Sylvia's account 22.12 06 to 27.12.06
We arrived in Norseman about mid-morning. Norseman is an historical gold mining town and is the gateway to Western Australia after crossing the Nullarbor. It is the first town we reach after leaving Ceduna on Wednesday having driven 743 miles.
Other travellers told us to go to the small Shell garage in the town, (and not the big Callex garage as you drive in), as he was cheaper. On arriving there we also found we could have a free cup of coffee for the driver and we saved 24p.
We went around to the local super market to buy supplies and found the fruit and veg very tired looking. I was surprised by this as all the caravans, motor homes and campervans need to stock up after having had to clear out those items at the quarantine check point at the state border. If they kept their stock better they would sell much more.
Having done our shopping we headed to the tourist office to collect our certificate. All travellers who cross the Nullarbor are given a certificate of achievement, (see photo). We then went for a walk around the town. The streets are very wide for such a small place and the information board explained they were built so as to allow the camel trains to turn around. In the centre of a roundabout are some tin camel statues.
The legend of the town is that a prospector named Laurie Sinclair tethered his horse, 'Handy Norseman' to a tree overnight in the 1890's. In the morning the horse had unearthed a piece of gold bearing quartz by pawing the ground. Since then over 5 million ounces of gold have been taken out of Norseman, making it the second largest goldfield in Western Australia. There is still one mine operating there. I don't know if any of the legends as to how mines are discovered are true, but I think the stories are interesting. There is also a statue of the horse in the town.
We found a nice spot at Bromus Dam picnic area for lunch and were entertained by two ducks playing on the water. We then set off for Esprance, which we had been told was a picturesque town on the shores of Esprance Bay, and was close by to some of the most stunning beaches in Western Australia. Someone had previously said that Esprance was not a friendly place; we though we would give it a try. Our experience was totally different.
Arriving in the early evening we found a camp site and booked for 5 days. This was where we would spend Christmas. We were lucky to get in as it was practically full. The camp site was across the road from a beach and we were a little disappointed to be given a site way up at the back without a sea view. We set ourselves up, had tea and then went for a walk along the front, into the town and back to the site. It was very windy and whilst returning I got sand blown into my eye. No amount of trying could get it out, so I thought I would be looking for a doctor the next morning. We also realised that our first-aid box was lacking eye wash equipment.
The next day dawned and the efforts to wash my eye with water the night before must have worked as I was now not troubled with any discomfort. After breakfast we set off to do our shopping for the Christmas period. I must say the Australian supermarkets are as mad as our UK one's on the Saturday before Christmas. All of the parking places full and people with piled up trolleys as if the shops were going to be closed up for a week. We got what we wanted and headed home; set our van up, got our awning out and had a lazy day.
The camp site was very busy and the sites around us had been taken by families, one group had booked three sites together and shared resources. Many work outlets close for two weeks for the holidays, so probably more people go away for the break. It was interesting being amongst all the family get-to-gethers.
Christmas Eve dawned with blue skies, blazing sun and a little breeze which was nice. (I hope I am making you jealous).
Our plan was to walk along to the tourist office after lunch to enquire as to what time the Horse Race Meeting began on Boxing Day. As we have been travelling we have noticed that most small towns have a race course, so it must be a popular sport over here. When we saw a meeting advertised, we though we would attend. We left our site and walked down to the front to find it was very windy and the waves were crashing up on the beach. The vans on the first two rows were not able to get their awnings up, so perhaps being further back had its advantages.
On the way past the old 'tanker jetty' we went to see if the towns resident sea lion was at home. When we passed the other night there was a sign warning you that swimming in that area was dangerous as the sea lion bites. There he was lying in a nice shady place on the beach.
We found the tourist office shut as it closed early on Sunday's so carried on to the local museum. This was an interesting museum built on the town's original railway marshalling yard. The main buildings were constructed soon after the turn of the 20th century and being the former goods shed and offices; it also had some magnificent timber beams. The museum was put together by a small group of dedicated people and is entirely run by volunteers. It is set out in different sections with each one telling the history of the town from its sea connections, the railway area, farming community and memorabilia of life in Esprance in the 1800s.
One area was dedicated to Skylab. This was the first American Space Station that crashed our of control on July 12, 1979 and fell from the night sky near Balladonia. As it moved through the atmosphere pieces tore off and fell to Earth throughout the region. The museum has large pieces of it on display along with a scale model and other material from NASA. You really know you are getting old when you remember happenings that are exhibited in museums.
We left the museum and found a café on the sea front were we had coffee and cakes whilst watching the skills of a number of Wind Surfers on the ocean. I won't say they were going fast but if they had been on the road they would have been booked for speeding. We returned via the tanker jetty to see if the sea lion was still there and found him performing tricks such as standing up begging for scraps below where a couple were gutting their days catch. Just goes to show there is such a thing as a free meal.
On arrival back at the van we sat outside in the warm evening air. I couldn't help thinking, if I was back at home now I would still be in the kitchen preparing tomorrows dinner. Oh how I am missing home. Two young children called round to sell some Christmas post cards they had made, for 50 cents each. Jeff being a soft touch bought one from each of them. It was only afterwards we saw the price in the top corner of one; 50c ONO over 50c. They will go far in business. We watched the Carols by Candlelight programme live from Melbourne on the TV before retiring for the night. Our next day was Christmas day, and we have made a special entry.
Boxing Day; another bright and sunny day. After a morning lazing about we set off to walk the 4 miles to the race course. We walked along a main road which gave us the chance to look at the different styles of houses and gardens. In Australia it is more usual for people to buy the land, choose their style of home and engage a builder. Thus the estates have a varied collection of houses in different styles, sizes and choice of materials. I feel this looks better than the estate's in our country with the houses looking the same.
We soon reached the race course, bought our form book and a beer and then set out to make our fortune. I picked my first horse with that well tested formula of it goes faster if it has a white bit on its nose. It romped home first - we were on our way. Jeff said the bookies were setting the odds to make between 40 and 50 percent profit and this was outrageous; we began to bet on the tote. Well, who ever heard of a bookie loosing? After our third winner Jeff got greedy and gambled everything, (against my wishes), on the last race. As you can see from the photo, we lost the van and now have to resort to our new mode of travel. It seems we are back where we started, except my seat is not as comfortable as shown in our original photo.
We walked back to the site along the beach, (couldn't even afford the free bus home); it was refreshing to paddle in the nice cold water.