127. The Sapphire Coast (NSW)


We left Westy/Westie the Caravan (the name still not settled) sitting in a paddock where earlier there were several large kangaroos feeding unconcernedly, and drove further south to Eden on Twofold Bay. A special museum beckoned – the Killer Whale Museum. I was expecting the usual display of whale skeletons, vertebrae, harpoons, old photos of harpooning etc etc and indeed they were all there, but what amazed me was the story of Old Tom. From my early schooldays I’d heard about Twofold Bay, Ben Boyd, whaling, etc but never this story.


How about this as a cure for rheumatism? Also a Jonah story….



it wasn’t just Old Tom though …


it was good to see that the contribution of Aboriginals in the early days of the whaling industry at Twofold Bay are being recognised and acknowledged.



There was a cute little playroom for the littlies …..


Two lovely old clinker-built rowboats reminded me strongly of Cornelius’ tender. Some people were surprised we didn’t get a modern fibreglass model instead but Geoff was all for tradition – and strength. IMG_8271


Down at the waterfront, I was trying to get my bearings. Cornelius sailed into this harbour in late 1980. Since then a modern fishing wharf has been built. We had an indifferent lunch at a waterfront cafe, I think we must have picked the worst one. Very disappointing as i was looking forward to my first meal of prawns – but they were coated in a very thick batter and fried for rather too long.


Up the hill we tried to get a good view of the harbour and lighthouse.


Next day we headed north up the coast, with a stop on the heights above Narooma to check out the very narrow channel through which Cornelius had been guided by a fishing boat. The sea at that time was far rougher than the day I took these photos. They do not show the channel as well as I had hoped.



However, down at the wharf there was a photographer’s treat, a mob of pelicans and seabirds plus a couple of huge stingrays all milling around a gutting table. The water was very clear.




A sign at a rest area on the coast shows the amazing abundance of fish species in this area.


IMG_8289A little further up the coast we stopped at Tuross Head to have some ultra-fresh bread rolls for lunch-with-a-view. A lone surfer kept us entertained, then a lone beach walker arrived. We met up with him a little later and he said he walks about 5 km on the beach every day.


IMG_8332One night at Braidwood; we woke to see  early-morning tai-chi on the nearby golf course.


And now – here’s proof that we are finally in Canberra! We are parked in the driveway at Julie and Allan’s home and are being spoilt rotten by my very dear old friends. Julie and I went overseas together in the late 60s and have a few reminiscences (and quite a few giggles) to catch up on!


162.Mango Wine & The Barron Falls


Back to Mareeba the long way with a coffee stop at Mt. Molloy. There are several cafes there so we were lucky not to miss the last one.

Along the way, sugar cane and mango plantations started to appear in ever increasing numbers – sometimes side by side.


Approaching the town we decided to stop off at a Mango Winery (??) and were so glad we did!

http://www.goldendrop.com.au.  As the only visitors we received full attention from a charming lady wearing an amazing deep orange-coloured T-shirt complimented by orange toenail polish. She knew the products well, spoke entertainingly and after we’d tried about 5 wines and ports we ended up buying two bottles of the medium wine, which we hadn’t intended (!) and also a delicious 22% liqueur (‘Cello’) which we’ve already sampled over ice-cream.

A family-owned business, it was originally a tobacco farm which diversified into mangoes, then in 1992 they started researching mango wine-making (which most people deemed impossible) and launched their products in 1999. (Photo from website). 


They have a huge orchard of 17,500 trees (said to be one of the largest plantations in Australia)  where they grow their own variety of Kensington Red mangoes, derived from Kensington Pride which I knew well from Bowen days and another red-skinned one. I was intrigued to learn they use underripe, ripe and overripe mangoes to produce three different types of wine.

There’s an informative page on their website about mangoes, at http://www.goldendrop.com.au/mangoes.html/  and also some very interesting recipes at http://www.goldendrop.com.au/recipes.html/

We just missed the Mareeba Stockmen’s challenge too, arriving late on Saturday and not noticing the early – and final – Sunday morning activities. At least they had considerably better weather than at Cloncurry.

On the drive from Endeavour River we managed to lose some essential knob from the awning, so we hung around in Mareeba till Monday morning as Dave knew he could get a replacement there. We had lunch at the Coffee/Chocolate House and bought some absolutely delicious Lemon Myrtle dark chocolate – YUM. I was quite sorry to leave Mareeba.

After collecting the essential caravan awning thing, we set off for Cairns but veered off the highway  to visit Kuranda and the Barron Falls. There did not seem to be any provision for caravan parking at the Falls and wisely we did not venture down the last part of the narrow steep road, but parked near the top. It was then a steep walk down to the start of the rainforest walk, which meant another 1 km or so but on a lovely wide well surfaced and gently sloping track which took us from well-defined rainforest to open woodland and so to the main viewing point near the Kuranda railway staton.


