Reaching the Barkly highway, we were out of opal and gems and into copper/zinc-lead-silver mining country, headed for Mt Isa where Rotary invented the Southern Hemispheres largest rodeo. Offering a side of Mardi Gras and ute muster with your bull riders, I was disappointed we would miss such heady goings-on. Fighting the urge to pick up a couple of R.M. Williams longhorn seat covers, I sought out coffee at a gorgeous restored building. Packed to the ceiling with horse, outback, and mining paraphernalia, warm scones on offer to the refrains of ‘A pub with no beer’ performed live out the back, a genuine Cobb & Co mail-coach, and stabled horses drew me out. The barista had stepped out for lunch, taking with her all knowledge of coffee production. Itineraries and spreadsheets wait for no barista to return, so W set his jaw, and we rolled on.
It was 5pm. Marvelling at the diminishing light falling on Gregory National Park, my driver had the crazed stare one gets after 900km of white lines, and around eight hours of talking-book about time travel and Highlanders in the 1700s. The Widower’s words came back to us as we flew by a sign mentioning a dam. Constructed in 1959, Corella Dam supplied water to the Mary Kathleen Uranium mine. Now decommissioned, it allegedly has a hole in the wall which means it never fills. A largely unoccupied park, free campers spaced themselves 500m from each other, and we felt most when we snagged a spot near the water with a ready-made rock fireplace. “I cannot believe this spot is free!”, I exclaimed excitedly. As the arctic gale blew down the small valley through our campsite toward the water, my chicken dance against flying ember ignition in the parched grass surrounding us, kept me warm. From the house bus perched on the Ridge, Johnny Cash warned of a burning Ring of Fire, and two hardy souls hunkered down in sleeping bags, next to their fishing rods, leaned into the blast that threatened to transform their protective tarp into a magic carpet. I imagined fish caught here would prompt a geiger counter to play Verdi’s Requiem, Dies Irae, but presumably that was the least of their worries.
5am could not arrive sooner. The flappity flap of unsecured tent bits deprived all but the permanently rested of slumber. Alessi came through with a single origin colombian heart starter, and we got the hell out of Dodge.
Renner Springs presented itself in the manner of all roadhouses, at about the time when you have truly reached the limit of your ability to sit contained in a sardine tin, no music in your 1200 strong playlist hits the right note, and crumbed potato and cheese mash with gravy sounds like a well-rounded end to the day. Warmly welcomed at the Roadhouse, we threw up the Taj on the banks of an ornamental pond, eschewing pesky pegs, and paused briefly to admire the craftily silent flotilla of geese. We longed for someone to cook us a meal, and the pub, lined with caps and other clothing items fresh from years of unwashed love, looked like it would make an honest fist of a steak. When the meals arrived, they looked frightened. The seven chips on my plate attempted to conceal themselves under the small grey wedge of barramundi impersonating a jandel*. The slice of tomato, carrot shred, and tablespoon of lettuce spelt a story of eviction from their happy place at the back of the freezer. While these kitchen antics ensued, it was clear W’s steak had been stewing itself silly incorrectly sensing reprieve. It was another beautiful clear night in the Outback.
* also known as thong or flip flop
Two days of unrelenting rain taught us many new things about the camper trailer, and how folded bits of canvas are actually flexible swimming pools, overflowing at the precise moment your neckline presents a waterfall opportunity.
In Carnarvon Gorge National Park campground, ‘Van owners toiled without merit at the most popular and time-consuming daytime van-owner activity: Cleaning the Van. Brows furrowed at the campfire over the misleading advice that they would easily enter the park without 4WD capabilities, and plans made to leave just as soon as Brian finished cleaning the spare tyre with a toothbrush, so that they may bask once again in the blinding white exterior of their mobile home.
A pre-breakfast wander up the Rock Pool made me appreciate afresh the abundance of palms and cycads, and a desire to create all manner of craft out of the beautifully textured palm leaf casings that littered the forest floor.
