For six days, three states and over four thousand kilometers we drove across a sunburnt country from Darwin at the top end of the Northern Territory south/east to outback central Queensland and down through the back of NSW to Canberra and home to our quiet little cosy country estate.. Along the way I couldn't help remember and recite a famous Australian poem that we were all taught at school (and loved) when we were young :- Dorothea Mackellar's "My Country."
I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of rugged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains. I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea, Her beauty and her terror- The wide brown land for me!
We packed up the car and said goodbye to our view of the jewel sea, in this case the Arafura Sea as it enters Darwin Harbour. Within minutes we were in the harsh dry outback of the Northern Territory. Flat sweeping plains as far as the eye can see broken only by the occasional rugged mountains and an abundance of termite mounds so numerous it is impossible to count. First stop, Pine Creek, a tiny old gold mining town with nothing much open on a Sunday morning, so it was non-stop then to Mataranka for a promised legendary Mataranka pie. Another really tiny outback town, it's main claim to fame being the autobiographical novel "We of the Never Never" by Jeannie Gunn and immortalised in the 1982 movie with Angela Punch McGregor in the leading role. Set in Mataranka, the book was written about the authors life and experiences moving to such a harsh and isolated area in 1902 when women, albeit white women, were not seen to be on the land or help their husbands on outback cattle stations. If you spend an afternoon swimming in the local thermal springs you can then partake in a cool ale at the local watering hole while watching the legendary movie. We didn't stop long enough to do this as we had previously experienced the Mataranka hot springs in all their glory on another occasion. Over 1,100 km and and 12 hours after saying goodbye to Darwin we finally pulled in for the evening at Barkly Homestead, and yes, believe it or not, we were still in the Northern Territory! When travelling in air conditioned comfort it is easy to forget just how hot it is outside, (particularly as we approach the summer months in Australia and the "build up" in the NT) that is until you open the car door and step out into the furnace. It was 7:00 pm and yet still 45 degrees C with a formidable burning hot wind.
Day 2 we set of bright and early before the heat set in and began our journey well. We planned to cross the border into Queensland and reach Mt Isa in time for morning tea. Should have known all good plans always go astray. As the sun and heat rose and we cruised through the sweeping plains gazing at the wonder of the far horizon, we came around a sweeping bend in the road and over a "flood" bridge only to find a pot hole in the middle of the road almost the same size as our car. Too fast and too dangerous to swerve we hit the pot hole and hoped for the best. Sure enough we blew out the front right tyre. Not a problem! Just pull on over to the side of the road, unpack the bags from the boot, lift up the flap and look inside to where the spare tyre should be. Were my eyes deceiving me? We have a brand new car and NO spare tyre! Who would have thought? It may have seemed naive of both of us not to check before leaving Darwin but we both assumed a new car would come equiped with a spare tyre! There we found ourselves in the middle of the outback, heat rising every minute, and not a soul in sight for miles. "Not to worry" said hubby, "I'll wave down the next truck driver that comes along and get him to radio for help."
That was real successful! Turns out in the heat of the outback CB radio signals don't reach futher than 10 km at most. The nearest small town was 70 km away and Mt Isa was still 300 km ahead. Not to worry, don't despair, believe it or not, just 200 m further up the road was Avon Downs Police Station! Who would have believed it! In the middle of absolutely nowhere stood a police station! We limped the car up the road and found the local policeman just opening up shop for the day. His response, "So the pot hole has got another one has it?" He helped us organise a tow-truck into Camooweal, 12 km east of the NT border into Queensland, population 300 (on a good day when all the indiginous folk are in town to do a head count) so the tow truck driver told us.
It stands proudly outside the Camooweal Roadhouse. The story goes that one evening a couple of truckies were having a drink at the local pub and began to discuss who were tougher, Queenslanders or Territorians! The more they drank, the more vocal they became, the Queenslanders insisting their kangaroos were tougher than the territories buffalo. It didn't take long before the idea came to pass that the strongest of all would be a cross between the two. It just so happened an artist was listening to the conversation and drew a sketch on a coaster. Before he left he showed the bartender and asked if they would like one? A few weeks later to the towns surprise a special delivery arrived. The Buffaroo now stands pride of place for all to see as you arrive in the sleepy outback town.
Instead of reaching Mt Isa by the intended morning tea break of 10:00 am we finally arrived at 5:00 pm, just in time to call it a day.