Thursday, 3 August 2017

Winton and Hughenden - dinosaurs and fossils

Somehow on all our outback trips we seem to visit Winton. It's a small outback town in mid-west Queensland and every time we visit it seems to us to be the quintessential Aussie outback town. It is also home to the absolutely amazing "Age of Australian Dinosaurs" museum.
Peter loves spending a couple of days in their Lab scraping away the rock and earth which encases the bones of these pre-historic animals, and the whole set-up now is much more than a museum and if anyone is interested I urge you to have a look at their webpage -

Winton itself claims to be the home of the Australian song "Waltzing Matilda" as the words were written by Australian poet, Banjo Paterson, when visiting Winton in 1895. There was a quite wonderful museum dedicated to this song in Winton which sadly burnt down several years ago. It is now being re-built to a new, big and very swish design and hopefully will replace the old as many artifacts were able to be rescued from the fire. The locals have mixed feelings about the new design and some feel it will be a bit 'citified' for this laid-back, outback country town. Time will tell.

Locals are friendly and always up for a chat.
One is the elderly owner of Searles - a store that sells a wide variety of goods. Bernie Searle has worked in the store founded by his father in 1946 for 65 years. One eye-catching feature is a display of old Australian hats - mostly the traditional Akrubra - that certainly all had been much loved and worn for many years. Bernie noticed my interest and was happy to yarn about his big trip to Sydney and his invitation to attend the book launch of a beautiful 'coffee-table' book devoted to the Akrubra hat. Bernie and his store even featured in the book being long-time retailers of these hats. He didn't think much of Sydney, he said, too noisy and too many people and he was glad to get back to Winton after his city outing.

The town, as well as dinosaurs, also has digs for boulder opal and of course there are stores where you can buy opal either in the 'rough' or polished and mounted in beautiful designs. In one shop I heard a Canadian accent and got to chatting with another overseas visitor - they were from Saskatchewan and so we had a lovely talk about our trip there and Rouleau, the town we visited, where "Corner Gas" (Canadian television comedy) was filmed.

Winton has a Musical Fence! (You read that correctly!). It was designed by percussionist and composer Graeme Leak in 2003 and is a wire fence that can be played as a musical instrument and it is the first permanent musical fence installation in the world. Nearby is a 'drum kit' made of all sorts of metal rubbish - but it is surprisingly good to bang about on it.

We enjoyed our stay in Winton but then we always do! Moving on our next stop was Hughenden, for a few days - again this outback town is in 'dinosaur and fossil' country and it has an extremely good and well presented museum relating the history of the district both ancient and modern.

The friendly staff there were all dog lovers and urged us to bring Charley in too and they gave him a lovely welcome. We're quite sure all the admiration he attracts will quite go to his head.

We went fossil hunting just outside the town and after a short time to our surprise, Peter found one - a Belemnite and only about 65 million years old.  Absolutely thrilled with our find and so, on our way back we called in to see the Porcupine Gorge - quite a spectacular 'gash' in the surface of the earth and a very fine sight.

Next we continued travelling east with the next stop - Charters Towers.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Blackall and Longreach

Had a couple of nights in Blackall on our way to Longreach. Must say we are always impressed at how these small outback towns promote themselves and make the most of any natural and/or historic attractions. At Blackall there is a restored Wool Scour that is quite remarkable. It is the only one left now that Australia no longer 'rides on the sheep's back'. We're still a major sheep country, but all shorn fleece is now shipped to China for the necessary washing and scouring. The Blackall Wool Scour used hot water from the Artesian Basin along with a mighty steam engine to power the whole works. It was fully restored some years ago and is carefully maintained and quite a wonder to see just how efficient was that old technology. In its day tens of thousands sheep were brought here to be shorn with their fleece graded and processed at the same place. It was baled and loaded into a branch railway line to join up with the main line down to Brisbane for shipping.

We had a lovely day out looking over this Wool Scour and with the open grounds with a small mob of sheep - and one goat - Charley also was most interested.

Next town was Longreach, where we also stayed for a few days. 
An original Qantas hangar.
The town has two major attractions - firstly the wonderful Qantas Founders' Museum. The Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service (Qantas) was founded in 1920 in Winton and moved its headquarters the following year to Longreach. It has an award winning, world-class museum and cultural display, with interative displays and videos, etc., to tell the history of our national airline. It also has on display a de Havilland DH-61 Giant Moth, de Havilland DH-50, and Avro 504K Dyak; Quantas' first aircraft as well as some more modern craft like a Catalina and a massive Boeing 747. Well worth visiting.

