A quick about-Facebook.

Conducting the barrels.  The site of Mudgee's Huntington Music Festival in its normal state

Conducting the barrels. The site of Mudgee’s Huntington Music Festival in its normal state.

There is something self-smuggifying about about turning to head south just as the bite of winter is upon us, to drive opposite to the lines of folks our age, demographically categorised as “grey nomads,” eagerly dragging their caravans to the warmth of Australia’s north.

Yes, as in many things, we were paddling against the tide. Apart from our daughter’s 30th birthday and her third child on the way, we had another appointment to deal with first. This was a pile of firewood- probably about two year’s supply, stacked at our little house near Lake Eildon, which I wanted to feel glowing from our old Coonara stove as I looked at the chilly lake and mountains opposite. 

The warm attractions of the south.

The warm attractions of the south.

After three months heading as far north as Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, we planned to spend as little time as possible going homeward, so it was to be down the inland via the Newell Highway, because this road, the dreary inland route, seemed to offer the fewest distractions. We planned to head south as fast as the Subaru with our kayaks on top would tug the caravan.

The loaded Subaru.

The loaded Subaru.

There was however to be one scheduled distraction. It was a town called Mudgee about two hours drive from the Newell, at Coonabbaraban. Mudgee is famous for wine and also for a classical music festival annually performed at one of the vineyards. We were to find it distracted us for two days. 

Leaving our friends’ place at Coolum on the Sunshine Coast, where we had stayed two weeks, we faced two obstacles. The first was a flat car battery, the second was the caravan wanting to take our friends’ front gate with it. 

With those problems solved we bypassed Brisbane, climbed the steep dividing range and over nighted at Toowoomba, the town of my mother’s birth, at a van park near a noisy truck route. We asked our neighbours (who lived at the park) how long it would take drive to Coonabarabran. ”That’s in New South Wales, isn’t it?” the woman replied. ”We’ve never been to New South Wales.”

This seemed strange given Toowoomba is only about 100 kilometres from the NSW border, but then Queenslanders can be pretty parochial, but they are not unique. I remember travelling in Europe a few years ago and in a German town just 12 kilometres from the French border, meeting people who had never been to France and the same happened on the other side.

At 1.8 million square kilometres Queensland is about three and a half times the size of France (the biggest country in western Europe). Toowoomba is in the state’s far south east, and much closer to our home town Melbourne, three states away, than to the popular holiday town of Cairns which is only about three quarters of the way to Queensland’s top. This gives an idea of the size of the place. But unlike the differences between the languages of Europe, the dialects of Queensland versus the southern states seem slight, so the woman’s statement appeared just to show a lack of curiosity.

It was on the quiet road south west from Toowoomba to the border at Goondiwindi, that Jill agreed to try her hand at driving the car and caravan, something she had been reluctant about on the way north. I had initially found it difficult and exhausting. Although the van is comparatively light, the Subaru with its four cylinder motor is comparatively small as a van tug and almost all outfits we came across were being hauled by much bigger (and thirstier) machines. I had never before towed a van and handling is different with the car pulling more than a ton plus its own weight. Also given the Subaru is comparatively narrow, the car extension mirrors don’t really show the traffic behind. 

For most of the way north I was concerned about the van’s brakes which are controlled electrically from the car via a fairly old electronic control box. No matter how I adjusted the dials on the box, the van brakes seemed either too aggressive and felt like they were pulling back the car, or they appeared to do nothing.

The van is also fitted with anti-sway bars, a complete pain in the arse that have to be attached and detached every time the car and van are connected or separated. They are supposed to stop a kind of pendulum effect where the van can start to wobble and spread the momentum to the car, a frightening situation causing the driver to lose control and possibly overturn or run into oncoming traffic.

This sway problem had never happened to me, but for some reason it happened to Jill soon after she took over on the Goondiwindi road and suddenly we were out of control, the sway taking the car and van to the wrong side of the road. Jill took her foot off the accelerator but things got no better. I told her to gently apply the brakes and immediately the swaying stopped, she regained control and pulled over to the roadside, shaking. We wondered what would have happened with a road curve or oncoming truck.

Jill was very upset. I could only think she was unfamiliar with the Subaru’s rather sharp steering and had tried to overcorrect it. The downside was I would have to drive the entire 2000 kilometres home. The positive was I then knew the caravan brakes worked, because the shake stopped as soon as they were applied, so when I drove I was less stressed.

