Getting across the Great Dividing Range towing with an old slug of a diesel is always a worry as one tends to collect a funeral procession of vehicles behind you with little chance for them to overtake and speed away. After leaving Tweed Heads and a visit to the Bilamil Chemist where we obtained some medicines for our sore throats, we sped along the Gold Coast Motorway to Nerang and then along the roads to Canungra, Beaudesert and on to Rathdowney to collect our van. It wasn’t long before we were downshifting gears to climb the slope up along Cunninghams Gap Pass. The Nissan finally settled on 2nd gear at 45kmh and 3000rpm to reach the top where the temperature only reached a high of 81 degrees. A number of B-doubles passed us as their engine power is extreme but they had a passing lane right to the crest of the Pass and this alleviated any stress on my side.
We passed through Warwick after a refuel and en route to Inglewood we saw a sign, about 40km west of Warwick, to a campground at Glendon and decided to go there. And a very nice campground it is on a sheep station with modern facilities. Immediately upon setting up camp we were invaded by the local families of Miner birds, Happy Jacks and a resident Magpie, all wanting a slice of whatever we were able to provide. Ducks and Wallabies grazed contently on the edges of the campground.
We were far enough off the highway to hear little road noise during the night. At Inglewood we used the dump point facility, topped up our water containers and after buying some delicious pies from the local bakery we had time off and a cuppa in the park. The road across the Darling Downs to Goondiwindi and beyond is now in good repair and we were able to maintain a steady 90kmh speed. The inevitable shopping at Goondiwindi occurred but we were surprised to find that there wasn’t a Woolworths shop in such a large and busy place. We had lunch under the fig trees on the banks of the Macintyre River. Leaving Goondiwindi we headed north to Moonie and our destination on the Balonne River at Surat another 270 kilometres away. The outback bitumen roads that make up the communication lines between far flung towns and communities are now being pounded by the ever increasing flow of heavy trucks carting produce or supplies to major centres. We decided to collect some wood for a fire along the way. In doing so we disturbed a Black Headed Snake which came out of its hole to see what was going on. Me, Jeddah and Jude backpedalled in all directions. The snake got such a fright that it scurried down the hole from where it had come!!! We stopped at Glenmorgan Locality to have a look at Monty’s Vintage Car Museum, a man with a passion for Fords.
It displays mainly Fords but with a few ring ins. I asked the owner if he knew Tom Prior of Chillagoe, who also has a collection of Ford cars, and he said yes and that they exchanged parts on a regular basis.
We arrived at Surat in the late afternoon. The town, is well known for being a staging post for Cobb and Co in the late 1800’s. We made our way to the Surat Fishing Club’s free camp site on the Balonne River just on sunset and set up camp adjacent to some other South Australian travellers.
It seemed however that one could not get away from a truck route as at least 30 B-doubles passed in both directions within the next few hours! Once we had set up camp we lit our fire and soon had the neighbours around and we chatted till quite late before having a feed. River cats came into the camp looking for tucker. Around 9pm the truck traffic stopped until around 5.30am in the morning when it started spasmodically again. We were feeling crook that day and worse the following day. We decided to visit the Surat Hospital on our way out on the Saturday. The local doctor said we had to rest, drink plenty of water and take the tablets we had bought to clear up a viral throat infection but declined in giving us antibiotics. We drove back to the campground and set up camp again. Distance for the day was 2 kilometres. Must be a record for the shortest day’s travel! We were now in need of a new Starter Motor for the Nissan as well as it was becoming increasingly hard to start. The starter motor had been playing up for a few weeks before and I checked and cross checked earth wires and contact points. Engine would not fire on main battery alone but fired up with both batteries in parallel. I was up at around 5.30am to take Jeddah outside to do doggy things. Must take the torch next time as her blackness just melts into the night shadows. There was quite a thick layer of ice on the truck that morning. We slept in a bit which is unusual for us. We scavenged left over firewood from the vacated camp sites and later we went for a drive around town. Accessed internet at the library, bought some supplies at the shop and bought a book at the book exchange. Bought some more cold and flu caps at a price! Collected some more wood from the scrub. Jude went for a tumble in the long grass but came up laughing. Set up the solar panel and solar shower. Put up the toilet/shower tent nand had a shower in the arvo. Worked on batteries and isolators on Nissan’s engine. Cleaned starter motor with degreaser. Found some exhaust fumes leaking from exhaust system. Not too serious at this stage and it should get us home. Judith cooked Hungarian Goulash on fire outside despite being crook ! Yummmmm. We rested. Listened to an old fella playing Country and Western Music on his guitar in the afternoon. Chatted to other travellers. Sat around our campfire. Today we saw Red Rump Parrots come for a bath in a pool of water nearby. The local Willie Wagtail is very tame and hops around within half a metre of ones feet. Magpies come over for a gander to see what’s for lunch and Black Backed Butcherbirds sing their melodious songs. We also saw a White-faced Heron down by the river together with a mob of noisy Corellas and some Straw Necked Ibis. The night was rough as we coughed and spluttered. Drank lots of water which had its own consequences. Had a lazy morning and packed up slowly after having a shower and messing with water. Saw a very white Kookaburra near the river. Gave some of our left over scavenged wood to another camper. We left Surat at around midday and took a gravel road shortcut to a road that would lead to the town of Yuleba on the Warrego Highway. A short way in we came across a new bitumen road and made our way there stopping off at the Native Well rest area. I went for a walk but could not find the native well.
