STORY BY Jane Holden
Doris (our car) left Winton, on the Kennedy Development Road, the official start of the recently created “Outback Way” that runs the 2,700km from Winton in QLD, through to Alice Springs in the NT, then onto Laverton in WA.
We were going to travel Australia’s Longest Shortcut. Which practically for us, meant getting pretty remote, and going on gravel and deep red dirt roads, but not going the full Mad Max, where we would need a convoy, and a bit more sense, at least regards Rose, to survive sandhills and the treachery of remoteness.
At Middleton we stopped for a cold XXXX. The woman working this curious pub had grown up near Longreach and returned from Birmingham UK, to help out her folks. Bit of a change from England’s second biggest city, to a wee pub in between here and there and sorta’ nowhere.
Then onwards and onto the dirt road, which slowed us a bit as we got used to the steering. We camped at Mackunda Creek, about 150km East of Boulia. It was basically a toilet block, a creaky windmill and a flock of frantic little corellascartwheeling and careening through the afternoon sky.
One van had already pulled in there, in the plum spot under the Only Decent Tree, the bloke had one of the dorky Akubras and they had kid, so we figured the probabilities of them being murderous psychopaths were low. It was our first night outside of a van park.
It was also near to the area of the Min Min lights – curious nighttime lights that had apparently chased a terrified horseman into Boulia one night about a hundred years ago, but which also have origins in Aboriginal stories predating the colonists, and which are said to still appear to freaked out travellers on the odd occasion. As dark set in round our campfire, I tried not to look to the horizon for them.
Boulia, was the last stop on the Queensland side of the border. A small town, and the local council HQ, it had a couple of stores, a decent info centre and a surprisingly good museum.
Although we had left the “dinosaur” zone, we were still in giant fossil territory, only due to the change in geography and presence of the prehistoric great inland seas (there were more than one over millions of years), the incredible fossils dug up round that way were marine creatures.
The land dinosaurs were impressive, but the giant marine life that had existed in this region was pretty astonishing. Eromangasaurous(a giant turtle like body with a long neck and evil teethy snake head), Platypterigious(an enormous 6+m dolphin thing, with a shark’s teeth and appetite).
Kronosaurauswas the most impressive; a flesh-eating carnivore. Imagine a great white shark crossed with a saltwater crocodile, and imagine it well over 10 metres in length (the size of a killer whale), and you start to get the idea!
We were surprised Hollywood had yet to cotton onto these curious creatures and turn them into a really awful CGI blockbuster… Kronosaurus V Kaiju! (the sea monsters from Pacific Rim films).
The museum also had a number of curios from early white settlement, from Hospital pieces through to old machinery and phone bits.
And, we were interested to see (finally!) some of the collection dedicated to a, array of stories and mementos from the local Traditional Owners, the Pitta Pitta peoples, who had roamed across and cultivated the region, including a steady trade with others in harvested pituri plants (a much sought after native plant similar to tobacco) and other tradeables.
We had a funny yarn at the local general store with the owners who had been there 40 years, with Bob telling us we could do the (red dirt and rock) road to Alice in an ‘easy day’ if we sat on 120km hour, like he does. And a bloke whose dad was one of the last Australian lion tamers, who had “pioneered” the old “put your head in Lion mouth” trick. He grew up with cubs in their Sydney apartment.
Having missed the infamous Boulia Camel races, which sounded like mad cap fun, so resolved to return, hopefully closer to the races and maybe during a wetter season (hoping, despite the changing climate, they return at some point).
Then back on the dirt road, in parts so expansive, brown and red and orange and dirt in every direction, with no trees and so little shrubbery, we couldn’t imagine how the pastoralists could keep cattle going on such spare country.
Crossed the border into the NT around Tobermorey station, fuelling up, though mostly an excuse to have a Doris (look around) and eat a splice, or two.
It was fascinating, disorientating landscape. As we moved into a slightly more undulating country, with a bit of scrub about the height of the car, we pulled over and camped off the roadside. The stars were intense.
We fuelled up at Jervois Station, ran out of conversation before the tank was full, (I think it was our outfits that did it) and hit back onto some bitumen around Harts Range and pulled into Gemtree Wilderness Park for lunch and a look around their exhibits. Obviously as the name suggests, as well as a lot of pastoralists who had hacked out livelihoods, the area was rich in gemstones, also attracting a lot of feverish and foolish fossickers at times.
It obviously had a harsh and colourful history, including the origins of the ‘legendary’ and massive Kidman cattle empire (now owned by Gina Rinehart and a Chinese firm). There was a odd, brief, mention of there being Aboriginal groups whose welfare was looked after by early pastoral families who employed them, and how a ‘special harmony’ developed that still existed today.
As with everywhere, it was a sort of bizarre and selective mix of both banal and fascinating stories about the region and geography, that raised more questions than it answered.
Tired and with everything dusted in red dirt, and nasal passages burning from the influx, we headed on into Alice Springs.
By Jane Holden
To read more about Jane and Jen’s trip, check out their Great Silence Blog CLICK HERE
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