We’ve done four major trips around different parts of Australia in the last couple of years, and so it’s time to sell our lovely Blackwattle Roaming. Sad, but just another era, and time to go on to something new.
Here below is the very formal description of the van, with our amateur photos, of how we are selling it.
$215,000 o.n.o.; located in Dungog, Hunter Valley NSW
Summary:Still under warranty until November; well-maintained with all service records; approx. 50,000km; long range fuel tank (195 lt); airbags to rear suspension; all terrain tyres with single back wheels; 300-watt solar roof panels plus 150-watt roving panel; deluxe interior with shower/toilet, swivel front seats with table and tiny desk, four passenger seats, two stoves, two fridges, microwave, East-west bed, air-conditioning, TV
Detailed Vehicle Description:
Gross Vehicle Mass is 4,100kg (standard C class licence req.)
7 metres long, 3.1 metres high
True 4X4, six cylinders
Selectable All Wheel Drive
Seven speed automatic
High/low range gearing
Airbags to rear suspension
All terrain tyres, alloy wheels – BF Goodrich KO2, SINGLE rear wheels
Tyre pressure monitoring
Air compressor, complete with hoses and nozzle
Battery management system
Solar roof panels 3X100 watt
Extra 150 watt mobile solar panel
195 litre fuel tank (100 extra)
Electric awning with privacy screen
140lt freshwater tank and separate grey water tank
2,000-watt inverter system
Tow bar with electrics
Electric Sliding door with sliding insect screen
Engine Gearbox guard
Sill Guards and rear sump guard
Rear shock absorber guards
Rear door fly screen
Driving Light Bar
Fiamma double Bike Rack
Alloy ECB bull bar
Air conditioning system
Front seats Floor mats
External Anderson plug
Deluxe interior: Indoor/outdoor shower, Diesel and induction stoves, two fridge systems, microwave, underbed storage, air-conditioning, diesel heating, TV, East West bed, Four passenger seats
We think it will be mostly family and friends who see this. We don’t want to send emails, as they may be intrusive when we’re only talking about our travels. By writing this blog, you can choose to read – or not!
However just in case you don’t know us or happened here by accident, we should tell you a little about who we are:
Ted and Nancy met in Sydney way back in 1982. Ted was an architect, with multiple sports/hobbies of flying, sailing and skiing. Nancy has had a mish mash of a career – mother of two kids, school teacher, TV presenter, actor and producer, businesswoman in the fields of aviation, tourism and travel and finally, journalist and writer.
In 2003, Ted and Nancy threw caution to the winds, gave up their careers to become gypsies by sailing around the world on their Peterson 46 yacht, Blackwattle, returning in 2008. After so much fresh air they couldn’t return to the city so ended up discovering Dungog in the Hunter Valley and moved there, acquiring cattle, horses and dogs (Charlie) in the process.
Eleven years later, they decided to be on the move again, returning to a gypsy life, this time on land, driving their newly acquired 4-wheel-drive Sprinter motorhome to wander Australia as they had wandered the world on Blackwattle. Naturally, they call their new mobile home, Blackwattle, after their beloved boat by the same name.
Just to reiterate, on arriving in Birdsville, we had found much of Queensland had been flooded, and the road to Innamincka also cut with floods, and the Diamentina was about to isolate Birdsville, perhaps tomorrow. So, the only reasonable way out was to leave again, the way we came – down the Birdsville Track.
We know where the dangers are now, so, feeling experienced from our single ride up the famous track, we set off. We know where the washaways are, where the worst of the corrugations mean you have to keep up the speed – and the only thing different is that in those places where there is water on the road, it’s deeper, promising dangers to come.
24th May, 2022: Mungerannie again
We have a glad stay back at Mungerannie Hotel, where small huddles of travellers discuss their attempts to get to Birdsville. Some start off at 1700 for an evening ride, determined to beat the bridge flooding – do they? We never find out – after all WE don’t know what to do next either – we’re meant to be in Queensland, after all but the only way for us, now, is back to Marree
25th May, 2022Marree. Coober Pedy?
