Australia in this Olympic year is suppose to be a country of sophisticated metropolitan sophisticates, but we prefer the isolated country in the Australian outback. Upon our return we managed to totally ignore the Olympics, except for watching the closing ceremony on TV (I like watching fireworks).
We took our much delayed one month motorhome trip, covering 4000 km in country Queensland. Our route was south to Cape Hillsborough National Park, west via Clermont, Barcaldine, and Longreach. Then north staying at Bladensberg National Park near Winton, Kynuna, Burke and Wills Roadhouse, Gregory River, Adel's Grove near Lawn Hill Gorge National Park. In the Gulf we stayed at Doomadgee, Normanton and Karumba. We returned home via Georgetown, the Undara Lava Tubes National Park, and Charters Towers.
Due to the enormous efficiency with which we prepared for our trip, it took us only until 2:40 to close the door of our apartment, transfer the last of the packing, and fill the motorhome tanks with water. We did however finally have an initial destination, albeit very close. Cape Hillsborough National Park, some 45 km north east of Mackay, on the Seaforth turnoff. This initial destination was chance, a result of glowing remarks by a traveller a few days before. It was only slightly unfortunate that it was located in the opposite direction to our intended final destination.
We turned south and stopped a mere 64 km down the highway at Bloomsbury, where the cheap fuel is, to take on 186 litres of diesel for the Hino, and considerably less of chocolate milkshakes for us. The diesel was a mistake. We should have filled both tanks, as we never again saw such a good price.
The first Seaforth turnoff at Mt Ossa was marked that the road was unsuited to caravans and semi-trailers. Being cautious we avoided it and the similar but shorter Kuttabul turnoff, in favour of taking the Yakapari turnoff, near The Leap. This extended the trip to 162 km. This road was still somewhat steep in places, which was not a problem, and very narrow in places, which was a problem, but only for smaller vehicles approaching us. A single lane for both directions at spots, as is very typical in Queensland.
Cape Hillsborough National Park, and Casuarina Bay appeared a lovely spot, despite the road access. We briefly considered the nearby council parking area at $10 an evening or $50 a week, but the lack of power and only tank water made the resort more attractive.
The nature resort had a few beach front cabins and motel units, and lots of van and camp sites. Our powered site cost $16.50 a night, but parking was a little tight due to signs and other fragile obstacles.
As was to be our pattern throughout the trip, we ate out. We hadn't expected the food presented at the bar to be so good. We had fabulous barramundi and salad, with a bottle of champagne to celebrate the start of our trip. A kangaroo wandered into the restaurant, and demanded some food from the owner. Clearly very used to tourists.
About the only thing wrong that evening was I couldn't get any connections through the phone system, mobile or fixed. This also was going to become a continuous pattern throughout the trip. It wasn't anything urgent, just that one of the things we wanted to check was whether we could communicate over the internet while on the road.
The resort managers were Bronwyn and John Reynolds, Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort, MS 895 Mackay Qld 4740. www.capehillsboroughresort.com.au (07) 4959 0152, fax (07) 4959 0500 GPS S20-55.499 E149-02.896 162 km
We walked along the beach of the peninsula at 7 a.m. A very pretty and mostly deserted place at that hour, except for the odd kangaroo wandering along towards the camping area. Too early to get really decent photographs of the long stretches of sand.
After breakfast and a quick check of the tide tables, and the morning paper (ordered the previous evening), we were ready for a morning walk.
Walked Andrews Point track. About 2.6 km one way, with some steep walking. The rain forest opens up to eucalypts as you get higher up the ridges. Six lookouts along the way, with wonderful views. Twin Beach, Island View, Hillsborough, Turtle (we didn't see any), Andrews Point, and Wedge Island. I was able to get some longer views of the beaches we had been on in the morning, and of Wedge Island. We cheated and took advantage of the low tide to walk back along the beach, a much less strenuous path. Still, I was glad to grab a beer back at the bar around 1 p.m.
During the walk I discovered that my mobile phone seemed in range of a tower, but wouldn't connect regardless.
The kangaroos were out in force, mooching from the tourists. We had set up tables outside, but had to put them away and retreat inside when rain threatened in the afternoon. Owner Bronwyn was away the next few days, so the meals at the restaurant were not nearly as elaborate that evening. I made do with the hot crusty bread, and the large potato and leek soup, but Jean fared somewhat batter on Fisherman's Basket this evening and spaghetti the following day.
We weren't the only creatures looking for dinner. As mentioned, the first evening a kangaroo followed us into the restaurant. The second evening a different kangaroo raided our garbage can. At least the brush turkeys didn't directly raid anything, preferring to pretend they just happened to be passing through our camp site.
This time we walked along the dirt road towards Hidden Valley. Low overhanging trees would have made it impossible to drive in the motorhome. Some early morning fishermen were out in waders in the bay, but otherwise we had the track to ourselves until we were returning.
The first item on the Juipera plant trail was a native fish trap at 20-55.867S 149-02.625E The actual nature walk of 1.6 km was an easy walk. There were numerous National Park information signs along the Juipera lowland rain forest plant trail, describing the plants and trees, and what the natives did with them.
Upon our return we packed a picnic lunch, then walked along the beach to Wedge Island, over the causeway exposed at low tide. The beach there was a bit too exposed to the sun, with no places to shelter. We should have taken our beach umbrella as well. 20-55.375S 149-03.567E
I must admit the caravan park area was somewhat primitive to my tastes (except for the food at the resort), but is in a wonderful location, and we had (just) sufficient space to park. Facilities were fine, and the restaurant and bar wonderful. I'd have liked a little more gravel and rock on the roads and paths, as tramping in the mud and dust was annoying. We asked and found you can contact the internet via the caravan park office, under some circumstances (not attempted). Having done all the available walks, we left on the Thursday morning.
Our packing was fairly disorganised, but we left Cape Hillsborough around 9:30. Didn't get very far, as we stopped up the street to go along the well made boardwalk through the mangroves.
By the time we reached the Bruce Highway it was nearly 11. Getting over to the road to the Gemfields took nearly an hour, and we failed to find suitable places to stop for lunch.
Nebo had a 24 hour service station restaurant, and we thought it might have facilities for truckies, but we didn't spot any showers.
Shell at Morambah turnoff had 24 hour food, space for caravans and trucks behind, and showers. There was a little Lions rest area shelter in front also. That was more like the sort of place we were hoping to find in more remote areas.
We arrived at Clermont, named after Clermont Ferand in France, a little after 4 p.m., with 484 km covered from home (322 from Cape Hillsborough). The Peak Downs area and Belyando Shire are mainly a beef cattle area, but Clermont also has the Blair Athol coal mine as a major industry. The area was explored by Ludwig Leichhardt in 1846, who recommended it as grazing area. Graziers settled in the 1850s, including the Archer brothers, who also founded Rockhampton on the coast. Clermont itself was founded in 1862, like so many other areas initially a gold mining town. By the end of the 1860's the gold rush was over, but a short lived revival in the 1880's and the rail link to Rockhampton in 1884 boosted the population again. The big increase in the third rush of the 1890's helped turn the original shanty town into the main business area, despite flood warnings from local aboriginals.
As far as we could tell, there is only one caravan park in town, and that was within reasonable although slightly inconvenient walking distance of the town.
Clermont Caravan Park, Gordon and Marion Murray, Haig Street, Clermont Qld (07) 4983 1927 22-49.720S 147-38.756E alt 256m 484 km
This had on site air conditioned cabins and vans. Very impressive information on the town features persuaded us to stay over an extra night. Well tended lawns and flush concrete slabs and made roads eliminated contact with mud. The showers were well designed so the water didn't get on your clothes or the dressing area, and there were three separate ablution blocks and laundries. We learned it was originally designed by Blair Athol Coal mine for its workers.
There were a few enterprises operating out of the caravan park, like the gold fossicking operated by Graham Pepper, who hired detectors and gave instructions.
We found we could have connected to the internet at the nearby town library. Also, the caravan park offered use of their fax line if we needed it.
We signed up for the free Blair Athol Coal Mine tour, which operates on Tuesday and Friday and picks you up at the caravan park. This bus trip includes a visit to the Historical Museum.
The town was originally located near the river, but after disastrous floods in 1916 following a cyclone on the coast, the entire town was wiped out, with 63 deaths. What was left was moved to higher ground later.
The school buses arrived around 8:50 a.m. and took a bunch of us tourists out of town to the Blair Athol Mine. The mine is named after James McLaren's grazing property, and he named that after his birthplace in Scotland. Coal was discovered there in 1864. The entire mine tour is done within the bus, for safety reasons, but there were plenty of opportunities to take photos. The scale of the mining machinery is impressive, with six dump trucks taking 170 tones of coal per 4.5 km trip. The draglines were even larger, with buckets that could swallow several cars. The coal seam being mined averages 29 metres thick. They appear to be revegetating the areas after mining, and koalas and black swans were visible. There certainly were a lot of facilities around town funded by the mine, including a 50 metre swimming pool.
Unfortunately, the need to lower costs has also reduced the staffing levels at the mine. Now 180 workers produce over ten million tons of coal a year for export, and this means that houses are empty in the town as former workers leave. As well, the reserves of 125 million tons mean that in a bit more than a decade, the major town industry will be gone.
