overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Is it really time to return to the real world......?

Written by Maz Towns. Uploaded 20 March 2007.

Australia, Country 26, Diary entry 1st - 10th Feb 2007, Total distance in Australia: 19,637km

They don't look that far from each other on the map, but we had to entertain ourselves in the car for a few hours after leaving Devils Marbles before we reached Mount Isa. Having read that it was a 'rough and ready' mining town, we'd originally decided to give it a miss, but after talking to Kim at Christmas, he persuaded us that the mine tour was well worth the stop off.

Doing a good impressions of an orange umpalumpa ready to go down the mine!

It was becoming dark when we entered the town, mainly due to the looming thunder clouds up above. Moondarra Lake was on the edge of town so we headed in its vague direction, hoping we'd find a nice spot to camp up for the evening. It was soon becoming obvious that this wasn't a remote spot where we'd be able to hide ourselves away for the night. Upon pulling up to the lake, there was another car already parked up and next to it a huge sign warning all who ventured near the water about the dangers of Murray Valley Encephalitis contracted from mozzie bites. Knowing what a tasty titbit I already am and deciding we'd managed to stay pretty healthy for the majority of the trip, we didn't want to chance our luck now, so we turned round and found another road to pursue.

By now the sun had nearly set and the menacing clouds threatened a downpour as we tried in vain to find a suitable camp. We carried on down one dirt track and found a patch of land that looked flat enough to park the truck on for the night. As we were 'finalising' the levelling process, so Master Alex was happy he would be able to sleep comfortably, the car didn't seem to be manoeuvring properly. I got out to yet ANOTHER flat tyre. :) Praying for it to be an actual puncture rather than another broken wheel, we transformed ourselves in to the well oiled F1 tyre changing team that we've become, to have our suspicions confirmed when we saw the crack in the wheel. Of course, as we stepped out of the car to change the tyre, the menacing clouds opened up to really make our day!

It wasn't all smiles!

We still had along way to go to get to Brisbane, so it was now fingers crossed that the others would hold out as we were down to one spare again. Donning gear that covered me from head to foot so I wouldn't get eaten by the mozzies and catch encephalitis (I felt I was back in Iran), we cooked dinner. Thankfully my newly adopted Persian style wasn't needed as the mossies disappeared as quickly as the sun. After a quick spag bol we retired for the night.

The next morning we ventured into town with the mine site and smelter stacks dominating the skyline and the landscape, and put our names down for the mine tour starting at 1.30pm. It was then time for a wake up coffee then off to find an oil change. After scouting out a couple of garages, we found one that would do the job for a carton of beer, so while Tinfish was having a spa, Alex and I wandered round town.

With the freedom of being on the road soon coming to an end, Alex had already been putting himself round a bit and was surprisingly plunged into his first telephone interview by an agent keen to seek out his 'special talents'. Trying to get his brain refocused on a world we left eons ago was a little testing, but after a couple of minutes he was back up to speed with his swift talking and sounding like a pro. A promising start. It feels strange even thinking about looking for work, even though we've been trying to mentally prepare ourselves for a re-orbit since arriving in Oz. In some ways it will be exciting having a base again, rather than being the lonesome, errant nomads we've adapted to, but at the same time, the thought of sitting behind a desk back in corporate sends shivers down the spine! A topic we discuss frequently but remains unanswered.

Out of 90,000kms, it has to happen all at once

With Tinfish purring like a contented pussy cat after her oil change, we arrived in plenty of time for our Hard Times Mine tour. After a quick signing our life away session on the disclaimer form, we were met by our tour guide Steve - a lovely Aussie miner who'd been down the pit for most of his life before taking on the role of tour guide. With a true Aussie lilt and an outback way of life, he was sometimes a little hard to understand, especially when he used slang, but his enthusiasm and eagerness made up for any misunderstanding! :)

From the very beginning of the tour we knew that it was going to be something special when we were kitted-out with bright ORANGE overalls, black welly boots and a hard hat.