The Barron River near the highway had looked quite large but the falls were definitely not. Last time I saw them about 1982 the water was thundering down full bore.





The dam at the top- there used to be a power station at the bottom, but it has since been moved to a more downstream location.


The designated caravan parking in Kuranda, close to a supermarket, was full of cars towing nothing at all, so we gave up hoping for a coffee and the headed back for the highway. A little further on we came to the ‘Rainforest Station Nature Park’ which I vaguely remembered looked “interesting” in a brochure which was not then to hand. So we stopped and headed for what looked like the only restaurant rather than what was labelled the Information and booking centre. It turned out the place is a major coach stop and the restaurant could only offer a buffet or sandwiches. It was chock full of Japanese tourists, their plates laden with fresh fruit. I wandered over to the info Centre only to be confronted by a corridor at the end of which I could see a number of booking booths, no sign of any brochures etc so after a reasonable sandwich we left. Later I found the missing brochure and realised there were two other restaurants and a range of walks ….. however it did look like it was very regimented and tourist-oriented and I doubt we missed anything.

We are now in the Lake Placid caravan park and will stay here for a few days. I can hardly believe I have caught up with the blog at long last!!

161. The Bloomfield Track

The weather wasn’t too bad, a morning drizzle with a promise to clear up, so we decided to leave Westy in the camp and drive south to Bloomfield Waterfall and then to Cape Tribulation along the Bloomfield Track through the Daintree.

We had to head SW first as far as the intriguing Black Mountain then swing south, pass through the Cedar Bay National Park and some tiny little townships (eg Ayton named for Cook’s birthplace, and Wujal Wujal “so nice you want to say it twice”) mostly on aboriginal land….


….. and so almost to Bloomfield.


We turned off at the Black Cockatoo art gallery and cafe to fortify us for what we knew would be a bumpy track ahead. So far it had all been narrow surfaced road.




The Black Cockatoo is basically a private residence set in bushland just off the road, and featured some good bird artwork with strong environmental messages against pesticides, plastics etc and some delicate (watercolour?) paintings of fish and birds. The main doors were a feast of leadlight. With help of some reference books and the friendly owner Dave was able identify some of the birds he has photographed in the last month, particularly the sooty reef heron at Camooweal Lagoon.


The owner also told us the best place to see crocodiles in the Bloomfield River … and we did catch a big one sun baking on our return trip. There were wonderful views of the wide meandering river from that point.



IMG_2000Granite Gorge Cooktown07

On to Bloomfield, the waterfall to be visited on our return trip. The tar soon gave way to very bumpy hardened dirt, with occasional stretches of ribbed concrete where the going was extremely steep and twisty.






Numerous small water crossings did not give any trouble but then we came to a the much wider, swiftly flowing Emmagen Creek which turned out to be no trouble, less than a foot deep in fact. While we were hesitating a cortege of very dusty outback campers arrived and simply ploughed through.




The Daintree was the scene of much environmentalist activity in the eighties. The then Premier of Qld Joh Bjelke Petersen was all for reducing huge swathes to woodchip, but the Prime Minister Bob Hawke pushed through a proposal for World Heritage Status. Protests against a road through the pristine rainforest were long and personal but eventually the protesters lost. But it is still just a track really. Beautiful ferns, lianas and huge trees crowd the roadsides, there is an occasional fallen log or overhead obstruction, and at times we were driving through a tunnel of green. Dave called it “an interesting drive”, he’d love to do it when wet but not with Grandy’s townie tyres!



Cape Tribulation, named by Captain Cook with some feeling as it was near there that the “Endeavour” struck a reef, was a disappointment really, overrun by tourists including coaches from Cairns, and as far as we could see there was just a beach with no indication which headland was THE one. However, we do intend to revisit from the Cairns direction later; our focus was to have lunch then head back before any more rain came!


What Captain Cook probably saw (minus the intrusive tourists)


As it  turned out, no rain, but something else. More than halfway back, up a rise and round a corner, we came upon a group of three camper-vans all looking with interest at our underside, then signalling us to stop. They said they could hear a curious flap-flap-flap but we couldn’t through all  the jolting and jerking. By great good fortune there was plenty of room beside the track and even a convenient dip into which Dave could squirm while he removed the damaged protective cover over our gearbox! (Just to reassure, the latter is fine.) One of the campers was very kind in lending not only a tarp to lie on but a full set of wrenches. Normally and particularly in NZ we never travel without a full toolbox but with our current setup the only tools we have are kept in Westy, and we seldom travel without it in tow. Dave reckons he can bash the cover back in to shape and reattach.



We made another stop at the Black Cockatoo and this time were rewarded with seeing the two tame wallabies, reared since babies, which are quite free to roam but persist in following the owner round, even hopping up the steps or ramp to the house.


