out back

Travel Theme: Tradition…

Heading for the final straight

I’m so pleased that Ailsa of “Where is my backpack” chose tradition for the theme of this week as it slots in nicely with what we are doing at the moment…

We arrived in Winton a small outback town of approx 1000 people 6 days ago, in our faithful old pop-top van, Matilda, on the Matilda Highway, in Matilda country, and birthplace of that iconic Aussie anthem “Waltzing Matilda”. But more of that later.

We stayed 6 days to coincide with the traditional Winton camel races which were held today. Camel racing is a great tradition in the Aussie outback. These amazing ships of the desert have been instrumental in the exploring, opening up and settling of the great Australian desert areas since they were brought over here by the Afghan traders in the 1800’s. In the past they escaped into the desert and are now numbered in the thousands and are regularly rounded up and sold back to the middle eastern countries.

It was a typical winter outback day. The sky was a clear azure blue (check it out in the photos) with not a cloud in sight. Way over on the horizon rose a thick column of black smoke, a bushfire burning in the spinifex country. The wind had a sharp edge to it. The crowd of race-goers were the typical Aussie outback types, Akubra hats,grubby jeans and R.M. Williams boots, driving large Utes or 4WD’s, many of them parked alongside the dusty track. Noisy kids and dogs mingling with the crowd. The atmosphere was cheerful. The beer tent was doing good business.

I was amazed to notice that the small jockeys, perched on the back of the hump, had no means of steering but just hung on yelling and whipping their mounts to go faster. It was all very exciting. A couple of the camels decided they were not going to take part and went in the opposite direction to the others. Only one jockey fell off…

We loved it, the atmosphere, the excitement, the people watching, the hot chips. It was a great day…

Go girl..

The crowd cheers them on

Categories: australian travel, camel races, out back, outback, photos, travel, travel theme | Tags: , , , , | 18 Comments

Small battery, BIG problem….

Car keys with isolator switch


We woke to a light mist cloaking the landscape giving it a soft mystical aura. Fog and mist are almost unknown in this area.

We came down to earth with a bump when the van wouldn’t start. Oh dear, turned the key in the ignition and nothing happened. What to do now?

Finally worked out it was the very small battery in the isolator switch that had died, it was an A27 size. Jack went to the camp shop to see if they had one. It was a very unusual size and of course they didn’t have one. Another customer in the shop overheard the conversation and came over to see if he could help. Well how is this for luck, coincidence or a chance encounter. Mark Norman worked in a battery franchise, “Mr Minute”, in Townsville and had experience with our problem, he knew just what was wrong. The camp shop did have a slightly bigger battery that Mark used to get the isolater going. So patched together with celotape and handling it very carefully we were able to get on the road again…

Mist in the bush

Wattle in full flower

The long straight road to the outback

The road from Sapphire to Longreach is the Capricorn highway and it is long and straight and in good condition. The weather has cleared and the bush sparkles after the recent rain. The wattle is a golden cloud under an azure blue sky, it is a pleasure to be out on the road. The occasional road train roars by and other travellers towing caravans behind big 4 WD vehicles easily pass us by.

At a small township called Alpha we stop for lunch, a pie from the local bakery with our thermos of coffee. A visit to each shop that may have batteries, but with no luck, and a look around the colourful murals this town is renowned for.

Mural on toilet at Alpha

Next stop is Barcaldine, famous for being the birth place of the labour party. The shearers walked out of the shearing sheds and gathered in Barcaldine to protest about conditions and pay. The tree they gathered under was named the tree of knowledge and in 2006 was heritage listed. In that same year someone poisoned the tree and though a great deal of effort was made to save the tree it died. Now a stylized sculpture of the tree stands in its place. It created a lot of controversy when it was first erected and it is certainly different. But I thought it was a beautiful work of art.

Barcaldine tree of knowledge

Artists sculpture of tree of knowledge

Tree of knowledge information

It was 4-30 by the time we reached Barcaldine and still had 120 kilometres to Longreach. Now normally we would stop at this time and find a van park for the night, but because the van parks are difficult to get into at this time of the year I had booked ahead to Longreach. Because we did not leave till 11am this morning, because of the key problem, we were now quite a lot later than I had intended to be on the road. However we pushed on into the setting sun and going west it became quite hard to see as the sun got lower and lower on the horizon. Now, unfortunately we came to road works and lots of pot holes. Then there is the ever-present danger of a kangaroo leaping out in front of you…

Finally we reached Longreach in the dark at 6-30 and gratefully relaxed with a very welcome glass of wine and Jack cracked the bottle of home-brew he was given by Scott. We celebrated our arrival in the great Australian outback…

Categories: australian travel, Barcaldine, caravan park, Longreach, out back, photos, travel, Tree of knowledge | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Happy campers– not raining today

Travellers are by nature optimistic, if it’s raining, well it is a good day for a rest. Tomorrow may be fine. This is gem fossicking country and the rain will wash the dirt from the sapphires making them sparkle and easier to find

Washing the dirt away hoping to find hidden gems

A few days ago after the rain the creek behind the van park had been in danger of flooding and everyone was told to get their vans packed ready to move quickly if the rain didn’t stop. Fortunately it did stop and the creek is now going down quickly. This old couple had taken their bag of tailings down to wash and sieve it.

