Monday, July 23, 2012

Charleville in action

Monday 23 July

With power restored to the business centre Charleville experienced a normal busy Monday – lots of passing traffic, the bakery was doing a fine trade and the sun shone warmly. A great day.
Charleville main street
The Warrego River, remains of flood debris in the foreground 

Time to do the tourist thing and visit some of the local attractions. The Graham Andrews Parklands are home to two vortex guns which were used in 1902 in an unsuccessful attempt to break the drought. The reasoning behind the guns was that if they could break up clouds of hail in Europe they might encourage rain to fall in Australia.

The Vortex Guns. It flooded the following year.

Next on the agenda was the Charleville RFDS base with its associated museum. I didn’t know that all Flying Doctor Services are completely free of charge. Families on stations are provided with extensive medical kits, with all items numbered, so people can use them under instruction over the phone if required.

RFDS visitor centre
Station medical kit from the 1990s

Leaving the RFDS we encountered a woman leading a team of camels and talking on her mobile.

Interesting juxtaposition

One of Charleville's most interesting attractions is the WWII Top Secret USA Base tour. In 1942 Charleville Airport and surrounds was a US Air Force Base, and considered part of America. The remains of the base are still being uncovered, but some sections remain intact.
One of the most intact is the Norden Bomb Vault, unfortunately still off limits to tourists due to the presence of some resident snakes.  The vault housed the “secret” - the Norden Bomb Sight – a device which enabled bombs to be dropped accurately on a target.

The Norden Bomb Sight Vault - bomb proof but not snake proof

Other relics uncovered are the remains of the Mess Hall, the Dance Hall, the Ablution Block, a drain with a western red cedar grille and the bitumen baths.
Remains of the Mess Hall, re-discovered only 3 weeks ago
Kitchen floor attached to the dance hall
Tankstand riveted, not welded, and remains of toilet block

Drain with a grille of western red cedar, found only recently
Bitumen baths in the mulga - slit trenches to be used weekly. Cleanliness was paramount.

One of the hangars still in use at Charleville Airport is also a relic of wartime, and is a distinctive American design quite different from Australian hangars. Due to wartime metal shortages it is also timber framed. It was just wide enough to house the wartime Flying Fortresses. The extra-long runway also dates from the war and is classified as an international emergency airport for jumbo jets.
Wartime hangar, US design, Australian built

The Cosmos Centre attracted us at 9pm with its telescope tour of the Milky Way, checking out the Jewel Box as well and Sapphire and Topaz – otherwise known as Albireo. We also looked at Saturn and Alpha Centauri and a few other cosmic bits. It’s a great spot for stargazers. It wasn't even that cold when you're used to sleeping under canvas. 

For another perspective on the Cosmos Centre check out Penny's blog. It's much more entertaining than mine.

To complete a successful day the plumber has also been and declared the toilet and shower safe to use again – the problem was with the neighbour’s plumbing – never was with Penny’s.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Plumbing the depths of powerlessness in Charleville

Sunday 22 July

It all began with the football. After an exciting afternoon watching  the Charleville Comets defeat the Augathella Meat Ants 44-12 we completed the day with a roast dinner. This exciting event had been planned well in advance with little thought of Sunday’s breakfast until after the shops had closed. Our lack of bread for toast was just the first in a list of events which sound like a comedy of errors.
Penny in action reporting on the footy

No bread - we can have pancakes for breakfast. Halfway through cooking the power went out. Everyone (apparently) had received notification of this, except Penny. A quick trip down the road elicited the information that it would not be back on until 3 pm. On a Sunday!
Cherrypickers dominated the streets replacing power poles and lines

Next to arrive was John to pump out an accumulation of water from under Penny’s floor. Its source is unknown and its odour nil, but apparently it is a source of great peril to anyone living in the flat. The plumbers will not come to investigate until the water has dried up. We cannot use the shower or the toilet, even though there is no evidence it is a sewer problem.

Fortunately there is a hotel just across the road, so off to the toilet there. Oh no, there is no power so the pub is closed. In fact all the pubs in town are closed. Only the RSL is unaffected. Just as well we could have lunch there or we would have faded away to shadows.

In the meantime the agent handling the flat tried to steamroll Penny into relocating her office and possessions into an empty house while the mystery leak is dried up by commercial fans. The day before her weekly publication deadline.  A stay of execution is negotiated, except for the 3 minute drive to the toilet and shower. Furnished options like cabins or motel rooms were obviously out of the question. Looks like an abstemious week ahead.

After no cup of tea for breakfast – the gas jets in our camp stove are blocked and all the shops are closed due to the power outage - everyone was feeling caffeine deprived. Then we remembered Kelly Kettle, water was boiled, tea was poured and drunk. The power has been restored and we all feel empowered once again. Except for a slight loo problem – the inconvenient convenience.   

Despite trying 3 gas bottles the camping stove was unco-operative
Kelly kettle to the rescue
The excitement of the day was too much for David

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Roma and Mitchell

18 – 19 July

From Injune we headed south to Roma, then west to Mitchell. Our first inkling that Roma was a somewhat different town was the parking lot at the airport which contained about 100 mining company trucks all sporting their distinctive red “sand flag.” We presume it represented a changeover of the FIFO workforce.

