"To The Back Of Bourke And Then Some"
PAGE 1 - [LAWSON NSW TO KATHERINE NT]
I left at one O'clock for Brian's at Eumungerie, and arrived without incident. Sandra and Amanda (Sandra’s Daughter) were just leaving for the truck show in Dubbo. Brian had stopped back for my arrival, so after we had a cup of tea we also went. The whole thing was a disappointment and we left early.
I spent a relaxing day at Brian's He lent me some gear, but could not find the poles for the tent that he was going to lend me. So Bradley (Brian’s Son) Drove me into Dubbo to see if I could buy one, but all the shops were closed; though at least I spotted the place where I could buy one.After getting back to Brian's we played cards till teatime, after we set up the radio gear. The tests we carried out with Ralph were a success.
Bradley had to drive his father into Dubbo as Brian was going away on a job for two or three days, and was using the company vehicle, so I went with them and got myself a four man tent- cost one hundred andtwenty five dollars.
When we got back Sandra made me a cup of tea, after which I left for Bourke. Good run on bitumen and I arrived on dusk and camped about fifteen kilometres past Bourke- (camp one). I enjoyed learning to put up my tent, although I was tired and after tea had a surprisingly good sleep.
On awakening I realised that the sun had risen on the wrong side. But then on reflection I came to the conclusion that this event was highly unlikely. The only other possibility was that I was headed east, instead of west towards Wandering. So I backtracked to Bourke, and while I was there got the oil changed for the one thousand kilometres after having the engine done up. After getting fuel headed for Tibooburra, and arrived late in the day after a good trip I camped in the caravan park- cost eight dollars.
I had just about got the tent up when a woman and son walked up and asked me did I know anything about Sigma’s. She just lived up the road about fifty metres and had two old "Sigma's". She said that she and her son had changed the spark plugs, leads and cap After that it would not start, so I went up with her and had a look It turned out that they had the firing order one two three four, instead of one two four three. So I changed it and away it went. I got a hug and a cup tea out of it (Well paid I think).
When I returned to the Caravan Park I had a shower and washed some clothes, and set up the radio first contact with Ralph- good signal. (Camp No. two)
April fools day (Fools go where angels fear to tread)
Got away about nine thirty AM. and headed towards Cameron Corner. The land is very dry and sparse vegetation; the road however is well signposted but varies from good to rough, some sand, and sometimes just a track.
About fifteen or twenty kilometres from Cameron Corner the road being good, except for the odd patch of sand. I came up over the crest of one of the sand dunes- travelling about eighty kilometres per hour- (Too fast)- only to find that a patch of the road some metres square had broken up. Instead of ploughing straight through I swerved to miss it. Consequently hit the bad patch at some velocity and at a slight angle, and went straight off to the right hand side of the road and into dry deep sand. I tried to use the speed to get me back on the road, but the back went down to the axle. The front was still up, but the diff and petrol tank was firmly impeded in the sand so I had to reload all my gear to reduce the weight. I was also worried that another vehicle could come over the crest and do the same thing, ending up slamming into the back of me. Using the shovel and hand winch, plus one of the antenna poles as a lever, also using about four litre of my water under the tyres. Two hours work in the blazing sun and heat, I got it back on the road. I had just loaded all the gear back, when a four-wheel drive vehicle, the first one I had seen all day drove past. If they had arrived earlier they could have pulled me out with little effort.
When I arrived at Cameron Corner I found that there was quite a comprehensive store and facilities there, so I consoled myself with a cup of tea and a toasted sandwich, and after checking the tyre pressure- continued on to Innamincka.
A very rough road either stones or sands, except through the Moomba oil fields where it was perfect and the only place where there was any traffic.
I got into Innamincka after dark, there is a store, pub and public toilets shower etc. plus the parks and wild life headquarters.
I called into the pub and asked them if there was anywhere I could camp. I was told that I could camp on the common a couple of hundred metres down the road. When I gotthere all I could see was rocks It looked like a moonscape and not wanting to be adventurous I decided to go no further, and clearing the rocks just enough for the tent made camp (four).
Next morning on awakening I could see there was a good camping area under trees near, on the banks of Cooper creek, (O! well such is life)
After filling up with petrol I headed out towards Birdsville through Cordilo Downs very rough going and some bad sand drifts across the road this track heads across the Strzelecki Desert. One particularly long sand drift, I just managed to get through, I went in at speed and changed down gears rapidly to first, and the motor was just about to stall when I chugged out the other side. I did not see another vehicle all day, and not much wild life. I got to Cadelga that once was an out station of Cordillo Downs, but now is deserted and in ruins in the late afternoon, and made camp (five), and set up the radio.
Most of the walls of the old house are still standing and was built out of local rock, mortared together and plastered inside and out. The country is mainly stone, except along the creek which runs behind the old house and is lined on both sides with trees and grass. Ducks on the water, and what looks like little black chook about the size of a bantams, but on closer inspection the turned out to be some sort of wild hen type bird, and only flew when absolutely necessary.
I had a good contact with Ralph (Vie radio) that night, and brought him up to date with events so far.
I saw some cattle along the creek on arising from my bed, and after breakfast I broke camp, then took some video of the ruins before hitting the track. The road was the same as yesterday, until I got over the border of Queensland to the turn off to Birdsville along the Birdsville Development Road and then it was a good gravel road.
On arriving at Birdsville I booked into the local Caravan Park (five dollars per night), and was told that the road north was cut by floodwaters coming from the Gulf- at Lake Machatti.
I set up the tent under a couple of small trees at the rear of the caravan park where I could run the antenna out, good contact with Brian, adequate contact with Ralph.
It is a nice place to camp. I can see the Diamantina River from the tent. The most bird life I have seen to date, some ducks; those little hens again, and thousands of Corellas of a night, they all come and take up roost in the trees along the riverbank. The trees they prefer have completely been stripped of foliage; these trees have long been deprived of life and are now reduced to mere skeletons. But when fully inhabited with these very noisy tenants, they are transformed into something beautiful, akin to apple trees in full blossom, a pretty sight indeed.
