COBBOLD GORGE – AND THE GLASS BRIDGE

AUSTRALIA’S NARROWEST GORGE

This was the second time we have visited Cobbold Gorge and it won’t be the last! A really spectacular location in the Gulf Savannah region, this is a breathtaking part of the Outback. We loved it the first time but since then a spectacular glass bridge has been built and is Australia’s first fully glass bridge spanning a 13 metre gap and with a 19 metre drop into the water below. I was thinking of the Grand Canyon bridge and wondered if it measured up but there is no comparison. This is just amazing because of the location and also because of the size – tiny compared to the Grand Canyon but equally impressive.

Cobbold Gorge Village http://cobboldgorge.com.au is part of Robin Hood Station which is a working cattle property and is a 6 hour drive from Townsville or Cairns. The drive itself is interesting through ancient geological landforms and small townships in the Gulf Savannah region. Forsayth is closest to the station and tours run to Cobbold Gorge from there as well.

The cattle seem unperturbed by motorists on their way to the village and we passed many termite mounds of all sizes and shapes which stood out in the red earth. Wildlife was abundant – red and black cockatoos, lots of kangaroos and even wedge tailed eagles.

On arrival at the village we checked into our accommodation which was in the Boundary Huts – very comfortable, air conditioned rooms with ensuite and tea and coffee making facilities as well as little verandahs to sit and soak up the views.

(Photo by Cobbold Gorge Village)

There is a variety of accommodation to choose from and many arrive with caravans or campervans and are fully catered for in the nearby campground. We chose to dine at the restaurant which is located next to the swimming pool overlooking the lagoon. Great food, wonderful ambience and there was even a guest playing his guitar – what more could you want?

To visit the gorge you must do a tour with a Savannah Guide which takes 3 hours. A short bus ride takes you to the starting point for the walking/boat tour – our group was small and the guide very informative. We started with the walk which was about an hour and a half and began along the water’s edge and then up through interesting country and onto the sandstone escarpment. The guide pointed out various species of spiders with finely spun webs, hollows for wildlife and beautiful paperbarks.

What fascinated me was the “Soap Tree” – a very special tree nestled near the water’s edge with leaves that make “soap” and is apparently a godsend for those out in the bush with very few supplies. First you find the tree, then you gather the leaves and rubbing them between your hands, magical soap appears!

We climbed the escarpment and heard some of the history of the place and stories of the pioneers who first came to this part of the country. Then we walked across the ancient landform to a point at the top of the gorge where the bridge is located. The gorge is stunning with 30 metre sheer walls from the bottom of the water to the top of the escarpment. The bridge shimmered in the morning light and we had to put on special covers over our footwear so as not to scratch the glass before gingerly walking across!

Whilst admiring the view and becoming more confident about walking on glass, a small boat was silently gliding through the gorge below – this was another group who were to do the walk after the boat trip.

A short path down the escarpment to the water’s edge and it was time to do the electric boat trip – the guided cruise takes about 45 minutes and is a wonderful way to see this beautiful gorge. The boat is so silent and gliding past the sheer rocks which one could touch and then looking through the crystal clear water, it was a dream. There are fresh water crocodiles resident in this place, known as Johnson River Crocs they are harmless and just add to the mystique of the area.

We watched tiny spiders weaving webs and saw butterflies and dragonflies flitting through the rocks. At one point the guide pointed out a place he calls “Duck Rock” – it is the narrowest point of the gorge and only 2 metres across and thus he calls out “Duck” to avoid the looming overhang! Then we saw the bridge from the water – and how spectacular that was!

Back at the village and eager to find out more about the history of the station, I found a very informative poster about Francis Cobbold and I pondered his life and times and wondered what he would think now – hopefully he would be proud of the fact that so many have enjoyed this remarkable part of the outback thanks to the ongoing pioneering spirit of the Terry family of Robin Hood Station.

We had one final thing to do before we ventured on our road trip and that was to enjoy the Outback sunset from the Quartz Blow – a short distance from the village and down a fairly rough track we found a beautiful spot to sit and watch the sky turning yellow, then pink and finally vivid red whilst enjoying a glass of wine, beer and some nibbles. A perfect end to a perfect day and a great finale for our friends from WA.

THE DINOSAUR TRAIL

DISCOVERIES IN NORTH WEST QUEENSLAND – Richmond and Winton

Children the world over have all loved or been fascinated by Dinosaurs at some point in their childhood. With current Covid restrictions, we are limited as to where we can go but fortunately we live in Queensland, Australia and so it was a no brainer to have a little road trip and discover some of Australia’s dinosaur history.

