Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Barcaldine and Freecamping

Intrepid campers that we are, we had yet to spend a night in a ‘freecamp’ but after our ho hum sojourn in Emerald, felt that the time was right; especially since we had spent quite a bit of money at Repco and BCF to name but a few stores whilst staying at the Capital of the Central Highlands.

Free camping at Lloyd Jones  Weir.

We left Emerald, and travelled along the Capricorn Highway to Barcaldine passing through some beautiful cattle country, a kangaroo somewhere in the decomposition process at least every 100 metres (I’m not joking) and up and over the Great Dividing Range. We stopped at a deserted Drummond’s Lookout for lunch then pressed on to our free camp, Lloyd Jones’ Weir, which our Camps7 book gave directions to. Not very well I might add as we went a few kms in the wrong direction before realising we had missed the turn off. Anyway, we got there to find a lovely spot with lots of shade, kangaroos (of the living sort) and a large creek. There were already two other caravans there, so it felt good to know we weren’t having to pay anything  but also that other people were around. Fiela was feeling very good about all the dead wood on the side of the road and the six fireplaces to choose from in the camp. Even the toilets, which I expected to be foul at best, were excellent, complete with a fake indoor plant and potpourri. I was thinking we could stay a second night, and after Fiela sniffed out the guys fishing at the bottom of the weir, it was a finality. The only down side was the flies, which while annoying, weren’t bad enough to wear fly nets on our hats.
Locals fishing. Apparently it's the only spot for miles where they can "get our fix".

We set up, had a bit of dinner, put the kids to bed and sat outside to marvel at the stars. With no light around, the Milky Way was very clear and we watched as the Southern Cross made its way across the sky, solving the world’s major philosophical problems as it went.

The next morning revealed that the flies were still there, along with quite a few locals pulling in sizeable yellow belly fish from the weir. Barcaldine is around the top end of the Eyre Basin, and these fish can be found in waterholes all the way down to South Australia.

We went into Barcaldine to have a look at the place where it all started for the Australian Labour Party. After a dispute between pastoralists and shearers over wages in the late 1800s, the main showdown  occurred in Barcaldine and the ‘Tree of Knowledge’ became know as the birth place of the unionist movement and later, the Labour Party. ‘Tree of Knowledge’ seems a bit rich given the last few years of governmental ineffiency, but it’s a nice monument all the same. Had lunch at one of the pubs (average at best) the kids had a play in the park and after getting a few supplies we headed back out to Lloyd Jones Weir.

The Tree of Knowledge.

Inside the Tree of Knowledge.

Barcaldine Main Street.

Fiela caught a yellow belly in the creek then made a fire and cooked it so he was pretty much in heaven. Perhaps the most pleasant part of this stay were the people who camped there as well. Finally we met some fellow travellers who were interested in what we were doing and could give us some tips on where they’d been and how they were doing it. Prior to this most people simply kept to themselves (or were put off by the crying coming from our children) and we hadn’t felt the camaraderie supposedly felt by people ‘doing a lap’. We met Leon and Linda who were taking freecamping to a new level, even boiling their water over a woodfire to save gas. They doted on the kids, even providing a sprinkler for them to play under (with the camp’s water of course). And then there was Joe, a guy from Benowa on the Gold Coast, who was travelling alone, but had two campchairs set up “just in case” his late wife decided to turn up. Here was a guy running away from his sadness but at the same time inviting it back to sit companionably with him in the middle of nowhere.

Sprinkler + dirt = mudbath.

Fiela, "...doing what I'm born to do." 

Toasting marshmallows!

Attempt at photographing Caesar after marshmallows.

We left the next day, keen for Longreach and all its tourist attractions, the very opposite of where we’d just been, but not before stopping at the Barcaldine Bakery for the best Hot Cross Buns (yes, my embargo against everything commercially Easter-related has been lifted) ever. Stop here if you come this way- this bakery is awesome!

Lots of beautiful parrots around our camp. Do you know what this is?

Monday, 24 March 2014

Emerald: the Capital of the Central HoHums

We left Carnarvon Gorge with a spring in our step, ready for ‘civilisation’ and Emerald. Turns out we just got Emerald. Aah I joke, it wasn’t that bad but it wasn’t great either and in fact just turned out to be bloody expensive and hot…

We drove through Rolleston (don’t blink) and then Springsure before hitting Emerald. Springsure is what I imagine the Tidy Towns Winner should actually look like; all the little shops are fresh looking, the streets are clean and everything has a well cared for feel to it. We should have stopped here but continued on to Emerald. The thermometer on the car stayed on 38 degrees so long I thought it was broken. It was still 36 degrees at 7pm that night. Hot.

