Author: Mr A
This article first appeared in Freemason (click to download), June 2020, pages 32-35.
Author: Mr A
This article first appeared in Freemason (click to download), June 2020, pages 32-35.
Author: Mrs A
Location: Block D1, Donga 6A, Howard Springs, Northern Territory, Australia
And so we have finally reached the end of our two week sentence, and are about to board a flight to Sydney. woo-hoo!
Time during this second week seemed to crawl by in contrast to the first, Sunday seeming never to arrive. We can hardly imagine how the poor people in South Australian quarantine felt last weekend when, upon reaching their final day were told a staff member had tested positive for Covid-19 and they therefore had to quarantine for another two weeks in another hotel! No wonder one of the ‘inmates’ had a severe panic attack and ended up in hospital! The deadline of our flight is all that has got us through this period.
We had our final Covid-19 tests on Thursday morning, the rather unpleasant stick down the throat and up the nose. Give we have heard nothing about those results, we are told that ‘no news is good news‘, so can assume we are negative for the virus. I’d be rather worried if we tested positive, given we’ve not been anywhere for two weeks!
So as we prepare to depart this facility, I have been thinking about what advice I would share for someone coming to serve time here at Howard Springs resort in the coming months. I share some tips under the following categories:
Exercise – given the revised instructions that you cannot leave your deck (unless you’re going to the laundry or the rubbish bin), it’s pretty hard to get much exercise done, but it is possible. When the internet is working, it is possible to stream classes online (I have done a couple this way, also using my phone as a hotspot), but I wouldn’t rely on this. Primarily we have played pre-recorded classes which do not rely on being online or do our own thing.
You’re allowed to order goods from BigW and KMart, which will be collected by workers from Howard Springs and delivered to your room – we ordered two yoga mats ($10 each), giving us a clean space to exercise on outside. There are regularly bush fires around the area, and the deck is always covered in a thin layer of brown ash. You’ll notice that in no time when you look at the soles of your bare feet – you’ll be pleased to have an easily cleaned rubber mat as a safe haven to stand on!
Mealtimes and food: 24-hours worth of food is delivered in bags at around 6pm – that is a hot meal for the evening, breakfast and lunch for the following day. The food here is not too bad considering they are catering for around 1,000 people, workers included. They manage quite well with dietary needs (I am dairy-free), though the food choices are not necessarily what I would eat. Monday night is chicken parmigiana for the ‘normal’ people, so I get the vegan version – polenta with vegan cheese. I have honestly never eaten anything so unpleasant! The lunches are usually some kind of salad, and unfortunately the leaves do not survive the night, and by the following day are limp and unappetising. Thursday night is chicken and prawn laksa night – everyone’s favourite!
I recommend supplementing with your own food. You’re allowed to order deliveries from Coles supermarket with a minimum order of $50. Given it is an alcohol-free facility, endless cups of tea (black tea bags and instant coffee is provided, we brought our own herbal teas) and plain cold water get a little tiring, so we ordered sparkling water, fresh lemon and a couple of bottles of Diet Coke to add some variety. Food wise, we bought some fresh mangos, avocado and a bag of ‘superfood coleslaw’ (chopped beetroot, kale, cabbage, carrot and others), plus some chilli sauce and mayonnaise to add some flavour – each room has its own fridge. Of course there were a couple of packets of crisps and the odd bar of chocolate too, but we didn’t go too crazy on the junk food!
Plates and cutlery: reading in advance we saw that all the food comes in takeaway containers with biodegradable cutlery. We decided that as food is such an important part of the day while here, we would bring our own cutlery (knife, fork and spoon each) and plastic plates and bowls. These add a little more normality to our eating. We use our Stanley mugs for water rather than the paper cups. They keep cold drinks ice cold for a long while. Mr A has his new Leatherman wave multi-tool so we have a knife, and we brought along a light. flexible chopping board for preparing those juicy mangos. Apparently you are not allowed to buy knives in your shopping once you are here.
Laundry and cleaning: Over the two weeks, we were allocated four days where we could do our washing. Mark and I made sure we took advantage of them all, just for the exercise – though some of our neighbours just washed items in their bathroom sink and dried items draped over their balcony rail. There are plenty of washing machines and dryers, plus a rotary washing line. Washing powder is provided in your welcome pack.
There are no clothes pegs provided, so we brought our own. We also brought a pegless washing line from our camping kit to stretch out over the deck to dry underwear, towels and so on.
Cleaning: On arrival you are provided with a welcome pack with antibacterial surface spray, plenty of disposable cloths, bin bags, soap and other toiletries, plus bucket and dustpan and brush. What is not provided is anything for dish washing. We brought a little pot of dishwashing liquid, a sponge and a tea towel.
Social contact: When the internet is working, it’s great to be able to chat with friends to pass the time, even if they are making you jealous with their freedom to roam! While we cannot move around our courtyard and socialise with neighbours, we do make sure to have a chat where possible. Mark’s totted up hours of conversation with Lloyd in the donga opposite me discussing topics as diverse as music, archaeology, travel and history.
We’ve set up a messenger chat group with two girls also in our block, Claire a super smart doctor, expecting her first child, and Bridie who has been quite unwell while here with ulcerative colitis which has resulted in her spending a few days in the Royal Darwin Hospital. Being able to remotely check up on each other has been great, keeping spirits high and sharing stories. We’ve even played a version of online Pictionary (Gartic.io) which has given us a few laughs.
We’ve suggested to the quarantine director that they set up an official Facebook group for new arrivals, and they have now confirmed this has been done for future quarantinees. This should help the right information get out there in advance and offer a moderated platform for asking questions and sharing information.
