Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Quinkan spirits

I'm sitting under a tree in Coen drinking wine out of a plastic cup trying to piece my thoughts together after a particularly emotionally jarring day. We nearly didn't end up going on the guided tour of the spectacular rock art gallery because of my impressions of the town the night before.

We decided on Motel camping again due to our late arrival in Laura and my laziness. There were no cooking facilities in our room so we walked across the road to the Hotel. What first struck me was the stark segregation of this town. All the businesses, Motel & Store, Roadhouse and Hotel were owned by white people, their employees were all young Asian girls (backpackers) with average to very bad English skills, while all the Aboriginal people I saw bought groceries at the store with some transaction not involving cash or card.

I was later told that most had been banned from the Pub, some for life! Is that even remotely legal? One lady informed us that even their dogs were "bad". I still can't believe that such blatant systemic racism exists in Australia. Even worse, I suspect my impression only scratches the surface.

Francoise had similar feelings and we decided to just get out of this place after quickly visiting the Quinkan Cultural Centre. We walked around the centre reading about the history of the area and our mood only got darker. We read how in the past the first people were rounded up to do forced labour (aka slavery) and if they "misbehaved" in any way their families would be sent to Palm Island from whence 25% didn't return. I'll just leave you with that little taste. I'm sure you can find information of other atrocities by yourself. Francoise by this point was crying and I needed to go outside to get some fresh air.

There I met Lex, the gentleman who runs the centre and who was just having a ciggie break. We got to chatting and I decided we should do the tour.

Lex got on the phone and rang one of the local guides, a fellow who goes by the name of Steve and who's grandmother coincidentally originates from Coen, where she raised 13 children in a tin shed. He is a very friendly, extremely knowledgeable and talkative fellow and he immediately put us at ease.

Lets get to the gallery.

This is the first cave where animals and good spirits are drawn. Steve was the first to admit that the exact meanings are now lost in the mists of time.

Many paintings show animals that were revered or eaten or both. Below is a river eel which is native ti the Laura river.

Human forms if I remember right (as opposed to spirits)

To me this looks like spirits pushing from inside the rock (no hallucinogens :-)

Across the top of the animals and people runs the rainbow serpent.

An Alien surfing? Calling Von Daniken :D

Lastly we got to the inner sanctum. This is where the healing was done. I will resist the temptation to retell the story poorly, rather I encourage you to come and hear it yourself from one of the people like Steve who has a connection to this land going back to before the last Ice age.

I cannot resist one last picture, who I will name the Venus of Quinkan. As soon  as I saw her she reminded me of the Venus of Willendorf . Francoise and I went to see her in Austria many years ago. Funny how "sexy" has changed in the last 30,000 years.

I hope this taste of one of the worlds oldest and most magnificent art galleries inspires you to come and experience it for yourself.

Another advantageof going with a (talkative) local guide is that he/she can tell you about the local flora and fauna. This is a Blackboy bush which was used for food, water making spears and fire.

The Geology is fascinating as well, unless you believe Steve that he placed the rock on top of the other one this morning.

Lastly Francoise couldn't resist being photographed next to a good looking man for a change.

Well, my bottle is now empty and it is time for me to sleep and let my brain try and process the day. It is clear to me that I live in an occupied country with a very dark history. The few pieces of legislation we have passed in the last few decades have not removed the injustice that is an enduring stain on our national identity.

My appreciation of Aboriginal culture has crystallized coming into such close contact with this inestimable human cultural heritage. I recommend you watch first footprints to see just how awe-inspiring the civilization that inhabited this country we now call Australia was. 

Then come to Laura
Good night. 

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Mt Garnett to Laura via the Misty Mountains

Innot Hot Springs

Australia is a huge country and every few Km's there is something to see. Although we have been selective it has still taken us 11 days to reach this point. This are some of those that we couldn't drive past.

Just 15km's after Mt Garnett we came upon a treasure in the form of the Innot hot springs. They were all the rage when discovered about a century ago. The water was said to have magical healing properties, was bottled and transported all over the world. I'm sure it was just as effective as Homeopathy although that's not a high bar to jump. 

We all got our feet wet although in some places the water was way to hot.

Our next stop was Atherton, but on the way we noticed a tourist drive signposted the Misty Mountains. For an old Led Zepp tragic it was irresistible. I cannot remember the name of this waterfall but it was glorious. Will cheat and edit if I recall.

The Curtin Fig was another attraction too good to miss.

Why am I thinking " Hippy Ent"?

By the time we got to Atherton I was ready to relax a bit and the rain was a good excuse to book a room. Unfortunately most things locally were booked out due to the beginning of school holidays but offered a special "suite" for $85! in Cairns. Oh well, again I did not manage to avoid driving at night so off we went. Not exactly according to plan. I guess "suite" means different things to different people but the New Chalon, adjacent to the Bruce highway was at least clean and comfy.

