Monday, May 12, 2014

Out West

We finally left the Queensland coast about a week ago. In some ways, it was a tough decision. We could easily have spent another year on the coast doing sea kayak trips, island hopping from one tropical paradise to another. However, we are also keen to see more of the country, perhaps even go rock climbing - our other passion - again before we are too old and creaky. Even though we have been on the road for over a year, we have managed to avoid doing a lot of driving or even any long days driving (we detest driving), but, as we move from the coast to the interior of Queensland, it's harder to avoid longer days driving.

The interior of Queensland, much like the prairies of Canada, has a lot of sameness. We drove west from Townsville through Charters Towers (a short walk up Tower Lookout to avoid an entire day sitting) and on to Hughenden. The country in these parts is dry spinifex grass, scattered eucalpytus, and intermittent sandy dry creek beds. The petrol station in Hughenden with holes kicked in the walls, doors hanging off hinges, the metal roof peeling back, was for sale, which sent me into hysterics of laughter as the realtor speak phrase "deferred maintenance" kept sidling through my head. Just north of Hughenden, a sign pointed down some corrugated rattletrap of a road and offered the "Basalt Byway" tourist drive from which I wondered if one would ever exit. 

 The Pyramid, Porcupine Gorge

We drove 70 km north of Hughenden to Porcupine Gorge National Park where Porcupine Creek has cut a 140 metre deep gorge through the sandstone. The campground is at the northern end and a short trail leads down to the bottom of the gorge where the cliffs are broken and short. At the southern end, the cliffs are sheer and a lookout provides a view into the depths of the gorge and the narrow green ribbon of Porcupine Creek. If you lived in these parts, you could walk the full length of the gorge starting in the south and coming out in the north via the national park track. It would likely take a few days as travel in the gorge is slow. 

From Hughenden we kept heading west, generally following the route of the (dry) Flinders River. A series of small towns links the route - Richmond, Julia Creek, and Cloncurry. We camped west of Cloncurry near the Corella Dam where the topography of the country side changed from dead flat to rolling red rocky hills. The area around Cloncurry is riddled with old mines, copper, gold, uranium among other things, but, The Curry as the town is known has likely been superceded by Mount Isa further west. We both contracted some kind of virus along the way and, feeling achy, feverish and generally unwell we rolled into Mount Isa and found a caravan park to stay at while we drugged ourselves up with cold medication. 

From the outside, Mount Isa appears a soul-less town. On the west side of the Barkley Highway and right against the western side of town, the Xstrata mines dominate the view and the town. Smelter stacks spew heavy metals into the air, a huge slag pile stretches for kilometres, as does the open pit mine. A brief shower of rain overnight coated our white vehicle with greasy black mining residue that simply cannot be good for human health. 

Walking around downtown Mount Isa I noted that half the store fronts were some kind of social service agency while the other half were laboratories offering drug and alcohol testing. Stout iron railings blocked every intersection to pedestrian access and made it very difficult to walk around town. I wondered if these railings are to prevent impaired individuals from staggering out into the traffic. Apparently, every nine days, a child is diagnosed with lead poisoning. There are none of the tidy houses, well tended gardens or pleasant public areas that one usually sees in small Australian towns. My overwhelming sense of The Isa was a town with no community that exists simply to extract maximum wealth in minimum time with a damn the consequences mentality. Tomorrow, we move on.

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