Ilfracombe is a small town just outside of Longreach. Reviews on TripAdvisor and Wikicamps were favourable for the Ilfracombe camp site and I’m glad we decided to stay there. Exploring the little town was a great addition to all that Longreach has to offer.  Krissy if you’re reading this, that IS a Southern Cross windmill.  You’ve started something now!

Walk past the Wellshot Hotel at 9am and the publican sends out a cheery “G’day!”, the post office doubled as a clothing store, the 20m swimming pool was the place to be after school let out and a soak in the heated spa after a few laps in the 20m pool felt super relaxing.  The tour of public pools is back on track!

The camp site happy hour was well attended and as our van doesn’t have an oven, the oven baked veggies with dinner were a real treat. Very tasty! We met a family from Emerald who have left everything behind to hit the road and are not sure if and when they will stop travelling.  Pretty brave!  The kids enjoyed playing together and running off steam around the park.

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Many old trucks, wagons and farm machinery are lined up along the main road of town. Our kids liked pretending to drive these old vehicles. A few small museums are also located along this strip and I’m always amazed at the quality and quantity of items that have been preserved. The bottle collection was a novelty and the 116 gun collection had the kids amazed. Why the Nazi flag was included in the display is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps to represent a time in war history?

Longreach is a large outback country town. I asked Xav to check out the size of the balls on the fake bull positioned in the back of an old time truck.  This had the kids in fits of giggles, so of course we had to take it too far and Amelie started walking down the road imagining that she had a set of balls that size.

No way to segue from bulls balls to planes, so I’ll just move on. The Qantas museum had many interactive exhibits which the kids really enjoyed. Flying in the simulator was a real buzz for them. Craig loved seeing the old hanger where it all began and the kids liked discovering the first on board dunny.  Xavier’s class are currently studying forces and it just so happened that there was an info panel on aerodynamic forces of lift, thrust, weight and drag so he read that and then experimented with roll, pitch and yaw on a interactive display.  Schoolwork done!

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The museum was very informative and I loved that they included some of the antics these pioneers got up to.  They were pretty funny and had me thinking about some old timers that I knew who would have fit right in with their gang!

A QANTAS pilot saw that his two passengers were asleep and took the opportunity to perform a loop.  The passengers awoke at the top of the loop.  They were still screaming when they landed.  The pilot was fired.

Russell Tapp was flying a photographer from Brisbane over Moreton Bay.  Just after take-off, Tap saw a commotion in the front cockpit and yelled to the photographer to sit down.  The photographer shouted, “There’s a snake in the cockpit!”  It had emerged between his legs.  He tried to bash it with his camera which then promptly fell overboard.  The frightened snake went into hiding and on landing, was found coiled tightly inside the guard covering the plane’s front throttle.

Other things I learned from punters back in the day:

  • Bartenders tested their drunk patrons medical need by shouting in their ear “Have a drink!”  If they didn’t stir, the doctor was called to come in by plane.
  • If you write an IOU on paper that had been baked in an oven on low temperature for a time, the paper becomes brittle, turning to dust in pocket of the unwary.
Stockmens Hall
Stockman’s Hall of Fame

The Stockman’s Hall of fame is fascinating with very extensive displays.  While interesting it is not as interactive or geared towards the kid’s interests.  Needless to say, they enjoyed watching some videos, playing in the wool and listening to the Royal Flying Doctor’s emergency calls.

We managed to get a last minute berth on the Outback Sunset Cruise and as we boarded the bus to get out to the river, I thought “Uh-oh! This could be interesting, a bus full of retirees and us.”  I kind of knew that we’d be ‘touristing’ with grey nomads and I don’t know why I expected people from other demographics, but I did.  Just a few at least. The lady at the van park said “get used to it honey, it’s all grey nomads!”  It ended up being a really great night and probably the most representative of Longreach and its people.

Xavier likes to pull statistics out of his butt and thought we had a, and I quote, “0.5% chance of seeing turtles in the river”. By the end of the cruise he counted nine turtles and like the smartarse I am, asked if that now bought the percentage up to 4.5%.  The stubborn little bugger is sticking with his first prediction despite his own evidence to the contrary.  Wonder where he gets that from!

