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Letters from the road
Thursday, 24 January 2019
Powder Monkeys
Topic: Asia

 You know how I love a family holiday. Not with my family, there is only one of them left, and he doesnt ski to well with a new hip and dodgy knees.  Skiing in Japan with the goddaughter and family, I jumped at it. The fact that I only been skiing twice in twenty years didn't cross my mind. Until I got here.  Madero s two hours  on the train from Tokyo, and covered in meters of powder snow. Two Hundred mm of powder is pretty good in oz, meters of it is unheard of. Throw  in the fact that every time I go skiing, the technology has totally changed, and here I'm a senior citizen. (cheap ski passes).Time to dig out the Sorrells and Ventile Jacket  This could be interesting.
Click the pic for more  

Posted by bondrj at 2:44 PM EADT
Tuesday, 1 January 2019
Bali By Boat
Topic: Asia

    A week before christmas and I've got  it sorted. A couple work break ups, games of golf, breakfasts, a family pre xmas feast, and  one pissy little job. In three hours I'll be doing cocktails and horderves. Then the phone rings, "Muz here, how do you feel about flying to WA this arvo, then sailing to Bali. Me," Mate, I'm a bit busy, it's like the week before X'mas, and I've got stuff on. Sorry". What about a round trip to WA, we need a new Autohelm ( Thingy that makes the boat go straight so you don't have to steer it), and there's one in Melbourne. Mate, I've got a dinner on tonight, give me an hour to think about it. Think.  Work/unimportant, work dinner tonight/necessary, Family pre xmas at my house/well the've done it before without me/would like, golf unimportant. Two/Two, Ring back, can I leave tomorrow morning, and will I be back for Christmas day, "yep". Three/two, I'm in. Packing list, Socks, Jocks, Satellite tracker, passport, credit card. Better head to the chemist to get some more meds, Then over to Darebin to pick up the new bits, "there should be 5 boxes and a bunch of cables, make sure they give you everything you need". Here I must admit, I know very little about boats and nothing about auto helms. Show me a 20 ton chiller or a server rack, no probs, boats Huh. Four grand later and I'm the proud owner of a box with a few little boxes inside. Someone is making a buck out of this somewhere. I drive home through a big storm.
Next morning, thick head, bowls club, washed out, nice restaurant, washed out, we still found enough pizza and wine to make my head feel washed out. Vague feeling I have to be somewhere, Yer the airport. Thankfully I packed last night, Shower, airport bus, Airport, plug flight number into check in, and we have a winner. Karratha, I know that's somewhere north of Perth, or was that Kununurra. At least Qantas has a meal and some red to ease the pounding head. Quick stop in Perth and by four I'm there. Muz and Nicolas, meet me and my box at the airport. On the way to Dampier I get a quick catch up on what's happening. In the past brother one owned the boat, sold boat which then had an adventurous life. Ten years later brother two sees boat for sale and buys boat in good working order back. Brothers and son head to Dampier to sail boat to Bali. Boat in not quite so good working order, phone call, you are here. Today is the 15th of December, and its 700 Nm to Bail, about 4 days sailing all going well. Plenty of time for us all to get home for Christmas. 
At Dampier dock I see her, a beautiful steel hulled 56 foot Ketch. No problems with this sinking, it's built like a tank. Lots of room inside, huge main cabin/kitchen, three big suites, two bathrooms, sail locker and a tool room complete with bench and vise. Three sails, two masts, and a sixty year old Fordson tractor engine pushing the prop. On the down side, it needs a bit of love. Half the electrics don't work, the steering leaks, the motor chews oil, everything is covered in red Pilbara dust. 
Day one, try and fix old autohelm, hydraulic guy checks steering, Day two wait for auto elec to fit new autohelm, Day three wait for auto elec to fit new autohelm, turns up late in day, pipe falls of steering, Day four Elec installs autohelm and AIS, new hydraulic guy fixes steering, AIS people say we need a boat radio licence to get AIS number. Customs say we need AIS working and boat title transfer cleared before we can leave. Good people in Canberra say they need original documentation not copy to process title. They have had their best on this for a week. Every night, after a big day of fixing other stuff, we retire back to the Mermaid hotel for a few beers and a meal, by now we are almost locals. Day five "D Day", the wind has finally stopped howling from the west. This would have been great if we had of been sailing, but makes life hard out on the bay if you are just trying to fix stuff. If we don't leave today, we don't leave. Morning starts well with a test run, engine only stops once near rocks in main channel, near large ore carrier, but starts again after we remember to turn the fuel cock back on. Autohelm only drops out when we tell it to do a 360. Canberra guys decide certified copy of change of ownership will do, so the guys race into town get that on the move. Later head back to the Mermaid for a counter lunch with the old owners. Nicolas checks out the two pm flight home to Brisbane but decides to hold off for another hour. In the next hour the Aussie government steals some cash out of his account, good sign, then we get the call. The title is cleared, Nicolas is now a proud boat owner. Customs is ready to go. I drag my washing off the line in the marina, and by the time I get to the boat we have four customs guys looking for me because the paperwork says four and their are only three there. We shake hands they say goodluck and by Four Fifteen we are on our way.
