Posted by Kerryn Dunlop on Jul 24, 2019
Our Outback Adventure                                                                                                  JULY 2019 
By Kerryn & Robert Dunlop
Last month my husband Robert and I went on an outback adventure with my mother Corinne.
The mission: to get much needed supplies to our poorest Aboriginal communities.
It was last year when we first met Brian and Ann Lamont who live just out of Bungendore. They make four trips a year to the outback. We’ve helped by picking up donations from Merimbula and taking it to Bungendore when we lived there to save the Lamont’s the occasional trip, as we holiday with mum quite often.
This year Brian and Ann gave a talk in Merimbula Uniting Church Fellowship about their mission. They left their journal behind and it happened to be on the dining table at mums when we were down for a visit. On going through this VERY thorough journal and the list of what was packed in each box and where it gets distributed, I noticed that one of their drops was at Hermannsburg. I mentioned that to my mother and she said she’d love to go there but couldn’t see a way to get there, and in actual fact she’d love to see where all their donations go.
My mum runs the Merimbula Uniting Churches’ Op Shop at Tura beach (among other things) and she’s been separating and putting aside a list of donations requested by the Lamont’s specifically for the Outback mission. Of most need are black pants and white shirts for the men and black skirts and white blouses for the women, due to the huge amount of funerals in the outback. Most due to suicide – even children as young as ten years old.
I told mum she should go with the Lamont’s one time to see what they actually do and where things go, but she said there was no room in the Lamont’s car. I even saw the photos of it packed to the hilt with room only for the driver and one passenger.  I questioned Robert as to whether we could do a run during his next annual leave and take mother with us. The stars aligned and off we went!
Firstly, we took a trailer load from Merimbula to Bungendore and left our trailer at the Lamont’s farm to be sorted and packed. We told them the date we’d be leaving and got online and booked all the motels and cabins for our trip. We decided to head north of Alice Springs instead of coming back the same way. This would allow us time to visit Tennant Creek where my Aunty used to live then we could go across to Mount Isa and down home through Longreach, Cobar, and Lake Cargelligo to do a small look of about 6,500 km over our 16.5 days.
We picked up the loaded trailer a week later and had a final meeting with the Lamont’s and a rundown of who we were to ring on arrival and where the drops were to be. Ours was going to be the 30th Trailer load. The Lamont’s also use Toll Transport to get loads to the outback in summer (back loads). Toll and other groups donate the boxes, plastic liners, large plastic bags, packing paper and the plastic wrap. We were pretty excited that one of our drops was Hermannsburg, Ntaria! We brought the trailer home so we could leave directly from our house. First stop on our itinerary was Euston Victoria.
Mum came up by bus a couple of days before our departure to check on our supplies and help with sorting and packing our own gear and to go over the itinerary. We put it in a folder laying out step by step our journey, the roads to travel and the motels for each night along with the closest and cheapest places to eat our evening meal as most days were 7-8 hour drive days. Mums’ job was to keep a running journal for our own records.
On going over the travel plans we decided that the first leg of the journey to Euston was a big stretch so we agreed that going to Gundagai after Roberts shift the day before would be best – it shaved a couple of hours off the journey.
Second days travel was Euston, then Port Augusta, Coober Pedy (for my birthday) then Alice Springs. We stayed in Alice 3 nights. Our first night we went to the house of Bryan McKain, Adviser in the Central Australian Region for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. One third of the trailer was left for him to get to parts of the Fink River Mission, a section run by a new couple down south of town. One 25kg box was going to a Gym Trainer – exercise clothing for women.
Next morning, we went to the Yipirinya High School and met with Principal Chris Harvey and Sue the Liaison Officer. They got one third of the trailer which was children’s clothing plus 200 tennis balls. From there we headed out to Ntaria and the Fink River Mission of Hermannsburg. About 10.5 klms short of Ntaria we hit hard at the bottom of an unsigned floodway culvert and snapped the bolt above the wishbone. We shredded the tyre of the crooked wheel skidding from the wrong side of the road to a safe stopping place on the left shoulder. We were in shock when we saw the damage and we weren’t driving anywhere. There was no mobile service either.
Robert stayed with the vehicle while mum and I hitched a ride into Ntaria to get help. We got a ride with a nutritionist who was flown in from Darwin. She was heading to the Clinic for the day and was grateful of the company. She also got a fright when she hit the bottom of the culvert. We got into town and her phone worked. She was able to ring Marion Swift, the Co-Ordinator of the Ntaria Op Shop. Marion arrived and rang Selwyn the local mechanic. He arranged a tow back to Alice Springs. Apparently, we were the 4th car that week to sustain damage from the flood dip.
Marion then called her friend Sonya the local National Parks Ranger and Marion’s daughter to come with their 4DW and Marion drove us back to Robert. Along the way Marion was telling us about a group of Men that have been collecting old bikes and doing them up for the kids of Ntaria. They had even given them riding lessons and taken them on trail-rides over the weekend.
We unloaded the trailer onto their utes so we could take the trailer back into Alice Springs. The sense of humanity and community was warmly displayed that day. We filled in time on roadside by cooking up some snags in bread and swatting a thousand flies.
Once in Alice Springs, Robert was able to fix the vehicle himself. We couldn’t afford the time to wait around three days for a mechanic to look at it. We parked outside an engineering place, bought a $5.80 new bolt from a shop down the road – that did the trick and headed back to the motel for a much needed stiff drink!
