A Travellerspoint blog

Gidgee flowers stink . . . and other outback facts

Outback Queensland is more than it seems

sunny 19 °C

Michael at the controls of a 747 at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach. Be very afraid . . .

Michael at the controls of a 747 at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach. Be very afraid . . .

It may look like a whole lot of nothing but it's amazing what's in the outback now and what started here. The histories of Qantas, the Flying Doctors and School of the Air all began in western Qld or central Australia. We've just had a great afternoon at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach - walking on the wing of a jumbo jet, going inside the first Boeing 707 ever made, getting up close to some of the earliest Qantas planes (which needed passengers to wear goggles), and walking inside the tin shed where it all started. Amazing visionaries (Fysh, McGinness and McMasterl) returned as air heroes from WWI and weren't keen to do sheep mustering or whatever outback civilian life held for them. So in 1920 they started an air service, the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service, now Australia's international airline. Lots of colourful outback characters and everyday people helped them.

The founders worked with the Rev John Flynn of the Australian Inland Mission to start the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) whose vision it was. RFDS started in Cloncurry, yet another western Qld town and one we visited earlier in the week. In the late 1920s, Flynn combined the new technologies of aviation and radio to bring healthcare to the people of the outback, whether they be white or black. He had first-hand experience of the harshness of outback life and the lack of services to people on remote stations. He was supported by the Presbyterians of Cloncurry and a host of dedicated doctors, nurse, pilots and engineers.

The School of the Air we visited in Alice Springs last month used the two-way radios placed by the RFDS at cattle stations (and usually 'manned' by the station owners' wives) to deliver the first lessons to outback kids 60 years ago. Today there are 16 schools of the air in Australia. Adelaide Miethke, a schoolteacher on the RFDS board, used her contacts there to to bring her idea to life. Ninety-five million years before that, something very different happened in the outback - a dinosaur stampede. Read on.
The outback has the only known fossilised dinosaur stampede in the world. We took a half-day tour to see it at Lark Quarry, 110km south of Winton in, you guessed it, western Qld. There are literally thousands of footprints preserved in the mudstone, mostly of chook-sized dinos fleeing a big predator. Think Boxing Day sales but with dinosaurs.

We got there on a dirt road in a ricketty van driven by Tanya, a local with kids a similar age to Michael and Susie. She told us about the Mitchell grass downs, channel country and jump-up (mesa) country we were driving through. Then she pulled the van over and broke some flowers off a gidgee acacia tree for us all to smell. Ew!

Posted by kecasumi 16:17 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes museums history outback Comments (1)

Mini Mount Isa

Talking to 5-year-olds about our trip

After morning parade, the 28 preps (kindies) in Gillian's class sat down and we were ushered into their classroom. They plied us with thoughtful questions about our trip. What was our favourite town? How did we travel? Did we have a hot air balloon?

Susannah and Michael and I did our best to answer them and to give a sense of how big Australia is. We showed a big map and the places we'd been, then the forms of transport (camel, ferry, light plane etc) we'd taken and animals (seals, emus etc) we'd encountered along the way. They were a delightful bunch, just as Gillian said. They gave us a big "Yee-ha!" to send us on our way.

We'd previously given a talk in Darwin to Year 5/6 when we visited our friend Paul's class - similarly delightful and interested kids. It's been fun sharing some of our highlights with children in different places. Hopefully it will spark a curiosity about their home country.
Mount Isa's Lake Moondarra was one of our local excursions

Mount Isa's Lake Moondarra was one of our local excursions

Posted by kecasumi 20:05 Archived in Australia Tagged family Comments (0)

Are we there yet?

Yesterday's NT to Queensland drive was one of our longest

sunny 15 °C


"Turn left in 462km" said our GPS at Barkly Homestead (NT) en route to Mount Isa (Qld). It was about a 710km drive yesterday. We left the campground at Banka Banka Station on the Stuart Highway at 8.45am and got to our caravan park cabin at Mount Isa at 5.35pm - nine hours on the road, including stops. Our reward was dinner at Buff's Club with cousin Gillian who teaches here.

With long drives, it gets a bit like the story by Alison Lester (see cover above) where the youngest child Billy keeps asking "Are we there yet?". Our kids ask: "How many hours to go?" and if the answer is two or less, they say we're almost there. We've only done a few days like this where all we've done in the daytime is drive. Another was Coober Pedy (SA) to Yulara (NT). The secret is getting away early as possible, setting the cruise control, swapping drivers regularly and not stopping for too long.