Mount Isa, or 'the Isa' as it's locally known began as a mining town, in February 1923 following the discovery of substantial deposits of silver-lead-zinc by the prospector John Campbell Miles. Miles gave Mt. Isa its name - a corruption of Mount Ida, a Western Australian goldmine. When a particularly large copper deposit was proven to exist in 1942 the Australian government, enduring wartime shortages of the strategic material, encouraged its exploitation. Copper would prove the main source of revenue in the 1950s.

Yet again the wheels are worked on

This particular tourist mine was never an actual operational mine, however the Former Mount Isa Mines Underground tours were one of Mount Isa's biggest (only!) tourist attractions. When they stopped doing tours of the former mine, several locals invented by dug this 'tourist' mine to replace it. As we slowly walked through the grounds, the history of the mines flowed off Steve's tongue and with a glint in his eye, his own perceptions and twists of stories flowed, embedded in 35 years of knowledge.

We were shown the huge vehicles once used underground, each with its own bit of history, until the next bigger and better one superseded it. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take cameras into the complex, not really sure why, apart from they couldn't extract the 10 bucks for the personal picture they took of you in your fashionable togs if you got that Kodak moment yourself! After donning our cap lamps on to the hard helmet, we were ready to go.

Descending down into the mine in the Alamak Cage, we began to explore the history of mining as we sunk into the blackness. Steve enthralled us with stories of the good and the hard times that he had working deep under the earth. All underground light is artificial and extremely localised, the reason why we needed the headlamps. We first had a ride in caged wagon to take us to the crib room, where the miners clock in and out and have their cups of tea with ginger biscuits.

They haven't found traffic lights in QLD yet

Taking a tour underground is a real eye-opener, there's an amazing amount of infrastructure, high tech equipment and highly skilled personnel required to keep the mining operation going. The tour took us round to see how the tunnels are formed and shaped by the majestic boom drills and mucking units.

In the case of Mt. Isa there are even localised climates linked to the temperatures caused by the base rock, which at the deepest levels of the mine can reach a staggering 60 degrees Celsius. Just the thought of the hard physical work down under was enough to put me off, but to then compound their efforts by working in an environment typical of a tropical rainforest would definitely be a big no no!

The reason why I enjoyed this tour more than the gold mine tour in Kalgoorlie was you could actually get up close and personal to the machinery and try your hand at the air-leg drill, feeling the earth rumble with the drilling of the blast face. The machines are extremely heavy and shook every atom of your body as you held on tight while it rammed the wall. It was great to see how all the machines actually worked while they were being demonstrated rather than just using your imagination.

The world's longest fence

We then returned to the crib and were given a demonstration of what it was actually like while a blast was taking place, with the noise, rumbling and sirens going off. It was very well done. We ended the tour with a cuppa and biscuit, asking more questions and chatting amongst ourselves. Definitely recommended to anyone who has a spare afternoon in Mt Isa!

It was then time to head east. The grey clouds had made themselves at home and we left Mt. Isa under a torrent of rain. We'd planned to camp just out of town, but with the gale force winds and accompanying rain we just carried on driving. With a passing car once per hour, it appeared to be fate that we happen to find ourselves on a 300m stretch of newly laid tarmac just as a road train zoomed past in the opposite direction... BANG BANG - two chips out of the windscreen - thanks very much!

The world's longest fence

As we carried on further, the vast flat, featureless plains opened up and there was literally nowhere to shelter. The tent would have been simply ripped to shreds had we tried to put it up in these conditions. By now it was pitch black, lashing with torrential rain and we were driving again with no rear lights on the car as they'd broken way back on the Gibb River Road! Not ideal, but we pushed on to Kynuna where we knew there was a hotel to hide out the storm. So once we pulled up outside the roadhouse, we went inside to enquire about rooms...

