Interrupted Journey – North Queensland 2022 – Part 3

Heading for Dinosaur Country

Please note the video link at the foot of this post to the Carnival of Flowers.

We set off on the morning of Monday 26th September to complete our Covid interrupted tour. Instead of going back to Townsville to start where we left off, we travelled inland via Toowoomba and took the opportunity to visit the Carnival of Flowers as we passed through, spending our first night at Chinchilla.

The flowers at Toowoomba were up to the normal high standard. As our visit was late in the carnival, most of the additional activities had finished. The flowers and a few food vans parked down the back was all that remained of the festive area. But we were there to see the flowers and were well satisfied with the offerings on display. The greatest challenge was to take a photo of a flower bed without an Asian tourist in the foreground having their photo taken.

A thin sheet of water over the face of Chinchilla Weir as the water flows towards the Murray River.

We drove on to Dalby for lunch having skipped morning coffee. In planning I had identified some likely bird locations to try before reaching our overnight stop at Chinchilla. I had no luck until Chinchilla Weir where we found greatly improved camping conditions from those we remembered from our previous visit. And we found a flock of Apostle Birds. I believe these birds are so named because of their practice of flocking in groups of about a dozen. Water was cascading over the weir.

A thin sheet of water over the face of Chinchilla Weir as the water flows towards the Murray River.
Recently germinated crops line the roadside in this part of the Darling Downs.
Boonagara, reached just before Chinchilla, built a public hall to commemorate success in using a grub to defeat cactus infestation.
Gil Weir is located just west of the Leichardt Highway, south of Miles

Friday saw us headed for Morven, a very small town where the Landsborough Highway branches from the Warrego Highway. It leads to Longreach as the major town in that direction. This piece of road is also known as the Matilda Way, but that is more for promotional purposes that accurate geography.

We checked for birds at Gill Weir, south of Miles and Judd’s Lagoon, south of the highway, closer to Roma. All that we found in both places was overflowing weirs and long term bush campers, most of which were in their highly equipped caravans. Rising water levels inundate water bird feeding grounds and I imagine, causes the birds paddle harder to stay in the same place. The birds are not silly. Thy go somewhere else.

Memorial to fettlers wives near Dulacca
The informative plaque that is part of the memorial.

Roadside, just before Dulacca out towards Roma, we came upon a memorial to the railway fettlers and the women who supported them while building the western railway line from Miles to Dulacca in 1978-79. In those days families had to travel with their breadwinners if they wanted to see them. No FIFO in those days.

Australian Darter, drying off following a fishing session.

After morning coffee at Roma’s Big Rig, we had a look at Roma Bush Gardens, located just off the highway past the town centre. Walking around the lake was restricted by flooding but I did see some Mallards and an Australian Darter, drying its wings in the morning sunshine after fishing excursion.

Neil Turner Weir on the Maranoa River at Mitchell was overflowing. We have not seen this in several visits.

We took our lunch break at Neil Turner Weir, a water storage on the Maranoa River near Mitchell. Mitchell is probably best known for its therapeutic artesian spars. We have used the camping area at the weir on several occasions but had not seen the dam overflowing before. It reminded us that so much of our travel through Australia’s outback occurred during the drought years.

The Pick-a-Box Motel at Morven
A Royal Flying Doctor Promotional Van Parked Outside The Motel.

The Pick-a-Box Motel was our resting place for the night. The motel is a small group of newish iron-clad cabins near to and managed by the Morven Hotel, recently rebuilt following a fire. The only excitement in town was a Royal Flying Doctor Service caravan in the shape of an aircraft fuselage, parked in the street outside.

So, from Morven on Wednesday morning, we turned north-west on the Landsborough Highway. First stop was a call at the first town, Augathella, a distance of about 90 km. The town is quite old and has been supporting the local agricultural community since its founding in 1883. Like many outback towns, it has upgraded its visitor facilities for grey nomads. Artists have painted pictures on its water tower, art silo fashion.

The Ellangawan Hotel bears Augathella’s original name.
The list of local water birds at Tambo. Most on the list were conspicuous by their absence.

Next, about the same distance further north-west, we arrived at Tambo, another pioneering town (1868) with good visitor facilities. We paused for morning coffee beside the small dam at the entrance of the tow. By the lake there is an information sign providing details of the many water birds to be found in the area. There were very few on display for us, although small birds such as Noisy Miners were busy in the tree.

