This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2003 Travels July 2

WEDNESDAY 2 JULY     ADELS GROVE

John was on canoes, I was on reception.

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

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

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

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The cattle yards and trucking station at Lawn Hill Station

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

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

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

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


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2003 Travels June 29

SUNDAY 29 JUNE     ADELS GROVE

Finally – a day off!

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

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

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Lawn Hill Creek, with the Gorge in the distance

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Lower Gorge, the Island Stack, distant Constance Range

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Middle Gorge and Indarri Falls

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Gorge cut through the escarpment

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The Upper Gorge, the Narrows, walk track beside gorge

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Lawn Hill Creek beyond the Upper Gorge, with side creek

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Middle Gorge, camp area, approach road and Constance Range

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Track went between creek and low rocky ridge

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Caves at the track’s end

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

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

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

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Looking into the Lower Gorge from the old weir area

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The effect of the old weir on Lawn Hill Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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2003 Travels June 20

FRIDAY 20 JUNE     ADELS GROVE

It was our day off. We slept in a bit and let the truck be unloaded, without our help – and did not feel at all guilty.

When I wandered up that way, to get some bread to toast at the van, for breakfast, there was some angst going on. It seemed that boss had forgotten to put in the wholesale grocery order. It was particularly bad timing, to have that order messed up, with the palaeontolgists due, from tonight on. That order would be stuff like large tins of fruit, catering packs, large tubs of ice cream and so on. The order should have gone in nearly two weeks ago. Boss really was run off her feet trying to run the show and mother the demanding baby. It probably was a wonder there were not more such episodes. But this one was serious. The cook was unhappy – and vocal about it.

John and I decided to do the sacrificial thing  and offered to drive to Mt Isa and pick up the supplies. Then it was realized that today was Mt Isa Show Day, so businesses were closed – and the wholesaler did not open on Saturdays. So, scratch that idea.

I guessed that the company tour would be bringing groceries stuffed into all available spaces amongst the luggage, in the Troopy, on the tour that was coming Tuesday. Pity that they had a full tour group!

Boss spent some time on the phone, seeing what she could beg from Cookie at Lawn Hill Station, and from the catering people at the mine.

I phoned the Lawn Hill Station manager, and got permission to drive on their tracks.

We set out to drive to Edith Springs, which the boss had recommended as a place to see. He had given us some rather vague, verbal directions. Even if we didn’t actually find our destination, driving around out there should be interesting, we thought.

On the way past, called in at Lawn Hill homestead, to drop off some videos and some lemons to Cookie. Boss picked these from an old lemon tree that had been planted by the Frenchman.

We hadn’t been to the homestead here, before. The complex was perched up on top of a hill, with a 360 degree view out over the surrounds – wonderful. It was a substantial complex, as befitted a large station that ran about 50,000 head of cattle and employed a number of workers. The main house was two storeyed, and had a tennis court and swimming pool. I could live there, with that view and those surrounds, very happily!

Edith Springs was roughly west of the homestead, but that was really all we knew. Had to go the way we knew as far as the fords of Lawn Hill Creek, then we were following the boss’ verbal directions.

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Flood plain country on Lawn Hill Station

We went astray once, following the instruction to “take the first track right, after the red gate”. Almost drove into a large dam that suddenly appeared on the track we’d followed. Caused some consternation among a big mob of cattle there – it was mustering season and they were toey.

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Eventually, after some back tracking, we found a second red gate, and the right track to follow. Boss told us later that “open gates don’t count as gates”.

The very scenic drive took us towards, then into, red, dramatic ranges, where the track ended in a narrowing valley.

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Constance Range from a station track

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Valley entrance at the end of the track

We walked into the gorge for about half an hour, following a vague trail through the scrub, and then walking alongside a very pretty small creek – presumably Edith Creek?

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Edith Creek in the gorge section

The walls of the gorge rose, high and red, alongside us.