I spent a quiet day walking around and had a look at Birdsville. Which consists of one garage come store, plus store recently closed, a school, post office with petrol, tennis-court, the 0bligatary pub, an air strip on which small planes mainly carrying tourists use, a diesel power station, and lastly but certainly not least, the working Museum run and owned by an ex station hand, drover, wheelwright, John and his aboriginal wife and six year old son. He charged me Six dollars to show me through, but said I could come back the next day and follow him round to take some video for free. A most impressive place, he said he had been collecting for eighteen years, he started while still working on cattle stations, and for a while he stored what he had in a shed in town.
John has an old Clydesdale horse called Prince that he uses for demonstrations, plus he also has a Clydesdale mule that does not seem to do anything much.
John is some what of a character, but sometime he seems to disregard the truth for the sake of a good yarn, never the less there is a lot of knowledge that he passes on.
There was another couple went through with me, there are thousands of items on display and as we went around John would demonstrate and talk about some of them, particularly interesting were things such as a cardboard seventy eight rpm. record player used by the missionary in the early days. The record went on a peg in one corner, which was then operated by inserting a pencil in a hole in the record, and turning it. As well he demonstrated harness making gear, old washing machines, chaff cutter, a chain pump, which he said would lift water forty feet (about twelve metres). One of the other people that was with us said he had been in pumps all his life, and it was thefirst time he had see such a pump. The pump had gears and such to drive it. But the principle of it was lengths of coiled close wound springs with a chain running through the centre. The lot ran over a pulley at the top of the apparatus, and down the well where it picked up water on the coils, and as the chain comes up to the top and over the pulley, the water drops off into a chute. John also makes wagon wheels, and restores all sort of horse drawn wagons and buggies etc.
After going back to the museum and following a party around. (They had flown in by plane), hopefully getting some good video, I set out headed for Boulia with the intention of camping there, and then if the road was good enough, heading for Alice Springs via the Donohue Highway. The road was not to bad compared with what I had experienced during the last week, as long as one kept a good look out for rocks, especially when the ruts got deep.
I took the by-pass round Lake Machattie, which added about fifty kilometres onto the trip but as there were barricades up across the main track saying it was closed, I thought I had better not take the risk.
The by-pass turned out not to bad, as most of it was carved out of natural sandy soil. The ruts on the whole were to deep for my little car, but there was enough room on the shoulder for me to keep quite a good pace, and went through with out incident I was hoping to see some glimpses of the lake but no luck there.
Once I got back onto the Eyre Developmental Road and got close to Bedourie it wasn't to bad, although one had to be still internally vigilant.
On arriving at Bedourie I called into the Simson Desert Road House and got petrol, and then headed for Boulia.
The road was good in comparison- just had to watch for the odd rock and that the crown did not become to high. Things were going along fine- when about sixty kilometres from "Boulia". I had relaxed a bit. (BIG MISTAKE)- when I saw what I thought was about a one hundred millimetre rock sitting in the sand, on the crown of the road. I was to close and travelling around eighty kilometres per hour, I saw it was going to hit the sump, but that had happened before, I did not want to brake as that would have made the front of the car dip. The one hundred-millimetre rock turned out be the tip of the iceberg you might say. As the sump hit the thing, it rolled out turning out to be three hundred millimetres long and lifted the front of the car. I think the car became airborne for a short time- I thought to my self. "I am not going to get away with that one". Sure enough upon looking back I saw a stream of oil anointing the road behind me. I immediately headed for the side of the road. Noting the oil light was still off; I switched off the motor. I grabbed a dish from the back, and stuck it under to catch the oil that was left, thinking that I might be able to make a temporary repair using some epoxy resin and rag- but this was not to be. Because upon closer inspection, I found that the sump plug was ripped out and folded back. I could get three fingers into the gash. After composing myself for several minutes I decided that the best course of action was to write a note explaining the situation and requesting assistance, with the intention of giving it to the first vehicle that game along headed the way that I had come.
Where this had happened was very desolate country, just red sand and rocks, no grass, and a stunted bush every few hundred metres or so.
I had just finished writing my note and sat down to wait. Rationalising, I was planing on setting up the tent and getting ready for a long wait for help. I was pondering on such matters when in the hazy distance, I saw dust approaching along the very straight road from the north, when it got closer I saw it was a police four wheel drive van, I pulled him up and asked him to take my note in. He was a young bloke his name was Gary he was dressed in tee shirt and shorts, it appears that unless they are on some sort of official mission, such as arresting somebody or the like, most of the Police out here dress casually. Anyway I explained my plight, and he offered to tow me back to Bedourie him self, to which suggestion I readily agreed. Gary had UHFCB. So that made communication easy, but never the less it was a slow and odious trip back in, I had the stone screen up for a while and although Gary did not go over forty Kilometres per hour there was a fair bit of dust which made it difficult see. Soon after we started off he slowed down suddenly for some sand, and then as he took the strain again the brand new snap strap he was using broke. I called out through the radio, thinking that we had just became unhooked that he had lost me. When we had a look we saw the strap had broke a couple of metres from my end. Gary wasn't too happy and declared; "Now I will have to fill out heaps of paper work". But after that he was quite friendly again. It seemed strange that it should have broken, but on having a closer look it became apparent that the strap showed signs of heat and friction. So it was assumed that, when Gary had slowed down for a bad patch in the road, the tow strap went slack and caught between the front wheel and the road. So with the wheel sliding on it, it would have worn through rather quickly. So I tied the strap to together again, and off we went.
Everything from then on went OK although peering through the dust, and trying to keep the tow strap from going slack was quite a task.
When we were about ten kilometres from Bedourie. The sun was getting low and shining in my eyes. That combined with the dust and the stone screen being up, I was having a lot of trouble seeing. I called Gary over the radio, and when he stopped I said to him that I would have to Remove the screen, and run the risk of a rock hitting the screen. He said, "has any rocks hit the screen". I said " No- I think at the speed that we are travelling, they don't come that high".
Any way we eventually arrived back at Bedourie and parked in front of the Simpson Desert Road House, where Gary met up with another Police wagon which was driven a young Copper, who was also dressed in the same uniform as Gary, to wit, shorts and tee shirt. (Quite a picture two good-looking four wheel drives police vehicles and a very dusty dejected Sigma.)
I left them there discussing whether Gary should take the by-pass or go the short way to Birdsville and went into the road house.There was a mob of blokes and one Aboriginal woman drinking at the bar, I explained my plight and booked a spot for a week to camp, one of the blokes towed the Sigma to the spot given to me and I set up camp (seven).
