Borroloola to the Daintree

Well it’s been some time since our last post …… made back on 30th August …… almost 2 months ago whilst we sat in a small caravan park in Borroloola! Lets see …. I’ve finally made a start , so I’ll finish …. seeing what comes to mind as I go. It seems that the longer I leave writing a post the harder it is to get re-started. Catch 22.

Fig tree

Back in Borroloola we were struggling a little with our ‘timing’. We needed to be in the Daintree, Qld for the beginning of October & had been feeling that a month to cover the approximate 1500kms was insufficient. We’d had a somewhat romantic notion of taking our time, frequently deviating from the ‘Savannah Way’ to find our way up myriads of small unknown tracks which would take us north to unspoiled & idyllic coastal spots right across the Gulf of Carpentaria’s coastline. However talking to a number of folk in Borroloola helped us to reluctantly accept that our romantic notion was just that – romanticism, & that the reality was really quite different. There are in fact very few possibilities of reaching the coast across the Gulf, a couple of places to get close if willing & able to pay abnormally high prices to a couple of small tourist ventures, but even these give no access to idyllic remote beaches. Miles & miles of salt flats & treacherous marshes inhabited by mosquitos, sandflies & larger things which also like to bite. It’s possible someone reading this, now we are in the Daintree, may tell us of places which fit with our previously held romantic notion – if so we would welcome the info, as we expect to undertake another trek back across the top end in the future when we head to Arnhemland.

So, the previous paragraph is in explanation of our ‘timing dilemma’ when first we felt we would be too rushed, but then found we actually had time up our sleeves & had as yet not worked out how best to use it. It always seems the way when self imposed commitments marry us to specific dates. However as usual after an initial bit of ‘floundering’ we found a solution which fitted, in fact fitted very well as it turned out.

I am really quite uncertain if you, the reader, have much interest in these little realities to our life on the road, but at the time the decision making doesn’t always feel so little & as writing this is in part to keep a record for ourselves in years to come I feel that it should incorporate aspects which perhaps other ‘destination driven’ blogs may not. Maybe you can relate to the things we sometimes struggle with, maybe you just want to read about ‘places’. I like to think (hope) that I might be getting the balance right in consideration of both ‘places’ & the sharing of our lived experience on the road. Many folk have told us of how they believe we are ‘living the life’ & showing others a ‘great way to retire’ & we do consider ourselves to be lucky to have our current life, absolutely no question about that. However it is not all a bed of roses. There are most certainly times when we struggle & question why we are doing what we do & whether we want to keep doing it. With little in the way of palatable (to us) alternatives we have always chosen to continue, & in doing so have found new goals & more new experiences which one way & another confirm (for us) we are in fact doing what we want to be doing.

Good friends from back home in Ballarat, Jack & Elsie, were taking a couple of months trip in their new off road caravan, an adventure bringing them north through outback Australia & we had talked about doing our best to ensure we could meet up somewhere for a few days. The furthest north they had planned on their itinerary was Adels Grove camp ground, adjacent to the wonderful Boodjamulla National Park (Lawn Hill Gorge). We had also been keeping contact with another couple, Annette & Markus whom we had got to know via Facebook after Annette had contacted me to say that they were planning to travel similarly to ourselves with a Tvan. Since then they had indeed commenced their adventuring life & were currently at Adels Grove where they had taken seasonal jobs. Meeting them face to face for the first time & catching up with Jack & Elsie would ‘kill two birds with one stone. Problem was that it would be at least two weeks before Jack & Elsie arrived & Borroloola was only 2 or 3 days away. Two weeks worth of camping fees would be a larger chunk out of our budget than we wanted to spend on accommodation. Annette came up with a great solution for us. Working! Yes … the W word! Not working hard mind! It turned out that ‘Adels’ were short of some dishwashers & so we put our hands up to help out for a couple of weeks. It was a good deal for us. In return for 2 hours per evening, 6 days per week we would get a powered site, (powered sites only available in the staff camp), the luxury of regular hot showers, a daily evening meal cooked for us (MrsTea especially like that part), daily morning tea, & free access to all the available tours & canoe hire. In fact it turned out to be more than that, it also made us part of a warm & friendly small staff community who quickly took us onboard as one of their own.

