While the Patrol had a complete fuel system rebuild in Broken Hill due to what looked like 'metal shavings', dirt and who knows what else in the tank, we waited patiently (at least, mostly patiently) for over three weeks. Despite not having a car, we managed to see more sights than we would have by doing the abbreviated tourist view.
We moved around town by bus, push-bike and shanks' pony. We enjoyed the courtesy and company of both locals and travellers who went out of their way to taxi us around. Time, (and parts delivery from interstate) moves slowly in towns like Broken Hill. In hindsight, this situation made our stay a bit unique - one that, with the exception of the damage caused to our wallet from the repair bill, we will always look back on fondly.
There were many broken commitments from the dealer re the car being ready, and on the final day we were promised delivery at 10am, we sat in the dealer's office waiting, waiting. It was an anxious time. We'd had enough of being told furphies about the work's progress, but we did want any repercussions of a rushed job at the last minute.
When we got the bill we noticed that although the fuel system had been totally rebuilt and cleaned (tanks, fuel lines, fuel pump, injectors), there was no mention of fitting a new fuel filter. Our logic said that this would be normal in the circumstances. Argh! - no goodwill here - 'just give us a little longer, we will fit it, and add it on to the $6000+ bill'. It was around 3pm when hit the road south. Seeing the Silver City Highway stretch ahead of us through our windscreen felt like we had wings again.
On the road again
Not far away as the crow flies was Mungo National Park. In the moment we reflected on the differences between where we think our destiny is going to lead us, and where it actually does. Before the fuel system problems, we were heading for the Menindee Lakes and Mungo. Now we needed to change our priorities as we headed to Cobram further to the east for work. Mungo and Menindee Lakes went on to our 'next time' list. We adopted the philosophy that it is always good to have something that we haven't seen before when we travel this way again.
The Murray emerges
Our job in Cobram had been organised while we were waiting finalisation of the car repairs. Our future employers had been forced to be as patient as we were, with ever extending estimates on the time frame to get the parts and work done. A couple of weeks had already gone by.
Our new work involved collection, cold storage and on-loading of local fruit and veges for the Victorian and interstate markets. When the crops are ready, they wait for no man. Cobram is on the Murray some 500 k's upstream by road from our camp here at Merbein. When we emerged in the morning, the long haul began.
The 500 kilometre dash
We began to contemplate settling into a routine of Cobram life and work for a while. As we soon learned, life in Cobram would be anything but routine, and even less predictable. Who would have thought we’d leave this town in a different car, AND a different caravan?
Once settled, work began and the rest is a blur. The fruit season ramped up, and work became a constant that filled in long days that merged into long working weeks.
Life on and around the river
Things go 'Cactus'
A little west of Cobram at the settlement of Strathmerton is Cactus Country. Kym did produce pick-ups here, so he first got to know Julie. Later we found out that Julie is truly one of those women who stands behind her man and his dream. Her husband Jim bought his father's cacti collection not long after they were married and has since invested much time and money into expanding a small collection into the 10 acres of prickly plants that it is today. Their son John now shares the passion and helps maintain the gardens and operate the Mexican themed café.
Over the river and in New South Wales less than 20 k's north is the town of Tocumwal. Lyn had worked with a precious lady who had grown up in Tocumwal. There is always something special about being in places that our friends have talked about and connecting our memories of them with the town. Uncannily, on this occasion, we ran into her - we were all flabbergasted - something was at work to align us with Liz at that place and time. We returned to Tocumwal a few times, and amongst other things, we learnt it had a significant role in the 2nd World War as a RAAF training base.
A safer thing to do was the stroll down the main street on a sleepy weekend afternoon. There's several combination cafe and bric a brac stores filled with the old and new, hand-crafted goodies and unusual bits and pieces. Lyn returned to 'Toc', (pronounced 'Toke', as the locals call it) many times on 'ladies' afternoon outings and managed to sample most of them.
A short drive to the north east of Tocumwal is an Aboriginal site that's a bit intriguing. It is a dormant blowhole cradled in the middle of a granite rock outcrop that mounds up out of the middle of an open grassy field. We didn't see it any water-flow, but we're told that when the Murray is low, the blowhole does flow and bubble.
As for Barmah Forest, it depends what takes your fancy, but for us, it lived up to expectations. We took the 60 kilometre self-drive tour (dry weather road). It takes in more magnificent river views, and we came across some secluded campsites (more suitable for smaller RV's, and caution in wet weather for possible flooding as well as the tracks). The drive takes you through the country's largest stand of River Red Gums, a wetland that has been declared of international conservation significance, and a sacred Aboriginal site with interpretative centre.
From Numurkah, we drove to Nathalia, where the Barmah Forest Heritage and Education Centre gave us some keys to better appreciating the forest before we took the drive. The Centre chronicles Barmah's recent history when wholesale logging was an integral part of early settlement, and river boats and cattle grazing were familiar sights. We also learnt about lesser known activities in the forest of leech and feather collecting. The display features illustrated information about the environmental impacts, the lessons learnt and how it is now being protected and preserved. It also describes the significance and function of Barmah Forest over the centuries of pre-European time.
In true birthday celebration style, we dined out, and were delighted to be joined by some superb wrens.
The drive from here took us through some open grain crop fields - there was gold as far as the eye could see under the equally big blue sky. It was a true reminder of why we love this life.
