, is it.

Speaking of what its designed for, I can’t comment on that just yet, so that will be the subject of the next article.

So as you can probably guess, after the test drive and a week of consideration, we have now signed the contract and gotten our very own MU-X. The dealer was fantastic. I’ll let you in on a little secret, I have a mate who is the manager of a different card yard and he gave me a list of all the things to look out for, and I can state that our dealer was not guilty of any of these things. He was friendly, knew what he was talking about and didn’t try to up-sell when we said we only wanted the base model. He even let us drive his own personal MU-X so we could see how it performs with 17 inch wheels.

We’re now very excited to take delivery after the bull bar, snorkel and 17 inch wheels are installed, and then we’ll see how she goes off-road. I’ll let you know.

Better than the day I bought my kids home for the first time.

The Third Bit of the Simmo Saga

 

My dear readers who have been following the tale of my intrepid travels across the Simpson Desert may remember that way back in the dark days of the last few months of 2016 I posted the second bit of the epic journey, and left it hanging after a quiet and sober celebration of my 18th birthday. No doubt you were hoping that was the end of it, and as the months have ticked by you’ve been thinking “thank all that is Holy, he’s not going to continue”, but I’m here to tell you I may have been distracted by bright shiny things, but now the saga continues (insert evil laugh here).

So with surprising and unexplained hangovers (remember I said above that it was a quiet and sober celebration………) we headed off for our first full day in the Simmo. For those who don’t know, the Simpson Desert is characterised by a couple of thousand sand dunes running roughly parallel to each other in a north/south direction, with gaps ranging from a few hundred metres to a kilometre or so and has the track cutting across them. The wind generally blows in from the west which piles up the sand on the western slope of the dunes, creating a nice gentle ramp, and then drops off suddenly after the crest.

Now this is wonderful…….if you’re coming from the west. But we were coming from the east which meant we had the steep approach and then gentle down the other side, which is the more difficult way of doing things. The results were predictable, vehicles got stuck. Fortunately with the number of vehicles we had on the trip this was no great issue, as with a bit of shovel work and either a snatch strap or the good old-fashion “put your shoulders into it” approach we were never delayed for too long.

Now with the passage of time, one bit of boggage and dune crossing kinda moulds into any other so I won’t try to impart intricate details of each dune. Suffice to say it was three and a bit days of getting stuck, getting un-stuck, powering up the front face and gliding down the rear face of the dunes and spending peaceful, quiet evenings with good mates in the valleys. Not a bad way to spend a few days, and something you really should do at least once in your life.

After three days we finally popped out on the northern edge of the desert with the promise of a dip at Dalhousie Springs. “You beauty.” I thought to myself with the memory of the freezing cold dip I had taken on my birthday still in my mind. “After three days in the hot desert, now in the heat of the day, what could be better than a nice cold swim?”

It was here that I discovered that Australia is a cruel, cruel country, but it also has a sense of humour. For not only is Dalhousie Spring not cold, it’s not even cool, tepid nor indeed could you even call it slightly on the chilly side. It’s bloody hot dagnamit! Somewhere in the region of 38 degrees Celsius. So in summary – when I was hoping for a nice warm spring to be thrown into on my birthday I got something straight from the frozen depths of the Antarctic, but when I wanted something cold, Australia turned on a steaming hot bath. Bastard.

It may look cool and refreshing, but it’s just an illusion.

Anyhoo, my disillusion was only short lived. As the therapeutic waters soothed my weary bones, it was actually quite a good half hour or so. I highly recommend spending some time there next time you’re ducking into the interior of Australia.

We ended that day at Mt Dare Station which has the honour of being the most central pub in Australia. No doubt that in the intervening years this dot on the map has improved as more and more visitors are making their way into the area, but back then about the best you could say for the place is that it was a great place to breed mosquitos. Big buggers they were, and plenty of them. In the interest of safety we had to tie our sleeping bags to the trucks, just so the mozzies couldn’t carry us away. The next morning Humper looked positively svelte and lean, unfortunately it was because he’d lost about five litres of blood overnight and looked decidedly shaky.

Alright, maybe I exaggerated a little.

So a little worse for wear after a sleepless eve we forged ever onwards through the rolling green hills, interspersed with lush willows and the occasional babbling brook. And now back to reality, it was more flat country covered with spinifex and a few scraggly shrubs barely clinging to life. It was on this stretch that I experience my only real ‘moment’ of the journey.

