Aus Update 40 - Outback Queensland

<Paula> 13th May 2007 - 14th May.   We spent a day in a town called Mareeba to do things like catch up on emails, wash the car, visit the supermarket, wash some clothes.  Minor things that keep one sane and slightly normal.  On Monday we set off again.  We have put into the Navman navigator our trip back down the country to Melbourne, stopping at some places along the way.  We have a little more than 3700km to return to Theo and Katrina's in Melbourne, then I guess our trip is over.  But till then we have so much more to see.

Before leaving Mareeba we stopped at 4x4 heaven, that is a 4x4 wreckers yard.  One where you walk through and find the part you want, they are hard to find and this only had 4wds.  Chris was wrapt.  So in the first week of our trip up the middle you may recall that we lost the cap to the power steering fluid due to the corrugations.  We have tried to get a replacement that works great and isn't too expensive, of course the part from Nissan is something like $70-80, for a cap!  Chris had made one out of some different things and it worked good it just didn't look that great, it also didn't have the dip stick on the bottom like the proper one has.  We got one  for $2.  So we sat there and wondered what else on the car needed replacing, one of the window catches could do with replacing, another $2.  We should have sat there a bit longer, we could have come up with a few other things  and built ourselves a new car from parts.  Joking aside our car is in better condition now when we are selling it than when we brought it.  Chris has really looked after it.  It was a really awesome wreckers and one that we have searched the country for, unfortunately they are having trouble with health and safety authorities and are having to  strip all the cars and store them in a shed, they wont be open to the walk in public.  They are going to advertise the parts on eBay.    

The other great place we visited in Mareeba was Coffee Works.  Now if you are into coffee, fantastic place to go.  They do a tour with tastings, and the place smells fantastic.  Chris is not that much in to coffee, in fact not at all, so we skipped the tour and went straight for the cafe, the coffee is really good, even their decaf is good.

Then we hit the road.  We are following a trail that is marked as the Savannah Way and it is going to take us to Karumba, at the bottom of the Gulf of Carpentaria, before we change direction and head south on a highway called The Matilda Way.  The first part of the journey took us up into the mountains, it reminded me a lot of New Zealand.  We didn't stop at anything along the way, there was nothing that really interested us.  We stopped at a place called Mt Surprise, and we have found the most amazing little caravan park.  The owner is a Scotsman.  He reminds me of a fiction book character, one that in the 1800's traversed the world for hidden treasures.  He is quite the character, he has traveled the world in search of gems and crystals.  His collection from all over the world is on display in the shop, it is really amazing.  He also has on display lots of artifacts from the places that he has been.  Every thing has a story too.  Really amazing, but it doesn't stop there.  They have miniature horses, geese and a large number of large bird avaries with the most amazing birds.  I also enjoyed their pool, which was a little on the cold side but very refreshing.  It is a really nice place, with great people, in the middle of nowhere.

15th May 2007 - 16th May. We drove past lots of nothing but grass fields with some trees.  The town of Georgetown also came up to our surprise a lot smaller than we had envisioned.  We were able to fill up with Autogas, visit the local information center to take care of some business on line, have some lunch and then we were on our way again.  The next place we came to was Croyden which was the place we had planned to stay the night.  It is a small town whose existence is  due to the finding of gold in the area.  There is one pub in town, the last of 36.  There is one general store, which is like walking back in time.  It would have to be one of very few that have not changed their interior with the times, neither have the floor boards changed.  A lot of the grocery items were on the shelves behind the counter just like you see in the movies.  They had a little bit of everything, including history.  They had their own museum in the shop where they displayed artifacts from a time past.  The town is very proud of it's history and they display it with pride.  You can walk around the site of the chinese temple archaelogical dig, reading about the history of the chinese in the area.  The gulflander train somes to town on Wednesday, bringing with it a train load of tourists that  spend the afternoon and evening taking in the sites and history of the area.  They return to Normanton the following day.    There are a lot of relics from the mining days scattered around the place you can look over, or the operational lamp posts that have been there since the 1800's, or the center of town proudly displays the original survey marker in the middle of the roundabout, it is a branch of an ironbark tree from Cooktown.  We did wonder why they had a dead tree  on display till we read the history brochure.  These days there are only 280 residents of the town and 36 students at the local school.  The local Shire offers a lot for it's residents and visitors, the local pool is free for all and there is a lake nearby with excellent swimming, fishing and playing equipment.

