The Overlander’s Way

Charters Towers,Prairie, Kynuna, Julia Creek, Cloncurry and Mt Isa.

We changed our plans again when we heard that the Julia Creek Dust and Dirt Festival was on the next weekend. They run a triathlon, horse racing, bull-riding competitions and there’s lots of country music. Just our kind of things.  All these towns are on the Overlander’s Way which runs from Townsville to Tennant Creek in the NT. We were originally going to go from Charters Towers to Croydon and then on to Normanton and Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria. We are still doing that but just in a different direction.

Charters Towers was the centre of gold mining in Queensland and was the second biggest city in Queensland during the mining boom of the later 19th Century. There were so many nationalities here, it was dubbed “The World”. It’s a well preserved town with a proud mining and WW2 history. Americans were based here and aircraft were deployed to fight in the Battle of the Coral Sea. More WW2 I didn’t know about. It was the site of the first stock exchange outside a capital city because of the amount of gold trading that was occurring. It was a wealthy city.

It was a Sunday and nothing was open – just like it used to be and the way it still should be. It’s lovely that places have a “rest”. We are told in the city that life as we know it will end if there was no Sunday trading. Queensland country towns seem to reopen on Monday with no disasters having occurred.

It’s always hard to decide whether to stay in some towns or just push on. Even though Charters Towers was a very pretty town, we decided after a few interesting hours to move onto Prairie.

Prairie is a town of 50 with a pub on the main road. We stayed there. The pictures say it all. It was great. Tom and Andrea were the publicans had been there for 20 years. Tom called himself a “lowly farm hand” and Andrea wouldn’t say where she was from or disclose anything of her history. Life for them started 20 years ago. They worked hard and made enough to send their 3 girls to boarding school in Charters Towers. They made a round trip of 400 kms every Monday and Friday to drop off and collect the girls from school. They loved the liberal government because they got Australia “back in the black”. There were no Sundays off for them. The road trains passed every 15 minutes – all night. No Sundays off for them either. They voted LNP – no other reasons disclosed.

The main destination was Julia Creek. Julia Creek was where the major flooding hit northern Queensland and they last about 500,000 head of cattle. There was no accommodation in town so we had to look for something close. Come in spinner – Kynuna just 100 kms south of Julia Creek. Just a pub on the Landsborough Highway. I have to say that both Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson must’ve been alcoholics because every pub in Queensland reckons that it was Banjo’s and Henry’s favourite pub. Kynuna pub’s claim to Banjo fame was that he wrote Waltzing Matilda at there. Apparently,  Banjo was instrumental in stopping the shearers’ strike and the birth of the Labor Party ensued. Lots of towns in central Queensland claim they had a role in bits of this history. The irony of course is that it is almost impossible to find a Labor voter in northern Queensland. We were very happy to leave Kynuna.

Kynuna pub for dinner where 2 pieces of frozen crumbed fish from a box cost $26.00

We needed to get to Julia Creek so as not to miss any of the festival action. We drove into town and wondered if we in the right place as the only people around were triathletes staggering around the place looking for the finish line. It must’ve been at least 35 degrees. Apparently Bob and Robbie Katter competed. Boy, it’s hard work getting a vote around here.

Next, the races.  And what a treat! I’d forgotten to pack my best dress and matching fascinator but the ladies didn’t disappoint. The fashions in the field were Julie Bishop standard. Even a best dressed couple competition.

49. Fascinators

There were 6 races. We picked 3 winners and a second. We still managed to lose money. The race caller was also a great tipster. We followed his advice most races.

50. Picking a winner

And then the main game – the Professional Bull-Riding Competition. About 10 years ago we were lucky enough to be in Katherine when the rodeo was on. It was such a memorable night – so Australian for all the right reasons – colourful, welcoming, fun and men who were both courageous and stupid in equal measure and women who could carry 6 beers using their breasts as a helpful shelf. So, we were looking forward the night.

