All about Mitchell

21 04 2009

Mitchell is located on the banks of the Maranoa River, approximately 25kms west of Amby or 87 kms west of Roma. The town was named after Sir Thomas Mitchell, the explorer responsible for discovering the rich grazing lands of south-western Queensland and the western Darling Downs.

Sir Mitchell first explored the area that now bears his name in 1846, but it was not until 1854 that the first station was established. The station, named “Mitchell Downs”, was taken up by Edmund Morey and the main homestead was originally built where the corner of Mary and Winchester streets now stand.

By 1861, the pastoral stations of Eurella, Amby Downs and Forest Vale had also been taken up.

In 1864, the Mitchell Downs Homestead was destroyed by floodwaters and as a result, a new homestead was built in a nearby location. The remains of the original homestead were taken over by Thomas Close and converted into the Maranoa Hotel. A community began to grow, by 1870, post office, general store, butcher and blacksmith had opened and houses had appeared.

The railway line from Roma to the eastern bank of the Maranoa River was completed in 1883, and in 1885 a bridge over the river was constructed to enable the railway line to enter the town itself. The railway bridge was the first bridge to be built with concrete piers in the Queensland Colony.

The Mitchell Courthouse found its way into the history books when, in 1902, it hosted the trial of Patrick and James Kenniff. The Kenniff Brothers were nicknamed the “Last Australian Bushrangers” and were caught in the Mitchell area in April 1902. Patrick Kenniff became the last person hanged in Queensland when he was executed at Boggo Rd Gaol in Brisbane on January 12, 1903. The Courthouse, now closed, has been renamed the Kenniff Courthouse in reference to the trial.

Today, Mitchell boasts a population of over 1000 people. Like other regional towns, Mitchell has experienced population decline, however it has been proactive in minimizing the extent of the decline. In addition to the traditional grain and grazing industries that the town has historically relied on, today Mitchell is home to cypress pine milling, a quarry, and is also experimenting with various broadacre farming.

Things to do and see in Mitchell:

  • The Great Artesian Spa Complex is the star attraction in Mitchell. The Spa is incorporated into the aquatic centre and features two artesian spas – one naturally heated to 38oC, the other at a cooler temperature for those that would prefer.
  • Visit the Yumba. Originally called Reserve 131, the Yumba site was a government Reserve for Aboriginal people in the Mitchell area. Today, the Gungarri people take visitors to the Yumba on a journey through traditional and contemporary aboriginal cultural heritage. The Yumba is progressively being rebuilt by the Nalingu Aboriginal Corporation to create an Indigenous Cultural Education and Knowledge Sharing Centre to encourage greater cultural awareness.
  • The Nature Trail is a 3.2km long walking track along the banks of the Maranoa River. The walk starts (or finishes) at the Neil Turner Weir and provides opportunities for bird watching, fishing, canoeing and other aquatic activities
  • The Kenniff Courthouse features a historical displays (including information about the Kenniff Brothers bushrangers in general), gardens, windmill and information centre
  • Visit the Kenniff Brothers’ Monument (7 km south of Mitchell). The Monument consists of contemprary statues depicting the arrest of Patrick and James Kenniff – the statue of Patrick’s arrest shows Patrick lying on the ground with two policemen standing over him, while the aboriginal tracker looks the other way. The statue depicting James’ arrest shows him escaping the first attempt at arrest, before he was later surrounded and forced to surrender.
  • Admire the local artwork. The Bridging Arts exhibition, called “Booringa – Past, Present and Future,” is a unique open-air aerosol art gallery located on the bridge pylons beneath the Warrego Highway on the eastern entrance to the town. It was an initiative of the local Youth Council and features the work of individuals and community groups. The Cambridge Streetscape recalls the memories of local residents and features works created by members of the local community and professional artists. The Maranoa Arts Complex features works of art by local artists and also hosts  visiting exhibitions of reknowned artists.
  • Mitchell is the gateway to the Mt Moffatt section of Carnarvon National Park. Mt Moffatt is famous for its unique rock formations and aboriginal art, and is home to many hideouts used by the Kenniff Brothers. The road to Mt Moffatt is mostly unsealed, is impassable after rain and is recommended for 4WD only. Check road conditions before departure. The area is relatively remote, facilities are basic (camping only) and visitors should be self-sufficient.
  • Ooline Environmental Park is 35 km west of Mitchell. The Ooline tree (or Scrub Myrtle) is currently listed as a vulnerable species under the Nature Conservation Act. The tree is a relic of the rainforests of Gondwana Land and is unique in the sense that depsite its rainforst orgins, the Ooline tree can now only grow in hot and dry conditions.
  • Fisherman’s Rest is a camping, fishing and day-use area on the banks of the Maranoa River, about 7 kms west of Mitchell.
  • Major Mitchell’s campsite is located 35 kms north of Mitchell. The site marks Sir Thomas Mitchell’s campsite when he journeyed through the region in 1846. The site has a shelter and barbeque facility


