Two years in the making......

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October 11th 2021
Published: October 11th 2021
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Remember a time, long, long ago, in far, far away lands when we were allowed to do a thing called "travel"? When state/territory borders were merely a welcome-sign photo opp and quarantine was something we only heard of watching Border Patrol on the TV?

To be honest, it's a little creepy to re-read the final words of our last blog in July 2019..... "I know, this blog is a long one, thanks for reading it, and at the very least we hope the pics inspire you to explore your own back yard and beyond - it's a magical country out there." It's like some weird prediction of things to come.....

Guess what bloggers - HOLIDAY HERE THIS YEAR IS ON!! (well, unless you live in Vic or NSW, that is).

Sending our love to all those who have been affected financially, mentally, physically and emotionally, and let's face it, on some level, we've all experienced some kind of trauma during this past 18 months. To our Vic & NSW friends and family we hope you're hanging in there, that your friends, family, neighbours and community are doing the right thing and this "new normal" can be something you
14 years in the making....14 years in the making....14 years in the making....

going the other way across
too can enjoy soon enough.

Last time we blogged all those years ago in 2019 we had been schlepping about in Darwin (heading in the general direction of WA) to see where the wind blew us - well, for those interested in the nuts n bolts read on, for those after a pictorial update there's plenty of pictures for you to enjoy as always (129 pics in fact!). Now, how to condense 2 years of life into some kind of footnote.......I guess just start where we left off......

From Darwin our next major town stop was Broome where we took in the tastes, sights, blue water and tropical feel of this wonderful oasis, catching the "stairway to the moon" once again, and we FINALLY made it up to stunning Cape Leveque, where a real highlight was a delightful lunch at the pearl farm. We had been job-hunting the entire time in Darwin and beyond, and while up in Cape Leveque we applied for and got offered a job in the lower reaches of WA, in Denmark. This was also to be caravan park work, and as we'd been there many times before, we knew it was also a
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Judburra-Gregory NP
stunning (wine!) region too. The job wasn't to begin for months so, we decided to keep looking in case something a bit closer came up, that we could start asap. There were plenty of jobs in Broome, but accommodation was too hard to find or too expensive, so we kept heading down the coast, visiting all the places, such as Pardoo, that we couldn't get into with Boris the Bus.

In Karratha we managed to catch up with our friends Carolyn & Donna, who had gotten married since we'd last seen them - yassss!, whom we met when housesitting for them in Stanthorpe back in 2016. Then onwards down the coast, where we took another dog-leg into Marble Bar and travelled into gorgeous Carowine Gorge, then via Skull Springs Road to take in Running Waters and onto the old town of Nullagine. Having been to Newman before, we pretty much did a dry, dusty overnighter and restock there, and got off the beaten track once more to check out ruinous but amazing Peak Hill. Southwards past Meekatharra, we turned left at Mount Magnet to go check out a little favourite gold mining town called Sandstone (some of you will have received a nude calendar years ago showcasing the local talent at Sandstone - sadly one wasn't in production this year.... another victim of covid!).

With a stop-over planned in Dongara to see the lovely Phil & Di, we admired the blooming wildflowers all the way down to the coast, arriving to a juicy home-cooked leg of lamb with all the trimmings and an excellent few days stay with these guys. Walks on the beach, prosecco, relaxing breakfasts, scrabble and a calm chill that we always feel in the presence of these two - thanks a heap for having us and we'll see you next year hopefully!

The proper face to face interview for our jobs in Denmark was nigh, so we headed down to that beautiful part of WA to meet our new bosses and staff, who put us up in a cabin for a couple of nights due to the (commonly) atrocious weather on the south coast of WA in August! We also met with Sally and Rob whom we had arranged to house sit for during our time in Denmark for work. They own a hand-built, fully off-grid farmhouse with cute cat Polly, many chickens (some even hatched while were there, too cute!), and then headed back though the high-vis fields of canola all the way back to the big smoke, Perth, to await our start date for work.

Little did we know at the time, we'd be calling Perth home for some considerable time longer, but more about THAT later. On this trip to Perth we had arranged another house sit in a suburb called Hamilton Hill, looking after a pup called Rocco. His owners had gone over to Scotland to visit family for a couple of weeks, so we enjoyed the local sites and spent the time cruising around Freo, city etc, and Jeff did some work at a local small engines shop to get some money in the kitty.

