Thursday 6th August
Well we left Clayfield at about 7:15 a.m. and it took at least a quarter of an hour in a traffic jam before we could get onto the Gateway highway to start heading North. We took the main North Road up to Gympie but turned off to Biggenden at Bell's Bridge because Brian's GPS kept saying that this was the main road North and we wanted to check it. It was a bit of a mixed road; some of it fine, but most of it very narrow, single-strip bitumen and about five kilometers were un-metalled dirt road - a bit nerve racking with the van behind us.
We had coffee in Biggenden and a slice of home-made raspberry coconut slice! This was to be the pattern of the trip - no wonder we put on a bit of weight! Just after Biggenden, Brian tried to avoid a fresh cowpat only to drive slap through it and spray it ALL over the front of the van including all the fittings and the undercarriage of the van. Couldn't have made a better job of it if he'd tried!! We had lunch at the Gin Gin pub overlooking a cache that Brian went and logged as soon as the group of tenderfoot missionaries ("Training the missionaries of tomorrow today" was the slogan on their bus!) who were parked right next to it went off for a walk.
We arrived at Tannum Sands just South of Gladstone about 3ish and were given a nice spacious site, but we could reach neither the power nor the water! Our neighbours behind lent us an extra piece of water hose and we borrowed an extension lead from the park owner (bit grumpy about it he was!).
We spent at least half an hour scrubbing cowsh off the car and van and then, as Pam and Adrian had invited us for tea, we went on up (literally) to Julia's house around 5:30 p.m. The silly GPS could not find us at all and wanted to send us firstly into the sea and then about 2 or 3K round the houses to get there. It never could get Tannum Sands right. We got there in the end and had a BBQ with Blundells and Cooks (Alan was on duty so we never did see him). Little Ethan came running out to meet us with "Uncle Vickie I love yoooo!" He and Bailey and Julia were off to Tai Kwon Do. Julia is a black belt and had to help with running the classes that night. Pam and Adrian have made a very comfy nest under Julia's house and we all ate out at the back round the BBQ.
Friday 7th August
Eggybaconbrekky!!! We'd had a very good night - both buggered after the drive yesterday! We went caching first off and could not find the one at the seahorse but managed to find the Canoe Point one. Canoe Point is a lovely spot; a very nicely developed, shady picnic place on the cliff edge. The rest of the foreshore round Tannum Sands is well developed too.
We went up to Pam and Adrian's then and went in their car to the Gladstone Bunnings to get a water hose and extension power lead - so now we have enough to go ANYWHERE!! We had coffee (and a gooey) in Bunnings with Pam and Adrian and then, after a little more shopping for them, we went to Lake Awoonga, a dam just in from Gladstone and very pretty.
We had had lunch (from Norm's Take-Away which was pretty ordinary) in a lovely park overlooking the water in Gladstone. It had a grave and a couple of monuments to pioneers of the Gladstone area in it. We really did too much driving for the day after our big drive up but it was very kind of them to take us. We said goodbye about 4ish before we could see Julia and the boys again which was a bit sad. Brian and I then went for a lovely long walk round to the Boyne River mouth and back along the beach to find yet another cache. We ate back at the campsite having had a leisurely beer beforehand - this is the life! It was a lovely warm night.
Saturday 8th August
Nice slow wake up and gradual pack-up ready to leave by 10 a.m. We went via Boyne River Bridge and Benaraby (where the lady used to have to open the gates to let the cars across the railway when the Dawsons used to come up that way in the 1950's). We did one roadside cache near a monument to Caliope pioneers out in the middle of nowhere.
We tried to find a coffee in N. Rockhampton but could only find a very basic corner store and got a Sarah Lee muffin each (but yukky that!) We stopped in Emu Park, again hoping for a coffee, but no go! We did buy bread and fruit so we went straight on to the campsite. Our site was a big grass and dirt one beside the games room and MILES from the loos. It was pleasant enough though once we were set up. (We are getting better at this all the time!)
We had a late lunch and a cup of coffee at LAST! The park owners are very friendly and have a "Chicken and Karaoke" night planned for tonight but we were able to explain that unfortunately (?!) we were bidden to Brian's brother for tea! This is one of those campsites where people return year after year and spend 1-2 months at a time, so they all know each other and have a rip-roaring social time. Points of conversation with other G.N.'s are: 1. Where are you from? 2. What kind of van? Where from? Good points bad points? 3. My arthritis/heart/asthma/cancer!!! The night was again warm and pleasant.