Entertainment: Each room comes with a TV with all the free-to-air terrestrial channels including digital radio. There are HDMI and USB ports, so if you have a Chromecast device to stream to, you can use that. What you can’t use is the quarantine internet for streaming – not only is it not reliable enough, but it requires a log in via browser, which is not possible on the Chromecast. The only way you can stream to your TV is using your own mifi device. We brought ours over from the UK which has a Vodafone sim with roaming enabled. Unfortunately the signal is also very weak, so it’s just not been good enough to use. The signal works between two rooms (when it is working).
I recommend just downloading content to your tablet or laptop whenever the internet is working, and watch via that.
Bose Speaker – we have a Spotify subscription and music has been our saviour from isolation. We take it in turns to use it in our room.
Don’t forget to bring your Australian charging plugs or a plug that converts your international plug to Aussie – it’s amazing how many people do forget, and it’s not possible to share items or buy any once you are here. We have plugs with multiple USB ports as well.
Routine helped us get through the day – starting with our pilates, followed by showers, lunch, then an afternoon of reading, researching or writing, before dinner arrives, sunset enjoyed and an evening of downloaded entertainment, inter dispersed with chats with friends and family around the world.
For me, especially, the nights seemed so long. I write with blurry eyes having had two weeks of jet lag, of insomnia and broken sleep, never achieving more than four hours on the trot, despite resisting the temptation to nap during the day. That has been my greatest challenge, and something I hope stops once I am back in Sydney. Mark tells me his conscience is clear, allowing him to settle into his usual sleep patterns really quickly!
Perhaps wine is the answer? I shall discover tonight!
WE ARE RELEASED!
Author : Mr A
Location: Cell 6B, Block D, Row 1, The Howard Springs Quarantine Resort, South of Darwin, NT, Australia
As Bon Jovi screams “Woo hoo. we’re half way there!”, from the most important piece of kit we travel with, our Bose Revolve speaker, we look forward to the second half of our sentence disappearing with the same rapidity as the first.
Time is a funny thing right? When there’s so little variation in your routine, so few events that punctuate the day, then it seems to zoom past because there are no reference points. Psychologists have found that the subjective perception of the passing of time tends to speed up with increasing age in humans. This often causes people to underestimate a given interval of time as they age. Well that’s my excuse, I think Catherine may have a different perception given she has been pretty much awake non stop since we arrived. Our usual strategy after a long flight is to get out and walk and get some sunlight on the skin. That approach to avoiding jet lag and ensuing insomnia is not available here and she has really been struggling with her sleep.
So what‘s new for us inmates of Cell Block D, falsely accused as we were your honour of trying to import nasty germs into this virtually COVID free country? Yes, the good news is that if we had caught anything from our fellow passengers (two now tested positive) then we would have had symptoms by now, and we haven’t. With the health protocols in place here its very likely we will be getting the ”Hell out of Howard” a week today. The ultimate milestone is when we get our final COVID-19 test on Day 12 (or day 2 as it is confusingly refereed to here, with day zero being release). If we get a negative result, it‘s an exit certificate and off to Sin City! And there will be sinful amounts of fine food and wine consumed I’m sure.
I thought for this blog a Q and A format might provide some variety, taking the most commonly asked questions from friends and sharing our answers to everyone.
Q: So, were the flights free then?
A:“Nope, the politicians seem to skip that bit when they do the “Bringing Aussies Home” announcements. For us $2,200 a head for a one way fare on a “no frills” flight (two meals, 3 films and 4 bottles of water in 17 hrs). There were a few people I understand who were means tested and supported financially.
Q: Do you have to pay for quarrantine?
A: Yes – $2,500 per head, and then your flight back to wherever is home in Australia. Again if you provide evidence of low income (under $50k) you possibly will qualify for some exemptions. Given the hordes of police, army, caters, and health workers on the ground and providing remote phone based support, they wont be making money out of that.
Q: Do you feel lucky to get back to Australia?
A: Well Australians are fond of looking at the glass as half full, very admirable, but I think this is a complex question around the rights of a passport holding citizen to re-enter their own country. In July the Australian government introduced “flight caps” to limit the number of incoming international passengers that would then have to be dealt with in qurrantine facilities. The London based, but Australian born, human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson, who has defended cases for entities such as Mike Tyson, The Guardian and Washington Post, Julian Assange, presidents and Tasmanian Aboriginals, has just waded in and commented “It is a serious breach if you don’t allow your people to come home, albeit with necessary quarantine. It’s a total failure of government that it can’t allow its people under whatever necessary COVID conditions to come home.” And Geoffrey knows a thing or two.
The President of the Human Rights Commission has also waded in on the issue, concerned that the flight caps “may not be meeting the obligation in article 10 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child” – calling out the many complaints they have had from Australians separated from their children because of these flight caps.
So we have mixed feelings. We understand the Australian government needed to protect the citizens already in the country, and we had been warned in March to “come home or settle in for the long term”, but not everyone was in a position to do that. For instance, we decided it was riskier to travel back than stay put in the south west of England where we knew Catherine had access to quality medical support for her airway disease, never imagining that we were to be barred from returning home. For many people with work and family commitments it was just impossible to drop everything. Now around 36,000 of them are stuck overseas. So yes we feel lucky to have made it back ourselves.
Meanwhile it seems if you have money then you just get to skip around the caps and the quarantine. The same day we landed, last Sunday, the billionaire founder of SnapChat, Evan Spiegal, landed in his private jet at Sydney airport and just skipped around hotel quarantine. You can also buy your way in to Australia when you don’t even have a passport by getting a “Business and Innovation” visa – 485 of these were granted between March and mid September this year to wealthy investors. No wonder there’s some very upset Australian citizens stranded out there waving their passports wondering what the heck is going on.
