Following the Big Wet - 2011 Trip – Part 12: Birdsville to Diamantina NP

Wednesday, Oct 26, 2011 at 17:36


Next morning we had a brief trip back through Birdsville to the garbage tip to discard oil from Troopy’s last oil change, and admire the mountain of spent tyres, many as new – but for a big hole in the sidewall. Then we turned north past the town’s hot bore water supply and its cooling ponds. We’d learned that the heat from the bore is used to generate some of the town’s electricity – a small but well proven geothermal power plant.

Not far from Birdsville we came to a big area of Acacia peuce, or Waddy Tree, an interesting desert tree with distinctly different juvenile and adult habits. We had previously seen it north of Old Andado, SE of Alice Springs on the other side of the Simpson Desert. So it was time for more photos. We were surprised to see that these trees were spread over a large area, and appeared to be in good condition.

Continuing north along a very good road – a mix of good gravel and sealed sections, our next stop was at the Carcoori ruins.
The small homestead was built in 1877 using local limestone, but now only the roofless shell remains and graffiti covers most walls. Some thoughtful travellers had even seen fit to use it as a toilet stop. The property was once owned by Sidney Kidman who abandoned it in 1906 after severe drought and the death of thousands of cattle. Even in this good year the country here looked very harsh and bare. It would be unimaginably hard when in the grip of drought.

From the homestead we walked a short distance down towards the dry Gidgee lined creek that runs into Carcoori waterhole. It was hard walking as we found large areas undermined by rats. Although the main plague was past, their burrows remained and with every step the ground collapsed under our feet. Driving across the creekline we found a shady spot under a Gidgee for lunch. Close by was the hot bore feeding the waterhole, and more evidence of rat colonies. We kept a good lookout for snakes.

We continued north along the Eyre Development Road, through country that was flat brown and seemingly featureless. So we were surprised when we came across big shallow areas of flood water stretching away into the distance, and at a couple of points it was still across the road. That really emphasised the extent of the recent flooding and the difficulties that it caused to transport.

We were entering the Channel Country, where, in wetter times water has carved a multitude of channels through this usually dry, and very flat, country. We explored part of the flood bypass road around the south of Lake Machattie through part of the 1300 million acre Cluny Station. The road took us across low sand ridges where the intervening swales were green and the plentiful bloodwoods were bending under the weight of their blossoms.

Lake Machattie covers a few hundred square kilometres and is regarded as an important bird breeding area. Now it seemed to be close to full, and looking across it from the top of an adjoining sand dune we could see a water horizon. The cattle gathering around the edge where there was abundant green feed looked in excellent condition, as well they should in this exceptional season.

Returning to the development road and a little further north we encountered the Eyre Creek flood plain and crossed the creek at the Cuttaburra Crossing, a long causeway. There we understood why the Lake Machattie flood bypass was required. Like Cooper Creek, Eyre Creek becomes a major waterway on rare occasions. It picks up the outflow from Lake Machattie, along with water from numerous other waterways in the Channel Country, including the Georgina River, then heads south beyond Big Red, before joining the Warburton Creek/River that discharges into Lake Eyre. The area around the Cuttaburra Crossing was low-lying and swampy and as the road followed Eyre Ck for quite some distance, it would be easily cut by flood waters.

We poked around looking for a campsite, and although there were a number of well used spots on the banks of Eyre Creek they looked as though they might also be home for an army of mosquitoes. Finally near Glengyle homestead we pulled into a lay-by beside the creek for the night. The country was a bit more open, maybe less attractive for mozzies. This spot was far enough away from the road, although we did not expect much traffic during the night. The creek was quite wide and muddy and there were lots of waterbirds, including egrets, herons, darters, ducks and pelicans. Apart from the sound of some cattle in a nearby yard it was very quiet.

Early next morning it was a very different story, as all the birdlife from miles around seemed to be gathered above and around us. Pelicans in formation passed overhead with a loud whoosh whoosh as hundreds of wings beat the air in unison. Nearby hundreds of darters, herons, ducks and other birds splashed and flapped in a feeding frenzy, attracting the attention of the pelican formations, but the water was too congested for the pelicans to land and join in. This amazing sight lasted until the sun was well up when the birds gradually dispersed, leaving us to watch as a couple of feral pigs came down to wallow along the water’s edge.

We needed to continue north to Bedourie to refuel, and as we did so the country became increasingly green and park-like, with big areas of yellow daisies. We came across a big mob of emus, not timid as elsewhere, and content to approach us. Fuelled up we had a quick look around Bedourie which impressed us as a neat little town with a few new houses. The town is the headquarters of the vast Diamantina Shire, and there is a school, medical centre, roadhouse and pool. From there we backtracked to head east on the Diamantina Development Road. We were heading for the Diamantina National Park, a major feature of the Channel Country. This good gravel road took us through flat to undulating bare, brown country, where the only trees were scattered along mostly dry creek-lines. In other places there were big patches of gibbers. In the very flat country we felt as though we were in a big shallow saucer with the land sloping upwards all around us – presumably some sort of optical illusion, but one creating a strange sensation all the same.

About 140 km from Bedourie we turned north at Monkira Station and followed the Diamantina River for over 100km to Davenport Downs, then another 20 km and into the park. For much of this distance the track just skirts the edge of the Diamantina channels across flat open grassland with a fringe of coolabahs to mark the watercourses. Often the track was no more than 2 wheel tracks running through the grass, and there were a few gates to go through. This is black soil country and would quickly become impassable after rain. There was not much wildlife to be seen although we did come across a huge, very fat goanna, probably full of eggs. Close to the Davenport Downs homestead the track crossed the numerous Diamantina channels, over a distance of about 8 kilometres. The main channel was very muddy but flowing surprisingly quickly a few inches deep over the causeway. Like most western rivers the banks were high and steep.

It was past stopping time when we entered the park. The surrounding country was now very open with little shelter, so we simply headed off the track at the first drainage line, where a few shrubs gave some protection from the brisk warm northerly that had been blowing all day. It was still a further 50 km to the headquarters of the Diamantina National Park, so we will keep that adventure for tomorrow.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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