We reached Coonabarabran that night and Mudgee the following afternoon. Mudgee is still as prosperous looking as when founded in the mid 19th century with attractive streets and grand old buildings. But what it produces in the surrounding countryside is the attraction for most visitors these days- wine. It is a particular variety of wine that attracted me, a variety that grows well in Australia, yet is not well appreciated. 

The Mudgee vineyards.

Mudgee vineyards.

Riesling used to be under-appreciated and we used to enjoy its quality at great value, but recently its appreciation has risen along with its price.
The most popular Australian white is sauvignon blanc followed by chardonnay. While I do enjoy a decent chardonnay, I hate sauv blanc, but it is so often blended with another variety, semillon.

Straight semillon is an old French variety that ages well, but it is rarely sold un-blended and is most famously produced in the Hunter Valley near Newcastle. But on our way up the coast staying at Toowoon Bay near Newcastle, we could not buy semillon at the local wine shop.

Apart from the Hunter region, Mudgee which is directly inland over the Great Dividing Range, is also known for semillon and we were keen to find if it was going to be another wine bargain like riesling was once. Most of the vineyards are a short drive from the town and the local tourist association produces a great booklet highlighting what varieties each vineyard produces.

We were going to devote most of one day to winery exploration, but at our first stop, we found the local semillon much lighter than anything from the Hunter and at $20 to $25 a bottle hardly a great bargain. One of our stops was to be Huntington Estate, the site of the annual Music Festival named after the winery and held in its barrel room with the barrels cleared out of the way. Richard Tognetti, director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra describes the room as having one of the ‘best acoustics on the planet.’ We also thought it worth trying the wine, which unlike most producers, they supply aged. We left with both a selection of aged whites and reds, and because we showed an interest, also with memories of the famous barrel room, which unsurprisingly at this tine if years is filled with barrels. 

Sampling the tastes of Huntington Estate.

Sampling the tastes of Huntington Estate.

Astro, our well aged blue heeler, and part reason for our caravan tour, also enjoyed meeting various winery dogs, who were clearly enthusiastic about greeting canine tourists. He was particularly welcomed by Wallis, a young female corgi at the Elliot Rocke Estate. She was so keen on him she jumped in the car. 

Wine dog Wallace fails to engage with a bored Astro.

Wine dog Wallis fails to engage with a bored Astro.

I was equally keen on the estate, because although their 2014 semillon was $20 over the counter, the manager said if I bought a dozen, it would be $10 a bottle- much more my kind of price. She said it would age well up to five years. It is nice and zesty now, so it will be interesting if it survives that long.

Our next part of the journey was a fuel gulping ride south east up the dividing range to Yass near Canberra.

The Cowra Japanese war cemetery.

The Cowra Japanese war cemetery.

On the way we saw an interesting war cemetery at Cowra where the dead from the famous Japanese prisoner of war breakout are buried. In August 1944 about 1100 Japanese prisoners tried a mass escape, 359 got out, but 231 died, many from suicide, before the rest were captured. Four Australian soldiers were killed. The site now houses a Japanese garden and peace bell.

The elaborate Booroowa war memorial.

The elaborate Booroowa war memorial.

Closer to our destination we came across the small town, Booroowa with its amazingly elaborate war memorial built after World War I, where the engraved list of war dead seems to indicate most of the town’s young men were swept up in jingoistic fervour. There was a far smaller list for World War II. The memorial also features a clock with the word Anzac spelt out twice instead of numerals

The Anzac inscribed clock tower.

The Anzac inscribed clock tower.

In Yass we met up with Jill’s Canberra living bother and his family at yet another wine producing area, Murrumbateman, much favoured by residents of the national capital. Later two Melbourne friends heading north, called in at the van.

Back in Victoria we were planning to stop at the wine town Rutherglen, just over the border, but with three dozen bottles from Mudgee already bending the car and caravan link like an inverted boomerang, we decided to wait for another trip.

Warming ourselves by the Lake Eildon view wood stove, Jill decided to join a Facebook group devoted to people who caravan with their dogs. It was a contentious problem for us with some towns on the trip off limits because they lacked a pet friendly caravan park. In other towns we were forced to stay at less desirable parks because they were the only ones pet friendly.