Trundling along in the Bush Pig, our trusty 110 Landrover, in casual conversation with Moe, we came up to a slight left hand bend which as it turns out, had a bit of a dip on the exit. This dip was full of one of the more dangerous aspects of desert travel – bull dust. Fine particles of dust which look innocent enough to the casual observer as they fill in dips on desert corners, but once it gets hold of the front wheels unexpectedly it can get messy real quick.

And you thought that Parliament House was the only place where Bull Dust flows thick and fast.

As it happens this particular corner also had the only two substantial trees within cooee of the place on either side of the track, and as the dust took over steering responsibilities from me I was now heading straight for one of them. After wrestling control of the steering wheel I bought it around just in time to avoid anything more than just brushing the outside branches. But we weren’t out of the woods (literally) yet because I was still in the bulldust which was now taking me towards the only other tree in the area. Once again a quick wrestle of the wheel and we just missed that one as well.

Not being one for the liberal usage of hyperbole nor excessive verbosity and panicky gesticulation, Moe just casually turned to me and said something along on the lines of “yeah ya gotta watch that bull dust” and then continued to stare out the passenger window, while I was mentally ascertaining whether I needed a change of reg grundies** or not. Fortunately I was unsoiled and so we continued.

I was not the only one to come unstuck on this leg though. A couple of hours later, with Moe behind the wheel now, we noticed the Landcruiser Troopy was facing us as we approached a small grove of trees. It was sitting there nice and quietly with it back end parked beautifully up against a small slope on the edge of the track. Would’ve been a good parking job had it not happened at 40km/h. I won’t say who was driving at the time, but by the time we rocked up, Tony was sitting on the edge of the road sucking on about 10 cigarettes at a time, and cursing that young man’s name for all eternity.

But as they say, it’s all shits and giggles until someone giggles and shits, and with nothing more serious than a couple of bruised egos we continued on until many hours later, cutting through the darkness and on the blacktop for the first time in more than a week, the lights of Alice Springs shone brightly in the distance. Ah The Alice, the northern most point of our trip. The chance for a couple of days out of the vehicles, regular showers and a bit of sightseeing. But that’s where we’ll leave things for now.

Tune in next time as we start our return leg and find out what a German, a bull and big red rock have in common, and see the events which led to Tony delivering the best one liner of the entire trip – “who wants to neck a Greenie?”

Until then – life is good.

** For our international types, ‘Reg Grundies’ is an Australian term meaning ‘undies’ or if even that’s a bit too confusing, ‘undies’ is short for underpants.

The Rest of the Tale

 

So last time we visited this space was back before Christmas and New Years. Since that time I’ve had added kilos through over indulgence in food and lost brain cells through over indulgence in drink, so I think that means I’ve broken even. Prior to the break I advised you of the trials and tribulations in getting Old Rusty to start and left the story with the triumphant roar of the mighty 2B engine. Now I’m well aware that the anticipation of the next part of the story may have cast a slight greyness to your festivities, but fear not for here, now, at this very moment I shall put your anticipation to rest and regale you with the tale of that splendid afternoon.

So with Rusty happily shaking and rattling we headed off up the Bruce Highway with all the speed and haste the old beast could muster, so around 90k’s an hour…..downhill…..with a stiff tail wind. Being early summer in South East QLD the unshaded Bruce Highway was reflecting enough heat to melt the ex-wife’s icy heart (well nothing is really that hot, but you get the idea). For those of you who drive normal vehicles this is not an issue, you merely put the window up and whack on the air con and comfortably trundle your way along, totally oblivious to the searing heat. Not so in Rusty, not so. If you are unfamiliar with the dear old 40 Series Landcruiser, standard air conditioning consists of winding down the windows and opening up the kick panels – little panels in the side wall roughly where your feet belong. Normally these are a wonderful thing, except when the air being forced through them is about as hot and the air blowing around the House of Reps in Canberra. Add to that the complete lack of insulating material between the engine and cabin wall and you end up with a floor which is just a little bit too hot to put your feet on.

But anyway, Kertrude and myself survived and lobbed at the previously agreed upon meeting place to await the arrival of our companions for the day – Stefan and his son Dougal. Again names have been changed to protect the guilty (as if I’d be mates with someone named “Stefan”). And sure enough, after a sanger and coke, the pair duly arrived in the fancy, ‘modern’ 100 Series Landcruiser. The obligatory greetings and taking of the mickey was undertaken with enthusiasm and then we were off. We headed to the lookout so the Mt Isa boys could take in the wonders of vegetation and variation in ground height and a convenient place to lock in the hubs.