We went to Ron and Beryl's for tea (steak again - no good for my gut but very tasty and beautifully cooked by Ron - nice and rare in the middle). Beryl is quite handicapped by all her disabilities. Ron is coping quite well with his own problems (cancer of the prostate and kidney; not knowing what is to be done or when yet) and with Beryl. But they're fond of, and used to each other.
Sunday 9th August
A quiet day at last! Brian went off caching with Ron for the morning and I read and walked on the beach and drew - all very, very pleasant. Brian came home for lunch and we were bidden once more for the evening meal with Ron and Beryl. They, Brian and Ron, had not had much luck with caches that morning, so Brian and I did four more in the afternoon. We had a good scramble up a non-existent track to one (and then found there was a very easy track to it up the other side!) and then went down a hundred stairs to another. On the way down we were asked if we were looking for the treasure and once down there, another woman enquired if we were cachers! We obviously don't look like locals! The second woman is a friend of the cacher who put out that particular cache. It was at a very pretty cove of Zilzie Beach, which really is rather gorgeous. There are lots of little islands off this coast making it quite interesting and picturesque.
We had a pleasant meal with Ron and Beryl again. I managed to get Beryl to agree that it would be on a bit of a knife edge living alone if Ron had to come down to Brisbane for treatment and that she might need some sort of alarm system or regular visiting help. Beryl had hurt her back badly when she fell during an epileptic fit last year and can only move with considerable pain and very slowly.
She sits and watches her TV (with teletext because of her severe deafness) most days. She plays Mah-Jong on a Wednesday and absolutely loves it. She has written down and cross-referenced all her favourite moves/hands in a booklet that has gone out to many people involved in Mah-Jong. She is also hoping to get another dog to replace Mitch who died, possibly from poisoning last year. She would like to think it was from cane toads but it might be nasty neighbours baiting the dog.
Monday 10 August
Off to Duaringa - an easy, slow departure just in time as it rained just after we'd packed everything away - perfect! We tried, yet again, to find coffee in Rockhampton - absolutely hopeless unless you go into a shopping center! We found Ron's favourite fruit shop, Robbie Dee's, but no coffee nearby. No cherries either, but some pretty decent local fruit. On the advice of the Island View Holiday Park owner (where we had been staying), we headed for Mount Morgan via Kabra. Brian put it into the GPS and it took us on a dirt road when there was absolutely no need! Then it got hopelessly lost and kept trying to tell us to turn right onto the railway or left into a paddock! Drove us mad so we ignored it and followed the signs and got, very easily, to Mt Morgan.
What an interesting old place it is! There appears to have been very little development since about 1970 and it is full of really old houses and buildings. Two tall mine chimneys and an enormous above ground, open-cut mining area (now abandoned) give the town a bit of a surreal feel. We had lunch in The Golden Bite Café (hamburger and chips and chicken and gravy roll) and who should be sitting nearby but one of Brian's ex-pupils, one of the twins, Lesley. He is living in Mount Morgan to be near his sister and family. He gave Brian a big hug when he realized who he was!
We then drove on to Dululu and Alma Creek, Brian's grandfather's property. Brian took the coordinates for a virtual cache to be at the corner of the property where Alma Creek School used to be. This is where his father (the young teacher) seduced (was seduced by?) his mother, a pretty, blond, blue-eyed sixteen-year-old!
From there to Duaringa was only an hour or so and in Duaringa we stayed in a free-camping rest area right beside a bore which has been turned into a lovely water feature with grass and trees all round. There are free hot showers and loos and lots of space and it is as nice or nicer than anywhere we've stayed so far. We had our meal outside and looked at the stars and listened to the coal trains off in the distance and thought just how lucky we are! It is a beautifully warm, serene night and I'll write some more tomorrow after we get to Lake Maraboon outside Emerald.
Tuesday 11th August
We woke to a slightly chilly, misty morning giving the promise of a beautiful day. No hurry, as no check-out time, so we cooked up the remains of mashed spud plus some bacon - yum! Brian went off to the loo (quite a walk) and was surprised by a fellow suddenly sitting up in the back of a ute, throwing off the blue tarp under which he had been sleeping and saying a bright "G'day!" to him! There must be about 20 - 25 vans parked around but it is an enormous site so no feeling of being crowded.