Q: Whose room is the tidiest – yours or Catherine’s?
A: To be fair, we have never been asked this question, but there has been a lot of banter between us living in our small spaces in caravans and motorhomes as to who is the source of any untidiness.
I rest my case your honour…I understand there will be an appeal lodged by Mrs A on the grounds that she had only got up. I have shared evidence with the claimant in the form of a time stamped photograph at 12.45pm. lets see how the case progresses.
Q: How do you spend your time? (A popular question!)
A: Other than writing these blogs? Well we are not allowed out for exercise, unlike the early flights, who had two 20 minute slots allocated, plus pool time! However, incidents of Australians abusing these privileges made it to social media, and then to the police, and hence now no outside time off the balcony is permitted. So a daily walk 2 metres to the rubbish bin, and a heady 10m metres to the laundry twice a week, our only “outings”.
Pilates on the deck kicks off our day to an ab screaming start. After being very disciplined in lockdown at doing this 2/3 times a week, once we were back in our tiny Truffy (motorhome), it was just impractical. So we are feeling the pain! Then we are both working on different projects. Catherine has her voluntary work for the support community she administers, as well as the research work she is running or supporting for multiple doctors and universities around the world.
For me it‘s catching up on Australian news, and reading to broaden a mind dulled for so many years by an expectation at work of only being able to answer one question. “Ando – whats the forecast sales revenue this week?”
While we we were in the UK we strictly limited our news intake intake for mental and physical health reasons. Yes – physical health as well. Research is indicating that cortisol, produced when we are stressed – for instance when watching “Doom O’Clock” (as we called the daily briefings from Boris), or the latest antics from over the Atlantic from Trump, can cause a range of health issues when elevated for long periods. For a most readable analysis of the potential impact 2020 is likely having on our mental and physical health check out this Psychology today article from last week. So we have spent little time following events over here, in fact missing the introduction of flight caps completely, and despite registering on the Australian governments SmartTraveler web site, had no communication about them.
It‘s actually been a breath of fresh air to settle back into reading the Sydney Morning Herald and ABC News apps. Somehow the BBC seems to have lost its way, and I’m finding a less sensationalised news content here. Obviously steering clear of Murdoch Lies Inc. and it was such a pleasure to read about the Climate Change Bill introduced last week from our very own independent MP for Warringhah the multi-talented Zali Steggall. Olympic athlete, solicitor, mother, and all round goodness as far as we can see. Anyone who can wrest away a seat from that climate denier fool Tony Abbot, well done! For an interesting write up on the bill see The Conversations’s article from last week .
Zali even took the time to return an email I sent her concerning the flight caps, and her office has been super helpful since. The only disparaging story you will find about her is from…..of course The Daily Lies/Telegraph, a Murdoch paper. How predicable. If you haven’t seen this brilliant clip of a former Australian prime minister (Malcolm Turnbull) lay into the editor in chief of Murdock’s evil enterprises give it a watch. Even if you’re not Australian it will give you a good sense of how battle is done in the colonies.
Q: What’s the internet like?
A: Closely related to the above question! Well it’s been hit and miss to be honest, and that really needs sorting as they plan to double the current number of people coming through Howard Springs, and if you are confined to quarters then it really is important to keep connected.
Q: What’s the food like?
A: It depends on what your comparison point is, as always. To a meal that Catherine would cook – not great. Compared to the diet of more than 690 million people around the world who go hungry – fine. Everyone involved in this facility is clearly really trying to do their best. The caters must have a tough job. There’s currently around 560 of us on the international blocks of this this facility, we are strictly “Cyclone fenced” away from the domestic detainees, who are far less likely to be COVID positive. The food has to be packaged up and wheeled around on trolleys in the baking afternoon sun, when temperatures have been regularly over 35 degrees centigrade (95°F).
We were advised to bring our own plates and cutlery, as everything is served in take away containers with wooden, disposable utensils, health protocol I assume, or a concern sharp knives might be used by those not derailing with the isolation? These plates and cutlery have been a blessing, and Catherine insists on doing the washing up so it’s done “properly”. We also get an advance bit of Christmas cheer with our plates. Small things…small things.
Q: Are you allowed to mingle with others “doing time”?
A: Well if you call a shouted conversation across 4 metres of yard while wearing a mask mingling, then a bit. However, most people are inside the majority of the day, it‘s just too hot to sit around and our balcony in sun all afternoon. There is a Facebook Group started by a detainee for Howard Springs residents, which had some very helpful content on it we checked before we arrived (like “bring plates and cutlery!) . Sadly now the keyboard warriors are out in force with some really disrespectful comments, I‘ve left it. It appears to be no longer moderated. I started a little group message with a couple of people in our block instead, and that’s been helpful I think. Its so isolating for people here with one call a day from a remote tele-health service, and that’s it.
As mentioned earlier, some of the previous residents were caught breaking health protocols, so they have really clamped down on any opportunities for mixing. The few covidiots ruining life for the many – a familiar story. Three lads were caught pushing one another around in a wheelie bin for instance, wearing no masks and close together.
