Joined: Nov 2007
Location: Hamilton, New Zealand
Birtles vs Australia
ACT 10 : Winton to Three Ways Road House
In which we survive the Min Min Lights, enjoy a hotel meal, see floating hills and
two big chimneys, agree with Brian, and there is a decision.
Been a bit remiss with maps. Here is the route to the end of Act 10.
( Melbourne to Corowa has been generalized a bit: for the exact route
of this section, see http://goo.gl/maps/d0hii )
The wind blows the ants off Birtles, and all that is moving with him, as we start
along the Kennedy Development Way towards the Hamilton Hotel ruins, 78 kilometres
before Boulia. (Development Ways must be further up the roading ladder than
Development Roads as this way is sealed, albeit in single lanes in places).
This is a road of many names. As well as being the KDW, it is also Highway 62,
and most excitingly …… The Min Min Way …….
Yes indeed, it’s a strange road, a mysterious and surreal road, a path to be trod
only by the bravest and most foolhardy, a road that haunts any who take it lightly.
Oh yes, the Min Min Way, where unearthly balls of light are said to …….. well, anyway,
just read the sign below ….
Allen, back at breakfast in Isisford, told me about this road, this strange road … etc.
He said he had expected at any moment to see John Wayne riding by as the middle
section was so like the scenery in Western movies. Now, seeing John Wayne out here -
that would be surreal.
Before we are able to meet Mr Wayne, we pass “The Grove”. I had to wonder … did
the farmer name it as an act of defiance, a rebellion against nature’s miserliness with
trees in this area?
Then, just like that, 168 km from Winton we are upon the Middleton Hotel, a welcome
sight after so much empty space.
Last night I had phoned to see if there was fuel at Middleton. There is, but only in
amounts that can be hand pumped into a jerry can and then transferred to the vehicle
as the electric pump was broken. Birtles is topped up using this method and I am
asked how much I think it was - we agree that it was more than four, but less than
five litres. Such is the slow and easy-going approach to life here. Cost per litre is the
same as at Winton, so no price gouging here.
Opposite the hotel another old building is jokingly labeled "Hilton Hotel". Maybe they
haven’t heard of the Hilton chain’s tendency to sue over the use of the “H” word, or
more likely they have, but are not bothered being so far from anyone or anything else.
Even after just an hour I have a feeling of being separate from the rest of the world, that
Middleton is real and everything else is so distant that it has no importance any more.
That could be the heat as today the helmet has been getting warm inside, what with
the extra hair. As a precaution there is an increase of calorie intake with a counter lunch.
Very nice it was, too.
Do I chance it and head off the road to this Point of Interest?
How far away it is, or even what it is were never discovered.
As the temperature rises, so do the hills on the horizon - or at least they appear to
do so, becoming separated from the ground by the same refraction that causes
mirages and the Min Min lights.
It’s a lonely delivery route for a postie out here.
We waited for at least 40 minutes, but Mr Wayne did not ride by.
Hamilton Hotel ruins rest stop. Plans to stop here overnight were scuppered by
the wind. It was so strong that even behind the shelter I couldn’t get the tent up,
so it’s on to Boulia.
Old machinery parts recycled as a station name stand. Without these markers
we would pass farm entry tracks without even noticing. Giving instructions on
how to get to a station with a marker like this must be simple and clear -
“215 kilometers past Winton, turn right at the 1948 Chevy driveshaft that’s
holding up a bifurcated nangler bobbin, then down the track for 267 kilometres”.
Sun-bathing lizards want to play chicken with Birtles. Both are moved to safety
at the side of the road but I suspect they return as soon as we leave.
Boulia water tank and windmill
I have a mission in Boulia - to find a Wadi tree. Way back in Corowa when we
had dinner with David and Helen I learned of their interest in rare Australian trees.
The rarest of these is the Wadi. Boulia school is meant to have a specimen in its
grounds. We find the school, we find the school grounds, we find the trees:
which one is the Wadi we cannot say. But, since we have seen all the trees,
we must have seen a Wadi.
Excellent ! That’s one more to tick off my bucket list.
Boulia Emergency Services, ready for the next flood.
Dajarra, half way between Boulia and Mount Isa, another place I thought to stay at,
where neither the windswept camping area nor the tiny green corrugated iron
rooms at the Dajarra Road House ($90) are inviting.
