14 May 2007


Some Labour party stalwarts have been reported in the press as making an issue of the fact that productivity of the workforce, since the instigation of workplace agreements, has declined.

Lets try to make this simple. Consider the case of a factory making widgets. Productivity is the number of widgets produced by the factory per annum divided by the number of workers producing those widgets.

The introduction of Australian Workplace Agreements has changed an economic fundamental. Now an employer can employ a new worker without worrying, if there were to be a downturn, or if the worker were a dud, whether he would be stuck with an unsackable worker.

So employers have employed new workers, because they anticipated that AWAs would improve the economy, and wanted to prepare by training new workers.

So the factory that had 20 workers producing 2,000 widgets a year suddenly had 21 workers still only producing 2,000 widgets a year. So productivity went from 100 widgets per worker per year to 95.24widgets per worker per year. Productivity has thus fallen by nearly 5%.

It must be the fault of AWAs. Well yes, it most certainly is. So is the rise in employment. Which rise, multiplied across the workforce has increased consumer spending, which means more people will eventually buy widgets, and so the cycle of prosperity continues.

Of course anybody who devotes some thought to the matter realizes that it is unadulterated self interest that motivates those Labour party stalwarts. Significant Labour party funding is tendered by unionist management, who derive their salaries (and those tendered ALP contributions) from union fees, which are shrinking as union membership declines because of AWAs.

And the rank and file? Most that I have talked to are happy. They have increased wages. They can see that there is a shortage of workers. They do not believe that the days of the "Shearer's strike" could return, but if it did, well they would form a new union.


Port Douglas was a welcome rest. I found shared accommodation (in with 2 German boys) for $21/night. An internet lounge allowed ethernet connection of my laptop for $2.50/(30 minutes). The airconditioning wasn't really necessary. PD was a hive of activity, real estate is in short supply, new buildings everywhere. Lots of Yachts in port, empty malls, dreadful coffee (except at one location, a combined bookshop/coffeeshop on the main street.) I was told that accommodation would not be available from that weekend, because some sort of festival was starting, and the "stingers" would be gone next week. (Stingers are some sort of jellyfish whose sting is often fatal to humans.)

I headed for nearby (1 hour away) Cairns. Cairns has some of the advantages of a big city, (cheap internet, even wifi). The beach here is a mudslick. Shared accommodation (at least that week) was either unavailable or too expensive (around $30).

In the outback, camping charges for a single person are about $8-$10 per night. Along the eastern seaboard from Sydney to Cooktown, for whatever reasons, a single and double campsite are nearly always combined, so the cost for a single camper is generally about $18-$22 per night. As a consequence I mostly seek shared (dormitory) accommodation, which provides clean sheets and a bed, better cooking facilities, air conditioning, no mosquitos or flies, TV, sometimes internet, and weatherproof shelter. I have pointed out these differences to several campsite owners, but they refuse to reduce their rates. Consequently I generally end up in one of the free campsites provided along the highways, which lack showers and closeness to shopping and rapacious campsite owners.

Next destination was Cooktown. The road has been upgraded to all bitumen, and is an easy 4 hours from Cairns. Same rapacious caravan parks, and no space for backpackers, so I headed for a free out-of-town campsite that I had been told of on the "qt". That campsite turned out to be quite idyllic, right on the seashore, waves crashing about 5 meters away, onshore winds that kept insects away. Palm trees and A few family campers (including an extended family group) were scattered about, fishing boats moored a few eters offshore. I was told that the best fishing was on the reef, about 5 kilometers out.

Next morning in Cooktown, then on to the aboriginal settlement at Hope Vale. A warning near the entry not to carry more than 2 litres wine or equivalent onto the community under threat of a $70k fine. Then a welcome. This had all the trappings of a showcase community. It was not a large town, perhaps 4-6 blocks, each with 10-20 houses that were well constructed and for the most fairly well maintained houses on large (half acre?) blocks. Happy picaninies running about the streets with assorted levels of clothing (down to zero). Quite respectable 4WD vehicles parked at most of the houses, most of which had dish antenna. An attractive school, a brightly decorated police station completed the picture of urban bliss.