Today Catherine had a knock at her door and two police officers and a guy in an army uniform asked her if she knew “the gentlemen in the unit next door”, as clearly we had been seen nipping in and out of each other rooms. They thought this row was for singles. It’s good that they are on it. I can just imagine though, some observer of us going, “What’s that old bloke doing hanging around that young shielah‘s donga ? “ I should explain a “donga” is not a body part – it’s a miner’s cabin – pre-fab – desk, bed, bathroom 🙂
The police are very assertive about mask wearing, even when there is absolutely no one else around. I was told off this afternoon as I briefly put my head out of my donga door mask free, but with it dangling in my hand ready to put on. I was shouted at (no armchair manner with this particular officer) “PUT YOUR MASK ON., ITS NO GOOD IN YOUR HANDS!”. I could have rejoined “Well, it would be no good on my face either would it as there is no one within a 20 metre radius?”. But there would be no point. I have heard there have been some very rude and even violent detainees. It would be a tough job, walking around in full kit in this heat, and must be draining even if you are acclimatised. Again I have to say what a shame it is that a few idiots just ruin it.
Well, I hope that gives you a flavour of what’s going down /up here (depending on where you are reading from, geographically), any other questions just fire them in. We have time to answer 🙂 So today is day 7, and a week today its all over, we hope. And really what’s two weeks? For hundreds of asylum seekers in Melbourne it will be 6 years since they were locked up . So yes we’re very lucky.
Author: Mrs A
Location: Howard Springs Quarantine Centre, Howard Springs, Northern Territory, Australia
We have just finished day 5 of quarantine and it’s incredible how the time has flown.
Our first couple of days were consumed with calls to and from the IT team here, trying to get us fixed up with internet. Being online in a situation like this is second only to having water, electricity and food. Fortunately we didn’t have to move rooms, and have a working connection now.
Then we had the excitement of our yoga mats being delivered from our BigW online order. Now we have added an early morning pilates class to our routine and intermittent bouts of press ups, yoga and stretches throughout the day.
Nine am we either have a face-to-face visit from a team of medicos in full PPE (combat trousers, hiking shoes, long sleeve shirt, blue latex gloves, apron, orange masks that look like Donald Duck beaks and clear visors) or a phone call to check on our overall health, looking particularly for COVID symptoms and to record our temperatures.
There are a lot of staff here. Our cabins are two cyclone fences away from where the Australia Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) nurses, doctors, army personnel and NT police are all staying. We get to spot them on their breaks as they mingle in the ‘green-zone’ (we are in the ‘red-zone’) mask-free, laughing about the football results and getting to know one another.
Although we are treated a bit like criminals by most of the police, the AUSMAT workers are all quite friendly and chatty (from a safe distance,) and we learn that most volunteered for this job and hail from all parts of Australia. Many also had to endure quarantine before starting their jobs here, so are sympathetic to our predicament.
I have really struggled with jet lag. Normally I reboot into the right time zone quite quickly by getting out for fresh air and exercise during the day, following my usual habits to familiarise my brain with the new time zone. In quarantine that hasn’t been possible. Outdoor time is limited to the deck outside our cabins – at least we have two of those, but due to the high temperatures (36 degrees most days, with a ‘feels like’ temperature of up to 42 degrees!) we’re not out that frequently or for too long. Last night I finally managed 9 hours of intermittent sleep – much needed after four consecutive nights of three or less hours. Hopefully have broken the back of it now – the pilates seems to help. Mr A usually struggles with jet lag, but seems to be back to his normal sleep rhythms already.
Six pm is the exciting time when our food for the next 24 hours is delivered in paper bags to the steps outside our cabin. A hot evening dinner, designed to cater for required dietary needs, plus a cold breakfast and lunch for the following day. It’s a frenzy of activity, getting the cold foods into the fridge before dashing back out to the table to eat dinner before it loses the last remnants of heat. The food is not exactly what we would usually consume, but it fills a hole. I don’t think we will be gaining any weight here!
The food is ‘ok’. I don’t think I have finished a whole meal yet, with last night’s tagliatelle with some sort of mince and tomatoey-pesto sauce being the tastiest so far, but still with way too much pasta which became sticky and gluggy after a while. It must be hard to cater for 300+ people with all different needs though, and given those constraints they’re doing fine. We’re certainly not starving, and there is often an accompanying vegan and gluten free dessert to fill up on if dinner is not to your taste, plus plenty of fruit.
Today, day 5, was our allocated day to visit the laundry, a whole 20 metres away. We had almost forgotten how to walk! It felt amazing to stretch out the legs on the way up there, and hanging out our clothes and towels allowed us to see something new of the area we are in. We felt so guilty as we stepped off our cabin steps and walked up the building…almost expecting one of the overzealous police to come and tackle us to the ground…though given we are seen as potentially harbouring an unwanted viral visitor, perhaps it would be a cattle prod instead!
Either way, our washing machine visit went without incidence and resulted in clean and very quickly dried clothes. Our memories of struggling to dry our washing in Truffy on those wet autumn days in the UK are already fading in the hot Australian sun.
This afternoon it was the excitement of a tropical thunderstorm. We saw the sky darkening as we took our crispy washing off the line, and it wasn’t long before we heard the first deep tones of thunder and thick, heavy drops of rain falling on the tin roof. It wasn’t as torrential or long-lasting as the weather forecast had warned, but cooled the temperatures down slightly and gave the novel aroma of hot summer rain to our environment.
The Northern Territory is famed for its wildlife, which on past visits up this way we have greatly enjoyed. From our 6×2 metre combined decks we crane our necks to spot anything we can. Morning is when we are most likely to see a pair of black kites circling the nearby highway, looking out for roadkill from the previous night. During the day we hear (but are yet to see) rainbow bee-eaters hunting for insects, and sunset is when we spot families of noisy white cockatoos squawking across the sky, more graceful black cockatoos calling as they pass overhead, large flocks of ibis and fluttering pairs of lorikeets and rosellas chattering their way to roost for the night. All very exciting. No snakes, spiders or anything furry so far.