On rare ‘R and R’ days, we took the opportunity to extend our territory. Cobram locals usually shop at the closest regional centre, which is Shepparton. Kym was required to get his HR licence for the job, and this had been done at Shepparton, so for our shopping venture went in the other direction. We followed the Murray again, on the NSW side across to Albury – about 130kms away.
We'd heard that camping was popular along this side of the Murray at Lake Mulwala and called by to have a look. There is a large expanse of area with some great little nooks along the lake, but you would need to be mindful of the condition of the tracks in the wet.
Shopping is shopping, and Albury provided all we needed. The things that left most impression of this city was that the vast flatness that we had got accustomed to while at Cobram came to an abrupt end at Albury, as it verges on the Great Dividing Range. Transport has, and is a major part of it's vitality. Our other memories include some of the old, with the imposing presence the Railway Station built back in the 1880's with its bit of an Italian influence, and a more recent construction, the impressive Spirit of Progress bridge over the Murray that forms part of the Hume Highway bypass.
About 20 k's south of the Albury's twin town of Wodonga, and back in Victoria, we took the turnoff to Chiltern. We'd heard a bit about Chiltern and also Rutherglen, and we are glad we took this loop route back home, as this area is definitely worth more than a passing glance.
We stopped in the one of the cafes and when we got chatting to the owners, heard how they had been travelling with their van when they discovered Chiltern. They loved its charm - the rest is history, so to say.
The district has graduated through grazing and gold rush, and now successfully combines agriculture and that charming country ambience that has been a drawcard for many entrepreneurial ventures that promote and present local produce in its various forms.
Rutherglen is a bigger and less sleepy version of Chiltern, alive with modern eateries and an old world inn or two. It is renowned for its wineries (17 estates nearby), and you can also indulge in lashings of locally made chocolates, cheeses, olive products and fresh fruit and vegies.
Representing Hema Maps is a privilege for us – with Hema’s commitment to quality and the latest in technology. The company has a commendable and respectful team culture.
Working at their stand at caravan shows have been easy and enjoyable assignments. They have also provided opportunities for big learning curves that has helped us with our navigation and to keep us safe as we travel. Commuting each day from our caravan park at Mt Waverley to the show venue at Caulfield Racecourse, dodging trams and cyclists through peak hour traffic was the greater challenge.
Tornado damage at the town common
When the van went, Tina recognised our dilemma. She offered us storage for our belongings, and a roof over our heads until we sourced another van. This was a major God-send! The efficient and timely responses of our insurers, Ken Tame and Assoc, was another. Internet searches for a second hand van filled our idle hours. We were considering travelling distances spanning from Adelaide, Melbourne, Ulladulla and Newcastle to inspect potential contenders.
|Tina (right) and friend, Loma|
ensuring Kym enjoys his birthday.
Back to Cobram
We returned to Cobram for the next year's season. In all, we spent seven months in this town. The second time around, we chose to stay at the Oasis Caravan Park which we would recommend to anyone. Mac, who is owner-manager, is very approachable and runs a professional park, which her and her husband Libro developed from scratch.
As operators, they are unobtrusive, unassuming, and somehow seem 'to get' the needs of RV'ers. The park is managed well, without being overwhelmed with rules and restrictions. One of the innovations that we thought was great in the planning and construction was that there was a series of dump points provided centrally that catered for the four sites around it.
are never the same the second time around - not that Cobram was any less attractive to us. It was more the changes that had evolved in the workplace. There was some relief that the hours weren't as constant, but nor were they in any way predictable. Crops vary from year to year, markets restructure and companies go in and out of favour. We spent a lot of the second season waiting around for the work to come. On a positive note, Lyn got to know the facilitators and regulars at the YMCA gym and local pool, and we got to spend more time on the river.
People make the difference in any experience, and in Cobram we had a number of friends from our past call by. We also made some new friends, and learnt a little about the lives and challenges of some locals. All of these people help make our memories of Cobram special.
|Stephen and Kym swap yarns.|
We saw in the 2013 New Year in grand style with Stephen Pauline on his way back to Sydney from a visit to Melbourne.
From back home, Marilyn and Leon Boddington took a detour in their travels visiting southern family members to visit us.
We spent a lovely morning with Joy and Laurie Hanlon with their adorable dog, Banjo, as they wended their way to visit family north of Bourke after a jaunt to Kangaroo Island.
'Bob Le Bago' road residents, Sharon and Geoff Loller, along with Sharon's son, James Martin whom we had met while touring Tasmania, made sure they made the trip to Cobram while in the area. More faces were put to names from the Caravanner's Forum when we realised we were neighbours with 'Hazo' and his lovely wife Jan from W.A. They were good company and shared some of the different caravan park experiences while we were staying at the Apex CP.
We met Melbournian, Roz Keddie, and her King Cavalier spaniel, Codie and still keep in touch. Kym keeps some contact with a some of local farmers, Pete Carponelli, Pete Demaio and Steve Anzolin.
Another Caravanner's Forum member who had given up a lot of his time to show us around while we were car-less in Broken Hill made Cobram a port of call on his touring holiday. Chris and Maxine Rawlins enjoyed their stay at Oasis Caravan Park and we did a tour of a few local hotspots.
And the second time around, our friend Tina was going through a time of big change, and it was good to just be around for her.
Our Cobram experience will remain a part of us. It is not a place we will forget, and no doubt we will not be able to resist a return visit sometime in the future.