The Capricorn Way

The Capricorn Highway goes from Rockhampton to Longreach. It’s mining country – coal and gems. There is a lot of coal, but not many sapphires. I wrote this before the election. We watched the election result in Longreach. I wrote about Longreach after the election. Oh, what a difference a day makes……

Blackwater

We came to Blackwater essentially because it was there and on the way. It was a long 500 km drive to get here. We have been running from the rain on the coast. We were going to stay at Eungella National Park (just behind Mackay in the mountains). We spent a day here many years ago and always wanted to return. But the weather let us down. Bushwalking in the rain is no fun. So Eungella will have to wait.

Blackwater is in the middle of the Bowen coal mining region. Coal mining here is huge. It is just south of Clermont where the big Adani protest finished a few weeks ago. So what to do in Blackwater? Go on a coal mining tour of course. I’m glad I did. I learnt a lot. Let me share it with you. We went to one mine and there are 5 others in the immediate vicinity. You can see them at night across the horizon. Busy cities, working 24 hours a day and mostly 7 days a week. There is a railway which cuts through the landscape carrying coal 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A train passes every 10 minutes on the way to the coal loader at Gladstone. The trains are 2 kms long and have 100 wagons. The value of the coal on board is approximately $1M. So, 6 times and hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year equals $52,560,000,000 per year. And that’s just the Bowen Basin. Apparently the amount mined in the Galilee Basin (even without Adani) is much greater. It costs $70 per tonne to mine and transport the coal. If they sell it for $100 (currently $120 per tonne), then the profit is 30%. I don’t know if this is pre or post tax, but it is a staggering $15,768,000,000. That is $US. And the costs are spent of course….on labour, equipment, rail. So a lot of money passes through the international, national and local economies. All the towns we have passed through in the area exist because of coal. Whole families work in the mine. It is capital intensive though, not labour intensive. The mine we went to today produced 5,000,000 tonnes of coal per year from a 20 km long open pit mine. And this is a small mine with 51% owned by a single Australian. They employ 280 workers. Interestingly, 20% of the workforce is now women. The tour guide said that women on the mine and greatly improved the culture and moral of the work teams. With the introduction of driverless machines the workforce will decrease significantly. They earn so much. An apprentice earns $170,000 a year! But work is hard – 12 hour shifts, changing day and night shifts, living in Blackwater in a box.  At least they would save all their salaries. All of the numbers are staggering.

So, on the tour I have to ask the question “what happens to all this if Labor wins the election?”

“Nothing. They will never stop coal mining.”

“What about the pledge to stop coal mining?”

“They might stop thermal coal mining, but never metallurgical coal. They can replace thermal coal with renewables, but the only way they can make steel is by burning this coal. The iron ore has to have carbon to turn into steel.” How come I don’t know this?

“There’s no alternative?” Apparently not. I don’t know if that’s true but I’ll be asking around. If it is right, we will be mining this high quality (read metallurgical) coal for a long time. If we succeed in stopping thermal coal mining there is still a great environmental benefit. However, these towns though will still really suffer. Some small businesses are making a fortune from the mines and miners. The motel we are staying in (just a motel, nothing fancy) turned over $250,000 last month. They are looking to sell if you are looking for a business in beautiful Blackwater. And if there are jobs for the miners to go to, I can’t see how they can replace their enormous salaries.

Another scary thing is that when they remediate the land where the mine has been, they put back the topsoil and reseed it. And then they graze cattle on it…….if you eat beef, I suggest you rethink this decision.

65. Being a vegetarian…oh alright pescatarian

66. Friends who lend you books. Thanks Charles for Warlight

We spent the following day at the Blackdown Tableland National Park just outside of Blackwater. Another great National Park no-one has ever heard of. Some lovely walks capped off by a beautiful waterfall and very cold swimming hole. The autumn flowers were lovely and the kookaburras very tame.

Sandstone cliffs

We then drove to Rubyvale, the gem country. Tyres all good.

