This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2003 Travels August 4


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

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

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

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Mud Map!

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

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Track to Chilli Gorge

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

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Probably Black Cockatoo Water Hole

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

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Following a ridge top

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

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Great views from the ridge tops

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

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Chilli Gorge over in that range somewhere

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

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Followed the creek bed into the Groge

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

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Near the start of Chilli Gorge

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Chilli Gorge

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

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Rugged country

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About as far as we could clamber

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Red rock walls of Chilli Gorge

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


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Spinifex and rocky ridges

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

So we were now alone out here.

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

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Cane toad skeleton – eaten from stomach side

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

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Survivor tree near mining camp

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

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2003 Travels August 3


We were actually getting away on a break!

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

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Truck heading into Mussellbrook country

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

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Limestone rock outcrops – similar to those at Riversleigh

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

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

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

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

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A good part of the track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Country around the Mussellbrook camp

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

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Mussellbrook Camp down in the valley

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

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

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

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Our tent and camp set up at the Mussellbrook Camp

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

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

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Home Gorge water hole

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

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Old cattle yards near the former homestead

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

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Covered up well, despite the warmth of the early evening

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

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

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2003 Travels July 22


Some clouds rolled in during the day. We hadn’t had cloud for ages. They were not supposed to happen in July!

Reception was not too busy, except for the middle of the day, when North Highland Tours came in with forty two elderly guests. It was an expected booking, and through the morning we’d prepared the cold meats and salad plates for their lunch. I helped with this, when there were no Reception customers.

The tour group was just getting off their bus, out the front, when I went out of the kitchen onto the dining deck with a couple of salad plates that casual campers  had ordered through the shop, and which I’d put together. 42 sets of greedy eyes swiveled my way, and they all surged towards me, down the breezeway.  I didn’t know whether to stand my ground or drop the plates and run! They were like vultures.

The boss found yesterday’s $440 error – hers. Whew!

V and F arrived back about 4pm. That should ease the work load a bit.

John did not get back from the canoes until 6.20pm. He was not happy. It had been a tough day. The workmen were still working on the canoe launch ramp. The boss had forgotten to tell him, this morning, about the large tour group, so he was not expecting the 42 bodies who descended on him at 4pm, to canoe! They were not easy to please and needed a lot of assistance in and out of the canoes, getting settled and so on. The boss apologized!

After tea, John and I drove down to the National Park and met with the Head Ranger and another who was a specialist on the area. We were there to get directions on how to get out to the Musselbrook section of the National Park, roughly west of Lawn Hill.

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Approximate location of Mussellbrook camp – black dot

John had been working on the head honcho, when on canoes, convincing him that we were competent remote area travellers, and worthy of being let loose out there.

Apparently it was very interesting, out there. We had heard enough to be intrigued. Even the bosses had not been out there yet, and of course it was off limits to the general public.

Last week, John got the ok from the Ranger, and I’d persuaded the boss to add an extra day off to the next double we got. We were the only one of the five couples who had been here since April/May, without being out of the place for some family or medical reason and we really needed a break away. So that was something to really look forward to.

A load of diesel had come in days ago, and there had been time for the tank to settle, so John refuelled Truck – $1.07cpl

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2003 Travels June 29


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?