STAGE 7 - Into The Suburbs

 

Kelso Station to the Pacific Ocean - Queensland

 

  • Along the highway
  • The disbelievers
  • Coal country
  • From red desert to green forest
  • The big blue bit on the side of the map

 

November 10th

 

We have been in the Longreach district for nearly two weeks now and have managed to raise over $7000 for the Royal Flying Doctor Service at two fund-raising functions held over the weekend. Unfortunately the heavy rain in the area prevented many people from being able to get to both functions on the Friday & Saturday nights, however we should never complain about rain! Some properties had over 8 cm during the numerous storms. That sort of downpour is quite normal for this time of year, as this area receives most of its rain during the summer months.

 

Tomorrow we hit the road again and begin the last stage of the journey towards the coast. The minimum distance is 680km, however with the detours that we shall be making around the Fitzroy River, we have approximately 740km to travel. This stage will be quite different from previous stages, as we now have to walk alongside the highway for most of the distance and finding good campsites may be difficult as we get closer to the settled areas at the coast. Plus, we have to cross the Drummond Range, which I'm told will be quite interesting, as there is little room on the road shoulder for us to escape to, if we are confronted by traffic from both directions at once.

 

The camels are definitely 'fatter' than they were when we arrived here, and should find this stage far easier going. I have off-loaded a lot of equipment that is no longer needed - the rifle, HF radio & aerial, emergency flares, spare rope, and numerous other bits & pieces, plus of course, we will not have to carry so much water - which will keep Morgan happy.

 

It is too difficult to predict when we will arrive at the coast (assuming we do get there) but I hope to be home by Christmas. Hopefully during the next five to six weeks we will raise a lot more money for the RFDS.

 

School Of Distance Education, Longreach (LSODE)

 

In inland Australia many children receive their education at home via the 'School of the Air'. This system, which has been in place for many decades, involves schoolkids speaking to their teacher each day using the HF radio network . Many areas of remote area Australia have only had automatic telephones in the last decade and HF radio has been the only way to communicate. Trials are now being held to replace the HF radio with telephones and also the Internet.

 

LSODE provides education for isolated families in Central Western Queensland from Preschool to Year 10. The catchment area is twice the size of Victoria ( a southern state on the Australian mainland) and is bounded by Bogantungan in the east, Bedourie in the west, South Australia in the south and Kynuna in the north. The total area is 402 712 square kilometres. Children are on air for 30 minutes each school day with their class teacher. For the rest of their school day, children work with their home tutors - either a parent or governess.

 

If you would like to know more about the Australian Stockman's Hall Of Fame & Outback Heritage Centre, visit www.outbackheritage.com.au

 

November 12th

 

On the road again today in cool weather which makes a pleasant change. We didn't leave Kelso until 12 noon but had a good day, and camped about 12 km from Ilfracombe where there is good fresh green feed for the humps. The loads are sitting well, as I have re-arranged things a bit. Morgan used to have quite a load on top, but now he only carries the 'spare parts division' bag. Bindii still has all the food, two empty jerry cans, the camel First Aid box and my clothes bag. The big fella up front carries the green tin boxes, swag, two tarps, billabong rug, human First Aid box and Banjo. Quite a lot of smoke haze about today, so there was a tremendous deep red sunset this evening.

 

November 14th

 

We only had 24km to do today to get to 'Dunblane', a property about 10km form Barcaldine. For the entire day, we were again following the power line near the highway and whenever a vehicle would come along the road, I would wave. After a couple of hours of doing this, I began to wonder if the people I were waving too actually saw me, as the cars did not slow down which led me to believe that they hadn't seen me. So I began counting. Believe it or not, 5 out of 10 cars do indeed fail to see me. And I was walking out in the open less than 100 metres from the road with a clear view of the highway! Ok, that means that at least 50% of drivers had their eyes totally on the road, but what about any passengers? I find it incredible to think that I was invisible to them. Not even a nod in my direction. I was always taught to look out to the left and right when driving in the bush. With so much wandering stock about, it's the animals to the side of the road that you have to watch out for. If some of the vehicles represent tourists driving around the country, I wonder what these people actually see on their trip? By contrast, nearly all the truckdrivers saw me.