Rubyvale

We arrived just in time for dinner at the pub. I like pubs but I’ve had enough of dinner there. Maybe Justin Hemmes could buy a few……

It was blingo night. Blingo? It was run by Willow, a self described “only gay in the village”. 5 years ago Willow came home to look after his sick and aging parents and was the only gay in the village. Now there are 5 and last year they hosted the inaugural Rubyvale Mardi Gras where 80 people put on a parade like they had never seen before. This year, they have already sold 250 tickets for the Mardi Gras in September. I reckon we should all go along. What a great sense of community and inclusion. We sat with a couple from Blackwater, both miners (she retired from dump truck driving). We had a great night with them. They were union people, voted Labor and loved living in Blackwater. We have met some great people along the way.

As Rubyvale is the centre of the gem fields, we had to go fossicking. Emerald is just down the road so guess what the gemstones are. Yes, sapphires. It’s all geared for tourists. You arrive at the mine and you purchase a bucket of dirt and rocks for $20. Yes we paid $20 for a bucket of dirt. The bucket of dirt supposedly has been brought up from the mine (now only used for tourist purposes) and we get to sift, wash and sort it. And keep what we find of course. We can’t help thinking they just recycle the same buckets of dirt to the new day’s tourists….

We learnt a lot about sapphires. Common ones are blue and rare ones are yellow and pink. There are green ones, red ones and purple ones. Who knew? Rubies are just red sapphires! And we even found some. And we found a zircon big enough to cut and polish. I might just do that. We bumped into our mining pub friends from the night before and spent a thoroughly entertaining morning with them. We had a coffee at 11 and they had a beer.

67. Meeting people who you rarely have an opportunity to meet

68. Still learning stuff

69. Laughing

70. Finding sapphires

Underneath is an underground sapphire mine

Then back on the road heading for Barcaldine.

Barcaldine

Barcaldine is famous for the Shearers strike of 1891. It is home to the Australian Workers Heritage Centre – essentially an homage to Australian Workers Union. We were there the day after Bob Hawke died so it was very moving. I hope Australians never forget what Unions have done for wages, working conditions and women. But maybe the memory has already faded. I can’t get over the irony that Queensland prides itself on this workers history, the pioneer heritage and the rebellious Australian spirit fighting for rights and workers.

Also in Barcaldine is “The Tree of Knowledge” under which all the striking shearers met and the police successfully fought them and put the ring leaders in gaol. It is quite a lovely monument but I do have to wonder where all the knowledge went. Enough said.

71. Long Service Leave

72. Equal pay for women

73. 4 weeks annual leave

74. Penalty rates (now to be completely eroded)

75. Anti-discrimination legislation

76. Health and Safety legislation

77. 38.5 hour work weeks

78. Paid maternity leave

Look for the reference to the Rouseabouts

Longreach

We were in Longreach for election night. It is now the 26th May – 8 days later. I’m guessing you know how I feel…..

On the day of the election, we went to vote. We had been hearing about all the prepolling that had occurred and decided to vote on the day. I love voting (surprise, surprise). I chatted to all the volunteers handing out all the how to vote cards. I asked how the “mood” was. I had to explain what I meant. We went to vote “out of area” only to be told that because we were out of state we couldn’t vote. We were told that if we had prepolled YESTERDAY at the same booth it would not have been a problem. Who knows this? How can this be? For the first time in our adult lives we didn’t vote. Can you believe it?

I was jittery for the whole day and when I could no longer contain myself said to John “Morrison’s going to win and win easily.” “No, don’t be silly,” he replied. And at 7.15 it was all over. I have so many thoughts on this and it is still too difficult to write about – but I will later. I can barely watch the news or read a newspaper. I know many of you reading this will be thrilled by the result. That’s democracy.

But on a brighter note, we had a great day at the Longreach Show. Show jumping, cattle mustering, wool grading, sheep shearing, side show alley, art shows, cake displays, vintage car shows and pig races. It was great. No show bags, friendly chit chat, great weather and bad food. Perfect. Just how show days should be.

Next day we went to the QANTAS Founders Museum. It was an interesting morning with tours of old planes and jumbo jets. The history of QANTAS is another display of Aussie determination, bravery and know how. This has become a theme in Queensland museums and I see how this perception of ourselves is central to our national identity. It has given me much to think about, particularly in the context of the election result.

