This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2002 Travels September 18


Today we did some trip planning. Decided that, from here, we would go to Karumba. We had been booked in there, before the work at Adels happened. We lost that deposit. We had known that Karumba was hard to get into during the height of the Dry season, which was why we’d booked. I presumed that there would be space now that it was much later in the year.

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Blue winged kookaburra at camp

After Karumba, we would head east, towards the coast. It would be pleasant to have some time in less outback parts, again.

Basically, we just continued to relax around camp. John was starting to feel a bit better.

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Campground at Kingfisher Camp

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2002 Travels September 17


The camp had a tinny boat, with motor, for hire, in order to travel up the waterhole, which was about 5kms long. Today, we hired the boat and puttered up as far as we could go – right into the section they called The Gorge, too.

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On the Nicholson River – the Gorge ahead


There was plentiful birdlife around on the banks of the river, including some brolgas.

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Drying their wings and watching us pass by

It was a very low-key, restful activity – just puttering along and gazing about.

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It was hard to envisage this very benign, peaceful river in flood mode, but we knew that it did do so, especially at times when a cyclone in the Gulf dumped a heap of rain on the region. Near the amenity block there was a wooden marker sign, nailed high up a tree, marking the height that the river in flood reached, at that spot, last year. It was certainly a couple of metres deep, over the campground. It amazed me that, only a few months later, there were no real signs of this inundation at the campground.

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Marker nailed to tree at left, showing level of last summer’s floods

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2002 Travels September 16


John went up, early, to phone the school to say we would not be in.

We decided, last night, to drive to Doom today, collect the rest of our things from the house, leave notes about where my classes were up to – and notify them we were leaving for good. It was only another couple of weeks till the school holidays, and we would certainly have been considering going then, anyway.

We drove the most direct way to Doom – back to the Gulf Road, then east to the town.

It took us less than an hour to finalize things at the house, including turning off and defrosting the fridge, and leaving the place clean. Someone else would no doubt avail themselves of what was left on our power card, and in our gas bottles!

We got 25 litres of fuel in Truck at the Store – $1.22cpl – then left town for good. There was no one we wanted to say personal farewells to.

We took the long way back to Kingfisher Camp – out the Burketown road, across the river, then about 5kms out, took the Lawn Hill track. About 40kms along this, at the T intersection where the Lawn Hill road went south, we kept straight on. The dirt road wasn’t too bad, for the most part.

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The back track to Bowthorn

On a straight stretch of this part of the track, we came upon a vehicle and Phoenix caravan, just sitting in the road. They had broken an axle on the van. They had driven back to Bowthorn after it happened and been able to arrange for a replacement part to be flown to Doomadgee. A mechanic type at the station would help repair it. In the meantime, they were just camped there in the van, waiting. A smart move on their part – anything unattended in these parts was not safe!

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Broken down caravan on back Bowthorn track

We spent some time sitting and chatting with them – alleviated the tedium of their day, anyway.

And thus it was back to Kingfisher, churning through the sandy dry channels of the river bed in a dry section of the river. In the Wet, Kingfisher Camp was often cut off from the parent base at Bowthorn – although the more direct route to the Gulf Road stays open longer. But it too was impassable at times. We commented to each other that being the wet season caretakers at the Camp might be interesting – though maybe it was a bit close to Doom!

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Gulf country woodlands – Bowthorn

We paid to stay until Thursday morning. It was so pleasant there, and out of the way. We could really relax – and sleep well.

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2002 Travels September 15


John was still trying to work things out in his mind.

I persuaded him into some physical activity – and we went for a walk along a track by the side of the Nicholson River waterhole that the camp was by. The long, deep waterhole eventually began to narrow – in an area they called The Gorge, where the banks became rocky, and we walked that far. It was a pretty walk, and the exercise was good for both of us – walking freely had become yet another rare luxury!

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Walk track from camp to the Nicholson River

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The Nicholson River Gorge near Kingfisher Camp


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Walking by a dry side channel of the river

The decision was finally made. We would not go back to Doomadgee today – and probably not at all. John would phone the DP from the telephone box up at the caretakers’ place, and tell her we would not be at school, on Monday.

I went up and paid for another night in camp.

