Location: Manning Valley
Date: June 2008

June 25, 2008. Today's mini Odyssey was on foot... right outside my house in Taree! I went out to the verandah and spotted a motor home parked out front, so I took a pic. I figured my Guardian Angel was sending a message to remind me not to lose sight of my dream. Shortly afterwards, I saw a bloke approaching the van from across the street. He looked somewhat disheveled and kinda countrified, so I assumed he was the owner/traveler. I waved and caught his attention. "I've just had a tooth pulled," he explained, "so I'm talking a bit funny." "I have friends who talk like that all the time," I said. "No worries." Click here for the photo album or read on and click the link at the end of this article.

His name is Mike and he's from Tasmania. He regularly takes three months off to tour Oz. "Where are you headed?" I asked. "Dunno." Oh, yes, a man after my own heart... no plans, no itinerary, just go. Mike has done a lot of traveling in his time, at first with his wife but she's no longer too fussed about life on the road, so she stays home these days. When I explained my Odyssey dream he suggested that I needed a home base. "It's great to wander around for months on end but you need a place to call home... a home base." On the other hand, he knows a lot of people who love to travel consistently for years at a stretch, and they really do enjoy it. The place Mike calls home in Tassie is on several acres with a river frontage. So, yeah, I can understand his attachment. My place is a quarter acre block with a main road frontage... not quite the piece of paradise he has.

He allowed me to take a few pics of his van's interior - explaining that he's living the bachelor life and not particularly concerned with house keeping. But it looked cool to me... lots of room and all the comforts he needs, including shower and loo at the back. He didn't strike me as the type to be carrying a laptop and digital camera, but he does, and he keeps a journal of the places he visits. No web site, though. Part of his equipment includes the trusty surfboard mounted on the roof... an old surfer from way back... probably knows the Beach Boys songs off by heart. At the back of the van is a mini motor bike. "I've been bogged in places and you can't lift this thing (van), so a bloke needs alternative transport." He also uses the bike to zip along deserted beachs and other places just to check out the scenery... and the waves. He's living the life of Riley.

"When you're on the road, mate, never invite people inside your van. The problem is trying to get them to leave! One woman wanted to sleep overnight! It's understandable I suppose, she was lonely... but, you know, go and be lonely somewhere else!" He says you meet lots of interesting people as a traveler, all with their own tales to tell. He does a lot of freecamping and carries a portable generator as well as a deep cycle battery which is hooked up to the truck's alternator. He stashes a lot of gear in the back of the twin cab... an inflatable boat, tools and various other camping paraphanalia. When he drove off, he headed for Wallabi Point and planned to camp overnight further up the coast a bit and maybe catch a wave or two tomorrow morning. What a life!

I'm sure there is no animal on this planet who is more relaxed than Mike. He loves a chat (we spoke for the best part of an hour) and laughed a lot. So there ya go... I'm not even traveling yet and I meet one right outside my house - all because of a dental appointment. Click here for the photo album

June 19/20, 2008. Taree again folks, this time just over the railway crossing (Bridge? Wot bridge?) to Taree's industrial estate and Stebercraft, designers and manufacturers of boats that would make even Pop Eye's eyes pop! I spent an hour there yesterday morning with production manager Glen who took me on a guided tour (and kept an eye on me to make sure I didn't fall off the scaffolding). The boss, Alan Steber, is overseas at the mo. This morning, I returned to photograph an almost finished boat being lifted by crane onto a trailer for last-minute touch ups and delivery. Click here for the photo album or read on and click the link at the end of this article.

First off, I never expected such a sophisticated enterprise in a relatively small town such as Taree. But there it is, and Stebercraft is now Stebercraft International, exporting their products to many overseas destinations. How flash is that? Stebercraft began operation in 1947, building timber clinker hull boats. In 1959 they changed to fiberglass construction. The company was originally located in Brookvale, on the northern beaches area of Sydney. Back then, the company built small runabouts. The government came along in 1974 and said, "Hey, guys, we're into decentralization. How would you like a bunch of acres for free in Taree to relocate your business?" Stebercraft accepted the offer. Then they looked around at their new premises and thought, "Whoa! We got all this space, man! Let's build a bigger shed!" Yeah... bigger shed, bigger boats. Now Stebercraft builds first class work boats and luxury cruisers. You can check out the official Steber website here.

