Monday, 15 December 2008

blacklisted but...

Some books to bring to the next work assignment.Some of the items are my housemates'. But it's good to have bookends and bookmiddles and bookheads thankfully not boofheads.
Where is a bookworm when you need one?
I might be in Blackbutt up to Christmas or even beyond, depending on things. Hopefully i'll have access to the internet there if my network card works. If not there's all of next year to blog for this bludger (bludge is aussie for avoiding work) - i mean ole bugger or booger (in the 'affectionate fellow' sense of the word).
So see you around.
Blackbutt is a town in the South Burnett Regional Council in Queensland. It used to be called Nanango Shire prior to the amalgamation by the state government. Apparently there's whispering pines there. See if i can hear their stories...

the road less travelled

this is at the end of the cooktown-cairns coastal road in cairns international airport, and i had to stop and smell the roses.
but before this vest reminds of the bright red colors of our own inabel back home-

the mountains too have a story to tell.
so on to the coastal road where stories of grief abound from those fools who dared venture where angels fear to tread.
since am no angel myself- and none the wiser too...

The 240km bloomfield track road trip from cooktown to cairns goes through some of the most beautiful coastal regions in oz. it actually only becomes coastal south of wujal-wujal.Before that it’s all rough mountain gravel tracks commencing at helensvale just past the turnoff south of the black mountain national park.
Pressed for time we didn’t have time to check out the famed lion’s den in helensvale. But then one should always keep something for next time. The rainforest commences soon after this well known pub (come to think of it, it wasn’t open yet that’s why we didn’t stop - oh those sleepy headed publicans).

and the road - there's been a million stories told about the road that one more won't matter. kerouac wrote about it, countless songs were written about it (a new road song that i know is called 'this old road' by kristofferson - check out his last album of the same name. an aussie road song with a good tune is called 'this road' by j blundell).
but hey what do you do when you come to a fork in the road?

one more close up view of the black mountain on the return trip from cooktown to cairns, where i decided to take the road less travelled by - and see if it can make me different. sorry mr frost, must be the hot weather.

There is a stark difference right here to the northern side of the range. The wet tropics is evident in the trees and the hills and mountains especially. I was blinking and nearly missed the village of Rossville nestled at the base of mt walker. The mountains here are perpetually covered by mist and clouds, as steep as the cordilleras and very thick in tropical vegetation. Through some narrow passes often on one side of a creek, the road cuts through cedar bay national park out to the village of ayton. The drive is quite quiet with nary a soul in sight. There is hardly any traffic either and just the odd old homestead. We drove past a couple of cleared grasslands near the low plains which had some cattle grazing on the lush green grass. But this sight is uncommon as a beach in the cordillera.
this is the bloomfield river, could be a sedate version of the chico, but during the rainy season could be as wild. note the cribbed retaining walls designed to counter erosion.
We paused for a few seconds gazing no more than a kilometer across to the familiar looking far bank and then I realized we did a 20km loop just to get to our side of the river. (imagine driving from bontoc to gonogon, crossing a ford, and then driving all the way back on the other side of the chico river, to get to samoki!)

Past ayton the road now follows one side of the bloomfield river. This is in fact the northern access point to the cape tribulation - daintree national parks.
The ford at wujal wujal can only be crossed at low tide and we were fortunate to cross there at the opportune time. Here the real fun begins. Steep gradients and narrow winding one way dirt tracks is what’s in store. Many an inexperienced and first-time driver to this neck of the woods would have happily turned back 40km or so to the inland highway. But am one stubborn been-there-done-that-and-seen-that sort of guy, so I drove on, though with a bit of trepidation. After a few creek crossings and a wrong turn, some roadworks, some equine traffic, and a few up-and-down hills, the road descended to a side of a river.
equines rule the world in wujal wujal. many of these horses and those handsome ponies are unbranded - meaning they're wild. free to roam where the tamaraws roam, 'cept there's no tamaraw here. although the filipino baker i met in cooktown said tama daw ako.
on second thoughts mebbe the baker's assistant said tamad daw ako....

