On the Move to Winton and Beyond.


9:00 AM and now you know where your seniors are!

I have to add in here that despite ALL the problems we have had, getting all these caravan things coordinated, our manufacturer, Supreme Caravans, have been beyond wonderful. Simon has become our telephone pal. Kind of like the old pen pals but more immediately satisfying and not as easy to fall in love with them on account of you usually can tell their gender despite what they write and tell you. He is the technician that has been dealing with our situation and thanks to him, everything now is pretty much resolved and working. He even went away, made calls, and researched things to be able to give us the answers we needed.  Either that, or he spent the night making stuff up to tell us the next day. I think he would have phoned people that used to bully us in school and set them straight, if we had asked him.  He was very committed to helping us.  They are an awesome company and many people on the road have echoed that – both owners and those who have been around while and know the community.   I am sure there are many other companies who do a great job and kudos to all of them because it makes all the difference in the world. Supreme did not just sell us a van, they have stood behind the van and us from square 1. OK balance achieved. The universe is good again. Ying is Yangged.

Also, there are many caravanners out there who have years of experience in various things, including caravanning. They are more than willing to help out when they see help is needed or it is asked for. They are a wealth of tips and ideas and sometimes just an encouraging word. Just having someone tell us the other day that everyone struggles with the same kinds of issues that we do and that the “genies’ (remember it is “jenny” we are in Australia now) do not run all or any appliances because they have elements that need a tremendous hit of power. Just hearing that eased the pain of thinking there was something wrong with us or that we have to fix this problem. We can just throw out all those electrical things we bought or brought with us.

My clothes do not have to be ironed and Derek does not need his hair cut. We can become complete slobs. We are old. People do not pay us any attention except to cluck or swear at us …. well at least that is what our children do.  

We get up early every morning. Mainly because when Derek gets up he takes the whole world with him. You know how Robin Williams used to start every morning in that movie by yelling out “Good Morning Vietnam?” That. He does it in the way he makes coffee, and everyone gets a cup. And the coffee is strong enough to revive a dead bull. He accidently spilled half the bag of coffee into a pot once and he just shrugged and said, “oh well” and drank it like that. He cannot waste anything. I asked him why he didn’t, at least, add some more water and he told me he did not want to needlessly waste the water. If he burns his oatmeal, he eats it anyway because he won’t waste it. And oh, let me tell you about his oatmeal.

He eats porridge every morning except Saturday which is beans on toast because the tomato sauce on the beans is good for prostate. He eats eggs and toast on Sundays because we breakfast together that day and he often comes up with some wonderful type of omelette and we enjoy our morning together and promised to do it more often but we never do.  So oatmeal is 5 days of the week.   Into the oatmeal went blueberries first because he read they are good for gout. Honey was added because natural honey can heal burns if you spread it on.  I can’t make this stuff up, that is what he told me.  I don’t watch him like a hawk.  I can’t say I know what he does with every pot of porridge .  . . maybe he does take it to the office and rub the oatmeal and honey on his arm, that he burnt . . . when he was making the oatmeal.  Can we just go with that and move on?  Then he adds cinnamon because it lowers blood sugar and helps with heart disease and 10 or 15 more things depending which magazine you are reading and how much space they had to fill.  Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and is good for the brain.  Black pepper increases the absorption and benefits of tumeric.  So ya.  I am pretty sure if they said raw liver increased your golf swing, that would be in the oatmeal as well.  OH, OH … of course oatmeal itself helps lower blood pressure and reduces cholesterol.  So he has a healthy breakfast and is very healthy.  I like to try and solve the brain teasers on the back of Fruit Loops.

Up, coffee, porridge, and life starts happening in the Appleford caravan. We have decided to have different characters to play along the road, so that we are entertained at all times, in the manner we have become accustomed to and mainly because, we have learned we cannot always rely on the other caravanners for our entertainment. Because we are now exploring parts unknown and I rely on Derek to supply the names and details on all the flora and fauna, we had to have explorer identities. Derek picked the names. He is “Alpha Dog” and I am “Beta Bird.” He no sooner declared those when a large brown bird hopped into view. We had not seen it before so of course we were on high alert. Derek noted it had a red spot on the top of its head. I asked him what kind of bird it was and he immediately fetched a camel to stand next to so he looked all explorer like, before he replied, “note how much this bird resembles the common sparrow, but it is much larger?”

jumbo sparrow

I nodded, taking the reins of the camel so he could concentrate.

