This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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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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2000 Travels June 1

THURSDAY 1 JUNE     OPALTON

The first day of winter, with clear blue sky but a chilly wind. Overnight, the temperature inside the van registered a low of 3 degrees! Technically, we were in the tropics, here – just – but you wouldn’t know it.

John ran the Truck to put some charge into the van battery, in the morning.

Just before 11am, we drove up to the Outpost to be there when the mail run arrived. This was the social highlight of the Opalton week – maybe the only highlight! It was quite fascinating. There were certainly a lot more people in the area than we realized. It was quite a weird array of characters and vehicles. People chatted amongst themselves – it was obviously the weekly catch up. There were heaps of dogs around and it was a great meeting place for them too!

I posted two letters to friends, which would carry an Opalton Outpost franking. Unusual.

There was quite a little crowd gathered by 11am and L had his HF radio rigged so it could be heard outside. We heard the mail lady announce she was “just coming over the grid” and the crowd stirred.

A good five minutes later a ute pulled in. The diminutive mail lady was very self-important. An array of goods came with the mail bags – boxes of groceries, eskies of meat, gas bottles, containers of diesel, bags of chook feed! All items that people had ordered. People came, helped to unload the ute, then left with their goodies.

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The Thursday mail run

L, the lady we’d met in the Winton butcher’s shop, turned up with partner J. We arranged to follow them out to Devil Devil to look at their open cut mining. But, before we went, John had described to J the junk heaps we’d found the other day, on the hill beyond Snake Jump – and J was interested to see what was there. Potential spare parts!

Then we headed out to their mine area – on the same track that we’d taken, on Tuesday. I had the GPS going, to record our route waypoints, and the directions we were taking were all over the place, to every point of the compass. We knew Devil Devil was west of Opalton, but we also went south, north and even east at one stage. L told us later that the guy with the grader, who made the track, got lost a few times when he was doing it! Devil Devil is some 16kms to the west, but the track distance was 28kms!

We went straight to their camp area where they dropped off their mail and had a quick lunch. There was a moment of embarrassment when I think L thought they should offer us some food (I suspected they were getting by on a minimum) but I quickly mentioned that we’d bought our sandwiches with us.

L and J  shared their camp area with an older, experienced miner, R. It was quite a substantial camp with 240v generators, a shower “building”, a pit toilet that they bored. They were hairdressers from the Gold Coast. The lease actually belonged to a former customer of theirs, whose husband was too ill to mine any more. L and J were keen to try opal mining, so they have some sort of share arrangement with her. L and J were novices, but said they were learning fast! This was their first season out here, apart from a visit last year. They hadn’t worked a dozer or excavator before!

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Working the excavator on the opal claim

We drove tracks to where they were digging, a couple of kms from the camp.They told us about fault lines in the rock as an indicator of opal and showed us the terrain they were excavating. J brings up a shovel full of dirt and rock and L looks quickly through it for any signs of good stuff. They didn’t seem to be finding any, though.

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Excavated mine pit showing rock layers

They demonstrated how to “divine” a fault line with bent wire – John had a try and was really good at it. Pity one couldn’t divine for sapphire bearing gravel in the gemfields!

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Divining fault lines with a bent wire at Devil Devil

We did some birdwatching while L and J were working, and found a Mallee wren and a red backed kingfisher – both new to us.

We then followed L and J to look at where R was mining, but he wasn’t there. We found him back at the camp. He had knocked off early because he’d found a big pipe that he thought was worth tens of thousands of dollars! He showed us – it was huge. Longer than his forearm, and thicker. He gave us the name of his son, in Barcaldine, who cuts opal. He talked of various claims in terms of how many millions X or Y took out of it last season! It was a fascinating insight into an activity and way of life we’d not known anything of. Obviously, L and J were hoping to strike those sorts of riches too.

The largest opal pipe ever found was at Opalton in 1899 – over 3 metres long and as thick as a man’s thigh. It took four men to carry it!

Even with the GPS waypoints entered, we got a little lost, leaving Devil Devil. There were huge open cuts through the area and tracks everywhere.

We gathered some wood on the way back.

It was late afternoon when we got back to the van. We’d driven 65kms.

S and S, the two Europeans, left this morning.

Tea was soup, stir fry noodles with pork and veggies.

While we were at the Outpost this morning, found out that L has a Flying Doctor medical chest. These are supplied to remote places by the Flying Doctor Service – one person is responsible for it. So L would be the liason person with the RFDS in case of an emergency for one of the locals – or a traveller.


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1998 Travels June 15

MONDAY 15 JUNE     CAIRNS

John is feeling really miserable with the cold. I can relate to that.

I did a couple of loads of washing, whilst he decided whether he was getting up at all today. Eventually he managed to.

We drove into Cairns city, firstly to check at the PO for our mail – which was not there yet. Went to a couple of other shops.

Went to the seafood co-op that M had directed us to, and bought prawns. Good value.

I checked out a craft supply shop I’d seen advertised – wonderful place, with a good supply of the sort of fabric I use, and also books on Hardanger. When we come back from the Cape, I will be coming back here!

After a late lunch, we drove to the Royal Flying Doctor Base at Aeroglen, which is where Cairns airport is. The displays there, about the work of the RFDS, were really interesting. We watched an excellent video. It performs such an essential service over so much of our remote areas. We donated $10 to the cause.

Went on to the School of the Air, to try to get some information about the VISE scheme. They were not very helpful at all. About the best they could do was give us a phone number for a contact at Einasleigh, which is a tiny place inland from here; that does not seem likely to be much help. We will shelve that idea for a while, anyway.

Had prawns and avocado for tea. I’d bought cooked prawns, so all I had to do was peel them – might sound simple, but takes me ages and it is such a messy job. But the eating makes it worthwhile.

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Our travels around Cairns