Free camping, and Koalas

Our stay in Robe ended up only being a one nighter. We were awoken around 2 this morning by the loudest clap of thunder and the most electric sounding bolt of lightening I’ve ever heard. Both struck at once, so I guess that means the storm was exactly overhead. For the next couple of hours the rain, thunder, lightening and wind was almost constant, and I don’t know how the awning managed to remain attached. The caravan felt like a small boat at sea in a storm, and I lay awake wondering if we were going to be capsized.

Morning came, and everything had remained in tact, apart from some towels which had blown to the ground and were sodden. It looked like the rain was in for the day, in which case we would have either been confined to the inside of the caravan or wandering the retail centre of town. We decided instead to move on a day earlier than planned. Robe is definitely on the agenda though for a return trip.

It was still wet and dismal as we headed through Mount Gambier so we didn’t stop to look at the Blue Lake there. It’s apparently amazing, so another place to see on our next trip to the area.

We’re now free camping in a lovely wooded area near Fitzroy River (Victoria), 25 kms north east of Portland. We pulled in and the rain stopped. After three months of caravan parks, it’s sheer bliss. We can hear the birds, the nearest campers to us are at least 20 metres away, and the nearest to them would be at least couple of hundred metres further away. Theres not a screaming child or scooter in sight. We’re happy. Mental note to myself: We must take advantage of more free camp spots, they’re good for the budget, but even better for the soul.

Free camping - the road less travelled.
Free camping – the road less travelled.

We made ourselves a coffee and then went for a walk. The smell of gums here is amazing. A few hundred metres up the track, a fellow camper told us there are Koalas around, so back we came for our camera. He was right. We found four, each one looking sleepily down in on us as we took some lovely snaps. Apparently it’s mating season, so come night time we’ll likely be kept awake by their mating antics.

What a cutie.
What a cutie.

Being from Western Australia where there aren’t any Koalas in the wild, it’s exciting to finally come across some. We’ve seen road signs warning of their presence, which has had me craning my neck out the car window to try and catch a glimse of one. Apart from one that caused a traffic hold up as it crossed the road a few car lengths in front of us, these are the first we’ve spotted, so we’re thrilled. If they keep us awake at night I don’t think we’ll mind in the least.

Robe, SA. A must on any Aussie bucket list.

We left Adelaide this morning and are now on our way to Melbourne to catch the Ferry to Tassie. We’ve brought our sailing date forward to 20 January, so we have 13 days to enjoy the splendours of the Great Ocean Road.

It’ll be a few days before we reach the Great Ocean Road, so we stopped in Robe, South Australia for our first couple of nights. I had barely heard of Robe, and Paul hadn’t heard of it all. We won’t forget it.

The coastline is spectacular. The waves have a gentle roll, just enough to push a boogie board to shore – damn we gave our boards away. The beach is beautifully level for walking on and hard enough that even two wheel drive vehicles can drive along the shore in search of an idealic spot to spend the day. And a lot of people do just that. We went for a wander down the beach this afternoon after a refreshing swim, and there was at least a hundred cars parked on the sand.


There’s two downsides to Robe though – the first is we only have time for a two night stay this times, but we will be back for sure.

The second is the time of year we’re here. We managed to squeeze into the Discovery caravan park right across from the beach. Like all beach side places during school holidays, it’s jam packed with families. All having a great time, which is lovely to see, but for Grey Nomads who support these caravan parks all year, it’s tough to suddenly start paying top dollar and then to have our happy hour accompanied by at least a dozen kids racing up and down on scooters, playing frisbee or cricket, and whatever else kids like to to. Not to mention the parent who pushes their child that little bit too far past bedtime with the inevitable tantrum and/or screaming fit. There’s always at least one. Joy!!!!

Now there’s an idea for booming business for someone. An over 45s caravan park – no kids allowed. No jumping pillows, no play grounds, no games rooms – just clean facilities, perhaps well kept gardens, and a reasonable all year round price that doesn’t go through the roof during school holidays. The insurance would be less, all the ground would be usable and I should imagine most (granted – not all) grey nomads require less cleaning up after. Perhaps, some budding entrepreneur will see a market for such a place. I’m sure it’d be well used, even more so if well behaved pets were also allowed. I’m sure the pets would be considerably less trouble than ankle biters of the human kind.

With or without an over 45s caravan park though, Robe is a place that’s worthy of being on anyone’s ‘bucket list’. Coming back here again is certainly on ours.

Maggie Beer’s – Barossa

What would a visit to Adelaide be without a visit to the Barossa, and more especially – Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop.

