This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2003 Travels April 26


Left Cloncurry at 7.30am. Refuelled on the way out of town – 99cpl.

There was not much traffic on the narrow Burke Development Road north to Burke and Wills Roadhouse, with its one vehicle wide strip of asphalt. So we had no issues about having to pull over for oncoming traffic.

Took a short break at the Roadhouse – refuelled, just so we could maximize how much fuel we had, before the next fill up at much higher prices. Had morning coffee from our thermos.

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Burke and Wills Roadhouse

I bought John a polo shirt with the Roadhouse logo on. Unfortunately, they did not have one in my size.

From here, we travelled north west on the Wills Development Road.

There was still quite a lot of surface water in the hollows beside the road, though this was clearly drying fast. There were large groups of brolgas on some of the larger wet areas. We were just a couple of weeks late to see the best of the end of the Wet. Maybe one time we’d come up this way early enough in the year to see it straight after, or during, after good rains.

Stopped to eat our sandwich lunch by the Gregory River, where we’d camped last year. There were only a few camper rigs there, but I suspected it might fill up more,  later in the afternoon. But clearly, the late seasonal rains and associated closed roads, had resulted in fewer travellers in these parts, just yet.

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Lunch stop beside the Gregory River

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The Gregory River at Gregory Downs

The unsealed road was alright as far as the turnoff to the Century Mine, and not too bad after that – at least by our standards. There were a few dips, not yet graded after the rains, that were rather gullied out, and we needed to take care in those. The last few kms had been freshly graded.

The scenery over this last stretch was so familiar. We could see the workings of the Century Mine – though a traveller who did not know where to look would probably not notice.

It really felt like coming home!

V was manning the Reception desk when we arrived. She was so excited to see us. M, too – and we met her baby for the first time. He looked so like his dad.

The boss wanted us to set the van up in the old staff compound yard, rather than down in the Grove. He thought there were already too many staff rigs hooked up to the donga power point at the top of the hill, that serviced the staff area in the Grove, and to the water point down there. There were V and F’s van, the cook’s Coaster bus motor home,  and the lead from the donga that the cook’s daughter was in.

We would have preferred to have been down with the others, where there were lots of birds, a nicer environment, and the group camaraderie – it was a blow. But he was the boss. It was shady enough at the top, and high up enough to occasionally receive some – faint – radio.

It was not easy, manoeuvring the van into the space where he wanted us, amongst the old dongas. Our outlook was not what I had been looking forward to – sheds, dongas, old fencing, and a single long drop toilet – convenient for us, if not exactly attractive looking!

It took us a while to set up our camp.

We wandered up to the dining deck area about 5.15, expecting to see the final flurry of tea preparation, but the meal was much later than we’d expected – at 7pm, instead of the 5.30 of last year. Apparently the cook preferred to cook later, in this heat. She and daughter had about a three hour break in the afternoon, to compensate for tea being later.

The meal was chicken drumsticks in a seasoned marinade, baked in the oven, boiled whole potatoes, a mushroom balsamic salad and a zucchini based salad. For dessert, there were baked apples, with a caramel sauce, and custard. The menu is already a big improvement on what B and I had to cook, last year! I guessed that was the influence of having a “proper” cook. It would be interesting to see if it lasted when the diner numbers increased – just now, it was cooking mostly just for the staff – about a dozen or so.

The diners do not wash up their own dishes any more, as they were expected to, last year, because the  wash up sinks were now inside the new kitchen. It was indicated to us that all staff are expected to hop in and help with this, though, so that would be a bit of an add-on to the normal working hours. But staff used to help us wash the pots, pans and serving stuff, last year, so perhaps not a great change.

There was still no hot water in the kitchen, though! The service was there, but there was some problem in getting it operational. Still needed  buckets of hot water carted from the nearest donkey heater.

There was much in the new kitchen set up that I recognized from our old kitchen of last year, now rather a forlorn shell down from the dining deck, waiting for some sort of new purpose. The stoves were the old ones, moved up top. The old wire frame we used as a shelf had been turned into an overhead store and hanging implement set up, suspended above the central bench. There was the old steel topped bench and table. Plus the old plates, saucepans, plastic ware – rather a motley collection.

There was now a lovely spacious “dry dock” – unloading area for goods from the delivery trucks – adjacent to the kitchen, and away from where tourists could venture.

But there were the same old problems with the power supply, fridges, freezers and the like.

Obviously, upgrading a place like this was when purchased, could not happen all at once, and transitional arrangements just had to be borne.

I was certainly impressed with the way the new building functioned. When we left, last year, the building was far from finished, though our last meal here was the first served on the new dining deck – from our “old” kitchen. Part of me even envied L, working in the new kitchen!

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Dining deck, servery to kitchen, walkway to front of building and reception/shop

Having a set of toilets in the new building – flushing – was a major improvement on last year, where we either used the somewhat primitive long drop version, over beyond the tent shower structure, or walked a fair distance to the campground amenities.

