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Day 11



   Sunday 15th April

   Up at 7am, it is bright and sunny. I had a good talk to John, the park owner, while he was doing his rounds. He said about half the caravaners stay one night and move on the next day and he likes to get his daily chores out of the way before the new day's arrivals start coming in just after lunch. He wants to set the sprinklers on the camping area lawns today where my tent is set up, so I will move it to an area he watered yesterday. John says that at this time of  the year, if he doesn't water every three days the lawns will start to go off. He has his own bore for all uses except drinking and that is supplied from tanks catching roof runoff from every building.

   John was very interested in the amateur radio equipment that I was using and became part of the solution when I asked him where I could buy a PL259 co-ax connector for my yet-to-be-made new antenna. There are no electronics shops in Hawker and he said there were no Telstra techs resident here either. I have worked with Telstra techs on and off over the years and even the guys "on the road" carry a fair amount of spares. All the fiddly bits and pieces that you just can't get in small, or even medium, sized country towns.

   When I explained the structure of the new antenna, John knew exactly what I wanted. We wandered off to his huge shed and he went straight to a heap of rubbish in the corner and started digging in. I shouldn't call it rubbish. I always chided Bill, who had a 400 acre rural block in the Hunter district and had sheds full of what I called junk. But he always reminded me that there is no hardware store "just up the road". His nearest town was Raymond Terrace and was 60kms away. That was an "every two weeks" type of trip and so he saved every left over nut and bolt and scrap of steel. Even so, I still reckon the amount of stuff you find on all aussie outback properties is over the top.

   John emerged from the tangle of wires (this was specifically "electrical" junk) and had nearly four meters of RG58 coaxial cable with a PL259 connector already fitted to one end. (How do "junk collectors" not only remember what they have, but where it is? This is the stuff good PhDs are made of). I recognised it straight away. Some time in the distant past, a CB radio had been un-installed from a car or ute or truck and this is the cable that goes from the CB radio under the dash to the antenna on the front bumper or bull bar. This cable must have been considered to be useful "some day" and chucked into the "electrical" heap in the corner. This is  not quite how I was going to use it, but it was perfect for my job. If I had access to a Dick Smith or Jaycar electronics store, I would have bought the RG58 cable and the PL259 connector and then joined them. John has not only provided the raw materials, but they are already connected. Pulling my head in, and apologising for demeaning his "junky" looking shed, I thanked him profusely and headed back to my tent to store it away till Roger's parcel arrived in the post with the ferrite core and winding wire.

   Around lunchtime, I headed over to the pub and had a very nice steak sandwich and chips. On the walk back to the caravan park, I took in a bit more of the history of South Australia. I would definitely not call myself a history buff, although I have always shown a more than casual interest in the pioneer's ingenuity in building new and practical tools and implements enabling them to be more productive. But since I started this walk, I am seeing them (the pioneers) in a new light. Without the use of a motor car, the distances become "real" and travelling so slowly I get to see the surrounding countryside in a totally new light. "Natural" building materials are not in abundance.

   Setting up a homestead, building fences, etc., would have been long, exhausting and heartbreaking work. I have been lucky to have had the experience while living at One Arm Point, North of Broome, to be employed to build a cattle yard "from scratch".  Armed with a battered, unregistered 20 year old Land Rover and a small(ish) chain saw, I would head out daily to a stand of native black butt trees. As each tree was selected and cut, it was de-barked and dragged to a central location. Medium sized, 18" diameter, ones for corner posts, 12" for general posts and 8" for rails. And two giant, 30", ones for the front posts of the loading ramp. These had to withstand the batterings from the trucks during loading. On Friday afternoon, I was joined by another worker with a ten ton truck and we would winch each post or rail into the air and drive the truck underneath for loading. Then repeat the process for the week's "harvest". Next week, I would do it all again for a total of four weeks. Then dig all the holes, by hand, in rocky ground and build the stock yard over the next 4 weeks. And I had the benefit of vehicles, chain saw, etc and a nice house to go home to each night. Seeing the sparse landscape at such close quarters and experiencing the hot, dry conditions sparked a growing interest in the early history of Australia and the men and women who chose to "give it a go".


          Historic plaque to early pioneers        Pioneer fence strainer post      Overseas visitors to our fair land

   The plaque is to commemorate the early settlers to  the area. The post is for straining the fence wires. This antique post was outside the old Hawker railway station and I found it fascinating. Each strand of wire was wound onto a shaft that was turned by a removable handle and had a ratchet to stop it unraveling. These straining posts would have been placed along the fence line every 300 meters or so, and on corners with smaller, wooden posts every 10 meters. There would have been 2 or 3 sapling "droppers" to keep the vertical wire spacing between posts.

   My "next door neighbours" tonight were four young, adventurous fellows travelling from Melbourne to Darwin in a sedan and enjoying the outback. Two were German, one a French/Canadian and the forth bloke, a pom. They had really just started and were in for an interesting trip up the Stuart Highway and through the heart of Australia. We spent the evening together watching the aussie rules football on TV with me explaining the rules. Although I have played rugby league, rugby union and soccer at school and after school levels, I had never played aussie rules. But I loved watching whenever I got a chance (I haven't owned a TV for 6 years) and  I had a 4 year stint as president of the West Kimberley Aussie Rules Football Association. They enjoyed the story about how I came to acquire this position.

   Around 1978, I was sitting at the bar of the Mangrove Hotel, while living in Broome, with a few friends and the footballers emerged from a meeting room with gloomy looks.

   I inquired "What's up with  you guys?"

    "Looks like we will have a delayed start to this season, if we can get going at all. We just had our AGM and couldn't form a new committee for this year." I had to point out that Broome was more or less a remote, pioneering, outback town and although they had more than enough young bucks to make up 6 teams in a population of 3,000, it appeared no one wanted to be president.

   "Sheesh. We can't have no football in Broome", I said. "I'll be the president."

   They all looked at each other, smiles broke out all round and after we got fresh beers, it was back into the meeting room to kick off the new footy season on time.

   Their English skills were pretty good and part of their reason (other than the pom) for visiting Australia was to polish their English. It was a very interesting evening with each of them having stories to tell while we watched the footy on TV and they consumed a stubby or three. It was not an early night  for me.

   Tomorrow, a productive day and news of  the sat phone