When I filled up at Boulia this morning, I asked whether there was much at Dajarra.
The reply was - “Haaa!”. As replies go, this one displayed an economy of words,
but it did paint a clear picture of what was to be expected at Dajarra.
A longer reply might have gone: “Well hi there, stranger, in the heyday of the
railroads, Dajarra shipped more cattle than any other town in the world.
Then the road trains killed all that off and now there’s not much there, just a
road house and a school.”
But what a school! 42 pupils, 2 teachers, 5 teachers aides, 1 administration officer,
1 cleaner, 1 grounds person, and 1 principal - one employee for every 3.8 pupils.
Were all those ex-cattle wranglers from the good old days re-employed in the education field?
Birtles insists on riding on the Donohue. We do about a kilometre of it so he
can cross that off his bucket list.
Gibber plains occur every so often. Their polished stones glittering in the sun
like fields of glass chips do terrible things to the camera’s metering system.
Definitely Ray Ban territory.
That’s better, F11 at 1/250
We buy a new battery for Birtles at Bike and rider in Mount Isa where there is a HD
being loaded into the back of a people carrier. It is Clive from Blackall who has has
punctured his rear tyre. No-one in Isa had a tyre for it so he flew back to Brisbane,
drove his van to Isa, and will finish his tour with the HD in the back. Not sure why he
didn't fly back with a new tyre.
Mount Isa from the town lookout.
Sometimes a single structure represents a city. The Eiffel Tower for Paris,
the Opera House for Sydney, and for Mount Isa it’s these two huge chimney
stacks at the mine’s processing plants.
Overhead whistling kites circle in the updrafts. Dozens of attempts to finally
get one in frame and in focus.
Crows wait on the lamp stands until a bird beneath finds a tasty morsel, then they
dive on it and steal the food. This one is starting his attack.
Mount Isa caravan park has many permanent residents and one tells me he has
been there for 27 years, during which time two wives and four children have all left
to live elsewhere. Got to be a moral in there somewhere.
This one’s set up for the long haul, too, by the look of those potted plants.
Three days is just a blink of an eye to the long-termers, but that is what I book in for.
Long enough to do what I want to do in “The Isa” - look for these fellows, trilobite fossils.
About 30 kilometres into the back blocks west of Mount Isa on the Mays Downs
road is the Templeton River. Anyone with a hammer, a cold chisel and a bit of patience,
can find fossils of trilobites along the dry river bed.
The photo above is of trilobites I collected on two previous visits to the Templeton.
It’s a huge thrill to split a rock to reveal a fossil laid down at least 250 million years
ago, and I want more of it.
There is a hitch - although mining companies do have ways of getting their thrills,
they don’t include fossil hunting and have placed a manned barricade across the
start of the Mays Down Road. The road is a public one, but the area has become
of interest to the mine, and entry is by written permission of the company.
An application can be lodged, says the guard, might get a reply in a couple of
weeks, might be lucky.
How much ore do they think I can smuggle out on Birtles?
High on my list of camping principles is never to stay longer than necessary at any
place that restricts my fossil hunting, so back at camp I donate the new hammer and
cold chisel to a guy at the next site and shorten my stay. The mining company’s
autocratic behaviour has brassed me off so much that purchasing the latest Australian
Woman’s Weekly is delayed until the next town.
In the early hours of the morning the new owner of a hammer and cold chisel arrives
back at his tent, noisily packs up and leaves, but not before informing any awake
(or woken) at that hour “Not staying in this bloody hole!” Something must have
really brassed him off too - though he didn’t look like a fossil hunting type.
Having got equipped and primed for the hunt then not being able to go ahead
with it is frustrating, so I put the thwarted hunting skills to work at the rest stops
on the way to Camooweal.
This shelter is new, so my quarry was not to be found here. Older shelters on the
other hand provide a rich hunting ground for what I am looking for - the best
graffito I can find.
There are walls, roofs and posts full of the usual stuff -
“Jacko loves Amy”, “Bing and the boys were here”, “Amy loves Bing”.
Some give hard-won advice -
“Don’t break down here it’s a mother of a hot place”.
Most are short and to the point, a few are more descriptive -
“Cracko, Cilla, Phil and Tessy heading to Brissie in the bangwagon”.
