Following the Big Wet - 2011 Trip – Part 17: Fossicking and moving north.

Saturday, Nov 19, 2011 at 21:24


We had only gone a couple of kilometres along the track to the amethyst fossicking area when we met a vehicle coming out. We stopped for a chat and to check that we were on the right track. The driver was a regular fossicker and warned us that the track became rough in places with some bad side slopes and steep creek crossings. He seemed a bit concerned that a couple of tourist types towing a trailer might not make it, and warned that we would have the place to ourselves as no-one else was out there.

We continued on and found that, as we were warned, the track was a bit rough and steep in places – there were big wash-outs down a steep hillside, and one dry creek crossing had quite a sharp exit. Definitely a high clearance 4WD track, so Troopy (who has close to 25 years experience in these matters) just took it all slowly and made the journey without any dramas. The fossicking area was marked with some signs. It runs along a dry creekbed and up onto the surrounding ridges. There were a couple of roughly level spots used as camping areas, so we dropped the trailer at one and drove up onto the ridge. That was a fairly steep climb, and mindful that we were alone in a rather out-of-the-way spot, Troopy was doubly careful.

We had a bit of a recce on foot, enough to impress upon us that we knew nothing about fossicking. Still the rocks were interesting and there were enough bits of pale amethyst lying around to whet our appetites and decide that tomorrow we would at least have a go at fossicking. Amethyst is quartz of a pink to purple colour due to iron impurities. It has the same dramatic crystal shape as quartz, although the local crystals had a fairly pale colour.

Back at camp it was time to prepare for the night and after a long hot day a shower was very welcome. Not so welcome was our inability to log in to the VKS-737 sked. Our HF radio was not transmitting. We don’t rely on such technology, but it is nice that someone knows where we are when off the well beaten track.

Next morning was unexpectedly cool, perfect for a bit of fossicking. Armed with an old rock hammer we set off. The whole area was a warren of holes, some little more than surface scratches and shallow pits, others quite substantial holes, deep and narrow where enterprising fossickers who knew what they were doing followed a vein into the rock. We found (and returned when finished) a more suitable tool – a metal pole with a hook on the end. But despite this our inexpert pokings and scratchings were to no avail, although we were able to pick up a few bits of broken crystal that were lying around. Still we had given it a go, and had learned that serious fossicking would require a deal of skill, patience, endurance, and at least a rough idea of how to proceed! By the time the sun was hot on our backs we decided that we weren’t cut out to be fossickers and decided to move on.

Our journey back to Kuridala was uneventful, having safely negotiated the washouts and sideslopes on the track. The gravel road was dusty and corrugated so we were pleased to be back on bitumen at Malbon, a tiny village that has seen better days. From Malbon north the road passed through some very hilly and scenic country, until just west of Cloncurry we reached the Barkly Highway and turned east for the short run into town.

We refuelled, had a look around town then decided to find a caravan park and stay the night. The Cloncurry Oasis Caravan Park is on the highway and the unpowered sites are right at the front so we were exposed to the constant rumble of road trains and other heavy vehicles. Despite that there was plenty of shade and interesting company in the unpowered section. The same could hardly be said for some of our caravan-based neighbours. One man, our vintage, conveyed quite clearly that he didn’t want to even say g’day to the scruffy denizens of the unpowered sites. He was totally preoccupied with washing and polishing his van and car, an activity that lasted literally for hours. We wondered why some people bothered to go travelling.

Which brought us to a decision point about our own travel plans that we had been mulling over for a while. Our original plan was to continue north to Normanton and from there head west around the Gulf of Carpentaria, somewhere we haven’t been so far. But although we were only about half way through the 3 months we had allocated for the whole trip, we were starting to feel travel weary, and tired of contending with dust and corrugations. And we had pretty much done what we set out to do – see the inland parts of the eastern states after last summer’s heavy rain.

We knew that if we stuck to our original plan we would encounter more corrugations, and that we would risk not enjoying that part of the trip as much as we would if we were feeling fresher. So a change of plans was in order. We have some dear friends on the Atherton Tablelands whom we hadn’t seen for far too long, so that was where we decided to go, and from there we would have a leisurely trip home.

But first we would continue up towards Normanton. We had been there before but had not driven the Burke Development Road. It turned out not to be the most scenic route but as it is mostly sealed – albeit with lengthy single lane bitumen sections - it is a route much used by caravans. It passes through mostly flat open country, with just a few rocky hills to break the monotony, and it was difficult to find a bit of shade when we stopped for a cuppa.

But very gradually we noticed the country changing as we went north. The spinifex and gum trees gave way to tropical savannah with tall grass, blue leaved mallees and occasional patches of kapok trees covered with their brilliant yellow flowers. Paperbarks lined the watercourses and there were dense patches of smallish termite mounds.

We made good time and by mid afternoon we were looking for a camp for the night. The few sites listed in our books were just bare bays right beside the road, not our thing at all. We noticed that we were approaching a bridge over the Flinders River and as we crossed over we caught sight of campers and tracks leading off. So once again we went exploring and found a maze of tracks and well used campsites beside a section of the old road that crossed over a weir where people were fishing for barramundi. After a bit of searching and with Troopy’s go-anywhere approach we found a great campsite well away from the road and other campers, up on a high bank overlooking the river. This was totally unexpected, one of those serendipitous finds that makes travelling and camping so special.

The big waterhole backed up behind the weir was lined with paperbarks and large fish scales and turtle shells evidenced that others had feasted here. We will stay here for a day or so, catch our breath and plan the rest of our trip.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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