Saturday 2nd July 2011 Brisbane - Chinchilla
After a hectic week in which I went up to Darwin to the Speech Pathology Australia conference, retired (with much celebration) from my SPA work and returned to Brisbane, we set off on Saturday morning. The original plan was to drive to Darwin and see the Northern Territory but Brian's keratoacanthoma on his leg needed removing and he had to have a skin graft. The plastic surgeon wouldn't hear of our taking off until the graft was absolutely healed, so, even now, we have to go back to see him again in Brisbane next Thursday. We decided, nevertheless, to get out and go as far as we could and still dash into Brisbane for a day on Thursday. So, last night we spent at Archers Crossing South on the Condamine River, a beautiful spot near Chinchilla. It is a free camping area with only two other vans in it, and they invited us over for a drink round their camp fire. They were Ag and Mike and Ag's girl, Mel. Ag and Mel are on long service leave from his job with SEQ Water and Mike is four years post stroke, still with a right hemiplegia and aphasia and heading for Darwin. It was a very pleasant evening - such a lovely spot - with the yabby nets yielding one small one!
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Sunday 3rd July 2011 Chinchilla - Miles
On to Miles. It had been a pretty cool night and we needed the doona but a glorious morning dawned. We packed up and left by ten and travelled towards our first cache outside Miles at Columboola Creek, but decided we couldn't get to it with the van. As it turned out, we couldn't even get to it without the van when we returned in the afternoon. So that was a DNF. We chose to stay at Possum Park about 20K outside Miles, which has ex-ammo dump underground nissan huts converted into accommodation and the surrounds beautified with bougainvilleas and lawns. When we arrived there were two of the dearest and friendliest crested pigeons waiting, as it turned out, not for us but for another Brian who stays often and feeds the birds. They left when they found it wasn't him! Another of that Brian's legacies was a butcher bird who flew right into the van - but he hasn't returned yet either. We went for a chat with the other guests around the camp fire - it is cooling down again really fast and we try to keep both back and front warm by the fire.
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In the glorious heat of the afternoon we visited Miles Historical Village, which has an enormous number of items well displayed. A folk music group was singing while we were there and it was very relaxing to walk in the sun round the exhibits with their accompaniment. When we went with our wine to the camp fire we chatted with other campers and the caretaker and owner of the park. It was such a beautiful evening with the tiniest crescent of a new moon holding the shadow of the old. It was only up for the first four or so hours of darkness and had gone by the time I got up for my pee at two a.m. But the stars and milky way were dramatic and the night was magical. In the morning, after a wonderful hot shower, I walked the three and a half kilometres round the park passing all the old bunkers so carefully hidden in the hillside. I was able to go inside one and see the construction of concrete that had been poured over the top of corrugated iron nissan huts and covered with earth and rocks for camouflage. When I got back for breakfast, the birds were back, the pigeons, the butcher bird, two magpies, two kookaburras, a currawong and a whole flock of apostle birds or happy families or choughs who followed us everywhere if we looked as tho we might drop a few crumbs.
The rest of Monday 4th July 2011 Possum Park - Roma
We stopped off in Miles for coffee on the bank of the Condamine and rang Jonesy while we had Willie Nelson playing with "On the Road Again". He loved it and was also having morning tea and playing Willie Nelson! We bought bread and pies in Miles and ate our lunch in a rather tatty lay-by before the pies went cold - they were pretty good pies! It was not so far to Roma but half the world is staying here and we couldn't get into our first choice of van park so ended up at Villa Holiday Park - a bit expensive but en-suite shower and loo make up for it.
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We did a couple of caches round Roma and walked along the Bungil Creek and explored the town for a bit. We'd bought some yummy Roma meat but Brian expressed a desire to revisit the Chinese restaurant he'd been to before, so we ate there. We had had another drink round the fire with a few campers in our corner which was pleasant and they played the bush poem about a cowboy rodeo rider and his first flight by Murray Hartin really very funny.
Tuesday 5th July 2011 Roma
Washing day - oh joy! But we probably won't get another for a week what with dashing back to Brisbane on Thursday and our desire to be up in Gulf Country by Monday next. Had to fight for a machine but happily, it is a wonderful drying day with a brisk breeze, so it didn't matter that I didn't get it out until after eleven. It was dry by 1.30! B. went out and cleared up the few caches out here while I finished my book for book club - it has to be returned to the library when we go back to Brisbane on Thurs. Roma has several plotted walks round the town. We had done some of the Adungadoo Pathway yesterday, so we decided to try the Historical Walk. What a farce! The landmarks were listed in the craziest order and, as I had to keep turning the page round to read the information, I got quite lost. They also listed, for example, the National Bank saying "This Roma landmark has had a chequered history including destruction by fire in 1912 and four relocations." So we were looking neither at an old historical building, nor at the historical site of the original building, but at the bank in the main street! One of the best features is the big bottle tree, nearly 9 metres in girth. Bottle trees line a lot of the city's streets and each has a plaque to commemorate a WWI digger. It is cooling down again tonight tho the biting westerly(?) southerly(?) has dropped. Definitely a doona night.
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Wednesday 6th July 2011 Roma - Toowoomba
Heading back now - going to leave the van in Toowoomba for the day tomorrow while we do Brisbane chores. Today was cold, cold, cold to start with - thank heavens for the wonderful shower that warmed us up. No en-suite sites here sadly, so we have just got a site as close to the loos as possible. The day continued cool with that bitter wind nagging at us all day. It is due to last the rest of the week according to the forecast. We had an uneventful drive with a stop in Dalby for lunch - rather nasty squangy sandwich, white bread, plastic cheese, pretend chicken and sweet mayonnaise - I only ate half of it and then opted for a vegetarian past which was not much better! Why can't you get wholemeal bread in these cafes? The Toowoomba Caravan park has lovely spacious sites on the tiered side of a slope leading down to a series of lagoons. Our site, tho close to the loos, seems to cop the full force of the wind so we have shut the van up tight and put the heater on. I went for a walk round the lagoons earlier - it must have flooded badly here in February. There are signs of it way up the banks of the lagoons. Brian is now settling in having had his shower, to listen to the final State of Origin match - the decider; they are one game each at the moment and all the commentators are banging on about it being Darren Lockyer's final Origin game. You'd think he was about to die not just retire from representative footy!