 

The shearing shed at Dunblane is right on the road and we arrived there at 2.30, so after unloading the camels, I read a magazine for a few hours. Some friends who were on their way back to Longreach called in and we ended up going into town to get some dinner. Beats cooking!

 

November 15th

 

Was walking towards Barcaldine along the Stock-route and had stopped for a minute to adjust a saddle rope when a truck pulled up. This was the only vehicle that had stopped since I began following the highway. The driver was a bit curious and it turned out that he used to be from Deniliquin, knew people that I knew and went to school with my eldest sister! I pulled up on the outskirts of town near a roadhouse. I thought well, bugger it, why not stop for smoko? So I tied up the humps and went and got a couple of drinks to celebrate the first smoko of the expedition. This stage of the journey really is so different from the previous 6 months. Walking around the town was easy enough, and we came out on the eastern side and then followed a dirt track beside the railway line for the rest of the day. The mossies are about tonight, so the net goes up for the first time since WA.

 

November 16th

 

Continued to follow the train line all day, walking on a graded track next to the fence, but not actually inside the fenced corridor where the track runs. If a train comes along, we have to have somewhere to 'escape'. At lunchtime, a thunderstorm appeared from the west with great dollops of thunder & lightning and quickly dropped about 10mm of rain on us. It then went back to a steamy & hot afternoon and on we plodded with wet boots & socks. We are camped only about 25 metres from the track as this is the only clear place. The country is now much more heavily timbered here compared to Ilfracombe and there has been good rain during the last 4 weeks. After I had unloaded the humps, a train came along making a hell of a noise. I could see the smile on the drivers face as he sounded the whistle and he & I  watched the camels take off along the fenceline. I eventually caught up with them just over a kilometre away. Lucky they were hobbled.

 

November 17th

 

Arrived in Jericho today - pop, about 150 - after walking alongside the main roadside fence all day and encountering 17 other fences. There were a couple of gates, but usually I had to drop the barbed wire and the camels would step over. "Step!", and each would lift their legs as high as possible. We camped on the school oval and the teacher was expecting us for a BBQ fund-raiser that evening. The humps were quite happy grazing on the oval until I tied them up later in the night. Thanks to the Jericho State School P & C Society for organising the evening and to the people of Jericho for their $300 donation to the RFDS.

 

The RFDS in Queensland.

 

The RFDS service in Queensland works from strategically located bases at Cairns, Mount Isa, Charleville, Townsville, Rockhampton and Brisbane. At each base an aircraft, Medical Officer, Flight Nurse and Pilot are available to respond 24 hours a day. In the past twelve months the RFDS in Queensland evacuated or transferred over 5,300 patients to hospital and specialist care. There were 42,604 patient consultations and the RFDS aircraft travelled some 4,008,000 kilometres. State and Federal governments continue to fund the RFDS but the service still needs to raise some of its operational funds and all of its capital expenditure including aircraft replacement and medical equipment. The nine Beechcraft Kingair aircraft used in Queensland flew over 12,000 hours in the last year which is 1,000 hours greater than the previous year's total. The high flying rate places great strain on the aircraft all of which are approaching 20 years since manufacture. There is a pressing need to start to replace these aircraft and the money needed must come from public donations.

 

November 18th - Day 205

 

After leaving Jericho we crossed the Great Dividing Range this morning at 444 metres. We walked alongside the road & railway line all day and stopped to talk with a surveying team and some Queensland Rail crew. Quite a lot of smoke haze about today.

 

November 19th

 

Was woken up by kookaburras this morning. Five of them sitting in a tree next to the camp. Couldn't think of a better way to be woken up. A short day of 24km into Alpha, which is bigger than Jericho, and we camped at the showgrounds, arriving in town at 2.30. There was a chance to look about and buy a newspaper. Thanks to the Alpha Lions Club for their donation.

