Tuesday, 18 July 1995

AUC 1995 - Karumba (Qld)

Karumba (Qld)
Brke & Willss Roadhouse, Normanton (Matilda Highway) 440 k m s

16th July
"Sunrise ... sunset... sunrise ... sunset" ... the words from the best known song from Fiddler on the Roof, could well be describing the port of Karumba, located on the south eastern corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Whilst the importance and meaning of the words are different, they are just as apt, for these daily occurrences are so beautiful at this particular point on the world, they should not be missed. More of that later.

Our day started with a brilliant pack up and we were soon on the beaten track again. Our journey was to be a long one in terms of kilometres traveled, but the lack of sights along the way meant we would not be stopping often. We changed the basic direction we had been heading for the past week from west or north west to north and in doing so, provided relief for those who had been wearing the sun through car windows.

Bourke Development Rd
The road to the north from Cloncurry was the worst bitumen we had seen so far, but in saying that, it was still a good surface to drive on and maintaining 100 km/h was not difficult. It was the lack of width which caused the only problem, as the one and a half lane width dictated tliat passing vehicles were required to use the road verge as well. In the case of oncoming road trains, this really meant getting completely of the bitumen and stopping. In places, this verge hugging was easier to commence than complete, as a great deal of care had to taken when returning over the broken edges of the sealed surface.

However, despite this drawback, we managed to roll over the country side without any dramas and arrived at the Burke & Wills Roadhouse for morning tea at 10:15 am.

The Roadhouse is at the junction of the three major roads in this Gulf Savannah country - in fact the only thing which non-locals would call roads - and derives it's name from the fact that, the road north closely follows the track taken by Messes Burke & Wills in their ill-fated quest to find a route across the continent, from south to north. Meeting here are the Matilda Highway (Route 83), which is also part of National Route One, Normanton/ Julia Creek Road and the Burketown Road. In fact, locals refer to this point as the "Threeways".

The travel brochures certainly read better than the eventual place looks, but we did receive a
good cuppa - "the mugs are by the urn , just help yourself" - and a welcome rest. The heat and humidity were an indicator of what we could expect as we traveled further north. Fuel was 84.9c/litre: the most we had yet paid and above the average I had set for the trip, for the first time.

The Gulf Savannah is described as having more rivers than roads and the mostly flat terrain was only
occasionally broken by the delightfully called "jump-ups" - a hill, in northern Queensland. It is mostly an endless plain of stunted trees and scrub, occupied by cattle, kangaroos and feral pigs: a conclusion reached on the basis of the road kills we were now seeing.

Approximately 70 kilometres north of Burke & Wills Roadhouse, we descended from the Bang Bang Jump Ups onto the final long plain which would take us all the way to Karumba.

Lunch was taken in a quiet park in Normanton, which is recognised as the central and most important town in the region. Alighting from the car, we were struck by a wall of heat and humidity, which all but drove us back to our air conditioned refuge. We could only imagine what it must be like in summer!

Normanton was a boom town of the late nineteenth century and is the second oldest town in the region - although there are not many towns in the sample ! It is the terminus of the Gulflander, which is the only private railway in Australia and runs once a week between Normanton and Croydon. The only landmark is the Purple Pub: and I mean purple ! The National Hotel was built in the 1890's, but its age apparently does not enhance its owners taste in decorative colours. Perhaps they got a special on the paint, as no one else would buy mat colour ?

Seventy kilometres further on, we reached our destination of Karumba. A village which existed only to service the flourishing prawning industry and as a sea port for live cattle exports, it has had to diversify since changes to its base industry.

Prawns are caught throughout the Gulf, but are now snap frozen on board and exported without local
handling. Naturally, with the enhanced interest in touring Australia which has developed and been supported by the plethora of life style programs infesting our television screens, it would seem only logical this be a stopping point on any tour north. In fact, with the sealed - if narrow - road leading to its door, it is the only spot which the motorist, with a standard vehicle, can reach on the Gulf, in reasonable comfort.