We decided to stay here another day to explore. We drove to Rubyvale. 20 years ago when we stayed here the land resembled a moonscape. No grass just heaps of dirt. The country was in drought at that time. It is so different this visit.

Plenty to see in Rubyvale

I like the name of this mine

Plenty of water, the dams are all full

Interesting facts

This person has a sense of humour

Camping out back is a friendly experience. The culture is of mateship, instant friendships are made over a beer or glass of wine, when they gather in the camp kitchen for “happy hour”. Travel tales are swapped and talk is of the gems that have been found.

Happy hour for the blokes

Categories: australian travel, camping, caravan park, gemfields, out back, photos, travel | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Rain and more rain…

It has rained for 24 hours and the creeks are in full flow

Last night we stayed in a very small township called Dingo, 130 kilometres west along the Capricorn Highway. It had been a beautiful day. intermittent showers but also the sun highlighting the bush. I wrote the earlier post on Word as internet connection was non-existent, so couldn’t post directly into my blog. How amazing is this WordPress programme. Tonight With the click of a mouse it was inserted, so that was yesterday.

We are now in the Central Queensland area travelling along the Capricorn Highway. This morning we woke to the sound of rain drumming on the van roof but it was warm and dry in Matilda so rolled over and had another hour before getting organized. I only planned to go as far as Emerald so waited to see if the rain would stop, but it didn’t, in fact it became heavier. How different the scenery is in the rain.

This is coal mining country. Blackall  oops that should be Blackwater, is the coal capital of Australia. The road ran along side the rail line most of the day and we saw countless long, long, extra long trains going in both directions. (we also heard them last night in the Dingo caravan park!!!) From Blackwater to the port of Gladstone. Then back to Blackwater for another load. I counted one and it had 99 wagons with a diesel engine at the front and another one half way along. I also checked the length of one stationary train as we drove by and it was 1.5 kilometres from end to end. It was still raining so did not get any photos.

The road was busy with trucks and big 4 WD Utes and work vehicles speeding by little old Matilda in a cloud of spray. Our wind screen wipers working to the max. But it was a good undulating road and we arrived in Emerald by 1-30pm, still raining. The town was busy and quite confusing street layout, we circled around looking for the tourist information office. Finally, after first stopping to top up our energy levels with a chinese lunch, we found it. This time leaving accommodation to luck did not work as a large, week-long Ag Fest was on and the towns accommodation was booked out…

OK, plan B, we drove on to the gemfields another 60 kilometres west. First I rang to check availability and managed to secure the last powered site in Sapphire. Blue Gem caravan park is a small but friendly and well run camp ground, AND it has 5 bars of internet connection. It is still raining….

Blue Gem caravan park, Sapphire

The site we were on was dryish, but lots of puddles to paddle around in to get to the shower and toilet block….

Horses sheltering from the rain in the BBQ shed

Sapphire is the only miners common land left in Australia and I have been told that horses, cows, goats and camels roam around freely. I hope it has  stopped raining tomorrow and we will get to see more of this interesting area.

Categories: australian travel, gemfields, out back, travel | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Heading West…

We are heading west into the outback of Queensland Australia, an immense and empty part of the country. Neighbours live miles apart and the stations, or properties, are measured in thousands of acres.

The land is flourishing. Three years with no drought. The floods of 2009 and 2010 have brought their rewards. The golden Mitchel grass is thick and luxurious across the plains. The evening sun glints across the seed heads and enfolds them in a halo of light. The cattle, fat and sleek, stand belly deep in the lush pasture.

The wattle with its golden promise of spring splashes colour through the bush, and the Mulga scrub is thickly clothed in the special green/grey foliage of the Aussie bush. As the late afternoon sun filters through it lights up the stark white bark of the eucalypt.

Travelling through the landscape, at this time of plenty, brings a feeling of contentment and peace.

History has shown that in this wide, diverse country, floods and famine follow like day and night, but for now it is a time to enjoy nature’s bounty.


Categories: australian travel, out back, travel | Tags: , | 6 Comments

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