Saturday, 30 July 2011


I knew I was in the tropics when we pulled into the caravan park at Cloncurry and heard the sound of Varied Lorikeets and Brown Honeyeaters in the flowering eucalypts.

We're moving on tomorrow but we've had time to look at the original QANTAS hanger at the airport, to learn all about John Flynn and the Flying Doctor Service that started here, to picnic out at the dam close to town and chase down a couple of geocaches (I've discovered they take us to interesting spots we would never go to otherwise). As well as doing a bit of birdwatching.

Scarlet Percher Dragonfly

Little Corellas sharing the hay at Cloncurry sale yards.

Cattle Bush Trichidesma zeylanicum

Cloncurry River, after a flood. Many quite mature trees have been pushed over by the water.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Who'll come awaltzing matilda with me?

In Winton we visited the excellent Waltzing Matilda centre and read all the various theories about the origins of our national song, and then as we drove north to Cloncurry we called in to see Combo Waterhole on the Diamentina River near McKinlay. The claim is that Banjo visited the waterhole on Dagworth Station while he was staying there in 1895, and he would have also heard several stories around the big shearers' strike several years earlier. Anyway, it's a nice spot with some good information boards along the walking track.

At McKinlay itself we found this delightful little building, the smallest library in Queensland. Maybe that makes it the smallest in Australia! Unfortunately it's only open on Thursdays so we couldn't go inside.

Although we didn't see any signs saying so (and there should be) just north of McKinlay we passed out of the Eyre catchment into the Gulf of Carpentaria catchment because now all the rivers are running north(ish) instead of south(ish). For most of our 3000 km trip north we have only been in two river catchments - the Murray Darling and the Eyre. Amazing when you think about it.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Desert life

 Ctenophorus caudicinctus Ring-tailed Dragon, Lark Quarry south of Winton.
Male Scarlet Jezebel Delias argenthona, in garden near Winton.
As spinifex ages the centre dies and provides nutrients to the soil - and the perfect spot for other plants to start growing. Enlarge this photo to see a young eucalypt tree in the middle of an old spinifex.

Dinosaurs at Lark Quarry

Lark Quarry is a World Heritage site about 100 km south of Winton so went went to see what all the fuss is about. The road is sealed more than half way and the rest wasn't too bad so it was a good trip. The signs above had us confused because the road is wide, straight and flat but then we realised that the overtaking sections are sealed so it's much safer to pass where there is no dust or flying stones. Good idea - if all drivers are patient enough to wait for the next sealed section.

Lark Quarry is the site of dinosaur footprints - not just any old footprints, but three species of dinosaurs involved in a stampede. Scientists have measured and analysed and decided that the little species were minding their own business on a muddy spit in a lake or slow moving river when a very large dinosaur attacked them, causing them to run back past him on the spit.

The guide was good, the information boards excellent, the building impressive, the environment stunning. The excavated layer containing the prints are now covered in a state-of-the art and environmentally friendly building. The whole was awe-inspiring.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Bladensburg National Park

Today we drove west over gibber and mitchell grass plains to the boundary of 'Melrose' and then into Bladensburg National park which used to be a station property. Much of the park is a range of hills that must be capped with a more resistant rock than that of the surrounding plain.

Some sections of the park are quite accessible from the Winton side, with designated picnic spots and tracks, but on this eastern side there is just a track of sorts that climbs to a tower. We elected to leave our car at the bottom and hiked up. I'm glad we did because we were in a different world up there on the plateau - spinifex, flowering shrubs, flowering eucalypts and splendid views of the plains to the north and east.

After returning to our car we boiled the billy while we ate lunch under a shady tree contemplating the 180 degree view and the big sky. And a bonus on the way home - a male Crested Bellbird (first I've seen), dozens of Crimson Chats and flocks of budgies.

Flowering eucalypts and spinifex on top of the range.

View north towards Winton

View to the east, 'Melrose' airstrip and homestead in the centre.

Solanum sp.

Emu Bush Eremophila sp.

Apple Bush Pterocaulon sp.

Grasshopper, camouflaged.

Reptile, also camouflaged.
Update: Blotch-tailed Earless Dragon (Pebble Dragon) Tympanocryptis cephala

Click on photos to view large.


Road to Melrose, Bladensburg NP on the horizon.

Spinifex Pigeons

Snake skins (appeared to be about five) and kangaroo scats in the old shearing shed toilet.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


We're visiting family on a station property near Winton that backs onto Bladensburg National Park. I had time for a wander near the house this evening and found a pair of Mistletoebirds, White-plumed Honeyeaters (they have been everywhere I've looked this trip), Willie Wagtails, Magpielarks, lots of Zebra Finches, Masked Woodswallows, Crimson Chats (a new bird for me) and a flock of about twenty Spinifex Pigeons (another new bird for me). I'm on a roll - Night Parrot next!

