it was planned to start our volunteer job at Palm Valley
in the Finke Gorge National Park on July 1st 2008 .... but
it came quite different .....
While doing the 50'000 km service on the OKA Steve Golding
from Alice Mechanics in Alice Springs discovers a broken
rear differential dog clutch.
This means we have to order a new differential from OKA and
replace the rear differential.
This also means that we are now "homeless" and
have to move to a Motel.
This gives Ruedi the chance to try to get his sound recording
software running on the laptop.
His goal is to get the first part of our 2008 movie done
with sound and speech and all the bells and whistles!
But due to a software error in the external sound card
software the system just crashes all the time and he gets
But after an email to the software company a few days later
a patch is ready for downloading and all works fine.
Susi gets some time to stroll around the caravan park to
find nice flowers she hasn't already taken pictures off and
to watch some wallabies.
The work on the OKA turns out to be a hell of a task .....
because Steve injures his hand the first day he works on
So Ruedi works almost a full week in the pit.
But life was not meant to be easy for Ruedi ... soon some
more trouble starts ....
No matter how long and hard Ruedi and the other mechanics
whack the axle shaft with the slide hammer it just won't
So the tools get bigger and bigger ... at the end a sledge
hammer and a rod is used to bang the axle shaft out .....
from the other side .....
The axle shaft had twisted between the dog clutch and the
Only now they are able to get the differential apart, have
a look at the damage and order the new parts from OKA .....
it is definitely time for a new differential ......
Luckily OKA has one sitting on the shelf and on Thursday
it is picked up in Perth by TNT to be sent over to Alice
Spring on Friday on the truck via Adelaide.
Expected date of arrival in Alice Spring: Tuesday, July 1st.
This means that even though OKA immediately sends the ordered
parts we will not be able to start our volunteer job until
Luckily the currently present volunteers can extend their
stay at Palm Valley until we arrive.
So while we are waiting for the parts to arrive in Alice
Springs also the rest of the OKA is checked, the leaking
break fluid supply line fixed, etc., etc., etc. .
On Wednesday morning the TNT courier arrives and drops a
pallet with a large and heavy peace on it.
When Steve asks for the second package the driver says that
the second TNT truck will delivery it a bit later on.
After the shop has been closed to the public and no more
walk-in customers can disturb Steve and the crew they get
the parts ready to exchange the differential.
Then Steve realises that the second parcel containing the
new axle shaft has not been delivered!
Katherine tries calling TNT but they have closed for the
day. Steve will pick up the parcel tomorrow on his way to
On Thursday morning Steve brings bad news instead of a second
parcel ..... TNT has no clue where the parcel is .....
We just cannot believe it, get into the car and drive over
The lady at the reception is not very helpful and tells us
that she cannot say more than she has already told "the
chap that was here before".
Well, soon she has to realise that there is a small difference
between the "chap" and us: we are the paying customers
When Ruedi asks for the manager on duty she quickly changes
her tone and gets the manager.
The manager tells us all about how the parcels are sent
over from Perth and that they are unloaded in Adelaide and
... that he has no clue where our second parcel is!
Ruedi gets a bit more upset and explains to the manager,
that we are paying 400 $ for a service that is called "over
night" and that the parcel was supposed to be here yesterday.
He wants to know to whom we can escalate this problem and
where we can send the bill for our extra nights at the motel
The manager gets the message and in no time he is on the
phone talking to some people in the Adelaide TNT cargo area.
He is lucky and finds the person who is right now handling
our second parcel.
The parcel is stopped and redirected to be sent to Alice
Springs by plane and not truck; it will arrive at 4 AM on
There is only one small problem: Friday is a public holiday
in Alice Springs, nobody will be working at the TNT depot
But the manager offers that he personally will take care
of the parcel and will deliver it to Steve's mechanical workshop.
We promise to be there by 8 AM to receive the parcel.
On Friday morning at 7:50 AM the manger from TNT arrives
at the workshop and delivers the parcel.
