Chasing Barra II

As the compass turns
And the glass it falls
Where the storm clouds roll
And the gulls they call
Anchor me, anchor me, anchor me

From Anchor Me. Song by Don McGlashan and the Mutton Birds

I really enjoyed the Muttonbirds music throughout the 1990s. Who could forget the Heater, Dominion Road or The Anchor and Don McGlashan’s lyrics. Did you know McGlashan played French Horn with the Auckland Philharmonia so his musical chops are assured.

We had planned to stay a night at The Chimneys near Georgetown on the Gulf Development Road on the way to Karumba. This is the site of the old Cumberland gold mine. The old brick chimney still stands starkly on its own some 200 metres off the road where the old gold stamping machine stood. We stopped in for lunch but it was early afternoon so we moved on to Croydon as we hadn’t stopped there before. Croydon, the town, grew from cattle farming then boomed after the discovery of gold. It is a fascinating place with only history left to shore it up. But history it has by the truckload. Our first stop was the Information Centre where the wonderful Marion issued us with a permit to camp at the rodeo grounds. Five dollars for the night or two if we so desired. Hot showers and a clean and tidy toilet block. Marion also invited us to billy tea and damper the next morning with a short historical talk on Croydon’s backstory. There is not a great deal left in Croydon. A pub, a roadhouse, a campground, a knick knack store selling bits and pieces of antiquity, the preserved courthouse and jail, the schoolhouse, and ancient movie theatre and the esteemed Info Centre. The Savannah Way runs straight through it. Marion would have stood for hours explaining how it all came about if we had let her.

We set up camp and retired for a beer and glass of wine at the Club Hotel. Croydon is seven hours hard drive on the outback highway from Cairns. We met a group who had just done the trip and were killing their thirst like us. They were from the Cairns District Shire office and were in town for two days for the Croydonshire Council meeting. Then they would drive the seven hours back to their airconditioned offices. Such is rural Australia.

So what is all the fuss about? Well after gold was struck in 1885 Croydon grew to be the second largest town in Queensland after Brisbane. It became awash with chancers, traders, gold buyers and Chinese immigrants. Many business people became very wealthy not least the Chinese who were smart enough to work out that being providers and land owners was a lot easier than breaking your back chasing some elusive precious metal. Sadly, opium also became a commodity and many Chinese migrants were held captive as workers on the land after opium addiction engulfed them. This was a deliberate ploy on behalf of the land owners who wanted a cheap and captive workforce.

We gathered with other campers and tourists for our billy tea and damper deliciously put together by a local Aboriginal council employee and settled down for our history lesson. It turned out to be an address by Sarah Foster, Australia’s number one female trail runner who with her husband manages the one million acre cattle property Esmerelda. They took over after the property changed hands in 2013 along with $40 million of improvements. As if that story wasn’t fascinating enough Sarah also turned out to be an ultramarathon runner who had just completed a 200 km run across Western Australia. And then there were the tales of training on the cattle station in 40 degree heat. It was a fascinating hour on subjects we knew almost nothing about. I take my hat off to Croydon the non-entity outback town that thinks it can.

We had a night at Leichardt Lagoon between Croyden and Normanton just before we turned onto the Burke and Wills Highway. This is a non powered campground beside the Norman River populated by mainly retired Victorians. They fish for barramundi and ….seemed to do little else for the up to six months they stay over winter. Their caravan sites are a mix of solar ingenuity and tall antennas. No home comfort seems to neglected.

Chasing barra up the Norman River

The scourge of driving the outback roads is stone chips on the windscreen. No matter how careful you are on the one lane stretches some idiot always flies past showering stones and debris in their wake. And this is without the roadtrains which can’t help it. Inevitably a hurtling stone smacks the windscreen and leaves a chip and always in our case a crack. I get them dealt with quickly now before they blossom. So we stopped for an hour in Normanton where a lovely bloke named Alan did his thing with a glue kit before we drove the last half hour to Karumba.

