Return to 2006 Australia Trip
Tuesday, October 17, 2006 – 7:20 PM
Nallan Station, near Cue, Western Australia
Now, this is one for the books, folks. I’m sitting out on the verandah (porch) of my “cottage” here on Nallan Station, in the dark, typing on battery power. It has been a most interesting day.
I got on the road this morning a little after 9, rather late by my recent standards. I headed east, a long, mostly straight, very boring road. I was very careful to keep myself awake, playing Aussie country music CD’s, stopping frequently, and sipping on water. As I went east, the land gradually got drier and sparser, finally changing from farming country to ranching country (or nothing country, much of it). It was windy, but not really very hot, although the sun was pretty fierce if you were out in it, unprotected. I had put on sunblock this morning, for the first time, so I was feeling virtuous.
I stopped a couple of places that had been recommended for birds, but got nothing. No sound of birds, and no sight of birds. I was asking myself what the hell I was doing, heading out into the outback, in quest of birds, of all things. I had a vague feeling of dread, and I decided eventually that I was intimidated by the Great Outback. It was so huge, so inhospitable, and so empty. I imagined my car breaking down, getting in an accident, or whatever. But, I plunged onward, at a steady 110 Km/hr (66mph). Cruise control was made for this kind of country, and I used it just about all of the time. I would see another car every 20 minutes or so, on average.
I got to the rabbit-proof fence, and if you don’t know what that is, then search for it on Google. It is also supposed to be emu-proof. It runs for a couple thousand miles, I think, and it is supposed to keep the rabbits (introduced) and the emus (native) out of the farming country. I was supposed to look for birds at the fence, and I did hear a few, but didn’t spot anything. I was getting pretty discouraged about the birding aspects of this part of the adventure.
Eventually I came to the “town” of Yalgoo. I had thought I might get something to eat there, for my lunch. Well, Yalgoo had a dozen or so extremely run down houses, a tiny general store, and the worst looking hotel/motel I have ever seen. “Hotel” in this context means bar, in Australia, and the Motel part presumably means you could stay the night there. A sign in front said “Open”, but it looked abandoned, frankly. Anyway, I went into the general store, and I bought some processed cheese slices, to go with the sesame crackers I already had. Technology hasn’t caught up to Yalgoo. Not only did they not scan the cheese for the price, the woman had to look it up in a book. I ate some crackers and cheese as I drove, onward into the outback.
At about that point, I stopped at one of the parking areas to get out and keep myself awake, and probably to pee. I heard birds, and while charging out into the scrub to try to see one bird, I became aware of another bird that flew across and landed in a tree nearby. It was some kind of parrot, which got my adrenalin going. It turned out to be a Budgerigar, known to Americans as a parakeet. The wild ones are mostly green with a yellow face, and the prettiest shades of green and turquoise on their rumps and tails. A lifer! I saw a dozen or more of them, and there were probably a lot more around, as they can be in pretty big flocks. I got very nice looks at them, but didn’t take the time to try to stalk them for pictures. So, at least I had gotten one new bird this day, and it was a lifer to boot.
Onward I drove, and just before the next town, Mt Magnet, I saw another new one for the trip, an emu. I didn’t need to get the binoculars on it to identify it, since they are 5 or 6 feet tall and pretty distinctive. Two birds for the day. It scurried off into the bush before I could get the camera out.
Mt Magnet was a nice sized little town, with a couple of gas stations and a small IGA “supermarket”. I got gas, a chicken and vegetable pie, and some provisions at the IGA. Then I headed north again, up the road to Cue, about 50 miles north of Mt Magnet.
Oh yes, I should mention the Road Trains. A Road Train is a truck pulling three or four trailers. They are allowed to be up to 53 meters long here, which is over half the length of a football field. Most of them in this area seemed to be mining trucks, hauling ore, I suppose. In some areas, they haul cattle or sheep, I think. I never came up behind one, so I never had to pass (overtake, to the Aussies) one. There were quite a few of them on the road, though, especially considering how little traffic there was. Talk about your 18-wheelers; some of the mining road trains today had 70 wheels!
Anyway, after Cue it was only another 8 miles or so to the turnoff to Nallan Station, which is a working cattle and sheep ranch. I rolled in about 3:45 or so, to see what my accommodations would be like.
It is owned by Michael and Sandy, and Sandy pointed me to the “cottage” where I am staying. This is pretty basic accommodation, a quite old house (see the pictures, when they get up). I have the bedroom with a queen sized bed, and tonight I am the only tenant. Tomorrow night there is supposed to be a couple in the next bedroom, which has a double and a single bed. There are another three single beds in the living room, and one more in a little add-on room on the verandah. The kitchen is very basic (see pictures). There is a shower and sink inside for all to share, and a toilet in a little shack on the back porch.