So, what’s there to do in Emerald? Well you can go and look at the giant Sunflowers painted on the giant easel (???) or go to the brand-spanking-new shopping complex just out of town and mix with everyone out there- remember to pack your high-vis gear. Or you could go to the new aquatic centre, opened just 4 days before we got there, right next door to the caravan park and splash about for hours on end. Or if you don’t have kids, choose one of the three Irish pubs in town to go and have a craic at. No prizes for guessing which option we went with on the first and second day spent in Emerald.

Mining tunnel fun.

After spending practically all our money on crap for the van whilst here, (along with a shoe shopping expedition for Marguerite. So painful.), Fiela was even more excited by the idea of prospecting at the gem fields of Rubyvale and Sapphire. Luckily for us it was very hot, so the idea of leaving our aquatic centre goodness for even hotter and dustier Rubyvale was dismissed. Instead, we drove out for the day and did the Miners Heritage MuseumTour. At $20 per adult it was pretty expensive, but we got to take a tour underground in one of the mines and see how it’s all done. The tour was taken by a kind looking lady in her sixties, very well presented and not at all the stereotype of what I thought someone who lived and worked her own gemfield mine would look like. She had absolutely no teeth missing and didn’t drop one F-Bomb. In fact she was from the Gold Coast and loved the lifestyle of hot, dirty work in isolation with little chance of real reward. At least she looks good while she’s doing it. Anyway, the tour was informative and since it was underground we managed to escape the heat for a while. We definitely got a sense of how hard it would have been for early miners, and even with all the mod cons how it is still pretty tough work now. Marguerite was most impressed by the small bats living in the tunnels.


Normal looking tour guide.

Caesar sorting out rocks on the ground. Buckets of wash are behind him.

Washing the stones to make the gems easier to see.
 Above ground Fiela bought a bucket of ‘wash’ (the small leftover rocks and mud from the initial grading of stone) for $20 and we all proceeded to fossick our way through it, excited by the idea of getting a ‘big one’. Really, we should have bought a lottery ticket- we would have got the same result and been a lot less hot, dusty and bothered by the end of it. We ended up with a handful of tiny gems worth exactly nothing more than the look of perplexity and frustration on Fiela’s face and the wonder and excitement on Marguerite’s at having found “jewels”. $20 worth of value I’m not sure, but it was pretty fun all the same.

Old mate found a nice one for us straight away.
So we left without a gem that would finance the rest of our trip, and after going the wrong way for 20 minutes, then finding the detour we missed the first time thanks to the dodgiest road works ever (take this detour through a grassed children’s park then 4WD your way up an embankment?!) we made it back to Emerald just in time to be underwhelmed again. As we sat overlooking the water treatment plant, we gazed up at the night sky and listened to the people next door fight, and I finally had a sense of being on holiday. Strange but true. Could have been the wine. It was probably the wine. 

Friday, 21 March 2014

Chicken and a can of beer roasted in the BBQ.... Who knew???

I have seen this method of cooking a whole chicken on television and dismissed it as being a fairly grotesque way of roasting a bird. Actually I was very disdainful about the whole thing (who me-disdainful?). However, in Carnarvon Gorge with a roast chicken on board and limited ways in which to cook it, Fiela who has a tendency to like lots of bogan (or zeff) kinds of things, took over. The result came a close second to the best roast chicken I have ever had: the best was cooked by our best friend Peppa Brown and involved red seedless grapes- it was magic.

We did this on a Baby Q (Weber). Anyway, here’s the recipe for Zeff Chicken…

1 whole chicken (around 1.2kg)
1x 330ml can XXXX Gold (see note)
Salt and Pepper
Mixed herbs
Onions (whole- don’t peel them)

Preheat your BBQ to 400 degrees Celsius.

Rub the chicken all over with lots of salt, pepper and mixed herbs. Repeat with the body cavity.

Take a couple of big sips out of the can, then poke the beer can all the way into the body cavity.

Using the potatoes and onions, balance the chicken on a foil tray so that the can is in as vertical a position as possible (so you don’t lose the beer out of the top) in your BBQ, close the lid and cook for 15 minutes.

Turn the BBQ down and cook at 300 degrees for 1 ½  hours.

Cut your carrots and zucchini into chunks, toss with salt and olive oil and put on a foil tray in the BBQ next to the chicken with 45 minutes to go.

Test the chicken with a fork or knife just to make sure it’s done. Rest for 10 minutes.