Well I locked in my hubs. Stefan must’ve forgotten to lock his in because I don’t recall seeing him in the region of his front wheels at all. Oh what? He doesn’t have to lock his in? Really? What sort of fourby doesn’t require locking of hubs?

Anyway, got distracted. Off we went into the unknown wilds of the Glasshouse Mountains State Forest. Employing the time-honoured concept of ‘if in doubt take the left hand track’ we veered off onto a small off-shoot which went very well for a few minutes. A bit of a downhill run, washouts and ruts made it all a nice introduction to the day.

And then suddenly we could go no further. Ahead of us, what used to be the track plummeted to become a smooth rock face which would give a mountain goat a heart attack. For probably only the second time since I first met Stefan in 1991, common sense prevailed and we decided to turn around, which is always fun on a tight track with a slope but it was managed.

When confronted with an impassable obstacle, stop for a photo opportunity. L – R Stefan, Dougal, Kertrude & Me

Shortly thereafter we popped out back on the main track over a small rise and were immediately met with the reason for purchasing a four wheel drive in the first place. With just a normal family sedan you basically get to see the Glasshouse Mountains from one perspective – ie from the lookout. With a fourby however, you can see if from all different directions. There before us was the majestic Mount Tibrogargan, towering above the pine plantations with the mid-afternoon sun casting a yellow glow across the whole scene. Beautiful.

Although in all honesty the beauty may be been lost on Stefan as there was another thing of beauty sharing the small rise with us. The beauty in question being a young female photography student who had been lured to the spot by the very vista which I was admiring. Stefan casually sauntered over and was soon engaged in a meaningful conversation with the young lady, no doubt discussing philosophy and literature and world events………..yeah right. (Quick note to Mrs Stefan – I may be exaggerating slightly, so don’t divorce him just yet).

Anyhoo, I eventually managed to drag him away and we were off again. The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the many off-shoot tracks in the area and at some stage we switched vehicles. I ended up steering the 100 Series while he wrestled with Rusty, which he seemed to enjoy as, due to being a country boy from way back, he learned to drive in a 40. And if I’m forced to admit, the slight upgrade in comfort was not entirely unwelcome as I piloted the big 100 around, although I never did get comfortable with the automatic transmission.

Stefan Driving Rusty
Me steering the Hunjy

To end the day we headed into Beerwah in search of a beer and some pub grub. Not knowing the town particularly well we opted for the only sure-fire approach to locating the watering hole – we asked the hairy, fat bloke walking down the footpath. We were not disappointed. A couple of cold beers and a chicken parmy, after a day playing in the bush with a good mate and a couple of our offspring. I tell ya, it doesn’t get much better.

The Drought is Broken

 

Finally, after a break of nearly twelve months, I’ve managed to get out and get some dust up my nose and bush pin-striping down the side of Rusty. There have been any number of reasons why I’ve been unable to get out bush, ranging from kid’s sport, domestic responsibilities and generally just being too knackered to get among it. But mostly the problem has been Rusty.

As much as I love that old chariot, our relationship has been strained of late. It all started with the incident I recounted in one of my previous blogs, when the oil pressure dropped and the engine cut out halfway up a steep hill climb. I don’t know how you’d react, but this kind of dented my confidence when it comes to taking this thing for an outing. I mean you don’t want to be out, enjoying a drive and have to turn around when confronted with a hill.

Being of limited means, I had to concede that Rusticus wouldn’t be doing too much in the way of adventuring for quite a while until I was able to rustle up some spare fundage to find out why I was losing oil pressure at such a critical moment. But that was ok, I was looking forward to tax time in a few months, so would take care of it then and just try to enjoy the company of my kids in the meantime.

Apart from being my ticket to off-road Nirvana, Rusty also happens to be my daily driver to get me to and from the train and for general running around. So while I couldn’t get into the mud and dirt, I could at least still enjoy puttering around town in it, which I continued to do until around six months ago when I was able to get it into the mechanic to see what the go was. He couldn’t find anything other than the gasket between the oil pick up and the block was a bit dodgy. So he replaced that and we’d have to wait until I found a nasty hill again to see if that solved the problem.

Sweet as, I thought. Problem potentially fixed, at last I’ll be able to have some fun. But then for some reason the car decided it was going to start having issues with starting. Sometimes I’d turn the key and the mighty 2B would roar into life without a hitch. Other times it would sound as though the battery was dead flat and other times the starter relay would click but nothing else would happen.

Golly gosh darn it, I would say when these instances would happen, or words to effect.