The roadhouse was empty, with the old looking tables and plastic chairs all neatly positioned in the restaurant. A lady (and I say this in the loosest possible terms) presented herself behind the counter. It had been a helluva drive and we were keen to grab a bite to eat and get some rest. Asking if they had any rooms, I was presented with a blank face. Thinking she hadn't heard me I asked again. After about 10 second silence (and I promise I am not exaggerating here) she asked if we wanted a double. I said yes, and after another 10 second delay, she asked me if we were married!? Not really sure what it had to do with her, I politely told her we were.

"Toilet and shower are outside" - not really a problem for us seeing as the bush has been our bathroom for the last 17 months - so we just said "OK". I also managed to get confirmation - with a slight nod of the head - that they were still serving food, but with the lack of responsiveness to any questions we'd asked, we decided to have a look over the road at the Blue Heeler Hotel, a friendly place to stay according to the Lonely Planet.

Your more country gas station

We ventured over the road laughing at the weirdness we had just witnessed to see if we could get a room at the Blue Heeler Hotel. Unfortunately they were in the middle of a refurb and it wasn't open. With little alternative choice we returned to the roadhouse asking if we could have the room. The lady appeared from nowhere and just stared at us. Then, a very tall, lanky man dressed in a blue shirt with matching very tight shorts and knee high socks walked in. As neither of them seemed to want to help us, I asked again if we could have the room. Suddenly, the man turned to us and began talking in a rather aggressive voice, something about the Blue Heeler Hotel.

Not really understanding his rant, we just stared in bewilderment, picking up the odd phrases of "off to the Blue Heeler", "bathroom outside not good enough for you", "no room for you here". It was all very strange. He then told us that we could clear off and drive 165km down the road to the next hotel, as we weren't welcome there! They breed 'em weird here......too much wilderness and not enough social contact I think! After saying we'd prefer to drive 165km than stay with weirdos like them, we returned to the cold, wet night and carried on down the road.

We laughed for the next two hours about what had just happened, partly in stunned surprised. It was as if we'd surreally driven into Royston Vasey from The League of Gentlemen and were confronting Tubbs & Edward Tattsyrup! You can imagine if we did get the room... I'd be worried that we'd wake up in the morning to find all four of us sharing the bed...! This is a local shop for local people, there's nothing for you here!

Quaint post house in Tambo

Eventually, tired and exhausted we arrived in Winton 165km further down the road at 10.30pm. It was really busy, in as far as one horse towns get busy, but then realised it was Friday night. We pulled up at a pub which had rooms and went in to talk to the owner, hoping they'd be more responsive than our last experience.

The chef had left hours ago, so we ordered a beer and I said I'd just make a quick sarnie at the back of the car as we'd not really eaten all day. Gary (we were already on first name terms, a slightly better record than our last attempt) told me to hold on, he went out the back then returned saying "will a steak sandwich do for each of you?". You beauty! His wife came back 10 minutes later with a delicious sandwich and we started our second beer.

Chatting with them, we told them our story about the weirdos we'd come across, and he sympathised saying lots of truckies brought similar stories with them too. After the 3rd beer we were a little drunk and finally retired to bed happy not to have to worry about the possibility of waking up with Tubbs & Edward in our bed! :)

A sunset to relaax the nerves away from a stressful day

It was this night that I realised how conditioned I'd become to camping. Waking in the early hours needing the loo, I was a little sleepy and in foreign surroundings not really sure where I was. I reached under the bed, thinking I was reaching under the tent for where I normally keep my shoes and as I reached further under as I couldn't find them, promptly fell out of bed! In my apparent rush to get to the loo, I then couldn't find the door of the bedroom, so feeling my way across the wall I eventually came to the door handle, twisted it and it came off in my hand! I had inadvertently found the plug in deodoriser and twisted it out of the socket. After getting Alex to turn the light on so I could get out of the bedroom I finally found the loo! Bush camping is far easier than this house lark.