This morning we drove to Cairns esplanade wandered around for a while, met a friend in Port Douglas and made sure that our 4 hour journey to Laura which started at 10am somehow took almost 9 hours, which meant more than an hour driving in dangerously dark conditions again. Will I learn before I hit a Roo or Cow (without a bullbar) ? I guess we'll find out.
I finally got my Telstra sim working, Telstra being the only carrier with a significant rural presence. I am now tethering from my Ipad. I can now go weat again with confidence :-)

Anyway, now we have made it to the area where we can pursue our main two objectives. To see the worlds oldest art and catch a Barra. Wish us luck :D

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Sapphire to Mt Garnett

Ralph & Outbike

I met Ralph Jackson very early in my chess career when I was just starting out and Ralph was already a strong Junior having significant results under his belt including an Albury open. My first memory is hitching a ride with Ralph to Albury in 1979 (i think) when I was rated 1560, my first rating. I had the cheek to beat him early but he was just one of my victims. Others were Phil Viner, Colin Morris. I also drew IM's Ian Rogers, Guy West and one other losing just one game to Craig Laird. A fantastic result considering my rating and experience.

Anyway, Ralph went on to found the Wayward bus company while I continued with chess. We ran into each other sporadically since then, more often since I moved back to OZ a few years ago. When I met Ralph a few weeks ago and told him of my travel plans he mentioned he had a bike tour in the same area and invited us to join him for a few days. After this long introduction here are some pictures.

We were support vehicle 2 and our mission was to stay behind the riders with a sign to alert motorists to the bikers ahead.

Our first stop outside Charters towers was Balfes creek. Francoise and I had a quick beer and chat with innkeeper John Smith (his real name)  

One of John's artistic creations.

Homestead? Not sure, some of the "towns" along this road are just a tree, a dunny and a sign.

This creek has been waiting for water for a while.

When we got to Prairie Ralph pointed out a chess set he had noticed driving by. Keen eyesight is all I could say.

There are a lot of windmills drawing water up from the bores in this area. Our esteemed leader Mr Babblealot considers them eyesores but I'm not sure the people who depend on the hopefully still unfracked bore water would agree.

Wow! Good luck catching all that while driving by.

Prairie was the most interesting stop on this two day journey. Next time through I would like to saty at this pub.

Just one of the old exhibits lining the side of the pub

No less interesting inside.

It soon got less interesting.

We camped in Hughenden on the second night. The bikers who were not spring chickens anymore (one lady was 70) had done nearly 300km on their own steam in two days and deserved a rest. On Sunday we accompanied them to Porcupine Gorge which is 63km from Hughenden going north. For their rest day these "silvertops" hiked a few hours down to the bottom and back up. I am impressed

This is the view from the first lookout. 

The Pyramid Rock. No explanation needed. the stream was cool and crystal clear before i got in and stirred up the algae

Ralph and I playing dueling mobiles.

If you want to join one of Ralph's tours go to Some like this one are not too tough and others...well look for yourself.

We said our goodbyes and continued our journey north with a view to visit the Undara Lava Caves. After a long day driving mainly on an unpaved road while concentrating on not hitting Roos we somehow missed the sign. Oh well, maybe on the way back.

We got to Mt Garnett and checked into the local Hotel. The food is great but give the rooms a miss if you require a modicum of hygiene. Finally after three days my phone has reception again so i can bring you this enthralling report. If you plan to go anywhere west of the Great Dividing Range get a Telstra chip. Nothing else works. 

I actually did buy one in Hughenden but haven't gotten it to work yet. sigh....

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Sapphires and Sweetlip

Emerald to Sapphire

We left the lovely ladies at the Emerald tourist office at 12.30, slightly later than planned. One reason was that it took me longer than expected to write my thrilling report :-) and the other was that Francoise and Nina were waiting for me outside while I was waiting for them inside. Failure to communicate? All good though.

The towns in this area all have these signs to welcome you. Art for arts sake?

Sapphire is like a town from a movie set. We were looking for the centre of town but before we knew it we were on the other side so had to turn back. The post office seemed like a good place to ask where to go and a very friendly lady directed us to Pat's cafe where we were promised good food, gems and a talking Cockatoo. 

What's a fossicking park we asked ourselves.

It was now after 1pm and we were all a bit hungry. Seeing the meals being served also made our mouths water.  You are not always guaranteed a great meal around these parts but this place is an exception. 

Sweetlip, salad and chips

To get to the cafe you have to walk through the store where local gems, and fossils are on display at quite amazing prices.

The ammonite fossils were amazing. The huge one only costs $180 

The Amethyst's weren't shabby either

And a rainbow assortment of others

While dining in the "garden of tranquility we were tempted to try...