The tour also included 45 minutes at the Clermont Museum, on the Peak Downs Highway, where much of old Australia has been accumulated and repaired. They had a slab hut showing how a single man lived at the turn of the century. Whoever said men live like bears with furniture was right. The museum had a wonderful range of typewriters and early household appliances, many looking as if they were ready to go back into service. They had salvaged several large building from the town, including the Masonic Hall. the Salvation Army hall, two different stables, a shearing shed from the 1920's complete with sheep, and a blacksmith's shop. They had a lot of machinery from early days, much of it in fine condition. There was a complete boardroom from an early coal mine, a complete hospital, a fire engine, and mining machinery. They even had one of the traction engines, reputed to have been used to haul surviving buildings away after the 1916 flood.
I thought it was wonderfully entertaining, and could have gone back later. Entry was $5, but you did get tea or coffee and biscuits. They are open 10 to 12 except Saturday, and also from 2 to 4 Wednesday to Saturday.
The tour bus also took us through the various sights around town. One was another Museum project, the restored Copperfield store on Rubyvale Road. Owned by Howard Smith, it was abandoned in the 1970's, and still stocked with almost forgotten brands and products from that time, as well as local handcrafts for sale. Also nearby was the Copperfield Chimney, of handmade bricks, associated with the former copper smelting works. Copperfield, 5 km from Clermont, was at one time a town of 2000, after Jack Mollard discovered copper ore rising 30 feet above the ground, and able to be traced for 140 yards. This was the first copper mine in Queensland. Now the area looks almost totally undeveloped.
The area around Hoods Lagoon, the original town area, now has many fine walking paths and memorials. Many of these were assisted by the Blair Athol Coal mine, and the work was done by inmates of the Queensland Corrective Services Western Outreach Camp.
We saw the piano in the tree, done as a memorial of the floods. Some walks were pointed out, as were locations of pub for meals. When we checked the pubs, the level of tobacco smoke drove us away, and there were few choices of beer brands (I have no idea why country pubs stock such dreadful pale imitations of beer). We tried to photograph the railway murals on Herschel Street, the historical murals at Capella Street, and the stockyards, and read about the ghost in Finnegan's bar.
We went for a walk along the river paths, and that was a very pleasant way to spend the last of the afternoon.
Having not solved the problem of where to eat, we bought a hot chicken and bread rolls for dinner.
We set off from Clermont around 10 a.m. pausing only to get the Australian newspaper and some Fosters Light Ice beer for the evening stop (I couldn't locate any beers I thought worthwhile in town).
The road to Alpha was well graded dirt and crushed stone, with only a few dust spots and not a lot of corrugations. About 95 km along the road we came to a place to pull off, by a muddy waterhole, where the only facilities were a rubbish bin. A plinth said this was where the explorer Mitchell camped on his way back from his failed attempt to reach the gulf. We paused here for lunch, having been driving for almost two hours. 23-06.753S 146-47.056E
We reached Alpha, about 170 km from Clermont, around 2:15, having increased our speed on the 40 km of good tarred road on the last stretch. We had hoped there would be more facilities in Alpha, but after inspecting the few murals around town, mainly on Shakespeare Street, we continued on our way. Probably missed some interesting material in the pub and elsewhere. According to the tourist pamphlet, there are around 15 murals and sites around town. Apparently the mural painting started after the two metre floods of 1990. Local artists Alice McLoughlin and Benny Fuentes painted a mural on the walls of the Alpha Cultural centre after the cleanup. Explorer Major Thomas Mitchell and his party travelled through this area in 1846, and camped by the Balyando River. 23-38.922S 146.38.483E 670 km from home.
Jericho was 53 km further, but we couldn't spot the abstract depiction of the trumpets that knocked the walls down in the Biblical version.
We were basically going to head up the tourist route known as the Matilda Highway for a fair way. www.action-graphics.com.au
We rolled into Barcaldine (Bar call din, but the locals seem to call it Barky), population 1800, some 810 km from home, around 5.
The Homestead Caravan Park just past the town center was a very welcome place. The very helpful and friendly owners made free billy tea and damper with Golden Syrup each evening, and also put on a $2 sausage sizzle. We tended to join that most evenings, as it was easier than looking elsewhere for a meal. There was even a connection with our home town of Airlie Beach, as they were involved with Tallarook II and Tallarook V, some of the dive boats sailing out of our area. Lots of traveller's tales from those assembled around the fire that evening, with helpful hints about places we could try to visit.
Tour guide Tom Lockie of Artesian Country Tours was a very audible presence around the camp fire, telling stories and jokes, and obviously very familiar with the history of the entire area. The streets in Barcaldine are named for trees, leading to Tom Lockie telling about the old fellow who died. His mates phoned the undertaker, and were asked where the body was. "27 Eucalyptus St." "How do you spell that?" Pause. "Give us ten minutes and it will be at Box and Pine."
Barcaldine was 810 km from home, at 23-33.277S 145-16.971E, and we certainly were out of cell phone range. The town was established in 1886 with the arrival of the railway. The area was settled in 1863 by D Cameron, whose property was named Barcaldine Downs, after Barcaldine, Scotland. The first European explorer through was Mitchell, who named the Alice River.
Jean decided we were having a rest day, free of work and care. So how did the laundry get done? Then we went off to the Australian Workers Heritage Centre on Ash Street, officially opened in 1991, a site that proved so large and impressive that we had to leave for lunch, and return after lunch.
The Heritage Centre has a bore filled billabong in relaxing and spacious grounds. Dominating the complex is a large and striking transportable Celebration theatre, originally built for the bicentennial celebrations and used at over 30 locations through Australia. Displays through the several heritage buildings explain the history of Australian workers, and of the labor movement. Historical buildings include a railway station, school, power station, police, fire, and main roads, plus many accounts of war. The Heritage Centre is now working on a major exhibit on women at work. In many ways I thought the Heritage Center a more worthwhile tourist attraction than the better known Longreach Stockman's Hall of Fame. www.alp.org.au/workers/
There is even a 56 bed residential facility for students, the Wanpa-Rda Matilda environmental education centre, taking students to over 40 significant sites in the Central West. www.wanpardaeec.qld.edu.au
We also wandered around the town, looking at the six pubs lined up across from the railway station, where the Spirit of the Outback arrives twice a week. The pubs are the Globe, Commercial, Shakespeare, Artesian, Railway and Union hotel.
On a more tourist like note, we saw the Tree of Knowledge, a Ghost Gum in the main street, Oak Street, conveniently outside the railway. This is where meetings were said to be held during the Great Shearer's Strike of 1891, when 1000 men camped on the outskirts of town, protesting the non-union labour in the shearing sheds. Barcaldine claims this led directly to the formation of the Labor Movement, when the workers resorted to the power of the ballot box, despite inflammatory rhetoric that lead to a dozen or so of the shearer leaders being jailed for three years on charges that included sedition. The formation of the Central and Northern Graziers Association in 1889 led to the formation of the National Party, thus linking this single town to the founding of two of the three major political parties in Australia.
The artesian pump and 27 foot windmill is prominent on the main street near the station, and this 1917 windmill was relocated from the original bore. The fountain, sculptured by the YETI youth group of the town, commemorates Barcaldine having the first water from an artesian well in Outback Queensland. This was at Back Creek, just east of town, in 1886. The town also claims the first electric powerhouse in the Central West, in 1915.
Two National Trust buildings are in town, with the gothic roofed Saint Peter's Church with its 17 foot walls being very strange in appearance. The other is the Masonic Hall, built in 1901, which has an impressive appearance at the front from a distance. Then you realise the front is actually a chamferboard layer only a few centimetres from what appears to be a very large tin shed. This false front is painted to appear mock stone. I thought it was a fascinating example of strange architecture.
We found one of the pubs had a sign about internet access, but that room didn't seem to support the sign. The information centre had a $2 an hour internet connection, but the only software was a copy of Windows. Not exactly much use, except for surfing. Curran's cafe had three PCs out the back, with internet connections. This time they had Netscape as well as IE, and some office applications. A step forward, but not sufficiently versatile.
Jean decided she was going to sit at her computer all day to work on her book. I talked with various people from the caravan park who came to visit us. Bob and Carol, formerly from one of the Airlie fishing boats, MV Jillian, were in a Bedford, pulling a little Suzuki with an A frame. We were impressed by the number of people pulling small cars behind their motorhomes.
I visited the Historical Museum, an old National Bank branch building, now relocated to Gidyea and Beech Street. There was a ancient three room wooden cottage, with a small bedroom at one end, and an equally small kitchen and living area at the other. There is a two story manager's office built in the 1900s. The site also has a 5 inch track miniature steam locomotive, which gives rides on the last Sunday of the month during March to October. Each building is crammed with ancient wares, many in excellent condition. There was even a story of how the Australia Slouch Hat adorned with emu feathers first appeared during the Shearer's Strike.
There is also Mad Mick Morrison's Hoppers and Huts, near the corner of Pine and Boree Streets. Old huts and buildings, plus a considerable menagerie of Australian animals. His artist wife Wanita has her art studio and collection of over 1000 dolls on display. Birds nearby set up a considerable noise whenever any visitor approached the place. Not that you could hear them over the noise of the 1920 Model T Ford. Billy tea and damper for visitors, of course. For a retirement project, it certainly has grown. (07) 4651 1172
The Outdoor Zoo is about a kilometre west of town on the Matilda Highway. It is on a former deer farm, and has imported animals as well as Australian animals. (07) 4651 1955
There were even some road trains that went through town.