cape tribulation. where the rainforest literally meets the sea. look closer at the photo, that's my hire hilux in the bush parked on the side of the cook highway - inches from the beach.
i was standing on a rock and my good man friday said to get off as there might be a croc lurking behind me.
This type of coastline where reef and mangrove meet the rainforest is very unique - found nowhere else in oz, and very rare around the world.
We drive another 20 km or so of seemingly impassable passes (definitely impassable to 2wd) through thick rainforests and dusty tracks (this road is normally closed during very wet conditions). We have entered cape tribulation national park and suddenly realized we were driving along the coast road. Glimpses of the azure coral sea out to the deep blue pacific ocean cays beyond come in and out of little slits in the thick rainforest. Trees dominate here in the rainforests. They form dense canopies with their trunks thickly slung with vines. They all form part of a rich and most diverse ecosystem.
Donovan point is maybe where the coastal road becomes coastal, although the coast looks very much like the chico river does from way up in the mountain pass just below mt data. Nearly vertical steep drops on both sides of the road, are camouflaged by the thick stands of tall trees without which one with vertigo would simply collapse. The next moment spectacular breathtaking views fill one with wonder and amazement, the next with horror at the steep drops around the tight bends. This visual and literal roller-coaster of a ride fills one with sometimes conflicting emotions. One moment you gaze in awesome wonder, the next in becalmed self-control.
So on to cape tribulation we come and more of dense rainforests, crystal clear creeks (but always with signs cautioning against crocodiles), and unspoiled coastlines with narrow strips of white sandy and palm-lined beaches. We start meeting other cars and not soon after hit the bitumen again – cape tribulation road, back in civilization. My emotions are still mixed – a part of me disappointed to leave the wild, but another part is relieved that we got past the ranges, and should now travel easy on our wheels the rest of the way.

(wheels? dunno what this is. maybe one or two halves guarding a turd - a third. but not the third rock son.)
We stopped a couple of times on the remainder of the trip to cairns. We saw some tourists and quite a few resorts and accommodation establishments, camp sites – facilities that offer amenities to visitors between cape tribulation and the daintree river.

rex's lookout. either the estuarine crocs or the dangerous jellyfish are out in force in four-mile beach.

The daintree national park sector of the wet tropics of queensland is one of the largest wilderness areas in Australia. This is partly why this area of far north queensland is a popular tourist destination.
We get on the ferry at daintree river (southern access to the daintree cape tribulation rainforest), drive past port douglas - stepping off point for the great barrier reef (the 2300km marine wonderland along the coast of north queensland) and get on the captain cook highway to cairns.
So on this trip I have seen two of 14 australian sites in the world heritage list – the wet tropics and the great barrier reef. Which one do I like more? I have always leant more to the wet than the great he he.
that 240km trip took 5 hours but in the wet season can take up to 5 days or even 5 weeks. geez that would be a stinker...

now where is that vest i wanted to try on...

listless reading

i am listless. meaning i lost my list he he. lucky i still have my wits. am wistful too. and wishful.

brings to mind "The Remember Song" sung by tom rush (written by walter stevens):
Looking for my wallet and my car keys,
Well they can’t have gone too far;
And just as soon as I find my glasses
I’m sure I’ll see just where they are... etc

so once i find my wist i mean wits er list... oh well.
i did pack some stuff to read but i was just so listless these few weeks up in the tropics. i did not bring all the above with me of course, especially not hawking's couple of heavy tomes - heavy reading that! but dawkins and adams (not in the photo - adams v god rematch) celebrated non-believers both- offer some food for thought.
clarke's collaboration with baxter was okay, but i spent most of my free time drinking, i mean drinking music in. i do have some good music in my laptop, not from oasis or rolling stone/s, but from the well-spring that produced 'like a rolling stone'.
now they say 'there is a man going around taking names'. must be the season for lists. he's checking it twice too i hear... what's his name bigbelly? leadbelly.

watch out.

Friday, 12 December 2008

the innkeepers

To close off this chapter on cooktown, i have to relate the story of the innkeepers.
when we checked in at the inn where we were staying, at the start of our sojourn here in the warm wet tropics of far north queensland, we were greeted very warmly by Sayah the owner.
She had a few guests that first week which kept her busy especially as she told us that her husband Peter travels quite a bit.
I rarely saw her husband, but one weekend i saw him collecting litter around the inn's premises and doing general housekeeping around the place. Around mid-morning on a Sunday he went around the rooms (about 16) cleaning up, vacuuming, changing linens and sheets and everything a motel cleaner would do. He even tidied up my room and apologised that he could not do it the day before.
A week later there was a bunch of kids (ages abt 7-15) and their parents having a pool party around the swimming pool of the inn. They were having an end-of-year awards for their football (rugby league) teams. Peter was obviously the coach of Cooktown's junior rugby league teams, and he was handing out awards and imparting words of congratulations and encouragement and the requisite pep talk for next year.
The next time i saw Peter, he was pulling litter bins out to the side road for collection.
I did not see Peter again before we left town, but i left a half a bottle of scotch with Sayah that i could not finish on the last night there. Sayah said Peter will enjoy it.

