Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Sunday morning in Cania Gorge started with a dawn chorus - magpies, kookaburras and rain birds. I lay in my tent for a while listening to the birdsong. No traffic, voices, just birds.

Eventually I got up, gobbled some porridge and packed up. Somehow the tent, bedroll, folding chair, tool kit, cooker and food all fitted back in the boot. I'd like to take the GT6 camping when its finished, but have no idea how I'll fit all the gear in! We hit the road about 8.30. It's always hard to leave Cania Gorge and I was in no hurry.

The highway on the second day links towns about 80km apart, so there are no gaping voids like the Beef Road. I've lived in mining towns over the last few years, and farming towns are much nicer. Not designed by a 70's urban planner, they have over a hundred years of history and character. Old churches and shop facades, modern businesses, old houses with beautiful gardens, and every second vehicle isn't a Herald-crushing mine-spec 4WD.

About half an hour into the journey, the highway jinked left in a great arcing loop. There is a shorter, straighter route through the tiny town of Abercorn, but it's not obvious. It's narrow and winding and has only been sealed for a few years, but is a great scenic detour, 30-odd km of back-country farm scenes. I don't think we saw another car the whole way.

Once back at the main road, it was onwards and southwards. Well south east, sometimes east, sometimes even north-ish again. The inland highway weaves through hilly country, over passes, through valleys, patches of forest and increasingly green farms. Despite having lived in rural Queensland for five years, the countryside still looks foreign to my eyes. Some patches reminded me of New Zealand, especially where settlers have planted oak, poplar and willow around their houses, but nowhere is the familiar dark green of South Island rainforest, or glimpses of the Southern Alps through a gap in the hills. All things I've seen through Gerald's windscreen on countless road trips.

Some inland areas are used for citrus orchards. I'd taken a photo of Gerald beside Munduberra's giant mandarin on the way north, so took a similar photo beside Gayndah's giant orange.

Australians love making giant models to promote their towns - at least 150 according to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australia's_big_things.
Travelling around the country 'bagging' shots of the giant mango, gumboot, crayfish and so on is a respected form of tourism.

The next town south, Goomeri, is special. About a year ago I stopped for a coffee and met a cat sitting outside a shop. I gave her a stroke, and a giant red-bearded head poked out of the shop. "Do you like the cat?" he inquired. "Take the cat. Please". He and his wife had bought a cafe, and it came with a cat. They weren't cat people and so were looking for a home for her. I didn't take Moo that day but exchanged numbers and that evening arranged to travel back up from Brisbane the following weekend with a cat cage. And so we became a two-cat house.

No cats today, thankfully.

Gerald was making such good time that I decided to try a back roads way into Brisbane, over Mt Glorious and Mt Nebo. This road cuts between the enormous Somerset and Wivenhoe reservoirs, and then climbs up switch-backs to over 700m. The temperature was up to 34C by this time, and as we climbed up and up, mostly in second gear, I watched the water rise to 90-odd. Apart from a little mis-firing due to vapourisation, the red beastie behaved well. Only 50 kilometres from Brisbane, this was the hardest it had worked on the whole trip. We paused for breath at a lookout and again at a quirky cafe at Mt Glorious.

After this, it was a quick drive through the Brisbane Forest, which smelt tantalisingly of hops, before descending into what probably passes for light traffic in Brisbane. It was Sunday afternoon, about 4pm as we drove over the Storey Bridge - allegedly built with bits left over from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. And finally Gerald arrived at its new home. I'd bought a house since 2008, when the Herald landed in Brisbane, and this was the first time we'd driven 'home'.

The next morning I gave the car a well-deserved wash and worked out the maths: 721 miles, about 39mpg, and minimal oil and coolant used. I reckon it's up for another adventure.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A wee drive in the country

After five and a half years working on the Eagle Downs project, I decided it was time for a change of scene. The whole point of being a geologist is to travel and see new rocks, and I'd been staring at the same coal seams since 2006. So I found a new job starting in November, and finished at Eagle Downs on Friday 14th October.

Gerald the Herald came to Moranbah in 2008. The company had provided a house with a huge garage, so the wee red terror was hauled out of storage in New Zealand, shipped to Brisbane and driven north to the Coalfields. I took three days for that journey because the car hadn't been used in several years and I wanted to take it slow in case anything wasn't working properly. As it turned out, Gerald was in rude health and never missed a beat.

Three years on, we were heading south again.

We sneaked out of Moranbah at 0525 on Saturday morning, as I wanted to get as much of the first day's journey out of the way before the heat built up. The sky was already light, and an orange sun rose above the clouds as we passed Eagle Downs. The first part of the drive was slow because of mist, and passing traffic threw up sprays of dirty water. We stopped at Dysart, the first town on the road south so I could clean the windscreen, and then headed out down the Golden Mile Rd.

The most worrying leg of the journey is officially called the "Suttor Developmental Road". but everyone calls it the Beef Road. It's about 250km in total, with no towns, settlements or rest stops. And no phone coverage. Break down on the Beef Road, and you'd better hope someone stops and helps you. As it turned out, the Beef Road section was uneventful. Just boring. The stretch from the Golden Mile Rd intersection to the Capricorn Highway is about 140km, or about an hour and a half at Gerald speeds. No towns, just signs and driveways every few kilometres, leading to farmhouses somewhere over the horizon. We were squeezed off the road by wide loads of mining equipment on its way north, and passed frequent patches of charred bush, burned either by farmers to control scrub, or by lightning. It was with a sense of relief that we reached Dingo. From then, we wouldn't be so isolated.

The Capricorn Highway runs east-west and is just about on the Tropic of Capricorn. We headed east, so the tropics were to our left. They don't look any different to the rest of inland Queensland, just flat or gently rolling brown grasslands, scrubby trees and stands of grey-green eucalypts. It's a landscape that the eye can struggle to focus on simply because there is so little to see. A landscape that only emphasises how big the sky is. After an hour or so, we turned south again onto the "Country Way", the Queensland section of New South Wales' New England Highway, which reaches all the way to the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, about 1500km south.

I was impressed at Gerald's fuel consumption. Half a tank to Dingo was great! Over the next hour though, I saw that the second half was disappearing a lot faster. Maybe the new fuel gauge wasn't as accurate as I'd hoped... so I decided to refuel at the first town, a tiny community called Dululu. Well, that was the plan, but when I got there I found that the service station had closed and the pumps were gone. Fxxk! Down to 1/4 tank now, but we had no choice but to keep going. We eventually found fuel at Jimna. They only had 91, so I put in $10, enough to get to Biloela and fill right up with 96. If we hadn't filled up at Jimna, Gerald would have been down to the last 2 litres!

From Biloela it was an easy drive to Cania Gorge, where I planned to camp for the night. We arrived in plenty of time to set up the tent and then drive down to the dam before doing one of the walks up the side gorges.

Finally it was time to sit back and enjoy a couple of Matilda Bay beers. The late afternoon sun dropped behind the cliffs, leaving clear skies slowly dimming and turning silver-yellow. The smells of damp earth and eucalyptus trees mixed with smoke from a camp fire. After a day of wind and engine noise, the sounds were the quiet conversations of other campers, evening birdsong and the buzz and chirp of insects. It felt as though the world was letting its breath out.

Later, I stood outside the tent in the dark. No wind, the only sounds were music and laughter. The sky was the stage tonight. Clear and bright, Scorpio above us, a satellite cruising past. The horizon flashed constantly with the echoes of lightning far away. No sound, just light, someone else's battle, somewhere outside the Gorge.

Cars don't sleep. They either move or they are silent. That night I dreamt for both of us.