We dined out at Lee Gardens motel Chinese restaurant on the corner of the highway intersection. Couldn't complain at all about the quantities, although in the Outback vegetables seem an afterthought to the meat, even in Chinese food.
We took Tom Lockie's wonderful Aramac and Gracevale tour, visiting Aramac, population now 395, the first town settled in the area. This town was originally named Marathon, but was renamed by Landsborough into an acronym of part of the name of Robert Ramsey MacKenzie, Premier of Queensland in 1867 and 1868.
Tom and Vicki Lockie's Artesian Country Tours can be contacted on (07) 4651 2211, or at PO Box 232, Barcaldine, 4725.
The Aramac town borrowed money in 1909 to extend the railway 41 miles from Barcaldine to Aramac, and the project was completed in 1913. As it was not an official line, they had to call it a tramway. When an all weather road was completed in 1975, State Government subsidies for the train were removed and it ceased operation, as the last privately owned line in Queensland. Aunt Emma, the 1963 RM28 Railmotor made by Ipswich Railway Workshops, was installed in the local museum.
In the middle of the wide streets of Aramac we saw a replica of the white bull that was part of the herd Harry Redford (or Readford) stole in 1870. This became part of the Captain Starlight legend, in Rolfe Boldrewood's classic Australian novel "Robbery Under Arms", later made into a film. Redford and two others took 1000 head of cattle from this area all the way south along the Barcoo River and Cooper Creek, through mostly unexplored country into South Australia, where he sold the bull. It was shipped back as evidence against him at his trial. However the jury in Roma must have appreciated his bushmanship and returned a verdict of not guilty.
We passed some roadside letterboxes, some 28 km from the house they served. Talk about a long front yard!
Gray Rock, on a spur of the Great Dividing Range 35 km east of Aramac, is a sandstone rock. It was an old settler's camp, where thousands of names are carved into the rock. Cobb and Co coaches used the site after a hotel was built around 1877, but by the end of the 19th Century the hotel was abandoned and in ruins. There are still a remarkable amount of broken hand made bottles around the former site of the pub. 22-59.566S 145-36.778E
Collected bush clothes pegs, bitter quinine berries, small yellow berries like miniature American pumpkins. Along the road was a giant transmission tower, near a hand done cutting down the hillside made by the original settlers and used later by Cobb and Co. 23-00.142S 145-42.809E
At Gracevale station, owner Jill provided a fine lunch and displayed the silver jewelry she makes, and the fine drawings along aboriginal lines that her husband paints. 22-52.9S 145-44.4E
One strange item here was a desert spring. All around, towns and stations were drilling thousands of feet down to draw upon the artesian basin. However the impervious rock on the plateau traps rain water, and it flows beneath the surface. Drilling just a metre down provides fresh water, in this small area. Even large trees had part of their roots exposed where the met the rock just below the topsoil.
One of the highlights was a long stretch of aboriginal dreamtime carvings, with some ochre paints overlaying the carvings in parts. No idea what the symbols may have meant, and there is no-one left to explain them.
Tom Lockie was very taken by the legendary Nat Buchanan, and told us a lot of his exploits opening up vast tracts of country in long distance cattle drives through areas never before travelled by Europeans. Unlike many of the better known explorers, Nat didn't die doing something idiotic.
About 3 km SE of Gray Rock is Mailman's Gorge, where fresh horses were kept. Mailman's Gorge is a volcanic crater, with only one entrance, so it was easy to keep the horses confined, with water available, and easy to round them up. The rim is pierced by vertical lava tubes, some of which open in caves in the gorge floor. Gordon's Cave is said to be the site of a brutal killing of aboriginals in the early settlement days. 23-01.766S 145-37.797E
Before leaving Barcaldine we wandered to the railway to photograph the Spirit of the Outback as it entered town. We took some interior photos while it was in the station. It looks really great.
Then it was refuel time for the motorhome, with some 346 litres of diesel. We seem to be getting about 3.75 km per litre so far.
We stopped about 70 km up the road at Ilfracombe, originally called Wellshot after the largest sheep station in the world at the time (460,000 sheep in 1892), (896.9 km 23-29.404S 144-30.554E). For the first time since we left the coast, we could get a mobile phone signal, coming from Longreach. Another feature were lots of public toilets, surprising in a town of only 190 people, in a shire containing only about 370 people, in an area that was probably a substantial portion of that of Victoria. They even had ramps and wheelchair access. There were also a number of sheltered picnic tables in the park alongside the road.
We found that both the general store and the 1911 Post Office (which was also the library, the toy library and the local $2 per hour internet connection) were owned by the council, and they were really working at making sure there were things for tourists to do for a few hours.
The tourist attractions included the 1891 Wellshot Pub, which has a daily 40 minute stockman show, Damien Curr's "Back to the Bush" act. This pub has hotel accommodation, and the caravan park is right alongside. The pub was actually moved five times, as the railway line extended across the country, and was moved the last 100 miles on a bullock dray to be set down in 1893. A photo from 1898 shows it in the present location.
The local machinery and heritage museum has a long string of heavy machinery stretching further than the town along the side of the road. Exhibits included a giant horse drawn wool wagon, which could take a 20 tonne load to the coast, with the return journey taking up to six month. The small museum interior itself is well presented, and is made from a station house. They have also preserved a 1901 police cell. Their information centre was very helpful.
Another possible site to visit was Hilton Jackson's extensive bottle museum. We tramped down to the Langenbaker House, a teamster's cottage moved to town in 1892, but it was closed.
After a few hours wandering around, we continued the 27 km into Longreach, population about 4500. This would now be the largest town in the Central West. The land nearby was originally occupied by Iningai, Malintji and Kunngkari. William Landsborough, Nat Buchanon and Edward Cornish, in partnership as the Scottish Australia Company, were granted a pastoral lease to 2,000 square miles named Bowen Downs in 1863. This was eventually stocked with 350,000 sheep and 35,000 cattle. Bowen Downs was divided in 1872 following management difficulties (which included Henry Redford - Captain Starlight- and the famed cattle theft). The railway from Rockhampton was surveyed in 1886, the township gazetted in 1887, and the railhead finally reach it in 1892.
Longreach Caravan Park, within town on Ibis Street, was rather small, but otherwise fine. We were parked on grass, but the weather was fine for that. 926 km from home 23-26.769S 144-14.545E at about 200 metres altitude.
There is a fine tourist information office at the entry to town on Eagle Street, opposite the Post Office. The info centre is a replica of the original Qantas office, and is labelled Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd. As befits a town so closely associated with Qantas, all the streets are named for birds. There were several different river cruises available in the evenings, but we always seemed more inclined to hide than party. This was a pity, as one with a fine range of trips was affiliated with the Savannah Guides, who seem to do a fine professional job. Formerly http://www.outbackaussietours.com.au
After inspecting most of the pubs in town, we went to the RSL club instead for dinner, and it proved good value.
After attending to the laundry, we set off by $7 taxi for the Longreach School of Distance Education (LSODE), on Sir James Walker Drive, just east of the Stockman's Hall of Fame. This correspondence school of up to 40 staff attends to the education of up to 300 students from very young to grade 10, in conjunction with their parents or home tutors. Lessons for a term are mailed out, and contact is maintained with remote stations via HF radio. The area covered is a quarter of Queensland, or twice the size of Victoria. The tour costs $3. We got to see part of a live session with some of the students on the air. Amazing stuff. They have guided tours at 9 a.m and 10 a.m monday to friday.
The Stockman's Hall of Fame, and Outback Heritage Centre is now a well known tourist attraction. This is a large bicentennial tribute to the outback, opened in 1988 by the Queen. The idea was proposed by the late Hugh Sawry in 1970, and the striking building designed by Feiko Bouman who won the design contest.
The sandstone cottage near the entrance was started by the legendary R. M. Williams, one of the foundation directors, as a Visitor and Information Centre. The first stone was laid by his mate, the equally legendary country and western singer Slim Dusty. As well as locals, and passers by and R.M.'s two sons helping, we are told that a passing circus elephant helped with the hauling and placing ceiling beams.
The Hall of Fame tells of the history of the interior, from the arrival of Aboriginals 40,000 years ago, and through to the present farming and mining industries. It took several hours to view in even a casual manner. Entry was $18.70 each for a two day pass. Most of it, including toilets, could be accessed by people in wheelchairs.
Luckily there was an excellent cafeteria on site (I liked the beef and burgundy pies). I was also very tempted by the extensive range of outback titles in the bookshop. www.outbackheritage.com.au
Next we walked to the Qantas Founder's Museum, alongside the airport, where there was a 15 minute historical film introduction and a well organised walk round of the first stage. Entry was $7.70. Qantas was organised in Cloncurry, had its first legal meeting in Winton on 16 November 1920, and went on to expand in Brisbane and Sydney, according to founder Hudson Fysh. With fellow wartime pilot Paul McGuinness, chairman Fergus McMaster, and engineer Arthur Baird, they formed Australia's own airline. Their first operational base was at Longreach, from 1922 to 1934. Apparently the airport was also used by USA Flying Fortresses during WWII for Pacific area operations. I'd have thought it a bit remote for that. Mail qfom at tpgi com au
It was a long hot walk back to town, along a very nice walking path, often shaded by newly planted trees. Every now and then there was a Zonta club bench and water fountain. Despite wanting to get some exercise, had it been much further we would have called a taxi.
