ARCHIVES 1997-2007  --- ARCHIVES 2007 +

JULY  2010.


The Birdsville track is a dirt road that joins the town of Birdsville in Queensland to the town of Marree in South Australia.  It passes through the Lake Eyre catchment area.  Since the days of Captain Cook Lake Eyre has been mostly a salt pan, partially filling up about once every few decades,  It was built in the early days of European settlement as a Cattle trail for drovers to bring stock from the Barkly Tablelands down to the markets in South Australia.  There are artesian bores dotted along it's length to facilitate droving.  Without research, but from my count, I would guess that traffic on the track was about six cars a day.

I drove my Yaris from Sydney to Marree via Menindee, Broken Hill, Port Augusta, then north along the Birdsville track to Mungaranee station then to Birdsville, across to Charleville, then down through Bourke and back to Sydney.  This is the story of that journey.

I stopped over with friends at Neville (Near Barvennon) and Condobolin (my original home) on the first two nights.  From Condo I drove through Lake Cargellicoe and then across to Menindee.  The road from Ivanhoe to Menindee is good gravel, however there are stock grids along the road, where the road narrows.  About 5 KM from Menindee around dusk I did not see a grid until quite late.  At about 100KPH I managed to slide between the gates without touching them, but then went into a full broadside slide and ended up off the road.

I might remark at this point that since I have changed over to FWD (front wheel drive) vehicles about 20 years ago I have been involved in two earlier sideways slides.  A slide in a FWD seem to be
inherently less stable than in a rear wheel drive.  This is probably because in a FWD that has started to slide, the front wheels feel the braking force of the engine, while the back wheels do not.  Consequently the rear of the car has a lower resistance to travel than the front of the car, which means that the car becomes more likely to turn "broadside".  In a rear wheel drive the rear wheels produce drag (something like the feathers on an arrow) that tends to keep the car aligned with the direction of travel.  Car manufacturers could rectify this instability by installing a device that automatically applied either a braking effort to the rear wheels or applied a slight acceleration to the engine (or some combination of the two) whenever the foot was removed from the accelerator.

The slide broke the rim to rubber seal on the front and rear tyres of the drivers side of the car.  Those tyres were now flat.  I put the spare on the front, and after attempting to pump up the rear tyre drove the remaining five KM as indicated on the GPS to a caravan park in Menindee.

Next morning the caravan park owner pumped up the tyre I had replaced.  The rear tyre was a writeoff.  I continued on to Broken Hill, stopping on the way to view a Menindee lake which was to the south of the road.  It was an impressively large body of water, as can be seen on Google Earth.  (Just type "Menindee" into the search box of Google Earth.)  The lakes are west of the town of Menindee.

Broken Hill is a "must see" town.  It is a part of Australian history, being the birthplace of BHP-Billiton, one of the largest mining companies in the world of 2010.  It is quite large (population about 20,000).  There are mines (pits) throughout the town, lots of trades halls with socialist type names, and a McDonald's concession with wifi.

My fourth night on the road was spent at a caravan park in Port Augusta (MacDonalds and wifi again).  Next morning I bought water and food against the eventuality of a breakdown in the desert.  Then I headed for Marree.  I stopped for lunch at the company town of Leigh Creek.   Leigh Creek has a lot in common with another company town that I once visited, Jabiru in Kakadu.  Both are architect laid out towns rather than the usual ramshackle organic growth layouts.  Leigh Creek is the dormitory town for the miners of brown coal a few KM north.  The brown coal goes by rail to the power station at Port Augusta.  Normally it would be cheaper to produce the electricity at the coalfield.  In this case the need for cooling water was probably the deciding factor.  Leigh Creek coal mine is located in a semi-arid region.

Then I continued up to Lyndhurst where I called in at the roadhouse at the start of the Strzelecki track.  The advice there was that the track was not recommended for a 2WD vehicle.

At Marree I called in at the petrol station mentioned in an earlier blog.  The attendant was still female (I think the same person), but from her response when I began to talk about caravan parks to stay it occurred to me that somebody might have mentioned my earlier blog, where she recommended husband Eric's caravan park without mention of their relationship.  She advised rather huffily that there was a family camping business nearby and that the Birdsville track was open to anything.