So with a depressed eye on the bank balance I took the starter motor out and ran it over to the sparky to see if he could recondition it. Much to my surprise he informed me that it was actually in great nick, nothing wrong with it. That’ll be $200 than you very much.

Back home, whack it in and it starts. Ok, I thought, whatever he did must’ve fixed it. But nay, dear reader. That was not to be the case. Not only did it go back to its old tricks, but while driving home one dark winter’s eve I notice the lights start to dim. They continued to dim until such time as the headlights were darkened and even the dash lights were asleep.

Back to the sparky.

Turns out the external alternator regulator was coozed and a couple of wires in the charging circuit had been burnt as black as the ex-wife’s casserole. Because the battery had obviously not been receiving decent charge for god knows how long, it too had now gone to a better place. $450 thank you very much sir.

Well at least this must have it sorted I thought. But once again, nay. A couple of days later it again failed to start. Oh Lordy I said calmly and with no expletives whatsoever. After I regained full control of the Queen’s English I thought rationally and decided it must be the starter relay, so a couple more dollars and lazy hour on a Saturday arvo and I’d put in a new relay. And guess what dear punters. It didn’t work, at least not straight away. It did kick over the following day however and from that day forward I slowly regained confidence in the old girl. Maybe its last failed starting attempt had somehow left something just off kilter enough to prevent it starting, but now that it had a good start under its belt all was now right in the world. For a good couple of months there was nary a hint of any more starting trouble.

So a couple of weeks ago I got a message from an old Army mate, who was also my best man on that fateful day I said ‘I do’ to my future ex-wife. He was coming down from The Isa to take his youngn’s to a cricket camp on the Sunshine Coast and wanted to catch up for a bit of an afternoon belting around the Glasshouse Mountains.

Sweet as. What a way to break the drought and get back out among it all. For two weeks I was as toey as a roman sandal, keen as mustard to get some dirt under Rusty’s wheels and all was looking good. Friday morning I jump into Rusty to get to work, turned the key and ‘click’. The relay clicked in, but the starter motor showed about as much life as a backpacker in the Simpson.

Expletives may have been muttered, but not much else could be done at that moment so I accepted a lift to work in my daughter’s Vitara and spent the day cursing the gods who have been constantly dogging my attempts to indulge my favourite pastime.

And so it was that Saturday lunchtime found me sitting in the driver’s seat, with fingers, toes and eyes crossed with all the hope of the desperado. The key was turned. Nothing. It was time to play my final card and so with a suitable lump of metal in hand I arced out the contacts on the starter motor and heard a distinct clunk, but nothing more.

“I wonder?” I dared to think.

Back to the ignition switch, turned the key and halle f*&%$en lujah. It lived! Not a hint of not wanting to play, so off we went. So long as we made it to the meet up spot, we’d be sweet. If it didn’t start after that, then at least there’d be someone around to give a bit of a tow start if required. But after all the angst, the gods finally smiled on me. For the rest of the day, she gave me no problems at all. I don’t care if it plays up tomorrow or the day after, it lived long enough to get me out for the day and to blow some of the city smog out of my veins and finally break that bloody drought.

Life is good.

That Wonderful First Time, Part 1.

 

I think we all remember our first time. The nervousness, the anticipation, the absolute wonder of the unknown about to be fully exposed to you. All those thoughts chasing each other endlessly around your mind. This is going to be great. I’ve waited so long for this. What if I make a mistake? What if I handle all the bits and pieces wrong and end up ruining the whole experience and end up looking like a fool in front of my mates? What if I don’t take the proper precautions and end up paying for it for the rest of my life?

But enough about that harrowing experience, this is a four wheel drive blog after all. But speaking of first times, the first time you get out off-road is just as exciting as any other thing you may have done for the first time. No one really knows what they’re doing when they first end up at the point where the bitumen meets the dirt. That moment when order, civilisation and the man-made give way to the real world of nature and where everything you’ve ever learnt about driving is thrown out the window because here there are no lane markings, and quite often no lanes, no signs telling you how fast to go and you now have to rely more on your wits than what the handbook says.

I was lucky with my first time. Way back in distant past, in 1992 and just before the 18th celebration of my entry into this world, I was a young apprentice mechanic in the Australian Army, the best looking Army in the world. That was the second year of my time at the Army College of Knowledge and the year an opportunity which was too good to refuse presented itself .

