This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2002 Travels June 17 to August 2

The guests:

The Dinner, Bed and Breakfast tents had varied clientele. Most were from the small groups brought up by the company tours. The owners were working hard to attract other companies’ bus tour groups and there were a couple of lots of those while we were there.

Some travellers did not want to chance their caravans over the road from Gregory Downs, so left their vans there and booked into our accommodation for a night or two.

Some guests flew in, in their own planes. I was surprised to find how many travellers were flying around the country in their own planes. Someone from Adels would pick them up from the airstrip and transport them between Adels and the National Park, as required.

A meal service was not advertised for campground guests, as we did not really have the facilities to expand the meals service, until the new building was finished. But occasionally some would smell the cooking, or wander past, and ask if they could get an evening meal. The boss would set a price of $20 or $25 for this, depending on what was on the menu – this would often put would-be diners off!

The palaeontologists:

The week after we started work, the annual “dig group” arrived, to be accommodated in the tents – and fed – for nearly a fortnight.

Some were palaeontologists, some were experts in natural history, flora/ fauna. They came from the Uni of NSW and the Australian Museum. Many were real experts in the fossils of the Riversleigh fields. Their leader was Professor Mike Archer, of some renown – partly for his view that the extinct thylacine might be able to be re-created via fossil DNA. His wife – a researcher in the same fields, was part of the group, and they brought their two primary school aged daughters.

The scientific group left early each day for the fields. The boss did their breakfasts and made lunches for them to take. They got back about 4pm, and got together out in the eating area to compare notes and finds for the day.

A couple of times during their stay, they gave talks to anyone from the campground and other accommodation who wanted to attend. We served tea, coffee and biscuits after, and the attendees were asked to donate to the RFDS tin.

Mike Archer was an excellent speaker, and the subject matter – mostly dealing with the significance of the Riversleigh fields – was much more interesting than I had anticipated. Quite fascinating, in fact.

The period of their stay was a sustained busy time for us, with normal days off suspended, so it was rather a relief when it was over.

Some general recollections of the time at Adels:

Not long after I’d started work in the kitchen, the cook and I were getting organized for the day’s work, and she was checking the menu the boss had written out. She said that trifle was listed for dessert and that, when she started, the boss had told her it was a popular dessert. But her experience was that there was always a lot left over. We talked about how she made it, and all sounded normal – cake, jelly and custard layers. But then she mentioned that she stirred them all together! I tactfully suggested, as we made it that day, that the layers looked really nice left separate. She took the hint, and the resultant trifle was all eaten. One problem solved!

Some days our cooking schedule was quite tight, if numbers were up and the oven was involved, due to there being only one. The gas came from bottles – and could be guaranteed to run out at the most inopportune time. If we were not using a cooktop, too, it could be some time before we discovered that whatever was supposed to be cooking in the oven – wasn’t!

Campers exploring along the creek would get curious and wander up from the Grove to see what was behind the buildings. Some would come over and decide it was a great camp kitchen. A few times, cook or I came back from our break to find campers setting up to use the kitchen! A couple of lots became quite unpleasant when we explained it was not for public use.

The numbers we were cooking for that night would have been notified to us at 11am. By that time, if it was a company tour day, someone from the office would have rung through with the number on board. Occasionally there would be an unbooked later customer or two, which could throw out numbers as did campers who wanted a meal. The boss was loathe to turn away customers and this could throw our catering out a bit. OK for roasts and silverside, but if it was a fish night, we would usually not have much surplus defrosted.

Guests could be really trying – some because they just didn’t stop to think, others I was sure, deliberately. All the tour guests were asked to advise ahead of any special diet needs. We had a supply of frozen gluten free bread. We coped with the occasional diabetic, and regular vegetarians. But one woman from a non-company tour group, came to us in the kitchen, 15 minutes before service time – the group had been in camp for several hours by then – and told us she was vegetarian, lactose intolerant, and allergic to onions and garlic! The menu for that night was spag bol and bread and butter custard. We pointed out there wasn’t much we could do, with that timing, but give her a plate of salad. She wasn’t happy!

We got really fed up with the men (always males) who would front up to the serving area, as we were dishing up maybe fifty plates of food, and expect us to drop everything and fetch them one of their beers from the coolroom – where we’d agreed to store it as a favour. They would get stroppy when we said they’d have to wait.

One afternoon a lady from a tour group sat out in the eating area, watching cook and I prepare dinner. Not long before serving time, she marched up, declared she was a chef in Sydney and didn’t think our kitchen was up to standard! She pulled the plug out of the sink in which we were washing up prep dishes and declared we hadn’t turned the hot water on frequently enough for dish washing. She turned on the tap – the one, cold, one. I picked up the two buckets we used for fetching hot water and shoved them at her, telling her she would find the hot water about 100 metres that way – and since she’d emptied our sink, she could go fetch the water to refill it! She stomped off then, having embarrassed herself in front of her group members – who appeared amused, so I guessed she’d been throwing her weight around there too. John fetched the hot water.

I am sure our kitchen was not up to Sydney standards – but the Gulf, and the whole outback for that matter – is different. We kept it as clean as we could, and followed the best practices we could.  In all my weeks there, had no reported issues with the food, amongst guests or staff.

We did have to be careful to cover any food left out on the benches, that wasn’t right by us, because the bower birds would fly in on raids. They were very bold. The “walker birds” would clean up anything dropped on the floor. Bar shouldered doves prefer to walk everywhere and we certainly had some very fat ones hanging around the kitchen area.

I did sometimes worry about the untreated water that was our water supply, being downstream of the National Park and its campground and swimmers. But the greatest concern was the high level of calcium carbonate suspended in it. For my own drinking water, I ran the water through my filter jug at the van, then boiled and cooled it. That at least got rid of some of the calcium from it.

