MONDAY 17 JUNE TO THURSDAY 2 AUGUST ADELS GROVE
Because there was little variety in our days here, it is better to describe the time in sections.
Adels Grove history
The 30 hectare site was first occupied in 1904 as a Miners Homestead lease. Because of this origin, it remains rather an anomaly in this region of vast pastoral leases.
Albert De Lestang took up the property in the 1920’s. For a time it was known as The Frenchman’s Garden. He began collecting tropical species and established his own botanical garden, containing a wide variety of species – over 1000 by 1939. A system of little channels irrigated much of the gardens from the creek. He also grew vegetables and supplied locals and passing travellers from a small shop.
It is unclear whether he was formally commissioned by the government to experiment with the growing of plants in the tropical environment, but he was certainly well known in botanical circles, and supplied seeds and specimens widely, including to Kew Gardens.
In the 1950’s a fire destroyed his buildings, papers and some of the gardens. It was not an enterprise that he could rebuild at his advanced age, and he died in an aged care home in Charters Towers in 1959, aged 75 and probably still devastated at his losses.
What we knew as “the grove” was some of Albert’s irrigated gardens. There were still some undulations in the ground that were remains of his channels, flattened by time and campers.
After Albert’s departure, the area was neglected and sometimes occupied by prospectors. Floods, storms, termites and general neglect killed off all but the most hardy plants.
In the 1980’s, Adels Grove was bought by a couple, who developed a campground. By 2000, this was described as a collection of mostly tin structures, old caravans, and the like. At least one of Albert’s sheds remained. There had been an amenity block built for the campers, of local stone and cement, water tanks and “donkey” style wood burning water heater put in. By 2000, deteriorating health led the couple to sell to a consortium of people from Mt Isa, who were involved in one way or another with tourism in the district.
One of the purchasers had been involved, since the early 1980’s, in running small group tours to Lawn Hill and the Riversleigh fossil fields. To provide overnight accommodation on these tours, he had been permitted by the owner of the Riversleigh Station lease, to establish a bush camp on the station, near the Gregory River. By the late 1990’s, he had resident managers running this tent camp at Riversleigh.
During the 1990’s, as part of the process of gaining local aboriginal consent to the establishment of the Century Zinc Mine, west of Gregory Downs, two large pastoral leases were purchased by the mining company, to be handed over to the aboriginals – Lawn Hill Station and Riversleigh Station. The latter included the land that the tourism tent camp was on and the operator was informed that the aboriginals would take back that camp and run it themselves.
While all this was eventuating, the people involved with that camp, and friends working in tourism in Mt Isa, formed a company and bought Adels Grove. They felt quite justified in removing from the Riversleigh camp all of the movable infrastructure that they had put in there, moving it to Adels over the summer of 2000-2001. The gate to the Riversleigh area was locked; the proposed aboriginal camp venture there never happened.
The Riversleigh camp managers moved to Adels as resident owner/managers, and had their first tourist season in 2001.
The place as it was when we worked there
The place, by all reports, was rather run down when the group bought it. By the time we went there, much work to improve it had already been done. There was obviously much potential, if tourism should develop further in the area.
We initially went there as tourists, so our first impressions were of the office area, and the campground. From the office area, a gravel track led off to the campground, passing the construction area, and another donga building, hidden behind a bamboo fence. This was the cool storeroom and kitchen.
The building under construction would contain the managers’ flat, new Reception area and shop, office, a proper kitchen and coolroom, toilets, and the dining deck. It was clearly a measure of the new owners’ ambitions for the place that the structures that had served the old campground would no longer be adequate.
Next to the construction area was an old tin shed – a workshop, with fuel bowsers at the front. To its side, and in an L shape, hidden by some vegetation from the camp ground track, were old caravans and another donga style building. Various staff members were occupying these sleeping rooms. They were fairly run-down looking. In this same area was a fenced off and partially shaded vegetable garden area.
Across the other side of the campground track from the shed area, was a small camping area containing tents set up for the tourist season, for hire, containing made up beds, and with a table and chairs set up at the front. These were set nicely apart from each other, and each had a firepit with BBQ plate, and a tap.
The campground had some fifty sites. The first six or seven of these were on the right hand side of the track – fairly small sites on the rise above the Grove, looking over it and nicely shaded. The remaining sites were shaped into the scrub and trees, reasonable distances apart, and of varying sizes. A few sites a bit apart from the others were designated generator permitted sites. The amenity block that served the campground was nothing fancy – cement floors and tin walls were in evidence – but were adequate, although somewhat stained from the calcium in the water. Hot water for the showers came from a donkey heater that was lit and stoked by the male staff, who had to gather the wood from the surrounding country and chop it. They also cleaned the amenities.
From the campground, one could walk down through the Grove to Lawn Hill Creek. When we started work, only the staff camped down in the Grove, but then it was opened to campers, with small camper trailers or tents only. No generators or pets were allowed down there. There were no formal sites – campers made their own spaces. It certainly became a popular place, with its full shade and closeness to the creek. As this happened, the weeds and scrubby growth were essentially cleared by the campers and the area enlarged.
Lawn Hill Creek formed a large, deep waterhole, a few kms long, from beside the Grove, back upstream towards the National Park. There was a swimming platform moored there, and a canoe launch point. The creek curved around the side of the Grove; due to obstructions and wet season flood damage, plus little tufa falls as a barrier, it had split into two or three channels, forming an island. One of these channels formed the shallow swimming area, good for children, just down the slope from the new building and outdoor eating area and providing a lovely outlook from these areas.
Between the office and store donga and the creek was an area not immediately obvious to the camping public, unless they walked up from the Grove. A large, flat, shaded area formed an outdoor dining area, with plastic tables and chairs set up there. This was the eating area for staff, the builders (who, due to remoteness, were provided with food and lodging while putting up the building) and for paying guests in the tented dinner, bed and breakfast section. The coolroom and kitchen donga edged one side of this outdoor eating area. More about the kitchen later – I got to know it well!
The DBB tents stretched off to the side, facing the creek channel – another section not obvious to the campground public. Beyond these was a long donga containing four bedrooms, where the builders were staying. Near this was a tin shower block, with four compartments and nearby donkey heater. There were three long drop toilets in that area.
The furthest structure was a small roofed, open air laundry structure, facing the creek. Here, this reformed into one bigger channel again, and there was a lovely little set of falls – the laundry had just the best outlook!
Water was pumped from the creek to a couple of holding tanks on high stands, to promote gravity feed to various points. Water was reticulated through underground pipes – PVC – to the campground taps and other water points. Although the edges of each camp site were delineated by small, white painted rocks, and the printed information given to campers requested no interference with the areas beyond, an ongoing problem was campers driving in tent pegs beyond the site boundaries and puncturing the water pipes! Very few admitted to doing so, however! The leak from such a puncture would result in the water tanks running dry, usually overnight, with resultant inconvenience to all. One of the men would be assigned to find and repair the leak.
One of the men’s jobs was to keep an eye on the gauge on the side of the main water tank, and go down to the creek and start the pump when the water level became low. They would then go off and do other jobs until the cry went round from whoever was nearest – usually we cooks – “tank’s full” – when it was overflowing.
Across the other side of the road to the National Park was the airstrip – of a standard able to be used by the Flying Doctor, as well as fly-in visitors.
Beyond that was a track to a rubbish dump pit, at a good distance away.