Back in Brisbane a few days later, i googled Cooktown to check on some local government data.
I discovered that Peter Scott, the innkeeper, junior football coach, cleaner extraordinaire, and husband of Sayah, just happens to be the Mayor of Cook Shire.

the dozer driver

Deliveries in an area the size of Baguio (this site is about 6km long by 4km wide), can be quite taxing after a while.

Hence we called in the big guns, the big pathfinder i mean, to enable us to deliver to the far ends of a couple of lines.
John, let's just say he is a woodsman is not the driver who dozes on the job, but rather the dozer driver. He is one of those who's done it all seen it all kinda bloke.

John has retired after decades of hard work helping to shape far north queensland what it is now. His task is to clear two long lines up to the base of the ranges, one line is about 3.6km long and the other is about 2.6 km long.
It's not as long as the mason-dixon but long enough for a deliveryman who is na ton-ton.

mark knopfler too drew the line, or sang a song about some gullible cordie lad who he swears made him mad. he was sailing to cordillera with a tailor, name of james. now if you believe that then he might be in dire straits. but that's mark taylor and james knopfler - as mason & dixon for you. ladies men, just like me. sometimes nonsensical he he.
Back to the story of John-
Yes John had been a drover, a bushman, a stockman, a builder, a jackaroo, a what-have-you, he was even a manager for a couple of years. Who knows he might also have been a lineman, like dason & mixon.

He is also a good mate of Barney (client's neighbour who owns a quarry next door) who gave his word to supply a bulldozer driver as required.

Unfortunately Barney's man could not make it so he sent an sos to his old mate from mareeba 280kms away in the south, so that's how we ended up with our dozer driver. John came out of retirement as a favor to Barney 'cause they go back a ways. On this job, John is staying with Barney and Barney's missus in town.

A couple of days working with John and i got to hear some of his stories.

To come to the gist of this tale, John and his wife raised three daughters. They raised them as best they could with a lot of blood sweat and tears (and mebbe a drop or two of some hearty ale).
John taught the girls his love of the outdoors and often brought them camping and fishing and maybe the odd hunting trip or two.

John is a philosophical man, and said that he decided early on that he was not going to be too fussed about what his daughters wanted to be, as long as they are happy with what they're doing.

So anyways one day, they got called up to the school to see the principal. John, as any parent would was a little worried and kept asking his wife about any misdemeanours their daughters may have been up to.

At the interview the principal asked them the girls' plans after they finish school.
John, in his no nonsense straight talking manner said could not care less what they did: "...they could be shovelling dirt as long as they're happy..."
It turns out the girls were very high achievers in the sciences and other academic subjects and the principal was concerned that their daughters potentials may not be realised.
And to cut a long tale short, John's daughters are a scientist, an executive manager, and a doctor.
And John drives bulldozers on the side... only if he feels like. Or so he can have that two week holiday overseas.

I think that's John...
saying the line's now clear for us lazy b___s.
- bones i think he said...

you've long been on the open road
you've been sleepin' in the rain...

so only stop to rest yourself
till you'll go off again...

at this point i may be going to Blackbutt on my next job
will keep you posted.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

sights around cooktown

each picture paints its thousand words, so i'll just add some captions.
cooktown is the closest town to the great barrier reef.

with mt cook on one side, and the coral sea on the other.

the lighthouse on grassy hill provides panoramic 360 degree views from the sea to the mountains - but you already know that. the rainforest meets the reef here.

alamanda inn is just one of the places to stay in town. a poinciana provides great color and shade and contrast and hue and...

if it gets too warm, there's always the pool just outside the door.

or when it's cool enough, there's the door outside the pool - road out to the loop, to have another gaze at the bays. cherry tree bay and finch bay are perfect for a picnic, fishing or sunbathing.

then when you get back from sightseeing, settle in for some fresh mango and coconut.

if you prefer water from the well to townwater, you got your wish, they have that too. just don't fall in or drop anything other than a wishing coin, it's quite deep. and be careful what you wish for - you just might get it.
want to getaway? try mt amos road.

not all the locals are as welcoming...

but trevethan falls certainly is. 30 km from town along some rugged 4wd only track, you are most welcome to skinnydip in the swimming hole.
now that you're washed and cleaned, let's go meet some locals.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

fishing in robin hood's point

Archer Point about 20kms south of Cooktown is famed for fishing. So on a Sunday (a day-off to keep the sabat day uli, as you do), we drove down there for a bit of sight-seeing and fishing. 

