This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2002 Travels June 10


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.

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Quartz blow by the Kajabbi road

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.

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Kalkadoon Hotel at Kajabbi

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.

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The load dwarfed the pilot vehicle!

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.

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Leichardt River from bridge on the Wills Development Road

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.

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Much of the brochure was devoted to information about canoeing on the Gregory River, with a canoe hired from him. Looked interesting!

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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.

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Some of the Gregory River camp area

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.

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Set up by the Gregory River

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.

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Gregory River by our camp

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.

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Baby Huey getting ready to fly

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.

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2002 Travels June 9


We had driven the Mt Isa-Cloncurry road before, so decided to take advantage of the van’s offroad ability and cut through to the Burke Development Road via Kajabbi. I had seen a camp ground at Lake Julius advertised in some of the local literature picked up from the Information Centre, so we thought we’d overnight there. It looked interesting.

Drove out the Cloncurry road for about 20kms, before turning north on a dirt road. It was quite rough and rocky in parts and shook up some of the van contents!

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Cattle pad pathway on the Kajabbi road

But the scenery was spectacular – lots of mountains, white quartz blows, creek beds. In this rather arid country, the rocks of the ranges stands out really starkly.

After some 70kms, we turned west, for the final 15kms to Lake Julius. This section of the road was quite hilly. We missed the actual turnoff to the camp and had to double back. The final bit of road up to the camp was really steep – we needed to engage 4WD to pull the van up that. I was wondering what I’d let us in for!

The camping area was part of a large recreation camp complex, sited towards the top of a steep hill. The place was mostly camp buildings – I presumed it had been the original construction camp, when the dam was built in the 1970’s.

The actual camping area was at the hill top, was very small and whoever advertised it as a “caravan park” had never had anything to do with caravans!

It was cheap, at $5.20 a night, but was certainly not a proper caravan and tent area. There were three smallish tents pitched there already, and with the addition of us the place was full! Belatedly, we had realized that it was a long weekend holiday.

It was very tight to back into our site, with trees located in the wrong spots. The tenters had arrived not long before us, and had tried to spread out. The camp manager made them move so we could fit in. Not a great introduction to the (very) near neighbours!

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Lake Julius camp site

We had to manoeuvre around trees, and the site was right at the edge of a huge, almost vertical drop down to the dry Leichardt River bed – a long way below. I quadruple-checked that the van handbrake was on, once we were into the site, and that we put big chocks behind the wheels! It was certainly one of the more unusual places we had been to with the van.

There were some amenities in a donga building – but no paper in the toilets.

The tenters were families with young children. They were well behaved and unobtrusive, and the parents seemed not to resent our intrusion.

We unhitched Truck and did a quick basic set up. Had a fast lunch, then drove to look at the lake and dam.

Lake Julius was formed by damming the Leichardt River, downstream from both Mt Isa and Lake Moondarra. It was a back up water supply for Mt Isa and the area. We were surprised at how huge the body of water was – it was much bigger than we had expected.

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Some of Lake Julius

But it was the dam wall that was amazing – this huge wall of arches and barrel shaped forms. It was most impressive looking, and seemed more like something we would see holding back a major metropolitan water storage. Apparently it is unique in Qld. Actually, I could not recall ever seeing another one like this, anywhere on our travels.

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The Lake Julius Dam wall from downstream on the Leichardt River

There was only one place where we could reach the waters of the dam by road, and that was a rather small area. There were a few people there, fishing. We saw an aboriginal lady, and a man, catch a fair sized fish each – catfish, we thought?

There was a group of young adult students down there – some Australian, some American – who were being very loud and very into one-upmanship, and seemingly great complacency about their own superiority. This was very annoying and out of place in that otherwise quiet environment.

We followed a track to where we could access and explore the dry river bed, downstream from the dam wall, for a while. Looked for birds, with little success.

Then went back to camp and just relaxed for the rest of the day, sitting outside, reading, sewing and looking out over the views from our high vantage point.

