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Follow The Locals

Western Queensland Road Trip #15

We always figure if the locals are eating in a restaurant the food must be good but in the outback this theory doesn’t always apply.

Charleville’s most popular dining style is al fresco, next to the airport runway.

In Cunnamulla the school oval comes highly recommended. Dozens of galahs join the roos every evening.

Emus aren’t too fussy about the quality of their surroundings.

Honeyeaters have a favourite place where they like to hang out.

white plumed honeyeater

Some locals like to dine with a partner,

galahs

corellas

whistling ducks

while others aren’t keen on sharing, especially when they’re on the lookout for a tasty treat.

kookaburra

Australian Darter

They don’t need to be told twice to eat their greens,

Mallee ringneck parrot

especially if the restaurant is right on the water.

domesticated geese

Some are in too much of a hurry to say where they’re going. Maybe they don’t want to be on the menu!

green ground beetle

 

Hills of Sand

Western Queensland Road Trip #14 Cunnamulla

In the heat of mid-morning there’s very little movement in the bush. Every now and then an unseen bird calls to its mate but it’s the constant hum of insects that dominates.

On the edge of town, a line of red sand hills rises up out of the trees. From a distance they don’t seem high, but the slope is steeper than it looks. Climbing up proves to be a challenge as the fine red sand moves constantly beneath our feet.

Once at the top our effort is rewarded. Cunnamulla’s buildings are just visible through the hardy mulga scrub and the Warrego River sparkles like a silver-backed serpent in the distance.

A small mob of kangaroos rests in a shady spot and they watch us watching them. They stop feeding on the sparse ground cover, lifting their heads to catch our scent. One seems to decide we’re no threat; he returns to his grazing and the others follow his lead.

For a while we copy the kangaroos, finding a cool place to sit and enjoy the view. And when it’s time to leave, the descent is much easier than going up.

Join Jo for Monday Walks

Where Water Flows

Western Queensland Road Trip #12 

In front of the visitor centre in Cunnamulla, crystal clear water sparkles in the sunlight as it tumbles from a pipe into a small storage pool. Drawn from an underground source far below the surface of the earth, the water first fell to earth as rainfall two million years ago.

The water comes from the Great Artesian Basin, the largest and deepest underground reservoir in the world. It covers one-fifth of subterranean Australia – 1,700,000 square kilometres beneath four Australian states and territories. In some places up to 3,000 metres deep, the basin has a capacity 130,000 times greater than Sydney Harbour. For people who live in inland Australia, this is often their only source of fresh water.

While it’s not possible to see the Great Artesian Basin, a journey through the Artesian Time Tunnel inside Cunnamulla’s visitor centre is a fascinating alternative. Going more than 100 million years back in time, the adventure begins in an old opal mine lift. The screen counts back through the centuries in a flash before the doors open to reveal an underground landscape of ancient sandstone, complete with fossils of dinosaurs and other creatures who lived in the area at that time.

Further along the tunnel sits an old opal miner, who comes alive to tell stories of life on the opal fields of western Queensland. Beyond the tunnel, displays explain how the Great Artesian Basin has enabled outback towns to flourish.

To access fresh water supply from the basin, most towns have a bore. Wells are drilled down into the earth until the aquifer is reached. Often the pressure of the water is enough to bring it to the surface, without the need for pumps. At first the water was allowed to flow freely, but now the supply is controlled. The bore at Eulo, 69 kilometres west of Cunnamulla, draws water from a depth of 223 metres. It’s hot and often smells of sulphur, but the residents are grateful to have a regular supply.

It’s not only outback towns who rely on the water. Farmers on the vast cattle properties of the west use the valuable resource for their stock. Bores like the one at Paddabilla provide welcome relief for cattle and other animals.

In some places, water from the Great Artesian Basin rises naturally to the earth’s surface. Where a weakness or fault occurs in the rock layers, the natural pressure of the trapped water forces it upwards, sometimes with tremendous energy.

In the Eulo region, a group of mud springs brings life to the desert. Even when no water flows, moisture in the soil allows plants and wildlife to flourish. A ring of flotsam around the spring shows how far the flow can extend.

In a landscape where every drop is precious, the water of the Great Artesian Basin is an asset treasured beyond measure.

River Walk

Western Queensland Road Trip #11 Cunnamulla

For much of the day, the harsh light of the outback is almost blinding, bleaching the landscape of its colour. A few hours later, in the softer light of late afternoon, nature’s hues become richer and more mellow.

When we first see the Warrego River at Cunnamulla late in the day, we can’t help noting the contrast with the Maranoa River in Mitchell. After recent heavy rainfall further north, the river flows deep and full. It’s the perfect time to enjoy Riverwalk, a 1.6 km track beside the Warrego.

Surprisingly, the path leads at first away from the river to the flood plains beyond its banks. Floodwater still pools in some gullies, but where it has evaporated thick dark mud is all that remains.

Baked hard by the relentless heat of the sun, the mud shrinks as it dries leaving deep crazy-paved cracks overlaid with the tracks left by passing animals. Tiny specks of green remind us that water is all that is needed for life to regenerate.

In the quiet of this afternoon, there’s not a lot of wildlife around. A long-necked turtle, secure inside his shell, refuses to greet us and even the meat ants are nowhere to be seen around their huge mounded nest. If we banged hard enough they would rush out in defence of the nest, but that would be asking for trouble so we leave them in peace.

