150. Mary Kathleen.

A previous blog (No. 144, Another Postcard – a Wee Mishap) has covered the events in between leaving Camooweal and returning to Mt. Isa. Briefly, we set off via dirt road for Adels Grove in the Lawn Hill National Park, but some way along a caravan spring broke, Dave did a marvellous jury rig job and we limped back to Mt. Isa. Next day Dave managed to obtain the necessary materials to do a proper job. Mt. Isa was hot, the camp was hot and uninteresting (although it did have $3 washing machines), the caravan was fixed … time to move on.

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One thing not mentioned in the Postcard was the remarkable lady who we met at the Barkly Highway-dirt road turnoff where we’d stopped for a cuppa before the long slog back to Mt. Isa. We had spotted her some days earlier, walking along by the highway pushing a well-laden … something-on-wheels. Unfortunately with the caravan in tow we couldn’t stop then, so it was a delight to meet her in person with time to chat. A lovely friendly and very fit looking person with a friendly little once-white-and-fluffy dog called Dexter as her only companion. Dexter rides in state on top of everything else but under a canopy, so remains relatively cool. They sleep under the stars most nights.

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The tricycle has a small solar-powered motor to help her get up hills, plus she has a mobile phone, a good camera, a CB radio, and an EPB (emergency personal beacon) so is well equipped. The whole weighs about 350 kg, still not enough to prevent being blown over by a road train thundering past. Tracy righted it on her own.

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She has been on the road for over one year and intends to continue for another two or so! She is basically trying to raise money for mental health awareness. Her website can explain it better than me: www.onewomanwandering.com.au.

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To resume the blog:

We thought it would be a good idea not to go too far from Mt. Isa until we were confident all was well with Westy the caravan. We still had hopes to get to Adels Grove but by a different route, Cloncurry to Gregory Downs (all surfaced) and then, perhaps, the last 90 km or so unsurfaced to the Grove.

The 180 or so km between Mt. Isa and Cloncurry seemed a good testing ground, with a planned stop at the old Mary Kathleen uranium mine, where there is now free parking in the abandoned township. After stocking up on groceries etc in Mt. Isa (and taking some more photos for Ross F. who once lived there) we set off. All went well and soon we were at the entrance with its very rough looking track. Oh well – spring testing time!

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The area is not well signposted and we missed the turnoff to the camp and lurched along a winding bush track for some time until finding the back entrance. Once in the ‘township’ – all that remains are concrete slabs, a few rock walls and some plantings of hardy oleander –  we found a suitable slab to serve as our front patio and were soon set up with our lovely big awning providing welcome shade on what was one of the hottest days we’ve encountered so far, barring the one when the spring broke (!).

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That evening we were entertained by a mob of cattle wandering past; it seems the township is part of a private property. A few years ago the owners were greatly agitated at the news that the mine might be revived, but it seems their fears were unfounded. They were fearful that stirring up the old tailing dumps would mean radioactive and/or poisonous chemicals would be blown all over the property and would contaminate water and vegetation. This did not seem to worry all the campers we saw, some had obviously been there for some time.

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We decided to try and find the mine itself, leaving Westy behind. More lurching along innumerable bush tracks, finding a couple of old ruins and then by good luck we spotted a tiny little sign saying Mine and an arrow. (Later we were to direct several other lost explorers to that little sign!).

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IMG_0815We parked where the top of the open cut mine was just visible, then walked. What a surprise was in store.

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A lake! Our photos do not do justice to the colour. Not for swimming though – the water conceals and/or contains a multitude of sins such as poisonous chemicals and mine tailings.

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The temptation to try to walk all around the ‘lake’ on one of the terraces was overwhelming. Dave finally found a reasonable approach and we were off along the third terrace from the bottom, which for some reason has a low outer wall of large boulders and thick wire and also appeared considerably wider than some of the other terraces. I’m proud that I did that walk.

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The colours were amazing … and so many minerals visible in the rocks. IMG_0839cloncurry Camooweal 38IMG_0845

One shrub seemed predominant everywhere, and I finally found out what it was – Calotrope – a “priority weed” for the Burke Shire in fact. (We’ve been seeing more and more of it as we move east). 

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We decided not to stay more than one night but to head for Cloncurry and then north. We called in at the scene of the Stockman’s Challenge on the way – what a difference a week makes. The grounds people had obviously taken full advantage of the well-tilled earth and planted lots of new shade trees. Grass was springing up everywhere in the well-fertilised red soil.

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Dave’s version: Mount Isa to Cloncurry to Gregory Downs

After putting everything back together at Mount Isa and hopefully locking everything in place with  large quantities of Loctite we left early-ish and drove quietly down to the Mary Kathleen Mine village. After setting up there and having lunch we went for a walk through the mine, or rather we walked around a large hole in the ground that had been the Mary Kathleen uranium mine. Uranium was discovered here in 1954, the mine started production 1958 and closed in 1982.

The Spring rebuild seemed to be holding up so we carried on through Cloncurry and up the highway to Gregory Downs. We topped up tanks at the Burke and Wills Roadhouse…..

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….. and while doing so I noticed something shiny in one of the tires, drove forward to clear the pumps and stopped to inspect the wheel, unfortunately the bull dust was coating everything and I couldn’t find the shiny bit. Keeping my fingers crossed we drove off towards Gregory Downs and stopped at a free camp beside the highway.

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Checking the tire again I found there was a nail in it although the tire was not flat. This brought on the old dilemma, had the nail gone through the carcass of the tire or had it gone sideways in the tire and should I pull the nail out or should I leave it in. Guessing from the angle of the visible part of the nail that it had gone in sideways I decided to pull the nail out and found I had guessed wrong. So I changed the tire to the spare and the next morning we carried on to Gregory Downs where we are now camped in the bed of the Gregory River in company with about 20 or 30 other vans.

Tomorrow we will head up to the Adel Grove where I have to get the tire repaired.

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