Mount Isa to Brisbane via Winton

Earlier this month I took two days to drive to Brisbane from Mount Isa. I started late on the first day so only drove five hours to Winton before doing the big leg of 1400km on the second day. Distances are enormous in Queensland. This road sign is just south of Cloncurry – and I had already travelled 130km from Mount Isa before hitting this sign. The sign is on the start of the Landsborough Highway heading south before linking up with the Warrego Hwy at Morven and then on to Brisbane.

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The clouds gathered as I drove south into the flat agricultural country of McKinlay Shire. It’s about 350km from Cloncurry to Winton and there are only two tiny settlements along the way at McKinlay and Kynuna.nov2

I landed in Winton late afternoon. Banjo Patterson wrote Australia’s unofficial national anthem Waltzing Matilda (and it is far more enjoyable listening than the strident and pompous dirge that is the official anthem) in 1895 while staying at a station near Winton. This monument to Patterson and his song is outside what used to be the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton which burned down on June 18, 2015 (my birthday as it happens, though I was far from the scene at the time). Winton Shire Council have plans to rebuild the centre at a cost of $20 million.

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But the most iconic building in Winton is the North Gregory Hotel. This is the fourth building on this site and like the Waltzing Matilda Centre fire has played a big part in its history. The first North Gregory Hotel opened in 1879 and it hosted the first live performance of Waltzing Matilda in 1895. The building was demolished in 1900 but the second building was destroyed by fire in 1915. The third one was also lost to fire in 1946 and the current building was erected in art deco style in 1955 by the Council which instructed management to run the hotel “on first class lines”.nov9

The main street has other imposing buildings such as the heritage-listed Corfield and Fitzmaurice building. This general store was opened in 1878 serving the local population until 1987. It is now partly the home of Combo Crafts selling homemade arts and crafts while the remainder of the building is a museum promoting Winton’s dinosaur heritage.nov12

I drove around 20km out of town to have a quick look at the bleak but compelling Bladensburg National Park. The park has flat-topped mesas and plateaus, residual sandstone ranges, vast grassland plains and river flats but you need a 4WD (which I didn’t have) to explore its more interesting sections.

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I did drive down the River Gum Route and saw the intriguing “Cragg’s Grave”. Richard Cragg was a mail contractor who died on December 30, 1888, aged 46. The cause of his death is unknown, although it is believed he was accidently poisoned. Cragg came to Winton from Manchester in England, with his wife and seven children. Some of his descendants still live in the Winton area.nov8

I came back to town in time for beer o’clock and sampled a beverage at the brightly decorated Tattersalls Hotel which was home to a handful of patrons watching the cricket on TV.nov5

The following morning it was up on the road early, around 5am, before first light as I had 1400km and a likely 14-15 hour drive to Brisbane ahead of me. This photo was taken on the road leaving Winton.nov10

About 20km south of Winton is the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum . It was too early for it to be open but I have been there before. The museum is 10km off the highway up in the hills (known as the “Jump Up”) overlooking town. The idea for the museum came after local farmer David Elliot found a dinosaur fossil in 1999. It turned out to be a giant femur from a Cretaceous sauropod that roamed the Winton area 95 million years ago. More finds followed and Elliot opened up a museum to show off the ancient local wildlife.

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Two hours later I arrived in Longreach where I stopped for breakfast and a crucial cup of coffee. I’ve been to Longreach many times before but I always enjoy stopping here. All the main streets, such as Duck St, are named for birds found in the area.nov6

I didn’t take too many photos on the long drive that followed but I did have to stop near Blackall and take a photo of these drovers moving cattle along the stock routes by the side of the highway. The stock routes are known as Queensland’s Long Paddock and while it is rare now for cattle to be transported this way (trucks are usually the go) they still form an important supplementary food source during drought times.nov11

Just like the previous day, this one ended with a beer. This one was in Brisbane, having arrived to my place north of the city around 7.30pm – 14 and a half hours after leaving Winton. Cheers!nov13

Crocodiles at Lake Moondarra

14712475_10153706560932757_6242102373686916556_oIt’s the nature of our job in the news industry that means working weekends are a regular fact of life. But though my working hours are not social I do have a pact with myself to try and keep Sunday afternoon sacrosanct and take one of the many wonderful bush walking opportunities we have in the North West.

Of late I have been trying out many trails around Lake Moondarra and the area never ceases to lift my spirits.

Lake Moondarra is an artificial lake on the Leichhardt River, 16 km downstream from Mount Isa, providing water to the city and the nearby mines.

The dam was built in 1956 and in 1961 it became Lake Moondarra, from the Kalkadoon name meaning “plenty of rain also thunder”.

There are some great views above the lake, if you’re willing to scramble through occasional rough country, and there is nothing better than finding a new track along one of the lake’s many nooks and crannies. The birdlife is wonderful to watch and I never cease to achieve a feeling of tranquility within minutes of walking there.

Until now, that is.

In last Saturday’s paper we showed the photo of a large crocodile seen sunning itself on the banks of the lake. I always knew there were crocodiles at Moondarra but in the past the thought of them never bothered me. I knew them to be freshwater crocs (Crocodylus johnstoni) , not the fearsome saltwater maneaters (Crocodylus porosus) seen further north. But this photo we published on Saturday put the wind up me.

This croc was over 2m metres long and although an expert told us it was indeed a freshie and not a more dangerous saltie, it still looking intimidating to me.

To my untrained eyes the distinguishing mark of nobbly necks made little difference, all I could see was a large monster with eyes trained away from the water, apparently searching for careless newspaper editors distracted by staring at pelicans it could drag into the water and feast on for a large meal (though like clowns, I suspect I taste funny).

An expert we consulted told us they were harmless if left alone, but added a chilling rider: “If approached, there is a risk of been bitten like entering a yard with a dog.”

Though these crocs were likely on the far shore of the Lake I noticed myself keeping a healthy distance from the shoreline on Sunday. I was tempted to climb a hill to get further away but got myself in knots worrying about snake season. Perhaps I should stay home and read a book.

Nah, I’ll get over it, Lake Moondarra remains an enchanting place.