This winter has been one of the coldest and wettest on record across Australia. This has good points and bad points – the bad is it’s cold and wet, uncomfortable and difficult to camp. The good points are that the rain has meant luxuriant growth in plant life, the rivers are once again full and flowing and the animal and bird life is thriving, very different from our trip to Western NSW four years ago.
So, despite the weather we decided it was time for a camping trip. Covid has restricted our movement for two years, so now it is time to just get on with it. We left Sydney on July 1, in rain. Our first night was in Mudgee, and we managed to set up the camper in a break between storms, and cook some dinner in another break. This set the tone for the trip – taking opportunities as they arose. We knew the nights would be cold, so took plenty of bedding and thermal pyjamas and were always warm and comfortable. As always, I took my sketchbook, pens and paints and recorded our trip.
The first few days took us to the far north west, to the border between NSW and Queensland, then into the national parks that we were wanting to see. The first, Currawinya National Park was still too wet for us to camp in, so we stayed at the simple town camping area at Hungerford, a tiny town (a pub, police station and a few houses) nearby, and did day trips into the different areas of the park, finding remarkable scenery and flowers I haven’t seen before. Later on I will do a post of some of the photos I have taken.
This part of western Queensland is known as Channel Country – many of the rivers are intermittent, only flowing when there is rain, and every time they flow, they cut new channels. As the waters drop away, eventually there are just billabongs (pools) left, until the whole area dries out again. This means when they are in flood, water stretches for many kilometres. The Paroo is one of these rivers, and flowed close to Hungerford, so we walked to have a look at it, and I found several yabby claws. When the rivers are dry, they appear lifeless, but the fish and shellfish reappear magically once the water flows again.
From Currawinya we went to Kilcowera Station, a cattle property further north west, where we could camp on a lagoon. There was a 4WD track through the property which took us out to the western edge of Currawinya, looping back through diverse landforms and vegetation. We saw an emu with his brood of almost-grown chicks, a bore serving a water tank with a history of murder. This was a wild and dangerous place in time gone by! There were showers at the shearers quarters for us to use. The hot water came directly from the ground, a beautiful temperature, very refreshing once you got used to the smell of rotten egg gas!
From Kilcowera we continued north to Thargomindah – a small town with a lot of history like so many of the towns in outback Australia. There is an old jail, a hospital, early settler’s house and the hydro-electric power station which was used to provide street lighting back in 1898. We purchased a swipe card that took us inside these old buildings which now have video displays activated by the swipe card along with historical artefacts. Thargomindah was third only to Paris and London providing street lighting, a feat of great ingenuity. The water was from bores, providing reticulated water for the town as well as the hydro power and came out of the ground from the Great Artesian Basin steaming hot.
After camping in a beautiful bush camp by the (dry) Bulloo River we continued our journey. To Yowah next, a small opal mining community, camped by Yowah Creek on Alroy, a sheep and cattle station, once again with excellent artesian water showers, then to Quilpie for diesel and other supplies.
Eromanga was the next stop – a small town full of contrasts. In the middle of town was an oil refinery, distilling the oil raised from the nearby oilfields. A small local history museum with fascinating stories of early settlers and local achievements, but best of all was the Natural History Museum, a few kilometres from the centre of town. This area is dinosaur country – more remains under the ground than anyone will ever have the time or scope to excavate. Australia’s largest dinosaur was found here in 2006, and since then many more remains have been found. The museum is a hub for research and preservation of the remains that have been found, a beautifully designed modern building (with a great shop and cafe too!), with a theatre and tours of the workshops where the remains are being worked on. At the moment they are working on a dinosaur which is on track to be the largest found in the world.
Then, back to the bush, Welford National Park. The camp sites are on the bank of a billabong on the Barcoo River. The river was still deep after recent rains, the surface about 5 metres down the very steep bank. The ground around our camp was covered with yellow and white daisies – the extent of recent flooding was made clear by the growth of the daisies, they grew where the water extended to, so there was a very clear designation line. When we walked through the daisies, our trousers became yellow from the pollen up to our knees. It is a beautiful national park, diverse in its flora and landform. When we left, we stopped at a red sand dune, such a delight to see. Again, a diversity of plants, the green bird flower which loves this soil, senna bushes covered with yellow flowers and myriad tracks from reptiles and birds.
From Welford to Lochern, another national park. This time we were completely alone, just us and the birds on the lagoon. There were huge groups of corellas, always flying together, noisy and sociable. In the evenings their chattering would slowly subside, then one would start up, and others would join in, like over-excited children on a sleepover. There were spoonbills and pelicans on the water, and lots of budgies swooping swiftly past, a Great Bustard was stalking along the track before us as we came in. That night the full moon came up on one side as the sun sank beyond the water on the other. Magical. In the morning there was frost everywhere.
Longreach was the next stop, our furthest point north, for three days, to get washing done and restock supplies, then we turned south to Isisford. Once again this is a tiny town a long way from anywhere, but they welcome travellers. There is an abundance of free camping on either side of the river – the Barcoo again – and in the town brand new free showers and toilets. A coffee shop, small supermarket, pub, school and just a few houses and that was it. Friendly and welcoming.
Idalia National Park was the next stop – once again very different geology. After walking the tracks near the campground when we arrived, the next morning we got up to drive up to Emmetts Pocket and Bullock Gorge lookouts at the top of the park. We decided to pack up the camper and take it with us as the few other campers who were there were leaving and we didn’t want to leave it unattended – good decision as it turned out. Once we got to the top we were blown away by the dramatic views across deep, flat valleys to other flat topped rocky hills. Again, plants I hadn’t seen elsewhere. There were heavy clouds starting to gather and by chance found we had good internet signal so checked the weather forecast – it wasn’t good. Rain was on the way. The dirt road into the park was over 40km, then another 23km to the campsite, all on Queensland black soil. Any drop of rain and it turns to a morass, and even with a 4WD its impossible to drive on, taking many days to dry out. So we decided to skip our final night and leave. It was the right decision. We went to Blackall, another small town that had a camping area. During the night it poured with rain and we woke to huge muddy pools outside the camper. So, once again plans changed, as was the nature of this trip.
We had hoped to visit another national park, Hell Hole Gorge, but quickly discovered that the dirt road to it was impassible, so instead stayed on the bitumen and went to Charleville, where we met our Sydney friends, Phil and Allyson, who are also travelling around outback Queensland. Charleville has a lot of history – it has a small museum dedicated to the Flying Doctor service, which provides medical help to an area the size of the United Kingdom, another excellent museum commemorating the secret US training base which was set up there in World War II, and the Cosmos centre, an observatory and information centre about all things related to outer space. We visited all of these, and also a historic house in town, still crammed with domestic memorabilia, as well as sheds full of steam engines, old cars, carts, trucks, each with a history of its own.
After three days we said goodbye to our friends, as they headed north and we went south, to Cunnamulla, our last stop in Queensland.
From Cunnamulla we made our way home, via Bourke, Nyngan, Dubbo and Mudgee. It was a fantastic trip, full of surprises and changing directions, but so enjoyable. The pragmatic approach worked! Now to get used to normal life again, and plan the next trip …