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Vehicle, Koni & Communications
During phone calls and within emails people often ask this or that about how our camp works while we are touring. Questions such as do we have a fire? What time do we leave in the morning? When will we be able to have a shower? The list goes on.
Thought I would just write up a typical day on tour explaining how we travel and actually what happens with the routine we have developed since 2005, and it must be noted that we are still making small changes to how our camp is run as different scenarios occur. I’ll put in as many pictures as I can as they do a better job of showing things in action. This article I’ll break up into four sections; morning, on the road, afternoon & evening. I’ll put things in point form first for those that don’t have time to read the full blurb. Then I’ll go through what happens as I see things.
I’m up before sunrise rain, hail, or whatever. In the pre-dawn light out of a normal group there may be one or two up early about the time I‘m getting mobile. Mostly there will be the odd person heading in the direction of the camp dunny. It is a rare trip that we have an early riser up & about before I’m upright. My first job requires a deft touch. Very carefully I remove the tins and bits of foil from the fire. This is a delicate operation as most times they are quite hot and I don’t want to make a racket as nearly everyone is still in bed, nothing worse than tins clanging together in that quiet time before the sun starts work. (If by chance we do have an early riser on the trip I’ll take the tins out of the fire before I go to bed. For every problem there is a trick.) The fire is then rekindled, normally just scrape the ash off the top to expose red hot coals then throw on some small stuff. Couple of minutes later the flames take off and the wood is put on to begin the makings of a billy fire. Almost without fail desert wood of any description burns very well & very hot. Some species are better than others but without fail a fire can be had from the coals formed overnight.
|The start of a new day and the fire is going – life in the bush.|
After the fire is well underway I put up our thermometer to capture the morning temperature as we like to record the minimum each morning while travelling. If it is a cold frosty start to the day I’ll inform folks about how cold it is as they join the fire to warm up. (By the way the coldest we have recorded on a trip in the desert was -8.4o C, yep pretty chilly.)
|This was the coldest morning recorded in our 2019 season.|
|This was a cold one from several years ago.
Often in the desert it will be cold enough for frost but there is no moisture.
With those chores done I then set the fire up to handle multiple billys. I’ve been doing this for years and it’s very simple. On one side of the fire I just get a bit of straighter wood and push it into the fire edge amongst the coals. This gives a nice flat surface loaded with heat to put billys without the fear of them tipping over. I then get our own billy and make a brew for myself & Connie and begin getting enough water boiling to fill our thermos flask for the day. It is during this time I’m watching everyone’s camp to see how things are going. In reality I’m checking that folks are OK and not in any trouble.
|I try and make the fire suit the amount of billys.
I think the record is 6 or 7 at once.
For the few that join the fire early on we have a yarn about the trending topics in the group, might be someone’s flat tyre, a running joke, the weather or even what’s happening in the "real world" if someone has been quietly listening to the radio overnight for news. As I write this the Virus lockdowns are a huge concern and our people from different states want to keep up with the current border closures.
|Early morning sun on a nice camp along the
Sandy Blight Junction Road - 2005.
The sun has been up less than an hour and most folks will be up and about. The camp dunny has a steady stream of customers. The fire is busy as billys come & go. Some folks just put their billy on and go back to their camp. Others will bring a chair, breakfast and have a yarn. Normally the subject of sleep will come up and everyone will be asked how they managed overnight. If I’m still at the fire an unsupervised billy will be taken off the fire as they boil, no sense wasting water. It is interesting to note here that most people during a trip revert to a natural order of things where the sun dictates time. As the sun comes up people wake and go about their business. In the evenings after dark most folks are in bed at 9:30pm.
|Standard morning around the fire.|
After that I go and refuel our vehicle, something I do every morning on every trip. The volume is recorded and after the trip this is collated into data for trip summaries etc. Doing this I have a fuel consumption for every day so I can illustrate to everyone how the different road conditions effect economy. I also record engine hours, and again this data is used for fuel consumption as well as time travelled over the whole day while on tour. People’s eyes glaze over when I talk about it but this information is used to plan the very trips they participate in.