He leaned in, squinted, put his one finger to the side of his mouth and announced, “THAT is known as ‘Jumbo Sparrow.'”

“Not going to do anything with the red dot on the head? No “Red Spotted Jumbo Sparrow” type thing,” I queried, forgetting the camel and leaning in myself to observe.

“No, the Canadians do that all the time, and it lacks imagination or creativity. We are not in Canada anymore. Please work harder to lose the accent.”

I did a quick look around me, saw the landscape was indeed void of moose or beaver and realized, as always, he was right. I would like to say I was a better person and admitted that, but I was actually bitter. I was a bitter “Beta Bird” because secretly I longed to be Alpha Dog and to be able to name the birds and the animals. I wanted more than birds. It wasn’t fair but the Canadian in me apologized. I picked up my pad of paper, retrieved my pencil from behind my ear and wrote down, “Jumbo Sparrow.” Then I sent the camel back from whence it came.

Our next stop would probably be Julia Creek, with a stop off in Winton. It would be the last “bigger” town for awhile. Its claim to fame? The dinosaur capital of Australia and a hub town. People break off here to either go North (west) towards Mt. Isa and possibly Uluru (Ayers Rock) or like us to Julia Creek and the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Winton is in the heart of sheep country and is where the song “Waltzing Matilda” comes from, along with its dinosaur finds. It is a completely picturesque town that easily transports you back into a different time. It is full of characters who are more than happy to chat and fill you in on the “good old days” and is a popular stop for caravanners and tour buses. The town even has a parking lot, just off the main street, with shade for caravanners to leave their rigs while they shop, site see, or just grab a bite to eat.

When I said the last “bigger” town, you have to get your head out of the idea of a city or a town with the mod cons we now think we cannot live without. It appears as we get further into the Outback the towns are more about the reality of what people need to live. There are not a lot of dollar type stores filled with bits and pieces of junk really that could never be considered “necessities.” This was more reminiscent of the country life I grew up in as a child in Canada on the western prairies.

The local crafts offered were not from polished artisans, whose efforts are offered at the fancier markets around Australia. Instead there were crocheted t-towels and toilet paper holding dolls etc, made by locals. Everything had a very distinct, home made appeal to it. They had some rocks in the windows showing opals. There was a men’s clothing store that also sold tea kettles, fly swatters and giant animated dinosaurs, post cards, stubby holders and shoes, among other various things. They had a rack of men’s shorty shorts and 2 racks of long sleeved, brightly coloured Men’s shirts. Colours like that green that goes with nothing, the yellow that resembles urine and a red that cannot decide between orange and eye bleed. I am not saying that cowboys don’t wear these colours, I am just saying that if they do, seeing them ride off in the morning to tend the cows, is the last time either the shirt or the cowboy are ever seen. Cattle can be carnivorous IF provoked. The shirts and the shorts were pretty much it for men’s wear. No pants. No t-shirts. Long sleeved shirts and shorty shorts, are those two things meant to be worn together? Perhaps Priscilla Queen of the Desert is not as bizarre or out of place as people thought. I don’t know. I just got here and I am learning. I like the fact that you could buy ordinary cheap things for really expensive prices. Derek promised that we would probably end up paying 3.00 a litre for our fuel before we were done driving into the Outback. I was beginning to understand why he bought 8 cans of his coffee back home to haul with us instead of just buying another one when one ran out. Coffee was probably for sale in Winton, in the men’s clothing shop, somewhere in the back, for $100.00 a tin.

People laugh when I say as a child, some of my clothes were bought from the hardware store, but they were. Stores had to be multipurpose and a hardware store carried everything from tools and feed, to kitchenware, linens, toys, school supplies, sewing and craft supplies, gifts and clothes. Even food at times.

At least Winton had a women’s dress shop. Again, none of the mass manufactured or even artisan, vacation type items. Not even touristy types of offerings were available. This was uniquely Winton style. A blouse – just teeny straps and a handkerchief like drop of material attached – was $180.00. It wasn’t even pretty. It was a mistake – like it was too teeny for an older woman to wear and too ugly and weird with its colour and pattern for a young woman to wear. Derek theorized that they had bought it from St. Vinnies for $5.00 and ironed it, hung it up and put the new price tag on. I think he could be right. But all of it adds to the charm of a town that needs to make money by maximizing on the tourists but still has to function for the needs of the people who live there. When survival is everything and hard work is the norm, no-one cares much about a shirt and what it looks like as long as it serves its basic purpose.

