Interrupted Journey – North Queensland – 2022 – Part 4

Jumbo Jets & Old Machines

Note: A video link appears at the bottom of this blog post.

Reception & Tours Areas at the Qantas Founders Museum

Over our many years of caravan travel we have passed through and stayed at Longreach many times. We have learned that if arriving from the East the first thing you will now see is the roof that shelters the aircraft at Qantas Founders Museum. The roof has not always been there. For the previous few years, the first sight was the tail of the Boeing 747. Prior to that it was probably the water tower at the roundabout, adjacent to the Longreach CBD.

Starboard Fuselage and Wing compared to humans demonstrates the size of the aircraft. The engine seen under the fuselage is a spare allowing replacement engines to be transported.
Jumbo nose wheel with DC3 and Boeing 707. Plus air conditioning to keep the display aircraft cool.
The orange items are the aircraft “black box”.
The door mounted raft/slide is an Australian invention.
Boeing 707 with boarding stairs in place.

Thursday 28th September was Qantas day. We had booked the Museum Tour for Ruth and I and the Aircraft Tour for me. All those steps! Then we were both booked to return in the evening for the Light Show. That left time for a nap in the afternoon.

Boeing 747 City of Bunbury.

The museum tour is confined to the original museum building and is all at ground level. It includes a Catalina Flying Boat in the grounds, a wide range of aircraft and vehicle models inside and the old workshop buildings that were the original Qantas Longreach hanger. Basically, it tells the story of the founding of Qantas and of its growth until 1934.

Visitors clustered around the doorway of the DC3.

The story from 1934 to the era of the Jumbo Jet is told in the aircraft display, now housed under a huge canopy, a sort of hanger without walls. The Boeing 747 is so large that some of the other craft are under its wings. Three of them are accessed by permanent stairs to their side and rear doorways. The Douglas DC3 is small enough to be examined from the ground.

Super Constellation with boarding stairs in place.

There are three tours of the aircraft museum. The one that I did takes visitors through the aircraft, with a very informative guide to explain what you are looking at and relate to you the history. The next is more expensive. It is for smaller groups and includes the opportunity to climb onto spaces normally only accessed by the crew and allows you to sit in the pilot’s chair and stand out on the wing for a photo. Then there is an evening sound and light show, where the Qantas story is projected onto the mostly white fuselages of the three larger aircraft.

Boeing 747 instrument paned on the earlier three crew Boeing 747s.
Catalina Flying Boat is located at the museum building.
In the early days of the Boeing 747 having your photo taken standing in the engine cowl was quite the thing to do.
The orange items are the aircraft “black box”.

On display is the Douglas DC3, the Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation, The Boeing 707 and the Boeing 747 Jumbo.

Cockpit on the Lockheed Super Constellation
Cockpit of Boeing 747
Cut away section to expose the frame of the aircraft.
The Lockheed DC3 was an Early Workhorse of the Airline.

The Boeing 707 is an interesting exhibit. It was purchased by Qantas and joined the international fleet. When it was retired at the end of its passenger carrying life it was acquired by a business that converted it into a five star flying hotel suite. It later became a luxury charter aircraft used on one occasion by Micheal Jackson, during a tour. It was finally retired to an open field in the south of England.

Dining table in the converted aircraft
Table for a meeting in flight. Perhaps as board room?
The luxury extends to cockpit seating.

Someone connected with the museum heard about this aircraft and recognised its historical significance. It was purchased and restored to flying order by a team of volunteers who travelled to England for several months to complete the task. It then flew to Longreach to join the fledgling museum fleet. I remember when it arrived.

The light show is particularly well done. Visitors sit or stand on a concrete area between the aircraft. Seating is on high stools. Just grab one if you get tired of standing. As the program is projected onto the sides of three aircraft it is necessary to be a bit mobile.

Rolls Royce Jet Engine for a 747.
Inside the Catalina Flying boat.
DC3 with seating removed for freight.

On the morning aircraft tour, one of the tour members was a retired Qantas Boeing 747 captain, who was able to add to the information provided by the guide from his personal experience.

Stone pitching for water control
An example of Stone Pitching at the site south of Ilfracombe.

On Friday morning, five days after leaving home, we made an early start to head back to Ilfracombe where we turned south to Isisford. About 20 km south of Ilfracombe, at a rest stop, we drove a few hundred extra metres to an area where stone pitching had been used to retain and divert water into a dam. The work is over one hundred years old and may have been carried out by Chinese workers, although the skills were probably brought from England.