I think we both felt somewhat “lighter” at the thought that this particular interlude was probably over.

Something I had not recorded earlier was that, a couple of weeks into our time at Doomadgee, we had been phoned by one of the Adels Grove staff, to let us know that the boss had gone into labour, early. The Flying Doctor had taken her to Mt Isa, and then on to Townsville, where her son was born. He was premature and small, so the bosses had stayed in Townsville with him. The trusty staff had carried on with running things at Adels – they were lucky to have such people working there for them.

Although we’d had unique experiences at Doomadgee, and earned good money for a few weeks, I still wished we had stayed at Adels. Probably, John was privately wishing the same thing!

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2002 Travels September 14


John sat around and brooded for much of the day. He was still feeling really upset. I told him that the decision about what we did now was totally his. I could put up with staying at Doom, if that was what he really wanted to do. But I also told him that I would be more than happy to resume our travels.

It was not like we ever had any real sense of being welcome and really a part of the school community – quite the opposite, really. We were too old to mix naturally with most of the young staff, who were too busy just surviving anyway. They saw me as allied with the DP, who they did not relate well to. We were perceived as threats to the positions of the older staff – at least until Thursday!

I think that what was probably most disheartening of all was that I could not see that our efforts – even if we stayed a year or more in the place – would make one iota of difference to the young people of the community.

I wandered about and explored the very pleasant environs of the camp area. As with the other places we had escaped to, for weekends, just relaxed and sat about.

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The Nicholson River at Kingfisher Camp

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2002 Travels September 13


At the best of times, I do not like days with this date. Good things do not happen on them!

The community atmosphere was still tense and strained, after yet another rowdy night. The raided truck had obviously been the source of significant alcohol supplies.

I took my usual classes in the morning, without incident.

The little girl’s parents came to the school to meet with the DP and John – arranged through the DP – to discuss what had happened. There was, of course, no acceptance by them of her bad behaviour, but they went away, presumably happy that they had been heard about how sweet and innocent and well behaved she was – and how it was all the teacher’s fault. The mother was a really strange lady – she arrived all dolled up with heavy makeup, itself most unusual amongst aboriginal women there, and wearing a red hat. “Swept in” would best describe her. Well, that child was going to bring her lots of grief in future years, for sure.

I was teaching and really did not know much of what was going on.

At lunchtime, with John still feeling shaken, and unsupported, we decided that he would go home for the afternoon. He could pack our van with most of our belongings, just in case we felt it wise to leave the community. Given how little we had in the house, that would not take long.

I took my VET class in the afternoon. Trying to get them to comprehend the rules for refrigerating various foodstuffs, keeping things like raw chicken separate, was hard going. It really was too far beyond most of their real life experiences.

After I got home, packed some foodstuffs – again, there was not a great deal to pack – and we left for Kingfisher Camp, on nearby Bowthorn Station. We only had about 70kms to go and got there just as the caretakers were about to close up for the day. It was still daylight, though.

We paid $16 for a powered site, and booked for two nights.

The caretakers had their own residence provided, by the track that went on to the camping area, by the Nicholson River. It was some 30kms from the Bowthorn Homestead itself.

We set up on a very pleasant grassed area in an almost empty campground. The tourist season was tailing down in these parts. The amenities were in an atco style building, but clean and good. Being in a green, grassy area was so pleasant, after the dry dustiness of Doom.

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Well grassed camping area at Kingfisher Camp

John was very quiet and depressed. At least, we enjoyed a good night’s sleep.

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2002 Travels August 2 – September 13


Friday 6 September – Thursday 12 September

It felt like we were settled into a kind of routine now – as much as one could be. There was still the ever-present sense of alertness, because anything could happen. And still the disturbed nights.

I had decided that, next term, I would definitely get my own private food order sent up from Mt Isa – and wear the freight cost. We really did need meat, chicken and the like. The pre-packaged, vaccuum sealed bacon – which was all I was prepared to buy from the “butcher” was not something we could eat all the time. Neither were baked beans. The store did not run to meat alternatives like tofu or even packets of dried beans.

We took ourselves out of town, with the van, for the weekend – to Escott Lodge, just out of Burketown.