Normally by the second hour after sunrise folks are packing up camp. This procedure differs greatly as there is such a variety in gear used to camp these days. Tents, campers on utes, camper trailers, small off-road vans, the list goes on. Whatever the gear some folks take quite a while, others seem to get things squared away in record time. On our trips it doesn’t matter as Connie & I aim to be the last packed up. The reason is pretty simple, if we are last that takes the pressure off others.
If it has been wet overnight with rain or heavy dew and it looks like the sun will be out without any cloud cover we might have an extra half an hour before leaving camp. Just gives everything a bit more of a chance to dry out. There’s a bit of a tip, if it’s going to be a damp night try and park your vehicle to catch the most sunlight in the morning.
During that pack-up time I’ll attend to anything that requires additional work. Normally it is just the checking of tyre repairs. This just involves seeing if they held pressure overnight and then making sure that the correct pressure is in them to go back on the vehicle or the spare rack. If they have failed then it is racked to repair again that afternoon.
|Checking that repaired tyres held pressure overnight.|
We always have a kick-off time to leave camp and be on the road. This is normally set on the first day of the trip and often isn’t changed apart from when we cross borders and clocks need to be set for a new time zone. Changing time zones always creates difficulties. Some people don’t change their clock from when they leave home, some can’t change their watch or clock as they don’t know how or don’t want to as whenever they have phone service they ring relatives so need to know what time they are on. It seems to get very complicated at times. It doesn’t matter what the clock says to be honest, we’ll leave camp 2-3 hours after sunrise.
45 minutes before we get underway I will deal with the tins & foil left over from the night before. The foil remnants are put into the burnt tins and I then flatten them with the back of my axe on a block of hardwood. The reason for this is simple. Burnt food tins have no smell and the squashed tins take up very little room. Everyone who had tins in their rubbish is encouraged to come and collect them once they are dealt with. I’m happy to squash them for the group but not happy to carry them all. They are put in the rubbish of the next civilisation we come to.
|Turning burnt food tins into "bookmarks".|
30 minutes before departure I head to the dunny and deal with packing it up. Not a terribly intricate procedure but does take about 10-15 minutes. Once the tent is folded up and the gear cleared away I burn the contents of the hole. To elaborate, I line the hole with a plastic garbage bag when I’m putting the dunny together. It is this bag I’m burning off as the rest of the contents are biodegradable. Once I’m satisfied with the burn the hole is filled in.
|I always try and put the dunny somewhere with a view.....|
The last camp job is to dig a hole and bury the remnants of the fire. The last few years while I’ve been busy with the dunny someone from the group will do that job for me for which I’m very grateful. Now the goal with doing this is to leave a flat surface so you don’t turn up to a camp and find a great mound of charcoal & burnt tins etc. We sometimes use the same camps every so often if the timing is right and it is a relief to come in and find a nice flat camp area with no rubbish. For those of you tut-tutting about burying a fire, in the desert you don’t use water on a fire, you use dirt or sand. If you just cover the fire you end up with the same mound you are trying to avoid. If you scatter the ashes then you create a fire risk for the next several hours. If you think a buried fire will somehow keep burning and light up the nearest tree, then I’m sorry to inform you that won’t happen either because the coals are buried in the open well away from trees and the area has already been cleared of grass and other fuels.
|Burying the main fire, the last big camp job before heading off.|
Once the fire is done and the shovel is put away it is time to start engines, have a last look around camp, and get underway. If any problem arises at that stage with a flat battery or similar then we have a look and see what can be done. It doesn’t pay to worry about time too much. Our schedule is pretty relaxed and that gives a fair bit of leeway.
Beadell Tours has a policy of changing the convoy order daily. All that means is that the vehicle behind the tour leader goes to the end of the convoy the next day. This gives everyone a chance to be both up the front and tail end Charlie. Normally for the first couple of days of a trip the next morning gets a bit confusing as folks sometimes don’t remember in what order they were travelling the day before. It sorts itself out within a few minutes and we get underway. After a few days this settles into a routine that carries on throughout the trip.
