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.

A Different Way There … And Back – Post 2

Day 5 – 31st March 2013 – Charleville

At some point during the night I turned the air conditioner off and pulled up the doona. Rain had been falling all night. We awoke to a grey sky and weather reports that told us that it was 17C, half of yesterday’s temperature. Are we in Melbourne already?

We got a bit of a fright at lunch time. We turned on a second light and it came on very dimly. We then noticed that the lights had gone out on the refrigerator. Oh no! Not battery charger problems on a one year old van. Fortunately not!  On our short test trip to check on our electrics for bush camps I had to replace a fuse. To get at the fuse box I had to unplug the battery charger … and forgot to plug it back in. So we had been living on charge put into the battery when moving since we left home. The battery had been progressively discharging. All seems well now.

Intermittent rain fell all day so we stayed in the warmth of the van and read, including tourist information in our reading. The forecast for tomorrow is for fine weather, so we will check the place out.

I guess you don’t normally think of a town facing in a particular direction but Charleville definitely faces south, because that is where the tourist money comes from. North Queensland has a wet season and a dry season. Charleville has a “Grey Nomad” season and a “Rest of the Year” season. Charleville is on the main route that Victorians and South Australians take when starting out on The Big Lap (around Australia). Most lappers do the lap in an anticlockwise direction.

Charleville Info Centre

Charleville Information Centre

Tourist authorities have marketed the town well. The Information Centre is on the Mitchell Highway to the south of the town. Most lappers do the around Australia lap anticlockwise so will only ever approach the town from the south. Their printed material is excellent, particularly the visitors guide that they produced annually. Activities are set out in detail with times, amount of time to allow and the cost. And most things have a cost. Some have a substantial cost. Perhaps they think that grey nomads have money running out of their pockets this early in the circumnavigation.

Info and Cosmos Buildings

Cosmos Centre Building

Weather permitting we will look at some of these attractions for you, and us, tomorrow.

Day 6 – 1st April, 2013 – Charleville

Yesterday’s rain was followed by a fine sunny day so, after breakfast, we set off to see the town. We started at the Information Centre, located at the southern entrance to town. It is part of the Charleville Cosmos Centre, which in turn is the jewel in Charleville’s crown. The information centre is modern, contains a very pleasant coffee shop and all the information on other relevant destinations that you could want.

The Cosmos Centre is about looking into the heavens. Charleville normally has an abundance of clear skies so is ideal for things celestial. The main event occurs at night but there are a number of simulated activities, some of them interactive, that can be used in daylight hours to cater for those who don’t get to the evening show. For those who have an interest in such matters, or first timers, it is a great opportunity see the realms beyond.

Clement Wragg's Vortex Rain Guns

Clement Wragg’s ineffective Vortex Rain Gun

From there we took a look at meteorologist Clement Wragg’s Vortex rainmaker guns that didn’t make rain and then took the Timber Walk to view samples of the trees and shrubs that grow in the area. As this was Easter Monday the town was closed but we walked the main street to get a feel for the town. All was quiet. Even the famed Hotel Corones was closed for business. The old lady is in need of much TLC but tours and after noon teas are available spasmodically now but will rev up as the southern tourists start to move through.

Warrego Bridge & Flood Barrier Bridge & Barrier 2

Two views of the bridge and flood barriers

Charleville floods regularly but now has a flood barrier along the banks of the Warrego River. But the town has that “what’s the use” look about it and could not be described as attractive. It is, in fact, quite down at heal.

Hotel Corones

Hotel Corones looking a little tired

After lunch we drive 20 km out of town to look at Ward River, a local fishing location. We found a body of water larger than the Warrego with fisher folk doing their thing.

Ward River

Broad waters of Ward River

Ward River Fisher Folk

Fishing in the shade

When we came back to the park at lunch time, a sandwich board at the gate proclaimed a camp oven dinner to be available that evening, so we booked. The operators erected a marquee under which they set up metal open fire containers for cooking and ambiance. Attendees were required to bring a chair, plate, bowl and cutlery. The main meal was a large ladle of mashed potatoes covered with an even larger ladle of excellent beef stew with Johnny cakes made of damper mixture. Dessert was apple crumble with custard followed by genuine billy tea. Great meal and we met some great people.

Day 7 – 2nd April – Charleville to Mitchell – 181 km

With only about 180 km back to Mitchell we were able to make a leisurely start and cruised sedately along a road that we had almost to ourselves. The high point was refuelling at Morven.

Neil Turner Weir camp area

Neil Turner Weir camping area

We located the free camp site at Neil Turner Weir and were set up in time for lunch. About an hour later Bruce and Annie arrived. We met this couple at St George last year. They would have been in the Mount Moffatt group but they are off on a four month trip to NT and The Kimberly. We have kept in touch but our paths crossing here gave an opportunity to catch up physically. We examined their new and well fitted Isuzu D-MAX Ute, had dinner and a chat around the camp fire and turned in with almost total darkness and near complete silence. There were probably twenty or so other campers there, but they were all quite as mice.