The old fordson does five Knots, 700/5/24 = 5.83 days. Not good enough, we will arrive late christmas day.The good thing is Murray owned this boat for 15 years so he knows how to sail it. Pity about the wind which has been perfect for the last week but has now dropped out. Fortunately the forecast looks good, I'm not a great believer in wind forecasts especially around Christmas when all the weathermen are on break. Who knows maybe that will make them more accurate. After a couple of hours it turns dark and we get out into the ocean. There is a bit of wind, so we put up a sail. Six knots, better. Nicolas discovers he is not a natural sailor. I do my four hour watch and head to bed about ten. Next morning Nicolas is still flat out on deck, the sails are all up, the wind is better, and I get breakfast of bread and soup. This becomes the routine. A couple of hours on watch, fix some stuff, make tea, chat, make more tea, steer some more. Every four hours the guys stop and check the oil in the Fordson. It generally needs another liter. Over the next couple of days we fix the stove, get the batteries charging, fix some cabin lights, play with the sails and generally try to figure out whats going on.
If you look at the map between Dampier and Bali there is hit, this is a bit deceiving. There are lots of two hundred meter long cargo ships carting iron ore, gas, containers, and Bali is the gateway north. At 17 meters in the dark, with only a couple of lights on, we would be easy to miss. This is were the AIS comes in.  It broadcasts our location to all the other ships, and displays theirs on the map. A neat little triangle shows their direction, and if you click on it you get their name as well a whole pile of other stuff like where they are going to and importantly you nearest approach. You can only see a boat about 20 kms away at sea but with this we can see them 100 kms away. If you get too close it also sounds an alarm. As a sailing boat they generally adjust their course stay well away from us. It even has a big red button under a cover that should say "Don't Panic" but boringly just says distress. 
The wind picks up, now we are doing 8 to 9 Knots. The sea is still good running behind us. Just past the halfway mark the old Fordson stops. This is not good, fortunately we have a 100% backup propussion system called sail. We actually have three of them, even one of them would get you there eventually. Muz descends into the bowels, lights,tools, fuel filters, gasket off old filter because the new one doesnt fit. Several goes at starting, finally a bit of a kick, eventually the old girl rores into life. It doesn't stop again. Muz emerges covered in diesel and oil, the joy of boats. Less than 24 hours to go, and there is one more trick left.  The autohelm blows a fuse, we did not change the old Hydraulic drive . We have a new one but changing it would be hard work and involve bobbing around in the ocean for a couple of hours. We decide to hand steer for the last bit. This is a good workout. The ocean is still running behind us with a meter of swell, so every time a wave hits you have to throw the wheel from one side to the other, sometimes a couple of turns. I take a break at 9 and when I get up again at four I can see the lights of Bali. Nicolas is looking better. We dodge a few more ships, and by eight we are pulled up in the Marina.
Benoa marina would not get much work if it was in Monte Carlo, but it is cheap and cheerful.The plan is to leave the boat here, and get some maintenance done on it. Now we wait, Nicolas and Murray have to get home with Nicolas on a two o'clock flight. Our customs agent is on the way. She is our fixer, over the next couple of hours, the pest inspector, police, and finally customs turn up. Passports and multiples copies of all sorts of things are produced, and the ships chop (stamp) gets a good workout. Finally we are allowed to stand on the Marina. Nicolas bolts for the airport, great life being a boat owner.  There is a big shiny motor cruiser docked up beside us. The owner is probably off working to pay its $500 an hour running costs, but the crew are relaxing and getting ready to fly home. We have been chatting to them while we wait. We all head off for lunch in the marina restaurant, Nasi Goring and Bintang all round. Back on the boat, they hand us over a whole pile of gourmet delicacies like Bacon, Icecream, and unopened jars of Caviar from their fridge. I could get used to this.
Muz heads off shortly afterwards. Colin and I hang around, and for christmas day we swap out the old autohelm pump. It's not all work, we stay at the Jakarta. It's in town, has a nice pool filled with bogans, lots of laundries, and restaurants around it. Things I need. I have a hot shower, and a shave. Colin get his first decent sleep for a week. Then there was one. I hang around another day, and jump the Jetstar flight back home. It cost $1100 plus to get to Karratha, just $187 to fly twice the distance home. Gotta love Australia.

