Australian Trip to Outback Queensland  Grace and Jill No 1. 19th June 2008

Departed Pic Kia (our Castlemaine, Victoria home) 0n Sunday 25th May for Bathurst, with Priscilla (the ex ambulance motor home) AND the Granny Smith(our)Daihatsu Sirion, becoming somewhat tired after 550 kilometres, so stopped off south of Cootamundra a kilometre off the road. Had a slow start when we lost Priscilla’s papers. Found them next day in an esky!

Spent 3 nights with Anna ( Grace’s sister) during which time Grace installed a towel rail in the bathroom, plus a shower tidy and a new shower curtain. While there, Jill doubled her RAM and arranged a new battery in Priscilla. By Friday Anna had been sorted out and we were on our way!

First stop was 10km north of Dubbo at a rest stop on the Darling River. Met two women from Geelong and Torquay, towing a caravan which they could not reverse. Grace helped them to move to level ground. In return they gave us their tickets for the Western Plains Zoo, which last for 2 days and after our visit we could see why. We drove there the next day and cycled around the first 50% of the zoo, stopping frequently to view the mainly African section. We watched the exercising of the African elephants plus their showing off.

We stayed at the caravan park in Nyngan and filled up with the local bore water, showered and charged batteries-both ours and Priscilla’s. Debated whether to go via Cobar. Found Cobar an interesting town doing a lot to encourage tourists. On to Gunabooka NP where we spent the night after 22 km along a terrible dirt track. Cooked over an open fire using wood we had collected en route. Next morning we went for a bike ride along the scenic walking track. Jill managed her new bike until on the return journey she tried to avoid a tree – sure it wasn’t there before – and fell off.

As it was promising to rain we decided to travel on to Bourke only 50 km north. We felt that is was not going to be easy to get back on the very muddy track to the main road if it rained.

Bourke was initially very disappointing as the man at the Information Centre put us off. While Jill went to purchase a Telstra 3G phone, Grace chatted up 3 men outside the bakery. Found out that one, Dermot Murray lived on a station which had once belonged to a cousin of her grandfather. This resulted in us spending a few days on one of his properties 143 km S of Bourke – Idalia on the banks of the Darling – and having a guided tour of the next door property – Bellsgrove – and a lovely lunch of pickled lamb with Dermot and his wife Ruth. Both properties were part of the original Dunlop and Toorale stations which were established by Grace’s forbear.

At Idalia we met up with 4 men from Mudgee area who came here annually for a fishing and drinking holiday. Barney, Berney, Mike and friend, who fed us with yabbies, Murray cod and frozen prawns. Grace went out with Jane, our host, to one of the other properties where shearing was in progress. She helped clean the shearers quarters. At a second property ready for the shearing team of 11 am. Jill remained on Idalia to watch a ‘school of the air’ lesson, being for Dermot the 3rd. All very informative.

We departed so late- 4 pm, after that lunch that we only managed to 43 Km to Louth – a village of about 60 people. We had a few drinks and a long chat with the bar girl who agreed to send us info about the area. Spent the night along the banks of the Darling river again and set off back the 100 Km. to Bourke after breakfast.

In Bourke Grace did some research in the library while Jill went to purchase a Telstra data card. After 2 hours of trying to install it only to find it wouldn’t work, so we returned it. Still trying to get Vodafone to work. Discovered that they had not registered our SIM card! Will have to wait till after the long weekend to get it registered. Yes. After a long consultation with her Vodafone advisor in Egypt, Jill discovered that the chip was faulty!

Drove on towards Cunnamulla stopping at rest stop No. 942 along with 4 other vans. Arrived in Cunnamulla to find that it was Queensland Day and the council was putting on a free BBQ. We were invited to hang around so had a chat with the locals – great fun. We then booked into the CP where we are staying for a week. Jill has had a nasty cold and cough and needs rest. Priscilla is screaming after our excursions off the bitumen. The mud we collected on the road to the 2 stations is gradually falling off the mudguards and the water tank underneath.

Have met a lovely woman travelling on her own – Sue Perry from Sydney. Will hopefully catch up with her further north, possibly Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria. She is travelling in a Sunliner Ford van which is her only home and which has everything. She rides a scooter in towns and at stopping areas. The CP here provides a spit roast of organic lamb and chicken with the works most nights. We enjoyed this delicious 3 course meal on one occasion with about 16 people. Entertainment was jokes, Amateur Guitar and the huge gum trees all lit up. Grace told a bluey!

Cunnamulla is another great outback town with a fascinating history. The main street is named after Vincent Dowling, discoverer in 1864 of the Paroo River, who had the misfortune (for reasons we will probably never know) of being speared by a Kungatutji (?) man. Later the same year, the whole Indigenous population of 300 was shot, leaving only one small child, who had the good (?) fortune to have been hidden by his mother under some very thick bark, which survived the fire set off afterwards, to ensure all evidence would be ‘extinguished’. This boy lived on, but did not remember the actual massacre.

