Location: Manning Valley
Date: June 2009

June 30, 2009. June (winter) weather continues to be pleasant - fine and 23 C today - so I had a little chat with myself and convinced myself to take Bluey for a run in the countryside... Lansdowne, to be precise, which is a short drive north of Taree and to the west through lovely rural countryside. Some people might drive through and say "there's nothing here", while others like me drive through and are enchanted by the village atmosphere and quaint sights.

One place where I stopped to take a few pics near a railway crossing and bridge, brought about 57 local dogs to the fore to let me know that this was THEIR territory. But they were cool... bloody noisy but cool. I tend not to get ruffled ya know... I just say quietly, "It's okay mate, no worries. I'm just taking a few happy snaps."

Railway crossings interest me. Not sure why, probably because they haven't changed much since the old days. There's something endearing and cute about them... unless your car conks out half way across the tracks when the bells are ringing, of course.

And speaking of bells, I also love old country churches. Again, there's something sweet and sentimental about those cute little buildings and those adorable windows. I just love 'em to pieces even though I'm not religious. Mind you, a bolt of lightning and a thunderous voice from the heavens could change my mind about that fairly swiftly.

Oh, yes, the yellow tree outside the big silo thing... that's a wattle tree which is Australia's floral emblem.

Lansdowne is a collection of residential dwellings and a general store. That's about it. Oh, and a water storage tank. Nearby is a national park. I stopped there for a while and had a bit of a poke around when a couple turned up in a 4WD. They parked, dragged out the trusty portable BBQ and were getting ready for lunch when I left... but not before saying g'day and hooroo. They had a lovely dog too... looked like a cross between a German shepherd and a husky.

I suppose the things I saw today are pretty ho-hum to locals who see them every day and take them for granted. But not to me. To me, it was a most pleasant way to spend a few hours. Click here for the photo album.

June 28, 2009. Winter proper is just around the corner so I took advantage of today's sunny weather to take a bit of a run. I'd intended to visit Cundletown and Lansdowne, but Cundletown was as far as I got. Cundletown, just north of Taree up the old Pacific Hwy along the banks of the Manning River, was a separate town back in the old days, but is now virtually a suburb of sprawling Taree.

Quite a few times on my travels I'd noticed an old bakery cum antiques shop at Cundletown and thought "I must photograph that one day". I intended to take just a pic or two before heading off to Lansdowne (which will have to wait for another day) when I saw Graham Mewburn and Irene sitting on the verandah of their tumble-down cottage right next door to the old bakery cum antiques shop. They were having breakfast. Graham said something about my being the squillionth person to take photos of the ancient telephone booth out front. We got to talking and the next thing you know I'm invited inside to check out his photography on RedBubble. Yes, he's quite a talented shutterbug. But make sure you come back here to Aussie Odyssey when you've finished checking him out... or there'll be trouble. BIG trouble.

He's a fascinating bloke, tho. He busks around Taree to make a buck... no accompaniment. He just opens his mouth and sings. He doesn't need a microphone either. He gave me a demo on the verandah and it drowned out the local traffic, including the airport's. "When I thank people for their donations they inevitably say 'no, it's me who should thank you!'" He's in the process of releasing a CD.

After a bit of chat and a cuppa made just how I like it (compliments of Graham), I remembered having met him one day a few months ago when he was cleaning a restaurant's windows (another thing he does to make a buck). He told me he was a ex-bus driver from Melbourne and espoused a whole bunch of philosophy which ended with: "We all have the power to make the world a little bit worse or a little bit better. Which would you rather do?"

Eccentric? Worse. Oh yes, Graham is a dead-set loony, certified in fact. The genuine article, or fair dinkum as we say in Oz. And if you heard his laugh, as I did, you'd be instantly convinced. He admitted to me that he's an authentic psychopath. However, I was somewhat peeved when I learned that he was not the dangerous type, more the hugging type. I was hoping to see his collection of axes, knives and other implements of murderous mayhem but he doesn't have any. Nonetheless, he was happy to meet me, a comrade, a soul buddy, a person who believes in the value of being a tad unhinged. We agreed that if it weren't for colorful people like us the world would be utterly and insufferably boring. That's our story and we're sticking to it.

