Friday, 30 December 2011

100th Post: Where's The Blog?

I'll admit I've been slack. Looking back to the last post (August 19th) you'd think that nothing has happened in my life. On the contrary, plenty has happened but not quite enough to prevent me from blogging. Hence the admission of slackness.

So what has happened since we bought the Hyundai? Well, the first thing that happened ( a week later) was it broke down! The central locking system gypped out and we had to get RACQ to tow the car back from the shops, and then get an auto-electrician to cut the after-market central locking out. Bummer. The car is still running OK though.

We've had a batch of visitors come to stay - the first was Rae's parents, John and Megan, who paid us a month long visit in September. They spent a few weeks enjoying time with Oscar and the city, and we all went to stay on Moreton Island to bask in the sun and splash in the sea for a week. Jason, university friend/best man/Oscar's god father came for an evening but unfortunately I was away on a rig for a week. Ang and Paige, friends from Indonesia and now living in New Zealand, came for a week and the little ones had a blast catching up.

In other car news I am now the proud owner of a Mitsubishi Pajero GLS NH. We bought our second Aussie motor just before Christmas, and after getting the fuel gauge repaired and the tyres replaced it's fine for fun, and I plan on spending the occasional weekend on the beach with the gang.

There's probably more to type about, but leaping ahead to last week: We had a lovely Christmas with a family that Rae and Oscar had made friends with. We went to South Bank for a picnic/BBQ next to the water play area, and Oscar wore himself out. We left early in the afternoon as the sun was climbing, and spent the rest of the day lazing at home. Plenty of Skype calls between aunts, uncles, nannas and grandads were made that day! Oscar's birthday, with an equal amount of Skyping, followed Christmas Day with a garden pirate-themed party for the kids and a BBQ for the grown ups.

In coming news, we will be swapping Hamilton (I'm fed up with the birds waking me up at stupid o'clock, and Rae and Oscar are sick of the trains at the bottom of the garden) for Nudgee during the Australia Day long weekend towards the end of January.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Car Boot Sale

Yesterday we took the plunge and bought ourselves a car. It was the first time we'd ever bought off the lot and to make it more special The Car Mine had an official Big Australian Icon - the Big Boot - sitting on top of the showroom.

It's a Hyundai Lantra "Sportswagon" and will do us nicely. Body work is fine, mileage is 50% of what it should be and it smells a little doggy inside.

Snakes On A Rig

Last week while out near Miles I was driving from the camp to the rig site and saw a rope across the road. After pondering the mystery of a big piece of rope wiggling across the track I reported the snake to the toolpusjer and then went about my day.

A couple of hours later I saw the same piece of rope but this time it was inside the rig's perimieter - in fact it was in the middle of the lease and about 5m from me. I got the attention of the same toolpusher who stopped all the work and scared it away.

Where's Samuel L Jackson when you need him?

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Gone Bush Again

Tonight I'm up in Emerald, smack dab on the Tropic of Capricorn, looking for the Wizard. There's plenty of Oz around me so he must be close by. Tomorrow, after a spot of shopping to pick up supplies and materiel for the crew I've come up to visit, I shall be driving onwards to Dingo where I will stay for 2 nights before returning to Brisbane. While I am here I'm hoping to see a sign along the road for the Tropic of Capricorn (good chance because the road I'll be driving on is the Capricorn Highway).

Nothing else to report except I saw the biggest, scariest wasp carrying a 3cm long centipede in its - for lack of a better word - talons. I will admit to experiencing a moment of fear when this behemoth flew right up to my face to check me out.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Hey You Guys!

Last weekend Rae and I had one of those rare Oscar-free evenings when Heidi volunteered to babysit to give us a night off. And as luck would have it the Tribal Theatre had a Goonies retropacum on so we went to see our favourite film in the cinema for the first time ever. It had always been on TV previously, so to see the big screen 35mm original version was so awesome I wanted to go up to the balcony, pour fake vomit onto the audience below and make a "hurrrr, hurrrr, hurrrhhh!!!" noise. Check out Rae's blog for the full and frank review.

We. Are. In!

The Beckett's are firmly ensconced in their new home in Brisbane. You can read Rae's write-up or browse the pics below to learn more.

From left to right - living room (with Indonesian furniture), dining area (no table yet - shipment #2 due Aug 25th), master bedroom (Oscar says the duvet is a bit girly), Oscar's bedroom (presenting his very first bed of his own), the kitchen (appliances care of Gumtree, K-Mart and Big W) and the sun deck (with a proper Aussie BBQ).