The next morning we were greeted by yet ANOTHER flat tyre! We pumped it up again only to find it was the bloody rim that had broken once again. Of course this coincided with Saturday morning......after which 11.30am all shops close till Monday. So, I found internet while Alex drove round to a garage to see if someone could help and maybe have a spare wheel that'd fit. Unfortunately no luck, so with now having no spares and wheels failing by the hour, we were in the dilemma of whether we should travel or wait till Monday. Not rally wanting to wait around, we decided to risk the 150km drive to the next town to see if we could find something open there.

Not too surprisingly, everything looked closed when we arrived, so we went to a coffee shop instead to discuss our plans. Deciding that we'd rather risk driving to Brisbane over the next couple of days than wait around here in the middle of nowhere for the shops to open Monday, we returned to Tinfish ready to hit the road only to notice the rear tyre looking a bit deflated... oh yes... you guessed it... THREE rims gone in a matter of only 36 hours!!. We were now stranded. All we could do was laugh, otherwise I think we'd have just burst into tears! We mindlessly drove around town searching for inspiration and stumbled across a BP garage so popped in to ask if by chance there was a garage that may be able to help us out.

Our FINAL bushcamp of the trip!!!!

By shear fortune, there was a workshop attached to the side of the garage and the mechanic was in the middle of a job for himself, being strictly out of work hours! Telling him of our predicament, Alex had had the brainwave to use the two inner tubes which we've carried thus far, to magically turn the tubeless deflated wheels into reformed inflated wheels with tubes - not ideal but it would stop the air leaking out of the hairline crack in the metal rim, so potentially a get out of jail card. He agreed that it would work given our situation and he kindly got to work straight away. Once again on our roller coaster ride of emotions, we were back on the road within the hour, only to receive another large chip in the windscreen 30mins later..!!! Quite a tally we're racking up... poor Tinfish reminds us of one of those comedy clown's car right now. :)

It was with mixed feelings as we drove towards the coast, knowing that over the next few days the camping would come to an end and our life on the road would be intermingled with normal existence in suburbia. For this reason, we decided to take it easy and planned 2 more nights on the road to cover the relatively short distance we had left to cover, passing the Dingo fence in the process. The Dingo Fence is a barrier that was built in Australia during the 1880s and finished in 1885, to keep dingos out of the relatively fertile south-east part of the continent (where they had largely been exterminated) and protect the sheep flocks of southern Queensland. It is one of the longest structures on the planet, and the world's longest fence.

The open plains stretched on for miles, with lush green grass springing up from the heavy rain storms over the last week. We relished our last evenings of freedom in the wide open spaces, listening to the wildlife chatter to each other in the trees, devouring the fresh air, and bush tucker cooking on the open fire. To make the most of what precious little time we had left, we found camp early and relaxed in the mornings reading and chatting, delaying the inevitable of getting back on the road. The luxurious life we've lived on the road was coming to an end and it was a very strange feeling.

Maz & tour guide Katherine on the way into Brisbane city

From our last bush camp just outside Chinchilla, it took just a couple of hours to drive in to Brisbane. Finding my aunt and uncle's house was relatively easy, having only to stop and ask for directions once. Katherine and Maddy were both at home, waiting our imminent arrival, as was my uncle Phil. Warmly welcomed we began catching up over a glass of wine. My auntie Trisha arrived soon after from work. With the excitement of seeing the rellies, a few years for me and 12 for Alex, we didn't take much notice of our magic instantly refilling wine glasses. Trisha cooked a delicious dinner and we regrouped back in the lounge to relax. The excitement of the day was all too much for me, as the room began to spin a quick exit to the bathroom was needed (unfortunately hindsight is a great thing - and although she may have played out such a dash in her head, I can tell you it was the unfortunate armchair which took the beating!) Not a great way to reintroduce yourself back into the family fold!

The next day was a little bleary as we nursed our poorly heads and I had to call in sick for an interview I had arranged with an agent.....I just couldn't face it. Naughty Maz I hear you cry...I know. First day back to reality and I call in sick! Not a good start. The day flew by and I watched a movie with Katherine while Alex entertained himself on the internet. Thankfully we felt better by dinner and managed a glass of wine with the Sheppard's Pie Trisha had cooked. Only the one mind!

