Around 70 kilometres south of Mataranka is Larrimah. There is not much at this little spot; a pub, museum and a couple of houses but it is worth a look around. Until 1976 this was the railhead on the southern line from Darwin. During the second world war it was a staging post as troops came up the highway from south. After the war it was an important freight depot and you can still see the freight storage areas beside the abandoned railway lines. Just back up the road is the WW2 Gorrie airstrip which during the war housed 6,500 men, an important and secret repair and resupply base. During Cyclone Tracy the line infrastructure was damaged and never repaired so the line was shut down.
The pub also has a collection of birds, animals, snakes, even a saltwater crocodile which you can wander around and look at. Vicki was not impressed when I pointed out to her that one of the pythons was actually coiled up on top of its cage and not in it! Needless to say we didn’t linger in the snake room.
Around 90 kilometres further south is Daly Waters. Not much left now but a pub catering to the Grey Nomad travellers. Whilst this pub is on a stock route and used to cater to drovers sadly all the characters that make an outback pub so special are no longer to be found here and staff are mainly foreign backpackers. However venture up a side road and you will find the Daly Waters aerodrome. 10,000 feet of runway, taxiways, hanger and other buildings make up what was Australia’s first international airport when it was used for the Australia to England air race.
We normally bush camp whenever we can but as it is so hot we have been going into caravan parks and roadhouses so that we can run the air conditioning. We must be getting soft, or old or more probably both. So we spent the night at the Dunmarra Roadhouse. Not much of a place but we had power and a not too dirty shower.
Next morning about 50 kilometres south of our night’s stop we called into the almost deserted town of Newcastle Waters. In the droving days this town thrived as the centre of several stock routes. It was from here that the notorious Murranji stock route which lead to Top Springs started. It was also from here that during the bicentennial celebrations Pic Willetts and his team took 1200 head of cattle to Longreach on “The Last Great Cattle Drive”. The old pub was even given a special licence for those couple of days and came alive once again. Now the pub is deserted and the only reminder of its former busy life is a drovers memorial in the park. Surprising in this almost deserted town is a new and very neat primary school. Although not all that surprising when you consider that this town is surrounded by the Newcastle Waters property owned by Consolidated Pastoral Company which was until recently owned by the Packer family. Newcastle Waters runs 45,000 head of cattle.
It was then down the road to Three Ways, so called because the Barkly Highway joins the Stuart Highway here and you can go either north, south or east. Past through smoke as we got near the Three Ways as last Saturday lightning from an electrical storm ignited a large expanse of country. Decided not to overnight at the Three Ways roadhouse but went 20 kilometres further south to Tennant Creek. Booked into a caravan park again and turned the air conditioner on. Wanting takeaway for supper and the only thing open was Red Rooster so that’s what we had.
Tennant Creek looks like a town with problems. Most shops have bars and shutters and high fences with barb wire seem the norm. In the morning we headed up to the Three Ways and turned east onto the Barkly Highway. Smoke got a lot thicker and in one place we had flames close to the road. There are no trees on the Barkly Tablelands only scrub and Mitchell Grass plains. 190 kilometres on we filled up with fuel at the Barkly Homestead Roadhouse. It had reached 44C here yesterday. You have to watch your fuel consumption here as heading east you meet a headwind and people have been known to miscalculate and run out of fuel before they reach the next fuel stop at Camooweal. Arrived at Camooweal around 4pm and booked into a caravan park with a swimming pool. We are now in Queensland. We drove around 500 kilometres today which is a long journey for us.
This caravan park is conveniently placed behind the hotel and we had to go to the bar to pay our camping fees so just had to have a couple of cold ones. The barman (an Irish backpacker) told us a bush fire came close to the town last night and a lot of the residents are still out fighting them. Unfortunately the Drovers Shed, which has a really good collection of droving information and memorabilia, is closed because of the heat so we will miss out on seeing this. Last year we stopped here to vote in the federal elections and for some reason didn’t see it then. Looks like we will have to return.
Whilst we haven’t used it this year Camooweal has a great free camp spot on the Georgina River next to some billabongs that are part of a gazetted stock route.
Camooweal – Monday 31 October 2011