Page 201

Back on the Road; we show Angie and Dave the real Australia.

Who are Angie and Dave? Angie is Pam's oldest sister; they haven't met for many years (unless Skype counts) but have always been very close. Angie met and married Dave Manning in England, long after we had come to Australia.

And what is the real Australia? When overseas visitors come to Australia they usually take home memories and photographs of the capital cities or other coastal towns in the southern half of the continent. Maybe the Blue Mountains and certainly some beaches. However, the interior of the continent is frequently regarded as waterless desert with millions of flies and of no interest. While nobody could argue with the desert and the flies, there is a phenomenal amount to see, things that, sadly, most 'white' Australians will never see ... the real Australia.

Angie and Dave

Angie and Dave, aboard the Motor Vessel Longreach Explorer on the Thomson River.
But more of that to follow.

Now introductions are over we can go back a week to A and D's arrival, starting at Rockhampton Airport.

Angie and Pam

Sisters. They hadn't seen each other for twelve years.

Jet lag wasn't an issue as Angie and Dave had spent a few days with friends in N.S.W. after arriving from the U.K. We had decided to kick off their visit by showing them Emu Park and surrounds before heading west and included in that was a day out among the Keppel islands on the catamaran, Grace II.

Angie and Pam

Angie and Pam sailing on the Coral Sea.

Angie on Grace II

Angie watching others from Grace II snorkelling near an island.

It was a marvellous day and the weather was perfect.

Another day we took them to the Ferns Resort at Byfield where we all stayed the night in a log cabin. We ate in the restaurant, Marto sang for us and later Genevieve and Marto came down to chat around our camp fire.

Marto and Pam

Gen, Marto and Pam chewing the fat around the cheery camp fire as darkness fell
and the mosquitoes, unseen, gorged themselves on our blood.

Marto (John Martin) and his wife Genevieve built the resort, mostly with their own hands including a fine restaurant, four secluded cabins, a swimming pool, tennis courts and much more, all in a beautiful rainforest environment with a nearby creek on which the more adventurous can canoe. Marto is a talented musician with a phenomenal memory for songs and lyrics and he can play almost any hit number from the last sixty years, straight out of his head. Often he is joined by other musos and a hilarious jam session ensues. While this goes on, Genevieve and her staff produce the most fantastic meals from the kitchen and, naturally, the bar is kept busy.

Angie, Dave and Camp Fire

Did Angie and Dave find the fire a bit hot or ... what are you reaching for in your shirt pocket Dave?

Camp next morning

Ferns in the morning. I love this picture of blue smoke rising in the morning air. Taken from our cabin.

On another occasion Pam took A and D to the Crocodile Farm where they held the obligatory baby croc with its mouth safely taped but declined to eat croc meat for lunch. They were shown the prize of Emu Park, the ANZAC Memorial and Singing Ship, they were introduced to a few happy hours and before we knew it, departure day had arrived and we hitched up the 'van and pointed west.


Our planned route. It certainly covered a fair amount of the 'red centre'.

Our first overnight stop was at Emerald where it rained so we did little there but eat, sleep and move on. However the Emerald Cabin and Caravan Village was very nice. As we can't sleep more than two in the caravan, Pam had booked alternative accommodation for Angie and Dave at all stops. Some Tour Director this woman is, let me tell you.

Next, as the map shows, was Longreach where we had a three-day stop at the Longreach Tourist Park. This park has gone downhill since we last stayed but there were fun things to do in Longreach.

Dave on coach

Dave, posing on the Kinnon and Co. stagecoach before it left the yard.

The stage was pulled, unusually, by five horses, three in the front row. The centre horse was in training and unable to get up to any antics being firmly secured between two experienced horses. Note his/her ears flat back on the picture below?

Another unusual feature was the installation of hydraulic disc brakes on the rear wheels of the coach. Much more effective, it seems, than pressing a block of wood on the wheel rim.

Hydraulic disc brake

From behind the stage you could clearly see the hydraulically operated disc brake. Clever stuff!

We trotted around the centre of Longreach and everywhere people waved and we waved back. Before returning to the yard we diverted out into a large, flat paddock and the driver urged the horses into a gallop just like in the westerns. However, in the westerns the horses gallop for miles, chased by the indians or bandits while the good guys on the coach shot rifles at them. Folks, if you've ever ridden in a coach pulled by galloping horses, there's no way in this world you could hit a barn with a rifle, let alone a moving figure crouching on a horse. Secondly, horses cannot sustain a fast gallop for very long. In the old days, the teams were changed every ten miles. This we were told by the men who cared for the animals.