The Oodnadatta Track begins right here in Maree, so why not go to Coober Pedy? Ah my memories of Coober Pedy say this is a wonderful idea – But that’s discarded too as we learn that rain is pelting down and the red dirt might bog us nicely. I realise too that I’ve done enough desert, so we decide to find some gentle country – what about Clare Valley, drink some wine, eat better food that the recent pubs we have visited? Yes, we’re off, and let’s go via the one gorge we didn’t cover on our way up here!
28th May, 2022:Farina and Brachina Gorge
Farina is a ghost town we find on our way south. Started as a railhead and trade centre for camel drivers, it thrived until the end of the 19th Century. But when droughts persisted and Ghan Railway was rerouted elsewhere it spelled the death of this once thriving town, which had once figured in the hopes and dreams of wheat farmers.
Now a group of enthusiastic volunteers are bringing back to life, rebuilding the old town as it once was. We’re impressed by the enthusiasm of the volunteers restoring the buildings and visit the old underground bakery, now in full swing.
Brachina Gorge is a small diversion but a delightful experience, as we make our way southward to Clare.
29th – 1st June, 2022: Clare
It’s raining in Clare. It’s also freezing. Non-stop. Bikes aren’t any good in the rain and the cold. We last three nights before common sense takes hold. We’re going home!
After all, we started with four aims: The Victorian High Country and the Snowy River, the Great Ocean Road, The Flinders Ranges and the Birdsville Track. We’ve loved them all and done Birdsville Track twice, so why are we sitting here cold and shuttered in our – albeit delightful – van???? Yes, home and call it a day.
Montara above – Ted wants to move there immediately
We’re not rushing, just cruising. We visit Montara, gentle charismatic village – Ted immediately wants to move here, but we cruise on. We find some tiny individual wineries to visit, then go see Ted’s cousin Wendy in Mildura. We eat at wonderful country pubs in the evenings and really savour the last days of this year’s travels.
5th June, 2022– Sydney
A visit to daughter Kassandra’s new flat in Alexandria, purchased and moved into while we were travelling and then we travel on to Moony Moony for an overnight rest with the bush turkeys happily roaming with Charlie by the Brooklyn Bridge.
6th June 2022:Dungog
Home sweet home, and time to hang up our driving gloves for a while.
In some ways, this has been expected to be the high point of this trip, so we set out with some excitement. Will it be as good as the Tanami? We are to pass through a number of deserts, the Tirari Desert, the Strzelecki Desert, then the Simpson and the Great Stony Desert. Where is Scott, our old truckie friend who changed our busted tyre in the middle of the Tanami Desert Track with the greatest of ease? I suggest to Ted that we could call him and ask which part of Australia he is in in case we need him? Ted merely stares at me quizzically. Mmmm… we have our Epirb from the boat, and a sat phone. The van is full of water, 1300 km of fuel, and over-chocked with food. What if a sudden flood closes the Track while we in the middle? – so I have a month’s food… What if the water tank is holed at the same time? – so we have many bottles of emergency water. The ‘wot-ifs’ go on and on, so we’re prepared – we think.
We leave the Marree Hotel full of joy down past the road sign which states, humbly, ‘Birdsville Track’. It begins as a wide gravel road, hardly a track.
First surprise is that, instead of desert dirt, we travel in an ocean of green. Recent floods have turned the desert into wondrous lush plains and valleys of tiny shrubs and marvellous wildflowers.
As the morning goes on the road gets narrower, but it’s still good gravel, sometimes with teeth-shuddering corrugations. There are still signs of the recent flood, with unmarked flood lakes on both sides. We stop for coffee at the Clayton River, where the Clayton River Station owners have kindly erected Artesian bore water toilets for passers-by – then on to Cooper Creek, a vast and intricate set of waterways, none of them still flowing, more than 10 km wide. We camp under the shade of a Coolibah Tree, or rather a great forest of Coolibah trees. The sky is vast, the moon comes up at 2100 and who would want to be anywhere else?
18th May, 2022:
The road is deteriorating, but not by much. There are areas of slippery sand, more unwelcome corrugations, bogs which still haven’t dried out and cracked breakaways if one strays too close to the edge of the track. Still, it’s interesting rather than worrying. We’re amazingly still in the Cooper Creek – many kilometres of Coolibah trees and ragged roads through bogs and not a sign of water, but the sight of a magnificent dingo casually watching us pass shows just what handsome creatures these are when healthy.