Leaf litter on the surface of the water – ‘Natural Abstract’

And so we left Borroloola feeling a little more ‘centred’. Once again we knew where & what we were headed to.
Leaving Borroloola was not difficult. The Caravan park had been a pleasant space, the weather predictably warm & sunny & with the folk who were managing the place very flexible in accommodating us. They had been happy for us to camp in the shade of a lovely big ol’ tree & to move our vehicle a couple of times a day to keep our solar panels in the sun. This meant we had effectively taken up 3 sites, but the place wasn’t overly busy so it wasn’t a problem. The town itself, although in the midst of some new landscaping works, was really a rather sorry affair. The relative affluence of an ordinary little caravan park stood out in comparison to much of the tin shack shanty town of the obviously disadvantaged aboriginal population. We know that ‘telling a book by it’s cover’ is often inaccurate, but it really wasn’t hard to see that life in Borroloola wasn’t what most of it’s residents would choose if they had the option to do so.

Leaving town saw us once again on dirt road, much of it rough & corrugated & with several rivers to cross. Unlike many of the rivers we have crossed during our journey eastward from Broome these had water in them. Nothing too hard or too deep, but seeing water flowing made a nice change. One, the Feulshe River, although a long way from any settlement had a crossing where all who passed by stopped to wash their car, sit in the water or swim. It seemed that the shallow clear flowing water afforded ‘safety’ inasmuch as any crocs would be seen if they approached. We watched folk whilst we stopped for lunch, & drove back & forth through the water after they had left to ‘de-squeak’ our leaf springs by washing out the dust. We weren’t game to take a dip though, at least not without a look out! Not far east of Borroloola we began to see the effects that Cyclone Trevor (category 4) had had when ‘he’ crossed the coast, narrowly missing Borroloola back in March. The swathe of damage continued for many kilometres, trees uprooted or snapped in half lined the road, at a guess for 50 to 75 kms. Borroloola escaped by the skin of their teeth, out here we saw no man made infrastructure, just damage to the bush.

Feulshe River Crossing

We stopped for an overnight camp high on the banks of the Calvert River, together with a pair of couples, one from each who were cycling to Darwin, with their partners driving behind them in a 4wd campervan & a huge front wheel drive motorhome. The driver of the latter seemed confident of crossing the rivers despite the enormous rear overhang of his vehicle. I hope he got through without getting ‘hung up’ on an entry or exit. None of the river crossings seemed difficult to us, but I doubt that I’d choose to take a vehicle like that where they were headed! Two new (to us) birds at that site. A number of Buff Sided Robins & a couple of White throated Gerygones (Jer-rig-on-ees, not Gerry-gons as I had been incorrectly calling them) first time in quite a while we had seen ‘new’ birds. Whilst we are not ‘out & out birders’ the thrill of seeing a ‘new’ bird can be comparedl to that rare experience of hooking a fish!

Buff Sided Robin

Crossing the border from the Northern Territory brought some temporary relief from the bump & grind , the sealed road being a bit of a treat, not that Queensland does a great job of sealing roads, we have previously experienced corrugated sealed roads in Queensland! This time the road level constantly changed causing us to check several times to see if we had lost tyre pressure on one side of the vehicle or the other, but after the dirt it was still a treat! It didn’t last though & soon we were back onto dirt, but good dirt, pretty smooth going, & now & then inexplicably more short lengths of sealed road. There must be reason as to why the sealed sections had been sealed, but not that we were able to determine. To us it was mostly quite random & inexplicable & we wondered if it were a ‘psychological’ approach to road planning,making travellers more accepting of the rough roads if occasional ‘relief’ were provided, rather than longer sections of sealed road followed by longer sections of rough road?

Looking back to the Northern Territory from Queensland. The border is where the bitumen ends.