We had to go almost to Burketown, before taking the road to the left, the 17kms  to Escott, which was a working cattle station, with campground and accommodation as a sideline. It had quite a well set up caravan area, with power.

The Nicholson River flows through the station, not far before emptying into the Gulf.

We left straight after school on Friday, and were there and set up well before dark. We enjoyed a full and peaceful night’s sleep!

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Our camp site at Escott

On Saturday morning, after breakfast, we drove into Burketown – we had not been there before. John filled Truck – at $1.04 cpl, it was 16 cents a litre cheaper than at Doom.

I had thought I would be able to stock up a bit on food, especially fruit, vegies and meats, but there was very little in the one store. I was greatly disappointed. The lack of decent foodstuffs is becoming a bit of an obsession!

There was not much to see in the township at all. It is inland from the coast, because of the salt and mud flats closer to the coast. The Albert River goes past the township – both Lawn Hill Creek and the Gregory River join into the Albert, further upstream. Its main reason for existence seemed to be as the headquarters of the Burke Shire – which covers much of this part of the state. We did not linger.

Back at Escott, we explored some of their driving tracks and wandered about beside the river. Then we relaxed back at the van and chatted with some “proper” travellers staying in the park.

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The Nicholson River at Escott

There was a light plane, with pilot, based at Escott, offering scenic flights. The pilot called around, touting business, and we decided to do a flight on Sunday morning.

After another wonderfully solid night’s sleep, and then breakfast, we wandered down to the airstrip. The flight was great and excellent value, we thought. There was just we two, and the pilot.

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We are going flying!

We flew over the lower reaches of several of the Gulf rivers, gained a much greater appreciation of the extent of the mud flats that line much of the Gulf coast, flew over Burketown, and got some good views of the station. We saw a crocodile sunning itself on the surface of the Nicholson River. The various station dams we could see, had cattle pads radiating out from them in all directions. I loved the flight.

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The Nicholson River & the Escott airstrip

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The lower reaches of the Nicholson River

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Gin Arm and the Gulf of Carpetaria

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The extensive mudflats that fringe the Gulf shores

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Escott campground from the air

Then it was pack up and drive back to reality at Doom.

The usual week changed nature mid way.

The woman who had been taking the large class of – nominally – Grade 2 and 3 misfits and challenges, had departed town a couple of weeks back. Her reason was to go temporarily to see a sick sibling, but we all knew she was at breaking point and would not be back. By gathering in all the problem children from other classes, she had created an unmanageable group – and I think was having difficulty acknowledging that she couldn’t cope.

John had been asked, quite often, to take her class. He’d found hundreds upon hundreds of “busy work” photocopied worksheets that the children had worked on, over a long period of time, piled in cupboards and on tables – not corrected or done anything with. It was a measure of how far things had declined.

Even I had been asked to take this class a few times – and teaching at that level was not my forte, at the best of times. I do not have the temperament for a primary teacher!

The kids were mostly hyper-active, to put it mildly. She had obviously been shoving the copied worksheets at them to try to keep them quiet. One afternoon, they got to view a video, while I was supervising them. Shrek. They loved that, and were quiet, and relatively well behaved.

Thursday, as we walked to school, there was a strange, ominous atmosphere about the place. We noticed a number of empty wine casks lying around, which was unusual – in this supposedly dry town, it was tacitly accepted that beer would be obtained from outside, and drunk, but nothing stronger.

The Wednesday night had been very rowdy.

Some of the older students were clustered in little groups in the school grounds, and seemed apprehensive, and then not able to focus in the classroom. There was clearly something unusual and unsettling going on.

We found out later that a supply truck, taking grog supplies to the Burketown pub, had broken down on the road from Gregory Downs. The driver had left the truck and gone into Burketown – ostensibly to arrange repairs, but he may also have – wisely – decided he didn’t want to spend the night alone out there with all that alcohol.

Somehow the word had spread quickly amongst some of the Doom locals, and the truck had been raided. So there had been wine and spirits flowing copiously through the night in town.

