The cold set in around the beginning of May this year and so we brought our travel plans forward by a week and set off heading north east. Our leisurely pace took us to Broken Hill where we topped up with groceries and last minute reminder items, refuelled and then set our sights on heading due north along the Silver City Highway. Broken Hill is lovely town with a great mining history as this is where our greatest mining icon, BHP, was born. This town in New South Wales, which lies only 50km from the South Australian state border, has more affinity with the city of Adelaide than with its parent city of Sydney. It has wide suburban streets, quaint laneways with refurbished old time miner’s cottages and with the city blocks crammed in to relatively small space so as to make parking near your favourite shop a hassle. But the city was built in the late 1800’s and thus did not account for modern day expansion and cars!
This year we have updated our Camps Australia book to number 6 and look for free campsites along our journey. Having travelled the Silver City Highway a number of times I have been at a loss to understand the logic of the building of this road with unequal distances of sealed road and gravel road. Once off the sometimes heavily corrugated or washed out gravel road it is a relief to be back on the sealed section. But just as you get used to it you revert back onto gravel again. The Fowlers Gap free camp was uninspiring and so we travelled a short way further to find a good campsite on the banks of Fowlers Gap Creek amongst the river gums. We relaxed by a good campfire made from wood scavenged from the creek and only a small number of B-double trucks trundled past our camp carting what looked like giant pipes.
Milparinka is a ghost town with one house and the restored Court House as an Information Centre. We had a good camp down on the east side of the creek having arrived there at an earlier time to secure the best site. About four other rigs drove in but camped away from us.
On the road to Tibooburra the golden glare of the grass made for a spectacular sight after all the good rains of the past season. We found Tibooburra un-exciting. It seemed neglected, dull and dreary. The National Parks office had a good display of Historic and pre-historic stuff. We decided not to refuel as the price of diesel was 30 cents per litre more expensive than Broken Hill.
We pushed on for Warri Gate Dingo Fence thoroughfare on the border of New South Wales and Queensland.
At 12 Mile Creek there was a humungous bulldust patch which needed some careful negotiation. In the mean time we encountered about ten trucks carrying pipes or coming back empty from wherever. We figured out that this was the Oil Field Road carting pipes from Broken Hill to the oil fields. These trucks would normally run from Whyalla in South Australia to the oilfields but due to excessive rains and flooded roads they have had to take an alternative route. At one stage there was a 50km stretch of bulldust holes making the driver watch carefully what he was doing.
We found a campsite in a quarry at the intersection of the road to Noccundra and the Santos Oil Road. We were sheltered by mounds of ground from the wind and from the trucks which plied their trade non-stop every few hours through the night. I refuelled from our jerry-cans and found some dead firewood after a bit of searching in the open scrub country.
The road improved the next day and we made it to Noccundra by mid-morning. The Publican of the Noccundra Hotel kindly let us have 20 litres of water from his rainwater tank. We then made our way to Noccundra Waterhole on the Wilson River. Here we set up camp for two nights and threw the Yabby trap into the river and caught a few Yabbies. There were quite a number of water-birds as well as birds of prey around and we spent hours watching their antics of survival on the fringes of the waterhole. Judith found a pair of fancy fishing gloves in the crook of a tree which she gave to me. We started having problems with the charging of the batteries both in the engine and in the caravan with insufficient charge going in. On top of that we ran out of gas for our cooking as someone had forgotten to change the gas-bottles over before we left from home.
