This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2003 Travels August 8


John was on canoes. I was on reception.

It was the long weekend for the Mt Isa Rodeo. This time, last year, we had just gotten to Doomadgee. That was not a pleasant recollection!

We did a fair trade in tourists who did not like the idea of the festivities – or who could not get into the booked-out accommodation in the town. Rodeo refugees! There was also a steady stream of locals from Doomadgee, stopping in for drinks, ice creams, snacks, on their way to Isa for the event, which is huge on the local calendar.

B and M went off to Isa for a two day break. They managed to get out a lot – much more than the rest of us. Some of that was medical related, which we did not envy them for, but status as relative of an owner seemed to allow them latitude.

The crawling baby fell down the steps in front of Reception, when the boss got distracted, and developed a sizeable bump on his head. Apart from that, seemed fine – tough little tacker.

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2003 Travels August 7


I was on tents, John on amenities/yard again.

It was a hard day – I had thirteen tents to “do”. That meant about fifty sheets to wash, dry and put back on beds; twenty six towels to wash, get dry, fold, and place on beds in tents; the kitchen tea towels and the baby’s nappies to wash. I actually managed, though, to get our clothes washing done, in amongst tent cleaning.

I worked 8am to 6.30pm and was exhausted at the end. I sweated a lot – the days were heating up and it got quite stifling working inside the tents. Think I got a bit dehydrated.

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I could look out on this whilst cleaning tents

John had hosed around some of the tents, to settle dust, and he got some of the matting areas in the front of some tents, wet. I had to clean mud of those before I could do the tents. Two old codgers traipsed across the mats of three tents – separately – so I had to sweep them twice extra. Was not happy! That contributed to the late finish.

I was very thorough with the tent cleaning – perhaps more so than some of the other staff when they had a lot to do. Maybe I was not as kind to myself as I could be.

John was cross because I was late and wasn’t around to have a happy hour beer with him at the van when he knocked off at 5pm.

I couldn’t stomach the thought of cook’s greasy lamb chop special casserole – made with instant Maggi flavour additive and without any fat skimmed off whilst cooking. I’d also seen her bread and butter custard, sitting on the edge of the stove, most of the afternoon, waiting to be put in the oven, with the bread pieces drying up and going curled. She did not make it by pouring the custard over the bread – just dumped it all in the dish, any old how.

So, I drank lots of water, instead of having dinner, and really enjoyed my shower, which with the water adjusted to tepid, was really refreshing.

After tea, John went to do a computer internet download, in the office. It took ages, because daughter had emailed me a couple of photos of grandson, and that clogged things up. John couldn’t finish his download, so was not happy. I should have to tell daughter thanks for the thought, but no more! I loved the photos of the five month old – cute age.

About 10pm, John went out to investigate a crashing noise and found another white bull in a bamboo clump near us. Here we go again! F and D shelled out of their vans to help him chase it out of the grounds, but it finished up down in the campground somewhere. They had to choose between letting it go and settle down, or waking up the whole campground. They just hoped it stayed away from tents. For that matter, away from staff caravans too.

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2003 Travels August 6


I was on reception – unexpectedly – because V got me to swap with her. She was not in the mood for being pleasant all day, on reception! John was on cleaning amenities and yard work – back to reality!

Mail day. There was a mail parcel from home, a couple of postcards from friend M, posted as she’d driven her wide circuit back to Mt Isa, and my newspaper.

I took a phone call on behalf of a touring group. They wanted to confirm that they were booked to meet up with boss R for a Riversleigh tour, tomorrow morning at Site D. They also mentioned that they had eight or nine camp sites booked for two nights. BUT – I could find nothing in the camp booking book! I made pleasant, affirmative noises, completed the call, then rather frantically double and triple checked. When I eventually caught up with boss, and pressed, he “thought” he could remember making the arrangements!

I had to do some very complicated shuffling around in the bookings book, to get the group into sites relatively close to each other – luckily, we were not full. This sometimes haphazard approach to records and bookings was very annoying. It was embarrassing when one was on the counter and people came in, believing they had bookings, and we couldn’t find same. It was mostly the result of people phoning in the evening, and the bosses taking the calls on the portable handset, and then not getting round to going into the shop to record the details – notes on little pieces of paper got easily mislaid.

It was a long day. It was quiet in patches, then there was a rush of campers near teatime, wanting pies, sausage rolls and the like – so there was pressure on the little microwave in the kitchen, as well as on me. It took about five  minutes to heat one pie, and we could only do one at a time, so dealing with any quantity required patience, both by the customer and me!

John helped wash dishes after tea, while I went back to the shop to finalize the till, which I hadn’t had time to do, before tea.

It was cook and husband’s day off, so the boss was cooking. R cooked fish on the BBQ, which he did well and it was nice. But it was served with mashed potato and boiled frozen peas and carrots, which was a bit boring. Dessert was pineapple crumble – using tinned pineapple – with custard; the custard was alright.

