Avalook at Australia News

Issue Number 31, 7 July 2002

ISSN 1443-0797

Editors: Eric Lindsay and Jean Weber

In this issue...

Our outback tours for 2002
Barcaldine CMCA rally trip - May 2002
Mobile phone coverage maps
Bank accounts in Australia: opening an account and bank fees
Subscription information

Our outback tours for 2002

I'm writing this newsletter in the small town of Karumba Point, on the Gulf of Carpentaria in Far North Queensland. We're in the first week of a planned 4- to 6- month trip around the country, going across the top, down the west coast and across the bottom to Adelaide, then home by a route yet undecided. More about the trip next issue.

In mid-May we travelled to the central Queensland town of Barcaldine where we attended the 16th Anniversary Rally of the CMCA (Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia).


Barcaldine CMCA rally trip - May 2002

Barcaldine (pronounced bar-CALL-din, and also known as "Barcy") is 437 km inland from Rockhampton and about 1080 km northwest of the Queensland capital, Brisbane. Although a small country town of only about 1800 people, Barcy is important in Australian history, because here the Labor movement started. The shire (local government area) also provided the first labour representative in Parliament, T J Ryan. Less historical, but more important to us, we have really enjoyed our previous visits to the town, and don't need much of an excuse to return. Notes on a previous visit are in issue 17, which also links to a map of the area.

Sunday 19 May 2002. Because we've made this trip before, this time we decided to take some small detours on the way. Heading west from Mackay on the Peak Downs Highway, we turned off just east of Nebo to take the road north to Glenden, intending to camp overnight at Lake Elphinstone, about which we'd heard good reports.

Unfortunately, when we reached the lake, we found it was infected by blue-green algae, and there were no water, toilet or shower facilities working. It looked like it would have been a pleasant place to camp under better circumstances, and indeed we met some people who had stayed there just a few weeks earlier and enjoyed it thoroughly.

We continued on to Glenden, a very pretty and well laid out mining town, but we didn't see a camping area, although there was a motel. We returned to the main road and stopped overnight at the roadhouse at Moranbah Turnoff, where we'd stayed before with permission of the service station owners.

Monday 20 May 2002.
The next day, heading southwest, we turned off the main Peak Downs Highway not far from Moranbah Turnoff and headed south toward Dysart. This turned out to be the wrong road for a good view of the peaks, but we did see lots of coal trains and mines. We were interested to note the rail lines were electric, as many of the main lines are not.

We passed through the little coal town of Tieri. Although the vegetation in this section of road was interestingly different from many areas, there was little else in the way of scenery. As we got closer to the Gregory Highway at Capella, we found fields of crops, not that we could identify what they were. We do know that cotton is grown in this general area, as are other crops.

We eventually reached Capella, where we ate lunch. The town appears to be in serious decline, with many shops closed, but they have good facilities for large motorhomes to pull over and stay the night for free near the public toilets. (On our way back from Barcaldine, we stayed overnight at the Capella Van Park, a pleasant place.)

We drove through Emerald and turned west onto the Capricorn Highway, reached Alpha and camped for the night at the council caravan park at the showground (a common place to find cheap camping in these small towns). The area had powered sites. We walked the short distance into town for dinner, being too lazy to cook for ourselves. On the return walk, we noticed it got cold remarkably fast at night inland, and at that altitude, despite being so close to the tropics.

Tuesday, 21 May 2002.
The trip's (unwanted) excitement began the next day, when the truck batteries wouldn't start the engine in the cold of the morning. We cross-connected the house batteries and started easily. We were expecting to have problems with the batteries, so we weren't too worried.

We drove to the next town, Jericho, where we stopped and wandered about a bit. When we tried to start the engine again, nothing happened at all. Cross-connecting also didn't work, so we sought out Greg Pearce, the local mechanic. We'll spare you the details of what was done, but the fixing took most of the day, given the interruptions Greg had all afternoon. We had a fine sandwich lunch at The Way Things Used To Be, a cafe and general store on the main street. We must admit, however, that there really isn't enough of Jericho to fill in a whole afternoon.

We camped at the council showground overnight. It was a long, dusty, dark walk back into town for a beer at the pub, and a fine pizza at The Way Things Used To Be for dinner. Luckily there was moonlight on the walk back.

Wednesday, 22 May 2002.
The design of the showers in the Jericho council showground was among the worst we've encountered; you couldn't get a dry area in which to hang clothes or towels or get changed.

The truck wouldn't start, so we walked into town again to find Greg, who came out and finally found a gear in the starter motor which was full of gunge blocking it from moving. We later decided the gunge was due to the work of mud wasps. Cleaning out the starter motor finally fixed our problem, which is really due to the truck not being used enough.

We didn't get away from Jericho until after afternoon, and thus reached Barcaldine and the rally site around 3 p.m. The CMCA staff at the showground were very organised, and soon had us in our assigned spot. We didn't get the powered site we had wanted, but it was convenient to water and the showers and toilets, distant from loud events, and in an area with more space between vehicles. All in all, most satisfactory.