Granite Gorge Cooktown08

Back to Bloomfield township and a small detour to see the Falls.


Then back on the narrow tarmac to Cooktown, and a quick view to Quarantine Beach nearby. It was by then late afternoon and low tide with interesting patterns in the sand. The crabs however did not seem bothered by any demarkation.


I felt exhausted that evening from all the shaking; after a shower an early bed beckoned. Grandy would have to wait another day for a wash.


Next day it was back to Mareeba for two nights and lunch at the Coffee/Chocolate house then down the ‘hill’ to Cairns.


160. Captain Cook’s Cooktown

Cooktown is markedly changed from when I first saw it on the MGTF tour in 1971 and again on “Cornelius” in 1980. I wish I had the relevant old photos with me. This hotel is where we had fish and chips in 1980. It was almost the only eating place then.







The Endeavour River on the edge of the town.



Two beautiful trees nearby, one with unripe mangoes and the other  festooned with tropical plants.



We drove to the top of Grassy Hill overlooking the town, the wind was blowing very strongly and it was hard to take good photos; we obtained better ones on a later visit when the tide was out.





The Captain Cook Museum, now housed in an old restored convent, was wonderful.




Only the nuns were allowed to use the grand staircase, the students used the other much narrower an d steeper one(their dormitory was upstairs).




An original cannon and anchor from the “Endeavour’ were on display, having been recovered in the 1970s and carefully restored. The (new) stock on the anchor had to be made by hand as the hardwood used, similar to the original stock, was too hard for modern power tools.







It took ages to read all the extracts from Cook’s and Banks’ journals (not shown in photos)  but sitting there not far from the place it all actually happened made it all more enthralling. An interesting facet of the display were stories handed down to their descendants by the aboriginals who first encountered Cook and his crew, the first white people they’d ever seen.


The old Convent had many other historical displays ….  this lady crocheted enough curtains to line a hall! She kept a book full of newspaper crochet patterns.



There is an important Chinese section… the shoes were worn by the mother in this photo.



A piano with a history. Very difficult to take photos – apologies for the poor quality but it is such an interesting story!




159. The Mulligan Highway to Cooktown

We made it! Cooktown, the most northerly place we hoped to reach on this six month tour of eastern Australia.

Here’s an enlarged piece of the map from the last blog.

IMG_2046 (1)

The white ‘road’ (Burke Developmental Road) from Karumba to Cairns via Dunbar (take note Nic’n’Mick! – it’s at the highest point) and Chillagoe tempted us but it is not all surfaced and there is no diesel available en route. We are sadly not equipped for that sort of outback adventure. It goes close to Mount Mulgrave station where Evelyn Mansell lived in 1912-1918, so graphically described in the wonderful book “S’Pose I Die” by Hector Holthouse. Highly recommended reading.


The road from Mareeba to Cooktown, the Mulligan Highway (shown in purple), took us nor’west from the relatively dry savannah grasslands of the Atherton tableland, through the old mining townships of Mt. Molloy (copper and timber) and Mr. Carbine (wolframite; the town was named after the Melbourne Cup winner), and then finally north east to the coast. Along the way we stopped at the Palmer River Roadhouse where Dave ordered the Mighty Palmer River Steak Sandwich which for $15 boasted of containing “steak, bacon, egg, pineapple, onion, cheese, lettuce, cucumber, beetroot, tomato and carrot”. Not the best steak sandwich Dave has ever had. My order was much more modest.


To my surprise there was a little local museum in the roadhouse and it held a genealogist’s unexpected treasure, a rate collector’s record of everyone in the township in 1880. Historical records of many of the families named have been collected and displayed.


We came to the Byerstown Range, a steep climb with an amazing but too-misty-to-be-fully-appreciated view of the land to the northeast….


….. and looking back south.


Grandy and Westie looked so nice and shiny, a state which was not to last much longer.


A sign reminded me just how vast the country is ….


Downhill again, then while still 28 km from Cooktown we came to an astonishing sight – what looked like huge mountains of black mine tailings or rubble, very curious after many kilometres of well-wooded savannah land. It was indeed a special place, which the signs told us marked the northern end of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.




Black Mountain01

it was like that on both sides of the road.



People, horses, whole mobs of cattle have disappeared ….



The nearer we drew to the coast the more tropical the scenery became. There were more creeks and rivers to cross.


And so to Cooktown. The Endeavour River, where Captain Cook beached the “Endeavour” and made repairs, goes through Cooktown and meanders north. We were camped on a private property, the ‘Endeavour River Escape’ on the banks of the river about 5 km out of town. It is an environmentally certified working farm breeding Clydesdales and growing Red Panama Passionfruit, with good amenities including hot showers, the water being heated by a fire and/or solar. There was no WiFi, no TV reception, not even mobile reception.


