The next leg of my journey was to Mount Isa. I saw more sunrises, miles and miles of burnt grassland, few trees, cattle and fences every now and then. There were plenty of dead cattle on the side of the road presumably hit by the three section road trains that travel across the centre of this vast country.
Travelling such long distances, but public bus, kills your sleep patterns and eating habits. I was hungry at 3am when we had a rest stop at another one street town. We crossed from Northern Territory into Queensland and put our watches forward half an hour.
Surrounded by hills, Mount Isa is a big city, the biggest inland city in Australia in 1985. It’s a mining city, extracting copper, lead, silver and zinc. The mine is on one side of the railway and the city on the other side. The city surprised me, it had character and was a clean, organised town. The mine employed over forty thousand people.
I toured the mine working above ground and the underground mine museum, both of which were interesting. Another museum was “Tent House”, a miner’s house from the 1930’s, canvas walls on a wooden frame, with a totally separate tin roof. Very practical for the climate.
The next bus had half the seats removed as there was more freight than passengers. We stopped at Cloncurry, a small country town in the region of cattle stations, dried out grass and bush land. As we headed north the land flattened out again and the earth faded from the red colour of the centre.
We unloaded freight at the “Burke and Wills” Roadhouse and experienced a tropical storm. The road afterwards was covered with puddles and the sides of the road flooded. Following the rain, we saw so much wildlife, kangaroos, emus, bush turkeys, cranes, eagles. It was lovely to see. Kangaroos hopped about in all directions, in pairs or alone, no concern for the road or traffic.
Burke and Wills lead a fated expedition in 1860 to explore Australia south to north, Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Although they succeeded in reaching the northern coast, they both died on the return journey.
We delivered more freight at Normanton and turned off the main road to deliver directly to a few cattle stations. We left the goods at their mail boxes but one station had a sign stating that the homestead was a further fifteen miles down the track from the front gate and mail box. Unbelievable to this twenty something city girl from London.
We then drove seventy kms across salt flats before arriving at Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria. Karumba was a small fishing town on a river estuary. I enjoyed a delicious meal of locally caught barramundi.
The next day I journeyed across country again to the east coast. I experienced my first Aussie “dunny” at one of the rest stops. The toilet was through the shop, through the living room, (the bedroom was curtained off) out the back to a wooden hut in the yard. There was a hose on the outside of the house with three sheets of corrugated iron around it, for a shower. Very sophisticated.
The scenery changed again as we approached the Atherton Tablelands, passing forests and green farmland. The towns had beautiful jacaranda trees in flower. The road wound down from Kuranda to Cairns, with amazing views of the coastline and beaches. It was worth taking this back route from Mount Isa to Cairns.
Whilst on this leg of my journey it was appropriate to read two classic Australian books, both written about life at the turn of the century. “We of the Never Never” and “My Brilliant Career”.