Cook and daughter seemed a pretty efficient team. The alcohol supplies we brought from Cloncurry were actually for them. I didn’t think they had realized how remote this place was, before they came, and how far away any shops were. They were friends of friends of one of the staff couples and had applied to come here for a different experience. It would certainly be that! They had not been here long.

Apart from the boss couple, cook and daughter, and ourselves, there were two other couples working here – V and F from last year, and an Irish couple (B and M) who were related to one of the Mt Isa owners. As the season built up, there would be others, no doubt.

It was still hot and humid in these parts – 30 to 35 degrees in the daytime, with nights still a little too warm.

There were lots of cane toads about.

It was so good to be back!

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2002 Travels June 16


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 11


The camp area emptied out somewhat, fairly early in the morning.

We walked around and had a look at the vacated places, but then decided to stay where we were, rather than go to all the hassle of packing up the camp and relocating, for only one or two nights more.

Went for a drive out along the Camooweal road, to try to find the canoe trip access points to the river, shown on the General Store brochure. Wanted to see what the river was like at these points, and also if there were camp spots there – we would be coming back this way after our visit to the Lawn Hill area, and might find somewhere great to prop for a little while.

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Gregory River

We found an access point about 18kms out, marked by two drums beside the road. It was a bit tricky to get into – the track was eroded, then sandy, but it led to a beautiful, huge, area for camping – on firm ground, not river stones. The river was beautiful here,too, some rapids, with pools above and below. There were a number of drums for rubbish about, so obviously it was regularly used. It would be a great spot for tents. John said he would not be keen on trying to get the van in there.

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Gregory River, about 20kms upstream from camp area

Another track, this one about 12kms out, was marked by one roadside drum. It led to a large area of river stones that were deep and not compacted, like the ones where we are camped are. There was a Coromal van there, on about the only patch of ground that was viable to tow on. The river was narrower there – a pool, with no rapids.

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Reflections in a deeper pool

On the way back, we bought fuel at the hotel – $1.69cpl! Also bought a pack of steak at the Store – John’s choice.

Had a late lunch back at the van. By now it was hot.

Went for a swim in the afternoon, as we had seen others doing. I walked upstream along the bank to a place where there was a divided channel and a narrow “race” around a bend. I went in there, where there was a very strong current, like a spa. I got bumped a bit by stones in the race, and then the current wanted to seep me under a clump of pandanus. I caught a branch of this to keep me out in the open, and got some splinters!

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Rapids in the river

I advised John not to do the race section, but to enter the river below it, into calmer water. The current carried us down to our camp, fairly quickly. It was hard to stop there and just sit in the water, due to the current. The river looked deceptively lazy but the current was definite.

We went back and did the float down again, from the calmer section. Then sat in the water for a while. It was clean, clear and cool, and a lovely way to spend the afternoon.

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A motor home came in. The couple looked about. John encouraged them to park near us – they seemed desirable neighbours and would create a buffer from those maybe less so.

As the afternoon wore on, it became cool quite quickly, and suddenly too cold to be lazing around in wet bathers.

John lit a little campfire and cooked potatoes in foil, then the steak and some zucchini halves on his mesh grill. He also cooked some eggs and made himself a steak sandwich, with bread. I found the scotch fillet, though tender, to be very bland – not as tasty as southern steak. Different cattle breeds, obviously. The meat was not good value, having cost us $8.

This morning, mother kite pushed Baby Huey out of the nest. Tough love! He hopped/flew to a nearby branch, then took off and flew! It must have felt pretty good. He was not good at landing, though, tending to miss the branch he was aiming for and crash down to a lower one. The parent birds hovered about him – literally! He had several more flying sessions during the day. We were so lucky to have been here at just the right time to see this.

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So now what do I do?

Sat by the remnants of our fire for a short while, after tea, but then it was an early night.

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2002 Travels June 10


Neither of us had been looking forward to extracting the van from our site, this morning, but we managed, with quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. I made very sure that the chocks stayed behind the wheels until we were securely away from the drop! We needed low range gears again, to take the rig back down the hill from the camp.

Then we had to back track to the Kajabbi road. This continued to be fairly rough until we were almost at Kajabbi, then we were mostly out of the hill country and more onto plains.

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Quartz blow by the Kajabbi road

It was still really interesting country to pass through, with the track running roughly parallel with the Leichardt River. We crossed a number of dry watercourses. This would not be a road to take after rains! Then we crossed the Leichardt itself – just a graded sort of causeway through the channel.

Kajabbi was once an important place, the railhead for cattle to be transported after being droved from the Gulf Country. There were also copper mines in the area. We had seen some signs of recent mining activity in the area we drove through – a bit of a revival?

The township was now only a few old houses and the Kalkadoon Hotel – named for the rather ferocious aboriginal peoples of the area, who strongly resisted white encroachment, and were quite feared.

