Once we’d bought our tickets for the Byron Bay Bluesfest, I had a crazy thought. Why not see our family in Mackay while we’re there? I had still not met their one-year-old. Looking at the map again, the weekend became a two-week road trip.
Unusually, I was very unprepared. I did no research, had no maps. Just a vague plan to drive, taking the road less traveled. But my experience on the Portuguese Camino taught me that there’s something freeing in taking to the road and seeing where it leads you.
Fortunately, I got maps from the helpful women at the information booth in Caboolture. They were essential when my phone signal dropped out which happened about 20km outside every town.
We passed through struggling towns, stopping at many for a stretch or a cuppa. In Yarraman an older woman called out to my husband from behind her curtain, “Hey mister, why’s she taking photos?”. “It’s her hobby” seemed to satisfy her. At Childers, we bought a welcome first coffee of the day at the restored Paragon Cinema. Coffee sales supplement the cinema business.
The Big Orange
At Gayndah, home of the Big Orange and the oldest town in Queensland, I had a refreshing orange juice. Mellors’ drapery, also in Gayndah, sports a working flying fox which sends payment (and change) back and forth to the cashier. For a donation to the Flying Doctors Service you can see it in operation.
Like many towns, Eidsvold is doing it tough. Empty shops. For lease signs.
We drove over Murderers Hut Creek and Graveyard Gully. Wheelbarrow Creek reminded me of home on Dangar Island, where a line of wheelbarrows meets the ferry. I smelt roadkill before I saw it.
A trio of camels caught my eye and I spied my first live wild echidna. Some farmers have had fun with their letterboxes. I saw a flying pig, Ned Kelly, a cow. Others resort to old microwaves.
I renewed my affection for country Australia. Wide open spaces. Cattle grazing on the roadside. Friendly locals.
In Hervey Bay a local fisherman told me he was new to the game. He’d only lived in town for ten years. I fell in love with the Queenslander style of home and discovered that Rockhampton is cattle country. The walls of the steakhouse where we ate were filled with photos of cowboys and rodeos. It boasted a large indoor rodeo arena. I was only slightly disappointed that there was nothing happening there that night.
After a lovely two nights in Mackay with our family, it was time to hit the road again. The vague plan was to drive home to Sydney via an inland route. No bookings and no real idea.
When I checked the map, the distances finally sunk in. If this was to be a road trip and not a feat of endurance, something had to give.
Four days became five days of driving about 400km each day, to allow for detours and discoveries. And so a rough plan was devised. Cut across from Mackay to the Great Inland Way. First stop Emerald. Then Roma and Lightning Ridge. At Walgett we’d leave the Inland Way and sleep somewhere about 400km from home.
At about midday on a hot Mackay afternoon we bid farewell to Marek, Shelly and little Caleb and set off. The effects of the downturn and of the Fly in Fly out workers are obvious in the mining towns we passed. After a very pleasant first AirBnb experience in Hervey Bay, I found another welcoming host in Emerald. Unfortunately, time didn’t allow for a side trip to the sapphire gem fields outside Capella.
The days, towns and scenery blended into one another until I couldn’t remember what town came first or where we’d seen what. Fields of cotton. Forests of eucalypt. Derelict homes. Long straight roads.
A detour to Carnarvon Gorge took us past a memorial to Australian and American soldiers aboard a Dacota that crashed in a storm in 1943. In Roma the sale yards were in full swing. I visited the Cobb n Co museum at Surat, walked along the river in St George and read about the first Aboriginal to win the Stawell Gift at the Hebel Historic Circle. His trainers kept his prize money.
In Lightning Ridge, the self-drive car door routes introduced us to the life of an opal miner.
At the free camping site at the Burren Junction Bore Baths, grey nomads rested in the shade from their vans or soaked in the hot mineral baths. There was nothing else there. After a night in Quirindi, chatting to locals at the pub, we reluctantly headed home.
Where to next?
We drove over 4500 kilometres. Instead of being tiring it was fun, informative and invigorating. I already have a vague idea of the direction we’ll take next time.