148. Mt. Isa

(Posted from Normanton in the Gulf … only a few more blogs to catch up on).

Sometimes the places we are ambivalent about visiting turn out to be some of the best, or at least they have a few special places-within-the-main-place. And so it was with Mt. Isa.

Like Broken Hill, Mt. Isa is a mining town started in the 1920s and dominated by one or more representatives of the mining industry, in this case a couple of huge smoke stacks and mining structures. Unlike Broken Hill however it has a plentiful supply of water unlikely to become depleted in the near future. The main streets are lined with trees and private homes have flower gardens. There is a modern shopping centre. Huge road trains thunder along the highway.

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We set up in a camp just outside the town, on the road to Lake Moondarra. Unlike most other camps this one had rows and rows of single-room cabins each with an air conditioning unit and also many static caravans with annexes, obviously semi-permanent homes. I guess this reflects on the transient population.

The weather was not too good but little further rain was expected so we felt safe in the camp, accessed via a floodway.

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We paid a visit to the Lake, not knowing what to expect. Certainly not such a huge expanse of water!

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It started with a dam over the Leichhardt River constructed by Mt. Isa Mines – at the time it was Australia’s largest privately funded water scheme. Before then Mt. Isa’s water needs were met by a series of bores, which ironically is the situation now facing Broken Hill as the Menindee Lakes are practically dry due to the Murray no longer flowing. (The dam is just visible on the far right in the photo below).

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“In late 1956 a rocky gorge on the Leichhardt River 16 km downstream from the township was selected due to its natural bedrock attributes …. work began without delay …. seasonal rains in December 1956 sent flood waters rushing through the gorge causing extensive damage to the partially completed wall … it was finally finished in 1957.”

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For those who want to know, the catchment area is 111,369 hectares, dam surface area about 2.6 hectares, storage capacity/volume 107 gigalitres and max depth 11 metres.

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The names Lake Moondarra and Warrina Park (below the dam) were selected from over 400 entries by local school children.

We had a quick look around Warrina Park, it would be lovely on a fine day but not in the rain. Along the perimeter we came to a sudden halt at a peacock crossing … so many birds! They must be a great attraction.

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We did not ‘do’ the celebrated Mt. Isa Hard Times Mine, “an unique underground experience”, but we did visit the Underground Hospital. Another item on my Must-See list. Run by a couple of hard-working local volunteers, who offered us a cup of tea with them on closing as we were the last two visitors and had asked lots of questions. I was delighted to find some information about old families pertinent to my  family history in some old books on display.  (They’ll be included in a future blog in the Darchy Chronicles). 

Besides the underground section there was a treasure-trove of medical and surgical items in the old house which served as an entrance. (It was part of the old hospital itself). Even on the verandahs……

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The Underground Hospital was constructed by volunteer Mt. Isa Mine workers in the hill beside the existing hospital in 1942, when Northern Australia was on a war footing. Darwin had been bombed earlier that year and it was feared Mt. Isa would be next.

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The Underground Hospital was completed quickly, an E-shaped structure carved out of the hill with surgical, medical and maternity facilities, and even and outpatients department and operating  theatres. Fortunately it never had to be used for the purpose for which it had been built. In later years some nurses on night shift used it as a cool and quiet place to sleep!

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It fell into disuse and was forgotten then rediscovered in 1977 …. the roof was partially collapsed, debris everywhere, and wooden fittings white-ant eaten. In 1997 restoration started using old photographs as there were no plans or details on record.

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Bunk beds constructed according to the old photos

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A storage cupboard constructed from old packing cases, just as in the old photos.

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Some of the artefacts recovered from the rubble.

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There were various interesting signs and some objects along the short walk to the underground hospital. Such as a number of these kerosene lights used to mark out the Camooweal airstrip for the Flying Doctor plane.

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One more thing – right next to the hospital is an example of a ‘Tent House’, the last one remaining. With canvas walls, roof and sunshades, protected by a completely separate corrugated-iron second roof.