Later I met a young Telstra technician who with his mate were working on the local telephone system and were camped next to me. I had a good chat about radio etc. before settling down. (Had a good sleep)
Mid morning and I was just relaxing, waiting for the truck from Ted Mack to arrive from Mt.Isa, when I saw it go by. As it turned, headed for the Diamantina council yard, at the same time Tony the manger of the Simpson Desert Road House came over and offered to drive me round to where the truck was.
Tony is ex-station hand middle aged; he had a bad fall from a horse a few years ago and could no longer do that type of work. He said that he had run out of money when a friend of his offered him the job running the road house, (A very helpful person)- his wife works with him at the road house as does John's daughter, that is the John that runs the museum at Birdsville.
Every where I have been I have met friendly and helpful people, and so far if I lived in any one of the places I have stayed I think I would fit in fine. My biggest problem is my memory that seems to be getting worse. So far I have lost two hats and I can't seem to remember the names of people I meet, or the names of towns to which I am headed, or have been. Which means constantly referring to maps etc. (a bit of a worry). Anyway I transgress.
John drove me around to the council yard which turns out to be a quite a big affair, and now I think given a bit more time I could have arranged something in regards repairs to the car- but I did not realise this till to late.
I saw the driver of the truck, who turned out to be the owner Ted Mack's son Wayne Mack. He said that the truck was on hire to the council, but if I liked to ring his father at Mt.Isa, he would see what he could arrange with the council.
There is a scratch my back and I will scratch yours, sort of an arrangement they have. For instance- if one of the council fellows want to get their car to Mt.Isa, which has happened, they will take it. But then of course the council is paying for the truck any way. They also bring bread, milk etc. down from Mt.Isa for the roadhouse with out charge. But on the other hand if any of Ted Mack’s drivers are going through, and need accommodation or meals. The roadhouse with out charge provides this. These things I learnt through the next day or so.
Tony took me back to the roadhouse, but before ringing Ted Mack I thought I would try the NRMA- then after some mucking around they put me on to the QRA. They did not want to know about it. According to them hitting a rock was an insurable item, and seeing I only have the Sigma covered with a third party property damage, I would have to cover my own costs. I asked them how much it would cost to get me to Mt.Isa, and they said two thousand dollars. So I said I would figure something else out. I then rang Ted Mack- who then rang his son where he was loading up at the council yard. On ringing me back he said they would do it for six hundred dollars (about a five-hundred-kilometre trip). Well I did not see many alternatives, as it was right on the Easter break, so I agreed. Later Tony told me his son was a mechanic at the council yard and wasn't goingaway till Tuesday.
Tony then took me back around to the council yard, the council foreman had agreed to leave some of the stuff off that the they were going to send back to Mt.Isa so that Wayne the driver could fit my car on. So after loading the stuff on the front of the truck for the council, the truck and the council fork lift went around to I was camped, I had returned earlier and did a very quick de-camp and had every thing ready and packed up loaded into the car. They lifted my poor pathetic little car on to the back of the truck, and then back to the council yard to get the gates for the truck which had to be taken back to Mt. Isa with him. Wayne did not have enough chains and dogs to secure the Sigma, we tried ropes but that gave less than satisfactory result. Wayne went and saw the council storeman, and half an hour later returned with four brand new chains with shackles and dogs and hooks to suit. Probably two or three hundred dollars worth, he said that they had cut and made them up especially, and said the storeman said not to bother to return them.
And so late in afternoon we took off. Wayne said he had a place to stay over night at Boulia (about half way to Mt.Isa) it turned out to be his girlfriend's place. I said, "Would it be possible for me to camp there", he said that he could not see a problem with that. It was very rough in the truck. We got into Boulia around nine thirty and Wayne called in to see Kay his girlfriend at the pub, where she works behind the bar. When he came- -out he said I could sleep on the verandah, and then we took the truck back to Kay's place, where she lives with another girl around twenty, Kay is twenty five. I then went down to the pub to see if I could get something to eat. Wayne went to see a mate of his. I introduced myself to Kay, and she heated up a pasty for me and I ate that, she seems a very nice girl, I also re-met the young Telstra fellow and his mate, who had camped next to me at the Simson Desert Road House the night before. We had a short chat and then he went back to where six or seven other Telstra fellows were drinking, As far as I could ascertain they were talking shop (It seems in all professions that there is more work done in the bar that ever gets done on job.)
At this point Wayne came in and I talked with him for about half an hour. Then being about ten thirty PM. Kay was closing the bar, so we went back to her place where she arrived soon after, and they went inside and I settled down on my air bed on the verandah, and proceeded to do battle with mosquitoes using repellent spray. However I did manage to get a reasonable amount of sleep.
I was up before Wayne and had my gear stowed in the car before he appeared. There is a roadhouse next to the house, so we had something to eat before continuing our journey on to Mt.Isa.From here it was all bitumen road although still a bit rough in places. The country changed, much more grass and vegetation and hilly.
The first thing I noticed on arriving at Mt.Isa was the smokestack at the mine, which Wayne told me is the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere.
On arriving at Ted Mack's yard and unloading the car they towed it to a garage that Ted Mack recommended. Then I drew out the six hundred dollars for them, and they took my gear and me to a caravan and camping park, that is where I am now. I will take a walk down town tomorrow and have a talk with the fellow, Rod Lovelock who runs the garage that we took the car too.
Slow start as when I rang Rod up yesterday afternoon to see if he knew what had to be done, he said he had not had a look, and when I said I would walk down and have a talk to him today, he said "leave it till lunch time". So I left here about eleven thirty, it was about a three kilometres hike and I was hot, but I got to his garage about twelve fifteen PM. all ready to talk prices and when he would do it-- Surprise, Surprise! It was finished. They had taken the cross member of to get to the sump, when replacing it with a second hand one. Cost two hundred and seventy five dollars. There was no other damage to the motor although they had trouble lining up the engine mounts as the rock had bent the cross member a little, but it seems to steer all right although the steering wheel is in a slightly different position.
After I took it back to the Caravan Park and washed the dust off I drove to the town and got a few things to last me through the long weekend, I also paid for another two days camping that makes four days total. While I was doing that I asked for permission to put up my antennae, and after he understood what I was on about he said OK.