A former soldier and instructor at the College, Graeme, had formed his own four wheel drive school and was in the process of making his own instructional videos and he was planning a trip across the Simpson Desert as the content for the fourth video. Luckily for me and half a dozen other apprentoids he was still good mates with a Sergeant and current instructor of the College who from this point forward shall be known as Moe. Over a few drinks one night Graham and Moe were discussing the upcoming trip and Moe suggested the possibility of bringing a few apprentices a long for the ride, to which Graeme happily agreed and after a bit of organising and a selection process to see who would go, by late March 1992 all was ready and we were off.

The day of departure.
The day of departure.

Our journey would take us from the thriving metropolis on the New South Wales and Vicweigan border, Albury/Wodonga though Tibooburra, Innamincka, Birdsville, across the Simpson via the Rig Road, Mt Dare, Alice Springs and back down through Fink Gorge, Uluru, Marree, Oodnadatta, Renmark and back home. It would take nearly three weeks, cross two or three major deserts and one or two pubs which of course we all avoided as we were clean living teetotallers. And best of all the Army was footing the bill and providing a 110 Landrover and Landcruiser Troopy. Not bad for a first time huh?

So the first couple of days were nothing to get excited about as we basically just followed the black top. But from Tibooburra onwards the fun bit began. Whereas we had traveled in excess of 1000 k’s on the first two days, Tibooburra to Innamincka took all day but was only around 300 km, although a quick stop and obligatory photo opportunity at Cameron’s Corner did account for around an hour.

Cameron Corner 92
Some rough looking heads in that photo.

From Innamincka we hit the Strezlecki Desert on our way through to Birdsville. Now would be an opportune time to advise that we had a couple of tag alongs with us in the form of a three blokes from Ford testing the new (at the time) Ford Raider prior to its release on the Australian market. “How did they go?” I hear you ask. Well let me answer that question with a question. “How many Ford Raiders do you see going around these days?” Exactly.

It was on this part of the Strezlecki that one particular short coming became apparent, and although it has been know to happen to other vehicles it did not bode well for the Raider’s future in Oz. A couple of hours out from Innamincka the Raider encountered a rather heavy bump in the road. Not an uncommon occurrence in that area. But what was uncommon was the shattering sound of the Raider’s rear window self-destructing as a result of said bump.

The subsequent large opening at the back of the car let quite a bit of that lovely red dust into the interior and by the time we made it to Birdsville everything inside that poor Raider was a uniform red colour, including the two poor buggers who had been sitting comfortably in the front seat all day. They looked something similar to a spray tan gone horribly wrong, with avalanches of dust falling from their heads and shoulders with every minute movement of their bodies. Good times, good times.

So while they chose to go wash the dust off with a shower, the rest of us decided to wash away the dust in a more traditional manner – with a cold beer at the Birdsville Hotel. Best pub in the country, just let me say. And we got to see it in its real persona, without all the huge crowds which assemble annually for the races. Just us, the publican and a handful of locals. Oh and some bloke named Peter Wherret who was going to be joining us as we crossed the desert.  I’d never heard of him at that stage, but turns out he was a bit of a motoring presenter on the tele throughout the 70’s and into the 80’s. At the time he was touring Australia with his wife and writing a book about it. And strangely enough I stumbled across that very book 24 years later as I was browsing through a second hand bookshop in Brisbane just last year.

Anyhoo, we had a layover of a couple of days in Birdsville which we put to good use to repair some damage to various things, but definitely not to the frame that I had welded up back in Albury to allow us to mount the fridge in the Landrover. That thing was as strong as the Harbour Bridge and the only reason we took it into the workshop was to strengthen it further. Oh alright I’ll admit it. My welding job had been so ineffective that by the time we made it to Birdsville, the bloody frame had just about reverted to its component parts. At least the old bloke who ran the workshop had a good laugh.

We also helped out the publicans by shifting a heap of cartons from the store room to the cool room, and then proceeded to kick back and take it easy for the rest of our stay. Then, much to our surprise, three Army helicopters lobbed in at the airport across the road from the pub on their way back from an exercise up North. Turns out that Tony, the civilian instructor who accompanied us knew one of the pilots who had been a mechanic apprentice when Tony was a Sergeant. Small world.

So anyway, we’ve only covered a small part of that first trip so far in this tale, and there’s still so much more to tell, which I will do in the next installment. But by this stage I had now been four wheel drive touring for only four days, but I was hooked. The kind of country we had passed through over the last couple of days could only be seen with a fourby, and I’d fallen in love with it already. But that first trip had only just begun.

