I am planning another big adventure. Some of you may have followed my posts about planning a road trip around Scotland. It started with a very thorough (and fun) process of plotting out my activities, destinations and driving routes. I pre-booked my accommodation and ferry transfers. It finished with a BIG compendium of notes and information.
Well, it’s time to plan another big adventure for 2021. This time I’m staying in Australia. I had already planned to do that before Corona hit. It was my intention to do some travelling around Victoria in conjunction with my upcoming 60th birthday celebrations.
I have been lucky enough to work in a job that accrues Long Service Leave and have quite a bank of it stored up. I’ll be taking ten weeks off work and by adding on the long summer holiday and the autumn holidays, I don’t have to go to work for 18 weeks. Did you hear that folks, 18 weeks off work! Nearly 130 days!
O thank you Unions! Blessed be the fruit of your hard work back in the 1970s!
So now the dilemma is what to do? I want to ensure I don’t run myself ragged and do too much opposed to not wanting to get to the end of the 18 weeks and think I have wasted my time.
The big picture
To this end, I have started to plan, in less detail, my next big adventure. I have several things on my 60 before 60 list that will be included and some new ideas. There are lighthouses to see and a balloon ride to take. A real proper go at astrophotography if I can find a dark enough sky.
At this stage, the overarching plan is to
Stay at home for half the time and
Travel for half the time in two stints. A short getaway in January and a longer road trip in February and March.
In the stay-at-home period, I might paint the internal walls in my house and sort some of that domestic stuff. I would also like to make a more serious and sustained attempt to write some feature articles that will bring in some moula! The travelling-period, well that will be a road trip!
Where am I up to? So far I am collating my ideas. Throwing everything on the pile. Everything! Money, time and logistics are magical and unlimited. From here I’ll narrow it down and book what I have to and leave more up in the air than last time since if things go pear shaped, I’m not far from home.
Impact of COVID19
Of course, it’s all complicated by the fact that not all the Australian borders are open due to COVID related travel restrictions. Do I just presume they will be open by next year and plan away? Or do I plan a long extensive trip of my own state? Do I create two plans? I had thought about a walking tour on the Overland Track in Tasmania. I’ll have to book that. But Tassie’s borders are still closed….
Ahh…. such tantalising first world problems to solve
I had a mammogram recently and the whole experience made me tear up with gratitude and joy. An odd reaction perhaps, but my joy and gratitude was for the free health screening services provided by the Australian government.
Free Health Screening
I have written about the bowel cancer screening program which is provided to all Australians over 50 in a previous post. Once you turn 50, the Government sends you a kit every 5 years to test your poo for blood. If you get a positive result, like I did last year, you’ll be scheduled for a colonoscopy.
Free mammograms are available for all women (cis or trans) between 50 and 74. It is recommended you have the procedure every two years. Breastscreen NSW provides the service in my home state, but each state has a similar service.
Every two years.
My regular two-year check up was a lovely experience. I know that sounds a bit cheesy but bear with me! For many women, the idea of having their breasts squeezed firmly between two plates is not much fun. Yes, it is uncomfortable and yes, someone you don’t know will be handling your breasts and “smoothing” them out on the plate BUT the surroundings and the care and kindness offered by the people who work there, make it a pleasant experience.
The clinics are nicely furnished and softly lit. The receptionist greets you in a friendly and courteous manner. You’ll be asked to fill out a form. Since there were still COVID restrictions at the time I had the procedure, most of this form had been filled out two days prior to my visit when the lovely receptionist rang me. This meant I didn’t have to be at the clinic any longer than necessary.
Once in the treatment room, the radiographer asked me to get undressed from the waist up and checked my identity again. The lights were dim and the room was well heated.
I was then positioned in front of the machine and the radiographer told me how to stand and gently guided me to get the correct positions, before retreating behind the screen to take the shots. These days the images are recorded digitally rather than on film. You have a front image and a side image of each breast.
It takes about twenty minutes, then you get dressed and leave! You get the results after about two weeks. A letter is also sent to your GP. If there are any abnormalities your doctor will contact you.
I couldn’t find an Australian video showing what to expect but here’s one from John Hopkins.
You don’t need a referral for the screening once you are over 50. Like the bowel cancer kits, you’ll get your first invitation as a fiftieth birthday present! After that, you’ll get a reminder every two years.
Ultrasound vs X-rays?
I spoke to an ultrasound technician (My Cousin Kris!) and she said that ultrasound images are superior to x-rays especially for women with smaller breasts because they have better resolution.
Ultrasound scans are not part of the free screening program and you will need to pay for it yourself unless the place you go to bulk bills. She recommended you get an ultrasound every second time you get an x-ray screening image to increase the chance of detection.
Breast cancer is diagnosed in close to 20,000 Australians each year. It accounts for 6% of cancer deaths. The 5 year survival rate is high (91%) because of services such as the screening program which allows for early detection. Early detection of any cancer is vital for successful treatment, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of the Breastscreen Service?
So don’t be scared – bare your boobs in the name of good health!
Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end and the final stage of my road trip to Broken Hill was the drive from Cobar to Orange for an overnight stop, and then back home to Wollongong.
Cobar to Orange
Another full day of driving. I am not sure why I add that detail. Firstly, it’s a road trip! That’s what you do on road trips – drive! Secondly, this is Australia; it’s a long way between towns, so of course, it’s a full day’s driving!