On Thursday, John was asked to take the problem class, in the morning. One of the children was a Grade 1 girl, who was quite unmanageable and had been taken on by the misguided woman. She was, we thought to ourselves, probably affected by foetal alcohol syndrome, and was the very spoiled only child of parents belonging to one of the dominant families. They fancied themselves a cut above the rest of the community and swanned about the place. dressed up to the nines – more suited to a city race meeting than poor old Doom! There was something really “off” about them.

Anyway, the girl quietly made herself a very large ball of bluetack – there must have been several packets of this that she had pilfered from somewhere. The aboriginal teacher’s aide lady just sat and watched her do this – they never intervened, even when the children could have done with some “local” authority. She eventually had a ball about the size of a large cricket ball.

The girl then threw the bluetack ball – with some force – at John. he’d had his back to her and turned, at the wrong moment, and the thing landed right over his heart. It kind of winded him – he said later that it felt that his heart actually skipped a beat or two. He went to the girl, knelt on the floor in front of her, took her by the shoulders to get her to pay attention to him, and said – loudly – that she was not to do things like that. The girl started to cry and the teacher’s aide rushed out and came back with the DP.

Everyone got really serious because John had actually laid hands on the child. No concern that he was hurt – later, quite a significant bruise appeared on his chest. Or consideration, that if the heavy ball had hit another student, they could have been injured, like concussed, or worse.

John was quite shaken by the whole event and the way it had been taken, and the DP took the class for the rest of the session. Then the SM took over for the rest of the day. The Principal was away on business elsewhere for the week. The students were actually quite subdued – and they were also intimidated by the SM’s size and authority, so they behaved fairly well for the rest of the day. The DP actually said to John that he should observe and “see how it is done”! So patronizing to a man who had successfully run a primary school of several hundred students, for many years. There was no punishment at all for the child.

We discussed it all at home, that night. We agreed that the child should not have been in the class at all, and John should not have been asked to take them anyway. He was not hired as a straight classroom teacher – would not have accepted such a job, anywhere, after being out of normal classrooms for over twenty years, as a Principal. He had been hired as a literacy specialist, to work on that side of things, in small groups, and assist teachers in working on same.

John was apprehensive about possible repercussions if some of the locals decided it was a major deal – and we knew that any excuse to make an issue where whites were concerned, prevailed amongst many here. The DP and SM said they would try hard to defuse the situation. In a normal school, of course, the family would have been called in, and the child disciplined and probably excluded for a time.

We discussed going away somewhere for the coming weekend and working things out for ourselves then.

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2002 Travels August 30 – September 5


Friday 30 August – Thursday 5 September

We did not go out of the community to stay, this weekend, but pottered about at home instead.

We went for a drive on Sunday, back across the river ford, then back south, down the track we’d come in on. After a little way on this, branched left. We knew there was an alternate route towards Lawn Hill, that crossed the Lawn Hill Creek at a ford, and wanted to see if we could find this. I am not sure that we did, but we found some creeks, and it was pleasant, exploring a little.

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The Doomadgee area

In the late Sunday afternoon, went to a BBQ, along with other staff, at the Principal’s place. I had to take something, from our limited stocks. Made a carrot cake, and even managed to ice it – I’d had some icing sugar in the bus stocks. Too much to hope for that I could get cream cheese at the store. It was enjoyable to have a social occasion – and even more enjoyable to eat meat (they visited Mt Isa regularly enough to have stocks of same in the freezer).

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Doomadgee dusk


The visiting chef program came to school this week. She was at the school for two days – commuting from Burketown, of course. She was a very energetic lady. She worked with my VET girls, and a few of the secondary boys who had been selected as a reward for good behaviour. They would work with her for two full days.

The idea apparently was that such a program would show students what work in a commercial kitchen was like and maybe enthuse them for same. It might have been applicable in schools where the local community had such things – and some prospect of employment in same. But in a place like Doom, I fear it was an activity without much point to the students. However, it was a novelty in what passed for a routine up here.

She was to work with them to produce a buffet lunch, to which the community elders would be invited. Fortunately, she had ordered her supplies well in advance, and they had come on the weekly truck and were waiting for her. She brought some equipment with her – like a pasta maker – but was somewhat limited, like me, by lack of general equipment. Welcome to my world!