Thursday 7th July 2011 Toowoomba - Brisbane - Toowoomba
Cold, early start to be sure to get to Brisbane in time for the appointment. Traffic horrid and lots and lots of road-uppage which slowed us down. However, we arrived home in plenty of time to do a few chores, read the email and go off to the doc. Well, all was OK there, they're very happy with it, and as long as we keep looking after it properly, we can go. He needs to wear the tubigrip to stop his ankles swelling. Then back home to finish the chores - library, post-office and fruit and veg shopping. We had to catch up with Robyn next-door about the back window having been blown open. Nothing was moved, damaged or stolen, so it must have been the wind. Then B. had his chiropractic appointment and, at last, we were off again - off on our way to the Gulf - first stop Toowoomba for another cold night. We ate in the Ice and Fire restaurant - very good value but a bit cold!
Friday 8th July 2011 Toowoomba - Morven
Drove, and drove and drove and drove and DROVE today. 565 Kilometres approx. Gorgeous fine day and hot in the car tho a cool wind outside made it chilly. We had lunch in Roma and then, instead of stopping at Mitchell as we had originally planned, we went on past to Morven. We are staying in a free cam at the recreation grounds. It has a lovely waterhole - Sadleirs Waterhole - with big gums round it and geese (and geese poop) everywhere! There are loos and a shower but at least 30 camps/vans around, so we're probably not worrying about the shower. Brian chose Santana to play all the way from Roma to here and I really don't want to listen to any more ever again! We try and play Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" each time we set off! I've put some other CDs in too so we have quite a wide choice of entertainment now.
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Saturday 9th July 2011 Morven - Isisford
Another chilly start - frost on the car, 0degrees in the van but lovely once the sun reached us. I'd had a shower in the very new and nice facilities the night before but B. decided it was too cold and went dirty to be. Then his courage failed him again in the morning so he did without! We got a good start with eggs and bacon and left the grounds around 9.30 and, once again we drove and drove and drove. We did a cache and had coffee in Augathella and then had a picnic lunch (along with about 20 other vans) at the waterhole at Tambo, a rather unexpectedly pretty place. Finally we reached Isisford, did a cemetery cache and a primary school cache and then went and explored the free camp area on the banks of the Outer Barcoo. What a lovely place! But SO many caravans, at least thirty to forty I estimated. We drove about two kilometres down to the far end and found a gorgeous spot right on the riverbank with a fireplace in front of it. There was only one other lot of campers within cooee. As we were setting up a large blue kookaburra flashed past straight into the water just in front of our camp and out again with a fish in its beak! Such a surprise and wonderful to see right up close. Apart from that the water was like glass and it was warm and balmy and after we lit the fire we managed to sit outside and eat dinner quite comfortably - a major change from the past three nights. B. tried again to get some yabbies or red-claw in our nets, but even with garlic infused par-boiled potato as bait (as recommended by Ag and Mel last night) we had no luck. I rather wanted to stay some more nights here as it was so very lovely but the lack of showers and loos made B. keen to move on.
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Sunday 10th July 2011 Isisford to Longreach
Sadly we left our lovely perch in Isisford and took to the road again for Longreach, not a long drive this time. The road is very narrow and in rather poor condition following the heavy rains of the summer and we had to keep pulling off to pass vehicles coming the other way - luckily not too many of them. A lot of the road is a pinkish brown coloured surface making it sometimes hard to distinguish the tarmac from the shoulder and giving the whole landscape a uniform brownish beige tint. Although a lot of the shoulder had been mown or cleared of grass, we still had to slow a couple of times for roos. There has been an enormous number of dead ones on the roads out here, which seems a bit surprising to me as there is so much good feed throughout. I'm surprised they have been feeding on the verge. To make up for not having showers for the past couple of days we have booked an ensuite site for the two nights we intend to stay in Longreach. We arrived a bit early so went and had our lunch by the Thomson River near the free camping area. There are at least 50 vans parked there on what seems to me like a blasted heath, not tree in sight and all cheek by jowl - so glad we decided not to stay there! We have a good site here on the edge of the park looking over a paddock towards the Hall of Fame. To our amazement, three brolgas appeared in the meadow and then came right into the park where they took food given to them by other campers. I love to see them with their surf-life-saving caps on, but I don't like seeing them tamed like this. There were some roos in the paddock later on too, and while B. sorted out our route, I did a painting and some washing - it won't dry tonight so I've left it on the line. It has cooled down again but we are snug and warm now that we have the power to have the heater on!
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Monday 11th July 2011 Longreach
Big washing and shopping day! I had planned to get a machine really early today but even at ten to seven all three machines were in use! So I got my book and sat with the machine until it was available. I chatted with an extremely large lady, in her 40s I guess, who admitted she'd got married for the first time just eight weeks ago! She seems such a lovely person having taken on her step-children and step-grandchildren as her own. She has known her step-son all his life anyway and is his god-mother. Her friend died and now she is just so happy that her friend's husband is now hers! We've stocked up on food as we know we're heading to where it won't be easy to get stuff. We had coffee and muffins in the local bakery/cafe that was doing a roaring trade, obviously filling a niche in Longreach town life. I keep thinking "What if Anthony is posted here?" as we go through these rural Queensland towns and I think Longreach would be pretty OK just such a long, long way away. In the afternoon we walked all along the pathway on the side of the highway that has been built through various types of vegetation. It was really interesting and quite pretty though it will be better in the Spring when everything is flowering. At the end, we crossed over to look at the beautiful old railway station, built when rail was of major importance and so was the woolclip from round Longreach. It is a lovely old building with finials all along its roofline and only modernised by the addition of a wheelchair ramp and bright blue plastic luggage trolleys! It has been great to have a whole day in one place for a change and I'm not really looking forward to moving on again tomorrow. The evening sky in Longreach is wonderful - such an expanse and the most beautiful grading of colour from yellow through pink to grey-blue and then dark blue and purple. All with dark silhouettes of trees round the horizon. I remember it like this from two years ago.