Saturday, 23 July 2011


It's only a metre long but the scientists at Queensland University think it's the ancestor of all the modern crocodiles, and it was found at Isisford south of Longreach. It's called Isisfordia duncani because Ian Duncan found it in a rock on the edge of town. It lived about 100 million years ago when Isisford was 3000 km closer to the South Pole. We went down to have a look at a replica and the story of the crocodile at the Outer Barcoo Interpretation Centre in Isisford, not expecting very much, and came away very impressed with the centre and the town itself.

We were told that there are 80 caravans parked along the Barcoo River at the moment and I'd quite like to join them - it'd be very peaceful sitting for a week or two in the sun doing nothing much. We had lunch beside the weir and watched a number of White-necked Herons enjoying the environment as well. Major Mitchell, with an aboriginal guide, was the first European to explore the Barcoo area, in 1846, and it was in the vicinity of Isisford that he turned south and headed home to Sydney. He raved about the area as well. We went out to see the marker erected by the local council.

We left the town just before dusk and drove back to our base at Ilfracombe at full alert. Mr Boobook was driving and watching for the numerous dead kangaroos and potholes and I was watching for anything that might choose to commit suicide by jumping in front of our car.
"Wild goats on your right!
Watch those wallabies.
Kangaroo alert.
Bull ahead! A big one!
More kangaroos.
Choughs. Choughs? I thought we were too far west.
Kangaroos on your left.
Let's let the B-Double have all the road.
Don't run over the Peaceful Doves.
More cows.
More emus.
A Bustard. And another. Three!! How nice.

The highlight of the day for me was a dam at what they call the Twelve Mile, a camp/picnic spot at the site of a hotel twelve miles south of Ilfracombe. In one bush I found three finches, Double-banded, Zebra and (a newie for me) Plum-headed. And no, I don't mean just one of each - there were dozens.

Friday, 22 July 2011

All about snails

Before we left on holiday I dashed into a secondhand bookshop and bought a dozen books for reading material while we're away - the usual mixture of whodunnits and light reading, nothing too intense.
I started reading one slim book yesterday and haven't been able to put it down. I'm exaggerating. Today we did the obligatory visit to Longreach's highlights (QANTAS Founders and Stockman's Hall of Fame) - both excellent value by the way.

Stockman's Hall of Fame

Part of the display in the original QANTAS hanger.

We've also done the School of the Air tour, walked some of the delightful botanical walk and checked out the Powerhouse Museum. And we've sampled the rather yummy vanilla slices at the Merino Cafe. There's plenty to do in Longreach.

But I digress. I've finished reading the book. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey is described by Tim Flannery thus: 'This book makes us see the natural world afresh'. And it does. Bailey writes very well about her own circumstances and how she came to be so well acquainted with a snail. It was published last year and is an intriguing read. Do yourself a favour.
And I think I may have more respect for those snails in my garden now.

PS Inside photos take on 2 second exposure rather than flash.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Birds on the Matilda

Magic day. At breakfast we were entertained by a noisy flock of Red-wing Parrots overhead, a quiet Spotted Bowerbird in the undergrowth and a bunch of Double-barred Finches in shrubs. As we drove north of Charleville there was not a lot of particular interest to stop and look at along the way but of course we made sure our coffee breaks were in spots potentially good for birdwatching. At one stop there were Jacky Winters, Red-capped Robins, Rufous Whistlers and a family of Painted Button-quail (and I heard them calling!) At another stop, a lake at Tambo, there was an amazing number and variety of birds - Restless Flycatcher, Striated Pardalote, Brolgas (they do look odd flying with their legs dangling), Great Egrets, Darters, White-necked Herons, White-faced Herons, Grey Teal, Pied Cormorants, Masked Lapwings, Eastern Swamphen, Hoary-headed Grebes. Again we saw numerous emus and at one spot near Blackall they were sharing their patch with two Australian Bustards.

Vortex guns and the cosmos

Have you heard of Clement Wragge? I hadn't either but we visited a park in Charleville and found out that he should be more famous. On display are two of the original thirteen Steiger Vortex Guns (invented in Austria to protect vineyards by preventing hailstones from forming - or something like that, don't take my word for it) set up to break the drought. It was a cloud-seeding project, the idea being that gunpowder would be a catalyst for rainfall. It failed. In fact some failed dramatically because they exploded instead of fired!

But Wragge himself turns out to be an interesting man. He was the Queensland Government's first meteorologist. He set up a heap of weather stations and was the first to use data for long-range weather forecasts. He founded the Meteorological Society of Australia and he was the first person to give names to cyclones.