The next party

A view of the next party trotting through the streets of Longreach accompanied
by a single horse, apparently not tethered in any way!

Another pleasant diversion in Longreach is a cruise on the Thomson River followed by an excellent meal under the stars while being entertained. A bus picked us up from the caravan park and took us to the boat ...


Boarding the M.V. Longreach Explorer.

... which carried us at a sedate rate down the Thomson while the captain told us about the river system, the fish, the birds and items of interest along the banks.

The Thomson River and the Barcoo River later join to form the Cooper Creek. Interestingly, this is the only place in the world where the confluence of two rivers forms a creek. As with all of the rivers in the Lake Eyre Basin, the waters of the Thomson never reach the sea and instead either evaporate, or, in times of exceptional flooding, empty into Lake Eyre. Floods are relatively common within the catchment because of the summer monsoon rains. Due to the flat nature of the country traversed, the river can then become many kilometres wide, causing major difficulties. For much of the time, however, the river does not flow, and becomes a line of billabongs.

We were not quite alone on the river that evening; we came across a steam paddlewheeler, the Thomson Belle, doing much the same as we were.

The Thomson Belle

The Thomson Belle paddlewheeler.

At one point the captain nosed our bow into the bank and threw broken biscuits onto the mud.

Turtles in the Thomson

And this was the result. Many turtles came to feed. The larger one of these two females has a damaged shell.
She has the capacity to repair it herself, given time.

The Thomson at dusk

As we continued, the wind dropped and dusk descended on the peaceful river.

It was fully dark as we disembarked at a small open air restaurant on the river bank where a lovely meal awaited us. We were entertained by a fairly new but very talented comedian cum singer/songwriter called John Hawks.

Later we travelled back up the river in darkness to the waiting bus, and then on home to the caravan. An extremely pleasant evening.

There are two major museums in Longreach. In close proximity to the airport are both the QANTAS Museum and the Stockman's Hall of Fame. There seems to have been a tussle over the rights to the origin of QANTAS, both Winton and Longreach claiming the honour. Let's put it this way; Winton laid the egg but Longreach hatched it and raised the chick. Winton maintains its claim but only half-heartedly, putting most of its energy into being the dinosaur capital of Australia. (Every country town seems to claim to be the Australian capital of something.)

Now, I didn't visit the Stockman's Hall of Fame but I DID visit the QANTAS Museum. Oh, you guessed that, did you? The Museum has changed quite a lot since the Boeing 707 was added to the collection alongside the giant Boeing 747 in May 2007. At that time the 747 had the standard four engines but now she appears to have five!

The 5th Engine

QANTAS's Rolls Royce-powered 747s come equipped with a mounting so that, if an engine is required anywhere in the world, a spare engine (weighing six tons) can be hung below the port wing and ferried on a standard passenger flight. The engine does not run, of course, and its compressor fan is removed prior to attachment.

How interesting, I hear you exclaim. What else has changed at the QANTAS Museum? Well, you remember that old Douglas Dakota that was parked away from the other exhibits and looked very shabby with it's rudder trim missing? That's been smartened up and now sits proudly with the two Boeings, the 707 and 747.

C-47 Dakota

I'm sure you've spotted the wide, loading doors that mark this variant as a C-47 cargo aircraft, not a DC-3.

Where the C-47 used to be parked is now a Catalina. What is the connection between QANTAS and a Catalina? Surely QANTAS never operated Catalinas?


The QANTAS Museum's amphibious version of the Catalina. They could operate off land or water.

Well, yes, in fact they did. During WWll Catalinas were operated secretly on a service between Perth and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), known as Double Sunrise flights. They covered a distance of 3,592 nm at a cruise speed of 108 knots. The average flight time was twenty eight hours but the longest flight lasted 31¾ hours without landing for fuel, thus 'Double Sunrise'. They flew, unarmed, through Japanese-held airspace at a speed which can only be described as a crawl, even by WWll standards, carrying between 14 and 28 passengers, thus keeping the route between Australia and Mother England open in those desperate times.

The old girl pictured above was purchased in Spain in 2009. Although she never wore QANTAS livery she is the correct type and - after a huge amount of work - was flown to Australia. It has been decided that her flying days are now over but during the flight from Spain the sounds aboard the aircraft - crew's voices, engine roar, etc., - were recorded and are now replayed to museum visitors who sit aboard the Cat.