Tuesday 12th July 2011 Longreach - McKinlay
We got away from Longreach van park nice and early but, as the gas bottle for the outside stove ran out last night, we had to find somewhere to get a refill. After two garages gave excuses why they couldn't do it, we found the Longreach Outdoors Store who could. Unfortunately the cylinder was out of date and couldn't be refilled anyway, so we had to buy a new one. But they refilled the big one OK. So here we are, all topped up and ready to go north. The road is as straight as a die and goes on and on and on. We stopped for coffee in a boring rest area on the side of the road outside Winton and then lunch in a similar one that was near some quite dramatic 'jump-ups'. I took some photos there and had to scramble about over the road to find a hidey spot to have a wee. Our original target for the day was Combo Waterhole about which Banjo Paterson wrote Waltzing Matilda, but then we noticed that it was a daytime only rest area. Nevertheless we drove the 7K down a dirt track and then walked the 2.6K round trip to the waterhole and back. It was a beautiful grassland area where the early settlers had built 'outflows' of dry stone to trap water from the Wet and hold it for the Dry so that they could make keeping cattle in the Dry Season feasible. The shade really was provided by Coolibah trees and the waterhole was cool and lovely. We drove on then to Kynuna thinking we might stop there but both van sites looked dreary and noisy, so we decided to go on to McKinlay. The van site here is behind the Walkabout Creek Hotel which is the pub in, and around which Crocodile Dundee was filmed - hence the name. McKinlay is tiny, just a crossroads, with a population of 20 according to the sign! It has quite a few caravanners in the Winter (i.e. now) but not nearly so many in the Summer. B and I were sitting out the front having a beer and a cider when a battered old kangaroo hopped lazily across the front of the pub only a couple of feet from the veranda! Such a surprise and so very close! We decided we'd eat in the pub and while B. had Chicken Kiev (from a packet!) I had the rump which, tho tasty, was very fatty and I could only eat half. Mind you, that was plenty for me; but when the boss's wife came to remove the plates, I just commented on why I'd left so much on the plate. Well, before we left the pub she pressed a six-pack of cider into B's arms insisting it was because the steak was so fatty He protested that we didn't mind and weren't complaining but she insisted. Rather embarrassing - but it really WAS very fatty meat!
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Wednesday 13th July 2011 McKinlay to Gregory Downs via Cloncurry
This turned out to be a big day of driving. It hadn't been the best of nights either being a little too warm for the doona and there being trucks thundering past a frequent intervals. To make up for it though it was a gorgeous clear morning and we got going about 9 o'clock. We drove across wide, wide plains with hardly a tree in sight and then on to higher rocky country with dark brown outcrops and low, blue-green trees. I was surprised at how rocky the country round Cloncurry is. We had coffee in the Mary Kathleen Memorial Park having found a cache upon the hill behind the park and we then went on to look for other caches and to do some shopping. We spent quite some time in Cloncurry; it is such a remote and far outpost and, although steps are taken to make it pleasant to live in, life is obviously not all that comfortable. We visited the Chinaman's Creek Dam and found a cache in the Chinese cemetery and took a photo of B. for the Burke and Wills series of virtual caches. We had lunch in the park near the Chinese cemetery under the road bridge and then drove on to the Burke and Wills Roadhouse. It was a long, long, drive across open plains and low scrubby woodlands with increasing numbers of termite 'chimneys' all through it. We stopped and had a 'nana-nap' at a rest area and then drove on and on and on! We had thought to spend the night at one of the rest areas between the Burke and Wills Roadhouse and Gregory Downs but for some reason B. seemed to think the first one was a daytime only stop (which it wasn't) and we missed the next one so drove on and on and on til we got to Gregory Downs about 5.30. The last couple of hours were really hard going driving into the sun with the roost coming out to feed and the termite mounds mimicking the shape of the roost on the side of the road. Then there were stray cattle and calves wandering across the road so by the end we (and especially me) were really exhausted. The rest area here is very pleasant and has about ten to twelve vans including us. A bit tricky finding a suitable loo spot tho. The amenities are away back down the road so we dug a hole to serve as the necessary! We have booked a site at Adel's Grove for the next couple of nights as there are limited areas for camping up around Lawn Hill apparently.
