We stopped at the Alligator Creek roadhouse to ring Brian, the Harley Davidson rider (and parrot collector) from Townsville, in the hope of being allowed to camp at his place. He said it would be okay and asked Karen to ring again when we reached town.
The final thirty kilometres of Highway One before Townsville was the worst section of highway since Clairview, six hundred kilometres ago. Roads in Queensland, especially the Bruce Highway, are pretty good and generally superior to those in New South Wales. We had become accustomed to a smooth road and a wide, sealed shoulder, but now had to endure a narrow, bumpy two-lane road, with no sealed shoulder at all. Even worse, the edge of the road was crumbling, forcing us to ride close to the centre of the lane.
We were fortunate to make it into Townsville at all. On a straight section of highway, with no traffic behind us and a convoy of about ten vehicles approaching us, a police car pulled out from the end of the line and started to overtake every car in front of it. We had to swerve off the road onto the gravel shoulder to avoid a head-on collision with the police car!
When we arrived in Townsville, Karen rang Brian again. We were told to stay put and someone would be along soon to pick us up. I was not completely happy with this arrangement, because it meant that we were accepting outside assistance. Up until this point of the trip, we had ridden or pushed our bikes everywhere, except for ferries and punts across rivers, and we wanted our circumnavigation of Australia to be entirely under our own power. Side trips using other forms of transport were okay, as long as we resumed the circuit from the point where we left off. Using this logic, Karen and I agreed that when we began cycling again, we would ride back to this pick-up point before proceeding.
I was a little apprehensive about the size of the vehicle that would be picking us up, and hoped that Brian remembered just how much gear we had on our two bikes. There was no cause for concern as a Ford F100 truck, driven by Brian's wife Joanne, pulled up shortly afterwards. We loaded the bikes and panniers onto the tray and were driven west along the Ross River to Kelso, an outlying suburb about ten or fifteen kilometres out of town. We had expected to be camping on a one acre property, but Karen had confused her information. It was Rob and Rob, the other Harley riders, who owned the acreage. Brian and Jo had a standard block with no room for a tent, but they said we could stay in their son's room while he would use the guest room. We hoped Josh did not mind giving up his king size water bed too much!
Brian and Jo have a very interesting house and lifestyle. A foreman at a local nickel mine for a number of years, Brian was a cabinet maker by trade, and his home showcased his work. There were cabinets all over the place, in the lounge-room, guestroom, downstairs rumpus room, bedrooms, dining room, everywhere. And cabinets, of course, need something to go in them. I am not sure which came first, the cabinets or the collecting, but Brian and Jo had been amassing vast collections of all different sorts of paraphernalia for years and years. Multiple cabinets housed Brian's extensive and expensive collections of model cars and model planes. Jo had a fascination with Buddha, and over seven hundred of them were on display around the house, from tiny carvings that would fit into a thimble, to almost life sized ceramic statues. Other eastern figures adorned the available space as well, along with collections of eggs and egg-shaped objects. Not to be outdone, son Josh has started his own collections - key rings, business cards and tigers. They could turn their house into a tourist attraction if they so desired, but the cost of insurance would be prohibitive. The value of the collections has already necessitated the installation of a high profile security system.
And, of course, Brian also collects parrots - about one hundred and twenty of them! He had almost everything, including birds we had never seen, mostly Australian, but with a few exotic species thrown in as well. Some of Brian's parrots, like the Blue Bonnets and the Mulga Parrots, we would not see in the wild for another nine months. One species of ringneck took us two more years to find, and others we still have not seen. Brian's entire backyard was occupied by cages, stretching from under his house, down beside his pool enclosure and right across the back fence. But it doesn't end there! The line of cages continues through the side fence into the property next door, which Brian and Jo also own. As with the cabinets and collections, I am not sure which came first - did they buy the place next door because they had too many parrots, or did they get extra parrots because they owned the place next door?
After a few pre-dinner scotches, Karen and I tucked into a feast, capped off by Black Forest cake, high on Karen's list of favourites. Conversation went on until late, when we retired to the water bed, one of the older types with no baffles - if one person moves, so does the other. Despite this, we enjoyed a good night's sleep, though it was difficult to become accustomed to the silence and the lack of possums.
Next day Karen and I donned our tourist hats and did Townsville. Brian and Jo dropped us at the Omnimax Theatre at the wharf, where we saw an awesome film on earthquakes and volcanoes around the Pacific rim called "Ring of Fire". The technology was amazing, the screen huge, the photography great and the motion sickness very real! Karen shopped for something other than books to occupy her time during idle hours and bought a cross-stitch kit, bargaining the price down to thirty dollars on an item that had already been reduced due to a closing down sale. We then visited a VP50 display (the fiftieth anniversary of Victory in the Pacific), primarily because Karen had heard that vouchers for discounts at McDonalds were available there.
After lunch we visited the museum, seeing an excellent exhibition of dinosaur fossils from central Queensland, information about the archaeological dig on the HMS Pandora, plus the usual displays of butterflies, moths, snakes, insects, native animals and birds. It was just like Brian's place. We bought a ferry-and-accommodation package for Magnetic Island, then walked up a goat track that leads to the lookouts on Castle Hill. The views from the top were spectacular - every city should have a mountain in the middle of it!
Magnetic Island and Townsville from Castle Hill
Karen sprained her ankle on the way back down the hill. More correctly, she re-sprained her ankle, as it has always been a bit dicky. As usual, she burst into tears because of the pain, sitting in the dirt of the track and abusing me for making her take the track instead of the road. The ankle, normally slightly larger than the other, immediately began swelling even more, but Karen was soon able to walk on it again, also the usual outcome. Karen had re-sprained her ankle on a number of occasions when I have been with her. Once, on a hike in New Zealand, we spent a couple of hours descending from a mountain pass to the river valley below via a treacherous and narrow path of scree, loose rocks, gravel and tree roots. Having reached the river safely, Karen had then trodden on a small bump in the path and twisted her ankle, so this latest incident came as no surprise.
We caught a bus to a shopping centre on the way back to Kelso where Karen suggested we buy flowers and scotch for Jo and Brian. Gifts in hand, she then rang them up and asked for a lift home. Brian soon picked us up - in his Jaguar. He also had a Yamaha 650 motorcycle to complement his Harley Davidson and trailer, not forgetting the F100 truck. It would appear that Brian collects vehicles as well.
Soon after getting back to the house, we were off in the Jag again for a barbecue and a reunion at Rob and Rob's. Despite the barbecue running out of gas, and Rob almost burning his house down when he tried a leaky spare cylinder, the evening was a big success, with dinner eventually cooked on the kitchen stove. Then it was back home to hit the waves of the waterbed and get some sleep for our side-trip to Magnetic Island the following day.