Sunday, 5 July 2009

Long Roads

Australia Map Daly Waters

When we set up our satnav the other day for the day’s drive, it told us to go straight ahead for 382 kms to the end  of the road, then turn left and our destination would be 2 kms further on our right. (it was correct) and today it said go straight ahead for 675 kms and then turn left. Distances are large and we are currently in a phase of the trip where we are driving a very long way to get from one interesting place (the tropical rain forests and volcanic planes of the east coast) to the next place (the Kakadu National Park) where we hope to learn more about the early aboriginal owners of Australia.

The countryside can be less than interesting. This photograph (taken with a wide angled lens) shows all that there is to see across to the horizon -

Flat to the horizon

absolutely nothing in all directions. An alternative landscape is that of thousands of termite mounds.

Termite Field

Every few hundred kilometres or so, one encounters a Roadhouse – these are synonymous with long distance road travel in Australia and provide essential supplies such as fuel, food and accommodation (both rooms and camping) together with things you never knew you wanted at a price proportional to the distance from the competition and at a quality inversely proportional to that distance.

Burke and Wills Roadhouse 

Queensland NT Border Roadhouse

As well as travellers such as ourselves, they also provide a rest stop for drivers of the famous “Road Trains” – this one has 62 wheels, is 55

Road Train 2 

Road Train 1

metres long and everything about it is big including the noise it makes and the speed at which it travels.

Mount Isa, where we stayed on Wednesday night on our way west (and eventually north) is a company town based around the largest lead and silver mine in the world (plus a lot of copper). You can judge the quality of the town by the appearance of the mine which occupies the whole of one side of the river.

Mount Isa Mine

We went to an exhibition which described the history of the area and sat through a promotional film made by the mining company. One of their workforce described why he enjoyed working for the company - “the job I have lets me work up a good sweat, drive big machines and make a lot of noise” – it seemed to us to be a typically Australian response to the way they have approached this vast continent. Of more interest was the account of early life here (1950s!) when they lived in tin huts and really had a very hard time taming the landscape and developing the mine. It made us realise how new the country is and also how tough life must have been for many of the £10 migrants (including perhaps my relations who emigrated here in the 1950s).

The general speed limit on the open road is 110 km/hr but when we went from Queensland into the Northern Territories (NT),

NT Border

a poor photograph of us taken on time delay from the van bonnet at the NT border

the speed limit increased to 130 km/hr (actually having a speed limit in the NT is a relatively new idea) and the clocks went back 30 minutes (and those in Queensland say that modern civilisation goes back by a number of years as well).

The more we drive, the remoter we get. The Heartbreak Hotel at Cape Crawford (fuel 1.85 per litre as compared with 1.14 per litre at Mount Isa) is about as remote as it gets in the Northern Territories. It is actually quite a reasonable road house with shady camping available and helicopter

Helicopter Cape Crawford

Sam we took this picture of the heli for you

flights over the cliff formations nearby on offer.

Cape Crawford Rocks

We have however promised ourselves one helicopter flight (or plane – which is not yet decided) this holiday and that will be over the Bungle Bungles in Western Australia – one guide book we read said “if you only do one helicopter flight in your life, do it over the Bungle Bungles”.

The next nearest “town” is Borroloola about 110kms up the track. We heard that there was an aboriginal celebration there the following day so we drove there to see what might be happening. To describe the town as “run down” is not to get down far enough. The local museum (get the key from the car breakers next door) was the Police Station in times


gone by and our reading of the displays within the museum not only educates us about the early exploration of the area and the hardships endured by the explorers but also increase our unease about how the Aboriginals were treated. Because we sensed some hostility towards us as tourists, we left without searching out the event.

Despite its rundown nature and isolation, the town does have a concrete runway at the airport and the medivac plane took off whilst we were there taking a couple of people to the nearest hospital at Darwin. Such a commitment to access to critical services is essential if isolated towns like this are to survive.

Further west on our way up towards Kakadu, we stayed at the famous Daly Waters pub on the Stuart Highway. Practically everyone stops here on their

Daly Waters Pub 

way north or south and the pub trades on its quirky nature, encouraging you to leave underwear behind the bar or a badge or flag somewhere in Daly Waters Pub Inside

Pat looking sweet

the pub. The pub entertainer did a surprisingly good impression of Johnny Cash but his piece de resistance – singing with chickens on his head was

Singing with Chickens

probably not copied from Mr Cash.

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