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Thursday 14th July 2011 Gregory Downs to Adels Grove
Despite an easy start this turned into a difficult day. We packed up quite slowly as we knew we had only 90K to go and set off quite excitedly - we are nearly there, our target is in sight! The road was fine at first and then became dirt and very dry and dusty with quite a few patches of corrugations. Apparently it was graded only a month or so ago so gets MUCH worse later in the year. We had coffee out on the open Savannah (this is The Savannah Way we are driving after all!) and could see a low range of hills in front that must be where Lawn Hill and Adels Grove are. We arrived at Adels Grove before lunch as planned and found it to be a beautiful place especially as we were booked into the 'No Generators' section called 'The Grove'. We could choose where to set up and have a camp fire and managed to get right away from any other campers. Adels Grove is on the banks of Lawn Hill Creek and we are allowed to swim there. It is luscious with clear green water edged with palms and big ghost gums all round. There are meant to be freshwater (Johnstone) crocs here but if they are not disturbed they will not disturb us. We set up and had lunch and then went for a walk and decided to have a swim. We are a long way from the swimming area and amenities but that is just fine. The water was extremely chilly to get into and B. only went in up to his waist. I took the plunge and swam properly and I soon became inured to it and found it pleasant enough. After our swim we decided a shower would be next and that is when the problems started. I found my shampoo had spilt out all over the underneath of the clothes tray in which it had been sitting at the rear of the van. Luckily it only went under the trays and the clothes did not get affected, but the non-slip matting was saturated with it and so was the board underneath. Well, what disgusting slimy stuff it is! I had to lift all the trays out and scrape it up into an old plastic box with a spoon. Scrape and scrape and scrape and scrape and STILL there was layers of it left on the surface. And it was hot and exhausting - time for a cup of tea. Kerwoomph! As I lit the outside stove I got more than I bargained for - the gas was leaking at the on/off knob on the stove. B. remembered he'd had to mend it once before, but suddenly here we are with no outside stove to cook on. Luckily we still have the fitted stove in the van to use. I think we were a bit lucky all round as it could have been a very big kerwoomph and caused serious harm. Anyway B. took the part to the handyman here at the campsite, and, as it was 5.30 he has agreed to look at re-welding it first thing tomorrow. I managed to cook the meal on the campfire and we left the trays in the van out for the night to let the shampoo patch dry off. The matting has to be rinsed out properly and we can't do that til tomorrow either. One thing about being so far away from other people and amenities is that we have a lot of birds visiting us. We've seen a Great Bower bird, some bar-shouldered doves, grey crowned babblers (another sort of Happy Families), a grey shrike-thrush, a yellow honey eater, a white browed robin, a rufous banded honey eater and many other honey eaters. The occasional varied lorikeet flies by and several kinds of kites, hawks and eagles fly overhead.
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Friday 15th July 2011 Adels Grove, Lawn Hill
Not a good night. B's nose is still so blocked up he just can't breathe and he is snoring worse than ever. He had had a couple of courses of antibiotics to clear it before we left but they are finished now and he is right back with his sinuses being blocked solid. Not good for him; not good for me! Both of us pretty wakeful. We had planned to go straight off to Lawn Hill Gorge but found we had to finish off such thins as rinsing out the non-slip matting and collecting the stove part. The stove could not be mended as they couldn't solder it without blocking the tube. The guy is going to look at the dump to see if there are any stove parts there. We took lunch and swimmers and water in B's backpack and headed off for the Gorge. We took a nice straight short walk to the Indarri Falls area hunting a cache as we went. The lush greenness of the palms around the gorge and the beautiful, clear, green water came as a shock after the dusty reddish, beige grassland we had been walking through. It is stunning and the waterfalls over the 'tufa' (torah) deposits are just lovely. There were very few people around when we got there and I managed to get changed into my togs behind a tree. B. decided "not to worry about it" (his phrase for not doing something!) but I went in anyway - and it was gorgeous ('scuse pun!). The water was cool but not cold - no difficulty getting in and if felt very safe swimming out to the falls and floating down on the current. By the time I got out it was a bit like Piccadilly Circus with people arriving by canoe and on foot. It was just on lunchtime and everyone seemed to land up at the falls for a picnic.
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I did eventually manage to get changed out of my togs and we had lunch on the edge of the falls area. B. had been watching the archer fish and seeing them squirt at their prey out of the water. He'd got squirted a couple of times himself. After lunch we went on the circuit to the Indarri Lookout, the Duwadarri Lookout and back to the Gorge campsite. It was meant to be a moderate walk but we found it pretty long and hard; up and down on rocky, uneven paths. The views from the lookouts were spectacular tho, and we could see right up and down the gorge. I particularly enjoyed walking through the grassland at the top with grevilleas and other very pretty wildflowers and Spinifex pigeons and crimson finches. Once we were down again we stopped at some secluded steps down into the creek just for a rest, and, as we sat there silently, a family of the purple crowned fairy wrens appeared. My one disappointment was that we didn't see a crocodile at all. We were both knackered by the time we got back and had showers and so an hours kip was in order to help us recover. We had already booked to eat at the resort restaurant. We had a drink each with our meal - B's a rum and coke in a can and mine a Corona beer $9.00 each! Pretty steep, like our walks had been! The food was a set meal (lasagne and salad, fruit salad, jelly and ice-cream) and we shared it with Malcolm and Muriel McKenzie, a pleasant couple from Sherwood who had been canoeing in Katherine Gorge and visited Kakadu before coming here. We plan to go to Riversleigh fossil area tomorrow but not sure how much walking we will do.
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Saturday 16th July 2011 Adels Grove, Riversleigh visit.
What a lot of creaks and groans we had this morning! We gradually got going but poor B. still had a bad night with his nose being so blocked. We left for Riversleigh, the World Heritage Fossil site, about 9.45. It was 51K of dirt road, most of it OK but some a bit rough with a couple of creek crossings. One was beautiful with waterlilies all over the main waterhole. When we got to the site, we found a rather bare paddock with rocky outcrops and a hill. There was an 'Interpretative Centre' made out of fibreglass to look like rock and it melted into the scene very well. B. had a couple of caches here, one an actual container - we are only the second cachers to log it, and it was placed in 2003! The other was a virtual cache involving a photo of B. and a fossil (which one is which?) and answering a series of questions about the site. We did both caches and it made us read all the information on the plaques and in the centre. For all that, and its World Heritage status, it is not a particularly exciting place (except for palaeontologists I guess!). It is possible to see how it must be exciting for them, but the general public only get to see three or four bone fossils and different rocks and can't do an fossicking or anything. The walk took about thirty minutes including reading the signs so we decided to head back and have our picnic lunch by the pretty waterhole. Well, that was lovely, so peaceful and such a pretty spot with water so clear we could see all the fish swimming round the waterlilies. I was some more purple crowned wrens with their elegant blue/green tails and another great bower bird BUT ... no crocs! After lunch we came back to the van and had a nap and then I went for yet another swim in the creek with an inner tube to float on - magic! Again it was just so cool and clear and quiet (until a motor boat came past - scowl, scowl!) We built a fire that evening and I cooked on it as we haven't been able to mend our cooker - hopefully we will find a new one in Normanton. We are heading there tomorrow, but as it is over 400Ks with some of it dirt, I'm not much looking forward to it.
