So long, Cobar and Thanks for all the fish! …. with apologies to Douglas Adams for the misquote!

First let me say a hearty welcome to Andrew’s replacement, Chris – Cobar’s newest road pirate. We hope you accrue many happy memories of your time in Cobar!

With around 4 months to go, our 4-year tenure is almost up. Technically, we’ll have to wait for a position to become available – which looks like July – and, also technically, it’s Nigel’s 4-year tenure but I’m sharing in the excitement of returning to milder temperatures, lower grocery prices and not a cats’ head in sight!

Of course, our last trip home is always bitter-sweet with fond memories of new friends, neighbours and outback places plus those gorgeous sunsets and starry fire-pit nights.

A recent trip to the coast for a family birthday gathering last month heightened our anticipation when we spent 3 days in Paradise before transferring to a Tuncurry Caravan Park (our house was booked plus it was more fun to be on site with the family) and short of a possible (hopefully not probable) Tsunami, nothing can dampen our anticipation of returning to Paradise for good.

We arrived back home to the Cobar by-election and, while I was only working on Pre-Poll on a casual basis it made for a bit of a juggling act between preparing for the move and the usual gardening and household chores. Plus, somehow the end of the financial year seems to be creeping up way too fast so I’ll soon be drowning in the last ever rental statements for the Shack.

As it turned out, it seemed prudent to call it quits on electoral work – which I did just over a week ago. Now I’m concentrating on sorting, packing / selling furniture, cancelling energy and telco companies, change of address letters and all things removalist.

So there you have it. There are four more months, three more tenant bookings and two more trips before we move back upstairs for good and this blog comes to an end. No doubt we’ll miss our little pool room, which has served us well, allowing us to simply lock the door and walk away (well, drive away) leaving bed sheets unchanged and food in the freezer for next time.

To be honest, I’ll miss its cosy atmosphere where everything is five steps away from everything else. In fact, we’re toying with the idea of living in the pool room permanently …. just joking …… but, with a plunge pool also five steps away maybe we’ll “holiday” downstairs every now and then in summer.

I know Bowie wouldn’t mind. He gets to sleep on his bed under the pool table and wake us up as soon as we stir – “Coming ready or not” as he launches himself onto our bed.

I’ll leave you with some never-before-seen photos of the ever-changing face of our little cabin by the beach.

Back in 2007 when our first outback adventure began with the Ivanhoe tenure, little did we know where it would lead us. Again, to misquote Douglas Adams, We may not have gone where we intended to go, but we think we’ve ended up where we needed to be.

PS

On and off we’ve had tenants show interest in buying the Shack and we once even had a conversation of sorts, about what ridiculous price it would take for us to sell up and leave Paradise. We came up with 4 million so I guess we won’t be selling any time soon. 😊

PPS

I toyed with the idea of waiting until it was closer to Christmas but, if you know me, you’ll know that patience isn’t one of my virtues.

One of my lovely new electoral workmates has been designing Christmas cards with an outback theme and I bought these ones from Kate a couple of weeks ago.

I know it’s a bit early to be buying Christmas cards but I like the idea of supporting our farmers and young Kate is just starting her photography business so I was lucky enough to be her first customer.

And just for interest, the baby Brahman calf is Penelope, the lamb’s name is Willy and the hand-reared Galah is Gilly.

You can check out her Facebook page as well as message her here. https://m.facebook.com/TheOutbackCapturedbyKate/photos/

I hope she does well!

Radio Silence – Care Factor Zero

Apologies because today’s blog was supposed to be about my new casual job in the Cobar Returning Office and how I hadn’t had time to write a blog because of the Cobar Council election last year as well as the current by-election. I was going to extol the virtues of our voting system, explain how our electoral system is probably one of the most democratic in the world plus impress you with the lengths we go to to ensure that everyone who wants to, may vote.

However, after months of trying to be more gracious and despite a partner, who supports and challenges me to be my best self, I think it’s time to admit that I have failed my New Year’s resolution spectacularly because this blog is actually a giant whinge.

Continue reading “Radio Silence – Care Factor Zero”

Bouquets and Brickbats

Disappointingly, I still haven’t received a Yes / No reply from the “Department of Customer Service”, Service NSW as to when we might ever see our repaired van again but thankfully our handyman has moved it to his backyard where at least it won’t be stolen. Plus Nigel’s bike is back on the road so I now have the ute to go grocery shopping or take Bowie to the off-leash park….. or the vet, as is happening today…. Shhhhhhh

Continue reading “Bouquets and Brickbats”

Please Gladys……. Is it Yes or No?

There was too much at stake to assume that collecting our repaired van was a reasonable travel excuse and so, with the threat of huge fines looming, I decided to email the Department of Customer Service as recommended by Service NSW.

Here’s my email:

Are we allowed to travel to collect our repaired vehicle?