Secondly, the town has the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame - a massive complex detailing much of the work of Australia's early outback settler families and the essential work of the stockmen/drovers on those vast cattle stations (ranches to non-Australians). 
Beautiful old Longreach Railway Station
The vast view from the Lookout
One day we drove about half and hour out of town where, in the middle of nowhere (it seems) is a mesa (jump-up) called Captain Starlight's Lookout. It's named after a bushranger character in Rolf Boldrewood's novel "Robbery Under Arms". 

There's no pathway but a very rough, rocky way to the top. It took about 15 minutes to scramble up - but in that time Charley was up and down about 4 times. The view from the top was well worth it - in any direction.

Three days is not long enough in Longreach!

Staying an extra few days gave us time to wash off some outback dust from our car and van and also do the essential clothes wash, too.

We had a final dinner at the local pub Bistro, and next morning, packed up and were on our way again.  

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Quilpie to Charleville

We had an overnight stop at Quilpie on our way to Charleville. Quilpie is a nice, neat little town and the caravan park was spacious and had very good facilities – this includes an artesian bore which provided a very welcome hot outdoor spa for travellers – especially me! Nicely refreshed later that evening we walked out – with Charley – to the local pub for our evening meal which had an outdoor area for eating. It didn’t mind a well behaved dog waiting patiently for any little treats which might accidently fall from the table.

Next morning it was only a few hours’ drive to Charleville – a town we have visited before and like very much. It has quite a range of interesting sights – these range from a wonderful observatory (the night sky in this outback area is quite brilliant), a Bilby Experience (a small, cute but endangered Australian mammal), a drive through of a once secret WW2 American Airforce Base and a wonderful, huge old hotel built in the 1930s by a Greek immigrant Harry Corones. Before all that it was an important stop in droving days when the cattle were walked hundreds of miles to the railhead here to be loaded on trains for the Brisbane market.

All during the past few weeks while travelling through the Channel Country and further north into Queensland, I have been reading ‘Kidman – the Forgotten King’ (J Bowen, 1987) a biography of Sir Sidney Kidman who, in the late 1890s and the first half of the 1900s, built up an extensive empire by cattle dealing, droving and buying properties throughout this area. He ended up either owning or leasing more land than anyone else in the British Commonwealth and his cattle sales were legendary. It’s an incredible story and it is so interesting to think that he knew this land that we are travelling through very well and, in fact, owned so much of it.

The park we stay at is one of the friendliest camp and several times a week the proprietors offer a campfire dinner – You pay $19 each, byo chairs, plates, cutlery and drinks, and share in a delicious slow cooked dinner of beef stew and vegetables followed by Apple Sponge and billy tea. A delicious meal and nice to sit and talk to other campers by a lovely warm campfire.

Curious kangaroos near the old airbase.
We renewed our memory of past visits to Charleville by touring around the town and calling in at various places – the observatory, the Royal Flying Doctor base, Bilby Centre and the quite lovely old Railway Station. During the war over three and a half thousand soldiers/airmen manned a secret American Air Base here - and it was huge - and very top secret. It was based here because it was too far for enemy fighters to reach, but could safely maintain planes to despatch to northern bases. Over two hundred and fifty bombers left Charleville (refuelling at Charters Towers) enroute to the Battle of the Coral Sea. Only about 210 made it back.

Original decor of the very big public bar.

Lounge area (with open fire) of the old hotel.
After some housekeeping – the eternal washing and grocery shopping, then a lunch at the re-opened Corones Hotel, we were on our way again this time to Blackall on our way to another favourite place – Longreach.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Tibooburra and Noccundra

We rolled into Tibooburra, checked in at the local service station cum supermarket and booked into the only van park in this very old mining settlement. It is a popular place for small prospectors to come in the winter months with their gold detectors but there are some permanent prospectors who live here all year. This very small town has the reputation of being the hottest place in New South Wales but is beautifully comfortable in wintertime.
The very effective town sign with silhouettes of early settlers.