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Sunday 17th July 2011 Adels Grove to Normanton
Well, we got here! And in plenty of time, tho' we only just managed to get a powered site and we're really closely packed in. It's an OK site but so very crowded that I don't like it much at all. The journey back over all the dirt road to Gregory Downs was incredibly dusty especially when a big B-double with four trailers is headed towards you. It's like being in duststorm when they pass and you just have to stop or slow right down until it clears and you can see again. It was much more pleasant not having the sun in our eyes but it was still a long haul. We had Les Mis playing most of the way and then listened to the second half of Peter Carey's The True Story of the Kelly Gang. It is rather a woeful tale tho' so not very uplifting, well written tho' and manages to get a very credible character of Ned through his letters to his daughter. At the start of the journey and again at the Burke and Wills roadhouse (where we had hamburgers for lunch and then turned off onto the Normanton road). We met up with Malcolm and Muriel/Marion with whom we had dinner the other night. They're very pleasant people. Here at Normanton there's not a lot and it's VERY hot. It's a river port with the main fishing port being 20-30K down river at Karumba. We've booked to go on the Gulflander to Critters Creek and back tomorrow and then we'll go to Karumba on Tuesday.
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Monday 18th July 2011 Normanton.
B went off and found a doc. today to get some more antibiotics for his nose, while I stayed and did a load of washing and tidied up and made a picnic lunch. When he returned (with antibi's in hand) we went off shopping. The first thing we found was a single burner to fit directly on top of our gas bottle so we can cook outside again. Then we went looking for groceries - Foodworks and two other small supermarkets - not a brilliant selection but enough for us and we got some meat from the 'Green Butcher' (as opposed to the pink butcher on the other side of the road!) Then we were ready to go off for our ride on the Gulflander train from here to Critters Creek and back - 32 miles round trip - 2 hours. We sat in the rear carriage first and thought we were being rattled about rather a lot, but then, on the way back, the way back, we sat in the back of the front carriage, the real railmotor car, and we REALLY got rattled and bumped around! There was a but tour group who were in the front carriage on the way over but their bus was waiting at Critters Creek to take them on to Croyden. As we went along the driver told us about the track and the train and the floods, and we passed a post that gave the water levels of the various floods. In 1974 the water would have been a full twelve metres above our heads and 38K of track was submerged - an unimaginable volume of water! The track passed through grassland with small trees all through it, mainly gutta percha rubber trees and coolibah trees and some broad leaved paperbarks. There were various saltpan areas and others where the waterholes were still full. On the way back we stopped and got out for a few minutes a picnic place on the banks of quite a large billabong so that the staff could measure up for tables. There are mega celebrations starting tomorrow for the Gulflander's 120 year anniversary and part of it is a picnic at that spot so the tables have to be in reasonable condition. As we arrived back into Normanton there was a whole load of bus tour people taking photos of the train arriving. We felt quite important as we waved regally to the hoipoloi waiting for us!! The station is very pretty with lovely gardens and a well kept old building. From Wednesday onwards they have all sorts of celebrations planned like cocktail parties and breakfasts and including the picnic. We met a couple when we were having our meal in the Purple Pub who are up here just for the celebrations. Charlie Honey is the son of Chook Honey who, apparently, drove the Gulflander for years and years. Charlie has been involved in painting and renovating not only the old rail car, but also the carriages we rode in. I must say, it all looks very bright and newly done up and the seats have all be reupholstered in Queensland maroon! It has been a good day one way and another and I had a very calming, cooling swim in the pool this afternoon.
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Tuesday 19th July 2011 Normanton - Karumba and back and on to nearly Georgetown
Another pack up! This site has grown on me as there were fewer people this last night it has good amenities and pool. We took off for Karumba about 9.30 and arrived in time for coffee at the boat ramp. It all looks pretty run down but the water is that marvellous milky blue-green and it is very sleepy. We saw the Century Mine outlet - the mine itself is not so far from Lawn Hill, but they pump the slurry of zinc and lead via a pipeline directly to here and then onto the ships. The other industry is tourist fishing - hundreds of 4x4s with boat trailers and 4-5 camping holiday parks all very full and everyone talking 'Barra' (barramundi). We drove on to Karumba Point and found a cache and watched a plane land and take off again at the airport. On the way back to Normanton we saw flocks of brolgas, about 20 - 30 in each flock and lots of egrets, small and large, pied herons, kites and eagles. We had lunch in Normanton and then took off towards Mt Surprise and Undara. It was fairly unremarkable driving and we ate up the Ks until heading towards Georgetown. About 20K out there was a cache at Cumberland Chimney an old gold mine site where we found a few caravans parked for the night and after some debate and toing and froing we decided to stay there too. It was about 4.30 and time we stopped driving and it really was quite a pretty grassy site with some shade and a waterhole. The country had changed from open flat gulf savannah to much hillier, rocky terrain. There were no facilities and we found digging a hole a bit of a problem as there was very little soil, but we managed. B. had yet one more (unsuccessful) try at catching yabbies and we ate the lamb koftas we'd bought in the Normanton butchery using the little outdoor stove which worked well.
