Sorry folks, summer keeps me busy out-of-doors and the blog gets put on hold!
After a good nights rest at The Barkley Homestead, our journey in the early morning will take us to Three Ways where the Barkley Highway intersects with the Stuart Highway going north and south. We will be turning northward and stopping in Katherine for a few days enroute to Darwin to visit with our friend Mark and his family.
What interesting places along the way. Such open dramatic looking countryside. It gets hot fairly early but we must be getting used to it as we seem to be able to tolerate it a lot better than some of our trips to the Southern United States where it can be really hot as well. Perhaps it’s the dryness? The terrain is low scrub with the odd Eucalypt growing - some ghost gums and pinkish coloured gums as well. The ghost gums are beautiful. They have a recognizable bark which is smooth throughout, seasonally powdery white to cream and pinkish, shedding in thin patches. I found some on-line information about them: A ghost gum tree confined to arid central Australia from the Gibson Desert near Giles in Western Australia east through the southern Northern Territory extending north and east to Tennant Creek, the Barkly Tableland and into western Queensland south of Mount Isa to Windorah, and east to Barcaldine. It occurs on rocky slopes, red sandplains and usually dry creekflats. Within its natural range Corymbia aparrerinja is recognizable by its entirely smooth white powdery bark, green crown of lanceolate leaves, compound but contracted axillary inflorescences and thin-walled gumnuts that are longer than wide. Credit: http://www.anbg.gov.au/cpbr/cd-keys/euclid3/euclidsample/html/Corymbia_aparrerinja.htm
Some parts of the highway in the Northern Territories had open speed limit while we were there. This is contested now and again following traffic fatalities. The road is so straight and open in some places you can really make time. If you see a road train coming up behind you though, get over and let them go!
This was a long hot trip of over 8 hours with only a couple of fuel stops and time to grab some liquids and take-away food. We had called ahead and our friends were expecting us for supper. We were given very good instructions on how to find their place and we had no problem doing that, arriving late afternoon. We were really happy to take off our helmets, hot boots and have a quick wash. The “Barbi” had already been fired up and there were steaks, chops, and sausages being put on to cook. This was the first time we were meeting Marks young family, at that time a little boy and girl.
We were instructed to sit and relax, dinner was organized and so we chatted and played with the children while the meat on the barbi was cooking and were regaled with a story of this largish snake being found in the doorway that morning. I’d noticed what looked like a chicken run and asked about that and we were told that the last one must have been caught and eaten by a snake as they had all disappeared! Oh that’s terrific! I’m looking at their house and it is really tiny! This must mean we are going to have to finally untie and put up the tent and, oh God!!! What if there are snakes around the tent at night? Panic is beginning to set in! Well, let’s just wait and see what transpires. The table outdoors is set, salads are brought out and the meat is cooked and placed on a large platter. We are all invited to pull up to the table for dinner and I see flies – on everything! On the salads, on the meat, how can this be good for us to eat? Well, you know what they say, “when in Rome”, so we just brushed the flies away and filled our plates and ate a most delectable meal. At last the sun is beginning to drop and we ask about putting up the tent. No! It is all arranged, we are going to be staying with Marks parents who live up the road and down by the Billabong! Huh!
Directions are given and before it gets too dark we are back on the bike and heading off to introduce ourselves to people we don’t know and we are hoping they are not going to be put out with strangers showing up on their doorstep, who are mostly dirty with road dust, sweaty and very much in need of a good shower! Honestly, we arrive at this beautiful property and house with several parked cars and we are wondering if we have found the right place! Indeed we had! What lovely people! The home is fabulous! After brief introductions and unloading our “stuff” from the back of the bike, we are instructed to bring our shoes indoors! (All manner of critters can crawl inside at night) We are shown to a bedroom with an ensuite bathroom and it is gorgeous! By now it is getting late and our new hosts are going to be rising early in the morning as the husband has business somewhere down the road, so quick instructions on leaving the door and windows open (screened) for the fresh cool air in the night, and if we hear what sounds like a scream in the night, don’t worry, it’s just a frog being eaten by a snake! Oh, and when you use the “loo”, check for frogs, they like to reside under the rim where it’s wet and cool, and you may also find them in the shower! We did!