We had done the caches nearby the day before - one in the van park and one down by the railway crossing near the pub. That one was close to a grave site - 1873 or thereabouts, not in a cemetery, just on the side of the road. Another one that we stopped at today was at another grave site - almost a little cemetery - one sandstone headstone to Lucy Savage aged 2 years 9 months who died in 1875 poor little thing, and another to a John somebody or other aged 16 years and there were a couple of others too. All these caches have been place by 'Bundy-Rum-and-Coke' who drives coal trains between Bluff and Gladstone and has placed them along his route.
The coal trains were quite a feature of our drive today, with two large diesel engines at the front, and two more in the middle and many, many coal trucks they are quite impressive. At Bluff we could see them filling up with great piles of coal on one side of the road and a conveyor belt up over the road taking it to the waiting rail-trucks. In searching for one cache (a DNF in the end that turned out to have been muggled) I got coal dust all over my shirt.
We arrived in Emerald at lunch time and went for fuel and then to Coles. This place holds so many strong memories of Nick and Bec together and Brian and I visiting and of my staying with Bec for a week, just the two of us. Funny feelings, tinged with regret, not for Nick now, but for my friendship with Bec at that time. After lunch we came on out to Lake Maraboon, a very big park with most sites full - so many people, so few loos! I'll write more about it tomorrow.
Wednesday 12th August
Very smoky start to the day after another warm night. 'They' have apparently been doing a controlled burn of the undergrowth round the lake but it was a little scary as the wind got up and seemed to be blowing it our way. Nobody here was worried tho, so we decided it must be O.K. Brian went off into Emerald to find some wireless internet and a cache or two. He also had quite a shopping list including yet another pair of shorts. He bought one pair yesterday but ripped another pair last night so needed yet more. Lots of people left the campsite today but quite a few came in too.
I did the washing and must have walked to and fro the laundry about eight times - very tedious! Anyway, we only had enough pegs for half the wash so the rest went into the dryer and now we are all clean for another week. I went down to the lake and did some drawing tho it was very smoky. By the time the wash was dry Brian was home, so we had a leisurely lunch and tried for an afternoon nap. However the ants, plus the arrival of about three new lots of people trying to park right close to us, prevented that. So we went for a walk down by the lake to see the sunset and found that the fire was right on the edge of the grassed area down there and still smoldering. It was a bit too close for my liking.
It was a beautiful starry night, so warm and still. It had been 31 degrees in the daytime - so much for it being winter! We heard about a good free camp at Theresa Creek near Clermont that came highly recommended by the couple we were talking to. Lots of tame lorikeets around here, they came to visit me as I was drawing and again, with friends for breakfast!
Thursday 13th August
We had another easy pack-up and getaway, this time by 9.30 a.m. The fire was just a residual smolder this morning as the wind had gone and it's going to be another REALLY hot day. We're having difficulty getting hold of Mum. When we have phone coverage she seems to be out of reach of the phone.
We drove to Barcaldine, which was quite a pleasant drive through low ranges. We stopped at the Drummond Range Lookout for a cache (which we never would have done without the cache) and we could see how the railway winds its way through the hills.
On the other side we met a very, very wide load, which involved my pulling off the side of the road for it to get by. It was the first of three such loads, mining houses they looked like. Brian and I had quite a spat about how I'd coped with it - but we recovered and carried on! The trees varied a lot between black-trunked blue-green broad-leafed iron bark, slim white-trunked gums, bushy bright green, brown-barked box trees, some sort of grevillea or small bushy silky oak and lots of wattles. And sometimes, especially close to Barcy (Barcaldine!), no trees at all. We had lunch in a pleasant café in Alpha where the girl serving us was Polish but from Germany and, in Duaringa, at the pub we had been served by two Finnish girls - all of them out here for the experience (of being stuck in the middle of hot nowhere, serving grey-nomads and truckies!!)
In Barcaldine we stopped to look at the Tree of Knowledge memorial - an enormous black box hanging over the dead remains of the poisoned tree, with a series of cleverly arranged angular slats of wood looking like leaves that are suspended from the box structure. Unfortunately it is fenced off as 'they' have realized that the hanging slats bang into each other in the wind resulting in them cracking and they fear they might fall off and spear whoever is below! It apparently cost about 8 - 9 million dollars to make and people are less than enamoured of it. It is a real monstrosity from the outside, but effective to look at on the inside if only 'they' can make it safe!