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No, two more things. Lining the parking ground to the Underground Hospital and Tent House are fantastic examples of mineral-bearing rocks. I could not believe they were just casually sitting there. Usually such things are only seen in museums. But it was Mt. Isa!

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147. Cloncurry – 2. The RFDS.

The  Cloncurry Visitors’ Centre has a magnificent display of minerals and some interesting local history, where I managed to find out a little more about Kuridala.

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There is also a section devoted to the explorers Burke and Wills. I like this painting by Patricia d’Arcy (no relation) entitled the Final Journey.

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Of even more interest though was the Royal Flying Doctor Service Museum, which is carpeted with a specially woven carpet depicting the Cloncurry district from the air. An absolute must-see for anyone passing through Cloncurry (the museum not the carpet!).

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In 1937 my grandfather d’Archy was flown by Flying Doctor from Macarthur River Station in the NT to Katherine, where he died. He was the Station Manager and together with the cook was struck down by a ‘mystery illness’, at first thought to be cholera, or possibly some form of food poisoning and later accepted as typhoid. It made news all over Australia! He would have been flown out in a plane like this, if not this particular plane.

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Also he was most likely attended by Dr. Alberry or possible the RFD’s first female doctor Jean White. (I hope to obtain more specific records later; we did enquire but they are not held there).

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Did you know who actually invented the pedal wireless?

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I was surprised to learn that Queensland’s first School of the Air opened in Cloncurry on 25 January 1960. I thought it was much earlier. there were 14 pupils on remote properties as far distant as Normanton, Richmond, Camooweal and Birdsville. By the end of 1960 there were 74 children on the roll. The school relocated to Mt. Isa in 1964, with the move of the flying doctor base.

When it wasn’t raining we visited the Chinaman’s Lake just outside town. The extensive lake is formed by a dam but there were few signs to give its history.

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It had two interesting signs, one about lice and one on a small monument to Wesley Nicholls with a poem part of which I remember from years ago, although I only knew the last four lines.

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Here is a glimpse of the lake through a thicket of wattle and other bushes.

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It is not the Stinking Wattle which makes the camp smell gaseous at times.IMG_0155IMG_0156

When I passed through Cloncurry in 1971 I had no idea of its importance in my family history, and the big modern bridge over the Cloncurry River had not yet been built. Geoff and I must have driven over this causeway in the MGTF. Parts of the old highway can still be seen.

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After almost a week in Cloncurry it was time to move on. Next stop: Mt. Isa.  Only 119 km.

146. Cloncurry – 1. The Stockman’s Challenge.

I couldn’t wait to reach Cloncurry, the area of my mother’s birth. Her  father was managing Chatsworth Station at the time. The birth was registered at Friesland, a mining town which later changed its name to Kuridala due to sensibilities about Germans during the war. It is still on most maps although the mining town is long abandoned. We decided not to try to visit.

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After a long drive through red anthill country,  livened with occasional swathes of wattle and/or Brahman-type cattle, the approach to Cloncurry is marked by an unusual rock formation. The town is not as large as could be expected, being overshadowed by Mt. Isa. It has very wide streets, two supermarkets and a reasonable selection of other stores, although very outback orientated. There is a saddlers which has a huge collection of western-style clothing and leatherwork decorated with the bling so beloved of rodeo contestants.

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Somehow we’d managed to time our visit not only for a period of rainfall but also the time of the annual Stockman’s Challenge. We were snug on a hard gravel surface in a camp, well sheltered and with some interesting new neighbours who invited us to share a pizza cooked in one of the camp’s BBQ ‘ovens’ in the rain.

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We made full use of the camp’s showers and also washing machine, and were vastly entertained by a mob of apostle birds and other birds plus a couple of magpies who took a liking to our bumper bar and bull bar, kept nice and shiny by the rain. The gidyea (stinking wattle) did perfume the air a bit but we soon got used to it.