  1. Use any beer you like, as long as it’s in a can. I think even a not-so-sweet can of cider would work
  2. We use Maldon salt much to Fiela’s disgust as “It’s all just sodium chloride!!” However, part of the reason he thinks my food takes great is because I don't just use SAXA table salt. It does make a difference so use a good salt, especially with roast chicken.
  3. When the can eventually came out, so did a lot of chickeny beery stocky kinds of goodness. We had no way of storing it so it was with great sadness that we threw it away- don’t be so stupid! Have a container ready which you can pour the stock into and either make gravy with it or freeze for something later.
  4. I have no photos of this because a) it’s disturbing to see a chicken with a can of beer up its arse. And b) we hoovered this up so quickly there just wasn’t time.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Carnarvon Gorge Part 2

Happy bushwalkers (yes, only a kilometre into the gorge)
Sunday was walk day and whilst we wanted to get started at 7.30am, allowing for the Fiela Factor plus the child handicap, we started at 8.30am. We had planned to do a (3.5km one way) walk up to Moss Garden (where water trickles from a spring down the walls of a cliff into the creek below, allowing moss to live and grow in a little gorge) with the children, and then I would walk a bit further on (1.8km one way) to the Ampitheatre (a large rock formation). Marguerite was a bit painful, but by the time we went over a creek or two and met some hikers already coming back, she was pumped. One of the hikers told us not to bother with the Moss Garden as it was ‘too steep’, though by the colour of her face, I’m sure she was rethinking the Carnarvon Gorge experience in total. Anyway, we pressed on, and when we turned off the main path to the Moss Garden we were all pretty pumped. It was steep, but totally worth it if only for the cool temperature of the viewing area. It was a lovely waterfall, and with all the water dripping down the sides of the walls it really was spectacular. We let the kids (all three of them) have a cool off in a stream a bit further down, then I headed off to the Ampitheatre while Fiela took the kids back to the car park.
Looking up to the gorge

Looking up into the Moss Garden

The Moss Garden

'Secret Garden' steps up to the Garden...
according to Marguerite.

The Moss Garden.

Swimming in the creek

Entrance to the Ampitheatre
Wow. I had hoofed it up to this next site, knowing I had to get back as Fiela was trudging along with Caesar in the carrier and no doubt carrying Marguerite part of the way as well. There are a number of ladders leading up to the opening of what looked like a cave, but as a cool blast of air hit me I could see  through the narrow rock corridor to a large area opening up to the sky, 10 storeys above. I was the only person there, and whilst my plan was to have a look, take some photos and scoot, I just couldn’t. Instead I sat down, took off my hat and had a little think and wonder at the natural beauty in front of me. It’s not often we are given true opportunities to contemplate the ancientness of this land we live in, but here looking up the worn sides of the cliff and seeing the sedimentary layers exposed from thousands of years of dripping water, watching individual leaves flutter down from the trees high above to the floor of the Ampitheatre for minutes at a time… It felt quite spiritual, peaceful and overwhelming large- isn’t that what all buildings of religion aim to be? Anyway, getting 10 unexpected minutes of absolute peace and quiet in such a beautiful place would turn any time-poor mum religious.

Looking out.
Walkway to the Ampitheatre

Inside the Ampitheatre

Inside the Ampitheatre- so peaceful

Wards Canyon
I bounced out of there with a new lease on life (lucky as it was bloody hot) and headed even further up the gorge to Ward’s Canyon. We’d been told it was definitely worth a look and only another 1.2km up from the Ampitheatre. It really was a heart-starter in the steep steps category, but again totally worth it. This is the only King Fern colony in Central Queensland and it is beautiful (and again really cool in temperature). Took a few photos then very quickly walked back to the carpark. All of a sudden it was hot, and the last 2kms started to feel very long. Made it back to see the rest of the Uys Huis lounging about on the grass. Fiela looked spry even, saying that he really only carried Miss Marguerite for maybe 400mtrs (what a little champion- and all in some $5 Big W gumboots- yes yes, we’re buying her proper shoes at the next town!)

King Ferns.

The Canyon.

Looking out of Wards Canyon.
 When we left camp at 8.30am, it was 21 degrees celsius. Now, at almost 1pm, it was 35 degrees.  We got home, and collapsed in the shade, then the creek.

More bushwalking fun...
That night two storms rolled through the camp, the first inciting much banging in of guide ropes, and the second sighs of relief with a decent shower of rain and a drop in temperature.

We left the next day, after a look at Balloon Cave with some Aboriginal rock art work and a surprisingly good lunch at the Oasis Lodge Café just down the road- I had a haloumi and pumpkin salad, Fiela a steak burger and the kids shared a chicken quesadilla which were all lovely. Here was this café in the middle of nowhere, 300kms from the nearest Woolies and they were still turning out nice food, and yet we’ve all been to well serviced and populated areas where cafes can spectacularly botch a vegemite sandwich. It boggles my mind.

On the way to Balloon Cave.

Rock art at Balloon Cave, apparently advertising axes.

It's only a very small example of rockart, you can see the orange colour above Marguerite's head- that's it.