She made a work plan, just like in a restaurant. She certainly did get the students working, but with no real understanding of what they were doing. There was not time enough for that – and she just talked at them. But they worked well enough through the first day. On the second day, the various dishes (e.g. spag bol, fried rice, iced cakes), came together, though the whirlwind that was the chef did most of the work.

Word had supposedly gone home to the elders on the first night, and about 10 actually turned up for lunch. They seemed rather bemused by it all.

After a big cleanup, it was all over and chef departed for her next gig – Mornington Island.

John was asked to take the feral boys’ group for part of a day, to free the two men who usually took them for some curriculum consultation with the DP. He had a torrid time! They were to be taken in the school’s Coaster bus, to the area where a rodeo ground was being built, and were to get some practical work experience by helping there. They did not take well to the idea of any work! John tried to get them shifting some lengths of metal, but after a few steps one or other would drop their end – usually without any warning to the one on the other end. “Too heavy mister”.

An elderly man was driven into the work area by a younger one, who was very solidly built. The elder asked who John was. Then he said that one of the boys had his smokes. The rather weedy student denied it, whereupon the other boys hoisted him upside down by the ankles – and the smokes and lighter fell out of his pocket. They were returned to the elder. The solid man angrily informed the boy that, when he got home that night, solid man was going to kick him in the nuts! John decided retreat was in order, and quickly ushered the boys back onto the bus to make their escape – while the boys made rude gestures out of the bus windows at the men! When they got back to school, it was too early for big lunch, so John took them to the oval. They refused to do any sport, but danced what they said was a corroboree, in a tight ring around him. He felt rather threatened by this, but held his ground.

After lunch, he had to take them back to the rodeo ground. Some inspector type from Mt Isa was at the school and had to go along. He spent the whole time with his head buried under his arms, cringing – fear? Horror? Carting that lot around was like transporting a bus full of evil monkeys.

When they got back to the school again, John pulled the bus up close to one of the walkway stanchions. Before he could turn off the engine, one of the boys shoved the lever back into gear – and the bus jumped forward into the pole!

I had been experiencing some issues where a patch of skin on the inside of one ankle had gradually become white, over some period of time. Hitherto trouble free, it had now become very itchy. I thought it was probably from fleas in the tatty carpeting that covered most classroom floors, but thought I might be able to get something to alleviate the itching, if I saw a doctor. So off I went to the hospital, after school. I drew the African doctor, who was very hard to understand. He was determined to do a blood test on me – for HIV! He was not all that interested in the leg and offered no diagnosis, nor medication. I told him my blood was hard to draw. He was determined, though. After some 20 minutes of him trying assorted places, and getting a very slow flow from one, I was on the verge of passing out. I was less than impressed with the whole episode. Never did bother going back for the test result!

The new tyre John ordered from Mt Isa finally arrived and he got it fitted at the works depot, then at home put the wheel with new tyre onto Truck.

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John changing the wheel on Truck. The party house is behind him.

The party house was particularly noisy this week. Loud bouts of yelling and swearing late at night – from both women and men. The language and some of the suggestions about what they could do to each other were definitely not printable!

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2002 Travels August 2 – September 13

Our time at Doomadgee

Friday 23 August – Thursday 29 August

We had Truck packed, and ready to leave straight after school. Set off to go camping at the Wollogorang coast, for the weekend.

Drove the 140kms to Wollogorang Roadhouse, over the road that was sometimes corrugated and rough, especially after Hells Gate.

When we reached the Roadhouse, they said that they did not allow travellers on the track to the coast after 4pm, (and it was now about 4.30pm) because it took 4 hours to do the 80km drive to the coast. We managed to persuade them to relent, after describing our circumstances.

Paid $50, on top of the camp fee of $12 a night. We would get the $50 back, when we returned the rubbish bag they gave us, containing our rubbish from the weekend. Good idea, that.

We received a mud map. of sorts. It had a lot of creek crossings, marked by straight lines across the track. Some distances were given: 28.5kms to turn off to the right; 16kms to Sandy Crossing (but there were a few of those!); 30kms to Well; 5.5kms to beach.

They were not wrong about the 4 hours! The sun went down and the moon rose above the trees. The track twisted about – and assorted station side tracks left it. We began to have very serious doubts about whether we were going the right way, as the moon moved around all points of the compass.