Pulling up in front of Hells Gate roadhouse (you can’t go by remote services like this without stopping for a sticky beak & a yarn) we saw a single fuel bowser dispensing diesel & petrol out the front. We didn’t need fuel ourselves but it was the vehicle parked at the bowser which took our attention. It had wings! It’s not everyday you see an aircraft parked at a servo. We thought it must be one of those quirky outback humour things that you come across now & then when a long way from anywhere. A Hells Gate version of a ‘thong tree’ or a giant skeleton constructed from bleached animal bones, or the many termite mounds dressed in clothing. We were wrong however, this was an aircraft taking on fuel, unleaded petrol as it happens, not aviation fuel. The tiny plane’s two occupants were indoors paying their fuel bill & we met as they were returning to their plane. Their suitcases were on the grass, they were going to stay the night, but first they needed to move the plane. We watched as the two of them pushed it back out to the road with ease, & ‘parked’ it out of the way. 800kms fuel range & an interesting way to tour the country, albeit a way requiring a great deal of forward planning.

Refuelling at Hells Gate Roadhouse.

Continuing east to Doomadgee, the road improved, much more of it now being sealed. We also remarked upon how much less burned country we were seeing compared to WA & NT, & in addition how much more wildlife was evident. It was the first time in ages we had seen many‘roo’s or emus. With the last 100kms (?) or so into Doomadgee being sealed, we played some music as we drove for the first time in a long time, & enjoyed it so much. No need to turn it up beyond our tolerance levels to compete with the road noise. Windows down (no dust), & singing along to a few old rockers – Bruce Springsteen & the like – the feeling was reminiscent of when we first left home with the excitement of all that lay ahead of us. It was confirmation that we were indeed doing precisely what we wanted to be doing, & we said so loudly to each other. 🙂

Doomadgee is an an aboriginal town in an aboriginal shire. It seemed odd to us that Borroloola had boasted of being a ‘gazetted’ Town -a ‘real Town’ , whereas Doomadgee whilst having no such claim, it is referred to as a ‘community’ is far more of a ‘real town than Borroloola is ever likely to be. Bigger, better housing, better services, & a nice place to be alongside the impressive Nicholson River. Locals were warm & welcoming, & the supermarket well stocked with a greater variety than we had seen in some time. Prices were reasonable too. We camped just out of the main town area on the banks of the Nicholson overnight, sharing the spot with a variety of birds & a few ‘wild’ horses. Bear in mind that it is common advice NOT to camp on the outskirts of any town. Add the word ‘aboriginal’ to this advice & there are those who would consider us at best foolhardy, but we had zero concern in contradicting such thinking – if a place ‘feels’ right it inevitably is. Next morning the road took us across the Nicholson, via a concrete causeway which snaked across the uneven rocky riverbed, making a smooth crossing. Alongside it was a low dam wall, just a few feet high, enough to make what we had thought to be the river into a waterhole, a very big one providing a reliable supply for the townsfolk. The crossing was quite long, & the realisation of just how much water must flow over the rocks, the causeway & the dam wall each wet season was quite awe inspiring. Doomadgee is yet another place which has evolved from the days of Christian missionaries, with the first mission at Dumaji further north closer to the coastline. The Waanyi & Gangalidda peoples of this country have their own stories of abuse & care at the hands of those who thought they knew better. Like any community it still has it’s problems, but these were not something immediately apparent to the casual visitor, quite the opposite in fact. It is somewhere we could envisage re-visiting for longer next time.

Camped by the Nicholson River, just outside Doomadgee.
Nicholson River
A bunch of ‘Royals’. Royal Spoonbills that is.
Nicholson River reflections.

Just a few kms out of Doomadgee we turned off onto station tracks which would reduce the distance to Adels Grove by around 2/3rds, & which we had been told was an interesting route in mainly good condition. The description was correct & it was an easy drive which we enjoyed taking us through wide open ‘big sky’ country, as well as everything from bulldust patches, hills, creek crossing, forest & cracked black soil country. A nice change from the roads lined with trees & little view.

On arrival at Adels Grove, it was clear the reception staff had known to expect us & they called Annette on the UHF radio to come & show us around. Meeting Annette for the first time face to face was no different to catching up with an old friend. As someone who has had online friendships for a couple of decades now I knew it would be like that, but it’s always good to reconfirm this. We settled in quickly & well to our new ‘home’ & soon adapted to ‘working life’. The folk with whom we shared our daily lives made this easy & despite having plenty to do during our 22 hours off duty each day, we found ourselves looking forward to going to work, & even volunteered a few extra hours here & there.

