Jeff's Walk




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Diary/Notes/Thoughts/Photos for upcoming book

Day 9

   Friday 13th. 15deg C.

   Surprisingly, I was up and around at 6:15. Although I did not get back to the caravan park last night till just after 11pm, I am on a promise for breakfast at 7 this morning over at the Hawker pub with John. Sheesh. I'm glad I gave up the grog 25 years ago in Broome. I would have been a disaster this morning in that bloke's company. Besides the general good time I had there meeting the locals and "blow throughs" and me being on my walk as the regular topic of conversation and John shouting most of my drinks, I really liked this guy. I make friends pretty easily. That  is, I fall into conversation with most people after just a few minutes. But with Big John (I love calling him that) I was happy to listen to his stories and we did share rather adventurous personal backgrounds.

   During last evening's goings-on someone announced that there had been a de-railment of 26 empty coal cars on the Leigh Creek line. After some discussion it was decided that we (John, Jarrad the accountant, and I) should have breakfast in the morning and drive the 10km to the line and check out the carnage. I jumped at the chance and agreed to see them at breakfast.

   So, here I was, on my "day off", walking at 6:45am from the caravan park into town with an (almost) full pack on, going to breakfast at 7, then a drive out to the railway line, and back into town for the school "talk" at 9:30. It'll be a relief to get "back to work".

   Well, the first "appointment" did not eventuate. I wandered to and through the hotel and grounds but no sign of John or Jarrad. I was unknown to the staff on at that time of the day, but introduced myself and told them I was invited for breakfast. They sympathised, with a knowing smile that I missed,  and offered me a coffee while I waited. I took off the pack and had a sit down.

   Well, the second appointment to see the derailed coal cars did not eventuate either. There was no John or Jarrad even after another coffee and now it was just after 9 and I needed to head over to the school. Heaving on the pack, I walked out of the pub grounds and round the corner onto the main road. Up past the general store where I feasted yesterday and a few blocks further, followed the  "SCHOOL" sign round the corner. I went past the "other" caravan park and it looked ok from the outside. I could see the school up ahead a couple of blocks. The bright colours of the  playground gave it away and a very modern library stood on the same block. I was a bit early, so I went into the library and asked about Internet access. It was available but limited hours and I said I would be back later.

   Well, the third appointment for today turned out to be a non-even also. I squeezed through the ADMINISTRATION  doorway, and was confronted by a blank stare from the receptionist. "I think you have the wrong place." I could hear her thoughts "Backpackers are downtown near the post office".

   "Hi." I started, half smiling through my 10 day beard. "My name is Jeff Johnson and I made an arrangement with one of your teachers to be here this morning to give a talk to the students about my walk up through the centre of Australia". Blank stare was the reply. "I'm sorry, but I don't remember the teacher's name, I met her at the post  office and offered to come here this morning." Blank stare.

   My saviour entered, stage left. By chance, the teacher from the post office came in with a mixed expression on her face. Part recognition, part guilt. Coming straight to the counter opposite me she says "Oh, I'm terribly sorry, I forgot. I'll just get the headmistress."

   Going through the story yet again, the headmistress took it all in, at the same time fielding questions from a multitude of faces that popped into the doorway of her office in that quick 5 minutes. With much regret and apologies, she explained that this is the Friday before school holidays start and they were all organised with the students spread around in, mainly play type, activities. Although I effectively got the "bums rush" out of the office, I did understand the complexities of running a school knowing well how much disruption my short, unexpected visit caused, let alone what a whole re-arrangement of the day's planning would have done. I left them with the web address of the DeafBlind Association and headed back to the pub.

   There was still no sign of John or Jarrad at the pub, so  I walked back to the caravan park to dump the backpack and plan a different morning. Did I mention that it was Friday the 13th.

    I counted up the donations from last night and was delightfully surprised to see that it was $102.75. Damn. If only I was not such a wuss about walking up to strangers and asking for a donation. This $100 plus landed in my hat last night while I just sat there enjoying myself. The word of my fund-raising just quietly spread round the bar and every 15 minutes or so there'd be another clink or rustle and a "Thanks mate" from me.

   The hamburger and chips I had at the hotel last night was huge. After the relative pig out at the shop for "lunch" and the hamburger still filling me, I settled for a glass of powdered milk with my favourite banana Qwik flavouring for brunch.

    As the solar panel was now working ok with the makeshift repair 'G' clamp doing its job, I headed back into town without the back pack but with the solar panel and my camera. The bullet connectors on the solar panel that plug into my battery pack were in need of re-soldering and I'd have a look around the engineering shops I saw on the way into town for assistance.

   Town was a short walk of 1.7km and I was settling into a routine of going a different way each trip. Today I'll go by the old Hawker Railway Station which has been converted into a restaurant. The sound of a train whistle has not been heard here since 1970 when the last loco departed. Hawker was established in 1881 and the rail started the same year with a thriving area providing passengers, wheat, wool, stock and supplies to sustain it. However, several serious drought years were enough to wipe out substantial wheat farms that had briefly prospered. Today, the district around Hawker is officially described as "semi-arid". And from what I have seen while walking here, nothing seems to grow.