Other news is that the museum is to acquire an addition to its collection in the form of a Lockheed Super Constellation and is still looking at building a giant hangar to protect its valuable aircraft from sun damage.

We stayed two nights in Winton. The caravan park consisted of a block of land across the road from the Tattersall Hotel which owned the land. Water, power, toilets and a laundry had been provided and we found it perfectly adequate for a short stay. The Tattersall wasn't taking guests but recommended a motel a short way up the street for Dave and Angie. As it happened, the temporary managers of that motel were friends of Marto and Genevieve - see the top of this page. Small world.

The most outstanding thing about Winton during our short visit was the chicken racing at the rear of the North Gregory Hotel. We and the dozen or so other spectators were invited to buy a chicken and each bird was auctioned. We were well into the spirit of things, not to mention the spirit that was well into us ... if you follow? Between us we bid for and bought three or four birds though it was so difficult to tell them apart from the rest that we had no idea which chicken won each race. The gullible public (yes, us and the few others) were seated out of sight of the finishing line so were not able to challenge the winner even had we felt inclined. The profit from the event was for charity so we wore our losses with good grace and began to wonder just how much we'd spent. Then we began to wonder, since we'd bought some birds at auction, whether we now owned them. But what would we do with them, anyway? So we forgot all about them and just remembered a fun evening.


Some of the blackboards hanging outside the Tattersall Hotel in Winton.

Winton, having largely lost the battle for fame as the town of origin for QANTAS, now calls itself the Dinosaur Capital of Australia. Thus all the wheelie bins on the streets sit in plastic boots shaped like dinosaur's feet and the shops are full of toy dinosaurs (made in China). There are dinosaur footprints somewhere near Winton but, to be truthful, suspecting the place will be a beat-up with plastic bones and 'reconstructed' dinosaurs, I've never felt tempted to go.

There's a Waltzing Matilda Museum which we visited twice; the first time to learn that the museum opened at 10:00 am and the second time to discover that it didn't.
A Pause For Rumination

By now you might be thinking, He said they were going to show Angie and Dave the real Australia yet all they're getting to see is tourist attractions.
Well, you're quite right. But between the towns we're visiting are vast distances with desert or bushland stretching to the horizon. In one respect this describes most of Australia's land mass but there are always items of interest along the way, whether it be avoiding a lizard or snake crossing the road, a Wedgetail Eagle ponderously taking to the air off an item of roadkill, the Ghan railway line criss-crossing the road and huge glistening white salt pans stretching to the horizon. The giant road trains with their multiple trailers writhe like a snake as they speed towards us. There's a stretch of the Stuart Highway that has been widened and appropriately marked with 'piano keys' at either end to create a landing strip for the Royal Flying Doctor Service's aircraft to use in an emergency ... better than waiting several hours for a road ambulance! Which reminds me, there is a stretch of the Eyre Highway across the Nullarbor Plain which is 100 miles long and dead straight. The bored line-markers painted a pedestrian crossing somewhere in the middle, much to the amusement of travellers who subsequently crossed the Nullarbor. I expect it will have worn off by now.

In some areas, termite mounds abound. Very frequently, with a little imagination, a figure or a face can be seen in the mound. Passing travellers have taken the trouble to stop and enhance the image with clothes or a hat. Some are really amusing though I don't suppose the termites are laughing. Some years ago, near Port Hedland in Western Australia, we passed through an area of larger termite mounds - up to about two metres high. Many of these were adorned with industrial hard hats which makes you wonder how the hats' absence was later explained.

Hard hats on termite mounds

The scene we saw near Port Hedland in June, 2008.

In Kakadu National Park the mounds need no enhancing, they are so large as to be facinating as they are, considering the tiny termites that build them. See picture below.

Pam and Termite Mound

The picture was taken in Kakadu National Park in May 2005

The overall impression of the country is of its vastness, a totally new concept to those from the U.K. and, it must be said, to many Australians whose lives are spent in the towns and cities. This is one aspect of Australia that few overseas visitors will ever comprehend, having only seen it from an aircraft window 35,000 feet above. To understand it at all, you have to drive through it, get out and walk around when you can, talk to people when the opportunity arises. To dispel a common fallacy, it isn't all the same and it changes with the seasons.