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The stockmen were not so fortunate. The Equestriation Centre where the Challenge was held was simply a sea of red mud. The huge horse transporters and their recent occupants soon had everything churned up to a high degree, helped by pools of water everywhere. Poor horses! Most had to stand in mud up to their hocks. Lots of hay was put down and I saw several  horses trying to have a roll in the hay, still wearing their blankets. Red mud, red mud ….. everyone had red mud half way up their legs. it was also amazingly cold, with a bitter wind sweeping the yard (we did not feel it nearly as badly at our camp). Yet the show went on.

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I had not attended a stockman’s challenge before and had surmised it to be similar to a rodeo. There was a rodeo one evening but it was just ‘entertainment”. The serious business was almost an equestrian competition. First crack a whip, then walk, trot, canter …. and come to a screeching halt in front of the judges, several times. Then there was the Drafting (capital D) – each stockman in turn had to separate a chosen steer from a bunch of six in a small yard, then steer (sic) it in a figure of eight and then through a set of posts. Not everyone accomplished that. One particularly obstinate steer need three horsemen to separate it from the small mob.

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We did not see nearly as much as I would have liked, mainly because it was just too cold standing in the wind and, sometimes, rain. Although together with our camping neighbours we did find bit of shelter behind the bar building, where the heater outlets were good for warming cold hands! But it was a wonderful event to witness and something to always remember about Cloncurry.

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145. Winton & the Walkabout Hotel

We camped for the night at a free camp just off the road to the Dinosaur Museum (this photo was mistakenly included in the Longreach blog) ….

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…. then next morning paid a visit to what remains of the Banjo Patterson Museum in Winton. Part of it was destroyed by fire in early 2016, but sufficient was saved and much more material has since been donated, so it is once again an interesting if somewhat smaller museum. The staff were wonderful and cheerfully recharged my camera battery while I wandered around, camera-less (all photos are by Dave, some at my instigation).

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The 4X4 Jeffery Quad:

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We were still travelling with John and Leanne.  Soon after leaving Winton we noticed an unusual shifting dark shape in the sky – then two dark shapes – then the penny dropped, it was a huge flock or flocks of birds. They were much too far away to get any good photos but I tried anyway!

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The country was changing again, after all the flat and father bare landscape there were some butte formations but we were past the best before I realised.

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We didn’t stop at the rather famous Blue Heeler pub…..

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….. but continued on through featureless country until we came to our planned night stop – the Walkabout Creek Hotel at McKinlay, made famous by the Crocodile Dundee movie.

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IMG_0111It was sold a few years back and almost all the memorabilia were auctioned off, so now it is just a slightly seedy country pub which however served very good pizza (that night only, we were lucky) with very cold and welcome drinks, and also provided a good camping area with excellent showers for a very low camping fee.

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Road trains thundered past until well into dusk. Rosellas were everywhere. An attempt was being made to prettify a small residential area. McKinlay had ATMOSPHERE.

 

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144. Another Postcard – A Wee Mishap

I’ve just posted a blog about Longreach, but since we were there we’ve travelled much further, to Cloncurry and Mt. Isa and Camooweal.  More posts are coming, but in the meantime ….

Two days ago we left Camooweal intending to go the 200 or so km to Adels Grove via Gregory Downs (map at bottom of blog). Here’s Dave’s account of the trip.

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(Dave:) This involved about a hundred and twenty-five kms of gravel road to Gregory Downs and then a further 90 kilometres on a four wheel drive road to Adel’s Grove. We were at 42 kilometres into the gravel when we saw a couple with a caravan and truck changing a wheel. We stop to check if they needed help but they said okay so we carried on … about 200 metres on over a slight crest …  when the caravan started exhibiting all the throes of a flat tyre. Hastily pulling over to the side of the road I leapt out to inspect the damage, to be greeted by a far worse scenario, the rear right wheel of the caravan was jammed back against the chassis. Checking the damage it appeared the locating pin for the leaf springs had sheared, allowing the springs and the axle to slide backwards.

I was checking the caravan when another couple of caravans stopped to help; one of them luckily had a 21 mm spammer required to undo the  U-bolt nuts. Also luckily I had a 6 mm bolt that I’d saved when changing the feet on the stabilisers. I was able to line everything up, insert the 6 mm bolt and bring everything back together again.

