Downmarket & down south in W.A.

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October 8th 2018
Published: October 8th 2018
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3 – 8 October 2018

At the end of the last blog we said goodbye to Richard & Beverley at the airport and wished them a safe journey home as they headed for their flight back to New Zealand and we set off on our next adventure in the campervan.

As previously in Oz this is a Toyota Hi Ace, less than four metres long and one and a half metres wide. Astrid is five star luxury in comparison! But we knew what to expect and in fact there is more storage in this model than we had previously so all is well. We were prepared to move downmarket as the days of two bedroom apartments with kitchens and laundries had to be left behind in cosmopolitan south west Australia as we started our journey into the 'real' Australia, across the Great Australian Bight. Our time visiting Margaret River, Denmark, Albany, Busselton and Perth was lovely and it was great to meet up with R & B, and Clive & Helen but life there is very different from the outback where we were heading next.

On leaving Perth we drove east into the wheat belt and stopped at a free campsite in the town of York. Free power is available for the first eight vehicles to arrive, but we were about the eighteenth. It did not matter as we were fully charged and it was a good spot with well maintained toilets and a lovely town centre. York was the first inland town to be established in W. A. and the buildings reflect this with interesting architecture as most were built late 19th or early 20th Century, very old for Oz. Our new home was looking quite smart despite being a budget vehicle but little did I know that was not to last.

Bedtime arrived and we settled down quickly, cosy inside despite rain outside which eventually culminated in thunder and lightening. A few hours later I was disturbed as Jim climbed out of bed to visit the bathroom. I tried not to wake up and turned over but I could hear him rustling the sleeping bag, then mumbling, and just as I was asking myself why he could not just go quietly, the mumbling increased in volume and suddenly a harsh torch light was switched on, shocking me out of sleep, and I heard him say, 'why is my head wet'? Jim may get up in the night but he is not really awake! I had hung a small torch from the top window opening mechanism above his head so it was easy for him to find. Unfortunately the mechanism was leaking so rain was coming in and running down the torch to drip on his head. Gradually he awoke enough to realise exactly what was happening and he was able to dry his head and the bottom of his sleeping bag, where the rain had been dripping when he was asleep, before it did too much damage. Soon, calm was restored and we were both able to return to sleep.

The next morning out came the duct tape as Jim identified some rust around the window mechanism where he thought the rain was gaining access. So once patched up we were on our way but not looking quite as smart as when we set off.

South of York is Beverley, but we did not dally there as we wanted to reach Hyden to see Wave Rock and to be absolutely honest we did not notice it in passing. The wild flowers stretched along the sides of the road and the varieties changed constantly depending upon soil type, altitude and moisture. However hard we tried we could not identify many as there were so many variations.

So after approximately 250 kilometres of wheat belt, pleasant countryside not unlike England apart from the eucalyptus trees, we reached Hyden and the fly belt. When we jumped down to check in to the site we realised it was a mistake. The flies were everywhere and trying to prepare a meal was a challenge. Eventually we sealed ourselves in by closing all doors and only opening the windows covered with insect screens.

In the morning we walked to the Wave Rock, a great granite rock outcrop about 15 metres high where erosion has shaped it to look like a huge wave and weathering together with chemicals in the soil have created stripes. We had heard different opinions of the rock but I really liked seeing it and enjoyed the walk over the top. Plus, nearby is Mulkas Cave where there is a very specific example of Aboriginal rock art. Numerous outlines of hands can be seen. They were produced by spraying (not sure how they sprayed at that time?) around hands so the shape of the hand is outlined. There are various theories about why this emphasis on hands but the one I like is that it was a meeting place for social gatherings and important meetings and when agreements were reached the hand paintings were used the same as signatures in our culture. That may not be true but it has a logic to it.

It is called Mulka's Cave according to an Aboriginal legend which tells of Mulka, who was born outside the rules of the group (ie illegitimate as would have been said in the past and the rules were to prevent problems resulting from inbreeding) and he had crossed eyes as a result so he could not hunt. This lead to him behaving very badly (really badly, for example eating babies as he could not trap food any other way) as he grew up so he was ostracised by the rest of his people and made to live in the cave. It is an interesting story as it was retold to children around the camp fire to teach them the importance of living by group rules, and also to ensure they were too scared by the thought of Mulka coming for them that they would not stray away from camp at night.

