Monday 12th November 2001, Toodyay Oz.

We had noticed a worrying leak from the van’s rear differential, so the first task this morning was to ring Britz and arrange for a repair.

Geraldton has a lovely seaside air about it and the main shopping street retains many original buildings – some now housing upmarket boutiques and surf shops. Outside the museum is a curious little yellow submarine, which was originally built with the idea of harvesting crayfish … using an ingenious ‘vacuum cleaner’ device! However, submarine was beset with technical problems, and the idea never caught on.

The problem with the rear differential turned out to be nothing more than a loose nut, and we were soon on the road again.

At Dongara, where the Brand Highway meets the Midlands Road, we turned off to take the more scenic route via Mingenew, Three Springs, Carnamah and Moora – all pleasant farming towns, serving the rural wheat-growing industry. At Moora we left the Midlands Road for the Great Northern Highway, so that we could stop at New Norcia.

According to our guidebook, this monastery, with its Spanish-style buildings, seems curiously out of place in the Australian outback.

It was built by the Benedictines in a spectacularly ill-advised attempt to convert the local Aboriginals to the ‘dual merits’ of Catholicism and agriculture (another inglorious example of European meddling).

We drove slowly so that the noise from the road would not interrupt the radio commentary of the Australia/New Zealand test cricket test, taking place in Melbourne. It finally ended in a nail-biting draw, and we unfortunately arrived too late to get into the New Norcia museum or shop. Instead, we contented ourselves with a walk around the various community buildings (John swatting angrily at the massed squadrons of flies swarming around his head).

We spent the night in Toodyay, one of Western Australia’s first inland settlements. The town retains many original Victorian buildings, and much of its charm.