We're staying in a van park right on the edge of a road that has road trains thundering down it every so often so not sure what the sleep will be like. We had a bush tale-teller (Tom Lockie) and then a country music trio (Yodeling Peter Smith, Lara Ross and Bruce) for entertainment - bit wailing (or rather yodeling) cowboys. It made a different evening anyway and we had a good mug of billy tea and excellent damper!
Friday 14th August
Easy pack-up once again - boy are we getting slick! We went into Barcaldine to the Australian Workers' Centre, a well set out area with section for QRail, Queensland Police, Department of Main Roads, Queensland Teachers, hospital workers, women etc. all giving the history of the services and how they have developed. There was a lot on the 1890's shearers' strike and how brutally the shearers were treated. We went on to buy bread and have a coffee and then drove off to Longreach.
We had had no mobile coverage at all during our stay in Barcy and it wasn't until we got near Ilfracombe that we were able to use them. The road, the Matilda Highway (that we have dubbed the Roo Carcass Highway) was straight as a die again, but this time overwhelmingly beige with Mitchell grass all along and very few trees anywhere. There were many, many dead roos and carcasses all along it - even one wild pig carcass, wouldn't like to hit that one! We saw a couple of (live) emus much to my delight - never seen them in the wild before.
Longreach is FULL of tourists, there is heaps to do here and it has a lively bustling feel. We went over to the caravan park's 'entertainment' only to find more wailing cowboys so we came away after just one beer. Brian is delighted he has free internet access here - we did in Barcy too and it makes it very easy for his logging of caches etc. We only found one cache today, a little grey Ferguson tractor amidst the rows of old machinery along the highway at Ilfracombe. It makes quite a display and is Ilfracombe's claim to fame.
We're off to see dinosaurs in Winton tomorrow - going to be a big day.
We had dinner at the Commercial Hotel with Roly, Jim and Robyn's friend. Boy, could he talk! Likes a good yarn does Roly, but he is obviously a very generous and good-hearted fellow. (Not such a great chef tho!)
Saturday 15th August
Well, what a day! We drove the 175K straight (and I mean straight) through to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Centre just outside Winton. It is 11K along a dirt road up on a mesa or 'Jump-up' as they call them out here. Through one man's (David Elliot's) enthusiasm a dinosaur bone preparation laboratory has been developed in a corrugated iron shed way out here. It is here because there is evidence of dinosaur bones lying beneath the top layer of the black soil of the plains all round Winton, Lark Quarry and Muttaburra. It receives no permanent funding from the government, just grants every now and then at the whim of the politicians. It gets some support from the Queensland Museum and from some other charitable institutions and individuals. The laboratory organizes fund-raising 'digs' each year and often the people who come to try it get completely hooked and return over and over again. Maxine and Jim Macmillan (Anne's friends) do just that and are heading up for their third year for an 8-week stint next week!
The Jump-up is a most beautiful piece of Australian country - that wonderful rusty red rock with the soft green of the boree trees and the scattering of white limbed elegant gums with delicate sharper green foliage. The mesas can be seen for miles around, as the whole of the rest of the area (where the bones lie) is very flat and open. The hard top of the Jump-up is underlain by softer, easily erodable rock, which results in fissures and gullies and unstable edges all round it. We did a short walk to a couple of look-outs and were rewarded by a staggeringly beautiful view of the land over towards Winton. After an hour and a half's fascinating tour, taken by Trish (or Tricky who knows Maxine well and is a big jolly personality who knows heaps about the work and is an absolute enthusiast) we bought ourselves shirts and went off down into Winton itself. I think I could heartily enjoy a week's dig there, painstakingly extracting bits of bone and gluing them back together like a 3D jigsaw, but Brian doesn't like the isolation and wouldn't want to do it at all. Trish lives on site and is the Tourism Manager and a senior scientist and processor and also the caretaker. It's a really big job, as all the bones must be locked up each night for fear of thieves. Apparently they'd be worth some millions on the dinosaur bone black market!
In Winton we went to the Walzing Matilda Centre and saw a show and lots of exhibits about A.B. (Banjo) Patterson and the writing of That Song. I must admit that I don't want to hear it again for a while! I felt rather uncomfortable with the self-congratulatory, jingoistic nature of the displays - all a bit much. We found the only cache there and then did the long straight drive back to Longreach. Remind me to talk about the black kites along the road another time.