Early next morning we were off and running back to Hermannsburg for the day – this time as tourists! We visited Standley Chasm on the way, had lunch in the Teahouse at the Hermannsburg Heritage Precinct in Ntaria then visited Pastor Graeme Daley and his wife Heather at the Manse. Apparently one of the visitors to the morning funeral had their car stolen, but that’s okay, it’s the local policy to return it after its use.
On our way to the Teahouse, we noticed a group of school children coming back from an excursion. One third of them didn’t have shoes and a few where wearing socks without shoes.
On our drive out of Ntaria we noticed a nice car being stripped – YIKES!
Later in the day nice photos were taken from the Alice Springs Lookout and Anzac Memorial after a quick walk around Todd Mall and some supermarket shopping – time for a BBQ. That would have been nice and relaxing if I didn’t face plant into the concrete after tripping down the stairs! Broken nose and bruised eye socket a knock on the head, bunged up knee, torn ligament and burst varicose vein certainly slowed me down a bit, but we were on the schedule!
Next day we went to Tennant Creek – Finally our trailer is empty and our good deed done. Now it’s holiday and “we” time. We met with my cousin Robert (Zeke) Edwards who’s in his 70’s but still does the occasional tours through the Old Battery Museum where he used to live as a kid with my Aunty Mary and her husband Jack, the Manager of the Battery from the mid 50’s for 30 odd years. We timed it well so we could get a personal tour through the mines. It was a peak into the life he led as a young man working the Pekoe Mines 11 klms out of town. Two nights in Tennant of sitting under the gums trees in the evening eating Tapas and drinking a few coldies was a good way of catching up but also catching our breath.
We went from Tennant Creek across the long straight Barkley to Mount Isa. That was a huge day and a very hot 36 degree day. Very flat and dry with lots of dead cows. We had to change a trailer tyre 30klm short of arrival as it was shredding, but otherwise the trip was all good. Two days in Mount Isa meant we could see the underground Hospital that was built during the War, the Tourist Information Centre, the town and Lake Moondarra for a picnic. Boy, we were glad to see some water. We’d seen 6 camels, a feral cat, 2 dingoes, 20+ wild brumbies, 50 or so Wedgetail Eagles, 6 Emu’s, 4 Brolgas, 100’s of brown hawks, heaps of roadside cattle and sheep, a few wild goats, and at this particular lake – Peacocks! Lots of them!
Then to put a smudge on that beautiful day, mother decided it was her turn to have a fall. She knocked her head and her false knee badly, but she was determined not to hold things up and she pushed on to head off the next day to Longreach.
We had morning tea in Barcaldine. The Tree of Knowledge was something to behold! We also tickled some ivories on a street piano which was fun.
Longreach was a lovely town but we only had that evening to explore. The next day was Charleville with its painted water tower then we went on down to Cobar for two nights to catch up with a couple of Police Officer friends of ours. If you get out to Cobar, you must go and visit the Heritage Centre at the Information Centre. It’s a two-story old building full of memorabilia and a back yard with the old tram hospital and machinery used in mining and building. There’s also access to the first open cut mine which is now filled with water. We had a private tour through the old police station and to the exercise yards that were used in 1940-1984. Etched in the bricks were people’s names and dates and the amount of days they were locked up for.
Our last night was in Lake Cargelligo with a nice evening drive around the lake to the Solar Farm which “sits in cotton wool” say the locals.
Our last day we headed home down through Temora and Harden and arrived home around 3:30pm. We hit our pillows hard that night and every night for a week!
If you are interested in seeing more on our Outback Adventure and notes from mum’s travel journal you are more than welcome to like the Facebook Page “Outback Adventure with Corinne Nicolson of Church Op Shop”
There you will also find the list of all the donations we took to the outback and where those items were to go plus our road maps, the accommodations we used and the places we ate at. Early in the blog you’ll see a link to “dirty little secrets” – it’s an eye opener!
An example of our previous donations that have also gone to Waltja Wellness Centre in Alice Springs earlier this year for Distribution:
Shoes boxes full of Premature Baby Clothes go to young mothers with a back packs of personal care items (there is a group that knit baby jackets, booties, blankies etc.) Tura Op Shop donates large handbags and medium back packs for the cause.
Funeral clothing, 400 beanies, 280 scarves, Doonas, Blankets (it’s cold out there at night & no heating) Pots and Pans, Kitchen Items, Children’s Toys, games, puzzles, books to name a few are distributed to 50+ remote Aboriginal Communities through outreach at Waltja Wellness Centre.
Why so much clothing you may ask. Well there are no machine machines. If there was a washing machine and it broke down you’d never get anyone to go that far out to repair it. Some communities are 500 km from town. Plus tradies are worried they won’t get paid for said repairs. Biggest issue, there is not enough water to run a washing machine.
Most communities have to order in tank water as the dams and steams are dry. Some communities don’t even have showers or toilets. The people wear the clothes until they virtually drop off, then they dump them and get another lot from the op-shop/donations.
It has proven very difficult to get clothing for larger size women. They like skirts and tops, but are reduced to wearing men’s XXXL t-shirts or polo shirts that have been bought from Lowes Menswear. At the moment the Lamont’s are in discussion with Belconnen Rotary to see if they can donate sewing machines on a lease scheme. Fabric is not difficult to come by and the women are more than happy to sew their own garments.
Not wanted – soft toys! The dogs rip them to bits and there is stuffing laying everywhere.
On mums list for donations (a big call out) in the next round is the addition of children’s practical footwear!