Anyway, it was getting a bit late to do the Lansdowne thing so I drove just up the road and took a few pics of the old Post Office, and then a few more down by the river. Luckily, a pelican decided to glide through the frame as I pressed the shutter. Click here for the photo album.

June 23, 2009. Taree again. This time just over the Martin bridge to Bucketts Way and Saxbys Soft Drinks. Yes, I know, me of all people going to a soft drinks factory. But I do love ginger beer, which is what made Saxbys famous way back in the mid 19th century. Check out the official Saxbys story here.

I was greeted at the front office by Colleen (I think) who then introduced me to operations manager Chris Murray, a casually dressed young bloke who looked more at home on a football field than an office. I asked him where his shirt and tie were. "This is 2009," he explained, "not the dark ages." Fair enough. He's a lovely bloke - very friendly and helpful, and took me on a personally guided tour of the factory.

I'm not sure what I was expecting. Saxbys is a rather small operation staffed by maybe half a dozen workers on the factory floor, with about the same number in the office. It sort of reminded me of a model train layout only much bigger. Instead of tracks, the system uses conveyors to transport bottles from one end to the other. Today they were bottling ginger beer in plastic bottles (PET) rather than glass. Occupational Health and Safety regulations prevent members of the public (like me) from touring the factory when glass is being handled. In fact, Saxbys don't encourage public tours of the premises at all, so I got lucky. It's my magnetic charm ya know.

Upstairs are giant stainless steel vats where the sugar syrup is made. Sugar and water. Nothing to it. Boom boom. The syrup is then gravity fed to a machine on the ground floor which mixes it at a prescribed ratio of syrup to essence. Today it was ginger but Saxbys produce a whole range of different flavored drinks. Actually, I was about to photograph large containers of prepared essence upstairs but Chris said that was a no no... it's all secret ingredients! Oops! But that's okay. He didn't shoot me.

Once empty bottles are fork lifted onto the start of the conveyor system, they go through a fairly complex process that involves steam cleaning, filling, capping, labeling and packaging. Meanwhile, other machines do the mixing of ingredients and aerating of the final liquid before it's fed into the bottling system. The entire procedure is precision manufacturing that runs like clockwork, and is totally fascinating to watch. However, each of the workers keeps a keen eye on proceedings to make sure nothing goes wrong. Occasionally, human hands need to intervene to keep the system running smoothly. You can see Chris at one point (pic 033) checking labeled bottles for quality before they head to the packaging area. From there, the boxed contents are delivered to pallets ready for dispatch.

Later, I tried to photograph close-ups of old stone bottles which didn't turn out too well because of the lighting. In fact, shooting pics in a large factory with only the aid of a built-in flash isn't ideal by any stretch. But you get the idea.

Old glass bottles I found particularly intriguing lack a flat base for standing upright. During the 1800s, they were transported by ship to Taree because a) there was no glass manufacturer here and b) once filled, they needed to be laid horizontally to keep the corks moist and airtight for shipment to the local market.

The final pic in the album is of the horse-drawn cart used by Saxbys back in the early pioneering days. I photographed it when I visited Timber Town last year. These days, the company uses huge semi trailers to distribute their product nationally. What a contrast!

Saxbys has been in operation since 1864, and is still a family owned company. Chris pointed to the photograph of the current managing director Ian Turner, a Saxby by marriage, and said, "If it weren't for this man, we'd be owned by Coca Cola." Ian and his father George formed a co-operative with other independent bottlers to resist takeover bids by multi-nationals, which earns them a very big Brownie Point in my book. Go the independents!