A few minutes’ walk from our campsite took us to the river. We’d been warned not to go beyond the barrier … crocodile country!


Yes it did rain .. it’s a wet rainforest area (!). Green ants were everywhere but did not give any trouble. This is not a green ant but a cute little bug which tried to hitch a ride on the car. Dave also spotted a few spiders.


Granite Gorge Cooktown05

More about Cooktown in the next blog. I’m trying to keep the blogs shorter I can post them more quickly.

158. Herberton and the Bat Hospital

When we drove from Mt. Surprise to Mareeba we did not stop to explore any of the tableland towns, but now with the window glass ordered and various caravan parts in hand we had more time to explore. Herberton beckoned. Here’s a map to show where we’ve been recently and where we are going.


The Herberton Heritage Village is said to be one of the best known living museums in Australia. It was certainly large and beautifully maintained, on a gently sloping grassy site with plenty of walkways between buildings.


There are over 60 restored period buildings chock full of relevant items, many antique motor vehicles, tractors and other machinery.



Many are still in working condition; we were lucky to catch the huge old steam engine working but missed the vintage motorcycle (or at least I did).  A modern-day blacksmith worked with made souvenir items while we watched.




The shop had a beautiful collection of golliwogs …


The old pub was well equipped … (it was the only building not an ‘original’)



This old wedding photo caught my eye, the couple look so happy and full of anticipation, not like the usual stiff (and probably scared) stony-eyed pair. IMG_1714

Intricate sequin work on an old gown. IMG_1717

IMG_1716A restored hearse complete with plumes. The coffin, although vintage, was “never used”.


I used to love the coloured  bottles in the local chemist’s shop, in fact all coloured bottles ..IMG_1719


Sunlight soap signs. I will look at them differently from now on!


The toy shop … with working automaton made in Paris in 1896. The clowns move their heads and the one on top extends his legs and lifts one hand.



IMG_1743A cheque printing machine in the old bank.



IMG_1754On our way ‘home’ we turned off near Tolga to visit the Bat Hospital. When I first arrived in Brisbane in about 1990 I spent time with an old school friend who was an injured wildlife carer – which included bats. I was with her when she took her orphaned flying fox which she had reared since he/she was about ten centimetres long to the bat halfway house, where he had to learn to socialise with other bats and eventually be released. So I was keen to see more bats!

Australia has more than 90 bat species and more than half are found in tropical north Queensland. They are roughly grouped into microbats and megabats (the spellcheck kept on turning that into megabits); the two groups generally have quite different lifestyles, diets and habitats.

The hospital is almost entirely self-funded (“she spent her inheritance”), depending on donations and volunteers during the busy season. On the Atherton tableland, the bat breeding season coincides with the onset of the tick season, consequently there are many tick-paralysed adult bats with babies. When we visited the season had not yet started and there were almost no babies. However we did see a few which had been brought in for other reasons.



The yellow dots are camouflage to help them blend in with leaves on trees. This young one was waiting to be fed mango juice, sucking it from a syringe.


The hospital building had several dedicated rooms, with varying equipment – hanging wire racks, chains, etc – and even an incubator. All very clean and tidy and ready for the onslaught expected in a few weeks’ time. A charming young woman took time to explain everything carefully. There were also lots of informative signs.

The main attraction was a huge cage full of squeaking flurrying beady-eyed adult flying foxes, all hanging upside down among festoons of apples. This was actually the half-way house; the bats were free to go outside and fly away but preferred to stay where they were. There was provision for ‘outside’ bats too. I don’t know how many exited each night then returned.



Although a bat spends most of its life upside down, they right themselves temporarily when they want to have a pee!



This is how they get a drink – they dive-bomb the water then swoop up at the last minute, enjoy the ‘shower’ and fly up to lick the moisture off their bodies.


157. Granite Gorge

We  made a day trip to Cairns, 62 km via a very twisty road down the mountain. We didn’t stop to visit Kuranda, that will be for another day.


Once in Cairns, noticeably hotter and more humid than Mareeba, full of palm trees and overshadowed by the mountains, the GPSr worked overtime as we sped from one caravan spares place and/or cabinet maker and/or Jaycar electronics shop to another. By good fortune the local Jayco (caravan) dealer had just three of the cupboard drawer hanger/guides – which had been removed from their catalogue a while ago but fortunately still kept! We called in at one of my early schoolteachers’ retirement village but although she was “somewhere around” she wasn’t at home and we had to leave, but now armed with her phone number next time we can give some warning.


Notable in Cairns, as in Mareeba, was a shop selling just cigarettes.