No dinner. The RSL was full, and we didn't like the look of the pub meals, so we bought a chicken at the IGA.
We left on Saturday morning for Winton.
After shopping for bread rolls and fruit, we left Longreach well after ten on the road to Winton. About 5 km down the road we came to a well set up free camping area on the left near a single lane bridge. It had four picnic tables with shelter, one large shelter area, two BBQ sites, toilets and rubbish bins, plus lots of flat room for parking on both sides of the road. Someone told us that there had been 13 vehicles staying the previous evening. Fishing is permitted in the stocked waterhole. 23-24.599S 144-13.759E
At 131 km down the road to Winton there was another free camping area, with single toilets, tank water, three picnic tables with shelter sheds. We stopped there for lunch. 22-33.417S 143-25.463E odometer 1065 km.
Winton, originally known as Pelican Waterhole, population 1200, was pretty much closed on Saturday afternoon, except for the pub and the Matilda Centre. The district was settled in 1873 as rural properties, including Bladensburg, were founded. Winton claims Banjo Patterson's song Waltzing Matilda had its first public performance on 6 April 1895 in the North Gregory hotel, using music played for Patterson by Christina MacPherson. The first legal board meeting of Qantas was also held in the town, in the Winton Club on 21 February 1921. The Bronze Swagman Bush Poetry competition has been held in the town since 1972. We didn't attend the open air cinema or sit in their deck chairs, although I was tempted. That at least I am familiar with from my own youth, and it remains an uncomfortable experience.
We couldn't see taking the long dirt track to Lark's Quarry to see the dinosaur stampede tracks on this trip.
Jean wanted to see the nearby Bladensburg national park, so after a quick look at one of the caravan parks, we set out on the Jundah Opalton Road for Bladensburg, turning onto the dirt at the Route of the River Gums, about 8 km from Winton.
Bladensburg was formerly a grazing property, made into a national park in 1994. The 85,000 hectare of Mitchell Grass downs and Channel Country also includes a number of waterholes, with small stands of gidgee scrub. We saw eastern gray kangaroos, and a variety of birds.
The old homestead is the ranger headquarters, and has a nice information centre. It is way off the regular way in, and there are all manner of tracks leading off in various directions, so it is easy to get confused about where to go.
After we got oriented, we decided we needed to camp at Bough Shed Hole, a waterhole surrounded by river red gums. It has fireplaces and a bush toilet, but no other facilities (there are no other facilities whatsoever in the park in any case) 22-33.588S 14257.668E. It was a bit tight getting the truck past some of the low trees, but we had reasonable sun on the solar panels for part of the day. Only down 14 AH on the batteries for the evening at the time we retired (early). The other reason for getting out from under the river gums is they have a nasty habit of dropping large limbs on campers. There were all sorts of noises in the night, as animals went to the water to drink.
Wandering around in the dead of night, it certainly seems a long way away from towns and civilisation. There always seemed to be some sort of animal "out there". I can see why early humans personified the night and the creatures that inhabited it, and sought to explain things with gods.
The breeze that sprung up all Sunday helped keep our camp site much cooler than it seemed to be in Winton on Saturday. We basically sat around, and treated it as a rest day. Jean as usual typed furiously on her computer, flattening both her batteries. We had a bit of a problem when we failed to get any output from the inverter for recharging them, but that seemed to be truck wiring problems, so we bypassed that. I read several more magazines and finished a couple of novels.
A 4WD came past and left again around midday, and another arrived around 2 p.m. and the birdwatcher occupants had a picnic lunch. A very quiet place to stay, which pleased us greatly.
On the way out we visited Top Crossing and photographed the empty river bed, then went back and checked out Skull Hole, site of an aboriginal massacre in the 1800's and its 10 metre deep gorge. Next was the Engine Hole waterhole on Surprise Creek. These were both impressively isolated
Back to Winton (1180 km) originally known as Pelican Waterhole (guess why), where I bought some opal chip badges perhaps for future GUFF auctions or similar. Jean takes photos of road closed signs. We checked the Winton Club, where the first legal meeting of Qantas was held,
One of the strangest sights was Arno's wall, a long concrete construction containing strange cars, motorcycles, wagon wheels and junk all embedded in the wall. This was directly behind the replacement for the hotel where Banjo Patterson Waltzing Matilda had an early performance.
At the traditional style general store we bought some food and (finally) a billy.
We lunched on expensive but enormous salad rolls at the Matilda Centre Qantilda museum on Elderslie Street, across from the swimming pool. We felt museumed out and didn't enter. This has a lot of modern interactive displays, material on Waltzing Matilda, and on the early days of Qantas, Australia's national airline. www.matildacentre.com.au
We left Winton after lunch.
We stopped for the day at the tiny town of Kynuna (population between 12 and 18, 1348 km 21-34.685S 141-55.371E). This was established around 1860, and once had three hotels, and a staging post for the Cobb and Co coaches. Now the town is noted for its links with Banjo Patterson's song Waltzing Matilda.
Dagworth Station owner Bob MacPherson told Patterson of the suicide of shearer Samuel Hoffmeister beside the Dimantina, upstream of the Combo Waterhole. Hoffmeister had been involved with the Great Shearer's Strike of 1891, and the burning of the Dagworth Station Woolshed. While Patterson was visiting Dagworth, Christina MacPherson played him a popular Scottish tune, "Craiglea", that she had heard while travelling. As she did not write music, her interpretation was slightly different to the version she heard. Patterson wrote the words to the song, based on tales he had heard around the area, and events with which he was himself involved.
We stayed at the Jolly SwagVan caravan park, run by the historic 1889 Blue Heeler Hotel. They had a good looking area with a few trees separating the half dozen powered sites, as well as unpowered sites and a camping area. Inside the pub we noted the interesting fireplace was funded by bush outfitter R. M. Williams, whose contributions turned up in several country towns.
The bar attendant turned out to be a U.K. backpacker, who said she wanted to get back to Airlie Beach for the last few weeks of her stay.
We could have also used the Never Never Caravan Park next to the roadhouse up the road, but that was a very open parking lot and it looked to me as if the trucks might be parking there and making lots of noise. As customers, we could even have camped by Magoffin's Matilda Expo for free (power and shower $4 per van), down by their pretty billabong.
We had a pretty good dinner provided by Blue Heeler owners Hector and Nicole (four lamb chops aren't too many, said Jean). The Blue Heeler historic pub is probably where the last brawl of the Shearer's Strike of 1891 was settled, after the burning of the Dagworth shearing shed and the police siege.
That evening, as we prepared to retire, we paused to check the large blue neon heeler with the flashing red neon tongue on top of the pub. That is a sight you don't see every night in the Outback.
I attended a performance by Richard Magoffin, honoured in the June 2000 Queens Birthday Honours List with an Order of Australia Medal for his services to folklore and for the preservation of Australian Cultural Heritage, at his Matilda Expo museum (also known as The Swagman's Hall of Fame).
Magoffin is considered one of our foremost authorities on the history of the original song. The performance was one of the best storytelling and ballad expositions I've ever seen, covering what really happened to form Australia's best known and certainly most loved song, Waltzing Matilda. I bought a bunch of his books on Waltzing Matilda as a result. This real showman and historian puts on a great show at 7:30 each evening, for a mere $12. A wonderful dramatic entrance, and he then tells the real story of Waltzing Matilda, in one of the towns where the song started, placing it in the social and political context of the day. He even gets the audience to sing along, as he plays the variations from the 18th Century that lead to the final tune. His own ballads and songs are pretty damn good too. Magoffin's Matilda Expo is on (07) 4746 8401.
The whole area along through Winton and beyond are now known in the tourist trade as Matilda Country. It was in this area that Banjo Patterson's beloved song was first performed. Banjo Patterson wrote the words out at Dagworth Station.
We were just one week too early for the annual surf carnival, run by the Kynuna Surf Club, in aid of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Lifeboats parade the street, hundreds and hundreds of kilometres from the nearest surf.
I somehow pulled a muscle, and had problems with back pain for several days. Didn't help my mood any. Very few notes taken.
After Kynuna (1348 km) we drove to McKinlay, population about 30. This is a tourist destination because it has the "Walkabout Creek" hotel used in the Crocodile Dundee movies. Naturally we had to stop and have a drink there. The interior has some really neat signage relating to the film. We noted the lass behind the bar was yet another British backpacker. The hotel, which was the shire headquarters back in Cobb and Co days, was actually moved closer to the main road to help attract tourists. There was virtually nothing else in the town.
Although the shire name is also McKinlay, the administrative centre for the 41,000 square kilometres is actually at Julia Creek. Kynuna and the tiny Nelia are the other towns in the shire. The shire was named after explorer John McKinlay, who travelled from Adelaide to the Gulf in the 1860's. BHP Cannington, 85 km southwest of McKinlay, run the largest single silver and lead mine in the world, discovered in 1990, with mining commenced in 1997.