There was a big old white bull that had taken to wandering about the campground. He’d obviously found enough goodies around the place to not be deterred by the boss closing the gates at night. He was very good at sneaking in, then wandering about, scaring campers and getting tangled in guy ropes and generally being a pest. One night, he must have somehow fallen into the creek, and couldn’t get out again. Some tourists found him in the morning, floating, with all four legs sticking up in the air! Very dead. It was quite an operation to get the body out, with the fork lift and a truck.

Leisure time at the van was lovely, with the active bird life all round. I never got sick of watching and listening. There was a pair of barking owls in the Grove that we would hear at night, sounding for all the world like yappy little dogs. Sometimes a group of agile wallabies would sneak under our van to sleep. If they were startled in the night, they would bounce up, forgetting about the low clearance – then we would be woken by the thumps and the van shaking.

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Agile wallaby

A group of primary school children stayed a night, as a school camp. The boss was seen, showing them a very long olive python, handling it and letting them touch it. One of the men asked where he’d found that? Boss said it was the one that lived in the workshop. The men didn’t know of any python in the very dark and gloomy shed, but they had been regularly kicking aside a pile of coiled up “old rope”  that regularly seemed to be in the way when they went in! That work practice changed!

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Olive python

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Python heading back to its home in the workshop

Boss lady was extremely busy with the demands of the rapid expansion of the business. This, and the effect of her pregnancy, seemed to impact on her memory. There were a couple of times when she forgot to complete the necessary orders for supplies. She would be part way through doing so, get interrupted, and not get back to same. The first we would know of this was when the supply truck did not have what was needed. We usually had enough stock on hand to get by, although once she had to go and “borrow” vegetables from the cook at the nearby mine.

More serious for the office ladies were the few times she would take a booking on the remote phone handset, whilst away from the office, and then forget to record same. Rather embarrassing when six rigs turned up, at the height of the busy time, expecting six adjacent sites! Boss man was even worse, with after hours booking phone calls – he would rub out an area of the bookings book, record the new name in the space, then leave it for others to sort out! I suspected that part of the reason campers began to be allowed into the Grove area, was as an overflow area for messed up bookings. Everyone, in these early days, was on a sharp learning curve.

It was quite exciting to see the new building taking shape, during the weeks we worked at Adels. It would move the operation of the place up to a much more professional level.

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This would be the front – shop, reception, toilets, walkway to dining deck

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The railing of the new dining deck – new building dwarfed our temporary kitchen

One issue that began to cause some concern whilst we were there was that of the future of the canoe hire at the National Park. This had operated for years before the sale of Adels Grove, having been initially established by the prior owners. The local aboriginal leadership was beginning to make statements to the effect that – if Adels wanted to keep doing the canoe hire, they would have to employ local aboriginals to run it. We had already seen how the aboriginal Rangers at the park operated – swanning about in their uniforms and doing nothing! Adels would still need to employ white staff to oversee the aboriginal “workers” – which would probably make it uneconomic. It could become another saga like Riversleigh – left to the “locals” to run and organise, and nothing happens!

It seemed to us that it really was such a shame, the extent to which the whole aboriginal thing is a brake to enterprise and development, up north. We saw the same kind of thing, on Cape York, in ’98.


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2002 Travels June 17 – August 2

Our day:

John started work at 8am, so he would get up and go off to have breakfast with the other staff, up at the kitchen area. I would get up a bit later, and eat my weetbix and soy milk at the van, before going up to start work at 9.30am.

Arriving as tourists, we’d obviously had food supplies with us initially. As my breakfast supplies ran low, the boss was very good about ordering soy milk for me when needed.

John would eat salad lunch with the other men. I would make up a plate of salad and usually take it down to the van, to ensure the time to myself.

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Our vegetable scraps went for composting in John’s vegie garden

We ate the evening meal with the other staff, and guests, in amongst doing the meal service, in my case.

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The tail end of the dinner service

John finished work at 5pm and would go have a shower, then sit and have a happy hour beer or two with the other men in the dining area, or down in the Grove.

It was usually 8 to 8.30pm by the time we finished up in the kitchen. Sometimes, staff would sit about in the dining area, talking and having a drink. More often, we would head off to our respective accommodation soon after finishing up.

I would shower after finishing up in the kitchen – by torchlight – and usually fall into bed not long after that.

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Filling the tanker from the tanks by the showers

I tried to do our clothes washing before starting work in the morning, once a week or so. This was so my precious day off was not used up by chores. Also, I needed to wash our work clothes more frequently than I had days off! It could be a bit of a lottery to get a machine before the laundry lady had to start in on the sheets and towels. With only two machines as the season went on and guest numbers increased, her washing was a mammoth task. My washing had to dry on one of the lines strung between trees next to the laundry area. Often, it would be John picking it in, after he finished work.

There was no TV or radio signal there then. Reading matter was scarce, and to be rationed. I raided the book exchange in the office, whenever anything new came in, which was not often. John could play his computer games in the evening, until the generator went off at 10pm.

Occasionally a guest would leave behind a newspaper – we would fall upon it and devour the news, even if it was old. The staff who had been here since the start of the season, told me the Queen Mother had been dead and buried for a few weeks before the news filtered in here.

On our day off – usually about once a week, depending on our busy-ness – we would try to go out exploring somewhere in the district.

Remote life:

Despite all our prior travels, life here was quite a revelation, in ways that city people just don’t contemplate.

The nearest sealed road was almost 100kms away, at Gregory Downs.

