This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2003 Travels July 8


Today was a day off for us – to be made the most of!

We made sure of a reasonably early start, to take M exploring some of the area. Today would be a drive up to Bowthorn, to meet the sisters there, and to see Kingfisher Camp.

We had to clear out some of the stuff that usually occupied the one back seat in Truck. I sat there – so M got to open all of the many gates en route! Actually, it was because the front seat passenger could see much more than the one in the back seat.

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We took some things from the boss, to Cookie at Lawn Hill Station. This gave us a reason to drive right up to the homestead complex on the top of the rise, to show M. She was suitably impressed.

Further north on the station, beyond the creek ford, there was the hill with the white cross on top. We stopped there and did the steep little climb to the top, on foot.

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Truck looked small from the top of the hill

The cross, and a rather eclectic collection of things around its base, are a memorial put there by the Brazilian Sebastiao Maier, who owns the Lawn Hill lease, to his parents, who died in 1963 and 1969, years before he bought the Lawn Hill lease. The monument was put up in 1983 and the inscription suggests that there was a memorial service held here at the time.

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The Cross on the Hill

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Dedication at the Cross on the Hill

The cross certainly stands out for some distance as one travels along the main track.

There were good views out over the surrounding black soil plains, and to the western range, from up there.

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The way we’d come – track south from Cross on the Hill

At Bowthorn, we had a good chat with the sisters. M had already bought a copy of Kerry’s “Heart Country” book, from the Adels desk, and she had Kerry autograph it. She bought a small bloodwood vase that Judith had made.

The sisters told us that the man who had towed the car back to Doomadgee, had been shot and killed. Clearly, there was some sort of feud going on between groups, there.

We drove on towards Kingfisher Camp. That section of track was really slow.

The current base of the road crew from Mt Isa was at Kingfisher Camp. Its boss was there, fixing machinery – as usual! When we told him that we’d driven up to have a picnic lunch at KFC, and show our friend, he seemed quite perplexed. I guess that, when you have graded the whole damned road, it does seem a long way.

KFC was still as lovely as when we’d camped here, last year. There were quite a few campers scattered about the extensive site. We ate the sandwiches that I’d made this morning, after exploring a little.

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Nicholson River at Kingfisher Camp

On our way back out, we passed the road boss again. He waved us to stop. He said that he’d figured it out – that we were just joking about being here on a day trip, and invited us to have tea with him and the crew at their camp. We said no, because we were on our way back to Adels now. We left him looking quite stunned!

Periodically John would speculate about whether he could get a job driving the grader for him, next year!

It was a really good outing, and a chance for M to see more of the country she’d seen from the air. As well, to meet a couple of genuine Gulf Country pioneers.

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We got back about 6.30pm. I was surprised to find that friend P was there – a day earlier than we’d expected him. Someone had directed him to set up his camp in the Grove, near the staff area. He seemed very pleased to be here! He had done a tyre between Roper Bar and Borroloola. He then took a wrong turn, out of Doomadgee, and wandered around the station back tracks, to the east of where he should have been.  Luckily, he’d blundered across one of the few viable crossings of Lawn Hill Creek that there are. Eventually, he’d come out at the Lawn Hill cattle yards, more by good luck than good navigation, because he said he didn’t have a clue where he was! A worker had directed him from there. The route actually sounded quite interesting – we should explore up that way, on some future days off.

P had already had his tea, and took himself off for an early night. I guess he’d had a stressful day, and he still suffers the after effects of a bout of Ross River Fever, a few years back.

I cooked tea at the van – pasta with tuna and caper sauce. John picked some zucchini and spinach from “his” vegie garden, to go with the pasta.

After that, we sat outside the van and quietly talked about our day. Like so many who visit this area for the first time, M was amazed by its scale and beauty.

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2003 Travels July 7


We had the same jobs as yesterday. The place was frantically busy.