In this flat landscape even the slightest elevation gives a sense of distance. From a raised viewing platform, it’s easy to see where the flood plain gives way to the mulga scrub native to this part of western Queensland.

Eventually we arrive at the river bank. With the sun behind us and much lower in the sky, the shadows of the majestic red river gums along the bank stretch out over the water.

A lone pelican drifts lazily with the current while a large egret stands motionless, probably on the lookout for his dinner. A whistling kite soars gracefully overhead and, although we can hear the raucous calls of cockatoos settling in the trees, we see only a feather fallen to the ground.

We reach the end of the path as the sun sets. The sky begins to fade from blue to gold, before turning that fiery red typical of the end of day in the outback.

The sun drops below the horizon in minutes, but its glow remains for a time. The last rays of light burnish the river gums and light our way back across the bridge into town.

The river puts on one last display, creating a mirror image of the sky above before all the colour of the outback is lost in complete darkness.

Join Jo for Monday Walks

 

Back From The Brink

Western Queensland Road Trip #5 Charleville

Everyone is familiar with Australia’s native animals the koala and the kangaroo. But you may not have heard of another of our favourites, the bilby.

Bilbies are desert-dwelling nocturnal marsupials. Once their habitat covered more than 70% of Australia but with the importation of foxes, rabbits and cats their numbers have declined to the point where they have been declared a vulnerable species. In western Queensland, there are fewer than 600 bilbies living in the wild.

In an effort to prevent the extinction of bilbies, the Save the Bilby Fund was established in 1999. The fund’s ongoing vision is to preserve and protect bilbies by developing a captive breeding program and creating a predator free zone within Currawinya National Park where mature bilbies can be released and monitored.

The fund’s home base is the Charleville Bilby Experience at the historic Charleville Railway Station.

Displays explain the bilbies’ life cycle, behaviour and diet. They are excellent diggers and construct several long burrows close to each other. Like many Australian native animals they are marsupials; their young live in a pouch. Similar to wombats, a bilby’s pouch opens at the back. This prevents dirt from going in when the bilby is digging.

A full size model depicts the predator proof fence constructed at Currawinya.

The main attraction at the centre is the nocturnal house, where bilbies can be seen in an enclosure replicating their natural desert environment. Only a couple of these swift moving animals are on show at any time. Their appearance is distinctive, with silky fur, large ears and a long white tipped tail. As they dart around logs in the darkened enclosure, they’re little more than a blur – it’s difficult to capture a clear image.

With the help of the Save the Bilby Fund, these endearing creatures should be able to stay one step ahead of extinction.

Meeting Mennonites

Canada #29 St Jacobs

There was so much to see as we trundled along quiet country roads in an old horse drawn trolley. Our heads turned from one side to the other as we passed grain crops ready for harvest, farmhouses and outbuildings and the occasional buggy heading home from the markets.

We’d joined trolley driver Bob and his beautiful horses for a tour of the rural Mennonite community of St Jacobs. Our destination was a mixed production farm owned by the Martin family.

Along the way Bob, a Mennonite himself, explained the history of the local community, their beliefs and their way of life. He described the Old Order family we were going to visit and made sure we understood the courtesies of visiting a Mennonite property. We were welcome to take photos of the farm but not of the people.

The farm’s main product is maple syrup. We drove through the maple sugar bush, where sunlight filtered through the densely planted maple trees.

We saw how the sap was tapped in times gone by before going into the processing plant where today’s modern machinery processes the syrup.

Near the barn, chickens wandered at will while contented pigs and dairy cattle lingered close to the fence. In the apple orchard, birds flitted in and out of the bird houses on the fence.

A visit to the farm would not have been complete without calling into the farm quilt shop. Here the farmer’s wife presided over an array of jewel-coloured jams and preserves, local honey, home made candles and, of course, beautifully stitched quilts. She told how the quilts for sale are created by several local ladies who gather regularly to stitch together. I told her I too am a quilt maker and we smiled together; our shared passion was an instant connection.

On the return journey, we continued to look both left and right. With a little more knowledge of the Mennonites, we wanted to catch one last glimpse before leaving them behind.

Knowledge Gained

Canada #18 Grouse Mountain

Part Five

We made the most of our day on Grouse Mountain by taking part in every activity. As well as Breakfast with the Bears, we went to an Owl Interpretative Session, a Birds in Motion demonstration and a guided eco-walk.

Each time we discovered something new and, at the end of the day, we left with more than we came with. This is what we learned:

In the still of the night, a barn owl can hear the heartbeat of a frightened mouse as it tries to avoid detection.

A bald eagle reaches speeds of up to 160 km per hour when diving to snatch up its prey.

A turkey vulture uses its keen sense of smell to detect carrion more than a kilometre away.

Tiger swallowtails love to feast on the pretty purple flowers of the mustard plant.

Native azaleas and rhododendrons are much smaller and more delicate than their hybrid cousins.

Salamanders can live for up to 55 years in the still waters of Blue Grouse Lake.

Phil, our eco-walk guide, explained how the coastal First Nations peoples lived as one with nature. They brewed the bark and needles of the amabilis fir trees to make medicinal drinks.

Made from cedar, the traditional híwus Feasthouse on the shores of Blue Grouse Lake was a meeting place for family celebrations, gatherings and story telling through dance and music.

All of these new facts are fascinating, but what was the most important thing I learned?

I came away from Grouse Mountain knowing I never want to come face to face with a bear!