Friday, May 29, 2015

Banka Banka to Edith Falls via Mataranka: monuments and weird signs 23 May

We left Banka Banka heading north into the warmth of northern Australia. And into more quirky small places. Elliot has a nice row of trees on entering, and apparently holds a gay mardi gras, although I’m not sure about that. Nice Sara Lea muffins though. 
Elliott promised much but delivered little

Next stop was Daly Waters for lunch. The caravan park was almost full of people ready to stop for the night at midday. I haven’t come to terms with this phenomenon yet. It seems a bit weird. Daly Waters has a pub with a stage for performers, a bough shed decorated with thongs, and other memorabilia. There is a souvenir shop with a difference, and a WWII helicopter on the roof of the servo. There are lots of WWII relics in northern Australia, but they weren’t on our agenda this time, so we didn’t stop to check them out.

The next quirky place was Larrimah, which had the Pink Panther Inn and caravan park, a number of unusual signs, several of beautiful caged birds, a recently acquired Johnstone River crocodile, and a much bigger saltie out the back and out of harm’s way.

This part of the road has a number of monuments. The first and largest was for John Flynn, the founder of the Flying Doctor Service. Charles Todd who was the brains and energy behind the Overland Telegraph had a very elaborate and informative monument. Alexander Forrest who explored from WA to NT had an unusual but unprepossessing monument. The least stimulating was the dead tree near Daly Waters which is presumed to have been engraved with an “S” in 1861-2.
Charles Todd Monument
Alexander Forrest monument

McDouall Stuart S Tree

We also detoured via Elsey Station Cemetery just south of Mataranka. I grew up with stories of “We of the Never Never” and “Little Black Princess” written by Jeannie Gunn, the wife of Charles Gunn who managed Elsey Station in the early years of the 20th Century. The cemetery has many graves of the real people who became characters in her stories.

Dolly Bonson the Little Black Princess died in Darwin in 1988, aged 95

Charles Gunn's Grave with a memorial to his wife Jeannie

We had been told that Bitter Springs at Mataranka was preferable to the other springs there so we booked into Bitter Springs Caravan Park thinking that the springs were on site. Not so. The manager’s description of about 500m down the road turned out to be much further on. However the springs were lovely. The water was clear and warm – 32 degrees. We stayed there for quite a while relaxing after a long day’s travel, over 450 kms. The following morning we also met up with Gail and Richard Allen from Urunga who, coincidentally, were also staying at Mataranka. 
Gail and Richard Allen with David

A friendly local

Above and below, the beautiful Bitter Springs

Our intention was to reach Litchfield National Park, but beautiful Edith Falls, north of Katherine, turned into a much more desirable option.
Above and below, views of Edith Falls

Wycliffe Well to Banka Banka 21 May

We decided to stay at Banka Banka for a couple of reasons. One, it is a property that used to be owned by Jan Cook’s family: her mother was born there. The second is much more prosaic. We have heaps of washing and it is only $2 a load. It is much too hot for flannelette sheets, and the winter clothes now need to go to the bottom of the cupboard.

The caravan park is a popular spot with between 10 and 20 vehicles a night staying there. The owners light a campfire each night and open a bar/kiosk. A singer with car problems was forced to stay last night so we had entertainment as well. But by 8.30 everyone else had gone to bed.

The old homestead
Plaque on the door of the old homestead

Machinery resurrected
The litter of 3 week old kelpie pups was a delight
Not so the frog in the washing

Homestead and farm buildings
The homestead, caravan park and surrounding countryside from the hill behind
Along the way we stopped at Devils Marbles. My preconception was that it would be a single clump of roundish rocks, but it was much more impressive. It is quite extensive, with rock formations visible for kilometres. David was able draw on his geographic knowledge to inform me about onion skin weathering of the granite boulders. We then climbed up onto some of the high points, but not the top. Getting up there was not too difficult, but finding our way down was a bit more challenging.
Above and below, various views of the Devils Marbles

The resident dingo

Our next stop was Tennant Creek which is a small to medium sized town, with a large Aboriginal population. It was originally a gold mining town and the Information Centre and mining museum are located on Battery Hill, just out of town. We checked out a nearby lookout which showed that the area is quite hilly, although it hadn’t been evident when we drove in. There is a historic hospital and a Catholic Church made of galvanised iron. I hope the sermons weren’t too long. Mary Ann Dam to the north of the town is a popular water recreation and picnic spot, and a green oasis to have lunch.
A view of Tennant Creek from Bill Allen Lookout

Historic Catholic Church

School kids on an excursion paddling on Mary Ann Dam on a very windy day

We also checked out The Pebbles, like the Devils Marbles only smaller and much much less impressive, partly due to all the full garbage bins and rubbish lying around. At Threeways, where the road to Camooweal and Mount Isa meets the Stuart Highway there is a large impressive monument to Rev. John  Flynn, but otherwise the road is pretty boring.

Since we passed the Tropic of Capricorn marker there have been termite mounds most of the way, but only small ones, less than a metre high. There is obviously a fair amount of rain in this part of the Territory and the vegetation is generally much more lush than further south. It has also been consistently hot with temperatures over 28 degrees each day.

Alice Springs to Wycliffe Well 20 May

Wycliffe Well is about a 5 hour drive north of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway. There is very little of interest in this part of the highway except for the Tropic of Capricorn marker.
The Tropic of Capricorn Marker

We stopped at Aileron roadhouse for a coffee. It is a place with a confused identity. According to the owner it acquired its name when the original station was broken up. The Afghan cameleers used to bring early plane parts in their loads, as the Ghan stopped at Alice Springs. Apparently an aileron was found on the site, dropped by mistake.

The owner has also created what he calls his “garden gnomes”, 2 large black statues, a man with a spear on the hill and a woman near the road. The roadhouse also has a gallery of Namatjira copyist paintings, a history of the area and a bar called “Glen Maggie” which is the name of the original station. However he has an aversion to people using polite words to ask for the toilet, such as bathroom, rest room, convenience etc. He has a skeleton holding a large sign saying “Shithouse”

Aileron was the only bright spot on the journey. We stopped at Barrow Creek to eat our lunch. The area around the roadhouse was filthy and depressing, so our visit was short.
A flattering view of Barrow Creek Roadhouse
We stopped at the John McDouall Stuart Marker for Central Mount Stuart which he reached in 1860. He believed it to be the geographic centre of Australia.
Central Mount Stuart Monument

Central Mount Stuart, a rather generous description of a hill

Our overnight stop was at Wycliffe Well Caravan Park which was lovely. It caters well for tourists and promotes itself as the UFO capital of Australia. We could buy a two for the price of one dinner. A couple of singers entertained us as well, but they didn’t cause us to linger. The park has a swimming pool and also a TV room decorated with magnificent murals of the natural wonders of Central Australia.
Murals promoting the UFO Capital

Above and below: Murals in the games room depicting scenes from Central Australia

Tomorrow night the plan is to stay at Banka Banka, a historic property about 100km north of Tennant Creek.