This was our third trip to Karumba and as we pulled into the Sunset Point CP we realised (again) how much we enjoyed being here. It is hot, it is dry, it is dusty but it has an other worldly charm of its own. The Norman River enters the Gulf of Carpentaria at Karumba Point. It is a murky tea colour and is banked by mangroves each side. Perfect barramundi territory apparently. And certainly perfect crocodile territory – not apparently because we saw a 4 metre big boy sunning himself along the river bank.

Setting up in Sunset Point CP is a bit like moving to a country town. You are not really a real member of the camp community until you have been there fifteen winters. And have ten one metre barra figurines painted on your caravan wall like a world war two fighter pilot. Not quite like that but it feels like it. There is one row of sites in the camp named Toorak Street (the Melbournites) and the others variously represent rural Victoria and NSW. If you come in with a motorhome you are truly the lowest of the low. We are lucky that our friends Ron and Sue have been coming here long enough to have an in and more importantly a boat. Sue always welcomes me with open arms as she knows she has two weeks of freedom from accompanying Ron in the boat. We fished most days – up the Norman River, along the mangroves and out to the Drop Off about ten kms out towards PNG. The days were hot (upward of 33C) and still. I bought a long sleeved fishing shirt to be with the “in crowd” that had a large croc on the front and Mad Keen Fisher on the back. Lets just say fish caught per man hours spent was a low ratio although I did land a nice 80cm king salmon and a 1.2 metre queenfish. Queenfish curry isn’t bad.

Scout came up the Norman River with us one day. Ron is a bit of an amateur ornithologist so we identified whistling kites, brahman kites, ospreys, sea eagles, egrets of different types and even a large black stork or Jabiru. Just such an enjoyable and relaxing day. We even caught some fish.

Karumba Point is 14kms by road and three kms on the bike track from Karumba town. The town has a butcher, a baker, pharmacist, a service station and small supermarket. There is also the obligatory Karumba Hotel which has a public bar named the “Animal Bar.” Karumba is also home to a small prawn fishing fleet that is housed in town between prawning expeditions. The prawn trawlers each have a crew of deckies. I’ll let you work out the correlation between the pub bar name and the prawn fleet visits.

The bike path from the Point to Karumba Town at high tide. Scout rode the seven kms return every morning for coffee. Except when the crocs were about as above!

Karumba and Karumba Point are magnets for fishermen over winter. Summers, of course, are steamy, hot and cyclonic. But the winter months are temperate and the seas and river are generally calm. The fishing is good, the days lazy and the evenings a host of happy hours and bar-b-ques. It can be idyllic but a few weeks is enough for us. We finally ran out of things to do so revisited our plan to go east and spend some time in one of our favourite spots at Mission Beach south of Cairns.

2 thoughts on “Chasing Barra II

  1. Hi M&M

    I thought you were exaggerating Mike when you mentioned Sarah Foster being the best Ultra runner etc but no…you were correct. She sounds really nice and a very good ultrarunner.




    * Where: East coast of World Heritage-listed Hinchinbrook Island, 8km off the north Queensland coast at Cardwell. * Distance: 32km one way. * Terrain: Rough, not graded and often difficult to traverse. Usually takes four days to hike. * Environment: Lush rainforest, fragile heath, eucalypt woodlands, mangroves, golden beach, rocky headlands, mountain streams and waterfalls. * Getting there: Short ferry ride or private charter from Lucinda or Cardwell.


  2. Hello Margaret and Mike:- Really enjoying your travels as they are so interesting and you give an excellent description of your many experiences – great geography lessons for us. We are well and staying home as told by the health department with lockdown in Sydney to be extended for atleast another week from today. We only go to doctors appointments and I do the food shopping once a week. We are enjoying Wimbledon and hoping Barty wins tomorrow evening. Keep on enjoying Mission Beach and we look forward to your next chapter. With our love. Thea and Andrew.

    Sent from my iPad



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