Wednesday 20th July 2011 Cumberland Chimney to Undara
After quite a cool night (where I ended up in my winter jamas over the top of my summer ones) we had egg and bacon and a slow start but got packed and away by 10. By the time we got to Georgetown and found a cache at a lookout we'd never have gone to otherwise, we decided it was coffee time already. Georgetown has a very pleasing recreational area in the centre of the little town and we were accompanied by a very bold and curious blue-faced honey-eater. It came right onto the table beside us and then hung onto the shelter posts like a tree-creeper or woodpecker - a somewhat confused bird I think! We drove through increasingly hilly country to Mt Surprise for lunch. We ate in a rather sad cafe attached to a caravan park that had obviously tried so hard to become something special ten or fifteen years back, with gem collections, an aviary and a miniature horse stud but is now definitely faded. The tired and aging proprietors served us our toasted sandwiches and sold me a couple of home-made jams (for thank-yous for Robyn and Mark for looking out for the hours for us). There are gem fields and gold mines still working round here. Luckily we had booked a site for two nights at Undara as it was pretty full. We weren't able to get onto a couple of the tours we would have liked to have gone on. It is set in rolling basalt and granite savannah country with lots of grass and fairly sparse trees, quite a few grevilleas as well as gums and wattles. There are clusters of boulders and lumps of the darker basalt all over it. The campsite is quite closely set but agreeable enough and we have a good shady position. We explored the site a bit and had a cup of tea in the bar and restaurant area. It is a resort set up mainly in old railway carriages and even the communal areas are designed with curved roofs that echo both the carriages and the arches of the lava tubes. It won an award for its individuality a few years back and you can see why. There are on-site tents as well as the carriages and powered and unpowered sites and plans for extensions to all bigrigs to come in too. There was some nighttime entertainment round a campfire and it was Bill, from New Zealand who talked about all the farming work he has done both here and in NZ. He has done so many different jobs and now is a guide here. He is planning to take on either Canada or S. Africa next. He has worked with sheep, cattle, chooks, tomatoes, sugar cane, shearing, fencing, picking, collecting, mustering - you name it, he's done it - and his wife with him!
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Thursday 21st July 2011 Undara Lava Tubes
Got up early for a bush breakfast - lots of us all sitting round on logs using stumps as tables and eating a good old eggy bacon breaky. The staff here are a mixture of northern hemisphere students on 6 week working holiday visas, older women who organise all the office and kitchen work, and nuggety blokes who do the ground work and are the guides. This morning there was one young Frenchman in his fashionably low-slung jeans trying to grasp the intricacies of billy-tea making and serving. He was working hard and with effort, was coming to terms with the hooks and poles and billy cans on the open fire. It was his first day! While I was hoing into my cooked breaky, a crafty kookaburra swooped down and grabbed half my sausage and flew off to kill and eat it! It took a mere second for him to fly in, grab it and fly out, much to everyone else's delight and surprise! I had a tour booked for 8a.m. so had to eat up, but we were all served very promptly (or served ourselves rather) and I was ready in plenty of time. B. had opted for the shorter, easier terrain tour at 10.30. I went off in a coach-load of 13 Victorians travelling in a group (the women were quilters I gather) and three other couples and a characteristically nuggety guide called Chris. He was very well informed and answered questions about rocks and trees, and wallaroos and birds, etc. etc. etc. all very interesting. Undara, the volcano from which the rivers of lava flowed to make the tubes, is only 20 metres high and rather unspectacular. There are plenty of other cones and hills much more marked but it was Undara that affected the countryside so much. The basalt terrain is covered in rocks and holes and is very difficult to negotiate. All the roads and tracks follow the granite areas as far as possible, as it is much easier going. The caves and lava tubes can only be discovered by walking the ground as they cannot be picked up from the air or while in a vehicle. The caves and tunnels are quite dramatic and I tried to take lots of photos but it was not easy and many didn't come out well. This year's wet season has been the third big one in a row, so the standing water is higher than anyone has ever known it; over the boardwalks in some of the tunnels, and some of our party went for a wade along the pathway right into the tunnel. B's tour saw quite a lot of what mine did but did not clamber up the hill to get an overview of the countryside, nor through some of the longer tunnels requiring us to use torches. One of the most spectacular aspects was the colouring of the inside of the tunnels formed by later lava layers melting the earlier rock and making it drip and dribble down the rockface. The afternoon was taken up with a zizz, writing and drawing and then it was time for the campfire chat again. It was Chris this time, talking mainly about birds and bats and butterflies with a few roos and snakes thrown in for good measure. (Note: Australian raven: in pairs, glossy and have below-beak bunch of feathers looking like a pouch. Australasian crow: not as glossy and no pouchy feathers; Blue-winged kookaburra: no stripe through eye and flattened head feathers without the stripe; Laughing kookaburra: blue wings like Blue-winged kookaburra, stripe through eye and mohawk.) It has been a very interesting stay here.
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Friday 22nd July 2011 Undara to Charters Towers
Not a particularly easy drive as the road varies between excellent two lane and poorly edged single bitumen strip and is used by road trains. We met a few and lots of caravanners. We stopped for coffee in a tatty lay-by and for lunch at a free camping area at Fletcher Creek. There must have been a hundred vans there but spread out over a vast area around the creek and creek crossing. All a bit open and bare but you could probably find a good isolated spot if you wanted. We had already booked an en-suite site for two nights right in Charters Towers, so we drove on. The campsite here is rather like staying in a garden with grass and flowers all around. It is a bit crowded tho. We went to listen to the Bush Poet, Neil McArthur, for an hour and he was most amusing. He has a marked tic on the right side of his face and a very rubbery face with pop-eyes, but, possibly as a result he has great facial expressions in his performance and his tic disappears then.