Our next place to visit was the town of Eromanga. The name was that of an inland sea which spanned the continent 300 million years ago and which supported many species of pre-historic life. We were looking forward to learning something at this place but the small museum was closed. We needed fuel and stopped at the BP oil installation to refuel. I had to follow red arrows along a long pathway to find a person to tell me that I can fuel up and then come and pay. I had just about refuelled when Judith walked over to go and pay. I was loading jerry-cans in to the back of the wagon when she returned stating that I have put in a lot of fuel. I looked at her receipt and the total fuel showed 150 litres while the pump had showed 115 litres. The trouble is that another vehicle had pulled up on the other side of the pump and my total had been reset automatically. We trundled back to the office following the arrows once again. A new person was behind the computer and acknowledged the mistake and refunded our overspent money. The original office worker hid in a backroom during the refund. We wondered if this ‘mistake’ process could have been a nice little scam. It is impossible to make such a mistake as all figures are digitally displayed and unless altered remain the same until the transaction is completed. Next we went to the local café where the occupants were warming themselves in the sun. We were sure there may have been cobwebs connecting them together. They were not very communicative or forthcoming so we bought a cold drink and went on our way.
At Quilpie we visited the Information Centre and the friendly assistant gave us directions for camping and where to get what. We had the gas-bottle filled and was staggered at the $42 it cost charged to fill the 9kg bottle. But that’s life and we moved on. Drove around the town to look at it and went out to Baldy Hill where Jeddah and I climbed the hill to experience the views.
We camped on the Town Common where we cooked our tucker over a fire. Just on dusk we heard a vehicle coming down a bush track behind us. Suddenly a humungous dog came bounding through sand over the bushes narrowly missing the wagon. Jeddah did not have time to react! Soon after a ute stopped and bloke explained that he was taking his dog for a run! There had been a bit of traffic on the road about a kilometre away in distance but it went dead quiet after 9pm. The following morning we did some shopping and had a cuppa at a new Coffee Shop on Main street called Late on Brolga. Had a chat to some of the locals. Everyone in Quilpie is very friendly.
On our way north we stopped off at Houdrahan Lake before taking the back road to Adavale. There we chatted to the publican who said that if we gave her $250,000 she would walk out and hand the keys to us. We declined as there are too many prickles in Adavale, a very non inspiring town. Oh!, and there were grazing rights for 500 head of cattle included in the pub sale. But we pushed on along the gravel road which wasn’t too bad but having asked why only one side of the road had been graded we were told by the publican “Oh Bob will get around to it” Eventually we came to the Black Range Jump-down and a campsite sprang out at us right on top of the hill. As we sat around the fire that night we saw flashes of lightning a long way off to the south and I remarked that the rain, if any, would not come this way! How wrong I was, for at 2am, down came the soft rain for an hour or more.
The run down the range was bitumen for around 800 metres and then we were on hard but wet gravel. We had hardly got into our rhythm for the day when I realised that we were now driving over wet Black-soil Plains! I immediately engaged four wheel drive after locking the hubs and we drove very carefully over the very slippery road with mud clumping up and around our mud and stone guards. A while later a local bloke in a ute passed us and I tried talking to the driver via my UHF radio but another person answered. It was a vehicle behind me towing a caravan as well. I eventually decided to stop for an hour while the dampness dried off and the travellers behind us stopped as well. We had a good chinwag and they happen to know good friends of ours when they mentioned where their home was. It is a small world.
We eventually lobbed onto Blackall and for $5 a night we were allowed to camp on a mowed grassed area down along the Barcoo River. This was very nice but we seem to attract other campers like a magnet and by nightfall they were camped in close proximity to us, but luckily, they were quiet. Blackall is a nice little town with most facilities and the town is made famous by Jack Howe the world record holder for shearing 321 sheep with hand shears in 7 hours and 40 minutes in 1892. We were still being dogged by electrical problems charging the fridges via the car or the solar panel. We stayed 2 nights.
At Tambo I found an Auto Electrician from Charleville doing business out of his 5th wheeler in the caravan park. He told me that the caravan battery was hungry for charge and that I needed a Ctek Charger and a Honda generator to run it. For only $1700 you can be assured of good battery management! Yeah OK, mate. We walked around town to the Info Centre, the Tambo Teddies and a non inspiring coffee shop. We gave the latter a miss and warmed our bellies with a Hot Chocolate from the Publican at the Criterion Hotel. We had set up camp at the free camp along the creek at Tambo but at 3pm some of the fishing fraternity descended upon us, parked close-by and lit a fire with green logs and smoked us out. So we packed up and left for a lovely quiet bush campsite along the road to Alpha.