Unsealed roads/tracks radiate from here. The one south branches after a few kms, with the western branch going to the National Park, and was quite badly corrugated. G drove an old Toyota ute, that belonged to Adels, back and forth every day to do the canoe hire. The other branch was the road to Riversleigh and past that, over fords of the Gregory and O’Shannassy Rivers, to where it met up with the Camooweal road south from Gregory Downs. Then, by Thorntonia Station, a road south eventually met the Barkly Highway, some 100kms west of Mt Isa. This Riversleigh/Thorntonia route was the “short” way to Mt Isa, and was badly corrugated in parts. It took about 6 hours to get to Mt Isa that way.

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The track from Adels to the National Park is shown

In the wet season, often the only way to Mt Isa is via the way we came here – Gregory Downs, Burke and Wills, Cloncurry. Even that route gets closed if there is a lot of rain, cutting Adels off completely by road.

To the north, a track goes to Lawn Hill Station and beyond that to Doomadgee, on the Great Top Road, or to Bowthorn Station and Kingfisher Camp on the Nicholson River, west of Doomadgee. This was basically a station track, with a number of gates, and Lawn Hill Creek to ford. It crossed black soil country, so was closed in the wet.

The mail plane came once a week to the district and landed at Lawn Hill Station. The boss lady would take a bag containing our mail, to meet it, and bring back our mail from the plane.

Adels had a telephone link to the outside world. There was a public, coin-operated phone box out the front of the office donga.

The supply truck operated by Ringrose Transport came once a week, on Fridays, from Mt Isa, via Gregory Downs. It was a large semi trailer, divided into three parts: a freezer, a cool section and a general section. A little bobcat was used, here, to unload pallets of goods that were stacked on the veranda behind the office, for unpacking. All staff who were around helped with this, so the pallets could go back on the truck. We would make a cuppa for the driver while he waited.

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The boss lady faxed her orders to the Safeway supermarket in Mt Isa, and a greengrocer supplier, and to sundry other suppliers. Obviously, the cost of transport of the goods was quite high – a fact sometimes not taken into account by travellers buying tinned goods or icecreams from the shop.

Occasionally, there were supply glitches. Adels was near the end of the supply run, and sometimes the confusion of unloading – or an error in labelling at the Mt Isa end – caused mistakes.  One week, we got the sack of potatoes intended for the Gregory Downs hotel – and they got all our containers of ice cream!

The orders have to be faxed the best part of two weeks before they get to us, so it could be hard to predict numbers for meals that far ahead, and thus what supplies would be needed.

The truck did not bring alcohol supplies. Adels did not, as yet, have a general liquor licence – that would come when the new building was completed. Whoever was  going to Mt Isa (staff on a break, builders, a boss) took staff orders and brought them back – their vehicle could end up carrying a lot of alcohol! If friends came to visit, they generally were asked to do a pick up in town, on the way.

Because we were so busy, and so tired at night, alcohol supplies tended to last us quite a while anyway.

It really was different, living without ready access to shops of any kind.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service – RFDS

Having spent time here, we now appreciated this so much more.

Apart from the emergency evacuation by plane that people associate with the RFDS, they support remote dwellers in other ways.

There was a monthly RFDS Clinic. This alternated between Adels and Lawn Hill Station, which also had an airstrip of the requisite standard. A doctor, nurse and pilot would fly in. A space was set aside for the doctor to meet with any locals who wished to see him – at Adels this was on the back veranda of the office donga. There was not much privacy! When there were no more patients, off they would fly to the next station. The boss lady was pregnant, so her monthly check ups were done at these times.

Adels had a RFDS medical chest – supplied in conjunction with the service. Boss lady had undergone training in the use of this, which was required before they were issued. In the case of illness or accident, she would phone the RFDS Base in Mt Isa and they would instruct her about what to do and what medications to administer. These were identified by number, rather than name, to avoid confusion. Each month, she had to check the stocks in the chest – any that were out of date were replaced on the next mail plane.

Adels staff did all they could to raise funds for the RFDS. There was a collection tin in the office. If a visitor wanted a cup of tea, outside of meal times, we asked them to put a donation in the tin. Book exchange attracted a $2.50 offering to the tin. The men collected all the aluminium cans from the campground, crushed them; they were sent to Mt Isa where the money raised went to the RFDS. When the paleontologists were staying, they gave a couple of evening talks to park guests, for which a fee was charged – for “the tin”. Likewise, when the Rangers came from the National Park one night a week, to give talks and slide shows about the Park.


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2002 Travels June 17 – August 2

Our fellow workers:

Including us, there were eleven resident staff when we began. Another couple had arrived by the time we left. There were also five builders living in. So that was sixteen staff to feed, for starters.

The man boss was an accredited member of the Savannah Guides Association – a group of local experts from across the northern Gulf country – formed to promote tourism. The previous owner of Adels helped form this group. Adels Grove was a Savannah Guide Station. The boss ran the half day tours to the Riversleigh fossil site, that Adels offered.

His wife ran the accommodation side of things and it was she who hired us.

There were three couples of similar ages to us, basically retirees too. They were here for the season. Previous experiences with backpacker workers had led the owners to prefer retirees – they said we had a better attitude to customer service.

One couple had a caravan parked down in the Grove, like us, the others were staying in the staff donga.

Two of the ladies looked after the reception and shop. One did the laundry for the DBB tents, and the housekeeping for same, helped when needed by one of the others. She only had a couple of domestic washing machines in the laundry; the innards of these had been ruined by the calcium in the water, so she had to manually fill the machines with a hose.

The men did the outside work. One of them ran the canoe hire service at the National Park, so he was away all day. His little work area overlooked the creek – a great place to work.

