A Travellerspoint blog

November 2017

Longreach to Karumba

...in the footsteps of Burke & Wills

sunny 38 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Back to Oz on SteveJD's travel map.

For those who do not know their Australian history, Burke and Wills, in a party of 19, attempted to cross Australia from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Part way through the journey, it was decided to speed up the trip by splitting the party up into group of seven who would press on, with the remainder to await their return. Burke & Wills and two other men made the last attempt and reached Normanton but adverse conditions prevented them from actually pressing on to the gulf and so, just, failed in their bid. On the return journey, six of the seven of the men who had broken away to press on to the gulf died, including Burke and Wills.

In the last blog, we had stopped at Cunnamulla and I omitted to mention that this was the start of the Matilda Way which we followed all the way to Normanton where the Savannah Way forms a T junction. The Savannah Way runs from Broome to Cairns and our original plans would have had us travelling nearly all of this road until just west of Cairns where we broke off to head north.

Back to where we were - Longreach (the name derives from the site on the 'long reach' of the Thomson River). By this stage, the weather was fine and getting towards very hot, so it was doubly enjoyable to visit the Qantas Founders Museum. This was fascinating just for the evolution of air travel but especially so with the history of this particular airline. Two airmen after World War I decided that they would like to form an airline in Australia. Unfortunately their backer died and with his death, his estate withdrew his pledge. At this time, plans were afoot for a great race from Britain and the organisers asked the two airmen, Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness to travel from Longreach to Darwin in order to establish suitable landing sites. This task they performed in a Model T Ford! Several years ago, this feat was repeated with the participants attempting to do everything as Fysh and McGinness had done. In the museum there was an excellent film of the recent expedition, intercut with film from the first attempt. It would appear that both expeditions were beset with some disagreements. After this adventure, Fysh and his companions were able to form an airline, Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service => Q.A.N.T.A.S. => Qantas Empire Airways => Qantas. Sadly, McGinness and Fysh had a falling out and McGinness walked away and ended his days in Perth - two people attended his funeral, a sad ending.

The first aircraft used by Qantas was an ex-air force Avro 504K Dyak, carrying only one passenger who, apparently boarded in Charleville but the flight being logged as commencing in Longreach. Both towns lay claim to hosting the first commercial flight by Qantas.

Outside the museum there was a selection of aircraft which had seen service with Qantas, a Catalina (not actually ex-Qantas but they used the type and it was 'hijacked' during WWII for secret flights to and from Asia), a good old DC3, a Boeing 707 and a Boeing 747.


Just down the road is the Stockmen's Hall of Fame. We had planned on lunching there but their main restaurant was closed and their cafe had little to offer, so we returned to the Qantas Museum (enjoying our first sighting of brolgas on the way), which had an excellent restaurant and while we ate, we watched models of some of the older aircraft which had been used by Qantas, 'fly' around on a system circling the inside of the museum and overlapping the shop and restaurant.


After our meal, we returned to the Stockmen's Hall of Fame and enjoyed the rest of the day going around this. Our first port of call was the section dealing with Aboriginal stockmen who continue to form the backbone of the cattle industry, although much of their work has now been mechanised with motor bikes, quad bikes and helicopters all in use. The next section dealt with the Pioneers, as noted before, a truly hardy bunch. We then looked at typical items from Outback properties through the years before getting into a section covering the Royal Flying Doctor Service (including a suspended RFDS aircraft) - a really interesting history and an ongoing service. The last main section was about the stock workers, black and white, and their working life. The final room was an interesting little art gallery leading into a small garden area where we saw a few kangaroos and, on our way out a visit from three emus.


It would have been good to have had the time to visit Starlight's Lookout, said to be one of the areas frequented by Australia's best known cattle-duffer (rustler). Captain Starlight was really Harry Readford who had been a stockman until he and two others stole 1.000 head of cattle which they drove from north Queensland into South Australia. He was caught and tried but was found not guilty as the jury were so impressed by his achievement! How Australian. On our way out, we stopped to admire the handsome railway station. It would seem that funds have been made available for maintenance of such buildings as several others that we saw were also in very good condition.


Our route along the Matilda Way then took us towards Winton (named in 1876 by the then postmaster, after his home town in Dorset) through endless grassy plains until about 10km before Winton we saw a sign to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs. Off we went and found ourselves driving up a steep and winding unsealed road until we reached the top of the range that we had seen from below. This turned out to be a fascinating place and we and one lady were the only ones on a tour to see the original bones of three dinosaurs (actually one therapod and two different sauropods) which have only ever, and only recently, been found in Australia. Our guide was a personable young chap who clearly loved his job and was full of interesting information.