Once we are all on the road we do a radio check on the UHF to make sure everyone has their radio on, the right channel etc. If someone isn’t on we don’t panic about it, the vehicle nearest them will let us know they are mobile and normally within 10 minutes they come on air loud and clear. If there is a problem with a vehicle mounted UHF then often the folks are lent a hand-held unit until a solution is found.
For many years before Connie & I began Beadell Tours, Connie had been involved with a number of other tour companies in the capacity of special or expert guest. With tag-a-long tours Connie found that unrelenting radio chatter caused people to "switch off" as they were driving along, the novelty wears off you could say. So amongst the talk about tonight’s meal or the camel off to the left a message about a savage gutter across the road would sometimes be lost by some in the party or ignored if every bump on the track is broadcast as a warning. The other scenario is that the corrugations create enough noise in a vehicle that the occupants can’t hear what is being said whatever it is. On roads such as the popular Anne Beadell this last problem is very common. (I’ll say nothing about how some vehicles UHF radios are just not very good for a variety of reasons.) To counter these UHF issues Connie & I try not to talk at length on the radio. Road warnings, convoy directions, historical points and of course there is some talk but nothing like constant radio activity for no good reason.
|Dust can force a multi vehicle convoy to spread out a long way.
A good clear UHF radio is essential.
Convoy procedure is pretty simple and it boils down to just a couple of things. Listening to the directions that the leaders give on the UHF and at any turn-off waiting until the vehicle behind you can see where you are going. Road warnings are the other major UHF message. We expect people to drive with their eyes open so the only warning we give will be for something I have had to use brakes for. To explain further, we announce anything that is out of the ordinary or will cause damage or may cause damage to vehicles or the occupants. Please think about this.
|Something like this is worth a UHF comment!!!|
Well, that covers the official type of stuff while travelling in a group of vehicles. The next topic is about why you are doing the trip in the first place, namely stopping and looking at things of interest. So that’s about it, if something takes our eye we’ll pull up the whole mob so folks can have a look. This even happens in the convoy behind us at times. Someone will see a Dingo or something unique to the desert country like a mob of camels and the last part of the convoy will slow or stop to have a gander. No worries at all, that is the point of the trip.
|Group looking at Thorny Devil on the Gunbarrel – 2018.|
|Euc. youngiana flower, always a show stopper – 2016.|
Just like being at home or anywhere else in the world having something to eat is a major part of the day, every day. It’s no different with Beadell Tours. Without fail we’ll pull up for both smoko and dinner, that’s lunch for you modern people. What we try and do is split the day up evenly so smoko will be mid-morning and dinner time will be midday or a little later depending on the amount of daylight. During winter time as we all know there are less daylight hours. Given we leave camp two hours after sunrise and make camp two hours before sunset that only leaves us a certain amount of time "on the road" so to speak. In fact our day is about six hours long during June & July. Take out an hour and a half for tucker stops and that leaves only 4.5 hours of time to actually drive somewhere. Once you stop a few times to have a look at things then your travel time begins to get pretty small. This is part of the reason why our daily mileage is pretty low. Think about it like this, your trip is meant to be a holiday, something to be enjoyed not endured. As the Beadell family says on a slow trip you "lurch from meal to meal".
|Date 2018||Fuel used||kms||Lts/100||Min/hrs Engine||Lts/hr||PSI Cold||Track Notes|
|1/7||12.9||125.5||10.28||228/3.80||3.39||22/38c||ABHwy + detours|
|2/7||12.2||123.3||9.89||179/2.98||4.09||22/38c||ABHwy + Neale By|
|3/7||12.7||131.5||9.66||155/2.58||4.92||22/38c||CSH-ABH + detour|
|4/7||12.9||115.0||11.22||151/2.52||5.12||22/38c||ABHwy - Ilkurlka|
|5/7||17.9||159.0||11.26||237/3.95||4.53||22/38c||Ilkurlka to tank|
This is a sample of my daily Fuel/Eng. hour sheet that I keep on every trip.
This is from an Anne Beadell tour in 2018, you can see the amount of hours that the engine was
running each day as well as the distance and the fuel used.