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IMG_0741We decided to turn around and return to Mt. Isa where I hoped to be able to find a proper high tensile pin for the spring. When we arrived back in Mount Isa we rang the local spring maker who informed us he was on holiday until next Wednesday, and “…. the nearest places where it could be done are Alice Springs, Darwin or Townsville!!!”

I decided to bodge up a fix, kiwi bush mechanics style, found the local bolt supplier, bought a couple of high tensile steel bolts and then found that the holes in the leaf springs were a strange size. Soooooo…   I asked around and the guys at Excellent Engineering of Mt. Isa were recommended to turn the bolt down to size, which they did and only charged me $10. With the bolt becoming a pin of the correct size I was able to put everything together quite quickly.

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Nancy: another couple of purchases beside THE BOLT were a larger stronger jack, a spanner, and an umbrella to shield the workman.IMG_0781

So tomorrow we will do a short trip and I will check the U-bolts again to see if they are okay. If so we will carry on, if not we will return to Mount Isa and wait for the spring-maker to arrive back from his holiday. I would still like to go to Adels Grove but now we will probably go via Cloncurry as it will be mostly sealed road.

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143. Longreach

By Dave: This sure is a big country and there are an awful lot of caravans travelling around it. We arrived at Longreach planning to stay in a free camp several km north of the town, however when we arrived the camp was chocker.

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Nancy decided that we couldn’t fit in there and so with our friends John and Leanne we decided on a commercial camp. John rang around and found one that didn’t sound too expensive so we went there instead.

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Being fully self-contained we elected to the cheapest sites, moved in and set up. Our ancient grey water hose broke while setting up so I spent most of the next day buying a new hose and trying to find suitable adapters to fit it. Longreach being a small town this proved impossible however, so in typical Aussie fashion we just dumped a great deal of water on the ground.

Nancy: camping here in Aust. is very different to NZ, where most caravans have large fresh and grey water tanks. Here it seems to be normal to have small fresh water tanks and to hook up to a tap at every camp site (ie with mains pressure) and simply discharge grey water via a hose to the  nearest tree or garden plot if there is one; very occasionally there are proper discharge points. We do have a portable grey water container which we use in “fully self-contained” camps but often see Aussie caravaners ignoring this basic rule.

Longreach is full of interesting old buildings. I was disappointed they have repainted the railway station white; in 1971 it was a beautiful blue (and there was no tarmac in front, just red earth).

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Dave: We had planned to visit the Quaintarse museum and the Stockmans Hall of Fame but after wasting so much time chasing round we decided to concentrate on the Hall of Fame. Several people recommended spending a little extra and seeing the show associated with it. Unfortunately we believed them and wasted an hour listening to some Country music and a bunch of lame jokes. There was a small part of the show that dealt with the skills Stockmen needed which was mildly interesting.

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Nancy: On arrival at the Hall of Fame there was a stockman type holding a very placid Brahman-type steer, most likely a hand-reared orphan, which of course most people stopped to admire and pat. Apparently the large hanging loose skin is actually a cooling mechanism, it increases the surface area which helps heat dissipation.

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Dave: Nancy had an appointment with a local historian after lunch so we left the Hall of Fame to talk to her and then returned afterwards.

Nancy: she gave me some wonderful maps of local stations, and in particular helped me find some of the stations mentioned in the many newspaper reports of ‘Drover Tim Darchy’, my Great great uncle. We visited his grave in the Cemetery.  Some graves had curious coverings rather like seed raising beds. Rosellas were everywhere.

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Nancy: I was also interested in the Stockman’s Hall of Fame exhibit of a drover’s camp.

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Also this wonderful painting called “the Drover’s Wagon” by Philip Silcox. We visited the street where Tim lived with his wife and daughter when not droving; part of it is now in  the town but I would imagine it was once out of town a little as he would have needed to keep quite a number of horses. IMG_0218

Dave: One of the staff was making stock-whips and I was surprised at the amount of work that went into each one.