There are no houses/residences in archer point but we saw a few residents (transient campers not a band of outlaws) and about a dozen vehicles. We also met a couple of guys collecting trash and litter along the coastline. I don’t know if today was clean-up oz day. What we saw later along the beaches - tons of litter including beer cans and the ever present plastic bags, the unfortunate evidence of human waste pollution in the middle of uninhabited coastline, is truly disgusting, but reminds a gesture of acknowledgement to the effort of the guys doing their bit to clean up the environment.

There's a couple of small lighthouses in archer point, one of them in an island a few hundred meters out from the mainland. There were boundary markers around the lighthouse on the Point, perhaps marking out the area leased for lighthouse and marine safety purposes. There was also the remnants of a jetty long since abandoned. The views from the lighthouse were spectacular. You could see where the rainforests merge with the eucalypts up on the hills that drop steeply to the sea.
A few secluded and inaccessible beaches with white sands beckon to the north and south as well as on the small island on the southeast. In another time, with another partner, it would be nice just to camp out in any of them for a couple of days.
At the lighthouse we met a pair of couples (retirees out for a Sunday drive).
One of the men told a story about how the jetty came to be there. Apparently in the early 1960s an Englishman invested in growing grain in Lakeland (about 50km inland to the southwest) for export to Japan. The government refused assistance to his endeavours, so he forked out his own money to build the jetty and roads presumably to transport his grain from the field to the bay and for shipping to japan. Our acquaintance said that in the end the Englishman lost 10m pounds sterling in the venture ( i hope robin's hoods didn't rob him).

Since we came here for fishing, we drove down to the jetty site from the lighthouse over an old disused and deep-rutted rocky road, and then clambered along a narrow precipitous path to the rusted ruins of the jetty. We then tossed our fishing lines in along with a wish or two (for a big fish or two). We had some tugs on our lines, which may just be snags but may also be the fish that got away (yeah i know - there's a few mebbes there but wait here's more). A school of medium-sized fish (maybe tuna?) swam past and a really big one (maybe a shark?) glided along just off the coastline. We did catch three small (baby) cods in about a couple of hours, but no major whoppers to tell tales about. We also had a solitary turtle entertain us. It frolicked along near our lines for a few minutes before going along its unhurried merry way. Some white butterflies flew past too just a few meters above the water.
Alas nothing to make merry men of doleful fishers.
so what was robin hood's point?
go figure...

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

trails of trouble

This week involved a lot of walking and hiking up mountains, hills and gullies to do special deliveries. And this was no picnic!

Our client I believe is a monk or at least a hermit who has lived up in these desolate inaccessible hills since 1978. His ancestors first settled in this area back in 1866.

The terrain this side of cooktown is very rough and desolate and harsh at the best of times. In the beginning of summer the conditions are a lot worse. The hot humid air makes for labored struggle to walk, even to breathe, let alone to keep going after a only a few meters of trudging uphill. And if that was not bad enough, the ground is littered with loose rocks, fallen logs and branches and the odd hole.

For good measure there are thorns and lantana that appear in certain places.

Now when one is laden with gear and materials of awkward lengths and sizes, some fragile and sensitive packages, and the odd water bottle, the going gets tough.

Am one tuffy not going - well. Am dressed up like a squire, water-logged boots on my feet (from sweating). Thick heavy gaiters strapped on and with gaiters or overboots dragging down like lead on the legs.

Then with one hand (waving free) letting go of the shoulder load for one second, trying to keep the hat on from the burning sun and swatting insects or spiderwebs or green ants falling from overhanging branches. The other hand (not silhouetted by the sea) keeping the glasses from fogging up from the sweat pouring out of one's body; with the third limb twisting here and there maneuvering to keep the load from getting entangled with vines and undergrowth; with the fourth limb trying to maintain footing on the loose rocks and slippery slides underfoot; with the fifth limb going limp –
no wonder one climbs like a wimp.

what another climb? man you must be putting me on!
or is this a mirage?

yonder is a black mountain. i wonder if a wizard lives there. perhaps a lizard does.

