Borroloola to Barkley Homestead Northern Territory 25 April 2007.
22 May 2007
Borroloola is a fully serviced town and remote fishing community on the McArthur River in the Gulf of Carpentaria. It is a historic town and one of the legends is a man called Nat Buchanan, who was born in Dublin in 1826 of Scottish parents, and arrived in New South Wales in1832. Buchanan is credited with using the Old Gulf Road to bring to the Northern Territory 1,200 head of cattle, passing through Borroloola on his way to Glencoe Station on the Adelaide River. Following this success he then drove over 20,000 head of cattle from Queensland, a very successful drive that has never been repeated or surpassed. He created tracks and place names across a part of the country that even today remains little known.
Borroloola was once a lawless outpost where most people carried guns and illegal activities like smuggling and illicit grog running was a way of life. In 1886 the first policeman, with several Aboriginal trackers were employed to keep law and order, and the original police station is now the town museum. Today the town and the surrounding areas economy are made from many large cattle stations, mining and tourists, the latter coming for the fishing. The Savannah Way, a new adventure tourism drive is being developed and traverses across northern Australia from Broome to Cairns. Some of this is on bitumen roads, which we travelled, but it is mainly on gravel roads.
Today we had decided to travel to the coast area to a place called Bing Bong on the Gulf of Carpentaria; this is the shallow sea between Australia and Papua New Guinea. I thought any place called Bing Bong was worth a visit so we set off on the 25 mile journey. When we got there we discovered that there was nothing there for tourists. Although we were on the coast we found access to the beach was closed by the mining company who had developed a port area to load the ore onto barges to take out to the mother ship in the bay. There was a lookout with a few steps that we could climb up and see the bay from. There was also a dirt road which was sign posted to the boat ramp, so thinking this would lead us to the beach set off for a walk. After 30 minutes walking we were still no nearer reaching the beach as the path was bending away from the beach, so we decided to give it up as a bad job and return to the van. Once back there was little else for us to do but to return to the camp site and catch up with all the boring tasks such as washing and being lazy.
The couple in the caravan next to us asked if we were going to the Anzac Service in the morning and told us where and when it was being held so we decided to go along and join in. Anzac Day is a national holiday in Australia and New Zealand when all the troops, of both countries, who have died in conflict, are remembered. The date chosen for this occasion is the day of the Gallipoli landings. All across the country services are held at dawn this being the time when the Gallipoli landings began. Our alarm went off at 5.15 am and we got up and dressed and set off in the dark for the local park. The entrance to the park had been lit by oil lamps burning brightly along the drive way to guide us in. We joined the locals in the short service of remembrance as the dawn was breaking and afterwards coffee and bacon and egg rolls were served to everyone. Jeff was more than impressed by the big bottle of Bunderberg Rum which everyone was adding to their coffee to warm them up.
After the service we returned to our van and made ready for the long drive to the Barkley Homestead, where we would stay tonight. Our drive today would take us back down the Carpentaria Highway to Cape Crawford, then on to the Tablelands Highway, a distance of 305 miles altogether and the only civilisation we would pass would be the Heartbreak Hotel. The journey down the Tableland Highway saw us passing landscapes of differing contrasts. At the start we were driving through the Abner Hill range with large escarpments on either side of the road, then through bush country and then through large areas of grassland where no trees were in view, something very unusual in this country. The entire road was a single track with gravel edges for you to pull over onto when you met an oncoming vehicle. We stopped for lunch in a rest area and met up with 3 couples in their caravans, travelling together to Borroloola for the fishing. After exchanging traveller's experiences of places worth visiting, we felt good at being able to pass on useful information to others, we said good-by and set off in opposite directions.
This time we were passing lots of cattle in fields along the way, our only indications of the large cattle stations in the area. We had not been travelling long when we came across a large motor home towing a car and a utility truck towing a caravan pulled up at the side of the road. Thinking there may be a problem we slowed down only to be waved through, indicating every thing was under control so on we went. Further down the road we met a truck coming towards us so we pulled off to the side, not being quite straight Jeff reversed back to make more room for it to pass when we heard a loud noise. Thinking we must have hit something I jumped out to have a look. Despite an extra 18 inches of tarmac to our left, the road had given way under our weight creating a hole into which our back nearside wheel had sunk. The truck driver had seen us out at the back of the van so reversed back to see what the problem was. He tried to push us out but this was really not going to work and he was not carrying a tow rope with him. He told us he would just go and check on his heifers and then return to the cattle station 25 miles away and get a tow rope.
At this point the car and caravan we had seen back on the road came past with 2 ladies in it. They stopped but were unable to assist but said their husbands would be following soon and would be able to help. The truck driver went off and Jeff and I were left in the middle of the outback hoping he would return. With the van at the angle it was at, sleeping in it would not be easy. (We were concerned as to what happened we never thought to take any photo's to show you our predicament). It was not long before the big Winnebago appeared with the utility truck on a tow rope with the two men. It seems that two couples were travelling together, one couple in a motorhome (Winnebago), towing a car behind them, the other couple in a utility truck towing a caravan. The utility truck had broken down so the car was backed off the motor home and hitched to the caravan and the ladies went with this. The lady driving had never towed a caravan before. The utility truck was attached to the motor home by tow rope and the men were driving these. They stopped to help at just the same time as the truck driver returned. The utility had to be unhitched from the motor home which then manoeuvred in front of us and attached the tow rope to us and pulled us out. We had to then pass the motorhome to enable him to back up to re-attach the utility truck to it. All this had to be done with care as the edge of the narrow road was not safe. The motorhome driver did comment it was the first time he had had to pull someone out who was bogged down in bitumen. There is always a first for everything. The whole operation was completed satisfactory and just before a road train descended upon us.
We arrived at the Barkley Homestead about an hour and a half later with no further mishaps and met up with the two ladies checking in. Shortly after we arrived the two men arrived. This surprised us as we had driven the 75 miles at 50 mph, so what on earth was it like to be towed by a big motor home going at those speeds on such a narrow road? It seemed that they would have a further journey tomorrow of 125 miles to the nearest town before they would reach a garage. We on the other hand were just pleased to have arrived safely and would have a shorter journey tomorrow to our next destination along the Barkley Highway, hopefully a better road.