Leaving your pet with relatives for an extended period could lead to family disharmony. Leaving them at an expensive boarding kennel could lead to financial disharmony, not to mention a traumatised animal unable to understand why it was imprisoned. Given the number of people we saw travelling with dogs, we could see catering for them was a growth industry. Indeed when we tried to book a place near Byron Bay, their management said they were in the process of making themselves pet friendly, but had not yet done so.

Jill found a Facebook quote of an alleged letter exchange between a dog owner and caravan park manager where the pet owner asked if their well behaved animal would be welcome.

The reply went as follows: “I have been operating this park for many years. In all that time have never had a dog steal shower heads, soap, toilet rolls, sink plugs etc. I have never had to evict a dog in the middle of the night for being drunk and disorderly and I have never had a dog run out on a park bill. Yes, indeed your dog is most welcome and if your dog will vouch for you, you’re welcome to stay here too.”

In joining the new site named “All 4 paws dog friendly camping spots,” Jill posted a picture of Astro in our van which I had used in the first blog about this trip entitled: “Life in a Suitcase.”

Astro, the Facebook favorite.

Astro, the Facebook favorite.

Last time we looked the photo had received more than 70 thumbs up “likes” and the number keeps growing.

As I said, there is an untapped market out there.


Tempus fugitives.

Kayaking in Noosa's posh waterways.

Kayaking in Noosa’s posh waterways.

What is it about our attitude to time? How many of us can genuinely say we live in the present, or do we tend to dwell on the past and either anticipate or dread the future? Is it possible to live in the present at all, given our senses only record our body’s signals nano-seconds after they happen, making our consciousness of the present always slightly delayed?

I suppose we do live in what we consider the present in times of fear and anxiety, when faced with death, when we find ourselves in serious trouble like having just realised we are badly injured, or something like being close to drowning. 

Jill reprises her hippy past at Byron Bay.

Jill reprises her hippy past at Byron Bay.

Fortified by youth’s hubris, I nearly drowned in my teens on a Gold Coast beach after becoming exhausted in the surf, unaware of my limitations. I was rescued by a life saver. Even now 50 years later I can still remember the moment when I thought that moment might be my last.

We are now more than two and a half months into our planned two month caravan trip. Slowly up the east coast we have arrived at what is the elliptical trip’s furthest point from Melbourne, or in astronomical terms its aphelion, where we have parked our caravan in a friend’s yard at the Sunshine Coast resort town of Coolum. Like the aphelion in the earth’s solar orbit this is the furthest point from our sun- Melbourne.

It was April Fool’s Day when we hooked my ageing Subaru Outback to the much older Windsor van and left Melbourne. Maybe that date had something to do with the confused sense of time I feel living in this two wheeled suitcase. For all but three nights we have slept in it, with Astro the dog tucked in beside our bed. It is beginning to take on a strange sense of normality. Sometimes it seems as if our past life is very distant, our house in Melbourne is a foreign country and time is jumbled. Have we been on the road for years or only for a couple of weeks? I sometimes confuse events and places from earlier in the trip as happening before we left home. 

Our friend Colin Burley's frighteningly accurate illustrative take on our trip. His wife Julie appears later in the blog.

Our friend Colin Burley’s perceptively ironic take on our trip. His wife Julie appears later in the blog.

Most significantly I am conscious of a phenomenon that is similar to the intense feeling of present that comes with fear and danger, but is triggered by the complete reverse- happiness, excitement or achievement often set off by doing something or being in a place long wished for or anticipated. At these times I note that, yes, I am alive and I am doing whatever it is that gives me satisfaction. Fortunately this sense has come to me a number of times on the trip, while the ugly one has so far happened just once.

Since the last blog from South West Rocks, we have spent most of our journey with the van parked in the yards of friends and relatives.

Mick with Chester the horse.

Mick with Chester the horse.

Near Grafton we stayed with Jill’s brother Mick, his wife Pam, their several dogs and a miniature horse called Chester in a garden created over 40 years, deep in the forest. Mick plays in a rock band on week ends. 

Mick in his band.

Mick plays bass guitar in his band.

In Brisbane our van park was a beautiful subtropical suburban garden beside a rocky creek, that regularly floods and threatens our friend Judy’s very sensuous and fragrant clinic where she runs an acupuncture practice. Astro also took a delight in the clinic and possibly the companionship of her equally old dog Max, to the extent he virtually moved in, acting as tail wagging ‘meeter and greeter’ to her clients.

