6th May 2012
This is about us written at Mareeba.
Geoff and Janne Hardy left Sydney at the end of October 2010 in a 20’ Millard Sunseeka caravan, to find out if there was more to life than looking at four walls for the rest of their retired life.
They’ve discovered that here is. Sixteen months later life is rich and full. They don’t see themselves as tourists but as people who are living a day to day existence working in different communities.
Janne says “There are jobs galore out here. We find them on line and by asking around. We belong to Aussie Outback Helpers who also have jobs and volunteering positions available. As a tourist you tend to just meet other tourists but what we are doing means that we are getting to know a town by working in it and being part of the daily life.”
She added “We are more in touch with our families now than when we were living 10 minutes away from them in busy Sydney. We have more time to catch up via electronic media so our children and grandchildren are enjoying our adventures too, as that medium is what they relate to. They’re on email, Skype and FaceBook all the time and are just a click away and we have a free website too”.
Geoff had a handyman business in Sydney and he is still getting calls from customers to do jobs. He takes great delight in telling them that he has “retired” but that is not strictly correct. He is just busy working in other places.
Janne was a radio Journalist for many years and then for 12 years until she retired, managed the Sydney arm of children’s cancer charity Camp Quality. She now prides herself on her list of “different” job experiences.
The Hardy’s have spent 3 months in Gayndah Queensland, working on an organic citrus farm. As volunteers they helped to sand down, wash and paint the tail of the Jumbo Jet at Longreach’s Qantas Museum. They have worked on a prawn farm in Cardwell and Geoff has driven dozers in a quarry up the Normanton Road from Julia Creek whilst Janne volunteered with Home and Community Care in the town. They are working in Mareeba whilst sheltering from the wet in that area.
They are picking and packing Avocados for Zebra who supply Coles and their caravanning neighbours Frank and Sandra offered them the jobs. “Frank and Sandra work here for several months every year” Janne said...
“Janne is worried about cyclones” Geoff explained. “We are in Mareeba because Johnny Delacour, who is an old stockman, told us that Mareeba is somewhat sheltered from cyclones and has a relatively dry wet season.” So far this has proven to be correct. According to Janne their home in Sydney has suffered a worse “wet” season than Mareeba.
Mareeba is thought to be named from an Aboriginal word meaning "meeting of the waters" and is on the Baron River that spills out in Cairns after pouring over the huge falls near Kuranda. It was previously known as Granite Creek.
The township, 62 kilometres west of Cairns, was established in the 1880s to service the farmers who were already at work in the district. The opening of the railway line from Cairns in 1893 boosted growth in the area and today it forms part of the famous Kuranda Scenic Railway which, with the Skyrail is only about half an hour away.
Besides being handy to the rest of the beautiful Atherton Tablelands, major features of the area include Davies Creek National Park, Brewery Swimming Hole which, sadly, is not pleasant due to it being adjacent to a large unkempt caravan park. There is Granite Gorge with its massive walls and immense boulders and Mareeba Wetlands with walks, boat excursions, canoeing and restaurant overlooking the lily covered waters.
Coffee is a significant presence in Mareeba…visitors can enjoy the sights and tastes of Jacques Coffee Plantation, North Queensland Gold Coffee Plantation, Skybury Australian Coffee Centre, The Coffee Works, Tichum Creek Coffee Farm, there are flights in ultra light aircraft and sometimes early in the morning there are up to 9 hot air balloons taking tourists up over the town.
The Aviation and Military Museum is interesting, Golden Drop wines and de Brueys Boutique Wines are delicious stops and it is worth seeing Mareeba Heritage Museum with a world class, brand new interactive tobacco industry display.
Mareeba is a centre for further education with campuses for the Australian Agricultural College (Mareeba Centre for Sustainable Agriculture) and the Tropical North Queensland Institute of TAFE (Mareeba Campus).
The Hardy’s wet season home is the Country Caravan Park 10 kilometres outside Mareeba. It is a beautiful, natural park and Geoff says that the neighbours and owners of the park are fantastic. “Socialising is the way to get to know everyone and is an important tool in job finding everywhere we go” He said.
Geoff had trouble explaining how good it is to get to know people so he illustrated with a story about the quirky characters in the park.
He told us about a couple who had decided it was time to leave the caravan park, after 6 months of occupancy.
Geoff said that this departure was sad news to their many friends and the park owners Murray and Megan, invited all their tenants to a farewell party, providing food and live entertainment.
It transpired that the departing Wilsons never knew they had so many friends and by the day of the party they knew they simply couldn’t leave them all behind.
