Travels 2011- Central Queensland

This will be the first of a series of  of travel tales published during 2011.  The text of the travel log maybe skipped by those preferring to instead just view the incorporated travel snaps which should provide an adequate overview of the trip

 

 

2011 What a Year!  The rains actually began in December 2010 culminating with floods in Central Qld all around Rockhampton, the rain then moved down to SE Qld inundating large swathes of Brisbane, Ipswich, Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley.  Not content with this torrential mess, mother nature turned on Central Victoria and scoured large tracts of land in the Western District including the Grampians and finally returned to Northern Qld vide Cyclone Yasi and gave it a second helping of flood waters almost as great as the calamitous floods around Innisfail back in 2009. 

Against the backdrop of the eastern seaboard of Australia resembling one giant floodplain, we learnt that most States and Territories had recorded their wettest 12 months ever.......that is except WA which just had to be experiencing a drought down South and had to endure the odd bushfire in the forests surrounding Perth and Fremantle.

Then, in the midst of dealing with the mess this left by the various floods, our attention was deflected in March by the devasting earthquakes which occurred around Christchurch New Zealand and the even greater tragedy and loss of life caused by the massive earthquake and tsunami in central Japan which almost triggered an apoplectic meltdown within four of its nuclear power stations.

If ever there was an inauspicious beginning to a new year this had to be it.  Nevertheless, there seemed little point in crawling under some rock and hoping things would get better and instead we decided to fulfil a long held wish to explore Queensland's northern half en route to Darwin to be with son Ben and partner Sarah for their wedding in early August.  We planned to do it over four months ie at a leisurely pace. 

The preparations for the trip began almost as soon as we arrived back  home at the end of January from our travels down south and across to Perth. Renting our house for less than 12 months proved too problematic for the Real Estate agents we approached and so we tried to advertise it ourselves with much more encouraging results.  We found our temporary house minder over xmas was keen to enter into a much more formal leasing agreement.  So it came to pass that we were able to come to an amiable agreement.  We were also able to let the house partially furnished and store our personal things in the third bedroom/study as well as in a lock-up I had constructed out of arc mesh in one of the storage bays down stairs....very convenient.

After our shakedown trip down south, there were a number of modifications we wished to make to the campervan before taking off for a lengthier trip up to the northern tropics.  These included the provision of new weather/shade awnings over the bed extensions, mains water pressure plumbing to the sink, improved jockey wheel, new main bed mattress, improved dining facilities in the annexe and provision for a portable wardrobe.

Getting Prepared at Yeppoon (Maine) Caravan Park

               

Our New Home for 2011

All of these improvements were methodically attended to while we nervously watched for a sign of improved (dry) weather conditions up north.  Alas, the monsoonal rains continued up north throughout March offering little hope of an early assault on Cape York. Instead, with a tenancy agreement in place for the beginning of April, we had to scramble to find alternate destinations around Central Queensland which would serve to provide time for the north to dry out.

As the end of March approached, I grew increasingly apprehensive about our ability to do justice to our planned expedition north and spent a lot of time studying long-range weather forecasts and road reports with very little news to inspire would be travel.

Nevertheless come 30 March we moved the campervan down to Main Caravan Park (Yeppoon) which we had last called home in early 2006.  We moved into it the following day only to experience another 25mls of rain overnight which identified some shortcomings in our annexe which were quickly fixed.  Over the next four days we finalised the cleaning of the house and joined in many farewell drinks and luncheons.  There was certainly a strange sense of déjà vu about the return to this caravan park and all of its same residents.

Last minute victualling

On Monday 4 April, with the promise of clearing showers, we quickly decamped and headed down the Bruce Highway initially to Calliope and then down the Boyne Valley en route to Monto vide the Grand Hotel at Many Peaks.  Unfortunately, the latter did not open until 1530 hrs that day but I was assured by the publican that it was safe to ignore the threatening roads signs to the effect that the road ahead was unsuitable for trailers or caravans "signs only there to protect the Roads Dept arse" - he assured us....However, I did have to resort to first gear to negotiate one tricky bit of this very steep one lane goats' track.