We drove on to Cloncurry (1536 km, population 3900), where we saw our first Woolworths in 1500 km. However due to being ill prepared, we failed to stock up big at the supermarket. We did however refuel at their 92 cent a litre pumps, despite having to do all manner of manouvers to get the motorhome into the space (their bowsers have annoyingly short hoses). We only just had room to move the motorhome in, and had to back to within a few inches of a wall to do so. A passing policeman told Jean he thought we were going to knock down the wall, so Jean told him we charged extra for demolition. He laughed. That was the last big town on the trip, so no more chances to restock.
The only reason we didn't stop longer in Cloncurry is that we figure that we will be passing through it numerous times on our way to other areas, as it is on the main road. Next time however, we will make sure we at least do a proper shopping trip. We will however pick our times. One of Cloncurry's claims to fame is that back in 1889, it recorded the highest temperature ever in Australia, 53.1 degrees Celsius, or 127.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
We continued, stopping about 50 km up the road at Quamby pub for a drink. This area used to be a gold mining and cattle town, but the population is now about 5, and the only remaining items nearby are the pub, which is the Albert Hotel (formerly the Customs House) and the Black Water Tower.
We continued on to the excellent Burke and Wills Roadhouse (1723 km 19-13.654S 140-20.866E), population 6, right at the crossroads to everywhere in the North. Everywhere?
We stayed overnight at their caravan park. They had a few large, drive through powered sites with concrete pads, sheltered by a large high roof open shade. It was a much better site than many. We had a really nice lamb chop dinner on their varandah (and a few beers to chase it down before sleep). We were even organised enough to phone through to Craig and Julia from there.
The old Leichhardt river crossing about midway to Gregory Downs gave an excellent view of what travellers used to cope with, before the high level bridge. We easily decided we were not taking the truck down a track like that.
It was only 145 km to Gregory Downs (1876km 18-39S 139-15.243E) where there was Billy Hanger's general store and canoe hire, open 8 to 6, 8 days a week. The store had a petition asking for grid electricity. Across the road a short distance was the pub, with the most broken down toilets I've ever seen.
Following advice on where you could stay, we camped by the North Gregory River, but almost got bogged in deep sand on the way in. The four wheel drive came in handy here.
We had a nice spot to stay, but had a longish walk to the council toilets and showers back in town. The council are building a new bridge, and half the free camping area by the river is occupied by earth moving machines making lots of noise. Despite this, there were over a dozen groups already camped there.
Being lazy, we checked the pub for dinner. They were doing a $10 all you could eat barbecue, with really great serves of salad, plus fish, steak, hamburger and snags. You couldn't beat that. Later at night when I wandered up to use the toilets I found the pub was still rocking. I guess having a road building crew resident would help with that.
Up early for 100 km of dirt road to Lawn Hill Gorge National Park. (1978 km 18-42.077S 138-29.279E). The first part of that, until the mine turnoff, was pretty decent.
The mine is the Pasminco Century zinc mine, based on the sphalerite shale of the Constance Range. Opened only in April 1999, the A$1.2 billion dollar open cut mine is extracting 98 million tonnes or ore body over a twenty year period. Over a billion tonnes will have to be removed and processed, digging holes up to 340 metres below the surface in a pit over two kilometres across. This is the largest zinc mine in the world. The giant nine floor high extraction plant produces a slurry concentrate that is pumped at 4 km per hour through a buried 304 km pipeline to scenic Karumba on the coast. Each year 880,000 tonnes of zinc concentrate and 70,000 tonnes of lead concentrate will be produced, a massive one third of the total Australian output. Small transfer ships of 5,000 tonnes take the dewatered concentrate 45 kilometers offshore in the Gulf to waters deep enough for the bulk ore carriers.
If you are into explosives, the mine sets off up to 125 tonnes of ammonium nitrate at a time, to loosen up to a half million tonnes of rock. Even the trucks are giants, 232 tonnes. In this almost empty wilderness is now a company town for 450 workers. Mining continues 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with workers on 12 hour shifts for 14 days, followed by a week off. They fly out from the company airstrip to their own communities. The mine is one of the only sources of work for people at the aboriginal community of Doomadgee, 150 km away by air (and a long hard drive on dirt roads). The mine will pay about A$64 million to aboriginal communities in the general area, much of it in education, cattle station ownership and employment. Thirty five percent of the permanent employment in the mine is reserved for aboriginals. Pasminco are also protecting any aboriginal sites located, and diverting mine facilities when it is needed. This approach seems to have provided support, following several years of protests while the mine was being planned.
The road degenerated somewhat in parts past the mine turnoff. While not a problem, it certainly was likely to knock the fillings out of your teeth, especially if you drove fast.
Adel's Grove caravan park, about ten kilometres short of the national park. A spacious and nicely laid out bush camping area in wonderful grounds, with spaces for 53 sites. They have showers and toilets but no mains electricity or drinking water. Bit tight getting the truck in, and one tree limb got too much in our way. Their generator goes off at 9 p.m. so you do have some noise from that during the day. Like several other places, this is a "bring your own firewood" site, and I guess we will have to get used to carrying a box for collecting fallen timber for firewood.
We could only visit Lawn Hill National Park as day visitors, as the camping area was full. They always advise booking ahead. We took a few nice walks through forest to the Cascades, had lunch in the motorhome, and then in the other direction to Indarri Falls. This is another place where hiring a canoe would be the best move.
It seems incredible that such an oasis and those rainforests could exist surrounded by the dry interior grasslands. Lawn Hill has permanent water from the Georgina Basin, and the sandstone of the Lawn Hill Gorge make a nice backdrop to the gentle river and small falls.
Stayed overnight at Adel's Grove (18-41.499S 138-31.703E), where early in the morning an agile wallaby visited as we boiled the billy.
Adel's Grove is a nice place, named after a French botanist Albert de Lestang, who planted many thousand exotic shrubs in the 1930's. Most of the vegetation was destroyed by fire in the 1950's. There is a Savannah Guide Station for the area, run by Barry Kubala, who offers a morning tour two mornings a week. I also note that Pasminco's Century zinc mine is funding six Aboriginal guides in the area.
Fans who think their mail isn't fast enough should note that Adel's Grove has mail sent out once a week, via the light aircraft that calls in to the Lawn Hill Cattle Station Homestead every Wednesday. There are however a couple of public phones, solar powered, with what appeared to be some sort of radio link.
Again we negotiated the dirt road back to Gregory Downs (2079 km) where we ate lunch, then continued on.
We got bounced around a lot on the corrugated roads here. Then we got to the Doomadgee turnoff, and the road got even worse! The Tirranna Roadhouse (2183 km) has signs out, but it closed about two years ago when the owners just walked away one day, and is now a deserted ruin with no facilities.
We reached Doomadgee (2260 km 17-56.471S 138-49.654E around 3 or 4 p.m. At the main (and only) store we asked the local policeman where the hospital was. At the nearby hospital we were greeted by Julia Hilton, and after she took care of various hospital crisis we were shown where we could park in the hospital grounds next to their house. Craig rushed in briefly at one stage, and then rushed out to continue saving a life (and getting a patient on an aircraft for evacuation). That seemed to be somewhat the pattern of our encounters with Craig the entire weekend.
On locking up the motorhome we discover a broken caravan door lock, with parts vibrated loose by the poor roads. We also found that the fluorescent light no longer worked.
We made a pasta sauce from ingredients we had in the motorhome freezer, so we could offer a hot meal to Julia. Craig ran even later hours, and may not have reached home until the a.m.
I went shopping with Julia at the only store. We were a little later than we hoped, and the aisles looked like a mob scene from the storming of the Bastille, but the natives were basically friendly. I had a chat with a nice craft lady who makes items using fish scales. I also had a talk with the butcher, who had been working there for the past six years.
Back at the Hilton residence, we basically hid from the world, since both Craig and Julia were working, and collected our email and some news via their phone line. First time in three weeks.
Craig took us to his office and showed us the conference video gear he has been using over the internet there, just after giving a video talk on the topic (via the internet) to doctors in several cities. He had some nice gear, but even more impressive was that he had put in the time and very considerable effort to find out how to best use it all for the benefit of his isolated patients.
We did a pasta sauce again that evening for everyone from the supplies we bought at the store, since Craig and Julia didn't know when they would get off work.
Read email and news. What a dramatic day! It was just so relaxing after all our driving.
We learned that Doomadgee has an aboriginal population for around 1500. We already knew it was under the control of an aboriginal council, as we had to apply to them for permission to stay. What we didn't know was that this artificial community had been put together in the 1960's from four different groups of aboriginals. Under the circumstances, and with relatively little work available nearby, there are some fairly obvious problems. Sale of alcohol is banned in the town, but there were pretty obvious indications that some people were exploiting this situation. Some institutions I'd have expected to see, like TAFE, seemed to no longer exist in the area, and this lack of educational facilities couldn't help but make things worse. How can people be expected to improve their future if no facilities exist?
Julia was off work later that afternoon, and did an absolutely superb baked chicken dinner for us all. That was wonderful, and a big leap above our pasta sauces.
We took the trophy photos, as did Craig. Our exit was blocked by a gas bottle delivery truck in the driveway and delayed by over an hour.
The road out of Doomadgee was bad, as I mentioned, but the dirt to nearby Burketown (2348 km) on the Albert River, 25 km from the Gulf, was OK. We checked out the pub and had some lemon squash (I'm not willing to even have a light beer while driving the truck, as the law says keep below 0.02% alcohol, which is basically none whatsoever). The cafe across the road seemed closed so we bought very overpriced sandwich stuff at the store attached, and ate in the very nice park just up the road. Burketown boasts of being the barramundi capital of the world, but alas it just seemed isolated and overpriced.