After their return we house sat again in a hills suburb called Boya, looking after a gorgeous kitty called "Bro" for just a few days, before taking a minibreak via Mt Barker on our way back to Denmark to start work for the season. Sadly, this position also fell-through after we found the owners to be in the micro-management spectrum, whereas we need autonomy and self fulfilment to thrive. Blah! Once more we were on the lookout for work! Jeff promptly got back in touch with the small-engine guys he had been working for who offered him full time work, so once more we were Perth-bound! Not before enjoying a quick break to Albany and then settling in for our lovely housesit for Sally & Rob in Denmark, afterall our promise was our promise. Their sanctuary offered us a moment of peace amid the turmoil of the year so far, with their home being fully self-reliant. By this we mean you had to light a fire to get hot water, another fire to warm the house, fully solar-run pumps for getting the caught rain water to the house (generator if too cloudy!), an amazing edible garden, 20 eggs per day, and the ultimate in tranquility.

Once back in the big smoke, we again utilised our membership with Aussie Housesitters to find a longer-term sit for Oct/Nov whilst we found our feet and decided where/what work was available for Tab, meanwhile Jeff was still busily working at the small engines shop. We moved in with a giant German Shepherd named "Nawab' (pronounced NAVIB - it's Indian) who was only just over a year old, very strong, very stubborn and totally loveable! He was our roomie for 5 weeks while his owner Jay went to visit family in India. The house was located south of Perth but a stone's throw from their awesome public transport system, so Tab spent the days pounding the pavement and taking interviews for work. The beauty of housesitting is that it allows us a home base, with all the necessities, without the rental overheads and more often than not, a gorgeous pet or two to look after! Nawab needed plenty of exercise, but it had to be when Jeff was home as he was so strong there's no way Tab could walk him alone without becoming like a ragdoll being towed behind a horse!

During this time we also began the arduous task of rental-shopping, as we knew Perth would be home for a while whilst we got our financial ducks back into some sort of row. Remember, this was still WELL before covid, so we had no idea the 6 months or so we thought we'd be there would be much longer! The hunt for a rental was made all the harder because Tab hadn't secured a job yet, so we really had no idea which direction the commute would be.

Eventually we fell in love with a fabulous little furnished unit right in the heart of South Perth - a five minute walk from the Perth-South Perth ferry, close to all public transport systems and hell, even without knowing where the commute would be, at least it was easy to get around! As fate would have it, Tab interviewed with a cafe/Deli about a 15 minute walk from our apartment and she got the job, so our little "life" in the city had begun. Not before squeezing in one more little housesitting job north of the city for a cat named Jazzy (cat house-sits are always hard to turn down!).

We very quickly got city-ised and found ourselves checking out the local sites on our weekends, and we didn't use the car more than half a dozen times in the whole time we were there (which ended up being almost 12 months) preferring to catch the ferry or buses to get around. Jeff's commute involved him riding a bike (not the motored variety unfortunately!) into the city around 5.30am then catching a train, then a bus to his workplace, well east of the City. The drive took just as long, so he figured someone else may as well do the driving while he drooled on his shoulder asleep on the train. In the afternoons, however, Perth has this rule where pushbikes are not allowed on any public transport in the city during peak hour. So this meant he had to get off the train about 3 stops before the city to meet the no-bike curfew, then pedal his way from there to our apartment. This was all good until the peak of the storm season in summer and torrential downpours rolled in at peak hour - luckily for him the bike path ran straight past one of our favourite South Perth bars, so he could rehydrate waiting for the rain to ease!

We took off on little long-weekend trips away when we could, but more or less knuckled down into our work and saved what we could, and thankfully we LOVED our little apartment, right amongst it all, but with a gorgeous little edible garden we had planted and shady balcony we really enjoyed being home there too. Having never been city dwellers before it was new, but certainly something we'd consider for a short time again (shock horror right?!). We had a favourite little sunset spot we loved to go to about a few minutes walk from our apartment, via a walkway over the Kwinana Freeway. So with cars banked up for miles during peak hour, we'd sit and enjoy the views over the water, with a couple of regular swans coming to visit, and watch the most magical sunsets. At the time we didn't know it, but this little spot would soon become integral to our sanity in the months to come!