“Put yourself in their place.” Geoff said, “What would you do if you were the guests of honour at a bountiful party under the lush green trees of the Atherton Tablelands, surrounded by people who have come to wave you a fond farewell and you’re not going?”
He said that half way through the party and with great trepidation, the Wilsons broke the news that they were not going to go after all. “Imagine their relief when everyone was genuinely delighted. Undaunted, Murray the host, immediately declared it to be a welcome home party.” He said.
Geoff explained that to try and make the party worthwhile, the Wilsons came up with a devilish plan. They would indeed depart, but then they would drive straight back in the gate and set up in another spot further up the park, so at least technically they were going. They announced their intention, glasses were raised, departing friends were toasted and then there were welcome home toasts and the party continued on.
Geoff smiled as he told us about a young English couple who had just booked into the park for a couple of days. They were invited to join the farewell party and they asked where the guests of honour were going. “To the other end of the park” chorused the other guests happily, raising their glasses for another toast. Geoff said that the look on the faces of the young couple was wonderful to see.
Geoff said two people who were at that party helped him and Janne to find jobs and again stressed the importance of getting involved with other people as a job finding tool.
When the Hardy’s originally decided to hit the road they were worried about deserting their family but they were delighted to find the family gave them great support and encouragement. “I think they were looking at all the stuff we had accumulated at home and they didn’t want to wait til we dropped off the perch to get rid of it…better we do it than them having to do it themselves” Janne said, smiling. “So we sold the lot and now keep only one tiny shed at our son’s place. Everything we own fits easily into the van and car.” Janne said.
They are in love with their 20’ Millard Van and have nothing but praise for the workmanship and after sales service given by Millard.
Geoff says the van is beautifully put together and the size is just right. He said that it’s the ideal size for caravan park spaces. The van has semi off road capability and he says that the length is just enough so that the rear doesn’t drag going through creek bed dips and culverts.
“We had a problem with the rear bumper about a year ago and we took the van to Millard and they fixed it promptly, happily and well” Geoff said. “They were good to deal with.” There have been no problems since.
Janne wanted to tell people more about family and job contact and how modern technology makes it so easy.
“We have phones of course. Telstra is a must as nothing else gives you the coverage…we are on Skype, I am on FaceBook and we have our website. It is a GetJealous site and it is free. It is very easy to set up as you are talked through the whole process on screen and it is simple to keep it updated by uploading pictures, diaries, updating maps and uploading videos.” She said, adding, “We have a great following…over 15,000 hits from family and friends and climbing. I advertise it on my FaceBook page too.
Janne worked for years supporting the Child Life Therapists at Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney. They educate children about their medical procedures by using play. Among many tools, the therapists use Patient Puppets who interact with the children, and one puppet, Freddy, is travelling with Janne and Geoff and has his own FaceBook page for the kids to see in the hospital. “The hospital staff loves following his travels too” Janne said. “He is showing children that despite the many procedures they know he has had, he can still have a great time. And he has had lots of jobs too. He has been a great help picking Avocados”.
Geoff also said that the SPOT was a great tool. It is a GPS device so service is always available everywhere. “There is no speech but we send out a signal every time we make camp and it goes to our families via email and SMS’. It pinpoints our position exactly and they can zoom in on Google Earth to see right where we are and what the country is like. There is a facility for a help message to be sent if we break down and another one that sends our coordinates to triple O if it is a life or death situation” Geoff said. He added that it is a great comfort to have it along on the trip.
“Our friends who told us about the sheltered nature of Mareeba have arrived”, Geoff said, “Johnny Delacourt is retired too but is also busy on the road. He was a stockman in Normanton in his youth, then a Miner at Mt Isa and he now writes children’s books about his experiences and they are illustrated by his son. His wife, Phyllis is originally from Normanton and the two of them are wonderful company. That is the good thing about our life, you make the greatest friends” Geoff said.
Janne also writes children’s books with Sue Langley, a lady who travels world wide lecturing on positive psychology. “The books give children tools that help them to choose positive behaviour” Janne said. They are Aussie bush tales and proceeds go to Camp Quality. Steve Parish has donated photos to illustrate the book and with Chris Dent, a Sunshine coast illustrator, the stories have really come to life. Janne is also a bush poet and enjoys chronicling their trip for a future book to be illustrated by Geoff.
Geoff is a landscape painter and his outback oil paintings are popular wherever he goes. “They sell well” Janne added….busy, busy, always busy but at OUR pace, which is so exciting.”