2003-04 (APRIL, 2003)

More Camping In The Blue Mountains - NSW, Australia

Despite a forecast of a rainy weekend, Andy & I decided to follow through on our plan to do another hiking/camping mission in the Blue Mountains this weekend - how could it be any worse than every other camping expedition we've ever done? We were rewarded with a bizarre twist of fate - glorious weather all weekend!

We were a bit more disciplined this time about packing the car the night before, so we got away at a vaguely respectable hour on Saturday morning. Our first stop was our favourite little bakery in Blackheath. We were very good and simply bought some sandwiches to take away, rather than risk getting stuck with a newspaper in the sunshine and an endless supply of great coffee.

The 'Six Foot Track' is a 42-km bridle path between Katoomba and the Janolan Caves. We had elected to hike a short section of the track, camp and then return the way we had come the next day. We were on our way before midday. The route began with a section of farmland before descending into forest and finally down to a river. After 2½ hours of very pleasant walking we came to the point at which we were to leave the track and camp for the night. We had to cross an impressive swing bridge to get to the campsite on the far side of the river - a first for Andy. Our camp spot was idyllic and (for now) we had it to ourselves. We set up the tent and relaxed with a book (Andy is reading me 'A Year In Provence' by Peter Mayle). Another party of campers turned up to spoil our solitude late afternoon (they weren't that bad, actually). As well as good weather, I also broke my other camping jinx - that of forgetting to bring any source of fire - so we even had a hot dinner! This, coupled with the good bottle of red wine I had snuck into my pack, made for a fine evening. The stars glittered at each other and the river muttered to itself. Magic.

We awoke early and packed up our camp site. Breakfast was perfunctory as we were keen to get back to the 'Blackheath Bakehouse' for a more robust repast. After re-crossing the swing bridge we covered the seven kilometres back to the car in just over two hours. We were happily ensconced with a coffee and the paper by 10:30. We returned to Sydney after lunch, dropped the car off and completed our weekend with a trip to the cinema. We saw the fascinating 'In Shifting Sands', a documentary made by the head of the UNSCOM Intelligence Analysis group. UNSCOM was the UN Special Commission responsible for verifying compliance with the UN resolution to disarm Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. A masterpiece of modern cinema it ain't, but it is a very, very interesting look at the period between the two wars in Iraq and the games played in the UN by several governments pushing their own agendas. Recommended.

Dave & Jenny Move House - NSW, Australia

After months of labour, set-backs and traumas, Dave & Jenny finally managed to secure their dream property (20-acres of New South Wales farmland in Upper Lansdowne, a 4-hour drive north of Sydney) and the Easter weekend was 'moving in' weekend.

Early on the morning of a rainy Good Friday, Dave collected us and drove us over to their apartment in Bondi Junction. There we met Paul, Dave's brother, and commenced the loading of the 3-tonne truck Dave had hired for the move. We had been dreading this bit, as no-one was confident that Dave & Jenny's healthy collection of furnishings would all fit into a single truckload. This was of concern, as this was their last day in the Bondi Junction apartment (Jenny is not moving up to the farm until after their wedding in August, but they decided not to keep the apartment on until then - she'll come and stay with us until at least mid-June). For the next four hours the boys dodged the showers and loaded the truck, whilst the girls packed and cleaned the apartment. During the morning the Curtis/Harris household grew by one - they took delivery of a six-week-old, mongrel terrier puppy that had been causing havoc at a friend's house. We took a short break at 12:30 to do a sandwich run and then got on the road, hoping to be up at the farm before sunset. Andy and I joined Jenny in the Vitara, whilst Paul, Dave and the puppy rode up in the truck. The journey was slower than expected (although, happily, we had missed the bulk of the Easter traffic) and we didn't arrive at the farm until well after dark. The question of whether to begin unloading the truck was put to a vote and was swung by the fact that we had nothing to sit on until the sofa had been excavated. We elected to unload just enough to get us set up for the evening. With our goal achieved, however, we encountered a major snag in the plan for the rest of the evening - no beer. And not just that - there are two days in the year when the sale of alcohol is restricted in Australia and Good Friday is one of them. Bvgger! This realisation lead to an immediate drop in morale, I can tell you. We decided to finish unloading the truck (we had nothing better to do). Spirits were low. Then Dave had an idea - perhaps Jenny's brother-in-law, Trevor, who lives less than half-an-hour away, would have some beer stocks that could be 'borrowed' for the evening. And he did! He even drove half-way over to us so that Dave didn't have to come all the way in to town to meet him - we like Trevor. Whilst Dave was on the beer run, Paul and I finished unloading the truck (our morale had bounced back up - a bit sad really, but they). The rest of the evening was spent supping ale and shooting the breeze on the massive veranda at the rear of the new house.

Saturday dawned clearer than the previous day, but the threat of rain was still present in a moody sky. Today was 'quick fix' day and Trevor and family came over to help out. After a hearty breakfast, we got started with a quick re-paint of the main living areas (the green and purple colour scheme just had to go). The saying "many hands make light work" was proved beyond doubt and we had completed two coats of paint by lunchtime. Trevor, Dave and Jenny batted on after lunch, but the rest of us eased back and didn't contribute much for the rest of the afternoon (Andy, Paul and I managed to plant a lime tree, though). Dave and Trevor gunned up the Agar-esque stove in the kitchen and the heat it gave off was phenomenal. Nine of us sat down to a splendid evening meal on the veranda and the wine and beer flowed once more. Dave, Andy, Paul and I decided to go wildlife spotting with a couple of torches and by the time we returned the rest of the household had turned in for the night.

Despite a relatively early evening, Andy and I slept-in until well after 08:00. The rest of the house was already up doing chores, so we helped cook breakfast for everyone. The chicken coop (currently uninhabited) had been cleared of weeds and no sign of the resident Carpet Python had been found. The beds and the rest of the furniture was reassembled and placed around the house. The last of the boxes were unpacked and the sole breakage was ritualistically discarded. A momentary drama involving a lost engagement ring was soon resolved and tears forgotten. Dave managed to top the prior day's record of 400°F on the wood stove in the kitchen. Andy and I read a good deal of our books. A splendid day, all round. By evening we were back to just the original five movers, so Paul and I were put on 'booze procurement' duty. We will both remember the trip to the Lansdowne Bowls Club for the rest of our lives. The average rural Australian is a curious breed, but the sort that hang out in the local bowls club on a rainy Easter Sunday evening defy description. We came away with our lives and a few bottles, however, so the mission was viewed as a success (that is, until we tasted the wine we'd bought). A fine evening of Mojitos (white rum, lime juice, crushed mint and ice) beer and wine ensued under a starry sky. Bliss.

On Monday the boys decided to go for a drive up into the rain-forest-clad mountains that surround Upper Lansdowne and on into the high plains beyond. We stopped for an excellent lunch at the 'Udder Café' in Comboyne before returning to the house. By the time we got in it was almost time to make our way into to Taree in order to catch our train back to Sydney. Dave saw us off at the station and the 5½-hour journey south passed pleasantly, if somewhat slowly. We were home just after 22:00 - a most excellent and relaxing weekend, the first of many more on Dave & Jenny's farm methinks.