Last year, 2007, the Anniversary Model 3800 won the AMIF Power Boat of the Year Award, and was snapped up by a buyer from Dubai. They're not short of a quid over there ya know. Actually, Glen told me that Steber is in the process of building its own company boat, but progress is constantly interrupted by new orders from clients. "In any case, everytime we build a boat for ourselves someone wants to buy the damn thing!"

Glen's background is the building industry, which involves skills and experience ideally suited to boating manufacture. Actually, I suspect he might have also been in public relations - he was most helpful and obliging. One of my first questions was "where are the other Steber factories/offices". "This is it," he said. "The entire operation is right here in this building." Staff number about 40 locals and consist of a variety of trades - carpenters, cabinet makers, engineers, mechanics, upholsterers, shipwrights, electricians, plumbers, painters and even Steber's own marine architect. Certain design features are unique to Steber and patented. In a couple of pics, you'll notice a small hole below the water line at the leading edge of the bow... that houses a small propellor that aids maneuverability of the bow when mooring. Pretty nifty, huh?

The manufacturing process of various components such as hull and superstructure is also pretty nifty. It's all upside down (010). Those big circular metal rings in some of the pics are used to turn the components right side up after certain stages of manufacture are completed (014 - 019-022). Have you ever painted a ceiling? If you have you'll understand the advantage of having the ceiling either on its side or flat on the ground during the painting process. Pics 005 and 006 show the mold (red) and then the resultant article (white). It's a bit like the Leggo principle... make all the bits, put them together, and voila! Boat!

However, constructing a boat of the size depicted here takes time... anything from 9 to 12 months. Recently, the company refurbished a 20 year old Steber which took 6 months. It's fair to say that every Steber is hand made right down to the final fittings. I spoke briefly to one cabinet maker working on one of the boats and he referred to "making everything fit".

During the tour, I was like a kid in a candy store. I kept hearing myself saying things like "oh, how cool is this?" and "OMG, this thing is huge!" So much for mature-age dignity. But Glen was discreet and didn't mention my juvenile behavior in any derogatory sense. "What do you call those big rings?" I asked him at one stage. "Rings." "Oh." One of the upholsterers I spoke to - who owns a later model Holden similar to mine (the blue van - so he's obviously a good bloke) - said that all visitors who tour the factory are blown away "but we're here every day so I guess we kinda take it for granted".

And yes, I did manage to get Tough Titties in one of the crane shots. :o)

The boat lifted by crane this morning is classed as a work boat (and is destined for delivery to the Victorian Water Police). The hull is basically the same hull as the 44 foot luxury cruiser (pics 045-056) but is 4' shorter with a different superstructure and more open rear deck. The 44 footer, by the way, will be collected by its owners when finished and sailed around the top of Oz back to Perth where they live. The Southern Ocean is a bit too rough for pleasure cruising. Pics 033 and 034 show a fuel tank and engine destined for one of the smaller boats. The biggies take twin diesels. As an Oregon mate of mine says, "boats are basically a hole in the water into which you pour money". Hehe. However, he hastily adds: "It would be hard to keep a dual engined craft like that just in fuel !  But.... they ARE just SO cool !"

Yes, they certainly are impressive things... so sleek and beautiful. Gimme, gimme, gimme. Which reminds me, teak was the preferred timber for use on boats, but these days - at least here in Oz - Southern Myrtle is used. It's a magnificent timber that polishes up a treat. Although the boats are almost all fiberglass, the fittings such as timber, brass and plush fabrics add the necessary nautical look, which I just love to pieces. Oh... Steber is not completely self contained... the factory right next door supplies the stainless steel railings. Well, that's pretty close to being totally self contained. Yeah?