When did the Americans arrive in town?  When did they take over Australian Bull-Riding? The only thing missing were American female cheer leaders in sparkling red, white and blue. American voice overs, American music and American razzle-dazzle. John calls it faux Americana and our friend Patrick calls it Virus Americanus. I just call it American shit. That aside, it was an interesting night. There was a prize of $10,000 for the bloke who could last longer than 8 seconds on the bull and do it with the most style. Of the 25 competitors, only 5 managed to stay on for the 8 seconds. You’d have to be mad to do it.

We sat next to a lovely, friendly family from Mt Isa.

 “So”, I venture, after some introductory pleasantries, “who do you think will win the election?”

“I don’t know”, answers the young Dad who can actually speak without opening his mouth.

“I don’t really care. They are all the same”. A response I am now so used to.

“Oh well”, I say, “you have to vote for someone. Do you mind if I ask you who you’ll be voting for?” “I like Pauline and what she stands for, so we’ll be voting for her.” I have to say I’ve never knowingly met a Pauline Hanson voter, so here goes.

“What do you like about Pauline?”

“She says what she thinks and I like that she doesn’t want any immigrants. They are taking all the jobs. Us Australians need to be looked after first.” I had heard this line a lot too. Pauline would be proud. In all my questioning about how people were voting, he was the only one who has asked me who I was voting for. They were nice companions for the evening.

51. Brave, stupid men who ride bulls

And at 10pm we headed off to our bed for the night – 140kms west in Cloncurry. We passed on the Hurricane Falls concert.

Cloncurry was just a stop along the way. At the visitors information centre, we picked up a book about all the side road trips on the way to Mount Isa. This proved very useful. We went to the Mary Kathleen Uranium mine (closed in 1983 under the Labor government’s 3 mine policy). There was a town built for the miners and their families which has now disappeared except for the concrete slabs. It had a cinema, full sized Olympic swimming pool, a library, school, tennis courts, shops, oval, town square and housed over 2000 people. The mine was open cut and now filled with bright blue water which is unsafe for swimming. Shame, as it looked so inviting and it was so bloody hot.  We did meet a group of 4 young people – mid to late 20s. They had set themselves up under a small marquis, comfy chairs and a full esky. They invited us for a beer. The 2 blokes were miners and the 2 women worked in town. They had shiny new 4 wheel drives and all the necessary gear. We chatted about politics (again) and they weren’t really engaged with politics. One bloke said he rang his mum in Hamilton, Victoria and asked her who he should vote for. The others weren’t disclosing much. They were happy to disclose how much they earned (god I’m nosy) and the blokes earned $151,000 and the apprentice earned $136,000. They were putting it all in bank (and buying new cars). If only someone gave them some good financial advice. They looked at us retired oldies and said they didn’t think they’d ever retire and given their jobs probably wouldn’t get much past 75. They were more than happy to tell us this. I told them that maybe they should consider voting for the party which would bring some generational economic fairness. I just can’t stop myself.

An open, old uranium mine

52. Being able to retire

There was also a disused copper mine nearby and a host of colourful quartz-like rocks. This was the first time we got the Prado into full-on 4 wheel drive action!

Onto Mt Isa. We were really looking forward to Mt Isa. We had been to Broken Hill a few years back and loved it. It was very scenic, lots to do, interesting and well preserved. We had hoped for something similar in Mt Isa but were sadly disappointed. The mine is right in town with smoke pouring out 24/7. Anything to do in town is in the Tourist Information Centre so tourists don’t actually get to see much that is real. The exception is the underground hospital built to care for injured WW2 soldiers. It was never used. Marie, the 85 year old volunteer was up for a chat. She had a lot to say. She didn’t like Bob Katter, thought Robbie Katter would do anything to get a vote – even helping you find a lost dog. She didn’t mind Bob Katter (senior) who created lots of programmes for young people to get skilled up and find work. No idea if that’s true. She wouldn’t disclose who she was going to vote for, she was a swinger. I did my best to influence her vote. Not that it would make any difference up here.

We did enjoy another prawn omelette at the Chinese restaurant.

53. Prawn omelettes

54. Not having to work or live in Mt Isa

We were going to spend 3 nights there, but left after one, deciding to head to Gregory on the way the Lawn Hill National Park (Boodjamulla) about 350 kms north west of Mount Isa, very close to the NT border.

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