A travelling store came in for a couple of hours – contained in a big semi trailer truck. I was too busy to get a chance to go and have a look at the wares, but some of the other staff bought some nice shirts. John bought a belt and a knife.

In the shop, we could not keep up with the demand for frozen bread, and had run out, well ahead of the next supply truck. It was the same with ice creams.

M caught a ride to the National Park with the canoe truck, and went walking.

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2003 Travels July 6


I was on reception/shop. John was on the rubbish run and doing the donkey fires.

M spent the day exploring around the place, some of this with John as he went about his duties. In the morning, she helped strip tent bedding and hang out the washing. She did the walk up the hill just beyond the front entrance, to the viewpoint it gave, over the area.

The search was called off, late morning. Yesterday, they’d raked the area of the now deserted camp. This morning, they found fresh “soft” tracks – meaning he was wearing socks or something similar to attempt to blur signs that he was there. So now they knew he was still alive, still in the area, and did not want to be found. It had been discovered that he had a jail record, so he might have been really scared by the search. It had cost thousands of dollars, to date – and boosted our DBB takings!

Another rumour that went around, later, was that he’d been the subject of something like a bone-pointing, at Doom, and was in hiding.

Some aboriginals from Doom came down in the afternoon, to start a search of their own. They just turned up and expected us to find  accommodation for them. So there was a fast clean and turn around of some donga rooms vacated by the official searchers – M helped with that.

Even though we had M here, by the time the after-dinner clean up was done, it was so late and we were so tired that it was pretty well straight to bed, rather than sitting around talking.

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2003 Travels July 5


John was on grounds and amenities cleaning. I was on float to wherever needed. In practice, that was mostly helping out in reception/shop.

M went off to the National Park, with H’s tour group, for his day-long guided tour there. She loved it and said she learned so much.

School holidays had made this place so busy. I could not believe how many people just rocked up here without a booking – or without having phoned ahead to check likely availability of space. I also can’t quite believe how surprised/angry most got when they were told we had no vacant camp sites and they would have to go in the overflow area. Some had already tried the National Park and been turned away; others stormed off saying they would go to the Park – then had to slink back later and take what was on offer. They must realize that they are taking such a chance  – they can’t just go down the road from us and the National Park – that it is 90km back to the next camp area?

We were, in my view, allowing too many campers into the informal camping in the Grove – there were some territorial issues developing!

The search was still on. They planned to use an infra-red device on the chopper tonight and fly over the area searching with that.

Someone passing through from Doomadgee told the boss that the guy who’d eventually towed the group’s broken down car back there, was now dead – possibly a heart attack, possibly a shooting. A bit mysterious, apparently, with some talk that payback was involved. It was hard to know what to believe – if anything – about all that.

M quite cheerfully helped with the rather massive washing up after tea – all the DBB accommodation was bulging at the seams, with the extra search people.

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2003 Travels July 4


John on canoes,  another day for me on tents. Now that the tourist season was in full swing, we were both flat out busy, all day.

Friend M arrived, with the company tour group. She was actually lucky to get here. I had, ages ago, arranged with H, the tour guide, to bring her up with this group. Turned out that he was allocated the Troopy for this tour, but when he went around the accommodations  to pick up his passengers, found there were two more than he had vouchers for – or that we had beds allocated for! Some glitch in the Isa office. It was a tight fit, but he managed to squeeze M in, along with the supplies of beer and wine we’d arranged for her to bring up for us.

The prevailing alcohol drought had well and truly broken in our part of the camp!

Couldn’t spare any time when she arrived, but pointed her in the direction of our van. She set up her little tent next to the van – she was quite self-sufficient, with only a small backpack.

Boss had said that M could help out around the place a little, and wash dishes, in return for her keep whilst here. That made her visit much easier to manage. M was quite happy about that.

Managed to finish work at a reasonable hour, and we had a great catch up. M had loved the mail plane flight. She saw so much, especially because the plane did not get very high, between stations. She confirmed that the pilot had flown off his normal route and low over us, to show her where she was going.