We’re getting lots of reading done, loving our chance to have long video-calls with friends and even had a great Zoom call with our book club yesterday, with members present from the UK, France, and the east-coast of Australia. What initially seemed like a long and daunting two week prison sentence is not going to be so bad after all. We’ll do our time, and before we know it will be out and back on our next flight across to Sydney.
Author: Mr A
Location: Howard Springs International Quarantine Facility, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia
A number of my friends won’t be surprised to hear that on entering Australia yesterday I have been detained at the pleasure of the Australian government, whilst assessing my potential health hazard to a largely coronavirus free country . Oh yes, Catherine’s here as well, even she couldn’t bat her lovely eyes out of this one!
For fourteen days we are locked up in a quarantine centre just outside Darwin in the Northern Territory, with the very best medical support on hand should the two tests we have had in the last 3 days prove to be wrong, and we actually have caught coronavirus from one of the 300 returning Australians on the Qantas flight, all of whom have had, like us, a pre-and post flight test. However, the breaking news is that one of our fellow passengers tested positive upon landing in Darwin, so clearly there’s room for this sneaky virus to make it through screening and into Australia. So super vigilance is required and we support the rigour of the process. We cross our fingers over the next few days I guess.
We have been given these wearable devices to monitor our temperature and heart beat which synchronises with an app on an iPad to a central team who are monitoring the output.
We should get an early alert if things go south. I envisage being given an electric shock from the arm band in the middle of the night and having a voice come through the iPad speaker “Alert, alert, your temperature has risen by one degree and we detect zero flatulence”, just as hazmat suited health warriors break my door down.
Let me back track though about the facility we are in. Originally a camp built to house workers for a Japanese mining company, it has been adapted to now provide a quarantine centre where at least 5,000 Australian citizens returning from overseas can be securely ring fenced from each other (each flight stays in groups) and separated from those domestic travellers coming inter-state, as they are also quarantined here.
It is staffed on the health side by an organisation I had never heard of, but should have, called Australian Medical Assistance Teams (Ausmat). They are drawn from state and territory health services across Australia, and have provided a rapid response capability to emergencies such as Samoa‘s measles outbreak last year, then that dramaticThai cave rescue (yes that was them!), and a host of other humanitarian efforts internationally. Now Australia needs them here in the Northern Territory to provide support as a number of these repatriation flights, like ours, are bringing in folk with the virus. It must be contained.
We had a long old day yesterday, with 16 hrs on the flight, then another four going though an admissions process , more tests etc. Finally getting to our room, we were wished a another “welcome home” from the well intentioned AUSMAT staff. Opening the doors to our little huts, it was hard to keep a smile on our face. A place less like home it would be hard to imagine..
We spent what was left of the day unpacking and trying to get our internet working. In the latter matter, a day later the IT contractor running the set up here remains unsuccessful, so we have heard we might be packing and moving again tomorrow. Ah well it passes the time I guess, as long as our stay doesn’t reset at day one in our new accomodation!
It’s interesting watching events unfold here, a bit like we are in a low budget Australian dystopian movie. With police and wire fencing everywhere, hazmat outfits, and these drab, prefab huts. Last night we decided to try and sit on our balcony with our flasks of tea. The police across the “other side of the wire” were watching us intently enough to shout out “Masks on”- we pointed out we were drinking, and the reply was, “put it on between drinking”. There was not another soul about and we were at least 5 metres and two fences away from them. We are on a balcony by ourselves, but that’s what they have been told to enforce after the previous tomfoolery. There’s a YouTube video of a “rave” going on up here when residents were allowed a little more freedom. Learning from what happened in Victoria (a major outbreak that locked down the state for months was traced to a poorly enforced quarantine regime) everyone’s a little nervous, and we have to respect that. Over zealous maybe, but better be safe than COVIDed.
We just need to think about what awaits us on our release. Friends in Sydney already have been planning our social schedule for when we finally arrive back , making our mouths water and our throats dry. The food here is shall we say, adequate. We aren’t going to starve, far from it. The wastage must be enormous. Millions around the world would be grateful for three meals a day of anything. And there is no alcohol allowed at all.
The heat is a shock to our temperate climate adjusted bodies, but we have the luxury of air con, so no complaints there. And seperate rooms, as each unit is only big enough for a single bed, fridge, desk and bathroom. So Catherine gets a good night’s sleep with no “wild animal noises” as she puts it, disturbing her little needed beauty sleep. After so much time in close proximity we are enjoying some time to do our own thing. Well I am, Catherine must be missing me like crazy 🙂
We just think of the thousands of Australians who have not had the opportunity to come back. There are some horror stories out there. Friends of ours with two young boys and a flight booking for New Year’s Eve were told by their airline “the flight may or may not go”. They have given up their house rental, sold their car, and have only their suitcases. If the flight gets cancelled like many have 24 hrs before, what do they do? Others are stuck in far flung countries with overwhelmed medical systems. Its a horrible situation for so many Australians who just want to come home. Meanwhile our politicians squabble among themselves, and point fingers at each other, but other than this initiative by the Federal government, things are happening far too slowly to resolve the problem. These people have Australian passports. They are being denied access to the country that expects them to pay their taxes. Of course we need to protect Australia from importing cases, but we surely also owe a duty of care to those who remain abroad and are vulnerable there?
And so we are back in Australia. It was funny coming out of the room tonight onto the balcony for something, then literally a couple of minutes later going out again, and I couldn’t help but shout “Gee, who put the lights out!”. We had forgotten what the tropics is like. One minute its so bright you’re squinting across the deck to spot the croc, then bang, the curtains are dropped in a flash of an often intense sunset, Then it‘s pitch black. Not just darkish..its black. None of that oh so British fiddling around with evening twilight thing. Like everything else here, its distinctive, its dramatic, its Australia.