We quite like these small outback parks because as long as your dog is well behaved, they don't mind if he is off-leash - which certainly makes for a happy dog. Charley has proved to be a wonderful 'ice-breaker', as everyone, it seems, loves Border Collies and stops for a pat and then stays for a long chat.

Peter went off one day with Charley and his metal detector whilst I stayed at the van with a book and my knitting. Unfortunately when he returned - no gold nuggets yet. There's not a lot of attractions in Tibooburra, but we were told that pizza night at the local pub was the place to go on Sunday evening. While waiting for our order, we overhead a young family at the next table speaking in a foreign language. Peter guessed Sweden, and was proved right later when I started chatting with them. This Swedish couple were here in Australia for a year. He was a doctor working for the NSW Air Ambulance out of Sydney and Orange. This is similar to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, but for more urban areas nearer the coast. They had some leave so had come to see the 'outback' - and you can't get more outback than Tibooburra. No television reception (only with a satellite dish).

Cameron Corner with the Dog Fence
Next day we drove to Cameron Corner - the very remote spot where the corners of Queensland and New South Wales meet the border of South Australia. It is about a 300 kilometre round trip, and the road through the Sturt National Park not only has plenty of kangaroos and emus but has some wonderful scenery and from the top of the escarpment it was just breathtaking. On reaching the Corner, who did we meet but the Swedish family once again.

At Cameron Corner you can see the Dingo Fence or Dog Fence which is a pest-exclusion fence that was built during the 1880s and finished in 1885, to keep dingoes out of the relatively fertile south-east part of the continent (where they had largely been exterminated) and protect the sheep flocks of southern Queensland. It is one of the longest structures in the world and is the world's longest fence - around three thousand, five hundred miles long!

Back at Tibooburra a walk around the town showed us some interesting spots - even a small very rustic drive-in cinema (not in use) and a replica of the whaleboat which explorer Charles Sturt in 1844 brought up from Adelaide with his expedition believing he would find an inland sea. He finally gave up and abandoned the boat here in Tibooburra.

Also on display is a massive very ancient fossilised tree trunk found and excavated locally.

Moving on and checking road conditions, the next stop on our trip was an overnight free-camp on the banks of the Wilson River at Noccundra.

There is no town as such just a pub with a few motel units, fuel bowsers and alongside public showers and toilets. These latter facilities are used by the free-campers who like to stay by the river about half a kilometre away. Campers have to be self-reliant - there is no power or drinking water and you're definitely out of mobile phone range. No television either!

However you have a riverside spot with birdsong, peaceful and beautiful - and at night a campfire to sit around with stars above that are just brilliant.

Travelling on next day to Quilpie on our way to Charleville.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Whitecliffs, Broken Hill, Milparinka

Travelling further north, we came to Whitecliffs - a small opal mining community - and set up in the caravan park there for four days. While Peter was most interested in the mining of opal and a little fossicking, I was content to sit with a book or knitting when he joined a Mine tour one day.
Looking down at Whitecliffs
Red Earth Goldmine shop and tour

Pioneer children's cemetery

Whitecliffs has a constant changing population of campers who come - sometimes for several months in winter months - to fossick for opal in areas surrounding the settlement. There is a pub, a petrol station and a very small general store but not a lot else going for it. A 4 litre bottle of milk and a loaf of bread cost me a staggering $14.50, so I think the owners take advantage of the remoteness of the town to make a good profit.

One night we went to the local Sporting Club for their weekly 'roast dinner'. $20 each gave us a bowl of Pumpkin Soup, followed by either Chicken or Corned Silverside with white sauce, plus vegetables. Not really a roast dinner, but it certainly filled us up. Seated nearby was a roughly dressed man I took to be a truck driver however when he began speaking he had a soft South African accent. Hugh had been born there, went on to University and was now a Professor and lectured and advised on Arid Land Management. We had an interesting discussion about his birthplace and spoke of some of the places we had visited in Africa in 20..

Peter & Charley at the Line of Lode lookout
Leaving White Cliffs we drove to Broken Hill for a short stay. There we stocked up on groceries, did some washing and revisited some places we had seen on a prior visit. I love our old architecture and stopped to take some photos in the main street. Visited the Line of Lode lookout, drove past the delightful 1950s styled Bell's Milkbar and waved as we sailed passed artist Pro Hart's gallery and said a silent 'hello' when I glimpsed my Scottish grandmother's Lang family's (James Lang & Son) massive industrial lathe still on display at the Railway Museum.   (All of these were visited four years ago on a much longer visit to Broken Hill).