Posted by bondrj at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 2 January 2019 12:27 PM EADT
Friday, 9 November 2018
Eject Eject Eject !!!
Topic: Asia

    Some times you just have to get outa town. Melbourne is a great place to live. As a city we have been voted the worlds most livable city more regularly times than any one else. This year we were shocked to come second to some European hole. Vienna, what were they thinking, Opera houses, and schnitzel. I don't know how, but by some dark art the panel must have figured out in advance that Collingwood would be playing in the AFL grand final. A week of Collingwood gloating, and misery awaits all non pies supporters. Time to dump the canopy, and bail out for a week, while Pie's supporters drag Melbourne back to the stone age.
    Fortunately I have an escape plan. Friends of mine are spending a week in Cambodia visiting an orphanage they support. Thai has airfares on sale, my passport has a spare page in it. A bit of retail therapy and I'm there. I fly out Saturday night and return Monday morning a week later. Hopefully most of the fires will be out by then.
    Cambodia is a bit of a mystery to me, I know a bit about Pol Pot, and they have had an elected government for the last thirty or so years but not much else. I catch up with my friends at Bangkok, and forty minutes later we are flying over the flooded fields ready to land at Siem Reap. I hand the customs bloke my passport and $30 USD. He passes it down a line of ten well dresses officials who all do something, and then its handed back to me at the other end of the counter with a visa in it. At least I have created some employment here. My friends have booked up several nice hotels for their stay here, so they  can check out several different day spa's for their work. A couple of days in each the up side of this is there is a Vintage Rolls Royce waiting to pick us up at the airport. The hotel looks magnificent, but unfortunately they're booked out so I can't stay there. Fortunately just around the corner is the Frangipani where for $ 40 a night I can get a nice room with breakfast. First impression, hotels are cheap, and the service is fantastic. This pretty much holds true for the rest of the week. Game plan, Quick shower, back to the nice hotel for swim, then walk in to town for lunch. Visit orphanage, the head out for dinner.  We wander into town, and find pub street. Its pretty hard to miss. There are neon signs with arrows pointing to pub street from about 4 blocks in every direction. Pub street is not very busy, but then again it is ten o'clock Monday morning. Beers are 50 cents, so we grab a  table on the street, and become their first customers. 
    After lunch we grab a Tuk Tuk, and head out to the orphanage. The guys have bought a whole heap of crafty stuff with them, so when we arrive it's bedlam. The place is in a 2 story house and they look after 15 children from 4 to 15. It's school holidays, so the kids are at home. A face painting, colouring frenzy ensues.I get introduced. All the kids are extremely polite and speak a bit of English, which gets rapidly better once they lose their shyness. There are two broken bikes with flat tires, so my job is to teach the older guys how to fix them. We leave as it gets dark, with promises of returning the next day. Next day we are greeted by six kids on two bikes. Over the next week we fix the bikes, and get a couple more. The hotel I'm at agrees for a fee to let us bring the kids for a swim. So for three days in a row five kids, and Cathy the boss rock up at the Frangipani for a swim. Well Cathy can't swim so I spend two hours in the water looking after them. Once they are in they don't want to get out, I've never been so clean in my life. We hit the market to buy some new shelving, another football, and some more bike bits. We take the kids, and nanny's on some excursions and out for a couple of meals. I can see why they were so happy when the guy's turned up. One morning I get up early and squeeze a trip in to Ankor Wat.
    At night we do fine dinning.. Another Marie is also here volunteering so the four of us generally meet up at what ever hotel my mates have shifted to that day for cocktails, a swim, then into town for dinner. One night we go clubbing, unfortunately the grand final is on the next day. We are three hours ahead so that means an eleven thirty start after a four am finish. I get to the Sports bar with a thick head, it's full of Aussies in team kit. The Pies start strong, are three goals up at the last break, but true to form choke in the last ten minutes. That night we do a bit of retail therapy, before catching the Roller back to the plane. My work here is done. I return home to a normal Monday in the worlds most livable city.