1. Ryan, M. (ed), (2003) Discovery Guide to Outback Queensland Queensland Museum Publishing. Brisbane, Queensland.

2. Booringa Shire Council Website

3.  Booringa Shire Council Tourism Guide – “Michell: Gateway to the Outback. Visitors Guide to Mitchell, Amby and Mungallala”

4.  Mitchell: Gateway to the Outback Website

5.  Environmental Protection Agency Queensland Heritage Register, Queensland Government

6.  The Australian Government: Shared Responsibility Agreements: Mitchell Queensland

Muckadilla & Amby

21 04 2009


Muckadilla is located on the Warrego Highway, approximately 40km west of Roma. The town was settled, and in 1889, the first bore was sunk. The water from the bore was rich in sulphur and at the time, sulphurous materials were thought to be radioactive and have healing properties for a wide range of ailments, like rheumatism, arthritis and other debilitating conditions. As a result, people flocked to the Muckadilla area to receive ‘treatment’ from the town’s bore water.

A bathhouse was built in Muckadilla to allow those seeking treatment to easily access the water from the bore – in the day, the Muckadilla Bore Bathhouse was a well-known and prominent Queensland icon. The Bathhouse featured a swimming pool, hot showers and baths and a plunge pool, as well as a mud bath. Staff including nursing staff to help those seeking treatment for their various ailments.

The Muckadilla Hotel opened in 1912 and was located in front of the Bathhouse – today, a mound of dirt at the rear of the hotel marks the site where the Bathhouse once stood.

In its day, Muckadilla was a thriving local community that serviced the surrounding stations and part of the stock route through the area. Today, Muckadilla is still an important grain producing area and despite having its own grain depot, the improvement in machinery, transport and infrastructure has seen the population of Muckadilla decline. However, Muckadilla still has plenty to offer to visitors travelling through the Western Downs or into outback Queensland.

The Muckadilla Hotel is a typical country pub – in addition to cool refreshments, the hotel also provides meals, motel accommodation, a swimming pool and free camp sites (powered sites are provided at a small fee).

The Muckadilla Whistlestop Railway Siding has been moved to the side of the Warrego Highway and is now surrounded by a native garden. The garden contains a playground, tourist information about the local area and features local art exhibits. Walking paths around the garden give travelers the opportunity to stop and stretch their legs and the playground makes it a great place for a break if you’re travelling with children!


1.  Queensland Holidays Website:

2.  Muckadilla Hotel Website:


Amby is located approximately 24 kms east of Mitchell (or 63 kms west of Roma) along the Warrego Highway. Amby is considered to mark where the grain and grazing belts of agricultural Queensland meet, and along with Mitchell, forms the eastern border to the Queensland Outback.

Originally named Amby Creek, the term ‘Amby’ refers to the Aboriginal word for ‘little waterhole’ or ‘female aboriginal’. Amby was settled in 1883 purely as a support town for railway workers and their families as the railway line extended further west. Shortly afterwards, Amby had 2 pubs, butcher shop, baker, post office, store, police station, school, racecourse and a local sporting area.

