Burton's Perth to Cape York Birdsville to Longreach QLD Day 17/18 - 16 and 17 April 2011

Wednesday, Apr 18, 2012 at 18:07

Mike & Amanda

Dawn is the best time. Flies are minimal, coolish breeze and so very quiet, except for the damn corellas! We were leaving Birdsville today and intending to head to Bedourie and Boulia for an overnight stop. A morning cuppa chat with the Trak Trailer guy next door convinced me to head for Windorah and Cooper's Creek instead. He passionately argued that the camping there was fantastic and besides the Min Min light thing in Boulia was overrated.

We ambled out of Birdsville, over the not quite flooded causeway, water stretching out each side, submerged trees poking through. This was evidence of the recent rains upstream in the channel country. On each side of town are free dump points. Unfortunately the one we tried had no water leaving the dirty job not quite finished. A grader rumbled by, the hand raised over the steering wheel in the bush traveller's salute. Birdsville was a very friendly place, the locals been there, done that and still genuinely welcome with a generous country smile for the hordes of tourists, the Simpson desert warriors, the grey nomads and the camper trailer folk. The economy is very dependent on the intermittent tourism trade, very fragile and subject to the incredible weather they have been experiencing.

The Betoota - Windorah road started off as rough gravel, huge sharp rocks only to deteriorate remarkably into well formed bitumen. Begrudgingly we pulled over and fired up the little ARB compressor, putting around 38 warm into the tyres. Just then a local fluoro vested worker lady kindly stopped to see if we were OK. We told her we were just airing up for the bitumen, as she sniggered and told us it was a cruel trick, with the bitumen ending a little further on.....damn! A tributary of the Diamantina made an interesting water crossing, splashing over the bonnet and relieving some of the interminable dust.

We encountered small sections of bitumen, some "overtaking opportunities", followed by rough gravel. Regular dips, badly constructed tyre damaging cattle grids and floodways kept the speed down. We saw one caravan only and he looked to be a little distressed. Wide open plains sprawled either side leaving you a little breathless with the sheer horizon to horizon size of this place. Unusual cotton wool fluffy three dimensional flat bottomed clouds scudded away into the distance like something from a Pink Floyd album cover. We could tell the snakes from the shredded tyre strips by their flat brown iridescence and sudden slithery movement. Gosh some were big! The wheels of the Cruiser struck one over its back and I watched in the side mirror as it struck futilely at the large BFG muddy.

Spotting one of the quite regular side of the road drop toilets we pulled over. Jack remarked "Dad, you might want to look at this...it doesn't look too good". Fearing the worst I rushed over to find that the Anderson plug had somehow detached from its' socket in the Cruiser and then somehow missed the welcoming basket of the Stone Stomper to hit the road, lose the plug and shred the wire into strands. I was very thankful it hadn't shorted out too badly, possibly damaging the batteries. The Victron showed all seemed to be well, with about 98% state of charge. Copious amounts of insulation tape provided temporary protection until we could source a new plug, not something I was carrying as a spare.

Closer to Windorah we said goodbye to the gravel for a while. We have travelled nearly 5000 kilometres with very little bitumen ....as much as I hate to say it, a rest from the endless dust, rocks and suspension challenging surfaces will be a little welcome. The sticker on the back of the Cruiser "Bitumen, another waste of taxpayer's money" still holds true, however we are going with the ying-yang principle of opposites.

Windorah is what they call in the dime westerns, a "one horse town". There was little activity and we found an old ramshackle petrol station, something out of the 50s. A Toyota trayback ute was sprawled across the driveway, driver's door open, the radio playing tinny country and western music. A huge farmer or rugby player, burnt brown by the sun, iron grey hair and Cowboys shorts leaned over the counter, looking grim, trying to determine what parts he needed for some equipment. An older lady was perusing a parts manual. In a commanding voice, an old wizened man wearing a battered fedora instructed me to go and read the pump. I gave him the figure, grimacing at the amount, as he deftly took my card and racked it up. It took me a few minutes to realise that he was blind. His eyes had that small, closed look you sometimes see in the Middle East. He was a marvel. He told his wife that part number T2134W, the right swivel hub would be on page 64 of the catalogue at the bottom of the page, then reached unhesitatingly to a container and pulled out the correct Anderson plug. I asked, how much? He said the price should be on the bottom of the packet....unbelievable!