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2003 Travels August 5


After breakfast, drove out to the other place that we had permission to visit – Murray Springs – following another mud map. This one featured “wire gate”, “gap”, an arrow pointing on a track to the NT border, and a rough estimate of 15kms distance from camp.

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Seen from a Musselbrook track

We missed a turn and drove almost to the NT border. Only realized from the distance travelled and the persistent westwards trend on the GPS that we had gone astray. We backtracked and corrected, finding the gap in the fence, that marked our turning point, that I’d missed before. The “mistake” was a scenic drive, anyway, through quite rugged country.

The tracks to these sites were quite good. The whole area is an absolute maze of tracks – presumably, some date from the days when it was all station property but most from the mining exploration period. Some would be maintained these days, by National Parks, for access to research sites.

The Murray Springs, on Murray Creek, were quite pleasant, but not in the class of yesterday’s gorge. Murray Creek eventually flows into Musselbrook Creek, near the mining camp.

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Murray Springs water hole

There was much ironstone around the area where we drove today.

Back at the mining camp, we walked and explored about the camp area.

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Looking back to the mining camp from the nearby ridge

We went to where an original old homestead had been, on a slight ridge, with a great outlook. There was a memorial cairn there, to George Doherty – who I guessed was maybe  of the pioneering family  who established the original Highland Plains  property.

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Memorial cairn on ridge site of original homestead

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Outlook to west from original homestead site

John took his time inspecting the mining camp plant – the solar array with its battery storage unit, fuel storage tank, satellite dish. He found some very termite riddled lengths of timber on the ground.

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Main building at the old mining camp

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Solar panel array at mining camp

After lunch, we packed up our camp and left Musselbrook about 2pm, to head back to Adels.

We felt very grateful to have been allowed to go out to Musselbrook. Even the bosses at Adels had not yet been there.

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Stopped on the drive out to gather a couple of pieces of the gutta percha timber.

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Cluster of gutta percha trees by Musselbrook track

We got back about 6pm, with thick layers of dust over everything, and my hair feeling like steel wool. Just proved that Truck had not somehow miraculously become dust proof! The shower was very welcome – that was something we hadn’t had whilst away.

I thought the break away had done us good, although I couldn’t feel very enthusiastic at the prospect of work tomorrow.

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2003 Travels August 4


We kept the canvas window flaps of the tent open, all night. Because of the curve of the tent roof, we could lie in bed and look straight up at the stars, which was rather magical. There are so many, and they are so bright, out in this country.

We slept quite well on the air bed – a while since we’d used this!

After breakfast, set out to drive to Chilli Gorge, following another of Ranger J’s mud maps. This was a set of rather wobbly lines, with crosses over track junctions to show where we should not go! I was not convinced, however, that all possible deviations were thus covered! It had annotations like “tall ridge”, “ironstone escarpment”, “down through deep valley saddle”, “bulldust”.

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Mud Map!

Having the GPS made me a bit more confident. If I entered enough way points as we went, then at least we should be able to find our way back to camp!

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Track to Chilli Gorge

We took one wrong turn, but ended up at a pretty water hole anyway, which we thought might have been Black Cockatoo Water Hole.

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Probably Black Cockatoo Water Hole

Much of the track was along ridge tops, with increasingly dramatic vistas of ranges and distant gorges.

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Following a ridge top

Lots of the creek beds had stands of gutta percha, which we’d noticed by the track on the way in, yesterday too. John was determined to get some, later, for home wood working. I found a gutta percha tree that had been injured by flood debris, last wet, and gathered some of the large balls of golden resin that had formed along the scar. I’d been told that, in the early days, this had been used as a primitive form of dental filling. It certainly was set hard.

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Great views from the ridge tops

We eventually reached the end of the track we were following, near the gorge, some 25kms from camp.

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Chilli Gorge over in that range somewhere

Walked up the creek bed, into the gorge, carrying our packed sandwiches.

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Followed the creek bed into the Groge

It was quite spectacular – rough and rugged. Water pools and sheer rock faces eventually stopped us from going too far, so we stopped and ate lunch beside the water.

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Near the start of Chilli Gorge

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Chilli Gorge

Then climbed to the top of the escarpment and could see the gorge extending a long way back into the range. We followed the ridge for a way, until stopped by a very steep sided gorge ahead of us.

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Rugged country

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About as far as we could clamber

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Red rock walls of Chilli Gorge

Walked back to Truck and set off back to camp. Felt confident enough to explore some of the side tracks on the way back, but always eventually retracing our way, with the help of the GPS.


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Spinifex and rocky ridges

KT had left this morning, to head to home in SE Qld, where he was due to have his fourth hip replacement!

So we were now alone out here.

We had been most heartened, out at the Gorge, to find the skeleton of a cane toad that had clearly been turned on its back and eaten out through the stomach. Some birds, notably crows, had learned to do this, thus avoiding the deadly poison sacs on the toad’s back shoulders.