None, though, sum up the unspoken doctrine behind every road trip
better than Brian does …
Probably weeds … look nice anyway.
State #4 falls to the power of Birtles.
As we enter the Northern Territory our usual speed is now exactly half the speed limit.
Took a while to work out what the SH stood for. As the long straight roads drag on
we decide what it really means … “Sh*t, still 400 km to go!”
At Barkly Roadhouse we met Bazza who is riding around Australia on a pushbike.
Birtles' motor stalls in disbelief, I fall at his feet and tell him he is a Hero.
Anyone who can average 100 kilometers a day on a pushie for months on end,
through heat and rain and flies and road trains is a Hero with a capital letter.
Back at Mount Isa I met Lyall and Kaye for the second time. The third encounter
at Barkly RH calls for a photo. It takes precise timing to release the shutter at the
exact moment both are blinking !
The BRH camp area has shade and concrete pads for caravans, so it is an ideal
place to fit the fresh back tyre that until now has been a passenger, and to give
Birtles a good going over.
A slow start the next morning. Bazza is already heading for the gate while I load Birtles,
and even a busload of touring couples are ready to go, queuing along the side of their
coach, and inching forward as two-by-two they climb aboard. The wives look happy,
the husbands look like they would rather be back home mucking around in the garage
with the Black and Decker.
Low cost cattle grid.
Broken brain-like structures litter the sides of the road. They are the smashed remains
of termite nests, knocked down when the verges are mowed.
A few kilometers from BRH the tour coach overtakes. Before the rumble of its diesel
motor at the rear drowns it out I hear singing and imagine the scene inside.
Happy wives are in the aisle seats, leaning inwards to get a better view of Damien,
the effeminate (but really rather sweet) tour guide who is leading them through
“Roll out the Barrel” for the second time. In the window seats silent husbands lean
forward, fixing their eyes on the road ahead in the hope of getting a glimpse of any
hitch hikers Brian may have overlooked. On the straight road the bus remains in view
for several minutes, but as it eventually winks out into the heat haze I catch the distant
lilting strains of “We’ll Meet Again”.
Much further down the road than expected, Bazza appears as a day-glo green blob
floating above the asphalt. A quick chat and I leave him to his work - he should be at
Three Ways by the close of play tomorrow.
Birtles and I are there now, at Three Ways, a busy yet lonely place at the junction
of the Barkly and Stuart Highways where the walls display bumper stickers asking
“Where the F##k is Three Ways?” Birtles doesn’t want another sticker. He already
has a Tallest Bar one from Merriwagga and “When All Else Fails, Hug Your Teddie”
The reward for running these outposts is a monopoly on passing trade - which means
the trade from every person who passes by, as few pass 3W without stopping. It’s the
only game in town and there are vehicles to top up, bladders to empty, and stomachs to
fill with food that has yet to receive a tick of approval from the Healthy Heart Foundation.
Without roadhouses like this, whole tribes of nomads would be hungry, bursting, and static.
They hold all the cards and, through price tags that startle the unwary, let you know that they
know it (and don’t give a damn if you know that they know that you know).
They may be essential, even offering cunningly worded bumper stickers and seven
varieties of fatty food, but no traveler stays for long. With vessels full or empty according
to need, he moves on, escaping heat, flies, and boredom. Backpackers are the
exception, working towards their next stopping point, dreaming of the day they can
afford to make it to Brisbane, Uluru, Darwin, or to fly home. They all but run the
roadhouses, which is fine by me …. “Pump three - six dollars fifty, please” in a
Swedish accent makes three hundred kilometers of corrugated road bearable
and proves Brian had the right idea.
I stay longer than needed. My warm Burger-With-It-All becomes a cold
Burger-Without-It-All when the contents spill out, four ways, but there is something
more important than eating to do here. For days, I have been trying to reach a
decision: logic, emotion, and meditation have searched for the answer and failed.
Now there is only one thing left to do, I go outside to where Birtles is waiting.
“If all else fails …”
In full view of the KTM riders in colour-coded gear, and the diners looking up
from their Burgers-With-(or possibly Without)-It-All, I lean over Birtles’ handle bars and …
… Hug my Teddy.
To be continued …………..
BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"
platypus121 screwed with this post 11-12-2012 at 11:07 PM