View of a small part of the CMCA rally site.Thursday - Sunday, 23-26 May 2002.
We won't bore you with a day-by-day account of the rally, but we do want to mention a few interesting points.

Several times each day, various trucks came through the area, selling beer, ice, milk, bread, fruit and vegetables, hot meat pies, and other essentials -- very much like a small town of some decades ago. In fact, we were a small town -- nearly 1200 motorhomes and 2000 people, more than the resident population of Barcaldine.

Jean managed to collect her email via a cable link from her notebook computer to her CDMA mobile phone. Eric's GSM phone does not connect in Barcaldine or in many other country areas.

The motorhome rally was dominated by the over-50's crowd, with an apparent average age of over 60. And a lively bunch they were, too, even the people with obvious mobility problems. As role models for "never give up until they bury you", these people were great.

Rob Gray's "Wothahellizat".Among the more mobile crowd was a bunch of off-road truck enthusiasts, who invited us to join a gathering. They cheerfully admit to not being very social people, preferring to camp in the back of beyond -- but in comfort. Rob Gray's vehicle, for example, is a large and magnificent construction (see photo at right). You can see more photos of it, and other WORTs (Weird Off Road Trucks) on Rob's website.

The rally also featured technical talks, entertainment, a dance night, billy-goat cart races, and a variety of goods on sale, ranging from huge expensive new motorhomes to gadgets to wine to handcrafts such as leatherwork. Eric learned that the solar cells on our truck are in fact producing the amount of power that can reasonably be expected from them; he'd previously thought that they should be producing a lot more power and that there must be some problem with them -- not so!

One of the highlights for us was the chance to meet Collyn Rivers, the founder of Electronics Today International, and many other interesting ventures. Collyn is probably the most way out person at the rally, living isolated some distance from Broome and way off any road, in a solar powered home. He was very good at making you understand the implications of the way motor electric systems work for long stay camps. We bought his books, Motorhome Electrics & Caravans Too! and The Campervan & Motorhome Book, which are filled with valuable tips for people building or improving a travelling home. Both books are available from the CMCA, http://www.cmca.net.au/, and other outlets such as caravan equipment stores.

Our motorhome at the rally.We've thought the CMCA was good value for the several years that we've been members, but now we're even more impressed with them. The club obviously taps into a lot of relevant experience in organising large scale events, as well as providing day-to- day information (through their publications and website) and a good insurance program. You can find out more about them at http://www.cmca.net.au/

On Monday, 27 May, we packed up and started home. Fortunately, we had no more dramas with batteries or starter motors, but we did have some excitement when the rear fuel tank refused to deliver fuel properly to the engine, and the outlet from the air compressor refused to deliver air so we could pump up a somewhat deflated tire. We found an RACQ (Royal Auto Club of Queensland) depot that dealt with buses and trucks, and they figured out that both the air compressor outlet and the air inlet value to the rear fuel tank were blocked by gunge from mud wasps. We managed to clear the gunge from the fuel tank, and pump up the tire, but after that we began using mud wasps as the excuse for anything that went wrong. "You burnt the toast!" "It wasn't my fault -- it was the mud wasps!"

After getting home, we had our mechanic give the truck a good going over and so far on this trip we've had no further trouble.


Mobile phone coverage maps

If you plan to use a mobile (cellular) phone when travelling outside major population centres or off the main highways, you'll want to check Telstra's mobile phone coverage maps; select GSM or CDMA to get to the correct maps for your type of phone. More information on mobile phones is on this page of our website.


Bank accounts in Australia: opening an account and bank fees

In issue 23, I gave some information about opening a bank account in Australia, listed some of the major banks, and encouraged you to look at credit unions as an alternative. Here's an addendum:

If you apply for a bank account within one month of arriving in Australia, you will need only your passport as identification. After one month, you will need 100 "points" of ID. I couldn't find an online list of how many points are given to the various types of identification, but you can get this information from a bank branch office. The National Australia Bank says you can also call the National Customer Service Centre on 13 22 65. Examples of the kinds of identification you will need to provide are:

driver's licence
birth certificate
credit card

Another common question relates to bank fees. Although bank fees are high, it's entirely possible to avoid having to pay them, if you choose the right bank and pay close attention to just what the fees are for and how much money you need to keep in your account to minimise or avoid some of those fees.

The websites for the major banks don't make it easy for you to find their lists of fees and charges. Here are the ones I've been able to dig out, but be warned that the addresses of these pages may have changed since I looked them up.

National Australia Bank Fees & Charges page

Westpac Fees & Charges page (links to pages for specific accounts)

St George Bank Fees & Charges page
They also have a very good page on how to minimise the fees you pay.

ANZ had the only site with an easy-to-find link to their fees.


© Copyright 2002 Eric Lindsay and Jean Weber. All rights reserved.

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