She’d enjoyed H’s company on the way up here, and his tour spiel.

It was great to have a friend here, to show the place off to. A couple of weeks ago, I’d had a phone call from a former teaching colleague, now Darwin based, to say he was driving through these parts, along the Gulf Track and would like to come and visit, too. An influx of friends!

The Search and Rescue was still on, and still disrupting our routines. The SES people from Burketown had arrived. There were even more emergency vehicles cluttering up the place. Now, they were keeping a watch out for circling kites and eagles that might indicate the location of a body. Yuk. Some had a theory that he might have hitched a ride with a tourist going southwards.

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2003 Travels July 3


Before work, I tidied up the van a little, in preparation for M’s visit.

John was on canoes again, I was on tent housekeeping.

A couple of police from Mt Isa arrived in the morning, to follow up on the knife incident. They eventually established that the man with the knife was still missing.

By mid-afternoon, we were the base for a Search and Rescue operation! Personnel came from all over the Gulf region. We had never seen so many National Park Rangers – there were some there, after all!

It proved hard to get exact facts, but they seemed to conclude that the missing man may have been on a de-tox program, rather off his face from that, possibly ill too. Drinking meths may not have helped!

The mustering helicopter from Lawn Hill Station was roped into the search today. A proper search one would come tomorrow, if he was not found overnight. They had some Waanyi trackers and were talking about getting a tracker dog.

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Rugged country in which to be lost……

The Search and Rescue operation took over our office area. We were trying to do business as normal at the reception desk and shop counter, with official people stomping in and out, them monopolizing our phone, and to the constant background noise of their radio communications.

The drive and parking area filled up with police and search vehicles, quad bikes, with the chopper coming and going from the dirt area at the front.

The tourists were obviously really curious, and spectating, and we had to try to answer their questions about what was going on. I think we sold a lot of extra icy poles, as campers found an excuse to come and ask what it was all about.

We then had to provide accommodation for some of the searchers, and feed the whole lot. That meant extra revenue, but cook was definitely not happy.

The pilot that flew the Lawn Hill mustering helicopter was really beaten up and bent. Apparently one of his specialities was  using the skids on the chopper to steer beasts the way he wanted them to go. Not the way to longevity!

B and husband had been to Mt Isa for a couple of days. It was a last minute arrangement. They returned today, with all the staff-ordered beer and wine supplies on board. Happy times for staff again.

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2003 Travels July 2


John was on canoes, I was on reception.

It was mail plane day. Friend M would be on the plane. She was doing the tourist trip the aviation company  offered – to go out on the plane and thus see a lot of the Gulf country, as it delivers mail to about ten properties over a fair expanse of NW Qld.

This week, the mail plane was scheduled to land, with our mail, at Lawn Hill Station, as it alternated weeks between there and  here, so she would see that place close up.

We heard a plane fly really low over us, about 10am. There was panic for a short time, as we thought there was a fly-in group that hadn’t been recorded in the bookings book. But the plane flew on. We concluded that it may have been the mail plane, though it did not usually buzz us on its way to Lawn Hill.

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The cattle yards and trucking station at Lawn Hill Station

The bosses had been on the phone about the plight of the aborigines – who were still sitting about on the front lawn. Phoned the Doomadgee police – they told her they were not a taxi or breakdown service, and they were not going to do anything about the group. Boss said they should have told her that two days ago, when she phoned. She was steaming!

R phoned a senior lady he knew in the community, to see if she could organize some help. He had to be rather diplomatic about this, not knowing the relationships or family status of the ones here.

Next time we had time to look, the group had gone, presumably to suss out the situation at their camp and wait there.

Late in the afternoon, the broken down vehicle was towed back to Doomadgee by someone from there, and the stranded ones went too. Finally! However, there was some talk about that the berserk one was missing, when the group went back there, this morning.