A big thank you to Brian, Heidi, Max and Ewa for helping us move in, build BBQs and beds and (most importantly) distract Oscar

Thursday, 21 July 2011

There And Outback Again

I'm a bit late in reporting my safe return to Brisbane. To bring you up to speed, following my 300km drive out to Chinchilla I then drove out through Miles and on to Goondiwindi, 270kms away. I met up with Aiden and the field crew who had been sent out there a week before, and overnighted at the Jolly Swagman. I drew the long straw and got the room with the jacuzzi but it was too late for a bath by the time I turned in.

The next day had an early start and a 65km drive out to the rig site. These csg rigs are way smaller than the offshore rigs I'm used to. Aside from the drilling rig (left) and shakers (right) there is a generator and two portacabins (aka donga) on site, and that's it. There's no accomodation as everyone eats and sleeps in Goondiwindi, and certainly no helideck. After conducting the inspection Aiden and I hit the road, eventually splitting apart at Milmerran after we had a coffee, some pies and a pow-wow.

I finished off the drive, losing the e-tag for the toll roads as I took a corner in Toowoomba, back to Brisbane with a grand total just shy of 1000kms and got in at 6:30pm - twelve hours later.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Mandatory Valet

A weed wash is a compulsory vehicle washdown in order to prevent pernicious plants from other areas of the state getting transported onto the landowners property (where the rig is). Not very exciting I agree, but this is just one of the differences between the conventional oil and gas industry and coal seam gas that I'm learning about. Without a washdown certificate I wouldn't be able to get to the rig. Can you imagine the chaos if the HLO on an offshore rig demanded a washdown certificate when a chopper tried to land on deck?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Gone Bush

Here I am in chilly Chinchilla where the current temperature is about 5C and is set to drop to just above 0C during the night. It took me the best part of 4 hours to get here - cruising along at 100ks an hour - to get to this small agricultural town in south-western Queensland. And when I look at the map I'm staggered at how much more of Queensland there is to the west and north of me. Staggered I say.

I shot some photos along the way as a memento of the trip, during which I saw my first road train (a lorry/truck that has a minimum of 3 - and sometimes up to 5 - trailers being pulled by the tractor). Sadly I didn't get any of the snaps of it as they kick out so much dust and gravel (even on a tarmaced road) that it's too dangerous to stop on the verge for a photo opportunity.

So here I am, sat in the White Gums Motel, enjoying a hot lasagne and a cold XXXX. Ah, Australia :)

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Only In Australia

Well, should I really be surpised? They call it Queensland after all.

I Brisbane

We've discovered another corner of Brisbane - South Bank - a stretch of parkland on the southern bank of the Brisbane River. We arrived there by ferry, having got on the CityCat service at Bretts Wharf, and were treated to a cruise under Story Bridge and passed the skyline of the city centre. South Bank was the site of the World Expo 88 and has recently been reclaimed from the river after the floods at the start of 2011. It's got children's play parks, an artifical beach, an interactive water feature, restaurants, gardens, and a huge ferris wheel (the Wheel of Brisbane) which we took Pickle on. Initially there were a fair few "oo, I a bit scared" but eventually Rae settled down ;)

Afterwards we crossed the river by foot (actually we used a bridge and so did not perform any miracles), grabbed a quick bite to eat and then a train back to Ascot, arriving in time for Heidi's signature cheesey chicken pasta dish. Pickle wore himself out by playing with Emelda, a cat that Heidi is baby sitting for a friend, so we took him home and tucked him in bed.

Sunday was one of spending my hard earned money. In the morning we walked to Eagle Farm race course, which is just up the road, to see what the Sunday market was all about. You won't hear me say this very often - but it wasn't a patch on the Sunday market at Huntingdon race course! Then we went up to Stafford, a suburb to the north, to get some essentials for the new house (-8 days and counting until we move in), a trip to an outdoor pursuits shop because they'd built a tobogganing ramp and Oscar wanted to go on it, and then on to do a spot of mattress shopping (so we can actually sleep on the brand new bed we bought - and never used - in Indonesia). The four of us (me, Rae, Oscar and my wallet) are worn out.

Rae has just asked me "Did you have a nice weekend?" to which I replied "Yes. I've had many nice weekends since I've been in Australia." And I think that is the perfect way to end this bog.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

What A Weekend!

We three had a fabulous weekend - our first as a family in Australia since our holiday in 2009. Have you ever watched one of those "you need to move to Australia" shows like Wanted Down Under or Poms In Paradise where a family sits in a park (preferably one next to a golden beach) cooking sausages, steaks and kebabs on a free public barbeque while drinking a cold beer and enjoying a fresh breeze and a clear blue sky? Well, that was us on Saturday when we met up with Nigel (a friend from a long time ago in a little Welsh town far, far away), his wife Nicky and their bub Sophie.

