From Darwin, South Again Via Many Places We Missed Going North.
Litchfield National Park
Litchfield National Park lived up to expectations and
we couldn't disagree with my cousin Anne's view that it was even
better than Kakadu. The countryside varied from areas of cleared farmland
through bushland, rivers, floodplains, wetlands, dense monsoon forests,
towering rocks and several stunningly beautiful waterfalls such as the
Florence Falls, pictured below.
Wangi (pronounced wong-eye
) Caravan Park, where we stayed, was
simple but adequate, given that it was so far from anywhere. Its water
was taken from a stream and electrical power was from a diesel generator.
Situated in a beautifully peaceful setting, this caravan park had none
of the usual list of rules; it was laid-back and friendly. The nights
too, were peaceful, free of the screeching of owls and other night creatures.
Beautiful Florence Falls in Litchfield Park. Look
at the dare-devils climbing the wet rock face from the pool.
The pictures below show what they were about.
Mrs B and I watched in amazement as one after another of these daring
young people - that's a girl in the pictures in case you hadn't noticed
- plunged to the black water below.
The pictures above don't show how high the waterfall was. The one on the
right gives a true idea of the scale.
We were in perfect agreement, Mrs B and I; if someone put a gun to our
heads and ordered us to jump off that waterfall on pain of death, we'd
have simply said,
A few days after we saw these kids jump, a girl slipped on the slimy
rocks at the top of the falls and fell, injuring her back and necessitating
an emergency rescue.
Sometimes, in the monsoon rain forests, the tree
canopy would be so dense that little light filtered through to the ground.
Although humid, it was beautifully cool. Mrs Water Bucket enjoyed a paddle. However, at Litchfield, as at Kakadu, there was the ever-present danger
of crocs where there was water.
We took a boat trip to explore the Reynolds
River and some of its inlets. There we saw many crocodiles, both 'Salties'
and 'Freshies'. Our guide had eyes like a hawk - he could spot
a croc under cover on the opposite bank of the river, and even when he took
the boat across we still couldn't see the creature until we were within
a few metres of it. We began to suspect we were being 'set up'
and they were plastic replicas . . . until one suddenly came to life and
raced down the bank into the river, frightening us all to death.
Lord Jesus I was kidding! I do believe in you and I'll be really good, I promise.
A saltwater crocodile, and certainly not a plastic replica. However, not all the sights were so scary. Wherever there
was a waterfall there was a pool . . . and some of the scenery was very
easy to look at.
Mid-winter, Northern Territory style.
Left: Buley Rock Hole. Right: Florence Falls, view obstructed by an inconsiderate bather.
The Tolmer Falls (left) were viewed from a platform built out over the edge
of the gorge which provided an exceptional view of both falls and gorge.
On leaving Litchfield our next stop was at Douglas Daly. The Douglas River
flowed past the caravan park and later joined the Daly River. There were
several swimming holes, some small water falls and even a rock arch through
which the river flowed. A short way upstream were the Douglas Hot Springs
which we visited and where we lay on the sandy river bed and let the warm
water wash over us for so long our skin became all wrinkled. Well, okay,
even more wrinkled.
The spring water was too hot to bear but a little downstream it was joined
by a tributary of cold water which mixed with it to give a perfect bath-water
By the time the river reached the caravan park and the swimming holes it
was much cooler but still warm enough to bathe in indefinitely. It was quite
deep too but there were a few rocks to avoid. A rope hanging from a tree
branch kept the children amused for hours, swinging out high over the deep
water and plunging in. One little thing was hardly big enough to walk, but
she swam like a fish and swung on the rope with the rest. A certain geriatric
was itching to have a go but would probably have broken the rope.
Each Sunday and Wednesday the caravan park at which we were staying put
on a roast buffalo dinner. We were a teeny
bit sceptical about
the buffalo meat. It tasted just like beef but . . . perhaps buffalo meat
does. There was no denying that there was a real live buffalo in the paddock
next to the park.
