Barkley Homestead to Mount Isa Northern Territories to Queensland 26 April to 29 April
24 May 2007
We awoke at 8.10am and found that only 2 other caravans were present on the site. The Barkly Homestead consists of a bar, café, shop, and large caravan park and is virtually a transit camp. By 8.25am we were the only ones left; what does that say about us?
The road to the Queensland border was mostly up hill and very straight with lots of cattle on view. We were aware that the bottom had fallen out of the woolen market and that the Middle East is eager for Australian live beef, but the absence of sheep in the northern areas, has been a major surprise.
Our plan was to stay the night at Camooweal, the first town we would come to in Queensland. This changed when we realized we had time to reach Mount Isa before nightfall, so on we went. Camooweal, 117 miles north west of Mount Isa, is the biggest reason why Mount Isa was once listed in the Guinness Book of Records as being the largest city and having the longest main street in the world. The city limits have allowed the tourist brochure to claim, 'Surrounded by vast horizons where land and sky seem to stretch forever, Mount Isa is one of the largest cities in the world, covering an area the size of Switzerland and with a main street 189 kilometers long'.
I know Los Angeles is supposed to be the size of half of Belgium but how that compares I have no idea. Anyway, as we approached our destination the terrain changed to hills and after 289 miles of travel we arrived. A big board announced Mount Isa as the 'home of champions'. Out of the four names mentioned, we only knew Greg Norman and Pat Rafter.
Mount Isa, the 'Oasis of the outback' is a thriving city of 22,000 people set amidst landscapes of the Selwyn Ranges on the banks of the Leichardt River. Mt. Isa's existence and its main financial base is the huge Mount Isa Mine, the world's largest single producer of copper, silver, lead and zinc. In 1923 John Campbell Miles found a silver-lead ore outcrop, so sent a sample to Cloncurry to be assessed. Miles pegged 2 leases and soon 500 were filled. Mount Isa Mines took over operations in 1924 and controlled the town until the end of the war, at which time Mt. Isa could stand on its own feet.
John Campbell Miles did own shares in Mount Isa Mines but took no part in its development, preferring to prospect for gold. This was unsuccessful and over the years he parted with his shares to fund his expeditions, dieing a poor man. However, when he did visit Mount Isa he was regarded as a celebrity and his ashes are interned under a memorial clock on a main street.
The tourist office is housed in a modern centre which contains two museums and both were very interesting. We first visited the one about the origins and development of Mt Isa. This involved displays, much written information on boards, audio and film. So as not to be over museumed, we then went into the town centre to use the internet at the back of a newsagent we had found on the main street. Our camp site should have been able to provide wireless internet for our site but once again we, and others, were unable to access the service.
On our second day, after working on some blog site entries, we returned to the tourist office and visited the second museum which is the Riversleigh Fossil Centre. The finds at Riversleigh, just four hours drive north of Mount Isa, open the window into the prehistoric world. Riversleigh, a World Heritage site shared with the caves at Naracote in South Australia, caves we visited on 16 November 2006, is only accessible by 4 wheel drive vehicles so out of bounds to us. The amount of information gained from the Riversleigh site is immense and some research is still conducted at the site and at the museum. We viewed world class fossils dating back over 20 million years, viewed re-created models of animals that would have lived in prehistoric times, and watched film of the site. Both museums were very good. I was particularly taken with a very small prehistoric skull named as Thingadonta. It is a marsupial and has no known relatives either extinct or living. Poor little bugger.
Attractions we did not attend were a guided tour of the 'Hard Times Mine' and the underground hospital. The mine, a multimillion dollar project is said to be the nearest experience you can get to a working mine. A major sponsor was the local mining company. The underground hospital is a left over from the war when there were fears that the Japanese Air Force would bomb the area. It was never used but is still equipped.
We had another date with the newsagent and his internet facility before going for the rare treat of a 'take a way Chinese meal'. After a half hour wait for the shop to open I ordered a curry and Sylvia something Chinese. When we got back on site and opened our purchases we realized we had been given the same meal twice; it wasn't a curry, and we were unsure whether it was even the order Sylvia had made. Anyway, we had two treats as each meal was enough for two people. Did the aborigine man behind me get my order?
Mount Isa proved to be a good place for a stop over, and after three nights stay we carried on our journey, east along the Barkly Highway; without having met either Greg Norman or Pat Rafter, (you don't always get what you want).
Before leaving we filled the van up with fuel and to our surprise, at the garage met Lorna and Garry, the Scottish friends we have made on our travels. No doubt, despite our sometimes differing routes and interests, our paths will continue to cross; and this will be nice.