On our last morning at Cobbold I managed to get a photo of the moon on its back, Venus beneath her, with the orange glow of the sun just a whisper on the horizon. The pink and greys didn’t show up today. After breakfast we hit the road again in our bus, heading for Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria with Joe’s stories to keep us company.
Our first stop was at George Town, where Joe did the obligatory town tour. It’s all part of understanding the outback. When you look at a town’s medical clinic, it’s more than a building. It might be the only medical assistance available for hundreds of kilometres. The Government, in its wisdom, has cut back funding for medical staff all over the state – but while we might complain about longer waiting lists in town, take a nurse or doctor out of these places, and more than one life might be at risk. Bureaucracy strikes again. If it wasn’t for the Flying Doctor, which is not government run but does receive financial support, medical help would be even further away.
We stayed in Georgetown for a while to visit the Ted Elliot mineral collection. This incredible display was accumulated by one person over a lifetime, with many pieces sourced from places around here. Much of the area was opened up for mining of gold, tin, and semi-precious gem stones before the cattle arrived.
Back on the road we encountered cattle, of course, as well as the ever-present kites riding the air currents above towns, or clustered around road kill. But I was surprised at the lack of kangaroos and other wildlife. I suppose that unexpected rain brought benefits for the animals, too, so they didn’t have to venture close to roads.
They don’t run sheep out here. People have tried, but the native spear grass put paid to every attempt. The seeds form a spiral to dig into whatever surface they land on, securing themselves with backward-facing spines. I’ll leave you to imagine how that works in sheep’s wool. Cattle are not affected by the grass, but herds were decimated when the cattle tick was introduced from Asia, especially the English breeds. These days graziers run tough breeds like Herefords and Drought Master. Most breeds have American Brahman blood – a breed resistant to ticks and able to survive the harsh conditions out here.
Next stop was Croydon, where we wandered around and bought lunch. There are a couple of pubs benefitting from the arrival of tour groups for lunch, and rather than join the throng, we wandered up the road to an old general store claiming to be the oldest shop in Australia (yeah right) which had been fitted out as a museum of sorts, as well as selling everything under the sun, including take away food. Once again, this was a chance for we tourists from the prosperous coast to give a little back to the bush.
From here we drove on to Normanton, last stop before we reached the Gulf. It’s the town where the Gulflander train heads off, so we’d be back here soon. It also has some lovely old Queensland buildings – and it holds the claim for the largest crocodile ever shot. A fiberglass model of what the croc would have looked like, an 8.63m (28ft 4in) behemoth, stands outside the local council offices. Here’s an article about the beast and the woman who shot it. Well worth reading, by the way. It gives a glimpse into another way of life, and the issues of working for conservation of crocs. I’ll admit I was sceptical about the creature’s reported size. On our visit to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures recently we were told that a croc over 6m is very unlikely. But the Guinness Book of Records seems to have accepted the claim. The locals say there’s a monster croc out there right now. Here’s a story from the Townsville Bulletin. However you see it, swimming in the Norman river doesn’t sound like a great idea.
We were on the last leg of the trip to the Gulf fishing port of Karumba. We passed the golf course just before sunset, where large groups of local macropods were enjoying dinner on the fairways. We would be enjoying our own dinner soon – fresh caught barramundi with crispy chips and a salad. Yum.