Wednesday, Jan 04, 2012 at 22:14

Navigator 1 (NSW)

After a week in Winton we headed SW to the Diamantina National Park. It was to be a 7 day adventure.
Having come into town heading north on the Jundah/Winton Road, past Lark Quarry, we decided instead of retracing our steps to head 51km out of town towards Boulia and then turn south on the Diamantina River Road. The country was the prettiest we had seen – a spectacularly variable landscape, mostly red soil/gravel, gibber, jump ups and green grass. The countryside elsewhere, although the grass looked dead, there was still goodness in it for the cattle and there was still moisture in the soil. The way the weather was starting to warm up, 27° predicted for Winton, these conditions would change very quickly. There were still lots of Kangaroos and several emus in the area, but nowhere near the numbers had we seen in Bladensburg National Park.

Indigenous people moved through every part of this landscape and maintained close physical and spiritual connections to the land. It is only this spiritual connection that remains today.
Expeditions led by early explorers into Queensland’s interior revealed extensive grass plains and naturally deep waterholes. Shortly after a thriving cattle industry developed in the region and Diamantina Lakes Station was established as a cattle property in 1875. Running up to 12,000 head in good times, the 507,000 hectare property was prized as prime fattening country by the station’s many owners. Purchased in 1992 by the Queensland Government, the property was subsequently gazetted as a national park, although a number of stock routes still pass through it today.

The Diamantina River snakes between the plains in the channel country. Under the blue sky, mirages transform claypans and purple gibber plains into hazy, silver lakes. The Diamantina NP protects diverse desert ecosystems and the many plants and animals that live in them. Sandstone mesas, sand dunes, claypans, gibber plains and river channels each of which support a diverse and distinctive community of plants and animals that are especially adapted to local soils and microclimates. It was a very pleasant drive.
Only just out of Winton we took a short turn off to the historical site of the Transcontinental Railway - Winton to Springvale via Elderslie. Only a part of this line was built, Winton to Elderslie - due to economic circumstances the project failed to be completed and the lines and sleepers were pulled up during the depression and put to other uses. Sir Thomas Mcllwraith, Premier of Queensland on three occasions 1879, 1888 and 1893 was involved in this venture.

The trip south along the Diamantina Road took us through some of the best looking country we had seen for a long time. We passed through the properties of Kalkadoon, Tulmur and Brighton Downs. At the southern end of Tulmur Station a lone grave stood on the side of an impressive hill.
There was no traffic at all on the road to Old Cork. The crumbling remains of the homestead stood alone on a high spot above the Old Cork Waterhole. It was one of the first substantial properties built following the proclamation of the North Gregory Pastoral District in 1873. Sir Thomas Mcllwraith, a prominent politician previously mentioned, acquired the station in 1875. Unoccupied since the 1860’s the homestead has suffered from neglect and theft. Plans are in place for restoration works in the near future. The adjacent permanent Cork Waterhole was our campsite for the evening. Still in good working condition, a Southern Cross windmill was still turning in the wind and pumping water.

The following morning we continued south to the Diamantina National Park passing graders, rollers and water trucks doing substantial upgrades to the flood damaged roads. Our 1st stop in the NP was Janet’s Leap from which we had spectacular views of the surrounding countryside including Moses Peak, Mt Mary and the Diamantina Gate – where floodwaters rush through a narrow gorge out onto the floodplain. The track had a section of bull dust like we have not seen for a long time.

Diamantina Downs, the original property in the area is now maintained for historical purposes and is also the Ranger Base. The buildings are in very good order and there is substantial infrastructure in place – solar banks, generators and water tanks with pumps. It looks as though the homestead is used for study groups etc
10km NW of the homestead, along Springvale Road, was the turn off to Hunters Gorge, one of two campgrounds in the park. It is situated on the banks of Mundewerra Waterhole, a place of great significance to the Maiawali and Karuwali people. The only facility at the campground was a drop toilet.
The spectacular scenery and birdlife kept us in camp for 5 days. The shores of this permanent waterhole abound with White Necked Herons, Spoonbills, ducks, cormorants, Kites, Egrets, budgerigars, a lone kingfisher, a pig and native rats.
Our Ozpig provided a wonderful campfire of an evening, many campers provided company and the walks kept us busy.

After five days in camp we headed a further 11km west to the start of the Warracoota Circuit Drive – a one way loop drive which highlights many interesting examples of landform, vegetation and past land use. The beginning the drive was marked by the steel yards which were built in the 1980’s by the Sherwin Company, previous owners of the station. Steel was used because wooden infrastructure is susceptive to termite infestations and dry rot. These yards are still used today by drovers moving stock along Springvale Road stock route. Soon after we followed a long line of sand dunes formed over a million years ago during a cold and windy glacial period. Made from Diamantina River sediment, these dunes have been stable for the last 8-12,000 years. Their redness is due to a coating of iron on the sand grains. Next we crossed over claypans which are a common feature in this landscape and often appear as shimmering lakes during hot weather. This mirage occurs when a layer of air immediately above the ground heats and becomes less dense that the cooler air above it. Once again the landscape changed to gibber plains, which are scattered throughout the park. Gibber refers to the small stones which have been polished by windblown sand over many millions of years. After the grasslands we past the old bronco yards, holding paddocks for cattle until they were ready to brand, castrate, tag or dehorn. They are a heavy duty design, built to withstand the bucking animals.

Finally we reached our destination for the day, Lake Constance, which is listed as a wetland of national significance and one of the few semi-permanent water bodies in Diamantina NP. It sometimes attracts local and migratory birds including pelicans, white faced herons, ibis and spoonbills. Budgerigars, corellas and honeyeaters also visit. We were obviously there at the wrong time of the year. We called into the two official viewing areas then worked our way around the lake to our campsite for the evening. A log fire out in the wilderness was our only company.

After breakfast we continued our trip around the Warracoota Circuit Drive to the Warracoota Waterhole, an especially deep, long and narrow waterhole. The banks were steep and there was only one difficult access point to the water’s edge. Just 3 km away we wondered around some old ruins – to this day their history is unknown. They are thought to have been a settler outpost.

Before long we were back out onto the Springvale Road and before returning to the Rangers base for the evening we inspected the Gum Hole Yards which were very extensive indeed.
We had tried to visit the Diamantina National Park in previous years but it had always been closed. Finally we had the opportunity to visit.

Distance travelled ...Our exploration of the park, including the travel from Winton ..... 416km

The outback calls
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