We found another cache at the entrance to the Stockman's Hall of Fame once we returned to Longreach and then came back to the van for a very welcome beer and biccies. It has been a hot, hot day with so much done - wonderful!
Sunday 16th August
A slow get up as we planned to join the Poetry and Pancakes Breakfast down around the swimming pool - and what tremendous fun that was! Milton Taylor was the yarn spinner and he was slick and funny and such a performer! Sometimes he used the audience and sometimes he acted things out. He did a lovely tale called Dulfux adding -LF- into the first or major stressed syllable of every word; so 'cartridge' becomes 'carlfartridge and 'ducks' becomes 'dulfux'. It was VERY funny and a lovely lively start to the day. The pancakes were good too!
After that we went first to the Stockman's Hall of Fame. It is very beautifully done, lots of money spent on it quite obviously. There is a tremendous amount of information there and if you read it all it would take you forever. The best bit for me was the photographs of the early European's life in Queensland, which made it so real. Brian really enjoyed the information about the pioneering families like the Duracks and Kidmans, but there was information on all aspects of European settlement and some fascinating stuff about the Aboriginal incorporation into the wage earning society and how, for example, to disguise just how many Aboriginal women were being used as stockmen, they made them dress as men. It was far less jingoistic than the Walzing Matilda Centre and presented facts and information really well. The coffee machine had broken down tho, so we had to go over to the QANTAS founders Museum for lunch.
There were many, many tourists today and we realized that Sunday must be one of the busiest day. We had a full roast dinner for lunch (special on Sundays and lots of locals calling in for it too!) and two excellent coffees!!
Then it was time to tackle the QANTAS museum. We decided just to do the museum not the tour of a jumbo or a walk on its wings or anything. A good decision I think. Again I particularly enjoyed a series of photos about an outback family who benefited from the early QANTAS flights but then lost their dad in the first fatal aircrash that QANTAS experienced. The other highlight for me was going inside the original hangar and seeing the old plane and where they worked building the early planes. It is still much as it always was. We really out-museumed ourselves by the end and were happy, finally, to sit and watch a brief film presentation of QANTAS history. It has been another scorcher of a day - 34 degrees, but it's cooling down now and with a good white wine, what could be better?
Monday 17th August
The big day of the trip back to Barcaldine for the Artesian Country Tour with Tom Lockie. It meant we had to be up at 4.45 a.m. to leave at 5 to allow us plenty of time to drive slowly into Barcy avoiding all kangaroos. We drove at about 60 - 70 kph with our eyes peeled for shadows at the side of the road. We had to pull up sharply about five times to let the silly roos go over the road or hop away. They are particularly stupid about the road and will hop towards the lights. Early morning and late evening are the most dangerous times as they feed along the roadside. Anyway, all was well and we arrived in time for a hot cuppa and a pee before Tom picked up us and 12 others.
We were a motley crew of aging couples, probably all late fifties and early sixties. Rhonda and Brian were up from Melbourne, she an anthropologist and he a civil engineer. Another couple was from Adelaide and had bought the Adelaide house of the current owner of Grace Vale (the property that we were on) when he moved up to Queensland. Most of the rest came from Brisbane or environs. Tom talked non-stop as we drove to Aramac seeing a family of emus, 7 little ones and dad, some plains turkeys and brolgas. In Aramac we had a pee stop and went to see the statue of the white bull stolen by Harry Redford. The bull's 'family jewels' are kept at the library and screwed on for special occasions as they have been knocked off so many times!
We then drove on to Grey Rock, a now non-existent wayside tavern, and where there are hundreds of smashed old bottles. Apparently bottle collectors deliberately destroyed them in the 1950s to keep them rare. There was also a big grey rock with hundreds of names and dates carved into it, the earliest being about 1880. We had morning billy tea there with home-made muffins and biccies. On, then, into the ranges where Tom showed us the original trail with the compacted wagon tracks sitting up from the non-compacted parts that were being eroded and, at another spot, the place where they had to go down the range and they had built sort of steps for the wagon wheels. Coming up they would double up the teams of horses to pull the load and have to undo to front horses as they came up so they didn't pull the ones behind into the hill and kill them. They used horses not bullocks apparently as they could get 3 miles a day further with them.