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We were blessed with a glorious sunset and the the captain of the boat was really informative about the history, flora, fauna and indigenous culture. The other guests were welcoming and the couple who joined our table for dinner were interesting, unlike the oStatler-and-Waldorf-2ld curmudgeons camped next door to us at the van park (I swear they were Statler and Waldorf from the muppets).  The captain even let the kids have a go at steering the boat home, which was nice as all the passengers had a good tour of both sides of the bank on the way home.  The captain is probably out of pocket for all the extra fuel we used coming back!

After the cruise we settled in at Smithy’s for dinner and a show. Now while the singer John Hawkes didn’t have the best voice ever, he was super entertaining. His stories and original songs were funny and the kids were having a great time! Might have some explaining to do about B&S balls, backs of utes and finding your dress in the morning, but at the moment that is still pleasantly sailing over their heads.  Billy tea and damper afterwards finished the night off nicely with the kids going back for seconds!  Nearly forgot about the special appearance of Henry the working dog.  The kids are missing our schnauzer, Jake.  Henry got lots of cuddles to the point where he was giving his owner the side eye.  I’m sure he was thinking “Too much! Too much!”

Stockmen's hallWe are outta Ilfracombe, but not before a visit back at the Stockman’s Hall of Fame to finish off the last floor of the museum.  Blow me down, who’s out the front?  Bloody John Hawkes, who entertained us last night at Smithy’s!  He’s brushing the most beautiful, affectionate cow and we got a chance to stop and say gidday.  We left knowing all about the cow, his front garden and the police.  Don’t ask, it’s a long story.

Okay, now we are really hitting the road and are on our way to Winton!

Barcaldine or Barcaldine?

Barcaldine TOKBarcaldine is more commonly known as Barcy (bar-key) by those who live in this region. It’s correct pronunciation is, Bar-cawl-den. I liked to pronounce it Bar-cul-dine, which made Craig grimace every time I said it. Why? Because I like to be annoying sometimes. I don’t know why I actually try. I don’t have to, it comes naturally.  Anyway, it’s best know as home to the Tree of Knowledge, and birthplace of the Union Movement and Labour Party.  More on that later.

Along the journey from Emerald to Barcy we passed over a lot of creeks, and just like the one called ‘Toogood Creek’, they weren’t too good. Bone dry, mini grand canyons, with exposed twisted logs littered along their length. They would make for beautiful photos, but I bet the locals don’t see it that way.

You may wonder how we fill in the 3hr drive to our lunch stop at Jericho. We told the kids to look out the window. Hey, it’s what we did before iPads and electronic games! They are allowed limited time on the iPad and usually play Minecraft. Otherwise, Xavier will usually read, Amelie will colour in or read and they have some school type workbooks they can do.

We’ve banned ‘I Spy’ in the car. There’s only so much stuff you can spy within the car and we are out of new stuff to spy! Instead we find shapes in the clouds and play a ‘What am I?’ game. This game can be pretty tricky as sometimes the clues don’t fit the answer. For example, I am a thing, I am man-made and you take it camping. The answer, an apple. What the?  Science class, here we come.

The area either side of Jericho has a crazy amount of termite mounds! I think they were termite mounds.  They were only about 500mm to 1m tall and they were everywhere. Some of them were wearing t-shirts! Yes that’s right, I said t-shirts. Ladies t-shirts, mens t-shirts and kids t-shirts.  It was a pity we couldn’t get a photo. Towing the van with no shoulder to pull onto doesn’t allow the luxury of coming to a quick stop for a photo of a t-shirt clad termite mound.

We pulled up right outside the Jericho drive-in which is old school cool! It could probably hold about a dozen cars and there are canvas swing-back chairs up the back for peak crowds.  The take away shop next door was full of dusty bric-a-brac with daddy long-leg spiders in every nook and cranny. If you ever stop there don’t let this first impression fool you, the burgers were delicious and the chicken chips were moorish! Most people head on past through to Barcaldine. If you have time, it’s worth stopping at Jericho and they look like they could do with the trade.

