Sunday morning two weeks ago I arrived in Longreach. I stopped at visitor centre and asked for some informations. When I had walk along the main street everything was closed except one coffee shop where you still could get some breakfast. Hence, I headed over to the railway station. Longreach is nowadays the final destination of the train “Spirit of the Outback”, which arrives directly from Brisbane twice a week. Also the “Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Service” relocated it’s headquarters from Winton, where it was founded in 1920, to Longreach a year later. Hence it’s the third oldest airline in the wolrd, which is still in operation. There’s a dedicated (rather expensive – 30$) museum with some of its former planes, including the first 747-200 Jumbo Jet from QANTAS. I headed off and a few kilometre east of town I passed the solar farm in Camden park. I briefly stopped and had a closer look, as this solar farm is not connected to the man grid, as the electricity supply of Longreach isn’t at all.
In Barcaldine I had my lunch at a visitor centre, before I headed to the tree of wisdom directly infront of the railway station. This tree was much taller with a large canopy and the shearer used to meet here in the shade during their strike against the squatter. In the end the government sent the military to suppress the strike. It was only the second time in history, that this happened against White Australians. In essence from this movement the Australian Labour Party was formed. On that Sunday afternoon only one pub and the fuel station was open, the rest of the town was closed and it was quite quiet. Next to the gas fired combined power plant a new solar farm was constructed a bit east of town. Unfortunately, it was fenced off a bit, so you only could spot it from a few metres distance.
Jericho is a very small town, and the only shop in town was closed, and there was only one bloke in the pub. Nevertheless, they had a nice campground near the creek with a free outdoor shower, but a lot of mossies around. Hence, I decided to head off and went to Alpha. In order to get to Alpha, I needed to pass Beta. The Alpha town is a main centre for collecting cattle and deporting them on the railway. When I walked through the empty town I met the former butcher by accident. He told me that he had to close down his business, as there was no longer enough demand. I also told me that the best sheep come from the region around Blackall. As I already discovered earlier (but actually I didn’t realise back in that time, that I would drive through), Alpha is also in the centre of the Galilee basin, where all the new coal mines are supposed to open in the future.
Saturday two weeks ago I went South of Winton for about 100 km in order to visit the Lark Quarry Conservation Park. The landscape to the south changed rapidly and I directly felt like back into the outback. There were shrubs and small trees everywhere. The area was used for grazing cattle, even as there was not much grass left for them. The area around Lark Quarry was discovered first in the 1960’s but actual research begun 10 years later. The site shows footsteps from a dinosaur stampede, and all this was done in about 3min time…95 Mio. years ago! One large dinosaur (like the size of a horse) was chasing a smaller dinosaur type (maybe like a cat), but also the tiny ones (like chicken), which were also present on that former creek to get some water, went into panic. So the large dino run in one direction and the other smaller dinos literally in all directions in panic mode (so no longer rational thinking, just emotions) creating a chaos (no, I’m not talking about panic shopping of toilet paper, that’s another story 😏). All this happens in a butterfly blow and now we can watch the evidence of that million years later. After the guided tour I headed out for a walk around and on top of the mesas. From the top there were nice views to the surrounding landscape, but again I was accompanied by several hundreds flies. So at least I didn’t run out of protein. When I returned to Winton in the afternoon I stopped at the former Willie Mar’s Fruit and Vegetables Shop. His farther, also a Chines bloke, started growing veggies about 100 years ago. And the son continued that business until the year 2000, when a flood took away his mango tree, and all the refrigerated trucks brought the veggies from the east. I headed out of the town in the late afternoon in the direction to Longreach.