Author: Mrs A
Location: Sydney, Australia and Singapore
Time has absolutely flown by. When we left the UK at the end of October last year, the 17 weeks we had in Australia seemed to be so long, but before we knew it they were coming to an end.
We made the most of our last ten days, catching up with friends over various dinners and lunches, interjecting those events with walks, yoga and pilates sessions to add a bit of balance (albeit somewhat wobbly on occasion for Mr A).
We collected our caravan from RV-GO who had done a great job with the repairs, finishing early having garnered some extra time with fewer customers than they anticipated. It’s impossible to not have noticed the latest strain of coronavirus (Covid-19) spreading around the world – well, aside from the publicised shortages such as toilet paper and food staples, it seems caravan parts from China are also hard to come by. The final repairs will need to be done in November when we’re next back in the country. We dropped the Zone, the kayak, car and bikes down to our undercover storage in Nowra, and locked it up for the next nine months. We wonder what will have happened in our lives by the next time we next travel in them.
I had another set of injections into my airway, my doctor continuing to be very happy with what he’s seeing and breathing continuing to be great. If my procedures keep going this well I’m going to almost feel like a normal person!
Finally it was time to head off, saying a tearful goodbye to Miss Tassie (who was fairly non-plussed about our departure).
We boarded a fairly empty flight from Sydney to Singapore on Sunday morning. The flight took us just over the equator to southern mainland Asia, an easy nine hours of watching movies and eating food in a very comfortable plane. At the airport we were met by friends Andie, Jang and their daughter Rosie.
We were driven back to their condominium on the island of Sentosa, to the south of Singapore city. Sentosa translates to mean ‘peace and tranquility’ in Malay, and it certainly delivered on that count. As we were only stopping over for two nights, we decided to avoid the city with its shopping centres, food courts and bustling bars and restaurants, and instead stuck to exploring on foot the quiet manicured pathways and beaches around the island.
Our choice was not only driven by a desire to explore a new area of Singapore, but also a precaution against viral infection, slim as the chance might be. Singapore has very tight monitoring systems in place, and our temperature was taken on several occasions to ensure we didn’t pose any risk to other residents.
We were also keen to try and maintain fairly healthy immune systems and managed to be fairly civilised with our socialising, and for the first time ever in all our time visiting Singapore, we woke up each morning with clear heads, despite all efforts to corrupt us with delicious wine!
We had a great time with Andie and Jang, generous hosts with a lovely home. Before long we were saying goodbye once again and boarding our flight to London and from there, on to Vienna, Austria.
Watch out Europe, we are on our way!
Author: Mr A
Location: Hunter Valley, Newcastle and Sydney, NSW, Australia
Well the climate gods have certainly had an amusing time throwing the whole fires and floods at Australia this summer! After years of drought, the worst fires on record (yes that’s a factual statement), many areas in NSW are now flood, receiving more rain in the last two weeks than for several years. What a welcome relief to hear the restorative power of those raindrops lashing on the roof.
We first saw the miracle of what solid rain could do when staying with friends in the Hunter after leaving the coast on our trip down to Sydney. Over the course of under 24 hours we watched their paddock go from brown to green. Unfortunately the rain will not save this years vintage. The Hunter valley usually produces some outstanding wines. Not this year. Apparently 80% of the wine growers will not be able to produce anything because of the tainting from the bush fire smoke that will only grow stronger as the wine sits in the bottle. Just another industry that is under stress from our changing climate.
Our friends took us wine tasting to Ben Ean, a relatively new business that has established itself in the old Lindemans winery. They were showcasing some excellent local wines, with a great mediterranean focused restaurant, and a small shop with local products for sale.
I throughly recommend you check it out, together with the Gundog Estate winery next door. We picked up some fabulous wines here to take for our last few weeks in Sydney before we leave for 9 months, and the various dinners that would involve!
We also called in on another friend in the Hunter living on a vineyard, He has an amazing cellar and another case was procured to see us through the weeks ahead. Some really interesting wines in this little selection.
Please go and support these businesses up in the Hunter, they will really need us this year if we are to continue to enjoy a thriving wine industry in Australia.
Our next stop was Newcastle, up the coast from Sydney a couple of hours. This city is also becoming a real hub for good food and wine. Is that why our friends moved there? Well we had a cracking weekend finding out, with visits to excellent bars, restaurants and cafes, and some walks between showers to burn off the calories.
Spending quality time with friends, breaking bread, shooting the breeze, sharing dreams and memories, this is so important to us. It had been a friend‘s birthday a few days before and her hubby had organised for six surprise guests to arrive for a night. Well the extreme weather and ensuing accidents on the roads put paid to Plan A, and then Plan B, finally Plan C worked and she was delighted to see not just the four of us for dinner but ten smiling faces round the table. Nothing better…
We luckily had a storm free run down with the caravan to Sydney and dropped it for repairs after my little accident in January. If you are the driver of white ute who careered round a corner in Nowra on the 2nd of January and forced a Land Cruiser towing a caravan to veer out of the way and hit a street sign…I hope you were rushing to something important enough to risk others peoples‘ life and limbs (and property).
Caravan-free, we made it to Matraville in Sydney’s south eastern suburbs , where our dear friends Jenny and David live. This is where our fur child is well cared for while we are away. These are always happy times, sharing meals and laughs with these guys and other Sydney based friends, tinged with a little sadness knowing it will be a long time before we see them all again. We leave on March the 1st and are not back until mid November. But what tales we will all have to share by then?