My thanks to Chris Murray and the girls in the front office for being so helpful, and educating me in the ways of putting yummy things in bottles! BUT... Saxbys recipes shall forever remain a secret. Click here for the photo album.

June 15, 2009. The roundabout just outside this house in Taree has its share of events... people in motorhomes and old Toyota Tiaras. Just now it was a huge tow truck that came to the rescue of a broken-down B double trailer. "You'd be totally pissed off on a Monday morning," I said to the driver as I appeared with the Sony camera. "You can say that again," he replied but he was a friendly bloke. He said the problem was a wheel bearing. "I'd have lost a wheel if I'd gone much further." I remarked on the height of the prime mover. "You'd get an attack of vertigo up there," I said. "Nah, mate... only two steps up to that one. Some are much higher than that." I also remarked on the way the tow truck driver crawled around under the broken-down truck, putting his trust in the lifting mechanism that raised it a few feet off the ground. No way you'd get me under that thing, baby. No way. Anyway, I took a couple of pics and bade them farewell. Click here for the photo album.

June 13, 2009. Pretty good weather for June (early winter) - sunny and 20 C. So off I went to Old Bar beach, about 15 minutes east of Taree, for the Saltwater Wine Surf Classic. I heard the bloke on the PA say that conditions were very good. The surf wasn't all that big but to me, a non-surfer, the shape of the waves looked ideal.

Today, Saturday, the quarter and semi finals are being held. The finals will he held tomorrow. I'm not a fan, so I just went there to practice a bit of surf shooting and get some atmos shots. It was a tad boring, to be honest... not a big crowd. But that could change tomorrow.

The section of beach chosen by the organizers is about a kilometer north of the main beach, on a dirt road that leads to the mouth of the Manning River.

I set up the Sony with the telephoto extension which looked rather pathetic compared to the huge barrel lenses the other guys were using. As a consequence, I wasn't able to get those kind of maxi close-ups you see in surf mags. Moreover, I don't have the patience required to stand on the beach waiting for a surfer to choose a wave. I lasted about 10 minutes. Those other guys with the big lenses were pros (I imagine) and probably stayed on the beach all damn day.

I'm a bit grumpy at the minute because I blew a few chances to talk to the locals and give this story some human interest. A couple of cheeky grommets made a comment but I failed to take advantage of the situation to include them in a few shots and "interview" them. Dammit. I must work on that in future. It's weird. I can talk my head off to most people but there's something about surfers that scares me.

Oh... and the pic of the wave without a rider? That's a pic of a wave without a rider. I do like the ingenius clothes prop made of driftwood to hang wetsuits and other damp clothing on, however. Very clever.

Later, I took a few shots of Old Bar township just to give you an idea of what it's like. There's not a lot there - a main street with a few shops and that's about it. Okay, a rap over the knuckles for not doing a better job. Maybe next time. Click here for the photo album

June 06, 2009. Okies, off to Wingham about 15 minutes drive west of Taree for the Holden FX & FJ championships held at the showground. FX and FJ Holdens (Australia's first car!) were built between 1948 and 1956. They are Aussie icons just as much as the Harbor Bridge, Uluru and Ned Kelly's helmet. The parent company of General Motors-Holdens is GM in the US. Holdens have always been the smaller Aussie version of the American Chevrolet. You can read the Holden story online here.

I'd visited a vintage Holden show a few years ago at Wingham, but this expo was bigger, attracting proud owners and enthusiasts from far and wide. While I was there snapping away with the Sony, judges with their checklists were going from car to car to tally up the points and choose the eventual winners in various categories.

Many of the cars were impressive, some as good as the day they left the showroom, while others have been seriously modified. One had a 5-liter V8 sitting under the bonnet/hood. Whoa! The original Holdens were fitted with a 2.2 liter 6 that developed 60 bhp.