Starting to shape up

The next couple of days were much more productive as we ventured into the city to buy interview suits for any upcoming jobs companies might want to throw at us. With Katherine on summer break from school before starting uni, she assumed the role of city tour leader and took us into town. The first day started with us all just peering into shops without much excitement or interest and we quickly realised that we wouldn't get much shopping done this way. So, Katherine and I split from Alex and we arranged to meet up for lunch. Much more fun! In and out of shops we dashed trying on all sorts of posh clothes that brought back distant memories of a corporate standing from a previous life.

After reviving our ebbing energy levels with a subway sandwich, we traipsed after Alex to see the wares he'd put to one side. There was much more choice for men than women, so after the 4th try on, I was beginning to get a bit bored. Thankfully we had to be back by 4.30pm to meet Trisha at work so we could grab a lift home, so our action packed day came to an end. I returned empty handed while Alex managed a few shirts and a couple of ties. The second day was much more successful with us both picking up a suit, well Alex two, shoes and tops......we were suited and booted, ready once more to take on the world.

The following day, we both had telephone interviews scheduled. Trying to get your brain back into gear after the 18 month experience that we've had, is pretty tough! Questions like 'Why do you want to work for this company?', 'how do you perceive this role?' or 'give me an example of when you were faced with a difficult challenge in your last job, how did you handle it?' all seem a bit meaningless after 18 months on the road, 26 countries, visiting incredible sites, fundraising and experiencing such a diversity of cultures world wide. Still, this was all the preparation for the next challenge we were to face......returning to work.

It's a start...... Neaqrly there..... What a beauty!

No sooner had I spoken with Anita at the job agency, than the phone did not stop ringing. I had heard that there was a lack of experienced resources in the clinical arena this side of the world and this was soon reinforced by the endless possibilities being thrown at me and schedules for face to face interviews once I arrived in Sydney. Quite exciting initially, but then the sudden realisation hits the furore of activity in the brain and thoughts quickly turn to trepidation and daunting.

Alex had kept in contact with friends from his old company, maybe thinking that he'd look up the Sydney office once in the area. Along the way however, his old company had been acquired by IBM and it just so happens that there is now a huge need for experienced MAXIMO specialists in Sydney... cue Alex! So, first step was a chat with HR for the routine questions, then to schedule a telephone interview with the senior partner. We were well on our way to becoming normal again, well as normal as we've ever been!

In between exploring the possibilities of how much gold each company was going to shower us with, we began packing for our next adventure... all the dive kit was pulled out of the silver coffin on the top of Tinfish and repacked into our bags ready for Vanuatu and one last splash underwater!

Maddy and the girls in action

Friday we ventured into the university with Phil and Katherine for a coffee and lunch. Phil works there and Katherine will begin her uni degree there in a couple of weeks, so we had a good look around after a great caesar salad lunch. The week had flown by and I couldn't believe it was time for our final 'holiday' before putting the handbrake on Tinfish for good. In the evening Alex, Katherine and I went to watch Maddy play futsal; indoor footy for those of you not in the know. Maddy was the star player of the all girls team, with them giving the boys a run for their money, but the boys were a little too quick on their feet and unfortunately for the girls, victory was theirs.

It was early doors the next day, so decided only a few glasses of wine were in order to get us through the night. Up at 6am to make sure we got to the airport in time, we said our goodbyes to Maddy, Trisha and Katherine and left with Phil for our final plane ride of the overland-underwater expedition.

A huge thank you to Phil, Trisha, Maddy and especially Katherine (who gave up her room for us and for being our tour guide) for making us feel at home in Brisbane and putting a roof over our heads whilst we slowly adjusted to civilisation! It was great catching up with you all and we really look forward to more regular visits now we're so much nearer!

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Comment from Katherine
Hey! you didn't ask if u could put that pic of me up. gee wizz lol.
20 Mar 2007 @ 06:26:59