Another night at my free campsite, then next morning back towards Cairns. I stopped for the night at Kuranda at the "Kuranda Backpackers hostel". It was nearly empty, I paid $19 for a bed in a dorm with 12 beds and no other people. The hostel is a huge oldfashioned "Queenslander" style wooden building. Kuranda is an attractive town, having a contrived village atmosphere, and seemingly filled with penurious artists. There are several shops and markets which sell handmade pottery & jewelery, paintings and artefacts. Quite reasonable coffee can be obtained on the corner coffee shop near the tourist "I" park.

The tourist attraction at Kaunda is the "Barron Falls". I drove to the viewing area and observed a thin thread of water falling about 100 meters. Lovely mountainous valley, but not much waterfall.

Then on to the big smoke, Cairns.


  1. A warning near the entry not to carry more than 2 litres wine or equivalent onto the community under threat of a $70k fine.

    Did you have to dump your stash? :)

    Comment by Ally — 21 May 2007

  2. LOVE YOU!


    Comment by Viola — 31 May 2007

10 May 2007

Darwin, Kimberleys, Isa & Karumba.

Darwin was hot and humid. I had arrived late April, which was a tad too early. However I explored a little.

To the northwest of the downtown area is the suburb called Larrakeyah where it appears the wealthy live. There is an enclosed harbor with a lock, and residences fronting onto that harbor with wharves chockablock full of yachts. The lock was presumably because the "king" tides here are nine meters higher than lowest tides. A small retail block fronting the enclosed harbor seemed to be struggling to survive. The only business that seemed to have a chance of success was the restaurant/coffee shop. I think they had better improve the quality of the coffee. What many would be retailers probably fail to understand is that rich people did not get rich by paying inflated prices for the staples of life, and mostly they do know what good coffee tastes like.

Around mid-April accommodation in Darwin was at a premium because the Arafura games were due to start in May, and the various teams were arriving in Darwin early to acclimatize.

I next drove into Kakadu, a distance of about 250 km mostly east of Darwin. Kakadu is a very large park about half the size of Tasmania. To it's east is Arnhem land, which is even larger, probably about half the size of the Australian state of Victoria. Arnhem Land occupies the NE corner of the Northern Territory. White Australians must ask the local Aboriginals for permission to enter Arnhem land. Kakadu has one largish town about 1000 population named Jabiru, which is actually a mining town, mostly owned by the Rum Jungle mining company. It is not possible to purchase real estate in Jabiru. During the day, Aboriginals are much in evidence in the commercial district. Jabiru has what seems to be an Architect designed shopping complex, (much like that at Leigh Creek) and has extremely expensive tourist accommodation (tent sites start at $35/night).

Much of Kakadu (like much of the NT, much of North Queensland, much of SA and much of WA) is only accessible by 4WD. I was driving a front wheel drive 92 model Camry sedan. The Camry was great at quite high speeds on the bitumen roads, where 4WD, with the streamlining of a brick, must crawl along at around 90 - 110 KPH.

I continued a further 80 KM on to a map location called "Border Store", which is across the river from Arnhem land. Border store turned out to be just that, an apparently abandoned store a few hundred meters from the East Alligator river. There are three rivers in Kakadu: the West Alligator River, the South Alligator River, & the East Alligator River The East Alligator River forms the border with Arnhem Land. There are crocodile warnings near just about every bit of water that I saw in Kakadu. There is a campsite called Merl near Border Store where the campsite charge is $4.50 pp. Near Merl there are a couple of very good tourist walks. I met an Aboriginal ranger at one of those walks who explained quite entertainingly various aspects of Aboriginal culture.

Next stop was Katherine, the third largest town in the NT. (10,000 ppl) Katherine is an important tourist and beef production center. I found an internet cafe - coffee shop - artifact shop operated by an Aboriginal. He charged $3 for a rather ordinary coffee, and gave 15 minutes internet with it. He was happy to let me connect with my laptop. His artifacts were reasonably priced, (comparable in price and quality with the Alice Springs Aboriginals or the shop at Jabiru). Artifacts shops in Darwin, Alice Springs and Port Douglas are (to my admittedly unprofessional eye) expensive tourist traps. At the time there was a petrol price war in Katherine, and petrol from the Woolworths outlet was around $1.20/litre, which compared well with about $1.40/litre in Darwin.