This rather indirect route was purposely selected to test the car's towing capacity as well as to give us an opportunity to try out the first of hopefully many free camp sites identified in our new travel bible titled Camps (6) Australia Wide (www.campsaustraliawide.com) which is designed for budget travellers and covers: free camp sites, rest areas, station stays, state forests, remote parks and community camps.  ie for those intent travelling on 'tracks less travelled'.

The first one (#451) some 10kms from Cania Gorge NP was a beauty and we were the sole occupants of this 2 acre site some 150m off the road.  Basic toilets and water were provided.  It is our intention to utilise these sites whilst in transit between agreed destinations such as a town or NP of particular interest to us and where we anticipate spending one week or more exploring.

The following morning we visited Cania Gorge NP (no camping) and spent some hours trekking through its lush sandstone wilderness. We both noted the lack of  fauna in this park but maybe the recent wet conditions had scattered them far and wide.

      

                                                

It was then off to Biloela and Moura where we had another campsite winner (#434) right beside the Dawson River....very pleasant and we decided to prop here two nights with the intention of putting the boat in and doin some fishing.  However,  just as I had unpacked everything I discovered that I was mysteriously without a bung for the dinghy.  We flew into Moura but could not purchase one and so the next day we had a round of golf (Green Fees $7) on the public course just across the road from our campsite.  There were another retired couple of blokes camped here and while we were there they had but their boat in 3 times but on each occasion were only rewarded with  lots of carp and eels.  They were also filling in time before heading to the Daly River NT on their annual pilgrimage to do some barra fishing at Wooliana.   This campsite had a max stay of 48 hours and provided hot showers for $1.

       

Our camp by the Dawson River

           

A couple of 'keen hackers' out on the Moura golf  course.

Forgetting the boating hiccup we headed straight to Carnarvon Gorge NP where because of earlier rains all but the main Gorge were closed.  En route we were impressed with the greeness of the country and of all the fat Droughtmaster and Brahman cattle. During school holidays one can book and stay in the NP.  However, during our visit we had no option but to stay at the privately run Takarakka Bush Resort (www.takarakka.com.au) at $34/night ($41 in peak season beginning the following week). This same mob run similar flash parks at the Grampians and at the Katherine River Low Level in the NT. 

To offset this impost we straddled our visit to the Gorge overnight doing the short walks following our arrival in the early afternoon and our much longer 5hour  15km trek the next day.  This worked out well. 

Maria cooked Shepherds Pie in turbo oven to provide extra stamina for the next day's trek

This was a marvellous experience walking thru the forests of Macrozamias, Tree Ferns and Cabbage Tree (Carnarvon) Palms).  We got very sodden feet negotiating the many crossings of the Carnarvon River as we tramped up the Gorge.  While there is a much longer 22km trek this was also not open when we visited.  But one could do the round Gorge rim hike of several hundred kms; but we passed.

               

           

The local Aboriginals are believed to have congregated at the Gorge when these Macrozamias were in flower and had developed a means of preparing them for eating to avoid their highly toxic properties

       

One of the many crossings of the Carnarvon River one has to negotiate

 

       

Aboriginal paintings at the Art Gallery site

       

Entrance into the Amphitheatre site

       

Inside the Amphitheatre site (similar to Tunnel Ck in the Kimberley)

       

Mossy Pool site

We spent the following night at a very inhospitable caravan park in Injune and left early morning for Roma where we did the odd bit of shopping (no dinghy bungs for sale) and then on to the town of Mitchell on the Maranoa River.  The Neil Turner Weir (Camps #659) just 2kms out of town is where one is permitted to camp for free.  Sun Water Qld have considerately erected an ablution block, gas bar-b-cues and a water supply system for the benefit of passing tourists.   This was a beautiful campsite as can be seen with loads of shade right on the weir and with only a handful of campers using the place. 

 

      

 

During our stay we were constantly observed by groups of Apostle birds, Kookaburras and Magpies.  I think previous visitors were in the habit of feeding them.