Early Morning Departure

An early morning departure

Day 8 – 3rd April – Mitchell to St George – 283 km

Our original path from Mitchell was directly to St George but problems with the Wi-Fi function on our wireless broadband modem dictated that we return to Roma, as that is the only town in which we would find a Telstra shop. So, armed with a new 4G Wi-Fi modem that would fit in your pocket, we headed to St. George via Surat. The country is similar to that between Roma and Mitchell but flatter.

Surat, a name familiar to many from the Surat Basin gas fields, sits on the high bank of the Maranoa River from where its citizens can watch the fairly frequent floods. At the bridge plaques show photos of the river in flood with the tops of the street lights at waist height above the water.

Warrego River not in flood

An unflooded Maranoa River

We spent the night at the Pelican Rest Caravan Park at St George with not a pelican in sight.

Day 9 – 4th April – St George to Lightning Ridge – 230 km

The destination at day’s end was Lightning Ridge to call on another couple that we had met at St George last year and then called on at Lightning Ridge a few days later as we travelled south. Trevor and Margaret live near Murwillumbah in northern NSW but have a family cabin on an old opal mining lease that has been converted to a residential lease. It is in the scrub surrounded by the evidence of opal mining.

St George is Cotton Central. The harvest is in full swing and the roadside is scattered with the whisps of cotton that blow off as the journey is made to the cotton gin. Trucks like the one below are frequent company on the road.

Cotton bales

We parked our van in the yard beside their camper and that of Margaret’s brother and his wife (another Margaret) with whom they were travelling. They were only there for a few days so we were lucky that our passing through coincided with their brief stay. A bar-be-cue meal was followed by yet another talk session around a camp fire. Trevor and Margaret, together with the brother and wife, visited the most remote parts of the Kimberly last year, so there was much travel talk to be enjoyed.

Parked at Lightning Ridge

Parked at Lightning Ridge

Our hosts at breakfast

Our hosts at breakfast

Then, another very dark and quite night, but a night that seemed long to this early waking bloggist. Our crossing into NSW the day before meant that the sun did not rise until an hour later. Why can’t these people in the south keep normal time?

Day 10 – 5th April – Lightning Ridge to Dubbo – 357 Km

Today was just a straight forward run from Lightning Ridge to Dubbo. Talk about flat country! From the Central Highlands of Queensland (where we were supposed to be at Mount Moffatt) to the Great Dividing Range north of Melbourne the country hardly hosts a decent hill let alone a mountain.

Castlereagh River

A sandy Castlereagh River

From Walgett we followed the Castlereagh River through Coonamble and Gulargambone (I love that name) with the source of the river in the Warrumbungle Ranges to our left as we approached Dubbo. The Warrumbungle Ranges are quite an impressive sight up close but from a distance they appeared to be almost cowered by the vastness of the gently rising plain. The area is known as the North West Slopes and Plains. An aptly descriptive name!

In the caravan park in Dubbo they placed our modest van between two huge fifth wheelers. They must be trying to stop us getting too big for our boots!

A Different Way There …. and Back – Post 1

 

Day 1 – 27th March – Home to Bell – 234 km

The early part of our trip has changed. Our visit to the Mount Moffatt section of the Carnarvon Gorge National Park has been cancelled. There has been constant wet weather across the Central Highlands of Queensland to the extent that a number of features in the park have been closed. Because of this  a number of participants pulled out. We were still going in company with the organiser until his wife, who suffers from MS, had a relapse and was ordered by her specialist to rest. So we have called the Mount Moffatt visit off for the time being.

That left us all dressed up with nowhere to go! As we had an arrangement to meet friends at Mitchell we decided to fill in the time exploring the Warrego Highway from Dalby to Charleville.

Ready for the road

Ready for the road

We expected to get away from home by late morning but finally rolled out the gate at a few minutes past 1.00 pm. We took our normal route when heading west – north to Caboolture and then follow the Daguilar Highway to Yarraman where it meets the New England Highway. There we turn south and then south west to Dalby. This time we turned north before reaching Dalby and came to the small town of Bell on the Bunya Highway about 40 km north of Dalby.

Bell CP 1

The amenities block was almost our en suite

Bell is a quiet country town on the Darling Downs. It contains some historic buildings which we will check tomorrow morning. We are resident in the Bell N Whistle Caravan Park. Except for a hand full of permanents we were the only guests. The northern migration of Victorians clearly has not started yet.

Bell CP 2

Perhaps this is the train from which the caravan park got its name

The rain has missed us so far. A storm passed ahead of us near Cooyar but we enjoyed a rainless evening, sitting out until after a very red sun disappeared over the distant, rather flat horizon.