The desert is well behind us, the roads are good, and we’re up to Disc 8 of the Steven Fry Chronicles. The fields on either side of us are now filled with waving grain crops, there’s some yellow canola and the ubiquitous purple of Paterson’s Curse is still brightening things up. It’s a curse because it is toxic to livestock and in particular horses. Sheep can tolerate eating some, but the weed spreads easily and degrades pastures.
We started early after a good rest at Cobar Caravan Park. The low background hum I heard the night before is still present. Machinery? Something to do with the mine? Before we leave town we visit the Fort Bourke Lookout where you can peer right down into an open cut mine. Even with the steel cage between you and the sheer drop, it’s a bit scary.
Our first stop, 130 km east is the town of Nyngan. Some people may remember Nyngan being flooded in 1990 when it was isolated for many weeks and its people evacuated. Nyngan is on the Bogan River. Just mentioning that is enough to make many Aussie’s smile. BOGAN!! Seriously? I take my hat off to the people of Nyngan! What a terrific sense of humour they have. Nyngan has a Big Bogan! A bogan being Aussie slang for an uncouth or unsophisticated person. Nyngan’s Big Bogan certainly is a tourist attraction. We had to line up and wait to get a photo. He’s in a park across the road from the Beancounters’ House, presumably an accountant’s office.
Australia has a propensity for “Big Things” as tourist attractions. Like The Big Pineapple in Nambour, Queensland, The Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, NSW. There was a Big Potato in Robertson NSW that looked like a big poo! The Big Prawn, The Big Oyster, The Big Lobster! One of my personal favourites The Big Merino in Goulburn. Anyway, I digress,
Another scenic route (aka the long way round!)
Nyngan also has a couple of seriously good op shops. Michele, my travelling buddy and I had made a point of stopping at op shops on our road trip. We came away with some good buys and contributed to local charities. (Don’t worry folks it fits in with my year of zero pledge! I will get rid of as many items as I bought when I get home!) Next time I travel, I am going to take a close to empty bag and buy what I need from op shops as I go.
After Nyngan we head south and travel through some very small towns and right about now my phone which has been mucking up, decides to fail altogether. We don’t have a map. The roads are well signposted but I like to have an idea of where we are and how long before we get to our destination. We stopped in the small town of Tottenham, the geographical centre of NSW, to buy a map without any luck. Next Tullamore, still no map, but the phone has come back to life. Next Trundle and Parkes, our lunch stop.
Parkes – The Moon and Elvis
Parkes is a little bit famous for a couple of reasons. It has an Elvis Festival and secondly, it has a large radio-telescope which played a crucial part in the Apollo Moon Missions in the 60s and 70s. The movie, The Dish, was set in Parkes. Although we didn’t visit the dish this time, we had a great lunch at Wholesome Blend, a healthy, tasty salad bowl and a good coffee.
As you do when you visit places like Parkes, we checked out the real estate prices. Very reasonable indeed! I decided I could live in Parkes. Only four and half hours from Sydney and three and a half hours to Canberra, it’s close enough, but far enough away from city life with a good community around you. It’s even got the NBN (broadband internet).
The broad plains and rolling landscape between Parkes and Orange are delightful. Bands of yellow canola are interspersed with the green of wheat and other grains. We pass through Manildra and it’s flour processing mill and roll into Orange about 3 PM.
We have told our AirBnB host we’ll be arriving at five so we stop at Cook Park. Cook Park is a cold climate park and is set out in the shape of the Union Jack with bisecting diagonal pathways. It was certainly worth the visit with some colourful peonies and tulips on display.
Orange hosts a Food and Wine Festival and is renowned for its “foodie” status. There are a lot of wineries in the surrounding area. However, we found it hard to get something for dinner. Because of COVID restrictions, most places required a booking. We hadn’t booked and everywhere was packed because of reduced seating requirements. After two circuits around town, we managed to get into the Parkview Hotel and had some very fine bangers and mash. (Pork and fennel sausages, truffle-infused mashed potatoes and squeaky fresh green beans.) I must admit I was ruing my Year without Alcohol pledge in such a fine wine town but trust me my soda water was delicious! (Note: no non-alcoholic beer or kombucha in a cosmopolitan Orange pub even though it was available in Silverton!)
The AirBnB The Swales was marvellous and I’d highly recommend it. Our host Mal was helpful and the very canny way they were able to divide their substantial home into two separate sections by simply closing two connecting doors, was very clever. They provided the makings for a good DYI breakfast.
Last day on the road.
Orange is about 4 hours from Wollongong so we did not plan any further stops and left town around midday after scoping out op shops and having one last look around. We bought a bottle of wine to give as a gift to Louise who had lent us our desert dress-ups. (See this post) Heading east from Orange there are places to stop and if you’re not in a rush to get home, have a look at Bathurst and Katoomba. Katoomba is the heart of the Blue Mountains and is a popular day-trip spot for tourists and locals. After that, it’s just suburbia and traffic and life back in the saddle! Sigh!
From Jewel-sea to far horizons.
It was great to see the blue-blue ocean again and smell the salty air but as I looked at my still dusty, insect-splatted car with the red bull dust trickling out from behind the number plate, I remembered how beautiful the flat red heart of Australia is too.
The words of Dorethea’s Mackellar’s poem sprang to mind and I concur with her wholeheartedly.
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!
I’m planning my next road trip already! Six weeks in Victoria in 2021, provided the border is open of course!