Roadside flowers. “Pitilotus nobilis”

Stone pitching is building structures from natural stone without mortar to hold the stones in place. So, each stone is held in place by those around it. The structure is particularly useful in sandy soil where running water quickly washes earthen structures away.

More roadside flowers.

When we were in this area back in caravanning days, we spent a couple of nights in the riverside camp at Isisford, on the Barcoo River. There was an excellent museum there with a display of the ancient forebears of the Crocodile. It had an excellent cafe /coffee shop for such a small and remote place. The cafe is in the museum building, which partly explains why it exists in such a small and remote community.

On that occasion we had morning coffee at the van before going into town. We said that it would be nice to go back. And so, we did. Sadly, some of the fossils that were on display have been moved elsewhere. Probably to another museum where more people visit.

Natural History Museum at Isisford.
Whitman Café at the Natural History Museum.
Barcoo River at Isisford

Roadside flowers were in abundance, particularly towards Isisford. The grass is a brilliant green. The Barcoo has been in minor flood three times this year, so there is a lot of water, on its way to Lake Eyre. The Barcoo and Thompson Rivers join near Windorah to form Cooper Creek which feeds the lake, if there is enough water to travel that far.

The Wellshot Centre at Ilfracombe.

We returned to Ilfracombe and visited the Wellshot Centre. The building was the police station in the town but was converted to a museum to display items from nearby (we passed it on the way to Isisford) Wellshot Station. Wellshot Station was one of the first stations in the area. It was developed with Scottish money and Australian know how.

Southern Cross Water Boring Machine
A well kept Ferguson Tractor.
Tracked Earth Moving Tractor

Ilfracombe has a “Mile of Machinery” as a memorial to the pioneers. It stretches along the north side of the highway for most of the length of the main street. I took a walk along most of it. Included is an example of the ubiquitous Ferguson 35 tractor. I learned to drive on one.

A line of road graders.
A bullock cart that probably was used for transporting wool.
A full stop of Bougainvillea at the end of the machinery queue.
Plumed Whistling Ducks

We returned to Longreach for a pie and coffee before returning to our unit for a nap. Late afternoon we went out looking for a sunset but tonight it was rather ordinary. The sunset the previous evening looked to be a beauty, but we were occupied at the Qantas sound and light show.

In the waning afternoon light, I found some Plumed Whistling Ducks at a waterhole at the north of town. I was trying to get closer for a better shot when they took off. Above the ducks, on the power lines, some Crested Pigeons were sunning themselves and looking a bit surprised. But they just sat and didn’t move.

The ducks after take off.
Crested Pigeon in the afternoon light.

We returned to the cabin for our final night at Longreach. Tomorrow we are off hunting Dinosaurs.

Cape York Adventure – Days 11 to 18

Weipa is primarily a mining town with some tourist activity. Many who come here have fishing as their  main objective but most visitors seem to include Weipa as a logical part of the Cape York experience. The town has a population of about  3,500, most of who work for Rio Tinto or are in businesses that support the bauxite operations.

Sunset over the beach at Weipa Caravan Park

Sunset over the beach at Weipa Caravan Park

The tourist season lasts for only about half of the year so I  don’t know  what  tourist industry employees do for the rest of the year. Fishing charters probably have a longer season.

Dutchman William Janszoon sailed along the coast off what is now Weipa in 1606. The first recorded Englishman to sail the same coast was Matthew Flinders in 1802.

Bauxite stock piles

Bauxite stock piles

Flinders noted the red cliffs in the area.  In 1955 geologist Henry Evans discovered that the red cliffs previously reported were metal grade bauxite,  the raw material from which alumina and then aluminium are made. Serious mining and town development started in 1967.

A bauxite bulk carrier destined for a foreign port

A bauxite bulk carrier destined for a foreign port

Ships of up to 86 thousand tonnes come to the Port of Weipa and carry away about 26 million tonnes of bauxite each year. Mining is expected to continue for another 60 years, at least.

After resting up for a couple of days we stirred ourselves sufficiently to look around.  The commercial centre was within walking distance

The long single lane bridge on the road to the North of the town

The long single lane bridge on the road to the             North of the town

of the caravan park with the greater part of the residential area sprawling to the north. We checked out the water front areas and the bauxite shipping facilities. The harbor is extensive and calm with good beaches but they are largely deserted.  The waterways are home to crocodiles.