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The canoe hire – a really scenic “office”

The final staff member was the cook – a lass in her 20’s, a friend of a family member of one of the owners, and a lovely person. She had not cooked before, but thought this sounded like a novel experience and a bit of an adventure in the outback. She was on a steep learning curve. Her existence was somewhat lonely, with no other staff of her age. My brief was to assist her, as the place got busier, and try to ease out some glitches that were appearing.

The protocol here was that, at the evening meal, guests were served first, and builders and staff after that. There were beginning to be rumblings that sometimes not enough food remained for staff, and I was to try to improve that.

Visiting “staff” came with the once or twice weekly company tours from Mt Isa. The regular guide was a local Waanyi aboriginal elder – highly educated, outgoing and a fascinating man.

Our work

The office ladies made sure there was always someone there to book in visitors, take phone bookings, do sales of any shop items, keep that area clean and tidy. They helped out with tent housekeeping if needed. When the weekly supply truck came in, they helped unload it and check the delivery.

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The weekly supply truck from Mt Isa

The outside men did the cleaning, tank filling from the creek, and donkey firing already described. They fetched loads of firewood – mostly snappy gum – and chopped it. As well as pumping water from the creek, there was a water tanker truck that was filled and driven around to water the campground tracks when it was particularly dusty; as the season went on, this became pretty constant. It also was used to water the airstrip to reduce dust. There was some garden watering.

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Watering to reduce dust

The campground – and other – rubbish  was collected in the dump truck and taken to the tip pit, which was periodically burned. Then there was general tidying and upkeep of the camp ground, where vacated sites were checked and raked, and fire pits emptied.

Fly in tourists had to be collected from the airstrip and driven to the camp and National Park.

One of the men would serve fuel as tourists wanted it, from the bowsers. They would do basic mechanical repairs, if they could, repair/change flat tyres, fill travellers’ gas bottles. There were canoe repairs to do, too.

The men assisted with the dishwashing after the evening meal – their own dishes, and the pots and pans, serving dishes and the like. Given the limited power, there was no dishwasher.

By the time we joined the staff, the other men were in quite a routine for the basic jobs, so John had to carve out his own niche. He took on the neglected vegie patch and assumed responsibility for the outdoor dining area – hosing off the tables, tidying the area, helping us hose out the kitchen each morning. He was eventually entrusted with helping us cook BBQ’s and fish. He fetched the containers of special drinking water filled at Louie Creek – it had less calcium than our own creek water. As the new building progressed, he worked afternoons at painting that.

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John at work in the vegie garden

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 The work in the kitchen:

The kitchen was open air – essentially a roof and a cement floor, attached to one side of a coolroom donga. For some reason, there were no flies here, so open air worked fine.

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The kitchen

There were a couple of chest freezers and ordinary household fridges lined up along the back wall. Electrical power came from the generator, which was turned off about 10pm each night. In theory, a battery set up maintained power for the fridges and freezers, but this did not work well. However, they seemed to hold cool well enough through the nights. The only electrical appliance we could use was a small, hand-held electric beater; anything else required too much power. Hot water for drinks was heated in large kettles on the gas cookers.

Metal shelves were stainless steel or lino topped to form our work benches. Two single bowl sinks had cold water taps only – hot water for washing up was fetched in buckets from the nearest donkey water heater – a fair distance away. Bringing these was another task that often fell to John. One sink was towards the front of the kitchen area -this was to be used by guests and staff to wash up their own eating plates and utensils; we put heaps of teatowels out for them to dry same. So they did not need to come into the kitchen area itself. The other sink that we used for prep was against the donga wall.

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At work in the kitchen

There were two old industrial gas cookers lined up on one side of the kitchen space. Only one of the ovens worked, which limited what could be cooked for an evening meal – if it was roast meat and vegies, then dessert had to be something that did not need the oven. Not all of the stovetop gas burners worked, either, which sometimes necessitated some juggling of pots.

The stoves were supplemented by the big BBQ plate, on a wood fire, outside the kitchen, when we were having BBQ or fish.

The boss lady did the breakfasts each morning, served from 7.30am. These were buffet style for guests and staff to help themselves. There would be cereals, toast and something hot like baked beans. The builders would eat something light, then.

I started work at 9.30am, with my first task to make a substantial, cooked “smoko” for the builders, to be served at 10am. I often based this on leftovers from the previous night e.g. corned beef fritters.

Often there was a big cleanup to be done, from breakfast! In theory, everyone washed and dried up their own dishes and utensils. In practice, most of them just got left in and on the sink. Not a great way to start my working day.

B started at 10am. In theory, we worked a split shift, to allow for the fact that we often did not finish the clean up from the evening meal till 8pm – or later. In practice, it was often hard to take the time off in the afternoon, depending on what we were cooking, and how many for.

Boss set the menu for the evening meal. She grew up in the bush and the menu reflected this – and the origins of Adels’ dinner, bed and breakfast offering in the Riversleigh bush camp.

We would check the relevant meat for that night had been put out in the coolroom, the night before, to defrost, or else put it out in the morning. I made it my task to ensure there was enough put out to feed all – leftovers could always be used for the builders’ smoko.

The menu was a set two courses: main and dessert. Mains were roasts – mostly lamb or beef. The boss ordered whatever was on special from Woolworths in Mt Isa, each week, and that was frozen. Spag bol usually featured once each week. Whenever there was one of the two-night company tour groups in, corned silverside would be served one night (“salt beef” in the tour literature, which promised “Gulf cuisine”) and barramundi the other night – this came as a boxed and frozen import.  Despite this, it was amazing how many guests told us we’d cooked “the best barra I’ve ever eaten!”

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Cooking corned beef

We staff did not like the weeks in which company tours came twice!

BBQ was another regular – chops, sausages, meat patties. Sometimes there was curry (mild) with  rice – which only boss man was allowed to cook, by his absorption method. It still stuck to the pot! Savoury mince, chicken in apricot nectar were other offerings.