We reach Mungerannie Hotel, a solitary hotel in the middle of nowhere, and decide to stay the night to sample the local cuisine. A hot spa pool, with broken timber sides and clay floor has not been filled for many years, even though the signs all still promise a warming bath. Bikers start arriving on dirt bikes by the dozen. It must be an organised motorbike tour. They stand around watching the kites above swoop on Charlie as he chases his ball in the afternoon. I can’t decide if the kites are threatening Charlie or the ball he is chasing… after the dead prey if he catches and eats the orange bird? Dingoes howl at sunset
19th May, 2022, Birdsville:
There’s nothing to stay for, so we’re off again, one more stop before Birdsville itself. The countryside gets sparser – shining gibber plains, dusky red on one side, like densely spread black pearls on the other, depending on sun reflection, and faded saltbush, trees only in dips which are optimistically called creeks at times.
Wonderful flocks of budgerigars fly across our path in the dozens, not as many as in Central Queensland, where one measures by the 100’s, but the flashing green wings of these tiny jet planes are a joy to witness. Finally even the saltbush ends and the track is hard and stony. We find a recommended parking spot with toilets, it proudly boasts. However, it must be years since the bore that services the toilets has worked – the flies are terrible, there are a few stored earthmoving trucks and nothing else but wide dirt plain.
We decide to press on, even though we’ve done plenty of miles today already.
We arrive Birdsville near dark, having rushed up the Track faster than intended. Ah for a few days R&R, wandering the almost deserted town, enjoying the famous Pub.
Birdsville seems like a theatre with the stage at the ready for just one performance of the year, the Birdsville Races. It’s almost ghostly with its spread of showers and toilets, vast expanses for parking, a hotel expanded into a huge roofed beer garden, all empty. Tag Along 4X4 tours are there, and motorbike guided tours, with their support trucks, and over 70 vehicles in the caravan park, but it hardly fills a tiny part of the spaces available.
20th May, 2022
But the news is immediately slightly alarming. The rivers are flooding all around us, and those that aren’t yet are on the rise. We can go west, across the French Line – a tough gig, even for our valiant van, or north to Mt Isa and then back west to Tennant Creek – not in our plans at all. We can’t go east as the road near Windorah is closed, and we can’t get down to the Strzelecki Track as the road to Innamincka is closed to all but light 4×4 vehicles.
22nd May, 2022
There’s nothing for it – we must go back down the Birdsville Track and leave tomorrow before bridge across the DiamantinaRiver, on Birdsville’s doorstep, also goes under, as the floods are on their way towards Lake Eyre and the local policeman is checking the levels at the bridge twice a day! It’s hard to imagine so much flooding when we live in such a dusty world – dust on the windows, dust on the floor, dust on the cutlery!
Yes, I’d figured it would be a good adventure to drive up the famed Birdsville Track, but there was never an intention to do it TWICE.
Maree proves to be as fascinating as Leigh Creek was banal. Notice the date on this old painting on a wall in the centre of Maree – 1981 – is it forecasting the demise of the human race because of global warming?
Maree is a dry flat settlement of about 150 people with a big sky, almost more historic memorials than people, and is the setting off point for both the Oodnadatta and Birdsville tracks. Populated mostly by desert trekkers, we find an odd hotch-potch of travellers – some of the usual portly caravanning couples, but mainly parties of blokes on boys’ own holidays in convoys of RV’s. Then there are buses of elderly tourists, mostly women, some on sticks, residing in the porta-homes that double for hotel rooms, and young couples getting some RV travelling in before they have to take life seriously.
It’s free to camp behind the hotel, showers and toilets also free, as long as you patronise the hotel – though we didn’t find anyone checking…
The Marree Hotel, just under new ownership, is thriving, catering to every taste, and serving surprisingly good food – Atlantic salmon rare, steak blue, just as we asked…
Cameleers – the ‘Afghans’:
Early morning exploration of Maree with Charlie takes me to the first Mosque ever built in Australia, hand built by the Cameleers who opened up the centre of Australia, Afghan, Indian and other nationalities.
I stand, sad that this first emblem of faith and peace, so lovingly created by some of our earliest pioneers, has not been followed up by greater respect for all those later immigrants of the same faith, their good works sullied by the actions of a few. Are we all to blame for the actions of the poor man who implemented the Port Arthur massacre? Or the other nameless killer of the worshipers in Christchurch?