Thanks for that!
Soon after Steve and some of his crew arrive and the shop
is hustling and bustling.
Even though it is a holiday the crew is present as they have
so much work to be done ... including unexpected and delayed
but urgent work like our OKA!
While the guys are busy fitting the differential Susi goes
shopping so once the OKA is ready we can leave as quickly
Late in the afternoon the OKA is ready and Steve takes it
for one last test drive.
Then we are off to the Palm Valley where we arrive during
We will stay at the valley until the end of July and help
with the daily work.
We will be working with the rangers Andrew, Leanne and Simon.
On Saturday morning we are invited for breakfast at the
house of the Leanne and Simon as welcome for us and good-bye
for the leaving volunteers Peter und Eve.
Then work starts and we are introduced to the cleaning
job by Leanne.
We are also allowed to use two bicycles from Leanne and
Simon so we don't have to drive the OKA from the ranger station
where we live to the camping area every morning.
After a bit of greasing and adjusting the push bikes run
fine and we are now mobile.
During the day a group of Sydney Uni students arrive from
their bush camp.
They will be staying here at the "visitors lodge" for
a week and perform special tasks e.g. the counting of the
palms in the valley, an animal survey etc. and we will be
able to go along (once we have finished our duties!) and
also sit in at the lectures given to the students by the
rangers in the evening.
We are also shown around the ranger station .....
... the large shed with all the tools, cleaning equipment
etc. ... the fire fighting units, waiting for an emergency
... the "social club", where the locals gather
every so often to have some quiet beers around the fire.
Simon created this area with lots of loving care using old
signs, some old metal scrap and other pieces to create the
On Sunday we get serious and give the amenities block a
A large huntsman that lives in the ladies toilet refuses
to shift house and has to be forcefully evicted ....
The ride from the ranger station down to the camping area
and up again is not easy but it is very pleasant.
In the evening we can watch a beautiful sunset and over
night there even is some drizzle .....
On Monday we continue with our daily duties.
Besides the daily cleaning of the amenities block and the
picnic area we also have to pick-up rubbish on some walks
every so often.
So we also decide to tackle the rubbish collection along
the Mpulungkinya Walk at the top of the Palm Valley today.
If only women had better sense and would realise that the
toilet paper they leave behind after going for a wee will
not compost in this dry climate and has to be picked up by
hand by somebody!
But first we have a closer look at the famous Central Australian
Red-Cabbage Palms and read about the history of Palm Valley
on the excellent information tables.
Did you know that the water that the palms use is fossil
water, some of it up to 300'000 years old?
some more details on them click here.
There is lots to be seen ... and also a lot of rubbish to
be picked up ....
But the nice things still count more ... the reflections
in the water ... some interesting rocks ....
... some trees that live under large boulders .... some
that are only attached to vertical rocks by their roots ....
we wonder how they survive!
It is very dry and most areas that normally have water are
dry too ..... only traces of minerals are left where the
water used to stand ...
As we climb on top of the plateau we find this tree.
Even though it has fallen over and his shallow roots no longer
can hold him up it still continues on thriving and does
not seem to be disturbed at all with the strange angle
it is in ....
... some trees have tangled their roots around some rocks
for stability ..... amazing.
These ants seem to have developed their own building techniques
too ... that "chimney"-style outcrop on top of
their mount ... no idea what it is for ... the ranger could
not tell us either .... maybe a special way of dealing with
the heat they encounter in summer?
The views down into the valley and the palms are especially
nice in the late afternoon when the red of the rocks shines
Some birds for sure know where the best spots are!
While the Sydney Uni students are here a 3 day long animal
survey is carried out.
On the first day some 300 metal traps are unfolded and
equipped with baits (oats and peanut butter that is wrapped
in a bit of paper).
They are placed on 3 different levels on a hill, some in
Spinifex and some on rocky areas.
Then the GPS position of each trap is taken as sometimes
it is not easy to find the traps anymore.