It may sound boring but the scenery changes are interesting to follow. Yesterday it was red rocks and trees (lots of wattle in flower), to shrubby flat land with flocks of budgies flying over, to vast cattle stations with waving grass, to undulating red hills with grey native grass and white gum trees. The kids listen to CDs and even read. If there's a place to sightsee or swim, like the lovely warm Bitter Springs near Mataranka en route to Banka Banka, we factor in a stop.

Many days in our trip we don't drive at all, or only drive around town. Then we can do lots of things like a tour or a swim or a bush walk or visit a display/museum or just hang about or, if we've got friends of family nearby, chill out with them. Most of our drives from now on will be half-day drives or so. Phew.
Banka Banka Station, the start of yesterday's long drive to Queensland

Banka Banka Station, the start of yesterday's long drive to Queensland

Posted by kecasumi 07:14 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes outback Comments (0)

Up the Gorge without a camera

Nitimiluk is a great place to do a boat cruise

semi-overcast 32 °C

This is us on a boat trip at Nitmiluk, formerly known as Katherine Gorge. Actually, it's not us. In our rush to get to the boat on time we left the camera at our accommodation. Anyway, it is a beautiful place - probably the most gorgeous of all the gorges we've seen. You'll have to believe us or come and see it yourself.

Nitmiluk is the name given to Katherine Gorge by the traditional owners of the land, the Jawoyn people ('Jawoyn' rhymes with 'Darwin'). 'Nitmiluk' is a much better name. It means 'cicada place' and cicadas go 'Nit! Nit! Nit!'. 'Katherine' on the other hand is the name of the daughter of the man who kicked in some funds for John McDouall Stuart, the famous 19th century explorer who traversed the continent several times from north to south and back. The Stuart Highway and a sporting house at Susie and Michael's school is named after him. Anyway, Stuart naming the area 'Katherine Gorge' was a plug for his sponsor! The area was handed back to the Jawoyn in 1989 after lodging a land claim more than a decade before. Part of the deal was restoring the gorge's traditional name.

The boat cruise we did (sans camera) was run by Nitmiluk Tours, owned by the Jawoyn people. Chris, our Aboriginal guide, provided a great commentary on how Jawoyn use the area for food, how it all looks in the wet, and some of the stories behind the landforms. The two gorges we saw were magnificent but there are 13 of them to explore if you're keen. Boat cruises take you to 2 or 3 but you can bush walk to more or fly over them. Michael's favourite part was spotting freshwater crocs and imagining good places for them to live!

Posted by kecasumi 16:07 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes wildlife cruises Comments (0)

Aboriginal art at Kakadu

Wear walking shoes to appreciate Kakadu's art galleries

sunny 30 °C

Lightning Man in rock art at Nourlangie. Can you see Lightning Man painted on the rock?

Lightning Man in rock art at Nourlangie. Can you see Lightning Man painted on the rock?

In our two days at Kakadu, we've visited rock art sites at Ubirr and Nourlangie. They provide a fascinating window into the changing culture and environment of the Aboriginal people in Kakadu and the extremes of their six seasons. The rock shelter locations for the paintings are no accident. When you bushwalk to visit rock art sites on a 30-degree day, it's clear why the art is in rock shelters where it's nice and cool. And in the wet season, nice and dry.

Many paintings show animals and people painted in different styles, some unique to the region. They are quite beautiful in their ochre colours. The X-ray style shows the skeletons and internal organs of animals detailed with cross-hatching and other patterns. Some paintings show figures from stories passed down the generations, such as Lightning Man (see photo above). There is some overlapping of pictures as new ones are painted over old. Some are thousands of years old, some hundreds of years old or newer.

Aboriginal art is quite diverse we've found. We caught an exhibition at the Araluen Arts Centre in Alice Springs which featured some of Albert Namatjira's lovely watercolours, 1970s dot paintings from Papunya Tula plus more recent contemporary work in bright acrylics, woven fibres and prints. At a Darwin gallery, we bought some art to take home - lovely silkscreen printed fabric from Maningrida in Arnhem Land. We'll show you when we're back!

PS: We finally camped out. We bought camping gear in Adelaide and can at last say we've used it. We camped at Mardugal Campground with millions of mozzies humming us off to sleep. Scores of squawking corellas were our morning alarm clock.

Posted by kecasumi 20:08 Archived in Australia Tagged art aboriginal Comments (0)

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