I am ‘cornered’ one day by a descendent of the Cameleers, still bitter that they are shunned as Muslims by both the Aboriginal and white population of Marree.
Lake Eyre Yacht Club:
Is it a joke? The members, who sport some dusty broken catamarans round the side of the building, claim it’s not. Formed in 2000, its goals are stated to be “collect and disseminate accurate information about the Lake. Provide support for those wishing to go boating on the Lake, and, when circumstances permit, hold boating events on the lake.”
There’s no sign of life, however, even though the Lake is reputed to be gradually filling – last time it was full, btw, was 1974!
Tom Kruse (not a spelling mistake):
Famous in Marree also are the works of the early postmen who delivered the mail across the deserts of Central Australia, and particularly of Tom Kruse, who delivered both post and people from Marree to Birdsville for between 1936 and 1963 and was honoured in a documentary The Back of Beyond, in the days when the Birdsville Track was still hard to find and blown with sandhills if you didn’t know your way. A dining room in the Marree Pub is dedicated to his memory and we eat there with delight. He was finally honoured with an OBE for his work.
Time to fuel up and move on to the Birdsville Track – so you think your diesel is expensive? Check this out:
To rejoin the main road north we must travel through the Parachilna Gorge – a small test for our trusty Sprinter, and Charlie is sad to lose his mates from Willow Springs.
Again the countryside is immensely beautiful, red dirt and blue green trees, with Namatjira colours in the distant mountains and multicoloured desert plants whenever you pause.
After a joyous but jolting morning touring through rocks and sand and water crossings of Parachilna Gorge we reach the busy metropolis of Parachilna, with its charismatic pub.
16th May, 2022,Leigh Creek:
We’re still headed for the Birdsville Track, so next we reach Leigh Creek, once a coal mining town with a population in the thousands, it now sports just a few hundred people and isn’t even in its original location, having been moved to expand the mine, originally called Copley mine. Mining operations finished in 2015. Now there are only around 250 people living in the town.
A couple of pleasant days on our bikes, nothing worth a camera shot though, then on to Marree, where both the Oodnadatta and the Birdsville Track begin.
Away from the townships now, heading for the plains and the remote regions of South Australia – we’re into big sky country again, stobie poles to the horizon (telegraph poles made of steel and concrete if you’re not from South Australia) with so many tiny joys on the way:
12th May, 2022:
Now for the FlindersRanges(Via Peterborough, Orroroo, Carrieton, Cradock, and Hawker) heading first to Rawnsley Park Station…and ah the staggeringly beautiful silhouettes of the jagged mountains, as the road climbs and curls its way up and between the mountains.
A couple of nights at Rawnsley ParkStation, together with a surprising meal at a restaurant one wouldn’t be surprised to find in downtown Sydney:
Now we’re heading for a special treat, meeting friends from home for a couple of days in a remote campsite at Willow SpringsStation – with a never-ending fire, good food, much good wine and where the dogs can rove as freely as we can.
So, next we’re off north towards the Birdsville Track, almost the most renowned outback track of them all. what to expect????
Ted had visited the old copper mining town of Burra on a previous road trip with brother Johnnie and is keen to return. When we arrive, I can see why. The lack of timber in South Australia meant that the early townships were created from the stone of the earth, still today standing, as good as when they were built. We get on our bikes and explore the town happily for three days.
Exploring Burra – but they don’t know how to spell Nobbs!
In this early mining township, the copper miners single story stone terraces, built in large rectangles with kids playing area in the middle are still there, as well as the mansions, the public buildings, the hotels, all as good as when they were built. These days it’s an agricultural township, the council dominated by out-of-town farmers and all the historical sites seem to be run by volunteers who complain that the farmers aren’t interested in history. We grin and move on – small towns, familiar noises…
Long line of cottages – good as new!
…and here’s ‘our’ hotel:
Time to move on – next we’re headed for the Flinders Ranges… should be a slight contrast, and ever closer to the Birdsville Track
Goodbye to the Great Ocean Road. Coastlines are rhythmic terrains, ocean dancing with the rocks and sand, sun leaping skywards away from the horizon line – or swooping down out of sight – there, beaming yellow and red one minute, gone the next.. The seagulls prance and float in the sea breeze and the whole world seems to be teetering and shimmering with life.
