From Heat and Flies to Snow and Flies: the varied landscapes of New South Wales

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K reading on the river

What you can’t see in the picture is the heat and the flies—millions of them. The Clarence River meanders through the mountains of northern New South Wales and it’s stunning, but . . .

The heat! The flies!

Crawling on my sweaty legs, buzzing round my ears, crawling up my nose. It was forty degrees C and sunny and humid and the flies were relentless. At sundown they went, only to be replaced by more flies—smaller ones that squeezed through the mesh windows of our tent. Flies inside the tent. It was too hot to zip up the windows so we turned out the lights to stop attracting the little blighters. That was it, 9 p.m. (felt like 8 because we’d just come from Queensland) lights out, goodnight Irene, no reading, just heat and flies crawling on us in the dark.

Luckily, there was one other family camped on the river with us with two boys. In the morning they played with our girls. I sat and watched and read Trollope and wrote and periodically walked down to the river, then into the river to submerge myself in all my clothes, the only way to cool down.image

The family we met is planning a trip like ours. They’re from Sydney, but left the city ten years ago, moved to a little place called the Pocket, outside of Mullumbimby—I love that, outside of Mullumbimby, as if Mullumbimby is just a bit too busy. They have a house with a garden that backs onto a creek with a swimming hole. It sounds heavenly.

In no time we’ll be in our townhouse in Bronte, which backs onto another townhouse.

Clarence River was beautiful, but the flies proved too much. The other family left after one night. We left after two.

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Driving through the Northern Rivers section of NSW

Next stop: Broken Head Nature Reserve, just south of Byron Bay. There we encountered the biggest rain we’ve had all year. On our first night, two thunderstorms passed overhead—thunder cracked all night and the sky was lit with lightening. Lee got up four times in the night to push the water off the canopy and the tent. Water dripped through for the first time in our year round Australia.

In the morning we were exhausted and everything was soaked.

For the first time, I looked forward to going home, to four walls and a roof, to waking up and not stepping through mud to get to the toilet.

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Broken Head Nature Reserve, south of Byron Bay

imageByron is beautiful even in the rain and Lee and K enjoyed the surf, while R and I wrote stories. We met up with our friends, Lu and Bede again. We stayed four nights in the National Park and then we drove south to another stunning place.

Minnie Water, recommended to us by Lu and Bede, is a tiny village surrounded by Yuraygir National Park. It’s paradise. We stayed three nights in Illaroo Campground, just before it started getting busy with Queenslanders on holiday.

We surfed, played in the sand, went for walks, enjoyed our solar shower, and the girls played endless imaginary games. They never fight in the bush.

Then we made our way down the coast to Port Macquarie, where we stayed at the “Murray Resort” with our generous friends, Jacqui and David and their beautiful baby. We went to the beach, played with the cats, helped put up Christmas decorations, and visited the Koala Hospital, where local sick and injured koalas go to recover.

One night Lee and I slept with the window open and heard the local koala talking, which sounded like nothing we’d ever heard before—somewhere between a grunt and an a heave—such an odd sound for that impossibly cute creature.

We left Port and headed south again to the Central Coast, where we had two more days of rain. Then we bypassed Sydney (where our house is still rented out) and visited friends who’ve recently left the rat race and now live in a stunning new house that overlooks the beach in Thirroul. Lee set up the trailer in their driveway and their son slept in it overnight! Our girls played with their boys; the dads drank Daly’s homebrew, and the mums chatted away in the kitchen.

After a fabulous weekend with friends, we drove southeast, to Canberra, to meet my parents.

Then, to the Snowy Mountains! My parents splurged (again) and rented a cabin in Kosciuszko National Park with views of Lake Jindabyne. It’s just us and the roos here. And a million flies. But that’s OK, because we’re indoors!

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K splashing into Lake Jindabyne in Kosciusko National Park

Yesterday, Christmas Eve, we climbed the tallest mountain in Australia: Mount Kosciuszko. R, 5, and Pop, 77, were the youngest and oldest respectively at the top of that magnificent look-out. We made it up and  back–a 14 kilometre walk–just before a massive thunderstorm broke.

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Pop climbing Mt. Kossy
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The Snowy Mountains
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R in snow!

On the way up Mt. Kossy the girls saw snow for the first time. They tramped over it, slipped down it, threw snowballs and screamed with delight, It’s cold!!!

One more stop before we’re back home in Sydney.

Merry Christmas everyone, and thanks for reading.