Fossicking for ourselves! One purchases a bucket of wash for $10 and first one separates the dust,

then you rinse the remainder in water removing the rest of the dust and rock,

Credit Francoise Petitjean
then a keen pair of eyes searches for the little sapphires, zircons
and other precious gems.
Credit Francoise Petitjean
Originally we meant the exercise to be mainly fun for Nina but soon we caught the fever. We ended up getting a second bucket and this was our catch. One cheeky fellow tourist who had seen us at lake Maraboon remarked, "this is going better than your fishing".

We had quite a few sapphires and zircins. Two were "cutters"! These are stones large enough to be cut. 

Sapphire to Clermont

Now we were way behind schedule and had no time for Rubyvale as we were meeting a friend in Charters towers today and there was only an hour of  sun left and we wanted to make it to Clermont before dark. It is dangerous driving after dark because of all the roo's on the road. We didn't quite make it and nearly hit one. Not having a bull-bar this is not a good idea.

Well we made it to Leo hotel-motel safe but this is an establishment that I cannot recommend highly. We slept, left early in the morning and made our destination before noon. There are hardly any cars on this very straight and good road. The carcasses of roo's and a few cows line the road every 50 metres so imagine the drive at night, Brrrr

We met up with Ralph Jackson and his group of intrepid bike riders in the afternoon and will join them on their trek to Houghendon  but that's tomorrows story.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Pitching the tent

Woodgate beach to 1770

After getting bitten by sandflies and not being able to get online in any fashion we were happy to be back on the road again. Our next stop was Captain Cooks second Australian landing spot and the first in Queensland. Guess what year? 

Just a few miles up the road we encountered another ISIS compound. I always thought they didn't like dogs but....

Our first eyeopener when we got to the 1770 harbour was this semi aquatic vehicle that does tours around the marshes. Looks interesting, maybe another time. 

There is a nice walk at the end of the road to the Joseph Banks Conservation park. 

The main attraction is trees which must be climbed.

1770 to Gladstone

We felt that 100km was not enough for one day and since it was still early we decided to press on. A few hours later we were in Gladstone. We took no pictures as there is really not much to see if you are not into industrial infrastructure. The harbour and surrounds are just an eyesore. Is the coal industry really more valuable than the potential tourist industry?

This is not to say that our stay was uneventful. Again I piked out on camping as I was tired after quite a drive and we checked into a motel. At 3am I was woken by a car idling in front of our room so I got up with the intention of politely telling the person responsible to.....

It was a young shirtless fellow with quite a cheeky attitude who ran to the car quickly when he noticed that his attempts at humour were not as well received as he may have hoped. I went back to bed feeling a bit annoyed unable to sleep. About 10 or 15 minutes later I heard our door open and there he was again. "I just came to check if your sheets are clean" and then sprinted off as I got up and gave a short chase. Anyway, he made it back to his car again, I told him to go home and sleep it off as he seemed quite high, locked the door this time and went to sleep.

Next morning the police arrived! I was the only person to have seen him but he had been in other rooms, had stolen wallets and keys and the car he was driving was stolen. I had assumed he was just a teenager skylarking. Feeling stupid now. Even worse, I made the local news

Gladstone to Emerald

We were undecided whether to follow the coast road or turn inland so left the choice to Nina. When told the possibility of finding Emeralds or Sapphires she decided on inland.

We turned left just before Rockhampton and being a city slicker it did not occur to me to fill up before heading west. The next town was Westwood and the petrol station there was closed. Luckily we made it to the next town Duaringa before the gauge showed empty. We stopped at the Westwood pub for bad,expensive ($5) instant coffee and good advice. There were no trees one could climb bit here was a rock.

The A4 highway runs along the railway line most of the way to Blackwater and we saw the longest trains imaginable. Despite going in the opposite direction they seemed to go on forever, all loaded to the brim with "humanities future", uncovered of course.

We finally made it to Emerald and instead of just winging it, this time we went straight to the Central highlands tourist office. This is where I am right now actually, charging my laptop and connecting successfully for the first time in days.

The ladies here are knowledgeable, helpful and very friendly. After getting some advice we headed off to Lake Maraboon Holiday Village . We pitched (actually threw) our tent for the first time and stayed two days because it was so nice. Nina didn't want to leave this morning because she fell in love with the Rainbow Lorikeets   

The lake apparently holds three times the volume of Sydney Harbour and is brimming with fish and Redclaw but we didn't get lucky. :-(

Cockatoos abound here as well and are used to people. This one, when spotting me pointing the phone, started waddling towards me wondering if its food. 

The wildlife is not the only attraction. Happy hour (4.30pm) attracts a lot of campers and the Kookaburra's know they are likely to get a feed.

Time to go look for precious stones!
wish us luck:-)