Saturday 23rd July 2011 Charters Towers
Well, this turned out to be a fascinating and exhausting day - The Day of the Enthusiasts! It started with clambering over Towers Hill finding caches and then doing about three more in the town itself. One was at the Pioneer Cemetery (1872-1895). They did die young, the women in their 20's (probably from childbirth) and the men in their 40's. I guess life was pretty tough. It was the finding of gold in 1872 that provided the impetus for establishing a town here. It was called Charters after the first Gold Warden and 'Towers' was added because of the stacks of rocks towering above the place looking a bit like UK West Country 'tors'. We had coffee and yummy cakes in a coffee shop in Gill Street (the main street) and that included two pieces of chocolate brownie one of which we doggy-bagged for later. We enjoyed walking up and down Gill Street and admired all the grand old buildings - ank buildings, mining buildings, emporia etc. The Target shop has lovely old lead-light glass frontage with the actual shop tucked in behind. We went to the Information Centre and then to the Miner's Cottage museum. What an amazing place that is! Crammed to the rafters with memorabilia of all sorts, plus an old bloke, Noel Christiansen (83 years) who had terrible hiccups. When B told him he had been a teacher Noel asked him to remind him how to do square root sums, so they sat down with paper and pencil and worked some out. Apparently he had been an engineer and used to do all sorts of complex maths but he had forgotten how to do square root sums! After that we were very much in favour and he talked us through the whole place. He also told us about the ghost of the woman who used to live there and showed us her appearance on the DVD that had been made about the place. He finished up by playing the accordion and singing for us - what a character! The owner of the cottage was there too, another enthusiast who just loves Charters Towers to bits and he told us that we should visit the Civic Club and the Venus Battery. So off we went to the Civic Club, originally the Londoners (Gentleman's) Club (no Irishmen here!). It has two slate based billiard tables over 100 years old and some wonderful architecture of the era. We had a beer in there and listened to the woman behind the bar who told us quite a few tales of the club - it only let women in the 1980's. Then we thought we'd just pop into the Venus Battery gold refinery and assay office only to encounter yet another total enthusiast and his only marginally less enthusiastic brother who took us and another couple on a tour of the place that lasted almost two hours. Not having had lunch, we nevertheless hightailed it back to the campsite for the 4.30 Bush Poet session devouring the second chocolate brownie to keep us going. We'd just settled down to listen to him when B spotted Mike Kenavan, his old school and college mate whom we knew was travelling around the area with Joan, his wife, having been to the Boulia camel races. So our evening that we'd booked at the RSL for their meal and country and western show was filled with the happy swapping of travellers' tales. The meal was good old basic stew, corned meat, damper and vegies but the show was barely bearable! We left after half the third act with at least three more acts to come. We finished the evening by going back with Mike and Joan in their large and comfy truck to their large and luxurious van for coffee. It was good to catch up with them.
Sunday 24th July 2011 Charters Towers to Theresa Creek Dam
Good early start. Had coffee in a rather grotty stopping area where everyone had used a behind-the-tall-grass spot for a loo! Got to Clermont for lunch - rather an uninspiring place and we had to hunt down a park with public loos and it was very much a town park. Anyway, we followed signs to Theresa Creek Dam and found a large, as ever, well-caravanned space behind a kiosk on an obviously very well used dam. The kiosk proprietor charged $10 for use of facilities and recommended a sunny open spot where we would warm up quickly in the morning. He told us an old fellow would be singing songs around the communal campfire out front at 5 pm. We found a suitable level spot up high on the edge of the mown space to set up and then went for a walk to the dam edge. The local water sports club has a pavilion and round that we found some wood to build ourselves a fire. Our neighbours cam and offered some of their wood too as they were moving off back to Brisbane to house sit for their daughter. They had let their own house for a year while they travelled. We went to the campfire singsong and the old chap (must have been in his 80s) sang remarkably well tho nearly all the songs were mournful, lonely cowboy type ones about the loss of girlfriend, father, mother, daughter, dog, horse etc, or the fading powers of old age - made you want to sob into your beer/wine (or giggle!). We cooked our meal on both inside and outside cookers and then managed to cook a damper in the coals of our fire - yum! Because it was such an open spot the sky was enormous and when it got dark the stars were magnificent. Later, in the early morning (3am pee of course!), with a crescent moon and being utterly still and silent (except for the soft snoring from various vans) it was yet more beautiful; I just loved it. It was cold tho; got down to 2 deg C in our van so we were very glad of the doona.
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Monday 25th July 2011 Theresa Creek Dam to Dawson River Rest Area, Moura
Latish start because of the cold and heavy dew and a cooked breakfast and mammoth wash-up from the night before. Coffee in Emerald plus last grocery shop for the trip; lunch in Springsure - quite dramatic scenery around there and a long, long drive through hills, all wiggly and up and down, no good for cruise control. Arrived at Dawson River (no relation) near Maura at 4.30ish and found a spot amongst the fifteen or so other vans - only to have a Winnebago draw up right beside us. I'm afraid my scowl was so clear that the fellow backed away a few feet! We're not going to have a camp fire here - too tired to worry about finding wood. I went for a walk along the river, which has an algae scum on the top but had wonderful reflections, and found two families of black and red wrens, so I watched them for quite a while. I also found the golf course which is just over the road. The road noise is rather loud here but we'll cope.
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Tuesday 26th July 2011 Dawson River to Isla Gorge in the Dawson Range
It wasn't too bad, the truck noise, tho we were both aware of it. I was awake at some time in the night and heard the rather awful sound of a man crying in the van next door. It didn't last for long but I have been haunted by it all day - why was he crying? - poor man!
It was another cold night, 4deg C in the van this morning, and time for tracksuit tops on top of everything else over brekky! We took our time as we only have 100K to do today. B had looked up a few caches so we started in Moura looking for those. The first one was at the saleyards and there were four B-doubles with 3 trailers each loading cattle. The stockmen looked a little warily at us and one went off and got his stock whip and showed off with that making the cattle hurry up. I think they might have been thinking we were animal rights activists because of the hoohah there has been recently about live exportation of cattle to Indonesia. So we didn't hang about, just found, wrote in it, put it back and left. The others were all pretty easy and we had coffee in Maura. Then we went to find one in Banana (named after a bull would you believe!) and thence to Isla Gorge. We are camped in an isolated site way up on the top of a ridge looking over two arms of the gorge. It is pretty dramatic with limestone cliffs and caves with no maintained footpaths or anything. There are about five other lots of campers here and, although we're meant to register and pay National Parks, there are no forms or envelopes to do it with. There has recently been a burn around here and it looks as tho it was a deliberate controlled burn by the Park Rangers.