The main tourist attraction in Roma is The Big Rig which explains the discovery and development of the natural gas industry in Roma since the 1960s. The industry appears to dominate the town, which seems very much a man’s world. Prime positions in the main street are taken by large menswear stores and Repco.
The Big Rig
Menswear store with an extensive range of High Visibility clothing
Work vehicles parked in town

The town also values its World War I heritage with the Heroes Avenue of mature Queensland Bottle Trees. Each tree has a plaque with the name of a serviceman killed in action.
Above and below, Avenue of Heroes

Roma’s historical society is also active, and several old buildings have been restored or renovated and put to new uses.
Restored Court House
The old state school, now Queensland Health
This historic home of 3 rooms accommodated a family with 9 children
Old home well maintained and updated

From Roma it is about an hour’s drive to Mitchell where we decided to spend the night at Neil Turner Weir on the banks of the Maranoa River. Apart from the very sticky mud it is a very pleasant camping spot, and we may get two consecutive nights with rain.

Neil Turner Weir
Flood debris and sand below the weir 
The eastern sky at sunset - yes eastern

Mitchell came to prominence when it flooded here in February 2012, causing significant damage. The evidence of the flood is still visible in the river with massive uprooted trees. Some people have still not had the repairs to their homes completed. Some businesses have still not been able to resume normal operations – the vet is operating out of the CWA hall. Repairs to the Maranoa bridge have just commenced.

Flood debris in the Maranoa River
Previously there was a pedestrian bridge from which to view the murals but the flood washed it away 
The artesian spa this morning was a welcome change of activity – warm silky water with very little odour and complimentary coffee and biscuits. It has just re-opened after the January floods but has not resumed all operations.
Mitchell's artesian spa
Artesian water information display

Blackwater to Injune

17 July

We thought the rain had stopped but it rained all night after a beautiful fine day. Because of the rain we decided to bypass Carnarvon Gorge, leaving it for a later and hopefully drier later trip. We decided to travel south to Injune, a small town between Emerald and Roma, the attraction being a camping spot where we could have a fire.

On the way we travelled through a quiet little village called Comet. The explorer Ludwig Leichhardt named the Comet River when he passed through the area in 1845. He also left a DIG blaze on a tree. The degraded remains of the tree and a replica are in a well caged structure in the village.
The replica Leichhardt tree
Passing briefly through the large bustling town of Emerald we headed south through Springsure, another small town with a pride in its heritage. In the local park is an old cottage and outbuilding previously on properties. These buildings were made completely hand prepared bush timber, with the interiors being cut with a broad axe. The park also contained a large windmill with a wheel diameter of 24 feet or   approximately 7.2 metres. It was built in Rockhampton by the same company that built the first Qantas hangar at Longreach.

Historic buildings and windmill at Springsure

This echidna moved so fast acros the road, this was the best photo I could get

On reaching Injune we discovered that there had been considerable changes in its Caravan Park. I believe it is now owned by Santos, the company operating a large natural gas project nearby. It now contains several blocks of cabins, or dongas, for its FIFO workers who work for 21 days straight and then fly home for a week. It has a camp kitchen almost totally exposed to the weather and a large generator which goes 24 hours a day. Needless to say, we only stayed one night – it poured all night anyway.
When a picture tells only part of the story - views in front of the camper

The views behind us were a different story altogether. Rows of dongas and a slippery, muddy slope, which became even more treacherous when the Winnebago next to us mistakenly thought he could drive out easily. 
Mud, mud glorious mud, and rows of dongas
Exposed to the weather camp kitchen
The 24/7 generator and a spare

The picture below epitomises much of what we have seen in so many places - beautiful scenery, prime agricultural land and the despoilation and exploitation of the country by mining interests.

Monday, July 16, 2012


13 – 16 July

Our plan to avoid the rain was fairly unsuccessful as it rained all the way to Blackwater. We decided to stay Bedford Weir, a free campsite about 25 Kilometres from town. Unlike other places we have stayed there is a time limit of a week here, so you don’t get the multitudes of caravanners who head north for the winter and entrench themselves in a free camp for 3 months or so.

Due to the unseasonal rain the weir is overflowing, and the road across the river closed. The Mackenzie River, together with 2 or 3 other major tributaries flows eventually into the Fitzroy at Rockhampton. There is flood debris high in the trees near the weir from the 2010-11 major flood.
Bedford Weir in full flow, the road crossing closed

Blackwater is a mining town and calls itself the Coal capital of Australia, which is a pretty brave description. One of the local attractions is the International Coal Centre, which has a mining display even Craig would approve of.

Incongruously, next to the Mining Centre is a Japanese Garden constructed with the assistance of their sister city in Japan. Adjacent to the Japanese garden is one with an unusual collection of plants:  a poisonous plant called a cardboard cycad; A Queensland Bottle Tree apparently unrelated to the Boab tree, but looking quite similar; and finally a spiky, weird looking tree that looks like a cross between a pineapple and a frangipanni called a Pachypodium – obviously too unusual to have a common name.
Poisonous cardboard cycad
Baobab tree
Queensland Bottle Trees
Blackwater Japanese Gardens

On the way back to camp we skittled a kangaroo – fortunately the car fared better than the roo. We checked out the weir to see if the water level had changed.  Yesterday several people were catching good sized yellow-belly. Today was the same. We had the easiest fishing expedition when an old man from town gave us two. He said he had a freezer full and only catches them because he enjoys fishing and gives them to the old pensioners who can’t get out to the weir any more He sat there chain smoking, reeling in the fish and told us he was 75 years old and keeps busy by mowing lawns around town.  
Generous local fisherman wih some of his catch
David cleaning his "catch"

The highlight of Sunday was morning tea catered for by the Caretaker’s wife Lynne who is a fantastic cook. It was well worth the $5 per head. They also provide soup and dessert on Wednesday nights. The couple who look after Bedford Weir campsite really go out of their way to make it a desirable place to stay.

At last the rain has stopped for a while, now we can begin to enjoy the area, although we have met and had campfires with some very nice people while we have been staying here.
Our load of wood waiting for a chance to be burnt

A beautiful sunset, with the promise of a fine day to follow