Inching Into Isa

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July 26th 2017
Published: July 26th 2017
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Well, our last blog called it the “long way” to Longreach, but boy, how were we to know just how long inching to Isa would take…. more about that later!

At the end of our last blog we mentioned going on a paddle-wheeler dinner cruise. We were a bit worried when we got collected at the caravan park in a HUGE coach that we had made a HUGE mistake, especially when the driver mentioned we were waiting for another 2 coaches! Here we were thinking tiny boat, crowded with a hundred or more people (Tony Abbott’s worst nightmare realised), a scramble for the last scraps of tucker (at least we had some youth on our side here) and overflowing porta-loo. How wrong we were….yes we were at least 30 years younger than the youngest patron there, AND they were a church group, so looked on with concerned expressions as we sipped our wine/beer, but overall a friendly bunch who even God-blessed us at one point (think they thought we were newlyweds).

We boarded the Thomson Belle (on the Thomson River), managed to snare front-row seats and wasted no time paddling to the turn in the river for the best sunset views, it was a sunset cruise afterall. As an aside, the Thomson Belle was modelled on the same layout as the Emmy Lou in Echuca, which is also our favourite lunch desti when in Echuca, so while a lot smaller we felt right at home. As the colours intensified the engines shut down and we all stopped to drink in the amazing view, just floating along in the quiet.

Back to our port where a fire was raging, a beaut meal of beef stew with veg, mash, followed by damper and a night of bush comedy, poetry and Australian stories about the region. One story that stayed with us was a story about the number of horses who never returned from the war, the number was something like 140,000(??). Soldiers were allowed to take their own horses and were told they would be shipped back again after the war, so of course they all took their best nag. Sadly, when they found out their horses were never going to be returned to Australia, and faced starvation or euthanasia, many soldiers shot their own horses rather then not know their fate or treatment if they left them behind. A poem read on the night paid a tribute to these trusty steeds and a few tears were spotted around the pavilion.

Houses in Longreach are all 1-2 feet off the ground, as when the river floods there it is incredibly wide, rather than deep. Most times it ends up about 11km wide, however they built the new raised hwy in the 2000’s to be well and truly out of the drink, and the locals wondered why did it have flood level markers built on it? Apparently if it was to ever reach the hwy flood markers it would have to be about 30km wide – SCARY!

During this trip we have been part of a tourism project called Outback Mates, where you pay fees to enjoy discounts or deals at towns on the Western flank of QLD. It was on their website that Tab noticed a local hairdressing salon offering “complimentary” hair treatments and scalp massages to members. Surely not, what’s the catch? It turned out to be true, so she wallowed in the salon for an hour getting her desert-stressed tresses fondled and conditioned and not a penny was asked for. That IS winning. Of course, within a week the desert had reclaimed her hair as one of its’ own again, but it was nice while it lasted.

After a shop to refuel both the humans and Boris, we bid farewell to Longreach to finally get this trip to Birdsville underway. The first night we travelled just past Stonehenge and promptly landed on a beautiful camp at Swanvale Lookout. What a view of the sunset! We popped the top on a Burge bubbly and watched the sun sink behind the earth, the cats free-ranged searching for lizards, the fire was warm and the company exceptional. Little wonder we stayed a second night.

A quick pitstop in Jundah the next morning for a shower and a coffee, we hit the road (seeing the most beautiful python crossing the road, about 2 metres long – cheers to Kate of Sugarloaf Animal Hospital for being our on-call snake identifier!) looking to find the Cooper Creek near Windorah, and of course threw in a line pronto. A lovely camper before us had also forgotten to take their yabby net with them so it now has a new home, thanks for paying it forward! Sadly no fish or yabbies were harmed in the writing of this blog. Windorah has one of the best solar farms we’ve ever come across, with 5 dishes all about 14 metres wide. While we were there two of the dishes were turned AWAY from the sun, so that’s how bloody efficient they must be, they are getting too much power! Good on you Windorah, if only more Aussie towns spent the money to be solar powered.