I got a few remarks from the permanent members of the camping ground (Which would be around ninety percent of the clientele). A couple of them said "What are you doing, building a house!" and " how long is that going to be there”, but when I explained things every body was fine.
Had a good contact with Brian, marginal with Ralph- related adventures to date.
Another quiet day, checked the toe-in on the car best I could, seems to have around three sixteenth of an inch- say three millimetre which should be OK.
Later I had a talk, (And borrowed pegs for my washing) to one of the permanent residence Bill. Nice fellow sixty-seven years and still driving a front end loader for the council. He has done a lot of things his life. He said his father put an axe in his hand at age six. He said he did not mind that but when he was put on a plank,(that is a board that is inserted into a slot cut in the trunk of the tree for the axe-man to stand on to gain height) he did not like that, anyway he grew up as an axe-man in the timber industry, but he has also cut cane, done seasonal work- picking fruit etc.
SAT 11/4/19198 (Easter Saturday)
I did a bit of shopping for food and went to see the Underground Museum- not bad. There was a Chinese lass taking the money etc. she did not seem to know all that much though. She did confirm however. That the round building on top of the hill was the original water tank for the town of Mt.Isa. And that the main tunnel and the shaft going up through the centre of the hill to the water tank (which is part of the museum), was excavated by a few miners in there spare time from the Mt.Isa mine, pacifically for the construction of the museum. I counted seventy steps going up through the shaft going up to the top of the hill. When you get to the top it comes out beside the old water tank, that houses the more important relics and photos etc. Also you get a superb view of the Mt.Isa and the surrounding country.
(Paid up to a week camping fees to WED. Fifth)
SUN 12/4/1998 (Easter Sunday)
Got into my overalls early and had a closer look at the front end of the car The cross member is bent, and part of the steering rod is rubbing on it. Which accounts for the hardness to steer at one point. Also the left-hand tie rod looks bent, I can't do anything until Tuesday at the earliest because of the Easter break.
The weather has been fine, hot, and humid, which I am told is normal for this time of the year.
Later------ Listening around on the twenty-seven MHz band and heard a couple of strong signals, so I broke in. It was a couple of CB’ers. Around my ages, talking to a station in Bass straight. One is called Dale and the other one is Russ. The short and long of it was that on hearing of my plight, Dale brought me around a battery charger he had so, I fixed a hand scanner for him that had a bad battery connection for him. While I was doing this his mate Russ turned up, and after we had a bit of a yarn he said if I wanted he would give me a hand to fix the car. I was a bit hesitant- said " thanks but none of the wreckers are open at the moment and I will have to wait till Tuesday before I can get any parts”. By this time it was getting dark and they went home so I got my tea. The sked with Ralph and Brian- good copy on Brian, improving with Ralph around nine thirty p.m. (NSW time)
MON 13/4/1998 (Easter Monday)]
Russ turned up just as I had finished Breakfast. He said that he had been talking to some people he knows who work at the local rubbish tip, and they said there was a body of a Sigma with a front cross member still attached. So I hopped into his truck and we went to have a look. Sure enough there were only six cars there but one of them was the remains of a nineteen eighty-one Sigma station wagon, and the only thing left on it was the front cross member. Russ said that he had, had a blue with the tip-man so he would get another friend of his that was good mates with the tip-man, to ask could we have the said cross member.
He dropped me off at the Caravan Park, as I had a sked with Ralph at twelve O’clock on twenty-one Megs, which went better than I thought. Just as I finished with Ralph, Russ returned and said that they had already got the cross member. So I took the Sigma round to Ruse’s place whose wife's name is Fay, and during the afternoon we- Russ, Dale, and myself, managed to install the acquired cross member. There is a bent tie rod, which Dale said he would order for tomorrow He reckons he can get a discount on it. Russ asked me to stay at their place for a couple days, so I will probably break camp tomorrow and go up to Russ and Fay’s place. Dale lives in a flat by his self but hangs- -out with Ruse’s sister, he reckons that the relationship is Platonic, and I have no doubt it is. I left the car at Russ’s.
After I had breakfast, Dale came around and picked me up, and we went to the wreckers looking for a tie rod, which we found, and I paid twenty eight dollars for it, and went back to Ruse’s place. But on installing the tie-rod it was found it was longer than the original, and could not be used, so I put the old one back on and got it pretty straight by bashing it with alump hammer.
Dale took me around and showed me the town, and after I had a look at Ruse’s power supply that he uses for his CB. Radio, and had chucked in the towel a couple of days ago. I think I know what
is wrong with it, but seeing I have no parts I can't fix it today, tomorrow we will go to the Dick Smiths outlet and see if we can get parts.
Fay cooked a really good and large dinner.
Russ and I drove over to the Tandy/ Dick Smith place, they did not have the parts that I wanted, so I ordered and paid for them for next Thursday.
In the afternoon I was looking at the power supply again and I said " I am sure that it is this transistor that is crook!", Russ started to look through junk and said, "Is this the one!", it was, so I soldered it in place and the thing worked perfectly, I am glad because Russ helped me so much with the car.
Russ used to work in the Mt.Isa mines and the last job he had was working a drill rig. When about four tonnes of rock fell from the roof and on the back of the machine he was working. He was thrown clear but his mate was knocked unconscious that and the fact he had a heart attack and a triple by-pass coursed him to loose his nerve as to working underground.
He said," That the in last few years the company is short-cutting safety in lieu of production, it will only be a matter of time before they kill a number of men, and I don't want to be there when that happens". He now has his own tipper truck, but I take it that he does not get much work. He and Fay are thinking of moving to the coast somewhere, where Russ has a block of ground. Russ lost his father around twelve months ago- he was eighty seven but liked to take off for a week at a time fossicking, and fishing but did not always tell anybody. The last time he took off, it was four or five days before anybody missed him, there had been a fair bit of rain, they found his car but no sign of him.
The feeling was that he had a stroke or heart attack, and after the water came down and washed his body away into deep water, his body was never found.
I got away from Russ's around eleven thirty am, I was sorry to go, I enjoyed there company heaps, I also think they enjoyed mine as well.