Winton apparently lays claim to being the place where Banjo Patterson wrote the famous song, "Waltzing Matilda". Unfortunately, most of Winton, including the Waltzing Matilda Centre appeared to be closed or undergoing renovation so we did not stay. As we headed towards Winton, we travelled through mainly very flat terrain but here and there would come across an isolated outcrop which relieved the monotony. A little further on, at a place called Kynuna (I have been unable to find the derivation of this name but would assume that it is of Aboriginal origin), we dropped into the Blue Heeler pub (Australia's oldest continuously licensed inn) where we were served by a comely young Parisian who made up for the limited, so-so food! In the pub, the walls of which were covered with signatures of the famous and the unknown, we found a framed story of a local legend which claims that "Waltzing Matilda" was inspired by the suicide of a local shearer. Just along the road, in McKinlay, we came across the Crocodile Dundee pub, as featured in the original film. The truck outside was also used by 'Mick Dundee' in the film. McKinlay was named after the nearby McKinlay River which in turn was named after its European (well, Scottish) discoverer, John McKinlay. On the edge of town was a somewhat derelict house, something we have seen quite often. It is rather sad that these old buildings are left to moulder - at least, it would appear so!


As we came closer to Cloncurry, the grassy plains gave way to red soil, a few trees and fields of red termite mounds. Burke (of Burke & Wills fame), named the Cloncurry River after his cousin, Lady Cloncurry, and in due course, the town adopted the name. We had left booking Cloncurry until a few weeks before getting there and found the place had been booked out! We did find one room (expensive of course) but only for one night. As a result we didn't see much of the town, rather a pity as it was one of those places mentioned in "A Town Like Alice" that we had both wanted to explore and put in context (the book and films are favourites of ours).


On our way to Karumba, we stopped at a rest area and saw our first zebra finches but, inconveniently, perched on wiring behind the toilets! As we drove on, the anthills changed in colour from red to a grey brown colour. We had a break at the Burke & Wills Roadhouse which was very pleasant and, as with one earlier, with flocks of apostlebirds. The chap who served us was an Argentinian on a working visa - I am fascinated to find the different nationalities working here when, a few years ago, I don't think Australia would have been on their radar.


We drove on over some rather bumpy roads with quite a few very narrow bridges - thankfully no road trains on this stretch. On reaching Normanton (town on the Norman River in good old Anglo-Saxon style), we had lunch at the Purple Pub where a number of very amiable Aborigines wandered through wishing us 'G'day'. Shortly after leaving Normanton, we drove through some wetlands where we saw our first ever Sarus Cranes - very similar to brolgas to our eyes - and further on we came across a watery area to the side of the road which was packed with brolgas, a great sight.


Finally, after a long and hot drive, we reached Karumba (thought to be the Aboriginal name for the place where the Norman River flows into the Gulf of Carpentaria. We checked in and found our cabin where we cooled off a bit before taking a gentle stroll to the Gulf of Carpentaria itself where we got some decent sunset shots, although some clouds would have helped!


Posted by SteveJD 02:51 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Broken Hill to Longreach

We meet the Outback!

sunny 34 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Back to Oz on SteveJD's travel map.

Much of the drive from Broken Hill to Bourke was almost as featureless, or perhaps more accurately, unvarying as the worst of the Nullarbor. Again, we saw much roadkill with the attendant swarms of scavenging birds of varying types. We did however see quite a few live kangaroos and emus which we found encouraging. On the way through, we stopped for lunch at a strange little roadhouse in Emmdale where we were served by two Swedes on working visas. We were also fascinated by our first sighting of apostlebirds which are quite plain but rather fun to watch – a bit like parrots in mufti!


Bourke itself is a pleasant little town on a bend in the Darling River, well-kept and worthy of more than a one night stop but with several fixed dates ahead, we have had to rush many places. Despite the rush we are absolutely fascinated by what we see and full of admiration for the early pioneers and indeed for those who continue to work in the Outback. As with so many places, the Darling River was named, by Charles Sturt in 1828, after an official of the day, in this case Ralph Darling, Governor of New South Wales. A few years later, the explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell was instrumental in establishing a township which he named Bourke after the Governor, Richard Bourke. It is largely an agricultural town with its roots in transport routes for the area.

