Drifting back to the coast.

Going back in time, completing our camper van trip on to Rockhampton…

We have travelled almost 1,600 km. / 1,000 ml. to get to Longreach, which will be the furthest west we will travel on this trip. There are almost another two folds of the map to the western Queensland border still to be explored.  Winton amongst many other places will be for another time perhaps.

As we head eastwards, I reflect that each town we go through has made an effort to shine and attract our interest, focusing on one or more attractions.  In Ilfracombe, just east of Longreach for example, it is industrial machinery, historic guns and bottles. Someone commented that it was unguarded but nothing gets stolen.

Anne with an old tractor in Ilfracombe.

Barcaldine is known for its Tree of Knowledge. This famous tree was the meeting place of the strikers during the 1891 Australian shearers strike and Barcaldine was significant in the birth of the Australian Labour Party.  The tree stood for over 120 years since those events until deliberately poisoned in 2006.  The subsequent sculpture that replaced the tree pays homage to the tree in a beautiful way.

One of Barcaldine’s many pubs

The “Tree of Knowledge” monument at Barcaldine.

The Tree of Knowledge, Barcaldine Qld.

Monument to shearers strike of 1891 by Milynda Rogers

East of Barcaldine on the Capricorn highway we see little evidence of dead animals at the side of road leading us to believe that night driving by trucks on the main commercial routes, such as the Warrego Highway we came eastwards on, may be the cause. It gives us more confidence that we could ride our motorcycles out west if we limit our riding hours to avoid dawn and dusk.

For those of you who thought the names Emerald, Sapphire and Rubyvale were the gateway to untold fortunes, think again.  Only Sapphire is named after the semi precious stones found there.  The other two are probably wishful thinking on the part of the towns founding fathers, to attract settlers to their towns. Sapphire itself has a dilapidated air about it, probably because the miners focus on more important things and that a number of the businesses are up for sale. “Pat’s” can be had for 450,000 dollars including stock. We are not tempted to spend even AU $15 on a bucket of stone and sand in the hope of sifting a fortune.  However the date scones are another matter, and I think are a better deal. We meet Raylene and Jim, who we estimate are in their 70’s, who are travelling in a personally converted Land-rover Discovery 3. The interior is spartan but works.  They are also restoring a 12 bedroomed house they have lived in for years. That did not make sense until they mentioned they had 12 children!  Yet another lovely couple and another method of travel to digest.

At our next stop is Lake Theresa outside the town of Clermont, which is both the local water supply and boating spot for the locals. Here we meet George and Buff who are heading north to take part in the Southern Cross Annual 5 Day Poker Run for charity. They camp next to us with their motorbikes and trailers that have pop up tents with queen size mattresses inside.  Very impressive. Yet another mode of transport for us to consider. 

We are now entering coal country, this part of central Queensland has 24 mines whose coal output feeds into Queensland Rail’s Goonyella system that hauls the coal to the coast for export. As we travel along the Peak Downs highway the only evidence we see of this is the road signs pointing to the coal mines, the massive trains that haul up to 10,000 tonnes of coal at a time and innumerable power lines that provide the electricity to make this all work. 

We detour to Moranbah, a town which was built to house coal workers back in 1969.  Today it has a population of over 8,000 and a good range of amenities designed to attract workers and their families to live in the region rather than be FIFO workers.

Now this is a coal bucket.

Anne in Nebo.

As we descend towards coast through the Clarke Range, which is part of the Great Dividing Range fields of green sugar greet us. We have left the brown landscape behind, we are back to the more familiar green and are closer to the sea.  While I enjoyed the inland, I think the coastal areas are where I prefer to be. Central Queensland has an interesting mix of industries, coal, cattle and cane.  All the “C”s.

Throughout the sugar growing region around Mackay, narrow gauge rail delivers sugar cane to the various mills,  While we crossed a number of tracks and did not see any trains, the white plumes from each of the stacks of the mills we passed showed that harvesting was in full swing.

Mackay Sugar, Marion Mill.

I was surprised to find out that around region, Mackay Sugar have over 850 kilometres or 530 miles of narrow garage tracks that are used to bring the harvested sugar cane to the mills.  It is a very extensive network and keeps trucks off the road. This network extends more that 70km north of Mackay.

Main QR Line and Cane tracks crossing.

Derailing points on cane track crossing main QR line.

Our next stop, Cape Hillsborough National Park, sits across two rocky outcrops with a golden sandy beach connecting them. This park is famed for is beach kangaroos that feature in the latest Queensland tourist ads.The Coastal Eastern Grey Kangaroos – Macropus giganteus aquaticus  Anthony.  Stop this nonsense next you will be talking about drop bears!  These are just normal Kangaroos that live near the beach – Anne.

Eastern Grey Kangaroo at dusk on Cape Hillsborough National Park.

Kangaroo on the beach at Cape Hillsborough National Park.

