So here I am, right up in the Tablelands near Mt Carbine, at last! It took us several weeks, travelling slowly, to arrive at our destination, which is an organic mango, vegetable, and rare fruit farm. We have now been caretaking this property for three weeks, and have another five weeks to go before the owners return from walking the Larapinta Trail.
Luckily we have our caravan, which is self contained (in other words, has its own loo, and water supply, plus solar power, plus satellite TV).
The farm is well hidden off the main road, which is the road numerous people are now taking to head to “The Tip”, which is what the pointy bit at the top of Cape York is commonly called; the most northern point of mainland Australia. We will be heading there with tent mid June.
Do first impressions count? Well, once we had negotiated with the caravan down the narrow track, plus creek, into the property, we were greeted by a couple who were wearing, well, practically rags! When asked if we’d like to sit down, we had to brush the cobwebs off the chairs! Their accommodation is a corrugated tin shack, with hessian for the windows, the shower area and flushing loo is in a shed-like structure made of hessian covered with concrete. The power is solar, but only sufficient for five hours a day, if that. The mango packing shed is just an open corrugated area. Water comes from the creek. Apparently it’s safe to drink!
But these two people moved here 30 years ago, with three children, and lived in a tent in the middle of what was bush (a large proportion still is) while they created the mango plantation, and decided to grow turmeric, Asian herbs, and some of the fruit they grow I’ve never ever seen before. The house they built burnt down 20 years ago, and since then they just haven’t built another house, they are quite content with the “corrugated shack”. What they have achieved is phenomenal, and even though they are both now in their 60s, they still work hard. Since their children left home, they’ve started to reap the benefits of the hard work, so every year they get people to caretake the place while they head off, often overseas, for two or three months.
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The man of the house seems to be able to turn his hand at anything. He even changed the motor in his car before they left. They showed us how they make organic soap using coconut oil, plus a few other ingredients, adding essential oils to give them a nice scent. The couple also use cooking oil, which they get from McDonalds, KFC etc. to fuel their many vehicles.
One of our jobs is to pump water from the creek every three days to fill the tanks and water the plants. This takes six hours, running from one pump to another. We also have to make sure the dogs are locked up safe inside the shower area as soon as it gets dark, otherwise they might get eaten by a python! One of the chooks has already disappeared! We also have to watch out for white tailed rats, and the occasional wild pig!
Our, well, my first impressions were that of horror. This is a real bush environment, harsh, limited mod cons. How on earth did people manage before solar? Before having a landline? Miles from medical help? But they did, and I guess it was much like the way people coped in the 19th century before air conditioning, etc. Before proper roads because of course 30 years ago there was no bitumen on the main road.
Now, they have a landline. There’s no mobile reception here but they have satellite internet. They have the Flying Doctor and they are kitted out with an outback medical kit. They have a flush toilet, recently installed. They still use the long drop though.
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But, you know, this isolated feeling I have must be nothing to how it must have been 30 years ago, and more, for early settlers. Yet there’s a poetry to it. Mornings the birds wake us, so many different types. The sun goes down with deep colours, and once the sun has moved on, the stars are so bright, with no light pollution, that it feels like you could just reach up and grasp them. When there’s a full moon, it’s almost like daylight.
So my first impressions have changed dramatically. I really appreciate what these people have achieved, and the life they lead. But I also really really appreciate being able to turn on a tap and have hot water, to drink out of the tap, switch on power, all the things we take for granted normally.
PS. The weather is fantastic during the winter!
Have you ever gone off the grid? What did you like and dislike about it?