Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Travelling South

After a delightful sojourn in Melbourne for the Wedding, which turned out to be tasteful, charming, moving and fun (Many congrats Bec & John) and a jolly lunch with my folks, We set out from Darwin and headed south along the Stuart Highway, and then picked up the Carpentaria Highway just as the heavens opened. Although it is sealed, the word highway is a bit of a misnomer at this point. A narrow strip of pot-holed and decaying bitumen is more accurate. We encountered our first floodway (first of 10,000) after a few kilometres, and launched the hybrid car into the stream, stealing nervous glances at one another as the water deepened. As we surfaced, I brought the car to halt with the realisation that this could mean big trouble, as going back may now be as difficult as going on. More by good luck than good management, subsequent water events were mild by comparison, as we continued nervously on to Cape Crawford, and the Heartbreak Hotel. When we arrived we had not seen another vehicle for 250 kilometres. By the way, Cape Crawford hasn't seen the sea for 10 million years. We shared the Heartbreak Hotel with a road gang, some truckies and hundreds of cane toads and frogs. The frogs were everywhere. I visited the outside loo, and upon finishing my business, flushed as usual. As the water splashed into the bowl, a pair of legs appeared from beneath the rim, then scrambled back out of sight. Intrigued, I flushed again, and a little frog splashed into the bowl, and quickly hopped back under the rim. My first thought was unease at the thought of my having been in such close proximity to this and possibly other animals with my naked bum, but then considering the nature of my transaction, my second thought was 'poor frog'

We also met Ian and Eileen, parents of 2 large and noisy dogs. Ian is in the Australian Army, and had toured both Iraq and Afganistan. He told us a very depressing anecdote. Apparently in both of those countries, the bashing of women has assumed the status of a national sport. A British police officer who had had great success in combating crimes against women at home was recruited and sent to Iraq to mentor the new Iraqi police force in this area. He habitually commenced his speecehes in England by asking "Who in this room bashes his wife ?" Upon receiving no positive responses, he then went on to say that this unanimous vote was his objective for the whole of society. Unfortunately when he asked the same question of a thousand Iraqi policeman, they all raised their hand. The British policeman left after a couple of days.

We picked up the Tablelands and then Barkley Highways on our way to Mount Isa. En route we were lucky enough to see a pair of Brolgas dancing next to the road, a real David attenborough moment. Interestingly, the land around Mount Isa is beautiful and undulating with a semi tropical forest covering interestingly shaped hills. 'The Isa' is also impressive in a brutalist zinc smelting sort of way, and in common with other mining parts of our two track economy, very expensive. My prejudices were confirmed in Katter Country by an advertising campaign against domestic violence which is in full swing in the town. Presumably the victims of these crimes are the army of aesthetically challenged women which the Mayor had tempted to Mount Isa over the years.

After Mount Isa, it was Cloncurry, Winton, and then Longreach to enable Cecile to spend time at the Qantas museum and The stockmans Hall Of Fame. It was after a couple of days there that we struck our first real problems occasioned by the flooding. Each time our planned route turned south, we were forced further east by road closures. at one point we travelled 60 kilometres south along the Landsborough Highway, which we had been assured was trouble free, only to have to retrace our steps when confronted by 3 metres of raging torrent across the road. So we travelled from Barcaldine to Emerald, then Biloela and Mundubbera, regularily changing directions to avoid problem roads. We arrived at Toowoomba, which lived up to its name of Queenslands garden city, and which also miraculously appears to have escaped the Queensland development disease and retains an excellent stock of distinguished old buildings.

We then crossed the international border and stopped at Tenterfield, where, at his birthplace, we paid homage to the Sacred Memory of Peter Allen, and then more flippantly visited the site of Sir Henry Parkes speech which created the idea of modern Australia.

On then, via the New England Highway to Armidale, an extremely picturesque but still vibrant and wealthy relic of early colonial settlement, and now home to Australias first rural University. The University is built around the old homestead Booloominbah, at one time the largest private house in the country.

Out of the tropical conditions in Darwin, bushwalking is back on the menu, and we have indulged ourselves with treks on each of the last few days, taking advantage of the sightseeing provided by boiling and overflowing rivers and gushing waterfalls, and the wonderful National Parks in the area.


  1. Great stuff David. Thanks. Looking forward to another coffee mate. Oops forgot it is my shout so bring Cecile.

    Regards, Paul.