       

Bicentennial murals painted under the town's bridge over the Maranoa river

I couldn't resist this snap of one of the town's (white-anted) power poles

From this camp we thoroughly explored Mitchell and surrounds including one of the explorer Major Sir Thomas Mitchell's base camps  during his and Edmund Kennedy's expedition north in search of an inland sea or rivers that ran north in 1864.  Mitchell was to discover the vast natural grasslands that today make up the Darling downs and Channel Country. This same country type of course then extends over the NT border into the Barkly Tablelands.  Kennedy was later to head expeditions all over Qld.  The town's major tourist attraction is a natural hot spa fed by the 28 degree water from the Great Artesian Basin.  The spa has been incorporated into the town's swimming pool complex and was very popular with tourists of a certain age and decrepitude - we loved it. 

           

There was also an excellent local museum, half decent bakery, 4 pubs and a golf course with oiled sand scrapes on which we played a couple of times (Green Fees $5). 

       

If one has time to notice, the streets of Mitchell which run east - west are named after English public schools (Winchester, Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Oxford & Cambridge etc) while those running north - south are named after English princesses (Alice, Elizabeth, Ann, Margaret, Mary, Sophia, Alexandra.  Despite enquiring at the museum and library I could not identify a reason for this - if , in fact, there was one.

After four days we decamped and headed further west through Morven to Charleville - a town of 3500 odd people which, over the past five or so years, has been devastated by a succession of flood waters from the Warrego River which runs straight through it.  After a visit to the excellent Information Centre we were directed to Judy's Camping & Fishing shop in the main street for the local gossip on good spots.  This shop is a must for all travellers to the town and Judy herself is a fountain of knowledge and a good old sort to boot..  She directed us to a spot on the Ward River 17km out of town which as she said offered good camping and boat launching.  We propped there one night to witness the legendary clear skies of this part of the world and the ?Yellow Belly  rising in the river next to us. 

               

The Ward River and its purported fish stocks

      

Beer O'clock by the river

On the way back into town next morning we were stared down by a ? dingo with an extremely bushy (fox-like) tail.  On a sign near a boat launching ramp, we learned that the headwaters of the Warrego somewhere in the Carnarvon Ranges, are the most northerly catchment of the Murray-Darling River system - how's that!

We initially booked into a town caravan park for 3 days so as to permit us to shower, wash clothes and re-provision as well as explore the town on which so much misfortune has been incurred.  The town almost has a tainted reputation of being permanently flood damaged and as a consequence  tourists' are avoiding it, many of the shops and businesses are closed, people are moving away and those that stay are simply resigned to future floods despite  the huge levy banks which surround the place. Surprisingly few of the houses both old and new are highset.  Even the town's biggest pub, The Charleville has closed its doors.  There remain two others, plus an RSL, bowls club and the Warrego Club (est 1902) to keep the townsfolk well-watered.  The town has a large base hospital (which Maria had cause to visit because she got a couple of bugs stuck in one of her eyes), a RFDS centre and a Distance Education/School of the Air facility.  After an initial balmy day of sightseeing the weather turned atrocious with temps dropping to 8 C overnight and only to 12 C during the day.  Maria dug out our heater and we went to the Warrego Club for a cheer up.  Next day was fine again but with a forecast of thundery showers returning.  Access to daily BOM weather reports and radar on the internet is quite handy while trying to plan future itineraries.

       

River Crossing on the old highway  in town and the Levy Bank plus the closed icon

A rather good mural on a local butcher shop's wall

We were going to play a round of golf here but the $15 Green Fee for sand scrapes mixed with proper greens seemed to me a little steep. Fortunately, the inclement weather intervened, so as I did not have to formally enforce fiscal restraint within the camp!

Sundays, contrary to previous advice, do appear to be good day for travelling between destinations - at least inland as most touristy places are closed and there is very little traffic.  However, when preparing to decamp it is wise to pack up annexes and flys the afternoon before and thus avoid having to stow them when they are still wet from overnight condensation/dew.   Notwithstanding this latter lapse, we packed up and drove out of Charleville mid morning headed for a former railway town and now only the Foxtrap Roadhouse at Cooladdi (#669) some 90kms west. 

