This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2003 Travels June 1


Today was the first day of winter – that concept meant more down south than it does up here.

Yesterday’s rain was quite unusual for this time of year. Generally now, the days are very pleasant – warm, without the high humidity of when we first arrived, and nights are cool enough to sleep comfortably.

We got off to a slow start on this, the first of the two days off. We could sleep in, now that it was quiet around us.

Went for a walk around the place and along the creek, just enjoying the look of it all. I took photos of more cicada shells, “marching” up a snappy gum trunk.

We left at 12.30, to drive up to Bowthorn Station – the neighbour beyond Lawn Hill Station.

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Lawn Hill Station cattle at “Cow Corner”

The shop had for sale two books written by Kerry McGinnis, of the family that owns the station. We could do with some more of the book stock, so that was a good reason to go visiting. The story of her childhood and growing up in the stock camps of her droving father (Pieces of Blue), and then of the family’s eventual settling at Bowthorn (Heart Country), were engrossing reading – made better for me by knowing some of the country.

It was a lovely, very scenic drive, even though we had been over all the tracks last year. The road through Lawn Hill Station was excellent – the road crew had done a great grading job. We passed their new camp, about 5kms south of the Bowthorn/Doomadgee junction.

We had a picnic lunch by the water hole at Elizabeth Creek. There was still a fair amount of water over the track, here.

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Elizabeth Creek waterhole, by the track crossing

Beyond the turnoff to Bowthorn, the road was still rough, for the 23kms to the station. It hadn’t been graded yet.

We reached Bowthorn about 3pm. Both the McGinnis sisters were there. We chatted for over an hour. It gave us more insight into station life in remote places. They had an extensive vegetable garden and kept poultry. They made bread every day. Not only were they feeding themselves, but also some of the workers on the station.

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Feeding the poultry at Bowthorn

Judith made woodcraft items and she and John talked about that. I ended up buying a small piece that she had for sale – carved wooden toadstools, set into a piece of tree branch. It was quite whimsical, and made from local timbers. Cost me $25. I collected a stock of books for the shop, and bought some copies for myself, and for Xmas gifts, which Kerry autographed.

We got back to Adels just before 7pm – just in time for tea. It took us one hour and 20 minutes to do the 85kms or so, back from Bowthorn. That was a measure of how good most of the road now was.

We had a great day out. It was the first time in five weeks that we’d been out from the place.

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Driving over the black soil plains of Lawn Hill Station, with a cloud build-up

During the day, there was a steady build up of cloud – looking ominous.

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2002 Travels September 13


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Well grassed camping area at Kingfisher Camp

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

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2002 Travels August 3


Packing up was finalized – John had done some, after work, yesterday.

Truck was hitched up to the van for the first time in almost two months.

Our goodbyes were said – again.

We took the track north, back across Louie Creek, but at the intersection with the road to Gregory Downs, kept going north, to Lawn Hill Station. Negotiated our way around that and continued on, crossing Lawn Hill Creek not far north of the homestead.

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Crossing Lawn Hill Creek

From there, it was follow the main station track, roughly north, opening and closing several gates encountered.

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We passed what we called “Cow Corner” – a place on Lawn Hill Station where several fences intersected, and where there were water troughs, where there always seemed to be a congregation of cows.

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“Cow Corner” on Lawn Hill Station

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The distinctive hump backed cattle of northern Australia

The track crossed a couple of dry gullies that would be running creeks after rain. Near one of these, a large bustard stood by the side of the track and just watched us pass. I hoped it was a good omen.

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Plains Wanderer

Just north of the fence and gate that was the boundary between Lawn Hill and Bowthorn Stations, there were some elderly truck remains. Just as we reached this, realized that a back tyre on Truck was fast going flat. It was an old, bald tyre, so that was not too surprising.

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This old-timer had seen better days

Changing the wheel was pretty routine. At least there was no passing traffic to worry about.

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Wheel change

At a T intersection, we took the track to the right. The left one was the “back” track to Bowthorn Homestead and Kingfisher Camp, a camping area the station had set up on the banks of the Nicholson River. That took us through to the Top Road – the dry season dirt road that runs east-west, from the end of the sealed road at Normanton, through Burketown, Doomadgee, into the NT, to the next piece of sealed road at Borroloola, some 720kms.

From that intersection, we were soon at the ford over the Nicholson River. This was long, cemented, and with a couple of bends that meant one could not see if another vehicle was approaching, on the narrow section. To our left as we crossed, not far from the ford, was a weir across the river that created a long, large waterhole, and helped ensure that the ford was dry, at this time of year.