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Wednesday 27th July 2011 Isla Gorge
What a magical day! Just sitting in one place, a couple of short walks, painting, reading, drawing, eating, sleeping - marvellous! Such a lovely place to be. The view in the early morning sunlight was breathtaking. Where we walk to the look-out you can see two views, to the left and to the right, both of stark gorges with cliffs and forest covering. The campsite is on a ridge and you can walk out further with the two views vying with each other for drama and beauty. The paths are stony and fairly unformed, yet clear enough and safe enough if you don't stray off them. The cliff edges are a bit crumbly but because the vegetation has been burnt, which rather spoils the foreground, it is easy to see where they are and avoid them. There were three vans that moved off this morning and none have come in their place, so we share the whole area with one other single fellow. He looks as tho he's been here a while having set up a shelter for his car as well as his own camp. He also looks rather bedraggled with longish whispyhair, not yet quite grey and a very 'keep out of my way' air about him. Haven't spoken to him yet as he keeps so far away. The look-out gets visited by all sorts of workmen in 'can-you-see-me' shirts, just for smoke-oh it seems, and a few other people, plus or minus vans have been up, had a look, and gone away again. The currawongs rule the roost here and are very bold. They come and sit on the edge of our bucket of water and treat it as their own personal drinking fountain. They pinch any food left on the table and then poo on our towels/selves when sitting watching us in the tree above. As a result of the burning I think, there are no animals around at all, and precious few birds. B and I have christened our shower tent and shower - very successful but the thing will be to see if we can fold it up in the morning! We've had a wonderful campfire both nights. As we're a bit short of bread, I made a large damper last night and we had it toasted for breakfast (along with bacon and eggs) and there's still some left over for tomorrow's brekky. The baked potatoes have been good too - I do love a campfire! The only thing missing was people to share it with. I keep thinking how Helena and Ant and Will, Nick and Sara, Jenny and Werner would love this place.
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Thursday 28th July 2011 Isla Gorge to Chinchilla Weir
Not a long drive today so an easy start. First battle: fold up the shower tent! It has springy canes down the four corners of the tent that have to be folded round into three to be able to fit into the bag. There are apocryphal stories of campers giving and carrying the thing flat and unfolded on the top of the car! We'd practised a bit at home and I'd managed it, so it fell to me to do it this time. I tried a couple of times unsuccessfully but then, just by trying to remember the feel of what I did last time, I got it again this time, woohoo!! We drove to Taroom, sorry to leave that beautiful place, but good to be 'On The Road Again'! At Taroom we had a DNF at a cache site on the Gilbert Look-out. John Gilbert was a taxidermist from South London who travelled with Leichhardt on his fateful journey of 1844 up through this area. He was killed by an Aboriginal spear in the neck at the ripe old age of 33 - they did die young on those ventures. After coffee and failing to find a loaf of bread, we went through Wandoan (decent loo but not much else) to Miles and ate lunch there. We went to the river bank only to be accosted by a very vocal flock of geese demanding a share of whatever it was in our bag. We had to stare them down and ignore them and eventually they settled all round us - felt a bit besieged and they honked every time we got up or made a move. It has become very dry and dusty here and obviously has had no rain for many weeks. Eventually we arrived at Chinchilla Weir only to find the usual very vocal flock of caravanners! We've managed to get a site actually outside the line of posts demarcating the camping area, but the power pole is right in the corner and couldn't be reached if we were to go inside the fence line. The dam is lovely, tho the water is not fit for drinking. It is stocked with fish and has a few boats out on it and several blokes have put lines in to try their luck. B. is going to make a virtual cache using the information on plaques commemorating the opening.
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Friday 29th July 2011 Chinchilla Weir to Crows Nest National Park
Last proper day! We had a pleasant time chatting round a fire with several other campers. The main one who instigated it was yet another lone man in a van. There have been very many all through the campsites. It seems to be something these blokes do when life goes wrong, run away in a van. There are different styles. This bloke, Ray, like Graham in Normanton wanted to socialise and obviously use the passing fleeting friendship of other vanners to keep loneliness at bay. Others, like the fellow at Isla Gorge, to whom I spoke eventually and he said he was there to "mellow out - get some R & R isn't that what they call it?" don't want company. I wondered if he was a Vietnam Vet still trying to live with that stress, but, whatever it was, he wanted isolation and just to watch the sunrise and set. National Parks tend to attract long-haired, bearded, commune-with-nature people and the free camps get those travelling with dogs looking for company, while the commercial van parks get couples wanting all mod cons and entertainment. Those in the free parks who want all mod cons have them in the enormous vans - showers, loos, TVs, air-conditioners, generators for extra power, fridges, freezers, computers and internet, satellite dishes, solar panels etc.,etc.,etc. We swap between all three, chameleon-like, as, I suspect, do many of them. Today we were slow off the mark but made good time, stopping for about three caches on the way in Warra, Dalby and Oakey. The road only became interesting once the GPS took over to get us to Crows Nest. It took us a most complicated route through the western suburbs of Toowoomba, but eventually we were on the New England Highway heading North to Crows Nest. It was pretty high up and we had views left and right in places and in others passed through quite heavily forested areas - very different from all the plains driving we have done this trip. We set up camp and registered in Crows Nest National Park. It has long-drop loos and canvass-bag and twisty-rose showers for which we have to boil water. We went for a walk through to De-Tourist area on to a water hole heading towards Crows Nest Falls. The falls were too far to go but we got quite a good idea of the steep gullies and rocky obstruction that the creek flows through. It must have been fearsome in the floods in February. And now, having showered poured a drink and got out the nuts, we're sitting outside until it gets too cool to stay. It is cooling down fast now the sun has gone. Got to 2 deg C last night so may well be the same tonight. So we head back to Brisbane for the rest of the winter - been a great trip, can't wait for the next one!
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