‘I am the Bringer of Rain’ or alternately ‘I am Spartacus’

Why the double barrel title you ask? Well in the TV show which aired a few years ago, Mr Tacus was proclaimed the Bringer of Rain because after he’d finished reducing an opponent to pulp in the gladiator arena, the heavens opened up and ended the long drawn-out drought that had besieged the city of Capua.

Now no doubt you are thinking what this has got to do with anything relevant to today’s world. Well the chiselled physique and fighting qualities of a Roman Gladiator are not the only things I have in common with this warrior of antiquity. Why are you laughing??? Ok then, about all we have in common is the fact that I, too, bring the rain.

You see more often than not when I head bush, so do the rain clouds. Throughout five and a bit years in that institution of fine upstanding men and women, aka the Aussie Army, there was but one occasion where I went into the scrub on exercise and wasn’t rained upon. And even on that singular occasion the heavens opened up as we were driving out, kind of like we’d caught the Weather Gods napping and they were then doing their best to exact their revenge upon us before we departed.

Not that this is a bad thing. As many a grizzled old sergeant had said, “rain adds ten percent to the training value”, while a steady trickle of near freezing water makes its way off his battered old bush hat and down the back of his coat, while he attempted to roll a smoke with wet hands. In hindsight that was probably correct in that a bit of cold and rain tends to make things a bit more ‘real’.  But to a bunch of shivering, rain-soaked and mud-covered young soldiers at the time, the grizzled old sergeant could kindly fornicate to another location at his earliest convenience.

In the intervening years after leaving grizzled old sergeants behind and more recent years, I’ve only had rare opportunities to get out into the bush, due to single parent commitments and a succession of dodgy old rust buckets that would struggle to make it to the city limits let alone the great beyond. But rest assured on those rare occasions the rain continued to join me.

More recently though I headed up to the Sunshine Coast, yes the Sunshine Coast, to see if I could unload of few copies of ‘Flames of Rebellion’ up there. I reckoned that rather than rushing back to Brisbane on the same day I’d take a quick overnight stop to relax and take it easy with just me, my swag and the Chariot of Fire, Rusty. The day started off nicely, a bit overcast, but warm and dry. It remained dry for most of the day while I was ducking in and out of shops, but around mid-afternoon things darkened somewhat and by the time I found a nice little spot just off the road in the general Kenilworth area, a gentle sprinkle had started.

“No worries.” Thought I. “I’ve got a tarp and some poles, I’ll just attach one side to Rusty, hold the other end up with the poles and have a nice quiet evening with the sound of the rain lightly falling on the tarp.”

But isn’t it funny how, no matter how much time you spend outdoors, no matter how many times you’ve set up shelters in less than perfect conditions, when your mind is on other things you can still miss the bloody obvious. Have a squiz at the picture and see if you can pick my rookie mistake.

20160428_173653

Did you see it? That’s right, Numpty here put the poles up higher than the roof level of the ‘cruiser, so that when the rain became more than just the pitter patter of tiny rain drops at some un-holy hour of the night, it all flowed down towards that end of the tarp, pooled and proceeded to locate the many small holes that tend to accumulate in old tarps. At some stage during the night I was awoken to the sounds of a steady stream of water pouring onto the swag. After a quick half asleep assessment of the situation I decided that in the grand scheme of things the swag was keeping the water out and so I’d just put up with it. Didn’t get a great deal of sleep that night though and it’s never fun packing up a sodden camp and having to then unpack your swag and set it up when you get home to make sure it’s all nice and dry for next time.

So anyway, with that one becoming nothing more than a slightly amusing memory, I decided that an extended weekend away with my much better half and two half-witted hounds was in order. So with the site booked at Neurum Creek and everything set, we checked the weather report for the week ahead.

And apparently Armageddon was heading our way.

The Bureau of Meteorology were predicting falls in excess of 100mm, gale force winds and basically the general destruction of the entire East Coast. Not really the time when you should be setting up a campsite beside a creek. And let’s face it, Ode de Wet Dog is never going to compete favourably with the old Chanel No. 5 is it? Turned out to be a good decision as we did receive a fair degree of rain, with that same cell causing quite a bit of damage further South all the way down to Tassie.

So we re-assessed the situation and, as the following weekend was out due to family reasons, we re-booked for two weekends later. With the family commitments done and dusted and enjoyed, it was time to look forward to finally getting out into the bush, but just for the hell of it we’d thought we’d check that forecast again, and bugger me the Bureau is predicting a repeat of the weather from two weeks ago. “Golly gosh” I thought to myself.

Although that weekend turned out to be not as bad as predicted it was probably still a good call not to go.