Even the tyre pressures are recorded.
|Smoko on the eastern end of the Anne Beadell.|
After dinner as we trundle along Connie & I will be thinking of where to make camp for the night, as we have travelled most of the desert roads quite a few times we have recorded & remember most of the spots that fit our criteria. We look for somewhere that has a bit of cover, clean underfoot and has a bit of wood for the fire. Of course it has to be large enough to fit our group which can take a bit of room if we have several camper trailers along. You would think that is easy to find in the desert, trouble is we are pretty fussy about where we camp. If it looks like we will be camping in a known or well used site then our attention will turn to collecting wood before we get there knowing that there will be none at the camp itself. Sighting some likely fire wood we’ll pull up and proceed to cut a load. Folks normally give us a hand to cart the cut lengths over to our vehicle. We have space set aside for carrying enough wood for the evening & morning. On trips like the Canning Stock Route we will often carry loads of wood nearly every day just in case. We don’t like being caught out. However, if we are confident there is wood at camp, we’ll get it when we get there.
We pull off the road for camp at least two hours before sunset at the latest. Everyone finds a spot and settles in. That is a normal day on the road with Beadell Tours.
|This map is part of the Anne Beadell Highway and our waypoint file of information.
We have quite a few camp sites marked among other things....
The only chore we ask folks to help with as soon as we make camp is the gathering of firewood. If folks pitch in it doesn’t take long, about 15 minutes to get enough together. Remember even if you won’t be cooking on the main fire you will still be using it every night for warmth. After that everyone is free for the afternoon as Connie & I begin our afternoon camp chores. In my case I cut up the gathered wood and stack it near where the main fire will be. We always try and put the wood heap in such a spot that people going backwards & forwards won’t trip over it in the dark later on. Usually while I’m cutting and stacking Connie will be clearing a spot for the fire or if it is already clean getting the fire going. Most of the time a few of the blokes will help us do that and between us all it takes no time at all.
|Not a bad camp, clean underfoot with a bit of cover, typical hard Mulga spot.
Mick cutting & stacking wood, fire going and folks setting up.
Everyone will be busy setting up their own camps whatever that entails. Sometimes a vehicle will shift a little to orientate camp just that little bit better. If it is windy then people will use the available scrub and the vehicle to make a windbreak. If it’s warm & sunny the same rules apply but they will be chasing shade for the afternoon. If it has been wet or threatening rain then precautions are normally taken in the form of awnings or a fly for the tent. If it is wet weather Connie & I set up our tarp off the side of our vehicle and place the fire very near. As the evening goes on and people gather if it is inclement they can squeeze under the tarp for shelter and still be close to the fire.
|All set up for the weather - 2019.
(On tough trips we will collect water off that tarp if it happens to get a bit wet).
Once all that is done Connie will settle into her computer work which includes writing up the daily trip log and captioning all of the photos for the day, usually about sixty images. Copies of both are sent to everyone on the trip sometime after the end of the season. It is a very time consuming job. My chores continue as well once the fire is going and camp set. The dunny makes another appearance and is erected in a good spot, hopefully with a good view as well as somewhere soft to dig the hole. A red light is put on top of the toilet tent so folks can find it in the dark. There are always jokes about the "red light district".
|A very nice spot to spend the evening - 2017.|
Next comes any problems encountered during the day. Whatever niggle it happens to be it is looked at and some sort of solution nutted out. Sometimes it may involve welding, sometimes nothing can be done and we have to figure a way around the problem. Nobody knows until it happens. Most new travellers don’t realise that 80% of strife in the bush is directly related to tyres. Principally flat ones! The afternoon is prime time for repairs so if there are any flats that will keep me busy until the light begins to wane.
|Welding a diesel long range tank with two batteries – not a common job - 2019.|
|Working on a flat tyre - that is a common job!|
|Camp chores done, time for a brew - 2016.