We have managed to get out on our bikes for some rides, the last one being an absolute cracker along 18 km of almost continuous car-free cycleway along the southern beach suburbs of Sydney from Kyeemagh (just south of Sydney airport) to Cronulla.
It’s so great to see some investment going into upgrading parts of this popular route. If we use this infrastructure then hopefully our councils will see the demand is there and continue to invest.
So now we settle into the last 10 days of our time in Australia, with much to still organise, and our excitement building as flight day approaches.
Author: Mrs A
Location: Forster-Tuncurry, NSW, Australia
Monday: It was a hot day when we departed from Yamba, with temperatures climbing up in to the late 30s. We enjoyed the air conditioning in the car as we travelled, and we soon abandoned thoughts of breaking the trip down to Forster with a bush camp, choosing instead to call ahead and book an extra night at the campground.
We’d only been settled in about half an hour when the ‘southerly-buster’ hit. This change in the wind direction brought a dramatic thunder storm, some brief but heavy rain, and all importantly, a massive drop in temperature down to more comfortable early 20s. We slept the best in weeks!
Tuesday: The cooler temperatures hung around for the next morning, so we carried our kayak down the water for a paddle.
Our new location is a campground on the estuary of the Wollamba River, near where it meets up with the Coolongolock River and the waters of Wallis Lake. It’s the northern most end of the Great Lakes council area. The waters around here are absolutely riddled with oyster farms, the crystal clear water ideal for growing Sydney rock oysters. Wallis Island is one of many islands around the area and is home to an exclusive château worth $20 million, but now on sale for a mere $5 million if you’re interested? You’ll need a boat and perhaps a helicopter too though… Bargain…
Later on, we jumped on our bikes to cycle into Forster-Tuncurry. These small twin towns are adjacent sides of a bridge and the estuary. Forster was named after the secretary for lands in the late 1860s, while Tuncurry is said to mean ‘plenty of fish’ in the local Aboriginal dialect. The area is popular with fisher people, so the interpretation of the name appears to be right.
After ticking off a few tasks we continued our ride out to a trading estate on the edge of town. There we pulled up at a rather closed looking factory. Within seconds a roller door opened and a gentleman with a light Durham accent (town in the north of England) invited us in.
On checking into the campground I had spotted a flyer for a local micro-brewery, The Coastal Brewing Company. Generally only open Friday to Sunday, Mr A had emailed to ask whether we could try a tasting – the prompt response letting us know we were welcome.
We opted to share a $10 tasting paddle of four of the beers on tap, with a couple of bonus tastings thrown in for good measure.
The brewery is still in its first year of operation and is a labour of love for David and his wife Helen. David had a longtime career with international accounting firm Deloitte in Sydney, but decided to turn his hobby and passion for beer making into a business. At least there are no fears in ensuring the numbers add up, but it sounds like they are both learning a lot as they go. As for the beer? All delicious – I’m not a major beer drinker, but my sips were very agreeable and Mr A was very positive about the ones he tried. We returned later with the car to purchase some selections to share with friends later on in the week. Coastal Brewing sell through bottle shops around NSW, so if you enjoy a good craft beer, I’d check out their website to find a stockist near you.
Our cycle back to camp took us past a large oyster shed, so of course we had to call in and pick up a dozen for a late afternoon snack.
Wednesday: We are finding ourselves switching into our transition mindset as we enjoy our last few days in the caravan until our next return to Australia in mid November. Food stocks are being run down and clothes organised to ensure we know what we need to take back for a rather wintry March in Europe.
After a morning of washing and organising, we decided we ought to get out to stretch the legs, so drove over to Cape Hawke Lookout in Booti Booti National Park. The fly catchers were out in abundance, and we soon realised why – the mosquito population is rather healthy out here! We drowned ourselves in repellant, but it seemed to only serve to alert the little bugs as to where we were, and our climb up to the top of the hill and the tower on top was accompanied by the constant high pitch whine of little wings as they jostled for a drink of our blood.
Our stay at the top of the lookout was rather brief, before we bounded back down the hill to the safety of the car and drove off.
More rain is expected from midnight tonight and, with the highest possible water restrictions in force here, everyone is hoping it arrives. We’re anticipating a wet pack up in the morning as we up-sticks and head to the Hunter Valley for tomorrow night, hopefully bringing the rain with us to the vineyards.
Author: Mr A
Location: Tweed Heads and Yamba, New South Wales, Australia
We left our friends in Noosa with heavy hearts. This roaming lifestyle means we have no clue when we will see them again. Good friendships survive distance, but are renewed with proximity. It has been a fantastic week but now we its time to head south towards Sydney.
Firstly though we needed to collect our home away from home from the manufacturer, Zone RV in Coolum, where they had serviced it. It was all ready and waiting for us, well, until they noticed our solar power wasn’t working. They immediately threw a sparky at the problem, found the fault, fixed it, and we were on our way. Great service from Zone RV. It’s a good feeling to see a company that has worked so hard to bring innovation into this traditional industry survive the ups and downs of a highly competitive and crowded market.
Our destination for the night was a riverside camping park at the small town of Tweed Heads. We really didn’t see much of it. By the time we had unpacked all of our gear from a week‘s stay, cleaned and reorganised the van it was late afternoon, and, as we found out when we went for a walk along the river bank, mosquito o’clock!
We returned indoors to relish our first air conditioned sleep since before Christmas. Lovely…
Our next stop was the coastal settlement of Yamba, famous for its prawns, delivered to the docks almost daily by the local trawlers. We arrived in time for lunch and followed the advice of a friend who grew up here and headed to Beechwood Cafe, just around the corner from our campsite.