So different now. As we head for the Grampians, the earth seems calm, asleep even beneath the vast, overwhelmingly vast, sometime turbulent sky – and here below there’s so much space, flat space, telegraph poles to infinity, immense yellow spreads of grass around us, with occasional gnarling trees. We cross dead creeks on our own black river of bitumen, with clashing AUSTRALIA UNITED PARTY signs occasionally blotting the world.
The Grampians, where the Great Dividing Range of Australia ends, turn out to be merely a dramatic backdrop as we drive through and among them rather than climb the sides. Dunkeld is an historic town with a famous hotel, but we’re not in the mood for $250 per person meals, so eat an historic pie and continue, headed for Nhill, where we shall collect our voting forms for the coming election and post them in good time – don’t want to miss that small say in the future of Australia – particularly this time.
7th May, 2022
Nhill, Bordertown to Murray Bridge
Nhill‘s greatest claim to fame – apart from the post office which holds our precious election papers – is a vast swamp which is being rejuvenated by locals. Charlie and I enjoy the walks – and can you count the nest boxes?
Bordertown, is, as its name suggests, the border between Victoria and South Australia, a sweet town like all the others but its main claim to fame is the fact that it contains Bob Hawke’s childhood home.
We’re to cross the ‘mighty Murray’ at Murray Bridge which sounds like a leafy campsite, but turns out to be the home of a large commercial marina and jetty system, the stepping off point for those wanting to do a Murray Cruise. Too commercialised to have any interest for us itinerants, so we’re off to Burra, and I am putting this entry live while I have a small access to the internet!.
The Great Ocean Road with its Twelve Apostles are as iconic as the Great Barrier Reef or Rottnest Island – any ordinary Aussie doesn’t have to ask where any of them are. Even with this fame, I certainly didn’t expect it to be as spectacular as it has turned out to be.
First, we stop at the high cliffs above Bells Beach, at Torquay, just 100km from Melbourne, and find hundreds of surfers, tiny dots below (see if you can spot them in the photo of Ted below), braving the chilly waters. With a reef offshore and a deep-water bay, it’s no wonder it’s famed as a top surfing spot, where world champion Tyler Wright has just made it three-times lucky to win the World Surf League event there. Careful though, we learn it’s not for beginners.
A Dizzying Ride along the cliffs and beaches:
It’s hard to depict the sharpness of turn after turn after turn, while the amazing spectacle of cliff after cliff, mountain after mountain drenched in raggedly beautiful trees, ferns of all sizes, then swooping low to the deserted rocky dangerous beaches before climbing again – definitely meant for one tourist and one totally dedicated driver, not allowed even an eye-flick to the scenery.
On the way, we pass through Airie’s Inlet and Anglesea – well, we can’t stop everywhere – we want to be home before Christmas.
It’s time to stop in the seaside village of Lorne, able to park almost on the beach, wonderful for walks. It’s also time to get out our bicycles and explore. The food is excellent – fish, fish and more fish, and the cafes cozy. It’s seaside life at its best, even if it is FAR too cold to swim.
Sights from the Cliffs:
We pass the Kennett and the Wye River, then through Apollo Bay and onto the really spectacular sights of the Road.
Spectacular is such an overused word, but each one of these has its own version of spectacular, in colour in shape – weird, solid, elegant, blunt, shining in the sunlight – we’re lucky with the weather here…
The Twelve Apostles – only eight left; Loch Ard, with its outsized fat lumps; London Bridge, although the likeness itself is pretty weird…
Now we stop for lunch at Port Campbell before heading to the final Great Ocean Road stop, Port Fairy:
Gentle Port Fairy was named, they say, after a small ship, The Fairy, which entered the port and the River Moyne, looking for whaling port opportunities.
We take to the bikes, and explore the fishing port, as well as fall in love with the 18th Century buildings. Wandering by bike gets you into so many places impossible by car…
We’re going north inland from here towards The Grampians, so Charlie has to say goodbye to early morning walks on the beach.