The big Mareeba market was scheduled for that Saturday so off we went. It was HUGE. One thing that distinguished it from most other markets seen so far were the large number of plant stalls selling large beautiful bromeliad plants in a huge variety of colours and shapes. Lots of fruit and vegetable stalls featured all the usual stuff plus avocadoes, pineapples and sev real varieties of kale. We disgraced  ourselves with two huge twists of sweet potato (never called kumara here) dredged with salt and cheese; then finished off with ice creams! (Sorry no photos).

The annual Gold Panning competition was under way. We stopped to watch but didn’t see anyone make a big find. Some competitors swirled frantically, probably knocking most of the gold out with the initial sand mix. Dave bought a modern-style ridged plastic gold pan …. we shall see if it works when we get back to NZ.

After a morning relaxing, doing some washing and catching up with emails, Dave had cabin fever so we made an afternoon trip to nearby Granite Gorge. A highly regulated area which includes a camp, it still provided an interesting stroll along a well-marked track over huge rocks, with rock wallabies spotted every now and then.




It is apparently a tourist coach stop which provides bags of wallaby food so that everyone is guaranteed to see a couple of wallabies within a very short time!


IMG_1693IMG_1690IMG_1689IMG_1686Granite Gorge Cooktown01
Granite Gorge Cooktown03

I was talking to this cocky and giving it a scratch, then we went round  to the other side of the cage and a sign said to keep fingers away, they bite (!). I think he enjoyed all the attention. He shouldn’t be in a cage anyway.

Granite Gorge Cooktown04Granite Gorge Cooktown09

156. Mt. Surprise & Mareeba.

After surviving the corrugations back to Georgetown without further mishap, we made good time to Mt. Surprise where we stayed for two nights in a small campground optimistically called “Planet Earth”. It had several large mango trees as well as some flowering trees…..




….. and on the second night we enjoyed a plate of barramundi, salad and chips with some of the other residents at the ‘cafe’. Mt. Surprise didn’t have many surprises but it did have an interesting ‘entrance’ and one claim to fame as a radar station during WW2.





Regarding mangoes – we have been seeing isolated trees and even plantations ever since Croydon. it seems the custom now is to give them crew cuts, doubtless to make harvesting the fruit easier. It is the flowering season and the trees are easy to identify with their wavy reddish flower spikes. Alas we will not be here when the mangoes ripen – bad timing(!).

The road east alternated between one-lane uneven seal and good two-lane marked seal. The distant mountains gradually became closer.


It was amazing how the scenery changed in less than a day, going from distinctly Outback (red/ochre earth, spiky grass, pointy red anthills and droopy gum trees) to tropical Tableland (mountains, mist, thick green grass, large squat grey-brown anthills and different trees).



Here’s an even larger anthill …


We sped through Herbert and Atherton, intending to return for a more leisurely visit another day, and reached Mareeba in good time. There are a  number of large commercial camps at Mareeba but we had no trouble getting place at the Rodeo show ground. The organisation there is awesome, all caravans in neat rows, plentiful rubbish bins all precisely aligned, good clean facilities, polite notices reminding us that water is precious, etc. A sign over the washing machines says to check the colour of the water first! There were some gorgeous sunsets.


IMG_1674On the way to the camp we passed the cemetery. A huge number of mausoleums no doubt reflect on the large Italian population which arrived after WW2. I have never seen that number of mausoleums in Australia before.


First stop after setting up, an automotive glass supplier. After expressing surprise that the jeep’s window was still holding together, thankfully they said they could fix or rather replace it but would have to order the glass from Brisbane, so we stayed in Mareeba five days. There were a number of other things Dave needed for the caravan but few were available in Mareeba so we did a day trip to Cairns (next blog).



We also took one of the kitchen drawers to a cabinetmaker. The plastic ‘drawer hanger/guide’ at the back had broken off during the ride to and from Forsayth. We were told that we’d be very lucky to find any more of those plastic stops! West was built in 2001 and styles have moved on since then.

Mareeba has a large visitors’ centre associated with a historical village, well worth a visit.




Realistic school exhibit!


Old butter churns.


Wombat stew, anyone?


This lady was preparing a new exhibit, part of a restored colonial house. Only the shelves above her are real, including a very short one directly above her hand, plus the one at the top right.



The piece de resistance for me was the Tobacco Exhibition. The North Queensland tobacco industry was centred around Mareeba. I was amazed to learn how labour intensive growing tobacco is/was, and how many different types of product there were. My photos tell the story.  Tobacco seed is the smallest seed in the world!









More about Mareeba and surroundings in the next blog.

155. Georgetown & the Forsayth Show

Leaving the Gilbert River camp rested and refreshed we headed for Georgetown, with a stop at a curious high brick chimney which we could see from the road. This turned out to be the Cumberland Chimney, which with a large dam built to provide water to the mill and batteries, are the remains of the Cumberland mines on the Etheridge fields.


The chimney was built in 1889 to disperse smoke from the large steam driven engines powering the batteries that crushed the gold bearing stone. It was a highly mechanised operation.


