Outback Road Trip Part Two

Birdsville to Mt Isa and Environs

How fortunate are we to live in such an amazing country? In this blog, I share part two of our recent Outback Queensland experiences.

After farewelling Birdsville, we travelled north, stopping to explore an area of the ancient Waddi Tree—a fairly scruffy, non-descript native tree that tested many of the early settlers. Considered one of the hardest timbers in the world, they are mostly known for the ability to not only blunt axes and chainsaws, but to be completely impenetrable, resembling steel more than wood. Rather than attempt to cut them down, farmers for generations have used them as living fence posts and allowed them to determine which direction the fence line takes.

A rocky ridge provided an interesting deviation and we clambered in and out of shallow caves, marvelling at the ability and strength of both plants and animals that live in this harsh environment.

Another forty kilometres on, we stopped again to visit the ruins of Carcory Homestead. Built in 1877 from local limestone by Hector and Norman Wilson, it was then purchased by Sir Sidney Kidman, one of Australia’s most prominent cattlemen. However, due to the harsh climate and the loss of 4000 bullocks, he also considered the area unsuitable for sustainable pastoral development and abandoned the property in 1906. Sadly, all that now remains is the shell of a small stone cottage. It is believed that the roofing iron was commandeered by the Federal Government during World War 11 and the ruin of the homestead epitomises the desolation of the place.

Further north, we reached Cuttaburra Crossing – a low lying area next to a beautiful bird filled lagoon. We set up camp in a pocket of bush beside the water and stayed for two days, walking, bird watching and enjoying reading and writing. Many water birds including several types of Cormorants, Spoonbills, Grebes, Caspian Terns, and Pelicans kept us entertained, particularly the fascinating manner in which the Pelicans work as a team to catch fish—something akin to a water ballet as they circle together and dive, heads down and tails up, in perfect unison. In the air, many different types of Kites called and swooped up and down the water and we were privy to a nest of Whistling Kite directly above us, complete with chicks.

Pushing north through ever changing countryside, we reached Bedourie—a neat little town with yet another iconic hotel made from mudbricks and daub. After refuelling and feeding handfuls of grass to Priscilla, the pet camel, we continued on to Boulia where we stayed in a gorgeous grassy campground next to the river. While the resident free ranging pony visited each caravan to check out the supply of carrots, we relished the shady trees and the jovial, friendly park operator who made our stay so enjoyable. Although very small, with only one store, an Information Centre, a service station and a few houses, Boulia is not only the western gateway to the road leading to Alice Springs (via many kilometres of rough gravelled road) but is also well known for the “Min-Min light” – a mysterious glowing orb that moves across the plains. From unknown origins, the mystical light, always in the distance, has fascinated (and terrified) many a traveller as well as the locals.

Continuing north toward Mt Isa, we were astounded at the steep, rocky hills in all directions. Somehow, my expectation of north west Queensland didn’t include desert-style mountains—and they were beautiful. Eagles and Kites were prolific, possibly encouraged by the amount of road-kill, and they swirled above us for kilometres, dropping to the road on regular occasions to eat carrion. After days of not seeing a single kangaroo or wallaby, we encountered hundreds in this area and I must admit, I was relieved as it indicated an abundance of food and water for the animals which we had been hard pressed to find.

Arriving at Mt Isa was yet another revelation. Surrounded by steep, craggy hills, the heat hit us and I wondered how anyone could have survived the summers before air-conditioning was invented. On the 20th July (mid-winter) the temperature reached 32 degrees Celsius, and the nights were certainly not cold! We could have spent several days there, visiting the many attractions as an underground mine tour, an exploration of the museum and a delicious dinner in the town managed to fill an entire day. The underground hospital (used during the wars and popular because of the cool temperatures) was another fascinating icon and the view from the lookout capturing the entire town and area, was not to be missed either.

East of Mt Isa, we explored the old uranium mine of Mary Kathleen. Memories of having studied the various mining activities of Australia at school, including this particular mine, have remained with me and I was quite disappointed to discover the road was so neglected that a good four wheel drive vehicle was essential. However, in spite of being abandoned in 1981, the layout of the original town is fascinating – and a great place to camp overnight if you are self-sufficient.

Next month, join me for the journey east via Cloncurry, Julia Creek, Richmond, and Hughenden before we turn south and explore the dinosaur trail!

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