I took the Barkly Highway towards Cloncurry. Just before reaching Cloncurry, I turned left onto the Matilda Highway, headed for the Bourke and Wills Road House. The land improved steadily all the way, and after I left the roadhouse the grass and cattle got thicker, and I had to keep stopping frequently to let them and there calves wander off the road.
They were working on the road the last thirty kilometres before Gregory Downs, but the sidetracks were OK if dusty. I got into Burketown about an hour after dark, so I booked into the local Caravan Park. The humidity and heat is something fierce. I don't think I would have liked it here a few months previously. I also saw my first cane toad, there was a dozen or so sitting on there hunches in front of the pub in a ring looking up at the street light, catching bugs I guess.
When I booked into the Caravan Park (Eight dollars per night), I noticed that there was a light on the toilet block and the green tree frogs and little brown frogs were climbing up the wall, to get the insects. But the two or three cane toads sat on the concrete, so I guess they can't climb.
Very hot and humid so it was some time before I went to sleep.
Got up around half past seven, it got tolerably cool towards morning.
I went around to the local garage and got a battery holder, I noticed that I had lost part of one, and the battery was loose. There is an old handyman looking after the Caravan Park, and he gave me a hand to modify the battery holder so it would fit.
I spent about three hours looking around the district. I had a look at the old boiling down works, and rivers and took some video, I took a Polaroid photo of a sign and sent it to my sister Anne warning of crocodiles (hope she saw the joke, She was worried I would get eaten by crocodiles).
I got into trouble with the woman in the caravan park- There was a refrigerator in the laundry. I thought it was for the use of the customers as is the one in Mt.Isa, but as it turned out it was hers. They have only been running the park for around two weeks. Anyway after some winging she said I could leave my stuff there. There was also a caravan of hers that had holes and cuts all over the outside skin. She told me that there was an aboriginal man renting it, some other aboriginals from out of town who did not like him for some reason or other, came in and attacked the caravan with knives. I asked her what happened to the fellow that was renting it, she said; “O! He’s gone now”. I also asked her was it covered by insurance or did they get the fellows responsible, she said; " I wasn't covered and there is nothing going to happen to the ones that did it because they are not local". Quite a few people have said to me that the Aboriginals don't have to keep to the same rules as us, and there seems a general acceptance of this. To me it seems as in the whole, two societies living side by side, but only coming together when absolutely necessary. The further I get on this trip the more it seems to be so. At Burketown the Aboriginal population seems to be very much in the majority.
I got away around nine thirty am headed west along the Great Top Road, and had a good run.
Just before Doomadgee I ran across fifty or so Aboriginal people down on the Nicholson River all men and women and children looked pretty healthy and happy the men and kids mainly wore shorts only, the women light dresses, all looked reasonably new gear. I saw a few arriving mainly in four drive utilities with the back crammed full of happy men, women, and children. If I initiated a wave some of them would wave back in return. Being somewhat encouraged by this, and the fact that there was a notice along with the aboriginal colours advertising petrol etc. I decided to call into Doomadgee.
As I drove through the community, I noticed that approximately seventy percent of the houses seemed to be vandalised, although some seemed to be in quite good condition.
My feelings were of apprehension, but I pulled up at the shop which has a large warehouse attached, and went to remove the nozzle from the petrol bowser only to find a rather large padlock attached. At that moment a white bloke (it would seem that white people run the shop and the ware-house) carrying a bunch of keys, came out of the shop, I said; " What's the idea of the lock, this is the first petrol pump I have struck with a padlock!" He said; " If it wasn't locked they would just take it."
On the way out an Aboriginal gentleman of some statue walked out from one of the houses and indicated that he would like me to stop, and with some apprehension I did.
He came over and said; "Hello brother me and my wife and kids are starving, could you lend me fifty dollars." Now all the people looked well fed. There were several kids and a couple of other adults siting in front of the house, looking on to see how he faired, and they were no exception. I thought this fellow is having a go at me, so I said to him; " Look I am on welfare myself so I have not got any money to lend." He then asked him to drive him down to the shop, which was a couple of hundred metres down the road behind me, I said;" Look I have not got any room I have the whole car full of gear including the front seat and floor." I must say that this point I wished I that I had taken advice that I had got before leaving Mt.Isa, not to stop at Doomadgee. I had the feeling that this fellow was checking out my gear and working outwhat I was about, and I was doing the same as far as he was concerned. He asked me where I was headed. I told him, and then much to my relief, he wished me a good trip stepped away. I reached through the window and shook his hand and his return was friendly. Looking back on the instance I would have liked to ask a lot of questions, but at the time I was feeling that I had better get out of there which I proceeded to do forthwith.
I pulled into "Hells Gate Road House" to have a cool drink and see if I could find out more on road conditions, which so far had not been very encouraging. After talking to a couple of fellows that had just came through, although it did not seem to be impossible, it still did not sound good. However I decided to push on to the border and have a talk to the people at the Wollogorang Roadhouse, as all seemed to be OK till then.
The country became more varied, with some interesting rock formations jutting out of the surrounding country. Some time later I pulled into Wollogorang Roadhouse on thenow Carpentaria Highway, which is also a working station extending right through to the Gulf. According to the old fellow that runs it they have about four thousand head of cattle. He said that a few years ago the authorities shot most of the cattle when they were trying to eradicate tuberculosis (TB.), He was crook about that because he reckons they did not test them before they shot them. This was in answer to a question from me, when I commented on the amount of grass which on a average was around knee height, and that the land certainly did not look overgrazed. They also have a plane and a helicopter for mustering, he said that the helicopter cost one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, but they had got it because they could not get men any-more.
He thought I would have no trouble getting through to Barroloola, so I made a final decision to give it a go.
The first bad creek crossing came immediately after- The road was rocky with a half a metre drop coming into it, but I got through it with out instance. The second one was a dry crossing made up of smooth river type stones with steep banks, I was going verysteady, when the back wheel kicked out some of the loose rocks and I became stuck.
One thing I have learned is when something like that happens you get straight out and assess the situation. - On doing this it wasn't hard to see that because I was going slow, as the front of the car started up the bank of the creak crossing, the back wheels would only kick the stones out every time and bog down. So on getting back in, I reversed back a bit, then got out and filled in the holes where the car had gone down with small rocks, then cleared the track ahead of any large rocks that had a chance of hitting the sump etc. After fixing the track up which took me about half an hour, I then drove the car at a smarter pace, and got through and up the bank with out any more trouble.