 Our camping book advised that there was free camping available on the nearby Quilberry Ck (a tributary of the Paroo River) or behind the roadhouse where power and showers could be purchased for $7/night (#669).   After a quick assessment of the rather meagre facilities at the roadhouse we opted for the riverside camping some 5kms away next to their rather noisy  pump house on the river.

           

The initial campsite was also cursed by a carpet of Bindi thorns

After one night we decided that launching the boat could be problematical and so we took a 25km drive out to Yarronvale Station  also on the Paroo River but this time with an ideal campsite complete with a convenient boat launching bank.  We had been told about this place by 'Rude Jude" back in her Charleville camping & fishing shop and by the licensee at Foxtrap.  So we bolted back to our camp and did a quick pack up and moved down to Yarronvale. While the Station's owners were away, this was clearly a popular spot for locals judging by the number of fire pits,  chopped firewood and even a rather large Bar B Que plate with  3ft steel pipe legs for those larger fires they enjoy so much out here!.  We selected a camp under a couple of very shady Coolabah trees and settled in for a long stay.

       

Camp lit up like a bloody xmas tree

           

Maria shows off our inherited Bar B Que plate plus a spare saucepan she found in the bushes

Maria also scavenged this 'collectable' from the surrounding scrub

 

       

Boating at last

Early Morning 'sparrows' on the Paroo

 

 

Power and Refrigeration:

We spent 6 days here camped under the shade of some magnificent red river gums 20 m from the river bank. This extended stay in the one spot out bush called for quite some juggling of power sources in order to ensure adequate refrigeration was maintained for our frozen food supplies and odd beverage!  I found that running the 2kva generator for 4 hours at the end of the afternoon was good enough to bring the Waeco down to - 10 C  which would hold during the night and most of the next day until it was time to run the generator again.  Providing the thermostat was set at -5 C  there was minimal drain on the auxiliary battery during the day.  Occasionally the battery was also given a short recharge while generator was on.   The refrigerator in the campervan was similarly given a 240 volt boost by the generator and was then switched back to gas operation during the day.  Of course none of this fuss would be necessary if the car was being driven each day and or we were camped in a caravan park with  regular access to 240 volt power.

I must say we were amazed by how long our 9kg gas bottle which has been going everyday for over a month and before that was used periodically on our trip down to Melbourne and back in December 2010.......as luck would have it, it ran out just after dark on our second last night on the Paroo.

Some bush campers have opted for solar panels in lieu of a generator to trickle charge their battery packs.  However, I do not believe solar panels would achieve the same freezing  results nor could they enable one to use an electric oven as we do or charge one's cranking battery in an emergency.  Better the impost of carrying the 21 kg generator and a jerry can of petrol (which I also need for the outboard motor).  The generator's tank holds 4lts and it seems to run for 10 hrs on a tank on our current usage.

 

On our second evening, three car loads of locals from ? Foxtrap came down to try their hands at catching the elusive Yellowbelly and drink some rum.  Thankfully they didn't seem to take offence at the intrusion of visitors into their favourite spot and even managed to give us some tips on how to successfully 'bob for Yellowbelly'. They caught two and we none that night.   Its all in the jigging of your bait (Bobbin for Yella-belly) which you must place near the root of a massive old river gum supported by any old float about 1m up the line.  We were advised that they will take a cast spinning lure which must also be jigged whilst being retrieved.  So there you go - we got the good oil from a local - Gav, who also listed roo and goat shooting in addition to fishin in the verbal resume he provided us that evening.

          

This newly discovered fishing perch was to prove a real winner

Next day we put his expert advice to the test with immediate results.  While Maria's Yellowbelly was a keeper (30cm+), mine had to be returned to the river for another day.  We ate Maria's fish for dinner the following day.

