Cloncurry to Normanton Queensland 30 April to 3 May 2007.
25 May 2007
Having decided that Jeff and I did not really want to visit Cloncurry yesterday we now found ourselves back here until Wednesday morning. Perhaps we should have consulted the motor home as it did want to visit Cloncurry. Having spoken to the tyre people we were informed they would have to order a new tyre and it would not arrive until Wednesday am, so we booked into the campsite next door. It was a first for us booking into a site at 9.30am rather than our usual 4pm; this is the time we are usually leaving sites.
The Curry, as Cloncurry is known by the locals, has always been the transport hub of the northwest. The guide book describes it as 'once it was horses, bullocks and camels, then coaches, railway trucks, planes and helicopters. Today Cloncurry is still the most important transportation centre in Western Queensland because of its railhead, container depot and road train terminus.' But not a quick place to get a new tyre for a large motor home. Few places in Australia can claim to be as influential in shaping Australia's identity as Cloncurry. Birthplace of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the beginnings of Australia's famous national airline Qantas, the original Qantas hanger is still in use at the aerodrome with the original name displayed as "Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service" above the hanger door.
The town was named by Robert Burke, who with his partner Wills, passed through in1861 during their ill fated trip to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Six years after this in 1867, copper was discovered and very quickly a mining town was developed. The Great Australian Mine still exists today as a working icon of Cloncurry's prosperous past and present.
Once settled on the site we walked across the road to the Mary Kathleen Memorial Park and Museum. Once a thriving mining town, the nearby township of Mary Kathleen is now deserted, but the museum here has on display many interesting relics from the area along with a collection minerals and gems, reputed to be one of the best displays in Australia. One of the items on display was a recently restored railway ambulance. This was commissioned in 1956, and despite not being used for 30 years is still in working order. At the back of the buildings a set of steps leads up to a view point over the town, well when we see steps we just have to climb them.
That evening the campsite owners held a sausage sizzle in the camp kitchen. This gave us a chance to meet some of the other people on the site and exchange stories of our travels. We are now able to contribute to these discussions much more as we recognise places people talk about but are also finding a lot of people from Queensland and New South Wales who have never visited Western Australia. We sometimes feel like the tourist board when we extol the beauty and diversity of that state, encouraging people to visit.
Early Tuesday morning, about 4.30am, we gained a better understanding of the importance of Cloncurry in the transportation system when we experienced the road train noise as they departed from their depot close by. The drivers start the engine's up about 20 minutes before they set off and on departure the brakes seem to make a great noise, only one more morning to suffer it. With nothing to rush for, we took our time getting organised then went to visit the John Flynn Place.
This museum is dedicated to the memory of the Rev John Flynn founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The museum reflects the conditions of outback life at the turn of the centaury and contains many pictures and memorabilia of that time. The John Flynn story is of one man's hard work and dedication, without which the invaluable flying medical service would not have been a reality. The basement floor describes the development of the communication system for the service and is dedicated to the brilliant South Australian engineer, Alfred Traeger. He developed a pedal radio in 1929 which could be used in the stations to summon help using Morse code. He later developed an automatic keyboard so people with no knowledge of Morse could use it. Alfred went out to the stations to show the women of the household how to use the equipment. We were so engrossed in the museum we had not realised that we had missed lunch. It was all the more interesting to me as we had visited the Flying Doctor base at Alice Springs on our first visit to Australia. With Qantas being so active in the area it is not surprising that the owner gave the service a plane and a pilot, only charging a mileage to cover running costs.
Wednesday morning dawned and we went into town to get our weekly shopping and purchase a jack that would work with our van. Then we went round to the tyre company to be told the boss was not in as he had had to go out on an errand and our tyre had not arrived yet. As it looked as if we would not get it fixed today we booked another night on the site and joined our fellow campers at 'happy hour' in the camp kitchen. Another morning of the road trains.
Thursday morning bright and early Jeff went around to the tyre place with the van and learned the tyre had only arrived that morning at the local depot. When the boss collected it was discovered the wrong brand had been sent. This time it looked promising as we were asked to leave the van. A couple from Townsville, on a site near by offered to make us tea and we sat with them, we had had to give our site up. From where we were sitting we could see our van and at 10.30am it had not moved so Jeff went round again.
A promise was made to do the work immediately and Jeff stayed to ensure this happened. Under Jeff's instruction the spare tyre was put on the wheel with the alloy hubs and installed on the van, and the new (wrong brand) tyre was put on the spare wheel and installed under the van. The boss of the garage, a giant of a man who would not disgrace the Highland Game Circuit, was full of charm and promise but poor on fulfilment.
So once again we travelled the Matilda Development Highway, named so because Banjo Patterson, who wrote the words to Waltzing Matilda had spent time in this area. To do it homage we put on our Slim Dusty cd and sang at full belt Australia's most famous song. We passed through the road work area with no mishaps and reached the Burke and Wills Roadhouse where we stopped for a coffee. We went to sit on the veranda and joined another couple and an older man. The couple were originally from New Zealand, now living in Australia and were on the road full time. They told us they were heading over to Scotland in September for their son's wedding, when we asked where, we were told in Kerrimuir, what a small world. The older gentleman told us that further up the road we would cross the Saxby River where we should see some crocodiles.
The road crews had all finished last night for the May Day holiday weekend so we were unable to visit AJ and thank him once more; maybe he will read this account.
Saying good-bye to everyone we set off again. We crossed the Saxby River as it was getting dusk and had a good peer down, we saw one small croc sitting on a mud bank who soon disappeared when the flash from the camera went off. As it was now getting dark we decided to pull in at the next rest area and 'bush camp' for the night.