It was hot and windy the morning we drove out of Karumba. The hot wind kicked up sand whorls that chased fallen leaves across the caravan park and I was thankful we had a calm, if intensely warm, day on which to dry our two loads of laundry. The packing up routine is pretty loose but the M.O.T.H. (Man of the House) unwinds, dismantles and packs away the outdoor bits and pieces while I work on indoor domestic Ninja manoeuvres. We’re a team, yet without doubt the most important task is to have a freshly brewed cuppa to enjoy on the road as we head out of town.
First in her seat Pipty is rearing to be on the road again
Burke Developmental Road
Headed south we passed Normanton along the Savannah Way and onto the Burke Development Road at the commencement of the Mathilda Highway. Development Roads are just that, in a stages of development although some have been in the early phase for decades. Typically these roads have sealed and unsealed sections parts of which can be single lane. As my father used to say, you need your wits about you. In many places the road had strong undulations while other parts can only be described as diabolical. We’re not the bump, rattle and graunch type of adventurers, so the road condition alarmed us. I’m not prone to hyperbole, well maybe just a smidge but there were times I’m sure our caravan wheels left the road.
The roads can be dusty and riddled with potholes, although we experienced few of these on our trip south. However, outback etiquette suggests you are considerate of the driver heading into the sun, whether it be at dawn or dusk. On single lane stretches pull over to the side and allow oncoming traffic right of way if they’re headed into the sun; and have your headlights on to increase visibility. In normal conditions it is courteous to pull two wheels onto the side of the road and the other driver does the same as you pass. However, road trains are slow to stop so just get right off the road for that oncoming juggernaut; it’s not worth the gamble of how much sleep he’s had or how much dust he’s going to throw up create. You get the idea, it was nerve-wracking and we were pleased to coast in to the Burke and Wills Roadhouse some hours later.
Apostle Birds: The Apostlebird can also be known as the ‘Grey Jumper’, for its hopping gait and, because it lives in groups,
it can be known collectively as the ‘Happy Family’ or the ‘Twelve Apostles‘. (Source Link– with thanks)
Burke & Wills Roadhouse
Many describe this as an oasis and it may well be to truckies who are up and down this stretch frequently but for us it was a necessary and dusty lunch stop. We sat with the Apostlebirds and watched a mini sandstorm swirl around the Coddiwomple and truck – we’d left all the doors open to cool the interior. Ha, bad mistake. We refilled with diesel ($1.789/c/L) – the most expensive we’ve encountered – and continued to Cloncurry.
Dry and dusty country
Few towns are anonymous here in the Outback. In fact every town we’ve travelled through has a claim to fame. I use the word town loosely because back in the day a cluster of four or five houses was known as a village – not here. To be fair, Cloncurry’s history harks back 150 years to pioneer days of transport, mining and agriculture. It is known as the “Friendly Heart of the Great North West”. Cloncurry squats at the junction of the Mathilda Way (formerly Landsborough Highway) and the Overlander’s Way (known also as the Flinders/Barkly Highway) a reasonable road that stretches from Townsville in the east to Tennant in the west, covering 1, 081kms. The town was named for Burke’s cousin, Lady Elizabeth Cloncurry of County Galway in Ireland. Ah nooo, tát was a lovely tíng to do.
I’m not much on Australian history, having grown up elsewhere, but you don’t travel this great land without learning a thing or two about its harsh beginnings and its stoic forebears. Pioneers like Burke and Wills, with King and Gray were the first known Europeans to have come to the area on an ill-fated expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria: in 1861. Six years later Ernest Henry arrived searching for grazing land but instead found copper thus opening the area for expansion. Like other towns in the Gulf region when the last mine closed in 1983, homes were auctioned and the town deserted but things are looking good for this town. When, we passed through here last year on our way to the Red Centre, and Uluru, and noticed new subdivisions springing up, so something new is happening here. The streets are wide, all the better to turn your horse and cart around, with colourful plantings of hardy shrubs standing sentry on the broad median. It’s a pretty little town where you can still purchase a permit to dig/fossick for gemstones in this mineral rich part of the country, if that’s your thing.