Tea was barra marinated in a mix of ginger, chilli, lime juice, sherry before cooking. It was very nice, with some salad.

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2002 Travels June 8


Today was warm and pleasant.

After breakfast we drove to the shopping centre. I needed to stock up our food supplies for a few weeks – this was probably the last time we would be near a big supermarket for some time.

Topped up the Truck fuel – still 86cpl.

I bought the Weekend Australian and read that through the afternoon.

Late in the afternoon we packed up as much of camp as we could.

Tea was barra and fries – very nice.

There was a party at night in the house yard behind our van. It got rather noisy, but then the rather cold night seemed to drive them indoors and it quietened down. We could watch TV and then sleep in peace.

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2002 Travels June 7


There was some cloud build up again, today, but it was quite warm and rather humid. This was not quite “outback” weather and I decided it must be due to the Gulf, a few hundred kms north!

I did three loads of washing at $2.60 a load. It did not take long to dry outside.

We drove back to the seafood and ice shop and bought a chunk of frozen barramundi. It would make two good meals for us. The problem with only having frozen stock to select from was that the pack size of much of the fish was too big – and once defrosted had to be used in a couple of days.

Just pottered about the van for the rest of the day.

Tea was ham steaks and pineapple.

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2002 Travels June 6


The day started warm and sunny, but some cloud came up for a while, then went away again.

We took a picnic lunch and drove out to Lake Moondarra, nearly 20 kms from town. Refuelled Truck on the way – 86cpl.

On the way, called in at the seafood and ice  supply shop we knew of from last time. All their stock was frozen, but there was plenty that came from the Gulf fisheries. We thought we’d get some tomorrow.

Lake Moondarra was made by building a dam across the Leichardt River, which originates in the hills south of Mt Isa, and flows roughly northwards to the Gulf of Carpentaria, near Burketown. The dam, built about forty years ago, was intended to supply water to the Mt Isa Mines, but has also become the main source of the town’s water.

The lake was large, and quite scenic. It was unusual, to me, in that it supplied water for Mt Isa, but activities like fishing, swimming and boating were still allowed on it. I am used to Melbourne’s water storages, which are fenced off so people cannot even put a toe in them! It made me determined not to drink the tap water!

After lunch, John fished, got some bites, but did not catch anything.

I watched the variety of water birds that were on and around the lake: stints, pelicans, dotterels, herons, grebes, egrets, ducks. I did some knitting.

When John was sick of fishing, we went back to the van.

I noticed there was a travellers’ van with a sign outside, offering haircuts, so I approached the lady, and had my hair cut by her. She did a good job too, for $15.

Then we drove back to the shops, so I could collect my photos. John bought some more fishing gear. I was reasonably pleased with my photos.

John went off to bowls, for 7pm. The $8 fee to play included a BBQ tea, he said.

I made myself a very nice salad tea – my sort of food!

John got back about 10.30pm. The bowls had been alright. The BBQ was after the bowls, so he’d just had it! More supper than tea. He wasn’t best pleased with the lateness of his meal.

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2002 Travels June 5


Today was warm and sunny. It was good to be away from the chill wind and the millions of flies of further south!

We drove to the Information Centre and browsed about there for a while.

Then it was off to a series of shops. I put films in for processing – the Kodak Express shop was very busy. John bought some items that he thought might fix Truck. At KMart I bought a couple of novels. John found globes to suit his really bright torch – he was really pleased about this. He also bought some glues and other oddments.

We had a late lunch back at the van.

I spent the afternoon knitting and reading. Now I have a grand daughter, there is some purpose to the knitting!

John spent the afternoon playing games on the computer.

Tea was potatoes and frankfurts – John’s choice. Yuk! I don’t know why John likes those things. The potato was nice, though

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2002 Travels June 4


There was not much packing up needed this morning, and we’d stayed hitched up overnight.

We waited for the initial departure rush to get gone from the town, before we left.