Continuing, we crossed the Barcoo River and arrived at Blackall, which was built on the banks of that stream. Major Thomas Mitchell explored this part of Australia in 1846. The town developed in the 1860s as an agricultural service centre. Again, it has good tourist facilities. It is surrounded by vast expanses of open naturally grassed pasture, as is much of this area. We had been driving through it all morning.

The Barcoo River at the Landsborough Highway crossing.
An Eastern Great Egret perched in a tree over the Barcoo River.
Blackall main street is the highway.
Part of the billabong and camping area at Lara Wetlands

The next town along this highway is Barcaldine, but about 45 km before that we turned off to the left and drove the 16 km of dirt station road to look at Lara Wetlands. This is a camping area that almost surrounds a large waterhole filled with dead trees, so is probably the result of a dam. Lara Station is an operating cattle station. They run the camping ground in conjunction with the station. There are reported to be 164 species of birds identified in the area. But there is no power and only one cabin. Interesting spot, all the same.

A Brolga by the road as we drove into Lara Wetlands.

As we drove into the Lara Station, Ruth saw a large grey bird at the edge of the trees. I stopped and got some good photos of a Brolga. It was wandering up and down and seemed quite settled but as I turned back to the car, I heard the whoomp whoomp whoomp of large wings as the Brolga took to flight. I turned just in time to snap it disappearing behind some brush. Not a very good photo, sadly.

The Brolga landing in the brush by the roadside.

We refuelled at Barcaldine, paying for the first time just over $2 per litre for unleaded petrol. At Barcaldine the highway turns left and west through Ilfracombe to Longreach. Scattered cloud meant that the western sun was not too much of a problem. We had travelled quite a distance in pursuit of the setting sun since leaving Brisbane, so the days were ending quite a bit later.

The deck at the Woolshed Restaurant at Longreach.

We were able to get a booking at the Woolshed Restaurant at Longreach Tourist Park, where we had a cabin. Last time we were here they were booked out. They were again but we had booked in time. An excellent meal even if the entertainment was a bit loud.

While at Longreach we returned to Ilfracombe and also drove south to Isisford. That drive is covered in the next blog post.

West, Centre & Flinders – Days 18 to 19 – Further West

It is not easy to predict the movements of the travelling public. On our first night at the Longreach Tourist Park the place was near to full. After we arrived, about mid-afternoon, the vans flooded in and flooded out again next morning. But on the second night

Sweeping plains near Winton

Sweeping plains near Winton

occupancy would have been no more than 40%. Perhaps folk had been in to complete the census. Forms were available at the office. We opted to complete it on line and couldn’t even log in. Perhaps we will try again at Alice Springs.

We left Longreach at the start of Day 18 driving towards Winton, about 180 kilometres to the North West.

North Gregory Hotel where legend has it Waltzing Matilda was first performed

North Gregory Hotel where legend has it Waltzing Matilda was first performed

Winton has always been a prosperous place but the drought has taken its toll. There are several empty shops in the main street. But the pubs continue to thrive. The Tattersals’  hotel that occupies a corner had about 20 tables set up for lunch on the pavement and more inside. Many caravans and their towing vehicles were parked in the street. Winton must be a favored lunch stop among grey nomads.

The vacant space was once occupied by The Waltzing Matilda Centre

The vacant space was once occupied by The Waltzing Matilda Centre

As some of you will know, Winton lost its famous Waltzing Matilda Centre to fire a year or so ago. That was a serious blow to the town. But they have bounced back with a new museum called the Qantilda Museum. It is much smaller, as a great deal of history was lost in the fire, but deals with Winton’s two main claims to fame. Winton  is the birth place of Qantas Airways and Waltzing Matilda was written by Banjo Patterson at Dagworth Station to the north of Winton and was first performed in public at Winton’s North Gregory Hotel.

Self explanatory!

Self explanatory!

The “sweeping plains” continue to Winton and beyond. Green as far as the eye can see.  But in most of the pasture there are no cattle eating the lush grass. Drought plays havoc with stocking density and it takes a long time to rebuild a production herd.