The gold soon ran out and the mine was sold in 1886; the new buyers abandoned it in 1897.

At its peak there were almost 4500 mine workers ad families with another hundred or so people living there. Shops were numerous, there was a school and a police station and bank. By 1898 the township was reduced to a single hotel.



Anthills are now the only things that overlook the dam.IMG_1368IMG_1370

We did not stop in Georgetown except to get diesel and some supplies. I did notice that the school had a huge shade awning over the tennis court – we’ve seen this in some other places too. Plus the usual number of old homes …



We wanted to visit the famed Cobbold Gorge, about 90 km south of Georgetown, but did not fancy dragging aged Westie that far on a dirt road, so decided to go only as far as Forsayth, leave Westie there and do a day trip to Cobbold. Part of the road to Forsayth was surfaced, but all too soon we hit the bull dust and corrugations. We’d heard there was to be a district Show (the Forsayth Roundup) that weekend and there was free camping at the show ground. I had picked up a show program in Croydon and it looked interesting. Here, for example, are the dog classes – not exactly Crufts.




Forsayth is a tiny little place but as it is the terminus for the Savannahlander train it has spruced itself up and the local hotel has a nice modern facade. Old railway and mining mementoes were scattered around.







Notice outside the police station.  10,000 sq km!


Other important stuff:



The camp next door to the pub was chock full so we were glad we knew about the show ground. Finding the entrance was another thing, we missed the main entrance from the highway (I don’t think it was signposted at that stage) and bumped and lurched over the railway line and picked up a nail in one of the Jeep’s tyres!


IMG_1418So there we were with a puncture (soon fixed) in the main show area, thankfully still almost empty, and in sight of the camping ground proper. It was on a slight rise overlooking the whole showground, with free power and water available. The nearby toilet block had hot showers, the water heated in a large drum over an open fire.


As it turned out most of the show visitors elected to camp overnight in a grassy area elsewhere with no facilities, but we did not mind the rocky ground and anthills which surrounded us as we were also visited by hundreds of galahs and several inquisitive magpies, and had glorious views of the sunsets. We stayed there four nights. Very luckily the tyre was repaired in Forsayth.





The galahs were not so popular early one morning (shot thru the flyscreen)….


The Show started very slowly. By the Friday evening (we arrived Thursday) still very little had been done, but early Saturday morning the place really began to fill up. By the time we strolled down, judging of the horses, livestock, dogs, crafts, culinary arts and children was well under way.





The lolly drop – one of two. The local dentist will be having field day later.


Here are some of the entrants for the children’s best-dressed classes …



…dogs … athletic events ….




… eggs, jams, preserves, ‘decorated vegetables’ …..



…. a school project entry – well done April even if you can’t spell haka…..


… whip cracking … (the little guy was one of the best) …


… dog high jump …. (photo taken at beginning; the winner jumped over 2 metres, the height was increased by building up boards between slots at each end of the ute).


…  the greasy pig chase (I think the winner got to keep the pig) …



…. billy boiling competition, balloon throwing, tug of war, kick a goal ….





There was only what you could call one sideshow with two of those old-fashioned laughing clowns.

But there were a fair number of other stalls, including a gold prospector’s who showed us a huge and surprisingly heavy lump of gold he had discovered (so he said). Note his hat.



And other types, not the usual city ones …




The show did not finish till well after 9 pm when the last of the raffles were drawn  and donated goods were auctioned off. Two lucky locals picked up laptop computers for about $250 each. We did not win the wheelbarrow of alcohol which was donated by the local hotel.

By late next morning the whole show ground was deserted. Amazing! We stayed one extra day, did a little more exploring of the town including the scholchildren-beautified entrance…..




….. watched the huge flock of galahs reclaim their area, enjoyed another beautiful sunset and left next morning just after the power and water had been turned off.



We had not escaped the dirt road unscathed. A stone thrown up by a speeding 4WD which didn’t slow down on the dirt road must have hit the driver’s side window, and before too long a three-armed crack started to appear. There was also a tiny chip on the windscreen. We decided to forego Cobbold Gorge and other attractions on the way and head  straight for Mareeba, the first large town near the coast. We may be able to see the Gorge at a later date, the Savannahlander train from Cairns stops at Forsayth and then there is a bus to Cobbold. The train also stops earlier at Mt. Surprise with a bus to the Undarra Lava Tubes which we also want to see. In one of those complicated “related to the sixth degree” (or something!) situations, Undarra is owned by a family whose daughter together with her husband Bob McFarland until recently owned the Darchy family station “Oxley” near Hay. My great great aunt married Bob’s great great uncle.

Posted from Cooktown. More blogs coming soon when we can find some WiFi spots!