During our time at the Paroo, I experimented with making a short movie with our compact Nikon digital camera with quite pleasing results. We were also thankful to have access to the local regional (Western Qld) ABC to monitor the weather around us.  We were beyond mobile phone coverage hence no internet and it was important that we kept abreast of rainfall not only in our vicinity but also in those areas we hoped to visit next.  As it was, Roma, Theodore and Injune were all flooded again during this pre-Easter period. 

It is worth noting that the Qld Bottle Trees one sees throughout this region are quite different from the Boabs one strikes over in the Kimberley WA as they tend to be much straighter with less 'tangled' or medusa-like foliage. 

During our extended camp at the Paroo it was exhilarating to once again smell eucalypt snappy gum on the fire and to be awoken each morning by Kookaburras and Currawongs.  Of course the full moon over Easter made the starry nights in the evenings even better.

On Easter Saturday we finally packed up and headed back to Charleville to begin our slow trek north.  Enroute we lunched at Augathella (pop 350) and then finally pulled up for the night at the similarly sized town of Tambo (#679  -  not too flash).   As we had joined the Landsborough Highway (Matilda Way in the tourist guide) we started to encounter many road trains both going to and coming from Darwin......one forgets quickly how big and noisy these buggers are. 

           

While in Tambo we stopped off in the local pub for a drink and came across a bridal party in the saloon bar getting ready for the big occasion later that afternoon.  According to the publican the bride had ordered 10 rums for herself and bridesmaids to steady their nerves.  Later in the day the happy couple together with attendants showed up at the Rodeo Ground behind our caravan park for their official photo shoot.  The bride appeared unconcerned for her  white dress as she paraded and posed in the red dust and on the gates and rails. 

                   

We knew we were well and truly in Qld's Central West now and this was confirmed by a sign indicating that we were also now in the Lake Eyre water catchment. 

We pulled into Blackall early on Easter Sunday and found most shops closed including the Tourist Information office.  However, we were able to scrounge a town map and found a Council Reserve on the Barcoo River to set up camp at $5/night (#686). 

Blackall's iconic Eagle & Nest sculpture on the banks of the Barcoo River

Blackall is famous as being home to Jackie Howe who during the 1892 set an extraordinary record of shearing 321 sheep seven hours 40 minutes with blade shears...a record never beaten.  His hands were reckoned to be the size of dinner plates and he was one of the instigators behind TJ Ryan standing for the Qld Parliament and eventually becoming one of its most celebrated Premiers.   The blue singlet often worn by shearers today is known as a Jackie Howe.....the modern tourist version will set you back between $15-24.  We learnt that Jackie's wife only ever made him khaki flannel ones and that the navy blue cotton ones were introduced well after his death in the 1920s.

The other major tourist attraction in the the area is a remarkably well-restored steam-driven Wool Scour (a place where freshly shorn wool was washed to remove excess oil and dirt from it and thus enable a higher price to be obtained).  The scour was built in 1908 on the sight of  a very hot artesian water bore and was closed down during a downturn in wool prices during the late 1970s.  However, through the diligence and enthusiasm of the local community and some government funding it has been fully restored and, according to our guide, the old British and Canadian cast iron boilers and machinery could be re-started tomorrow except for the bureaucratic OH&S guidelines now in place.  A tour of the wool scour is a must for any visitor.  Scattered around the town are also a number of striking sculptures and murals.

               

Steam Driven (Canadian) drill rig to access water from the Artesian Basin - often to depths exceeding 800m

 

           

Boilers at the Wool Scour

   

Adjoining Wool Shed and Hand and early mechanical shears

       

Classing Tables

       

The Scour

Razorback country

               

A restored Bullock Wagon on display in town - sadly  ravaged by termites

We were awoken the next morning by the ANZAC Day Dawn Service being conducted several blocks away.  It appeared that every dog in town also wanted to join in.  I walked down to the memorial park and was amazed to see a crowd of about 100 gathered soberly drinking tea and eating sandwiches. It was at Blackall that I began to think about the need to refill the 55lt water tank in the campervan.  Unfortunately the artesian bore water at both Tambo and Blackall stank of sulphur and I did not want it to contaminate the tank.   On ringing a caravan park in Barcaldine, I was readily advised that their bore water was beautiful to drink and had no nasty smell attached.  This turned out to be true and we filled our tank there, the first time since Carnarvon Gorge.   