Thanks to Xavier, we were laughing our asses off coming into Barcaldine. He was talking about the author that came up on his Kindle ‘save screen’. Our boy may read very well and very fast, but the downfall of not reading out loud is incorrect pronunciation. Xavier called author Alexandre Dumas (Doo-mah), Alexandra Dumb-ass.  Dumb-ass!  Still makes me laugh.  School kid humour, but still humorous!

It may be hard to stop for photo ops with the van, however it only takes about 15mins to set-up camp. Bonus! This gave us heaps of time to go see The Tree of Knowledge in the daylight and check out the Australian Workers Museum before heading back to camp where damper was on offer and happy hour was in full swing.

Tree of knowledge day
Tree of Knowledge – Daytime
Tree of Knowledge night
Tree of Knowledge – Night time

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regardless of which political party you are partial to, the story surrounding the Tree of Knowledge is really interesting. It may have remained a very old tree, however there was nothing special about the tree other than the events that unfolded around it.

The story goes, that in 1891 the shearers staged a strike against low wages and poor working conditions.  Well, the pastoralists were having none of that!  Serious shenanigans ensued with the burning down of shearing sheds, shot outs and unionist imprisonments.  This was happening all over the place, not just in Barcaldine!  The tree was significant as it was the place where influential members met and formed the labour union movement and eventually the Labour Party. Henry Lawson even penned a poem about these events called Freedom on the Wallaby.

Tree of Knowledge memorial

In 2006 the tree was poisoned with Roundup!  What seemed a bastard act, resulted in a pretty magnificent memorial which has won a multitude of architecture awards and cost the Australian people $5million.  Bet that idiot is kicking themselves now!

When the memorial is lit up at night, the reflections off the timber chimes and the void glow green, representing the canopy of the tree had it been living.

You need more than a few hours to visit the Australian Workers cottage!  There is so much to rediscover about Australia’s history and the exhibits are very detailed.

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There is too much to write about here but I just have to share my favourite story:

At the Ravenswood gold diggings in 1872 there were 42 licenced ‘pubs’ (shanties) within a three mile radius.  The police had no proper lock-up so they chained prisoners to a big log outside their tent.  One night, a giant Irish miner was arrested and chained up, but later he was found in a shanty carrying the 150kg log on his shoulder.  He was made to carry the log back to the ‘lock-up’ and threatened that if he did not behave himself he would be charged with theft of the log!

 

Barcaldine should be renamed Bar-crawl-dine.  Five pubs stretch out along about 500m of the main street!  Not a bad way to have a few drinks without having to travel too far between venues, but imagine how you’d be at the end, when the town held 14 pubs in its hey day!

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Our tour of public pools hit a wall. Barcaldine Public pool was shut two days before we arrived!  Two!  Not only did they shut it, they drained it.  We couldn’t even jump the fence for a sneaky swim!

Onwards to Ilfracombe and Longreach.  We’ll swim there.

 

The best thing about Emerald is…

Sunsets out west are best

The sunsets are pretty awesome, but the best thing about visiting Emerald is seeing Lizy, Barry and Mikayla.  My sister and I have always been close and it’s easy when we visit each other. Relaxed and no expectations. Easy.

We had a belated birthday gift giving with our Pokemon obsessed niece Mikayla. A plush Pikachu toy was the most cherished gift. She slept with it and left instructions for Xavier and Amelie to train him, feed him, bath him and tell him stories while she went to school.

4 5

 

Fairbairn Dam, the Big Easel, Botanic Gardens and historic train station are the main local attractions in Emerald, and a trip out to the gem fields have all been done in past visits. This trip we were happy to go to places we haven’t seen before. First up, traditional homeland to the Ghungalu people, Blackdown Tablelands.  A place of sandstone cliffs, gorges and rock pools.

Blackdown Tablelands with a smokey haze
Blackdown Tablelands with a smokey haze

As we drove through Comet, Blackwater and Dingo, it gave us a chance to test our UHF set up. We settled on a channel and used the call signs, Wookie-1and Ecto-1. I should explain. Barry is a pretty big Star Wars fan and Craig and I relived the 80’s last Halloween by dressing up as the Ghostbusters. Our ute is white, same colour as the Ghostbusters vehicle. Coincidence? I think not! We are contemplating naming our van Ecto-2. What do you reckon? Yay or nay?

