Getting used to Australia, again …

24 juni

I arrive, make my way off the plane and with some anxiety await my ‘oversized baggage’ to be disgorged from the bowels of MH 125 somehow terrified that the trailer may be squashed, the axel which protruded from the bike-box bent, or some other calamity.

There are non.

I take my dutifully filled customs forms and approach customs. No denying the massive bike-box, large jet black bag which comes with the Ziflex, nor the Ziflex itself in its own carry case. The bike-box is so large I need to stand it on its end to manoeuver it through the race leading to … customs.

On the plane I had considered the question … “Goods obtained overseas or purchased duty and/or tax free in Australia with a combined total price of more than AUD$900, including gifts?”

Hmmm … I have something like 10000 AUD$ of “Good obtained overseas … ” and no waaay to avoid drawing attention to this fact.

I approach customs and mention this. The young dude ooohs and aaaahs and asks many questions.

That a bike can exceed 8000 AUD$ befuddles him a bit. As does the Australian passport. To him I am a returning citizen. Whereas I see myself as a tourist who happens to be Australian and who plans to ride a bike around Australia.

I am directed to and stationed at some lonely spot well away from the melee of passengers transporting baggage which for sure exceeded mine in total volume making their way through customs. The young customs dude was quite a bit out of his comfort zone and kept migrating between me in my lonely spot and a small counter some 20 m away where other customs officers languidly watch the procession of passengers make their way out. Slyly I make my way closer and closer to the counter in the expectation that I am going to be saddled with enormous customs bill for bringing in the Santos and the rest of the stuff and I wanna influence such an outcome by presenting my case directly to the people who seem to be deciding my fate.

I don’t make it to the counter. Young customs dude comes back and lets me go sans cost, complete with a warm welcoming smile.

I weave my way through the obstacle course of the various races and automatic doors and, finally, after a near 10 year absence I am in Perth Western Australia.

It is mid-winter. Sweat trickles down my back as I wheel my baggage outside in blinding sunshine and a clear blue sky. The ground staff all wear shorts.
Hmmm … perhaps I over packed …

29 juni

Winter camping Western Australia. Practicing in my dad’s yard. Pitched the tent, unfurled the self-inflating sleeping mat, laid out the sleeping bag and prepared to ‘do’ a winter’s night in Perth Western Australia.

Baz's back yard. Winter. Apparently
Baz’s back yard. Winter. Apparently

Started off with the socks the thermals the Buff the mutts the gloves inside a (Scandic) summer sleeping bag. I end up naked with the sleeping bag as a duvet.
Hmmm … proof I’ve over packed?

30 juni

I ride 74 km, dooown the long hill following the old railway line (Railway Heritage Trail) and into Perth to begin a bemusing hunt for cycling stuff: “Well, in Perth we don’t really do a lot of (cycle) touring … ), returning via the looong uphill back to Glen Forrest. Getting there getting there … Soon I’ll be fully armed & operational & lacking any excuse to delay starting. 300 m ascent on the way back. Rode back in the dark which was a useful experience. Seems I should have got Santos to put the flashy, if very expensive, front light on. May try to get it done here.

I’ve been in Perth a week.

Alzheimer’s is not a pleasant disease. It is insidious and quite a subtle insidiousness at that. Baz repeatedly asks the same question and does not remember things he’s done, nor even the way home if he’s not on a tried and trusted path, although he can still drive safely without a problem. I suspect it’s going to increasingly get worse at a faster rate.

Winter here is mystifying. Not sure whether to actually call it a winter. For sure it’s damp with humidity reaching into the 90s. For sure the days are (kinda) short, but then again they are never long. For sure it rains, mixing fine drizzle with short intense downfalls.

Then the sun comes out and it is hot in the sun, which is a distinctly non-winter sensation for me.

And then there’s the subtle implicit message about Perth’s winter from how the locals live it. No better start than my parents Baz & Roz.

Baz’s house has no real heating, just a single gas heater which warms your ass if you happen to stand near it. All windows are the most basic of single glazing in cute wood frames. Perhaps there’s insulation in the roof but am not sure. Doors to the outside do close but can hardly be said to be an effective barrier to the weather outside. There are gaps everywhere which allow a near constant sense of drafts and wafting air.

Yet the house is not that uncomfortable. The ambient temperature hovering in the mid to late teens.

Here’s Baz & I on a short walk near his house. Note the harsh winter climate.

Baz & I in the winter's sun
Baz & I in the winter’s sun
Baz's local bush track
Baz’s local bush track
Baz's local bush track
Baz’s local bush track
Marri trucks, known as Red Gums
Marri trees, known as Red Gums

Cob, my brother, is a Farmer or Cocky as they are called here, with 146 Ha (more or less) in Northam, 100 km due east of Perth along the Great Eastern Highway.

The face of Farming
The face of Farming
Cob's farm, Northam
Cob’s farm, Northam

He’s got a 120 head of cattle, three sons, some horses, a bunch of dogs, even more chickens spread across three very distinct tribal groups, two geese, cats, one sheep and more Mad Max cars trucks tractors quads bikes and so on than I could count.