 

November 20th

 

The Disbelievers

 

It was overcast all day and tonight there has been a couple of light storms pass over us. Another 24km day along the road. Collected some money from some chaps who had heard me on the radio and thought I would be on this road somewhere. But I didn't collect any money from a couple who drove alongside for a while and thinking that it was a good fund-raising idea, wound down the car window and asked;

 

"Who do we give the money to?"

"Me".

"But where's your caravan and support crew?".

"Well, you're looking at them".

"But you must have some back-up vehicles and helpers?'

 

Mmmmm, I could just about hear their brain cogs turning with the thought - 'Don't give him any money, he's a fake.'

And so off they drove, laughing.

Obviously I must look too rough to be a fund-raiser.

Strange really, as I had put on a clean shirt yesterday.

 

Thinking about it later, I think that it's incredibly narrow-minded that people assume that you need support crews and back up vehicles etc, etc when really the whole process is fairly straight forward - ie, just walk along the road. Quite simple really.

 

November 21st

 

It rained quite heavily last night and continued into the morning, so we didn't go anywhere today. A day off, spent mostly in the tent, reading. When the clouds passed this afternoon, there was a chance to dry things out. There are more storms forecast for tonight.

 

November 22nd

 

A near disaster today. We were following the road all day and were walking up the embankment onto the road so that we could cross a small creek. Bindii's saddle slipped backwards and off it came. There it sat in the middle of the highway. The problem was that there was a hill either side of the creek and it would only take one truck to come over the top and plough straight into the saddle, as there would be no way to stop in time. Luckily, two council chaps who were working nearby ran over and helped me lift the gear off the road, and I had it loaded back on Bindii in record time. This is one reason why I don't like following the highway. I shall be glad when I turn onto the old road tomorrow.

 

November 23rd & 24th

 

Two chaps from Emerald came out to help me 'get through' this difficult section of the trip. Ian Gardiner & Geoff Kerle spent two days with me pointing out the route ahead along the old highway through the Drummond Range. We crossed the rail line several times and, when there was no where else to go, would walk on the Capricorn Highway. Geoff would drive ahead with the flashing orange light and slow the traffic while we walked across bridges and along the long causeways whilst Ian walked behind and warned oncoming vehicles. We also followed the rail line and a Queensland Rail crew who were dismantling a large wooden rail bridge stopped all the machinery whilst we passed. They asked if I could come past every 15 minutes or so. On the road, a few people stopped and and some gave donations. While we were having a break in a parking bay, a road train (a prime-mover pulling two trailers) coming up the hill slowed down and the driver threw a sock full of coins over the cab. A dam good throw actually. He had passed us a couple of times in the last two days and had also heard me talking to John Laws on the radio. By 6pm on the 24th we had reached another minor track that would take me to Anakie. Thanks to Ian & Geoff for their help.

 

November 25th

 

It is now seven months since we left the Indian Ocean. A big day, walking almost 40 km and we camped about 8km from Emerald. We followed the rail line for most of the day and kept well away from the highway as there was far too much traffic and, besides, the stock route was very narrow and there was really no-where to walk except in the table drain. Light rain has been falling for most of the day.

 

November 26th

 

Ian met me again this morning and escorted me into Emerald which is about 10 kms south of the Tropic Of Capricorn. We followed the stock route through town which meant walking through the suburbs but fortunately the streets were wide and the camels went well, even passing by a rock crusher that was making a hell of a racket. The local Council Stock Manager helped slow the traffic as we crossed the bridge over the Nogoa River. Spent the afternoon buying some stores and lurking about the place. It is really strange going into a supermarket where all this food looks out at me from the shelves. All this choice we have seems ridiculous.

 

November 27th

 

Woke this morning to find it raining and so decided to remain here for the day. It is very productive country around Emerald with acres of cotton growing on the rich black river soils.The Fairbairn Reservoir provides the water and also supports a large citrus industry.

 

November 28th

 

We left Emerald this morning in fine weather. As we poke along the stock route, the surrounding paddocks are mainly buffel grass which is good cattle feed and, depending on the season, requires regular burning to promote growth. The scrub paddocks are mainly brigalow.