Welcome Covid 19. Not only was WA closed for business, but our Premier enforced regional borders within the borders. We were literally stuck in Perth. Jeff lost his job at the small engines place (as all their parts come from China), Tab's hours were cut considerably (but thankfully as the cafe was attached to a deli/supermarket they continued to trade as "essential" throughout). All of a sudden we had a lot more time on our hands but nowhere to go spend it - still sound familiar? There was nothing on the shelves, panic-buying became a thing, restrictions on goods, grog (oh possibly the next pandemic?!) and general life. We dusted off the backgammon board, dug out the scrabble, got sent a ridiculously frustrating jigsaw puzzle (thanks Mum!) and we confess it was prosecco at 10am on non work days! Luckily we are used to living in close quarters already so being confined to a small space wasn't an issue for us. Our little sunset spot became an afternoon sanctuary - and we envied the freedom of those swans!

Jeff had his birthday during the lockdown, which we'd normally celebrate by hitting up some pub for a feed - so Tab organised a "Lockdown Pub" complete with TAB facilities (a TAB account and channel 55 on the TV), bar snacks (think pork crackling, chips, salted nuts) and a true pub lunch - snitty and chips! It was the best we could do given nothing was open! This was to be life for a few months at least.

On the day of Jeff's lockdown birthday, he mentioned, for the 10th time, that a little house he'd been looking at online was still for sale. It was an ugly duplex in the gorgeous little town of Penola (Coonawarra - yes another wine region!) and where our friend Roger had farmed and lived for years. We'd visited him there a few times before so we knew the area quite well. Tab encouraged him to put in an offer, and a ridiculous offer was presented. The agent got back, incredulous, saying she couldn't even present our offer it was so embarrassingly low! Her next question being "how high will you go"......well, 5K more than we just offered and that's our final offer. She called back 3 minutes later and the seller had accepted our (still ridiculous!) offer! And that's the next chapter.

The minute our WA premier eased restrictions, we gave notice on our apartment, quit our jobs, sold what "stuff" we had accumulated, then high-tailed it out of the city, not before a quick stop in Rottnest Island (thanks for the ferry vouchers for Xmas Adam & Carmena!) and a catch up with Denis & Marilyn in Mandurah and some much-missed friends in Margaret River before heading across the plains to SA. Just being on the open road was sheer joy, and we stayed in some sensational bush camps, and pretty much crossed from Norseman to Ceduna without seeing a single vehicle. The ghost-like Nullarbor was another Covid casualty with fuel stations operating on restricted hours, toilets were locked permanently, supplies were non-existent, and we found ourselves over the border in record time.

Unfortunately Tab had badly torn her calf muscle when checking out some caves East of Norseman (made bush-toileting interesting! Too much info???) but after a week or so R & R in Ceduna we hit the road once more, finally arriving at our favourite river of all time the mighty Murray. Here we had splurged our final travel dollars on hiring a little two-person houseboat with up top spa - when in Rome & all that! Having never been on a houseboat holiday before we took the obligatory driving lessons (Jeff was a natural) and headed off into the sunset from Murray Bridge with three nights of bliss ahead. Unfortunately for our bank account, this little foray into life on the river means we now MUST buy a houseboat.....stay tuned for that.

On July 28th 2020 we were handed the keys to possibly the ugliest home in Penola where 8 months of solid hard work was about to begin. We always planned on keeping this house as an investment, but covid had done us an amazing favour in the time between purchase and completion of the project. House prices were through the roof! We worked non-stop for 8 months, Tab as a cook at Hollick Estate, Jeff with 3 casual jobs at local cellar door/pub/restaurant and every single spare minute we spent on the renovation. Several trips in big bad Budget Trucks to Adelaide, where hunting and gathering for the house meant no sleep before the work week began again, and one memorably crazy trip where we agreed to pull down an entire decking in the Adelaide hills for free, the bonus being that we got the whole thing FOR free. Also squeezed in a long overdue catchup with Tab's Aunty Mazz & a few of her kids, thanks for a great dinner & stopover!! This reno tested us physically and mentally, but the icing on the cake was selling it 8 months later, within 18 hours of listing, and at almost double the purchase price. The ugly duckling was now as swan like as she was going to get, and it was our time to be free like the swans we
Australia Day 2020Australia Day 2020Australia Day 2020

South Perth WA
envied in South Perth a year ago.

If you are interested to check out our reno visit this page for the "Before" shots:

And these are the "After" shots:

A big thanks to Tab's Mum and Dad, Maria & Scott, who loaned us their caravan to use while the bathroom (& a good portion of the rest of the house) was under demolition and reconstruction - what a lifesaver! And to all our wonderful friends and colleagues in Penola, we loved getting to know you and the little town - till we meet again!