It was a beautiful day. Big blue skies and a comfortable 28 degrees. As we approached the Blackdown Tablelands, which I kept incorrectly referring to as the Blacktown Tablelands, there was a huge amount of grey smoke billowing from the top. Burn off! Okay, so the vistas might be a little hazy but we were looking forward to visiting the rock pools.

 

School on the roadThere are no formal school requirements that need to be fulfilled while the kids are away for two terms but we do ‘school of life’. Craig is a nerd and great at explaining things to the kids. The top of Blackdown Tablelands is 900m above sea level, for every 100m you rise above sea level you drop approximately 1 degree in temperature. Our outdoor temp reading according to Ecto-1, was 28 degrees at the bottom and got down to 22 degrees at the top. I’ll have to google the elevation at the bottom to see exactly what height we were at to begin with. It also took us about an hour to get to the top after stopping to check out the view along the way so it’s likely the temp would have increased within that hour. We worked out that we definitely lost 6 degrees, possibly 7, maybe at a push even 8 degrees. Close enough to the prediction. Boom! Science class dismissed.

8It’s only a 2km walk to the rock pools, yet it will test you. The path is covered with tiny round rocks that brought back memories of roller skating at the Argonaut Rollerdome. Amelie was nervous about falling on her recently healed wrist, so we walked down hand in hand. Too many times to count, I did single arm bicep curls while Amelie was doing side splits, front splits and diagonal splits. Thankfully, we didn’t both get wobbly feet at the same time. It was pretty funny walking back with a large group of teenagers walking down to the pools. Every one of them had a little ‘slip and recover’ moment. I read ‘shame worthy’ on their faces. Could have been that teenage stage where everything matters, or it could’ve been because I was laughing at them.

A trip down a set of stairs brought us to ‘Rainbow Falls’, a ro7ck pool with waterfall, giant ferns and palms. The guys and kids all braved the refreshing (code word for freezing bloody cold) water. While it was fine for the guys and kids to strip off with discrete towel placement, change into their togs and brave the water, Lizy and I stayed high and dry. The logistics of getting naked and changing into togs under the cover of a towel was not worth the probability of flashing body bits to strangers and their children. Everyone else loved jumping off the rocks and ducking under the falls.

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Rainbow Falls Blackdown TablelandsBack up the 240 stairs, my trainer’s voice echoed in my head, counting the step-up reps. “That’s 50. That’s 150, less than 100 to go!”. Sadly, I have to admit being puffed at the top. A short walk further down the track brings you out to a few smaller pools and the creek. Xavier braved the jump into the largest one. There were a group of younger guys and gals, drinking, playing music, bomb diving into the pool, sliding along their bellies into the smaller pool below and braving the jump into the smallest of pools which would have been the size of a floating ring. They were having a great time and I was expecting one of them to miscalculate at any minute and crack their heads on the rock. How things have changed! No doubt a decade or two ago, I could have been any one of those kids!

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The next day we headed out to Theresa Creek Dam which is not far from Clermont. There’s a large campsite with a great playground for the kids and small shop doing decent takeaway food for lunch. The wider area is pretty dry but this camp site was lush and green. A benefit from being right on the dam’s edge.

Theresa Creek Dam
Theresa Creek Dam

Emerald PoolWhile we were in Emerald, Craig conducted swim squad for us. The fact that Xavier is better at backstroke than me overcame any earlier grumblings. I don’t remember disliking backstroke quite so much, but I do now! I’ve always sucked at swimming. Our races were pretty close except for backstroke, and swim squad was actually fun. Craig would like to do a public pool tour of Northern Australia. We should all be better swimmers by the time we come back!

The cousins had a ball hanging out together. Eating ice cream at the movies, playing endless games of Pokemon (Miky’s rules), laughing and mucking around way past their bedtimes. It’s always bittersweet saying goodbye to my sister and Barry. Not so much for our niece Mikayala. She was ready for us to leave and was looking forward to getting back to her usual routine. I appreciate her honesty. It’s refreshing.

So off we go again. Next stop Barcaldine.