Four weeks ago, on the 19th of July, we were returning to Cobar, where my husband is completing a 4-year employment tenure, from our home on the mid north coast. With a large amount of furniture to move between the two properties, we were driving a car each (a ute and a van).

When our van broke down at Jerry’s Plains the NRMA, in conversation with our VW mechanic, agreed that it possibly needed a new engine and organised for it to be taken back to the mechanic on the coast while we continued in the ute, plus a hire car, to Cobar. I should point out that there are no VW mechanics in Cobar and the closest is in Dubbo(600 km round trip). Plus our mechanic advised that he already had and could install a reconditioned engine.

The engine installation was completed two weeks ago on the 3rd of August and, with no Covid restrictions in Cobar or on the mid north coast, we planned to take advantage of four consecutive Rest days to drive back and pick it up this Thursday. However, the state has now gone into lockdown.

After the installation, the mechanic delivered the van to our carport where it’s been sitting ever since and while I’m not overly concerned about the furniture, clothing, medications (I’ve bought more online) etc or a flat battery I am concerned that it’s quite visible to passers-by and, with all the blinds drawn, all day every day, it’s also quite obvious that no one is home.

I understand that it’s impossible to clarify every rule and restriction and we are both unsure whether collecting the van is a “reasonable excuse”. However, if the state lockdown continues, there’s a real risk that our van will become a target for thieves.

I’d really appreciate some advice because, like everyone else, we don’t want to make an uninformed choice and be faced with a huge fine, especially after just paying more than $9,000 to install a reconditioned engine.

Regards, Kaye Matthews

And here’s their reply:

Dear Kaye,

Thankyou for contacting the Department of Customer Service. The best source of information about the COVID restrictions and rules is available at https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19.
???????
For more information about specific areas please see the websites linked below:
Regional and rural NSW rules
https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/affected-regions

Greater Sydney rules
https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/greater-sydney

Local government areas of concern
https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/affected-area

Legislation and penalties
https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/legislation-and-penalties

The rules summary tables on the common questions
https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/changes#rules-for-your-local-area

I have also forwarded your email to the COVID customer care team at Service NSW for response.

The COVID customer care team is experiencing a high number of enquiries so there may be a delay in responding to you about this matter.

They can be contacted directly on 13 77 88.

Sincerely,
Elle
Department of Customer Service

Now it seems to me that a question like Are we allowed to travel to collect our repaired vehicle? would simply require a Yes / No answer and so it was a surprise to receive a list of web sites and, even more surprising when, after reading them all, I realised that none of them related to my question.

Alas, it was time to ring the 13 number.

I must admit that the customer representative was quite pleasant and listened attentively as I basically read her my email and asked, again, whether travelling to collect our repaired van was a reasonable excuse. Everything was going smoothly- after checking with her colleagues she was able to state that Yes, travelling to pick up the van was a reasonable excuse – until I naively asked, “Can I have that in writing?” at which stage, the wheels promptly and without warning fell off.

Apparently no one wants to be held responsible for handing out incorrect advice because the best she could suggest was to carry the repair invoice plus a note from the mechanic to the effect that our van had broken down hundreds of kilometres from Cobar…….. but after that, we were on our own.

Today, six days after my email, I did, in fact, receive a reply – albeit unsigned:

(Subject:Re: Request to withdraw your application [ ref:_00D4a8aWL._5004a4Nj4Q:ref ])

Hi Kaye

Thankyou for your enquiry with Service NSW in relation to reasonable reasons for Travelling in regional NSW with the restrictions I have attached a link to the SNSW website for your reference
https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/rules/affected-regions#other-reasonable-excuses

Kind regards
Service NSW
T137788

Of course, the suggested web page said absolutely nothing about whether collecting our van was a reasonable excuse to travel and I was none the wiser so, in one final effort to obtain clarity, I’ve just fired off this reply:

Dear Sir / Madam

I have just read the web page that you suggested and it says nothing helpful about collecting our car, which broke down more than a month ago, hundreds of kilometres from our residence in outback NSW.

I’ve waited for 6 days for you to respond with an answer to my question, namely, Is this a reasonable excuse to bring our repaired van home? Please don’t close this application without answering my question. I just need an answer – either Yes we can bring our van home, now that it has been repaired or No, we are not allowed to bring our van home and it will have to sit unsecured for the duration of the lockdown. We are both fully vaccinated and are prepared to make the trip in the shortest possible time.

If you don’t know the answer, I have no idea whom to ask.

Regards, Kaye Matthews

Sadly, in the meantime, I’m not holding my breath. It seems that no one, even Service NSW, is prepared to give advice nor to put their name to that advice, in case it’s wrong. It really begs the question, ‘Why even have a Customer Service department?’

More importantly, after making me wait six days and then failing to answer my question, why on earth would they assume that I’d be happy to withdraw that question?’ (“Request to withdraw your application”)

PS And in case you’re wondering, No I didn’t add those question marks in Elle’s reply.