Friday two weeks ago I went to McKinlay. Suddenly all the savannah trees disappear and the flat landscape consisted solely of grassland. It’s again called the Mitchell grass downs. It’s a natural landscape and no trees were slashed down. In McKinlay there is the original pub from the Crocodile Dundee movie (unfortunately, I was there too early in the morning, and it was still closed), even as the main part of the movie was actually shoot in the Kakadu NP in the NT. In McKinlay is also the smallest operating library of Queensland, which featured as the tour office of Mick Dundee in the movie. The truck of the “Never Never Safari Tours” was unfortunately not on display, but I’ve heard that Santa Claus typically takes the vehicle to come to town. I continued my drive to Kynuna. The highway from Cloncurry dwon to the south-east is pretty busy with a lot’s of road trains. This is the historical place of the song Waltzing Matilda. In the “Blue Heeler” pub, both the swagman and the squatter had their last drinks. Nowadays all the pastoral leases around (some are as large as 68,000km²) changed from sheep to cattle. Hence, shearers are no longer necessary. I went to the Combo waterhole, together with 10,000 flies – thanks for this accompaniment, a few km out of town. That’s the place where the song was written down, not actually the waterhole which was mentioned in the song. Nevertheless you can get pretty much a picture how it’s supposed to look like. Within several signs along the waterholes, you get more insight information. The clay makes the banks of the waterholes definitely pretty slippery, so even if you can swim, it’s hard to get out of the waterhole, and you can easily imagine that you could get drowned in the waterholes, if you’re not taking care. After the Combo waterhole the landscape got pretty dry. No grasses around, nothing for the cattle. In the afternoon I finally got to Winton and went to the old train station, which is no longer served by passenger trains, since the final destination is nowadays Longreach. Afterwards I had a walk through the lovely main street with all the renovated houses, but it was everything closed except the two pubs at Friday afternoon. Winton is a pretty small town, but for outback conditions it had all necessary supplies you would need, even a free shower in one of the parks. You can even spend 30$ in the newly built Waltzing Matilda museum.
Thursday morning two weeks ago I did a detour to the open pit of the abandoned Mary Kathleen uranium mine. Unfortunately the creek crossings were heavily washed out of the bypass road. So I tried my luck at the creek crossings inside the former community. Luckily I passed, and could drive to the end of the sealed road, even with a lot of potholes. Hence, I just needed to walk the last two kilometres to the open pit, which is now partly filled with rain water. The water is pretty blue and clear, but probably contaminated, as nothing could survive in it, neither algaes, plants or fish. The mine operated by Rio Tinto two times. During the first operation from 1958 to 1963 more than 4,000 tonnes of uranium oxide were mined and exported via Townsville to the UK nuclear agency. During that period of time about 1,100 people in families and additional 200 single men lived in the closed community, and 200 babies were born…probably they had a bad TV reception over there. Anyway, during the second period from 1975 to 1982 in total more than 4,800 tonnes of uranium oxide in the form of “yellow cake” was mined and exported to Japan, United States…and surprise, surprise Germany. So, now you know where we got all this shit from. In 1980 the stevedores in Darwin and Townsville were on strike, and as Rio Tinto still wanted to make money, they took 30 containers of yellowcake to Karumba in the night and got 26 exported on a ship and the remaining four returned to the mine site. On my way out I briefly stopped at the town square and had a walk around the foundations, as this is all what remained from the former closed community. All the houses were auctioned off and relocated to either Mount Isa or Cloncurry. As the detour to the open pit took longer than expected, I just went back to Cloncurry in the afternoon and got some supplies. In the late afternoon I finally went out of town and followed the Matilda further on to McKinlay.
Wednesday two weeks ago I went back to Normanton and visited Kenny and the railway gang at the railway station. They just finished t change the bogies of one carriage. This has to be done every 8 years, and the wheels are then sent to overhaul them in a lathe. Ken and his mates gave me a short introduction into the railway operations. I even joined a short shunt ride of the carriage back into the shed. And he showed me an 90 year old gasoline driven railbus, which he just started with a crank. It was a nice special tour I got through the railway station. So in the late afternoon I headed off Normanton. I already drove almost the main part of this section the other way around when I came from Mount Isa, and about 40 km south of Normanton it went pretty dry again. So the wet pretty much only reached the shore, whereas the inland still kept dry during the rainy season. There were thousands of some kind grasshopper on the road, which ended up mainly on the front of the car, and made a big mess. As several ended up also in the engine space…for sure all dead. And it was a paradise for flies afterwards to eat the remaining parts, except for the hull made of chitin. About 50 km north of Normanton the mine traffic kicked in, but except of that, there might be less than 10 cars on the road, all the way (more than 300 km) from Normanton south to Cloncurry. I briefly stopped at the abandoned pub Quamby. I had a walk through that devastated building, but there’s not much left, and you’ll just worried that you might fall through the floor. There was also one signal left from the former railway line from Cloncurry to Mount Cuthbert, but that already closed in 1949 after the copper operation ceased. The section to Kajabbi remained open until 1994 due to the cattle traffic. But nowadays not much is left of this railway track. A few kilometres north of Cloncurry at the heavy-vehicle bypass for the road trains I passed in the late afternoon two hitchhikers who seemed to hitch to the north the whole day, but without any success. I got later on the information of my host, that they even hadn’t success the following day. Yes, that particularly section of outback is pretty lonely, and there’s no means of public transport along that North-South connection.