 

November 29th

 

It was a good day walking into the small town of Comet where we stopped at the school for a while. Then onto Blackwater, about 30km further on. This is coal country and last night I could see the lights of five coal mines on the horizon. All of the coal is transported by rail and today whilst travelling near the rail line, we were passed by huge coal trains, each with 104 wagons - not that I was counting or anything. Every hour they passed, going in both directions. The rail line from Emerald is electric which means that it is harder to hear the trains approaching and I have to keep an ear & eye open if we are walking on the graded track near the line. The camels don't mind the trains as long as they can see them coming and know what is making all the noise. Fortunately, the stock route was well defined for most of the day and we had a good run until we reached the outskirts of Blackwater. I asked some locals for advice where to camp and have found a place in a paddock under the power line. The same people later brought me out some dinner which was very nice of them.

 

November 30th

 

Had a dream last night that I had woken to see the camels sitting under a gum tree playing poker, drinking beer, smoking cigars and having a yarn. Morgan - "So where's this Pacific Ocean he keeps telling us about?" Big Fella - "Beats me". Bindii - "What's an ocean?" Morgan - "Who wants some apple pie?" When I woke up this morning, one of the grey utility boxes that I keep the tinned fruit in was open and the tins were sitting on the ground. I must have got up during the night looking for the apple pie. ( Didn't know it came in a tin). I have been sleep walking a few times on this trip, mainly checking the saddles & gear, but not straying too far from camp and always finding my swag again.

 

Saw a rabbit today. Believe it or not, that was the first bunny I have seen since Western Australia . Rabbits were introduced to Australia last century and had a disastrous and lasting effect on the environment. Recently, a virus has been released in an effort to control them and this appears to be working well in the arid country, but is not as successful in the higher rainfall areas. As the crow flies, we are now 180 km from the coast, however we have an additional 110 km to walk on our little detour. We are still covering about 35km per day but I may increase this next week if the weather is fine. I wake when it begins to get light, which is about 4.30am, and we could walk for 10 hours per day and the camels would still have plenty of time to feed in the morning & evenings. But one step at a time - I am in no hurry to get to the ocean. We'll get there when we get there. Tonight our camp is on the edge of a small town called Bluff, which also happens to be the change over point for the engine drivers on the coal trains. No doubt I will hear each train during the night. Also found a cigar wrapper this morning. No, not really.

 

December 1st

 

Dreamt last night that I had fallen asleep in a railway tunnel. The dream sounded quite real. A film crew from the ABC in Rockhampton spent a few hours with me today. We started off visiting the Bluff State School then I continued walking along the stock-route where they did some filming. It is starting to get warm again. I guess it's supposed to as today is the first day of summer but the last two weeks have been unseasonally cool for this time of year. There has been heavy rain near Longreach and further west and many of the creeks & rivers I crossed a month ago are now flooding.

 

December 2nd

 

Visited the small town of Dingo today and stopped by the school and talked to the kids. Spent most of the day walking through semi-wooded country and are camped in a forest tonight. About 30 degrees today.

 

December 3rd

 

Arrived in the small town of Duaringa this morning and again parked the humps on the school oval. I explained to the kids what the trip was about and they asked quite a few good questions. Thanks to the kids for their 'gold coin' donation to the RFDS.

 

December 4th

 

Began the detour north this morning, heading towards the Fitzroy River. The owners of Mourangee Station guided us through the property down to the river junction where the Dawson and Mackenzie River's merge to become the Fitzroy. The gravel crossing was only about 50cm deep and we had lunch there before crossing, while we listened to the kookaburras sitting in the gum trees laughing at the silly man and his camels.

 

December 5th

 

Continued to head north today on the 'detour', amongst the smoke haze through the forest, along the road through three cattle properties and camped at Commanchi Station. Much of this country has been 'pulled' or cleared of timber many years ago and it now supports a large cattle industry. The river flats are cultivated with paddocks of leucaena, which is a high protein cattle feed. I had dinner at the homestead and the owner called ahead to the neighbours to find out which was the best way for me to continue and we decided that I should keep to the north of the Fitzroy River then turn east towards Yeppoon & Rockhampton.