Then the road gets worse. We went off the road to check out the camping sites at the Alexandria River, but the sand and the presence of several other motorhomes (and some large crocodiles sunbathing) didn't inspire a stay. The riverbed crossing certainly had a few bumpy spots, but the main problem was very narrow concrete sections that had sharp dropoffs not too far on each side of our wheels.
The last 30km before the Normanton turnoff were very corrugated. When we pulled up at the council caravan park (2585 km 17-40.172S 141-04.630E) we found we had a broken stainless steel water tank. I had to turn off the tap to isolate that, and we had to use the other water tank for the rest of the trip. The tank looked as if the folded metal had fatigued, rather than a weld given way. Not a comforting thought, given everything on the motorhome had been bounced around for many kilometres of dirt roads.
We stayed at the nicely set up Caravan Park in the middle of town, which provided good facilities and the parking was easy.
We decided the very visible Purple Hotel just wasn't us, but had been advised to try the Central Hotel. We had a great dinner at Central Hotel dining room, once we found it hidden behind the pub. A very pleasant, albeit overworked, owner, a great cook, and the largest plates of food I've seen since the last time I was in the USA. The barramundi was excellent, as we were right on the Gulf.
I went for an early morning walk to the railway station, booked us in for the Gulflander train trip. Then sought food and visited the local bakery for bread. I found they were baking each evening, so you could always drop in 24 hours a day and see if they were open. We could have ordered multigrain bread, had we dropped in when first entering town.
I also located the 5 Star supermarket at the corner of Landsborough and Caroline Street, trading in an giant old tin Burns Philp store, looking very much an original historical building. Hidden inside was a newsagency. They had copies of the Weekend Australian, and the Tuesday one would arrive on the plane around midday. The store also had the old gold safe for the gold from Croydon, and the old ink pen written ledgers from early days.
The Carpentaria Shire Council Park on Landsborough Street has Krys, a full size model of a 28 foot 4 inch saltwater crocodile with a girth of 13 feet. This was shot by crocodile hunter Krystina Pawloski in the Norman River in July 1958. It certainly is impressive.
The Norman River passes through the end of town, but since 1966 has been crossed by the quarter million dollar Captain W.H Norman bridge rather than the punt used from the 1880s. In 1974, the flood peak was 9.1 metres, and the council buildings in Landsborough Street were flooded up to the front door handles.
Our Gulflander train trip to Critter's Camp and back was very hot, and the train track was probably the bumpiest I've ever encountered. We were warned and took our cooler with some snacks and drinks. You can get drinks at the station, at the tourist shop, which certainly has the largest range of souvenirs of any place in the area (this is not to imply that it is a giant store like you might expect in a major city).
The Gulflander train, known as The Tin Hare, runs from Normanton to Croydon, about 94 miles, once a week. Critter's Camp is a mere 16 miles from Normanton, and is a popular destination for short half day trips, as there is a turn around triangle here. I'm not precisely sure why it is a popular destination, as the railway construction crew who made the triangle in 1987 named it for the number of spiders and other bugs they encountered.
Our train was driven by Ken Millard, Officer-in-charge, train driver, station master, mechanic, tourist guide and general everything. Our porter (and everything else) was Patrick Wheeler. From a peak of 53 full time staff, the government owned line now employs precisely two. Travel is now limited to about 10,000 tourists a year, although the train also delivers mail and supplies to stations along the run, especially during the wet season when roads are often cut.
The Normanton railway was originally intended to go to Cloncurry to the south, for cattle. Construction started in July 1887, got twelve miles, then the expanding goldfields at Croydon to the east seemed possibly a better destination. The line reached Croydon in July 1891. The railroad started operating in 1888, and has continued ever since. This is pretty impressive for a line going from nowhere to nowhere, and still running on its original rails and sleepers.
On the rails can be seen stamped "West Cumberland Steel 1886". The Phillips steel sleepers are unique. George Phillips supervised the original construction, and needed to keep costs low. The C section steel sleepers go straight on the ground, without ballast. In this area, wooden sleepers would be quickly destroyed by white ants, and ballast costs would have made the construction uneconomic. Must have been the right choice, for the line still uses the original sleepers and rails. During the wet season, the rails are submerged, and emerge intact from the annual floods.
We travelled using diesel railmotor RMd39, built in 1950, and from 1972 was used as a General Manager's inspection car out of Rockhampton.
The Norman River is generally unimpressive during the dry season, even when you cross the rail bridge. However in the wet season miles and miles of the country can be flooded many metres deep.
Needless to say, we had another great dinner at the Central Hotel that evening.
After checking the Normanton store, we travelled the good bitumen road 70 or so km to Karumba Point, on the sea overlooking the Gulf. This is the centre of the prawning industry, and nearby is also the shipping terminal for the zinc from the Pasminco Century mine. The big tourist attraction here is fishing, and there are several charter boats available. (2658 km 17-27.612S 140-49.669E)
The caravan parks all seemed crowded and too party organised to me. Morning aerobics on a stage are not us! We stopped at the Sunset Tavern to look at options, and eventually booked into a unit across the street at Gone Fishin' for a few days. Ash's units probably had better facilities, but we wanted to be able to park the motorhome in front of the room. We can however praise highly the $4.40 barra from Ash, which we had for lunch each day.
I read a bunch of magazines and books, and didn't do much else. Didn't even go on a tour of the barramundi farm, which grow the fish to a size suited to restocking. I'm not sure I want to get personal with something I'm planning to eat.
Sunset Tavern, on the point, was the place for the evening. The sea coast is such that you look west and can watch the sun set in a blaze of red across the Gulf of Carpentaria. This is helped by yet another barramundi dinner, and a bottle of Nottage Hill Chardonnay. As we live on the east coast, we are not used to the sun setting over water, and it was a great treat for us.
You also discover that the local airport is very close. The small planes from Sweers Island resort in the Wellesley Group come in at tree top level in the evening.
A repeat of yesterday, including the barramundi. The Sunset Tavern also brought out free chips and sausage on Thursday while we all sat waiting for the sunset.
I did try repairing our motorhome door lock with some five minute Araldite, and did the laundry, but apart from that it was just relaxing.
We drove into the town of Karumba, as distinct from the somewhat prettier Karumba Point. The town is only a few kilometres away by road, on the river banks rather than on the ocean. We saw numerous people launching boats from the boat ramps, and found that the town had a pretty fair range of facilities. The Century zinc mine terminal was at the riverside at the far end of town. It is a pity the boardwalk to Karumba Point is still a proposal, rather than complete, because this shortcut might be a pretty and easy walk. The width of the river shows why it made so fine a port for the old Empire Flying Boats on the UK run, and as a Catalina base during the second World War.
Karumba to Normantown, to Croydon to Georgetown. We ran out of diesel fuel at 2674 km, not too far from Karumba, and switched over to the rear tank. The gauge was misleadingly high. We took on another 100 litres at Normanton (2739 km).
About 18 km outside Normanton, near Glenmore Crossing, there was the turnoff for the four km to Shady Lagoons, a bush camping spot near the Norman River. This cheap camping spot, with hot showers and toilets, has been set up by one of the cattle stations to encourage tourists. Swimming isn't advised, as the wildlife includes crocodiles.
We stopped for a drink and made lunch 56 miles from Normanton at Blackbull Siding at 2836 km (60 km west of Croydon). This is one of the stops made by the Normanton Railway. Once the largest station along the line, it still has some relics of the railway, as well as a water tank. Lloyd Valentine leased the site, and is setting up a small museum for tourists, and he and his wife provide a morning tea for Gulflander passengers. There is a nice little area for camping there, at very low cost, although facilities are limited to toilets and shower. No store as yet, but the Valentines do sell cold soft drinks from their home fridge. We actually buy these drinks more as a gesture, as we have cold drinks in the motorhome fridge.
The Leichhardt River crossing about 70 km on was pretty, but the area where people were bush camping was already pretty full and was mostly sand. No facilities there, and crocodiles in the river (and sunbathing on the sandbars) meant no swimming. The river crossing is exciting as it was very little wider than the truck.
Founded around 1886, Croydon is now a small historical village of less than 400, with several mining museums. Little remains of the large gold mining city it was over a century ago, when the population peaked at 8,000, and there were 26 pubs. The mining virtually ended by 1925. It is the eastern terminal of the Gulflander train that runs from Normanton. There is a guided walking tour that you can do from the information centre.
Georgetown (18-17.371S 143-32.802E), where we stayed at the Midway Caravan Park and Service Station, John and Dianna Pelgrave PO Box 100, Georgetown 4871 (07) 4062 1219, fax (07) 4062 1227
We again had problems with trees whose limb height we exceeded. Their little shop sold an amazing variety of goods and services, being a service station, very decent cafe, lottery agent, video shop, pharmacy, photolab, and they had accommodation with a pool!
I wandered off and found a six pack of beer at the local pub to replenish our supplies. Being lazy, we had a lamb chops and vegetables dinner from the caravan park Midway diner mentioned above. As many school students on a trip were due at the cafe, we got the meal as a take away. It didn't entirely free us from problems, as Jean spilled her wine, and emergency clean ups happened for a while. What we need are some nice heavy, unbreakable, squat, unspillable wine goblets. Hmm, I wonder if NASA have any surplus?