The road after this was very rough with plenty of wash outs, and one other creek crossing that was tricky. The main track was closed and a sidetrack next to it was being used, but I had to get around a large bit of rock. The four-wheel drive vehicles were going straight through, but me only being in a small car, could not.
The main trouble was that the water on the left was about a metre deep, so I again had to spend some time moving rock so I could make a turn to the right to miss the deepest part, and with some apprehension I drove the car through successfully. The section of the road till now had nothing done to it since the last wet season, so I had to excise extreme care and vigilance, the whole time. The country became really hilly too through this section. As I drew nearGalvert Creek the road had been freshly graded, after crossing the creek and climbing a very steep bank I noticed that there- was two graders and a camp off the road, so I pulled in and asked them could I camp there for the night.
The boss his name was Adrian, a stoutly man of around fifty said I could and said that I could make use of there shower, which was attached to one of the three caravans, that was part of there camp. As well as the two graders, there was a rather large trailer with a six thousand litre fuel tank, a one thousand water tank as well as three alternators for power, and other equipment that was towed with one of the graders, as were the caravans from one camp to the next. One of the caravans was being used as a kitchen and was equipped with refrigerator and deep freezer, stove etc. one caravan was usedfor storing spare parts. Adrian operates one of the graders, and a young part aboriginal bloke (Tom) operates the other one. His wife, who is aboriginal, and their ten-year son, and her sister had brought out the stores from Borroloola, and were going to return on the morrow being Sunday.
After I made camp and had my tea, I went over to where they all were sitting around at the end of one of the caravans. When they offered me a beer and I told them that I did not drink, they got me a couple of soft drinks out of the fridge for me, and spent a pleasant evening chatting. Tom’s wife's sister got very drunk, but at least she was a quiet drunk, and both her and Tom's wife had a hang-over next morning.
Adrian told me that the reason that the old bloke that owns Wollogorang could notget men, is that when they leave he does not want to pay them, he said he had worked for him for a time.
I had a good sleep after availing my self of their shower, despite the noise of the alternator, which they do twenty-four hours a day.
There are a lot of cane toads, and some big ones too, which surprised me as this place is so far from anywhere.
After breaking camp and thanking Adrian for there hospitality, and a warning from Adrian that the crossing at Fletcher Creek was fairly deep and there could be some large rocks in it, and that I should walk it before I went through with the car, I proceeded on my way.
When I reached Fletcher Creek crossing, as well as walking it and removing a few larger rocks. I removed the fan belt because the water was six hundred millimetres deep, and I did not want the fan belt picking up the water and then the fan blowing it all over the ignition system.
I had to start off on the right hand side, then half way across swing across to the left side. Having the fan belt off meant I could not muck around much for fear of overheating the motor, and also I had to proceed with enough speed to create a trough to help keep the motor dry. The Whole operation went of beautifully, and I arrived on the other side safely with water dripping of the car. After re-installing the fan belt, and apart for a couple small burn to my hands through working on the hot motor, I was not any the worst for wear- I was on my way again.
On arriving at Borroloola which is in the middle of the Narwinbi Aboriginal Reserve about a kilometre out. I passed some aboriginal women with little kids walking towards the town, and I am sure that the must have thought I was mean for not giving them a lift. Although the car is full of gear, from where they would have been looking it would appear empty.
I pulled up at the store in front of the petrol bowser and unlike Doomadgee there was no lock on the bowser, there was no evidence at first glance at least of vandalism to buildings and general rubbish lying around, as was so evident at Doomadgee.
I did not hang around, as I wanted to push on to Bing Bong, so after getting something to eat and petrol I started off for Bing Bong. The travelling was done via a well maintained two way bitumen highway, and I wondered why?- But that question was answered when on reaching the gulf at Bing Bong I met a man that had just been fishing and he told me that he worked at a loading facility for iron ore, that I could plainly see with what I first thought was a ship but turned out to be a gigantic barge moored to the wharf attached, all surrounded by a high wire mesh fence. The man told me that the iron ore was trucked in by road train, where the ore was then loaded on to the barge, and taken out to sea where it is loaded on to the ships. This is because the water was not deep enough to accommodate the ships at the dock. It takes two or three trips with the barge to load a ship. He told me he was a maintenance carpenter at the loading complex.
There was some local aboriginal people on the beach, who had caught some fish and had a fire going in preparation of cooking. I told him that I was looking for somewhere to camp and to set the tent up for a couple of days. He said there was a place if I went back to the main gate, went across the road and followed the track through two gates, until I got to a shed. So I set out, and after going several kilometres along a hard though badly corrugated track, I reached the said shed, which was about fifty metres from an estuary. There was a rather prominent sign warning of crocodiles erected on the bank, but I reckoned that I was far enough from the water to be safe enough, so I set up the tent under the shed which had two sides and a roof.
Soon after a family of aboriginal people came down in a fairly new looking four wheel drive vehicle and lit a fire and proceeded to fish. The older fellow of the group hooked their vehicle to a large open aluminium boat with an out board motor, that I had previously noticed half in the water. While this was going on the fellow I met previously from the loading facility, drove down with a mate, who turned out to be the electrician on the barge. They told me that the shed that I had my tent pitched in was build by the mine for the aboriginals, and was used to store stuff in for the aboriginals from West Island to pick up, and although it was no longer used much it was under there control. He went over to the fellow who was pulling the boat out of the water, who I take it, had some standing with the group, and when he came back he said every thing was OK, and I Should be all right as this particular mob was pretty good and did not drink. Then he and his mate took of further down the track.
Feeling somewhat more confidant about the situation I wandered over to where the old fellow was mucking around with the boat. I said; "Your boat"; "No"; he said; "Its my brothers. Just as well I came down, the motor was in the water ". I noticed that the boat had a lot of gear in it, as well as petrol tanks and other items. I thought to my self; "This is a good indication that the people around here must be fairly honest".
The two fellows from the loading docks came back with a cod, and a mud crab, I think they must have a trap set somewhere as they were only away for about fifteen minutes. They gave me some of the cod, and gave the mud crab, which was about three hundred millimetres across the shell to the aboriginal bloke I was talking to. I was a bit perturbed to see that he put it on the fire very much alive after pulling one of its claws off, and giving it to a little,(about eighteen months old) boy to play with, but I said nothing realising that this would be the normal thing to do around here.