Another day we hiked up to the hills on the verge of a rainforest and down to a steep and deep gully. As we were packing up we could hear the roar of thunder and the sky has turned black. And we had to rush out of there before dark.
Every which way looks the same, and any which way we could easily get lost in the dark. There’s good tracks in dem dar hills too. Yes good for kangaroos and dingoes or the odd cow or two too. So that on your second trek up you miss the turn because you think you recognize a feature and you’ve been there and done that, you stop and say: I’m going the wrong way here. Oh that’s orright what’s an extra mile, and a few minutes, and a few liters of sweat? It’s a breeze actually.
What say?
The breeze.
That’s the thing you don’t see.
You know that which blew your hat back down the hill. Now of course when all is cursed and done, one then looks forward to the downhill stroll, with a lighter load too – what a bonus! Got rid of a couple of packages and two liters of water. Suddenly you fall. Your leg’s broken or feels like it’s broken. It has turned to jelly!
Mama woo ooh woo.
And then to compound one's interest, I mean misery – it starts raining. Well It actually started raining on the way up but… no wonder when one’s gone a hundred meters or so-
To make things really hard, tough dried brown and brittle grasses that grow to 2m high are a constant presence. These have stalks that can pierce the skin when hit at an angle. They’re even treacherously slippery if you step on their flattened long leaves. This time of year, the grass are very brown and tinder dry. A grassfire is thus a constant threat and at the whiff of one we’d be out of there in a jiff.

To really illustrate the danger of a fiery menace, there was a bushfire to the south of our site. We paused to observe it soon after we noticed the smoke. The fire had spread linearly along the base of a mountain (black mountain) for about a kilometer within a few minutes. This was aided by easterly seabreezes which sent flames upwards of 20m. The smoke was visible for miles around. Had the prevailing winds been from the south we would have abandoned work for the day. Such is the risk of a hot and dry Australian summer aka bushfire season. And when the country is experiencing very long droughts as it is, the threat of fire is very high and very real indeed.
And now to the news: the southeast of the state (abt 2000km away) has been ravaged by storms all week. These are some of the fiercest storms to hit the southeast in decades and have caused death and destruction along their paths. The storms and rains have now lasted nearly a week.
What the????

So what's the lesson for today then?
a. keep fit
b. find another job
c. don't go to the tropics in summer
d. tell the boss to shove it
e. ________________________
f. take the road well travelled (where?)
g. all of the above
paths of victory
we shall walk.

Goin’ troppo (november 08)

If you were wondering... m polichay's gone troppo this past month.

Cooktown in far north queensland, is the northernmost town on the australian mainland. It is just under 2000km from brisbane. Work requires that i deliver up there so i've gone troppo.

On monday the 11th i hied off to FNQ. Took a 2-hour flight to Cairns, then picked up a 4WD hire hilux for a 4-hour drive north to cooktown.
photo on left is a view of Smithfield north of Cairns from a lookout point under the controversial skyrail, going up to Kuranda in the rainforests of the great dividing range.

After kuranda, along a 250km trip we go past mareeba, palmer river, annan gorge and finally cooktown. Rainforests surround the areas around kuranda NW of cairns. Heading westerly towards mareeba on the tablelands the landscape evolves constantly from typical tropical vegetation to also typical open eucalypt forests. From mareeeba northwards is typical open scrubland, very flat and often desolate. The great dividing range runs parallel to the highway on the east and its hills and mountains keep looming but never seem to be reached. A strange sight greets the first-time visitor at lake Mitchell. This body of water seems so incongruous in the midst of often straight long grey tarred roads, brown grass, brown earth and the pale green tops of singed dark-trunked eucalypts. Again the vegetation changes hue on the descent to the coast from the tablelands. Now there are patches of tropical trees and shrubs, which soon become thicker and greener along the low lying coastal plains. The eucalypt forests still predominate until annan gorge on the south of cooktown. Pockets of scrub vegetation intersperse amongst black rocky hills, the biggest of which is black mountain. (was too busy sightseeing that i was near the end of the trip when i thought ofthe camera)

This is Black Mountain south of Cooktown. The hardy scrub vegetation are either reclaiming their original habitat or are still receding and ceding their places to the huge boulders fired and turned black by millennia of volcanic activity.

On the southern outskirts approach to cooktown, the vegetation is now dense tropical rainforests hugging all the landforms from the plains to the hills and to the rivers, coasts and bays. Many of these areas are national park reserves which should stay in their original state for ages to come.

Mt Cook (after the explorer James), is a prime example of a well- preserved natural environment.

So write to your legislators and local officials. Lobby them for more heritage protection especially the ecosystems. World heritage protection areas now serve as major tourist attractions.

let us not wait for them to become museum pieces before we act.

they saved paradise put off a parking lot...
how does joni sing it?
it does always seem to go
you do know what you got and it's gone