The Stockman’s Hall of Fame was next on the agenda. Our heart just wasn’t in it because as soon as you walk in, you know what you’re in for. Maybe another time.

We are heading home with a few more stops along the way.

The coast

We drove down to Cape Tribulation on the Bloomfield Track. 90 kms of dirt road through beautiful, extremely dense rainforest. Forest that Joh Bjelke Petersen wanted to bulldoze. Luckily he was stopped.

Once you are on the coast, you pretty much know what you are in for. It’s tourism, tourism, tourism. But you’ve got to stop somewhere.

Port Douglas is not like it was 30 years when I went to learn to scuba dive. Then John and I went back 20 years ago and it was still pretty small and undeveloped. That has definitely changed. But that said, we did have a lovely couple of days there. I have to say after many pub and motel country meals, it was a treat to get some wonderful food and wine.

We stopped in at Bowen after having driven through miles and miles of sugar cane. There is a 6 km wharf which is used exclusively to load sugar onto boats for export. It is an enormous industry.

And there are some lovely beaches and walks there. We tossed up whether to stay or not at a little place called Horseshoe Bay. We pushed on to Airlie Beach.

Airlie Beach and Daydream Island

Just don’t go. No more needs saying. We should have stayed in Bowen. We left looking forward to getting back into the country.

I get Queensland now. They have a sugar industry we want to tax, they have coal mining we want to stop, they have live cattle exports we want to stop, they have a drought we can’t do anything about and they have tourism which is decreasing because of the state of the reef. They feel under attack from all sides. But they take no responsibility for any of it. They do not pursue new industries because digging shit out of the ground, growing stuff and sailing people to the reef is very lucrative and takes no brains. Am I too harsh?

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.

Karumba on the Gulf

This was the destination for our trip. The Gulf. Crocodiles. The last frontier. The capital of barramundi fishing. Prawns come a distant second. Nothing  but barra matters. You learn about barramundi at the new, very flash barramundi discovery centre, you talk to everyone about barramundi, you fish for barramundi and you eat lots of barramundi. All I wanted to do was catch one. I think it’s a very overrated fish, but I didn’t tell anyone that. I just wanted the photo. Yes, yes, shallow I know.

It was a very disappointing day on the water. I caught lots of catfish and some salmon. Nothing to brag about. Nothing to eat. Not a barra in sight. Not even a croc.

Besides the sunset at the pub, there was nothing else. No point in even mentioning politics. And so we left. Me without my photo and John relieved that fishing was now off the agenda.

Check out the menu on the back board

If you want to go fishing, go to Sweers Island and give Karumba a big miss. Oh, and don’t invite John.

Sweers Island

The Gulf Coast

The flight across to Sweers Island takes only 15 minutes. It is breathtaking. All I see is a John Olsen painting. There are many little uninhabited islands scattered across the gulf. Most are managed by Aboriginal Corporations and permission must be granted to go there. Sweers is also controlled by Aboriginal Corporations, but an amazing couple, Tex and Lynne, have leased the island for the last 31 years for tourism. Tex is now 76 and still going strong. Lynne was travelling in Australia from Ireland and at the age of 25 moved to an uninhabited island with a wild Queenslander, 20 years her senior.

Sweers has a surprisingly interesting history. At one stage, 2000 people lived on the island. They were moved there from Burketown in 1866 because malaria arrived. Houses were built and a community grew. They ran sheep, cattle and goats until the turn of the century. In 1872, however, most residents left the island to establish Normanton. It was gold rush time. It was largely uninhabited until Lynne and Rex took over the lease.

The island is tiny and Lynne and Tex can host about 26 people at a time. We were their only guests. There were 5 staff and us. Very cosy. One of the reasons we wanted to go there was because there were no crocodiles so swimming was all good. We mentioned this to the pilot who just laughed. Apparently, the crocs won’t get you, but the sharks will. One activity less to do. That left fishing – John’s least favourite activity but I love fishing. It is a fishing island and people come from all over just to fish.  John could either fish or do nothing. He chose fishing. And what an afternoon I had. Red emperor, sharks, rays, lots of sweet lip and even a tuna. John unfortunately caught nothing. He still hates fishing.