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2003 Travels July 1


John was on amenities and rubbish. I was on reception.

The shop was very busy – to the point of bedlam at times. It must be school holidays somewhere! The campground was very busy. Today was hard work.

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Staff compound now quite full – 4 vans and a camper trailer

The bosses had a bad night last night. The police phoned about midnight. Seems some aborigines had rung the police, from the public phone here, to report that one of their group had gone berserk at their camp and had been trying to stab them with a knife.

The  police asked the boss to “just step outside and see what’s going on”!

All but two of the group that had been coming here every day, was there, sitting quietly on the front lawn area. They had walked down from their camp and phoned. The crazy one was back at their camp, they thought. He had the d.t.’s it seemed. The beer they’d had, and the meths  they’d bought, was all long gone.

Boss reported all this to the police. They seemed to feel there was no immediate threat to anyone.

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2003 Travels June 30


John was on rubbish and donkey fires duty today. He got a bit too enthusiastic in his fire lighting and boiled one of the donkeys. There was hot steam spouting out the top, in a large circle. Boss was not best pleased!

I was on float again. It was a very long day. I worked 7.45am to 2.45pm, then 6 to 9pm. There was a huge wash up – the biggest yet – and I was very weary by the time it was all over. It was like the day off had never been.

We were very busy in the shop during the day.

Odyssey Tours brought a group in to stay – some nice old ducks amongst them.

The campground was now getting full, regularly. The Grove was also getting pretty packed. Those who were eligible (no dogs or gensets or vans) usually wanted to go down there, and because it was pick your own spot, it could be hard to control the space and numbers. We wrote down the details of those who were going down there to camp and both V and I had tried to get the boss to set a numbers limit, but so far that had not happened.

The area where we put the big bus tour groups, with their own tents, across the driveway from the shop, was also serving as an overflow area for would be caravanners who arrived without a booking. It was not a very attractive area, and was a long way from the campground showers, so some were often not very happy. Others were grateful that we just didn’t turn them away.

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Bus group and camper overflow area to left of main driveway

It was the end of the financial year. We were supposed to stocktake the shop, in amongst our normal work. Bit of a joke that!

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A stand of conkerberry John found; inside the thin trunks is a vivid orange timber, for woodworking

The aborigines were still out there. They came back to the shop again today and had another hunt for meths. Then they sat out on the veranda, spinning hard luck stories to tourists, to try to get a ride back to their camp – or to Doomadgee. One tourist took them back to their camp, but drew the line at going to Doom! They offered him $50 to do so, but he was not interested, for which no-one blamed him.

It really was time something happened about them. The boss had tried a few times to get back onto the police head honcho, but he seemed to always be too busy to talk to her. We thought there was something suss about it all, because of general lack of interest in their welfare from the Doom end.

Mind you, if they were white travellers, they would be expected to be pro-active about organizing their own retrieval, rather than just passively sitting around waiting for someone else to rescue them!

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2003 Travels June 29


Finally – a day off!

We had managed to sell a pleasing number of scenic helicopter flights while the pals were here, so this morning, at 10am,  the pilot took B and me, and John, on the promised free flight.

Our flight lasted about 15 minutes. He took us out and over the gorges at the National Park. We did not go up very high and the views were wonderful. We flew over all the gorges – it was really spectacular from the air. Our return run was along Lawn Hill Creek – at treetop level! I was not sure how legal that was, but it was exciting. At the end, over the airstrip, the pilot did a steep climb, then “fell off” to the side. Wow! Our stomachs eventually caught up to us again. We came back high on adrenalin.