But where does that leave me now? Toey as a Roman Sandal, that’s where! I’ve not been bush for nigh on three months now. Three months of city dwelling, of traffic and noise and light and phones and computers and all the other things that go along with living in the Big Smoke. Oh the horror, oh the huge manatee (is that the saying?? I think I heard it somewhere).

Funny isn’t it, as much as we’d like to complain when the weather turns a bit feral while we’re out in the scrub or when common sense decrees that we don’t go, the alternative is often much less appealing. Maybe the key is to just make your booking, ignore the Bureau and just go. And bugger the consequences.

I’m now looking for potential locations to roll out the swag, so if anyone needs their dams filled, just let me know and I’ll plan a trip to your area.

Finding out your vehicle’s idiosyncrasies – the hard way

IMG_5378
Just hanging out, on the end of a winch rope.

One of the best and/or worst things about getting an old banger and fixing it up is that you never quite know what you’re going to get. Sure, with a bit of an experienced eye you can figure out the main stuff like rust, bearing and bushes and all the standard leaks and squeaks. But there are always things you can’t see and won’t find out about until the right conditions present themselves.

Take a recent outing of mine for example. Old Rusty had been performing beautifully in the short outings that I’d been taking him on, post re-build. Most of the little niggling issues had been sorted so now it was time for a camping and four wheel driving weekend. We settled on Gordon Country, a cattle property-come four wheel drive and camping park. Just over the hill from Brisbane heading towards Warwick, take a turn at the Driver Reviver stand and follow the signs and before long you’re in camping heaven. Nice wide-open shady camp grounds to choose from and enough tracks of varying degrees of difficulty to keep everyone happy.

So with the destination locked in, Rusty was loaded with enough gear for a couple of nights for me, my lovely lady and my two useless hounds and we were off. The next day we were joined by Mitten’s, his girlfriend and Kertrude. Time for some off-road exploration.

At first everything was going well. A few decent mud puddles, some minor hill climbs and generally just a bit of good clean fun. Eventually we arrived at the foot of a fair to reasonable climb up a fairly steep hill. It was a bit scrabbly with some small wash outs but with no reason to think Rusty wasn’t up to the task I set the hand throttle, selected first gear low range and headed off.

It was all going well for a while, until we reached a particularly steep bit. For some reason the engine just died, leaving me in a rather precarious position half way up a steep incline.

“No worries.” Thought I. Using the tried and trusted technique I selected ‘R’ for backwards, let go the hand-brake and kicked over the ignition and ‘you little rippa’ it started again.

For a grand total of 5 seconds.

Something was definitely wrong. We soon figured out that we were getting no oil pressure and as such the inbuilt safety mechanism was kicking in and shutting the engine off. Great, the engine isn’t going to seize up through lack of oil. But I was still stuck halfway up a hill.

Rusty does have a winch on the front and under other circumstances it’d be a simple case of running out the cable, hooking onto a tree and winching back down under control. But Rusty’s winch is a PTO winch, meaning it is driven off engine power, not electrical power, and my engine wasn’t working. Well not for any more then 5 seconds anyway.

So with nothing else for it we hooked up the winch and went backwards 5 seconds at a time. Obviously this put a lot of strain on the old battery and it soon gave up the ghost with a good twenty metres or so to go until we reached flat ground. What to do? We needed another battery and the only one within shouting distance was in Mitten’s truck at the bottom of the hill – bugger.

Now, dear reader, I don’t know if you’ve ever carried a car battery twenty metres up a steep hill, but I recommend you don’t try it if you don’t have to. With searing lungs and burning limbs I finally managed to get the battery up the hill, but needed a good sit down before I had the energy to actually lift the bloody thing into Rusty’s engine bay. But lift if I eventually did and we were soon back into the five second intervals until finally we were far enough down for the old engine to kick over and stay kicked-over. It was a wonderful thing, and I was knackered.

Back to the campsite for a well earned breather and a couple of amber beverages and the whole experience was nothing more than a funny story being told around a campfire.

Turns out that over the years, the vibrations within the engine had caused the oil pickup to crack, resulting in the loss of pressure at the right angle. Nothing particularly difficult, but it just goes to show, you can look at these old clangers as much as you like but you’ll never fully know what’s lurking beneath, unseen and waiting to reveal itself at the worst possible moment.

But that’s what makes them sooo much better then a brand new chariot.