After a few hours on the water, we returned to the island to clean up the fish (the red emperor, tuna and sweet lip) ready for dinner. Watching the sun set, preparing our catch for dinner on the beach was lovely. Then it was shark feeding time. Just off the beach in less than 30 centimetres of water, 6 sharks fought for the bones and scraps. Now I understood why we couldn’t swim. I have a video!

The pictures say it all. I had a great day. John not so – if you don’t catch anything, fishing is boring. So the next day, fishing was on for me and John stayed at home. I wasn’t quite as successful as they day before, but I just love being on the water.

We both managed to do a lot of reading when we weren’t fishing. I highly recommend “The Overstory”. And of course “The Gulf Country”. Lynne also gave me a book “Gulf Women” about women who work and live in the gulf.

It’s not a place for everybody, but if you love fishing, put it on your list.

A pause for reflection

On a light note, I need to correct something. Poddle Bong frogs are really Pobble Bonk. I really can’t decide which name I like better!

And thanks to everyone who sends us comments and feedback. It is much appreciated. Everyone loves the name of the blog. I wish I could take credit for it as it is a great name. Thanks Hilary!

More seriously….

The further north we go, the less news we get. For a news and political junkie like me this has been a challenge. I pick up bits and pieces on my phone but don’t subscribe to any papers. John does. Some news comes from him. Not sure he’s reading much of it though. I did start buying the Australian but just couldn’t stomach the exaggerated nonsense that Bill Shorten was going to wreck everything and kill all your children. We watched the ABC news last night for the first time in a month.

The answers to my questions about what people think of politics and who are they going to vote for is the never-changing “who cares, they are all the same” mantra.  When people are uneducated, I can now see how they say that. When people are educated, I just can’t see why they would disenfranchise themselves. Up here, in Burketown, in the middle of nowhere, where no-one has a tertiary education and most likely didn’t finish school, who they vote for makes no difference to their lives (or so it would appear). Up here, it’s about surviving the weather, having enough money to get by and going fishing (if you can afford it). Generally, they are just forgotten people – a dot on the map, of no consequence (politically speaking) just making some kind of living and hoping they can get to Cairns or Mt Isa to do some shopping. We meet people who work hard and honestly admit that they have no assets and no money in the bank and they are in their mid-fifties. We meet pastoralists with large land-holdings and enormous assets and revenue. They are all good people. Easy in the world and happy with their lot.  John and I say nothing of our lives. I’m left a little empty wondering if it makes any difference who I vote for. My vote has never mattered. I’ve always lived in easily held Liberal seats. So really it makes no difference who I vote for either.

But in reality it does matter who we vote for. As Paul Keating once said, “when you change a government, you change the country”.  And it’s true. It mightn’t feel like things change in a big way in our daily lives, but shared values shift (albeit slowly) and priorities change -where the benefits and biggest share of the collective pie seriously changes. The privileged and wealthy certainly know and understand this. The people we are meeting have no idea.

350 people live in the whole shire of Burketown. The major employer is the council (30-40 employees) and about 150 are indigenous. There is a good relationship here between the blacks and whites and they seem to be all proud of that fact. It certainly looks harmonious and the 2 groups mix. This has not been our experience elsewhere. In fact, the blackfellas have been pretty invisible and I don’t really know why. I play with some theories in my head but they seem either naive, racist and certainly based on little evidence. I look through such a limited prism – white, privileged, left-leaning, city dwelling, female and now over 60. I know lots about all that stuff but really know very little about other important stuff.