The power is from a generator, and I’ve seen a couple of notices that say that the power goes off after 10 PM. I sincerely hope those notices are out of date, because I need to run my CPAP machine all night on electricity, if I am going to sleep. I had asked specifically if the power was on all night, when I made the booking, and I was assured that it is, so I am trusting to that. I can hear the generator droning away now, and I hope it keeps running, or that they have some alternative. There is a windmill on the shed that has the generator, so maybe wind power helps out. We shall see. If the lights go out, it is going to be damn dark out here, and I am not likely to be able to sleep without my CPAP machine. I don’t have any kind of flashlight. It could be a long dark night, if the power goes off.
I had the foresight to buy a 10 liter (2 ˝ gallon) plastic jug of spring water, and I’m glad I did, as the water here isn’t very tasty.
So, as I got settled in, Sandy came by and said that they would be shearing sheep until 5 o’clock, if I wanted to go watch. That was great, because I did, and it was very interesting. There were two aboriginal shearers and a helper who gathered up the wool and did other little tasks. Meanwhile, a young man and a kid, maybe the children of Michael and Sandy (?), were putting the wool into a compacting machine to make it into bales, covered in plastic. I took a number of pictures of the whole proceeding, and it will be interesting to see how they come out. Everyone was very friendly and seemed glad to have me watching and taking pictures.
After I had seen that, I went out into the area near the shearing shed and saw some more good birds. Spiny-cheeked Honeyeaters (I hope I have some good pictures), Zebra Finches, Crested Pigeons, a White-plumed Honeyeater, and probably others that I am forgetting just now. Later I saw several White-browed Babblers, another one for my trip list. Also maybe a decent picture of a Black-faced Cuckoo-shrike. So, by the time the day was done, I had added another five birds to my trip list, despite the small amount of actual birding I had done. Very satisfactory.
I had arranged for dinner, and the kid from the shearing shed bought it over about 6:30. (No ice for my drinkies, as I had expected) It was lamb chops, which I normally don’t especially care for, but these were absolutely delicious. Maybe it makes a difference where you have lamb chops, and a sheep ranch might be a good place to do so.
I asked Sandy when I checked in about using their phone line to get onto the internet, and she indicated that would be ok, but also said that they have satellite broadband, so may be I can get on that way. I asked when would be a good time, and she said in the morning, between 9 and 11, so I’ll see if I can get this up on the website at that time. I don’t think I am going to be able to get any pictures up while I am here, but maybe I can at least work on them, so I can get them up as soon as I have a phone in my room, which is supposed to be Thursday night. I am eager to see what some of today’s bird pictures look like.
Tomorrow, I think I will just prowl around the station. I need to get a map, to find some of the wells that have been written up as good birding sites. I hope my little AWD SUV is up to the station roads. We shall see. First I need a map, though. The station is 246,000 acres, according to one thing I read, so I don’t want to wander around out there without a map, on dirt tracks that my little car may or may not be able to handle. It ought to be an interesting day. I plan to be very cautious about where I go and what I try to do.
I don’t think I have mentioned that I am out of bounds with my rental car. When I signed up for it on the web, they said you could only go north as far as Carnarvon and east as far as Kalgoorlie. Well, if you made a box out of that, I am well within the box. But, when the guy delivered the car to me, he gave me a map that shows a very distorted area, going north along the coast to Carnarvon, and east along the main road to Kalgoorlie, but where I am is clearly out of bounds. I wasn’t about to say anything at that point. The map says that any insurance they provide doesn’t apply if you are out of bounds. It is a little unclear about dirt roads, too, especially station tracks. One more thing for me to worry about, but I haven’t ever had an accident yet, in my whole life, so it seems like a small risk. (Knock on wood)
In addition to this cottage, they also rent rooms in the “shearer’s quarters”. I’ve seen that at other stations that take in guests, but usually they are referring to former shearer’s quarters. In this case, they are actual shearer’s quarters, as the shearers are staying there tonight. I can hear the sheep baa-ing and the shearers talking and laughing, maybe a couple of hundred yards away. I wonder if they rent out the shearers quarters to tourists during the shearing season, when the shearer’s are there. It is supposed to be a number of rooms with various numbers of beds, with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities.
This has gotten extremely long already, so I am going to cut it off. I’ll see if I can post it tomorrow morning. This is certainly the most “different” of any my Aussie experiences to date, and so far, I am enjoying it very much.
Barry Downunder, in the Outback