Page 51

Georgetown, Mount Surprise, Cairns and Cooktown.

And So To Georgetown

The 300 km journey east from Normanton was uneventful, but on arrival I sniffed that nasty 'brown' aroma of hot brakes.
"Probably from that trailer in front," I thought, as we waited to book in to the caravan park, "I'd better check. He'll be grateful to be told."
Naturally you've already guessed - it was our caravan brake - the left front wheel. The wheel was mad hot. Oh, well, it wouldn't seem normal to not have a wheel off at every caravan park we stay in.

We had arrived in time for the Georgetown Rodeo so once all was in order at the caravan park we took a quick spin around the town (20 streets) and went to the rodeo.

Rider on Bull

This was "Junior Class" riding smaller bulls. Still rather them than me, what do you say?


Oh-oh, the bull has unbalanced him. Worse, the rope has . . .


. . . trapped his left hand. He can't get free and the bull is dragging him. Those deadly hooves
are pounding the ground much too close for comfort. He was rescued uninjured - this time.

Once the rodeo was over, there was little to do or see in Georgetown so we cut our stay short and headed for Mount Surprise. I had inspected the overheating brake and found nothing seriously amiss. I think the shoes had been rubbing lightly on the drum and the resulting increase in temperature caused them to expand and rub harder, causing more heat, and so on. I checked and regreased the bearings which were okay. So why did this problem occur out of the blue? Possibly because they were adjusted recently and the weather had been quite cold since then. As daytime temperatures increased, so the likelihood of this occurrence increased. On the way to Mount Surprise the previously troublesome wheel stayed cold but both the rear wheels got quite warm. I backed their brake shoes off as soon as we had set up in Mount Surprise and all was well thereafter. But, hey, you don't give a damn about all that so let's get on with the story.

Mount Surprise

First, where did the name originate? The story goes like this: In 1861 a bloke called Esra Firth lost a bullock and sent his son, Tom, to track it down. Tom followed the bullock's tracks for nine kilometres and found it drinking from a clear stream at the foot of a mountain. While at this creek, Tom stumbled upon an Aboriginal camp. He rode back and returned with his father and others. They saw "over one hundred blacks, naked and wild". (Well, wouldn't you be wild if you were cavorting nude and a bunch of hairy men rode up on horses?) Anyway, from that moment Esra named the location Mount Surprise. The creek from which the bullock was drinking was named Elizabeth Creek after Esra's wife.

To call Mount Surprise a 'mountain' involves some licence. The literature says that the township is at an elevation of 440 metres (1,430 feet) above mean sea level, and the mountain rises to 500 metres (1,625 feet). Thus this 'mountain' only rises 195 feet above the surrounding terrain - perhaps the height of a fourteen-floor office block.

The township is so small that the school's Grade 7 class only had one pupil, so he always came top of the class. And bottom. We liked the town and the caravan park which was spacious, green and leafy.

From there we booked a trip on the SavannahLander train to Einasleigh (which they seem to pronounce Ines-Lee). The train, jokingly called the Silver Bullet, rattled and swayed along at about 50 k.p.h. and frequently slowed or stopped for kangaroos, wild pigs or Brahman cattle on the track. Looking forward through the train's windscreen was disconcerting on the straight stretches as the track ahead was anything but straight. It wiggled and wavered its way into the distance.

Savannah Lander

Pam and the Silver Bullet before leaving Mount Surprise.

The driver once stopped to show us some Aboriginal rock art beside the track. The art, however, was not thousands of years old, it had been done by an Aboriginal member of a track gang using modern materials. In olden times, Aborigines sprayed dye onto the rock from their mouths, using their hand as a template. This bloke had used an aerosol paint spray. When asked if he'd worn a glove he replied, "Hey, that's a good idea!"

If Mount Surprise is a two-horse town, then Einasleigh might just stretch to a one-horse town. It has a population of about twenty five, a pub and a (deserted) police station.

Police Station

These police, when they served here, seemed to have the right idea of policing.

The train left us at Einasleigh and took passengers on to another tiny town called Forsayth where the track ends. The train was not to return for two days so our party was collected from the Einasleigh Hotel by our caravan park's bus driven by the park's co-owner, Jo. (Her husband's name is Joe.) The return journey was along 45 km. of rough dirt road which involved fording one wet creek and many dry creek beds. On the way we stopped for a mug of billy tea and cakes.

River ford and billy

After fording a creek we drank billy tea made from creek water. It tasted lovely.

Billy tea involves boiling a can - or billy - of water over an open fire. A handful of loose tea leaves is thrown in. The tea leaves all float on the surface of the hot water. After a minute a sharp tap on the side of the billy causes them all to sink. A bit of stick is used to give a final stir and there you have it, billy tea, just the best tea you'll ever taste.