On top of the rock outcrops little pools and puddles form in the winter and in the language of the traditional owners, the Noongar, they are called gnammas. These provided a water source as well as a supply of food as small crustaceans, lizards and frogs live in them. They were an important resource and local people often put lids on them to prevent loss through evaporation and set lizard traps around them.

The next day we travelled on to a free site at Munglinup, across from a Roadhouse. It was basic but with clean facilities. However if we thought the 'fly belt' was bad, we would soon have happily returned there as we realised Munglinup was in a 'mosquito belt', and believe me that is much worse! We made a meal and enjoyed it, then settled down to read. Within a few minutes I had been bitten, even through my thick winter socks. I applied Deet liberally but even that did not keep them at bay. Then they started on Jim. They seemed to arrive in pairs and in a couple of hours we had killed fifteen. Then we tucked in for the night but I was left wondering where the sixteenth was. I did sleep eventually but it bit me on the face and the next morning I found it on the window, obviously satiated after a good feed, and the blood was gruesome when I squashed it.

From Munglinup we travelled down to the coast at Esperance, a beautiful little town surrounded by numerous headlands and pristine white beaches. They really are outstanding. We did not think it was possible to better the Margaret River/Albany beaches but Esperance is in a league of it's own as there are so many, so close in to town with wonderful cliffs and hills covered by flower filled bushes.

We drove the Great Ocean Drive, a loop to the west of the town, viewing all the beaches, from surf beaches, to quiet coves, rocky outcrops leading out into the sea, and even the ten mile lagoon beach where at low tide a lagoon is formed which provides a safe swimming area in slighter warmer water.

The following morning we drove to Monjinup Reserve, ten kilometres out of Esperance as there is a bird hide there. The road was isolated and Jim overshot the car park entrance so he reversed. Then I am not sure what happened next but according to Jim the large solid sign to the car park jumped out and crashed into us, with a heart sinking thump, crash and final thump. We jumped down to see the rear nearside lens covering the light cluster was in pieces on the ground. As it was Sunday there was nothing to be done but patch it up. We have 24 hour cover if we need roadside assistance but this did not warrant a call out so Jim again had recourse to the duct tape together with glue and clear sticky type and put the jigsaw back together. I have to say he has done an exceptionally good job, so now it is fingers crossed that it lasts the journey. On Monday morning he reported the accident and they said fine, carry on unless it falls apart again. My only concern is that that might happen across the Nullarbor, a long way from a garage.

That is why I said the van started off looking very smart but now she has two injuries patched with duct tape and other things!

I have said before that unexpected sights materialise in Oz and this trip is no exception. Last night I went to the shower block and did a double take. There was only one other person in the very large room and he/she (it was difficult to tell from behind as the body was elf like, very small and skinny) was totally naked and doing hand washing in an enormous sink. My first thought was that s/he had been having a bath in it. Then she turned around and it was definitely a woman, in early middle age and of Chinese extraction. She gave me a cheerful hello and carried on with her washing. I hope I responded appropriately. I was fascinated to know how she would return to her pitch as there were no dry clothes in sight but unfortunately I had no excuse to hang around and watch.

Today we drove out of the town to the east and in a remote area in the middle of the bush found a large house with a full scale replica of STONEHENGE in the garden. Honestly, it is true. Esperance has it's own mock prehistoric monument and anyone can visit it on paying $10 for the pleasure. I could not bring myself to do that so took a photograph from the road.

I am posting this blog this evening as the wifi is good here and it may be some time before we get a signal so sorry it is hot on the heels of the last. I am putting more pictures of flowers in but we are having problems identifying them. Even looking at the leaflets and books available we are not skilled enough to match our pictures with the named flowers. It is made more difficult as each locality has it's own varieties. So one day with more time I hope to fill in the blanks, for now they will just have a letter (the blog will not accept a picture without a label) but I wanted to show the fascinating shapes and colours that we are seeing.

Tomorrow we set off to Norseman. More about that in the next blog.

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