Our Brisbane garden.

In our friend’s luscious Brisbane garden.

From this garden, we were able to take the three day non-caravan holiday on nearby North Stradbroke Island.

I have been visiting this island since I went there on a day boat trip with my father around 1964. Subsequently friends have settled there. We took our kayaks because I have thought the waters looked very kayakable. Unfortunately the coast waters around Point Lookout where we stayed were very unkayakable for those three days so we drove to the west of the island at Amity Point that faces Moreton Bay.

Jill decided the conditions still looked too formidable for her, but just as we were launching my boat, a guy came over thinking we were a missing part of his group. I hadn’t noticed until then there were about a dozen sea kayaks on a beach further along preparing to set off. They were the Queensland University Sea Kayak Club on a paddle to the nearby island town Dunwich about 10 kilometres south.

I asked to join them and the leader agreed provided I could paddle at least five kilometres an hour. I responded that I had clocked myself at nine in my Tasman Express, over two hours. We set off with a surprisingly fast tidal current in our favour. They expected the trip would take more than two hours.

Astro takes a break from his greeting duties in the clinic.

Astro takes a break from his greeting duties in the clinic.

I had come across a blog written about this club’s activities and I’d been interested in it partly because it was my old university and because they wrote about paddles on waterways I knew as a teenager growing up in Brisbane; particularly Moreton Bay and the Brisbane River where I had rowed in my high school, Brisbane State High’s, rowing team.

It was serendipitous that I had stumbled on this club outing because I had often fantasised about taking my kayak to the places they went if I could ever get it to Brisbane, which seemed unlikely until this trip.

They were a friendly bunch and I found myself talking to a guy who had a kayak similar to mine and was the university’s head of mathematics. There was another bloke with a very fast looking boat called an Arctic Raider, who ran a research station on the island and a woman with a German accent whose husband works at the university, and she had a boat the same as an old one we have as a spare back home. The sea for most of the trip was merely heavy chop except for a solid following swell that built up for a while around half way.

The trip with the university kayaki club.

The trip with the university kayak club.

I have never paddled with a big group before and it is good way of comparing your technique. I found my kayak was possibly faster than most of the others and that in moderate conditions I was able to power ahead of even the fastest boats, but when it came to the swell the German woman and the guy from the research station were able to easily surf away from me. With the strong tide the trip took a little more than an hour, still it was great fun and I remember sensing I was having a living in the moment experience.

In a similar way I fulfilled another long held fantasy later that week, paddling the city reaches of the Brisbane River, a place much changed from my schoolboy rowing days.

Kayak view of Brisbane's skyline.

Kayak view of Brisbane’s skyline.

Another old friend Jimmy, drove my car down to a park in a tributary stream called Norman Creek where they have a very snazzy kayak launching and retrieving pontoon, the only one I have ever seen.

There were subsequent kayak trips when we reached the Sunshine Coast, one which although short, proved very influential in my thoughts about living in the moment.

Jimmy and friend Norm help retrieve my kayak.

Jimmy (right) and friend Norm help retrieve my kayak.

Hastings Street at Noosa Heads fits into the axis of self assured wealth that extends to our Toorak Road and Chapel Street in Melbourne and the Victorian beach resorts of Portsea and Sorrento. But its sub tropical warmth also plonks it into the continuum of prosperity that opens its doors to well-off tourists in the better parts of Bali.

It was on the beach that runs parallel to this street on the ocean side and on the other, a canal built for property developers, that I experienced both one of the most pleasant and the most chastening experiences of the trip. The pleasant happened on the canal side, where Judy (the acupuncturist) and her bloke Martin, hired some kayaks and joined us on exploration of the Noosa waterways.

Noosa holds a special place in the memories of Judy and I. In 1975 we had with four others (three couples) camped (illegally) at Alexandria Bay the most easterly beach in the Noosa National Park. There was a bit of a hippy colony at the southern end of the beach and in the spirit of the age we spent our entire time nude. That was illegal too,as it still is in Queensland but for some reason the local police still turn a blind eye. They did however ban camping there a couple of years later.

The bare facts of our 1975 Noosa holiday.

The bare facts of our 1975 Noosa holiday.