    The Children's sanctuary is supported by the Sapphire care foundation. Consider giving them a bit of your hard earned as they distribute 100% of their tax fee donations directly to several worthy causes.

    You can check their work out at the, or here on Facebook.

As usual click the pic above for some of my trip pics.

Cheers 007 

Posted by bondrj at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 10 November 2018 9:47 PM EADT
Friday, 12 October 2018
Western Plains Zoo
Topic: Australia



It's a long way to Queensland from Victoria. Somewhere around the middle is Dubbo, and at Dubbo is the Western Plains Zoo. It's one of the few places in the world where you can see White Rinos along with a whole pile of other intresting things. It's well worth the stop if your going past.

Click the pic for more.

Click here for the Gibbons and turn the volume up.

Posted by bondrj at 12:01 AM NZT
Updated: Saturday, 13 October 2018 8:51 PM NZT
Sunday, 23 September 2018
The Pointy Bit At The Top
Topic: Australia

       "Go north young man" they said, and so we did. Melbourne has hit midwinter, traditional holiday season of Melbourne supporters and myself. While the Range Rovers are queing up to get into the Alpine national park, I'm looking for something a bit warmer. Mick has been driving up the coast of Oz for a couple of months  now in his new 4wd, and he has finally got to where the thermometer has hit the positive range. Happy, who will be familiar to readers from the Griswold adventures, has agreed to join us. Together we will be tackling one of the last great Aussie treks. Cape York. 
       Cape York, land of abandoned Landcrusiers, buried in the bottom of crocodile infested rivers, surrounded by impossible corrugated impassable tracks hacked through the bush occupied by spear wielding natives. Yer that one. Even better still we are doing it in a Subaru outback something seen as a tonka toy by most serious 4wd owners. And so Happy and I,having survived a grueling jetstar flight ( they had run out of cheese toasties),  caught up with Mick at Cairns Airport. Happy and my swags eventually appeared amongst the samsonites, I change into my battle gear (stubbies and thongs), and finally the three amigos were assembled and ready. Logistically the expedition has three key personal. Mick is chief planner. He has prepared detailed spreadsheets of the journey with times and distances between suitable fairtrade organic coffee shops. This level of planning is essential when one is heading away from the borders of Richmond and into the hipster unknown. Happy is our chief motivator and driver. Having come from a background of sales, he expects us not just to meet our targets but to exceed them. As usual I'm assigned to everything else. We start off with a Team meeting and a pep talk. Easy start today only  a hundred clicks with a lunch at Port Douglas.      
   Next, Cape Trib, things aren't to hard here, we camp on the beach, get gourmet pizza, with a nice little Guatemalan Arabica. The next day the rough stuff begins so we start off with swim in the Trevethan falls  followed by a Scallop pie at the Cooktown bakery. Elim beach is our camp spot. It's spectacular, but no swimming here because of the crocs, no power, no bar, and no food. Hap and I break out the survival ration pack, think about setting of the EPRB to get uber eats, but open the 2 liters of emergency drinking Cab Sav instead. We rustle up camembert, and salmon fettuccine for dinner.
       On day three, a serious problem occurs when Happy realises Mick's spreadsheet agenda isn't tuned to achieve a proportionate viable outcomes with maximum bleeding-edge functionality. We are booked into the Laura Motel to recover after our day of roughing it, but it's a meer 300km away. We get there at three then retire to the pub, eat steak,and drop the tyre pressures. Tomorrows dirt. 
    Lunch Coen, move on, nothing to see here, Dinner Archer river. My god this is primitive, the burger isn't even MSA certified wagyu. Thankfully the next day is my birthday and we are going to the luxurious Weipa resort. Following the spreadsheet we get their around about lunchtime and drive around till we find some Sulawesi Robusta. It's next to a nice bakery with fresh whole grain bread and salad, something we haven't seen for 1500 km. I choose a mince pie. The resort is actually a pub catering to FIFO workers. There is no pool, and some dongas. Fortunately we have a room close to the bar, and the special is roast beef . The bowls club has a happy hour, and the temp has hit the high twenties. For my birthday I buy a new pair of thongs from Woolworths. Lets party.
        At our morning sales meeting after a pep talk by Happy, we make a new pledge to target collaborative  ROI, whatever that is. Fired up we head for the line. That night we make Bramwell Station. It is Australia's most northerly cattle station. For a reasonable price you get an average donga, good dinner and a great show. The bar is open late.  It's a slow start the next morning but fortunately we are only 240 km from the top.  We are now at the start of the telegraph track, this is where people with too much money see if they can get a five thousand dollar tow truck to rescue their one hundred thousand dollar toyota. We drive to the first creek crossing, there is a ten foot straight drop off into the creek, one hundred and fifty meters of mud then a similar climb out on the other side. Fortunately there is a chicken track a bit further on which is much easier. 
    Even better still  there is a made maintained road where you can avoid the whole mess, and the RACQ will tow you from if you breakdown. We take a few photos and head back to the road. A swim and lunch at fruit bat falls, we even do a bit of the telegraph track and a creek crossing to check out Elliot Falls. Then off to the Jardine river crossing to pay our  one hundred dollars white fella tax to the locals for a permit and a 30 meter river crossing. We are so close now we can taste it. There is even bits of sealed road. Bamaga has a bakery with an espresso machine. Refueled we surge on.  Another twenty km of dirt and we hit the end of the road. Only a one km walk left now, I've got the new thongs on, let's hit it. Half an hour later we are there, a unremarkable bit of coast with a sign that says this is the most northerly point in mainland Australia. I stand just below the high water mark just to make sure I've got right to the top. Target achieved, Happy smiles.
       That night we celebrate with a bucket of prawns, steak, and a nice red at Loyalty beach while watching the sun set. The next day we boat out to Thursday Island, which was named Friday island, until they swapped names so they fitted in with Tuesday and Wednesday islands. This was the main thing I remember from our short bus tour around the island. It's a bit like Tasmania, an Island, and everyone works for the government. No wonder it took a couple of goes to get the name right. Being a administrative center there is plenty of soft cheese and single origin coffee available here.
        The truth is what was once a major expedition involving serious four wheel driving is now a thousand kilometer drive with a fair bit of dirt road. The government's aim is to have all the road sealed by 2020. Don't get me wrong, but if you were careful you could do it in a Hyundai. If you want to get bogged there are still lots of options but you have to choose them.  Thanks to Mick for the ride and Hap for the company.