(Note the wood stacked out of the way)
The main camp fire can be used by everyone if they wish. In the afternoon and early evening it is a cooking fire so depending on what gourmet delight is being produced the main fire is regulated to suit. If camp ovens are in use the amount of coals must be kept up, if people have BBQ plates then the flame should be minimal and a bed of coals available. Cooking fires are not bonfires, or "white fella" fires that burn your eyebrows. They are carefully managed cooking implements much the same as your kitchen at home. After the chefs are finished the fire is built up to provide warmth for the group as they gather after their evening meal.
|A roast & veggies cooked in a Bedourie Oven - looks good.|
|About once a week Connie will make a camp oven evening treat for the group.
This is hot fresh sultana bread with real butter.
Once everyone has discarded their nose bags and done their cleaning up we all gather at the fire just after dark for the evening’s entertainment, whatever that time may be. Chairs are carried over, maybe the odd adult beverage is cradled and folks settle into the comfort of the fire. The other items brought over are bags of rubbish to be dealt with. These are normally stacked out of the way but somewhere they can be seen by the light of the fire. There is generally some debate about the smoke direction and seats rearranged to avoid it. As a general rule I sit in the smoke for a couple of reasons; firstly it’s warmer and secondly it means the customers don’t have to. Just gets tricky when the breeze is wafting in several directions......
|Getting settled in for the evening - 2009.|
With everyone settled and comfortable the usual discussions ensue about what was had for tea etc. After a little while Connie or I will take the floor and begin going through the next days travel or some historical information about the area we are camped in. Often times we’ll talk about what was seen during that day if there are any questions or anything else to add. Most of the time once the general topics have been covered either Connie or I will read from an explorer journal or some other desert related book. This happens a lot and normally is referred to as a "bedtime story". Every now & then we’ll get out our digital projector and have a "slide night" on the screen we carry for the job. A short film, maps with track files or explorer routes or perhaps images to explain features or sites during the trip. Anyway the little digital projector has been a real hit with folks around the fire as it is the best way to show folks something all at the same time instead of handing around a laptop or other device.
|Showing a short film about the local area – 2015.|
Many times while reading with a quick glance you can see one or two nodding off in their comfortable chairs warmed by the fire. You can always tell the evening is at a close when more than a few are listening with their eyes closed! At the conclusion of the entertainment nearly everyone heads for their camp and a nice comfy bed. Sometimes a few may stay at the fire for a bit of a yarn but it doesn’t last long.
The next phase of our job begins when Connie & I are left at the fire alone. It is then the bags of rubbish are retrieved and the fire is built up a little before the bags are put on to burn. One thing that is kept in mind when the camp is set-up is the direction of any breeze because at night you don’t want the smoke from the rubbish burning going into someone’s camp if you can help it.
[Now if anyone thinks that burning the rubbish is a bad idea in the desert then it would pay to know that if you save your rubbish to put in a bin at the next community or roadhouse that they will then empty that bin during the day and all of the rubbish will go to the local tip and a match applied. If you are worried about rubbish residue in the fire I can safely say there is nothing left that is visible to the naked eye. If there are chemical left overs then as already described the fire is buried the next morning before we leave camp. I don’t know how much cleaner we can be with this chore. If you could repackage all your food items in paper products that would be much better I suppose, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon with our current food supply for long term bush travel.]
Connie usually heads off during the early rubbish burning phase and does her ablutions before going to bed. I stay up and make sure all the rubbish is burnt off and if there is wind I make sure nothing is going to blow out into the bush. On rough windy nights I may even cover the fire over as gusts can throw sparks a long way. Suffice to say it takes a little while and if everything is nice and calm I have been known to have a little snooze with the fire all to myself. By 10:30pm almost without exception the camp is all tucked up in bed and I will have hit the hay as well. As tour leaders we are never really off duty and over the years we have been woken in the wee small hours more than once for various emergencies.
If anyone is interested that is a normal day spent out in the western deserts with Beadell Tours. We have spent many years getting that routine streamlined. I haven’t mentioned the few rules that we do have. This is not the article for that. What I will mention though is that for the last decade or so Connie & I have a customer return rate of 70-80%. Within the industry we don’t know if that is good or bad but our travellers seem to be on the whole satisfied with how we do things and that is what matters.
Copyright: July 2021
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Email : Beadell Tours
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