We crept out of town and headed to Barcaldine some 100kms further north.  It did occur to us that a lot of towns in these parts are all about 100kms apart and that this may have been the daily limit on the old Cobb & Co coaches in times past.

Last time we were in this town was in December 2008 when it was about 45 C in the shade.  This time the temps were much kinder and we spent 3 days here waiting for the long Easter/ANZAC public holidays to finish and enable us to replenish our food and  beverage supplies, wash some clothes and bedding as well as attend to some postal and banking matters.  While Camps Australia recommended we camp at the showground camping area (#345), on arrival we were advised that the commercial caravan parks were trying to get the council to close it by lifting the tariff to parity with their own and limiting stays to 3 days.  As a consequence we opted for a regular park within walking distance of the CBD, Tree of Knowledge and Workers Heritage Centre. Lovely shady spot with a pet bush bird which had been trained to loiter around campers looking for scraps or even a beer.  The park's manageress was Vietnamese and no doubt she had had a hand in training the bird.

This park also displayed a sign in the ablution blocks explaining the reversal of the hot and cold taps therein. Apparently in summer, the artesian water supply is that hot that they must turn off the HWS in order to maintain a supply of cold water and the cold water tap is then used to supply naturally heated water from the ground.  I trust this makes sense - ie it's to stop punters from scalding themselves in summer.

A visit to the Workers Heritage Centre revealed that the exhibit was much the same as it was 3 years ago and that a complete makeover was scheduled for later this year or early next year; whenever funding could be released from flood relief elsewhere.

Barcaldine has 6 pubs all spread out along the main street; viz: The Globe, The Commercial, The Shakespeare, The Artesian, The Railway and The Union.  Over 3 days we got to visit each.  But it was in The Artesian that we came across Harry Stapleton's mate Phil Hale who together with his wife had taken over the licence of this the oldest and friendliest pub in town. 

Phil, his daughter and Maria

Phil is a Kiwi and has a day job as a linesman with Ergon Electricity.  Phil was a superb host.  This pub also offers backpacker style accommodation upstairs.

Main street of Barcaldine with Tree of Knowledge monument in background

A particularly smelly road train full of goats stacked in four tiers

           

Some of Barcaldine's pubs

       

Whilst in 'Barky', I treated myself to a new Akubra hat so as to better protect my ears and neck as we head further north. The woman who sold it to me took particular care in fitting me properly and inserted a foam ring inside the leather headband to make it fit more comfortably.  Lets hope it lasts longer than its predecessors.  This woman also informed me that out west cattlemen all wore high crowned hats whereas those running sheep tended to wear hats with a flatter crown and broader rim.

A fine 'Stony Creek' cattleman's hat

Camps Australia highly recommended a bush camping facility at the Lloyd Jones Weir (#346) some 15kms out of town and we intended to move out there once our domestic arrangements had been completed.  Unfortunately, on inspection we found it overrun with semi permanent campers who looked like they were settling in for the winter - many Victorian and NSW number plates.  The Weir is on the Alice River which runs through Barky and is a tributary of the Barcoo  River.

After 3 days of indolence, it was time to head out bush again and this time to Aramac and Muttaburra and the banks of the Thomson River - a tributary of Cooper Creek.  By god its almost a full-time occupation tracking all these rivers and waterways. Unfortunately, not all of the road maps or GPS aids provide adequate detail of  these intricate and often dry water ways.

We had been warned that the road to Aramac had been badly affected by recent flood waters and they were not wrong.

But a sample

Despite the condition of the road the never ending vistas of treeless Mitchell and Flinders grass savannah was most impressive as was the condition of the cattle grazing.  Because this was only a beef or development road one had to pull over onto the grass when one of the frequent cattle road trains approached and then still get wildly buffeted  as they roared past.

