A new chapter

2014 has marked a milestone or two …

May 1 was the fifth anniversary of my life on the road, a journey that has delivered many highlights and a few major frustrations, and helped me embrace a simpler lifestyle.

On May 8 I turned 70, celebrating a longer journey full of adventure and chaos.

It has also been a time for reflection and A Journal of Discovery is going to be the vehicle.

When I first hit the road in 2009 I started a blog, now defunct, that attempted to chronicle my travels. It had its moments, but soon became a nagging millstone as I slowly realised this journey was not one of recording day-to-day miscellany but of discovery, and a time to remember and celebrate a lifetime of adventure around the world.

Hot air balloons prepare for flight as early morning fog begins to liftNikon F3 24mm
Hot air balloons prepare for flight as early morning fog begins to lift at Canowindra, NSW
Nikon F3 24mm

A time to delve into my photographic archives (especially the 90,000 colour slides sitting in filing cabinets at a friend's house in Hobart), and a time to sift through the countless thousands of words written for newspapers, magazines and my books, and find the odd gem worth sharing.

This journal of discovery, and rediscovery, promises to be an eclectic journey. Welcome aboard.

Food for thought

An assignment to be relished.

The brief from Gourmet Australia magazine: There’s a new Japanese restaurant in town that claims to make the best sushi in Sydney. Get the proof.

The result is shown above. Photographs were taken and then the reporter and I were offered the plate to consume … all that was left were the little decorative green plastic leaves.

Sadly that particular Japanese restaurant is no more, but the quest for the best sushi in Australia continues, hopefully one day I’ll find a platter as well presented and tasty again.

Paperweights and coat button polishers

In April 1861, the explorers Robert Burke and William Wills — sick, starving and desperate to survive — abandoned their surveying instruments and other ‘non-essential’ items in outback Queensland and continued south on their ill-fated journey.

More than 150 years later, in a discovery being proclaimed as the holy grail for Burke and Wills enthusiasts, a Melbourne academic claims he has found some of their equipment buried in a creek bed hundreds of kilometres inland from Brisbane.

The site, known as the Plant Camp, is integral to the Burke and Wills story because it tells of the increasingly desperate state of mind of the explorers who were unwell, low on supplies, and had to abandon everything but their food after a camel died.

At that stage a party of four, the men struggled on from Plant Camp to Cooper Creek (also known as Cooper’s Creek) in South Australia, only to find their support party had given up on them hours earlier. All but one of the explorers, John King, died.

Melbourne academic Frank Leahy discovered the buried instruments in 2007, after a painstaking search that began more than 20 years earlier. Now Mr Leahy and the Royal Society of Victoria want the Queensland Government to declare the site a heritage area.

Items recovered include rifle and revolver bullets, a spirit bubble used for surveying, buckles from belts or strapping, a canvas and leather sewing kit containing pliers and needles, hinges, latches and a paperweight.

“Reading about Burke and Wills and their paperweight,” writes Paul Oxenham, of Haberfield (in a wry note in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Column 8), “reminded me of the ill-fated expedition led by Franklin to find the north-west passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

“After his ship was trapped in ice, part of the expedition set out across the ice, dragging a whale boat to be used when they reached open water.

“Unfortunately most of the party died before rescuers found them and their boat, which contained, among other necessities of life, coat button polishers.”

As I prepare for my next road trip I’m trying to be careful as usual about what I take on board, but I feel sure I’ll also end up with a few ‘essential’ paperweights and coat button polishers of my own …

The camera you have with you …

My first carry-everywhere camera was a Fujifilm SP-2000, a compact package that came in useful but was soon discarded as it was just too slow to get going, and had a few quirks in usage. Several other pocket cameras by Nikon and Sony followed, but again did not quite do the job.

Then came the Apple iPhones …

Testing the resolution and colour gamut of the original iPhone 3GS camera.
Testing the resolution and colour gamut of the original iPhone 3GS camera.

The Apple iPhone 3GS was launched in mid-2009 and revolutionised the concept of smartphone cameras forever.

Slim, multi-functional, and with amazing optics for the size, they’ve remained my carry-everywhere cameras.

The iPhone 3GS was not too shabby with action shots either
The iPhone 3GS was not too shabby with action shots either

What’s difficult to believe is that both of these are crops of the originals, shown full-frame below.


Self-sufficiency on the road

Because of her bulbous ‘penthouse’, Madam Plush[1] called for an unusual solar installation, and six years’ later the combination of flat and angled panels has proved a winner.

The combined 420W solar setup keeps the free power surging in, even on the dullest days.

The solar setup

  • 1 x Morningstar PS30M 30A regulator
  • 1 x Sinergex 24volt 1000W [2000W surge] pure-sine wave inverter
  • 1 x Sinergex 24volt 12A 3-outlet battery charger
  • 4 x 12volt 100Ah AGM batteries [wired for 24volt]
  • 2 x Suntech 75W 12volt solar panels
  • 2 x Suntech 135W 12volt solar panels[2]

What Solar Freedom 1 provides:

  • Free electricity[3] to three 240V and six 12V outlets — in the office, kitchen and lounge
  • Free power via the 1000W inverter which is on most of the time, charging computers, phones, radios, torches and cameras
  • Free power for interior lighting, all converted to LEDs, which barely sip power
  • On sunny days I often use the electric kettle and rice cooker
  • On cloudy days I simply try and cut down charging too many bits and pieces
  • After two or more cloudy days in a row, I usually bunker down with the iPad and enjoy its excellent 10-hour battery life

But, even on cloudy and rainy days, the solar panels still gather in enough usable energy to keep things ticking over.

In six years I’ve only run the batteries down to about 50% of capacity 4-5 times, and if it was still daylight they soon bounced back.

The 80-litre Waeco fridge/freezer is connected directly to the 24V battery bank with heavy wiring to minimise current losses. It cycles on about 10–12 minutes each hour [24/7] and is very economical with power use.

What Solar Freedom 2 will provide:

Before the end of 2014 I’m planning to upgrade my AGM batteries and replace them with a bank of LiFeP04 (Lithium Ferrous) cells.

The current 24volt system will be converted to 12volt, so I’ll have 400Ah of lithium power which will be nearly double what I can take out of the system compared to the AGMs. And, there’s the added bonus of the new batteries being able to recharge much quicker.

The longterm shopping list includes:

  • An upgraded inverter, a 12-volt 2000W (4000W surge) pure-sine model
  • 240v 4-star rating upright fridge (I’m tired of finding strangely-coloured textures in the bottom of the chest fridge come defrost time)
  • Induction cooktop

  1. The moniker given my 1985 Toyota Coaster bus with its unusual ‘penthouse’. A full description and history (with photographs) promised soon.  ↩

  2. The price of the solar panels has dropped 65–75% since these were installed.  ↩

  3. The price of household electricity in Hobart alone has increased nearly 30% in two years  ↩