154. Croydon & the Gilbert River

We didn’t want to but it had to be done … turn our faces and Grandy’s bullbar away from the north west and start to head east. First stop after Normanton was Blackbull, just a siding really, originally named Patterson’s Siding in 1890 when the railway was opened, but renamed because “a black bull was found in a mob of cattle when William and Joseph Taafe were out mustering cattle.” In 1891 the station layout consisted of a turning triangle, water tank and the station building. All are still there.




An interesting story about railway sleepers:


A couple of nearby anthills …  and a photo of a rather large old one …



Nowadays Blackbull siding is a rest stop for the Gulflander train on its longer trips, not the one we experienced alas.


Ever since we started our Australian travels every now and then we come upon a memorial to an early policeman or policemen. I think these are wonderful, so often such people who died in the line of duty are forgotten. Here is another. I doubt the grave will still be there after 135 years of floods.


On to Croydon, where I was looking forward to seeing the old butcher’s shop I photographed in 1971. Alas it is no more, gutted by fire some time ago. It has been “restored” but is no longer in use.

croydon butcher




The town won a “tidy town” award some years ago but things seem to have degenerated a little since. It did not seem particularly interesting apart from the old pub (the only one remaining, once there were about 35)  with the extraordinary paintings on the inner side of the deep wooden awnings ….



IMG_1273…. but then we hit a row of beautifully restored old houses. Full of local historical items too. The piece de resistance was undoubtedly the old courthouse, with much of the original furniture polished and touchable, where cutouts of the main protagonists in a Drunk and Disorderly hearing can be seen while a marvellous soundtrack (says Dave) let them ‘speak’ their parts.




A few other things in Croydon…



One shilling left to his wife, so she could hang herself ?!


The Town Hall – imagine all the dances.


Things seen in the heritage houses: beautiful appliquéd cats


The steam steriliser (autoclave) used at the hospital. I used one of these to sterilise laboratory glassware in my first job out of school with CSIRO, at that time located at Sydney University. It was in a room next to a lecture hall and one time I opened it a little too soon, there was a huge whooooosh of steam and all the students swivelled round  …


The same man was the undertaker and the night soil man …


After a very indifferent fish and chips lunch we left heading for Georgetown, intending to spend the night at a free camp on the Gilbert River.


Hardly anyone stopped at the stop sign … but with such a long clear view, why bother.




This was a lovely camp, although it was not so easy to get to the river for photos. We did however find one track close by, which was obviously used by others, particularly yabbie hunters who made full use of the huge fig trees’ tangled roots.  It was late afternoon, a perfect time for photos.




We decided to give ourselves a rest day there, becoming in effect camp g guardians as everyone else had left by mid-morning. By late afternoon however the camp was filling up again.

This Nissan Navara (the same as our tow vehicle in NZ) wasn’t towing a caravan, it had a slide-on camper built over its tray:


We made friends with Brian who has already risen his bike around Australia once and is doing it again! Like Tracey ‘OneWomanWandering’ who we met some blogs back, he is accompanied by a little once-white dog, in this case named Bingo, who rides in style on the back seat, strapped in with a harness and with his very own sunglasses.


Brian would be about 75 and a sign on his bike proclaimed that he was the longest-surviving kidney transplant recipient in Australia (?) but unlike Tracey he was not trying to collect funds for anything. His bike trailer had everything he needed including a camp stretcher, cooking apparatus etc. He does not keep a blog so we have no way of knowing how he is now faring.


A little gecko tried to take up residence under my camp chair. I’ve been surprised we haven’t seen more, or any goannas.


For some time we ‘ve been disgruntled by the quality of the bread available – mostly soft plain white or what they call multigrain which is the same white with a few grains added, or wholemeal which I suspect is at least half white. All very thickly sliced too. I do miss the lovely ultrathin slices of soy and linseed or multigrain Vogels available in NZ. We haven’t seen ANY thin-sliced bread in Aust. and only a few ‘sandwich’ size.

I decided to try and make some bead rolls using bread-and-pizza flour I found in Normanton of all places. (Nowhere is there the bread mixes we are familiar with in NZ, but at least yeast is available). My first attempt looked better than it tasted – not enough salt – but since then my technique has been improving and the last batch of focaccia was pleasing although still not ideal.


I’m posting this from a car-wash cafe in Cairns. Yes, we’ve moved on a bit! More blogs soon.




153. Karumba

I thought Karumba deserved a blog to itself. We did not tow Westy the caravan there, as we had heard all the camps were full, and we were happy at the Normanton camp with its wide spaces and good facilities. As it turned out we could probably have squeezed into one of the Karumba camps, but no matter. It’s only 70 km one way …. and we ARE in the outback. What’s more we did the round trip twice (!)

Along the way we hit another river which featured in the 1971 MGTF trip. Walker Creek on the Karumba Road …

Walker Ck, Karumba Rd

…. and again now with the usual huge high modern bridge.