Left Cunnamulla for Eulo, the home of lizard racing. Has the most wonderful general store with ‘everything’ and we mean that. We bought a cast iron skillet for making soda bread, pancakes, grilling over open fires etc. Store is for sale and we would have bought it but don’t have the $300,000 just now. Then on to a date farm that had been going for 25 years. Ian and Nan Pike make rather good dry, medium and sweet date wines and various conserves based on dates and figs including sticky date liqueur. Dates were introduced into Australia by the Afghan Cameleers in the early 1800s, and many apparently still survive around bores. Palm Grove Date Farm also has mud baths. Three different size ‘rooms’ with one, two or three brightly coloured baths in each plus showers to wash the mud off.

Tom and Helen at The Paroo Patch at Eulo, had great home made leather goods and beautiful wool pack bags. There is a monument to Destructo, the Cockroach here. Destructo was trodden on accidentally after challenging and beating the champion lizard at the World Lizard Racing Championships at Eulo in 1968! Lizards are found in the bush, auctioned off (record is $1065), then race and after are returned to exactly where they were found. World record is 2.5 sec, set by ‘Herbie, a Cunnamulla shingleback, in 1972.

Cunnamulla and Eulo are on the Adventure Way which runs from Brisbane to Innamincka.

Decided against going to Yowah where they were having an opal festival over the weekend- didn’t feel like the commercialisation or socialisation it would involve. So change of plans and we headed for Thargomindah and the long route round to Quilpie. Good move as we avoided  58 Km of unmade roads this way.

Sunday 15th June 2008

Two delightful days at Bindegolly Lake National Park (14,000 hectares) 30 km south of Thargo. Camped on the stock route opposite the Park. Went for a walk along the lake and a 5 km walk through the park. This is an area of wetlands and small lakes which join up after the rain. Some are salt and some fresh, so masses of birds gather here when there is no water elsewhere. The rangers counted 5000 pelicans, 4000 Eurasian coots and 6000 cormorants over a 3 month period. Some migratory birds come here. Two lakes south of here in the Currawinya NP are Ramsar sites -Lakes Numalla and Wyara. They had been dry in early 2008, for the first time in many years, but recent rains has re-created these vast water areas. A Feb. 2008 survey by UNSW recorded 24,000 birds on Lake Wyara. Pelicans have arrived to breed with 14,000 birds and 11,000 nests being counted on this lake! However one of the downsides of this heavy rain is that cane toad tadpoles get washed down and spread this awful menace into new areas.

On to Thargomindah (Thargo) where we found a beautifully laid out Big 4 caravan park and a lovely little town – 250 people and about 16 blocks – 2 each hotels, petrol stations and general stores, state school, library, community centre and outpatients clinic and Bouganvillea and other colourful plants in the whole narrow median strip. The Royal Flying Doctors Service comes on Thursdays. It also had the first Hydro electric power plant in Australia- opened in 1884 using the 85° C hot water from 1.2 km underground. Thargo was the 3rd town in the world, after London and one day after Paris, to have street lighting. From hydro power. The technology is demonstrated at 4.30 every day. So far we have visited most of the historic buildings, the primary school science day, the information centre and the community centre where the internet is free, as is the 33 metre swimming pool. Walked along the beautiful Bulloo River track to the Cobb and Co. crossing. The CP was built with assistance from one of the 3 mines in the area at a cost of $3m! Another of the mines pays the Council $1m p.a. to cover their administrative costs. The park is run by a Dublin couple whose daughter is a shearer/wool classer in the district. The town is flat-perfect for cycling. There are currently no trucks as the dirt roads are still recovering from the last rains. Land is $1000 per half acre block!

For the last few days the park has been quite full due to threatened rain. Never materialized! As happens so often these days-lots of blackish clouds- disappear next day with their rain bank secure. Everyone is doing their washing today so there is a queue not only for machines also for the clothes line! Fortunately the chattiest woman has left as we are tired of hearing about her operations on her foot and hips. Cycling off to the old cemetery this pm and then see what Duck and Daisy at the Bulloo River Hotel can cook up this evening. They run a courtesy car to and from the local airport!

Next stop will be Noccundra and its historic hotel- 140km west of Thargo and on the road to Eromanga and Quilpie where we hope to pick up a new van headlight as ours was shattered by a stone on the road here. Have emailed MB Spares in Canberra in the hope they can send one up to Quilpie where we will pick up mail.

Grace is busy repairing a bike she found abandoned at the general store. If she can get it to work it will be used by a young woman staying at the CP who found a job in town the day she arrived from Frankston, and has no transport. It is easy to walk around but much quicker by bike.

Grace and Jill

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