Although none of the couples are still together, we are all more or less still friends, except for my partner at the time who has since died. Judy was planning a get together at her Coolum place with Julie, another member from those sun warmed days, along with her husband Colin.

I had always fancied kayaking around the beautiful national park and photographing the beaches from out at sea. I decided it would be my contribution to the nostalgia. I picked what seemed the best day and took my boat to the main beach near Hastings Street. Jill declined to join me and with good reason. I was nervous because I had never launched through serious surf before and the waves were bigger than I had expected. As usual I wore my spray deck to stop the cockpit filling from water coming over the boat.

The launch from the beach went well and I powered through around six breakers until I reached a sand bar where the waves were rising about two metres high before breaking. I wasn’t quite straight as I hit the base of the dumping wave which grabbed the front of my boat, capsized it and threw me out washing me back to shore in front of Jill and a small crowd I wished had not been there.

I got back to shore OK and Jill suggested I try again, but I noticed the same waves at the same point and I could not figure how to get through them. It was my moment of failure, which if I am realistic is reasonable in someone about to turn 65. I can remember hitting the wave and pushing the boat back to shore, but I can’t quite remember the moment I was thrown out of the boat.

In my attempt to create something new to amplify a halcyon memory, I had bombed out. I felt somewhat ashamed, and certainly crestfallen. But then I realised living in the moment is only of any use if you can remember it. It is our memories that are truely useful.


The tribulations of Trial Bay

Patriotic camping at South West Rocks.

Patriotic camping at South West Rocks.

It’s mid May and after a month of winter, we have just had a week of summer or at least early autumn. The wild weather that has lashed the New South Wales coast while we were battened down in campgrounds further south gave way to temporary sunshine. Just north of where we are is known as the northern rivers, but the weather has left its mark on the rivers down here too. On the flat edges of their banks there are still lagoons of water from the floods and in the tidal estuaries the water still runs russet brown and fresh tasting, staining the sea as it pours out for kilometres.

We have enjoyed this intermezzo of brightness at a coastal place curiously named South West Rocks. The name is not curious because of the rocks, they are there all right and could do any amount of shipping damage. It is curious because the rocks are north east, south east or just plain east of any significant place on the mainland. It seems the name comes because a tiny finger of land curls further out to sea and that was the original settlement of a location called Trial Bay and the South West Rocks town is to the south west of this settlement. 

The bay got its name from a ship called the Trial which was wrecked there in 1816, when the Australian colony was only 28 years old. But there were other trials associated with the place, such as those that filled a jail built in the 1890s as an experimental public works prison to extract labour for a rock breakwater to turn the bay into a refuge for coastal shipping in storms. About half the inmates were prisoners ending their sentences and they initially had a more lenient time than normal prisoners and were even paid for their work, to see if this treatment eased them more successfully back into society on release. 

 Trial Bay Jail ruins.

Trial Bay Jail ruins.

But a little more than two decades after it opened the bean counters deemed the project too expensive and it was shut down. The breakwater was also a failure. Poorly engineered it soon collapsed into the sea. The prison was only ever again used briefly during World War I to house German prisoners of war and German residents of Australia deemed enemy aliens. They were popular with the locals, providing good sausages, bread and entertainment including even an orchestra.

The ruins on a sunny afternoon.

The ruins on a sunny afternoon.

The prison then turned into one of Australia’s most picturesque ruins, before being partly restored to allow tourists to feel nostalgic over the harshness of a past age. On a sunny afternoon the western light turns its stone walls to gold and you could be excused for thinking you might be in the south of France or somewhere else on the Mediterranian looking at the remains of a castle.

While the prison might have commanded a great view over the water so did the site we were allocated at the Horseshoe Bay caravan park at South West Rocks.

Commanding campsite.

Commanding campsite.

It was unfortunately under a large Norfolk Island Pine, that was the roosting spot for thousands of very quarrelsome rainbow lorikeets, almost deafening at sundown, but mainly quiet at night. It is a very popular caravan park with a location ensuring it is almost completely booked out even in the colder months. A very patriotic one too, with Australia’s union jack decorated flag everywhere, even fluttering from one lady’s motorised wheelchair.

Horseshoe bay.

Horseshoe bay.

The park’s bay is a small surf beach that seems to enjoy an almost endless supply of gently rideable waves that were encouraging enough for me to pull my boogie board and flippers from beneath the bed for some water fun.

Me in the the surf.