On the drive further west we noticed the landscape slowly change from grasslands with trees to just grasslands.  There was a lot of  wetlands too, that will probably dry up over the next few months, but for the meantime the plethora of exotic looking birds are loving it.  

We took a turn north at Normanton and have ended up for the day on the Gulf of Carpentaria, Karumba.  The place is a lot bigger than we imagined it would be and also very very busy.  All the camping locations are almost full.  There are so many caravans and boats around, I guess the fishing is good.  Again it is hot and there are lots of warnings about deadly diseases from the misquitos, but there is a beautiful breeze from the water, the sky is blue, and there is a great shade tree that I am sitting under right now enjoying the  moment.

<Chris> We sat and watched the sunset over the Gulf. There were lots of others snapping photos too - you'd think this hardly ever happened, but in actual fact, it happens every day! :-) Everybody else staying in Karumba seems to have a "tinny" (the small metal boat, not a measure of illicit cannabis) and spend most of the day out on the water fishing for barramundi. As we were not partaking in this (what seemed to Paula and I) frustrating hot experience, we decided to get barramundi fish & chips takeaways and see what they were all on about. Not being that much of a fish connossieur, all I can say is it was a fairly strong tasting fish.

17-May. We backtracked a little to Normanton, where we will head south down the "Matilda Way". We saw these great big gray wading birds in a waterway by the side of the road, but as we slowed to take a picture, they flew off.

Just south of Normanton we took a bit of a detour west to see "Camp 119", which is the northern most recorded camp of the ill fated Burke & Wills expedition of 1860/61. This party was trying to cross the country south to north. They almost made it, but his note in his diary said "it would be well to say that we reached the sea, but we could not obtain a view of the open ocean although we made every endeavour to do so". Unfortunately, low on supplies, the entire party bar one perished on the return trip south. The remains of their camp are now fairly faded, and it is not possible to make out any inscription, but several trees have historical markers on them where later explorers identified Burke & Wills tree blazes. The picture below shows the blaze made on a tree in 1862 by Walker who was able to identify the campsite from a year earlier.

We stayed overnight in Cloncurry where we were greeted by a smattering of rain and a beautiful sunset.

18-May. There were a number of musuems and tourist attractions to visit, including one that had one of Burkes glass water bottles, but we weren't really in the mood for museums and the entry fees just put us off entirely. We did however drive out to the airport. This famous site was the destination of the first ever Qantas (then Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service) flight - a mail run from Charleville to Cloncurry on 3-Nov-1922.

The original hangar is still in use, but as you can see from the second shot, the aircraft coming in here have been somewhat modernised...

Then we drove and drove, and drove and drove and drove. The terrain is beautiful, if rather monotonous.

Next stop was at the Combo Waterhole. This waterhole is famous as the site for the (in)famous 1895 Banjo Paterson song/poem, "Waltzing Matilda" based on a local legend here, and the reason for the naming of the Matilda Way. It's not a particularly inspiring looking spot, but certainly deserves its place in history.

Our stop for the night was in Winton. This town is famous for two things, the place where Waltzing Matilda was first performed in public, and the forming of Qantas who held their first ever meeting here and registered the company before deciding that they would be better off based 200km down the road in Longreach where the railhead was. The two events are referred to as Qantilda. Goodness knows what they will do if Qantas is dissolved in an overseas merger and Australians find a replacement for Waltzing Matilda.

Visiting the information centre our trip took a slightly unusual turn. We had a sign in the car advertising it for sale along with all of our gear. A man approached us and said, "if you sell it out here, how will you leave?". We suggested that we'd hire a car or something to which he smiled. We thought he was just being conversational, but as we discussed it with him, it turned out he was serious. He realised that the mobile number we had in the advertisement wouldn't work out here and asked where we were staying. In the morning he made us a very decent offer for the lot and we decided a firm commitment for a slightly lower price rather than a "what if" situation in 3 weeks time made this the right thing to do. Two catches. It was the weekend and out here that means no money, no registration and no sale, plus we needed to figure out how to travel on from here. We agreed that we would come back on Monday morning and headed on down to Longreach, 200km south which was our next intended stop.