This is the river crossing where, for once, Geoff braved the crocs instead of sending me across first to feel for cracks and potholes, just like this one….



On one side there was a clearing beside a sort of waterhole which people obviously used for swimming, with a swinging rope – and sign warning against swimming because of the crocodiles.



On to Karumba across a huge flood plain. There were lots of brolgas, almost always in pairs, no doubt attracted by the semi-permanent waterway which ran beside the road.


(Was this the one I photographed in 1971? – and yes thats the main road between Normanton and Karumba!)

N'ton-Kar rd

There was also a large number of kites no doubt attracted by the plentiful roadkill, almost all little wallabies. Sad.


The Karumba Information Centre is modern and well-stocked with brochures and helpful volunteers, who suggested where to go for a prawn lunch, item number one on our list. This was at Karumba Point, where there is a sandy beach but as usual there were signs warning about swimming or even paddling.




We decided to try a sample platter, prawns five ways for $35, and one platter was enough for the two of us. Well, almost.


We sat outside under a huge tree which we later found out was a Beach Almond  </www.naturesface.com.au/native-almond-tree/> and watched a prawn fishing boat – or was he after barramundi? heading out to sea with several smaller boats in attendance.


There used to be a jetty at Karumba Point.

IMG_1000 (1) This was most likely the jetty Geoff and I saw in 1971. Note also the Burns Philp store mentioned in the previous blog, now beautified.

Kar. jetty & N't BP store.png

Karumba prawns are legendary. Yet the industry only started in 1964 when a local fisherman Noel Sykes, after some 981 tries, brought up the first full net of banana prawns, winning a magnum of champagne which had been offered as an incentive for the first skipper who landed a substantial catch. The Northern Prawn Fishery is Australia’s most valuable Commonwealth fishery and is considered one of the best managed fisheries in the world.

The popularity of barramundi was also everywhere. A Barramundi Discovery Centre was established in 1993 by some local commercial fishermen where they have bred and released  hundreds of thousands of barramundi fingerlings “for the long term benefit of the environment, commercial and recreational fishers”. It was not open when we were there.

A look around the wharf area turned out to be far more interesting than expected. To start with, we wondered what the tides were like as the wharves were on very long stilts. We discovered that there is only one tide a day. IMG_1005IMG_1006

i had not known that Karumba was once an important flying boat base.

IMG_1141 (1)

The commercial flying boat services ceased during WWII when Burma was captured by the Japanese. the Royal Australian Air Force took over the facilities as a Catalina base. A concrete ramp and large hangar are built in 1942 to service the flying boats.


This is the straight stretch of river used for take-off.



One other series of signs captured our attention. There was a huge flood in 1974, the largest on record. The entire township had to be evacuated and hundreds of square miles of Gulf country were inundated.


After a look around town we bought 1 kg of prawns for dinner, booked for a sunset cruise the next day and returned to Normanton. That evening one of the camp people came round to invite us to the free prawn and drink and movie night the next evening, so we phoned Karumba and postponed our sunset cruise till the following  evening – “no trouble mate”.

We were absolutely sated by the time we’d got through 2/3 of the kilo of huge prawns, two sauces,  a french bread stick and of course plenty of Sav Blanc. Sitting outside in the warm dusk, the sky glowing red behind us, what could be better? The rest of the prawns we had for breakfast as garlic prawns on toast. (No photos, fingers too sticky!!)

On our second visit to Karumba we discovered a few more things, like Bunratty Castle.  He moved the bricks four at a time  …??IMG_1010

IMG_1009Version 2

The finale for our Karumba visit was the evening cruise. We had a lovely time with some congenial people and a very knowledgeable guide and would strongly recommend Ferryman Cruises to anyone going up that way. We boarded near the RAAF base and cruised slowly upriver, but not before our guide had fed some of the kites which were wheeling around …



..  we soon saw a jabiru, a gorgeous big bird (‘the Australian stork’) and then visited a short-tailed crocodile enjoying the last rays of the sun beside its nest.

Normanton sunset cruise07Normanton sunset cruise08Normanton sunset cruise09Normanton sunset cruise10

More of Dave’s birds:

Normanton sunset cruise12Normanton sunset cruise13

A sad old wreck:


Then it was back down the river and out towards the entrance. The boat started to rock just a little – hooray! Drinks and nibbles were handed out followed by small plates of fresh prawns. Everyone was taking photos of the sunset, and themselves. There was not a cloud in the sky but the horizon glowed fiery red for ages.



Then the drive back to Normanton in the dark, a bit slower than usual, all senses alert for pesky wallabies who had not learnt right-of-way rules. We saw quite a few right beside the road but they just sat and stared. Our lovely bull-bar is still pristine but we were glad we had it.

This is the turning point for us in Queensland, from now on we will be heading east rather than north and west.