From Windorah we enjoyed another 140km or so of tar road, until they ran out of tar. Yep, Birdsvilled beckoned with only 280km more of rough, corrugated, stony tracks to navigate. Jeff let some air out and we began the testing trip, one that has been on our bucket list since the inception of this crazy journey 12 years ago. We only got about 50km in on the first night, pulling up camp on quiet station land, witnessing a glorious sunset while dinner cooked, and a light show beyond the heavens once the sun was gone – ahhhh now we are back in the outback!

It was another nights stop before we made it to Birdsville (yep, that’s 2.5 days driving to do about 400km, we will let you do the maths there) and we honestly thought we must have more rocks in our heads than what was on the roads. Along the way there was the occasional few kms of tar (nice to know some of our taxes are working in our favour) and of course the obligatory RFDS tar strips dotted along the way – not only providing a valuable service for people of the bush, but a welcome bloody relief to have tar underfoot if only for a moment. We did notice that animal-based roadkill was quickly traded for dead re-treads – NOTE: do not take retreads on this road people!! Umm, just quietly, also don't go looking for shady spots when you drive a 5 tonne rig, we had a little "misadventure" off the (sandy side of) beaten track, but that's enough about that!

An early arrival in Birdy had us hit the showers and laundry up first, before checking out the town, which took all of 5 minutes. So, there was only one thing left, and that was to order a drink at the Birdsville Pub, such an iconic Australian destination and we’d made it! We sussed out if they were open for dinner (yep), so enjoyed a couple of bevs, headed back to camp to grab in the washing, before a wander down to the billabong, where there were BIRDS! Yep, there’s birds in Birdsville, believe it or not, and huge amounts of them! Even a freaking PELICAN! This we did not expect, he must have flown a loooooong way to call this place home. Birdsville is located on the Great Artesian Basin (the same system we’ve been soaking in on our previous blog) however the town one here spits out of the ground at about 98 degrees Celsius – um, no chance of a soak then? Such a waste! But gives the billabong a constant water supply, so all those bloody birds have somewhere to live.

The next day we hit up the Birdsville Bakery who are quite famous for their curried camel pies, which Jeff promptly inhaled, then in the arvo we dragged Daz out of his lair, packed another Burge bubbles and nibblies to hoon out to Big Red and see what all the fuss is about. A bumpy ride out had us assisted up the dune by at least 200 flies each, but we didn’t give up. Found a shady patch, cracked the Burge and watched the desert dune colours change before our eyes, very quiet and so relaxing. Now that we’ve seen it just like that, we know that sharing it with 6998 other people for the Big Red Bash will remain firmly OFF the bucket list!

We awoke to a still freezing but beautifully sunny day (in fact, we haven’t seen a drop of rain for nearly 8 weeks) and we’d heard a rumour the “fruit & vegie” man was in town. Oh yes he was! Him and his semi-trailer laden with fresh goodies, it might be the first and only time Tab does the groceries climbing in the back of a giant truck, but memorable to say the least. And the produce was bloody nice too, cheers Vegie Man!

A quick visit to the bakery to grab a loaf and we hit the road north with Mt Isa on the radar. Shortly after leaving Birdsville, we noticed some familiar looking trees off to the right – they call them “Waddi” trees in QLD, but they are Acacia Peuce, and they only grow in 3 places in Australia (yes, also on the endangered list). One of the other places is just near Old Andado Station, and is preserved in an area called Mac Clark Conservation Reserve. Some of you may remember we lived with Molly Clark in Alice Springs (blog RIP Molly) and this reserve is actually named after her late husband – small world indeed.