That rubber ducky fitted with the Suzuki outboard, by the way, is part of the police boat's equipment.

No, I wasn't offered a free boat while I was there. Dangit. But I certainly appreciated the friendliness and hospitality of Glen, my PERSONAL tour guide, and the lovelies in the front office, Cherie and Wendy. I also got plenty of g'days and nods from the staff as they went about their work. They're a happy bunch and I'm sure they all take great pride in their contribution to a successful Aussie enterprise. Click here for the photo album

June 11, 2008. Today's mini Odyssey is at Tinonee, in particular Tinonee Orchids. Tinonee is an historic town just 10 kms south west of Taree. It's a riverside village with a population of just under 700 and is locally renowned for it's artisans. It was one of the Manning Valley's earliest settlements - established in 1854 - and a major commercial hub on the Manning River. Click here for the photo album or read on an click the link at the close of this article.

Here's a piece I pinched from Wikipedia: Formerly a major river port town, Tinonee through its history has been the host of such industries as shipbuilding, farming, logging, timber milling and broom making. With such activities, Tinonee would have been quite a hub of activity, and at one time hosted numerous hotels and accommodation houses, to cater for the passing trade. Ships built in Tinonee were known to be taken to sea through the entrance at Harrington, and off to the major ports such as Sydney and further afield. The Tinonee Historical Museum is being established to cover local history.

Before I hurtled off in Tough Titties to Tinonee, I paused to take a pic of a spider web just outside my house, on the street. Spider webs fascinate me... to think that some little dude the size of a 20 cent piece (albeit a fat one) is capable of creating that masterpiece of engineering is mindboggling. I mean, the anchor points are far away in terms of spider size, and yet the little beast can determine where they should begin and end in order to support his silvery castle, to which various unsuspecting members of bugdom are lured and invited to dinner.

I took a few pics of the local park, and chatted to a Tinonee resident  who used to own a car like Tough Titties. I meet a lot of them, you know, and it makes me wonder why they have become EX owners hehe. I think TT might be getting a little ancient. She's going on 38 already.

Then I headed out to Tinonee Orchid farm. It's located at a beautiful spot on Tinonee Road (which leads to Wingham), surrounded by the most stunning views over the valley. I met the owner, Ray, who invited me to wander around to take pics. But he did warn me that this is not the season for the best pics. "If you come back in a couple of months (spring) just about everything will be in flower." So I reckon that's what I'll do. Meanwhile, I blew quite a few of today's shots... out of focus. Grrrr. I'm not well practiced with the close up lens attachment, and need more. BUT, during the exercise I became aware of something. The Sony's auto focus doesn't work very well with the close up lens attachment. What I noticed was that if I move my body forwards or backwards, the focus changes. So I reckon that's the go... focus manually instead of relying on auto.

By the way, those long white beardy things are known as Old Man's Beard, or Grandfather's Beard. They need virtually no maintenance and are used as a decoration the same way as you might use ferns in a flower arrangement. Don't ask me the botanical name of ANYTHING I photographed... I don't understand things I can't spell.

Needless to say that I was disappointed when I saw the results on the computer but I did manage to salvage most of the shots, including some close ups. So, folks, consider today's effort as a preview of better things to come. When spring has sprung, I'll venture out there again. There's no doubt that orchids are some of the most gorgeous and stunning flowers in all of nature. That's what I desperately want to capture. And I bloodywell will! Click here for the photo album.

June 5, 2008. Off to Pampoolah via Taree this morning for a look at a local sawmill... Roy Cross Timbers. I figured it would take maybe 10 minutes of wandering around, a dozen or so photos, and then I'd be off to Tinonee to visit the orchid farm. How wrong I was. Click here for the pics or read on and click the album link at the end of this article.

