Tag Archives: Northern Territory subtropics

Backhoe Lesson 101 – Just Do It.

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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.

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Adventures Just Beginning – True Life Wilderness Living.

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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.

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Self-Taught Backhoe Operation – Oops!

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Back into the subject of our Wilderness Adventures (with no house and no amenities) in the Top End of Australia – Just getting onto the 250 acre block was proved interesting – the flat bit was too muddy and the steep bit was too steep, and it didn’t help that there was no driveway or any access tracks at all.

Greg had decided that we needed a backhoe. He thought it would be really useful. Personally, I thought it would be a waste of money and basically a toy he would play with, but he was right and I was wrong. The backhoe turned out to be the most important piece of equipment we could get. We used it for everything, lifting and carrying, digging holes (which saved me a heap of time in bodily waste disposal). It proved its worth on our very first morning, towing the caravan up the steep embankment that would become our driveway.

The backhoe was delivered to our wilderness block. It arrived on the back of a truck, which tilted down to allow the large vehicle off, then the guy and the truck left. It never occurred to us to ask for any instruction. Greg had a truck license and I had a semi-trailer (articulated heavy vehicle) license, and we both rode motorbikes. On the flimsy assumption that we “knew vehicles” we thought we had it figured.

On close inspection, we realized that it wasn’t as clear cut as we had supposed it would be. Never mind all the levers, even the pedal was weird – a three-pronged contraption that we’d never seen before.

There it sat on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, a beautiful backhoe, and neither of us knew how to drive it.

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A Tent in the Great Outdoors – On Fire, More’s the Pity.

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In my last Exciting Adventures in the Wilderness post (“Two Creeks in our Wilderness, Both Annually Drying Up!”), I finished with Greg set fire to the tent – The whole point of a tent was to keep us dry and protected from whatever wildlife might come snooping around at night, insects more than animals, but animals, too – nothing wrong with wanting to sleep soundly and unbitten, especially when you don’t know exactly what might be out there.

The caravan was to provide us with a twin office and a kitchen of sorts. It was there to protect our computers and also to provide a work station where I could write science fiction while acting as Land Manager and Guard Dog over our camp. As we couldn’t run to two caravans, that meant our bedroom had to be elsewhere. A tent it was.

So, we ripped out the bed that had come with the caravan and set it up in our canvas dwelling, a two-room tent, then settled in with great enthusiasm. On the first night, however, Greg set some candles on the tent floor to light our way to bed. A lovely thought, but before we turned in, the wind billowed in the walls and the canvas set on fire.

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What the Heck is a Quoll? True Life.

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A quoll is cute until it opens its mouth, then you are introduced to its serious side – Quolls are an Australian marsupial carnivore, cousin to the Tasmanian Tiger, but only about the size of a cat – although with canine teeth like a dog – They are nocturnal and eat whatever meat they can catch of small and medium-sized creatures, including possums.

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Out in the wilderness of the Northern Territory, we had quolls all over our camp every evening. They came out at dusk and got up to mischief all night. They broke into our early idea of meat-safe (a foam lidded box) and ate our meat. They tried to eat our cat more than once, too, but he got wise to them and learned to keep out of their way.

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They even moved into my office caravan. It was an old van with gaps and holes that we didn’t even know about. I opened a drawer one day and found a fair-sized quoll splayed out and fast asleep right on top of the papers that were in there. He had climbed in up through the floor and in through the back of the drawer.

I wish I had taken a picture, but I was too busy closing the drawer really carefully so as not to wake him and have him go Wild-Animal all over my office. 😀

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The pictures shown in this post were NOT taken of our local population. These pictures are all borrowed from the Internet as we never could get a good clear picture of one.

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Moving out into the Wilderness – TRUE LIFE.

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It was a decision we seemingly took very lightly – It had been a dream for many years, so when my husband got a substantial pay rise, and I was fed up with my job, I put forward the idea that I quit and actually get some writing done.

“Why don’t we go the whole hog,” Greg answered, easy as you please. “Sell the house and get a block in the wilderness, then you can man it and write there.”

What’s to think about? I said yes straight off and went to work that day with the whole thing at the back of my mind, an exciting adventure waiting to be. I made no mention of it at work, but when the Boss called out that very morning that her husband, in Real Estate, wanted to sell something so that they could go on holiday, such a happy coincidence could not be overlooked.

“Actually, we want big acreage in the countryside,” I said. “House optional.”

“You’re kidding!” she replied, and when assured I was not, made the call.

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