Day 2 – 28th March – Bell to Roma – 307 km

It is normally an easy start when you have been on a drive through site. We did a small tour of Bell before leaving, to get some photos, but then encountered an unexpected problem. The still or image facility on my video camera that I use for most of my still shots that had worked at the caravan park refused duty when I attempted to take photos in the town. So for the time being I am using the camera on my phone or shooting short bursts of video from which I can cut still pictures.

Pictures taken (but later lost. My fault) we journeyed to Roma, refuelled both the car and ourselves and proceeded north west on the Warrego Highway; first stop Chinchilla for some last minute items before shops closed for Easter. Shopping completed we drove out of town for lunch at Chinchilla Weir, before moving on. I lost the pictures of that, too.

We have been hearing about the frantic mining activity on the Darling Downs, but as soon as we reached Dalby we could see the evidence. The highway to Roma is not much different to coastal highways in traffic density. Endless strings of vehicles including many very big trucks. The commercial centre of Chinchilla, which has a Woolworths supermarket, and a McDonalds, was almost like a city mall on Christmas Eve. We were glad to escape back to the relative calm of the busy highway.

We made a stop at Miles to see the well publicised and historic Pioneer Village. A bit pricey at $12 each to see it, but it has been very well done with authentic buildings brought in from their original locations. The buildings are well set up with all the things that I remember from my childhood. It is sobering to realise that your own early years actually reach back into “history”.

Miles Village 5

Village street scape

Miles Village 2

Half size model of Cobb & Co coach

Miles Village 4

I started my education in a school like this one

Miles Village 3

Have you ever heard the expression “Wouldn’t work in an Iron Lung”?

We would have spent the night at Miles but the two caravan parks have beeen converted almost entirely to cabins to capitalise on accommodation requirements for the mining boom. They both looked like building sites, which is what they were. So we phoned ahead to Roma and booked a site. We found later that we had got one of the last available in town. There is a major festival held there over Easter which includes a race meeting and many other activities, so all accommodation is booked out.

Tomorrow we will move on to Mitchell. Roma was only a short stop for fuel on the original itinerary as it is from here that we were to turn north to Injune and then Mount Moffatt, so the activities here would not have impacted us.

Day 3 – 29th March – Roma to Mitchell – 88 km

The cool nights of the west make for good sleeping. We had early morning coffee under the awning. The sun was about to rise, a pale full moon hung in the western sky just above a newly launched hot air balloon that drifted along the horizon. Just part of the rewards of early rising! But I lost those pictures as well.

We have been to Roma before. There was a great deal of evidence of the oil and gas industries when we were here in 2008 but there is a lot more now. The streets of this substantial town are crowded with mining vehicles and equipment in transit to mine sites. Trucks, including road trains, rumble through at all hours.

We called in at the information centre at the Big Rig where there is an exhibition if the petroleum industry and where a light show telling the story of local oil recovery is held most nights. After collecting some information we joined the queue of motorists at the Woolworths service station who, like us, were claiming their discount dockets and then probably joined some of them on the road to Mitchell. We were part of an extended procession of utilities and 4WDs packed with camping equipment some towing trailers with bush bikes, others towing horse floats and the inevitable camper trailers and caravans.

New bridge on the Maranoa River

Mitchell is getting a new bridge across the Maranoa River

The Major Mitchell Caravan Park is on the banks of the Maranoa River opposite the town. Our site was on the river bank on grass. We had a very quiet afternoon, reading and doing odd bits and pieces. Mitchell is known for its mineral baths and we had intended to visit them but in deference to Easter, or to a day off, they were closed. Maybe next time!

Mitchell CP

Settled in at the Major Mitchell Caravan Park

A relatively quiet evening at Mitchell!  At a van just across from us a “would be” country and western singer and friends entertained us for two hours or more. They packed up at about 8.45 pm so did not encroach on our slumbers.

Mitchell main street looking west

Looking west down MItchell’s main street

Day 4 – 30th March – Mitchell to Charleville – 181 km

The 180 km to Charleville follows the Warrego Highway to the Warrego River which flows through the town and frequently floods it. The terrain is mostly open farm lands with some agriculture but mostly grazing lands.  In times past it was Merino sheep territory but is now mostly beef, although there is a thriving export goat meat industry in the area. Many of the road trains were returning empty from moving cattle to somewhere. There is plenty of green grass but an acute shortage of drinking water for cattle due to recent lack of rain.

Morning Tea at Morven

Morning tea at Morven

The road also passes through some bush land made up mainly of the kind of scrubby growth that is common in western Queensland.

We were met at Charleville by temperatures in the low 30s with high humidity. A storm is due through tonight or early tomorrow, so there probably will be no relief until then. Unfortunately the air conditioning in the van is not as efficient as the unit at home.