Tinonee and the orchids will have to wait for another day. The timber mill is enormous, and there's a lot to see! It's spread over several acres of private rural land, which is surrounded by native forest. A lot of rain lately ensured that I would be knee-deep (I'm exaggerating again - but not overly) in mud. Roy's wife Anne took me on a guided tour, which surprised me. I hadn't expected such royal treatment. She's a real sweetie but certainly no novice. She knows the timber industry as well as anyone and spent most of the tour filling my head with information I have no hope of remembering. Anne is familiar with all the strict environmental issues regarding logging and forestry these days, and ensures that the mill adheres to all the rules. In fact, Anne is on the board of the timber industry in Sydney "down there around the table with all the boys".

Before Anne and her husband Roy bought the mill some years ago, she accompanied him on logging trips to the forest. So she knows all about heavy machinery and the intricacies of felling timber, as well as the 'hard yakka' involved. Roy's father and grandfather were in the timber business so it's no surprise that he followed in their footsteps. "Stay away from trucks and the timber industry," his father advised, but Roy didn't listen. "It's in the blood," he said. However, he never thought he would one day own a timber mill.

Much of Roy and Anne's business is the supply of heavy timbers for bridge building/repair, railroads and other major projects such as shopping centers. They supplied much of the timber needed for wharf works around Darling Harbor and Pyrmont in Sydney. But nothing is wasted. Everything right down to the sawdust is sold. Sawdust (gathered from the mill and piped to an adjacent mound) is mixed with chicken manure and marketed as fertilizer. "That's all the commercial brands are," she said, "chicken poo and sawdust which are mixed and formed into pellets."

Oh, yes... the extra tour guide... that's Harley the pooch. He's a neighbor but likes to wander over to the mill to hang around the workers who occasionally throw a stick or whatever to keep Harley amused. He's a lovely dog and very friendly, and he takes his job as tour guide very seriously.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the mill is the machinery, much of which was designed by a Taree engineer by the name of Goldsmith. He passed away a couple of years ago but his designs and their manufacture are still doing a great job. He was a very clever man who engineered all kinds of machinery to suit a number of purposes. His brother was in the timber industry which explains why Goldsmith turned his genius to designs for mills. You can see his nameplate on the saw sharpening machine featured in the first few photographs. He also designed various machines used in the main milling shed. The saw sharpening machine, by the way, is sold throughout Australia as well as overseas.

Not everything goes to plan in the milling business, according to Anne. She showed me a number of large timber supports that were milled and shaped to a specific measurement. Then the architect changed the measurements on the plan. "Oh, well," she said philosophically, "somebody else will want them." Meanwhile, of course, Roy and Anne carry the cost of the work.

Like anything, sawmilling is an art. If not milled correctly, large logs can bow instead of being perfectly straight. Anne told me about one incident where a large log was being sawn lengthwise in half. It began to split. All of a sudden, the energy within the timber - like a massive compressed spring - exploded with a deafening crack, and split the log all the way from one end to the other. Yes, folks, it frightened the living daylights out of the operator.

With so much timber lying around, fire is a constant hazard, particularly during a dry summer, so Roy and Anne invested in their own fire truck, an old Bedford (which could probably tell quite a few stories of its own). "Given the right conditions, bits of old bark and offcuttings are very combustible. They can ignite and cause a major problem." Parked nearby is the 'zoom boom' which Anne referred to when I used my camera zoom. The tractor is technically known as a telescopic something-or-other but I prefer 'zoom boom'. Actually, the total operation uses a lot of sophisticated machinery which, I suspect, cost a small fortune. Tractors are constantly running around the entire property, lifting, carrying and depositing large logs in readiness for processing.

Anne and Roy are nearing retirement age and are in the process of down-sizing the business. Staff numbers have been reduced from about 14 to about 6. They plan to tour Oz (as I do) and see the sights. Roy spent some years driving big trucks (he still has the old White). "On a trip, Anne's got to remind me to stop," he said, "otherwise I'd just keep on driving. I drove the old White west the other day for 1700 kilometers non-stop. I'm used to traveling long distances without a break." You'll have to get used to taking it easy, Roy... relax and smell the roses.

Thanks to Roy and Anne for showing me around and giving me the opportunity to learn something about the timber mill business. It was fascinating. Click here for the photo album.


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