Refuelled – the diesel at $1.07 a litre, was a bit costly for Qld, but there is no competition here. He had a captive market, given the distances between Boulia and anywhere else. We just put in 35 litres – enough to get us to Mt Isa.

The road north was a one strip bitumen one, all the way to Mt Isa.

It was an interesting drive with considerable variety.

There was a section that we thought was the edge of the Barkly Tableland of the adjacent NT – flat grasslands, but with some trees and bushes, unlike the true Tablelands, where the cracking clay soils prevent shrub and tree roots getting established.

There were some dramatic hills and ranges, especially after Dajarra, and as we approached Mt Isa. We crossed lots of dry stream beds – on cement floodways rather than bridges. I guess that in such a dry area, the times when these would flow and affect road traffic would be very few. The stream lines were better wooded and these areas of trees helped provide the variety.

At one stage, John pulled over and braked sharply, as a truck appeared, coming towards us. The radio made a severe static noise, which then persisted whenever the brakes were used – until we turned it off altogether. Then John noticed that the rev counter would stop working, below about 2600 revs, but jump back into action when they got higher. He was not sure what was going on, whether the problem was in Truck or via the connection to the van. Also uncertain was whether things would get worse! It was a rather inhospitable area in which to break down!

We stopped for lunch in a hot, open, area beside the road. John hadn’t managed to find anywhere to pull off near any of the several pleasant creek crossings we’d passed.

Whilst eating, I saw a man cross the road, on a crest in a cutting in the distance. This seemed rather strange, as there was no parked vehicle evident beside the road. I think I have become rather more alert and suspicious since the Lees/Falconio attack and disappearance, last year. So, I was not happy when John decided to temporarily disable our vehicle by taking out the fuses to inspect them! We eventually got going again, and then I saw that there was a road grader, parked up in a cutting – but now there was no sign of the man who we now presumed to be the driver.

Fiddling with the fuses had not fixed our problem.

We had not come into Mt Isa from the south before. It is not a town that seems to have any attractive approaches. All very utilitarian, with a dominance of power poles and lines, and all looking very dusty.

We went straight to the Sunset Caravan Park, where we’d stayed in 2000. I booked us in for five nights, at $17.10 a night, after discount.

We found the park was still only average, but better than most in the town!

After setting up, we drove to the Post Office and collected a bag of mail from home. There was little of interest in it, although the notes from the house sitter were amusing. There was nothing from our assorted offspring.

John checked out the Bowls Club. He booked in to play Thursday night. The reason I booked us in here for five nights was so he could play bowls on Saturday – but there is no game then. I can’t win! Now, five nights in this town seemed excessive!

I phoned Lawn Hill National Park, to the north. Was told that their camp area is booked out until July. That was OK as I had a preference for staying at the nearby Adels Grove campground, anyway. I phoned Adels Grove and booked us in there. I asked if M and H were there, thinking I could leave a message for them; was told they had been pencilled in for yesterday, but hadn’t arrived. I left a message anyway, in case they did arrive there.

We treated ourselves to bought pizzas, from a pizza chain shop. The anticipation was far nicer than the reality!

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2002 Travels June 3


The morning was still chilly, and windy.

We managed to get breakfasted, packed up, and away, quite early.

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Leaving Hunters Gorge

The unsealed road out to the Boulia-Winton road was much better than the road we had come in from the south on. There were the occasional lumps and bumps and dust areas, but not the huge bulldust sections of the other day. Most of it seemed to be station tracks. The track went virtually to the front door of Springvale Homestead – another Stanbroke Pastoral Company property – they are all around this area.

We sidetracked a short distance to look at Elizabeth Springs – natural artesian mound springs, the same type of occurrence as we’d seen along the Oodnadatta Track in SA. But the mounds here were only low, grass covered rises, not the big mounds of SA. But there was still an evident flow, with open pools and a small wetland.

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Quite a useful flow in very dry country – Elizabeth Springs

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Low mound formed by deposition around a spring

There were salty residues at the edges of the water, in some sections, suggesting that the outflow levels have dropped. There could have been quite an impressive wetland area here, before the Great Artesian Basin became depleted.

