Mount Surprise and a trip on the Savannahlander

posted in: Travel | 3
Elizabeth Creek at Mount Surprise

We arrived at Joe and Jo’s Bedrock Village at Mt Surprise in plenty of time for a shower before dinner. We’d stopped there briefly for lunch on the way to the Gulf, but we’d only seen the reception area and the shop. There’s much more to the property than that. You can read all about Bedrock Village on the website, but I’ll just add a few observations. This place is really well thought out. Joe and his wife, Jo, started with an empty 10 acre paddock and built everything on the property from scratch. Apart from bays for caravans, Bedrock Village offers cabins. Some have multiple bedrooms – little cottages, really. But most are meant for couples. The simple, oblong, corrugated iron building was really well designed, with a living area with TV at the front, a sink and fridge, ensuite with shower and toilet, and a large bedroom at the end. The little details are what made it stand out – the toilet roll placed where you could reach it without suffering a hernia, two towel racks far enough apart on the wall so both towels had a chance of drying, a liquor licence that covered the whole site so you could buy a bottle of wine to drink in your room or in the lovely gardens, nightly campfire singalongs (if that floats your boat). And the people are nice. There are no permanent employees. Like most of the North, Bedrock village shuts down for monsoon season, December through March. But quite a few itinerant workers come back for a number of years because it’s a great place to work. The property is a credit to Joe and his wife.

Mt Surprise is a tiny town with only 65 inhabitants and nothing much to offer apart from the fact the Savannahlander has a station here. We’d learned the reason for the name on a board at the mineral museum in George Town. I’ll reproduce it here because it says a bit about how the white settlers felt about the indigenous people. This account is in the words of Cook Firth, son of Ezra Firth who first settled here in 1864.

“…On the bank of the creek were fires smoking with wood on and fresh water mussels roasting on the coals. The Aborigines heard the dray rattling on the basalt and got away. They camped there that night and then on to a big open black soil plain. In front they could see a long low mountain, but darkness overtook them, and they had to chain the bullocks to a tree. There was no water.

At daylight in the morning the off side leader, a poley bullock, had slipped his head out of the bow and cleared. Tom was a bullock hunter and he had set out to find the poley. He was a great tracker and just went around and picked up the bullock’s track and followed it straight to the lefthand corner of the mountain, around and along the sandy ground to a lovely running stream of water. Here was old Nobby, full and content. Instinct eh!!

Well, Nobby found the water for the party. Tom gave his horse a real good drink and had one himself, and as he was bending down he thought he heard voices. Well, he got on his horse and went steady up the creek. And heavens here was a camp of real wild Aborigines. Tom lost no time getting away with Nobby. They yoked up and came on. Father and others caught horses and went on up to the flat, and here were over 100 Aborigines naked and wild. When they saw the horsemen ride up, many of them dropped everything they had in their hands, and cleared for the scrub quite close by, others crawled up trees and some hid in the grass. From that day on Father named the place Mount Surprise and it is known so today. This was about 1864 and father took up about 300 square miles of country and settled there.”

The stream the bullock found was named Elizabeth Creek (after Ezra’s wife, Lizzie). It is why the Savannahlander has a station at Mt Surprise, and it runs 300 metres down from the edge of Joe and Jo’s property. Pete and I went to look, slipping through the fence and down a rudimentary path through the scrub. It’s rugged going, picking your way between the basalt crags sticking out of the ground. Another person from our party walked down this path and fell over. We managed to make it unscathed to a lovely watercourse of crystal clear water flowing between reed beds and paperbarks. It’s one of the few permanent watercourses around here. I had the big lens with me, hoping for wildlife (there wasn’t any). It’s not good for landscape shots, but the picture at the top of the post shows the stream and the railway bridge.

Later that day we piled into the Savannahlander, heading for Einasleigh, where we would take a look at the nearby Copperfield gorge. The Savannahlander actually operates from Cairns to Forsayth, going up the track we went down in the Kuranda scenic railway stage of our journey, Our driver/host, Will, explained that the trip was less comfortable than usual because the train usually has three carriages, which gives it more stability, but the carriages were stuck at Forsayth.

The train at Einasleigh
The view from the train
The controls

Will entertained us with a few stories as we rolled along pretty slowly through the grasslands. A film crew came along on the train for several trips to make episodes for a series of programs about Australian rail journeys. This is unfenced cattle country, and it’s common to see cows. They usually have the smarts to keep away from the train. But one cow must have realised she had a chance to break into show business and cut across the tracks right in front of the train. Will jammed on the brakes, and managed to do no worse than smack the beast on the rump. Unharmed, she thought better of life on the stage and bolted. And that was the only time he’d hit a cow in 8 years on the line.  Find out more about the train here.  Or take a look at the brochure. They even offer an outback pub crawl!

We were supposed to end our train journey at Einasleigh, but that pesky rain event got us again – the bus couldn’t get there to pick us up, so we boarded the train for the rest of the trip to Forsayth, which included a climb over a fairly impressive range of hills. It would have been hard work to lay the track here, involving considerable earthworks.

The Einasleigh pub. One local rides his mower to the pub for a drink.
Copperfield gorge with the road and rail bridges in the distance. Einasleigh used to be a copper mining area and the town had its own smelter.
This place was fascinating. It was easy to imagine the lava had cooled a few years ago.
Rockin’ round the mountain
It’s a long way down to this creek. The water will probably disappear very soon

We were ferried back to Bedrock Village in the bus just in time for sunset. That evening Joe provided the entertainment, playing his guitar and singing country songs.

Can you make out the giant crocodile we had to pass to get back to Bedrock?



3 Responses

  1. Lorraine Janson

    I think that my previous comment may have disappeared. I said that “We love your blog and it brought back many memories of the trip as well as creating new ones, as there were so many times when I probably didn’t pay enough attention. Your photos are stunning, of course”

    Lorraine Janson

    • Greta

      Thanks. I’m glad you enjoy it. One reason I write these is because it’s so easy to forget…

  2. Lorraine Janson

    Hi Greta,

    I really love your blog. I am re-living the trip and learning lots as it fills in so many gaps in my recollections. I particularly like that you put in references to further information. Your photos are stunning.


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