On the road

stockmen

Finally, the day arrived. The first day of our 5 month caravan-camping adventure. All we had to do was pack the van, do a few last minute things around the house and hand the keys to our housesitter. ETD 10am!

We started off planning and neatly packing things into spaces we guessed would be handy. One busted sewer pipe discovery and other unexpected house things saw time ticking away at a rapid pace. Our sedate, calm packing turned into rushed chaos. The kids would ask, “Mum, where should I put this?” and my reply was usually, “Anywhere! Just get it in the van!”

GinGin Maurgrah
Graham & Maureen’s farm at Horsecamp.

At around 2.30pm we hit the road and were on our way to Graham & Maureen’s farm near Gin Gin. The turn off from the highway is a tricky one.  It had just gotten dark, we missed the sign, a truck was up our butt and we had nowhere to turn around.

It could have been our first night of free camping!  Luckily Graham came out to meet us in Gin Gin and guide us back in the dark.

Being fairly new to this whole caravan thing, towing the van in the dark on narrow, winding, dirt roads, biting the dust from Graham’s ute, made me a little anxious. Did I mention, I haven’t towed the van yet? Or done a towing course for that matter. I’m thankful Craig was driving.

The kids loved hanging out on the farm. Cuddling dogs, feeding the sheep, alpacas and cows, and chasing chickens.  It was also a real treat to scrape the animal turds off the bottom of their shoes before we hit the road again.  Didn’t need that smell in the car for the next 5 hours!

Onwards to Cania Gorge. I love these long road trips as there is a lot of beauty in the everyday. Seas of flowing grasses, the slow motion arc of water from a giant sprinkler, the dense foliage of sugar cane plantations, cows dotted over the hills, a V formation of birds silhouetted against a sunset. Enough wax lyrical, you’ll all think I’ve gone soft!

Mulgildie BunyipThe Mulgildie Bunyip is looking a little worse for wear with it’s missing eye and weathered appearance.  You can not miss it as you drive towards the town and the story of the Bunyip is interesting.  The Bunyip is a large mythical creature from Aboriginal mythology, said to lurk in swamps, billabongs, creeks, riverbeds, and waterholes. The origin of the word bunyip has been traced to the Wemba-Wemba or Wergaia language of Aboriginal people of South-Eastern Australia. However, the bunyip appears to have formed part of traditional Aboriginal beliefs and stories throughout Australia, although its name varied according to tribal nomenclature.

Monto ArtworkMonto was our lunch stop and celebrates it’s history by recognising their first doctor to the area.  23 year old Doctor Joyce Wharton, arrived in the area in 1926.  The roads were notoriously boggy and trapped many motor vehicles.  Dr Wharton often rode her sulky to visit patients.  Many of the local townships around here celebrate their history with this type of sculpture but this was the first one I saw that celebrated a woman’s contribution.

Monto Farmstuff

 

Ever tried to think of a business name?  It’s usually pretty difficult to come up with something awesome.  Not for these guys, and it can pretty much be applied to any business.  Just add the word ‘stuff’ to your core business.  Social Media Stuff, Physio Stuff, Book Stuff, Wine Stuff, it can be used endlessly.  Marketing genius!

The Big 4 at Cania Gorge is a children’s paradise! Jumping pillows, a water park, lots of places to ride your bike and most importantly, other kids. The park was pretty quiet as school holidays had just ended and the only other families were up from NSW. We’ve been to Cania Gorge before and explored most of the tracks. We didn’t go for any walks this time as it was really just an overnight stop to break up the drive to our next destination. The kids got to burn off a heap of energy and we got to organise all the ‘dumped’ items we packed.

While I love Facebook, those who aren’t on it have asked me to send photos or write a blog.  Okay it’s only my parents who aren’t on Facebook.  I figured it’d be easier to blog and share to Facebook, than email. Now that I’ve written all of this guff, I’m not so sure!  I’ve penned most of this while we travelled the same road out of Cania Gorge. “Tribute” by Tenacious D hit the playlist in the car and I had to sign off for a family sing a long.

We are in Emerald right now, staying at my sister’s place and enjoying time with family, so I’m signing off for now.

The Suarez.