The two fellows from the loading dock stayed for a while fishing, they did not catch anything, Except I saw one of the aboriginal women spear a small fish with a multi pronged spear, and I mused to myself on the skill required for such a feat. Apart from the spear they used hand lines and a hand type of net with weights around it, that they seemed very adept at casting. In short I was very well satisfied with the proceeding of the day, and enjoyed the fresh cod that was given to me for tea.
I had an easy morning.
In the afternoon another mob of aboriginals, all women and children of various ages and one man, arrived all crammed into a back of a four wheel drive utility. The difference with this utility is that it had a fully enclosed mesh cage, which was full of children and two or three teenage girls. I found this rather strange, I thought that it might be a safety thing.
So far all the utilities etc. I have seen, have been crammed full of people in the back. They never seem to go anywhere with out utilising things to the maximum. But this is the first one I have seen with any kind of cage installed. It was only later that I noticed that this particular vehicle had "Borroloola Night Patrol” written on it. I have heard about this system, I think it is government funded, and is usually operated by the older women in a community. They use it to patrol the streets at nights trying to head of trouble, and get drunks home etc. In this particular case there were two of the older women in the front, one was driving, and it would seem that they use the vehicle for general purposes when not on night patrol.
The man who was with them, was the brother of the man who was pulling the boat out of the water yesterday. Soon after they arrived he came up to where I was camped, and asked me for a loan of a shifting spanner to get the spark plugs out of the outboard motor on the boat. He said his name was Tom, and I lent him the spanner and also a spark plug spanner. About ten minutes he was back again with a broken starter rope in his hand, so I put the tool box on there vehicle and went down to the boat to give him a hand. He did not have a spare starter rope, but had plenty of normal rope. So I showed him how to take the starter mechanism off, and under that there is a pulley with a slot, that in an emergency can be used. After cleaning the plugs this worked fine.
I was standing in the water holding the boat, while he was trying to start it. It must have been worrying him a bit because he advised me to get into shallow water, and hold it from the front saying; "There are crocodiles over there " pointing to the mangrove swamp across the river. To tell the truth I had completely forgotten about such trifling matters, in my zest at finally getting friendly with some aboriginal people. But if the aboriginals are worried about crocodiles, then I guess I should be, so I hastily complied. Though they don't seem to mind the kids even toddlers playing in the water, but they soon call them back if they stray into water more that about a foot deep. The man told me they were going out to West Island. I am amazed at how casual they are running around in a boat with out so much as a spanner or ores. I said to him; " what do you do if you break down half way”. He said pointing to a long pole in the boat; "Push it".
He told me that he worked at some sort of welfare place in Borroloola.
After a while the boat now in a going condition although with out its starter or cover, and loaded to the gunnels with about a dozen people waving happily, headed off down the estuary to wards open sea. The two older women remaining drove off in their night patrol vehicle, presumably headed back to Borroloola.
I suppose this is my first meaningful contact with any of the indigenous population, so I was well pleased.
I would like to stop a bit longer but I am running out of water, so I might have to move tomorrow.
I pulled down the antenna, and that is about as far as I got to leaving-. I met a couple of young blokes who were touring around and had come down to try their hand at the fish. One was a marine biologist, the other one had found a girl in Melbourne he liked just before he left, I think he wanted to get back there as soon as he could. Anyway they gave me about five litres of water, so that and the oppressing humidity took away any enthusiasm I had to continue my packing up for the day.
That evening a couple that had launched a rather good looking boat returned just on dark, and I said hello when I went down to the water edge to wash my dishes, and mentioned to them that I was trying to conserve my water supply. On the way out they called into my camp, and invited me to fill up my water containers as they had a large tank on the truck that they were hauling the boat with. After doing so I had about half an hour chat with them. They lived in Borroloola, he drove a road train for the mine, which consists of six trailers, and hauled a total load of one hundred and twenty tonne of ore to the loading terminal. The ore is a mixture of lead, zinc and some silver. He also commented that it sometimes got a bit rough in Borroloola with the aboriginals drinking and fighting. He said; "The police are very patient and cop a lot of verbal abuse from them with out arresting them.”
During the night there was a few spots of rain. But it was after I got up and just finished breakfast that the skies opened up with thunder and lightning but very little wind just a sheet of rain. I but a couple of buckets out under the run of from the roof, and although there was no gutter to concentrate the water, I soon replenished all my water containers. But in the mean time, although the tent being under the shed was dry, the water was flowing through, and the floor of the tent began to float up. For the next hour I was employed busily digging a trench around the tent, in a somewhat futile effort to keep the water from running under the floor of the tent. Luckily the floor of the tent held out the water, except for a bit of seepage in one corner, so the contents remained dry except for a new shirt plus some other clothes in one bag, as well as one of my blankets. The upshot of this was that I had now plenty of water, but was getting some doubts about the advisability of staying any longer, because of possible of flooding of the track on the way back to the main road. I had just finished breaking camp and was ready to leave, when a four-wheel drive Ute came down the track. First I thought it was the fellows from the loading dock, but it turned out to another aboriginal man that I had not seen before, I went over and said hello and asked him whether the water was over the road, he said that it was a bit. I then heard a boat and as it came into view I saw it was Tom returning from West Island. I conveyed this fact to the fellow and told him that I had helped Tom to get his boat started. I immediately noticed a warming in his attitude to me from polite to friendly, I asked him how he new Tom's boat was coming in; "Did they have a telephone on the island, “No"; he said; “By radio".
Tom arrived and tied his boat up in a very haphazard fashion, I mentioned to him that his brother had to pull it out of the water last time, he said that it would be all right as he was coming back soon.
They all piled into the Ute, the two men in the front and women and kids in the back, which I have noticed is the general case, except for the night petrol wagon, in which the two older women were in the front. Anyway they said they would wait at the deeper of the water to see if I got through all right, which they did, and I got through all right, and they all returned my wave, as I left them and headed for "Cape Crawford".
It was good to be on bitumen road again although it is so relaxing after what I have been through that I am inclined to get sleepy. So when it got to be around four thirty p.m. and I came to a rest area about one hundred kilometres west of Cape Crawford I pulled in.