The Lava Tubes

The next day we were booked to tour the Undara Lava Tubes. What are lava tubes? I'm so glad you asked because I just found out and am busting to show off. About 190,000 years ago the Undara Volcano erupted. It was not a violent eruption throwing rocks and lava high into the atmosphere, it was more like a pan of milk boiling over. The molten lava surged over the rim of the crater and poured down the sides. Being a fluid it followed the fall of the land and when it reached a river bed, it flowed along the course of that river for 160 kilometres. There being far more lava than the river bed could accommodate, it flooded out across the landscape, a sea of glowing, white-hot death that devoured all before it. The river's course disappeared below a fiery sea of molten rock.

As the surface of the lava cooled and hardened it formed an insulating layer above the still-molten lava flowing in the river bed. When the eruption stopped, the last of the molten lava drained out of the tunnel leaving an empty tube. In the fullness of time, some parts of the roof of the tube collapsed due to erosion and other natural processes, resulting in water again flowing into the former river bed, now a lava tube. Soft silt washed in with the water and slowly built up in the bottom of the tube. Today, with the water gone, visitors see a rock cave with a soft, flat powdery floor. Bats cling to the roof, the occasional rodent scurries to safety and the ubiquitous cockroaches blindly search for droppings in the pitch darkness. (Good life for a politician.)

Lava tube entrance

A section of roof collapsed revealing the wonder of the lava tube ...

Where the roof collapsed, sunlight slants in, illuminating the first few metres of the cave. After that there is darkness as the tube twists and turns, following the course of the original river. We were given low-powered torches, just bright enough to light the path ahead. Our guide had a much more powerful beam to illuminate objects of interest for us. The tubes are protected as much as possible to prevent contamination. We walked along narrow, marked paths so that the majority of the cave floor remained undisturbed. I commented that I had missed much by constantly looking down to see where next to step. Why was the cave not artificially illuminated so that visitors could enjoy them more? The reply: Sacrilege! The Undara Lava Tubes are of the best in the world and cannot be tampered with in any way. Well, okay.

Entrance with head

The entrance to one section of the lava tube, scale lent by the person's head (lower right).

The floor looks like muddy water but is soft, dusty sand. We enjoyed our short time in Mount Surprise and our tours to Einasleigh and the lava tubes. However, we had become so sick of the constant problems with our Jayco caravan that we had decided to alter our plans and head direct to Cairns where we would have Taylor's Trailers thoroughly overhaul the suspension and brakes.

Cairns - Like Going Home Only Better

Arriving back at the Cool Waters Caravan Park in Cairns was like arriving home - we immediately felt relaxed and as comfortable as if we'd never left. The lovely Susan had moved heaven and earth to save a site for us in our favourite area despite the park being full. We were amazed to see the improvements that she and Dwayne had made to the park, and the tropical vegetation had grown unbelievably. There was no hint of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Larry just eighteen months ago.

Cairns is not large and impersonal like Sydney or Melbourne, it's a 'cosy' place snuggled up against mountains painted with a rich coating of lush rainforest. The city is fronted by the Coral Sea. It's a perfect place to spend the Australian winter, warm and sunny and altogether pleasant. To make things absolutely perfect, our really good friends, Greg and Bev, were in Cairns for a few days and we were able to spend time with them.

One positive aspect of being in a city again was an abundance of good shops and services, not the least being two Gloria Jeans coffee shops.

A visit to Taylor's Trailers was our top priority to discuss our caravan suspension problems with people who know the business. The attitude of Jayco and many of their agents seems to be, "We've already got your money so go and phone someone who cares." Well, Taylors did care so we booked the caravan in for a major overhaul of the suspension, bearings and brakes. In order to try and stop the constant problems I had decided to have the axles returned to their original configuration, mounted above the springs. This would leave the caravan sitting considerably lower, and we'd just have to live with it grounding on dips and bumps.

However, while in Taylors I came across some straight axles - the standard axles are stepped, and that's one reason these caravans are so low. Fitting straight axles seemed the ideal compromise; they could be mounted in the original position above the springs, but the 'van would not sit as low. So that's what we did. Taylors fitted new axles and thoroughly serviced the bearings and brakes. Now we'll have to wait and see how the new setup works out.

The next task was to replace our mobile phones and computer modem with their 'Next G' equivalents. 'Next G' is the technology which will supercede the older CDMA system in about eight months.

Have you ever tried to buy a mobile phone? I mean, just a mobile phone? You can't do it. You can only buy a complicated gizmo which takes photographs, plays games, accesses the Internet, sends emails, tells you the time and date, transmits videos and turns into a calculator - all in addition to making phone calls. We requested a simple phone with keys large enough to see, that didn't have dozens of menus and ringing tones and buttons. Just a phone. A simple phone. The salesman laughed at us and commented that he'd lost count of the number of times he'd received the same request. There's a message there for cell phone manufacturers; design a simple phone and corner the 'grey' market. The baby boomers are here NOW - why are you not listening to us?