But just when we were considering stopping by the track for the night, and sorting it out in the morning, we came to the Beach House – an old tin station house – and knew we were ok.

We came out onto the beach just beyond that, through a stand of she-oaks. By then, we just wanted to get camped, as it was after 9pm, so drove only a short distance to the west, along the sand, then went up into the trees and set up camp.

We put up the dome tent. The rustling of the breeze in the she-oaks was lovely.

By the time camp was established enough for the night, it was nearly 10pm. We had a quick, light tea, of biscuits, and went to bed. It was just wonderful to go to sleep to the sound of the sea and the trees – and no community noises!

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Our camp by the Gulf of Carpetaria, on Wollogorang Station

On Saturday morning, we could see where we were. Couldn’t have done better if we’d chosen the camp in broad daylight! The beach stretched each way. The section we were on was 20kms long. From the entrance to the beach, it was 12kms west to Tully Inlet, and 8kms east to Massacre Inlet.

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Outlook to the west, from our camp

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Outlook east from our camp – with our tyre tracks from the previous night

We knew that Tully Inlet was the place to try fishing – and we really wanted to catch some edible protein! So we drove along the beach in that direction, on fairly firm sand, even with the tide a fair way in. Did have to let down the tyres part way along.

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Letting some air out of the tyres, on the beach drive to Tully Inlet

Tully Inlet was a broad opening, with bright aqua water and fringing mangroves, in places.

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Tully Inlet

We set up and fished. I caught a fair sized threadfin salmon – it would be lovely eating. John got some too.

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Threadfin salmon – great eating

After cleaning – a Brahminy Kite and a white breasted sea eagle benefitted from the innards – the fish went into the Chescold fridge to take back to Doom. There were several meals worth.

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Brahminy Kite coming in for some fish offal

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Late afternoon – tide out

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Late in the afternoon, back at camp, we saw kangaroos come down to the water – apparently to drink. I didn’t know they drank sea water.

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Kangaroos on the beach at dusk

The dusk and sunset were beautiful. The place was so relaxing. We had another peaceful, unbroken, full night of sleep.

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On Sunday morning we did a little exploring after John topped up the fuel tank with the 25 litre container of diesel. We had a look around the old Beach House. It would have been a great place for the station people to come for a break from the heat further inland – but, of course, not accessible in the wet.

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Our camp from the beach

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The old Beach House

We followed a track to the east, towards Massacre Inlet, but it petered out.

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Standing room only out there!

We had to pack up and be on the track back, by late morning, in order to be back at Doom before dark. We really did not want to be driving after dark again!

The return trip along the track to the Roadhouse was much improved by being able to see the scenery that we’d missed in the dark, before. It was interesting.

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The Settlement Creek crossing on the Tully Inlet track

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Back at the Roadhouse, on Friday, we’d been told of a group that was going to try to follow the old, original Gulf Track, to the west, to the Calvert River. Basically this had been the route of Leichardt’s Expedition in the 1840’s. That track was not maintained, nor much marked. The current road to the west goes much further inland, where there are fewer nasty stream crossings and swamps.

We turned in our bag of rubbish – there wasn’t much – and got our $50 back.

We bought 10 litres of fuel at Hells Gate Roadhouse, and some more beer.

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Seen beside the Gulf Track – once was boat and trailer. Sign propped on it read “Bugger”.

Got back to Doomadgee in reasonable time. I was quite relieved to see that our van had survived our absence unscathed – that had been the only concern of the weekend.

I put a couple of packs of fish in the freezer of the fridge – had to spread out our protein treats over the next few weeks!

It had been a wonderful, too brief, weekend. Coming back to Doom was not easy. It would have been so good to be able to have stayed camped at the coast for a week or more.

The rest of the week was what passed now for routine, here. I filled in for S, with the secondary girls, one morning. I had the usual run-in with the not-so-charming F who was determined to do what she wanted – which was wandering around the classroom annoying the others.