It was while we were parked looking at the trees (or rather listening, they have the most amazing sound when the wind rushes through), there was a CAT-astrophe - Oscar decided he needed to go, so it was time to eradicate the bog of eternal stench with all windows open and free-flowing air….all fine, until we realised we forgot to close one of them and merrily headed on down the dirt road, oblivious to half of the Munga Thirri NP (Simpson Desert) channelling it’s way under our doona and into our pillows. Aaaaargh! Now we ARE literally IN the desert, at least at bedtime.

Dragging the bedding outdoors to try and shake it off, we continued past the Carcoory Ruins, found another (too hot) hotspring at Gilmour Creek and found ourselves ready for lunch at Cuttaburra Crossing. After a quick scout around we decided this looked like a top spot for the night and not only lunched, but popped the yabby net in & Jeff went for a fish. Caught a perch and a large freshwater cray, but sadly not enough even for an entrée so they got to live another day.

Early the next day we landed in Bedourie to find out they had a human-friendly hotspring that we were welcome to laze in for as long as we wished. So we did. It’s important to stay hydrated when using a hotspring so we rehydrated at the Bedourie Hotel, where the local entertainment was, um, different (see pics) and after yet more fuel found a beautiful camp on the Georgina River, of course yabby net & fishing continued, this time 3 yabbies but no fish, all went back to their homes unscathed. In the morning we continued on up to Boulia, land of the Min Min Lights. Just before Boulia is the third location of the Acacia Peuce, so our inner tree-hugging souls were happy that we have been to all three locations, especially as it may end up that Mac Clark Reserve is the only one left eventually, no one is looking out for the ones over here.

Not a lot going on at Boulia so we showered, fuelled and kept going until disaster struck!! The left hand spring on the trailer went caput, so Jeff got his bush-mechanics kit out and chained it all in so it couldn’t move any further. While this was going on Tab used a Bunnings umbrella to ward off all the death adders that threatened to attack, and became Jeff’s “Professional Umbrella Holder” a new, but rewarding position.

So our pace slowed somewhat, to what we now affectionately term “camel pace”, and we knew the next leg of the trip was going to be filled with added scenery viewing time, what we hadn’t counted on was the added smelling time when trundling past a nice ripe roadkill at a slow pace…….like soup, but different. Yep, 30-40kmph for the next 300km loomed, even a kindergarten mathematician can work out that’s going to take about 10 hours. Hmmmm, what to do, what to do… we had plenty of time to discuss our options, we ended up deciding to continue, and drive a good portion of it at night, it felt safer as we could see any oncoming traffic from miles away, as well as those wanting to overtake. We did feel a little apprehensive driving at night about those old Min Min Lights clocking our location - apparently you can’t go looking for them “they go looking for you”. Needless to say as you are reading this blog, we got through OK.

So, exhausted from a 15 hour driving day (remember, we’re on camel pace) we pulled up 12km outside of Mt Isa on a Sunday night at 10pm, ate our breakfast for dinner and fell horizontal ready to hit the trailer repair shops first thing Monday morning. Success! Jeff got (nearly) all the trailer bits he was looking for and we spent the day doing our respective duties, Tab eradicating all that sand from Boris & feeding the washing slot-machine, number one priority a clean bed and Jeff on the spanners.

After a great few days checking out the scene at Mt Isa, we’re about to go hit the shops, fuel up, restock the bar and start the next leg of our QLD odyssey – the Gulf country this time, but that’s a tale for another time…..Caio!

PS. Big shout-out and cyber hugs to Mick and Kate who lost their beautiful dog fur-kid Lenny overnight Sunday, and also to Nev & Kath who farewelled their gorgeous dog Mia after a short illness. Thinking of you guys & two additions too many to the sky-kennel all in one week L

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27th July 2017

great read
well done guys. fantastic to see the progress made. I am jealous. a couple of ticks off my bucket list you have just completed -one day I will get to Birdsville - probably via the plenty. safe travels!!
30th July 2017

Love the blogs and the snap, what a time you two are having. Keep it coming, take care and enjoy. Cheers Wendy & Grazer

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