In the late afternoon a group of students goes out to ensure
all traps are set correctly and the little doors are open.
In the morning Susi can join the ranger and the students
to check the traps.
Shortly after 8 AM we start climbing up the hill.
The views into the valley are very pretty.
Then we split up into different groups, each one checking
a different area.
If the door of a trap is closed the trap has to be carefully
checked for an animal.
If the animal gets too agitated they might hurt themselves
in the trap.
All open traps have to be closed so no animal can get trapped
in it during the day.
Even though it is winter the sun is still too strong; the
trap might get to hot and the animal trapped inside could
There are also some pitfalls where animals walk along a
barrier and then fall into a bucket that is buried in the
The found animals are then taken back to the ranger station
for proper identification.
In the afternoon the crew that goes up hill to set the
traps again will take the animals back and release them where
they were caught so they are back in their own territory.
During the 3 days of the survey we find a few animals, mainly
small mammals and some lizards.
One cute mouse-like common visitor to this area is the fat-tailed
here to learn a bit about it.
But we also do other jobs.
On one occasion we can go along to check a broken-down electrical
We squash into the Leanne ute and off we go on tracks that
are not open to the public.
The electrical fence is required to stop the wild horses
of just pushing the normal fence down to get into the park.
When we reach the broken-down section Leanne shows Ruedi
how to use a measuring tool showing on which side of the
fence the power is interrupted.
We work our way along the fence and try to find the problem.
Along the way we collect wood for the fire used during the
"ranger's talk" at the camping area.
We also pass a "one-way-access" gate that has
been put into place to let horses escape from the park but
not to re-enter.
The horses are lured outside of the park by something good
to eat ... but somehow the last three horses remaining in
Palm Valley have not fallen for it.
One can see their tracks leading to the gate ... but that
On and on the fence goes ..... in certain areas the terrain
is pretty rough ....
We find sections where the fence has a problem and fix it
but each time when we test with the tool it shows that the
fence is still not working.
Then we reach the end of this section.
The solar installation works fine, the wires are all ok,
we have no clue what is causing the problem and give up.
Simon will have to come out with better tools and have a
closer look at it.
On the way back Leanne shows us some places where the Aboriginals
used to sharpen their tool.
Too quickly the days pass and already it is time to say
good-bye to the students.
After a BBQ at the social club and a late night they leave
early on Saturday morning.
As we are getting ready to head down to the camp for cleaning
Leanne tells us that Mavis Malbunka, the Arrenrnte Traditional
Caretaker of Tnorala (Gosse Bluff), will be having a talk
at the bluff.
She will be going and asks if we want to come along.
We postpone our cleaning to the afternoon and off we are.
Again we all squash into the Toyota and dash over to Tnorala.
Mavis and her husband and some other Arrenrnte people are
Soon Mavis is explaining the dreaming of Tnorala and some
other interesting things about bush tucker and the history
of Tnorala to the audience.
here to hear her explain the rights of a caretaker
(file type: .mp3, size: 555 KB).
Click here to see her explaining some bush tucker.
It is also quiet intriguing to imagine that a massacre happened
here is not that long ago.
Mavis remembers that her father told her that he had seen
the bleached bones lying in the sun in this valley ...
Click here for the details on Tnorala and its history.
After lunch it is time to go back and clean the camp ground
.... the duties are calling ....
Leanne and Simon will be going on holidays.
We will take care of their animals during that time.
The night before they leave Leanne and Simon come for dinner
and we have a bit of a late night .....
Suddenly we hear one of the dogs outside the OKA.
He has jumped over the fence and is looking for his masters
..... guess that means, that it is time to come home ...
Early the next morning Leanne and Simon leave.
From now on we are in charge of two dogs, Tomby and Melville,
and four chickens.
Susi is more used to dogs and takes over the role of feeding
them and taking them for a walk.
The chooks seem to be happy with the new management and each
lay an egg per day ....
We actually manage to give the full set of animals back to
Leanne and Simon .... no losses ....