Me in the surf.

Apparently in more prudish times, this bay used to be reserved for ladies- only bathing. If Islamic State ever gets a foothold in this country it would be perfect for such purposes again.

Putting aside that depressing thought, we took to our kayaks. First of all Jill and I attempted the still flood swollen Macleay River at the nearby old port Jerseyville. There was a strong wind and tidal pull so we had to paddle hard to avoid ending further upstream than intended.


Jill explores Jerseyville.

I wanted to attempt the bay which is mainly open sea, but Jill baulked. She did however agree to provide moral support and with binoculars watch out and call marine rescue if needed. It wasn’t, but I faced an increasing north westerly as I ploughed through the chop from the prison several kilometres over to our caravan park beach and back. What would have been a pefectly boastful performance was spoilt at the end when in a small surf, I nose dived into the beach, spun sideways and threw myself out onto the sand.

Speeding into the beach. Pride before the fall.

Speeding into the beach- before the crash.

Fortunately in the only photos she took, I appeared in complete control.


National Priorities

Here is a portrait of two nations taken at Shelly Beach on the coast north of Sydney. A local surfer takes advantage of the excellent conditions for some late afternoon pleasure while a Chinese coal ship waits its turn off shore to fill up at nearby Newcastle. The ship will take on fuel to power China’s earnest obsession to be the world’s most efficient factory, while choking  its hard working citizens with the unchecked air pollution that is the side effect. Few of its workers would be able to imagine an afternoon as clean and pleasant as the one being enjoyed in the foreground.

The surfer and the coal carrier

The surfer and the coal carrier


Angry ocean- theme music for a rediscovered past.

The sea is a wild and threatening soundtrack to our lives tonight, as each of us finds space in a corner of our two wheeled hut. Just outside there is a continual hiss punctuated by muffled thuds as the storm angered South Pacific crashes into the coast only perhaps 10 metres below the perch of our clifftop campsite.

A not-so-happy camper waits out the weather.

A not-so-happy camper waits out the weather.

While the sea is constant, there is another sound sporadic and variable: swinging from timid to urgent and sometimes to bombastic. It is the rain on our old caravan’s aluminium roof. This is the coast north of Sydney which was smashed and deranged by the storms of a week ago while we were catching the tail of them further south on the New South Wales coast.

This weather has followed like a bad thought since we left Melbourne more than a month earlier. We move to try to escape it and it follows us, becoming benign at the places we have left. The beach below our campground now is normally a popular board riding spot, but for days it has been abandoned, except for determined dog walkers. The waves are mighty, relentless and seem dangerous enough to flick a human like a match stick.

We came here thinking we would arrive as the stormy weather had blown itself out, but strange things are happening to our climate and another semi cyclonic low pressure weather system formed further north, this one smashing and flooding Brisbane before moving south to the northern New South Wales coast, where last week end we had planned to visit Jill’s brother and his family. This should not be happening in May.

Just like we copped the tail of last week’s storm we moved north only to cop the tail of this one, so we have decided to sit it out, at this place called Toowoon Bay, between Sydney and Newcastle.

The weather and the weather report.

The weather report and the  weather.

Where we are parked is just south of a town with the prosaic name, The Entrance. It could just as easily have been called The Exit because it performs depending on the tide, both bodily functions for a large body of water called Tuggerah Lakes. But people who bestow place names like to be up beat, so I’ll bet The Exit was never considered, probably a bit too glass half empty.

These lakes do look tempting for us to explore in our kayaks, but the boats stay locked by cables to a steel strut behind our van, the inclement weather disinclined to clemency. We have decided to wait here because the Weather Bureau is forecasting clemency next week with a string of sunny days.

The beach when the sun comes out.

The beach when the sun comes out.

There is another reason to stay here. Jill refers to our trip as “henna nomading,” a refusal to accept she is really a grey nomad under hair dye. Not long before we set off on our henna nomad trip a month ago, I got a phone call from a piece of my past I thought was gone forever. My earliest childhood friend, who I had know since we were three, phoned me after more than half a lifetime of silence. It proved as good a reason as any not to remove our home phone number from the directory, despite nuisance calls with Indian accents.

I had lost all track of David after last visiting him when he was living in a shed behind an old farmhouse west of Sydney 35 years earlier. He managed to track me down after developing an interest in genealogy. Finding online some of the articles and columns I had written before I retired from journalism, he read one I had written a decade earlier on our Melbourne suburb, then via the directory he found our number.