Cheers 007

More pics here.

Posted by bondrj at 2:31 AM NZT
Updated: Sunday, 23 September 2018 2:43 AM NZT
Monday, 10 September 2018
Game On
Topic: Australia
    I  recently went to an indigenous music festival in Gregory FNQ. The music was great, Archie Roach, The Flood, and others.  After the 6 acts came on to tell me, as a fat old white bloke was responsible for all the world's ill's back to the start of time, I was about to call it quits. As the last band was winding up it's final grand encore, I noticed a whole pile of the locals had turned up. There had been a couple of hundred watching the music, half of which were staff, another quarter scoffing beer in the vip tent, plus a few of us whitie's. Now there were four hundred here.
      "Ladies and Gentlemen, you don't have to go home but you can't stay here", and with that the lights came up on a big tent at the side of the stage. "Gather round for the greatest show on earth. In the middle of a makeshift skinny boardwalk ten feet up, was a old bloke banging a drum and hollering into a bullhorn. "Ring the bell Lucy", Lucy was a muscly looking girl at one end, banging a steel post against the world's most mistreated bell. Ding, Ding, Bang Bang, gather round, "Who wants to fight?"  Ding, Ding, Bang, Bang, "Those Mount Isa boys thought they could fight", Ding, Ding, Bang, Bang. "What we had here last night, the best I've seen". Ding, Ding, Bang, Bang.  "You boys look like you can fight, who's in? give us your best." And with that the blokes around me started pointing at their mates. "He fight good Bros". Hell, these guys are keen to get beaten up. "First I need a girl". Fingers go everywhere, and eventually he chooses one, she looks like she can handle herself. She's invited up on the plank. What's your name Sweetheart, a quick interview, and she's off to the far end. 
    Lucy bangs the bell. "I need six six blokes,good fighters". Buy now the crowded is right into it. People are being pushed forward left right, and center. Gradually the challengers are chosen. The plank has a purpose, being thin and high it's used  to weed out the drunks. Some challengers are dismissed with "too drunk, won't do any of us  any good" after they weave a bit to much on the high walk. Who knows where those blokes have been. As a paying punter I can only get 6 light beers a night with a personalised drink card. A quick interview each, Ding, Ding, Bang, Bang, and the right side of the plank gets another punter. The challengers, all blackfella's are a mix of big, small, wiry, and all look like they can fight.
    "And now the fighters, bellows the bloke with the megaphone", If they can hit half as hard as he's belting the drum is getting it's going to be a good night. The crowd  pushes forward, as blokes with names like the Cabramatta Mauler, and Light out Lucas, are introduced, and take their place on the left side of the stage. Like the challengers they are all different sizes, but they look hard. The bouts are matched up on size, with the Cabbermatta Mauler getting the first and last bout. The spruiking is over, Don't push, plenty of room inside, plenty of room, the crowd heads in.
    Inside there is a mat and a circle of hay bales about the size of a standard ring. First in get to sit on the bales, while the rest of us get to stand. No one is more than five deep from the action. The challengers are getting some tips from an old bloke who looks like he knows his way around the ring. He ties on their gloves, and cools them with water from a spray bottle. The Spruker has become the announcer. "WE'RE IN FOR A GREAT NIGHT HERE-------LADIES-------AND--------GENTLEMENNN."  Not too much talking is need as the crowd is already fired up. Here we fight using the Marquess of Queensberry rules. No MMA, kicking, biting, or scratching, just a straight up contest between two equals. Lets begin, but first we need a ring girl. One of the young local girls gets picked,  all her mates egg her on. In the first round the Mauler is matched up with Chocko a young thickset bloke who could probably lose a few kilos. The ring girl does her job, and "BING" it's on. Three, ninety second rounds per fight.
             The air is electric. Everyone is screaming, no one more than Chocko's mates. Chocko shapes up, he looks like he's had a few lessons. Him and the Mauler circle each other with a few jabs. 30 seconds to go, and some real punches get thrown. Chocko takes a bit of punishment then hits connects with a big right. The crowd go nuts. DING. Round one over. Back in the corners the trainers work the spray bottles over time. Chocko's getting some tips, the ring girls out, BING. Having sized each other up their straight into it. A few jabs, get close, let loose. The Mauler lands a couple, but it's not all one way, a few more jabs, the a late flurry at the end. Bing. My call, It's about even. The big difference is Chocko is panting like a dog on a forty degree day. The Mauler is not looking fresh but his fitness is showing. Bing, last round. Chocko gets in close and goes for it, he get the Mauler off balance and into the crowd. Those front seats are very close to the action. Chocko just about makes it to the end, but the Mauler get good left in and knocks him over. The ump steps in and stops the fight.  The fighters stand either side of the ref and the Maulers hand is raised. The Mauler and Chocko congratulate each other on a good fight. No time to wait, the next challenger is already gloved up.
    And so it goes on. There are seven fights on the card, if someone is clearly getting beaten, the ref steps in and stops the fight. Lucy the bell girl nails her opponent in the first round. Everyone is crammed around the ring like sardines. In the next a wiry challenger wins on points with only a bit of claret coming out of his chops at the end of the bout. The highlight is a tag team match. Two thickset blokes and two skinny guy's take turns at each other. The big guy's can box, and put on a good show, then tap out. The skinny challenger comes out like a turbocharged windmill on meth. No sizing up here, the best form of defense is attack. He only stops swinging when the bell rings at the end of the round. The trainer has a talk to the lads while spraying them. The big guys are about even both getting a couple of good shots in, the they tap out and the little blokes go at it full tilt, the only break is when the ref steps in . It's close but in a very popular decision the challenges come up trumps.  The Mauler is back out for the last fight, It's close but he remains undefeated. In the end, the score is 4/3 to the pro's.
    Was that an hour and a half, it seemed like five minutes. Everyone is pumped. We all file  out while the bloke with the bull horn tells us to keep it cool on the way home. Apparently the night before some of the community boys wanted to keep the show going outside. Everything's cool, I wander off exhausted, It's Fifty meters back to my tent. "I'm not going home,I am staying here".
    The great Fred Brophy's Boxing Troupe is the last boxing tent touring Australia. Once upon a time they were at every country show.  I would have loved to taken some photos but my phone was flat, besides it didn't work anywhere out bush anyway. You can get a general feel for the action here.