When we left Bourke, we were truly “Back o’ Bourke” and, by definition, were now in the Outback proper. Our earlier than usual start resulted in our seeing many more kangaroos and emus than usual and we had to be extra alert as they were closer to the road. I stopped at one point as I could see two kangaroos crossing on the road ahead as a road train thundered towards them. They both made it although the second one only just by putting a burst of speed of which Usain Bolt would be envious. If we had been closer and if the road train had hit one, we could have suffered severe damage from a flying kangaroo! A coffee and cake stop in Cunnamulla was only slightly marred by swarms of flies which attempted to take our food as we were eating – one of the downsides of some country areas. Cunnamulla is also a small town at the intersection of transport routes and on the Warrego River.

221017_01_Big_Red.jpg20171022_P1020154.jpg221017_01_Cunnamulla.jpg Cunnamulla

The Outback in the areas we have been driving through has consisted of vast red soil plains broken by occasional flood plains. Trees are generally sparse and spartan with few growing more than twelve feet high. Predictably, most are eucalypts of varying types but we have also come across many acacia trees, although none in blossom as they were in WA. I am sure there are many other types of trees and shrubs which I should know but my memory is not up to that and, in fairness, we haven’t often stopped to examine them for identifying features. It is a harsh landscape and the people who settled here were definitely tough folk.


On crossing the border into Queensland, we had to set our watches back an hour as they keep a different time from New South Wales (no ‘daylight saving’). After settling into our motel in Charleville, we took a walk along the banks of the, mostly dry, Warrego River and enjoyed seeing some lovely riverside trees and a variety of different birds. We are not ‘twitchers’ but we do like to keep track of the different birds that we have identified on our travels. In this case the name of the town is believed to have been named by an Irishman after the town of Charleville, County Cork. This of course being another colonial way of keeping alive memories of 'home'. It is a larger town than others and is in fact the administrative centre for its shire. It was a crossroads for stock movement routes and also played its part in the early days of Qantas. The town also boasts a Cosmos Centre where visitors can view the surface of the sun in safety and also use telescopes for night time viewing of the sky which seems so much darker in the Outback. This is again one of the things that we had to forgo due to the shortness of our stay. Charleville also had one of the 'giant' items that are to be seen around Australia, in this case a giant Kangaroo!


From Charleville we travelled on to Augathella, a very pretty little town with a very attractive little ‘cop shop’. We had breakfast in Meat Ant Park and were just finishing when a little girl joined us at the one table in the shade. She had come for her 4th birthday along with her Mum and other Mums and daughters. The little girl and her Mum had driven an hour to get into town and many of the others had driven similar distances. The park gave pride of place to a large figure of a meat ant which appear to have their name from their usefulness in clearing away remains of dead animals in the bush. Augathella is a little unusual in having had several names. Originally it was called Burenda, then was renamed Ellangowan (a name still in use locally) and finally was called Augathella which is apparently an Aboriginal name meaning 'camp at the waterhole'.


I did much of the driving today as Judith’s workload finally caught up with her and I drove through Tambo, after stopping for Judith to take a photo of the Tambo Teddies Crossing sign. A little way out of town, Jet Set (and Judith) complained about not even visiting the teddies, so I did a big U turn and back we went. Apparently, some 25 years ago the town was in a bit of a slump and people were asked to come up with ideas to lift the town and one lady came up with the idea of producing teddy bears. She did not think the business would last long but it is still running, albeit with different owners, and produces beautiful, if slightly expensive, teddy bears. Apart from teddy bears, Tambo also has the dubious distinction of being the site of the first crash of a Qantas aircraft. The name Tambo is another with Aboriginal origins having several meanings including 'hidden place'.


By now the vast areas of red soil were covered with grass which had been bleached to a uniform pale straw colour, probably about 18 inches high.
This grass was the same whether on open plains or under trees. We seem to be heading into near tropical regions as we started to see many bottle trees in fields lining the roads. We had intended to have lunch in Blackall but just short of the town we found a rest area by the Barcoo River which proved to be a wonderful place for birdwatching – and with plenty of shade. We could easily have spent more time there but had to press on.


In Blackall, we found the Black Stump which is the source of the expression “Beyond the Black Stump”. The original stump was destroyed by fire and has been replaced by a large piece of petrified wood. Blackall was named after, guess who - yes another official, this time the second Governor of Queensland, Sir Samuel Blackall. The region had been explored in 1846 by Sir Thomas Mitchell then in 1856 by Augustus Gregory who gave a less positive opinion on the country than had Mitchell. A survey station was established here in 1887 and places west were said to be beyond the black stump. The original black stump was moved to make it more accessible to tourists (not that accessible though!) and was subsequently replaced by a large chunk of petrified wood.