While I would definitely come back to Carnarvon Gorge, we certainly won’t until the kids are able to do most of the hikes by themselves and there’s a bit more water in the creeks… On to Emerald and the gemfields! 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Carnarvon Gorge Part 1

Well happy readers, the reign of the grandparent (adopted or otherwise) has come to an end: the United States of Mum and Dad have arrived and the war has begun! Like all good conflicts, there was quite a lengthy period of unrest and cold war like activities (1 day in the car + 1 day camping after “Glengarry”) until the actual battles began to materialise (both sides sustained heavy casualities of  the psychological and physical kind). And it is not over yet!

We left “Glengarry” knowing the Nana and Poppy Hangover would ensue fairly quickly and like absolute rookies we did nothing at all to prevent this. Instead we drove for around three hours through fairly monotonous countryside interspersed by the odd town clearly spruced up on mining money. Miles was the most obvious example: lots of temporary accommodation and new motels in fairly sparsely populated areas reeks of mining money. Even in Roma, the place we stopped at for lunch had a 90% immigrant employee ratio, every second, third and fourth person is in high-vis gear and again the words ‘boom’ and ‘industry’ spring to mind. Great big billboards in the middle of nowhere either promote the rights of the farmer or the philanthropy of the mining companies. Either way, business is booming for someone out here in Central Queensland.

After lunch, the kids had a simultaneous meltdown of the ‘let’s just get some bread and get out of here’ kind in Woolies when we tried to get some groceries. Then we attempted to put them in the car for a leisurely drive ‘only two hours up to Carnarvon’ which surprise, surprise turned out to be much longer. We arrived at the Takarakka Campground at 5:20pm in time for more meltdowns from every member of the Uys Huis. The kids ate some potato salad. Fiela and I shared a packet of chips and a few beers. We all fell into bed.
Platypus hunting at 6.30am.

The next morning, still shell shocked after the previous day’s horrors, was spent doing very little. We did a walk up to a look out in the campground and had a wander through the crystal clear creek, put the kids in the naughty corner every five minutes, sorted some stuff out in the van, more naughty corner… Nothing much.

The campground itself has nice big plots though shade is a little hit and miss (we missed more than hit in this respect), and a great camp kitchen and amenities block. There are a billion kangaroos and wallabies bouncing around which entertained Caesar no end; Marguerite grew tired of them pretty quickly.

Saturday and Marguerite and I woke up early and went platypus hunting. Whilst she took this very seriously, I really just wanted to get her out of the van so Fiela and Caesar could have a little sleep-in. She was great as we headed down to the creek where platypus are usually spotted, even turning to me and stage whispering: “Mama- I can hear the sounds of nay-cha!” We saw one: it was playing with a little fruit that had fallen out of a tree, but it scooted as soon as someone sneezed, then coughed then said “Ooooh hello little platty-pus”. Platypus adventure over.

Rock hopping over Carnarvon Ck- obviously the best part of today's walk.
We finally made it into Carnarvon Gorge at 9.30am, (saw an echidna at the entrance- both monotremes 
 in one day!) just in time to realise it was really too late to do any walks of consequence. Instead we did a quick 1.5 km around the national park office itself so Marguerite could whinge a bit, then took the kids to the Rock Pool for a swim which should really have been titled ‘Cess Pool’. Whilst the creek is running, there isn’t a lot of water so everything here was green and sludgy. With a bit of rain to flush it out I’m sure it would be lovely but needless to say we took the kids straight back to the car, affording Marguerite some more whinging time. Tomorrow the real Carnarvon experience begins!

Looking back at Carnarvon Gorge.

Echidna a few hours later.
Bath time.

Friday, 14 March 2014

The Bunya Mountains

We drove through Dalby (and an extra half hour of roadworks, annoying!) and climbed up to where it was 8 degrees cooler and much greener in the Bunya Mountains. We walked the scenic track, 4kms, and on the way saw lots of big trees (no surprise) some beautiful little creeks and waterfalls (a nice surprise), a red bellied black snake right by the track (I hate surprises) and lots and lots of wallabies and lorikeets. Marguerite walked the entire circuit by herself, though I did have to lure her on with "any kind of dessert I want at Nana's, I mean, Andrea's house". You can stay right next to the national park, do plenty of nice cool walks and enjoy the log fire at night (or so every place seems to advertise)

View from the top of the mountains out over the Darling and Western Downs.

Tree hugging

A big strangler fig.

Marguerite in the strangler fig

Peaceful Tim O'Shea Falls

Not so peaceful anymore...

Wallaby with joey.

On the way home we stopped off at tiny Quinalow at the meat processing plant for delicious pork chops, and Fiela got an added bonus at just a bit bigger Jondaryan, when we stopped for some beer, where it was Lingerie Wednesday (a close second to Tits Out Monday). Apparently the three old blokes in there were really enjoying it. Unfortunately I was in the car so there are no photos of that part of the trip.