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Salty residue on the water’s edges

We spent about an hour wandering about the Springs area, and taking photos.

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Elizabeth Springs

Further on, on Canary Station by now, we came across a couple of different mobs of cattle, being droved by riders on horseback. This appealed, as a real “outback” scene.

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Cattle droving on Canary Station

The final 25kms of the journey was on a sealed road – albeit a narrow strip – of the Winton road.

We reached Boulia in the early afternoon, and went straight to the caravan park. We had been here in 1999, after our Simpson Desert crossing.

After a minimal set up for an overnight stop, we walked across the river bridge, to the main street shops. John bought a fly net for his hat.

At the new Information Centre/Min Min Light display, i bought some postcards. The charge for going into the display section was $11 a head – too much for us. There was a bus load of elderly travellers in there, though. The Centre seemed to be doing ok – that sort of interpretative centre of local features has become very popular with visitors now.

The little caravan park was much busier than when we were here nearly three years ago. However, they hadn’t improved the donga amenities any! At $12.10 a night, it really was rather over priced.

We were not on a proper site, but pulled up alongside the kerb of a grassed area. This was fine for our overnight stop – grass was quite a luxury!

The park became more crowded later in the afternoon. There was a variety of motor homes in evidence, and I wondered if they had come from a get-together somewhere.

The lady in the General Store in town had told us that the road south from here to Birdsville was still not sealed. She said that when the government changed in Qld and the ALP came into power, they withdrew the funding that had been allocated for that work. I guessed there were not too many ALP voters out Birdsville way?

The Burke River that borders the park was much lower than when we were last here.

Despite the rather basic amenities, it was wonderful to have a shower, and to wash my hair. The last shower was back at Windorah! There was a definite brown scum on the residue that rinsed out of my hair! Diamantina dust!

The mobile phone worked, here. There were messages from cousin M and H, who were aware of our vague route, and had been waiting in Mt Isa, as they knew we were going to be there around about now. The final message said they had decided to leave today, and head up via Lawn Hill National Park, to Adels Grove. Oh, well.

Tea was ham steaks – the nice ones from Charleville that I’d had frozen, pineapple (from a tin), and Greek salad. I’d managed to buy some salad makings at the General Store.

TV signal here was great – but unfortunately the available programs were not.

John spent some time playing computer games – no need to conserve power now!

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2002 Travels June 2


The day was still sunny, but with a chill wind that made it feel quite cold. This was to the extent that we sat inside the van to eat breakfast – most unusual for us, because we like to sit looking out at whatever view we have.

Drove to the Ranger’s base, to pay for our extra day.

We were greeted by a most unexpected sight – a moving sail in the distance, on the flat, arid, stony country! Closer up, it was a little sail powered go-cart type of thing, being ridden by his wife, with dog racing alongside. It seemed to speed along on the firm, stony, surface, but would not be much good in sand. Out here, I guess, the residents have to find ways to amuse themselves. From the Rangers base, there was not even much in the way of interesting walking – given the nature of the occasional floods of the river, the base was away from any timbered channels.

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Speed machine. The apparent water in distance was a mirage

The Ranger was very friendly, and showed John over his great solar panel set up, with its huge array of panels. $200,000 worth, he told us. The solar set up ran all the house electricals. There was a very large bank of batteries, too. This set up would – eventually – save money on diesel to fuel generators, and get round the hassle of transporting large quantities of same, out here. He said it was all remotely monitored and controlled from Perth!

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Really large solar panel array. Storage batteries under the roof

This park was so off the tourist trail! There were twelve entries, to date, in the Visitors Book, for 2002.

I asked about the ruins we saw on the circuit drive – Ingledoon? He told us that these were originally thought to have been police barracks, but now they were believed to be from the original settler in the area, as they had found some ladies’ artifacts. It seemed someone needed to do more research on the place.