Sunday was a more typical weekend for the Beckett family - shopping, shopping, shopping. We had to start stocking up for the house we are going to rent so we made a quick run to Chermside Mall, which has a K-Mart, a Target and a Big W. After spending a couple of hours (and a couple of hundred bucks) picking up essentials, before driving across Brisbane to hit Ikea. Oscar wasn't too keen on more shopping so we told him we were taking him to an out-tunnel-slide (his word for a kiddies indoor playpark), which seemed to satisfy him. We dropped him off in Småland (not the Swedish province but the creche that Ikea runs while we grabbed some furniture for Oscar's new room and miscellany from the market place. True to form we found more than we expected and ended up with three full trolleys by the time we got to the tills.

Final words: Australia is fab.

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Gangs All Here

We are all reunited. It's been 5 days short of 2 months but we are all together again.

Rae and Oscar had a bit of trouble getting to Brissy - their layover in Bangkok let them stretch their legs but lasted an hour longer than expected when one of the passengers disappeared and the whole plane had to be empited out so the extra bags could be removed. Which meant that their connection time in Sydney was truncated and they had to rush through the international airport and only made it to their domestic flight to Brisbane in the nick of time. I just made it to the airport (despite going to the international terminal and then getting lost while trying to find a park at the domestic arrivals) but unfortunately the car seat Rae had brought out didn't make it up from Sydney which meant we were stuck at the airport until Qantas finally loaned us one while we waited for it to come up on the next flight.

Oscar was a total motor mouth of excited conversation on the way back, and I was so intent on listening to everything he had to tell me I forgot to keep an ear on the "left and right radio" (as Oscar calls our in-car satnav) and we ended up driving over a toll bridge and having to double back again. Not that I minded because it gave me extra time to listen to my little boy natter on.

Currently they are both fast asleep. Oscar made it to 2pm and Rae to 5pm. Not bad considering they went +36 hours with 5 hours sleep. Hopefully they'll sleep the night through but somehow I doubt it and there will be a few more days of broken sleep to come before they begin to settle into a normal routine.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Pinch Me, I'm In Brissy

The last two days have seen us carrying on up from Coffs Harbour to Lennox Head, NSW where we called into Celia's (an old school friend) for the night. We had planned to go see a roller derby match but with it being a small town and raining heavily we didn't count on them selling out of tickets! So instead we went to the pub, listened to a live band called The Lucky Wonders, and had a quiet meal at Celia's. The next morning (which is today) had us on the road at 9am and in Byrons Bay only half an hour later. Max and I walked up to the lighthouse at Byrons Head, took some snaps and beat a hasty retreat as the rain set in. We then drove up to Surfer's Paradise and had an all-you-can-eat brekkie (at noon) before carrying on up north

Max and I are currently skirting the eastern edge of Brisbane's urban sprawl as we head towards the Gateway Bridge and over to the north side of the city where our staff house is. The CBD is just off to the left and I'm not sure if I'm awake or dreaming.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Road Trip!

My training in Newcastle is finished and will continue in Brisbane on Wednesday, following the queens Birthday long weekend. Rather than fly up (1 hour) Max and I asked if we could drive up, pointing out that we could bring everyone's suitcases and excess bagge with us. It was a win-win plan and ED agreed to it as long as we conducted a risk assesment.

We started out at 1130am and headed north with the vague plan of reaching Coffs Harbour by nightfall. So far we've listened to Kylie Minogue singing "I Should Be So Lucky", visited our first Australian roadside "big" icon (Big Ayers Rock on the Pacific Highway near Tea Garden, NSW) and nearly stepped in kangaroo poo. Right now I am blogging from the passenger seat while Max negotiates the highway in typical long weekend weather - yes, it's pissing down with rain. More updates to follow.

End Of Day Update: We are now in Coffs Harbour, having endured torrential rain all the way up the coast. We took our time and stopped off in Nabiac to visit the National Motorcycle Museum where I got to see the diesel engine that powered Paul Carter around Australia (see Is That Thing Diesel?), the Giant Oyster (ugly) in Taree, the Giant Axe (lame) in Kew and the Giant Bull in Waurchope (gone). Aside from the rain and detouring off the Pacific Highway to see these highlights the trip was uneventful.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

All New & Improved

The more observant reader will notice that the header has changed slightly. This marks the start of my new career in the coal seam gas (csg) industry in Australia, which began just under a week ago.

So here I am in Thornton in New South Wales, a third of the way through my initial training. It's been fun, friendly and enlightening so far - there are some similarities between O&G and CSG but with enough differences that there's something new to learn every day.

