Following the Big Wet - 2011 Trip – Part 14: Diamantina NP to Mt Isa.

Friday, Nov 04, 2011 at 20:43

Member - John and Val

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We had a bit of driving ahead of us today so we were pleased that the gravel road from the Diamantina NP in to Boulia was in good condition. For much of the distance the road follows watercourses marked as usual by coolabahs and gidgee. Away from the creeks the country is open grassland and flat to gently rolling.

Apart from one homestead there were very few signs of human habitation in the 150km that we travelled into Boulia. As if to emphasise just how few people there are out here, we came across a sign at the boundary of the Boulia Shire giving its area as about 65,000 square kilometres and a population of just 600! Although the age of the sign was unknown, subsequent checking indicates that these figures are not much changed, if anything the present population may be a bit less. That’s an average of one person in every 100 square kms or more!

We stopped for a cuppa where some gidgee gave a bit of shade along a dry creek. We have become accustomed to do routine checks at every stop, something aided by Val’s ability to sniff out stray molecules of petrol or hot plastic. So it was on this occasion that a sniff test revealed some electrical insulation around the fusible link had started to melt. John was able to remove the offending plastic and swathe the part in electrical tape and when all was well we went on our way, with everything apparently working satisfactorily.

We arrived in Boulia about midday and found it to be a neat little town, although being a Sunday it was very quiet. We had hoped to restock our food supplies but the one supermarket was being refurbished and bread was the only item on our shopping list that the roadhouse could supply. So we changed our plans a bit and decided to head up to Mt. Isa for some shopping before we starting to explore in the ranges south of there. We were able to top up our water at the Boulia reservoir. It was painted with murals depicting local scenes and nearby was a huge windmill and dray standing as reminders of the machinery that the pioneers used to open up the country.

The Min Min Encounter Tourist Centre in Boulia is smart and modern, and houses the Min Min Encounter show, a large souvenir shop and an airconditioned café where we enjoyed an excellent lunch – lasagne and salad, the latter being especially welcome as we had not had much fresh food since leaving home.

Back on the road – mostly single lane bitumen - we noticed that the country was gradually changing as we moved north. The plains gave way to low hills, then bigger and more rugged hills. More trees covered the land, but there were desert and plains trees like mulga mixed in with the white barked gums of the hills. And the grass grew taller and thicker. At one stop we found 8 or 10 bicycles discarded in the grass beside the road.

We arrived at Dajarra, an aboriginal community south of Mt. Isa and pulled into the low cost camp area just across the road from the roadhouse. It’s in a disused park and had a few powered sites and a functional but dilapidated toilet and shower block. But the shower was hot and very welcome. We went for a late afternoon stroll around the town and thought about getting a meal somewhere but were discouraged by the high prices. No matter – as we cooked we were entertained by a huge flock of pink galahs roosting in a nearby tree, screeching and squabbling as they jostled for space.

It took half of the next day to drive up to Mt Isa through increasingly spectacular rocky hills. We checked into the Moondarra Caravan Park on the northern edge of town. Pretty soon we had washing loaded into machines, Val had a haircut by a lady resident in the park and then it was back to town for shopping. Mt Isa had grown a lot since we were here last, about 10 years ago. The town has grown up around the mine and the roads fit in between the mine and the hills as best they can - we found the traffic quite chaotic.

There is a canteen at the van park where the many mine workers who live in on-site boxes (dongas) ate and relaxed, and we had an excellent meal there, before spending the rest of the evening online and on the phone catching up with family news.

Next morning was more relaxed as we chatted to neighbours, swapping travel stories. We went out to Lake Moondarra, one of the water supply dams for Mt Isa and the mine. Situated in a scenic setting among rocky hills, it has many picnic and boating areas and a scenic drive that was unfortunately blocked off at a very awkward narrow spot where we had to uncouple the trailer in order to turn around. Signs near the water warned us to be careful to avoid being bitten by mosquitos as they may carry Murray Valley Encephalitis, not something we want to contemplate.

When we were in Mt Isa some years ago we were fascinated by the rugged landscape, by the red rocky hills covered with spinifex and the dry watercourses lined with white barked gums. Through some earlier blogs and forum posts we had “met” Forum member Rockape and learned of his love for this part of the world. So before leaving home we had contacted him and asked for suggestions about places we should see. He most generously sent much helpful information that gave us a great starting points for some exploration in the area that was a bit off the normal tourist trail. He also recommended reading Geoffrey Blainey’s very interesting book “Mines in the Spinifex” that gave us a good insight into the history of mining in the area. This we did, and were amazed that the town had triumphed when every step forward seemed to have been thwarted by drought or politics or human frailty or any number of other challenges. So a big thank you, Rockape for your generous help.

Finally after a bit of last minute shopping and refuelling, and lunch at the lookout where there are great views over the city and the mines, we set off heading south. We had some idea of what we might see and where to go; we hoped that at least we could get a taste of the history attached to names like Duchess, Selwyn and Kuridala.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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