We served potatoes – roasted, mashed or as “chippies” (cubed potato and kumara, oil sprayed and baked). Other vegetables were the standard frozen varieties. Cabbage went with the silverside. As time went on, I was allowed to make coleslaw, or a mixed salad as a change from the frozen vegies.

Desserts were in a similar vein: tinned fruit salad with custard we made from custard powder. Bread and butter custard was a regular to use up the large quantities of leftover crusts. Trifle. Frozen bought-in apple pies with ice cream. Creamed rice. Again, after some time, I persuaded the boss to order in the makings for fresh fruit salad, occasionally. We always had a supply of icecream in the freezers.

B and I would put out the makings for lunch and staff and the builders then helped themselves to those. There were the basic salad materials – lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber; cheese slices, tinned beetroot, pickled cucumbers, bread. Sometimes there were leftovers from breakfast, or the night before – often cold silverside! I considered lunches nicer than the evening meals, much of the time!

The company tour guide made up his lunches for his clients, to be taken off with them for the day. Mostly, he brought the makings for these from Mt Isa, where he had a couple of “aunties” who produced good cold picnic lunch foods.

As I got more into the routine of the place, I often tried to have some cake available – only basic, like carrot cake. There were always sweet biscuits for staff smoko. Sometimes I made a zucchini slice – for the builders’ smoko and for some staff lunch variety. I made carrot cakes for any staff who had birthdays.

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Birthday cake

Once the morning smokos were done, the breakfast and smoko cleanups done, the kitchen hosed out, we would have our smoko break – about 15 minutes. Then we would start prep for the evening meal. Potatoes would be peeled and put in buckets of water. Desserts prepared. Lunch makings put out. Then would come the lunch cleanup – mostly, the staff men were good at washing up their own plates and cutlery. B and I tried hard to take an hour for lunch.

If it was a silverside day, the large chunks of that would have been put on, in the morning, to slowly cook in drums on little open fire stands out in the dining area. John came to be responsible for lighting the fires under these, and keeping them stoked.

Roasts – big cuts – would go in the oven to cook. Then vegies for roasting – potatoes and pumpkin.

General cooking supplies were kept in the air conditioned coolroom donga, so we were constantly going up and down the couple of steps to it.

Most nights, we fed 40-60 people. The most was 78 and that was a corned beef night.

The evening meal was served at 6.30, so the later part of the afternoon was fairly solid work to ensure all was ready for that, and to clean up as much of our prep gear as we could.

The evening meal was served from the benches at the front of the kitchen. Guests would line up and receive a plate of food dished up for them, then take it off to the tables to eat. Dessert was served in the same way. Condiments, bread and so on, were on an accessible nearby side bench, by the BBQ stove.

After the evening meal was eaten, we would have a greater or lesser quantity of washing up to do, depending on how good that group of guests had been at washing their own. There usually ended up being a heap of cutlery in the sink for us to do! And always lots of pots and pans and serving dishes. We appreciated the way all staff pitched in and helped do that, usually being pretty tired by then.

While the washing up was happening, boss lady would put out the breakfast things.

Having the two of us working in the kitchen was a great set up because we really got on well. I thought that, before I came, it had been a lonely working day for young B, by herself in the kitchen.


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2002 Travels June 17 – August 2

MONDAY 17 JUNE TO THURSDAY 2 AUGUST   ADELS GROVE

Because there was little variety in our days here, it is better to describe the time in sections.

Adels Grove history

The 30 hectare site was first occupied in 1904 as a Miners Homestead lease. Because of this origin, it remains rather an anomaly in this region of vast pastoral leases.

Albert De Lestang took up the property in the 1920’s. For a time it was known as The Frenchman’s Garden. He began collecting tropical species and established his own botanical garden, containing a wide variety of species – over 1000 by 1939. A system of little channels irrigated much of the gardens from the creek. He also grew vegetables and supplied locals and passing travellers from a small shop.

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This relic may have been part of the Frenchman’s irrigation system

It is unclear whether he was formally commissioned by the government to experiment with the growing of plants in the tropical environment, but he was certainly well known in botanical circles, and supplied seeds and specimens widely, including to Kew Gardens.

In the 1950’s a fire destroyed his buildings, papers and some of the gardens. It was not an enterprise that he could rebuild at his advanced age, and he died in an aged care home in Charters Towers in 1959, aged 75 and probably still devastated at his losses.

What we knew as “the grove” was some of Albert’s irrigated gardens. There were still some undulations in the ground that were remains of his channels, flattened by time and campers.

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The oasis effect that Lawn Hill Creek has in this otherwise dry area

After Albert’s departure, the area was neglected and sometimes occupied by prospectors. Floods, storms, termites and general neglect killed off all but the most hardy plants.

In the 1980’s, Adels Grove was bought by a couple, who developed a campground. By 2000, this was described as a collection of mostly tin structures, old caravans, and the like. At least one of Albert’s sheds remained. There had been an amenity block built for the campers, of local stone and cement, water tanks and “donkey” style wood burning water heater put in. By 2000, deteriorating health led the couple to sell to a consortium of people from Mt Isa, who were involved in one way or another with tourism in the district.

One of the purchasers had been involved, since the early 1980’s, in running small group tours to Lawn Hill and the Riversleigh fossil fields. To provide overnight accommodation on these tours, he had been permitted by the owner of the Riversleigh Station lease, to establish a bush camp on the station, near the Gregory River. By the late 1990’s, he had resident managers running this tent camp at Riversleigh.