Aramac  is home to an annual three week cattle drive held in May when you can pay to join the drive and sleep in swags under the stars and eat damper and billy tea.  It is also where the famous cattle duffer Harry Redford, during the late 1890s  stole 1500 head  and tried to sell them down in Adelaide only to be discovered by the inclusion in the herd of a rather conspicuous white bull from Bowen Downs station which had been imported from the UK.  Nowadays there is not much to the town but local rains had filled its local billabong giving it an oasis feel to an otherwise dry dusty hamlet.

       

We continued on for a further 90kms to the equally small settlement of Muttaburra which I read somewhere was the geographic centre of Queensland.  Pulling into the town we could not but help notice the massive 10m tall shaded recreation structure erected within the grounds of the tiny primary school - no doubt the result of the Federal Government's 'education revolution' largesse .  Apart from that, the town seemed to be limited to a general store/service station and the Exchange Hotel which was decorated with all the cattle brands from the surrounding stations; including Bowen Downs registered in 1872.  I do believe that the famous 19th Century NT pastoralist Nat Buchanan once owned Bowen Downs.

                   

       

The old general store at Muttaburra

The real reason for heading out here was the promise of some ideal camping and fishing on the 'Broadwater'  (#348) formed by the confluence of the Landsborough and Thomson Rivers some 9kms out of town.  When we got there we found that there were already a number of  camps set up along the 4kms of banks of this waterway.  There was also a very steep and narrow mud boat ramp.  We eventually settled on a site and got our Yellow Belly rigs ready.  The camp while adequate was no where near as attractive as  we had experienced on the Paroo.  Mind you the clusters of Apostle birds were just as noisy.  We both agreed that we had been spoilt by our previous riverside camp on the Paroo.  However, because it was a generator-designated night, we were able to watch a rather 'snowy' telecast of the Royal Wedding along the banks of the Thomson and to drink a small nip of Morris Tawny Port to the happy couple.

           

Attentive Apostle birds

       

The Broadwater on the Thomson River at Muttaburra

           

Chores on the Broadwater while waiting for the Yellow Belly to bite (Red Claw failed to oblige as well)

After two nights we decamped and decided to head north along the Aramac - Torrens Creek Road which is another single lane bitumen strip for 250kms with the last 35kms being stony and pot-holed dirt.  However, to access this road we had to take a 48km 'shortcut' on a track across black soil which we were assured was in pretty good nick.  Lucky for us, we struck a grader on the job and the road while dusty was a dream; viz:

This trip north took us through endless Mitchell grass savannah country until we, at last, met the Flinders Highway (connects Mt Isa with Townsville) whereupon the country became more wooded.  We pulled up early that afternoon at a roadside camp (#288) on the Campaspe River which rises on the Great Dividing Range and eventually flows into Lake Dalrymple where it joins the Burdekin River and flows out to the sea around Ayr.  This was pleasant campsite, alongside a clear gravel bottomed river.  The site had toilets and water on hand together with very large shady Mango and Bush Lemon trees.  However, I should have taken more notice of the nearby railway bridge - massive ore and general freight trains to and from Mt Isa passed our camp about every 4 hours.

           

The proximity to the train line did not deter others who gradually pulled up to join us during the afternoon and evening.  You can't get everything right all the time, I guess.

Next morning we motored into Charters Towers to do a bit of shopping and to re-fuel the car.  Being a Sunday on the Labour Day long-weekend very little was open and to make matters worse, both our MasterCards expired the day previously and so we had to scrounge around for that rare commodity - cash!  We made an emergency phone home to our tenant to ensure that she forwarded our mail to the Proserpine PO as a matter of urgency.  This incident unnerved us for a while but we quickly forget it and drove down to the gold-mining and heritage-listed town of Ravenswood some 90kms SE of Charters Towers.  We were able to secure a perfectly good campsite in the local showgrounds (#281) where all basic amenities are catered for and one is only 200m from the centre of this charming town with a population today of less than 500.