Each Thursday morning the park management put on a free Devonshire tea for
the camp inmates which was yummy. We saw our first cane toad in Douglas
Daly, albeit a dead one. All Australians will be familiar with the cane
toad menace, but for the benefit of our other reader, the cane toad, a native
of South America, was introduced to Queensland in an attempt to control
insect pests in the sugar cane. It wasn't successful. The toads loved their
new environment and bred alarmingly fast. The toad population is now spreading
west across the north of Australia in plague proportions and nobody knows
how to stop it. The toad defends itself with a poison that kills any predator
that attempts to eat it, hence not only are its numbers a problem, but native
species will be increasingly affected. These include many birds of prey,
snakes and even crocodiles. The wildlife expert who guided us on our Reynolds
River cruise predicted an impending tragedy in the northern wetlands as
toad numbers increase.
A snake, type unknown, at Edith Falls. Its first meal of cane toad will be its last.
Another menace that we came across in the north was sand
flies. They give a mosquito-like bite which itches like the devil. What
was frustrating was that we never saw the little buggers. Some people say
that they don't bite, it's their urine that irritates the skin. I don't
know about that but the only thing that stopped them driving us totally
mad was a trick taught to us by a good friend and soon-to-be in-law, Scotty
Cook from Townsville. You heat up the area of skin containing the bites
until you can only just endure it. Hot water is one convenient way. Keep
it hot for five minutes or so and when you remove the heat, the itching
has gone. It may eventually return but not for several hours so at least
you get a good night's sleep. Thanks, Scotty, you're a life saver.
After Douglas Daly we set off back to Katherine where we planned to stay for a week.
The Top and Middle Pools at Edith Falls. We later swam in the Lower Pool (not shown here).
As we rolled merrily along, anticipating a nice drop of
'red' on arrival, I glanced in the mirror and froze! (Allow
for over-dramatisation, as always.) The rear of the 'van was much
too far out to the right. We were passing through the little town of Pine
Creek so we found a convenient parking place and pulled over.
Sure enough, the right wheel on the rear axle was
well out of line - something had broken and the axle had moved several
inches back on the spring. With the caravan jacked up and the wheel removed
we discovered that the bolt through the spring that also locates the axle
was conspicuous by its absence. We slackened the U-bolt nuts and pulled
the axle straight, tightening up the nuts as much as possible. Replacing
the wheel we resumed our journey. All was well until I applied the brakes
which caused the axle to slip again - we were back to square one with
the caravan crabbing. Nothing for it but to continue slowly and hope we
didn't overheat the tyres or scrub too much rubber off.
We made it to Katherine safely, pulled the wheel off again, separated
the axle from the spring, found the broken end of the bolt, bought the
necessary bits* and bunged it all back together again. We then crossed
A few days later we left Katherine to the tender mercies of the USAF which
was carrying out exercises with FA-18 Hornet jet fighters which were operating
out of RAAF Tindal. They climbed out in pairs over the caravan park, cracking
the skies open.
*I actually bought four of everything which was to prove a
very wise investment before too much time had passed.
Our destination was Mataranka, just over a hundred kilometres
to the south east. This was the next stage in our long 'backtrack'
down the Stuart Highway to the intersection with the Barkly Highway where
we were to turn east towards Queensland. We had purposely 'saved'
Mataranka for our return journey. Thankfully the repairs to the caravan
axle were successful and the 'van behaved impeccably. And so it damned
well should - it's only fourteen months old! Anyway, let's talk about Mataranka.
The town, if it could be so described, was small and when we visited it
one Saturday morning, nothing was open apart from a supermarket and three
petrol stations. However, close by were two thermal pools, one was at Rainbow
Springs (below left) and the other was Bitter Springs which was salty.
Left, bathers in the warm water of Rainbow Springs.
Centre is a shy wallaby and right,
a cocky peacock who took a liking to a Nissan Patrol.
Rainbow Springs was adjacent to the Homestead Caravan Park
where we stayed. The pool was actually in the Elsey National Park but just
a 300 metre walk from our caravan. The springs were surrounded by a dense
forest of palms and paperbark trees making the environment very attractive.