The choice of three caravan parks was made easier by the location of the Sunset Caravan Park. Located immediately behind the beach at Karumba Point and within a stone's throw of a great fish shop ... need I say more. It is the newest of the parks here and the amenities are a delight.

We took an unpowered site, but powered camping and caravan sites exist, although at the height of the tourist season as this was, they were harder to come by.

After setting up camp - very hot, but no complaints from the crew - we settled down to wait out the heat of the day. By late afternoon, it was off for a quick tour of Karumba - emphasis on the quick - and back to the Point for Barramundi and chips on the beach, whilst the sun left us.

I alluded to the sunset earlier, but let me elucidate here.

Facing west, Karumba Point affords those from eastern Australia the very rare opportunity of seeing the sun set over the water. The Gulf is five or six hundred kilometres across, so the horizon is a line on the far distant water. We had all experienced sunrise over the ocean, but even it was a poor preparation for the spectacle which unfolded before us on this evening. Thin, whispery clouds had gathered sparsely in the western sky , accentuating the falling star as it dropped on its fiery path, seemingly quenched by the coolness of the water it appeared to be descending into. Hues which ranged through all shades of pink, reds, oranges, browns and yellows, flooded our eyes. The sky resembled a polished opal. The large pink fireball that was the sun, dropped below the horizon and
left a legacy of colour in the sky for 40 minutes after its final curtain call. In the words of Ross Wilson...
"The sun is hiding, leaving a pink scar. Stretches right across the sky. That's what we've seen so far and all I do is look into your eyes for that special touch of paradise."

We were amazed people had left immediately the sun had disappeared, as they certainly robbed themselves of the final act. A deprived coach load of French tourists had arrived twenty minutes before the sun reached the thin line at the edge of sight and departed soon after it disappeared. The sum total of their experience was a glass of champagne, a few crackers covered in fish eggs and the thirty minutes of the day which marks the changing of the guard (sun to moon).

For our part, the sky show was enjoyed in its entirety, with a side serve of fresh Barramundi and hot chips : a little slice of heaven may have been there on the beach, with us.

17th July
Basically a restful day ...if you can call supervising children with school work, restful. The day had come to commence the dreaded work routines which were a compromise to allow us to withdraw the children for such a substantial time from school.

Surprisingly, they were all looking forward to starting work, with Sam providing a countdown until we started at 9:00 am. The way we had the sessions organised, Sue and I felt we could cope with what was required. The only aspect we dreaded was trying to teach Chris, Japanese! Our eyes were always searching for an eager tourist from Japan.

These days at Karumba had been designed as rest and this was exactly what we achieved today.

The last half hour of daylight and first half hour of evening were again spent watching the sun retreat from us and share itself on more western neighbours. This time Sue added prawns to the evening meal and I recorded the event on video.

18th July
More of the same from yesterday, with the only difference being a visit to the local state school in Karumba with the hope of using their swimming pool. Foiled again ! The only day of the week the pool is closed is ... you guessed it ... today.

Our main entertainment was derived from a family pulling into place beside us and the way in which they related to each other. The discordant nature of their clothing suggested they were from the land - T shirts, board shorts, Akubra's and riding boots - but the manner in which the father treated his sons during the set up was disgusting. In the end, it was all Sue could do to stop herself from wandering over and explaining a few of the finer points in the difference between children and working dogs. In fact, this bloke could learn a thing or two from Damien Curr in that regard.

The greatest sufferer was the eldest son (about 15) who was abusedfrom pillar to post about everything he did. Mind you, whilst dad stood and talked to a couple who they had obviously met before on the road, complaining about everything which Queensland had to offer, No. 1 son did all of the work !

It was terrible to see this kid try his hardest and only cop a verbal hiding in return, but it was a salient
reminder to me, about my need for patience.

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