Thallon …

If you turn right out of Nindigully on National route 46 Thallon is less than 34km away. You’ll know when you’re close …

Thallon silos, Qld.

The silos face east, so morning is a good time to photograph them. You can see from the long shadows that I’d made an early start.

This work really is a splendid piece. The artists were Travis Vinson and Joel Fergie who took inspiration from the work of three local photographers and discussions with local people.

Thallon silos

The scar tree and view of the Moonie River is based on a photographs by Lila Brosnan, the Pale-headed Rosellas on a photograph by Gary Petrie and the sheep Chantel McAlister.

detail – Pale-headed Rosellas after Gary Petrie
detail – after a photo by Chantel McAlister

The silos are very much in use and Grain Corp would be grateful if you stayed in the designated viewing area so as not to be flattened by a truck.

Camping is available at the site and is of a very acceptable standard. The Moonie River is not far away and apparently there is a very large wombat in the park in town.

Nindigully …

There are some outback pubs with a lot of charm. Queensland holds three of my absolute favorites, the Royal Mail at Hungerford, The Lions Den at Helenvale north of the Daintree and the Noccundra Hotel not far from Nockatunga. Now I have to add a fourth the Nindigully Hotel.

Set on the banks of the Moonie River the Nindigully Hotel has held its licence since 1864 and is said to be the oldest continuously licensed pub in the state. Between the late 19th century and the early 20th century it was a Cobb & Co staging post. These days the adjacent town has a population of just six. The night I was there the restaurant was doing a roaring trade. When the diners and drinkers had finished most of them walked a few yards to their caravans, the camp site is right outside the door and it’s free. And in the daylight it’s a very pretty spot.

The fishing is reputed to be very good. Yellowbelly and Murray Cod are there for the catching. No licence is required.

Moonie River at Nindigully
Moonie River at Nindigully

The Races …

Birdsville, Queensland, has a population of about 100. The annual races are run in the first week of September. T’other day all roads were closed and the track was underwater. The camp grounds were a sea of mud, you grew taller as you walked about.

The weather forecast for …

Thursday 1 September

Summary
Min 14
Max 22
Rain.
Possible rainfall: 25 to 40 mm
Chance of any rain: 100%

Cloudy. Very high (near 100%) chance of rain. The chance of a thunderstorm. Heavy falls possible. Winds east to southeasterly 15 to 20 km/h turning southerly during the morning then tending northwest to northeasterly 25 to 40 km/h during the afternoon.

courtesy of the BoM on August 30th.

Tipped to win …

2a237cdfc47f71d73b58dc071a0acf7d

 

Birdsville …

Hot on the heels of the explorers came the settlers. The rangelands will carry sheep and cattle. The stocking rate is extremely low but there’s plenty of country. Rainfall is fickle, the good years can give rise to optimism that fries all too quickly in the dry years that follow.

Birdsville came into being as Diamantina Crossing in 1881. Its reason for existence was simple, before the foundation of the Commonwealth of Australia the individual colonies thought it necessary to protect their economies with tariffs. Birdsville is on a droving route used to take northern cattle to southern markets and located just north of the South Australia – Queensland border. It was there to collect taxes.

Tax collecting is thirsty work. It had three hotels and a cordial factory. The population in 1900 was over 300. Its role as a tax collector ceased at Federation in 1901. It was downhill after that, at least for a while.

Not far to the west in the Simpson Desert is Sturt’s furthest north, reached in September 1845 …

We had penetrated to a point at which water and feed had both failed … The spinifex was close and matted, and the horses were obliged to lift their feet straight up to avoid its sharp points. From the summit of a sandy undulation close upon our right, we saw that the ridges extended northwards in parallel lines beyond the range of vision, and appeared as if interminable. To the eastward and westward they succeeded each other like the waves of the sea. The sand was of a deep red colour, and a bright narrow line of it marked the top of each ridge, amidst the sickly pink and glaucous coloured vegetation around.

After Sturt it was the turn of the surveyors.  Augustus Poeppel marked the point where Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales meet. He was in error by 300 metres. The error was corrected four years later by Larry Wells. Then in 1886 David Lindsay penetrated deep into the desert from the west.

To that point no european had gone in one side and come out the other. Ted Colson put that right in May 1936. He set out from his cattle station on the west of the desert with an aboriginal companion, Peter Ains, and five camels, followed the 26th parallel to Birdsville, had a beer in the pub and four days later turned around and crossed the desert again.

Cecil Madigan came next leading a scientific expedition, again on camels but by a more northerly route.

Nowadays the explorers come by 4WD. The first to cross the Simpson by car was Reg Sprigg with the wife and kids. It was September 1962. Since then Birdsville’s fortunes have improved. Thousands come for the races, the bold drive up via the Birdsville Track, the intrepid come across the Simpson. We all make a point of stopping here …

Birdsville Hotel

 

 

 

The desert …

Min Min Way

Let any man lay the map of Australia before him, and regard the blank upon its surface, and then let me ask him if it would not be an honourable achievement to be the first to place foot in its centre.

Wrote Charles Sturt, who left Adelaide in 1844 with 11 horses; 30 bullocks; 1 boat and carriage; 1 horse dray; 1 spring cart; 3 drays, 200 sheep; 4 kangaroo dogs; 2 sheep dogs … and an inexplicable tendency to switch between commas and semicolons in the one list. He was the leader of a group of 16 men. They were the first to put their shoes in many places but other feet had always preceded theirs and they fell short of the geographic centre of Australia by 150 miles.

