There are times during the show circuit year when a weekend is show free. I love that, as it gives me time to prowl about country I haven't seen before so I unhook the gooseneck and leave it planted somewhere safe, throw the swag in the Ute and head off into the bush. On this occasion I had a weekend free between The Harts Range Races and The Camooweal Drovers festival and Fieldy, an old mate of mine joined me for a trip into the Gulf. From Camooweal we headed west into the Territory on the Barkley Highway for 100 K's, the last section of real road we'd see for some time. We found the turn off to the Ranken road and steadied the pace down to about sixty clicks as the road conditions deteriorated. We were now travelling through the real Barkly country, very flat and treeless but due to favorable seasons there was plenty of cattle feed available. We reached Alexandria Downs where the first sign of life appeared as they were trucking cattle out on road trains.
Prior to this on the plains country where you can see forever in all directions you get the feeling your the only person left in Australia and the odd Roo of course. Later that day we saw a scattering of sheds and wind breaks out to the south and I realized where we were, the Brunette race track, without the mass of vehicles and people it looked quite different. Not far on from here we camped in a patch of Gidgee trees for the night at a bore near Corella Creek. Several mobs of cattle wandered past the camp on their way to water prior to heading out on the plains to feed about during the night. During the days at this time of the year being very windy the cattle tend to camp rather than feed.
The Barkly, great views.
Bore camp near Corella Creek.
This winter had pretty damn cold so before sunrise it was hard enough to get out of of the swag to light the fire and boil the billy, we decided to take turn about so every second morning you could lay there a bit longer waiting until all was ready. Bacon and eggs is always a good way to start the day especially the bacon that Fieldy brought with him. It was at least a quarter of an inch thick, bloody beautiful, specially cut and packed by his butcher back in Vic. We eventually got back on the track and headed north past Anthony Lagoon through well known Stations such as Cresswell, Wallhallow, and Mallapunyah. By now the country had changed, no longer the wide open plains but now heavily timbered rugged undulating country which is the head waters of the McAuthur River. We pulled up for a feed at Cape Crawford, a very attractive setting with lots of shade trees around the pub and plenty of activity going on including helicopter joy flights to somewhere. Refreshed and back on the track we headed for Borroloola just 110K's away. These Gulf country towns are fairly isolated and the distance to real civilization is measured in days rather than K's. Borroloola isn't the flashest looking town in Australia but still has everything a traveler needs, like food, beer and fuel and of course the prices charged include a hefty freight cost that's added on, plus a bit. Looking for a spot to camp we headed further north to Bing Bong, a port from which minerals are exported. There were no camping signs there so we backtracked towards King Ash Bay and found a quiet spot in the bush well off the road.
Shot taken at Bing Bong
Enjoying the sun near King Ash Bay
From here we off down around the Gulf towards Burketown, just under 500K's away on a pretty rough track. There were lots a steep river crossings some water being over a meter deep with large boulders in the river bed which made driving interesting. One positive in driving on rough tracks is you get plenty of time so see whats around you. I think we'd be battling to average 40 K's and hour over most of this country although others that we passed drove flat out. One section of road, if you could call it that was from the QLD border to Hells Gate was particularly bad, down to first gear many times over this 60 K' stretch. The stations had been sending road trains of cattle out and being lighter sandy country it was badly corrugated. Any way that day was a big one, 10 hours in fact over a challenging track but we made it to King Fisher camp and stayed there a couple of nights, great spot off the track a bit on the Nicholson River
Look out, Road train.
The Nicholson River.
Gulf cattle country
It was at this camp I cut some wood for the fire I thought was Bloodwood later to discover that it was actually Beefwood. When a log was put on the fire it immediately started seeping an oily sap and ignited instantly, burnt very slowly and left a whitish ash like Gidgee. Back on the track we headed for Doomadgee and stopped there for smoko then on to Burketown which is a very smart looking place and popular destination for those who enjoy catching Barra. The rivers and flood plains through this country are amazing.Just east of Normanton we crossed the Flinders River, the head waters of which lay 100K's west of Charters Towers. After stocking up with bread and meat we left Normanton towards Karumba and found a good camp on the Walker Creek. Next morning we did a quick run into Karumba which has two main industries, one is a well established fishing industry and the other is grey nomads who flock there by the thousand with their tinnies to catch a Barra or two.
It was here I realized I'd left my tarp back at Camooweal so bought a replacement at the hardware/fishing shop. Just a small plastic one, 3 x 3m which generally cost about $25 at Bunnings. Not here though, it was $88 as you have to add freight plus a bit. I hate that. The next leg was 500K's of dirt through station country to Chillagoe. The forecast was rain throughout the Gulf and it looked like they were right by the clouds building up on the horizon.
Old mate looks healthy
There were a few showers during the day but nothing serious and that night we camped off the track probably further than we should have and just on dark down came the rain. My $88 plastic tarp wasn't looking so expensive after all. As it turned out we only had a couple of serious showers during the night and were able to get back on the track next morning without difficulty. Not far away however they had heaps of rain and the track wasn't in good shape at all. Our vehicles soon packed up with red mud and must have doubled their weight. Several trucks had gone through and cut things up fairly badly so the going was slow and it turned into a very long day at the wheel.
A very long wet track
Cattle country in the Gulf
Finally we made Chillagoe, it's surrounded by limestone peaks and underneath that is marble. This is much lighter country and the cattle tell the story, they looked awefull. Not wanting to stop here we headed off on a short cut down to Mt Surprise and booked into a grey nomad park so we could do some washing. The park was chockers and to make things worse several bus loads of school kids were there on a religious weekend trip so we sat there and listened to their songs played around their camp fire. I couldn't wait to get out of the place, must be too old and grumpy I suppose. That is as far east as we went, now we were back on a highway through Georgetown, Croydon and back close to Normanton where we camped at Leichhardts Lagoon.
This was a great camp and there were plenty of others sharing the area which was managed in a casual sort of way and only cost $10 a night. We probably should have stayed for longer but there is always another time and I'm sure I'll be back through there again.
Relaxed, at home in the bush.
The Burke and Wills Roadhouse was the next point of interest although it looked a bit rough around the edges, but not too bad. They must be too busy serving people to look about outside and see the rubbish laying about. What a pity. Back on the black top we headed over towards Gregory Downs and intended to camp somewhere along the way so stopped when we saw the first patch of Gidgee as a roast was planned for that night. We found a creek just passed Nardoo Station and settled in there. Fieldy got out the Hillbilly camp oven and prepared all the tucker and I built a decent fire so we had plenty of coals. Several hours later we tucked into the best roast lamb ever cooked. Actually we ate pretty well on this trip, roasts, brazed chops, stews and lots of steaks and the odd snag. Yea life is pretty good on the track. We landed at Gregory Downs a bit early in the day for the pub to be open but luckily the knew chef, from France, worked the cappuccino machine pretty well so that was a pleasant change from black tea and black coffee.
Gregory Downs Pub.
Broglas on the wing.
From Gregory it was back on the dirt all the way down through station country to Camooweal, to my surprise 100 K's were rough hilly country until we got back on the Barkly plains. What a wonderful country we live in. Until next time. Steve and Sass.