MONDAY 10 JUNE LAKE JULIUS TO GREGORY DOWNS 320kms
Neither of us had been looking forward to extracting the van from our site, this morning, but we managed, with quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. I made very sure that the chocks stayed behind the wheels until we were securely away from the drop! We needed low range gears again, to take the rig back down the hill from the camp.
Then we had to back track to the Kajabbi road. This continued to be fairly rough until we were almost at Kajabbi, then we were mostly out of the hill country and more onto plains.
It was still really interesting country to pass through, with the track running roughly parallel with the Leichardt River. We crossed a number of dry watercourses. This would not be a road to take after rains! Then we crossed the Leichardt itself – just a graded sort of causeway through the channel.
Kajabbi was once an important place, the railhead for cattle to be transported after being droved from the Gulf Country. There were also copper mines in the area. We had seen some signs of recent mining activity in the area we drove through – a bit of a revival?
The township was now only a few old houses and the Kalkadoon Hotel – named for the rather ferocious aboriginal peoples of the area, who strongly resisted white encroachment, and were quite feared.
We stopped at the hotel, because of its iconic nature. After all, who knows anyone who can say they had a drink at the Kalkadoon Hotel? John had a beer and I had a coke and we “talked to the locals”. They were friendly and informative, about mining, floods and the like. The township is right by the river.
From Kajabbi, on the advice of the locals, we took the River Road, through Coolulluh Station, to the Burke Development Road. It was quite reasonable going, and adequately signposted – just!
The Development Road, like most of them, was a single strip of tar, but with some widened sections in shallow dips and at creek beds.
Not long after we got on the Development Road, we began to hear the regular talk on the CB radio of an oversize load and its escort. Soon worked out that this was behind us, so we were concerned to stay ahead of same, rather than having to try to find a place to pull over. Much of the road was banked up quite high above the surrounding country, thus with nowhere to pull off – or even much shoulder.
There was quite a lot of traffic on that section of road too – long weekend traffic? We got really sick of having to pull partly off the tar strip, for oncoming traffic, some of which did not slow down when doing the same, thus spraying us with stones.
We reached the Burke and Wills Roadhouse and pulled in there to fuel up. $1.05cpl.
About three minutes after we reached the Roadhouse, a truck pulled in, carrying a large fishing boat. That was the source of our radio traffic. Bound for Karumba, we guessed.
After refuelling at the Roadhouse, we parked to eat our lunch there. Encountered a man from a local (Melbourne) bowling club, who John had bowled with in Mt Isa, last week, and who had been staying near us in the caravan park. They (B and D) were heading for Gregory Downs too.
Now we turned west – onto the Wills Development Road – the usual single strip of tar.
We stopped by the bridge over the Leichardt River – significantly downstream now of where we’d encountered the river before. The river there was a rich brown colour – lots of the local red earth in there. The river was much lower than the level of the road bridge – from the height of the latter, we figured the river can do some pretty impressive flooding. This area can have some major rain events, from intense low pressure systems that are the aftermath of cyclones that cross the north Qld or Gulf coasts – in the northern, summer, wet season.
Gregory Downs consisted of a hotel and a store, at a road junction, by the Gregory River.
We stopped at the store – Billy Hanger’s general Store – to seek information. There, we collected a very informative “brochure” and were directed to drive across the bridge to the camp area.
Much of the brochure was devoted to information about canoeing on the Gregory River, with a canoe hired from him. Looked interesting!
We easily found the camp area beyond the bridge – lots of rigs strung out in a row, beside the Gregory River, on the pebbly/sandy mix that would be the river bed in a flood.
Since there were about fifty rigs there before us, we did not have much choice of location. John chose a place, close to the original bridge – in full sun, for the solar panels. He backed the van in fairly close to the river. We had a pleasant outlook from the van’s back window, and from outside, of the stream and clumps of pandanus over the other side.
Later we realized that, if planning an extended stay, if arriving later in the day as we did, it would be best to park and stay hitched up, do a minimal set up, then suss out a good spot after the next morning’s departures.
We could soon see why it was such a popular place, as a free camp area. The river was superb – fairly shallow, and lovely to float around in during the heat of the day. The flow was strong enough to carry one a distance downstream. The water was clear, but greeny coloured. There were big paperbark trees and clumps of pandanus lining the river.
There were two porta-loos, parked a little way from us – there to solve what would otherwise be a considerable problem, given the number of campers.
There was a new, high level bridge, a bit further downstream from the old low level ford/bridge we’d come across, built because of the new Century Zinc Mine, some 70kms to the west. There was the occasional burst of noise from heavy truck traffic across it, that we could hear.
It was a bit hard to get the van and Truck disconnected. The jockey wheel kept shifting in the rounded river stones we were parked on.
We set up, then sat and watched the creek and the plentiful bird life. Despite the number of other rigs, it was really very peaceful.
Then some yobs came and parked next to us – a weed spraying crew working on local properties. They threw rocks at any birds they saw. Horrible men. I went for a walk along the river side, rather than stay anywhere near them. After a swim and several beers each, they left.
Other campers pointed out a whistling kite’s nest in the top of a tall tree, nearby. It had a large “baby” in it. They had taken to calling him Baby Huey. Apparently he’d spent much of the afternoon standing on the edge of his nest, flapping his wings. They presumed he was getting ready to fly soon.
There were numbers of Great Bowerbirds, crimson finches, honeyeaters – including the white gaped ones. A pair of these spent ages studying themselves in a nearby vehicle windscreen! There were purple crowned fairy wrens flitting about in the pandanus across the river. It was the first time we had seen these – wonderful.
Tea was soup from a packet, and corn cobs.
Went to bed really happy to be camped in such a great place.