This was Sturt’s third, and final, major foray. The party was in the field 18 months, they had to contend with extremes of drought, near starvation and heat that burst their thermometers. One, Mr Poole, died of scurvy. They were the first Europeans to reach the heart, some would later say the dead heart, of the Lake Eyre basin.

We may find it a little odd that he would take a boat on such an excursion but his prior expeditions had entailed considerable journeys on the Murray and Darling Rivers and he was exploring at a time when people still expected to find an inland sea or at least the Australian equivalent of a Nile or Mississippi.

Sturt was a great bushman, a very determined explorer and distinguished, too, by treating the aborigines that he encountered with respect and consideration. He also brought most of his men back alive.

A little to the north of Blackbraes National Park, Mark and I had already crossed the tracks of Ludwig Leichhardt and Augustus Charles Gregory. In 1844 Leichhardt had travelled from the vicinity of Brisbane north west across the base of Cape York, continuing beneath the Gulf of Carpentaria and then north to the settlement of Port Essington (not far from modern day Darwin). From there he had sailed back to Brisbane by boat. Augustus Charles Gregory’s 1855-56 expedition did the boat ride first. From near where Leichhardt finished his land journey Gregory headed south west and following a river that he named in honour of Charles Sturt. His most westerly point on that expedition is now known as Lake Gregory. He then followed Leichhardt’s route back east to Gladstone. Both of these explorers led later expeditions.

The map that Sturt thought so blank has a little more written on it these days but there is still room to write the names of pretty small places in pretty large letters. Mark and I drove into the desert via the Min Min Way. We intersected the track of other exploring parties before we met with Sturt’s. One, of course, is the track of Burke and Wills. Sixteen years after Sturt set off from Adelaide Burke’s expedition left Melbourne with the intention of crossing the entire continent south to north. In that Burke was entirely successful although he intended to follow that with another crossing north to south.

We also crossed the 1858 track of Augustus Charles Gregory. Sturt discovered and bestowed the European name on Cooper’s Creek. Gregory, who obviously had high regard for Sturt, travelled from south east Queensland to Adelaide via Cooper’s Creek.

Burke and Wills ensured that Cooper’s Creek would hold an enduring place in Australian history by dying on its banks.

At some point we must also have crossed the track of Leichhardt’s 1848 expedition that left Queensland intending to cross the continent east to west. None of the seven men that set out ever returned, their track and where they perished is unknown.

Desert Sky

We were travelling in an air-conditioned 4WD with a fridge full of beer, well, almost full, there was some food as well. Our intention was to spend a few days looking for the world’s most venomous snake, the Inland Taipan Oxyuranus microlepidotus. This is found on the deeply cracking black soils of the Diamantina and Cooper Creek drainage systems, more often in the cracks than on the surface. It preys on the Long-haired Rat. The principle vegetation on the black soil is Lignum and that is home to the much sought after Grey Grasswren which we had both seen before but would have been very happy to see again.

So we spent most of our time floundering around Lignum bushes, camera at the ready, sweat running down our backs, trying to beat the flies away from our faces, one foot down a crack, the other raised in readiness for the next crack and in imagination, at least, every crack containing a Taipan. And that was absolute luxury when compared to the explorers who showed us the way out there.

“Don’t you want to photograph the Taipan?” asked Mark.

“Of course I do”, says I.

“Then why have you got the telephoto lens on?”

“Because I’d rather photograph the world’s most venomous snake at a distance”.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the photographs of snake or grasswren. We saw neither. So I shall say no more of them. I will concentrate on the scenery between lignum swamps and tales of the great explorers.

Blackbraes …

Having turned our heads to the south west our first step took us to Blackbraes National Park. Once again we would make a fleeting visit to a spot that really deserved a lengthier stay.

Blackbraes is a remote park on a dirt highway, close to the middle of the base of Cape York. Head west from there into the gulf country, the gulf in question being the Gulf of Carpentaria. East would take you to the Great Dividing Range and subsequently the coast at Townsville. Given the nature of the road, after heavy rain you ain’t heading anywhere for a while.

The park is above 800 metres altitude (~2,500 feet) and therefore a little cooler and wetter than the surrounding area. It is a mosaic of dry woodland, rocky outcrops and open grassy plains. The camp site is 20 km from the park gate adjacent to dam wall that has produced an extensive shallow wetland. More information can be found <HERE>. You need to book and pay for your camp site online prior to your visit and I wish you every success in dealing with the Queensland parks website.

Around and about we caught up with some ground dwelling birds including the Australian Bustard …

Aussie Bustard

Squatter pigeon …

Squatter Pigeon

Ground Cuckoo-shrike …

Ground CS

During the afternoon we came across a tree that looked like an apartment block for Greater Glider, lots of hollows with signs of wear and tear at the openings and numerous scratch marks on the trunk. So we staked it out at dusk and waited and waited and … nothing came out.

So we cruised around slowly with the spotlight until we found a Spectacled Hare Wallaby a new and exciting addition to my mammal list. As well we met a few pairs of Rufous Bettong. One was happy to pose for a photo but didn’t give me time to arrange studio lighting …

Rufous Bettong