Posted by bondrj at 12:01 AM NZT
Updated: Friday, 14 September 2018 6:53 PM NZT
Monday, 2 July 2018
Casey 88
Topic: Antarctica

Helecopter photo Hele.jpg


     As the chopper winds down and a toyota hilux pulls up, we jump in the back with our gear.  500 meters over the snow to my new home. A twenty foot meat container fitted out with two bunks and four little windows. Someone has done a large drawing on the door titled "The Asylum". It's not too bad, there is a curtain to cut the space in half, and  I'm only sharing it with one other bloke named Reggie, of course that's not his real name, just a nickname like everyone seems to have acquired during our training time. Trainings over Kiddies, this is home for the next five months. Most of us are summerer's, and as they say here for a good time not a long time. The real people the winterers live in "the Tunnel' a 500M long  line of Squat gray boxes raised above the snow on scaffold tube. A semicircular un insulated corrugated iron  walkway connects them facing east, that's the direction the blizzards come from. The boxes are separated so if one of them burns down in theory the rest won't. When it gets windy the snow goes over or under, and piles up on my donga on the west side. The top of the tunnel's all business, Coms, OIC, Met, Doc Science, the bottoms where the action is, 2 Living Dongas , Mess and the all important Bar. When we have  all arrived we assemble in the mess and the OIC Tom reads us the riot act. What not  to do, and where not to go. That over we all head to the bar to get to know each other. The winters look a bit shell shocked having their numbers  doubled overnight. As well as that a few of their friends are RTA ing back to OZ. Their quiet life is over. Some are happy to see some new faces. Being locked up with a bunch of people for a long time involves a lot of group dynamics, quite often the result is not good. NASA actually studies Antarctic bases for tips on long term space flights. Casey 88 seems to have done pretty well, and they are a tight group, it will take them a while to warm to us. The boat leaves and were on our own.
         Living on an Antarctic base is a bit like living in a little country town. everyone knows everyone , and nobody new ever drives into town. Money is worthless, gossip is gold, it's the ultimate socialist state. Food, clothing, and beer are provided. Everyone has a job. We have a Station Leader whose job is to keep the outside world happy. Moss and Erica a couple of Boffins who are doing research on slime, and everyone else who basically keeps the place running. The whole body count runs to about 50 people. We communicate to the outside world through wizzas (telex's) sent by HF radio, which may or may not work. The order of business is Met readings, Ant Div business, then personal communications are on the bottom of the list. The mail service runs once every boat.. Once you're here you're stuck here, if we can't fix it ourselves it ain't gunna get fixed.
         I work for Australian Construction Services (ACS), there are 20 of us and our job is to get the new base, which we have been building over the last 8 years ready for next year's winterers who will turn up in a couple of months time. Its about a 1KM away from the old base and a completely different design. No tunnels, each building is its own square little coloured lego block set on a white background. They are positioned so the snow from one doesn't pile up on any of the others, and the wind keeps the entries on the side of the buildings clear. The buildings all have different colours, red is accomodation, blue is services, green stores, Yellow coms and admin. The new workers are called buttercups, their recognisable by their bright yellow clean overalls, and their bewildered look. We can't find any thing, everything, is stored somewhere in one of hundreds of boxes or containers. The old hands don't seem to do much but get lots done, we spend all day wandering around, and get nothing done. I cut the sleeves off my issue overalls with a stanley knife, a bit of dirt, and all of a sudden I don't look like a buttercup. Our two main jobs over the summer are to get the aptly named RED SHED, ready for the winters to move into, and build a fire station. The red shed is like a luxury hotel compared to the tunnel. Two stories high, with huge open common areas, a mess, cinema, library, dark room, brew/smokers room, surgery and a bar. Being new it has the feeling of an empty box. Like any building job we are going to have to rush to finish it for it's new residents. I'm a sparkie, one of five here, so for the next two months I do any thing but. I paint, lay carpet, vinyl, assemble furniture, hang curtains, stack stores.
    When I'm not in the red shed, I'm batching concrete, driving a rock crusher, fixing steel, or assembling formwork, to get the fire station out of the ground. Batching concrete consists of standing on top of a hopper with three other blokes slashing at 20kg bags of premix in the wind for eight hours straight. It's the worst job in the place, cold, hard and dirty. They soon discover that having grown up on a farm I'm a pretty good loader driver, which suits me fine as it's clean, easy, and warm. My tape player even fits nicely in the Cat 950's cab. We have a quarry where we turn big rocks into little rocks. The rock crusher has a little cab, and I find with the addition of a fan heater, I can sit down, read a book, and keep it crushing by just listening to the sound it makes to turn the rock feed on and off. On a cold day I can pretty much spend the day going from crusher cab to loader cab, and read a hundred pages at the same time. Our one Mack dump truck has no brakes, so only a few of us are happy to drive it, I don't care, the heater works. Eventually I have to do some electrical work. The cable trays that connect the buildings have finally melted out of the snow. We have to extend them and run new cables to the buildings. Running the cables is quick, tying them to the tray with stainless steel cable ties take forever. The best part is when you look up, you are surrounded by ice, icebergs, and hills, with a view that stretches forever.
    At the end of December the resupply voyage arrives. This is the major event for the year, most the old winterers leave, the new ones arrive. We get a years worth of everything off the boat and stack it in the stores, then we load all the busted gear and rubbish back on the boat. The boat doesn't pull up at the wharf it stays a km out in the bay. A million liters of diesel, gets pumped ashore through a long black pipe. Containers, trucks, buildings and everything else are loaded on to a barge, floated across to shore and the craned onto a log skidder to be hauled up a hill. On top of this we have to move a lot of stuff from one base to the other.  First off the boat is the mail. A whole new bunch of buttercups arrive, looking bewildered. That was me just three months ago.The round trippers, and staff going to other bases get off too, they are the lowest form of base life being here for just a short time. We entertain them "especially the girls" at the bar with heroic stories. If they wander off to the loo and leave their camera a quick few dick photos are taken. There are more than a few young ladies who have had interesting conversations with their parents after they have sent a unprocessed roll of film back home to be developed.  We move them into their new quarters and have a huge Xmas lunch together. Most of them I have meet before in Hobart. After four days the job is done and the boat leaves with a third of the people we have got to know well in the last month. We shoot off rockets and flare pistols as they sail away.The old winterers wander around looking a bit lost, but eventually decide to have a wake at the bar. There isn't room for us all in the red shed, and the tunnel feels more homely any way so I move into a vacated doonga. I am to be one of the last Tunnel Rats as they are known. There is always a bit of a rift after changeover, but this is exacerbated by the fact that we are now two crews living on two separate stations. When we have a blizzard we are completely separated. The new guys are now in charge, and want to do things their way which is quite often different to the old way. Sometimes it's better, but sometimes they just haven't had time to figure out the way things work here. We all work, and eat together but the split is there till we leave at the end of summer.