During the reno Covid continued to plague the country and we were lucky enough to get to see Tab's brother Adam and his wife Carmena very briefly at Mount Gambier one evening, back when Melbournians were allowed to go further than 5km from their driveways! Hang on, it's 15km now you lucky things! Sigh....and we, stupidly, attempted a getaway to the Grampians, via Dunkeld in Feb 2021. Sitting at the pub in Dunkeld (an absolutely favourite culinary delight The Royal Mail Hotel - def put this place on your bucket list) patrons began literally flooding in the door around 10.30pm, which was odd, so we we asked around. The SA/Vic border was about to close at midnight so people were fleeing while they could. Uh oh.....We had partaken quite substantially of the wine list so there was no way we were going to be able to get back to SA the following day without needing to go into 14 day lockdown. Ooops. In the end, we quietly glided over the border in some un-named location west of Casterton and proceeded enjoy the remainder of our little break back on our favourite river around Loxton/Renmark/Waikerie, safely on the SA side.

Perhaps the biggest gift of all in Penola came in the shape of a little ginger kitten who we named Hamish. Well, actually most of the time he gets "Hamo". He's the light in our lives, the laughter in our camper, the idiot in the village and we are so lucky to have this little man in our lives. Born on 31st Dec 2020, he is the covid-kid and each year we will celebrate his birthday hoping the year ahead will be different in the land of covid. It hasn't been much different in his first year of life, so lets all hope 2022 provides significant improvements for the state of our country. We still miss our boys Oscar & Bailey or course, but welcoming another fur-kid into the fold has been awesome and we can't wait for you all to meet him. To our mate Roger, thank you for the gift of fur!

Some of the family got to meet him when we visited Mildura on our way out of SA and into NT. Hi to all in Mildura and we are sorry to hear you are currently in lockdown. Stay safe guys. It was so great to see Tab's Aunty Patti and Uncle Michael, cuz Jacqui and hubby Brendan and their kids (one who now has a kid and another on the way - congrats Riley & Josie!) and Godparents Deb & Zac. It might be a while before we get back over your way with how things are going - thanks to Jacqui & Brendan for storing our little shit box car in their back yard until we can come get it again! If it's in the way, just torch it.

Once again, Alice Springs was calling us after a job offer way back in Penola peaked our interest. Think about this.....For him: Motorbikes, big truck, mechanics, motorbikes, travel, camping, tour guide, motorbikes, desert, campfires, scenery, customer service, motorbikes. For her: Cooking, big truck, menu planning, shopping, cooking, travel, camping, tour guide, cooking, desert, campfire cooking, scenery, customer service, nature. Happy days! We work for a Motorcycle tour company conducting tours across the Simpson Desert and back, out to Uluru/Kata Tjuta/Watarrka, Finke weekend/race trips, and other local wonders in and around Alice Springs. The gig goes for roughly 6 months of the year, so it's perfect for gypsies like us, and we are lucky to get paid to do what we love. This year has been challenging with the various lockdowns in other states (NT has pretty much welcomed all visitors but a lot of our customers were unable to leave their homes) and overall we only lost 3 tours in total (so we took a minibreak down to SA wine country to keep busy!). We know how lucky we are to find ourselves in the NT, where freedom is abundant as is the ability to travel into other states.

While here we've caught up with the many friendly faces we love to catch
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Somewhere along the Madigan Line, Simpson Desert NT
up with while in Alice, John, Liz & Eileen (get well soon Ms E!), Mike S, Bec & James (now also with kiddo!), some of Molly's family, guys from the old Desert Edge Race Team days, and of course had a beer at the old girls' grave down at Old Andado. Molly, you are the reason we stayed in the Alice all those years ago, and look, we keep coming back!

Our gig hear finished last week with one final trip across the Simpson and back with 24 people on board. It was our biggest tour of the whole season but so great to finish on a high note, and with temps getting into the high 30's now, it's time we said bye to Alice once more. So, by the end of this week, it will be just the three of us heading in the general direction of QLD, camper on the back, the open road before us once more (well, within reason!).

Thanks for tuning into this long blog - it's always a challenge trying to condense 2 years into words - but if all else fails just check out the pretty pictures! Stay safe, stay sane and support eachother through this crap, we can't wait to see everyone again out n about. XXOO

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Sandfire Roadhouse

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