The ‘dishies’ in the work place.
Grey Crowned Babbler
Another grey crowned babbler …… oops I meant to say MrsTea soaking in Lawn Hill Creek. 🙂
Cairns on top of the hill adjacent to Adels Grove.
Agile Wallabies are inquisitive animals & numerous at Adels Grove.

10 days after we arrived Jack & Elsie turned up as expected, & we felt like ‘old hands’ showing them around. It was good to see them again. Jack keeps an eye on our place in Ballarat for us, something we find very reassuring, & it felt good to be able to share something with him & Elsie a long way from home. MrsTea & I had already canoed the length of Lawn Hill Gorge before they arrived & I was keen to share the experience with Jack too. We did this together, canoeing the full length, swimming in the warm waters & checking out the limestome formations (tufa) from the heavily calcified artesian water. Later the four of us took a guided tour up the gorge on Adel Grove’s solar powered boat, allowing Elsie to see the beautiful gorge the rest of us had seen whilst canoeing. Although the boat cannot go the full distance the canoes can we realised that with a commentary from a guide who knows the place that we noticed & learned more. Two quite different experiences in the same place. We (MrsTea & I) also enjoyed a guided tour to & around the Riversleigh Fossil fields, something which had we done alone would have been little more than a non understanding quick look. Our guide there (Phil) was a mine of information & passionate in his desire to share. Apart from swimming, exploring on foot & lazing the goal of ‘capturing’ a Purple Crested Fairy wren with my camera took up a bit of time, but eventually I got lucky. The two weeks at Adels passed quickly, Jack & Elsie came & went, & it was time for us to move on, getting ever closer to our Daintree ‘house sit in the jungle’, something we had been looking forward to since we arranged it back at Goombaragin, north of Broome months earlier.

Markus hard at work. One of the best spots to find a Purple Crowned Fairy Wren.
Purple Crowned Fairy Wren
Lawn Hill Gorge, on the boat with Jack & Elsie.

Our first couple of nights away from Adels were spent in what we agree is one of the nicest camp spots we have had anywhere. The dirt road east from Adels leads to Gregory Downs, a tiny settlement with a small handful of houses, a pub (with fuel) & Murray’s tiny little donga based cafe & general store. We stopped for coffee & a microwaved pie. Murray apologised about the need to zap a frozen pie, but explained that if he had them ready heated in a bain marie, that he & his dog would quickly tire of leftover pies for dinner. “Fair enough” we thought in a place where the number of customers would be very low at this end of the season. He was a slow spoken chap of few words. Easily mistaken for ‘slow’ or ‘stupid’, but that would be unwise. In a typical quiet, laconic outback manner he says little initially but lets you speak, assessing you presumably as you do so. If you ‘pass muster’ & appear to him to be someone worthy of conversing with he becomes more animated, & his conversation reveals that he missed absolutely nothing of what you have already said. We have met this before elsewhere. I expect that it ensures meaningful conversation in situations where meaningless, tedious & repetitive chit chat could hold sway. I quite enjoy the challenge of ‘passing’ the unstated ‘muster’. 🙂

Just on the outskirts of Gregory Downs (aka Gregory, aka Gregory River, aka The Gregory) the Gregory River itself runs. 10 years ago we camped there alone, late in the season, 47 degrees C, & loved the clear safe water lined with pandanus & larger trees giving shade, and seeing the rare Purple Crowned Fairy wrens for the first time. It was a very special place. The problem (for us) is that it is a very popular free camp on the Grey Nomad circuit, even more so than 10 years ago, packed to the hilt with caravans, generators & happy hours during the season, & even though the season was now warming, it was not yet hot enough for us to enjoy the place in peace & quiet. We checked it out as we drove over the bridge into Gregory & saw that finding a space would be difficult. Thankfully folk back at Adels had already recommended another spot on the river described as as being even better & with far fewer, if any other campers. We followed the directions kindly given to us & found our spot. There were more folk there than we had expected, most were ’locals’ from Mt Isa, the nearest large town, about 340kms via dirt or 480kms via mainly sealed road, but sufficient space existed along the river for us to get ourselves a beautiful shady & private swimming spot. Heaven! The site has, since last year been put onto Wikicamps, so it is reasonable to expect that it will be overrun by every man & his dog in future years & no longer the ’special spot known only to locals’ (as it was described to us). Not for the first time have we been somewhere & felt lucky to experience it before it is spoiled by ever increasing numbers of people. The hypocrisy of us forming part of the problem is not lost on us, but we refuse to contribute further to the demise by adding spots to the likes of wikicamps & take comfort from the fact that we ‘tread lightly & sustainably’