Georgetown was also a gold town, with surface nuggets. With a fossicking permit you can still search for nuggets, and every now and then someone finds gold.
The prospect of heading off the 80 km to Cobbold Gorge for more tourist views didn't appeal.
Backing out from under the entangling trees at the Georgetown caravan park was mildly interesting, and probably rather threatening to onlookers.
We picked up 100 more litres of diesel at the caravan park. In checking out some more of the small town, we found as was often the case that the council had internet access at the library.
We continued along the narrow road 100 km to Mt Surprise, almost 500 km from Karumba in the Gulf. We didn't stop at the nearby Tallaroo Hot Springs, but that is said to be a pleasant diversion. Mount Surprise, with a population of about 65, has one of the stations for the Savannahlander train, on its way to Forsayth every Thursday. Other than that, there were two service stations and a few small museums, mostly showing gems and minerals, but which unfortunately mostly appeared closed.
We got very good service at the hotel, which had showers for travellers and friendly pets. Their dog came and sat at our feet, while the cat managed to sprawl in the sun in our path. There were several caravan parks in the area, including Bedrock Village, which even has a small swimming pool.
We reached Undara (3199 km 18-11.898S 144-34.310E) in the McBride Volcanic Province just after lunchtime, with only 15 km of corrugated dirt road off the main road. The main crater of this system of over 160 craters was formed 190,000 years ago. The lava flowed through the mostly flat terrain, and along old river beds. The surface solidified while lava continued to flow in the path of the river. The flow was such that many of the tubes emptied themselves of lava when the flow ended, leaving hollowed out lava tubes. The longest tube originally covered a distance of 160 km. The total lava that flowed has been estimated at 23 cubic kilometres, covering 1550 square kilometres. There are 300 known collapsed parts of tubes, 69 actual entrances, and 9 tubes actually visited.
We dined at the Undara Lava Lodge, shared a bottle of Hardy's Semillion Chardonnay, and booked for an all day tour for Sunday. Much of the lodge is constructed of renovated railway carriages, and the restaurant is no exception. In many respects it appears the better part of a railway station, minus the crowds, and with fine dining under shade cloths, or within the railway cars. Some of the sleeping quarters are also railway carriages, although there are also cheaper permanent tents.
One of the Savannah Guides, Thomas Atkinson, grandson of the geologist who wrote up some of the details of the tubes, took us off for both the morning and afternoon tours. He gave us a wonderful tour of the area, explaining its history, and pointing out all the volcanos from the lookout area. Then it was time to drive and walk to various tubes, and marvel at how large they were.
We had a picnic lunch at Heritage Hut, out in the wilderness, and since we were the only people on the afternoon trip, it was just us and Thomas the guide. Billy tea, lessons on cooking damper on a stick (I used to be able to do that), and far more fine salad food than we could manage to eat.
The afternoon tour took us to different tubes. More wildlife was present. Lots of walaroos, some emus being idiotic as usual, and less spectacular but also less usual, pale blind cave cockroaches. A large old male walaroo was right under the lava tube entrance boardwalk, and I could look over the edge at him only a metre away. A younger male that had probably displaced the older one was also nearby. The old walaroo later came down into tube to get a drink. The wallaroo was not disturbed at all by our presence.
I have lots of far too dark photos inside the tubes, as the view was spectacular. No chance that you can get a good view on film, unfortunately. Some of the mineral patterns on the walls and ceilings were really striking.
We were too wrecked by our wanders and the large lunch to even bother going to dinner.
A rest day for us at Undara, except for dinner at the lodge. The only problem encountered was more ticks that landed on me while I was sitting outside reading. I had to make sure I checked in case any of them were still present on me after I killed any I saw.
I must mention the guides. The Savannah Guides is a network of professional tour guides first established in 1898, and now spreading around the north west Queensland. Their local knowledge is checked by their peers. Tours with their logo tend to offer an informed and interesting guide to their area. www.savannah-guides.com.au
Up early, and off along the long, narrow, and mostly empty road to the big town of Charters Towers. We stopped to buy a sandwich at the first place we saw, 130 km along the road at Lynd Junction.
Just before noon, at 183 km along the road, we came upon a very tidy former mining town called Greenvale. This had a neat caravan park. We lunched at the pub, across from the supermarket. Their Three Rivers Hotel had a great collection of hubcap clocks on the walls. They were trying to make up a museum for jigsaw puzzles, and had some really great ones on display. They were some of the finest examples I've seen of art jigsaw puzzles, with many thousands of pieces. We had a another sandwich and a drink for lunch there.
On to Bluewater Springs, at 279 km, for another cooling drink, but there didn't seem much there apart from the small store. Further along the road we spotted some nice looking bush camping sites longside running water about 50 km short of Charters Towers, but pressed on and finally into Charters Towers (398 km down the road, 3597 km 20-03.447S 146-15.305E).
I wasn't sure the Dalrymple Caravan Park was the best spot for us, although it was large and well presented, as it was two km short of town, so we pressed on. Well, we really were mostly lost, but despite that we lucked onto the Mexican Caravan Park, (named for the old gold mine) the one closest to town . There was no way our motorhome would easily fit into this small crowded park. We retreated, found a parking spot not too far the main street (more by luck than planning), and wandered back to collect the Tuesday paper (and the weekend paper), a Red Rooster skinless chicken for dinner, and information from the very helpful tourist bureau nearby.
I was pretty tired from the drive, and I think we collapsed early. Oh yes, for the first time since Longreach, the GSM phone was in range.
We got our earliest start of the trip, being anxious to just get the trip finished and get home now we were so close.
We picked up another 50 litres of fuel before leaving town, just in case. About 76 km along the road to Townsville we came across a rather nice little 48 hour rest area with toilets and BBQs but no showers or drinking water, near Red River. We always seemed to find these places when we didn't exactly need them. (3701 km 19-45.4S 146-50.044E).
We took the back road away from Townsville to the Bruce Highway. This was a rough and slow ride for a bitumen road. Once on the Bruce, we found we really did slow down traffic. We stopped at Braddon outside Ayr for a bite to eat. We picked at a little more fuel just past Ayr, and some sandwiches, which we didn't eat until we reached the rest area just past Bowen at 3886 km just after midday. We were home by early afternoon.
I notice that the names of various Rugby League teams in Australia are redolent of testosterone and manly ruggedness. Brisbane Broncos, Canberra Raiders, Bulldogs, Sharks, Auckland Warriors, Penrith Panthers, Wests Tigers, Newcastle Knights, St George Dragons (bit obvious that one), Northern Eagles. So why does the state I formerly lived in, New South Wales, have a team called Cockroaches? And now I have moved to Queensland, why is their team called the Canetoads? I'm glad I don't follow this game! I can just imagine having to barrack or cheer for some team. "Squash the Cockroaches!" Or even worse, "Lick the Canetoads!"* (* Canetoads exude a poisonous hallucinogen through their skin; partaking is not advised)
Just when I was convinced TV was a total wasteland, the ABC broadcast the Menzies Foundation lecture at ScienceNOW. True, they broadcast it at 11:15 p.m., when the audience is mostly asleep, but it was still impressive. Susan Greenfield, Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford University, talked on The Future of the Mind. "Mapping the human genome, facilitated transfers between carbon and silicon systems, advanced body cooling techniques, brain transplants, and increased use of designer drugs both proscribed and prescribed." She was a very good lecturer, with a nice line of relevant and clever jokes.
I found a note from 1968, showing my motorcycle covered 14,354 miles, at a petrol cost of $105.31, which was about 220 gallons, or 65 MPG. I also spent $152.61 on other costs. A tyre cost $15.45, a battery $18.65 and registration was $13.25.
Things have been much better of late. Maybe the next line has been connected?
They all seem to be bankrupt, or at least in trouble. Iridium folded on 17 March 2000 (mind you, they had no data capability). ICO Global Communications is being reorganised. They had a satellite launch crash in March (insurance US$35 million, payout US$225 million), got an injection of US$1.2 billion and came out of Chapter 11 (largest amount ever arranged for a company under bankruptcy protection). They are using satellites in higher orbits, giving greater coverage using only about ten satellites. Their ground stations are all arranged, but they had a burn rate of $20 million a week, and no satellites. Craig McCaw bought in, getting for US$1 billion access to facilities that had cost US$ billion. Next attempted launch is in August 2000. Sure will be interesting. A burn rate like that means you burn a billion a year.
Now I hear that Globalstar Telecommunications (formed in October 1999) is spending US$125 million a quarter, and as at March 2000, had US$232 million still on hand. Given that Vodaphone were going to launch their satellite phone in Australia in March using Globalstar, I think I'd hold off for a while. Loral Space own 45% of Globalstar, but are not reported to be planning to pledge assets. I haven't seen any first quarter earnings nor subscriber numbers as yet (but I also don't look hard).
Random House have announced the winner of the George Turner Prize for year 2000 is Sydney author Michelle Marquardt. Her novel is "an action packed first contact story with a twist". Working title Blue Sky and Silence. Good to see this and other support for Australian authors by the publishers.