We joined a sunset cruise on our last evening in Weipa. Departing at

A bulk carrier loading at the Weipa wharf

A bulk carrier loading at the Weipa wharf

4.00 pm, we cruised past the bauxite loading area while listening to an extremely articulate and humorous Aboriginal guide. We then turned for the other side of the harbour and entered a broad creek in search of crocodiles. The total score was one croc  sunning itself and one brief glimpse of a head, but that kept everyone happy. The bonus was that the 2.5 metre croc that we saw on a sand bank on our way up the creek was still there when we came back.

The only crocodile that we saw in the whole trip

The only crocodile that we saw in the whole trip

After drinks had been served we cruised into the open bay to watch the sun set into the ocean. A mix of cloud and smoke from burning off operations ensured a satisfactory result. We returned to land just before darkness set in.

The guide gave us what I thought was a balanced commentary on Indigenous matters. He was a

Mangroves are crocodile habatat

Mangroves are crocodile habitat

strong believer in education and self sufficiency. One thing I found interesting was that in the Northern Cape, Aborigines don’t play the didgeridoo. No one seems to know why.

We had only a short drive on the day of our departure from Weipa. One hundred km or so back towards the intersection of Old Telegraph Track (Bamaga Road) and The Peninsula Developmental Road brought us to Merluna Station. Like many cattle stations, the Merluna homestead is a sprawl of assorted buildings to which has been

Accommodation under the shady Mango trees

Accommodation under the shady Mango trees

added a range of accommodation options, all under or near a grove of huge mango trees. The property is owned and managed by Cameron and Michelle McLean.  Cameron is a descendant of the early Scottish settlers in North Queensland and has a Scottish heritage that seems to almost go back to the times of Bonnie Prince Charlie, although his forebears come from Mull and not Skye.

A machinery shed has become a camp kitchen

A machinery shed has become a camp kitchen

Once again we didn’t do much after our arrival but did have quite lengthy separate discussions with both Cameron and Michelle. They are delightful people. They offer an evening meal as an option, so we joined them as paying guests for dinner. We shared the meal with the three grader  operators who were grading the road that we had driven on that morning. Merluna provides accommodation to road workers and other contractors when they are working in the area.

Merluna Station runs about one thousand head of cattle with markets accessed through sale yards at Mareeba or the meat works at Townsville. They are not within the catchment area for live cattle export.

Parked at the start of the Bamaga Road which follows the route of the Old Telegraph Track

Parked at the start of the Bamaga Road which follows the route of the Old Telegraph Track

The night spent at Merluna was to break up the journey. Our next stop at Bramwell Station was for the same reason. It was in the right place, just another 160 km along the road and the main accommodation venue before the final run to the Jardine River and Bamaga. There is not much accommodation suitable for travelers like us for the next 200 km. Most people who are not towing and many with camper trailers will take the option of the Old Telegraph Track to go north from Bramwell Junction, which is only a few km away and on the same cattle station. The OTT is not maintained

The start of the Old Telegraph Track

The start of the Old Telegraph Track

and has several stream crossings which are challenging to drivers and threatening to their vehicles.  But dedicated 4WD types just can’t resist it.

But we resisted it and took the longer but faster bypass road that runs to the east of the OTT,  then cuts across it and runs to the west until the Jardine ferry is reached.

The bistro at Bramwell Station

The bistro at Bramwell Station

Bramwell Station has developed a good quality tourist camp about 6 km off the main road. It offers a range of accommodation options, including a restaurant/bar with live (and loud) music each night of the tourist season. Most importantly there are good quality facilities with great hot showers. The main downside is that the resort manager gives a station talk before the music starts. The talk is

The old bistro and a new restaurant under construction.

The old bistro and a new restaurant under     construction.

broadcast at full volume so everyone in the campground hears it, weather they want to or not, and he goes on and on. I think you call it a captive audience.

IMG_3559It is 163 km from Bramwell Junction to the Jardine River, a further 45 to Bamaga and 26 km to Punsand Bay. That made a planned day of 234 km but we had 13 km to do before reaching Bramwell Junction and we took a longer road to Bamaga, so our tracker put the total at 260 km for the day. The first 150 was quite good, with a long recently constructed section of dirt and an even longer sealed section. But

A rather dirty van

A rather dirty van

about 10 km before the Jardine River and about half the run into Bamaga, the conditions suddenly changed to deep and confused corrugations that defied driving. For some of the distance refuge was available by driving in the table drain or crawling forward at 10 kph. But we finally made it to Bamaga and then Punsand Bay in quite good order and condition. But with a dirty car and a very dirty van.