Saturday, 15 July 1995

AUC 1995 - Cloncurry

Combo Waterhole, Kynuna, McKinley, Cloncurry (Qld)
(Landsborough Highway) 336 kms

Up at sunrise, it was no surprise this particular morning proceeded quickly and our pack up was smooth and untroubled by any argument Our road work was largely done by morning tea time, when we reached the Combo Waterhole - sight of the supposed death of "the jolly swagman" just south of Kynuna. The drive to there had been uneventful and basically pretty boring. Again, the road kills were the most staggering thing on show.

The road into the Combo Waterhole is dirt, but in pretty good condition and it leads to a point just over a kilometre from the waterhole. The original road led all the way to the spot which became famous for the words of AB Paterson, but the land owner made the decision to close it to the public, owing to misuse of the track. The result, is an easy walking track, clearly marked and punctuated by interesting signs which explain elements of the walk in.

Perhaps the most intriguing fact to come from our mid-morning walk, was the construction of the stone crossings which allow access across the channels that are ultimately part of the head waters of the Diamantina River. The stone was quarried locally, but has been laid on its edge, rather than flat and in closely packed rows. The work was carried out by a local contractor, using Chinese workmen and an old Chinese technique. The fact these crossings are still intact, after more than 100 years of floods, is testament to the work of the builders and the method.

The legend of "Waltzing Matilda" has grown as the centenary (to be celebrated in the months after our visit) of its writing has approached. The fact which remain undisputed, are that the words were written by Banjo Paterson on Dagworth Station in 1895, when the bush bard was making his first visit to the Queensland outback. The Combo Waterhole marks the northern boundary of Dagworth Station and it is suggested Paterson visited the spot during his stay. The tune is an old Scottish one and was suggested by Christina Macpherson of Dagworth. She is said to have played the autoharp whilst he sang the words.

The parts which have become cloudy relate to the inspiration for me tale.

One school of thought, is it relates to a swagman who drowned at Combo, but greater credence is given to the death of Samuel "Frenchy" Hoffmeister - a shearer who, it is said, shot himself by the waterhole (a painful spot to be sure), in remorse for his role in the destruction of the shearing shed on Dagworth during the shearing strikes of 1891-4.

Whatever the actual fact, it is enough to say Paterson was inspired to write the poem/song and that, in the end, it may just represent poetic licence. Regardless, it was exhilarating to stand in such a historic spot, under the shade of the coolibah trees. From what we had seen in driving here, we had a better understanding of the term "oasis".

After a cup of tea, it was on to Kynuna, the residents of whom - all 22 of them - have been doggedly fighting Winton for the honour and glory associated with Paterson's great Aussie icon. Chief agitator, Don McGoughin, has a display set up under canvas, across the road from the Blue Heeler Hotel.
All literature and road signage kept telling us this was the "Famous Blue Heeler Hotel", but the actual
reason for this fame never became obvious to any of us. The only claim to fame it would appear to have, is it is the only remaining hotel - still standing - to have any connection to the Waltzing Matilda story. Any man and his dog - obviously a Blue Heeler, in this case - appear to have performed the song /poem, once the ale flowed.

Kynuna itself, was established in the 1860's as a staging point for Cobb & Co. coaches.

Mick Dundee's pub
From here, our trek took us further north west and to a lunch time destination with the pub at McKinley, otherwise known as the Walkabout Creek Hotel - home watering hole of the fictitious Mick "Crocodile" Dundee. This is a very plain timber building and would make as much money from sales of tourist items - T Shirts, stickers, beer holders, caps, key rings etc. - as from beer sales. The interior is as it was in the movie, with the exception of the paper money which had been attached to the ceiling in the movie. One wall has a collection of photographs taken when the movie was being filmed and signed mementos; whilst another features a group of nude shearers, busily pursuing their work in the shed ! We pondered on the accuracy of their cuts and the potential for accidental circumcision.

I had a beer and a meat pie: it seemed the least I could do !

The village of McKinley is nothing but a small number of ramshackle wooden residences and a roadside cafe/petrol stop.

The final leg of the day -106 kms - was again taken by Sue, who had restrained herself at the Walkabout Creek Hotel.

Cloncurry was reached at about 14:30, but before we could erect the tent a tarpaulin shade had to be
erected against the sun. The heat was taking its toll on our crew, with none of us used to these temperatures in winter. The locals assured us the current hot spell was unusual, but most of them were huddling in jumpers by nightfall, whilst we were still parading in shorts and T shirts. Interestingly and perhaps giving truth to their assertions, the water in the swimming pools of the various places we had stayed in had been icy.

The following day we were to part company with Gog and Pa, as we headed for the Gulf of Carpentaria and an appointment with some prawns at Karumba. The big question tomorrow would provide an answer for, is whether we would carry on and stay at Karumba or settle for our booking at Normanton. The lure of sunset over the Gulf was very powerful. We were scheduled to rejoin the grandparents at Mt Isa in four days time, prior to their departure for Lawn Hill NP.

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