We had such a restful night! No air conditioning other than the fragrant cool air coming through the open windows and door. If any frogs were a snakes dinner we didn’t hear them! Next morning we rose to breakfast dishes and cereals and breads laid out on the counter with instructions to help ourselves. Our new hosts had already risen and gone off somewhere. As we were finishing up, Mark drove up and said he was taking us for a bit of a tour today in his truck and had apprised his parents that we would be back in time for tea (dinner I think that means). He took us to see where his new house is being built by the Billabong.
Now, the photo you see above is the “Billabong”! Isn’t it beautiful? We were told that there are “freshies” in it so they have to make sure the yard is fenced so the children can’t get out and head down there!
Billabong is an Australian English word used to refer to an oxbow lake, a stagnant pool of water attached to a waterway, and these are usually formed when the path of a creek or river changes, leaving the waterway with a dead-end The word is derived from two Aboriginal words: billa meaning “creek” and bong meaning “dead”. This one does not look dead to me! There are so many types of birds around and some swimming in the water! Of course, you know I have to ask what is a “freshie”! Turns out it is a fresh water crocodile. Croc’s are fairly common in the waters both fresh and salt in the Northern Territory! Unlike their much larger Australian relative the saltwater crocodile, freshwater croc’s are not known as man-eaters and rarely cause fatalities, although they will bite in self-defense if cornered.
The rest of our day is spent touring the town and seeing some of the highlights of the area including the Katherine River. Having heard about the Katherine Gorge, tomorrow will see us on a trip in a boat up the river where we will hike up to a falls and have a swim while learning about the area and the history. Our return to Mom and Dads later in the afternoon sees the rest of the family there awaiting our arrival and we are all having dinner together. (This time indoors). Another gorgeous day and when darkness comes everyone is ready to head off to their respective home or bed.
Can you tell how sunburnt I am in the photo above? I really got a burn on my face and back! The hike up to this pool took us a fair bit of time but once we reached it we were all so hot we jumped in – freshies or not!
Returning to our hosts home we spent a really nice evening just getting to know them a little better. They are very down to earth and gracious. Tomorrow, the two men are going off to “work related” places. The children and their mother are coming for the day to have lunch and use the swimming pool and visit. Bed beckons and we truly feel like we can say we’ve spent it in paradise.
In the morning, with the departure of the men after breakfast, Mom and I sit and enjoy a second cuppa and discuss what to make for another family dinner tonight and just general chatter. I am asked about food preferences (we’re both ok with whatever!) She then asks me if we like “chucks, (or chookes or chokes)”. Now I didn’t want to seem ignorant and I knew that Aussies sometimes shorten words and also have different terminology than we do. So in my mind, I’m thinking, Oh, she must mean artichokes (chokes right?) Oh yes, says I! So then she asks me how I would prepare them. Well, says I, (who grew Jerusalem artichokes in my garden as well as the other type of artichokes) generally I would wash them off, peel the skin off with a spoon and sometimes we just eat them raw with a dip of some kind, or boil them up and serve them with a sauce or mashed. (Referring to the Jerusalem type) The others we cut all the outer bits off and usually just eat the cooked heart. Why is she looking at me like that? She almost has a horrified look on her face. Recovering quickly, she just got up and busied herself with cook books (How odd!) and before we knew it the children arrived and we spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool.
Supper that night was delicious, oven baked chicken, salads and other vegetables which were enjoyed by all.
So now it is time for me to come clean about this strange incident with the Mom - but let me first say, this was not revealed to me until about a week later while we were visiting our friends whose wedding we were attending in Darwin.
We had gone to the grocery store (bride and I) and at the meat counter she asked the butcher about his chooks. I said, Nicci, what does that mean? Chooks she said?….you know, chicken, you call chook, chook, chook and they come running for their food! Why she asked! Why indeed. I recounted the story of my description of what I thought were artichokes and how we peeled them with a spoon and ate them raw or mashed, or just ate their hearts……by now she is laughing so hard other people In the store are looking at us! Next time I am going to just ask instead of assuming! That poor woman must have thought we were cannibalistic or something in our country! Well, it made for good entertainment at the family dinner that night!
Tomorrow we will be departing our wonderful new friends home for the shorter trip to Darwin and the reason for our trip to Australia. We have been invited to attend the family dinner at a local Chinese restaurant!