The museum was quite interesting and some of the stories on the unsung heroes boards were amazing.

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Back at the camp we were entertained by two resident brolgas who paraded around, much to the delight of the photographers.

Nancy: When we first saw them the male was doing most of the dancing, offering nesting materials.  We were told that earlier they were stalking along peering in all the windows at the nearby motel, possibly looking for a nesting site. next day however they were much calmer – maybe he had had his wicked way.

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Dave: Next morning we made an early start or at least early for us, and headed to Winton where we parked for the night at the Long Waterhole Camp. Winton&cloncurry01Winton&cloncurry02Winton&cloncurry03

Dave: Along the way we stopped at the Age of Dinosaurs Museum for an interesting couple of hours.

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These fossilised mussels were only babies, the adults were over a metre long. Fantastic chowder they would have made!

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‘Mick’ was a dinosaur … that’s a cow vertebra on the right  for comparison

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Nancy: the  Museum included two escorted tours, the second being around the laboratory. A charming young man talked for ages and made it all look very interesting but it was a dead loss for me, so when we were leaving we suggested to the Museum that they investigate providing a captioned, signed interpretation of the talks on an iPad, and/or a downloadable version on the phone app ‘STQRY’. They were interested. We earned our Brownie points for the day!

The Museum is high on a ridge with wonderful views all around.

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Dave: We had hoped to get to Winton in time to check out the Banjo Patterson Museum, but on arrival found that most of the Museum had burnt down earlier this year and the remainder had to shut for the day. Maybe tomorrow.

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142. Charleville.

I have long wanted to revisit Charleville, 750 km SW of Brisbane. In 1971 my first husband Geoff and I just drove through, and I did not know at the time that it was where where my Great Great Uncle Louis Darchy met an untimely end. He is buried in the churchyard. I thought I might be able to locate some photos and extra information about him.

But first – we thought we would try the Bush Caravan Park (“non-smokers, must have toilet, $5/night” (!!) on the other side of town. We found it just before dusk and set up in the sunset glow. Invited to join a group around a large campfire (“there will be damper!”) the first person we saw was a woman with a cochlear implant.  Gosh they are becoming common (!). Another woman in the group round the fire was hearing impaired and told us she is on the waiting list for an implant. I usually dread these campfire gatherings with a group of strangers, but this time ….. we were still chatting away when it became too dark to see anything. And yes the damper was delicious!

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There was a small street parade for a Junior Rugby Tournament going on, but we wanted to visit the Information Centre  first … and they didn’t know anything about the parade! By the time we got back into town the parade was over anyway. Like most others we have visited, the iCentre was modern, cheerful and very helpful, with a wide range of brochures.

We visited the cemetery, but it was impossible to find Great Great Uncle Louis. I have a photo taken some years earlier by one of his descendants, which showed no headstone, just a grave marker. But since then the cemetery has been badly flooded, and many grave markers displaced. It was obvious that despite careful efforts of the cemetery trustees and their helpers, many grave locations can probably never be determined with certainty. Great Great Uncle Louis’ remains may or may not still be there … they could be many miles away down the nearby river. Probably where he would prefer to be.

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Next stop the Historic House Museum, built in 1889, “today the museum brims with the precious memories and items from the district’s pioneering families…” (Trying to get a photo of the heritage building free from modern signs etc was impossible).

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Old photographs …. no wonder the streets were and still are so wide, designed so that bullock teams could turn around.

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A very charming man went through all the computerised photos which the museum possessed and located a photo of Hackett’s Hotel, where Louis died in 1910. It burnt down a few years later. He also found two photos of a station homestead where Louis and his wife Anna Maria worked before they moved to Charleville.

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World War Two may be a distant memory but the people of Charleville certainly celebrated the end of it. In 1945 every business in Charleville painted the V-for Victory symbol on their facades, including this old building, the Warrego Chambers, which still displays it to this day.

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There are lots of old buildings …. the Courthouse in particular.

