Leaving Karumba behind, we retraced the road back to Normanton, where we would board the Gulflander for a journey to Blackbull Siding, where Joe would pick us up after morning tea. The effects of the recent heavy train still lingered. We sure weren’t the only people on the train. It was jam-packed, with just about every seat taken. The Gulflander travels between Normanton and Croydon, a distance of 94 miles (152 km), which it covers in about 5 hours. The Gulflander is the only train in Australia which still measures its distances in miles.
All along the way, as we rattled through the usual Savannah country, watched by interested cows, the driver gave commentary about the train and the sidings where it stops. This is gold country, long since mined out. But the train still carries mail for at least one property.The importance of this little railway, and why it’s still here, is that during the wet season it was the only way of getting through to Normanton. The railway is built with steel sleepers, one of the few tracks still using them. Because of this, the track doesn’t get washed away in the annual monsoon. Most of the track is the original, put down between 1888-91. The little train carried mail and much-needed supplies to settlements cut off by the monsoon for months at a time.
As we rocked and rolled along the track, three older gentlemen sitting near us who were travelling with another group, took the opportunity for a bit of extra sleep. They left us at Critter’s Camp, so named by the fettlers for the creepy-crawlies which swarmed there.
It took about two and a half hours to make it to Blackbull Siding, a distance of 56 miles (90km). Sorry, I don’t remember the details of the stories about two murders committed here, and even Professor Google wasn’t able to help me. Somebody had their head blown off, the other was a jealous husband who tracked down his wife, who had absconded, doused her in petrol and set her alight. Morning tea at Blackbull was self-serve, in the souvenir enamel mug. Grab your tea bag or instant coffee, then line up for hot water heated by the engine at the back of the train. That done, take a seat and sip, while munching on your defrosted Sarah Lee muffin. Then we were back on the bus. You can find out more about the Gulflander here.
Croydon turned out to be much more interesting than I’d imagined. Like so many of the little towns around here, it had its start as a gold mining town. These days, that’s all over – but they do have the Gulflander, and in keeping with that historical context, the people in the town have produced their own 15-minute film about the town, which is shown to visitors at the information centre. It seems Croydon at one time had the largest Chinese population in Australia outside Sydney. The Chinese came to wherever the gold diggings were, but prejudice prevented them from mining, so they turned their efforts to a much better way of earning a living – they supplied the miners with fresh produce. Their market gardens thrived. Today, only a few foundations mark the spot where China town used to be. The man who narrated this bit of Croydon’s history in the film is a descendant of a Chinese who married an aboriginal woman.
During the drive from Croydon to Joe’s property at Mt Surprise I finally had a chance of a good photo of a wedge tailed eagle. Four of them – we’re guessing mum, dad and the kids – were perched in a tree after they left road kill. One of them hung around for long enough for me to get a few shots off. It’s my best shot so far. Further down the road we came across another wedgie on road kill. I was in the wrong spot to get a decent photo, and with sundown fast approaching, the light was against me, but it’s always a thrill to see these majestic birds.
We’d be staying the night at Mt Surprise and taking a ride on the Savannahlander tomorrow.