And while we were in Charleville we rugged up and went to the Cosmos Centre at 9.00 at night where we saw cyclones and vortexes and heavens of a different variety - the Milky Way through the telescope. It was a fantastic experience, very well organised and an absolute delight. We saw Saturn and her rings, we saw Alpha Centauri that appears to the eye as a single star but through the telescope its binary nature is clear, we saw the 'jewel box' cluster of stars and we saw the craters and seas on the moon. The three telescopes are controlled by GPS systems and pre-recorded computerised coordinates so the show is very accurate and quick and we all had a chance to look through the eyepiece for each display.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Mud and opals

They've moved the lizard but not much else has changed in the delightful little town of Eulo since we were last here eight years ago. (The lizard 'statue' celebrates the annual lizard race.) We called in to the General Store that really is a general store.

The mud springs west of Eulo, built over thousands of years through a fissure above the artesian basin, are no longer active. The name is a bit deceptive because they are (normally) neither muddy or springy. We didn't walk in to have a good look because after all the rain around here this week the entire countryside is a sea of mud - it looks solid until you step into it or drive over it. And we didn't think to pack our gumboots!

We decided to explore further west to an opal town called Yowah. Which I'd never heard of. But obviously others have because there's a sealed road all the way in and when we got there we discovered it was a special weekend for gem collectors and there was a market on in town. The permanent residents are few in number but they have a splendid school (for the three students who attend), a golf course (which can't be used this year because it's covered in long grass because of the wet), a gallery, a library and an airstrip. We enjoyed our visit very much but couldn't pretend even a passing interest in the beautifully polished gems, rocks and opals or even the apparently famous 'Yowah Nuts'  which look like rocks but when split have an opal inside. The stall holders were a friendly bunch.

I especially enjoyed seeing flowering emu bushes, beautiful Leopard Trees and, unexpectedly, Brolgas on the way. And just on dusk we stopped at the bore east of Eulo which is a known birdwatching spot and I saw my first Hall's Babblers on the sand hill next to the dam. Magic.

Click on photos to view large.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Mitchell Highway

Cunnamulla, and it's raining again. The forecast is good but there are a lot of roads closed. We may need to change our plans again.

Yesterday as we drove east then north in sunshine we were entertained by the changing scenery, by numerous Black-shouldered Kites and Nankeen Kestrels wheeling, diving and propping to hover, by emus in numbers as well as kangaroos and goats and by meeting up with the same travellers in wayside stops and the bakery at Bourke.

At our lunch stop today, north of Bourke, a Spotted Bowerbird perched just above my head and stayed long enough for me to have a really good look. Pied Butcherbirds called all the time we were there and a pair of Pink Cockatoos preened each other. The Fairy-wrens were all in brown plumage and I couldn't tell whether they were Splendid or Variegated.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The living desert

It's rained today in Broken Hill. Nice for the locals but a bit of a dampener on the spirits of travellers. I overheard a discussion in which one lady said she'd been to buy a doona and a waterproof coat and the other lady said she'd bought gumboots and the shopkeepers were happy with the extra sales. We also took the opportunity to stock up on items we had forgotten to pack or found we needed and visited a couple of galleries. We also checked out some of the local architecture - houses built with corrugated iron.

This afternoon the showers eased so we went out to the Living Nature Park and found it to be most impressive. It's very well maintained and a lot of the plants, many of which were flowering, were labelled. We only did the arboretum walk but I think the cultural walk would be well worth doing if the standard is the same.


Pearl Bluebush

Sturt's Desert-pea

Curly Mallee

Because of the rain we've been forced to change our plans. We were going to go to Tibooburra and Camerons Corner but the road is closed, and so is the road to Mutawintje NP. We've already been to White Cliffs and Cobar so we're going to do a full driving day tomorrow and go to Bourke instead.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Lake Mungo

We've been to Lake Mungo before but it's a magnet really. You cannot be anywhere near the place and not go there, so we called in on our way to Broken Hill and ended up staying the night. Pink Cockatoos and Apostlebirds entertained us while we ate breakfast, Mallee Ringnecks searched for seeds on the ground near our campsite and a Pied Butcherbird serenaded beautifully. We have plans to go back with friends in spring (one day) to explore the park properly. It deserves more than a fleeting visit.

On the way in we drove though Lake Arumpo (don't worry, it's been dry for thousands of years) and then drove over the highest lunette in world (if the tourist brochure is to be believed) that embraces the eastern side of the lake.

And wasn't the mallee a 'sight for sore eyes'! It's looking good. Some of the plants are flowering, including several of the mallee eucalypts, a ballart and a senna. I breathe in deeply and feel like a real Aussie.

Then today we met the Darling at Pooncarie and drove north on the floodplain to Menindee Lakes and then to Broken Hill. We saw quite a few emus north of Menindee so they've managed to survive the drought or breed up quickly since it started to rain again. The plains are covered in saltbush of various colours and we carefully crossed the grids that separated each large paddock and avoided several mobs of sheep along the way. North of Pooncarie we tuned our UHF to a light plane pilot guiding several motorbike riders as they mustered sheep for shearing - one guy kept leading his mob off in the wrong direction and had to be corrected several times. We agreed that the pilot's language was a lot less 'colourful' than that of the truckie we'd heard earlier in the day!*#^@