Brendan ... every kid needs a good friend
Brendan … every kid needs a good friend
Cob & Long Horn
Cob & Long Horn

Then there’s the house, the sheds, the worksheds, the chook pens … it goes on and on and on. His hands are a series of potatoes glued somewhat inelegantly onto a large semi-oval lump of thick hard leather.

Max, the farmer?
Max, the farmer?

Camped out for the last few nights. First time I dressed for dark freezing conditions. Ended up naked with the sleeping as a duvet! Gonna be interesting taking on the Australian winter. It is HOT here. God knows what am gonna do when it’s real summer.

01 juli

Perth. Just how to describe Perth. This is the first time since the late 80s that I am actually interacting with Perth. Normally I stay but a week or so, enjoy being pampered and leave before I understand just what the place is all about.

But coz of organising my bike trip I’ve really had to go to a whole new level (for me at least). Very informative. People are friendly and willing to help. They are much more willing to express excitement and interest particularly as it seems I’m planning to do something that’s not a common aspect of Perthian lifestyle.

This has led to a lot of running around for really basic stuff, like a non-inflatable sleeping mat, small cargo net suitable for a bike trailer, solar panel chargers also suitable for a bike and so on.

Key message: We don’t do bike trips! Therefore we don’t stock ‘small’ stuff.

Everyone tries to help (with Harvey Norman the one exception though they were not impolite or anything).

And then there’s the weather … if this is winter God help me when summer comes along.

Then there is Dad. Alzheimer’s is a funny disease in an odd sort of way. In many ways Baz is fine and healthy and great. Only his memory is simply not there. Repeatedly asks the same question. Literally from one second to the next he can forget what I’ve told him, like “Turn right at the junction”. As we approach the junction he puts the left indicator on or asks which direction.

He even does not remember or realise that he has forgotten things claiming “I did that last week” when I am aware it was like 10 or 15 or 20 or more years ago.

And it is only going to get worse.

3 juli

I ride to Cob’s farm in Northam. I arrive 1930 after 75 km with the bike and trailer 3/4 loaded and it is very dark.  The last half an hour or more is along a meandering goat track called the KEP track. No idea where I am and are very happy to finally recognise some place. Great ride. Though my leg & ass muscles are not yet fully prepared for the Munda Biddi track … Am getting there.

This morning brushing my teeth staring out over the farm and view of Northam down the valley five kms away, Cob trundles by in a truck + trailer. Then comes the Toyota HJ75 trayback. driven by Austin, his 14 year old. I ask Austin which of the trucks, tractors, cars, van, excavators, assorted farm machines, quads, motorbikes, etc, he CANNOT drive. Non. He drives them all.

8 juli

90% humidity. Nothing dries, not my clothes washed three days ago, not the bike, wet from the rider back from Cob’s farm.
Then the sun comes out and in an hour or so everything is dry.
Winter in Oz …

Dad is great. I love him. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease. He’s healthy and good looking … but he’s not really there. Both here and not. I have, in a nutshell, lost my father.

Powerful emotions behind such a realisation.

Am very glad I have spent the time I have with him over the latter few years. Any thought or chance or dream of ‘connecting’ with him now or reconciling some long past issue has passed by. I enjoy being with him but it is also very hard coz in truth he’s not actually there, not the Father I used to know.

The bike is brilliant and the equipment pretty much the same too.

Now it’s all about whether I’ve got the weather sorted or not.

Gonna be ‘cold’ tonight … 2C. Note, not minus 2. Personally I think am ok sleeping out in my tent. But I’ll be heading south some 1000 km (500 crow kms). It should get colder the more south I go. Then I follow the coast and eventually along the Great Australian Bight. The Great Southern Ocean will accompany me for nearly 3000 km. The Great Southern Ocean washes north from the frigid Antarctic land mass and surrounding seas. The weather can be cold, windy and wet.

The sun though is pretty hot when it comes out. Which is quite often. Air temp may be only 15 or so but the sun temp must be in the high 20s.

Then there’s the galahs,the 28s, Rosetas, Kokaburras, and a host of other birds I don’t even know flapping around squarking and skreeching adding lots of character to the day.

People are really nice and friendly. But there’s a siege mentality here: Us against Them. Which is pretty weird since I can’t quite identify who the Them is. Current bad guys are boat-people refugees and asylum seekers, and Islamic radicalised Australians. But at a day-to-day walk-around-the-city basis there’s scant if any trace of any existential threat to justify the fear-mongering. Especially in comparison to Europe where whole sections of cities can be dominated by foreigners and migrants, including but not only Muslims. Yet the siege mentality is largely absent in Europe. But it seems well in place here in the world’s most isolated capital city.

11 juli

Bought the basic diet today: porridge mixed with full-cream dried milk and lots of different dried fruits and nuts which shall form the basics of my diet. Pepperoni salami, parmigiano reggiano, spaghetti, couscous, garlic and three small onions, olive oil, cracked black pepper, mixed herbs, sesame seeds and chicken stock-powder. Volumetrically a good two to three weeks’ worth though it would be a singularly dull diet after the first three days.

I also bought various containers to as the basis for a sort of storage strategy. It’s to be tested and all likely changed once the trip begins but a strategy has to start somewhere.