Then it was lunch on Grace Vale property where there is a wall of Aboriginal carvings and paintings in the softer stone underneath the top lava flow and the river deposits. There are many puzzling carvings and one particular one of footprints (with 6 toes) called the Circle of Life. Lunch was very good; sandwiches and billy-tea and fruit cake with Tom still talking non-stop. After lunch it was over to the blow-holes in the lava; first from the top; then down into the caves and looking up from the bottom. There had been a dreadful massacre of Aborigines in that cave in the 1890s. Tom grabbed some dry grassy stuff and rubbed it and it released a beautiful sweet smell. He called it bush lavender.
On the way back we stopped at the ochre pits for arvo tea and then he talked us all the way back into Barcy; tall tales, real tales whatever. His younger daughter, Jen, died at 21 of cancer and he loves to tell of her exploits especially winning goat races and grading the road into the blow-hole caves. She'd apply for any job requiring a "good man" asking if "a better woman" would do. She was only 4 foot 10 inches and a tough nugget by all accounts.
Once back at Barcy we had to set to and drive back into Longreach, once more coping with the roos. Happily, we were able to follow a road train for three quarters of the way, which made it easy. What a day!!
Tuesday 18th August
Slowowow day! We were pretty exhausted from the exertions of the Barcaldine trip so we did easy things like the b..... washing - running out of undies again so it was necessary! Also we did supermarket shopping in Cornetts in Longreach. Most supermarkets in these outback towns are Cornetts IGA.
The only thing we had planned was the sunset cruise on the Thomson River (the only unpolluted river in the west - Thomson, there's no pee in it!) on the Thomson Belle. It was another scorchingly hot dry day and we lay about keeping as cool as we could until time for the cruise. Sixteen of us were picked up at the camp site and taken to the river about 4K out of town. It is really a large muddy looking water hole (14K long) made by damming the river lower down and it supplies the town's water which therefore does not have the bore water taste or smell.
When we got there we found that one of the hosts/entertainers was Milton Taylor again - we were happy with that. The little old paddle wheeler held about fifty people and only three at a time were allowed on the top deck. I took my turn up there and had to put on a wire collar with a tag to show I was one of the three.
It was the usual motley assortment of between 50 and 80 year olds, some tarted up with lippy and jewels and others in their camping dags. We chatted to some New Zealanders and Victorians as we paddled sedately down and back in time for the sunset over the water. The two old biddies right at the front of the boat with the best view sat looking rather miserably back away from it all the time! It was really very pretty tho lacked the clouds to make it dramatic.
We then disembarked and sat round a campfire and were entertained by Wilf and Graham singing - not entirely country and western thank heavens! Food was line up, grab a plate, get a great spoonful of stew and a slice of bread and butter and then later on be dealt a dollop of apple Danish and cream and billy-tea with damper. Then it was Milton's turn and he was just a good the second time - not all the same material but he did do Dulfux again. We bought a second CD and talked with him about seeing him twice and he gave us a discount! It was a beautiful night if a tad chilly and we hadn't thought to bring jackets. So, we were quite glad to get back in the bus and go back to the camp site.
Wednesday 19th August
Time to pack up once again. It had been great to have five nights in one spot, but because we had the annex and the flies up, the pack-up was quite a business. We got FILTHY from all the dust on the camper. We were driving down to Blackall via Ilfracombe and Isisford; a slightly secondary route involving more minor but sealed roads. At Ilfracombe we found a cache behind the little folk museum and then at Isisford we stopped for coffee at the Interpretation Centre and tried to find a snack to take with us but ended up only being able to get a choc bar. We carried on to Blackall in time to set up for a late (2pm) lunch and then did a visit to the Wool Scour (after finding a cache in a (the?) black stump!)
The Wool Scour has some of the best steam driven machinery still in working order and was an important part of the wool industry in the 1900s through to 1978. It has been well restored for history's sake and is a great tourist feature. They were having a corned-beef dinner that night so we decided to come back for it. Before that tho we returned to the nice little crammed full camp site for the Bush Poet, Gary Lowe, a funny old fella with enormous ears and turquoise blue eyes, who told lots of somewhat politically incorrect poems, mostly gently funny and in true old rhyming style. The camp site has only Blackall bore water that stinks of sulphur and tastes no better!