PS: Drop Bears are a sub species of Koalas known for rather aggressive behaviour and the habit of dropping from the trees on foreign female backpackers who need protection from strong healthy young Aussie males in beer commercials – Anthony.  This it the sort of rubbish that gives Australians a bad name like hoarding toilet rolls. This is nothing but fake news – Anne

OK OK – Anthony

While the beach and adjoining headlands with their walking trails, one overlooking the ocean is where you can see turtles swimming, are beautiful, the caravan park is compact and too close together for us.  We have realised that while the camper van gives one all the comforts of home, in a hired vehicle one is restricted to tarred roads and an extension cord for the fridge.  We are much more comfortable in the open spaces that other forms of transport allow.

Butterfly at Cape Hillsborough.

Wave like rocks at Cape Hillsborough.

Walking in Cape Hillsborough National Park.

Looking North over Cape Hillsborough National Park.

Anne can finally buy an ice cream to eat (she found a dairy free variety).

After Mackay we head to the coast to see where all the coal mined in central Queensland goes. Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminals.  These two terminals exported over 110 million tons of mostly metallurgical coal used in iron and steel making in 2019-20.  This is about three hundred thousand tons a day which is 30 fully loaded coal trains. Impressive statistics. Our photo does not justice to what is there, take a look on Google Earth.

Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminals

The road to Rockhampton only touches the coast at Clairview. Here there are a few houses or beach shacks, no shopping facilities and a huge open beach. We enjoyed the open space and lack of people. No overnight camping is allowed outside the campground for vehicles such as ours keeping Clairview pristine.  It makes me wonder what other gems exist between Mackay and Rockhampton that are off the Bruce Highway. Another trip perhaps to explore the side-roads and see what lies there.

– Anthony

Central West Queensland explored

The Carnarvon experience will be with us in our memories forever, but there is so much more of Queensland to explore so we are heading back to Roma. We see the two motorcyclists that we had met at Takarakka Camp site and get a couple of good photos of them to pass on.

Roma is our last large town for about 10 days and the last in which we will have internet access with Vodaphone, our mobile provider. In the bush, Telstra is the only service provider as more than one telecom provider would not make economic sense. So for the next couple of weeks, we switch to our temporary Telstra sim card. Here also we meet a fellow traveller who has hired the same vehicle as us and could not work out how to open the fuel cover. We are used to a lever to pull in the car or just press the flap to open. He was stumped as we were initially. You have to open the passenger door to get the fuel flap open. He was grateful for our assistance. We also advise him the the ignition for the gas stove is linked to the range hood, go figure.

As we head west from Roma on the Warrego highway, we need to decide on a destination for tonight. Anne always picks a couple of options for our overnight stops to give us some flexibility depending on how we are travelling, where we have stopped and how many pictures Anne has taken. This allows us to be off the road by 3 to 3:30 pm to avoid adding to the carnage at the side of the road in the form of mostly dead kangaroos. On the main truck routes, which we assume run overnight, we see corpses probably every 100 m / 300 ft but have not seen any live animals in daylight. Great for the carnivorous birds that feast on the carcass. Fresh meat delivered nightly, what a service.

Overtaking a road train which can be  53 meters / 170 feet long.

Anne has picked Gidgee’s Bush Camp in Morven, a farm stay, as our next stop based on the good reviews she found online. We are met by Kylee the owner in the office that doubles as the showroom for another business, Gidgee Smith Bags, manufacturing high quality colourful bags and holdalls. We understand from another camper who buys them for promotional items for their off-road accessory business that the bags are tough and can be used for just about anything. Another ingenious bush business. In addition they run a coffee van and bar. Talk about hard working. So if you need bags, gidgeesmith.com.au and you will be supporting both Australian manufacturing and regional employment. Kylee also crafts wire sculptures in her spare time and organises workshops to bring remote communities together or help people at risk. Mick and Kylee were both very inspiring people.

Planning the next day’s travel at Gidgee’s Bush Camp, Morven.

Gidgee’s Bush Camp, Morven. A green oasis in the campsite.

Roasted jumbo marshmallows at sunset.

The waterhole at Gidgee’s Bush Camp.

Gidgee’s Bush Camp

Gidgee’s Bush Camp’s owner Mick.

Kylee’s coffee van at Gidgee’s bush camp.

We are slowly visiting regions and towns that until now have been names in the news or a spot on the state weather map. Each one has a story to tell. The small town of Augathella is our next stop.

Amanda Feher’s Meat Ant sculpture, Augathella

Amanda Feher’s Meat Ant sculpture, Augathella

Augathella Public toilets with street art.