The Amby Downs Waterhole (locally referred to as the Netting Hole) is located about 5 kms north of Amby along the Warrego Highway. Visitors to the waterhole may make out the remains of the Stage Changeover Shanty that was built near the waterhole – the building was erected in circa 1875 and predated the town.

Improvements in transport and infrastructure have seen many local businesses relocate to Roma or Mitchell. Today, Amby supports a population of approximately 90 people and the declining population has seen a demise of one pub, police station, butcher, baker, school and post office. The railway line responsible for the settlement of Amby still travels through the town, but the railway station has also been closed.

The Amby Hotel is the town’s surviving hotel and is ranked as one of the Great Outback Queensland Pubs. The Hotel offers cool refreshments, meals, accommodation and free camping, and also doubles as the ‘19th Hole’ for the Amby Golf Course. The golf course is a 9-hole course and is nicknamed the ‘No Horse Golf Course’.

In a cruel twist of fate, Amby is partly responsible for the construction and maintenance of infrastructure that has led to its demise. A basalt seam, measuring 10 metres deep, 5 kms wide and 64 kms long has been discovered east of Amby and the local basalt quarry now transports basalt, via road and rail, for use in roads, bridges, dams, and concrete constructions throughout Queensland. It also provides all the basalt required for the base material of all railway lines east of Dalby.


  1. Booringa Shire Council Tourism Guide – “Michell: Gateway to the Outback. Visitors Guide to Mitchell, Amby and Mungallala”
  2. Queensland Holidays Website:
  3. Booringa Shire Council:
  4. Queensland Hotels Great Outback Pubs Guide:

Destination: Longreach – Part 1 (Roma to Mitchell)

21 04 2009

Our morning unintentionally started at 0:Dark Hundred, thanks to the oil contractors staying in the hotel room next door. The men, themselves, were extremely quiet – until they turned on the TV. Why anyone would want to watch American Current Affairs shows on regional Queensland TV at 3.30am is completely beyond us, but in the wee hours of the morning, we endured stories about Fluffy the cat, who enjoys an pre-work morning surf with its owner, and some woman living somewhere in the United States of America that had a fascination with collecting coloured paper clips. We could only imagine the visual footage that accompanied these stories… Plus wonder why Americans found these sort of stories so engaging and newsworthy…

The oil contractors departed shortly after 4.30am and we settled back in to sleep-land until we were woken, once again, by a local rooster at the more civilized time of just after 6.00am. Hearing the rooster, Tan’s brain went into overdrive in the kind of way that only Tan’s brain is capable of. Whilst Dodge had all types of romantic thoughts travel through his brain, Tan could only think of Ferdinand the Duck from the movie ‘Babe’, and his daily routine of imitating the rooster in order to remain useful (and thus prevent himself from being eaten). Tan visualized the scene where Ferdinand ‘tackled’ the rooster as it began to crow and thus stifling the rooster’s wake up call, then immediately imitating the rooster before it could regain its composure. Tan’s thoughts then fast-forwarded to the end of the movie, when Ferdinand had learnt to imitate the new alarm clock is his relentless pursuit to remain useful.

So, Dodge awoke and immediately turned to romance, and Tan responded, echoing the words of Mrs. Hoggett – “We need to do something about that duck.” Dodge saw no other alternative then to get up and start preparing to leave.

We departed not long after.

We left the motel, turned left and saw our first real sign of country living – a gentleman taking his pet Shetland Pony for an early morning walk down the street. Not an Irish Wolf Hound, Border Collie, Chihuahua, Great Dane or any combination of dog, but a real live Shetland Pony. We quietly wondered whether the Shetland played ‘fetch’.

From Roma, the Warrego Highway took us towards Muckadilla. Muckadilla was once a thriving community, but nowadays, the only sign of life (at 7.27am at least) was at the Muckadilla Pub. The pub itself is a typical country pub – very welcoming and aesthetically very attractive. And it provides free camping – or if you prefer, a small fee for powered sites. The outside verandahs of the pub are lined with the bottle trees that are customary in the region, and two bench seats are positioned on either side of the entrance. One is named the ‘Bench of Bullshit’ and the other is called the ‘Seat of Knowledge’. Dodge was not exactly welcome to the photo opportunity the seats presented, as he knew he’d be relegated to the Bench of Bullshit whilst his beautiful, angelic wife naturally claimed the Seat of Knowledge.

