2002 Trip - Kimberley & Kakadu. Part 10 – Mt. Isa to Canberra

Tuesday, Dec 17, 2002 at 11:37


We were surprised to find that the country became even more rugged east of the Mt. Isa, and this landscape continued to Cloncurry where we stopped briefly at the John Flynn center, but didn’t go in as it was almost closing time. So we continued on to McKinlay (population about 30) over flat dry country but with more cattle in evidence. McKinlay’s claim to fame is the Walkabout Creek pub of Crocodile Dundee fame. The pub also runs the local caravan park, so we booked in at the bar, had a beer and eventually found our way to the park. It has good clean facilities, though the designer of the ladies toilets obviously had never actually tried to use them – there was about nine inches between the seat and the door!

We took a couple of photos of McKinlay as we left next morning, of the pub and the main street of corrugated iron buildings. The most imposing structure was the CWA center all built from corrugated iron. Then on to Kynuna and through flat dry country to the Combo Waterhole of Waltzing Matilda fame. There are very few stock to be seen although today we saw emus for the first time on this trip.

There are a couple of tracks going to the Combo parking area – we followed local signs that took us direct from town via the longer route through a property. From the parking area it is a 2.5km return walk to the waterhole. The walk goes across several branches of the Leichardt River (dry), with signs along the way outlining the background to the song. Each of the watercourses is crossed by a rock weir or “overshot” that were built in about 1890 by a contractor using Chinese labourers. They used a traditional Chinese method of packing stones on edge to make a very durable structure. This is another indication of the extent of Chinese involvement, mainly as labourers, in the early years.

Combo Waterhole is a billabong that still has some muddy water in it but its quite low, overhung by coolabahs. There is a plain concrete cairn to mark the spot. While there we chatted to Charlie and Doris who are heading north in a campervan. They gave us information about free campsites where we are heading, and of a good book that lists such information for all states. We also chatted with a young man who is cycling from Nelson Bay to the Arctic Circle in Sweden, taking 18 months to do the trip. We spent about 3 hours at Combo then moved on to Winton then headed towards Longreach. The country is still very dry and some properties are very short of feed, but there are more cattle and sheep around now.
The Darr River camp area is extensive so we are able to get well back from the road, near a railway line. There is plenty of water in the river, and we are lucky enough to find a site with plenty of firewood.

Next day we went into Longreach and the Stockman’s Hall of Fame, which was very busy with tourists. The displays are comprehensive and give an impressive coverage of many aspects of rural life with a principal but not exclusive focus on stockmen. But there is minimal coverage of aboriginal stockmen, and virtually none of other racial or ethnic groups such as the Chinese. There is good coverage of exploration, pioneer stock families and droving. The center has a library open for browsing and an extensive collection of Australiana books for sale. We spent about 3 hours there, which was not enough time to take in all the material, but enough in one go.

From Longreach we headed further down to Ilfracombe where there is a big and impressive collection of old farming equipment spread along the main street. There were some things there that we had never seen before, so we stopped briefly for a closer look at some of it. It is worth another visit as much of it has been well restored and has explanatory signs. From there we came through to Barcaldine, Blackall and found a spot where some others were camped and where we could get fairly well away from the road.

We drove through Tambo – there is a very good amenities block on the south side of the town (even has good paper supplied) with a clean neat park and a wetland. Then on via Augathella to Charleville where we stopped to buy a final lot of meat and veges, and for information at the I center about the road to Bollon. They didn’t know but were very friendly. Charleville impressed us, as do most of the western Queensland towns as being clean and tidy and seemingly image conscious.

We found the Bollon road without any trouble and had lunch a few kilometers out of town. While we were eating a stock truck went by, this turned out to be the only vehicle we saw in the 200kms of that road. The road is wide (except for the grids) with quite a good surface though it would probably be difficult after rain. The country is mostly brigalow scrub though quite a lot of clearing has been done, and we saw one area that had only very recently been chained. Nevertheless this area has a very remote feel to it. There were quite a few emus and kangaroos towards the southern end and along the bitumen approaching Bollon. We also saw cattle and some feral goats.

Bollon welcomes people to camp beside the creek in the town. The creek has water in it and is lined with river red gums, making it a pleasant spot. There is a toilet block nearby, an electric BBQ and hot showers just up the road, all for free. There are a couple of shops where we happily bought a few provisions. Some other towns that we have visited could follow Bollon’s example and actually encourage visitors to stop and spend a few dollars. So our Bollon camp was very satisfactory, even though the night turned chilly towards morning.

We were on the road early and turned off to Dirranbandi just south of Bollon. This road was alternating bitumen and gravel for several kms then sand for about 40kms until we came onto narrow bitumen. This road took us through apparently dense scrub, although often the land had been cleared to about 100m away from the road. There were a lot of big roos about. The country changed from brigalow to pilliga but with big trees, until closer to Dirranbandi when we came into a lot of lignum in floodplain areas. We bought petrol and then went down to Hebel and Lightning Ridge through tough dry country. At Lightning Ridge we headed for the bore baths and spent an hour or so soaking in 40o water. It was almost too hot so we spent more time half out of the water then fully in it. Lunch, then on our way again, after fixing another fuel problem. The country is very dry and we have to watch out for sheep and roos feeding beside the road.

The overnight stopping place listed in the book 30km south of Coonamble turned out to be an historic site right on the road and not suitable for an overnight stop. Fortunately a little further on we found a stretch of road that had wide verges to form a TSR and lots of trees so we were able to find a good site well back from the road. We can just see Siding Springs observatory as a white dot on the Warrumbungles.

We were on the road early with the intention of driving until lunch and then taking a break. Troopy had other ideas, with fuel problems that saw us stopped beside the road, having lunch there, and then waiting for another half an hour to let things cool down. Then we were able to go again – not 100% but well enough to get us home by about 5pm. Its good to be home, after 14,199 kilometres. We left home on 4th June and arrived back on 10th August so after a full 2 months living in and out of Troopie it’s very strange being inside four walls.

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