The water was about body temperature and plenty deep enough to bathe in,
which we did. The springs supplied the pool with over thirty million litres
of warm water per day which eventually flowed into the nearby Waterhouse
The caravan park itself fell into the 'adequate' category -
no grass, just dusty bare ground, but plenty of trees and an occasional
wallaby. There were also about a dozen peacocks and peahens. They looked
very glamorous but sometimes gave the most plaintive cries at night, sounding
like a female screaming Help, Help
. One peacock got a little above
himself and decided he'd make a nice mascot on the spare wheel of a Nissan
The ablutions at the caravan park, so important to the ladies, were definitely
at the lower end of the scale. But, on the positive side, there were discounted
drinks at the bar for 'happy hour' - we always need to to keep
our priorities in mind. We stayed at Mataranka for five days and visited
Bitter Springs on one occasion. I have never seen such crystal clear water
before. It was about two metres deep and every pebble on the bottom was
visible. The temperature was a constant 34° Celsius and people were
That same day we visited Twelve Mile Yard (as in cattle yard) on the Roper
River - a truly beautiful spot. I was fascinated by an ingeniously simple
method of mustering cattle. The bush was too dense for stockmen to ride
through but the cattle made their own way to the river to drink. A triangular
corral was constructed, the river forming one side of the triangle and the
other two sides were of sturdy fencing. In the centre of each fence was
a double gate. The gates were hung so that they opened into
corral and gravity would swing them closed again. Thus the cattle soon learned
to push the gates open to get to the river, but when they tried to leave
again they couldn't. Clever, simple and foolproof. The cattle muster themselves.
The cows were then branded and released. The poor bulls suffered a far worse
fate. Makes my eyes water to think about it.
Little Red Flying Foxes
We came across a most curious irony when walking through the palms to the
thermal pool. The trees had been home to a colony of Little Red Flying Foxes.
These nomadic bats would arrive in huge numbers about October each year
to feed by night from the eucalypt flowers in the neighbouring woodlands,
then rest by day in the palms and paperbarks. Each evening the sky would
become dark as they rose from the trees and flew off in search of food.
An official sign by the path told us how valuable these bats were to the
ecosystem, and how we should make every effort not to disturb them. The
caravan park owner, however, saw it entirely differently. Two hundred
bats create an awful lot of bat poo, the stench of which was
extremely unpleasant. Customer numbers at the caravan park dwindled alarmingly.
Something had to be done but
the bats were a protected species.
Mr. Caravan Park Owner, not a man to let a few bats stand in the way of
profit, installed dozens of powerful water sprinklers high in the palm trees.
The photo (right) shows the water pipe running up one of the trees. This
solved his problem. There were no more bats - just a sign telling us how
important they are and not to disturb them!
Even more ironical was the caravan park's own leaflet which listed the bats
as one of its attractions
. I quote:
You may be lucky enough
to see the Flying Foxes who love to rest here.
We of the never-Never
Did you ever read We Of The Never-Never
Gunn? Or see the film from that book? Jeannie's story took place at the
homestead of Elsey Station where Jeannie lived with her husband. He died
there of malarial dysentery and is buried nearby. The building is long since
gone but it stood close to where the caravan park is now. An exact replica
of the homestead was built for the film and that replica is situated within
the grounds of the caravan park. We had a look around the building then
went in to watch a video of the film which is screened at noon every day.
The reconstruction of Elsey Homestead built for the film We Of The Never-Never.
I'm not too sure about looking at a film company's replica
of a house that was near
the present site. Jeannie Gunn undoubtedly
had a very hard life and her story is interesting, but she never lived in
this house. The place had no atmosphere. It was knocked together by a film
company's carpenters, used for a few weeks filming then abandoned to eventually
be moved to where it now stands.
We assumed the name Mataranka was derived from an Aboriginal
word - so many place names are. We made enquiries but - as always - nobody
seemed to know. Certainly none of the caravan park staff could help. They
suggested we try the museum in the town. The museum was closed, as you'd
expect at three o'clock on a Monday afternoon. Well . . . you would in Mataranka.
We tried the Post Office. They said,
Try the petrol station, Sue
has been here a long time.
Nobody at the petrol station had heard of Sue.
I joined Pam in the supermarket and asked the checkout chick. It was a long
Try the art gallery,
a book there. And they do coffees.
The reference to coffee sold us.
We walked to the art gallery. The art gallery was more of a café
but there was 'a book' and the lady there had researched the
origin of the town's name.
