Google maps indicated our trip to our new house would last in the range of 7 to 8 hours each way, depending on which route we took, so we figured with an early start we could turn it around in 16 to 18 hours – a long day, for sure, but possible (we have two cats and didn’t want to leave them alone for 2 days) – but it turns out Google doesn’t take into account road conditions or restrictions to speed limits, such as tight curvy dirt roads up and down mountains and the round trip took a whopping 25 hours.
Where was I? Oh, yes, out on the 250 acres of wilderness block in the Northern Territory, aiming between two trees in a backhoe I’d only taught myself to drive that morning, putting a road in down to the flatland below the steep hill.
Fortunately a backhoe is a fairly slow-going machine, although it does speed up on a steep incline, and this was steep. The bucket down and scraping along the surface acted as a brake and I was able to keep between the trees. It was a job that needed repeating several times to scrape down to clear earth, but that first time through the maze and all the way down the hill to level ground felt good. I hadn’t taken out a single tree (I like trees and our intention with the block was to enjoy the wilderness).
Turning around, of course, meant I had to come back up again. That was actually scarier. I kept everything low because the feeling was, if the bucket had been up, the whole lot might have tumbled over backwards.
That night, Greg returned home to find the backhoe missing. Fortunately, I wasn’t missing with it, and I could show him what I had done with the road down the hill – and point out the backhoe on the way. :D
As it was after dark when Greg got home, we drove the length of my road by car with the headlights on. Greg was quite impressed. The road stretched almost one km (about half a mile). Returning up the hill to our campsite, Greg noticed the same issue I had with the steepness of the hill. Knowing I had run up and down several times, he asked the obvious question.
“How did you get the backhoe up each time? Did you drive it up backwards?”
“No,” I replied.
“Bloody hell,” he replied, “I would have.”
So, where was the backhoe?
It has all come together beautifully – and we’ve landed something special, a house at the Southern tip of the mountain range that runs down through New South Wales and into Victoria, incorporating the Snowy Mountains, Kosciuszko National Park (Mount Kosciuszko is Australia’s tallest mountain) and Alpine National Park and others, with many mountains along the way.
On the NSW side, Mount Perisher’s Ski Resort reports that the 2014 snow season has seen some of the biggest snowfalls in decades with over two metres of snow falling in a two week period and has extended it’s skiing season all the way to Oct 10 (Australia is officially in Spring now). We’re moving beyond Perisher, further south (away from the sun) and into the next state, Victoria, so let’s hope it’s not snowing during any part of our move!
The house itself is three bedrooms in glorious isolation, with a romantic open fireplace and a combustion stove in another room which will probably be my choice of office. I’m not sure, as yet. Why am I not sure? Because, although we intended to, we haven’t actually seen the house. It was a snap decision and a leap, and that makes it even more exciting. :D
Out there in the wilderness on my very first day alone, I had envisioned a day of writing, only there was a backhoe to master, a hill to work out and a road to put in – I thought I had better start early.
With the driveway Greg had already put in at my back, I had three options off the hill. Right, left or straight ahead. On closer inspection, it became clear that I only really had one option. The right side of the hill dipped away far too steeply to consider, dropping into a gully that a person might climb but not walk. To the left was a little better, except for when the rocks formed a cliff drop closer to the bottom. So, straight ahead it was, steep as it was, or give up entirely and find another way into the block.
I wanted to keep the trees, also, so needed to find a suitable way through them that wouldn’t take me over the edge of something and leave in a crumpled wreckage at the bottom of the hill. It was morning still and the sun was barely up. Greg wouldn’t be home again until after dark, and I didn’t want to spend the day trapped in wreckage.
First off, though, I had to learn those controls. What did what? For starters, the pedal was a three-pronged monstrosity – each prong doing something different as it titled the main pedal in a different direction, and of course it had different levers, which raised and extended the arm into different configurations, raised and tilted the bucket at the front or the scoop at the back, and lowered or raised the feet that helped steady the machine through certain operations. All of these jolted the machine alarmingly if employed too roughly. It needed a gentle touch.
With that sorted and a plan of action in mind, I lowered the bucket, aimed between two trees and started off over the brow of the hill.
So, the backhoe that neither of us could drive sat there waiting, and Greg had the key, which was the place to start – He sat in the cab and started the engine, then basically fiddled about until he knew what most of the things did, or at least how to move it forwards and backwards.
The caravan was on the road, too, and had been there through the night. We picked the spot for our driveway and Greg practiced with the backhoe by filling in the sudden drop from hill to roadside, and generally smoothing down a pathway. It was still very steep but was the only way onto the block.
When all was as good as it could be, Greg towed the caravan off the road and up to the brow of the hill where it would remain for some months before we ventured deeper. Our first mission a success, we then encountered the first snag. Greg couldn’t turn the engine off again. The key didn’t do it.
After half an hour searching for a switch or a lever that would turn the beast off, Greg gave up and asked me to give it a go. I did pretty much what he did, I searched everywhere, but finally spotted a bit of metal sticking out that had a screw thread, but nothing on it. Wondering if a button was missing on the thing, I played with it. It turned out to be the decompression lever and the engine, thankfully, died.
Great. So now we had Greg with a basic understanding of how to operate the backhoe, and me knowing how to turn it off. The next day was Monday and Greg went to work, leaving me alone to “tend the property”. That involved putting a road in, he informed me, jokingly, before heading away for the day. He had done the driveway bit, maybe a hundred feet, so it was my turn to learn and operate the heavy machine.
I don’t think he was expecting much, and I know I could have left it, but I thought I might just give it a go and surprise him. I was the one in for some surprises, however. If we thought the driveway was steep, I was about to learn that the other side of the hill was even steeper and dropped down far lower than the road.