John and I usually walked to and from school together. It was only a couple of blocks, through a fairly quiet area. One morning this week, John went earlier than me, to set something up. As he walked up the street, there were two teenage girls, fighting in the middle of the road. Their mothers were leaning over their fences, opposite each other, urging the protagonists on. As John drew near, they stopped fighting, and it was “Good mornin’ mister” from all, as he passed, whereupon they resumed the fight. There were the occasional funny moments in this place!

Two women from Mt Isa TAFE were visiting for a couple of days this week, to check out the VET courses. Like so many visitors, they would not stay overnight in the community, but drove in from Burketown each day, almost 100kms each way on the rather rough-ish road. And back in the afternoon. Such is the reputation of Doom.

They were not much help to me. I’d hoped for some clues on methods of delivery of the modules of work, especially the practical work, but they basically just indicated I should keep on with what I was doing. Which I’d only really just started doing! It didn’t seem to worry them that none of the course had been delivered in the first half of the year, or that it obviously wasn’t going to get finished in the time left for the year. All very casual. I wondered if anyone had even checked the VET work that my predecessor had supposedly been doing?

The school had, this week, to do the annual LAP tests, for Grades 1,3 and 5. John had been quite horrified, back when he was hunting furniture, to find last year’s results of same still packed away and not ever opened! So much for their possible use as a diagnostic tool. They showed that Doom had been the worst performing school in Qld, even amongst the other comparable aboriginal schools. No surprise there.

It was decided, when he talked with DP about this, that the students should be prepared for this year’s tests with a little practice first. Likewise the teachers, in the administration of the tests. The maths tests required some to use calculators – which were totally foreign to the students. But the school had a set of calculators locked away, so the grade in question was given some training in the use of calculators.

The tests were duly sat, with both John and I doing some supervision of same. John followed up to ensure that all the students who should have sat, did so when next they came to school. It was a thankless task.

Obviously, the preparation of students, and taking the tests seriously, had an effect. We heard, the following year, that the literacy results had jumped up from the abysmal results of 2001 – so much so that the DP got an award for services to literacy teaching!

I was established by now with the one-on-one literacy work that I’d been assigned to do with the one girl. She was nominally a Year 9 student, but her reading age was about what I would see as Prep level. But she was a nice lass, and co-operative about coming to our sessions – held in the staff room area where my desk was – with the door open, even if it risked interruption by marauding males! I had been given some flash cards with simple words on, and prepared more as I saw they were needed. Our short sessions every morning were divided between work with the flash cards, on word identification, and work on actually reading from simple readers. I really didn’t think that just 20 minutes a day was going to make a great deal of difference – she really needed to take readers home to practice with, but of course that does not happen here.

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2002 Travels August 2 – September 13

Our time at Doomadgee

Friday 16 August – Thursday 22 August

The 16th was Reporting Day. The students’ progress reports were given orally to those parents who could be bothered coming to the school to get them. Nothing went home in print here. The reporting process did not affect us, as we had not yet taught.

By the end of the week, I had the same bug that John had last weekend, and had Friday home in bed, anyway. Temperature, shivers. cough, headache, sore throat. With his prior example I did not bother trying to get medications from the Hospital, but used what was left of what he’d had.

We had been told that everyone who came new to town, got sick, and that we should, when better, arrange to get Hepatitis B shots. Very Third World…..

I was already making a list of things to buy in Mt Isa or Townsville, in the next school holidays. Panadol – lots of it. Chicken noodle soup packets – for some reason this was not stocked in the store. Lots of chicken, meat and fish – even if I had to buy dry ice to transport it back.

We spent a lot of time in the evenings, and over the weekend, trying to work out teaching programs. I decided to do the simple cooking things with the boys. The girls doing the VET course would do some cooking too, mixed in with their theory sessions, and to illustrate the basic points of those, like food handling hygiene! I would start the Mothercraft with pregnancy care, maybe with the signs of pregnancy. The store did not stock testing kits! I was sure, though, that these girls had friends who were not attending school, who were already mothers, so they would not be ignorant about it all.

On Sunday, we did some exploring around the area. I was feeling up to this by then, and willing to grab any chance to get out of the community.

John had gained permission from one of the elders to drive out to the site of the Old Doomadgee mission, on the Gulf coast, near Bayly Point. We knew that the local people went out there regularly, fishing and hunting for turtles, at the coast. It was about 100kms away.