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Cane toad skeleton – eaten from stomach side

An interesting event happened back at camp, whilst we were relaxing after our drive. We heard, quite clearly, a ringing telephone! It took us quite a while to work out that a butcher bird was making the sound! He had obviously heard the amplified phone ring, when the camp was in use, and now mimicked it. It seemed totally incongruous.

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Survivor tree near mining camp

This night on our own passed uneventfully – no spooky noises in the night.

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2003 Travels August 3


We were actually getting away on a break!

Set off south down the Riversleigh road, to the grid that marked the Shire boundary. Then we took a track west. along the fence line. This soon took us into range country – very interesting.

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Truck heading into Mussellbrook country

We stopped to look – very carefully – at a great sinkhole in a section of limestone country, and at different plants and wild flowers. We saw a pair of bustards.

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Limestone rock outcrops – similar to those at Riversleigh

Crossed a patch of black clay country – no trees there, as these were cracking clays. The tracks on such ground are always rough and corrugated!

The very rough mud maps, drawn by J at the Ranger Base – and in which I did not have a great deal of faith – actually proved adequate to follow.

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We found the place where we had to turn north for Musselbrook. Ranger J’s description of a gate that points up into the air, because someone forgot to put in a strainer post, was accurate. It also proved impossible for me to close again on my own – I wondered how anyone did it. I had to get John out of Truck to help.

The tracks were not as bad as I’d feared, but it still took four hours to drive the 120kms from Adels. As the crow flies it was only about 40kms.

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A good part of the track

We found that Lawn Hill Creek, where we crossed it, was dry, so the springs and tributary stream springs that keep it flowing at a constant rate past Adels, must be downstream of where we crossed.

Ranger J had lent us his old topo map, based on 66 datum. This showed really rugged country, with lots of gorges and water holes. It also showed lots of tracks from the mining exploration days, which now bore little resemblance to present reality.

Already I wanted to explore this area more than we would have time for!

The Rangers had said that there was much out here that was “culturally sensitive”.

We had been told that the whole of this part of NW Qld was rich in minerals. The old timers mined silver, and tin. The current Century Mine was mostly lead and zinc. It seemed that, back when BHP was exploring the Musselbrook area thoroughly, they intended to turn it into a large iron ore mine. But, before work began, the extent of the Pilbara (WA) deposits became apparent, and these were much easier to develop, so planning for a Musselbrook mine was shelved. But the mining reserve still existed.

There was supposed to be gold and other minerals under the limestone capping that covered some of the region, but it was hard to find out how much.

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Country around the Mussellbrook camp

We were to camp at the old Musselbrook mining camp, which had become an outstation and research centre of the National Park – recently decommissioned as same by the new Head Ranger. We came to feel that this was a waste of some big resources that had gone into maintaining it, including putting in a solar power plant.

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Mussellbrook Camp down in the valley

Upon arrival, we found there was a man called KT staying at the camp. He was a Musselbrook expert who had been coming there for years, for collecting and surveying activities for the Royal Geographic Society and for the National Parks.

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Rugged terrain around the Mussellbrook Camp area (from Google sat view)

There were several buildings at the camp and a kind of central area with a campfire area and some seats.

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Our tent and camp set up at the Mussellbrook Camp

We set up our tent to the side of this central area. This was only the second time, in the two years that we’d had the tent, that we had set it up. There was much “discussion” – polite term – about which bit went where.

When tent was satisfactorily erected, we took a short drive out to look at the nearby Home Gorge. We walked along this for some distance – it was quite pretty. Then we heard a mob of feral pigs up ahead of us, and decided to retreat.

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Home Gorge water hole

After tea – cooked on the campfire – we sat round it, and K joined us. We learned a lot from him about the history of the place and the current politics affecting it, especially the recent Parks decision to phase down the place.

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Old cattle yards near the former homestead

I was horrified to find that, as soon as the direct sun went off our area, hordes of mosquitoes appeared! We were so used to not having these at Adels, that I hadn’t thought to pack repellent, fly spray or mosquito coils. K gave us some coils, and we covered up as much skin as possible, despite the warmth of the evening. This was one occasion when I was hoping that the campfire smoke might blow my way.

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Covered up well, despite the warmth of the early evening

Sitting round the fire and chatting with someone so knowledgeable, was really enjoyable. However, we’d had a long day and K would have one tomorrow, so it was early to bed.

Apart from the occasional call of a night bird, the silence was absolute.

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2003 Travels August 2


On tent housekeeping again.

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Ever changing light and reflections on the creek – a very special workplace

We finished work at 5pm, then took an hour or so to pack Truck for our camping trip to Musselbrook. There was not much to pack because most camping gear was permanently in Truck. Mostly it was some clothes and food for two days and nights, plus some spare, just in case.

We heaved the caravan’s spare wheel up onto the roof rack and tied it there. Put in several containers of water.

At tea time, we farewelled the baby’s carer, who had finished her three week stint and was off to Isa tomorrow, with the current company tour group. The boss would really miss her – not only had she minded the baby, but also did her cleaning and washing. We would miss her too – because the nappy washing would probably go back to being done by whoever was assigned to the tent housekeeping.