The Tvan in it’s natural environment, in the bush.
The Gregory River. Clear, warm water, safe swimming (no Crocs) & a lovely place to be.

Our next camp was one as well known as the River at Gregory Downs, but is one of those places which makes having a 4wd & small camper so worthwhile. Leichhardt Falls, reached by returning to Gregory & then heading east on bitumen until we took a left turn northward on a track which took us up through Augustus Downs Station. Listings of it in online camping apps like Wikicamps warn of soft sand & the risk of getting bogged. The warnings are no exaggeration, & it is one of those places where having a vehicle which can take you a further 500 metres along the river makes all the difference. It was not only a wonderful spot, it was a wonderful spot we had totally to ourselves, unlike the caravans & motorhomes which clustered into a small area right alongside the road. We sat observing birdlife with no more than the sound of the breeze around us. A black kite’s favourite perch was a dead tree almost overhanging our camp. He was there morning & night unconcerned by our presence. Of special note was another first sighting. Among the various duck & waders we watched were a pair of Sarus Cranes. At first we mistook them for Brolgas, but felt quite excited on realising our mistake. It was hot & exposed throughout the day with only our small 4wd awning to squeeze under, moving every hour or so to remain in shade. Somewhere to return to in cooler months.

Leichhardt Falls. Not flowing, but not a bad outlook from our camp.
Looking from camp to the waterhole which most of the birds favoured.
Pair of Sarus Cranes.
Black Kite
Intermediate (or Yellow Billed) Egret
We never tire of the Rainbow Bee Eaters
Nor do we tire of the Black Necked Storks – young or old.
Cliff top camp

From Leichardt Falls we were back onto ‘previously trodden ground’ & the journey back to ‘civilisation’. In 2010 we had driven the route in the opposite direction, but had detoured from Burketown down to Lawn Hill/Adels, & then south to Cloncurry. This time we bypassed Burketown despite having some great memories from being there before. The town itself ‘wasn’t much’, but it was at our camp on the edge of the salt flats, on the banks of the Albert River that we witnessed the Morning Glory, an impressive cloud phenomena (a roll cloud the width of the entire gulf) rolling in off the sea over our heads. It was also the place we saw birds of different types & species ‘playing’ together in mock air battles, including playing dead & plummeting limply earthward, only to come alive & swoop up again just metres from the surface of the river. Special indeed. But now this free camp , along with several others in the area of the town require a permit, & a permit costs $35. This ‘initiative’ is new this year we believe, & in our opinion $35 to camp with no facilities provided whatsoever is unreasonable. We are not sure what is behind this move but suspect it has probably been pushed by the local caravan park, as has occurred in other places. We think that rather than driving folk into the caravan park it will mean folk will bypass Burketown just as we chose to do.

