Heading off on the first leg of my 2013 outback trip, I faced a two to three day drive and the prospect of rain which could make the station roads and tracks impassable to my 2wd ute pulling the trailer with the quadbike.
So prepared to camp at Bookaloo siding for a day or two if need be, till things dry out, I kissed Lesley goodbye for a few weeks and pulled out of the back yard of our home in Bega, New South Wales (NSW) for the 1800km journey.
Cold and overcast, photos taken through the windscreen of the ute were pretty drab, but the ute's heater kept me warm and the excitement of the trip spurred me on.
Through the rural village of Bemboka, not so far from home, up Brown Mountain and onto the Monaro, then into the Kosciuszko National Park.
In the high country I soon found myself driving in the clouds and before long it was raining. Clouds and rain with poor visibility. Then, approaching Yarangabilly Caves, the low cloud lifted and I could put my foot down a again.
Talbingo Mountain, the western equivalent of Brown Mountain and the decent from the Great Dividing Range, is steep, windy and narrow, maybe 8km in second gear with my load on. No photos down here! Full concentration all the way.
Past Talbingo Dam with the hydro-electric power station, past Blowering Dam, another of the huge engineering feats of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, through Tumut with it's pine mills and surrounded with the conifer plantations, and then onto the start of the Hay Plains, following the Murrumbidgee River to it's junction with the Murray
My first night out was spent in a truck parking bay, 99km short of Mildura, a reasonably quiet stretch of highway. The second night, however, wasn't so quiet with the trans continental railway and the highway carrying freight and some passengers around the country between Sydney and Melbourne in the east, Adelaide in the south, Darwin in the north and Perth in the west, the railway line and the highway being about 50 metres respectively to my left and right.
A couple of times I awoke to the sound of a big truck belting along at 110k/h on the wet road. It sounded as though they were about to run right over me as they approached! The freight trains weren't real quiet either.
With a bit of shopping to do, I lost some time in Mildura and had lunch by the Murray River, actually it was ..... on the NSW side, Mildura being in Victoria, across the river.
At the fruit fly inspection station, the man was quite concerned about the green snail outbreak around Cobram, but no, I had no leafy veggies from that area.
My second night, mentioned above, was spent near Port Pirie in South Australia (SA) and it rained all night. But I was snug and dry under the canopy on the back of the ute. A questionable meal of a packet of shortbread biscuits, then an email to Lesley, and off to sleep.
Bookaloo is a former siding on the trans continental railway line. Nothing there these days apart from a few rotten sleepers and some twisted railway line, likely from a derailment of the past. But Bookaloo, midway between Port Augusta and Pimba on the Stuart Highway, is right opposite the turn to Pernatty homestead, 59km up a dirt road that is quite OK when it's dry but impassable after only a light rainfall.
As luck would have it, as I was having a look around Bookaloo, I noticed the flashing light of a work ute which turned out to be the road maintenance men assessing the road and about to open it to 4x4 vehicles only. They told me I'd get as far as the turn to South Gap Station but with a few hours sunshine and wind, I should get to Pernatty Homestead, later in the afternoon.
So I had brunch at the South Gap intersection about noon and waited there till the road was noticeably drier.
On advice from Joel and Edith at the homestead I terminated my journey at the shearers quarters, getting bogged 100metres short of my goal. Not too far to carry enough gear for the night!
This country sure does dry out quickly! Within a couple of hours I was able to unload the quadbike and get the ute out of the mud and up to the shearer's cookhouse.
Since I was last at Pernatty, the station has been sold. The new Owner, Col Greenfield, has changed over from Merino sheep to Dorpa, a meat only breed, so no more shearing at Pernatty.
Consequently the shearer's quarters have run down beyond the pretty basic state of the past. Kangaroos have been camping in most of the accommodation rooms with dead roos in two or three rooms. They get in, the door shuts and that's where they stay.
So I opted to set up my bed in the mess room, adjacent to the kitchen. Pretty basic, of course, but at least I now had a bit of space and shelter from the strong wind and any further showers.
Well, you know, most of the people that I rub shoulders with couldn't or wouldn't live like this. I don't begrudge them their comforts, but I sure wouldn't swap with them either.
So over the coming weeks I'll travel around on the bike, photographing the dead trees, salty creek beds, space gibber plains and whatever else grabs me in this arid landscape. Good sheep and cattle country, but hard country!