The Ballad of the Hilux of Doom

I used to think that love at first sight was a myth. Right up there with Bunyips, the Loch Ness Monster and Two-Headed Tasmanians (although I am still open to the Tasweigian concept). The thought that you can lay eyes on someone and straight away fall deeply and madly in love quite frankly sounded about as likely as left-over meat pie at a truckies convention. But then it happened.

One cool, late winter day in Brisbane, while taking care of some totally unrelated business, I saw her. Soaking up the sun with a group of friends, a slight shimmer rising from her hot, sun-baked skin. Standing tall with her long, slender body turned slightly away from me, coyly pretending to not have noticed my gaze. A beautiful lady with just a few scars from her adventurous life to make her perfect.

A beautiful, LN106 Hilux. 2.8 litre, naturally aspirate diesel engine. Two inch lift, dual cab and a sleek alloy tray. Phwaor, be still my beating heart.

I had to have her and so after some slight issues with getting the finance, I kissed my old Ford Courier goodbye (along with the jumper leads which I’d forgotten were stashed behind the back seats) and the Hilux was mine.
Now what does any bloke do with a hot new lady in his life? He takes her for a spin to see what she can do, and so a mere seven days after taking possession, me, my kids and my Hilux were on the road from Brisbane to Inverell, under the pretense of attending my sister’s 25th anniversary, but in reality it was just a good excuse for a road trip to get to know my new lady.

The first thing to become apparent as we blasted down the Cunningham Highway was the whiplash inducing power and acceleration of those 2.8 litres of diesel fury screaming from 0-100km/h by about lunch time. You know that wonderful feeling you get when you put the foot down and accelerate uphill? Hilux drivers don’t. You know that feeling of maintaining a constant speed up a slight incline? Hilux drivers don’t. But none of that mattered. I’ve never been in a hurry to get anywhere, so the relaxed pace set by the old girl suited me fine.

Her next surprise came as we were leaving Tenterfield. As the outskirts gave way to the open highway and the speed limit sign said 100, I stomped the right foot down and heard a beastly roar the likes of which I’d never heard before. Seriously, then exhaust note had gone from a reasonably subdued grumble to an ear shattering boom. I pulled over to investigate.

The cause of the Exhaust Noise Overture was painfully obvious right from the start. Right at the point where the pipe joined the muffler, there was daylight. The dear old pipe was a bit on the rusty side, and it was apparent that the sudden increase in pressure at my attempted acceleration was the last straw and it had split all the way through. Thankfully both parts were still hanging to the underside of the truck and would obviously do so for the foreseeable future, so all that remained was to make a decision – back to Tenterfield for repairs or onwards.
It was late afternoon already and Tenterfield was no doubt starting to wind down as country towns tend to. There was the possibility of getting it fixed, but I figured it would have to be tomorrow, and tomorrow meant Inverell. Onwards.

It’s about 160 klicks from Tenterfield to Inverell, through the usually quiet little town of Glen Innes. I say “usually” because there’s no such thing as a quiet little town when there’s an un-muffled Hilux driving through. On the road between Tenterfield and Glenn I figured it was only unbearably loud upon acceleration, so I kept that to a minimum whenever stealth was required….such as passing members of the local Constabulary out on the road, who gave slightly puzzled looks as they drove past. After a couple of hours, and severe hearing loss we rolled into the Oldies’ driveway to be greeted with wonderful silence and the usual wonderful home cooked feed which always greets our arrival.

The next day, after a head scratching planning session, it was down to the local steel supplier in town to get hold of some metal pipe. About four inches and a hose clamp was all it would take. Back home and we slid the pipe inside the exhaust and then slid it in to sit a couple of centimetres into the muffler. Because of the position of the break, only the exhaust side could be clamped while the muffler end would just have to make do with sitting inside what was left of the sleeve.

It worked quite well actually as far as dodgy repairs go. So well in fact that I drove it around like that for the next six months. It may have been rough, but it was effective, therefore in the true sense of bush mechanics, it wasn’t rough. It rattled a bit when cold, but when it heated up and expanded a bit it became just like any other old Hilux…..loud but legal. It was only when I’d decided that I needed the heady experience of driving at the speed limit by installing a 2.75 inch exhaust that I actually got rid of the rough repair.

It was worth it though. No more being overtaken by grey nomads in their little rice-burners, I could now match it with them, on flat ground and least. I was still buggered going uphill.

But we all know these things weren’t built for cruising down the highway. They were built to get down and dirty in the mud, out in the bush, to chug along all day no matter what was thrown at ’em, and that’s what I’m going to go on about in the next post – the fun and adventure that you can only have with an old, rough as guts fourby.

Until then, find go find a track and see where it leads.