Alpha, is a town renowned for its Murals (or Muriels, as we call them). It is a lovely little community and a very friendly older lady at the Information Centre gave us tips on what to do and see around the place and opened the Museum for us at the back of the buildings.
Later in the day we drove on to Sapphire and Rubyvale. These are typical old world mining towns with higgledy piggledy houses and places of abode scattered around the place. Judith went in to Bob’s Place and bought a bucket of earth which she washed herself to find a whole handful of sapphires worth about 5 shillings…hahaha.
We made for the free-camp at Sapphire which has now been reduced in size as a swimming-pool has been built on the front section of what was the large freecamp. We managed to get a good high site. Others pulled in but just on dusk some wetness appeared to be spreading down the hill towards the Big Rigs. The septic toilet system was overflowing and stank a bit. This caused some moving of camps. It did not affect us as we had prime position again out of harm’s way.
Emerald was still recovering from flood damage but the town was busy and the Information Centre was well set up and also had the RV Dump Point and water available at the front of the offices. We obtained the info we wanted and went on our way. The Woolies car-park was a tad cramped but I found a park in the shade for the rig. Coles was having its first opening day after the floods and it was bedlam in there. We drove to the Free Camp site at the Botanical Gardens. It sounded nice but the campsite was bituminised and situated between the vehicle and railway bridges. Not a very peaceful place. I swapped the Deep Cycle batteries over between the van and the wagon while Judith and Jeddah went for a walk in the gardens and amongst the many palm trees. We were soon heading north. At Clermont we went to the info centre and then drove 22km on to Theresa Creek Dam but upon arrival we found something akin to an unorganised caravan park with each caravan sporting a generator. This was not for us so we backtracked and camped on Douglas Creek next to the road. Later in the evening another vehicle pulled up and the people asked if they could camp behind us as they were dead tired.
On the way back into Clermont the following day we visited the South Copperfield Mine and its tall chimney. The mine closed down many years ago. After Clermont we took the road to Moranbah mining town. Apparently it is the most expensive town to reside in in Australia with astronomical rents and high priced everything else. I asked for possible access to Lake Elphinstone via some mining roads and a customer in the servo gave me directions. From here on we were on bumpy mining tracks. It is amazing just how the bush is being mined in Central Queensland. Eventually we came to a sign stating that there was NO ENTRY to a road. A vehicle approached and I flagged it down. The cheerful driver said not to worry about the sign as it means nothing and that everyone used that road.
At Lake Elphinstone we found a good campsite on high ground as our old campsite had been flooded by recent rains. We spent a pleasant three nights there although generator noise was disturbing and annoying but luckily the noisy ones packed up and left the next day. The road too was noisy with mining vehicles and the only respite was between 11pm at night and 4am in the morning. We had brought our own wood as to find even kindling there, is difficult. There were about 20 camps over the 50 acre campsite. Our neighbours, Neil and Nevis below, had a boat and were avid Red Claw Yabby fishers and they gave us a dozen Yabbies over the time we were there. We were able to reciprocate by passing the fishing gloves on which we had ‘acquired’ at Noccundra waterhole. We did some campfire cooking for ourselves and to write up to our website. On the day we left the ablution block ran out of water and so we took it upon ourselves to drop in the town of Glenden to pass the message on to whoever was in charge.
Now our journey took us along a bitumen road towards Collinsville. Mining was intense. Collinsville area has been mined for a while but the town looked sad and run down and there were many vacant shops. At present there has been intense lobbying to the Mining Industry to rebuild towns with people and desist with the Fly-in Fly-out practices of managing their workforce. Although the mines are making huge profits, they are putting very little back into the communities around them.
