Back in the Land of the Dead Kangaroo

Cruisin’ down the centre of a two way street
Wondering who is really in the driver’s seat
Mindin’ my business along comes big brother
Says, “Son you better get on one side or the other”

The Eagles – On the Border

We were 240kms from the border between Northern Territory and Queensland when we left our campsite at Gunpowder that morning. Our paperwork was in order and sitting, self satisfied, on the dashbord with a big “G” on it. General. Or not infectious, contagious or in any way dangerous. We were ready for big brother. Or big sister as it turned out. The policewoman who hailed us down was very pleasant and obviously patient. She was from Cloncurry in Queensland and had been doing duty at the border stop near Camooweal for a few days. Her first words were “That pass is no good. They changed it yesterday. Throw that away and fill this one in.” I engaged my yogic breathing while Scout sniggered and smiled smugly at the policewoman. The forms duly completed, our new police friend photographed the signature and handed the forms back. “Keep these” she said. “Why?” I said. “Dont you need the info?” “No problem” she said. “We know who you are”. All seemed a bit pointless really. Twenty minutes later we were on our way in Queensland and hotfooting it for Burke and Wills Roadhouse. We had been delighted with the array of bird and wildlife in the N.T. and W.A. And now it came to us that it was generally alive. The roadkill along Queensland highways is horrendous. Squashed kangaroos, wallabies, eagles and hawks abound on the shoulder and in many instances in the centre of the road. Is Queensland wildlife particularly unintelligent or perhaps just slow. We couldn’t work it out. Anyway we took a quick stop in Cloncurry for a sausage roll and to replenish the liquor cabinet then a right turn on to Burke and Wills Highway. Cloncurry – referred to as “The Curry” – its average annual temperature being 25C and often 40C+ in summer – is a town based on copper and gold mining although its main attraction seemed to be the upcoming rodeo with signs plastered all through the town. Scout continued to whistle and fiddle with the newly completed border passes for some reason.

The campground at Burke and Wills

Burke and Wills Roadhouse, population 8 (3 if you take away the backpackers working in the roadhouse kitchen) is so named for the well known explorers who came through here in 1861 on their illfated journey from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Only one man survived the return and he was not named Burke or Wills. The roadhouse sits at the junction to Normanton in the gulf and Gregory River and the Boodjamulla National Park to the west. We overnighted here at a dusty campground beside the roadhouse. The water was dam water and not drinkable and there was some insurrection in camp that we all paid full price for a dust covered site and no water. Nevertheless (neanmoins) the road house had cold beer and was nicely situated for a short run to Karumba Point.

Karumba Point sunset

B and W Roadhouse to Karumba Point may have been only a couple of hours but it was hardly pleasant. The road narrows to one lane of bitumen for a fair part of the route before Normanton and it is wise to travel slow and steady. Road trains attack from over hidden rises and it is necessary to make a quick exit off road into the gravel and dirt shoulder because they don’t. Nor do they slow down. It is a little nerve wracking pulling off and crawling slowly in the dust waiting for the huge rush of air and shaking or God forbid a whack on the side as the trucks and multiple trailers barrel past. We did camp beside a couple in W.A. whose drivers mirror was taken off and caravan sliced down the side by a trailer. He said “But for 10cms who knows where we would be now”. The sight of Normanton main street was a relief. Another sausage roll and a coffee at Normanton then the final 70 kms to Karumba Point.

We stayed at the Karumba Point Sunset Caravan Park on the mouth of the Normanton River two years ago and we were pleasantly surprised again at the parks attraction despite the dry, dust and heat. It has a sort of outback charm and whilst we didn’t fish this visit I had pleasant memories of sorties with my mate Ron up the Normanton for barra and out to sea chasing spanish mackerel. Not that we caught much and settled like everyone else for catching the numerous blue nose salmon further in shore.

Karumba is a location as well as a town and is really in two parts. Karumba town sits a few kms up the Normanton River and has a school, supermarket, butcher and service station. It is also the location of the MMG Century Mine processing plant. The mine is an open cut zinc mine near Lawn Hill and the zinc slurry is piped some 100 kms to Karumba, processed then barged out to mother ships waiting in the channel off the river mouth bound no doubt for China. But the tourists head each winter for Karumba Point for the fishing. The caravan park is full of older grey nomads and we were set up beside couples and their caravans who had been coming here for six months over winter from the southern states for twenty years. Scout biked the 4.5kms into town on the bike each morning for coffee while, as she said, avoiding the salties when the tide was in over the path. She also set up a little group of like-minded aquarobics enthusiasts who braved the cold camp swimming pool at 9 am each morning for their 40 minute fitness session.

Karumba Sunset Tavern – beer garden on the sea
Sunset at the Karumba Sunset Tavern – Fred is enthralled

The other attraction at the point is the Sunset Tavern, a surprisingly well appointed pub that overlooks the gulf and is the scene of some spectactular sunsets. The tavern is relaxed, well run and does very good meals. Our other haunt is Ash’s Fish and Chips for a feed of grilled barra (Scout) and battered king salmom (me). If one was happy to brave the crocodiles and sharks you could set off from the tavern for a swim and about 800 kms later pull up on the shores of West Papua. If you were feeling particularly fresh you could have popped into Cape York and Thursday Island on the way. Sitting in the park with a cold beer or wine waiting for Maui to net the sun was enough for us though and became one of life’s most relaxing moments.

Karumba and the point are unusual places – a shithole as one local described it – but with a charm that keeps pulling people back year after year. There is little here but dry dirt and dust, mangroves and the river but it has an enchantment all of its own. We enjoyed our ten days here and met some lovely people but we were keen to get to the coast so left them to the fishing and the sunsets and set off for the Matilda Way and the east.

2 thoughts on “Back in the Land of the Dead Kangaroo

  1. A thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read Mike…..particularly like the beer and sausage rolls ( hopefully not made with roadkill!). I see “Lady Navigator” is now “ Scout” is that a promotion or demotion?
    Cheers Randal

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    1. Hi Randal
      Ah. You picked up on the sausage roll road kill connection. Thought I worked that in quite subtly. Scout has been promoted although she would say finally recognised for her work. Wait for the next episode where she takes on another form.
      Stay safe
      Mike

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