Big horns

Next stop was Normanton where we re-acquainted ourselves with the old Burns Philp building which now houses a small, but interesting museum & the tourist information office. It is here that travellers must seek a free permit to stay at the town’s free camp. Very different to our last visit when no free camp existed, but the then new landlord of the Normanton’s well known Purple Pub (Yes it is painted all purple) allowed us to camp ‘out the back’ of the pub & offered us the use of his swimming pool. To qualify for a permit one has to be ’self contained’. We consider that we are, as we are able to contain our small amounts of grey water, & have a portable toilet. However those who make the rules in Normanton specify that you must have an internal shower, something which to us makes little sense & seems designed to discriminate in favour of owners of larger & more expensive caravans & motorhomes, using ‘leave no trace’ rules to ‘keep out the riff-raff. Unnecessary discrimination, & I politely told the Tourist Info lady this, explaining we thought that possession of an internal shower was no guarantee of acceptable behaviour. It seems we made sense as just as we were turning to leave she called us back & explained she was prepared to ‘break the rules’ & that if we explained to the ranger as we had to her when he came around to the camp to check on folk that we would be allowed to stay. Victory for common sense we thought. As it was we hadn’t seen the free camp at that point, & when we did found it to be a most unappealing site, very dusty, no shade & unable to camp near the river (due to crocodile risk). We returned our permit & the lady was very nice about it, understanding our decision to go 20kms out of town to the Leichardt Lagoon camp where we happily paid $6 each for a pleasant waterside shady site, with all facilities & a nice community of mainly longer term campers, most had been there a month or two. One exception was the couple nearest to us who lived in the region, but who were having a few days away from the farm. They had brought ‘Peanut’ with them a young joey, whose mother had died after running full bore into a fence. They had saved Peanut from her pouch & nurtured him. He was now at an age where he was big enough to get around & get around was precisely what he was doing. ‘Mum & Dad’ were bravely giving him the freedom to explore, seeing how far he might go before returning to them. He was like an adolescent pushing the limits, getting further & further away, sticking his nose into everything. But he always returned to the bag that was his substitute pouch. We enjoyed his company. Our intention to make our time there an overnighter was extended to two. For some time I had been having a problem with my bottom lip, it was sore & swollen & oozing clear fluid, probably sunburned we thought, but Google had suggested a more sinister possibility so being near to the first town with medical facilities in some time we thought it wise to seek an opinion. As it turned out, being a weekend only the nurse at Normanton Hospital’s emergency dept was available. She was nice & did her best to be helpful, but if we wanted any more than a swab taking we would have to wait several days to see a doctor, so we decided to push on & see someone when we reached the Daintree.

“C’mon Skip”
Termite mounds – a few among the many.

In the end we packed up left the camp at around mid day, moving on to Croydon for lunch. The country changed, becoming more scenic with hills, after what had been a long flat drive, & where the only ‘hills’ had been the thousands of termite mounds we passed. Now there were lots of Kapok trees lining the road, looking like alien Christmas trees with their ‘fruit’ looking like baubles. These were fat & close to bursting, at which time their soft fibrous filling would spring out like that an overfilled cushion slit with a knife. Kapok was once used worldwide as a cushion filling, but as a child in England I never knew it grew on trees! We stopped at the site of an old gold mine & battery on the edge of what had been the Etheridge gold field, 20 kms west of Georgetown. All that remains is a tall brick chimney, part of the infrastructure which once powered the machinery to extract the precious metal from the rock. This man made structure with nothing similar around it looks incongruous within the landscape, but behind it is a lake , now a site popular with both travellers seeking a camp spot & birders who know the site for it’s bird watching of a large number of species. Cumberland mine. A shelter with free binoculars on a pedestal is provided, as well as toilets. We were happy to put our donation in the box provided for this thoughtfully set up camp. I identified 18 different species of bird, nothing on that of a dedicated birder we got talking to who, since arriving there the previous evening, had identified & photographed almost 70 different species. In conversation it turned out that he knew of the presence of Spotted Whistling Ducks recently at the property we will be looking after in the Daintree. Quite a rarity it seems, they are normally only seen much further up Cape York. From the conversation it became clear that the property is well known in birding circles & our anticipation of being there for 4 months had it’s excitement level raised a notch. Several other birders joined the conversation, revealing their community to be small enough for them to know folk that we know, friends of ours who are ardent birders who plan to visit us once we are there. Twitchers who will cross the country to see a bid they’ve never seen if there is a sighting reported. We felt so lucky to be heading to a place to live which many would love to visit, even though by comparison our birdwatching is very much at amateur level. That night a few more vehicles rolled in. One in particular, a 4wd with huge knobby tyres, & every accessory known to man fitted was driven by a young chap who very loudly, with a beer always in hand told anyone who would listen where he was going & how well prepared he was. I sat & listened to him from a distance & thought several times “I wonder why he needs 4wd to go where he’s talking about”. This was a chap who was an expert without experience. At 2am I could still hear him rabbiting on, I would have preferred to stay asleep. Here was a case of ‘insensitivity to others’ & I laid hearing but not listening to him, thinking about our imminent return to more densely populated areas where tolerance of other’s insensitivity may well be in greater demand than we have been accustomed to since leaving home in July last year.

