We awoke early from our peaceful night the Wanora Downs Rest Area to find a truck and 2 cars had joined us during the night. After a hot breakfast we made off toward the tiny hamlet of Kynuna just as the sun was rising.
The colours of the wide flat plains take on fascinating hues in the early morning sunrise and as the eagles and other birds soared all around us the hundreds of kangaroos and emus were searching for morning food.
We stopped at Kynuna amongst a fleet of huge cattle trucks, perhaps the biggest users of the roads in these parts, and tried to get some air to increase the pressure in the air shocks to ease the affects of the road condition but alas air hoses were not available at this tiny truck stop.
On we went in the still of the early morning to McKinlay.
Now I worked at McKinlay some 30 odd years ago when I was an Operations Controller for SHRM. We had a camp here at the time for a road gang housing and feeding about 35 – 40 men working on an upgrade to the road. We had received urgent complaints from the client about the running of the camp and I flew to Mt Isa and then drove out here to sort things out.
I remember walking into the kitchen at evening meal time to find no meal had been prepared and the two cooks sitting at a mess room table too drunk to stand up and a bottle of Johnny Walker, mostly consumed, on the table between them.
I asked them what was going on to which I received the reply, “And who the F*&%# are YOU!”
“I’m the Operations Manager for this camp and I’m the one that’s just sacked you both”, I replied. “Get your gear and be off the camp in 20 minutes.”
Of course the trouble was there was no-one to replace them so I had to grab a couple of ladies from the caravan park nearby and we had a meal up within 30 minutes. It was a few weeks before the company could find a couple of new cooks so I was stuck here for all that time.
I was able to clearly identify exactly where the camp had stood, next to the large water tower just a short walk to the old Walkabout Pub – where the first Crocodile Dundee movie was made – which was still there. I recall it in a slightly different location and much more dilapidated than it is now so they must have relocated and renovated it. I used to walk down to the pub just for something to do during the days that I was here at the camp.
We drove out of McKinlay and on toward Cloncurry, where we stopped briefly for a look at the town before heading to Mt Isa.
This was Kerrie’s first visit to Mt Isa where we found a bustling and very busy community.
The huge Mt Isa Mine is the focal point of the town and the reason for the town’s existence.
After emptying the toilet, fuelling up and buying bread and milk we headed out of “The Isa” to an old world war 2 memorial park to have lunch.
On we headed with the Nissan humming beautifully and the van towing perfectly.
The increased pressure I’d put in the air shocks at Cloncurry had smoothed the ride a lot, (should have done it 2 days ago), and as a bonus the roads were west of Mt Isa were in much better repair.
The ever changing scenery had gone through another transformation and now rugged hills with gigantic red rocks jutting from them surrounded us.
The country never ceases to be spectacular. Sometimes, when we’re not driving, we try to catch an hour’s sleep but we find the ever changing country mesmerises us almost forcing us to stay awake so as not miss some other landmark.
We finally made the little border town of Camooweal where we topped up with fuel for the long trip across the Barkly Tablelands along the Barkly Highway to Three Ways.
We crossed the border into The Northern Territory with a degree of excitement at being in yet another state to explore.
The first thing we noticed was the speed limit – now 130kpm – and then the vast improvement in the condition of the roads. The Nissan seemed to be floating on air compared to the last few days.
It was exciting and interesting just being in the Northern Territory and we amazed the huge expanse of uninhabited land on each side. As we looked at the map we realised even more the vastness of the country as except for Camooweal behind us and Tennant Creek some 700km in front of there was little else. For hundreds of Kilometres to the north and the south there were just a handful of cattle stations.
One of those stations is Avon Downs just a hundred or so Kilometres from Camooweal. Avon Downs has a police station, a homestead and a wonderful free camping spot. We pulled into the camp spot late in the afternoon to find it full of grey nomads. This felt good and gave a great sense of not being alone in such a vast area, although being alone is quite ok as well.
We again watched the spectacular sunset and moon rise and felt the chill of the night air as the sun disappeared from the sky before spending a blissfully peaceful night tucked up cosy and warm in the silence of the outback.