During our stay Bianka (Susi's brother's daughter) and partner
Richard are passing through Palm Valley on an organised tour.
Their tour is supposed to come past Palm Valley on a Thursday.
By now we know when their tour operator (Adventure Tours)
always arrives at the picnic area for lunch before heading
up to the Cycad Gorge and to the walk.
After the cleaning we park the OKA in that picnic area and
have a long lunch.
But no Adventure Tours Bus arrives ... we get nervous ...
did we misunderstand them the other day when we discussed
the day when they were coming through ...?
Or did we miss them?
We decide to head up to the Cycad Gorge and collect rubbish
They must come through there if they come today!
As it is the first time that we collect rubbish up there
we first have a close look at the Cycads.
Then we collect rubbish and wait until 3 PM ... it is hot
(27°C, not bad for the middle of winter) and no Adventure
Tours Bus shows up .....
Frustrated we head back to the camp.
Over and over we try calling Bianka and Richard's phone but
Well, we will try again tomorrow.
On Friday, after a cold night with only 1.5°C, we head
down to the camp ground.
It feels very cold on the bicycles ...
There are only 5 parties on the camp ground so we finish
We head back to the ranger station and try calling Bianka
and Richard again .... their phone is out of reach or turned
off ... great!
After lunch we head back to the picnic area and see an Adventure
Tours Bus there.
Quickly we head over and check if we had the dates wrong
and they are here today .... but they are not in this group.
So we give up and head back to ranger station again.
One last time Susi call the phones ... and they are picked
"Where are you?????"
"We are in Alice!"
"When did you come through Palm Valley?"
"Yesterday, at 3:15 PM"
We missed them by 15 minutes!
They had had a sleep-in in that morning, had lunch before
reaching Palm Valley and had gone straight up to the Cycad
Gorge and the walk.
When arriving late in Alice Springs they had found the missed
calls and voice messages but as the park has a suppressed
number they were not able to call us back ....
And as they slept at a Backpackers they had to turn their
phones off and forgot to turn them on again once they went
No wonder we were not able to reach them!
Ah well, such is life.
But now we have to get organised really quickly because
we want to meet them in Alice Springs .... it is only 157
km to Alice Springs ..... no real distance out here ....
As it would be too cold for the dogs to stay outside until
we return Andrew will put them into the house for the night
and give them their evening cuddles.
And off we go ....
We reach Alice Springs in the afternoon, collect some cleaning
stuff for Andrew and then meat with Bianka and Richard at
the Overlander Steakhouse.
After an extensive dinner with Kangaroo, Camel, Crocodile
and Emu it is already time to say good-by to them and head
back to Palm Valley.
It is quite dangerous to drive at night and watching out
for the kangaroos keeps us both awake, no worries.
Besides that it is very cold in the driver's cabin as we
still have a broken heater cable ... Susi is not impressed
It takes us at least twice the time it took us to drive
into town to drive back.
At 1 PM we park on our "spot" and head to bed in
our warm "home".
Andrew will let the dogs out so we can have a bit of a sleep-in
The next morning we are woken up by warm and gusty wind.
We head down to the camp and start working.
Red sand is blown into all and everything.
A woman had done some washing this morning which was hanging
outside her van.
In no time all is plastered with red sand ....
Susi just finished cleaning the amenities when the wind
picks up even more.
The visibility drops to below 3 meters, this is a real sand
In no time the whole amenities block is filled with red sand
and looks as if it had never been cleaned in the last few
Susi is furious but it makes no sense to clean it again.
We have to wait until the wind dies down, which according
to Andrew will probably be late in the afternoon.
So we head back to the ranger station.
It is not very pleasant to ride bicycles in this storm but
at least the wind blows uphill which makes the ride a bit
Outside the OKA the wind blows red clouds past and we have
to keep the windows closed, witch makes it a bit sticky in
So all we can do is have a bit of a siesta, poor us ...
