Once you’ve stayed in to bat for while in the Northern Territories (NT), the score can become a little familiar. (Warning: skip this cricket metaphor if you’re not Australian — like even if it’s a long innings, you should have declared a while ago because the other team, in this case the Territory, is never going to admit defeat.)
There are two real ways to fix an overly long stay in the Northern Territory. Number 1 is to leave, and the second follows on where the first leaves off, but with a twist. Number 2 is, you leave and come back.
It’s like this. Recently I was talking about a fella called Dave (his real name) with a fella called Matt (not his real name) in Alice Springs, after I heard Dave was leaving. Matt of course ventured that Dave would probably come back.
Matt added that Dave might return to the NT’s greener pastures “because he’ll realise it’s too hard down South.” Smarter blokes than I have set off for a grand repatriation with the wider world beyond the Territory’s tiny shores. More than you’d expect have been back at the pub again warming the same stool months, or even weeks, later. They lope back into town like a dingo with his tail between his legs.
|Queensland: The road to success|
To give you an insight into this migratory behaviour, let’s step across the border — say to Queensland (because if you head west, there’s certainly more reason to stay put and never go anywhere — but that’s a story to warm a campfire audience another time).
You might remember in a blog long ago, we headed up from Alice Springs to Tennant Creek and reached Three Ways (where you can go by road in three directions, as long as you count the one you came by as One). From there it’s a hop, skip and a jump over to the Barkly Homestead and north was the way to go if you fancied a date with Heartbreak.
Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter
But should you plough on east, you’ll hit the Queensland border and gain yourself half an hour as the time zones make their invisible shuffle backwards on terrestrial planes. You’ll have to put your social mores and attitudes back 10 years to match the more conservative political landscape of Queensland — which, when you add in the 20 years of progress you lost in NT, puts you at least 30 years behind the rest of the civilised world.
On from the border waits the tiny town of Camooweal — just giving you a hint at some of the fine names to come. There’s not a great deal to do in ‘Cammers’, although you can do it a bit more often now they’ve put the bridge over the Georgina River (which means you can make the crossing all through the wet season). Should you be a keen speleologist there are caves nearby, but they’re a little dangerous if you’re not used to the underground. If you plan your journey in advance, book yourself some downtime at Lawn Hill National Park – they only take a set number of visitors a year, and it is one of the true tropical wonders of the country.
Mount Isa is the first big jewel that will pass by your interstate wheels — after the 600km from Tennant Creek, it’s the biggest town you’ll see for a while. Mount Isa itself is home to the aptly names “Sulphide Street”, a clear sign that Isa is a booming mining town. The sunsets can be beautiful, though not for entirely the right reasons. The caravan park is out near the airport.
The drive from Mount Isa to Cloncurry is definitely in my Top 10 Top Stretches of Australian Highway. Sweeping turns amidst majestic hills and razor peaks; after driving through that flat country for what seems like forever it’s a welcome and breathtaking relief. Cloncurry is another smallish town, slowly growing and now offering some café-style action and the op shop there has always been good.
Deep into the Golden Tale of Myth
Now, for argument’s sake, we’ll head south-east: away from all that Great Barrier Reef, Whitsundays, Daintree palaver that you could read about from some reputable travel writer. Because if it’s Outback you want, then it’s the golden tale to end them all that you’ll get down this road.
|Winton: Dino wheely trash bin|
Like most Australians you probably don’t know the second verse of our national anthem (“Advance Australia Fair” – really, what does that mean??). But you’d probably be able to hum more than just a few bars of the unofficial flag-raiser “Waltzing Matilda”. The birthplace of this venerable bastion of outback poetry, penned by A.B. “Banjo” Patterson, lies somewhere along the Matilda Highway, down the track from Kynuna or near Winton, depending on which story you believe.
The exact waterhole is still a bone of contention, but the story is clear. Banjo was a lawyer on the great shearers strike some 100 years or so back, and be penned the verse following a “swagman” putting a “jumbuck” in his “tuckerbag” (travelling old fella stole a sheep, plain English y’see). The rest is literary history and a handy thing to hum at the opening of an Olympic Games.
Winton, Jewel of Queensland
If you truly don’t believe a word of this, then check out Winton for yourself. One side of the street the roadside garbage bins are shaped like old barrels, a nod to the Waltzing Matilda heritage, and on the other, the bins are shaped like dinosaur feet, replete with dew claw. See, makes perfect sense.
The second sustaining truth that gets some logic from this observation was the discovery of the only dinosaur stampede ever found, just 100km south of Winton (although a bloody long time ago). Legend has it that Truckosaurus belted out onto a big, open plain and scared the willys out of all the local pint-sized monsters and local history was once again created from their fleeing footprints.
|The Proposition: Quality Queensland family entertainment|
If that’s not enough for you, then the Tattersalls Hotel should take your fancy, with its laidback old-school bar action and gorgeous wooden veranda on the second floor (which can be yours for only $15 a night). And if that hasn’t got you going like a dingo on heat then you can spend your days out at the Musical Fence, where two fences make shimmering tones from the amplified thrumming of the wind. Apart from being custom built for the 2002 Queensland Biennial Festival of Music, it’s like, well, some amazing shimmering thing that sounds like the sound of thrumming, but better!
And Winton’s bag of tricks doesn’t stop there! They also shot a classic Australian film (in addition to BMX Bandits) out here in the blazing sun: Nick Cave’s The Proposition, an ode to Outback desolation. The ladies at the op shop (one of the world’s best, too) remember what they bought for the props. Heck, they even remember what I bought here two years ago and who I came in with! It’s sort of like stalking in reverse, where you go to them.
So, maybe so many things to do, decisions to make and such natural surrealism is causing you some stress. The level of wackiness is not as high but perhaps more unpredictable on the eastern side of the border. Maybe even now, before you get past Central Queensland and you really hit the bustling hordes, you’re thinking of heading west back to the relative safety of the Territory. And with all the slick, new threads you’ve picked up at the op shops you can at least dress differently when you order your first beer back at the same pub when you get back there, and they might not even recognise that it was you who left last week.
Planning a trip? Browse Viator’s tours & things to do in Queensland and the Northern Territories of Australia. Also check out Kerrie’s post comparing the Whitsundays versus Tropical North Queensland.