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Brisbane, Surrounds, and the Amazing Toowong State School

 

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Brisbane, courtesy of visitbrisbane.com.au

I found myself awake with the sun in Brisbane, at five a.m. No daylight savings in Queensland means first light in November is at 4:20 a.m. I sat on the balcony of our crappy rented flat and watched the cyclists stream past on the bike path below.

The cycle paths are excellent in Brissie (except in the CBD where they overlap with bus lanes). There’s a path along both sides of the Brisbane River and it’s packed—mostly with MAMILs (middle-aged men in lycra). But K and R and I rode on the bike path when it wasn’t peak hour, when cyclists weren’t racing past at 30 kilometres an hour.

A mild depression hung around my time in the city, made worse by the unbelievable U.S. election result. I was finally missing work and wishing we were still in the bush.

Lee worked the whole three and a half weeks we were in Brisbane and loved it. He built rooms for friends of his who own a block of flats on the other side of town.

K went to Toowong State School and this is the real reason we came.

I had about four hours between when the kids woke up and K went to school—four hours inside, which was hard. Lee left for work early. The girls and I had breakfast, wrote stories, made Christmas cards, had an imaginary café. And then we had another hour to kill before school.

R and I spent our days cycling to South Bank, where they have a beach, lagoon and a great playground. We also visited the art galleries and science museum, all of which are free.

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R on the Playground at Southbank

People say, Move to Brissie, it’s more relaxed. And it’s true. Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, has a population of just two million and the houses (unlike Sydney or Melbourne) are still affordable. There’s plenty of work for Lee. The bilingual program at Toowong is excellent; more on the school in a moment.

But in November it was 35 C with 80% humidity. I felt like I was cycling through pea soup. When I went to buy a Saturday paper, it was either a Murdoch tabloid or a Murdoch broadsheet, as it is in so many places in Australia.

Noosa and Surrounds

One weekend, we got away up the coast and camped at Coolum Beach. As luck would have it, we were two sites down from a deaf man and his partner, an Auslan interpreter!

Getting out of the city on a Friday night was a nightmare, though. We were stuck in traffic for hours. At one point I thought it would’ve been quicker on the bike.

The next day we spent all morning in the surf, which was lovely. K’s surfing is improving. But Lee, after carrying his board all around Australia, into the centre and back out again, snapped his board on the first wave.

That evening, we drove up to Noosa Heads for a sunset bbq. It’s a popular place and you can see why.

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Noosa Heads National Park

Toowong State School

Toowong is similar to the wonderful bilingual school in Adelaide: Klemzig. It’s an ideal place for both deaf and hearing kids, but it’s in a beautiful wooden building, that looks more like a house than a school. It’s a Queenslander, up on stilts, to catch the breeze in the classrooms. The kids eat lunch below their classrooms, in the shade of the building.

K had two deaf “best friends” at the school—one fully deaf and one with some hearing like herself. She’s never had “best friends”. I watched them signing and smiling on the playground and knew this was the right spot for her.

Nine out of the 29 students in K’s class were deaf and everyone signed. There were deaf teachers and hearing teachers, but everyone signed.

They have drumming on Wednesdays; even the profoundly deaf kids can feel the rhythm. Every Friday they have deaf drama and also art. When I talked to one of the many passionate teachers who work at Toowong, she told me it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find qualified staff, since they’ve gotten rid of the Teacher of the Deaf program in universities in Queensland and they’re finishing in other parts of the country, too.  This is a huge loss for deaf children in Australia.

Experts say that with improved hearing aids and cochlear implants, deaf children don’t need to sign. But cochlear implants don’t make you hearing. And they don’t work for everyone. K loved the school, adored it, and when we were in Brissie, she wished she could go on Saturday and Sunday as well.

In K’s classroom there were four adults—a teacher, a teacher’s aid, an interpreter and an Auslan Language Modal from the Deaf Community. No wonder the classroom was so organised. No wonder they get so much done in such a relaxed atmosphere.

In K’s final two weeks, they studied poetry in English and Auslan. And K learned how to compose an Auslan poem, which she eagerly showed me when she got home from school. She wants to move to Brisbane now.

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Toowong State School

It was with some sadness that K left Brisbane and her new-found friends for a brief stay on the Gold Coast. Then it was back to the bush and New South Wales! We’re getting close to home . . . .

Queensland: The Tablelands and Down the Coast to Brisbane

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Bush-turkey, by K, found everywhere–even in Brisbane!

