A Few Returns

Most signs of the festival have gone, but the Quinkans remain.

After returning to Mutchilba & successfully fitting our new batteries & getting the leaking water tank plastic welded we have once again returned to Laura. Our 4th time back here in the past 6 weeks .

We are currently back at the Dance Festival site, only this time we are the only people here with the exception of Steve, the resident caretaker who lives on the property & with who’s permission we are here. The country is nestled between the Peninsular Development Road (PDR) & the Laura River which runs along the the base of the ancient steep & eroded escarpment denoting the edge of a plateau extending to our east. On the the western side of the PDR, the tree covered northern end of the great dividing range rises steeply (hiding the Old Coach Road we initially came here on) – we are in a heavily tree covered valley bounded by ancient & rocky cliffs. Quinkan Country.

View over the ‘Laura valley’.

Today I have had a laid in bed a little longer than has become customary, remaining beyond the early call of the Kookaburras & beyond the repetitive ‘alarm clock’ call of the Blue-faced Honeyeaters to the now fuller & far more varied post dawn song of multiple birds, including one new (to us) discovered yesterday. I was brought coffee in bed.

Mmmmm.

Laura River – good to cool off in.
Trees provided shade, car was moved in & out of a sunny spot each day to keep the new batteries charged. They are performing as hoped for.

There are few places we have been where the quantity of birdlife has been as it is here. Mostly species familiar to us, but in greater numbers & very noticeably far more active throughout the entire day, rather than predominantly at dawn & dusk. No doubt a result of the density of trees (which, if we were able to scale the cliffs would extend far beyond where we could see) & the proximity to the river. Our ’new bird’ initially fooled us – a Pied butcherbird we thought., until we noticed it’s lack of a full black ‘hood’, indicative of it being a Black-backed Butcherbird, the final of the four Australian species (Pied, Silver(or Grey) Backed, Black, & Black -backed) for us to see, & only found on the Cape. Here, we are on the southern extremes of where our bird app tells us it lives.

Black-backed Butcherbird
Broad-billed Flycatcher

It is now 7:30am.

Later this morning I’ll light the fire, I readied it yesterday, a matter of pride – I have yet to resort to newspaper, or heaven forbid, the box of firelighters we have carried with us unused for the past four years. Today it will be lit in order to bake a cake in the camp oven, A birthday cake . My birthday. The one the Beatles sang about in my youth has finally come around. Many happy returns to me – whatever that means. I suppose it means ‘Well done old chap, you’ve made it round again for another year’. Once again however we find ourselves ‘off grid’ so to those of you who may have sent me birthday wishes I thank you in advance of receiving them. I’ll get them when we leave here & pass through Laura again when we leave in a few days time. I prefer to think of it as my 5th birthday since we adopted our travelling lifestyle. The first by the river at Pooncarie, SA (in 2017), second at Jupiter Well, off the Gary Junction Road in the heart of the Western Deserts, third at
Cape Domett 150kms north of Kununurra, WA, fourth at the farm in Mutchilba, & now fifth here alongside the Laura River on Cape York. I wonder where we’ll be when I turn 65?

We have been here for almost a week. It’s a peaceful & relaxing place to recommence our exploration of the Cape, & allows us to do so in the manner we hope to to continue.
Let me explain …. this year is the busiest ’tourist season’ the Cape has seen …. ever! A result of Covid, so many extra folk who cannot travel overseas deciding to have an Aussie adventure instead, has boosted numbers greatly. There have been stories of small community stores running out of supplies & fuel & queues kilometres long for folk to cross the Jardine river on the tiny car ferry which can carry just a handful of vehicles at a time. When working at the entry gate to the dance festival, the flow of 4wd’s & campers observed heading north was never ending. For those unfamiliar with the Cape’s geography – it gets much narrower at it’s northern tip, once across the Jardine River. So many people heading north to an ever decreasing land mass, placing huge demands upon extremely limited resources. And the for the past few weeks, that pressure has increased dramatically due to the Australian School holidays. ‘Convoys of 8 to 10 shiny vehicles laden with families have not been unusual. For the majority Cape York represents an adventure & a challenge to be squeezed into the annual holiday commonly taken when the kids are off school. It’s a lot to fit in & many are in a great rush to get up to the tip & back home again in time for work & the new school term. We remain hopeful that things will have settled down a little with the school holidays now over, and that we can still find other places to be like this where the rush can be ignored. We have made an excellent start here at the dance festival site & are grateful for the special access afforded to us.