But here goes…..there is an aboriginal community called Doomagee about 90 kms west of Burketown in a different shire of about 1200 inhabitants. It was started as an aboriginal mission in the 1890s and the missionaries only left in the 1980s. The pastoralists had been violently moving aboriginals off ”their land” since the 1860s either by just shooting them, bringing them to the property as slave labour or  moving them across the border to the NT. Unsurprisingly the aboriginals didn’t recognise the NT border as tribal groups lived across this imposed and to them, imaginary, boundary. This caused further violent interactions and many were rounded up and moved to Doomagee. So this is where they still are. Alcohol, domestic violence, unemployment are central problems. Professional positions are held by whites and we hear that corruption by them is rife. The magistrates court attends once a month and deals with the same problems each month. It is well known that there will be no custodial sentences (not that I think that’s the answer) as there is no space left in any of the prisons. It is a dry community where alcohol abuse is rife. There is plenty of money – either through royalties for land usage or government support. This is all what we hear and have read. I am reading a fantastic book called The Gulf Country which was commissioned by the Burketown shire council. It was written by Richard Martin, a Queensland academic. It is great and tries to find a voice for the different perspectives about the settlement of the gulf. You can only conclude though that it has been mostly disastrous for the aboriginal community. Except in Burketown, the whites’ perspective is still “why can’t they just learn to live like us?” We heard this alot. Original documents cited in Richard Martin’s book speak of “tying the aborigines to trees until they are tamed”. So nothing has really changed since 1860 – except the violence towards aborigines has now become violence between aborigines. I reflect on and write about this not because I have a clue of what to do about it, but because it is so clearly in front of John and me. In Sydney, it is so far away and although we know that policies have differing results, we optimistically believe that some good is being achieved. I’m not so sure about what’s actually being achieved. It is hard to sit with, hear about and feel so useless. It is heartening though to see communities like Burketown working to find new ways. It is a credit to the white and indigenous elders. But I fear this is the exception rather than the rule and success is not based on federal government policies, but on the goodwill and hard work of small local communities.

There is so much to think about as we drive these long and desolate roads.

65. Time to think

66. Time to write

Burketown

It’s unusual for me to mention coffee along the way. The only other shop in Gregory was Murray’s Coffee. Best coffee in Gregory we were told. Ha Ha. How could we resist. It was OK coffee. At the next table was a group of 4 older people (like us). John and I flicked through the local rag on the table and I noticed a photo of the mayor. I looked at the group next to us and there was the mayor and his wife. “What a shitty place to be the mayor,” I thought as we finished our coffee and headed to Burketown about 100 kms up the road.

We ponder what might be in Burketown and whether we will stay or head straight to Normanton. Burketown is tiny and about 40 kms off the coast. It is surrounded by rivers, creeks and waterholes which are inhabited by saltwater crocodiles. Not much there.

The road is good and deserted. John is driving. It’s hot. We approach a long curve.

“What the fuck!” I scream as I see the front left wheel of the car take off down the road in front of us. The car pulls to the left, John hits the brakes. He brings the car to a stop on the wrong side of the road. The wheel is still spinning down the road about 100 metres in front of us. I watch as it heads into the scrub.

We get out, shaken and examine the corner where the wheel should be. The wheel bolts have been sheared clean off. How does that happen?

I retrieve the wheel. It is in surprisingly good shape. I take a chair, a bottle of water and my book and position myself under a tree at the top of the curve. John does the same at the other end of the curve. There is nothing to do but sit and wait, and wait with all the flies. They are vicious. Of course there is no mobile reception and we don’t have a satellite phone. Yes, yes I know…..everyone said to get one.

An hour passes. It’s even hotter. Then a car. I flag it down. No, they don’t have a satellite phone either. They have come from Burketown so now we know we are 40 kms from help.

“You’ll need a tow truck.” They are spot on.

“You’ll need Paul. We just saw him, he’s in town and so is his RACQ truck. You’re in luck because he’s often not there. We will call him for you when we get some reception.” Luck has so been on our side. They drive away and then of course there is a constant stream of cars. They all want to have a look, offer advice and help. “Lucky you didn’t roll it,” they all say. I can only agree. John did a great job of keeping the car on the road. I wouldn’t have been able to.

