Cooktown via Normanton and Mt Surprise

Water, water everywhere

After much discussion, we decided to head to the Queensland coast – Cooktown in particular and some stops along the way. Normanton is about 100 kms south of Karumba and is an old port and gold mining town. The main reason to go there is to catch the train 140 kms to Croydon. It was a purpose built train to move gold from Croydon to the then Port. The main port is now Karumba. (I forgot to mention that Karumba has a huge live cattle export facility which no-one talks about). But I digress. John really wanted to go on the train, but it only operates once a week, leaving Normanton on a Wednesday and returning the following day. We arrived on Sunday. The prospect of 3 days in Normanton was too much, so John missed out on one of the things he really wanted to do. I was going to drive to Croydon and collect him. So Normanton was just a drive through. The biggest attraction in town is the Purple Pub. We were advised to not go there at night “unless you wanted your head kicked in”. We passed, but did take a look.

Normanton’s number 1 tourist attraction

The drive to Mt Surprise is about 600 kms. It’s a long, flat boring drive but we had downloaded a few podcasts, the most interesting being Sam Harris interviewing Andrew Yang, an american democrat nominee for the next US election. He’s an tech start up entrepreneur, wealthy and a philanthropist. He’s advocating a Universal Basic Wage for every 18 to 64 year old which would eliminate all other welfare payments. His position is that it would save money and grow the economy. I can’t see it ever getting up in the US but he does have a compelling arguments. He calls it human-centred capitalism (now there’s a thought!). We listen to alot of Sam Harris’s podcasts and enjoy most of them. Luckily they are at least 1.5 hours long.

Mt. Surprise is where the Undara Volcanic National Park is located. Here is world’s longest lava flow, 160 kms long. Mt Undara last erupted 190,000 years ago and the lava of differing temperatures forms tunnels and caves. A couple of these are open to the public. The only way to see them is from the Undara Experience, a Lodge and camp ground just outside the national park. It is privately owned and they pay royalties to the national park.

In the area are the Cobbold Gorge and Chillagoe National Park. We didn’t go because we are not camping, but if you were heading that way for a holiday, I’d make the stop.

After a few nights and a couple of bushwalks we started for Cooktown. We drove through the Atherton Tablelands with a thought we might stay a few days. We have been there before (about 15 years ago) and had really loved it. It’s cool and pretty, but nothing compelled us to stop a while.

The drive to Cooktown is through green, tree covered rolling hills. Nothing like I expected. I had expected long, red sandy roads. Where did I form these pictures? It’s a small pretty town on the Endeavour River and it is all things “Cook”. Statues, museums, parks, lookouts, lighthouses. It was actually a miracle he landed there as you can see how difficult it must have been to navigate all the reefs around the harbour entrance. It is a lovely town and reminded us both of Port Douglas 20 years ago. There’s not much to do in town but there are some interesting places not too far away.

Not much happened in Cooktown after Cook’s landing until the 1870s when gold was discovered on the Cape and Cooktown became the port. The population grew which of course had serious consequences for the aboriginal population. The violence usually perpetrated on the aboriginal population was not as pronounced here but they were moved from their traditional lands. We speculated about this and wondered whether it was because the new settlers were were miners, not farmers and didn’t want large tracts of land and they were there to make a quick dollar. 15,000 kgs of gold was mined in 10 years. Then they left. The Lutheran missions arrived and assisted the displaced people. There is still a strong and very visible church presence here. Whatever the reason, the aboriginal population appears to be doing better here.

At the art gallery in Cooktown there was an exhibition of works by Vincent Serico. His work was about the dispossession of the aboriginal people. The description of his work is described in full here.

We drove to Laura, an old mining town, but couldn’t get to old Laura as the road was closed due to flooding. There are some spectacular aboriginal paintings in some caves just outside of town. Wish we had some more information about them, but the aboriginal cultural centre was closed for some reason. Also went to Hopevale, about 50 kms north of Cooktown. It is a small, predominantly aboriginal town. We wanted to go to the art gallery, but it was closed for some reason.

We were sad to leave Cooktown.

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