We went in search of Judd’s Lagoon free camp and found it. What a beautiful spot it was and with only one other camp there. Another camper came in just before dark. We went for a walk and collected firewood and I spent an hour getting prickles out of my socks. Across the lagoon a station sheepdog waded through the water to meet Jeddah. And what lovely games they had! We sat around the fire chewing the fat talking about this and that. Mozzies gave us a hard time so we beat a hasty retreat into the van. Our sickness did not seem to improve during the night.
We were on the road however around 8.30 and bound for Roma. Did some shopping there and also had batteries tested. They are both OK so it must definitely be a starter motor problem. Visited the auto electrician who got a price of a new one for me. Wow..$800!!!! Will soldier on with the old one methinks. Got to Neil Turner Weir free camp at Mitchell and bumped into a friend of a friend from home.
We went to the artesian spa for an hour or more and heated up in the 39°C degree waters for 10 minutes at a time. After that we had an ice-cream each and visited the library for internet access and cleared our inboxes. I am still a bit crook today. We had bought some medicines from the Pharmacy in Roma and the doctoring continued. Generators nearby caused us to move away from the crowd to near the wall at the weir to get some sleep. I moved the rig off the grass onto the gravel early in the morning. Later both batteries were low and the engine would not fire. We had to get the RACQ in to give us a jump-start. Our next destination was Charleville. We stopped at Morven for smoko and a look around.
At Charleville we shopped around for a starter motor and although we could get one the cheapest one was $540. This was still a tad exxy so we bought a Jump Starter instead for $88. Then we had lunch in a park and fed the ducks, geese and chooks that roam the park.
On the way to Quilpie it started raining. We pulled into the Channel Country Caravan Park and scored the last powered site. Got ourselves wet and muddied in the process but we slept dry. Jeddah slept in the truck tucked away safe from the cold and wet. We both slept very well most likely due to exhaustion and we were both feeling a little better the following morning. We were up early and had our showers to get premium hot water and to avoid the rush. The mist hung heavy over the town.
At the Information Centre we were advised that that the roads we intended taking via Eromanga, Noccundra and Tibooburra were closed and were likely to be closed for some time. So we decided to cut our losses and backtrack home via Cunnamulla, Bourke and the usual run through Cobar, Wilcannia and Broken Hill.
Just out of Quilpie we spotted an Opal Fossicking sign and drove in to a non-descript area with some broken rocks. Methinks that the rocks were dumped there deliberately as a tourist attraction. The sun had broken through the mist and the wet stones were shining in the morning light. Jude managed to find three slithers of opal and a Yacka-nut. She was very pleased with herself. At first the road to the south west was quiet with some sections single lane. Luckily it worked out that when we met other vehicles on the road it was at the flood-ways where the road widens. There were lots of ponded water puddles to the side of the road and some on the road. One creek was running a banker and looked like it would spill over the culvert at any time. We stopped at Eulo for a break and a snuffle in the Craft shop and then made for Cunnamulla. After buying some lunch we drove down the embankment of the Warrego River at Cunnamulla to munch our pies and the rig sank into deep mud. Our new traction tyres however pulled us up and over the embankment with ease when we left with much relief from us as I had envisaged having to winch out of that possible predicament. We had a leisurely drive south towards the New South Wales Border at a rest area on the power line easement 65km north of Bourke just off the side of the road. We saw 16 road trains along this section and wondered what the night would be like. But the night was quiet. We collected mobs of dry wood and had a roaring fire. We camped away from everyone and heard strange bush noises. We figured out that it must have been some kind of dove making coo-ing sounds. Today we saw lots of Emus, some Brolgas, other unidentifiable waterbirds and Pelicans and also plenty of dead kangaroos and feral pigs. We also saw a black cat, a baby feral piglet and two large lizards.
Woke up early to lightning flashes and a short shower of rain. We packed up quickly and hit the road by 7am but by then the rain had stopped. The trip to Cobar via Bourke was uneventful apart from our coughing and wheezing. Had a Big Breakfast at the Bakery Café in Cobar and then made for Wilcannia. After refuelling at Wilcannia the starter refused to budge and we had to be tow-started away from the bowser.
The countryside west of Cobar, all the way through to Peterborough, and even the most drought affected areas around Broken Hill, were lush green. We have never seen the pastures looking so good. The ‘lake’ at Little Topar was full to the brim and threatening to flow over the highway. The feral goats, a well known sight along the Barrier Highway, looked extremely healthy and were breeding up like mad with lots of kids running behind their mothers.
We arrived in Broken Hill at 4.30pm and caught up with friends there and parked the van on a neighbour’s block for a couple of nights. I unhitched the van and parked the Nissan so that it could be towed started the next time. The following morning we were both still pretty crook. My mate tow started the Nissan and I took it to Western Auto-electrics and they had her back on the road by lunchtime starting nicely at a very nominal cost. In the arvo our friends took us for a drive to Silverton and the girls had fun in the art and craft shops. Back at Broken Hill there was a big storm late that night and Jeddah became delirious with all the thunder and lightning.
On our last travelling day I made Jude get rid of the fruit we had with us just in case we got inspected at the Fruit Fly Quarantine stop. She got cranky with me. In the end the Quarantine Stop wasn’t operational but by that time I had been forgiven. We were home by 12.45pm. Our house was icy cold but we soon had it as warm as, by running the reverse cycle air conditioners.
What great holiday! We travelled a tad over 12000 kilometres along new roads and tracks and experienced some great country and a diverse mob of people. Apart from the dreaded flu, which didn’t leave us for around three weeks, we had ne’er a worry or distress. Must do it again soon!