Of course, every new phone has to be on a PLAN! If you were in trouble before, steel yourself now. There are dozens of plans, all different, and all trading one aspect off against another. This plan is cheaper but the calls are dearer, that plan has a free hour, another plan supplies a better phone, and so on. Plans are designed to make it impossible to calculate which would be the cheapest for you.

This is important; before visiting your telecommunications shop for your new phone, take two Valium. Or three. I wish we had. New mobile phones may will seriously raise your stress levels and blood pressure. Trust me. They should come with a government health warning.

One last question regarding our mobile phones: Why, I want to know, do I have to pay for 1800 calls from my mobile, even during the 'free' hour? Home phones and even call box phones will connect to a 1800 number free. Why are mobile users penalised?

Read Pam's journal to find out what happened the first time we tried to make a phone call.

Our third priority was to visit Rusty's Markets where fresh fruit and vegetables are sold at very reasonable prices every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The place teems with stall holders selling every fruit and veg you could desire. Remember, we had just spent months in small country towns where 'the truck' only arrives once a week with supplies. Six days later the shops have either sold out, or their produce is so stale and wilted that most city people wouldn't touch it. Thus a visit to a market like Rusty's is heaven.
Much, much, much later . . . in Cooktown

Did you think we'd died? Having spent so much time in Cairns in the two previous years there wasn't much we hadn't already seen and reported in these pages. Rather than repeat myself I took a five week break, although Pam continued with her journal. While in Cairns we decided that we'd take a trip as far north as the bitumen would take us and that was to Cooktown. The sealed road was only completed a couple of years ago. Although we'd spent a day in Cooktown last year - see Page 29 - we thought we'd like to spend some more time there before the developers got around to spoiling it. We coupled up the caravan after adjusting the tow hitch to suit the new caravan height and set off to test the new axles over 320 kilometres of twisting road. All went well and we were soon settled in Cooktown where we were very impressed with the quality of the caravan park. It was green and leafy with large sites and we were positioned next to a small creek.

'Van at Cooktown

We were very impressed with the Cooktown Holiday Park. Here we are, in our own corner.

With plenty of time available we had the opportunity to assess Cooktown's hostelries. There was a handful to try, though in its gold rush heyday the little town had a pub on every corner - sixty five all told. We spent some of most days in an establishment now known as the Top Pub.

Top Pub

The 'Top Pub' was as good a place as any to spend an overcast day.

The sign, which starts on the right of the picture, reads "Prior to 1885, Traded as Whitehorse Hotel. Rebuilt in 1889 as the Commercial Hotel. Renamed in 1981, Cooktown Hotel". It's a long sign but for all that everyone simply calls the place the Top Pub.

I got caught out by a curious sign hanging from the ceiling in the bar. The the light was poor, the text was dark brown and the background darker brown. For that reason it was hard to read and impossible to photograph. The sign read "YCHCYODFTRFDS - TY". I asked the barmaid what it meant. "Well," she said, picking up a dollar coin from my change on the bar, "It stands for 'Your Curiosity Has Cost You One Dollar For The Royal Flying Doctor Service - Thank You.'" And so saying, she dropped my dollar into a collection tin. "That'll learn you to be curious," she called over her shoulder as she walked away, leaving me gob smacked.

There was another sign in the bar that didn't cost me anything but a chuckle and that one was easy to photograph.

Bar Sign

One afternoon we drove up Grassy Hill, the vantage point that Lieutenant James Cook climbed in 1770 after he'd beached H.M. Bark Endeavour for repairs in the estuary below. From the summit there are 360° views across Cooktown and the Endeavour River to the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding countryside. There's a little lighthouse on the top of Grassy Hill but it is made of corrugated iron and needs a coat of paint. I think it's now disused.

View from Grassy Hill

From Grassy Hill, Cooktown, the Endeavour River estuary at low tide.

I have a feeling it's time to start a new page but first let me show you a sign somebody had taken some trouble to make and erect at a point on Grassy Hill where a small track left the main track and disappeared into the bush. The lower part is clear but I can't make head nor tail of the top part. What about you?

Privacy sign

PRIVACY - is a Nice Day. And two kisses. Any guesses?

Thinking about our slogan, Adventure Before Dementia, we are realising more and more that a splash of dementia is probably a prerequisite for what we are doing. Should we change it to Adventure WITH Dementia do you think? See you on Page 52 where we'll begin a 3,330 kilometre trek south to meet my brother Michael in Sydney in November, stopping at eleven towns, most of which will be new to us. Bye for now.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 51 was completed on 17 May 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.