On a Sunday Andrew wants to take us to Boggy Hole for some
Spinifex burning and to have a close look at Circular Gully,
the gully we had seen from the plane on our first trip to
Alice Springs in 1995.
He gives us a hand with the cleaning and soon we are on the
way to Hermannsburg and over to Boggy Hole.
But duties first .... we collect a fair bit of the usual
toilet paper and rubbish and burn it.
After lunch we climb up to where Leanne and Simon had already
done some burning to have a look.
Along the way Andrew gives us some information on the different
version of Spinifex that exist in Palm Valley.
We can hardly believe that there is a curly Spinifex that
does not sting, but we can feel it and really feels more
like grass than the prickly stingy stuff.
We also get a bit of a Geology lesson.
We also come past some more ants with "chimneys" on
their mounts but Andrew cannot explain us why they do it.
Then the big moment arrives, we have reached the patch of
the last burning.
Even though the wind is still a bit strong Andrew decides
that we can burn a few patches.
In no time the Spinifex is ablaze and it gets really hot.
After a while the fire reached the containment line that
was set by Leanne and Simon and dies down.
We keep the lower parts under control and to quickly the
whole burning is over .....
Here a movie for the little pyromaniacs amongst us.
On the way back to the Toyota Andrew takes us over to Circular
The views are just great and he definitely makes Ruedi's
Then we head back to the Ranger Station via the Finke River.
This used to be a public access road but the sand is too
soft and the trees hang too low so it has been closed off.
We would be allowed to use it but we decide that it is to
narrow for the OKA ... and besides that we don't feel like
digging sand .... we are getting lazy ....
Already we have reached the last week of our stay.
Taking advantage of Ruedi being here Andrew comes down to
the amenities block for some repairs.
There is always something broken that needs fixing or some
toilets that don't flush properly anymore ....
This gives Susi some time to watch some animals.
Time flies and already it is time for Simon to come back
from his holiday.
As he still has a day off we agree that we will go for a
walk the next day.
We pack the backpacks and follow Simon into a valley that
is usually not open to the public.
We stop to have a closer look at some interesting rock formations,
mainly generated by erosion.
The walk is very pretty and takes us back into the main
We are surprised to find water along the way.
There are also some more interesting formations.
In one instance water has left some marks on the wall ...
to us it looks like a person lifting one arm ....
We also get introduced to Buffel Grass, one of the worst
weeds ever introduces to Australia by the graziers.
Buffel takes over and kills all the native grasses and small
plants in the area.
They try to fight it as good as they can but they have only
managed to keep a very small valley buffel-free ....
During our stay at Palm Valley Ruedi gets the invitation
for his citizenship ceremony.
It is perfect timing as it will be held near Perth right
after we finish our stay at Palm Valley.
So we book some flights over to Perth and let Andrew know when
we will be leaving.
Our last walk in the valley takes us up a small creek.
It is very peaceful and typical for the atmosphere in Palm
Then it is time to clean all and fill in the work report.
We have worked a fair bit, have learned a lot and have
had lots of fun.
This is definitively an experience that we will want to repeat.
And then the big day arrives .....
In the late afternoon of August 5 2008 we arrive in Cockburn
(spell it Coburn please!) where Ruedi will become an Australian
The group of citizens-to-be is quite large; each has his
reserved seat, the spectators are all placed in the back.
The major is an ex-immigrant himself and guides through the
ceremony with lots of good humour.
Click here to view parts of
After the pledge each of the new citizens is presented with
the certificate and also the citizenship medallion.
One more very proud Aussie ....
Our flight back to Alice Springs gives us some very pretty
views over the red country and the salt lakes.
Our flight also takes us over the Palm Valley.
Today we know what that special "river"-bed is
down there .... Circular Gully ....
We also recognise Wallace Rock Station (because of the 1
km bitumen stretch at the entry of the community they only
just had completed a few weeks back ...) and other things
around Alice Springs from the air ....
It feels good to come back in the Outback ..... it feels
a bit like coming home ....