When we arrived for the dinner at the Wool Scour we were joined at our table by two other couples. One was a pair of retired teachers from Anglesey, Victoria; she, Beth, a spinner of wool and he, Leigh, the ex-librarian from Geelong Grammar, and the other was a retired school administrator (Clyne? Kline? Klein?) and a retired police inspector, Colin from Nelson Bay. Colin originally came from Ware in Hertfordshire UK, near Watford where I come from and he used to go to Cromer for his holidays!! We all chatted on and had a terrific evening.
All of us were staying at the caravan park and heading in various directions, and it was just one of those magical accidents that led to a great evening. The food was good too; classic corned beef, potatoes carrots and cabbage with mashed spuds and white sauce all followed by plum duff, pink blancmange (!) and custard. I haven't had blancmange since I was about 11 years old and I really enjoyed it. It was all served up to us and plates collected and washed up by a really odd assortment of tattooed fellows who exuded a vaguely hostile air and they appeared to be supervised by the other people there. I had a suspicion that they might have been doing community service for some sort of misdemeanours! It added a slightly surreal dimension to the whole evening. (P.S. We found out later that they were prisoners doing work at the Wool Scour as part of their sentence. We could just tell that they didn't want to be there.)
Thursday 20th August
Quick, easy pack-up as we had no flies out and we were able to leave by 9 o'clock. We drove to Tambo avoiding all the road-kill. I have never seen so much road-kill as on these western Queensland roads! Kangaroos, wallaroos, kites and the occasional fox, feral cat or pig. The kites get killed because they eat road-kill and are too slow at taking off when cars approach. So, when we see birds on the road feasting we toot like mad to make them take off in time. Crows are fine, far more intelligent, but the big black kites or kite hawks and the locals call them are slow to react.
We had coffee in the Royal Carrangarra pub that advertised cappuccinos and lattes etc. but when we went in they were only just waking up and the old couple (who had only 8 weeks ago bought the pub) were struggling to manage the coffee machine. It was a comic coffee, but good none the less. The couple said that they had retired from pub keeping but somehow had lost all their superannuation (The Storm scandal perhaps?) and had to start all over again. I felt quite sorry for them.
In Augathella we bought rolls and cheese and ham and ate our lunch in a pretty rest area on the side of the dry Warrego river. Not a lot to Augathella, just a rather nice name.
We got to Charleville about 12:30 and set up in a lovely shady spot only to have four more tent-trailer type campers crammed in around us. All over weight too! SO many Australians are now obese or at least overweight. Nearly all our van park hosts have been large people and the booking clerks, and the checkout people! We're off to the Cosmos Centre tonight and guess what? - clouds and even a spit of rain! We haven't had clouds since Yeppoon so why now?
At the Cosmos Centre WIN television was filming for their 'Postcards' series. That delayed things for us a bit tho there might be a glimpse of our retreating backs going into the viewing room along with about 20 others. The roof of the room opened above us and we took turns to look through the telescope, but because of the delay the cloud cover came back in the middle of the session and we only got to see Jupiter (and its 4 moons) Alpha Centauri (2 stars not 1) and the Box of Jewels (a lovely sparkly collection of different coloured stars). It was still very worth doing. It really is a remarkably bright and wonderful night sky out here.
Friday 21th August
A few thoughts:
* Gary Lowe played the gumleaf - a fearful noise but quite clever.
* I don't like wailing cowboy singing but classic Aussie bush songs are OK.
* Some caravan parks have scary notices like "If you don't/can't shower with the curtain inside the shower then don't shower!" (Blackall) "Don't park on the grass!" (Longreach, no grass for miles around!)
* A neighbor who smokes is marginally worse than one who plays TV too loud and one who does both is the pits!
* LARGE people getting up into car-top tents are a scary sight!
* Getting out to go to the loo at 3 a.m. can be a lovely experience - stars, warm nights, owl calls, and the quiet - magical!
* Caching takes you places you'd never go to otherwise - old meatworks turned wool scour on Charleville road where there was a wonderful working windmill that sprayed us with the water it was pumping up.
* Carrying voices are a mixed blessing and no blessing at all for neighbours!
* I do like the wide, wide streets of these Queensland towns, u-turns, even with the van on are so easy!
* Do I really belong with all these old people? I guess I just have to accept that they think I am one of those old people too! I find I am yearning for the young ones and babies draw me like a magnet - surely a sign of age!
