Following the Big Wet - 2011 Trip – Part 18: Flinders River to the Atherton Tablelands.

Monday, Nov 21, 2011 at 14:22


What was meant to be a lazy day quickly became a very busy time beside the Flinders River. There was “housework” to do, taking advantage of plentiful fresh water, dust to be got out of Troopy and photos to be backed up. And there was the river to be explored, or at least the bit of it close to camp.

There were large terraced sand banks along the river each with a row of paperbarks making galleries where it was easy to walk. Getting down from our camp however meant picking a way through the abundant Noogoora Burr, a prolific weed along many inland and tropical rivers. There was a lot of fish activity in the water and we each had a brief, but predictably unsuccessful, attempt at fishing. John could not even remember when he last had a fishing line in his hand, so keen is he on fishing. Wandering around with a camera is more to our liking and this spot offered some good photo opportunities. Even at night John had the tripod out taking shots of the moon reflected off the water.

The rats that we had been seeing near many of our camps for some weeks were still around. We had become used to them, and while we had been careful to keep Troopy’s doors closed they hadn’t caused us any trouble. But when the next morning we found a rat dropping and some nibbled bread just inside Troopy’s back doors there was no option but to empty everything out to make sure the culprit wasn’t going places, or worse still sharing our bed with us. It took a while to do that but we found no further evidence of ratty activity – that rat must have just nipped in and out for a quick nibble then darted back into the bush.

So it was not until mid morning that we were back on the road heading towards Normanton, then east towards Georgetown on the Gulf Development Road. Our plan was to spend the night at a pretty little waterhole east of Georgetown where a few years ago we had had a memorable experience watching a water python as it swallowed a bird (see what happened here). We found the waterhole but cattle had grazed around the pool so it had lost the attractive appearance that we remembered.

As we moved east we were surprised that parts of the country looked quite dry. There were a lot of cattle around, possibly as a result of the ban on the export of live cattle to Indonesia, which was then in place. As many of the roads were unfenced we had to keep a careful watch for cattle beside the road. Many of them had become very accustomed to traffic and barely lifted their heads if they are grazing close to the bitumen.

At Mt. Surprise we took a couple of turns through the spray station. It’s meant to get rid of weed seed, and hopefully that happened, and we were also happy to get rid of a layer or two of red dust. We spent a while there looking at the display of minerals and gems, indulging our recent and perhaps brief enthusiasm for fossicking. We saw a big cluster of purple amethyst from Mt. Isa, now if only…. There was also work going on at the old railway station and signs suggesting that the old line is to be re-opened for tourism. Lets hope so, these old lines have such a lot of history attached to them, it’s a great shame when they fall into disrepair. (Apparently the Savannahlander rail motor does tourist runs along this line - see comments below.)

Just east of Mt. Surprise we turned onto what we thought would be quite a minor track that would take us north to Almaden on the road out to Chillagoe. It turned out to be a road train route (but only at night?) and an alternative route for the Savannah Way so was in good condition, and at least in its southern section there was very little traffic.

The road, which roughly followed the old railway line, took us through some rugged country; there were flowing creeks some of which we stopped to explore. One was flowing very strongly across a concrete causeway and a motorbike rider had come off his bike in the water. We stopped to offer assistance but the support crew seemed to have things under control. Near Burlington we stopped for lunch beside a pretty creek and enjoyed the shade of a huge mango tree.

As we moved north through hilly country there were a lot of roadworks, meaning plenty of trucks and dust. There were some rather beautiful flowering Hakeas but many of the flowers were spoiled by a coating of dust. It was here that we noticed that Troopy’s charging voltages started fluctuating wildly. We had no choice but to stop and found the main fusible link from alternator to battery had succumbed to corrugations. It was broken but making intermittent contact. Fortunately John was able to repair it sufficiently until we could get a replacement.

A little further on we came to a long single lane causeway across a wet swampy stretch beside the Tate River. The causeway was raised a metre or more above the water and curved so that trees prevented seeing the other end. It was single lane and had no side rails – pretty hairy. Fortunately there were no trucks around when we crossed, and despite encountering numerous UHF call points we heard very few trucks radioing ahead. Meeting a road train there would have been more than exciting, and Troopy doesn’t swim!

A side track near the causeway provided an excellent spot to spend the night with plenty of wood for a fire beside the big pools in the river. As we were close to the old railway track and bridge over the river we had the added interest of checking that out as well.

Next day we went into Chillagoe which looked pretty much the same as it did when we were there several years ago. We wanted to have another look at some of the spectacular limestone formations in that area. We also stopped into the old smelter site where a lot of ore from the early days of mining around Mt Isa was sent to be processed. There was a big group of people there but they didn’t look like tourists. A day or two later we heard news that following a site inspection, a proposal to close the smelter site to public access was being considered – presumably we saw the group doing the site inspection. It would be a great pity if yet another piece of history was to be locked away.

Our camp that night was in a lovely spot beside Emu Creek just south of Petford. We had been to the site in pre-GPS days so we had to scout around a bit to re-find it, but it was well worth the effort. The paperbarks were in flower providing a nectar feast for lorikeets and for bats at night. It was quiet and private beside a beautiful pool of clear water.

From there it was an easy drive into Mareeba where we were able to get a new fusible link made up. We found our friends new home on a small rural acreage beside a big irrigation channel. We spent a wonderful time with them catching up, relaxing and doing a bit of exploration in the general vicinity. We had a couple of trips into Atherton and out to Yungaburra admiring the lush productive countryside with its deep red soils and pockets of rainforest. It was very pleasant to be free of dust, enjoying the quiet and to just sit still in one place for a while. We both thought that we could be attracted to living in this lovely country, but all too soon it was time to get ready for the long drive home.

J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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