We had a short drive up into the Barossa yesterday. Not many cellar doors seemed to be open, but we didn’t call in to the tourist information for details of cellar door openings and good wineries to visit. That’s saved for the next visit, and there will definitely be another visit.

Grape vines in the Barossa
Grape vines in the Barossa

Uppermost in our minds yesterday was the long awaited visit to Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop. For overseas visitors to this site, Maggie Beer is somewhat of an Australian cooking icon. She has her own farm in the Barossa and started out making a name for herself cooking and selling Pheasant products, and in particular I think her starting point on the way to fame and fortune was her signature Pheasant Pate’.

Her warm and larger than life personality has endeared her to the Australian public, and she has been the cooking host of many a TV cooking show. Her cooking style and dishes she presents I’m sure are very contributory to the expansion of many an Australian waistline, not least of which is mine. I doubt there would be a self professed ‘home cook’ in Australia who doesn’t hold at least one Maggie Beer cook book amongst their collection.

Maggie is to Australia what Nigella is to England, only instead of Nigella’s Sensuality, Maggie has an all ‘good neighbour’ image, and conjures up images of baskets of warm home made scones being delivered to any new arrival in the neighbourhood. Her food style is good and honest without pretentiousness, but inspiring for would be home cooks to try out new ingredients and new styles of cooking.

A visit to her farm shop didn’t disappoint. Paul had a game terrine with a side salad for his lunch. I had a delicious mushroom pate’, served with a beautiful warmed, rustic bread roll, a small dish of olive oil topped soft cheese, and a small bowl of freekah salad.

What’s freekah salad, I had to ask, apart from being delicious that is. Apparently freekah is roasted young grains of green wheat. To make it into a salad, mint, parsley, preserved lemons, Maggie’s famous verjuice, and her almost equally famous quince paste are added, along with some other every day ingredients. Needless to say, along with the recipe I also came home with a bag of goodies ready to make it for myself.

Her farm shop is well laid out with jars and bottles of produce and ample spoons for sampling. The sampling did it’s trick and I couldn’t resist adding a jar of salted caramel, some fig and fennel paste, a jar of mustard dried apricots, and some caramelised onions to my bag of Freekah salad ingredients. I’m looking forward to trying some of the caramelised onions and the mustard dried apricots tonight with some left over cold nut roast, and a freekah salad to go with it. Mmmmm!! I’ll live with hungry anticipation all day I’m sure.

A long time between beaches

We’re now camped alongside the beach at Brighton Caravan Park in Adelaide. It’s very, very pleasant.

It’s been a long time since we were last able to walk along a beach and swim in the sea, not since Broome, in June. We had a very short stay near the coast at Nelson Bay, and a couple of day trips to the coast at both Yamba and Coffs Harbour. It was winter though, and therefore didn’t really count. I don’t think I’ve been away from the coastline for this long before in my whole life, and I don’t think I’m likely to be away from it again for this long a second time. I really missed it!

We’ve now been in Adelaide a week. The heavy duty clutch has been fitted to the car. A made to measure mattress has been ordered for the van. A replacement awning has been organised after our current one was damaged in a hail storm at Pinnaroo. Our Christmas shopping is done, and we’ve both treated ourselves to a bit a of wardrobe update for the coming summer. So that’s all the business taken care of.

Now we can get down to the business we signed up to do when we took on the ‘Grey Nomad’ lifestyle – walking on the beach, swimming, more walking on the beach, a bit of sight seeing, more walking on the beach, reading books, playing cards, meeting people, and of cause, more walking on the beach….

We went into the Botanic Gardens yesterday, a lovely place to walk. Then we met up with Chris (Paul’s 2nd cousin), Clare, Luka and Emma for a light dinner at the surf club next door to the caravan park. Chris and Clare had just completed a ‘tough mudder’, fund raiser (I think that’s what it was called). They both looked normal before the event, and still normal after it. However, I’m sure their looks must be deceiving as from what they told us is involved in the event, you’d have to have rocks in your head to even contemplate it – running through mud, and up steep, slippery, mud and water soaked high walls, diving into and swimming under submerged beams in an ice filled water pond, and scrabbling under live, electric currents where getting shocked was inevitable….. I think it was a couple of hours of what sounds like nightmarish hell to me.

Anyway, they both completed it and didn’t look any worse for it afterwards, and I believe it was all for a very good cause. Kudos to them both and to everyone else who took part in the event. I would never have been capable of completing any such thing at any stage of my life to date, and if there’s lives to follow this one, I’m sure it won’t be on my list of, ‘must do’ things then either, LOL!!