They definitely need a feral car eradication or, at least, reduction, program!

From Ranger headquarters, we drove a short way along the road to Winton, then turned west to go to Janet’s Leap Lookout. This took us onto an escarpment on the other side of the Diamantina Gates from where we had walked yesterday.

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The track to Janet’s Leap

I wondered about the origin of the Janet’s Leap Lookout name and later found that it was a relatively modern one. When Janet Holmes a’Court sold the Diamantina Lakes property some local remarked that she might as well leap off the cliff there as sell it to the National Parks, for all the good it would do. I for one, am very pleased she did sell it this way, and people like us can get to visit the place.

Apart from showing us the river from that angle, it also showed a totally unexpected expanse of dissected hills and valleys to the east – sort of tableland country. It would be spectacular for photography.

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Dissected breakaway country, seen from the Lookout track

To us, that area to the east looked like the opal mining country we’d seen around Quilpie and Winton – guess it is really not that far from Winton. Had we seen that before talking with the Ranger, I’d have asked if there had been historic opal mining over in that part of the Park.

From the Lookout, we could clearly see the Diamantina Gates, and extra waterholes along the river channels.

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Diamantina Gates from Janet’s Leap Lookout

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Channel and waterhole from Lookout

We’d seen photos at the Ranger Base, taken in the floods of January 1999. The waters were all around the low rise that the Ranger’s house is on, and way out across the flat plains. He said that some of the channels had been filled to more than 6 metres deep. Their airstrip would have been well under water. I’d tried to imagine what it must feel like, isolated out here, with even that means of access to the outside world cut off.

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From the Leap Lookout, could see the river channels spreading out over the flat plains


Back to camp, where we packed up as much as we could.

The other couple were back. They’d checked out Gumhole, as a more sheltered alternative camp, but decided they preferred Hunters Gorge.

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From our camp, in the late afternoon, the other end of the waterhole

We had a last, final, sit round our campfire, watching the sunset and then the stars.

There was an owl in the tree over my head. I hadn’t seen it, but earlier the honeyeaters had been making a fuss around the tree, and I’d wondered why. I only saw it after dark, when it suddenly flew off – and frightened me!

Tea was mushroom soup from a tin, corn cobs and left over fish cakes.

After we went in the van, John plugged the laptop into the inverter and had a little computer time.

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2002 Travels June 1


Today was the first day of winter! The temperature monitor registered 4 degrees overnight, inside the van. Today was fine, with a lovely clear blue sky.

Both other sets of campers left, so we were on our own again. I guess most of the few travellers who venture this way, did not stay as long as us. But we really wanted to explore as much as we could, but without rushing around.

I made bread, using the bread maker and bread mix from a packet. Pottered about camp while that was doing its thing.

After lunch, we went walking, up the waterhole to the gorge and past where it narrowed. The waterhole petered out into lignum and high grass, with some dry or swampy channels.

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The top of the water hole ended in a swampy channel

We climbed up a bluff, then, onto the hill tops. There were great views to be had from up there – to the Ranger base in the south, across to other hills in the east, and over the Diamantina channels. The two gorges of the Diamantina Gates were very obvious from above, as was the flatness of the plains to the west and southwest.

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The “gate” effect is clear, here


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Looking south from the scarp, along a main Diamantina River channel

There was an excellent view over our camp.

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Could just see the van, parked beside the waterhole

We walked around on the hill crests, to a narrow valley around from the campground, then picked our way down this.

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It was a pleasant walk, apart from the hordes of flies hitching a ride.

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John’s passengers!

Back at camp, we fired up the HF radio, and did a sched in with the VKS737 base.

A couple arrived late in the afternoon, and camped further along from us.

A wind came up and it grew increasingly cold again.

Tea was fish cakes, with brussells sprouts – the latter much to John’s disgust!

It was too chilly to sit outside this night, due to the wind, so we read inside until bedtime.

We could hear dingoes howling in the distance – always a wonderful sound.

We decided to stay another day.