Our first stop was in Richmond, a small outback town some 490 km from Townsville and with a population of around 648 people. Once part of the vast inland sea in pre-historic times it is best known for its marine fossil discoveries and is a service centre for the surrounding pastoral industries. A small, privately owned museum named Kronosaurus Korner was our main focus and is well worth a visit. Here you can step back in time and watch prehistoric creatures come to life. Most of the collection in the museum were donated by local graziers, often discovered whilst mustering cattle and working the land. These marine fossils from the Early Cretaceous period include the 100-115 million year old (Aptian–Albian) remains of marine reptiles, dinosaurs, pterosaurs, birds, fishes, crustaceans, cephalopods, gastropods, bivalves, echinoderms, plants and trace fossils.

It is worth watching the short movie before self guiding through the museum as everything is well explained and the visit is really enjoyable – our little folk loved it all and took great delight in telling us all about what happened millions of years ago!

Life sized models are outside the museum and are a real drawcard.

Richmond takes pride in it’s “tidy town” title and it is certainly that. We loved the wide streets and colourful bougainvillea down the centre as well as the public rubbish bins cleverly disguised as dinosaurs!

After a comfortable night at the Ammonite Motel and breakfast in a small ‘at home’ restaurant located in an old Queenslander, we hit the road to Winton.

As part of the great inland sea millions of years ago, it is awe inspiring to drive along the endless straight road framed with colours of the outback. The blue sky, red gravel road, various hues of green and gold of the grasses make a beautiful picture and sometimes it is possible to see stock casually roaming the vast land. Winton is 278 kms from Richmond which made for an easy drive. A small outback town, it is known as the birthplace of “Waltzing Matilda” as well as the Dinosaur capital of Australia and the birthplace of Qantas. The main street of the town is wide and well kept with an attractive garden down the centre strip and iconic images throughout.

To give us a sense of history in this town, we decided to stay at the North Gregory Hotel which has been hosting visitors since 1899. However over the years the hotel was destroyed by two fires and was finally rebuilt in 1955. This hotel is a true Aussie battler, surviving fires, drought, and hardship, and was affectionately named Queen of the Outback. It was here at the Gregory on April 6, 1895, that Australia’s unofficial national anthem, Waltzing Matilda, was played in public for the first time. During the 1920s, secret meetings took place at the hotel, as Winton locals met to form a small airline called QANTAS. The 36th president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, stayed here when his plane was forced to land in the Outback during World War 2.

It was an easy walk to the Waltzing Matilda Centre which is the world’s first museum dedicated to a single song! Banjo Patterson wrote the words to the song and here we learned about his life as well as much, much more about the music. The children were fascinated to see Long Playing records as well as various types of players.

In keeping with the musical theme, we next visited the Musical Fence. This is the first permanent musical fence in the world and was designed by percussionist and composer Graeme Leak. It is a wire fence installation that can be played as a musical instrument and visitors of all ages are welcome to “have a bash” and create some music – and fun!

A small museum dedicated to dinosaurs is also on the main street and is worth a visit especially if you don’t get time to visit the new Australian Age of the Dinosaurs museum located just out of town. Here at the small museum life sized models of these pre historic creatures gives you a sense of the enormity of the living beings of the era.

Next it was time to visit the wonderful new museum “The Australian Age of the Dinosaurs” which is the subject of the next post.

Dusty Road to Derby

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Driving on these dusty roads is not without some danger – especially when you meet one of the huge road trains – the most sensible thing to do is stop and wait for both the road train and the dust to pass!  Fortunately the trip to Derby was enjoyable with very little traffic and lots of contrasting colours on the way.  We even had time to stop and have a picnic lunch on the back of the vehicle.

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Right alongside was another huge termite mound and having learned of the aboriginal significance of these mounds, I was wondering if this one contained the remains of a loved one.  It was again an unusual shape compared to others we have seen on this road trip.

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Finally we arrived in Derby which is a small outback town on the edge of the King Sound.  Its claim to fame is having the highest tides of any Australian port 11m (or 36 feet) which leaves the town surrounded by vast mud flats and mangroves.  We were advised to go down to the town jetty – the Derby Wharf – to watch the sunset.  Each evening a stream of people arrive with their chairs and eskies and settle down to watch the display and/or to fish.  We were not disappointed, in spite of cloud cover the colours were magnificent.