Paul arrives with the tow truck about an hour later. Another car pulls up and out jumps the mayor with his wife. “Hop in. We will take you into town. Paul will look after the car.” So, not only do they take us into town, they give us a guided tour, a potted history and make sure we have accommodation for the night. They even go and collect our bags when the tow truck comes back into town. I can’t believe how wonderful they have been to us.

61. The RACQ

It’s Easter Sunday and the mechanic can’t look at it until Tuesday. There is nothing in Burketown. We chat to Paul. He’s got it all organised. Not only is he the RACQ operator, he runs the best accommodation in town (it was booked out), he is the deputy mayor and he also owns and runs Savannah Air, a small airline with 6 charter planes. Because it’s Easter and then ANZAC Day closely following, we have no idea how long all this might take.

“Why don’t I fly you out to Sweer’s Island tomorrow and pick you up in a few days?” So that’s what we did. Sweer’s Island is a fishing paradise. I like fishing, but John doesn’t. There is nothing else to to. so it’s decided. That night we stayed in town, we had the best fish and chips I’ve ever had and we saw the presentation for the barra fishing competition in the new, well-designed community space which functioned as the council chambers, sporting grounds, meeting area and playground. Everyone was there. And most surprising and heartening was that blacks and whites were there in equal numbers happily mixing and sharing the prizes. So I start asking questions about what we see.

The council commissioned a Brisbane academic, Richard Martin, to write a book about the history of Burketown. That in itself was surprising. It’s called The Gulf Country. It starts off by detailing the dispossession of the aboriginal peoples from their land, the violence, murder and enslavement that occurred. It was difficult reading. The book was only lent to me (by the deputy mayor) but they are sending one down to me in Sydney. I haven’t finished it.

62. Books

The mayor, the deputy mayor and the local aboriginal elders have worked so well together to create this well functioning community. It has taken years of dialogue and consultation. It’s not been easy as many have a different view about what needs to be done. They talked alot about reconciliation and apologies. These things matter. The proof of success was a town which was clean, safe, respectful of all. So much for for my thoughts about what a shitty place to be mayor. When he found out that Alex was doing his Master’s in Economic Development he suggested Alex come up and do some work for the Council. “We could use young people with that education.” Truly inspirational.

63. The Uluru Statement from the Heart

64. A new government which will adopt the recommendations from this report (I hope)

Burketown Barra fishing prize night

Boodjamulla National Park

There are a few things I left off my list from my last entry…..

55. People who stop and help

56. People who stop and help and know what they are doing

57. People who stop and help, know what they are doing and are fully equipped for the outback

58. People who stop and help, know what they are doing, are fully equipped for the outback and don’t laugh about you until they get back in their car

After a very refreshing sleep, we woke to a flat tyre. So it wasn’t just the bead but a hole in the tyre. But it was OK. It was 8 am, the car was in the shade and on flat, hard ground and we knew how to get the spare off. John was onto it. He loosened the wheel nuts and then put the jack under the car and started pumping. And kept pumping and kept pumping. It was moving but not much. At this point, I decided that reading the manual may be helpful and lo and behold we found the jack that came with the car. So now we had 2 jacks! We positioned the second jack under the car, John pumping away and I turned the jack handle. Success. It was slow but it worked. I had the spare off and John had the tyre off in no time. On with the new, off with the old, tighten the nuts, put the tyre with the hole on the back of the car, repack the car and we were off. John was as proud as punch and if I’d had a medal I would have pinned it on his puffed out chest.

We had about 90 kms of gravel road to get to Adel’s Grove, our accommodation at the National Park. It was easy going and we knew there was a mechanic at Adel’s Grove. We arrived relieved and safe. The mechanic found the hole in the tyre and for the grand sum of $70 it was all fixed.

59. Mechanics in the middle of nowhere

The National Park is spectacular. Well worth the trouble and distance we had travelled. It was just all about the scenery. We canoed through the gorge and walked around it. I think I’ve been defeated by the Queenslanders in my pursuit to get people interested in politics. After numerous encounters with people who are clearly voting against their own interests, I’m almost done. The shooters, fishers and farmers and Clive Palmer have alot to answer for for undermining democracy. But back to the scenery…..

