In June 2020, long-time Bangalow resident Liz Franks (formerly Liz Gander) packed her 2014 Mazda BT50, decked out with a rhino fibreglass canopy, and headed off on the adventure of a lifetime. Christobel Munson follows her travels.

 Liz moved to Bangalow early in 1989, and two of her three children were born here. For 25 years, Liz ran Ragged Blossom Native Nursery, growing and supplying a range of seedlings for many local properties. Together with the Bangalow Land & Rivercare team, she also created and edited the Village Eco News for several years.

Approaching her 60th year, Liz decided to cut loose. With her children now self-sufficient adults, she closed the nursery, and hit the road. “I wanted to see every little nook and cranny I could find where I wouldn’t find hordes of people,” she says.

Over 27 months, she covered 55,000kms. Travel planning and tracking app, PolarSteps documented her route and Liz uploaded images and notes to complete the travelogue.

Liz’s forest camp, Tasmanian wilderness Photo Liz Franks

Her first trip took her through Queensland, and back to 2479 for Christmas 2020. The next trip took her to Tasmania, then through SA and up to the NT, and on to WA. There, on a trip along the mainly unsealed 647km Gibb River Road from the east to Derby WA, she “popped a tire”. It’s not called the ‘adventure seekers dream’ for nothing!

“On the road, you hear about interesting places,” she said. One such place was Lorella Springs, a privately-owned working cattle station “about the size of New York City,” east of Arnhem Land. Lorella Springs is open to four-wheel drives, and Liz explored its natural hot springs, swimming holes and waterfalls, all the while taking in the bird and plant life.

Along the way, she became attuned to the different birdsongs, seeking out iconic birds such as Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo in south-west WA. “I just went to their habitat and sat in a forest for days, ‘til one appeared,” she says. Other birds spotted included a white-quilled rock pigeon in the Bungle Bungles, on the highway from Kununurra to Broome, and a purple crowned fairy wren at Lawn Hill NP, Qld. “I so loved the Bungle Bungles,” she said.

For her 60th birthday, her children bought her a helicopter trip flying over the magnificent rock formations. “The helicopter had no doors. I was petrified, hoping I wouldn’t drop my camera. But it was fascinating to see their shape, created by the sand blowing off the desert. They looked like beehives. It was absolutely beautiful,” she says.

Having grown native plants for so long, Liz was engrossed by the differing varieties in each state she visited. She spent nine months in WA, hunting for the “most amazing” wildflowers which were located by following a local Facebook page. “There are 12,000 wildflower species specific to WA, so about every 10km there’s a different variety.” Finding numbats in the wild was on her bucket list – found and ticked off in November last year, also in WA.

Apart from “free camping” in the bush, Liz stayed in just two caravan parks, and a variety of homes, finding work along the way. She was a cook at a cattle farm near Alice Springs for two weeks, worked at a winery near Tenterfield, at a cattle farm in Dalby WA, where she was a gardener for five weeks. At other places, she was a dog sitter, a house-sitter, a “farm-sitter”, even a nanny on a wheat farm near Geraldton, where she “got to ride on a combine harvester, even seeing how and where the wheat was delivered to the local co-op.”

Flying over Bungle Bungles (Purnululu) in tiny helicopter Photo Liz Franks

For three months, she stayed on a rural property in Albany WA, where she helped the owner (who became a good friend) in her orchard, growing Tahitian limes and finger limes.

“At every farm, they showed you what it’s all about. It might be growing wheat. In Dalby, they took me to a bull sale, where they got $26,000 for a single bull, and they sold 48 that day!”

She became good friends with Carol, a 75-year-old, unmarried owner of a goat farm in Victoria. “She breeds goats, which she sends by air to Nepal, to support women abandoned by their husbands. I taught her to play backgammon. Then she became a demon and wanted to play every day!”

Solitude didn’t matter to Liz. She has a two-way radio, though no satnav, and used Mcdonald’s restaurant wifi to download digital and audio books enroute.

Travelling about 50kms on a big day, the main stress would be finding somewhere “safe” for the night, near water, to look out for birds. It helped to cross from Kununurra in a convoy with a handy mechanic, to reach the Mitchell Falls plateau. “That was 80km of the worst corrugation of my life”; even her antenna snapped.

“I took the ‘wrong’ road a lot, but I ended up finding incredible places.” She’s already planning to get back to the west to see the wildflowers again next spring. “Then I want to drive from west-to-east road across the middle of Australia, from the middle of WA to Uluru, then from Alice Springs across the Simpson Desert to Birdsville,” she said, intending to keep on the road “for a few years yet. I want to go anywhere and everywhere I possibly can.”