Nothing definite, of course, but this is the theory: Mataranka was named
by Dr J A Gilruth who was the first Administrator of the Northern Territory.
He was known to have spent time in New Zealand and it is believed the name
is either a Maori word or derived from a Maori word and it probably refers
to the hot springs.
And with that, we just had to be satisfied.
Peter and the Twelve(ish) Apostles. Apostle birds
are so named because they are supposed to gather in flocks of a dozen.
And, indeed, sometimes they do.
The 1998 flood
The sign ringed in red at the top of the picture marks the water level in January '98.
On page eight of this tome I described the effect on Katherine
of the 1998 flood - I expect you remember it clearly. You do? Good. Well,
that same year the water level in Mataranka also rose, so high in fact that
it almost reached the ceiling of the bar in the caravan park. There is a
sign showing where the water finally peaked (see top of the photo). Elsewhere
there are photographs showing the park under water. There is a general acceptance
in the Northern Territory that this sort of thing will happen, to a greater
or lesser extent, every summer. They're between the devil and the deep blue
sea. Or, as Aussies would say, between a rock and a hard place. If they
build high up on stilts, they're safe from floods - but then a cyclone will
wipe them out.
There is another sign on the wall stating that neat and tidy dress is expected
in the evening. The minimum acceptable being shirt, shorts and thongs. For
my faithful non-Aussie reader I should just clarify the use of the word
'thongs' in this context. It refers to the footwear known as
'flip flops' in the United Kingdom. It does not
that ladies may attend in G-strings. Sadly.
Fun reversing a caravan - especially when somebody else is doing it.
Departing from the subject of Mataranka entirely . . .
We've now been on the road for eight months and are beginning to cope
with hitching and reversing a caravan. Since other people enjoy our embarrassing
moments, we make no apology for enjoying theirs.
Occasionally the wife drives the car when backing onto the caravan, the
car moving in a series of jerks while the husband stands behind and imitates
a windmill with flailing arms. The outcome may be a loud crash and the
caravan jerking violently backwards. What follows would be described by
the police as 'a domestic'.
More frequently the husband reverses the car while the wife stands behind
and gives the incomprehensible signals. The macho husband, suspecting
that every caravan window conceals pairs of expectant eyes (and he's probably
right), reverses boldly back towards his caravan. He doesn't need the
little woman, he's done this a million times before. Just before the crash
his wife, sensing disaster, leans forward and pushes desperately against
the car with both hands. This has no effect whatsoever. Neither has the
squeal she utters which probably means STOP! Or it could mean HELP! as
she is standing between the converging vehicles. This, naturally, is followed
by the usual crash and recriminations, each blaming the other.
Perhaps that's why Mrs Bucket bought me this shirt . . . Reversing the
car onto the caravan is comparatively easy compared to reversing the car
caravan into (or out of) a restricted space, contending with
obstacles and possibly low branches (I've snapped off our radio antenna
twice so far).
We have gone high-tech, using hand-held UHF radios so the one behind the
caravan can instruct the driver. When reversing on a turn, which is usual,
the driver can see nothing whatsoever either behind the 'van or
down one side. Thus good communication is vital. Use of the radios also
eliminates the need for hand waving and shouting; this really
spoils the show for the neighbours.
Some years later:
We soon abandoned the UHF radios
and found a better way. Pam drives the car and only does precisely
what I tell her. If, at any time, she loses sight of me in the mirrors,
she stops and doesn't move until I reappear.
Why is this a better way? Because it eliminates domestic conflict. If
something goes wrong, it is my fault - no argument.
We have devised a clear set of signals that we both understand so the
'windmilling hands' become obsolete.
I point up = drive forward.
I point down = reverse.
I point left = turn the steering wheel to the left.
I point right = turn the steering wheel to the right.
The halt signal is the usual one.
It's my responsibility to determine which way the
steering wheel should be turned. Pam just obeys. (Hell, it's the only
time that she does.) That's the basis of it, five simple signals that,
with a few refinements cover any manoeuvre we need to make.
Example of a refinement: BOTH index fingers pointing left = full left
The only down side to this system is that when I get it exactly right, SHE gets all the credit.
Footnote: This re-working of Page 10 was completed on 13 March 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.