It was still daylight, so I started off up the track.  The south end of the Birdsville track was good quality dirt road.  Some time later I arrived at a detour sign.  This detour was to the Cooper's creek ferry.  Global warming has increased the rainfall away from the equator for monsoon areas. (For instance, increased rainfall is also being experienced in the Sahel area of Africa as the Sahara desert retreats northwards.)  As a consequence the saltpan we call Lake Eyre is being filled with water from Cooper's creek.  So we cannot drive across the dry Cooper's creek riverbed any more.

Shortly after nightfall I arrived at Cooper's creek.  It was in flood, about 100 meters across.  Not a clearly defined riverbank.  Lovely colours from the just set sun.  The ferry had stopped for the night.  Back up the road a couple of KM the ferrymen were camped.  So I put the seat into recline and slept.

Next morning I woke at 7.30 and the ferry was ready to go.  It was a single car ferry, probably wouldn't take anything bigger than a single medium sized 4WD.  Trailers would have to be taken separately.  A couple of hours later I arrived at the Mungerannie pub.  There were about ten people there.  I asked for a newspaper, and got a laugh.  Then I said "what about the internet?" and was told they couldn't get it working for the last couple of years.  So I got it working for them for a cup of coffee and a hot shower.

I was warned by some of the travelers from up north about a creek crossing the road that was unexpectedly deep.  So after a while I started out again, and headed for Birdsville.  I came to a rather small ford about an hour later, and figured that was it.  The road was becoming quite rough.  Lots of quite large stones were gathered in ridges along the centre of the wheel tracks.  To avoid those hitting the sump, I had to slow down somewhat (to 70 KPH) and drive with my wheels on the stones.

Then I came to the ford that they had warned me about.  I walked through it first, and then drove across on the western (downstream) side of the road.  A few bad minutes of slipping, but photographed the ford after I crossed it.  Then on to Birdsville.  The road was a mixed bag, in places it had been newly graded around (new) swamps, some places there were large stones.  In one section smooth grading turned into long and high bumps very abruptly.  I had been at 100 KPH and started flying until I managed to brake somewhat, which is a somewhat hazardous exercise on a dirt road that is bending  and bucking.

Birdsville was green.  It has a pub, a bakery, no supermarket, a service station and a quite comprehensive looking caravan park.  Over a coffee in the pub I learned that Birdsville was normally desert, the daily papers were not available, and that the bakery shop did Kangaroo pies.  The bakery had kangaroo pies which I do not recommend.  I eat a lot of Kangaroo meat, usually Kangaroo fillet purchased from Coles or Woolworths.  (I started eating Kangaroo in revenge for all my fences the wild ones knocked down.  I do not want to eat beef or mutton because I rather like cows and sheep.  I now only eat Kangaroo meat.)  My preferred method of cooking Kangaroo is to slice the fillet into thin strips then brown it on a dry cast iron pan.  Then add a small quantity of water to make a thin gravy and serve as is.

Since it was still only about 5PM on Sunday I continued to drive.  I got to Charleyville while it was still daylight, and after a quick coffee in the Charleyville pub continued on.  (What is it about West Queensland that they name towns after slang names for women?) then (no petrol being available) continued on to Sydney, hoping to buy petrol further on.  No such luck, I had an empty tank at 4AM just 15KM (by the GPS) from the town of Quilpie.

Next morning someone going the wrong way (west) responded to me waving him down.  He drove me to his place of work about 5KM further west, where I attempted to negotiate purchase of 5 litres of petrol.  Interestingly, the farmer/landowner engaged in the business of "charcoal burning".   I had read of this profession.  Wood is heated (usually burnt) with insufficient oxygen.  The fire is smothered at the point where most of the volatile gases have been driven off, leaving a carbon (charcoal) residue.  Wikipedia shows how this is done in India, by building a pyramid of wood, then covering it with a mud chimney, then burning until charcoal is produced.  I asked to see the process in Queensland.  It was done by digging a 2-3 meter wide and deep hole, filling it with wood and then doing a controlled burn using corrugated iron sheets over the hole as a means of restricting oxygen.

