The Dig Tree to Birdsville (via Cordillo Downs) - "A thousand dollar day"

Tuesday, May 31, 2005 at 00:00

Mick O

Tuesday 31st May, 2005
Birdsville Queensland
“The thousand dollar day”.

Why is it that the older we get, the more we feel the need to prove that we are in fact, “Rebels without a pause”. So it was during the night with our nearest neighbours, who despite dripping with the trappings of the retired (Seniors cards laminated & hanging around their necks like a backstage pass to a Burl Ives concert), and being some 150 metres distant, felt the need to prove that they were the baddest, meanest and noisiest pensioners “in da hood“! For a moment I thought I heard shades of a classic Kulkyne camp Olsen-Stewart Canasta night with muffled cries of “Open bloody misere, you cheating bastard”, but actually it translated to “open another cask of red you cheap bastard”. And…..they did! They also felt obliged to play their favourite snippets from the 2005 Tamworth Country and Music Festival at full volume. It left both me and the ghosts of Bourke and Wills shuddering. Thankfully at 11.30-ish they desisted just before I was about to confront them butt-naked and bearing a broom and zyloom glow stick. Now wouldn’t that have been a sight!

I refrained from returning the favour at 5.30 a.m. as it was still just a tad chilly. Again a magnificent sun rise over the Cooper, Galahs and Corellas screeching a noisy welcome to the new day. No cooking this morning due to the paucity of firewood. After breakfast and pack up we inspected Bourke and Wills ill-fated Camp 65, the dig tree and the ROH carving. Although my 6th visit to the site over the years (twice in the last 6 months), the poignancy and ill fortune of the saga is never lost on me. Never have the tides of misfortune and lost opportunity played so poor a hand than that dealt to Mssrs Bourke and Wills (and King and Gray).


The 14 km trip back out to the main road was spent listening for any new rattles, thumps or scrapes to determine if anything else had fallen off or had worked its way loose. Other than a screw found on the cabin floor, everything sounded more or less O.K.
The main road wound its way north across gibber plains and through the Saint Ann Range. These low, worn mesa’s offered a couple of good photo opportunities and gave an insight into just how eroded the surrounding country side has become over the untold millennia. The road was again in a very poor condition, rutted and corrugated. After some 40 km, the country side changed to the red dunes. The road narrowed becoming nothing more than a wind blown track covered in sand and a sparse offering of plant life. This dune country continued all the way to “Arrabury” station and over the stretch of 120 kilometres or so, it became evident that even the HEMA maps have some serious updating to do. There were several glaring discrepancies namely a duck across the border into South Australia and a major sign posted road running off to the right to “Cooks Well”.

Although sandy, the road surface was a tad more user friendly than the gibber although you had to watch for the “rolling” sections that sent you bucking like a fair ground ride. On reaching the Cordillo Road intersection some 5 km past Arrabury, we turned left and backtracked the 20 or so kms to the Cordillo Homestead turn off. Again the road plunged through impressive dry creek beds and past vivid red dunes. There pockets of bulldust were becoming more prolific and deeper in perfect correlation with the increasing height of the surrounding dunes. The trailer was often obscured by sheets of thick dust thrown up between it and the vehicle. Tonight’s set-up revealed that the trailer remains impressively dust-proof.

There are 5 creek crossings within the first 2 km of the Cordillo Downs Road. Let this be an omen for the driver for at 90 km and 59 crossings later, one is truly weary of them. This number does not include rills, runnels, wash-aways or minor drainage ditches. It is creek-beds defined by trees and shrubbery. They come in all sizes from the almost flat, to deep and defined. Sandy, rocky, dust and clay, we saw the lot. Thankfully all dry. You really know you are in the midst of the Diamantina catchment area. The amount of runoff from the gibber must be phenomenal in the wet.

Cordillo downs has grown somewhat since my last visit. The old homestead has been supplemented with several new dwellings, sheds and outbuildings. It still sits starkly atop a small ridge overlooking a lot of nothing.The woolshed is still open to the public but it just didn’t seem as grand or imposing as I remembered it.

With more creek crossings and endless gibber to be had, the boredom was broken just before 1.00 pm with a retort like that of a rifle. One glance backwards in the rear view mirror told me that it was indeed the painful and expensive sound of the rear windscreen bleep tering due to rock strike. Very ugly indeed. Here I was without a scrap of “hundred mile an hour tape” and a rear windscreen bleep tered into a thousand pieces and threatening to collapse inwards at any moment. What was I to do. Naturally with the skills honed by years in the bush I stopped….for a cup of tea and a think. My options. Use the sticky bandages from the first aid kit to bolster the glass or continue gingerly onwards and pray it held for the 180 km to Birdsville. Option ‘B’ was the only real choice. I’m still to figure where the stone came from as it was at an impossibly low angle. I’m thinking front left wheel into rollbar and deflect into window is the most credible option. Ah the misfortunes of the off-road explorer. That’s why today is a “thousand dollar day”!

Thankfully after the 130 km mark, the road lifted onto a higher plateau above the gibber. The road condition improved markedly and there was little in the way of hazard to concern me. Even the number of creek crossings dwindles away to nothing. It wasn’t long before we passed the Cadelga Station ruins, skirted Moonda Lake and met the Birdsville Developmental Road 122 km east of Birdsville. From here on in it was all super highway. God have they pout some effort into this road. Those big troublesome dune crossings just prior to Birdsville that I always remembered fondly are gone. They’ve cut through them and deposited the local white gravel in lead-up ramps and all. Hardly a challenge and the windscreen held till I hit town, the service station and purchase of gaffer tape. Another shock. Diesel is only $1.17 per litre. Still with the low fuel indicator glowing incandescently for the last 45 km into town, I wouldn’t have cared whatever the price (it took 68.5 litre to fill…not bad for a 70 litre tank!).

Booked into the local caravan park where I began checking for vehicle faults. Taped the rear windscreen and then refitted the rear trailer mount and plug. Everything else appears Ok to the amateur eye. Made very good use of the facilities doing a load of washing and then washing the track dust from ones body. Dinner was had at the Birdsville pub along with a refreshing beverage or two before retiring to the Caravan Park for the Journal update. It’s nice to have 240v power to recharge things.

Noticed a sea change in many of the remote outback spots in that there are heaps of young people managing, working or owning the local facilities.Tibooburra, Cameron’s Corner, Innamincka and indeed Birdsville. Never a crusty old sole behind the bar or counter, rather a young 20 something from Sydney or Finland! Funny isn’t it. I’m still pondering why.
''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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