Chasing Barra with a Side of Croc 1

I want to ride my bicycle

I want to ride my bike

I want to ride my bicycle

I want to ride it where I like

Written by Freddie Mercury

Scout wants a new bike. She has racked up a lot of miles on her current one. We talked e-bikes. “Piss off” she said. “That is the thin end of the wedge”. Well she didn’t quite say that but words to that effect. I knew what she meant. So we packed a new Giant. “The Aubergine”. And we left Mudjimba where we had been quietly preparing for our winter trip. We are going north again. This will be our third visit to Karumba at the mouth of the Norman River in Queensland’s far north. The Gulf of Carpenteria to be precise. Karumba is nestled in the curve of the forefinger that is the York Peninsula and the thumb that heads northwest to Burketown and eventually Darwin. It steadies its gaze north over the Gulf towards Papua New Guinea – not that we can see that vast island nation nor Thursday Island in between. We can see north up the coast of the peninsula into the hazy distance past mangrove swamps and, at low tide, the sand islands towards Weipa and the cape. Interestingly as the water rushes from the Pacific Ocean through the narrow opening between the tip of Australia and PNG a quirk of nature and the moons orbit creates only one high and one low tide a day. Twelve hour tides. It happens also in the Gulf of Mexico. It does make it a lot easier to work out the best fishing times. Karumba is barra country but lets get there first.

About 375kms north west of the Sunshine Coast and on the edge of the Cania Gorge is Mulgildie. This is our first stop. We had heard of the Mulgildie Pub which allowed free camping on land beside it. The obvious conclusion being that you were expected to have a meal or at least a beer or two. The empty section was there just off the highway. The pub closed twelve months ago apparently through Covid and a divorce. We stayed there anyway and in the morning were offered the now empty pub for $250,000. The building while aging and in need of an uplift looked strong and full of history. Sorely tempted I looked down the highway first west then east and saw… not a lot. The town itself was forty or fifty well kept homes although we did get the feeling we lowered the average age by ten years. The business case for purchase was fading fast so we left it for some other entrepreneur. We have learned though that what you see isn’t always what you get in country towns. Despite its worn out look Mulgildie is beside three operating piggeries and is kept alive by a group of Filipino workers who work there, keep the rental market alive, the school population above close down level and the minimarket and Post Office alive. Apparently the Phillipines has a surplus of veterinarians and many of them live and work in Mulgidie.We discovered a local married to a Filipino who stayed and who owned the minimart and now the recycling business in the area. He discovered that the nearest recycling centre in Bundaberg was only paying him about 60% of the price available on plastic and glass bottle returns he collected from the local school. So he set up his own business collecting around the area and is so successful he has just spent $100,000 on the disused timber mill to give him extra space. Importantly he employs two locals and is looking for a third. Who would have thought. There was a downside. It was 4C that night as we huddled under blankets watching Queensland get its backside kicked in the first State of Origin game.

The Mulgildie Pub – yours for $250,000 and a refurbish

The larger town of Monto is 12 kms north on the Burnett Highway so we refuelled then passed through the mining town of Biloela on our way to Bluff. Biloela itself has been in the news lately as the new home of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugee family who while living a fruitful and productive life there were uprooted and moved to the Christmas Island refugee camp while their refugee status was resolved. Biloela to its eternal credit gathered together as a community to fight the families cause. It would not make one fig of difference to Australia if they were granted asylum other than it is the right thing to do. Unfortunately it is a mark of this Australian Government that, while it has done a great job on the pandemic and certainly with the economy, it just can’t seem to admit to its errors. So it clings on to the last moment until it finally and usually relents while desperately trying to convince that it has done the right thing again. As my father used to say ” Once a politician, always a bastard.” Bluff, the Queensland one is an hour east of Emerald and just west of Dingo and Blackwater. Don’t you love these names. Bluff is a coal railhead town incongruously in the middle of the beautiful Blackdown National Park. Even I could see its days were numbered. Again the pub had a free camp area dotted with magnificient mango trees at the back and we had a pleasant meal at the pub (it was parmi night) and slept fully clothed through the now 2C evening.

From a desk job in the city to the big money out west

Still going north west we did some supermarket shopping in the Central Highlands town of Emerald. Established in 1879 after the green gems were discovered nearby then life as a railtown Emerald is now an administrative centre of 14,000 and service centre for coalmining, cropping and cotton farming. Our destination though was Belyando Crossing and its roadhouse on the Gregory Highway some 200kms south of the large rural township of Charters Towers. The roadhouse was established some 30 years ago with the highway now two lane and sealed although it could still be described as “in the middle of nowhere”. The campground was closed when the owners established a village for coal mine workers and on our trip through in 2018 we stayed in the car park. The workers village is closing down with only a few maintenance staff here now. Powered camping is now offered albeit on a dusty lane between workers huts. The owners are taking every advantage of it being 200kms either way to the next town and fuel by upping fuel and food prices. And at $35 for power, one working shower and grubby toilets it was a bit over the top. Nevertheless we enjoyed the stop under the stars with a few others and the crew lit a lovely bonfire to sit around and chat over a beer. Scout did become a little annoyed when she discovered that the caravan some 20 metres away paid nothing because they didn’t take power yet used all the facilities. She stormed off in the morning muttering away only to return later with a big grin and a $25 refund. “Lovely people” she said.

Belyando Crossing

We were now near the turn at Undarra Caves – east to Atherton and Cairns, west to Normanton and Karumba. A night in the campground at Greenvale, a disestablished nickel mining town and 220kms north west of Townsville and 180kms south of Undarra then saw us on the final run to the gulf. Greenvale had a population of 650 when the mines were in full production but now only boasts a roadhouse, the Three Rivers Hotel (made famous in a Slim Dusty song), the campground and 90 people with some still employed in small mining operations nearby and on the cattle stations. As with a lot of these rural towns Greenvale was named after the large nearby cattle station established in the 1860s. Mining towns in their heyday are flush with money and workers. The town was built by the mining company and is laid out in a series of cul-de-sacs not unlike a suburb on Auckland’s North Shore. The houses are well kept usually brick and tile and the town still has a prosperous look. Maybe more than first thought as Metallica Metals have discovered new deposits of nickel, cobalt and joy of joys scandium oxide (I don’t know either.) So, who knows, next time we stop here maybe things will be on the up and up. Meanwhile the campground was near full of travellers like us and set in a peaceful rural setting with, at last, a nice balmy night. We could have stayed on but we had our eyes set on Croydon then Karumba.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s