 

December 7th

 

The owner of Glenavon Station, John Atkinson, spent most of the day with me driving ahead in the ute, showing me the shortcuts through the property. With his help, we have shaved about 20km off the detour. We saw quite a few small wallabies today. For this journey I have been using 1: 250 000 scale maps provided by Auslig, one of the expedition sponsors. These stretch across the country along the Tropic Of Capricorn and today I moved onto map number 26 which has a geographic feature that I have not seen before on this journey - the South Pacific Ocean. (The big blue coloured bit on the right side of the map). So here we are. As the kookaburra travels, we are now about 70km from the ocean and about 85km to where the Tropic passes the coast. However we have to walk in a rather wobbly line to get there and as I have no idea what the country is like on the coast, and therefore where we will camp, I don't actually know where 'there' is. I suppose we'll find out soon. One step at a time.

 

December 8th

 

35 kilometres from the South Pacific Ocean. 54 kilometres to the point where the Tropic crosses the coast.

 

It has occurred to me tonight that we are running dangerously short of Expedition. We will soon have to put on the flippers and snorkels that we have been carrying since we visited that surf shop in Alice Springs.

 

A mongrel nights sleep last night. I was lying in my swag counting the shooting stars and it began to rain - ridiculous really, one tiny little cloud just lightly sprinkling everything. A bloody nuisance. So I set up the mossie net and put a tarp over it which was better than the tent as it is quite warm at night. Didn't get to sleep till after 2 am, as I'm sure it was the same cloud that came back a couple of times during the night, and as I usually wake-up at 4.30, that's not much dreaming time. This morning would be the last occasion on this trip that we would basically have the road to ourselves. At lunchtime we hit Highway One, which was very busy and most of the cars and trucks gave us a wave. Well, I mean the people in the trucks and cars gave us a wave. In the afternoon we followed the old highway past the small village of Yaamba and are now camped near Alligator Creek. Whoops - there are no alligators in Australia but there are crocodiles, including in this creek and in the nearby Fitzroy River.

 

December 9th

 

There was a heavy dew this morning which soon dried into a clear and reasonably cool day. We were on the road at 7.30, heading towards the small town of The Caves. Mark, a friend from Rockhampton, came and gave me directions for a short cut through the paddocks that would save about 10kms walking. We then followed the minor roads through the foothills which were dotted with homes built on 10 or 20 acre blocks. We passed through the small village of Cawarral and stopped at the shop to buy a drink, before continuing south-east. Robert Armstrong, my 'man on the spot' in Rockhampton, tracked us down and suggested that I camp at a friends house down the road, and we reached there at about 6pm. A shower, BBQ and a couple of phone calls filled out the night and it was time to roll out the swag. With the distance we 'saved' today, added to the 25kms we were able to save on Tuesday, we are now well ahead of where I thought we would be. I suppose tomorrow will officially be the last day of the journey.

 

December 10th

 

The day started just the same as all previous days. The same routine with no particular difference. We left Roger & Susie's house at 8am and had a short walk of about 12km to the coast, with another 12km south along the beach to where the Tropic passes the coast. Bruce & Kerri from the ABC film crew came along and we were soon walking though stands of palm trees. The plan was to follow a track through the mangroves and out onto the beach where we then had to cross a creek at low tide so that we could walk down to the Tropic. It took a while to find the right track, but after getting some help from the locals, we walked across the wet sand and onto the beach. Pretty simple really. By this time, there were more people poking about and so I decided to stop there as once I crossed the creek, no one would be able to follow me. Some pictures were taken, and the local tourism council brought out a bale of hay for the camels, which is most appreciated tonight as good feed is rather scarce. Then it was time for us to keep going as we still had over 20 km to walk before the day ended - we had to get back to the creek before the high tide, otherwise the beach would be under water, and we'd have nowhere to camp.