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Lawn Hill Creek, with the Gorge in the distance

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Lower Gorge, the Island Stack, distant Constance Range

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Middle Gorge and Indarri Falls

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Gorge cut through the escarpment

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The Upper Gorge, the Narrows, walk track beside gorge

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Lawn Hill Creek beyond the Upper Gorge, with side creek

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Middle Gorge, camp area, approach road and Constance Range

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Our staff compound in foreground, vegie garden, green roof of old donga

I phoned and got the ok from the Lawn Hill Station manager’s wife, to go driving on some of their tracks again. We wanted to go look at the old weir, which we had seen from the air, near the end of the Lower Gorge.

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Edge of Island Stack & walk track, old weir (lower R)

We had to go via the homestead again, across the creek ford to the north of that, then double back down on the far side of the creek.

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Track followed right side of creek towards old weir, at base of scarp

The weir was built in 1983. I was surprised that it was so recent, this diversion of the creek away from its original course. Before that, our section of creek was just a series of seasonal waterholes. So, in the days of the Frenchman, the creek was not a permanently running one – which made the establishment of his gardens an even greater feat.

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Former course of Lawn Hill Creek – once could have been like this by Adels

The diversion, of course, made the creek past the Lawn Hill Station homestead, a permanently flowing one. Only a year after the weir was built, the station owner – Sebastian Maier – made the offer of land that led to the setting up of the National Park. Maybe it was not co-incidental that the diversion weir was built before the National Park happened.

The drive was a really pretty one, with the Constance Range off to the west, and the green line of vegetation that marked the creek, to our left. Eventually, the track ran between some low hills of tumbled rocks and the creek, the way ahead narrowed  and the track ended.

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Track went between creek and low rocky ridge

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Caves at the track’s end

It was not far then to walk to the weir. From here, across the creek, the abrupt red rock face of the Island Stack loomed.

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Red walls of the Island Stack and reflections in Lawn Hill Creek

We walked around for a while, exploring and taking photos. The colour contrasts between the creek, the vegetation, and the rocks, were brilliant.

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Looking into the Lower Gorge from the old weir area

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The effect of the old weir on Lawn Hill Creek

Then we went back the way we’d come, and spent the rest of the day lazing about at the van.

The aboriginal group were still broken down and at out their camp. They had walked in today, to come to the shop. They bought some food and tried to get some more meths. This was when it came to light that they’d bought a bottle, yesterday. The boss phoned the police at Doomadgee, on their behalf, to report the breakdown and their need for retrieval, and was told it was being dealt with. So it seemed that someone there knew about them.

The main group of palaeontologists left today. Unfortunately, the volunteers and most of the students had decided to stay on for a couple of days of R&R, which meant that it would be a real scrabble to fit in the booked tour groups, even though one group did cancel a few days ago. Like it or not, most of the over-stayers had to move into the more scruffy emergency accommodation – the old caravans and donga rooms, near where we were initially parked – and near the generator. There wouldn’t have been any spare linen left in the store when they were set up! I suspected that V had not had a great day.

At tea time, we found that there was a possible Medivac case. A tourist presented with what may have been heart issues – he’d not long had a bypass. There was a big phone consult with the Flying Doctor, who eventually decided that he should be taken over to the Century Mine, for the paramedics there to assess. The boss was run off her feet and couldn’t do it, so John volunteered to drive him there. He knew the way, and had been cleared when he had his own, earlier, little emergency.

They returned a couple of hours later, with the verdict that it was a panic attack, brought on by worry because he felt really remote from medical help. He’d found out that, in significant ways, he was not that remote at all. He was grateful, and put a good donation in the Flying Doctor tin.

There was an interesting talk after tea tonight, by Sydney Uni archaeologists doing field work at Riversleigh, and up in the Mussellbrook section of the National Park, west of Lawn Hill. They had dated aboriginal relics back to at least 37,000 years – and maybe 43,000. A current line of research was whether over hunting had any impact on the disappearance of the megafauna. They believed that the two overlapped in this region – hence even greater significance for the Riversleigh area.

We were thinking about whether to join the Riversleigh Society. Maybe, at some future time, we might try to join the annual dig as volunteer workers?