We’ll start having a good look around Adelaide, and this part of South Australia soon, hopefully getting to one of the nearby wine regions sometime later this week. Then, before we know it, Christmas will be here.

We’ll be spending our first Christmas on the road with Chris, Clare, Luka and Emma. They’re coming here for the afternoon, and we’re hoping the weather will be obliging for swimming and perhaps a game of bouchee on the beach before dinner. Of course, if the weather isn’t up to it, we can always suggest a card game of infamous, ‘spoons’. I’ll make sure my finger nails are short….

Last day working for Viterra

LOL!! check out the

We managed another week or so after my last post, and are finishing up today. Paul’s currently in the middle of his last 11 hour shift, I have a five hour shift this afternoon.

It has been an experience, some good, and some not so good. It’s been pleasant to have seen our bank account change direction for a short time. Compared to the rates of pay we’ve been used to in WA, the pay isn’t great by any means, but we both knew we’d left the good money behind when we left Perth. Anyway, this hasn’t been only about the money, and the small amount we’ve earned, together with being occupied and therefore not able to spend anything, has been better than a ‘poke an eye with a pointed stick,’ that’s for sure.

We have met some lovely people here, and we’ve had a snap shot look at some aspects of crop farming, albeit from the distance of wheat silos. The girls I’ve been predominantly working with in the classy hut are from the town. They’ve all finished school and are going to uni in Adelaide next year, and are working to get the money for that. They’re really nice girls, and clearly demonstrate a town that looks out for it’s people. To all the girls and particularly Ellen, whom I’ve probably worked the most with, it’s been a pleasure!

When asking them if they have any interest in settling down in Pinnaroo, not one of them had any obvious distaste at the thought. They’re all wisely open to going where the future takes them, but they have all enjoyed and appreciate the support they’ve had from the town as they’ve grown up. None of them seem to be ‘busting to leave’, that I can see. That says a lot for Pinnaroo – so Pinnaroo, you can be proud, your children do you justice.

The farmers bringing in their crops have all been friendly and pleasant. Our bosses, Troy and Karen, have also both been really nice. They’re both kind hearted and try their hardest to ensure the work is enough to provide reasonable wages, whilst at the same time trying to get sufficient people to cover shifts, without it being too many people with not enough to do. Unfortunately, the nature of the job is that the latter is hard to avoid. Boredom isn’t usually a feeling I’ll subscribe too, as I can usually find something worthwhile to do. However, this time it’s beaten me, and dare I say it – yes, I’ve been bored.

Would I do it again. Probably not. But for people who want to earn a bit of money on their travels, it’s an easy way to do it. At times the work out on site is hard, but most often I believe it’s not. The weigh bridge and classy hut work is not hard at all. If there were to be three times as many trucks, the work would be enjoyable, and some sites perhaps have that. So, for anyone considering it for short term work, I’d say – give it go. You’ll earn a bit of money, you won’t spend much while you’re working, and driving past wheat silos will never be the same again.

Where to next for us. We considered going up to the Riverlands before heading into Adelaide. But we’re both hanging out for sand and surf. So, we’re heading into Adelaide tomorrow, and can’t wait to get into bathers and feel the sand between our toes. By tomorrow afternoon we’ll have washed most of Pinnaroo’s dust off in the Southern ocean. What doesn’t wash off there will blow away with the sea breeze as we walk off one or two too many delicious blueberry scrolls from the Pinnaroo bakery.

Not what I signed up for!

To quote Paul, ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’.

In buying this caravan and becoming a Gray Nomad, our idea was to travel where the wind and whims took us, and we decided we’d do some work on the way around. We decided if we found ourselves in a job we weren’t happy with, ‘we were to be out of there’.

Nine months down the track – We’re in a job that is providing a moderate level of satisfaction for Paul. For me – not so.

Theoretically, the pay should work ok as the week-end pay should bump the rate up. However, last week-end we had a thunder storm that reduced work and resulted in cancelled shifts, and this week-end due to heavy rain Paul’s Saturday shift was reduced to 4 hours, and again all Sunday shifts were cancelled. I didn’t work at all on Saturday, and my shift today was cancelled. Paul has been working since 11am and probably won’t return until 8 or so tonight. He’s helping out on the bunkers at a different sight that is having some staffing difficulties.

For Pinnarro, rain has stopped the harvest, and it won’t start up again until the sun and wind dries it again. Too much rain and it could be ruined altogether. I suspect currently, it’s not looking good.