When I put the photo album together, I decided to gather a few pics from the internet in keeping with the era, just to give it a bit of a 50s flavor. However, there is one pic of a Bush radio that was taken at the show. All kinds of people from all walks of life, young and old, were in attendance... everyone from rev-heads to curious onlookers, all having a wonderful time admiring the gleaming machines of yesteryear. Yes, those are the long-gone days of a bygone era - no TV, no satellites, no man on the moon, no computers or internet, no DVDs, no digital cameras. It was another world but the old Holdens are still here to remind us of a simpler time when pinball machines and jukeboxes ruled.

As I left, I spotted a 1956 Holden in the carpark. That was the model that immediately followed the last of the FJs. Then I wandered around the market stalls just to capture a bit of atmos. Fruit and flowers make lovely pics. And the honey? Yes, I bought a bucket of Ironbark Bush Honey from Tamworth - 9 bucks. One lady had a trailer load of pumpkins. "That's a lotta pumpkins," I said. "I've got two tons of pumpkins in my drive at home," she replied. Jeez... what the hell do you do with THAT many pumpkins? Click here for the photo album.

June 04, 2009. So there I was at home, bitching about all the rainy weather we've been having lately - and consequently no mini Odysseys - when a bus pulled up in front of the house. Well, not quite a bus - a converted bus - a motorhome. So I whizzed outside with my Sony and took a few pics. Then I saw movement inside. Oops! I was about to be shot for trespassing... or something. But no, Phil stepped outside the bus and introduced himself. Then Rose stepped outside and he introduced her. Two vagabonds, touring Oz. "That's my dream," I said to Phil. "But not quite as fancy as this."

Remember Mick from Tasmania? He pulled up outside in his Izuzu motorhome about a year ago. So today's encounter was a little bit of deja vu.

Phil, Rose and I chatted for quite a while before they wandered into town on foot for a bit of sightseeing. "We'll show you inside when we get back." And so they did - we chatted for about 2 hours. Phil bought the bus some time ago when he was still working as a truck driver, piloting big rigs interstate. Then he spent 9 years fitting out the bus in anticipation of traveling Oz when he retired. 9 years? Wow, that's dedication. But he's done a great job. He showed me pics of the bus after he bought it for $10,000. It was a regular school bus from a country town. He gutted it, designed all the internal fittings - lots of nooks and crannies and storage areas - and did all the work himself with a little help from his relatives and friends. The end result is a very comfortable and roomy home on wheels. "It was just what I wanted," he explained. "Right size, and with the two front seats forward of the door." He rearranged a few things, like the side windows, and also fitted 2 extra compartments between the front and rear wheels. The existing one holds deep cycle batteries, the second is a tool box, and the third houses a slide-out BBQ. Solar panels are fitted to the roof.

Phil recommends having a Honda generator (that he says are whisper quiet) to supplement the solar panels, which are pretty useless during cloudy/wet weather, plenty of which we've had lately. But he and his lady love life on the road and couldn't be happier. "There's no shortage of company on the road (Phil loves a chat), there's a new view every little while, and we get to visit a lot of wonderful places."

Being a fairly large vehicle, I wondered if it was pretty much restricted to sealed roads and caravan parks. "Nope, we've never stayed at a caravan park. Too bloody expensive." That surprised me. So the bus is quite capable of negotiating dirt roads to take advantage of "out of the way" national parks and public camping areas. Sometimes not so public hehe. Interestingly, Phil is retired - his only income is a pension. "Rose and I live quite comfortably on my pension," he said. "We have everything we need." I was happy to hear that because I'll be in the same boat.

Fuel? "Not a problem. We travel short distances, camp for a few days or even a few weeks. So the cost of diesel is not an issue."

It was a lovely experience to meet Phil and Rose. We all got along like a house on fire. If I'd met them on the Odyssey, we probably would have shared a barbie around a campfire and chatted well into the night, lubricated with a few "quiet ones" as Phil calls them. Click here for the photo album.


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