From Muckadilla, we headed towards Amby. Somewhere along the 22 kms between Amby and Muckadilla, Dodge broke into song and invented the tune and the lyrics to “I’m too sexy for my underpants.” It’s a country-style tune in a similar style to John Williamson meets Colin Buchanan kind of way. In other words, Tan turned the iPod up to try and drown him out. You probably won’t hear his tune on a radio station near you in the foreseeable future…

We arrived in Amby. Dodge was captivated by the name of the place and kept reciting possible tourism slogans referring to the ‘ambience of Amby’. Tan let him ramble on, as the more he thought about promoting Amby to the tourist market, the less inclined he’d be to reprise the “I’m too sexy for my underpants” song.

Travellers should note that the Amby Pub also offers free camping!

Next stop: Mitchell. We needed petrol.

Although we’d only travelled 107 kms from Roma, we’d noticed that as we headed further west, the vegetation had already began to change. Between Amby and Mitchell, fewer bottle trees could be seen the odd Ooline tree was now noticeable. Mitchell was somewhat larger than both Muckadilla and Amby, and in addition to the  thermal spring baths, the town featured a large number of historic buildings (including several pubs!). More importantly for us, Mitchell marked the Eastern border of Western Queensland! We were well and truly on our way!

We chose to fuel up the car at the local BP Service Station. And it was a service station – not used to the traditional operations of a such a petrol station, Dodge was pleasantly surprised when Gary, the owner, insisted that Dodge step away from the pump and allow him to fill the car. Not content to stand by and watch Gary do the work, we got chatting. Gary was not quite a local in the Mitchell district – he’d married a local Mitchell girl 42 years ago and been living in town ever since, but was not yet considered to be a ‘local’ himself. We headed in to pay for our purchase, and as Gary continued the conversation, another ‘not-quite local’ (whose name shall remain anonymous in case he is ‘run’ out of town) proudly stated that if it wasn’t for people like himself and Gary, all babies born in the town would have 13 fingers and 15 toes by now.

With that comment, we decided that it was time to leave Mitchell before we were called to appear as witnesses at any possible public lynchings that may be held in the near future…

All About Roma

21 04 2009

Roma marks the western boundary of the Darling Downs and links Western Queensland with the state’s East Coast. Originally home to the Mandandangi People, the Roma region was visited by Ludwig Leichardt, and then by Sir Thomas Mitchell in 1846. Mitchell was impressed by the untouched pastoral lands he saw, and wrote “I ascended an elevated north-eastern extremity of Mount Abundance, and from it beheld the finest country I had ever seen in a primeval state – a champaign region, spotted with wood, stretching as far as human vision or even the telescope could reach.”

A year later in 1847, the first pastoral station of the area was established at this site by Allan McPherson. Named ‘Mt Abundance Station,’ McPherson took up 400 000 acres on which he ran sheep. After constant conflict with the local Aborigines, McPherson withdrew his sheep 1849, leaving it a cattle station. He returned to England and eventually sold the Station in 1856 to Stephen Spencer.

The first signs of a town began to appear in 1861 when a few hastily-built houses were erected close to the Mt Abundance Homestead. The town of Roma was officially settled in 1862, approximately 40km from Mt Abundance. Roma was the first town to be gazetted after Queensland separated from New South Wales to become a colony in its own right, and was named after Lady Roma Diamantina Bowen, the wife of the first Queensland Governor.

Roma was originally settled as an administrative centre to service the growing Western Downs Region. By 1863, Roma had its own Court of Petty Sessions, Police Station, doctor, chemist, several pubs and a Post Office. When the Post Office in Roma opened, the original Post Office at Mt Abundance was closed. By 1880, the railway network had been extended to connect Roma with the rest of Queensland.