We found the Cooper and Deadman Bridges, just after a large concrete causeway. Cooper's Creek was huge and flowing, goodness knows why it isn't a river. We found a black soil track running alongside and drove a kilometre before locating an enticing bay on the side of the creek, running far below the top of the banks. This was obviously flood plain country, the black soil cracked and pitted, swept clean by water with no dead falls or other timber available for a fire. Coolibahs, acacias, mainly gidgee trees lined the banks, many submerged in the flow of water, their tops protruding. The gidgee is known as the 'stinking wattle' for a very good reason. Its' sour odour wafted in though the camper's big windows all night. The flies ensured that we set up quickly, the temperature still warm, around 32, with about an hour until the sun disappeared. Tantalising wisps of cool breeze teased us. A fire ring was made, some scraps of timber found before I dug into our precious supply of jarrah from the box on the roof of the Cruiser. A small fire, not too many bities and the golden rays of a setting sun reflecting on the mirror surface of the flowing Cooper. Golden orb spiders were crouched inside their silky webs spread across the gidgies. Good hunting territory, the webs fat with flies. The occasional large splash hinted at fish or maybe fishing birds. Birds of prey circled. As the sun disappeared the cries of exotic sounding birds echoed across the growing darkness. Fed with another amazing Amanda meal, fortified with diminishing supplies of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (the beer long gone) we felt almost content, except for the damn INSECTS! I'm sure I could feel them, biting and crawling over me throughout the night although this had to be a near psychotic episode, no red marks or dead bodies (insect) in the morning....

Packed up and gone before the main army of flies arrived we headed out on the narrow ribbon of bitumen to Longreach. The road was so narrow it meant that we had to move off on to the verge should oncoming traffic be sighted. This presented a significant challenge as the verge was steep, rutted and covered in tall grass so we couldn't clearly see the edge or surface condition. An oncoming road train meant slowing down to about 10kph, moving right over, usually on a 30 degree angle and bouncing wildly until they had gone. Predictably we moved over, they didn't. Might is right!

Bizarre signs started appearing, bringing smiles all round - "no shooting on the town common", "Please be careful, we love our livestock". Skippies became more prevalent, strangely absent until now. Two particularly playful specimens decided to play dodgems with the roo bar, back and forth. Large, stern looking bullocks were everywhere, slowing progress considerably.

Jundah was a surpsrisingly well set up town with a very modern public toilet block, showers and what looked to be a shire camping ground and swimming pool next door. All this was very empty. We had a break, the kids briefly playing on the playground before heading northish again. Just outside of town was a fantastic solar collection set up, with four dishes focussing the sun's light into an intensely bright central collector.

Soon we passed a town bizarrely called Stonehenge, drove up onto the first hills and bluffs with what seemed to be a great campsite and campfire area right on the edge overlooking the vast plains.

Longreach presented as a thriving metropolis, businesses, wide streets, cars and people everywhere. Planes landing and taking off. We were a little dazzled after two weeks in the bush. We located Longreach Auto Electrics and the very kind owner immediately soldered on a new Anderson plug for us and charged a pittance. Very friendly service. We braved the main street and headed straight out to the Longreach Tourist Park, a Top Tourist Park which we still had membership from the last trip. We splurged out on a powered ensuite site and drove around the very large and mostly empty site, compass in hand, finding the best angle to set up to avoid the harsh rising and setting sun. Apparently the park has a frog problem and they make a real mess of the ensuites, fortunately ours was fine. My research had sort of pointed to this park as being the best, however I didn't realize that it was very close to the airport and the train tracks. Reversing beepers, horns and engines at all hours will have me looking elsewhere next time. The bonus was NO FLIES, no mossies and no sand flies that we could detect. A swim in the pool finished the day wonderfully, followed by lots of people stopping by to say hello and peer at the camper and our set up. Towards nightfall most of the arrivals were caravans and sedans, not many bush ready set ups like us. One local bike riding couple stopped by to tell us that they also own an Oddy and would soon be off to the Daly River barra fishing.....see ya there mate!
Mike & Amanda
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