In a week I'll be travellng up to Brisbane with Max, who is also starting with Earth Data, on a boy's road trip. A week after that Mrs and Little CSGBlogger will be coming out to start life anew.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Day Of Days

It was said that the day that the Allies landed on the Normandy coast was The Longest Day, but I beg to differ because today has been far, far longer. I woke up to find that the water for our neighbourhood had been turned down to a bare trickle so I could just about manage a cold shower. Then I popped to work - where atypically everything went smoothly - but when I went to leave I found my driver had gone to Friday prayer and wouldn't be back for an hour. When I did get home the electricity was out so I had to crank up the generator. And there was still no water so no pre-departure hot shower. After gobbling down half a dozen leftover bacon rashers, finishing off all my errands I did a whistle-stop tour to say good bye to everyone. If I missed you I am sorry. Then it was back to work to drop off the car, house keys and do the final sign out.

I am currently over at Brent and Arlene's house as they have graciously put me up for the afternoon/evening as I wait out my remaining hours in Balikpapan before my flight at 9pm.

Bye bye Balikpapan, hello rest of my life.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

One More Sleep

Tomorrow is my last day! Late evening I'll be catching the Garuda flight to Jakarta, and then after only a 1 hour and 15 minute layover I'll be on the Sydney leg with Garuda. I'll get to use my Silver frequent flyer card (which only arrived in the post last week) and take advantage of the extra 5kg baggage allowance.

I land in Sydney at 9am, and have a hire car waiting. From there I'll drive through the Blue Mountains and on to Dubbo to meet up with Jase. Two nights later I'll be on the road to Newcastle and my new job.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Good News? No, Great News

May 11th marks the day that Rae, Oscar and I gained our Australian residency. OK, it's a temporary visa but it will last until 2015, giving us plenty of time to get settled. Mrs and Little Mudblogger are very excited. I am too but I still don't know when I will be allowed to leave Indonesia. Hopefully in the next week I will have a clearer picture of what Geolog's plans are for me.

The Original Rumble In The Jungle

Today I ticked off another one of my bucket list items - I visited Krakatoa, the volcano that in 1883 famously blew its lid and gave Europe stunning sunsets for half a decade.

I don't know how long I've wanted to visit the island but with my time in Indonesia counting down to single digits I knew I had to take this opportunity, and with Rae and Oscar back in the UK I have a lot of free time.

It was easy to make the arrangements - I found a tour company that did a one day trip, I picked my dates and told a local travel agent what I wanted. A day later I had my flights, hotel and tour voucher in my shaking hands.

I flew Jakarta on Friday (the 13th - I'm not triskaidekaphobic but I am starting to get nervous about using Indonesian airlines), stayed at the airport hotel and at 6am the next morning my driver picked me up for the 3 hour drive. That's 2 hours on toll roads and highways to Cilegon, followed by an hour on a road that tarmac seems to have forgotten about (but potholes and dust remember it quite well) to Carita.

From the marina at Carita beach we took a twin-engined speedboat out to the archipelago, some 60km distant. After 10km the skies cleared enough for me to see the classic volcanic cone-shape of Krakatoa. My guide explained that what I was looking at was Mamma Krakatoa - the remains of the original island that was destroyed in 1883 when the three separate volcanoes that made up Pulau Krakatoa exploded. As we neared Mamma K I could see that she was indeed just a chunk and had a towering cliff-face on one side that made it look like somebody had taken a bite out of her.

The island we were heading for was Anak (Son of) Krakatoa, a small volcano that started emerged from the sea in 1927 and has grown to about 200m since. We landed on the beach, next to the only forested spot on the island and notified the government officials of our presence. A quick walk through some juvenile jungle growth saw us on the ash covered slope of the volcano. My guide explained that we could not climb to the summit as it was out of bounds due to the constant cloud of noxious sulphuric gas that constantly drifted up from the crater. Did Krakatoa's son have halitosis?

I felt a bit let down by this information but once we started up the side of the volcano I was relieved - walking on soft, loose ash isn't easy at the best of times but in +30C and the heat of the volcano itself the 600m hike to the view point was punishing enough.

It took us forty minutes to get to the edge of the safe zone and we passed pyroclastic bombs, lava fields and a small valley that was covered in a crust of sulphur. At the "top" the view was amazing and while the other tour groups were all taking the opportunity to snap the volcano's peak I turned around and enjoyed the view of his mother which was only a kilometre away.

Forty minutes up and ten minutes down - we were back on the beach and in the boat in no time, circumnavigated Anak Krakatoa, and a spot of snorkeling on a reef off Krakatoa itself so I took the chance to swim ashore and properly visit one of the most famous volcanoes in the world.

On the way back we were treated to a pod of dolphins doing some leaps in the air as they chased their lunch through the water. Above them were a pair of eagles who were following the dolphins in the hope of grabbing a snack of their own.

I'm now sat in a dust covered Toyota Kinjang, belting down the highway to Jakarta and looking forward to a shower. All in all it was a cracking tour.