Some time after I continued on.  The road from Bourke to Dubbo is good, but watch out for Kangaroos after sunset.  There is an overnight drive through MacDonalds in Dubbo, but with a somewhat restricted menu.  I catnapped near Wellington and reached Sydney Monday morning.


The news from Europe is that Bourkas are being made illegal.  As a libertarian I believe that to be a mistake.  My solution would be that European governments enact a "Quid Pro Quo" law,   Under that law, anybody who chose to wear a Bourka would have to prove that they came from a liberal country that did not force visitors to conform to their own cultural concept of "appropriate" clothing.   So somebody from say Jordan could wear a bourka so long as they carried appropriate identification.  If they were from Saudi Arabia, then they would not be permitted, on pain of a $1000 fine and/or jail, to wear face or hair covering. 


The government and Greens castigate the Liberal's refusal to allow refugees to immigrate as "inhuman".   I personally think that they should be allowed to immigrate.  However I am satisfied that a majority of fellow Australians think otherwise.  They probably fear (with some justice) that those immigrants might overload our overly generous social security system.  Of course the appropriate response would be to reduce Social Security, but no government would survive such an attempt.

However I agree that it would be inhuman to return them to their country of origin if they were in danger from such an action.  So yes, I would vote to give them a working visa until circumstances in their country of origin improved, at which time they could return.  It is evident from the decrease in boat people landing in Australia that it was the reward of Australian citizenship that was attracting refugees, not the push of fear.  The push of fear only needs sanctuary, it does not require a reward.


Last August (see subheading Representative Democracy) I asked some questions about the release of the Lockerbie mastermind.  Like I suggested then, perhaps somebody should have a look at the financial affairs of all those involved in that release, including the doctor and the politicians.  If they have been enriched (and it should be fairly obvious if they have) then they should lose the lot and go to jail for life.  And that money should be recaptured from any descendants who might benefit.  That old idea from the ancient roman empire, (where if a traitor fell on his sword, his estate was left intact,) was a fairly efficient system when you think out the ramifications.


The election has just been called.  Apparently the odds are with Julia Gillard.  I cannot see why.  Labour is known to be hopeless.  And Julia has one personal $14 billion failure, the BER.  Since Tony has an image problem, maybe he should just be positive about the stuff he will do, not personally attack Julia or Labour, let his party do that.


It is now the end of July and as I predicted (last month see fourth paragraph) would happen
when an election was called, Julie is toast.  Murdoch must have rubbed his hands with glee when the Sussex Street boys spilled Rudd.  It is truly amazing how short is the memory of the public for the sequence of events.  Rudd's fall from public grace was a long drawn out affair.  If he were still PM he might still have recovered from all the shite.  But nobody seems to see the chains of causality leading to his downfall.

In retrospect the takedown of Howard was far more subtle.  The why is easy.  "Work Choices" was very good for workers and for small business, and I had thought that it was mostly neutral for big business and only bad for the union bosses.   On further reflection such is not the case.  Small business is the natural competitor of big business, and it is only by extreme government regulation that most big business manages to survive.  For instance, how would Coles and Woollies do against smaller competitors if our government did not regulate where shops could be opened?   Other regulations that hinder small business are the huge amounts of paperwork that must be submitted on a regular schedule.   This equation of government regulation helping big business is true for just about all big business.  Think Home Building corporations, medical centres, education, the list goes on.  The reason why governments favour big business is money.  Big business pays big taxes, big wage packets to unionists, and big contributions to party coffers.

And why is Work Choices good for small business?  Because in good times small business will be very reluctant to put on new employees if they cannot be easily released if there is a downturn.  It is far more important for workers that there be lots of employment than that their working conditions be regulated.  If there are more employers seeking workers then working conditions will improve in an attempt to attract employees.

So that is why Howard had to go.  With big business bosses and the union bosses cmbined and anti Howard, it only needed Rupert to provide the "how".   The "how" of the takedown was far more subtle.  Johnny was a careful and prudent player who made very few policy mistakes.  Not enough mistakes to amount to a sackable insult.  It wasn't "Work Choices" that killed John Howard.  Instead Kevin was promoted as a younger and more adventurous version of Howard, and enough Australians swallowed that storyline to make a change.

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