Yesterday was okay. We knew early enough so we could plan a day out. We went to the nearest bigger town of Loxton, which is around 130 kms away. Being a Sunday, not much was open, but we did find a winery to go to for lunch, and also a lovely historical home to visit.

Today Paul’s at work, I’m at home in the caravan. Pinnaroo has an IGA, a butchers, a news agency and a bakery, but we don’t need any supplies. There are no other shops, no towns nearby, no national parks or beaches near by, in fact there’s absolutely nothing near by except crops of wheat and barley within a 130 km radius of Pinnaroo.

I’ve read, and perused the internet until I’ve just about gone doolally, and am reminded that ‘I didn’t sign up for this’.

Looking at our current Schedule, we have a caravan park booked in Adelaide from 20th December to end of January. Then we have caravan parks booked  around the Great Ocean Road as we make our way to Melbourne to pick up the ferry to Tasmania, which is booked for the 9 March. Then we have flights booked towards mid April for Sydney and the UK, returning early in June. Including our time here at work, that means we have committed more than 8 months of our time with no room for the wind or whims to take us anywhere. Again, not what I signed up for. Grrrr!!!! We manage to do this too often, book our lives away, and get trapped by plans of our own making.

If I sound like I’m having a whinge, that’s because I am. Just a bit ‘over it’ today.

We’re both on afternoon shifts at Pinnaroo tomorrow. Hopefully, the trucks will be rolling in and it’ll be a better day. If not – well, I’ll think about that tomorrow……

Whippy, we’re not at Walpe anymore

We spent about two weeks at Walpeaup. It felt like about two months. I had a couple of 12 hour shifts, and about 8 trucks came through the weigh bridge on each. The first day was just bearable. The second was slightly less interesting than watching grass grow. I don’t mind cleaning kitchens and toilets, and pulling weeds and sweeping up spilt grain. But it does have to be in the right percentage to the real work.

We had decided to quit, but our bosses Karen and Troy said we were needed back at Pinnaroo. So, back we’ve come.

Paul has worked everyday since coming back, I’ve worked everyday except two. The season was just starting to get going, and then we had a thunder storm. The crops got wet, and the farmers had to wait for the sun and wind to dry them out again before the harvest could re-commence. So, we’ve had another couple of days that made watching paint dry seem thrilling in comparison. These were only seven hour days though, so not quite as mind numbing as the 12 hour days at Walpe.

Today, the trucks were coming in again, so the day passed reasonably well.

I don’t think the seasons going to be very long. We’re expecting to leave for Adelaide no later than 20 December, but if the season starts to die down sooner, we’ll leave sooner.

Whether or not we’ll return to this work again next year is still to be decided. Currently the feeling is a definite ‘no’, but that’s because the long, tedious days are still too close in our memory. A week or so with so many trucks coming and going that we hardly have time to scratch ourselves, and perhaps we’ll be more open to the idea of returning. The pay is okay, and it definitely is for a short, finite period of time.

Same job, different site

We were transferred from Pinnaroo in SA to Walpeup in Victoria. The towns are just over 100 kms apart.

Walpeup is a much smaller site, with a small staff, and no boss. By the end of the week, when we expect to be in full swing. We’ll have 4 couples, plus three single guys working here. We’re all around the same age and work out our shifts and what we’re each doing between us.

Being so small, we set the opening hours according to the demand of the farmers and their crops. Last week we opened at 7am for a 7.30 start, and closed at 3.30pm. By Wednesday of this week we expect we’ll be opening at 6.30am for a 7am start and closing around 6.30pm. Expectations are we’ll be doing 12 hour days, 6 days a week. The site will be open 7 days, and we’ll rotate so as to get one day off each week, with couples taking the same day.

I can’t say the work’s that pleasant for the guys as they’re out in the hot sun and wind and a lot of their work is very physical. They all seem to be enjoying it though, and I think that’s because they know they’re only here for a short time. Us girls work between the sampling office and the weigh bridge, both air conditioned. It could be boring, but as we also all get on well, and again, it’s only for a short time, so all very bearable, and even enjoyable.

Walpeup caravan park is small and in comparison to Pinnaroo is more like a roadside one nighter. There is power though, and a very clean toilet and shower for both men and woman. The town of Walpeup is tiny with only a general store, and if comparing it to Pinnaroo, Pinnaroo seems like a grand metropolis.

We drove 130 kms to Mildura yesterday so as to stock up our fridge and freezer from a big supermarket. The freezer is so full now i’m struggling to find room for ice trays. It’ll only take a couple of days though for that to start reducing. We do have another town, Ouyen, about 30 kms away, and there’s a small supermarket there. So, we shouldn’t have to use the general store too often.