               

The Catholic Church in its commanding position over-looking the town

In its heyday in the 1870s, the town boasted over 45 hotels, today there are only two but these have been magnificently preserved; viz:

           

There are numerous walks about the historic mining ruins which are all accompanied by very good interpretative signage with explanations of the various processes involved with the extraction of gold including the use of deadly cyanide and mercury.  Since 1995  Carpentaria Gold  was re-opened  the Sarsfield mine and employs over 300 in the now underground project. It currently retrieves 0.9grams of gold/tonne.  For the technically minded, 31 grams = 1 oz = one level teaspoon.  Here is another amazing fact; gold is that malleable that one ounce can be beaten into a single sheet the size of a tennis court.

           

 During one's walk around the town you cannot but help notice the number and elegance of the brick chimney stacks which stand dotted all about.  These were built as an early environmental measure to ensure that the smoke from the wood-fuelled steam boilers at the mines did not choke the town.  They were built by craftsmen from many nationalities but primarily from Ireland and Germany.

               

Prior to leaving the town we paid a visit to the historic cemetery where, as usual, the number of graves for women and children seemed to far-outweigh the numerically larger population of men.  The epitaphs on some were quite moving.

               

 

Our next stop was only 90kms down the road to Lake Dalrymple and the Burdekin Falls Dam - Qld's largest dam (4 x Sydney Harbour).  Constructed in 1987 for irrigation purposes.  En route we passed some bustards (bush turkeys) and a herd of cattle being moved down the road by some modern-day cowboys on Ag bikes.  I also spotted on the side of the road some unfortunate ringer's hat which just happened to be about my size - an excellent fishin hat

                

       

The lake, dam spillway and falls were impressive.

                       

 However, the adjoining caravan park was desolate and the staff disinterested in us so we turned tail and returned to Ravenswood and to another 'short cut' I discovered which travelled across the Leichhardt Range down to the coast at Ayr.  Now this gravel road has signs on it indicating that the steep gradients and creek crossings are not suitable for trailers or caravans.  However, local word at the pub was that it should not prove a worry providing we took it carefully and respected all crossings and dips.  We did and arrived safely. 

We sought some local advice from the Information Office both in Ayr and Home Hill about camping by the coast and was once again confronted with an elderly volunteer with scant knowledge about anything.  Camps Australia recommends staying at the Comfort Stop at Home Hill (#47).  However, while this facility is excellently equipped and centrally positioned for big rigs and coaster bus campers it is not suitable for camper trailers or campervans with canvas walls.  So we took a punt and headed south down to the tiny hamlet of Gumlu some 60 kms north of Bowen and then took a track 6kms into the coast to find a fisherperson's oasis in the form of  Molongle Creek Tourist Park (Tel 4784 8009) (#51 and page 247 in Nth Australian Fish Finder) run by the Molongle Boat Club who have constructed and dredged a safe anchorage, concrete boat ramp and powered sites and cabins.  Club membership only costs $75 pa.

This place serves as a launching place for the 250 odd individuals who have built shacks and houses across on Cape Upstart NP which has no road access.  During our 3 nights here we shared the caravan park with lots of travellers most of whom had small dinghies on collapsible trailers and who spent most of the day out fishing and especially crabbing.  The number and good size of the crabs being attributed to the excellent wet season they have had. 

The Club was established in 1962 and since then through voluntary labour has built some wonderful facilities; not least of which being a one kilometre length dredged and marked channel out to the open water.  The rather congested Powered sites are only $20 plus power while the 5 berth cabins are only $75/night plus $5 per person or $375 per week.

                           

                       

All of these snaps of the anchorage and channel were taken at low neap tide

                   

                   

                                   

                   Maria at mouth of Molongle Creek with Cape Upstart in background                         John with new Akubra addition with someone's crab leftovers

Maria having her first bathe in the sea since we left home

From here we drove down to Bowen and Proserpine to begin our stay on the Peter Faust Dam and hopefully catch some Barra.  After that we hope to move north up the coast to Cairns and then on up to Cape York.

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