We stopped at the hotel, because of its iconic nature. After all, who knows anyone who can say they had a drink at the Kalkadoon Hotel? John had a beer and I had a coke and we “talked to the locals”. They were friendly and informative, about mining, floods and the like. The township is right by the river.

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Kalkadoon Hotel at Kajabbi

From Kajabbi, on the advice of the locals, we took the River Road, through Coolulluh Station, to the Burke Development Road. It was quite reasonable going, and adequately signposted – just!

The Development Road, like most of them, was a single strip of tar, but with some widened sections in shallow dips and at creek beds.

Not long after we got on the Development Road, we began to hear the regular talk on the CB radio of an oversize load and its escort. Soon worked out that this was behind us, so we were concerned to stay ahead of same, rather than having to try to find a place to pull over. Much of the road was banked up quite high above the surrounding country, thus with nowhere to pull off – or even much shoulder.

There was quite a lot of traffic on that section of road too – long weekend traffic? We got really sick of having to pull partly off the tar strip, for oncoming traffic, some of which did not slow down when doing the same, thus spraying us with stones.

We reached the Burke and Wills Roadhouse and pulled in there to fuel up. $1.05cpl.

About three minutes after we reached the Roadhouse, a truck pulled in, carrying a large fishing boat. That was the source of our radio traffic. Bound for Karumba, we guessed.

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The load dwarfed the pilot vehicle!

After refuelling at the Roadhouse, we parked to eat our lunch there. Encountered a man from a local (Melbourne) bowling club, who John had bowled with in Mt Isa, last week, and who had been staying near us in the caravan park. They (B and D) were heading for Gregory Downs too.

Now we turned west – onto the Wills Development Road – the usual single strip of tar.

We stopped by the bridge over the Leichardt River – significantly downstream now of where we’d encountered the river before. The river there was a rich brown colour – lots of the local red earth in there. The river was much lower than the level of the road bridge – from the height of the latter, we figured the river can do some pretty impressive flooding. This area can have some major rain events, from intense low pressure systems that are the aftermath of cyclones that cross the north Qld or Gulf coasts – in the northern, summer, wet season.

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Leichardt River from bridge on the Wills Development Road

Gregory Downs consisted of a hotel and a store, at a road junction, by the Gregory River.

We stopped at the store – Billy Hanger’s general Store – to seek information. There, we collected a very informative “brochure” and were directed to drive across the bridge to the camp area.

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Much of the brochure was devoted to information about canoeing on the Gregory River, with a canoe hired from him. Looked interesting!

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We easily found the camp area beyond the bridge – lots of rigs strung out in a row, beside the Gregory River, on the pebbly/sandy mix that would be the river bed in a flood.

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Some of the Gregory River camp area

Since there were about fifty rigs there before us, we did not have much choice of location. John chose a place, close to the original bridge – in full sun, for the solar panels. He backed the van in fairly close to the river. We had a pleasant outlook from the van’s back window, and from outside, of the stream and clumps of pandanus over the other side.

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Set up by the Gregory River

Later we realized that, if planning an extended stay, if arriving later in the day as we did, it would be best to park and stay hitched up, do a minimal set up, then suss out a good spot after the next morning’s departures.

We could soon see why it was such a popular place, as a free camp area. The river was superb – fairly shallow, and lovely to float around in during the heat of the day. The flow was strong enough to carry one a distance downstream. The water was clear, but greeny coloured. There were big paperbark trees and clumps of pandanus lining the river.

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Gregory River by our camp

There were two porta-loos, parked a little way from us – there to solve what would otherwise be a considerable problem, given the number of campers.

There was a new, high level bridge, a bit further downstream from the old low level ford/bridge we’d come across, built because of the new Century Zinc Mine, some 70kms to the west. There was the occasional burst of noise from heavy truck traffic across it, that we could hear.

It was a bit hard to get the van and Truck disconnected. The jockey wheel kept shifting in the rounded river stones we were parked on.

We set up, then sat and watched the creek and the plentiful bird life. Despite the number of other rigs, it was really very peaceful.

Then some yobs came and parked next to us – a weed spraying crew working on local properties. They threw rocks at any birds they saw. Horrible men. I went for a walk along the river side, rather than stay anywhere near them. After a swim and several beers each, they left.

Other campers pointed out a whistling kite’s nest in the top of a tall tree, nearby. It had a large “baby” in it. They had taken to calling him Baby Huey. Apparently he’d spent much of the afternoon standing on the edge of his nest, flapping his wings. They presumed he was getting ready to fly soon.

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Baby Huey getting ready to fly

There were numbers of Great Bowerbirds, crimson finches, honeyeaters – including the white gaped ones. A pair of these spent ages studying themselves in a nearby vehicle windscreen! There were purple crowned fairy wrens flitting about in the pandanus across the river. It was the first time we had seen these – wonderful.

Tea was soup from a packet, and corn cobs.

Went to bed really happy to be camped in such a great place.

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