Part one: Gayndah to Emerald, Queensland
The uniformed rows of citrus faded in the falcon’s rear-vision mirrors, soon all that was left was the outline of our caravan and the red dust from the road that swirled on behind us. With the orchards gone and our rear-visions blinded there was nothing left to do but look forward…
Forward to the horizon lay Mount Perry that separated the barren dry landscape of wild Aussie scrub and lonesome Iron-Bark trees that are beaten black by the smouldering summer’s sun. The red dusty track soon turned to bitumen and we were soon greeted by a bridge that stretched over the wide Burnett river at Mingo Crossing.
The bitumen road quickly turned back to loosen gravel and the road began to turn and wind through the gullies of the rigid mountain landscape. The scrub turned denser and soon the lonesome Iron-Bark trees congregated in numbers as we made our way into the Gosevnor Timber Reserve.
Floodway after floodway, bend after bend we were finally greeted with the township named after the mountain it rests on “Mount Perry”. Mount Perry, a quaint town, built during the days of the goldrush and during its century of belonging, it hasn’t aged a day despite the odd solar panel you can witness on the beautiful old Queenslanders that make up the street which nestles into the base of the rocky Iron-Bark mountain landscape.
We soon ventured left and wound our way up and down through the hillside of the Mungy State Forest. The dense vegetation of the forest soon thinned out to pasturing farmland and a few more kilometres on, we were gobsmacked by the views to the North of the Banja National Park just out of Yarrol.
Our bellies soon began to rumble so we pulled into the township of Monto to fill our hungry souls. Once replenished with tuckshop greasies we journeyed North-West, destination “Neville-Hewitt Weir, Baralaba Queensland (our first overnight stop since leaving Gayndah).
The Falcon struggled as it climbed the ever-increasing gradient of the Coominglah State Forest. Second gear she revved where third she chugged and hopped, finding the median balance eventually became easy as we slowly but surely made our way to the top of the incline. The Native outback soon turned to pine plantation where vegetation quickly became thick as it did scarce owe to logging. The plantations of pine soon turned back to thick Aussie scrub as we ventured into Grevillea State Forest. What came next was the highlight of our journey (that particular day) as Bottle-Trees soon started making an appearance amongst the rocky valleys of outback Queensland countryside.
The Falcon started to gain momentum as the road started to gradually decline. The hill sides vanished to our right and soon all that was left was open blue sky met by a road barrier, the only thing stopping us plummeting to a Thunderbird Thelma and Louisa style death. Below the sky (if you were game enough to look) sunken in a valley surrounded by deep red cliff faces lay a soup bowl of Australian fauna and scrub, our first sighting of Australian Table lands, the Table lands of the Kroombit Tops National Park. The barrier between the road and tablelands broadened and soon there was paddocks of farmland home to cattle and lonesome Bottle trees. A bottle tree soon appeared on the side of the road, 40meters tall it reached to the sky making the perfect centrepiece for a landscape photograph surrounded by dry crops that soon vanished as it met the cliff faces of the wide-ranging Table lands. A few kilometres down the highway from the magical Bottle Tree was a small rest stop which accommodated the ‘Lawgi Hall’ painted in earth colours of red, orange, and yellow and a black sunset in the background with silhouettes of bottle trees adorning it.
Lawgi Hall was the last iconic feature for a while to come, the Burnett Highway had now reached its decent and the tablelands had vanished in the distance, all that was left was pasturing flat lands that that faded out to the horizon.
After what seemed like a long drive, we finally came across some civilisation as we approached a town called Biloela. Biloela was much bigger than expected, a busy town built on the crossroads of the Burnett and Dawson Highway a certain Gateway City servicing the agriculture industry of the surrounding shires. The day was coming to an end, dusk was soon to make an appearance and Biloela vanished quick as it did come. We were on the Dawson Highway now and the word Burnett, a word so familiar to us these past few months was now gone!
The Journey to Baralaba seemed to never the end, the scenery didn’t change much except for the abundance of electronic flood warning indicators on the road specifying which routes were open. The sun was almost touching the bottom of the horizon now and with time on our minds, we were becoming ever delirious. In order to boost and rejuvenate the lack of sanity the music was turned full blast and The Rolling Stones soon filled our ears as we drove though the dry flat planes of rural Queensland. “Let’s spend the night together” was the next song to come on, a fitting song to say, especially as we were driving to Baralaba that was located in the Banana Shire of Queensland. With our genius minds we soon adapted the lyrics to the song and replaced the backing vocals to Baralaba, Ba Ba Banana. I don’t think I will be able to ever listen to the song again without associating it to Baralaba, Banana Queensland. “Let’s spend the night together” was played at least five times in a row, during that time we witnessed road trains, four trailers long they shook all over the road leaving truly little room for our caravan to pass with ease.
