Living in Mount Isa but with strong roots in Brisbane means I take the 2000km trip to the state capital probably on average once every three months. And with expensive flights, sometimes that means hopping in the car and doing the 20hr trip either in one or preferably two days. I’ve written before about the journey via Winton and via Blackall which the same road but with a midway different stopping point. In November I was back on the road again but this time I needed to do it in one big day.
I left Mount Isa in darkness around 4am and the important task in the first section to Cloncurry is dodging cattle on the roads. Kangaroos are out there too but cattle are a lot bigger and something you really don’t want to hit. I arrived at Cloncurry unscathed as the first shards of light appeared in the east behind the rich copper-filled hills of the Curry.
A further 100km down the road is McKinlay. There is not much to this settlement and it’s only shop-cum-petrol station closed its doors recently making it an uncrewed fuel stop only. This is increasingly the prospect for remote small towns but it means travellers may now have go hundreds of extra kilometres to get food and water and you may end up paying $3 a litre fuel if you are unlucky. Scottish explorer John McKinlay (his likeness seen here on a plinth in town) who came this way in the 1861 South Australian Burke (and Wills) Relief Expedition, may or may not have had much sympathy for the issues of modern travellers
When I got past Longreach – seven hours into the journey – I passed other travellers heading to Brisbane but taking a different way there. The Spirit of the Outback train travels twice a week in both directions via Rockhampton and takes 26 hours to do the 1325km distance. It leaves Longreach 10am Thursday, so would only have just begun its journey when I overtook it west of Barcaldine. The effect of the drought can also be clearly seen in the parched landscape.
Tambo is the oldest town in the central west and is pretty much half way between Mount Isa and Brisbane. Thomas Mitchell came through here in 1846 mistaking the Lake Eyre-bound Barcoo for a Gulf-bound “river to India” which he grandly named Victoria. It took a second trip by his second-in-command Edmund Kennedy to spot the mistake. Nowadays nearby Blackall is bigger but Tambo does have Tambo Teddies. The shop was established in 1992 when wool prices had crashed and as now the district was in the grip of a drought. Three women came up with the idea to create teddy bears from wool pelts and stuff them with wool. 44,000 bears later, the shop is still going strong. When I posted this photo on Facebook at the time, my comment was “At Tambo, Halfway there. 950km down 950 to go. How much more can a teddy bear?”
Plenty more was the answer as I cruised the miles through Augathella, Morven, Mitchell and arriving in my old haunt of Roma early evening. Around 40km west of Roma is the tiny community of Muckadilla. When working in Roma I used to enjoy coming here on Anzac Day for the 6am dawn service as the first rays of light pushed through from the east. A few days before I arrived, local historian David Bowden had arranged for this black memorial wall commemorating Harry Murray VC. Murray was the most highly decorated Australian soldier who fought in the First and Second World Wars. From Tasmania, he got his Victoria Cross for his relief work at Gueudecourt in 1917. After the war he became a grazier at Blairmack, Muckadilla and married an estate agent. They lived at Muckadilla until 1925 when they separated and Murray went to New Zealand, later buying a property in Richmond, Queensland. Well into his sixties, he commanded the 26th Battalion in North Queensland until April 1942 and did not retire until 1944.
Murray is not Muckadilla’s only brush with fame. Across the road from the cenotaph is another sculpture I and another historian Peter Keegan helped commission. The plaque commemorates the last place where 19th century German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt was known to be alive. Leichhardt wrote his final letter to the Sydney Morning Herald from Allan Macpherson’s station on the Cogoon (Muckadilla) river in early 1848 before he disappeared with seven or eight men on his quest to travel across Australia east to west.
Muckadilla is one of many towns in the region with a grain tower though its one is closed down. The one shown here at Wallumbilla 40km the other side of Roma is still operational. Wallumbilla survives on cropping and beef cattle (though also has become a coal seam gas centre in recent years). The silo stores sorghum and other crops in season and is owned by Graincorp, which has been shutting down hundreds of these silos across Australia.
I continued driving into the dark as I closed in on Brisbane. My final stop was at Chinchilla 300km west of Brisbane. A couple of days earlier Chinchilla had won Australia’s Next Big Thing competition (a marketing exercise by Wotif) and was now the proud owner of an eight-metre-long melon sculpture. It is hard to get a sense of its size in this photo which for all the world could easily be a close up of a real melon on a table. But assuredly it is big and will be the centrepiece of activities when Chinchilla celebrates its 25th Melon Festival in February. For me it was just a quick pic then back in the car to complete the drive by 11.30pm, 17 and a half hours after leaving the Isa.