 

 

The first real jump up on the way to Middleton

The first real jump up on the way to Middleton

When we came this way last year on our way to The Centre, I said that the road from Winton to Boulia was one of the most attractive outback drives in Queensland and having done it a second time I have not changed my mind. Along the first section, until just past the multiple channels of the Diamantina River, the terrain is fairly flat. Some areas are so green with lush growth that they look like a planted crop. Then  Mount  Booka Booka appears to the left of the road. From there, for the next hundred kilometres or so, the road passes through the Sword Range which is mostly a series of jump ups, or mesas, with their defining crowns of red rock and slopes clad with small bushy vegetation of brilliant green.

A main channel of the Diamantina River almost full of water

A main channel of the Diamantina River almost full of water

Last time through we did Winton to Boulia, a distance of 360 kilometres, in a day. This time, having started the day at Longreach we have broken our journey at the lonely road side pub at Middleton. There was a town of Middleton but it is long gone and only the 130 year old hotel remains. Free camping is available over the road. Most who use the area express their appreciation by patronising the hotel.

Middleton Hotel

Middleton Hotel

We went over for a drink after setting up and then later, went back for dinner. Dinner guests included a couple from Taroom in Queensland on their way to Camooweal to help run the annual drovers festival. An other couple have just travelled the Birdsville Track and were able to give us some good information on road conditions.

An old Cobb & Co coach stands outside the Middleton Hotel

An old Cobb & Co coach stands outside the Middleton Hotel

The Middleton Pub is over 130 years old. The area was first explored by John McKinley who was leading a group searching for lost explorers Bourke and Wills. W Middleton was second in command. The area when opened shortly afterwards was named Middleton in his honour.

The publican and his wife are elderly but are assisted by younger family members. They were most welcoming. The menu was surprisingly extensive but we chose the “house” meal of corned beef with potato, cabbage and white sauce. The serving was generous. The facilities were basic with outside toilets and showers constructed of corrugated iron. The plumbing for the shower looked like a plumber’s nightmare but the rusty shower head was large and hot water cascaded out.

We went to sleep to the gentle lowing of cattle in a yard behind the hotel, probably waiting for a truck to take them to market.

Approaching Cawnapore Lookout

Approaching Cawnapore Lookout

The overnight stay at Middleton produced an unexpected bonus. Soon after leaving Middleton, jump ups start to appear on the horizon. The road turned towards them and as we drew closer the morning sun illuminated the red stone caps and eroded upper reaches turning them to shades of deep red. The green vegetation that clings to the slopes takes on a brilliancy that makes it look painted on.

A path for the fitter leads to the summit if the Cawnpore jumpup

A path for the fitter leads to the summit if the Cawnpore jump up

A picnic shelter marks Cawnpore Lookout, a vantage point that stands above a cutting through the hills. To reach it you must scramble up a steep gravel path but the effort is well worth while. The views through 360 degrees are stunning. Those fitter than I can follow a path that leads to the very top of the jump up for even better views, I imagine.  Accompanying photos illustrate.

A view from the lookout

A view from the lookout

From here the dramatic hills reduce in frequency. The final 80 kilometres or so into Boulia returns to endless green planes with scattered trees. The only dense vegetation lines the many water ways, most of which retain some of the recent rain.

 

Car and van from the lookout and hills to the west

Car and van from the lookout and hills to the west

The Min Min Centre in Boulia

The Min Min Centre in Boulia

We have reached Boulia and are in the caravan park, with the Bourke River only a few metres from the back of our van. Boulia is a small service town at the junction of Kennedy and Diamantina Developmental Roads. The Donohue Highway that leads to Alice Springs via the Plenty Highway branches off just out of town. The town has museum displays of dinosaur fossils and other items relating to the past when where Boulia stands was part of an inland sea. It also has the Min Min Experience, an animated show that tells of the mysterious Min Min Lights.

A full Bourke River at Boulia.

A full Bourke River at Boulia.

Weather has been brilliant. Morning temperatures have been around 10 C with day temperatures in the mid twenties. We experienced some cloud and a few spots of rain on the windscreen as we approached Middleton, but by evening the stars shone from a cloudless sky. But we have had some chilly breezes from east to south west, but they are easy to avoid or you put on something warmer.

Tomorrow we head south for Bedourie and Birdsville.