Exploring Queensland, July 2006. Part 8. Burketown to Georgetown.

Friday, Oct 13, 2006 at 18:13


We left Burketown and headed east on the bitumen road to Normanton. We had not been driving for long when we came across a cattle muster in full swing. Several hundred head of cattle were slowly being moved across the road and out of some yards. We had no choice but to stop and watch, and we did, fascinated by what we saw.

There was one helicopter working in conjunction with men on horses and in vehicles. It was incredible to watch the manoeuvring of the helicopter, working low to the ground, spinning around, dashing all over the place. Those pilots must have superb reflexes and nerves of steel. We also listened on the UHF to the chatter between all the participants, including friendly banter about the helo pilot’s flying skills. The helicopter seemed to be doing most of the work; just occasionally someone on a horse would dash after a stray animal. Stragglers in the scrub were located and moved along by the chopper. Finally all the cattle were across the road and the excitement over for the time being, so we moved on, delighted to have seen this little snatch of authentic station life.

We decided to spend the night at Leichardt Falls. We arrived early enough to do a bit of exploring, find a campsite then have a dip in the pools above the falls where the water was cool and refreshing. Big floods earlier in the year had dumped masses of sand all over the place with bare rock exposed just around the falls. Then it was time to cook the fish caught on this morning’s fishing trip, and very tasty and fresh it was too.

Leaving the falls the next morning we crossed the long causeway then drove through huge drifts of sand that had covered the road during the last flood. It must have been a major earthmoving job to open the road when the water went down. After the causeway we were on a good gravel road and there was little traffic. We passed through country that alternated between big patches of open grassland and watercourses that were lined with scrub. There were some dense patches of termite mounds, waterholes with plenty of water in them, and sometimes waterlilies and birds as well.

We found the site of Burke and Wills’ final camp from where they made a dash to the coast. It was at some distance from the waterhole, and just had a cairn to mark the spot. From there we moved on to Normanton where we hoped – to no avail - that we could get Troopy serviced, so we will see if we can get it done in Karumba. After a look around town and some restocking at a small supermarket we moved on through mangroves and big salt flats towards Karumba.

Karumba, on the banks of the Norman River, at first sight appeared well cared for. It has a population of about 600. As well as a sizeable fishing and prawning fleet it also has the big Zinifex plant that processes the ore slurry that is piped out from the Century Mine near Lawn Hill. The partially refined ore is then taken by barge to be loaded onto a bigger ship moored further out in the gulf. There is one caravan park in town and two more out at the point where the river joins the Gulf of Carpentaria.

We found a service station that agreed to do our service first thing in the morning so now we were committed to staying the night. It was then that we found that all the caravan parks were full, mostly with grey nomads who stay for weeks or even months at a time, enjoying their fishing while escaping the southern winter. They book months ahead. So we learned about the workings of the overflow system. The Golf Club is open to allow those blow-ins like us to spend the night, but first you have to get a chit stamped by all the caravan parks to certify that you cant get into one of them. Then you pay the fee to the Golf Club. What a system! We checked along the beachfront to see if there was any possibility of bush camping there. We watched the sun set over big tidal mud flats and then were set upon by myriads of sand flies, so we gave up and went back to the overcrowded GC. There we ate the (not cheap) frozen prawns that we had bought earlier then spent a hot and rather sticky, uncomfortable night.

One good thing next morning was finding a truck stop with excellent shower facilities that seemed to do double duty serving the overflow camping crowd. So we were able to have a good shower, a relief in the warm humid conditions. We then headed for the service station only to find that the mechanic had been called out somewhere so we had to wait for him to return. Eventually, after having breakfast while we waited, the service was done, the tanks filled and we were on our way again. Karumba might be fine if you are into fishing, but there is apparently little here to interest us non-fishermen.

So with some light rain falling we headed back to Normanton where we had a closer look at the old Burns Philp building. We found that it contained a tourist info centre and a library so while I boned up on local history John found a computer and checked our emails. From there we went on to the railway station to see the Gulflander train – all 2 carriages of it. It runs on a narrow gauge track on steel sleepers from here to Croydon, once a week plus shorter trips. The station has one section set up as a railway and district museum, so again we spent some time learning about the history of the area and looking at lots of old railway equipment.

About 20 kms out of town is Leichardt’s Lagoon, a privately run camping area. It has adequate if basic facilities, but charges fairly standard fees. Its redeeming feature is that it is situated on a lovely wetland with lots of waterbirds and waterlilies. However, as in Karumba, it too was fairly full up with long staying residents. We found a spot out on the edge of the camping area – it was almost on a level with the billabong so was rather wet underfoot. We had a bit of a walk around the area but by sunset the cloud that had been building up all day had turned into a steady drizzle so after another good meal of fish we turned in early for another hot sticky night.

Next morning we set off early in drizzling rain heading for Croydon. The road was all sealed and the country mainly flat and scrubby with little to see beyond the scrub lining the road. However we did see the Gulflander. Beyond Croydon the country started to become more hilly and there were patches of red grevilleas to admire. We stopped off to look at the old mining chimneys at the Cumberland Mine just west of Georgetown. This would have been a good place to camp, back beside the big dam but we were looking for a washing machine. We found a spot in one of the 2 van parks in Georgetown and did a large amount of washing that we managed to get mostly dry in between showers.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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