Murphy’s Law 2

Spoilt Border Collies and home renovation addictions, as it turns out, are both quite expensive. Let’s start with the Border Collie.

There’s nothing pleasant about driving nine and a half hours with a neurotic dog lunging and yelling at oncoming vehicles that he perceives might veer too close to his ute.

After trying various ‘solutions’, which all consequently failed, we simply admitted defeat and bought a van, where Bowie is more than happy to sit on a purpose-built platform behind Nigel and lick his ears the whole trip. Problem solved!

The home renovation problem is taking a bit longer.

First, let me just say in my defence that when you have two houses, the compulsion to redecorate is much stronger. Plus, to be fair, there was no way that anyone could tell how enormously large the swivel lounge was, just from the online photo, until our handyman actually delivered it.

As it turned out we had accrued quite an excess of furniture, even before the lounge (remember the bed saga?).

Bedroom 1 sorted
Bedroom 3 sorted

and so it was decided that we’d do a quick trip to the coast (driving both the van and the ute) to pick up all excess furniture (queen bed, double bed doonas, bedside chest, two outdoor chairs, large wall art, tall timber shelf and a partridge in a pear tree)…… plus the swivel lounge and return to Cobar where we’d install the lounge while divesting ourselves of beds and bedding at our leisure.

Having just accepted a casual position in the Electoral Returning Office for a few weeks, the trip would be a perfect opportunity to purchase new clothing. (with Vinnies at the end of our street, my current ‘unemployed’ clothing has become more second hand, comfortable than smart casual as decreed in the employment conditions).

After blocking in a 5-day booking for the Shack and lining up as many ducks as possible we set off and, despite having to drive two cars, our short break on the coast went remarkably well – clothing shopping, lunch with friends, walks on the beach and even getting all the furniture to fit on the ute and in the van – all tasks successfully completed.

On the morning of our departure, and concerned about impending rain (transporting mattresses on a ute is a surefire way to make it rain) we skipped breakfast and were on the road by 6.40am. All was well until at Jerry’s Plains, the van suddenly decided that it really didn’t want to go up any more hills and could we please pull over…… right in front of Hollydene Winery.

Resisting the urge to set up camp and enjoy the serendipity with a glass or four, we devoured a breakfast of hamburgers (Kaye and Nige) and toasted ham and cheese sandwiches (Kaye, Nige and Bowie) while waiting for Zac, the friendly NRMA man.

Unfortunately Zac’s news wasn’t good and the trip to Cobar was diverted via Muswellbrook ……. Zac and an unimpressed Bowie in the van, Nige in the NRMA truck and me in the ute.

Several phone calls (VW mechanic) and discussions (warning lights and catalytic converters) later, it was decided that the van would be returned on a carrier to our mechanic while we continued to Cobar.

With a ute tray and camper van packed with furniture, Plan B was not without its own challenges, especially considering hire car companies don’t actually approve of large, fluffy dogs taking up passenger seats and so with not an inch to spare in the ute tray, Bowie was relegated to the single cab with me.

Our trip continued almost uneventfully ….. if you don’t count the rain ….. and fifteen hours after leaving Paradise, we arrived in Cobar – grateful to be home safe, if not dry, and glad that we did take two cars because Bowie might have otherwise been forced to hitch-hike home!

Shortly afterwards and in true Murphy’s law style, the upcoming Council election was cancelled and the smart casual clothing has now been relegated to the “might wear one day” area of the wardrobe. Plus, the van repair bill came in yesterday and at $9,208 it actually made the smart casual clothing bill look quite good.

PS I think I might finally be cured of the home decorating addiction…… but look how “worth it” it was!

Watch this space

Last week Nigel sadly (and with a degree of envy) said farewell to Andrew, who is now working on the NSW north coast after completing his 4 year tenure. While Nigel is hoping that he won’t be alone for too long, he’s also mindful that it took almost a year to fill his own position 3 years ago so he’s not holding his breath.

Now, unlike general duties police, highway patrol officers work most shifts as a single unit unless they’re working at night (hence the “afraid of the dark” jokes) but it’s always nice to talk to someone, who actually understands the job and he’ll miss that camaraderie.

So here’s my attempt at talking up the vacant position.

Continue reading “Watch this space”

Vale Lillian

When we first moved to Cobar, I was impressed by the way everyone got along. From the welcoming smiles from passers-by to the ‘let me help you with that’ offers (trying to lift a 12 litre bottle of water up and over the ute tray).

Before social distancing became the norm there was no shortage of community craft work-shops, sporting events including horse racing, dance classes and library projects – always something for anyone who wanted to get involved. Houses were decorated at Christmas time, Halloween took place in October – but only with houses that volunteered to be involved – and there were even regular street parades and festivals. I attribute a lot of that community spirit to the town’s mayor, Lilliane Brady.

Continue reading “Vale Lillian”