We’re learning a lot about the lives other people live – in this case farmers, and seasonal workers. We drive past crop fields, and silos so often without giving them a second thought, and selfishly complain if the heat or wind, or rain affects our personal comfort level. We’re now getting an up close look at the effects of the weather on the livelihood of people working the land.

We all know how much farmers depend on rain to plant and water their crops. Now the crops are ready for harvest though too much rain will be disastrous. When a loaded wheat truck arrives we sample the wheat, testing for all sorts of things, one of which is moisture content. A higher moisture content will result in a down grade, so less money for the farmer. Too much moisture and the crop will be rejected altogether. A big deluge could result in complete devastation, and a wasted year for the farmers costing them potentially millions. Heat and warm winds are vital during harvest as it drys the crops out.

The wheat already delivered and piled up in the bunkers is best left uncovered to prevent condensation, so we keep a close eye on weather reports. Any sizeable expected rainfall and the guys carry out the mammoth and difficult task of tarping over the wheat stacks. Friday night it rained unexpectedly and heavily. We were awake hoping our wheat wasn’t being drowned and ruined. A quick check Saturday morning though determined it hadn’t been as drenching a rain fall as feared, and the wheat should make it to next years loaves of bread.

Farmers are a tough bread. We’ve been here for only a few weeks and the harsh reality of how they have to soldier on, when life becomes difficult is already apparent.

This week a young farmer from the district lost his life tragically when a wheat silo collapsed on him. All of the farmers visiting our site knew him, played cricket with him, went to school with him, know his family etc, but emotions are put to one side as crops have to be harvested. They cannot afford to stop to grieve immediately. Maybe they put it on the back burner for when time allows. But when you and I depend on their crops to put food on our tables, and they depend on the harvesting of the crops to put food on their tables, both they, and we cannot afford for them to give in to emotions. Their crops don’t wait and can’t be put on hold.

When people say farmers are the salt of the earth, now I can relate. They deserve both our respect and our admiration. They have mine.

Time for the dreaded 4 letter word

Here we are in Pinnaroo, a little wheat belt town almost at the border of South Australia (SA) and Victoria, on the SA side. We’re here for a couple of months for that dreaded thing called ‘WORK’.

We arrived last Wednesday and are staying in the local caravan park. To say it wouldn’t win awards would be an understatement, but that’s awards for being the best, or the worst of caravan parks. It’s adequate for it’s clientele which is predominantly seasonal workers. We are luckier than many here for the wheat season in that our caravan is self contained and we don’t have to use the amenities. There’s also a considerable amount of backpackers here working on the potato crops.

We did our compulsory induction last Friday, which is the usual type of box ticking induction to say the company has followed due process in relation to safety training. Paul went in yesterday to the Bunker trainer induction, and is in again today helping to get the bunkers ready for the crops when they start coming into the silos. The expectation is this will commence next week. So, between our on line training, both inductions and Paul’s shift today we’ve more than covered this weeks expenses and our bank account should have altered direction from it’s downward spiral.

It’s up around 40 degrees today and Paul will be outside working on hot concrete in the open. I wonder if it’ll mean a short end to our careers on the wheat silos! I suspect not – he’s built of sturdy stuff is ‘my Paul’. I do feel for him though, it must be a rude finish to that which has been an idealic eight months. I’m sitting inside the caravan with the air conditioning blasting away and writing this.

We are yet to find out what our main jobs will be. Indications are Paul will be operating the Hopper, which we think is where the wheat is unloaded and which then transports the wheat along to be unloaded into the bunker. I think I’m going to be entering the data in relation to the grade of wheat and completing the paperwork for the farmers, and on occasion operating the weigh bridge. I’ll be predominantly in an air conditioned office. As yet though, it’s all about as clear as mud, but time will bring clarification to the process of work on the wheat silos I’m sure.

We’ll be working shifts alternating between 6.30am to 3pm shift for the first week, and 2.30pm till the last truck is processed on the second week. The trucks have to be in the queue by 8.30pm but often it can be as late as midnight when the processing and clean up is finished. We’ll be working 6 days a week. But, it’s only for a couple of months and with shift allowances and penalty rates hopefully it’ll go a long way to paying for our UK and Italian holiday next year.

We each have uniforms, boots, hard hats etc supplied. Mine were the wrong size so I’m waiting for replacements. When mine arrives I’ll post some real ‘glamour photos’ of us both in our top of head to tip of toe, high viz cover up clothing. No reason why you can’t all have a laugh with us, and at us in our cat walk gear!!