We had hoped to get to Longreach in time to visit one of the main attractions so didn’t stop to look at the magnificent display of vehicles and machines in Ilfracombe (a very different town from the one in England!). As it happened we arrived too late to make a visit worthwhile so could have spent more time by the Barcoo and in Ilfracombe – our journey is full of 'what ifs' but I suppose that’s life.

Posted by SteveJD 02:51 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Port Augusta to Broken Hill

From South Australia to New South Wales

sunny 30 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Back to Oz on SteveJD's travel map.

Originally, we had intended to have a brief stop in Port Augusta but were so glad that we had the extra day. We had heard of two attractions and thought we could probably ‘do’ them in one day. We probably could have but would have missed so much.

Our first stop was the Wadlata Outback Centre which is quite compact but very well designed. It leads in through geological history into the arrival of the Aboriginals and some of their Dreamtime stories and their present-day life and culture. There was a small exhibit devoted to wildlife of the outback and more to the early explorers, Eyre, Stuart and Giles (although, oddly, no mention of Mitchell who, we were frequently reminded when we drove through the outback, explored the area in 1846). This ‘lapse’ was compensated for by a fascinating film of a postman (Tom Kruse) delivering mail in 1954 from Marree along the Birdsville Track to Birdsville itself. We had originally planned on travelling on this route but although it is challenging now, it is no longer the nightmare that he drove through. There was also original footage of the railway and telegraph being laid through to Kalgoorlie. The weather by now had become decidedly warm so that when we saw the old films of people in thick trousers and jackets, even collars and ties at times, working in the outback, we were truly thankful for modern light-weight clothes and full of admiration for the early explorers and settlers. There was so much to take in that we had a ‘pass-out’ to have lunch in the very pleasant restaurant there.

We took no photographs there (thank goodness do I hear you say?!) and it is difficult to paint an adequate picture in words but the centre was excellent and really gave us a taste of what awaited us in the days ahead.

The following day we drove out to the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden which we found totally absorbing if somewhat exhausting as it was very hot and most of the plants gave little shade. As well as showing off the huge range of plants which appear to thrive in very tough conditions, the garden gave ideas for introducing some of these plants into gardens and showing the difference in water consumption of different selections of these plants instead of the same area of lawn – massive water-savings. One of the specialists is a group of plants called erimophelas (also known as Emu Bush or Poverty Bush) and we had a few of these growing in our garden in Perth but were unaware of the huge range of colours, sizes and shapes available. The gardens also supported more wildlife than we had expected.


We found Port Augusta an attractive and friendly town and were a bit sad to leave for Broken Hill, much as we were looking forward to the rest of our journey.

Not far out of town we came across a range of hills and had to drive through these, sometimes in low level cloud, to get through to Peterborough. The land flattened out and we saw a few kangaroos and emus although still much roadkill. As we drove along, clouds of birds would erupt from the various carcases, at first mainly ravens but then more large birds of prey which we have decided must be black kites. We also saw wedgetail eagles on one or two carcases. Some of the countryside through which we travelled was almost as 'boring' as parts of the Nullarbor.


Broken Hill has retained much of its outback town/mining town heritage and is quite attractive in an unexpected way. Its name derives from descriptions given by early explorers of the appearance of some hills in the area (this must be a pretty general area as the town is very largely flat!).
In 1883, the largest silver/lead/zinc orebody in the world was found and the discovers formed the Broken Hill Proprietary Company, now better know as BHP Billiton.

We had pointed out to us a pub which featured in “Priscilla; Queen of the Desert” and I think we saw at least one almost identical pub in almost all the Outback towns we travelled through. There must have been a kit ready to roll out as towns developed. It also has its fair share of ‘characters’ some of whom we saw as we wandered through the town. On our only full day there we had arranged for the Land Cruiser to have a service, neither of us being bush or other type of mechanics, so we had to explore the town on foot. I was disappointed to be unable to find a museum which told the story of the town’s origins and development but found the buildings very interesting, as were little vignettes dotted around the town on noticeboards along the Heritage Trail.


We also found some very colourful and interesting murals or street art.