During the 1990’s, as part of the process of gaining local aboriginal consent to the establishment of the Century Zinc Mine, west of Gregory Downs, two large pastoral leases were purchased by the mining company, to be handed over to the aboriginals – Lawn Hill Station and Riversleigh Station. The latter included the land that the tourism tent camp was on and the operator was informed that the aboriginals would take back that camp and run it themselves.

While all this was eventuating, the people involved with that camp, and friends working in tourism in Mt Isa, formed a company and bought Adels Grove. They felt quite justified in removing from the Riversleigh camp all of the movable infrastructure that they had put in there, moving it to Adels over the summer of 2000-2001. The gate to the Riversleigh area was locked; the proposed aboriginal camp venture there never happened.

The Riversleigh camp managers moved to Adels as resident owner/managers, and had their first tourist season in 2001.

The place as it was when we worked there

The place, by all reports, was rather run down when the group bought it. By the time we went there, much work to improve it had already been done. There was obviously much potential, if tourism should develop further in the area.

We initially went there as tourists, so our first impressions were of the office area, and the campground. From the office area, a gravel track led off to the campground, passing the construction area, and another donga building, hidden behind a bamboo fence. This was the cool storeroom and kitchen.

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The original shop/office. The bamboo screening hid the coolroom donga

The building under construction would contain the managers’ flat, new Reception area and shop, office, a proper kitchen and coolroom, toilets, and the dining deck. It was clearly a measure of the new owners’ ambitions for the place that the structures that had served the old campground would no longer be adequate.

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The new building under construction

Next to the construction area was an old tin shed – a workshop, with fuel bowsers at the front. To its side, and in an L shape, hidden by some vegetation from the camp ground track, were old caravans and another donga style building. Various staff members were occupying these sleeping rooms. They were fairly run-down looking. In this same area was a fenced off and partially shaded vegetable garden area.

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The tin shed workshop and fuel area

Across the other side of the campground track from the shed area, was a small camping area containing tents set up for the tourist season, for hire, containing made up beds, and with a table and chairs set up at the front. These were set nicely apart from each other, and each had a firepit with BBQ plate, and a tap.

The campground had some fifty sites. The first six or seven of these were on the right hand side of the track – fairly small sites on the rise above the Grove, looking over it and nicely shaded. The remaining sites were shaped into the scrub and trees, reasonable distances apart, and of varying sizes. A few sites a bit apart from the others were designated generator permitted sites. The amenity block that served the campground was nothing fancy – cement floors and tin walls were in evidence – but were adequate, although somewhat stained from the calcium in the water. Hot water for the showers came from a donkey heater that was lit and stoked by the male staff, who had to gather the wood from the surrounding country and chop it. They also cleaned the amenities.

From the campground, one could walk down through the Grove to Lawn Hill Creek. When we started work, only the staff camped down in the Grove, but then it was opened to campers, with small camper trailers or tents only. No generators or pets were allowed down there. There were no formal sites – campers made their own spaces. It certainly became a popular place, with its full shade and closeness to the creek. As this happened, the weeds and scrubby growth were essentially cleared by the campers and the area enlarged.

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Looking down into the Grove area, before it became a popular camping area

Lawn Hill Creek formed a large, deep waterhole, a few kms long, from beside the Grove, back upstream towards the National Park. There was a swimming platform moored there, and a canoe launch point. The creek curved around the side of the Grove; due to obstructions and wet season flood damage, plus little tufa falls as a barrier, it had split into two or three channels, forming an island. One of these channels formed the shallow swimming area, good for children, just down the slope from the new building and outdoor eating area and providing a lovely outlook from these areas.

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Between the office and store donga and the creek was an area not immediately obvious to the camping public, unless they walked up from the Grove. A large, flat, shaded area formed an outdoor dining area, with plastic tables and chairs set up there. This was the eating area for staff, the builders (who, due to remoteness, were provided with food and lodging while putting up the building) and for paying guests in the tented dinner, bed and breakfast section. The coolroom and kitchen donga edged one side of this outdoor eating area. More about the kitchen later – I got to know it well!

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The back of the shop/office, looking past the kitchen to the new building. Outdoor dining area.

The DBB tents stretched off to the side, facing the creek channel – another section not obvious to the campground public. Beyond these was a long donga containing four bedrooms,  where the builders were staying. Near this was a tin shower block, with four compartments and nearby donkey heater. There were three long drop toilets in that area.

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The tented accommodation for guests

The furthest structure was a small roofed, open air laundry structure, facing the creek. Here, this reformed into one bigger channel again, and there was a lovely little set of falls – the laundry had just the best outlook!

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Washer woman at work

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The wonderful outlook from the laundry

Water was pumped from the creek to a couple of holding tanks on high stands, to promote gravity feed to various points. Water was reticulated through underground pipes – PVC – to the campground taps and other water points. Although the edges of each camp site were delineated by small, white painted rocks, and the printed information given to campers requested no interference with the areas beyond, an ongoing problem was campers driving in tent pegs beyond the site boundaries and puncturing the water pipes! Very few admitted to doing so, however! The leak from such a puncture would result in the water tanks running dry, usually overnight, with resultant inconvenience to all. One of the men would be assigned to find and repair the leak.

One of the men’s jobs was to keep an eye on the gauge on the side of the main water tank, and go down to the creek and start the pump when the water level became low. They would then go off and do other jobs until the cry went round from whoever was nearest – usually we cooks – “tank’s full” – when it was overflowing.

Across the other side of the road to the National Park was the airstrip – of a standard able to be used by the Flying Doctor, as well as fly-in visitors.

Beyond that was a track to a rubbish dump pit, at a good distance away.


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2002 Travels June 17

MONDAY 17 JUNE     ADELS GROVE

After breakfast, walked up to the shop/office, where we had a kind of interview with the manager – M – who was also one of the owners of Adels Grove.

