This area of the outback is steeped in history. The river gum drive takes you on a 50 kilometre round journey back through time and across different landscapes as it takes you through Bladensberg National Park. It is via a dirt track which in the wet would be impassable for Matilda, but it has been dry for 6 weeks now and recently been graded and the road was good.
Just before the park entry is an old dam with collapsed walls, this was where chinese gardeners grew fruit and vegetables for the district. Looking at the hard unforgiving soil and the dry climate it is hard to believe that any thing could grow here. The chinese in early pioneering days were immigrants that kept to themselves. Used to hard work they quietly got on with creating their gardens.
In the 1800’s this was sheep grazing country and wool was king. The shearing gangs would move from shed to shed working in appalling conditions for very low pay. In the mid 1890’s they decided to strike for better pay and conditions. The area around Winton was one of the main strike districts. A number of shearing sheds were set on fire and troopers were sent in to maintain martial law. The shearers moved out-of-town and 500 of them set up camp in the area around this cairn. It is bleak and desolate country, I can only imagine the hardships that must’ve been suffered. This was the start of the labour movement and I read an information board in a pub that eventually the shearers and squatters (landowners) decided that they didn’t want to start a civil war and shoot fellow country men, so they got together over a drink in the pub and sorted out their differences. Eventually conditions did improve.
Another 10 kilometres along the track and the landscape changes dramatically. Gone is the Mitchell grass plains and the ground becomes hard and stony, and is covered in the tough, spiky spinifex grass.
This is the site of another very sad part of Australian history. An aboriginal man murdered a teamster. The police, with the help of black trackers, followed the man through this area. Eventually they followed him to Skull Hole. They then ordered the black trackers to massacre the tribe, men, women and children. This is not the only massacre of whole tribes in the early days of European settlement, but until recently it was a part of history that had been covered up and denied.
Among these rocks are caves and the aboriginals would’ve been hunted down and shot like animals as they cowered in these caves. The aboriginal people had been in Australia for over 40,000 years, they lived with the land and with-out their help the explorers could never survive in this harsh and unforgiving country, but seldom was reference made to the help they received from the native people. The settlers and pioneers also relied on them for labour and their knowledge of the land.
Finally we stopped on the banks of Surprise Creek, under a beautiful ghost gum, at a popular place for swimming and picnics and had a sandwich and cuppa and reflected on a very interesting drive.