The Doomadgee community township was on the far side of the river. It was laid out in a sort of grid, stretching back from the Top Road – which meant that travellers only needed to go into the community if they required fuel or supplies from the community store. There used to be a sort of roadhouse and campground at the Top Road, but that was run down and unused in our time there.

It was the school lunchtime when we reached Doomadgee.

I waited in Truck, parked outside the school, while John – who had been the one doing all the contacting and negotiating with the place – went in to say we had arrived, and get keys and directions for our house.

I think it was fair to say that, on first impressions, there was no part of Doomadgee that was attractive, and I remained unimpressed with the venture.

We made our way to 6A Potter Street – half of a high set duplex, on a street corner. There were a number of school houses in a row, here, and the Principal’s house was further up the street. Unfortunately, as we were to discover, the government houses were mixed in with those of the locals.

At first sight, the house looked alright, although I was not impressed with the trails and spatters of dried blood that went up the front steps. This was apparently the result of a recent fight between a couple of locals, and was an indicator that they felt free to intrude on the place, despite fences and gates.

I was never to feel secure in the house, or to go out without half expecting a break-in while we were away.

The other half of the duplex was occupied by the Deputy Principal, who lived there alone, although her son, who worked on Bowthorn, sometimes came to stay a night. I thought she was quite brave, living there alone, and wondered if she was relieved to have someone else in occupancy next door. Our place had been lived in, though, until the end of Term 2, a few weeks ago; then that staff member departed and didn’t come back – a fairly common occurrence here, we were to find.

We were only at the school ourselves, as it turned out, for six weeks, and in that time, three more teachers departed abruptly, and we were the fourth and fifth!

One of the duties of S, the Senior Master, was to oversee the staff housing, and associated matters. So it had fallen to him to ensure our place was in order. He had put in a not unusual, incompetent effort. The house had clearly been emptied of any furniture that others wanted – probably led by S himself. But there was a new bed and mattress, which S had managed to get delivered from Mt Isa. It had only just arrived. We had to assemble it – lucky John carries a range of tools.

The house had two bedrooms, both with built in wardrobes. There was a living/dining room, an adjacent kitchen, and a bathroom. The non-fixed furniture, apart from the new bed, consisted of a fridge – rather miraculously in working order, two rather grubby armchairs, a small dining table with two chairs, a small bookshelf, a telephone table – with phone, a coffee table, and an ironing board. There was a built in cupboard in the living room, and a fair sized pantry cupboard in the kitchen, which had a gas stove – also in working order. The bathroom consisted of a shower recess and basin; there was a separate toilet. There were ceiling fans in most rooms and three split system air-cons, fairly elderly and racketty ones. There were venetian blinds on the windows and security screening over all the accessible windows and doors.

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The kitchen was functional

The place was clean enough – not sure who had seen to that. It seemed to have been painted and refitted fairly recently.

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There was plenty of security screening

Behind the kitchen was a narrow veranda, shared with next door, from which there was another set of steps down. Under the house was a car parking and storage space, and a laundry area, shared between both houses – washing machine and trough. There were two outside clothes lines, and lines strung under the house as well. The area was clearly not used for vehicle parking!

We decided quite quickly to park the van in the yard – it would be too tempting and vulnerable to the attentions of the locals, if left outside the fenced area. It took a lot of careful manoeuvring, and pushing and pulling by us, to get it into the corner, close to the front of the house, where we could keep a bit of a watch on it.

We then had to go, before the store closed, to purchase a power card. This plugged into the meter and then we would have power – until the charged amount ran out, when we would have to buy another card. We guessed this system, which we had never encountered before, avoided issues associated with unpaid power bills! It made sense, in a place like this.

Then we discovered that the two large gas bottles for our house were empty. Not only empty, but disconnected – suggesting yet something else that had been appropriated following the departure of the previous occupant. At least, someone had found two empties for us to get filled. They were in a locked cage, but S would have a key to this, and others might, too. Back to the store!

After I had scrubbed the blood off the front steps, we made trips up and down, moving things we might need into the house, and things we just didn’t want to leave in the van.

We had some foodstuffs in the van – basic staples and some frozen meat, but I decided that tomorrow morning would have to see a visit to the community store, to see what was available, especially in the fruit and vegetable line.

This day had been an exhausting one. Despite noise coming from what seemed to be a fair sized and rowdy crowd at the house across the road, partly drowned out by the rattles from the air conditioner in our bedroom, we did get some sleep.

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