Later in the day when the vehicle had been serviced, we drove up to the top of a large former mine slag heap on which there is an impressive memorial to the miners who have lost their lives while working in Broken Hill – some, dating back nearly 100 years, were just children. Thankfully casualties have not been reported for several years, demonstrating the improvements in mine safety. We also enjoyed a coffee break (also a break from the wind which howled across the top of the heap) in the Broken Earth Cafe which was perched, we thought very precariously, on the edge of the heap.


Just before leaving our motel, we spotted one the very colourful butterflies that we were to see, subsequently in increasing numbers such that are only a memory in most of the UK these days - in this case, a Spotted Jezebel.


And now we venture into the Outback!

Posted by SteveJD 02:10 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Gawler Ranges and Mount Ive Station

A touch of the Outback

sunny 34 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Back to Oz on SteveJD's travel map.

We left Ceduna behind with a light heart and headed (generally) eastwards, stopping at Poochera for about the best (bought) coffee we have had since being in Australia. We both find that most black coffee here is far too strong and either needs sugar to make it drinkable or, in a couple of cases, is so bad that we have demanded refunds! To avoid embarrassment, Judith has mostly taken to drinking cappuccino while I continue to live dangerously. The very pleasant bloke who provided the coffee was also able to confirm that the roads from Minnipa were actually open (one of those minor things that need to be checked) and gave us a better map of the area than we had.

Judith was still doing most of the driving at this stage and she took us off the main road at Minnipa and onto unsealed roads into the Gawler Ranges. The ranges were named in 1839 after George Gawler, Governor of South Australia, by Edward Eyre on one of his earlier expeditions. Just inside the Gawler Ranges National Park is a side track to the Organ Pipes, a rock formation similar to but smaller than the Giant’s Causeway, also caused by volcanic activity. Judith’s driving skills (and nerve) were put to the test (as were mine as a passenger!) as the track was definitely only for high clearance vehicles and at times dipped and rose at about 45-degree angles, sometimes with an added sideways tilt – what fun! We finally reached the parking place where there was a board informing us that the Organ Pipes were 500 metres along a track – someone can’t measure, as it was a good deal further. This was our first day of heat (mid 30s) and the walk was mostly in the open, so a good test for my recovery – I got there and back and Judith just breezed along but then she is still a spring chicken, sort of!


I endured the drive back onto the main ‘road’ and then a bit further on had a chance to remember what it is like driving on a dirt road – good fun! We stopped at the ruins of an old shearing shed before carrying on to Mount Ive Station where a pleasant young Frenchwoman checked us in. We found our odd little cottage and enjoyed a barbecue dinner. The light in the kitchen did not work and nor did the overhead fan – ho hum! After dinner we enjoyed seeing the Milky Way and a myriad stars as we have not seen them for a long time. We tried to take star photos but neither of us had much success – my camera was on a wrong setting and I have mislaid my remote-control cable (for firing off without causing camera shake). We had brought a tripod all this way exactly for this purpose and, on this occasion, blew it!


The following morning, we discovered that we had about 30 seconds of a dribble of hot water before we got, at best, a dribble of cold. I reported this to a very pleasant young Scot who said that it couldn’t be fixed that day, so I opted for an extra day in Port Augusta and she promptly refunded the two days’ payment in full! I presume the French lass is there on a working visa and the Scottish girl said that she was originally on a working visa but had opted to stay longer, although she was going back to Scotland for Christmas. She was happy for us to continue to make the trip to Lake Gairdner and only pack up to leave when we had done that, so we headed up to see a corner of a huge, sparkling salt lake. I’m not sure how ‘they’ measure the length of a lake shaped as Lake Gairdner is but they say it is about 160km long and 33km wide. The area that we could see was only a small corner of the lake, perhaps 10km in length but even so it seemed to be endless. It is very difficult to get a photograph which shows the immensity of the place so take my word – it is vast!


On the way back from the lake, we took a couple of rough tracks, one to see the Embankment – a brick wall built across a gap in the hills in the late 19th century now used mainly as a goat track by the myriad goats on the property and another to see a different formation of Organ Pipes. The latter we assume are similar to those we saw the previous day but the track became undrivable and as far as we could make out, the walk would have been even further – too far in the heat of the day. I've included one photo to show the scrubby nature of the bush on what we saw of the station. There were some trees, as you can see in the emu and kangaroo pictures but they were fairly spartan.


Once we had handed the key back at Mt Ive, I drove most of the unsealed road to Iron Knob (an early BHP mine for – guess what?!) and then Judith took us on into Port Augusta. I feel that I am making progress as regards the hip which makes the trip even better!

Posted by SteveJD 15:32 Archived in Australia Comments (4)

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