Without all the festival goers, & the colour & excitement that accompanied them, it is a very peaceful place. Mind you it occurred to me yesterday whilst mooching around, that with a little imagination I could draw a comparison between here and Trafalgar square in London! Madness of the lonesome soul you might think, but as I strolled beneath the trees one thing triggered the thought. Imagine if all the buildings, cars & people in Trafalgar Square were somehow replaced with trees, the fountains with a wild river, & the stone lions guarding the fountains with real live hopping kangaroos & wild hairy backed grazing pigs, & that all that were left unchanged were the huge number of pigeons. Imagine the sound that the wing beats of huge numbers of pigeon wings create as they fly up into the air en masse. It was that sound which triggered my thought, except instead of pigeons it was large numbers of brightly coloured Rainbow Lorikeets alighting from the tops of the trees, disturbed by my presence. Well that was my thinking, madness or otherwise! 🙂

Rainbow Lorikeet

As well as the relaxing & entertaining nature of this place it has also been a place to heal. We have been fairly lazy with the pinnacle of our activity being dunking ourselves in the sun warmed water of the river, no longer flowing, but with sufficient water to sustain the wildlife population through to the end of the year & next wet season. Healing has been needed. A hard lesson to learn, but age brings with it the potential for run of the mill activities to damage the body. We believe I tore/damaged intercostal muscles during the process of replacing the batteries etc in the car. Painful, but gradually becoming less so. One thing which has helped is MrsTea’s coveted ‘Triffle’. This is a cylindrical cushion she has had for years & loves to cuddle when she sleeps. Reluctantly she has shared it with me to ease the discomfort of laying, sitting & coughing. This morning a birthday surprise. Artfully wrapped inside our clothes washing bag, & disguised with rocks & chunks of bark, & finished off with a bow made from her dressing gown cord & an adornment of fresh tree leaves & some dried apricots, MrsTea had placed the intriguing parcel outside the tent waiting for me. She has given me her ‘Triffle’! Probably meaningless to anyone else, but here in the bush, & after years of her insisting upon full possession nothing could have said “I love you” more. I’ll share it with her of course. 🙂

Unexpected Birthday Pressie!

Edit: The camp oven cinnamon teacake was a success & enjoyed at our bush birthday party with cups of tea & special guest, Steve.

Camp oven Cinnamon teacake. Flag instead of a candle with 64 from page 64 of one of MrsTea’s puzzle books.

From here we will travel, via the Rinyirru (Lakefield) NP to Balurga Station & camp similarly & alone by the Coleman river as we did at this time 12 months ago (another return) for a week or two. From there we will continue north via the Oyala Thumotang NP to Chilli Beach (another return) where we have another generous offer of a private spot to camp without need to try to fit in with the pre-booking system that the Parks dept expects travellers to comply with. A crazy system which sees most popular camp sites booked out with ‘ghost bookings’ made by folk who book up a week or two at a time at the limited camp grounds, just to ensure that they have a spot to camp on the one or two nights they are there, but effectively blocking anyone else from ‘legally’ camping there for the entirety of the rest of their booking period. A system which sees the Department getting the income they want but at the expense of travellers for whom booking ahead makes no sense. Of course plenty of folk ignore the need for booking & take a punt, but stories abound about frustration & anger when the booked folk arrive to find ‘their’ spot has been taken & the ’squatters’ are unwilling to move. When necessary we will be squatters but will be willing to move if sharing is not possible or acceptable. There is no other way without accepting the unacceptable (to us) burden of a rigid itinerary. We think, however, that by seeking the solitude & interest of places less visited by the ‘three weekers’ we can find the Cape that we want to find.

Silver-crowned Friarbird
Pale-headed Rosella
Another Pale-headed Rosella
Australasian Figbird (Male)
Australasian Figbird (Female).
Sulphur-crested Cockatoos
Yellow Honeyeater
Spangled Drongo
White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike

Back in the real world, the Delta strain of the Covid virus is creating havoc in the southern states, (& remains a significant threat to Far north Queensland – as yet still relatively unaffected). We caught a radio news bulletin last night & it sounds like 50% of Australia’s population is now enduring further lockdowns. The vaccination rollout remains slow, but promises are being made of this improving in the very near future. We hope the promises are not empty. Our intention is to be back at Lockhart River (another return) to coincide with the now advertised dates of the vaccination team’s presence there from 11th to 13th August in the hope that we’ll be able to get our first ‘jabs’.

Laura ‘CBD’ where this post is being sent from.
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