Local sardines and prawns were accompanied by super fresh salad sourced from Grafton. Expensive for lunch, we felt, at $65 for the two of us, but it was great quality.
Times will be tough for businesses like these, with bookings to Australia from international visitors already down 10% on last year as a direct result of the bushfires. That’s an estimated $4.5bn loss to tourism related businesses. Even the local oyster farmer had suffered financially from the fires, his oyster beds having been damaged by burnt trees falling and sweeping his beds away. Small businesses like these need our support – and we we’re happy to oblige with an order for two dozen!
We loved Yamba so much our planned two night stay turned into five! There’s so much to do here, with stunning surf beaches, meandering, sheltered waterways for boating, great cycling paths, and…the Best-Fish-and-Chips-in-Australia. I know…not a big call given the mediocre standard of most, but these from Yamba’s Fisho (suitably Australian name) were truly sensational. Washed down with a new favourite white grape of ours, Alvarinho, from a winery we visited in Rutherglen (Stanton and Colleen). We have found it to be a perfect partner for seafood.
Unfortunately we have both caught colds, again, that’s right – just after we’ve recovered from the flu. It’s been a bit of an ordinary trip this time from a catching-every-virus-going perspective. Anyway, after some restful days with short walks in the relative cool of the later afternoon (anything less than 30°C is a bonus it seems nowadays!), we decided to venture out on the water for a paddle. What a great day we had.
While the Clarence river stretches for a bend short of 400km, we managed to cover 4% of those..so many more to explore one of these days. We saw several sea eagles and kites cruising what seem to be a healthy waterway, judging by their success rate at finding fish snacks.
When we took a ferry over to the small settlement of Iluka on the other side of the river mouth, dolphins were doing their jumpy thing right alongside the boat, busy hunting fish of their own.
We stayeded in Iluka for a few hours, riding though some rain forest, chased by mossies, then emerging on this fabulous beach. It would be hard to run out of things to do here over a holiday. But Sydney calls and we must finally drag ourselves away from this watery paradise.
Author: Mrs A
Location: Sydney, Newcastle and New Italy, NSW to Noosa, Queensland
Our last post left off while I was having more steroid injections in my neck. Regular followers may recall I had some bad news 6 weeks previously, with my airway closing by about 40%. Well, the good news from this appointment was abundant. Not only had the injections worked to reverse the scarring, but my airway was about 90% open. Even my doctor could hardly believe the results. We drove away from Sydney in torrential rain literally breathing a sigh of relief knowing we could enjoy the next few weeks touring without worrying.
Our first stop was Newcastle, a couple of hours north of Sydney, where we spent a fun evening catching up over beers, wine and curry with our friends Chris and Karen in their new-to-them home. Saturday morning saw us pull away early and start heading north, a roadside rest area in a tiny settlement called New Italy our destination for the night.
The rain brought with it some slightly cooler temperatures, and we enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep in our comfortable Zone, sheltered from the weather and all outside.
We continued our journey up into Queensland, switching our watches back an hour as we crossed the border and headed to Twin Waters where we pulled up outside the home of some fellow Zone owners, Peter and Mary. They kindly invited the three of us into their air conditioned home – Tassie wasted no time settling in and after a tour around the premises looking for geckos relaxed for a nap on their bed.
Monday morning we dropped off the caravan at the Zone factory for a service in Coolum, and continued in the car up to Noosaville to stay with our friends Wendy and Ray.
Our friends are about to trade in their waterfront apartment for one with broader sweeping views of lake, river and bush, so we made the most of the Noosa River views for the last time. Their landlord has put the apartment up for sale in all its original 1970s glory. It needs substantial renovations and upgrading – the owner wants a couple of million dollars for it, if you have some spare cash…
We were treated to a fabulous sunset on our first night…
And on our second night a very dramatic storm which we watched roll in from the west:
During the days, Mark and I made use of being surrounded by water to get out on the kayak, exploring the river and lake, investigating some of the sand islands and inlets in the Noosa River mouth. The water really is the best place to be at this time of year, with the humidity at 70% and upwards with days over 30 degrees centigrade.
We saw giant sea eagles and a pair of curious chestnut winged brahminy kites hunting along the waterways, stingrays and spotted leopard rays cruising along the shallow waters looking for food.
A showery morning saw us heading out to the national park for a walk, the rain quite refreshing as we hiked through 12km of beautiful scenery.
We enjoyed many delicious meals at home with the multi million dollar view, but also went out one evening to Parkridge, near Ray and Wendy’s soon to be new home, at a restaurant called Fish. We had great seafood accompanied by a very tasty riesling.
On Saturday evening Mark and I were met at the private jetty by our friends Brian and Caroline (former Sydneysiders who moved up here several years ago), who wizzed us out via motorboat to their houseboat on the river. There we enjoyed a glass of wine and a BBQ as the sun went down across the water. Life’s not too bad, is it?
We finished off our week with Ray and Wendy, enjoying a fine Australia Day with a visit to Noosa farmer’s markets in the morning, a jump in the surf at Sunshine Beach, delicious lunch and a sunset dinner on the balcony.
What an incredible few days we have had. We feel so privileged by the kindness shown to us – not only by longtime friends, but by generous strangers who welcomed us into their home simply because we made the same choice of caravan. It must be something in the Zoner water.
It’s been hot and humid in Queensland, which was as we expected, but not completely unbearable (as long as you can escape into some air conditioning!). We’ve still had an amazing time, explored on foot and by water, seen some wonderful sunsets, birds and wildlife. It’s one hard area to leave, but now it’s time to start heading south, back towards Sydney. Goodbye Noosaville, I’m sure we’ll be back.