After months of trying to engage Garmin regarding why my Montana 650T has lost some very useful functions, notably the ‘Addresses’ options under the ‘Where to’ menu it has finally returned from Garmin. To The Man With The Plan’s address in den Haag long after I left since Garmin were/are incapable of reasonably punctual feedback and I had to leave. It is winging its way here, expected Monday or Tuesday.

According to The Man With The Plan the problem I was trying to solve has not be solved.

According to Garmin there was no problem. Since the Addresses option was not meant to be there in the first place.

Sooo … following Garmin’s assessment and instructions I spent 168.19€ for something that was not broken in the first place.

But how come then that it was there in the first place and in fact for the first three years of use?

As you can imagine I am a bit pissed, and the dialogue continues.

Then I received my Goal Zero photovoltaics and power supply including an inverter for the tablet and all the other many devices which shall accompany me on my trip. Not a lot of detailed instructions with the various bits but enough to put it all together and get it running. Only I couldn’t get the inverter to work no matter what I try. Perplexed I email Goal Zero asking for support and Steve phones me early the next day.

Steve was instrumental in the design of the system in the first place and quite calmly goes … “Oh, don’t work eh? No worries, I’ll send you a new one. Just chuck the other one away, no need to send it back”.

Apparently Goal Zero is redesigning the inverter from the “ground up” according to Steve, which “can’t be a good sign” he concludes.

In terms of new technology I’ve not had the best of luck. The Ziflex trailer was deformed, the Goal Zero inverter defective, the Garmin not repaired. And so on.

And then there’s the sourcing of equipment and stuff.

Perth simply does not do “small stuff” as it was described to me.

A classic example is fuel for my Primus ‘omnifuel’ – as is ‘can use many fuels’. I want the clear clean easy to burn stove fuel we know and love from Scandinavia/Europe.

Only … the upmarket outdoor shops sell stoves but no fluid to burn in the stove.

Not only that but they don’t know the name of the right fluid I need. Nor where to get it.

Instead of a 10 minute task it morphs into a 4 full days cross-Perth odyssey through a diverse array of shops including camping shops, hardware shops, outfitters, hunting shops, bensin stations, supermarkets, department stores … and in each one asking the same question and in each one getting either no answer or the same answer: white spirits is what I need. Only … no one has any white spirits.

I return home with ‘low odour’ kerosene (the upmarket outdoor shops), methylated spirits (bensin station), mineral turpentine (Big W), Shell Lite (Bunnings) and, finally, White Spirits (also Bunnings). And I tried each one of them.

The kerosene works but it is not an easy job. Priming is all but impossible. It’s a bitch to light and when finally it does go it produces vast amounts of dark sooty smoke.

Methylated spirits simply burns out. It is too volatile for the jets of the omnifuel.

Whits Spirits … the Holy Grail of fuels, or so I was told, is the same as Kerosene and therefore is awful.

Having got this far I didn’t even try the mineral turpentine, which I am convinced is the paint thinner I suspect it to be.

It all came down to Shell Lite which I’ve never heard of.

And, finally, I succeeded! It is Shell Lite which I need.

Shell Lite & friends
Shell Lite & friends

Having now got the fuel I see how to transport it on the bike. It comes in a rather flimsy 1 ltr bottle. My Sigg fuel bottle is 600ml. What to do with the remaining 400 ml?

Obviously get another Sigg bottle.

I head back down the hill to get an aluminium fuel bottle to store the highly flammable Shell Lite.

Rays Camping, which stocks Shell Lite, has no Sigg or any other aluminum bottle.

BCF – Boating Camping Fishing – stocks Shell Lite but has “never heard of” using aluminium bottle to store the fluid in. BCF is a vast store full of BIG things. But they do have aluminium bottles. Not Sigg but aluminium nonetheless.

I muse over the fact that the high end camping outfitters: Mountain Design, Paddy Pallins, MacPac do not sell the fluid but do sell the Sigg or equivalent bottles. And the BIG camping shops: BCF, Rays Camping, even Bunnings stock the fluid but not the Sigg bottles.

Bit by bit I solve the problems. I has taken far far longer than I ever would have anticipated. Camping in Australia is vastly different from camping in Europe.

Bizarre is that I grew up with this camping style and could flawlessly and fluidly navigate my way around these seemingly intractable issues with blissful ease.

Just goes to show by just how much I have lost the cultural context of my upbringing.

Max

Glen Forrest, Western Australia

2 thoughts on “Getting used to Australia, again …

  1. G

    Good write up Max, similar experience with our dual fuel Coleman & MSR whisperlite. We just use plain old 98RON unleaded petrol now & it works a treat. Shel lite is our preferred choice but it’s to expensive, up to $8AUD per litre & hard to find at times.
    Great to meet you, safe travel’s.
    Will & Jenny

    wiljen.blogspot.com

    Like

    1. Yeah, the default fuel for my multi-stoves tends to be bensin 95. Shellite is bensin 95 without the additives. If I can’t find shellite, bensin it shall be. Again.
      Nice to read your adventures to.
      Travel well … M

      Like

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