We set out on the road from Doomadgee, to the north, but turned back before we got near the coast, because there were starting to be lots of side tracks and we had no idea of the right way to go. There were no signposts, of course – the locals know the tracks, and tourists are not permitted to travel the local roads. The road was surprisingly good, though – regularly graded, it was clear. The country was just the same old flat savannah scrubland.

Back in town, we drove out to look at the weir on the Nicholson River, and the ford. The river was really attractive here – although it would contain crocodiles.

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Nicholson River

This week saw us commence taking classes. My first cooking session with the secondary boys went better than I expected. It was unusual to be teaching with another teaching watching on, though. I presumed that the SM thought he was needed to keep the boys under control, but it may have been a cultural thing, to have the male presence. Then again, the SM may just not have wanted to give him free time!

I did not appreciate having to do the shopping for the classes. It was a real hassle, and hot, walking to the store and back, carrying the shopping. The office lady made me feel I was imposing on her, needing to do the Requisition Form.

I encountered some unexpected issues in my first lessons. I’d assumed the students would have a basic knowledge of measurement – hadn’t even really thought about it. Not so – no concept of fractions like half a measuring cup! So we had to do some learning, with measure cups and water, at the sinks.

Another concept was time. We had a morning session and I asked – if we wanted the food for big lunch, at 1.30pm – and it took 40 minutes to cook, what time did it need to go in the oven? 10 o’clock, missus? 8 o’clock, missus? All answers wildly out. These were kids aged 14+. What hope would they have in the normal, outside world? What on earth had teachers been doing with them for 8 or 9 years?

I sat in on the meeting led by the DP, with the teachers, to plan their main teaching unit, or theme, for the term – nearly three weeks into same! This is something I would have thought should have been done last term, in preparation, but who was I to know? S decided to do a newspaper theme with the secondary girls, and produce one at the end of term. With no newspapers available in the community, rather an abstract idea, to my way of thinking.

John and I talked about what came next, as we began to settle in. We decided we’d take the van out, in the September school holidays, and try to arrange storage for it and Truck – maybe at the Ringrose Transport yards, in Mt Isa. We would fly back to Doomadgee. Then, at the end of Term 4 – on 6th December – we would be able to fly to Mt Isa on the daily plane, collect the van, and head south for Xmas. If we did not get it out in September, early wet season rains could close the Nicholson River ford and we would not be able to get the rig out. We did not want it stuck in Doomadgee, with the risk of floods and cyclones either.

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Approach to the Nicholson River ford – flooded in the Wet Season

The Principal already seemed to be trying to get John to think about taking over as Principal when he finished his two year stint here, at the end of the year! He definitely wanted me to take over the SM’s job! But I thought we were too inexperienced in local ways, not to mention those of Qld Education, to do so.

The SM did seem to have one role he did well, and which I could not do – yelling at the older boys when they misbehaved. He seemed to be able to intimidate them into some form of obedience, just by bulk and loudness.

John liked the respectable wages we received here. He was talking already about perhaps returning in 2003 – or applying to work up on Cape York! I had my reservations about all this.

John had talked with the man who ran the Council workshop about how to get a tyre to replace the one we’d ruined on the drive up here. He phoned and ordered one from a tyre place in Mt Isa, to be brought up on the next Ringrose transport truck. The workshop man would help John fit it. This was going to be an expensive new tyre! Because the spare from the caravan was interchangeable with the Truck, we could use that as a spare, so we could still go places while waiting for the new one.

John started a vegetable garden in the back yard. He used the spade we carry, to dig some beds, and had brought some packets of seed with him from Adels Grove.

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John’s new vegie patch

I was finding the interruptions to our sleep, every night, quite wearing. On top of the party house across the road, and the dog packs fighting amongst themselves and chasing the mob of horses around the streets, there was the noise associated with the emergency night time visits of the Flying Doctor, to evacuate someone to Mt Isa. The plane would come low overhead and depart the same way. There would be a number of cars escorting the unfortunate patient, screeching round the corner in front of our bedroom window, then returning after the plane left. We needed to get out of the place, just to get a couple of solid nights of sleep!