In Longreach we visited the Stockmans Hall of Fame which was an excellent (if somewhat expensive) museum. There was so much information, your entry entitles you to come back for a second day. Although we found it very interesting it covered everything from Australias discovery to present day farming, so we didn't thoroughly review some areas. On all the walls they had plaques and photos of "unsung heros" - stories of everyday stockmen.

Next we visited the Qantas Founders Museum. Now this really got our attention (apart from the again fairly pricey admission fee). There were models of all the original planes used, the story of the founding and the early flights. The founders vision was how air travel could reduce the isolation of people out here. Having driven a fair way around these parts we can really understand how the addition of air travel has transformed their lives.

This is the original Qantas hangar where they built their own aircraft (yes, thats right, the airline built its own aircraft).  All the wooden floors in the workshop areas are still there.  They had wood so if they dropped a precious airplane part it wouldn't get damaged.  This tradition is continued in Qantas workshops today worldwide.  It has a replica of one of their early aircraft in it (originally made of wood, fibreglass replica), but even funnier, they still use the hangar today, see the modern helicopters behind the fence.

Next was the opportunity to look around a real live 747. This plane hasn't been here long, but was donated after it's airframe reached it's retirement age. It flew in to the (very) short and narrow (for this kind of aircraft) landing strip and is now a permanent exhibition. One of this planes last flights was the evacuation of Australians from Bali after the bombing in 2002. Its actual last commercial flight was a scheduled service from Perth to Sydney. It's quite possible that some of you have even flown in this very plane.

Inside the cargo bay

Control cables from cockpit to wings. 747-200 series were not fly by wire.

Avionics under business class - accessible in flight in an emergency

Inside the cockpit

The "black box" is actually the orange one at the top inside the tail section

As you can gauge by the number of photos, I found this particularly fascinating.

Sunday night we headed back north towards Winton. It was getting late, so we actually camped at a rest stop part way back. It was to be our last night "camped in the wilderness", so we were quite nostalgic. It was quite beautiful if you ignored the huge trucks passing by, but fortunately they stopped for the night.

21-May. We went to a garage and had an inspection to get our Road Worthy Certificate (RWC, sort of like a WOF). It passed with flying colours so we went down the road to meet our purchaser and did the deal. 

Two fascinating bits of trivia. Our purchasers great uncle was Alexander Kennedy. He was an intial shareholder of Qantas who made his share purchase conditional on being a passenger on the first scheduled Qantas passenger flight, which he was on 3-Nov-1922. The North Gregory hotel who's caravan park we are staying in is the site of that initial performance of Waltzing Matilda and the hotels proprietor is our purchasers cousin.

Now we really are in the middle of nowhere. Not hundreds of km's - thousands! We made enquiries about a rental vehicle. Definitely none in Winton. Longreach has Budget & Avis outlets, but no vehicles available, plus to drive one way to Brisbane they charge you a $300-$400 return fee on top of the rental. There is a bus available, but apparently it's a bit of a drag being over 24 hours to Brisbane so we've decided to take the train. "Spirit of the Outback" leaves on Monday and Thursday mornings from Longreach. There is a connecting bus from Winton. Leaving at 5am, it is a 2 hour bus journey, followed by a 22.75 hour train journey to Brisbane. From there we have hired a one way rental to Melbourne (for less than the return fee quoted above mind you). We will spend the following four days driving south. Our purchasers have been very kind and allowed us to keep living in the vehicle until Thursday morning. It will be strange walking away from our traveling home (even stranger at 5am), but we knew we'd part ways eventually so it will be a fond but expected farewell.

Note the new number plate, now 232-JWU

We have spent the rest of the week emptying the car (what a mission - it's like moving house). We have checked out some of the sights of the town, the open air movie theatre, the Royal Theatre shows historic film footage - that was a great evening for $6.50.

So ends another phase in our travels!!!