These rest areas are at frequent intervals along the main tourist routes, they have a water tank shelter with table and benches, plus fireplace.
When I pulled in, I noticed a four-wheel wagon parked down the track nearly obscured by the bush, so I drove down, and saw that there was a man sitting in a deck chair reading, I asked him did he mind me sharing his area, he said; ”Go ahead". His name turned out to be Peter and he was of German origin, he was writing a travel log in German.
Later after setting up camp including the eighty-metre antenna, I used the bush shower for the first time. It was cold because I had just filled it at the tank but it worked well and I think I will be using it again.
A good contact with Ralph, a lot of background noise though.
THURS. 23/4/1998 (CAMP 12)
I wasn't in too much of a hurry as I was trying to dry things out a bit, soI wandered around looking at the termite mounds. There were two distinct kinds. The thin ones that seem to run north and south, and round ones that start like a ball, and as things are built on it looks all the world like scoops of ice-cream around three hundred millimetres in diameter, dumped in a random fashion on top of each other. Also by making a small hole in each kind I could see that the termites from the thin nests were smaller, andlighter coloured than the other kind. Also the nest was full of small pieces of grass and wood.
As far as the nest with the round parts to it, it was full of grass stems about three millimetres in length. I also noticed with both kinds, if you damage a nest and leave the broken piece siting in place it will in the morning be cemented back on. if the piece is removed entirely then there will be a cap constructed over the break. They do this from the inside out as to not expose them selves at all, very clever I thought.
I got away about eleven a.m. and after boiling a cup of tea with the twelve volt kettle that Brett lent me. Around one p.m. I reached a rest area about twenty-three kilometres south east of Katherine. I was notpleased with the rest area because it was within sight of the highway. The grass was to long and dry, to risk getting any further back. I could visualise the grass catching fire and the tent and me along with it, so I camped in a clear area under two gum trees that were in full blossom.
My fears looked like they might be realised, for just after dark, I was eating my tea when quite a modern four wheel drive wagon tore in and parked around five metres from where I was sitting at my camp table. Nobody got out, and because the windows were tinted, and by this time it was getting pretty dark, I could not see into the vehicle. But there were loud voices arguing and they sounded like aboriginal, and main augment seemed to be between a man and a woman, and they sounded like they had been drinking. I could not see them but they would have been able to see me all right as I had a small light going on the table. I thought; "The best thing that I can do is to carry on as though they are not here". So I had finished my dinner and then washed up the plates before they finely moved off. But only to the other end of the cleared area which was a hundred or so metres further on. I could still hear loud voices, and then after a few wheelies much to my relief they finally drove off.
I did not go to sleep till around one p.m., and then I had my pocket knife and lump hammer with in easy reach. There was also a family of fruit bats doing their best to demolish the blossoms on the gum trees, under which I had my tent. Bits and pieces were being dropped on top of the tent for most of the night. I was reminded of reading somewhere that it was not wise to camp under large trees in this country. The change in temperature can cause the branches to break, but as far as I recall there was no mention of fruit bats. To top everything else, I was finally asleep and around three in the morning a loud noise woke me, and on shining the torch out I saw that it was a feral cat in the rubbish bin, altogether not a very restful night.
Next morning I awoke to find the tent and my camping table strewn with the blossoms and twigs, that on my retiring the night before had been attached to the trees above me.
I got away about half past nine.
On the way I called in to the old Elsey homestead site and cemetery- that was featured in the book “We Of The Never Never”. It was the most amazing feeling to stand on the bridge that spans the creek that used to run next to the homestead. Having read the book, which in part had inspired me to do this trip. One could really get the feeling for the place. There is no sign of the homestead now but a stone monument stands in its place. However just up the road there is the old cemetery which has been restored and to wander around and looking and reading about the players of life past was quite a wonderful almost spirituel experience.
On arriving at Catherine, which only a month or two ago had water about twelve feet, running through it after the worst floods in living memory, but now looked spick and span. I drove through and went straight out to the Katherine Gorge. At the gorge the only tangible evidence was sand washed high in some places, as well as some walkways were the only evidence was some twisted galvanised pipes, that had been rails etc., bearing monument to there once existence. I bought a ticket and boarded the barge. As we motored up through this magnificent gorge, it was quite evident that these gorges could handle the odd five hundred-year flood of the magnitude of the recent flood. I guess that the wall that was towering above, would probably relinquished the odd bit of itself to the raging waters over the years that it has been in existence, but is this not the way of the shaping of nature, and at this moment all was tranquil and beautiful.
The trip that I took was the two hour one, which took in the first two gorges for the cost of twenty-eight dollars. We had to change boats for the second gorge as there were small rapids between, so the boat was tied up and we all disembarked and had to hike the four hundred metres around the rapids.
Upon returning to Katherine I was surprised as to the work that must been put in to achieve the massive clean up after the floods.
I booked into the Red Gum Caravan Park. They showed me photos of the flood. It showed the water running just under the awnings of the shops, and it looked as if it would have been at least three metres deep through the entire main street of Katherine. Later I was talking to a shopkeeper, where I called in to buy a pair of shorts. He said that the water had come up within two hours, and burst through the plate glass windows and took the whole lot of the stock through the back, never to be seen again.
He was one of the lucky ones, his insurance company had at least admitted liability, though the flood was in January last, and he said that he was still waiting for a one million-dollar cheque. The Red Gum caravan parks insurance did not cover them as it was with a lot of the others.
Katherine is still in the process of healing its self- some shops have relocated some are, though with reduced stock and services as is the Caravan Park, open for business. The Caravan Park used to have three washing machines and dryers, now there is one of each, and I am still trying to get a turn. Up the town there are still a lot of shops still to be refitted, a few closed maybe for good, but the progress in just over three months is quite remarkable, and the tourist trade continues unabated.
That night I had a good sleep and felt a lot more secure than the night before.
So much for feeling securer on arising this morning I noticed two Northern Territory policeman, in their Khaki uniforms wandering around talking to people. I was later informed by some of the other residence, that a woman on the other side of the park which is only about fifty metres from where my tent is, was assaulted around one a.m. this morning. All that was known is that it was a white male and wore a cowboy style hat. Hope it wasn't my hat, I left it in the shower last night, and when I went back it was gone, that is hat two that I have lost now.
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