Published: August 1st 2006July 23rd 2006
Sing-along around the camp-fire. The warmth was very welcome. It was still in the low single figures at night.
The road to Dalby from Murwillumbah is standard expressway for most of the distance. Only after Toowoomba does it start to get interesting. The early part of the journey goes via the Gold Coast, a much over-rated tourist region of high-rise hotels and enormous houses on artificial canals created by real estate developers in order to separate Victorian retirees from their money (for the geographically challenged, Victoria is a southern state of Australia). Shortly before reaching Brisbane, the road west turns off from the main highway and starts to meander its way across the Brisbane basin towards the Darling Downs.
As British people know, all true Downs are really up. Toowoomba, at the edge of the Darling Downs, is 400 metres straight up from the Lockyer Valley. It is the last major town before the road heads off across the Great Dividing Range towards the true Australian Outback. Known as the Garden City, Toowoomba's major claim to fame at the moment is that it is rapidly running out of water (as are most Australian towns and cities) and the town council have proposed recycling waste water to supplement the dam supply. Not very controversial for those who live in Europe
This little hall is in the middle of nowhere.
where this is done almost as a matter of course, but enough to cause total outrage in the local community which has demanded that the matter be put to a referendum - “Say No to drinking sewage”! (30th July - as a matter of interest, the “No” vote won).
The Warrego Highway between Toowoomba and Dalby is mostly two lanes with limited overtaking opportunities. Even so, it is possible to average about 90 kph as the road is so straight that you can see for miles. The terrain is flat and uninteresting. The main crops in the region are grains and cotton with some sheep and cattle also farmed. It is one of the few places in the world where both winter and summer crops are grown in the same soil.
About 80 kilometers west of Toowoomba, Dalby is at the centre of this agricultural activity. A small town of about 10,000 people, it bestrides the Myall River and is noted for its museum collection of early model tractors and other agricultural machinery from the area's pioneering days. For Sylvia and I, it was most notable for the camp-fire in the caravan park where we stayed - when
The guilty party of the story. There are only a few left these days but once they grew so thickly that the land was inaccessible.
the night temperature is around the zero mark a fire is very welcome - and the remarkably good food in the pub next door to the van park.
We have just about got the knack of setting up and pulling down the camper-trailer and have gained a few bruises and cuts along the way. So far there have been no major mishaps. Just lots of bandaids (Syl).
The next leg of our journey was from Dalby to Roma. The highway is still pretty good but this is the territory of road trains. For those of you who haven't come across a road train, it is a large truck pulling up to five trailers behind it. Most are only two or three trailers but even these can be up to 50 metres long. They are not easy to pass and push out an extremely strong side wind which has been known to blow vehicles off the road.
Every little town and settlement in Queensland seems to be striving to distinguish itself by discovering something in its history which will make tourists want to visit. In Boonarga (population 12), about 50kms west of Dalby, there is a memorial hall
I tried to take a picture of one on the road but they are too long and move too fast.
dedicated to the Cactoblastus moth. During the late 19th Century, prickly pear was imported from Mexico as food for the cochineal beetle and as a decorative plant. It had no natural predators in Australia and quickly began to take over whole tracts of land. By 1926, more than 24 million hectares (over 50 million acres) of Queensland were covered with it, preventing any agriculture or grazing. Farmers despaired and many quit the land. Nothing seemed able to control the now noxious weed. After much investigation, the Cactoblastus moth was found in Argentina and was released into the Australian environment at Boonarga. Within ten years the prickly pear was brought under control and this hall was erected in 1936 to commemorate the event.
A little further along the road is the settlement of Miles. Sitting at the crossroads of the Warrego Highway and the Leichhardt Highway it was an overnight stopping point for Cobb and Company coaches. It now is home to an historical village and museum with 21 authentic buildings including a dairy, church, school and police cells. There is also a small caravan and camping park here which has been built on the site of a World War
Apparently there are other types of bottle trees in Africa but these are unique to Queensland. They are not related to the Boab tree which looks similar.
2 munitions dump. The underground bunkers have been converted to cabins for guests.
Roma (Pop. 5700) is the service centre for most of South West Queensland. It is also the centre of oil and gas drilling in the region and has a large display of oil and gas drilling rigs with a “Son et Lumiere” in the evenings recounting the history of drilling in the area. Unique to the area, are the Queensland bottle trees. The heritage listed Heroes Avenue features more than 100 of them, each dedicated to a local soldier who lost their life during World War 1.
Of most interest to Sylvia and me, however, was the vineyard and winery next door to the caravan park where we stayed and the hot artesian spa at Mitchell about 90kms down the road. We soothed our sore muscles in the spa and eased our not-so-troubled minds in the winery. One of the most pleasant stays of the trip so far. The only downside was that we had a meal one night at the local psuedo-Irish pub and found it overpriced and very ordinary.
There is not a great deal to see between Roma and Charleville. Amby
Artesian Spa at Mitchell
The hot pool was 38 degrees. The cold one was 24. Didn't bother with the cold one!
is a small settlement which marks the beginning of the true Outback. Mitchell is known for its artesian spa and for being the place where two infamous bushrangers, Patrick and James Kenniff, were committed to stand trial in 1902. South of Morven about 10 kms is Tregole National Park which contains a rare and endangered species of tree, the Ooline, a rainforest tree which survives from when Australia was a much wetter continent than it is today.
Charleville is one of those places which I have always wanted to visit but never thought I would. There is nothing extra special about it. It is just one of those “mysterious” places - like Timbuctoo and Khatmandu - which seem to strike a romantic chord.
The weekend we arrived the camel races and rodeo were on and we were lucky to get a campsite. As it is technically illegal to bet on camel races, the camels which are running are auctioned off before each race. (This is called a 'Calcutta' why we don't know.) The total paid for the camels is put into a “pot” and divided between the “owners” of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd camels. 1st place gets
3/5ths, 2nd gets 2/5ths and 3rd gets 1/5ths. I was going to buy one of the camels but it turned out to be very popular and the auction started at $100 - way out of my price range. It came last! Between the camel races there were also donkey races. While great fun to watch, they were a total debacle with the animals mostly refusing to run or running the wrong way.
Charleville is also renowned for its observatory, the Cosmos Centre. The Outback sky is very clear and free from light pollution. The observatory puts on a show for the public each evening, allowing people to look through the powerful Meade telescopes and also projecting the views onto a large screen for a guided tour of the night sky. We were really looking forward to going but, the night we had booked, the sky clouded over completely and the show was cancelled.
Last but not least, Charleville is home to the Bilby. This rare and endangered species of bandicoot is being bred in captivity in order to try and preserve it from extinction. It is about the size of a small rabbit and has long ears, a
Womens toilet at Morven
You can tell you're in the outback now.
light grey and white coat and a long black and white tail. Like all marsupials it has a pouch for its young. They live in underground burrows about two metres deep. Unfortunately it is only active at night and I wasn't able to get any useful live photos. There has been a move in Australia over the last 5 years or so to substitute the Bilby for the Easter Bunny.
Tomorrow we start our journey north, heading for Mount Isa, Normanton and the Gulf of Carpentaria - crocodile country, as Sylvia keeps reminding me. How will we keep them out of the camper-trailer?
There are more photos below