Sheltering from the midday heat
We’re a bit meh! with museums now, having visited every small town museum during our three month trip last year but what I do find interesting are organisations like the Flying Doctors and School of The Air. I remember visiting the John Flynn Place Museum and Art Gallery last year to learn about the work of John Flynn, Fred McKay and Alfred Traegar, men who pioneered the service helping to bring sick and injured outback folk in to centres for treatment. In 1928 John Flynn pioneered his dream of outback radio communication and shortly thereafter founded the Flying Doctor Service in Cloncurry. Since then it has become an integral part of outback life on cattle stations and those supporting communities in vast areas with little to no infrastructure.
Did you have one of these in your childhood home?
Having set out this morning with no planned destination in mind we arrived in Cloncurry mid-afternoon and after a short look around the town decided to press on to Julia Creek where we had camped last year. If we had been ahead of our game we could have take the left hand fork on the Burke Developmental Road, now called the Wills Development Road, and shortened our trip to Julia Creek. But why go the short way when you can do the scenic route.
Population 400 and known as “a small town with a huge heart” with a “proud and honest history”. I think they mean the town has no infamous forebears. The attraction for us is the free RV camp along the creek, the peace and quiet and the public swimming pool which costs just $2 per adult with multiple entries if you want to come back in the afternoon. We were here during Winter last year, their high season, and were the only two in the swimming pool: locals don’t swim in the winter months even if the barometer is pushing 37C.
Meet The Brolgas: Mum, Dad and Junior
When we drove into Julia Creek we set camp on Day 109 since leaving home. It’s been a long time on the road and while it’s been a blast it can start to get a bit ho-hum if you don’t stop for more than a couple of days at each camp. Julia Creek was our rest camp where we spent five days, four nights. It was time to press pause on our Big Fat Aussie Road Trip and recharge, reassess, reflect, replenish and reload, and rest. And that is what we did.
We pottered about the Coddiwomple cleaning cupboards, stocktaking the pantry and storing and retrieving our books from under the bed. The Salvos are great sources of good reads at minimal cost and when we stay in caravan parks, the laundry is one of our next stops after setting camp.
Assist from being a great place to have a yarn with fellow travelers over the clothes pegs and laundry baskets, there is usually a table on which campers have left books to exchange: consider bookwise, we’ve done very well this trip.
The M.O.T.H. (Man of the House) prefers “real” books but I switch between Kindle and hard copies. Kindle’s advantage is its portability and the number of books it can store. As much as I love my Kindle there is something special about sitting down with a good book, running fingers across the pages and being able to flick quickly to a certain part of the book to retrieve information, and you don’t have to recharge your book.
Non-working windmill at Julia Creek advertising the annual Dirt & Dust Festival
The website dedicated to all things Dirt and Dust in 2019 has this to say about next year’s outback extravaganza
In 2019 we are celebrating 25 years of the Julia Creek Dirt n Dust Festival! A quarter of a century filled with triathletes swearing at the constant outback headwind, dust being kicked up by people dancing to local and international artists belting out classic tunes, cowboys being tossed from the back of bucking bulls, cheers being carried across the track as people enjoy the horse racing, denim clad butts shaking and gyrating, kids developing a sweaty love for triathlons, mud laden larrikins snorkelling their way through bog pits and an endless number of local and visiting families having a blast together! Prepare yourself for 2019, it’s going to be a festival for the ages!
Seriously, how could you resist … mind you I thought the same about the Henley on Todd Regatta in Alice Springs and we had a wonderful day among the silliness and frivolity.
Dusk at Julia Creek
The four days’ rest and relaxation
The swimming pool
Getting close enough to the Brolgas for good photos