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There is quite a lot of history with this town and we found the Boab Prison Tree seven kilometres out of town.  This is a 1500 year old boab tree that was used as an overnight lockup for prisoners.  Before Derby was established in 1883 Aboriginal people were kidnapped from the West Kimberley by settlers who wanted divers and workers for the pearling boats in Broome.  They rounded people up, put them in chains and marched them up the coast. Some held their captives at the boab tree whilst waiting for a boat.  This seems incomprehensible to us today and doesn’t bear thinking about.  However it is now a “Site of Significance” to the local Aboriginal people and the tree is protected under the Heritage Act.

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There is a sign declaring that snakes are known to inhabit the tree and not to go near it – it is protected by a fence these days.

With a population of more than half being Aboriginal and with several communities nearby, there are a couple of art galleries to visit.  One was closed but the other was definitely worth a visit and I would recommend to anyone in the area to stop by.  It is fascinating and the owner, Mark Norval, is an artist himself who has spent more than 40 years in the area and has helped and encouraged many local artists.

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Several local people had come to the gallery that day and were sitting outside painting which was fascinating to watch.  They are extremely shy and I asked if I could take their photos and was pleased to be able to converse for a short time with them.

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Inside was an incredible array of art and artefacts and I was very taken with a couple of pieces so purchased them and was delighted to find the young artist had just arrived, so she agreed to meet me and have a photo taken with the painting I had chosen.

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Mark himself has some incredible work there and two pieces, which were not for sale, left me quite gobsmacked.  They were portraits done on perspex so each side had a different face but was constructed with the same medium – paint, lace, bark, leaves and shells.

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and the other side

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I could have spent hours here at the gallery and spent hundreds of dollars but was pulled away and on we drove, to another straight road towards Broome.

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On The Road Again -Townsville to Mt Isa

It has been two days of discovery. The 904 km drive took us through the charming town of Charters Towers with its many historical buildings and on to Hughenden where we visited the Fossil and Dinosaur Museum and were introduced to the world of dinosaurs and palaeontologists. The huge reconstruction of the Muttaburrasaurus  takes pride of place in the gallery along with smaller replicas of flying creatures, underwater dinosaurs and lots of ammonites.

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Next stop was Richmond where we called into the Kronosaurus Korner which is reputed to be Australia’s premier marine fossil museum.  This is an unforgettable prehistoric adventure and a very realistic movie showed us how the great inland sea which covered this area 100 million years ago has left behind an intriguing story of the creatures of the Earth’s Evolution.  I have to say this was a surprise in this tiny outback town and whereas I am not overjoyed with looking at a large number of rocks, the whole story was presented in such a wonderful way that I left totally converted and feeling so intrigued about all this prehistoric history that I pondered about it for the rest of the day!

The drive to Julia Creek was uninteresting – flat, open country with few trees and very straight roads.  Now I understand why – this was an inland sea!

We have come across a couple of hundred Road Trains over the past two days, all heading for Townsville and the port and carrying massive loads of copper and iron ore.  I am in total awe of the drivers of these huge vehicles and spent quite some time chatting to a young man who spends his time driving from Townsville to Darwin and back.  This is his truck – and the bullbar was taller than I am!

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We spent the night in Julia Creek which is such a quiet little town totally inhabited by millions of bushflies.  They are horrendous.  We walked to the pub where we decided to have a meal.  The place was buzzing, not with flies but mostly with workers all dressed in their Hi-Viz shirts and enjoying a beer after a hard day repairing both the roads and the railway lines after the floods. 8x3DLgaJRU6LnfuL5dImEA_thumb_a1.jpg

Leaving Julia Creek and heading for Cloncurry the landscape changed – gently rolling hills and granite outcrops, massive gum trees overlooking creeks and riverbeds and lush feed for the cattle everywhere.  More discoveries awaited us.  The Mary Kathleen Uranium Mine was located near here and is now closed but a very well presented museum tells the story and there is a wonderful display of gemstones.  Here we also found out a lot more about the ill fated Burke and Wills, found some fascinating history about the Pioneers of the area and learned that Cloncurry is the birthplace of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.  This fabulous little museum tells about the history of outback aviation, medicine and radio as well as the School of the Air.

All this information was almost to overload level and so I decided to have a little break and wandered over to the garden where the Rest Rooms are located.  Imagine my surprise to see this:

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Once inside I found this:UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a7.jpg

This is life in the Outback !

And now here we are in the mining town of Mt Isa – tomorrow we are crossing into the Northern Territory and I am sure more surprises await.  Stay tuned!