Meanwhile, I've been so disappointed with the tiny quantity of actual science fiction being published generally that I've been reading all manner of other material (and I'm going to inflict reviews of a few of them on you).
formerly http://TopFloor.com Top Floor Publishing, 1999, 247pp, US$27.95 ISBN 0966103246
An introduction to how MP3 and the internet let you turn your MS Windows PC into a jukebox. Explains how to choose speakers, or connect to your stereo system, how to rip music from CDs and other sources, how to make customised CDs and tapes, and make automated playlists. Lots of references on where to get more MP3 format music. The CD with the book includes copies of some of the popular MP3 players (WinAmp, Music Match) plus ten hours of MP3 music. Seems a good introduction for someone wondering where to start. Check the author's web site www.hedtke.com.
Allan and Unwin, 1998, 359pp, ISBN 1865081612
Murder mystery, with Bliss, Skye and Astral Byrdie vague about the night Quinn died, and all three demented girls are in terrible fear of Quinn returning from the dead. Detective Tessa Vance and Steve Hayden set to work on the mystery, and I was convinced the wrong person did it. Julia Hilton loaned me this, because it was set in the Blue Mountains where I formerly lived. I remain convinced that some of the characters are based on people I met long ago at the Fellowship of Australian Writers meetings in the Blue Mountains. Certainly the small town aspects of life there are captured wonderfully.
Tor, March 1999, 416pp, US$5.99, ISBN 0812551613
Sequel to A Million Open Doors takes Giraut and Margaret to a hostile world seeded with separate Maya and Tamil literary cultures. Yet now these clash, as do the protagonists.
Harper Torch, June 2000, 392pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0061056391
As Hari Seldon nears the end of his productive life inventing the mathematical foundations of psychohistory, he has maneuvered the creation of the First Foundation, the Encyclopedists now setting out for distant Terminus. He has also organised the secret Second Foundation, starting to use the Mentalists being manipulated into existence by the Giskardian robots lead by R Daneel Olivaw.
However there is discord among the robots, with the Calvinists questioning the Zeroth Law robots, and there are also humans who still know that robots exist. The meeting place for all these events is Old Earth, a radioactive ruin still holding the remains of an experiment that nearly changed the universe.
Bantam (Random House), July 2000, 419pp, A$18.60, ISBN 1863251634
First in a trilogy, fantasy romance, usual rulers plotting against each other, going to war. Typesetting has changed since the only marginally more expensive trade paperback mentioned in Geg 86, so the page count is up. The back cover now mentions RWA have it short listed as a Romantic Novel of the Year for 2000. A sequel is now available. Cory Daniel's web site was at http://www.powerup.com.au/~coryd
Bantam (Random House), July 2000, 419pp, A$18.60, ISBN 1863251456
Sequel to the above novel.
Bantam (Random House), 2 July 2000, 729pp, A$16.95 E#5.99, ISBN 0553812173
A tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. War, Empress, soldiers, Gods, magic, assassins. Yawn, more fantasy crap.
Random House also sent me a CD voice copy of an extract read by the author.
Baen, July 2000, 313pp, US$6.99 ISDN 0671578766
Two out of work engineers discover the floating island formerly known as the Western Islands.
Eos, July 2000, 422pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0380802090
The League of Peoples Sam and Edward
Bantam (Random House), May 2000, 328pp, A$24.95 UK9.99 ISBN 0593044533
Ancient demons about to be unleased upon the land, when the spells that exile them start to fade. Lone assassin Waylander is joined by a a samurai like swordsman and a mystic to battle, etc. For all that the story is silly and tired, Gemmell at least gives his main characters some depth and some feeling in this novel, which is thankfully short for high fantasy. Not to my taste, but not badly written.
Hodder and Stoughton, 1999, 604pp, TPB A$24.95 UK9.99ISBN 0340751754
The first of the Prelude to Dune trilogy, this introduces Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, busy looting Arrakis of the invaluable "spice" that is critical to space navigation. His brutal nephew and his hunting of humans. It covers the death of the Emperor and how Shaddam changes when he gains the throne. It introduces the Bene Gesserit and their almost complete quest to create a genetic superman, and the place of the Harkonnen in their plans. It introduces Leto Atreides, growing in stature and learning from his father.
While there were lots of plot twists, it didn't have the density of Dune, and I rather enjoyed reading it. I didn't enjoy Dune, and disliked the sequels so much that I ignored them entirely.
Baen, May 2000, 528pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0671578669
The Kronians are a colony on the moons of Saturn, who come to warn about earth in upheaval. Immanuel Velikovsky and politics. I think Hogan has lost whatever it is I used to like about his stories.
Tor, July 2000, 342pp, US$6.99 ISBN0812540387
A nurse is concerned about the number of fatal strokes occurring in blacks. She contacts the local assistant FBI agent Robert Cavanaugh, who is wondering how he can make a difference in a rural area with little real need for an FBI presence, especially as the senior agent is just marking time until retirement. The sudden death of a black senator with a chance at the Presidency brings in Dr Melanie Anderson, malaria epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control. The candidate was showing early signs of malaria, yet had no exposure to the disease.
Has someone modified the genetics of a disease to attack only certain members of some races only? It appears so. However is there also an official cover-up happening? This sort of thriller is borderline SF. It could only be written by allowing for bioengineering that is now becoming available to governments and to terrorists. Recommended.
Bantam (Random House), April 2000, 427pp, A$36.95 ISBN 0593043278
Final volume in the Pegasus series, with Peter Reidinger learning how to teleport objects over interplanetary distances to save the space program, and an orphan girl rescued from Bangladesh showing her own remarkable talents. I think these various psi stories are strictly for those who already follow the series.
Corgi (Random House), July 2000, 383pp, A$17.50 ISBN 0552546593
Third book in this series about the Unicorn Girl, whose horn heals wounds and purifies air. Back to her own people, who have been fleeing deadly enemies and avoiding contact elsewhere. I just couldn't get into this series at all.
Tor, Sept 1997, 214pp, US$5.99 ISBN 0812550358
Blends some typical Callaghan stories into a novel, with the crowd at Mary's Place seeking to prevent an even more powerful version of Mickey Finn from destroying the planet. Their method is to get drunk and tell stories, complete with lots of puns. I enjoy the Callahan stories, but when evaluated on the "how many pints of beer is this worth" scale, they don't reach the cover price. Either beer is too cheap (unlikely, with Australian alcohol taxes), or books in Australia are generally too expensive (I think that can be taken as given).
ROC, April 2000, 630pp, US$6.99 ISBN 0451457803
Third in the alternate world series that commenced with Island in the Sea of Time, in which modern day Nantucket Island was transported to the bronze age. This novel, set ten years later, deals with the fight against the renegade William Walker, who has taken bronze age Greece and set out to conquer the world. A very satisfying conclusion to an excellent (albeit too warlike) alternate history series.
Tor, July 2000, 664p, US$7.99 ISBN 0812564669
Lawyer Nancy Gunter-Perrin is disgusted with modern life. Her ex isn't paying child support on time, she is always broke, the child minding facility on the wrong side of town has closed with only a day of notice, and she has just missed becoming a partner in the law firm, and they are all a bunch of sexist scum anyway. Life sucks bigtime.
She hopes for a simpler, less artificial life, like it was in Roman Carnuntum, back around 170 A.D. from whence she had a small statue of some household gods.
Well, you can guess where she next finds herself. She is in the body of a widower tavern owner, with a couple of children, and a slave to help in the tavern. She knows Latin, thanks to the gods, and she is a tough, smart and resourceful woman, well used to making her own way through the world. In this, she is little different to the hero of the classic "Lest Darkness Fall" or any number of similar back to the past novels. Or indeed, the hero of numerous fantasy novels, in which genre this novel is sold.
The difference is this is a real Roman world, of casual brutality, of disease and no sewerage, where drinking wine all day at least avoids diseases carried by polluted water. The authors do a thorough, detailed and compelling account of just what daily life in a Roman city was really like, no punches pulled and nothing cleaned up.
The result is a wonderful novel of character. I most sincerely hope it also kills off vast numbers of crap fantasy books that make living in the past seem some bucolic idyll.
Century (Random House), May 2000, 241pp, A$35 ISBN 0712680896
Three years after The Phantom Menace apprentice Anakin (Darth) and Obi-Wan Kenobi travel to the planet that grows the fastest ships in the galaxy, however Commander Tarkin and ship designer Raith Sienar have plans of their own.
Copyright by Lucas Films, which means Greg Bear was hired to write it. He dedicated it to Jack and Ed and Doc Smith, and it is a fast paced adventure.
Arrow (Random House), Aug 2000, 352pp, A$17.50 ISBN 0099409976 Star Wars - The New Jedi Order group, Agents of Chaos 1.
Set 25 years after the original film, an aging Han Solo rushes off to avenge the death of Chewie, at the hands of the invaders of the galaxy. They have a scheme to get a few defectors brought before the assembled Jedi Knights and the defectors will then poison the Jedi. The plot line is thin to none. SF lite.
Speaking of SF Lite, this movie had some nice special effects, and some nice NASA type hardware. The Mars surface scenes (except for the wind storms) were not bad. They must have totally ignored their advisor about orbital mechanics. Dumping in the face on Mars was just totally crappy. Catch it for free sometime, but don't pay good money.
Andy Porter's Hugo winning Science Fiction Chronicle is a bimonthly newsmagazine, essential reading for those interested in the USA and UK SF and fantasy fields.