    It's not all work. New years eve is second only to midwinter in antarctic celebrations. It's the only day we get off over the summer.  The bar in the red shed is a bit soulless so we have it in the club at the tunnel. A beach party complete with polystyrene palm trees and hula skirts. Fort Knox is raided and the club is stacked with booze. It's now light 24 hours a day so you can't tell when it's time to call it quits. Crazy drinking, Phil's Guitar, and the record player gets a pounding. Budgie comes as a beach front developer, and jumps into the bar at 2am with a revving chainsaw cutting one of the palm trees down. Thank God he's a teetotaler. 2 bottles of Ouzo later I bail at 7am leaving Orby and Slippery holding up the bar. I wake up the next morning at feeling like the chainsaw is still going in my head. Ouzo, what was I thinking, I don't even like the stuff. It's Australia day so we have a cricket match, and some a swim.
    Everyone here is a joker. If you fall asleep outside your bed you will wake up covered in marker pen. The abutions has toothpaste and shaving cream sitting on the bench below the mirrors, put the two ends together, squeeze the shaving cream and, the next person to brush their teeth looks like a rabid dog. Billy the chef, spends his days making crumbed tea towel schnitzels, and foam rubber lamingtons. We spend our days blowing up met balloons full of talcum powder in his room, and rewiring his light switches, of course we lock the door on the way out. No one here has a key. Birthday cakes explode, Overalls get mysteriously sewn up., the strawberry topping is actually chilli sauce.
    The fire station slowly rises from the dirt. Our working day consists of Breakfast( Cereal,toast), ute to the Red Shed, Smoko (Toasties, cake), Lunch  (full cooked meal with 2 choices, desert) Afternoon tea (pack of mint slices each) 5.00 Shower and beer at the club, Dinner, (same as lunch), back to the club. No one loses weight here. After work time is spent watching videos, reading in the library, or developing film in the dark room. Ian and I play billiards. We walk to Shirley Is to check out the penguins. Spend time building stuff as a hobby, playing darts, or putting down a batch of hommers (home brew). It's light all night, so sometimes a couple of us get on some trikes (motorized three wheel death machines), and go hooning over to Wilkes an abandoned American base,go cravace slotting, or up to the aeroplane tail, the only bit that  sticks out of ice from a 60's plane crash. We have Sunday off and get three "Jolly" days where we can go out on field trips. There are a couple of field huts where you can escape the base, and enjoy the silence.  Grab a couple of steaks, a slab from Fort Knox, and head off to Wilkes,Jack's, or Browning to do heroic stuff.
    The big jolly is the dome, a hundred clicks inland, there is a team drilling down 1000 meters into the ice. Getting there involves a bit of wheeling and dealing and three days off. Five of us head off through the pass and up to SI, a pile of 44 gallon drums welded together that marks the start of the inland trail. Our vehicle is a haglund, a bit like two corn flakes boxes tied together with tracks. A $250,000 dollar vehicle designed to glide through the soft snow of Sweden. Unfortunately Antarctica has no soft snow , only hard ice, and a seat made from plywood with a millimeter of vinyl over it doesn't help. Riding any distance in one is like being beaten with a cricket bat. After a couple of hours the coast disappears and we are surrounded by white in every direction. Our only reference is a line of bamboo canes with flags and beer cans on them heading north south. Blyth Junction, Lanyon Junction, The Antarctic circle. Every now and again we stop to take photos of the odd sign marking nowhere in particular. After five hours at S2 we hang a left, but not before crawling down to the old glacio station, hidden 30 meters below the ice. This is not for the claustrophobic as the floor is slowly rising up crushing the old huts into the ceiling. A couple of hours later we arrive at Law Dome camp. It's a few traverse vans, kitchen,and a pile of 44 gallon drums in the middle of nowhere. A few random vehicles complete the scene. Accomodation is limited so we set up our tents, then head to the mess. Glacio's have a reputation for liking a drink, and it's nice to have some new people in town. Sometime later I stumble off to my tent bed and my two polar sleeping bags on a camp mat. It's a retaviatly balmy -29 deg c. Important. Stuff your socks n jocks in between the bags, that way they will be warm when you go to put them back on. The next day we head three meters below ground level to check out the ice drill. It's a 7meter long computerised marvel, that extracts ice cores, then tilts sideways to regurgitate them. It even has its own NASA style control room. That night over a few frosties Vin keeps us amused with stories of drinking drillers (drilling alcohol put down the bore hole to stop it closing in) while crossing Antarctica on a dozer with a bunch of Russians. The next day Russ wants me to drive D5 dozer back to Casey. The sun's out, and it's a balmy -20 so I pop the roof hatch and sit on it steering with my feet. At 12kmh it's a slow journey, but the ice plateau stretches to the horizon in every direction, only disturbed by the odd cane. Wow.
    As we get into Autumn the snow returns. It snows, it melts,it snows, it melts, it snows, then it doesn't. The sun doesn't set in January, by April it sets at 4.30 in the afternoon and sticks it head back up sixteen hours later. Our little red fire station looks finished on the outside, but it isn't. The  wintering guy's will fit out the rest. We box things up to RTA, clean up the sites for winter, and chill out. The boat arrives at the beginning of May, time to go home, but before then we have a few other tasks. We load the boat with cranes, dozers and trucks. Containers, boxes, and rubbish. We say our goodbyes to the twenty five winterer's, and a couple of Larcs head out to the boat with most of the crew. Only the loading guy's are left, I chuck my wanted on voyage gear in a container, and jump on the Larc. There are fifteen of us, one small container, and two larcs left to load. The crane lifts the container, and a sudden strong gust of wind pushes it around. The operator dumps it on the barge, but we delay our departure for five minutes waiting for the wind to die down. Half an hour later it's blowing 55 knots (100 kmh). The boat takes off and does laps behind a local island. We hide in the Red Shed, my only problem is that all my personal gear is in a container. No toothbrush, towel, runners or clothes. The wind hits 150 Knots, and it Blizzes for two days straight. During a small break Ned and I head to the green store. We have evil in mind. We box up all the spare toilet paper, nail a lid on it, write plastic sheeting on the outside, and take it down to the rack  with 300 other boxes on it. The weather breaks, as i climb up the cargo net on the side of the boat I see the WOV container on a half sunk barge. I stand on the deck as the base recedes into the distance. I'm looking back back thinking to myself I may never be here again.
    Our boat is the Lady Franklin, an old car ferry out of Newfoundland, crewed by a bunch of crazy canucks. We are headed to Macca, then Hobart. Our accommodation is uninsulated tin boxes welded to the car deck, the big box in the center is the engine. The loading door at the front is welded and chained shut. You get a beer for lunch and a beer for dinner, extras cost a dollar, you mark you tab on the fridge with a pen. Slippery wins with a $248 bill not including freebies. We steam north until we are past the icebergs, then the captain throws a party. The one non drinker on the crew stands watch, it's going to be a long watch. The Captain is not bad with a guitar, his one aussie song, "Poor Ned" gets played 30 times in between "The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". We drink a lot of Canadian Club. Otherwise we watch videos and read. The place is like a casino, there are no windows, or clocks, and the lights are on 24 hours a day. Everyone goes onto their own time schedule. On night at I wake up and head up to the bridge,someone else is heading to bed. After three flights of stairs I get on deck. The other blokes there tell me I just missed an Aurora. Then it fires up again. Colours, curtains, radiating spirals, for three hours. The old timers tell me that's as good as they get. We hit Macca, do penguin porn, and hit the club. Hobart is two days away. I walk down the ramp and when I hit the pier, I'm unemployed. Gee there are a lot of people here.