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Gorge wall from the walking track

Then we came to a huge pool, ringed by vertical cliffs, with little spring-fed waterfalls, fern “gardens” and the like.

There was a constant background noise here, of lightly running water. It was cool, shaded, lush.

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The plunge pool at Edith Springs

We could see where huge waterfalls would come over the top of the cliffs, in the Wet.

It was absolutely awesome. This place was equal to the best scenery of many places we’d visited in Australia. We were subdued by the thought that this Constance Range country must contain many such superb spots, all little known, and closed away.

We sat by the side of the plunge pool and enjoyed our packed sandwiches in the absolute solitude.

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Grey section of wall is path of seasonal waterfall

There were lots of small fish swarming in the plunge pool.

Despite the heat of the day, the water looked too cold to venture into – and a little scary, like the den of some mythical creature. I made a mental note to myself to ask H if there were any Waanyi stories attached to this place.

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Big old paperbark tree along the track to Edith Springs

H was a Waanyi elder, who had almost completed a degree in anthropology (distance education with Deakin). He was then in debate with them because some of his research papers, written from personal knowledge and life, had not been accepted, as they were not based upon pre-existing research!

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Grevillea flowering in the gorge

We made our way back the way we’d come, this time trending broadly east, and crossing some grey soil floodplain country on the way to the creek ford.

Apparently, Lawn Hill Creek used to flow considerably further to the west. Pastoralists diverted it to the present day course, by building a weir up near where the National Park is today. That would be something else for us to explore on days off.

There had been some conservationist/aboriginal talk about restoring it to the original course – that would certainly wreck the business at Adels!

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Constance Range country in area of Edith Springs, floodplain, and the small creek that was original Lawn Hill Creek (from Google Maps satellite)

Called in at the homestead again, in the way back past, as we’d been instructed earlier to do, by Cookie. Picked up some paw paws, cake, home made bread and some of Cookie’s brilliant photos that he wanted the boss to see. He was also an avid gardener, apparently.

It was a great day out. What an absolutely magic spot, out there.

When we got back to Adels, John refuelled Truck – first fuel we’d had to buy, here. This was a measure of how little travel we had managed to fit in around work. Cost $1.12cpl.

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Edith Creek gorge

A Telstra helicopter flew a technician into Adels, this morning, to properly fix the faulty batteries on the public phone, which had been causing problems with its operation and with our EFTPOS. Again, they’d landed just out front, creating much dust. The pilot and technician were still there when we got back. The chopper had broken down! The two Telstra men would stay overnight, and a plane would bring in parts – and a mechanic – tomorrow.

Two more mouths for cook to feed! Fortunately, she had, after starting the role,  quickly realized the need to prepare enough to cater for the unplanned.

The company tour group arrived this afternoon, and along with it, our parcel of mail that had caused all the trouble.

After tea, I mentioned to H where we’d been today, and asked him if he could tell me anything about Edith Springs. He was very evasive, and I quickly got the impression that this could be something that it was not appropriate to talk about. Only added to the mystique, really.


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2002 Travels August 3

FRIDAY 2 AUGUST   ADELS GROVE TO DOOMADGEE   125kms

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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2002 Travels June 17 – August 2

The area:

We were supposed to have one day off a week. This was sometimes irregular, due to demands of visitor numbers, but was made up later.

On some of our days off, it was hard to get motivated to do much except sleep in, laze around at the van, maybe have a swim in the shallow part of the creek. It was a measure of our inertia that, from the time we left Gregory Downs, till we left Adels, we did only about 600kms – and most of that was done getting there, and in our brief tourist time. We bought only 56 litres of fuel in our time there – at $1.22 cpl.

But we did get out and about a bit.

There was a short walking track, from Adels, up a nearby low hill – Lookout Hill, from which there was some outlook over Adels and the nearby country.

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From Lookout Hill, looking to the Constance Range & the gap the National Park road goes through

A bit further afield – and a short drive – was the track up Bill Hill, which was somewhat higher and gave better views. From that, one could just see the overburden hills of the Century Mine, to the east.

