To Townsville and back – a bloody long way

The Australian Chamber Music Festival is held in Townsville, late July to early August. It has been so, since an enterprising State minister lured it there over 30 years ago. This, of course, was a return, following two years abandoned for some reason.

I thought: wouldn’t it be interesting to drive; take my time and see the world. It is, you might suspect, a bloody long way from Canberra – over 24 hours actual driving time. But it doesn’t involve getting into a pandemic petri dish called an airplane. A friend from Melbourne saw the merits, and offered to accompany me. I would drive to Albury area and pick up said friend, then off we would go.

Cunning plan Baldrick, I mean what could go wrong. Well, the first thing was there is absolutely no accommodation in western Queensland, grey nomads being great dinosaur fans it seems. Then my trusty ford territory broke down in a big way a week out. Plan B, my friend would drive to Canberra and we would take that car rather than mine. The back end would be worked out in due course.

So the journey commenced.

First stop was Canowindra (pronounced Canoundra), a generally well preserved town.

Then for a surprisingly tasty lunch at Molong pub.

Despite being one of the persons on the planet the least interested in horse racing, I noted the efforts the residents of the tiny Dunedoo had made to celebrate their famous contribution.

Overnight at Coonabarabran we didn’t have time to explore the observatory because plan B involved one less day travel. Just as well, as it turned out not to be open anyway. After the 2003 bushfires destroyed Mount Stromlo observatory and all the telescopes, Siding Springs is now Australia’s main data capture observatory. The data is still sent back to Stromlo for analysis. Stromlo now specialises in shooting space junk with lasers (they shoot the front of the rapidly moving object so it stands up and then is dragged into the earth’s atmosphere and burnt up), satellite construction (the size of small book) and astronaut readiness training.

Where was I, oh yes, so Siding Springs observatory sits proudly high above Coonabarabran.

The Warumbungles are impressive and on the list for a much longer examination.

Note the half moon high on the right.

Winding north we were very surprised to come across a real footy field in Narrabri.

St George, in the middle of cotton growing country, is a smart little town on the Balonne River, which has all the signs of a frequent flooder. The Riversand winery has a nice cafe, some good wines including a Golden Liqueur Muscat (now that’s a blast from the past) and knowledgeable staff.

In Roma, the stand out was this 1918 School of Arts Hotel. The original was built in 1886. I guess it is the Queensland equivalent of the Mechanics Institutes, but with the beer, well Fosters.

Next was a long 8 hour drive through Rolleston, Blackwater and Middlemount up to West Mackay. There was water lying beside the road almost the whole way, with regular modern electronic signs advising if the road was open ahead. The car GPS kept trying to get us off those flooding roads onto a two hour longer journey, but we took comfort in the local signs. But you would certainly not want to head that way when it was actually wet. In Rolleston, where, it being Sunday, all (the one) shops were shut, an enterprising lady had a well attended little coffee wagon set up in the park. Apart from the massive coal tailing dumps in Blackwater, and the occasional several kilometre long coal trains, there was nothing but the constant fear that there would be water over the road.

Getting closer to Mackay it was very evident it was sugar country. Trains, railways, warning signs about trains, and billowing smoke gave it all away.

Welcoming a few days off the road, we found our Airlie Beach apartment was spacious enough for 2 or 20, and the balcony looking out over the water was massive. We looked around for electric scooters so we could get from one outside table t’another. Lovely sunrises and glistening water topped it off.

Not that one would swim:

There were some lovely bush areas with plenty of water, so lots of north Queensland birds. In order we have male then female Olive-backed Sunbird, Great Bowerbird, male and female Varied Triller, Forest Kingfisher, Helmeted Friarbird and Great Egret.

There are many Green-ant nests (not to be confused with green Antnests), once you know they are there.

There are plenty of boat trips and we did the coral glass-bottom boat and sunset yacht ones.

Heading from Airlie Beach up to Townsville, we dropped in to Bowen. A funny set up sees the “resorts” a fair distance from the rather separated township. But the bay was picturesque and, as we discovered on the way back, the little cafe good quality.

Townsville is a funny place too. It is soooo quiet in the city, you could be forgiven for thinking it is set up as a movie set. Even at peak work times, there were only a dozen or so cars around. About 2/3 of the shops were closed and empty, with only some advertising that they were available for lease. The extensive suburbs of Townsville stretch further west, with several huge indoor shopping malls. That said, the lack of activity in the city, except for the massive queues of under-dressed youngsters on Friday and Saturday night at the Flinders St nightclubs (there is a permanent relief – from alcohol – station, with plenty of police too), must be a worry. Even out on the expansive bay, there was little activity – mind you it is winter so only 28°.

The Australian Festival of Chamber Music was, again, fantastic. The difficulty of getting overseas acts due to some global issue meant we got to see even more amazing Australian talent. About 80% of attendees wore masks, which was comforting. Before you knew it, and about 40 concerts later, we were heading back south.

Having sussed out Bowen on the way up, the Coral Beach cafe was the perfect place for brunch on the way back. Very good quality, and nice and open with lots of anti-covid breezes.

The highlights of our first overnight stop, Mackay, were the re-built safe harbour (100,000 tons of massive rocks, lots of expensive looking boats, and chique new apartments) and the botanical gardens.

Next was a glorified fishing camp, called Clairview. Very interesting mangrove shorelines, and a homely CWA cafe with scones, jam and cream, and lots of home made chutneys etc.

Stopford Way, near Bouldercombe, which used to have a much more evocative name as Poison Creek Road, gave a great view east to Rockhampton. Interesting were the hills of native grasses, perhaps re-planted after the gold mining finished on the other side of the hill.

Mount Morgan is a former gold mine featuring a very stylish railway station built in 1898.

The interesting Isla Gorge was the next stop, certainly warranting more time next time.

Heading purposively to Banana to buy some of the same, we discovered it was named after a yellowish bullock who was the leader of a bullock gang many years back. Not a banana in sight.

Heading down the less than major Taroom-Roma back road, we saw lots of wild life (and water), although not to effectively photograph, so you will just have to take my word for it. About 7 wedge-tailed eagles, 5 echidnas, a daddy emu with 4-5 chicks (it is the daddy what looks after them), an Australian Bustard, and a calf standing unconcerned right in the middle of the road.

After our stop-over in Roma, we headed down through Peak Hill, a former open cut gold mine.

Again there was plenty of water around the edges of the road.

The final highlight was stopping for some time, and one of many times, at road works with The Dish just over there (I perhaps should clarify that the dish was the highlight, not the frequent long stops at roadworks). I couldn’t tell if they were playing cricket up there.

Being picked up at Barney’s Cafe, Bookham brought an end to the journey for me. We had covered over 6000km, my co-driver another 1000 or so on top of that.

Would I do it again? Yes, driving up and back next year is likely, hopefully via plan A and out further west.

Michael Monaghan August 2022

2 thoughts on “To Townsville and back – a bloody long way

  1. Thanks Michael.

    Sounds like a good trip.

    I am off on another voyage next month on CSIROs research ship the “Investigator”. This time we are studying the seamounts off Christmas Island and the Cocos-Keeling Islands in order to get a measure of their biodiversity and see which ones need conservation status. We are going for 6 weeks, including a week of quarantine in Darwin before we board the vessel. Should be interesting. We should also see lots of sea-birds so I will be definitely taking my camera.

    Cheers, Caroline


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