As we passed through it, the desert was frequently green and covered in colourful flowers due to the recent unseasonally wet winter. To our regret (in one sense), the resulting plentiful food supply kept the wildlife away from the road verges and so deprived us of sightings. On the positive side, we scarcely saw any roadkill. With the absence of roadkill came the absence of the usual airborne scavengers - those birds which go about the business of cleaning up the bones.

The intelligent crows, always first to sense danger and vacate the scene, leave behind the slower and larger scavengers. The kites are next, just leaving the big, slow, dopey eagle which looks around in confusion, believing nothing can be a threat. Until the last minute, that is. Or the seconds after the last minute. An eagle, especially with an over-gorged stomach, needs help to become airborne so takes off into the wind. If the wind is blowing from across the road, splat! A cloud of feathers, a very upset driver and more carrion for the smarter scavengers.

There's a lot to see out there if you take the trouble to look, listen and learn. And a lot of interesting history in danger of becoming lost for ever.
Mount Isa

Mount Isa, or 'The Isa' as it is called locally, is one of the most productive single mines in world history, based on combined production of lead, silver, copper and zinc. This quotation is taken from Wikipedia.

Legend tells that miner John Campbell Miles stumbled upon one of the world's richest deposits of lead, silver, copper and zinc during 1923. However, others believe that he was taken to the deposits by a young Aboriginal man. When Miles inspected the yellow-black rocks in a nearby outcrop, they reminded him of the ore found in the Broken Hill mine where he had previously worked. These rocks were weighty and heavily mineralised. A sample was sent away for analysis and when its value was confirmed, Miles and four others staked out the first claims in the area. Miles named his find Mount Isa after the Mount Ida gold mines in Western Australia.

Mount Isa

Mount Isa from the town lookout. Not the prettiest town you ever saw, is it?

The weather was particularly hot and oppressive during our two days in Mount Isa which partly explains our lack of enthusiasm for exploring. We did visit the lookout, of course, and the Mount Isa Tourist Information Centre which was excellent and supplied much of the story of the town, saving us traipsing around in the heat. Instead we sat comfortably in an air conditioned cinema and had the result of someone else's labour displayed before us.


A new addition to the lookout, perhaps? A fingerpost
showing distance and bearing to many destinations.

Hard Times Mine

The Hard Times purpose-built tourist mine seen from the lookout.
Note the road train passing the 'mine'.

This attraction is said to be purpose-built as a tourist mine and was never intended to be worked. I wonder what would have happened if they'd uncovered rich deposits while digging it out? We decided against taking the tour on several grounds including the cost and the fact that cameras were banned. Perhaps a mistake? I guess we'll never know.

Mount Isa to Alice Springs via the Barkly Homestead and Wauchope Hotel.

Leaving Mount Isa we had to follow the road around a large loop to get to Alice. The actual straight-line distance is 665 kilometres but, as there's no direct road, we travelled 1,175 kilometres via the Barkly Homestead and the Wauchope Hotel. Now, if those two names paint a picture of homeliness and civilisation in your mind, let me put you straight. They are both isolated roadhouses where fuel, accommodation, food and drink are available in varying degrees of comfort. However, both cater for caravans.

The Devil's Marbles

The Wauchope Hotel is in the vicinity of a natural formation of boulders known as the Devil's Marbles. The name of the 'hotel' has recently been changed to the Devil's Marbles Hotel, perhaps because nobody knew how to pronounce Wauchope correctly. The hotel was initially named after John Wylie Wauchope, a member of the overland telegraph crew. These hostelries made for adequate overnight stops and both had cabin accommodation available for Angie and Dave.

Devil's Marbles 1

One view of the Devil's Marbles granite boulders.

Devil's Marbles 2

Incredible that natural processes could leave these rocks thus balanced. Even more incredible that
nobody has seen fit to topple them. These are but two of many examples.

Devil's Marbles 3

Some of the massive boulders have cracked and split open. Perhaps water entered a fissure and froze in
some long bygone era, expanding with tremendous force and perhaps forcing open a flaw in the rock.
Subsequent freeze/thaw cycles would open the crack further.

Let's stay for a moment with the Devil's Marbles Hotel, or Wauchope Hotel as it used to be. Why would somebody build a hostelry in that location, miles from anywhere? Certainly the Devil's Marbles are now a tourist attraction but at the time the Wauchope was built, tourists would be very thin on the ground. No, there had to be another, better reason and that reason was mining exploration.