There was a bakery. There were a few more town characters placed around the street. They had awesome garbage cans that my one grandson would have been mad about. There was a cool hotel with an awesome lobby. There was a lovely fruit and veg store that had everything in a cold freezer and you got to walk in it and look, make your choices, and then take your bags over to the store part. Inside they had various jars of homemade tomato relishes and such. Some were in old jam jars, some in salsa’s and some you could not tell because the label was washed off. The prices varied and you risked getting the one relish made by the worst cook in town. It was a gamble. It was their version of a grab bag – but it was in a jar. They also sold raw organic coconut oil. I am only guessing when I suggest they sacrificed all the palm trees to get that oil because there were none anywhere to be seen … hadn’t been for miles. I can see why people would travel miles to get to Winton to buy authentic, raw, organic coconut oil. If they had thrown in virginal, Winton would rival Sydney for tourist attention.

Derek told me the story about how, when he retired from the army, he took a train and eventually ended up in Winton. He was walking down the main street and a drunk exploded out of the pub and onto the sidewalk in front of him. He had a pot of beer in his hand and was stumbling, weaving back and forth. He was really wasted but determined to cross the street. The difficulty he had was that he could not get a line of direction underway. He could not overcome the trick of remaining upright while walking at the same time. He staggered, stumbled, sort of danced on one spot and then collapsed, flat out, face down, on the ground. Somehow, he still managed to gently place his pot beside him, not spilling a drop. There he lay in the middle of the street with his carefully placed pot and everyone else carried on like it was an everyday occurrence. Cars came and went without any notice other than the slight detour they were forced to make . . . around his body and precious pot of beer. Later, Derek happened to be back outside when the man awoke. He got up, drank his beer, and headed straight back to the pub. Crossing the road, even halfway, was thirsty business!!

Standing there, it was easy to imagine exactly how it had happened.

It did not take us long to navigate main street and peek in here and there. I loved the foyer of the hotel on main street and its funky decor.  I love that about Australia.  There are no rules.  Everyone does their own thing and pays no regard to a theme or general idea.  Paint your house purple if you want, build a giant Emu in the garden, open a bagel factory!

Winton did not have much more to offer than what I have already shared.  It hit me.  Tourist spots in Australia were not like tourist spots in North America. McDonalds and all the other usual suspects were not going to be there to greet people, providing a brief respite of the familiar. This was total immersion into how it was, how it is. You joined in or you did not need to be there. It was like learning to drink warm water. In Canada, a drink of water is usually something you do to cool down or to re-hydrate after a chosen exertion – sports or work. We like ice. Lots of it.  Coming to Australia I learned about how water is life and you need to drink it regularly. You drink whatever there is. Period. Winton felt like that to me. Stop complaining about what isn’t there and be glad there is anything there. Get what you need. If you don’t like what it is offered, you didn’t NEED anything. There is a big difference between needing a drink and wanting a coke. Australia teaches you that and often the circumstances demand you learn the lesson.  You drink warm water and say, “thank you.”

As we were walking back to reach our shaded caravan, guess what? No seriously, guess.

“Mr. Big” showed up with “Fake Carol.” I told Derek not to even try to rescue Carol this time. Some people you just have to walk away from when they make no effort to even help themselves. I would have liked to have told “Mr. Big” about the rig we saw in Longreach though. It was very similar to his, but way better. The truck was almost identical with built in personalized storage places.  Every nook and cranny was considered and contained something,  The caravan was new and sleek with all the bells and whistles.  It was a complete full meal with an extra side of fries AND a chocolate chip cookie.  I wanted to tell “Mr. Big” that the Longreach outfit was better than his, not for what it had AND that it was completely set up as a fully functioning off road unit that could go anywhere, but the thing that made it the best, made it better than his, was because of what it did not have.  The unit stood there, wowing people who walked by, but it did it without a single drip or drop of pretentious ass-i-ness.  It was just the caravan a guy had, meant for awesome adventures in one of the most incredible countries in the world – not for showing off and making other people feel small.

I freaking love Australians!