Cumberland Mine Chimney. This sole relic of the Gold Rush days stands alone.

We delayed our return to ‘relative civilisation’ for one more night, camping behind an old servo being run by some young folk in the small town of Mt Garnet. The highlight of the drive there from Cumberland mine, after stopping in Georgetown & Mount Surprise for bit of a look on the way, was seeing a huge flock of Brolgas by the side of the road. We had been passed by an old 4wd ute earlier in the day & then we had passed the occupants, stopped for a smoko alongside a water crossing. We had slowed & checked all was ok with them as one does in the outback & been waved on with a “Yep we’re fine mate, thanks for checking” & a thumbs up. When we were pulled up at the side of the road, their car came up behind us,& pulled alongside & wound a window down. “You OK?” the passenger asked. “Yeh thanks” I answered , “just checking out all these Brolgas, I’ve done a bit of a count & I reckon there’d have to be way over 200 of ‘em” I said ….. probably gushed might be more accurate. I was a bit awestruck by seeing so many at once, & there was no doubt it was a pretty special occurrence. “Oh’ he said in a manner which managed to convey so much more when combined with the knowing grin he shared with his driver. Clearly this was nothing unusual for them, but I like to think that they nevertheless appreciated my enthusiasm for something that was ‘theirs’. 🙂 That night we experienced our first rain, little more than mist, since last March (or was it April?). Not enough to really make us wet, but enough to enjoy standing in & experiencing difference. The servo has a run down old motel attached & the campground had once been a small caravan park. The cost of staying was a purchase at the servo. We were happy to top up our fuel there to support some folk ‘having a go’.

And so onward & upward. Upward quite a lot as we hit the climb up onto the Atherton Tablelands. I recall that the altitude shown on our GPS navigator was 1200 or 1300 metres at one point, on narrow winding roads where traffic was an issue for the first time in a long time. Folk coming the opposite way no longer waved to us, the smell of exhaust fumes from other vehicles was noticeable, & there were frequent signs pointing to tourist attractions. It felt like we were entering a different world, & that we were leaving one which had once been different, but had been our ‘norm’ for well over a year, a norm where other traffic on the road was the exception not the rule and yet to many we were still way ‘out in the sticks’. Just out ‘in the sticks’ where more folk live. I had expected culture shock when we reached the city of Cairns, but this seemed premature. I guess in hindsight it broke us back in gently. In Mareeba we stopped to find a computer store which could replace the battery in my phone – it had been badly misbehaving & it is surprising how dependent we have become on it for both phone & internet communications. We deemed a new battery a high priority & thankfully it resolved the problems as I hoped it would. Returning to our parked car & Tvan the realisation hit us both that it stuck out like a sore thumb. Stained red with outback grime, it seemed so out of place among all the other shiny cars. We felt both pride & embarrassment at the same time. Out of town we found the ‘Mareeba Bush Camp’ where we chilled out for a few days, too lazy to unhitch the Tvan once we’d set up, & didn’t do anything touristy whilst there. We had arrived early, still a week before we were due at our Daintree ’sit’. From the outset after Barb & Allen had contacted us 6 months earlier to see if we would be interested in sitting for them we had felt that they & us were a good fit. We had remained in contact with them now & then whilst travelling across from Broome to the extent that without having actually met them we were already feeling like they were friends, so it wasn’t hard to phone them & enquire whether we might be able to arrive earlier than planned & camp on the property until they left. We weren’t certain about what response we would receive, but did feel confident they would likely say yes, but if not that it wouldn’t have done any harm asking. Of course they said yes & we arrived at ‘Wildwings’ close to a week before their departure. When they left we had already had the opportunity to familiarise ourselves with the property & had confirmed our comfort with each other. We were moved by Barb’s comment prior to them leaving.’We have zero worries about leaving you look after the place”. We already felt this to be the case but it was nice to have it said. Barb is perceptive like that. We almost wished they were staying here with us!

Hilltop camping at Mareeba Bush Camp