60. Waterlilies

We had a lovely 5 days there. We had our tyres checked by the mechanic before we were leaving and he found a hole in one of the tyres. One coffee and $70 later we were cleared to travel to Burketown – 90 kms of gravel and 130 kms of tarred road. What could go wrong?

Gregory

Gregory is just a stop along the way to Boodjamulla National Park. Another one-horse, or rather, one pub town. It’s not far from Mt Isa, but there is a lot of dirt road – actually it is rock road so not pleasant driving. We see only a few cars the whole way – about 100 kms.

About 50kms from Gregory, John “felt” the tyre go and he was right – a flat, but luckily not a shredded tyre as we found out was so common up here. It was 6pm with about an hour of light left. No problem. We had bought a fancy new jack from Super Cheap Auto (our favourite new shop). John got the jack out and started lifting the car. My job was to get the spare tyre off the back. All I could hear was swearing from the front of the car (John as you know is so good at this kind of stuff).

“Where’s the key to get the tyre off the support?” I call.

“I don’t know,” said John. “I didn’t know we needed a key. We weren’t given any other keys except the one to start the car”.

“I don’t have anything else either. I’ll check inside the car. How’s the jack going?” There is no upward movement so I know very well how the jack is going. More swearing. It is not holding. I look for the jack that comes with the car. John says there isn’t one. This I can’t believe. “You mean to tell me, you didn’t check if we had everything we need to change a fucking tyre. You must be kidding me.” I say in a high pitched, exasperated, married for 27 years voice. It’s getting dark. We are getting nowhere – we can’t lift the car or get the spare unhooked. We have no idea what we are doing. We are so stupid. Time to give up. John is appropriately ashamed and embarrassed….my anger has subsided.

 We set up for the night. Empty the back of the car, roll out the mattress and pillows, set up the 2 chairs (the ones John said at the beginning of the trip we wouldn’t need), make some sandwiches for dinner, settle in for the night. There is nothing else we can do. If the wine had been chilled, we would’ve had a glass or two. The stars are wonderous. It will be OK in the morning.

I can’t help thinking about the stories Marie (from the underground hospital) had told us that morning – the ones about the murders of old couples in the bush. I am being stupid I know. John is reassuring. Time passes, it’s quiet, not too dark as the moon is almost full.

A noise – we turn together looking down the road. A light. It’s 9pm. Who’s on this road at 9pm? The light approaches. It’s big, it’s bright, it’s moving quickly towards us….it’s only a single light – a motorbike?? No, it’s a big 4WD Ute with roo shooting lights across the top. Great. We flag it down. All I see is the male driver and it’s not until I see his female passenger do I relax. I obviously watch too many British murder series. There are 3 kids in the back.

“What’s the problem?” the young man asks.

“A flat.”

“You can’t change it?” he asks, incredulous. His wife looks at me and says “It’s OK. Chris can fix anything.” And he does. He looks for the hole in the tyre, can’t find a leak and gets his compressor out. (Knew we should’ve bought one of those – not). He pumps up the tyre. He thinks we popped the bead and should now be fine. They help us pack the car, (really!), say follow us. I reach in the back of the car and pull out a bottle of wine. I offer it to Chris who readily accepts it until he sees it’s red wine. “You don’t have a white do you?” Of course we do. They are not going into Gregory but stopping about 20kms short to go camping. We follow them until they are turning off. He has the compressor back out, checks the pressure and says we’re fine to get to Gregory. It took Chris about 10 minutes to fix. Amazing when you know what you are doing and have the right equipment.

We rolled into Gregory about 10pm. The publican was behind the bar having a glass of red wine.

“You look like you need a drink. I’ve been wondering where you were.”

John sits beside me with a beer in hand and says, “let me show you where the key to unlock the tyre is.” He gets out the car key and pushes a small button on the side and out slides the key. We would never have found it. Chris showed John while I was packing the car and the 35 year old advised the 66 year old to maybe not tell me until we had arrived at the pub. Smart man. Now it was funny.

I can’t believe I didn’t take any photos. Just goes to show how much anger can stop you seeing everything else around you.

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.