Sounds cool isn’t it? A city that rocks, the locals are said to call it ‘rockie’ fondly so I read somewhere. Getting to Rockhampton wasn’t a journey for two but a solo one for Mel. Wow, how could he have left Suan behind you might ask?
Well, for one thing Mel was going to be living in a tent for 3 weeks. Yep. Roughing it out in the elements so to speak. Ok, exaggerated. You see, Mel was called up for yet another reservist stint and this involved him being an umpire in some military exercises. His role was more of an observer and arbitrator between two opposing forces. Yes they do use Officers for this kind of thing.
So he flew about slightly over 8 hours in the business class section of the chartered SQ flight to the city that is also known as the capital of beef. This city of ~80,000+ inhabitants hosts the Central Queensland University and is a stop along the long coastline of Queensland facing the Great Barrier reef. The last time he was here – was in 1999! And on a real leisure journey, though this one could also count in some ways…
Camping not Glamping
For the duration of his stay, he was “housed” in a 12-man tent sleeping on a safari bed. As it was a tent, there were no permanent structures to store one’s personal belongings. Sleeping bags and warm clothing were issued – as the nights can become rather chilly.
The consolation was that the comforting amount of food served. It was actually more than adequate and very good (SFI’s got people there to cook) compared to the “reviews” he had read. Four meals a day, he spent the first 2 weeks in a relatively relaxed atmosphere performing military planning, attending meetings and some cross country running…
There is one thing to note about being in the outback. Water is scarce. And rationed in a way. Bathing facilities are of the manual shower – fill and hoist! Fortunately we had flush toilets in this camp ground! The only bad thing – poor/no mobile signal and definitely no wifi access. It was limited to the laptops in a central tent by the main food service area. So in some ways this was a “resort” since he had the chance to do some running/exercise!
The first two weeks passed and it was confirmed indeed why this land appears so parched. Dry and arid that even the “rain” dries up soon after it falls to the ground! And the mornings. Around here, you don’t need an alarm clock. First there were the birds that started cackling in a cacophony of screeching sounds from around 4am.
Then the Ranger trainees started singing and running at 5am! So it was no wonder that Mel slept every day at 10pm to get enough shut eye. Plus, there was not much in the way of entertainment anyway unless one wanted to watch Australian drama serials at the canteen!
The area he was located is about an hour’s drive north of Rockhampton. Arid during the time of his ‘tour’ (October), the temperature ranged from a low of 6-10°C in the early hours to a high of 35°C (or more) at midday. Terrain is undulating and in most parts actually of higher elevation. Could see the sea but never got close…sigh.
In the final week, the real work began and Mel had to walk with the units in the outback , through chilly nights and scorching days (got a tan by the way). Another first was being heli-inserted twice in the exercise! Two flights – not bad for paying all these income taxes…no photos though… and from time to time Mel saw a kangaroo (or was it wallabies) or two but never in large numbers as some swore. Note to himself: bring better warm clothing and smaller backpack to store all that when out in the field.
Finally after nearly 3 weeks, he bade farewell to the base and embarked on a 2-day/1-night R&R trip to Rockhampton.
A little piece of Australian Heritage
If one thought this was a nice tour – ouch! Unfortunately it was a fixed itinerary with little free time, so Mel had no opportunity to explore on his own. The first day started with a visit to the heritage centre (free entrance).
This is a place where the old structures are transplanted to – to showcase the region’s history. Only about an hour was spent here and Mel explored some of these old structures – after sitting on a tram ride that circled the premises.
The highlight was probably the herd of Shetland ponies that were grazing in the grounds. They were timid and did not got too bothered with folks walking around them taking photos. Some of them got upset when a few of the boys tried to touch them.
There was a good collection of vintage cars in the heritage centre. It is believe most of them are still serviceable – as the guides were driving some of them around – ferrying passengers who would be interested in a ride. Many old sheds and housing structures too are maintained here.
The centre does have a number of collection of vintage wares – such as dolls, fire arms, pocket watches and an impressive array of clocks that range from fine porcelain ones to fine wooded ones.
On the second they brought everyone to the “Zoo”, which was really a small collection of fauna specific to Australia – Kangaroos (well Emus are imported but they are numerous in the outback). There was also an aviary where the native birdlife was on display.
Key highlight for Mel was the Koala. This was not a farm stay and thus there was no cuddling the Koala for a photo kind of thing. He could only observe the Koala sleeping (as they usually do in the hot day) in the tree.It was a disappointment not to be able to see the salt water crocodile, as it stayed submerged below the pen for the duration of Mel’s visit (wow). The hour-long visit seem to be eons as everyone waited for the bus to take us to the mall.
But not before Mel discovered there was the botanical gardens and Kershaw gardens right next to the “Zoo”. Took a quick walk. Beautiful layout but it was simply too hot to continue.
Being at a mall, there wasn’t much in the way of restaurants unless one know the town as some of the other officers did. So they took off for lunch well away from the mall. Mel and a couple of others decided it was too much work to go somewhere and lunched at sizzler (costs A$43 for steak set, drinks and salad bar!!).
Costs in Australia has gotten really high. This simple meal of Steak set = A$21-26 (depending on whether the Rib-eye, T-bone or Rump) and does not include drinks. That’s why he ended up paying more!
But shopping was actually quite fun and Mel managed to buy the scented candles for Suan. Then it was off to the jewellery store to spend the rest of his money. The Sunglass hut actually offered discount to servicemen! The supermarkets had good deals on chocolates – alas Mel forgot some of his on the plane he eagerly got off upon arrival in Changi! Otherwise, not really much to buy… If there is one tip, don’t buy bottled honey or wax candles and hand carry them aboard. Australian customs will seize them because they are >100ml and considered semi fluid…
Would Mel bring Suan back to Rockhampton? Well not specifically, but definitely while on a stop driving through from Cairns all the way to Brisbane.
The journey took place in October 2014
PS: Mel has since obtained his watch and no longer has the privilege of all expense paid excursions from the military.