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Back to the Bush Camp and another lovely evening with our new friends John and Leanne, with whom we were to travel during the next week. A mob of Apostle birds kept us company for a while. In the distance two kangaroos bounded away, chased by a farm dog.

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141. An Earlier Tour of the Outback.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I was in the Queensland outback in 1971. Here are a couple of pages from a booklet I published four years ago about that journey. My 1971 slides were in a bad state but we were able to clean up most of them.

The booklet is available in eBook form at http://www.blurb.com/ebooks/181803-outback-queensland-by-mgtf

My first husband and I took three weeks’ leave from our respective workplaces (I had to beg and plead for mine as someone else from the chemical pathology laboratory had already ‘booked’ that time), loaded up Geoff’s 1952 partly-restored but mechanically very sound MGTF, and set off from Sydney. It had taken several months’ hard work each evening in my parents’ garage to take the car to pieces and reassemble, including a complete engine overhaul.

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After welding a custom-designed rear rack for the MGTF on a friend’s property in Armidale (the same property Dave and I visited 45 years later and a few blogs back) Geoff and I headed up the east coast as far as Cooktown, then with youthful fingers crossed set off for the outback proper.

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It was in April, just after the Wet had finished, and many rivers were still running. It was my job to wade across first, checking for hidden potholes and braving possible crocodiles and snakes (fortunately we didn’t see any).

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This is the (old) Angellala bridge near Augathella, on the then highway (true!)  between Blackall and Roma. Too late I realised Dave and I had just passed it. No way to stop and turn around on what is now a major highway with a big caravan in tow. Doubly regretful as in Longreach we learned that not so many years ago a much more recent bridge in the same place had blown up and is now a tourist attraction!

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This was a typical road at the time. Actually they are still like this but with a nice tarred and reasonably smooth surface, with wide red shoulders.

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It has been awesome retracing that journey, albeit in reverse. The most noticeable differences between then and now are the roads and the vehicles on them. Thousands of caravans and huge road trains now thunder along at 110 kph on what were narrow and often unsurfaced roads. Small outback towns which once sported a single petrol pump, e.g. Boulia,  are now producing glossy tourist brochures enticing visitors to stay at the multitude of motels and B&Bs which now line both sides of the highways. Local waterholes and other beauty spots have been prettied up and supplied with rubbish bins and toilets.

in 1971 we drove pretty slowly; a broken axle meant the end of the trip and probably the end of the car as well. We had one small tent, a single primus stove and a basin for washing both dishes and ourselves. I don’t recall just what sort of road traffic we encountered but definitely there were very few caravans. Needless to say we were viewed with utter disbelief. “How did you get here in THAT?” was the usual comment.

Oh but it was fun!

140. Chinchilla and Roma

Leaving Toowoomba we headed for Charleville but as it was getting late decided to stop at a free camp near Chinchilla. Sometimes the very best camp sites are discovered by accident. The Round Waterhole was absolutely beautiful and there were only three other vans to share the paradise.

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I was up very early next morning (a rare occurrence these days especially as the nights are still very chilly) taking photos of the early mist rising. A willy wagtail entertained me for a long time, but getting a good photo was another thing.

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Next stop Roma along a road lined with huge prickly-pear ‘trees’ .

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The Big Rig at Roma demanded a visit. It is a living memorial to the pioneers of Australia’s oil and gas industry. Again, a very good and well laid out display with lots of informative signs (e.g. “Strewth, it’s gas!”); I felt I was not missing anything even though there were many audio points too. For a little while the township enjoyed gaslight but all too soon the first gas well died out. That was in 1906.

 

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I learned rather more than I needed about drilling techniques, types of rig, etc etc. But both Dave and I agreed it was an interesting museum worth a visit.

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This is a ‘Christmas Tree’ …

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We did not linger in Roma, a pity really as the town has much to offer. On through Tambo where I remembered too late that I wanted to have my photo taken with one of the huge bottle trees lining the main street – to compliment the same photo I’d had taken the last time I was in Tambo in 1971 (!). But at least I did get some hasty shots of the bottle trees through the windscreen.

