This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2002 Travels September 18

WEDNESDAY 18 SEPTEMBER     KINGFISHER CAMP

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

TUESDAY 17 SEPTEMBER     KINGFISHER CAMP

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

MONDAY 16 SEPTEMBER     KINGFISHER CAMP

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

SUNDAY 15 SEPTEMBER     KINGFISHER CAMP

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

SATURDAY 14 SEPTEMBER     KINGFISHER CAMP

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

FRIDAY 13 SEPTEMBER     DOOMADGEE TO KINGFISHER CAMP

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

OUR TIME AT DOOMADGEE

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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Burketown

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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.