We finally arrived in Baralaba right on 5 o’clock, we slipped left and bypassed the small town where we soon made it to our destination “Neville-Hewitt weir” which was located on the Dawson River. What we had thought to be a quiet, remote free-camp soon became the complete opposite, every man and his dog in Queensland seemed to have the same idea, it was packed! Originally Yasmin and I were going to stay two nights, try some fishing and explore the region however due to the circumstances we decided to only stay one and leave early the next day, so early we didn’t even worry about disconnecting the caravan. The camp however did have an abundance of firewood and with the fire-ban season now finished we finally were able to christen our cast iron cookware I bought prior to leaving our journey. A delicious meal later and a hot cup of tea to replenish our souls, smelling of smoke we ventured to bed where we enjoyed a hard-earnt night’s sleep to then do it all over again the next day.
With the coals still kickin’ the next morning I heated up my cast iron pan and wacked some bacon on. With the sound of bacon crackling away Yasmin soon arose from the caravan (bacon will do that to a person). There’s no better way to start the day with a hot breaky, especially when there are 6 eyes watching you, anticipating your every move, longing for a bit to come their way! After a damn fine bacon and egg sanga we had a good old pommy shower and hit the frog and toad, destination: Emerald, Queensland.
We left Baralaba on a Sunday morning. Our fuel guage was indicating half full and being a Sunday the whole town was shut including the petrol bowsers, as disappointing as it was the idea of no trading on Sundays soothed my soul, coming from a generation that’s clock never unwinds it brought a smile upon my face that I got to witness a blast from the past, a past when times were simpler. After looking at the maps I decided we had plenty of fuel to cover our next fuel stop in a town called Woorabindi that lay 80km up the road. After crossing the Dawson river we were soon on the Woorabindi-Baralaba road, the farmlands soon disappeared and were now in the middle of the Dawson Range State Forest surrounded by dry iron bark trees.
Amongst the iron bark trees soon appeared empty plastic bottles, at first they were scattered here and there but as we ventured on down the road the rubbish seemed to thicken, what was such pretty scenery now seemed like a rubbish tip, a rubbish tip in the middle of nowhere. It took me a while to figure out where the rubbish had come from, at first I thought it was a rubbish truck driving down the road with its doors open, or a freak wind storm knocking down all the bins throughout the district but soon realisation sunk in as we came to the turn off towards Woorabindi, all the empty juice containers and coke bottles were subject to laziness, once consumed in the car journey the rubbish was thrown out the window with no respect to the land or environment.
Our fuel indicator was now indicating under a quarter, and as we arrived at Woorabindi we were greeted with a roadblock and a sign indicating the town was closed due to COVID-19 because of the indigenous community living in Woorabindi. Our maps revealed the next petrol bowser was 82km away in a town called Dingo so we ventured on up the road, it wasn’t until we were 20km out that our fuel indicator started bouncing so we pulled over and filled up half the tank with our jerry can (which has proved to be a well worth investment.)
60km later we had reached the Capricorn Highway, one of the busiest Highways we had come across our entire journey. Grey Nomads towing big rigs, trucks of all categories and marked utes from the coal industry swarmed the highway that lay amongst the dry landscape. We finally found a gap amongst the traffic and slowly but surely gained momentum where we joined the highways flow and travelled west.
We finally made it to Dingo around lunch time and were greeted by a sign saying, “Welcome to Dingo, home of the Dingo trap throwing competition”. For those of you that are familiar with the town you’d know that nothing much happens in Dingo, but to witness the trap throwing competition would be a big tick off the outback bucket list, a festival worth going to one day later down the track. We soon pulled into a roadhouse where we were able to fill our tanks and jerry cans full of fuel and checked our tyre pressures. The Roadhouse was great and very friendly to travellers offering cabins, showers, water stations, a restaurant, laundry and toilet facilities our first witness of a proper accommodating outback roadhouse!