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From Bill Hill, moonrise over the zinc mine

One of the staff couples were in the habit of going off for an overnight of camping, on their day off, just to get out of the place, and away from people. They did not go far – just to nearby Louie Creek, or out to the NE, on Lawn Hill Station, further down Lawn Hill Creek. They had the permission of the station managers to do this.

A few times, we went for short walks in the National Park. One of these took us to the little Cascades, that had formed over tufa rocks – like a very miniature Indarri Falls, and similar to our little falls in the creek, up from the laundry area. Beyond these Cascades was the entrance to the Lower Gorge – out of bounds for canoeists and walkers, except where a walk track touched on it, at the back of the Island Stack.

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Little tufa Cascades at the National Park

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The entrance to the Lower Gorge

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The Island Stack and walk track to the Lower Gorge

We did go for an exploratory drive, one day, to the north, through Lawn Hill Station and out along the track to Doomadgee, for a way. It was quite easy to get lost in the maze of station tracks around the Lawn Hill homestead. This in itself was an interesting place, perched up high on a bluff above the creek. It was quite an imposing looking house. Below the bluff were lots of sheds, cattle yards and the airstrip. The track to be taken north wove amongst these – very poorly signed – and eventually skirted the bluff and the airstrip, before crossing Lawn Hill Creek further along, and then becoming easier to follow.

Lawn Hill Station quite intrigued me, so I found out what I could about its history from the Boss. The station had been a pastoral lease since the 1870’s, and was one of the largest stations in Qld.

In 1976, a Brazilian cattleman, Sebastian Maia, bought the lease and proceeded to oversee a very successful station. In 1991, the lease was sold to CRA/Rio Tinto, who acquired it and Riversleigh station, in order to do a deal with the local aboriginals, that would allow the zinc mine to go ahead. Although Riversleigh had been ceded to aboriginal control by the time we were in the area, lawn Hill was a little different, in that Maia’s company had a lease back arrangement for a while and continued to run cattle on the property. By 2002, managers were running the place for the company.

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The Constance Range on Lawn Hill Station

In 1984, Maia had donated an area of land to the Qld government, to be managed for the public good, for all Australians. That became Lawn Hill National Park. He added more land to it in 1992. It would appear that he never had any intention that any of his lands would come under aboriginal management or ownership; at the stage when he came to Lawn Hill, there was no record of significant aboriginal occupation of the area in recent times. It was unfortunate that his generous gifting of the spectacular gorge area  for future public access and good – and the decision by the Goss Qld Government to re-gazette the land away from its original pastoral lease status – opened the way for aboriginal claim to the Park.

I read a very interesting – and eye-opening account – of the way the local aboriginals behaved in the Park, and treated the wild life, when they attended for a meeting about the proposed mine – in “Three Years on the Road” by Brett Davis, who was working there at the time. It was also interesting for its description of Adels in the late 1990’s.

On top of a prominent hill, some distance north of the homestead, Maia had a large white cross erected, in memory of his mother. This is a real landmark on the track to Doomadgee.

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The Cross on the Hill by the track to Doomadgee

We did some more walking in the National Park.

The Island Stack Walk went to the top of a bluff that overlooks the Lower Gorge. The name derives from the fact that one side of the bluff is the creek and gorge, the rest of it is circled by an old channel of the creek, now a small stream. Thus, an “island” had been formed.

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The Island Stack

The track up was a steep, short scramble. The views from the top were excellent. One could see right down the gorge and creek.

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The Middle Gorge entrance, seen from the Island Stack

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Lawn Hill Creek beyond the Lower Gorge, from the Island Stack

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The Lower Gorge, from Island Stack

 

We also followed a track beside the old channel/small creek, that took us round to the Lower Gorge, at creek level. There was only access to this at this one small point, to protect wildlife, and sacred sites.

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The Island Stack and the Lower Gorge

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The Lower Gorge wall