Argent Street, Broken Hill

Torpy's Store in Argent Street

Such an extravagant Trades Hall.
Leaving we drove along the Silver City Highway with a brief stop at Packsaddle whose roadhouse was one of the best we had seen - clean, tidy and welcoming.
Packsaddle Roadhouse dining room.
Onwards then, to our next stop which was to be a Stationstay (camping on an outback farming property).
The countryside near Theldarpa
It was Theldarpa Station and it took quite a few hours along some rough roads to get there. Unfortunately, when we phoned the owner, he was most apologetic saying he and his family were in Brisbane for a couple of weeks. However he did tell us where to set up, find power, water and showers and toilets in the Shearers' quarters. We enjoyed the wide open spaces there, but with no-one around, we only stayed one night and headed back along the long unmade road to Tibooburra stopping around midday for a good look around the historic own goldfields town of Milparinka - a remote and very dry area.
Milparinka's old Courthouse (left) and Police Station
The old Police Lock-up with original doors.

This was once the main town for the Albert goldfields from the 1880s to the early 1920s. I quote from the Albert Goldfields information sheet: "Most of those who rushed to the new fields of the Albert Gold District were ill prepared for the conditions. They started, with their picks and shovels and Miner's Right, on a journey of more than 300 kilometres into an area only recently explored, and described by [Explorer] Sturt as 'stoney, waterless waste'. Once there they set up their tents or built a hut, pegged their claim and set to work". Being so remote, "...miners ran out of food and were starving". Eventually a string of camels were loaded with food and provisions and sent. The cameleers were predominantly Afghani, and provided the settlement for many years. Interestingly most of the deaths were either due to scurvy (later Chinese grew vegetables in market gardens and so prevented many deaths), or, surprisingly, to drowning (flash flooding in some years). A really interesting place to visit and learn some of its history. Next stop Tibooburra (another town in the goldfield area).

Friday, 23 June 2017

2017 Caravan Travels - with Charley

Our trip this year began last Tuesday with our caravan all loaded up, the car newly serviced and everything set up for an expedition to warmer climes to the north of Australia. With our Border Collie dog, Charley with us we headed north from Hastings in Victoria and had our first overnight stop at Deniliquin in New South Wales.

Next day was warmer after a very chilly night and gradually throughout the drive the sky cleared and in mid afternoon we arrived at Ivanhoe (central-west NSW). Now we were in typical outback territory - very flat landscape and ochre coloured soil. We checked in at the small caravan park that we had stayed in several years ago hoping to continue north to Whitecliffs. That time we had heavy rain and the road was closed which meant a very long drive back to Hay and then over to join the Kidman Way to go north.

This time we were luckier - no rain! Not long after we set up, another van pulled in and of course we had a chat with Sully and Wendy - also retirees enjoying their travels. Sully had worked on the railways and liked a beer and a talk. Over the road we went to the local pub for dinner that night - fantastic fish and chips, so a good start to our trip.

Next day, Sully and Wendy headed off to Menindee Lakes and we continued north to Wilcannia. We have stopped here for a couple of nights as we have a great spot by the Darling River with wide open spaces and plenty of room for Charley to run around  without a lead. There are some very old, massive river gums here, but with signs saying 'Limbs may fall' we have been careful not to park beneath them.

There is also a nice little stone weir just upstream with a few pelicans and herons waiting patiently for a fish feed.

Wilcannia is a small town with a large Aboriginal population with just the basic post office, garage workshop, police station, small supermarket, etc. The one popular spot for tourists is a small, attractive coffee shop with indoor and outdoor seating. Dogs are welcome in the outdoor setting, so with a nice cappuchino, we chatted to a young family nearby about dogs. Charley is always an attraction and conversation starter.

At one time it must have been quite a prosperous locality going by a few very substantial buildings dating from around the 1880s. There is also a very large Catholic Convent here that has long since been abandoned with massive damage at one end. There is a sign saying 'This Heritage building is due to be repaired and restored in 2012/13'. Somehow, sadly, I think it has been forgotten!

Tomorrow, we'll head on up to Whitecliffs where there is opal mining, so a good look around that area is planned.