Once our tanks were full we hit the highway again and headed west to Blackwater. Just after a town called Bluff we witnessed the Blackdown Tableland National Park and Arthurs Bluff State Forest, the views were incredible, very similar to the views we witnessed overlooking the Kroombit Tops National Park, but instead of overlooking the tablelands this time we got to witness them form the flats. The only downside is that the views were infiltrated by dirty coal mines that were scattered all over the highway. If I had my time again I would definitely go back and hike through the beautiful tablelands of the Blackdown National Park, there’s still plenty of time of course to go back.
The land was pretty barren after Bluff, to the left lay flat lands and coal mines, to the right lay flat lands and cattle farms, cattle farms owned by foreign big money with their big National Flags flown high above the expensive gateways to property’s most likely the size of some European countries.
We soon arrived at Blackwater. Blackwater at the end of the day wasn’t anything special, it’s a big mining town which hosts a couple of pubs (one extremely seedy looking containing slot machines), a McDonalds that thrives on the hard earned money of hungry miners and a coal museum which displays a gigantic coal shovel painted fire engine red. Not long after Blackwater we arrived in a town called Comet (our last stop before Emerald) where we checked out a free camp spot called Riley’s River Crossing that we found on Wiki camps that was located just out of town on the McKenzie river. Unfortunately for us there was no way we could get our caravan down to the riverbank, so we ventured back into town where we hopped back on the Capricorn Highway where we endured our last 40km before arriving in Emerald.
Reds, browns and yellows made up the dry landscape for the next 40km, the only thing breaking up the scenery was a train track whose primary role hosted trains that were coal-bound to Rockhampton. 40kms seemed to never end, the only thing peculiar during the stretch was water hungry cotton that lay scattered all over the side of the roads, cotton that most likely escaped from the top of a truck that glistened and danced through the air before sticking to the red soil, like beans spilled from a ripped beanbag, amongst the hot tarmac highway . Billboards soon made an appearance on the Capricorn Highway, one after another they appeared, majority of which reflected the local agricultural and mining industry. 10km later and what appeared to be 100 Billboards later we soon witnessed the township of Emerald.
The highway soon crossed the train tracks and to our right lay Emerald’s new shopping complex, a shopping complex that best reflects Australia’s everlasting culture plummet. Why travel Australia when town after town will slowly become the same? Shitty Metricon housing estates that border a busy shopping complex with all complexes hosting the same chain businesses and corporate supermarkets, soon the only way to distinguish a town will be by its landscape scenery and township name that is hung underneath complex chain signs such as Westfeild and Centro. But enough of my ranting as Emerald soon showed its true colours as we came across a pickup truck on the side of the road selling leather goods and platted whips, finally some outback culture to be seen!
The highway soon crossed the Nogoa River which lay host to a botanical garden and a beautiful old wooden railway bridge. Underneath the bridge lay free overnight camping. Unfortunately for us it was overcrowded and lay on a 20-degree slope, so we decided to venture on to a campsite close to Lake Maraboon. Emerald’s town centre soon fell upon us, an old railway station made the left side of the highway and countless pubs and pokie clubs made up the right. I was a little disappointed with Emerald, more to the fact that I assumed it was built around the riches of fossicking gems and sapphires, if you want to experience that type of thing you need to head out to the Gemfields close to the towns of Rubyvale and Sapphire which lay 61km inland of Emerald. Emerald at the end of the day is just a big agricultural town and dependent on the mining industry to spend their money at the pubs and slots. It does showcase Australia’s biggest easel supporting a not so resembling painting of Vincent Van Goh’s Sunflower, a good spot to get a photograph but at the end of day has no defining purpose to the town’s culture or landmarks.
The busy street soon faded in our rear-visons as we turned off the main highway towards Lake Maraboon. Citrus fields of uniformed rows again made an appearance, thoughts and memories soon made the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention and the screaming of Tom’s name filled my thoughts, fortunately we soon approached the Fairbairn State forest and the uniformed rows soon vanished as quickly as they did come. We soon arrived at our campground called “Higher Ground” which lay a few kilometres up the hill from Lake Maraboon. We were greeted by a lovely woman who directed us down to our camp spot which would be our home for the next two nights. The campground wasn’t anything special, but for 11 dollars a night and an abundance of firewood, the campground made for a good spot.
The fire crackled as the sun went to bed, Moose ran around still half wet form his swim biting at the smoke and embers whilst Dixie lay curled up in a little ball underneath the awning. The chicken sizzled in the cast iron pan and few cold tins were cracked under the clear Milkyway. Our bellies were soon satisfied and the beer had worked its magic, it was time for bed, rejuvenate our batteries for a busy day the next.