I saw what looked like a track on the map for a shortcut to Ravenswood as Judith had a desire to visit the place and stay for few days. We called in at the Info Centre but the lass there had no idea about anything. At the Servo I enquired and the girl working in the kitchen was called out. She told me that the road was good and that I could cross the Burdekin River at Strathalbyn Station after which we would be able to make our way to Ravenswood. With this info in hand we drove off and after some kilometres turned left on to a station road. The countryside was quite scenic but the going was slow with many sharp creeks and gullies to cross. Eventually we came to Strathbogie Station where a No Through Road sign confronted us. As it was another 28 kilometres to Strathalbyn Station I did not want to chance it so we did a quick detour into Strathbogie Station and found the owner at home. “Nah!” he said, “That crossing hasn’t been used for 20 years or more. You will have to cross the Bogie River to the south and head for Gumlo on the Bruce Highway”. So much for local information! The Bogie River crossing was concreted but water was running about 150mm deep over the causeway and the algae growing on it made it slippery. We made it across OK.
A while later we came to another creek crossing with crystal clear waters tumbling over the rocks and found a parking space on the banks for one rig. It was 2.30pm and that would do for the day’s travel. Only a few local vehicles passed. We had a good camp but decided against lighting a fire due to too much dry grass about. Dingoes howled their mournful songs during the night.
At Home Hill the following morning we enquired about the back-road to Ravenswood. The ladies there were not sure but said that it could be rough and washed out and were non-committal to giving us any advice. We took off along the designated road though but soon found a sign that there was a very steep hill at the 78km mark and that the climb was unsuitable for buses, trucks, caravans and trailers. So with some doubt cast in our minds we turned around and took the ‘safe’ option via Woodstock and Mingela. We had a look at the ‘Very Steep’ hill from the other side and it would have been an easy climb for our rig. Oh well, next time!!! Had a look at the White Quartz Blow just out of town.
Ravenswood is a quaint little town and there is camping allowed at the Showgrounds with water, toilets and hot showers provided. The town has a long mining history and some historic building still remain intact. We were told that the Coal Mine had closed down and that a new mine was started up about 20 kilometres from the town. With this in mind we decided to stay for a few days but only paid the $14 site fee for one night. Just as well because at 7pm that night the Crusher started operating again at the ‘Old Mine’ with the last of the coal ballast being crushed and transported to the new minesite. The load vehicle was constantly reversing and all we could hear was Beep Beep Beep Beep…………….arrrrggghhhh!!!! We left the next day and made for the Macrossan Campsite about 20km out from Charters Towers.
Macrossan Free-camp Site has an area of around 50 acres to camp on, between the Burdekin River Railway Bridge and the Flinders Highway. Most campers stay up high close to the toilets but as we are self-contained we are able to go further afield. We found a great camp right on the river with a landing for a place to cook our tucker. We went for a walk and scavenged discarded wood from old fireplaces and together with our own supply/ had a good fire.
The next day we made for Charters Towers and after shopping and buying stuff we thought we needed, we had a convivial lunch at the Waverly Hotel with friends Colin and Renate who were on their way back south after visiting Darwin. The interesting thing about this hotel and others is that it has a real Bull Ring where live cattle buck-riding takes place. After lunch and after saying our goodbyes we made for Fletcher Creek Free-campsite, 42km north of Charters Towers on the Gregory Development Road. This site is run by the Charters Towers Council with toilets and cold showers provided. It is about 50 acres in size but used to be a lot larger. In peak tourist season you may find up to 100 vans and RVs parked there. This time around, there were only about 20 camps. Generator noise wasn’t too bad with most shutting down by 8pm. Truck noise, from the Gregory Road, depending on which direction the wind is blowing, can be severe with some using the exhaust brakes or foghorns just to annoy the campers. Someone had let four Bantam Roosters loose at the camp and they did the rounds finding kindly travellers to feed them.
They had been there a while apparently and were quite wily to threats such as dogs or kids who tried to catch them. They did a great job of eating all of our vegetable scraps
We spent a lazy six nights at Fletcher Creek. The weather however was not kind to us and it became increasingly overcast and cold. We drove into town on June 7th, my 68th birthday for lunch at the pub and some sightseeing. It rained softly for most of the morning. In the late afternoon things dried up a bit and so we packed up in readiness for our departure the following day.