 

Walking along the beach was quite peaceful. The sand was firm and as there is an offshore reef, there were no breaking waves to spook the camels - when we left the Indian Ocean, they had been rather suspicious of the whole noisy, crashing waves scene. It was near dark when we finally reached 23 26 30. I had brought a bottle of Indian Ocean water across the country and so I emptied half into the surf, and then filled the bottle with Pacific Ocean water. Then back we went along the beach, looking at the stars in the moonless, clear sky. After crossing the creek again, we finally struck camp at 9.30 on a saltpan about 300 metres from the beach. So, that was it. The End. After all this, it really is just another day.

 

"There's that Pacific Ocean I was telling you about, Morgan."

 

Expedition summary:

 

  • Coast to coast distance along the TOC - 3780 kilometres
  • Total distance actually walked – 4637 kilometres
  • Total days – 229
  • Actual walking days – 187 with an average distance per day of 24.7 kilometres
  • Greatest distance in one day – 49 kilometres
  • Total number of days without seeing anyone – 84
  • Weight loss – 19 kilograms
  • December 11th

 

Today we walked back to Roger's house, where the humps will have a rest for a few days before we load the truck and drive back home to Deniliquin sometime next week. Once home, there is all the unpacking, cleaning & storing of the equipment to tend to. Before we left camp this morning we had a visit from Neil McLeod and his mother Bernice who had travelled all the way from Western Australia to see us arrive at 'the other end'. Neil's sister, Leonie, owns Warroora Station, where we started the Expedition. Now that the trip is technically over, it seems to me that people are already making far too much fuss about it all. It's not such a big deal.

 

People are asking what the highlights where, etc, etc, and what I think about this & that.

Well, I think its really far too early to start analysing things but as far as highlights? - they began on April 25th and finished on December 10th.

 

Thanks to all of you who have followed this journey since April 25th and who have supported the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

I hope that you enjoyed walking with us.

 

Thankyou to all the Expedition Sponsors.

Without the help of these companies and individuals, Capricorn Expedition would not have been.

 

Thanks to those people whom we met along the way, who helped us out with directions, meals, drinks, campsites and in a hundred other helpful ways.

 

Most of all, thanks to Bindii, TC & Morgan.

The expedition would of course have been impossible to run without them. Well done boys. You did all the work - all I did was walk.

 

RIP Mac

 

Epilogue

 

After crossing the Simpson Desert in 1939, Cecil Madigan stated,

 

“The success of an expedition depends primarily on the preliminary organisation...Many explorers have said that their greatest difficulties and worries were endured before ever they set sail, and once all equipment and party were on board the rest was comparatively easy. This is profound truth.....the planning, the basis of the whole enterprise, is of absorbing interest, and the satisfaction later of seeing the plans work out successfully in the field unsurpassed.”

 

Profound truth indeed. The most difficult decision about this expedition, was deciding to actually do it - to "take a year off" (I actually took the year on) and commit the energy, time and considerable amounts of my own money. The remainder was reasonably easy and failure was never an issue. Improbably, after all the meticulous planning and organisation, the whole episode turned out to be simply, a walk. Nothing too outrageous really.

 

In modern life, where television and advertising images are constantly flashed before our eyes, people have come to expect instant conclusions, and there is little time to absorb, appreciate or think. Our consumer-driven society is forever pushing us to strive towards some mystical ‘end goal’ and until that is reached, we should not be content with what we have. Everything has to be bigger and better and faster. More, more, more...

 

‘Out there’, the deceptions of modern life are stripped back and one lives for the moment.

‘Out there’, our day was totally immersed in, and entwined with, Nature’s day.

Modern life can’t encroach on that.

The whole concept of striving for goals, to achieve, is often an illusion because in actual fact, to ‘get there’ means little - “The journey not the arrival matters”.

 

On my journey, the substance was found in the apparently empty and trivial day-to-day experiences, which I think were far more substantial and memorable than was the detail of reaching the destination.

 

Go to the photos for this stage