If we wanted the work, I would be assisting the cook – despite my total lack of any formal qualifications in that area! This was not what I had envisaged. I was to find out later that the cook was even less qualified by general experience than I!

John would be doing general “men’s work” around the establishment – cleaning, tidying, wood chopping, boiler lighting and the like.

We would work a 6 day on, one day off roster of 8 or 9 hour days – that part was a bit vague.

We would be paid $300, clear, a week, each, get all meals, and be provided with a place to park the van in the staff area down the hill in the treed area closer to the creek. On our walking, we’d seen a small cluster of caravans and campers down there, but not realized they were staff owned. We would be able to plug in to their power supply – our solar would not work  in the very shady area down there. It was generator power, of course, and turned off at night.

The compulsory superannuation levy would also be paid by them, so we had to fill out paperwork to join their super fund company. There was more paperwork for tax numbers and the like. Given all the paperwork, for just two weeks, we thought they must be desperate for staff!

So – we were officially employed again.

Should get to save some of our funds for the next couple of weeks – no site fees, no food to buy, no going anywhere to spend money.

Went back to the van, packed it up, and moved it down into the area they call the Grove. This was an area almost down at creek level, below the buildings and formal camp grounds which are up on a bank. It was once a main garden area for the Frenchman, irrigated from the creek. It is heavily treed – some of them trees he planted – and the shade means that there is little undergrowth. The dirt ground is covered by leaves. Because of the trees, there were lots of birds.

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Our van set up in the staff section of the Grove

John ran the long power lead up the hill and into a shed there to plug it in, and connected the hose to a nearby tap. We decided we would be quite comfortable there.

There was a flush toilet and hot shower in a little shed just up the top of the hill from our camp – but these were for the use of M and husband R. (It was he who we’d seen at Site D the other day, being a guide). We used the campground toilets, or the long drop ones that served the tent guests. We used their showers as well – these were in a tin structure, but were very roomy and pleasant.

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Our camp, seen from in the Grove. The old tin workshop was on the rise beyond us.

Then we started work – and worked the afternoon, and thereafter.

Towards the end of our two weeks there, nothing had been said about us finishing up. When I broached the subject, it was indicated that we could stay on for as much of the tourist season as we wanted!

I was loving the place, and quite enjoying the work, and John appeared to be, as well, so we decided to stay.

Phoned Karumba and cancelled our July booking there – but didn’t get the deposit back! It was only a night’s fee, anyway.


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2002 Travels June 16

SUNDAY 16 JUNE     ADELS GROVE

In the morning of another hot day, we decided to go explore the Riversleigh Fossil Site D, some 60kms south of here – road unsealed, of course.

The turn off was not far from Adels Grove, then we proceeded south. The road was heavily corrugated in parts; in other places there were some quite large rocks exposed in the road. It was certainly not fast driving! I thought it must have been quite a while since there had been a grader over that road.

Most of the way was through the grass land scrub land that was like we’d travelled through from Gregory Downs. Savannah woodland country, to use one of my geographical terms. Dry, of course, at this time of the year.

The Riversleigh site is part of the National Park (aboriginal name Boodjamulla NP) and is also a World Heritage Site, because of the importance of the fossils found here. Many millions of years ago, Like around 25 million years, the area was a rainforest area, with plenty of waterways and shallow lakes.

As it is now, the water then was high in calcium carbonate, When the local critters died and fell in the water or mud, their skeletons were preserved – only to be exposed by erosion in more modern times. Riversleigh has provided much information about the evolution of mammals and the exploration of its riches is ongoing.

Fossil presence was noted in the area in the 1960’s, but systematic investigation really only began in the 1970’s.

Site D was one of the first fossil areas found at Riversleigh. Since then, lots of other parts of the area have yielded remains, but Site D is the only section that tourists can access. Adels Grove does offer a tour to the area, but we prefer to be independent, when we can. Also, to save our money!

We drove a short distance past Site D, to have a look at where the track south crosses the Gregory River. The river looked very attractive, and the ford shallow, so we decided to return there to have our lunch, after going round the fossil site.

The site did not look particularly compelling from the road – bit of a low outcrop and a jumble of rocks. From the carpark, followed the track to what turned out to be an entrance and information shelter. It was man made. but done to look like just another rock outcrop – clever. Certainly it was unobtrusive.

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Inside the little “rock” outcrop is the information shelter and site entrance

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A fossil illustration inside the information shelter

Followed the set walking path around in a big loop. In some places we probably would not have recognized fossils in the grey looking rock, if there hadn’t been information boards! The track climbed gradually and gave some interesting outlooks over the area. The limestone rock around here has weathered into shapes that resemble distorted grey mushrooms, or maybe Darliks?

 

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The remains of a big bird were fascinating. Apart from some of its bones, there was a fall of small stones that were from its gizzard, where they acted as food grinders. Pictures of “Big Bird” on the information board show it a bit like a short-legged emu.

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The small stones that were in the bird’s gizzard

We now wished we had paid a proper visit to the Riversleigh interpretation centre at the Information Centre in Mt Isa. We hadn’t realized this place was here, nor how significant it is, so there were big gaps in our knowledge, and lots of questions we had.

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Site D

Because of the time period over which fauna were living and dying in the Tertiary period, around here, combined with the preservation factor of the calcium, scientists are seeing the way creatures evolved, as well as finding ones they had not suspected existed. This work has been going on in earnest since the 1980’s, with annual fossil gathering expeditions.

While we were wandering around, slowly exploring and taking photos, and out of sight of the road and entrance area, a man in a fawn coloured uniform appeared in the distance, and climbed to the top of an outcrop, where he seemed to talk into a hand held radio. We eventually twigged that he was the tour guide from Adels Grove. When we got back closer to the carpark, there was a Coaster mini bus there, and a young woman in a similar uniform. Their tourists were walking on the track in the distance.