Typical wide country town streets, Augathella

Augathella Water tank

Buchans garage mural Augathella

Tambo is such a place of which I had no knowledge, but is famed for its Teddy Bears, “Tambo Teddies”, which the locals started producing from lambswool in 1993. Today, demand is such that four people work full time in Toowoomba making them in addition to the workers employed locally. For small babies they have a flat teddy that is easier to grasp. I had to ask the question, “did they put normal teddies in the road for passing trucks to run over?”, as we had seen in Asia for crops. NO I was told, they just did not fill them.

Slow down. Tambo teddies cross here.

This is where the term “Beyond the black stump” comes from. Blackall Qld.

Lara Station south of Barcaldine is known for its birdlife with over 120 species recorded there. The waterhole which forms this bird oasis is a small clay depression that was first used in 1908 as the overflow for newly drilled bore. Water comes out of the ground at 69 degrees celsius and is drawn from the Great Artesian Basin, an amazing underground water source that covers much of Queensland and parts of NSW and the Northern Territory.

Lara Station lagoon, Qld

Gallahs at Lara station are much deeper pink than we’ve seen before

Pale headed rosella

Black swans

Black-fronted dotterel

Red-winged parrot

Red-winged parrots in flightsecond night. Perfect!

Black-winged stilt

Anne enjoying piping hot water at Lara Station.

We are meeting, by chance, friends Gary and Heather who are also roaming the west of Queensland. Together we celebrate Anne and I having known each other 46 years, having first met in August 1974. While only planning to spend a single night, the good company and the relaxed atmosphere around the waterhole enticed us to stay a second night. Perfect!

With Heather and Gary at Lara station.

Celebrating 46 years since we met in 1974.

We had noticed as we travelled fences that seemed sturdier than the usual four wire fences. At Lara we were told that these are designed to keep out packs of wild dogs from sheep farms. A pack of wild dogs can kill over 100 sheep in a night, for sport not food. Dingos generally kill enough for food. At AU$7,000 per km to install, it is not cheap to protect your sheep. An example of the damage that domestic animals gone feral can do.

Anne wanted me to see the Q.A.N.T.A.S Founders’ Museum which tells the history of the founding and founders of Qantas in Longreach knowing of my interest in aviation. The museum hanger stands tall as we approach the outskirts of Longreach. It is big enough to cover a B747, B707, Lockheed Constellation and a DC3. The B747 is a 200 series VH-EBQ. It is one that I have flown on, way back in 1996. The museum provides a detailed history of the founders of QANTAS and the trials and tribulations that they encountered in starting and running an airline in the 1920’s and 30’s and beyond.

Qantas B747-238B and DC3 under the Airpark roof.

B747-238 VH-EBQ, B707-138B VH-EBA and a Lockheed Constellation representing VH-EAM

The delivery of each aircraft to the museum is a story in itself. The 747-200B had to land on a runway designed for B737. After landing it spent an hour doing a 57 point turn at the north end of the runway before taxiing to the final resting place. VH-EBQ was chosen as it has the most recent paint job of the B747’s to be retired in 2002 The first Qantas Boeing jet, a B707-138 VH-EBA had to be restored at Southend Airport in the UK, taking some six months and 15,000 man hours, before being flown back to Australia. Due to COVID-19, tours of the inside of the aircraft require social distancing and were fully booked. Next time. We did the night tour which is an audio visual experience that neatly draws together all the elements we had seen in the museum in a cohesive manner.

The original QANTAS hanger at Longreach.

There is also a Catalina used in WW2 by QANTAS to link Ceylon to Australia avoiding Japanese fighters based in S.E. Asia. These non stop commercial flights could last over 30 hours which is still a record today. The length of time in the air led to the awarding of the double sunrise certificates to those passengers who saw two sunrises en-route. A quick look inside showed that comfort was not the name of the game. This is a very interesting museum which is not funded by Qantas but relies on people like us making the trip out west.

A Catalina at QANTAS Founders Museum.

We also visit the Stockman’s Hall of Fame which charts the development of the cattle and sheep industries in the Australian outback. A combination of hardy European settlers and aboriginal local knowledge in the beginning laid the foundation of todays world class sheep and beef industry.

Stockman statue outside the Stockmans Hall of Fame.

Inside the Stockman’s Hall of Fame, Longreach.

Longreach is also the end of the line for Queensland Rail’s (QR) train “The Spirit of the Outback” that runs from Brisbane to Longreach twice a week taking over 24 hours. As an over 65 year old Queenslander I am entitled to a seat, free of charge, on a long distance train once a year. I have thought that it would be great if they would also take motorcycles so one would could both enjoy the train and then ride the other way. These wagons being unloaded looked like the perfect containers for motorcycles. So all you engineers out there get your thinking caps on and come up with a feasible plan to secure bikes in them and a way to load/unload. Sadly I suspect we will fall foul with QR because of “Dangerous Goods” due to petrol/gasoline in the tank. The same reason you cannot fly your motorbike into the USA, but you can to Canada.

QR “Spirit of the Outback Train”

Just need to fit motorcycles in here.

– Anthony