    `Ok so I have been to Antarctica four times. Not all of the above happened in the one trip, but it did happen. A lot more crazy stuff happened in between as well. For the guys who spent a whole year looking for loo paper, I'm sorry. I told the division guys where it was, they just thought it was a good joke and didn't tell you.  For 4 years of my life I spent more time in Antarctica than anywhere else in the world. On my last trip out I stood on the deck and thought I don't care if I'm ever here again, yet the place still haunts me. Thanks for all the good times   cheers  007.
Click the pic above for more

Posted by bondrj at 1:43 AM NZT
Updated: Tuesday, 3 July 2018 5:57 AM NZT
Monday, 4 June 2018
Topic: The Caribbean

  Liming is Caribbean slang for laying around doing nothing. It's one of my specialty subjects, so when my cousin needed a liming expert to accompany him to the caribbean how could I refuse. He was going there to run a Sustainable Farming Workshop. Me, it's winter in Melbourne, it has to be warmer than here. Quick trip to the travel agent, Thommo the global chef needs a crash pad for a couple of weeks, that's the dog sitter taken care of. I'm out'a here.
    Saint Kitts and Nevis is only slightly further away from Australia than the moon, and the flight takes a similar amount of time. We have an overnight break in LA, then somehow mysteriously after arriving together at LAX in the same car, my companions missed their flight. I arrive in St Kitts three hours late because my flight was delayed in Miami, with no idea of what's happening. The others have all the arrangements, I'm just along for the ride. I rock up at their villa in a taxi, but their names aren't on the guest list. Well off to a hotel. Only problem, the plane was late. apparently the plane is never late here because all the staff knock off at 11PM. We try 3 different hotels before I get to the Marriott Hotel Casino. The should have we never close out the front. For the bargain price of $250 USD I get a room. The bar is even open so I get a beer and a feed too. The next day, my companions are still on route so I check out the pool,the bar, the girls around the pool, and the beach. I could get used to this. Later on that day the group is finally all in one place.
     They have a villa that overlooks the Strip, a group of beach bars that provides night life for the island.The next couple of days vanish in a blur of activity. Well for the conference goers at least, you can read about it here if you really want to. I spend my days reading, liming, and enjoying the full cooked breakfast at the B n B  I have moved into. Nights involve a swim and a bit of rum therapy on the Strip, generally followed buy a home cooked meal at the villa. One night our Saint Kitts local cooks us a traditional feed of chicken, beans, rice, slaw and mac. My cuz does some interesting concoctions mostly involving the load of eggplant that he scored  from a farmer on his first day here. I'm thepâtissier, with staples like chocolate self saucing pudding, peach crumble, and muffins. I also provide technical support to the conference boffins showing them how to use complicated technical equipment like the oven, dryer, dishwasher ect. This generally involves finding the "on" button and making sure the door is closed. 
    When the guys are doing field trips I accompany them. We visit farms, and forest to check out some of the local land problems. Pretty much everything here is imported, except for some local veggies There are as many monkeys here as there are people, and the little buggers eat everything. Electric fences and dogs are deployed to try and keep them away  from crops. My seventy year old landlady throws rocks at them to stop them eating her flowers. Nothing besides the rocks seems to be totally effective. The country has two main islands which run fairly independently from each other. One day we catch the ferry across to Nevis, the smaller of the two. The whole country was a giant sugar mill until 2005 when years of losses finally forced the industry to close. Their now pinning their hopes on tourism. The Chinese are building two huge new resort hotels here, and cruise ships bring in thousands of visitors on day trips. They love the monkeys.
    Our last night is a bang up conference dinner in a local restaurant overlooking Basseterre harbor. I have the conch chowder, sea bass, and key lime pie. The Australian government has sponsored part of the event, and the ambassador has brought a pile of Aussie wine for promotional purposes. I finally feel like I'm getting some of those tax dollars back. Everyone seems happy with what they have achieved. My work here is done. 
    Australian Land Care International Is a tax deductible charity run by volunteers. You can check out their work,  and maybe even give them some cash at if you like. Otherwise click the picabove for some more photos of the trip.

Posted by bondrj at 12:59 AM NZT
Updated: Monday, 4 June 2018 1:03 AM NZT
Tuesday, 29 May 2018
Calle Ocho, South Beach,Coconut Grove,Coral Gables,Miami
Topic: North America



  A plane flight from the Caribbean to Australia takes forty two hours with transfers. That's way longer than anyone should spend bottled up in what is really a large coke can. I've got a few days before I have to get home and the can stops in Miami. I get off, while my friends scramble for their bags to make their next connection. Last time I was here Scarface had just been filmed, both the Space Shuttle, and the Apple Mac had just been launched, Miami was the coke capital of the world, which gave Don Johnson a hit TV show.

    I get some local advice from some friends, and end up staying in the Ponce de Leon Hotel in Coral Gables. It's a original art deco 1920's hotel with no lift but a great location. I start checking in in English but by the end it's in Spanish. Easier for both of us. This is pretty much the theme for the next couple of days. There is a huge Latino population here, so talking to the bus driver, or asking directions is easier even in my bad Spanish. I head out to "the bar" for a quick wings and basket ball lunch, and get home 7 hours later.

     Miami itself has changed greatly. There are huge condos everywhere, and they have a great public transport system. There are trolley buses, and a futuristic elevated tram  called Metromover here.  Two little driverless cars do 3 loops around the central downtown area. Best part, they are free to use. There is also a train, and bus system for longer distances. $ 5.25 buys you an all day ticket, and even gets you to the airport.
    Unfortunately It's not really beach weather, so I take my brolly and head off for a day of sightseeing. Little Havana, South Beach, Downtown, and Coconut Grove. "Tick". Ribs, corn, and beer for dinner, my favorite American meal. Next day, a diner breakfast, with a cortado, and the airport. L.A here we come.

Thanks to Caroline and Lauren for the tips, click the pic for more.

Posted by bondrj at 4:36 PM NZT
Updated: Tuesday, 29 May 2018 4:42 PM NZT
Sunday, 22 April 2018
The Showdown in Queenstown
Topic: Oceania

  I'm not a natural golfer. The thought of playing golf five times in six days sounds like torture to me. The trip was organized, paid for, and unfortunately someone had to drop out. Duty called, what could I do. 

Still beats working. Queenstown here we come.

Click the Pic for the full Story

Posted by bondrj at 10:50 PM NZT
Updated: Wednesday, 23 May 2018 11:07 AM NZT

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