Cordillo Downs …

We tore ourselves away from the Birdsville pub and headed south east. The Cordillo Downs Road leads into the heart of explorer country, the dig tree of Burke and Wills, Fort Grey of Sturt. Hallowed ground. Our route was a little indirect since we were aiming to inspect as many black soil crevasses as we could but our first objective was to get beyond the creek crossings between the Cadelga Out-station and Cordillo Downs station. There were thunder storms all around us, showers had preceded us and more were coming.

Although the creeks running into the desert are usually dry the occasional rains are enough to bring life giving water into what seems a sterile landscape. The creek lines are marked by trees, in between there is mostly no vegetation.  Once we had crossed the last of the channels we camped on the gibber (pronounced with a hard G as in get not like a J) and woke to a glorious blue sky.

Gibber

This is Sturt’s Stony Desert …

The stones, with which the ground was so thickly covered as to exclude vegetation, were of different lengths, from one inch to six, they had been rounded by attrition, were coated with oxide of iron, and evenly distributed. In going over this dreary waste the horses left no track, and that of the cart was only visible here and there. From the spot on which we stopped no object of any kind broke the line of the horizon; we were as lonely as a ship at sea, and as a navigator seeking for land, only that we had the disadvantage of an unsteady compass, without any fixed point on which to steer.

The creek line intrudes into the top right of the photograph and here we found Bourke’s Parrots and these little guys …

Budgies

… before we pressed on to pass the largest woolshed in the southern hemisphere. It was built of local stone in 1883. It’s not a case of how many sheep to the acre more a case of how many acres to the sheep. These days the sheep have given way to cattle. The last time a bale of wool was pressed here was about 1942.

Our objective that day was the Diamantina River which we crossed at a point where it fans out into a multitude of channels, mostly dry, with a maze of lignum swamps in between. We camped close to one of the billabongs …

Diamantina

After crossing the Simpson Desert by camel, Cecil Madigan also camped by the Diamantina, not at this spot but one rather like it …

It was cloudless and calm. I lay in my bed on the bare ground above the steep bank, just beyond the thin line of trees that edged the waterhole. The moon was high, but its light was already paling and the shadows were gone. Orion still rode the skies, but the glorious morning star in the east was heralding the approach of the bold sun. The sky still held the dark blue of the night, but towards the east it changed to dove grey, then light grey and finally to a strip of tangerine that lay low on the horizon.They were not the brilliant colours of sunset clouds, but the most delicate hues of the sky itself. The black trees were silhouetted against these lovely tints. Gradually the stars faded and the mystic moonlight withdrew as night crept silently away, and objects took their true shape and distance in the hard light of day. A squawk was heard here and there in the trees, and soon the clouds of cockatoos came to life and filled the morning with their harsh screeching, tearing away the last soft veils of night as the sun came up.

The desert has a truly awful beauty but it’s water that brings it life.

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