”You might not remember me,” he said as an opening remark. How could I forget him, he and his family, whose backyard ran behind ours were one of the most formative influences on my young life.

David (right) and me aged eight from our primary school photo.

David (right) and me, aged eight from our primary school photo.

For one thing his parents had been brave enough to be communists in early 1950s Sydney and then been brave enough to break away to become what the party loyalists termed ”members in poor standing,” after one of their friends visited Stalin’s Soviet Union and reported back to them the real conditions of the Soviet people. This friend then went into hiding. 

Even after their split from the party, David’s parents maintained by the standards of the age, fairly radical beliefs. Despite abandoning party communism, they were still socialists, a concept I did not understand, but more importantly they were atheists, something I understood as David not having to waste, as I did, a good part of his weekend at dreary Sunday School.

David's mum, his dad on the left and a friend who made up the act.

David’s mum, his dad on the left and a friend who made up the act.

In their spare time his parents also performed a mime act, at pubs and other live venues, doing a comedy take on popular songs. They were joined by a male friend but David’s blonde and highly theatrical mother with her home made costumes, wearing even a mini skirt before they were fashionable, was the central figure. They were sometimes known as ‘The Lost Chords’ and other times as simply ‘The Act.’ I think his mother was the first woman I ever had a crush on. 

They even had a canoe which I envied, and my memory of it probably subliminally got me to take up rowing at my Brisbane high school, and in recent years kayaking.

His parents seemed people prepared to think for themselves, compared with mine who were conservative and highly conformist- my church mouse mother and loyal, hard working, underpaid father who helped to enrich a succession of employers, but was left with nothing to show for it.

David's parents and the canoe I envied so much.

A young David with his parents and the canoe I envied so much.

I realised David’s parents were probably very difficult to live with, so I didn’t envy him, but they did influence me.

From his out of the blue phone call, I discovered for most of the half lifetime since we last met, he had been living on the New South Wales coast near where we were planning to visit. It was only a question of finding a dog friendly caravan park.

Of course we had both aged, both of us suffer arthritis, but his voice I would know anywhere and some of his gestures have not changed since I first moved out of his life, when at 13, my parents took me to live in Brisbane.

We met his partner Cheryl, who he teamed up with a few years after our last contact. I found we had travelled to many of the same places overseas and on many things still held similar values. We seemed to know each other so well we could finish each other ‘s sentences. He found old photographs of our childhood and we resurrected names of people long forgotten. 

David aged about 10 with his sister Brronwen and my old dog Skipper.

David aged about 10 with his sister Bronwen and my old dog Skipper.

We even held a little dinner party in the caravan, where I pressure cooked steamed Chinese style sesame flavoured chicken and then forgot he was gluten intolerant when I added flour to the sauce. I remembered just in time before serving.

So now we are both old and wrinkly, and half a lifetime later we have caught up again. Is this what they mean by life coming full circle?

We decided to stay here another week because of the weather and wonder whether its cause might partly be due to the line of empty coal bulk carriers that line the ocean horizon as they wait for their turn in the queue to fill up at Newcastle. At night they sit on the dark water lit up like pretty floating candles, but I know their existence is much more insidious.

A bulk coal carrier waits off shore.

A bulk coal carrier waits off shore.

The black combustible stone they wait to carry contributes so much to global warming and possibly our altered weather. Australia is in the hypocritical position that it can export so much of this stuff which provides us profit, yet when it is burnt, is tallied up against the emissions from the country where it is consumed such as China, India or Japan, not the country that digs it from the ground.

It is part of our lazy self serving attitude to climate change.

It is an attitude I feel guilty about every time I pour the cheapest fuel I can find into the car that is hauling the caravan on this trip.



And after two weeks of being soaked in the dismal chilly south coast we decided like many mature nomads to follow the sun and at a campground north of Sydney near Gosford we rented a site with extensive ocean views.

The ocean view.

The ocean view.

ANZAC Day: Air Force attacks Potato Point.

ANZAC Day: Air Force attacks Potato Point. 

Potato Head invaders under attack.

Watching Potato Point mission.

After banking so low over over our caravan we could nearly touch it, the Air Force Hercules flies south to rid Potato Point of invading marsupials (see previous blog).