I haven’t written in over a month. As our year-long trip nears its end, a certain melancholy has set in, at least for me. I suppose, after so many highs, it’s inevitable. We did have some amazing bush camping in northern and mid Queensland before we arrived in Brisbane four weeks ago and what follows is an attempt to describe these adventures . . .

The Tablelands

Northwest of Townsville and southwest of Cairns lie the Tablelands. Slightly higher altitude means lower temperatures, rain forests and rain. We drove past fields of sugarcane and stayed in a state forest full of cheeky kookaburras, one of whom flew down and tried to steal the hamburger meat from my hands—I felt the air from the sweep of its wings, but managed to save the meat. Wildlife was abundant at Kauri Creek Campground in Danbulla State Forest. I went for a lovely 9 K walk and didn’t see another soul. Each evening, after the girls were asleep, Lee and I spotted a musky rat kangaroo, the smallest kangaroo, who came into our campsite.

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View from Our Campsite at Kauri Creek

I had one near disastrous kayak. The level of the lake was way down, due to drought, and when we were walking towards the water over wet sand, I began to sink. The more I struggled, the deeper I sank. Lee had to pull me out. Twice.

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Photo taken just before I began sinking into quicksand

On the way to our next camp in Malanda we nearly ran over a black kitten stumbling around the middle of the road. It was midday and a wedge-tailed eagle had spotted the kitten, too. The eagle was circling as Lee slowed to a stop. I rolled my eyes. Lee got out to rescue the cat and brought it into the car. Now, it must be said that K’s deepest dearest wish—what she wishes for every time an eyelash lands on her face or she blows out the birthday candles on her cake—is for a cat. And there she sat in the back with this little black fluff ball at her feet inside an empty beer carton. I was thinking: how are we ever going to take this kitten back to Sydney? And wouldn’t it have been better for the environment if we’d let the eagle have its lunch?

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A bittersweet goodbye to Max

We drove on, pulled into a caravan park, which was also a small farm, and I said to the woman, “We have a problem.” Then we pulled out the gorgeous little kitty, maybe three weeks old. “We’ll take it,” she said. “My son’s always wanted a black cat.” I was relieved. K was heart-broken, but magnanimous in her loss. Later she told me, “I’m happy that Max has a good home. I saw how gentle that boy was with the kitten—I saw that he was caring for him the same way I would’ve cared for him.”

Babinda

After too brief a time in the Tablelands, we drove back to the coast–lush green mountains filled with sugarcane–and made our way south. Babinda had a gorgeous free camp near a swimming hole in the rain forest.

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R on top of trailer–free camp at Babinda

You can take a short walk through the rain forest to the swirling torrent that is Devil’s Pool, where, legend has it:

A long time ago, Oolana, the beautiful young wife of an elder of the Wanyurr tribe, fell in love with Dyga, a handsome young man from a visiting tribe. The two lovers, knowing that tribal lore forbade their union, ran away together. After having been discovered camping by the creek, Dyga returned to his tribe. Oolana, however, threw herself into the water, which became a swirling torrent. The ground opened up and huge boulders were cast into the air. Today the boulders mark where Oolana drowned.

            Oolana’s spirit is believed to reside here today—she continues to call out for Dyga to return, enticing wandering travellers, especially men. Over the years, a number of young men have drowned in this very place . . .

Platypus Camp

This is one of my favourite places—right up there with the Eyre Peninsula, Karijini and Boodjamulla. Platypus Camp is an hour in from Mackay, but it feels like worlds away. It’s run by an old hippie and environmentalist, Wazza, who was away on holiday. A family was looking after the place and R made friends with their girls. The family is thinking of buying the camp and moving there permanently, after selling their house in Adelaide. I can see why. Platypus Camp is set in the rain forest with its own resident bandicoots, a stunning swimming hole and separate Platypus Viewing area on another section of the river. The showers are donkey showers (heated by wood fire in the evening); they have three walls and open onto the rain forest so your showering in the outdoors. The camp is biking distance to two beautiful walks to falls and swimming holes. It’s stunning and I recommend it to anyone.

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Swimming hole near Platypus Camp
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K biking back to Platypus Camp

Then we made our way down to Brisbane via the town of 1770, named for when Captain Cook landed. Not a lot has happened since.

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Sunset, 1770

The last place we camped before Brisbane was a lovely bush camp on the Mary River near Kenilworth.

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More to come on Brisbane in the next installment . . .