19th September, 2022, Sydney to Canberra (very unadventurous):
“What the faaaa…?” It’s Ted. We’re three hours into our two month journey and I had just attempted a three-cornered-turn in Dangar Street in Randwick and jammed the van, front end and back end, in a deep street angle where a side street meets Dangar Street. Roaring the engine in both reverse and forward, we can’t move either way. A jack won’t help, the bricks we steal from a neighbouring garden don’t help and we’re fully blocking a street. Between waving away cars that try to enter the street and ringing the NRMA (who won’t help), we’re saved by two Good Samaritans, Andy and Andy, who amble up from around the corner with long planks under each arm. ‘Happens all the time,’ they chortle happily, ‘look at all the gouges the garbage trucks have made in the bitumen!’ In a few minutes we’re out and away! Thank you Andy and Andy!
Picture left: We’re finally unstuck – behind Ted the bitumen shows gouges… note smoke from ears…
(We’re headed for the High Country of Southeast Australia, but first we have had to snap-visit some family and friends on the way – Suzie and Kassandra in Sydney, Jeff in Bowral, Peter in Werai, Johnnie and Marg in Canberra, then finally Simon and Erica and our two grandchildren Marlowe and Violet in Canberra. It takes a week of joyous time – too much for this blog – before we’re finally on our way into the high wildernesses of Barry Way.)
23rd September, 2022, Bredbo:
What better place for a first night than the friendly Bredbo Inn – or rather just behind it, where they love RV’s to stay, as long as we have dinner, an easy option. It’s buzzing with Bredbo locals, the fire’s warm, the food is warming and the wine is welcome. Great first night out!
Barry Way is a narrow gravel track that veers south away from Jindabyne to chase up and down the ranges, cut into steep hillsides, hairy enough on one’s own, but terrifying if one needs to pass an oncoming car – especially if one is on the crumbling edge of the road above a vertical drop. The track then follows the Snowy River on its way to Victoria, where it becomes the Snowy River Road. It’s an old road, started in 1925 and the views are breathtaking across the Victorian Snowy Mountains – Hotham is not open, too early for that and the naked ski-runs look more scary without their velvet covering of snow.
Overnight stop in Mulgulmerang Reserve, at around 1000 metres, is chilly but full of sunshine and grassy stretches for Jack Russells who can’t stop running in frosty paddocks.
25th April, Anzac Day, 2022:
Anzac Day reaches us by radio and flowers left in townships from early morning services. We’re swooping south via Buchan and Bruthen, then upwards into East Gippsland through many miles of regrown burnt-out forest. We grieve and we drive, our grief mixed with that for soldiers long gone and fire victims so recent. We lunch in the War Memorial Park at Omeo, then on through Bright to overnight at Milawa, a long driving day, but the destination, Brown Brothers Winery, was worth the drive!
26th April, 2022:
We’d love to breakfast at the famous Cheese Factory in Milawa, but, like the rest of most of Australia in 2022, they can’t get staff, so it’s a rudimentary croissant that will have to do.
Victoria has always been more English than the English countryside itself, gently rolling green hills, clean white sheep and historic townships smothered in orange to red autumn leaves. It’s a glad drive, avoiding highways, through the lush countryside – Omeo, Violet Town, Murchison Cemetery, where we stop, both for lunch and to find Ted’s great-grandfather’s grave, then on to Bendigo and, for the first time, a stay in a caravan park, where washing, watering and powering up are now due.
28th April, 2022:
Bendigo is a heritage architect’s dream, unending rows of lacy Victorian miners’ cottages or mansions, the city packed with magnificent 19th Century buildings. Ted’s in heaven. We wander the streets, walk blocks the wrong way to find their wonderful Art Gallery, where Elvis has pride of place, get our postal votes for the 21st May election in order, then press on towards Ballarat.
On the way, however, Maldon must take the prize of the most delightful town in Victoria, with a to-die-for lunch at Le Sel – worth a trip to Victoria, just to eat there.
29th April, 2022:
Ballarat is justifiably proud of its Irish history along with memories of the Eureka Stockade, the original flag still kept – what’s left of it – in a darkened room. The memories are gloried in a park where the original stockade took place along with a classy modern museum to the event.
The Great Ocean Road is calling, but we’re away to Geelong first to catch up with Natasha, one of Nancy’s old friends, overnight first at their spacious and centrally located Showgrounds.
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