       Hawker Railway Restaurant     Hawker Railway Restaurant      Hawker Railway Restaurant

   My first chore was to head for the post office and see if there was any mail. I was expecting a parcel from Bill with the new glasses (I was still one eyed) and the 240V plug pack, a parcel from Roger with bits to make the new aerial and maybe a sat phone from Janne, but this was not realistically expected today.

   Inside the post office I was recognised from yesterday (its sometimes good to be a semi-celebrity) but there was nothing for me. This was no real disappointment as the parcels were only sent in the last few days.

   I headed for "town" via the hotel to see if John had surfaced but he was nowhere to be seen and the staff gave me that knowing look. Back up past the post office to the light industrial area and into the only likely looking place that was open, I asked "Any chance of borrowing a small soldering iron to fix the connectors on my solar panel?" Although they were as friendly as all hell, as is usual for "country folk", they had nothing small enough and suggested I try one of the two service stations "in town". This "out of town" industrial area was 250 meters from the post office.

   The smaller of the two service stations had a single bowser on the footpath, a very small "shop" with a selection of spare parts, but a multiple bay workshop out back that looked well used. I stood just outside one of the work bays where a couple of blokes in overalls were leaning  in under the bonnet of a 4WD. I stood for several minutes not wanting to break their concentration. After a bit they stood back and conferred but, although they noticed me standing there, they showed no sign of "be with you in a minute".

   After a few more minutes, I walked in, solar panel in hand, "Excuse me." They looked round but no greeting, so, presenting the wire leading from the solar panel, "I wonder if I could borrow a small soldering iron to fix my solar panel, please?"

   "Yeah. No worries, be with you in a minute." That sounded better. I retreated outside the workshop area and stood back where I was out of their way. After another 5 minutes, I sat down in the parking area with my back resting against the wall and waited for a "country" minute.
Twenty minutes further into the day, and getting hot in the sun, I interrupted again "How about I come back later when you're not so busy?" The boss, the spokesman and the older of the two, says in a very non-enthusiastic way "Yeah, OK."

  Back to the pub, which is now officially open, and I find John in the bar doing a stock take. Counting up everything, right down to the cigarette lighters. I asked if this was stock take time  and got the startling reply that no, he does a stock take "every" day. He explained that it didn't take long as everything was neatly laid out and you got used to how many items were in each row and the tally sheet was well organised. We briefly discussed the trustability of casual pub staff and left it at that.

   John looked remarkably fresh, but admitted to not being "at his best". They had apparently carried on till "2 or 3" before pulling stumps. He was fairly "used to it" but did not expect Jarrad
to surface till a bit later and I was to speak softly when he did. He apologised for the missed breakfast and would "make up for it" and also that the trip to see the de-railment would have to wait as he could not get away now till late in the afternoon.   

   I left him to his duties and wandered over to the BP service station which turned out the be the information centre in town and had quite a reasonable shop with souvenirs as well as a good range of things for cars. It was much bigger than the first service station I called into. I inquired at the counter for a "Sue at the information centre" who Bill asked me to look up when I got to Hawker. After asking around the other staff, there is, nor ever was a "Sue" here so I let that one go. Now I asked if there were any amateur radio "hams" in town and this time I did better as there "used to be" one but he left a few years ago.

   I walked over the road to the first service station and did my "Excuse me" bit to attract a response, as standing politely didn't work again. "Ah, we're a bit busy......" "OK. I have other things to  catch up on, I'll drop back again later." I was getting a bad feeling about this place.

   Back at the caravan park I settled into the camp kitchen and did the few repairs to my "kit" The stitching on the end panels of the stuff sack for the ground mat had seriously unraveled. I had included a reel of cotton and a sewing needle into my first aid kit. Partly I guess to "stitch up" a wound if necessary but heaven knows how I'd overcome my built in aversion to such things. Also, my "belly bag" was  unraveling too, in such a way that small items like a biro or thermometer were likely to be lost forever. I'm no seamstress, but  I was pretty pleased with the result. Mind you, I had to go over the bad bits several times and the thin, synthetic material did not mend easily. But, I am glad to say that my "temporary" repairs lasted the next 4 1/2 months whereas the original, factory sewn seams had chucked it in after a couple of weeks.

   When I powered up the amateur radio in the late afternoon I was excited to hear Roger's morse code in the background noise. But other than his call sign  "dah dit dit dit, dah dit,  dah dah dit dah" (BNQ) I was unable to identify anything that he "said". I tried to send a bit but even sending my call sign I made a mistake. After I gave up on the morse (I really need to do some practice) I conversed with Bill and Roger by cell phone and SMS and sorted out the few things that needed it.

   In the pub that evening at 6 for dinner and "to show the flag", John and Jarrad and I were joined by Henry, a local identity. Jazmine, our barmaid for the evening, joined in our general conversation. There was another $30 in "walk up" donations and I was back in the park by 9:30 as it was far too noisy for me. It was Friday night, a good but rowdy crowd, Aussie Rules footy going full bore on the TV and I'd had a "hard day at the office".

Tomorrow is laundry, shopping and a parcel from Bill