In 1898 the Central Australian Exploration Syndicate organised a party to travel through the area, east of the overland telegraph line, to search for minerals. They sunk shafts and panned creeks but found nothing conclusive. They did record a hard, shiny, black rock much heavier than lead but didn't identify it. It was not until 1913 that the black rock was identified as a valuable element called 'wolfram', from which tungstic acid could be obtained. Tungstic acid was used to harden steel and with WWl breaking out, wolfram was in great demand by the British thus a profitable element to mine.

The miners were assisted by Aborigine workers though the rewards were hardly equal. In 1920, WWl being over, demand for wolfram fell away and the mining leases were sold to an Adelaide company. Nothing much happened for a while but in 1929 prices rose enough for renewed interest to be shown. In 1936 two enterprising men, Dick Turner and Bill Walsh, cognitive of Japan's war in China and the rise of nazism in Germany, bought up the wolfram mining leases. Ironically the wolfram production was being sold to Germany anyway!

In 1938 Walsh and Turner decided to build the Waulchope Hotel on the north-south road, now the Stuart Highway. Most of the patrons were miners ... Brigadier Noel Loutit placed the hotel out of bounds to the military under his command. What a wowser!

In 2016, we found the patrons of the hotel to be predominently tourists though not entirely. It was a pleasant enough place for an overnighter and we spent a while in the bar before eating dinner in their restaurant. Next morning we turned south along the Stuart Highway and headed for ...
A town like alice.

Remember that old movie starring Virginia McKenna and Peter Finch? It was filmed in 1956 from a book published in 1950 by Nevil Shute. In 1981, Bryan Brown and Helen Morse made a television mini-series of the book which was mostly shot in the New South Wales town of Broken Hill and not Alice Springs. You really wanted to know all that, didn't you?

Alice Springs

This is Alice Springs taken from the ANZAC Memorial looking south towards the Heavitree Gap.

Through that gap in the ridge in the background on the photo has 'flowed' the Todd River for ... ever. Most of the time the Todd is apparently a wide, dry river-bed. But is it? It certainly looks that way but a simple experiment proves otherwise.

Here and there in low spots in the river-bed you can find shrubs and small plants thriving and green. Selecting one of those locations, some inquisitive and enterprising person had scooped out the sand to form a shallow pool, thus saving me the effort. And guess what happened? Yep, water began to seep into the pool until it filled to the level of the subsoil water.

Todd Pool

Lovely clear, cool water just below the surface of an apparently dry river-bed in a parched landscape.

Just going back to the Heavitree Gap, the Todd River is not all that takes advantage of that natural gap in the ridge. In the last 200 years or so, the north/south railway line that carries the Ghan train between Adelaide and Darwin was built through the gap, as was the Stuart Highway. And, of course, when the overland telegraph was constructed between Adelaide and Darwin in 1872, that passed through the Heavitree Gap also.

heavitree gap

This aerial photo shows clearly how the town of Alice Springs seems to flow into the Heavitree bottleneck.
I believe the copyright to the photo belongs to Stephen Codrington, whom I asked for permission to use it here.
He didn't say Yes, but neither did he say No, so . . .

The Overland Telegraph

Completed in 1872, a telegraph cable suspended from insulators on the top of wooden poles was strung across the continent from Adelaide to Darwin, a distance of approximately 3,000 kilometres. There it was connected to a submarine cable from Java, and Australia was linked to the world. Instead of news taking weeks to arrive it was now only a matter of hours. Repeater stations were placed at intervals along the line and one of those can be visited at Alice Springs.

The technology used was as primitive as switching on and off a light and the strength of the pulses of Morse Code diminished in voltage with distance as they were carried, initially, by steel wire of excessive resistance. Before the pulses became unreadable they would be received at a remote relay station and relayed on by an operator using a fully charged battery and a Morse Code keypad. Later the incoming signal was used to close an electrical relay, the contacts of which were isolated from the weak, incoming pulses but connected the next section of the line to a fully charged battery for the period the contacts were closed. A big improvement but subject to one major drawback; it only worked in one direction. However, many very clever people world wide applied themselves to overcoming the problem and several practical solutions were found.

There were a multitude of other problems to address, not the least being that the Aboriginal tribes discovered that the pole-top insulators were made from a very hard ceramic material and thus ideal for making tools and weapons. Termites, too, found the wooden poles to their liking and many poles had to be replaced before long. The ceramic insulators became dirty and heavy rain then caused the already weak signal to short to earth. Maintenance and repair work was performed by men on horses, frequently covering great distances in formidable heat.

However, there are many other sites which deal specifically with the overland telegraph.

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