We drove to the Gregory crossing, and carefully drove over the first ford section – turned out there were a couple more channels and fords. Took photos, explored, ate lunch. Drove a short distance beyond the river before going back the way we’d come.

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Gregory River first ford

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Another part of the Gregory River ford

The river area was very pretty We spotted an Azure Kingfisher in a big paperbark tree – very handsome with its bright ginger tummy.

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Azure kingfisher

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The Gregory River at Riversleigh

On the way back to Adels Grove, stopped to take a photo of the very graphic sign that warns drivers to be on the lookout for cattle. There are few fences in these parts, so cattle on roads are common. Big beasts up this way, too.

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Does the sign suggest that cattle attack cars?

We were hot when we got back to Adels Grove, so went down to the shallower swimming area (as opposed to the one in the main part of the creek, that has a diving pontoon moored). John ventured in too, and really enjoyed lazing about in the cooler water.

Bought icy poles at the shop and walked back to the van.

Later, as we were sitting outside the van just relaxing, one of the staff ladies – V – came by. She’d come down to ask if we would be interested in working here for a couple of weeks. A couple who had been expected here to work had been delayed, or backed out. She explained they were coming up to a really busy period – the couple of weeks when the paleontologists from the Uni of NSW and the Australian Museum, come to stay here and do their annual “dig” at Riversleigh. Plus, school holidays coming too. She said to think about it and go up and see them in the morning, if we were interested. She seemed really nice.

We had a discussion about the idea and decided we would do it. Something “different” – and the area is just so beautiful. We had the time, before we were booked into Karumba. V hadn’t said what we’d actually be doing – we assumed the same as the staff we had seen working around here: men who clean the campground every day; women who look after the shop/office. V did warn that the pay wasn’t huge.

Went to bed really excited about this prospect of a change! If we find we don’t like it, well – is only 2 weeks.


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2002 Travels June 15

SATURDAY 15 JUNE     ADELS GROVE

It was another hot day.

We tried to get going early, but could have done better!

Drove the rough road to the National Park again.

Hired a canoe. Our timing was actually quite fortunate, as those who had gone out early had finished their time, so we didn’t have to wait.

We opted for a three hour hire, as we intended to try to get right up to the end of the Upper Gorge – where we’d seen from the Lookout a couple of days ago. This would be a 6km paddle altogether.

The canoe was similar to the one we used yesterday. like then, I put John in the front, so I could steer/direct.

Getting into the canoe was easy, because they had a type of built ramp, and the hire man helped.

The paddling was easy as there did not seem to be much current, and the water was totally calm. Going up through the Middle Gorge was really beautiful – in parts, sheer red rock walls rising out of the water. In other parts there were narrow areas of bank between the water and the Gorge walls, where there was lush growth.

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The Middle Gorge from the canoe hire area

So it was all red and green contrasts. Even the water was a greeny colour.

The creek water has a really high calcium carbonate concentration, reflecting its origins in limestone rock. It is calcium precipitation that formed the little falls and rapids, like Indarri Falls, the Cascades, and the ones at Adels. In some places, little white clumps of calcium could be seen floating. We had been told that drinking the creek water tends to make one thirsty, because of this.

There was lots of bird noise from the paperbark and pandanus fringes along the creek. We could see archer fish in the water.

After a leisurely and easy paddle through the Middle Gorge, of about 1.5kms, we reached Indarri Falls. Though only a few feet high, they look quite impressive from the water level, with water flowing over in several places across their width.

There used to be a proper canoe portage around the falls, to facilitate taking canoes between the Middle and Upper Gorges, but this was wrecked in the big floods of 2001.

We were able to pull the canoe into the bank and get out, one at a time, without mishaps.

Given our lack of experience at canoeing together, until this trip, and the fact we planned to be getting in and out of the canoe at Indarri Falls, I was not quite game to risk my camera, so we had to be content with our mental images.

We carried/dragged the canoe about 25 metres, along a path, to the access point above the falls. Again, got back in the canoe ok. Felt we were getting quite good at this!

We paddled on, for about a km, eventually rounding a bend and going towards what appeared to be solid vegetation. Had we not already been up on the tops, on our walk, might have assumed that the gorge above Indarri was short and not worth paddling to the end for.

But we had seen from above that there was a narrow channel through the bushy stuff, that opened into the big waterhole beyond it. So there were really two parts to the Upper Gorge.

The narrows through the pandanus and paperbarks was different and extended for maybe 150 metres before it opened out again. The high red rock walls became lower then, especially on our right hand side.

We could see the Lookout hill above, where we’d sat and watched the gorge on our walk.

The gorge ended where the creek entered it – small and shallow and not able to be paddled.

We paddled back the way we’d come – but of course it looked different, going the other way, so was equally engrossing.

Negotiated the detour around Indarri with no hassles – apart from the weight of the canoe. It was heavier than it looked, and quite an effort was needed for the two of us to manhandle along the narrow path.

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Middle Gorge near Indarri Falls

We were quite careful, at the end of the paddle, lining up the canoe with the landing ramp. It would have been embarrassing, after our successful journey, to have fallen out of the canoe in front of the man doing the hiring!

Ate a very late lunch in the Park campground area. It still did not seem all that busy. We remained convinced that Adels was by far the best place to have stayed.

Spent the rest of the day relaxing at the van.

Tea was leftover fish cakes.

Today’s canoeing was one of the best things we have done on all our travels. It was so beautiful, peaceful, and so unique. I remained amazed that this area seemed so little known – or publicized.

Slept very soundly!