From Katherine I drove to Lake Argyle in the Kimberleys of Western Australia. The Kimberleys have been so named because landforms there are similar to the landforms around the diamond and gold Kimberley mining area of South Africa. Like the original Kimberleys, the region has diamond mines that produce large quantities of high quality diamonds. Lake Argyle exists by virtue of a dam on the Ord River. The lake has flooded the Durack station. (for a history of the area, read "kings in Grass Castles" by Mary Durak). Lake Argyle is about 80Km long, and is the largest freshwater lake in Australia. The flow out of Lake Argyle was miniscule. I was told it was not being used for irrigation. It seemed to have electricity generation capability.

I next visited Kunamurra (population about 20,000) some 50 KM downstream, and then the surrounding Ord river irrigation areas to the North (up to the Ivanhoe crossing), and South (to Split rock cafe). There were signs about the size of Barramundi that could be caught (not less than 55 cm, not more than 80cm) and fishermen and their children were standing in the river, despite the crocodile warning signs posted a few meters away. I was told that the water for the extensive irrigation in the region comes from the Durham River which meets the Ord near the Kunamurra Diversion dam, which dam forms a lake on the southern edge of Kunamurra. The diversion dam is on the western side of Kunamurra. A local explained that even though the Ord was not used for water, it had to be dammed to prevent the annual floods that would have inundated the town and the region. The irrigated land is a dark (alluvial) soil, in contrast to the mostly ochre soils of the Kimberleys.

Then back to Katherine. The countryside in the region between Katherine and Kunamurra is sparsely settled. The soils are ocher, and most of the Eucalypts were neither large nor a recognizable variety of box. The tallest eucalypt I recall anywhere in the NT would not have exceeded about 15 meters, although the Boab trees near Kunamurra were quite bulky. (In the NSW tablelands and plains, such stunted, non box variety eucalypts are generally taken as a sign of poor country.) There is only one town of perhaps a few hundred people midway in the approximately 500 kilometers that separates Katherine from Kunamurra.

My next destination was Port Douglas, Queensland. First stop was about 500 KM south at the "Three Ways Roadhouse", which is about 25 KM North of the rich gold mining town of Tennant Creek (Tennant Creek is the 4th largest town in the N. territory with about 3,000 population).

From the Three Ways Roadhouse I traveled East for about 550KM to Mt Isa, just inside the Queensland border. I was warned that the speed limit was 110 KPH, that there were 53 meter road trains, and that I should allow one kilometer of clear road before attempting to overtake a road train.

That set me to thinking. The Northern Territory is 130 KPH country. NT Road trains are up to 53.5 meters long, and seem not to exceed 100 KPH. When overtaking, the law in Australia is that the overtaking vehicle must not exceed the local speed limit. The calculation of the clear road vision for overtaking is not difficult. Allowing 10 meters fore and aft of a road train, (to avoid "cutting in") and allowing 6 meters for the overtaking vehicle length, a vehicle passing a road train must be in the opposing traffic lane while passing (53.5+10+10+6) ~ 80 meters of road train and clearances. If the overtaking vehicle is in the NT then it can travel 30 KPH faster than the road train, which is (30×1000/3,600) ~ 8.5 meters/second faster than the road train, and it would take nearly 10 seconds to pass the road train. At 130 KPH a vehicle travels about 350 meters in 10 seconds. This means that for safety, an overtaking vehicle driver should not overtake if he does not have a clear view of the road ahead for at least twice that distance plus a "frontal" (noscare) clearance of 200 meters, which amounts to (2×350+200) say 900 meters.

After doing those calculations I was quite shocked to find that the Queensland government, with a maximum speed limit of 110 KPH, recommends allowing only 1 kilometer to overtake a 53 meter long road train. By a similar calculation to that above, an overtaking vehicle in Queensland would require at least 2.3 kilometers of clear road to safely overtake a road train.

After Mount Isa I drove North about 500 KM to Karumba which is located at the bottom of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Karumba is a prime tourist destination for fishermen in the dry season, perhaps because the gulf is rich in Barramundi. The owner of the park, his wife confided, took fishermen out from April to September, then moved for the summer to another caravan park in South Australia, and fished there. Sounds pretty idyllic (if you like fishing) to me.

Then 600 km east to Atherton, where I found a campsite and spent a cold, wet & uncomfortable night. Atherton tablelands are another fabulous agricultural region. Plenty of water, and rich soil.

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