Mrs Fahrenheit

I’m burnin’ through the sky, yeah
Two hundred degrees
That’s why they call me Mr. Fahrenheit
I’m traveling at the speed of light

From Mr Fahrenheit by Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury wrote Mr Fahrenheit when he was in that phase of his life caught up in drugs and promiscuity. Like all of Freddie’s songs the lyrics seem to describe how he sees himself in the world at the time. Or not. Depending on your point of view. Either way they are great to listen to at a “good” volume when travelling. We have an old relic of an ipod which we turn to when the radio drops out and Scout had Queen going as we hooped along from Normanton to our next camp at Cumberland Mine.

“I think I identify as Mrs. Fahrenheit” she said. “Always travelling fast. Don’t stop me. Don’t stop me” as she gazed into the distance through the window as if Freddie was just then flashing past. “Yes’ I said. “But I am sticking with Scout”.

Cumberland Mine billabong and camp

The Cumberland Mine camp is between Croyden and Georgetown some 380 kms west of Cairns on National Route 1. The misnamed National Route 1 is sometimes called the Gulf Development Road because it is …. well in development. It runs from Normanton to the Kennedy Highway some 240kms west of Cairns and has long stretches of rough single lane road that makes driving a difficult and at times worrisome prospect. We were lucky not to meet more than a few road trains but there were plenty of caravans and cars whose aim in life seemed to be to drive at excessive speed while pelting other better mannered road users with dirt and gravel.

The Cumberland Mine, licensed in 1872, was the largest gold mine in the region at the time and the township of Cumberland formed around it. As with most such enterprises it withered and all that remains is the large brick chimney that dispersed smoke from the crushers and lifters and the dam – now a billabong – which form the backdrop to the popular council owned camping area where we stayed for the night. The nature billabong now teems with birdlife including data, green pygmy geese, various duck varieties, swamphens, egrets and even a couple of pelicans. The trees around are populated with multitudes of finches, bower birds, Australian magpies and magpie larks. Near our campsite a large sand goanna rustled through the dry grass. I am thinking of becoming a bird watcher. A twitcher. Seems like the life to me.

Early morning saw us having a coffee in Georgetown – not much here but petrol and gemstones from the nearby Cobold Gorge – before making the run through to Ravenshoe for that night’s stopover. We did make a quick lunch stop at Mt Surprise which is a surprisingly nice little town with not much but three very pleasant looking caravan parks, a pub and a cafe. Again an old gold mining service town its main claim to fame now is its proximity to the popular Cobold Gorge and the Undarra Lava Tubes (caves formed from molten lava flows millions of years previous). We had visited Undarra last trip through here but for those who haven’t it is well worth the effort. But our stop that night was the Railway Caravan Park at Ravenshoe (an anagram of Rosehaven but not a twin). This pleasant park is on town’s mainstreet and run by the local steam railway society. The park features old steam trains, platforms and associated gear. In fact one lot of park toilets are what were the public toilets on the platform.

We had expected Ravenshoe to be a thriving north Queensland country town on the tablelands but found the opposite. It looked very much down on its luck exacerbated by what seemed like almost panic mode over Covid 19. Many open shop doorways were blocked and orders needed to be given across a range of tape, tables and cabinets arrayed to prevent entry. The town boasts two classic near hundred year old hotels one of which is closed for the pandemic. Various restaurants and cafes along the main street are closed and all in all what once was obviously a thriving farming service town looked down on its knees. This was sort of confirmed by an early morning chat with the school bus drivers who were waiting to take their school kid passengers to school in further away townships. “No one really wants their chidren to go to the school here” they said grimly. One can only hope things look up for a slightly faded town that once no doubt thrived.

We had a night to kill before our booking in Palm Cove and had chosen Mareeba Railway Park just outside Mareeba town. The enticingly named free camp turned out to be a dusty bare field on the highway and surprisingly half full – our guess because it was free. We passed and went on to Mareeba where by luck we saw a sign for Granite Gorge Nature Park some 14 kms out of the town. This turned out be a delight and one of the best stays on our trip. Privately owned the park is a rudimentary camp with good facilities and settled beside the aptly named Granite Gorge. The river has been damned and the nearby gorge walk was an hour of scrambling over large boulders along the scarcely flowing river. Rock wallabies abound along with bird life and even a turtle pool that turned out to have no water in it at all – nor turtles. It is the dry season after all. Swimming is possible in the weir though and crocodile free which is a bonus. We would have stayed another night or two but were booked into Palm Cove Caravan Park. The sea and the east coast around Cairns was calling.

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