We had a quiet day in Charleville. We bumped into Colin and Klein and had coffee
with them and a Swiss girl, Dorothy, who was traveling alone. She had bussed
it up to Winton and Longreach and down to Charleville and was training it back
to Brisbane that night.
We went to the Historical House and then just relaxed until time to go to the Bilbys. There had been a Yabby racing competition in the early evening where the park owners auctioned off yabbies. (It cost you a dollar if you just scratched!)
All proceeds went to the Royal Flying Doctors and they do it twice a week during the tourist season.
The Bilbys was an interesting show - they do so need saving! Feral cats and foxes are the main culprits for their demise. They are such charming creatures it is dreadful to think that they are nearly extinct.
It was a very balmy night - we've managed to eat outside every evening we have eaten at the van and all our breakfasts have been outside too.
Saturday 22th August
We had a bright and early start and set off to Mitchell. We stopped in Morven for coffee, a funny little town with a loo covered in murals. We chatted to the old lady who runs the petrol station cum shop cum café where we had coffee (instant only) who wanted to tell us all about her birds and cats and dogs. She's trying to sell the shop and retire. Her canary can be heard up and down the street when in full voice.
Lunch was a picnic at a cache site at the Amboola crossing on the stock route. It was a very pretty windmill and dam area and the cache was being guarded by a rusty red coloured goanna who matched the undergrowth perfectly.
Mitchell is a small town but quite a bit seems to go on here. We went to the spa and bathed in the hot artesian water, then the cold bath and it felt marvelous. We'd been so hot and dusty from caching and setting up and it just cooled us to the core. A gentle breeze that sprang up helped too. There is a lovely river walk with big river red gums that are lit up at night. The walking bridge is under the road bridge and the road bridge piers are painted with delightful murals of Mitchell's history.
Tonight the Ladies Auxilliary from the little hospital put on a camp oven dinner and had over 100 people (including us) for a three course meal (soup, stew and veggies, plum pudding and custard and icecream) all for $12 a head! There was entertainment as well with three jokers from Roma who told the Harry Redford story and recited a few poems and were great fun. There were lots of raffle prizes but we didn't win one.
Sunday 23th August
We woke early after a very warm night and I was feeling the effects of onion in the stew last night. It has not been too bad tho as this is the only time I have had any real bother.
It was a big caching journey today. We stopped eight times, found six, DNF two and then did another one after we arrived at Chinchilla. None of them led us to lovely places tho, and a couple were scary snake country or bad prickle ground. We missed out on coffee because of the caching and went right through Roma just stopping for fuel or a cache, tho it is quite a big town. We had a picnic lunch in quite a pretty place by Dogwood Creek or water hole. Ludwig Leichhart named it in 1844.
It was extremely hot today, uncomfortably so and I'm afraid tomorrow will be the same. We've gradually driven into the usual type of a. traffic, b. countryside for round Brisbane and Toowoomba, far less clearly outback, tamer and busier. The other caravan or camper trailer drivers no longer give us a wave as used to happen up north and it is all making me feel a bit down about the trip coming to an end.
We are camped in a quiet little park (at least it is quiet now the swimming pool announcer has gone home from the pool over the road!) in Chinchilla with GREEN grass! It was only just after Mitchell that we came upon vast acres of green, probably winter wheat, and were clearly in grain growing country rather than cattle or sheep country. We've left the sheep country way behind now. We're eating left-overs tonight to clear the fridge. There is just a beautiful bright sliver of new moon up there tonight - I wonder when I'll notice it next.
Monday 24th August
We were up early after a very quiet night in this grassy caravan park in Chinchilla where the 'conveniences' are a. locked so we have to remember the key, b. highly scented, c. prettied up with a vase of plastic flowers and d. filled with radio station music from 1960s and 70s (no doubt to disguise the rude noises!). I get the feeling they really don't like bodily functions here!
We set off at 8:30 and did three caches before coffee in Oakey, one had too many muggles all using the place for smoko, one was rolled up in a lippy case in a hole in a post and the third was a small tube tied to a bit of concrete - all very sneaky. And that's it for caches; just a swift drive home stopping in Queens Park, Toowoomba for a noisy picnic lunch. The Council were lopping and munching some of the trees in the park.
What a shock Brisbane traffic is after the easy-peasy straight as a die roads we've been on. But at least we got through smoothly and arrived home safe and sound about 2:30. Now for the clean up.......