Tag Archives: wedge tailed eagle

The Gulflander – and wedgies!

The Gulflander at Normanton station (picture by Pete)

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.

Normanton station (picture by Pete)

An interior – before it filled up (picture by Pete)

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.

The Gulflander at Blackbull siding

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.

A wedgetailed eagle

A wedgie flying away

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.


19 – Going home


Taken from a rest area off the road. Rest areas are fairly common in the outback, because of the distances. Councils provide rubbish bins and long-drop toilets for travellers. And often they’re in very pretty places.

Kununurra and Katherine are both large enough to arrive and look for a place to stay, but Tennant Creek is a bit different. It has a large indigenous population and a reputation for unrest. With that in mind, we tried to book online at a place we’d stayed at before, but the online booking services couldn’t finalise the transaction. So we rang the motel. It’s not the only place in town, but we liked the security aspect. When we arrived, the price for the room had gone from $150 a night online to $160. Usually when you book direct the room is cheaper because the motel doesn’t have to pay a booking fee (around $8). This happened several times in our travels. Pete pointed this out to the manager, an Englishman who hadn’t been there very long. But even when he discovered the motel was offering a room at $146 per night on one of the booking services (he didn’t believe us, so he checked), he was adamant. $160. He told us we didn’t HAVE to stay there. I don’t think he quite ‘got’ it. He’s managing a motel in the middle of Australia. The place certainly wasn’t full, and he wasn’t likely to get any more passing traffic. I also heard him turn away a last minute young couple wanting a ‘budget’ room. The thing is, an empty room doesn’t earn money. Also, the place has a bar and a restaurant, so it’s easier to eat in than brave the town. He could expect to get his ten bucks back.

We might have argued, but ten bucks wasn’t much in the scheme of things, so we shrugged and paid. Certainly the rooms had been extensively renovated since the last time we stayed there, but we won’t be in a hurry to go there again. We’d stopped for a very late lunch maybe a hundred clicks from Tennant Creek at Renner Springs – basically a tiny settlement with a pub, a bowser and a caravan park. That’ll be the go next time. It avoids the 25km detour, too.

As it happened, we had a dreadful night at Tennant Creek – not because of the motel, but because the cough I’d had since we left Perth flared up. Neither of us got much sleep. In the morning I suggested we should head for home, and visit the Atherton Tablelands another time. After all, it’s only about 1,500km from home.

So we changed our route plan, going home via Mt Isa, Longreach, Biloela.

But that’s not the end of the story. I almost managed to tick off a bucket list item – a photo of a wedge-tailed eagle.

Wedgies are the biggest eagles in Australia, and they’re quite common all over the mainland. I saw this one eating road kill and managed a few parting shots (as it were)

Undercarriage still down, taking off

Undercarriage still down, taking off

And he's off, getting out of the way

And he’s off, getting out of the way

img_7245That was nice – but on another piece of road, I noticed that unmistakable wedge-shaped tail in the sky – and the bird flew down towards us, then LANDED IN A TREE BESIDE THE ROAD which, of course, we zipped past.  My driver immediately slowed to a halt and turned around. I had my camera ready but (of course) the eagle had taken off, being harassed by a magpie. This shot was taken from the car, when he flew back a little closer, hotly pursued by his tormentor. Oh well. Maybe next year.

And I’ll finish off with a few more pictures of outback Oz.

There's a lot of Brahman or Brahman mix cattle up here - they're more resistant to ticks. They're originally American cattle, bred from four Indian breeds. Yes, that's the edge of the road at bottom left. There aren't too many fences out here.

There’s a lot of Brahman or Brahman mix cattle up here – they’re more resistant to ticks. They’re originally American cattle, bred from four Indian breeds. Yes, that’s the edge of the road at bottom left. There aren’t too many fences out here.

Typical Kimberley country - flat plains and flat hills

Typical Kimberley country – flat plains and flat hills

Termite hills. In places they're so common it feels like you're driving past a cemetery

Termite hills. In places they’re so common it feels like you’re driving past a cemetery

Straying cattle is a major problem up here.

Straying cattle is a major problem up here.

Cue "Jaws" music

Cue “Jaws” music

Spectacular sky on the way out of Longreach

Spectacular sky on the way out of Longreach

Well – that’s it. I hope you enjoyed the ride. When we finally rolled into our driveway, we’d done just shy of 14,000km in a calendar month. We left on 28th September and reached home on 28th October. We used 1,190 litres of diesel. Pete added up all our costs – fuel, accommodation, meals, and sundries. It cost us $232 per day for the two of us. Not bad, really.