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Not far outside Tambo we took what we thought was the road to a ‘historical place’ but instead it took us miles out into the countryside. It was not entirely a wasted trip though, we spotted a mob of emus, stalking along in a stately manner.

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Next stop Charleville. This blog is being posted in Cloncurry so I have a few to catch up on!

139. Toogoolawah and Back to Toowoomba

IMG_9618We had a lovely restful stay at Nic and Mick’s property near Toogoolawah, with Westie parked in a paddock next to the horses and also a ‘little house’ with a shower and toilet so we didn’t have to bother them at the ‘big house’ too often.

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We made several shopping trips into Toogoolawah to stock up on food and also various hardware-store-stuff needed for the caravan. We enjoyed watching Nic and Mick and their friends practising cutting in the arena which Dave (briefly!) helped build two years ago.

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All too soon it was time to return to Toowoomba to collect Dave’s new driving glasses and to get  Grandy’s bull-bar fitted. We were lucky to find a place which could supply one in three days’ time; at other places including Melbourne we were always quoted two weeks. It is a very shiny bull-bar, Dave may have to put some black masking tape on the parts facing the driver if we drive at night, otherwise the headlights get reflected in the driver’s eyes. Hopefully we never need to drive at night though. The number of dead roos by the roadsides is sobering.

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We spotted one roo as we were leaving Nic and Mick’s, and also a little family of wild deer. We were to learn a little later at the Cobb & Co. Museum in Toowoomba that they were chital deer, released many years ago in several parts of Queensland for hunting.

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IMG_9667We drove via a circuitous route to take in Narangba and visit friend Carole’s cousin Elaine, last seen about 25 years ago. We agreed we’ve all got a few more wrinkles but otherwise are unchanged! A lovely reunion. We parked in their extensive backyard and have suggested they make part of it available to visiting caravans, similar to the privately-owned POP sites in NZ. Incidentally, there seem to be very very few similar sites in Australia. Or perhaps i just haven’t found them yet.

Before leaving Toowoomba we paid a visit to the Cobb & Co.Museum. The first thing I saw on entry (after admiring a really huge old tree outside, with beautiful bark) was not a stagecoach but a roomful of wild animals (!).  A notice said that most of the specimens had been donated to the Qld Museum, some as a result of confiscations. Usually they spent most of their time in storage, out of the public eye …. however their main value is in their ability to display a conservation message. Hence the room … to help ensure that wild places continue to be set aside for wild animals. “Before it is too late.”

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The museum proper was chock full of Cobb & Co. items, including various coaches, maps of routes, etc.  I was amazed to realise just how much of the country they traversed. Now I know how my grandmother likely got from Cloncurry to Toowoomba for the birth of her first child (my aunt) in 1910.

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There were so many wonderful old photos which I have reproduced. I may be able to get better copies on-line but these museum ones captured my attention.

Many passengers suffered motion sickness because the wooden coach bodies were suspended on thick leather straps called thoroughbraces which caused a rocking motion.

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Because Cobb & Co carried the Royal Mail, they needed to deliver on time. As the driver approached a changing station he would blow a bugle, and a groom would be waiting with  fresh and harnessed horses ready for the next 30 km of the trip.

There were all sorts of coaches and associated horse-drawn vehicles…..

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I would highly recommend this museum not just for the quality of the exhibits but also for making them so child-friendly. There were so many quirky little things designed to attract and hold a child’s attention. Even in the cafe there was a wonderful sunken pit well equipped with toys. the scones and coffee were also very good value!

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A lovely little incident happened at some traffic lights. The driver in the car next to us had a cochlear implant. I attracted his attention, pointed to our implants, and his face split into an enormous grin. “I can hear!” he mouthed just as the lights changed and we had to move on.

Being the end of Australia’s financial year, all the shops were having Sales. So off to the wonderful R M Williams’ store in Toowoomba where I purchased an identical padded vest to the one I lost (and at the same price paid about seven years ago at the airport) and Dave pounced on some very good boots which he badly needs. An excellent shopping trip!