Leaving Carnarvon, we made our way up to Emerald and joined the Capricorn Highway, so named for it follows the Tropic of Capricorn. Excited by campfire tips exchanged with a ten year old girl tenaciously seeking a spark among the rain soaked ashes, I planned to be driving when we passed Australia’s largest collection of dinosaur fossils at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs. It wasn’t to be. Rustic gem shops and attractions flew by as W fixed his steely gaze on the odometer and wordlessly expressed a mandate that given my ambitious list of target destinations filling my master excel spreadsheet, there would be no spontaneous stopovers for anything bling-related.
I had read about a riverside ‘free-camp’ in the town of Jericho, and the Grey Nomads forum was all over it. Finding a spot right on river, late afternoon, I was delirious in sunshine. The adjacent Nomad collective invited us to their campfire, and light banter about fishing and fire-making ability ensued. After a spell, a man travelling on his own with an immaculate car and ‘van, systems, levers, and pulleys for everything, and an aged dog invited himself to join our lively throng. Within twenty minutes he managed to insert references to ‘the Vietcong, Abbos, Swamp Arabs, refugees, how the Krauts have ruined free camping for everyone, French backpackers called Mr Zippy, and a great free camp up the line we should stop at’. Being guilty of over-zealous tent zipping action myself I fell silent, pondering the Pauline Hanson factor and how it seemed endemic to campgrounds Australia-wide. He didn’t say, but I think the man was a widower, possibly widowed within the last year, and I felt compassion for him. I surmised his trip has started with his wife, and he was now very lonely, with fearful and angry views that may find favour with some, but would alienate many. As the thrum of generators lulled us to sleep, I concluded sadly that he would never change.
Clapping eyes on our camper trailer for the first time since W bought it over the phone a couple of months earlier from ebay, we were thrilled! A briefing, a hook up, and we were off, Perth bound, via Kakadu. Four or so weeks of camping ahead, and around 14000km.
Navigating Brisbane to find an outdoor shop, organic store, grass-fed ruminant butcher, and supermarket where you can actually park a car and trailer provided greater challenge than what lay beyond the city bounds. Exhausted by it all, we decided a rest in Noosa would be good use of our first day. A trip to the outdoor store two more times had the trailer fitted out with the first of many improvements to come.
Turns out Noosa camp grounds are in high demand, and wedging ourselves into the last spot at a caravan park some km’s down the road, plugged in the trailer to fire up the fridge and freezer Engels, and headed to the happening end of Noosa town. The quaint little cafes and bars I recall from a trip a few years ago were gone, a row of chain stores in their place. Ending up at the potentially fabulous sounding tapas bar down the road, surrounded by 20 year olds, we gave thought to our itinerary. A jug of sangria meant we got as far as deciding to stay one more night in outer Noosa. We were off to a flying start.
The caravan park palm trees alone were worth staying for.
The Hayman trip netted a couple more images, and my usually eventful experience obtaining them.
3am. Rustling about in the underbrush of the gorgeous tropical plants that are a foreign notion in the frosty clime of my backyard, I was leapt on by an unattractive toad of the cane variety. As my eyes adjusted to the light I became aware of its many friends including some that were piggy-backing each other. Ironically when all of this dawned on me, I found myself leaping aside, toad-like, to avoid testing the crush power of my jandal.
Finding a hole in the conspiracy of dense vegetation that stretches skyward, I spy Orion’s belt (the pot), just before the recycled water system gives me a thorough dosing. A vision of the island’s water treatment station flashes into mind, eclipsing my cane toad issues.
The pictures I’ve got from this trip have a 70’s quality to me, reminding me of those outdoor scenes you could wallpaper your living room wall with, or 70’s nightclubs in L.A. Perhaps it is the colours? The cheesy quality? Perhaps it’s just the palms.
Hayman Island seems to favour the wind powered sports. A roaring gale from sun-up mixed with the low tide estuary-style beach has me re-experiencing my Canterbury University days windsurfing on the Estuary near Sumner in Christchurch. The wind makes for a lot of movement in the foliage over my long night exposures, and it is lovely to be taking photos of a very different kind of vegetation to my usual. I am amazed at how green the results are – no freaky colours like other times.
Another sawn-off branch – like the one in Daylesford! Love the mix of soft movement in the light foliage, and sharpness in the more rigid trunks.