In 1857, five years before the town of Roma was established, grapes were grown at Mt Abundance Station. In 1863, Samuel Bassett established the first (and only) winery of the Roma region – the Romavilla Winery. Romavilla sold its first vintage of wine in 1866 and remains Queensland’s oldest winery. It is still operating today and offers wine tasting and sales at its cellar door.

Just over 100 years ago, a work crew drilling for water at Hospital Hill unexpectedly found gas. From this exciting discovery, Roma has grown to be one of the most important gas and oil regions in Australia. The Big Rig, located on the Warrego Highway on the eastern entrance to the town, is a memorial and information centre devoted to the discovery of oil and gas throughout Australia, and in particular the importance of the Roma region. The Big Rig features an interpretive museum as well as a night show that incorporates pyrotechnics and computer simulations that tell the story of Australian gas and oil exploration (with an emphasis on Roma’s involvement). The show also includes the stories of individual characters involved in the development of Australia’s gas and oil industry.

Today, Roma boasts a population of almost 7000, making it one of the largest regional towns in Queensland. It lies at the intersection of the Warrego and Carnarvon Highways and links Brisbane with Western Queensland.  It is also a  major stop on the inland route between Sydney and Cairns (the Great Inland Way).

Things to do and see in Roma:

  • The Big Rig (mentioned above) is a museum dedicated to the discovery and development of Australia’s oil and gas industries (and Roma’s part in the story)
  • Visit the Romavilla to sample some (or all) of the region’s wine products
  • The Roma Saleyards are the biggest inland Saleyards in the country. Sales are held every Tuesday and Thursday.
  • Today, the Mount Abundance Station is open to visitors by appointment only. The station itself has been subdivided into smaller pastoral allotments, but the Homestead built by Spencer from which the town of Roma was created can be visited.
  • Roma is considered the gateway to Carnarvon National Park. The Park is divided into four sections: Carnarvon Gorge, Ka Ka Mundi, Salvator Rosa and Mt Moffat. The Carnarvon Gorge section is the most popular section as it is easily accessed by two-wheel drive vehicles (check road conditions prior to departure) and offers accommodation of all types. Camping is restricted in Carnarvon Gorge itself, however camping is allowed during certain school holidays (visit the EPA website for details). Alternative accommodation (including camping) is available at Takarakka Bush Resort. For those that prefer a little more comfort, the Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge offers a more ‘luxurious’ experience for those that would prefer it.
  • Visitors to Roma will be impressed with the bottle trees that line the streets. The Avenue of Heroes down Wyndham Street features a bottle tree for each local life lost during the First World War – each tree feature its own individual Remembrance Plaque to honour each respective fallen Servicemen.
  • Roma’s largest bottle tree can be found at the intersection of Edwardes and McDowell streets – it measures an amazing 8.9m in diameter and was transplanted from a local property to its current position in 1927.
  • The Meadowbank Museum is located 12km west of Roma and offers ‘on-farm’ camping at a low cost. The Museum itself features an interesting collection of early farming implements, machinery and memorabilia and is open for guided tours by appointment. Camping is available all year round.
  • There are many other historical, cultural and architectural features to Roma. These can all be explored on foot via self-guided walking tours. Tours include the Roma Heritage Trail, the Adungadoo Pathway, the Roma Bush Gardens Walk and the Hospital Hill Walk. Brochures can be collected from the Visitor Information Centre at the Big Rig or downloaded here.


When in Roma Website:

Roma Regional Council:

An Evening in Roma

20 04 2009

Once we found accommodation for the evening, our first major undertaking was to check the vehicle aftIMG_4438er its day of long haul duty. Dodge meticulously checked oil and water levels and then climbed up to check how the restraints securing the fuel supplies on the roof had survived the drive. Then he checked the dual battery. Because it had taken so long to install the battery, we didn’t have time to ensure that it was working adequately enough to keep our fridge running in the back of the car. Tan’s father, an electrical engineer, had checked the wiring (unloaded) and given it the tick of approval, so we were fairly confident it was getting voltage, but was it getting enough to keep the fridge at a suitably chilled temperature?

Dodge moved to the battery and flicked the test button. Half-charge. Oh sh1t. Not good. Dodge immediately started to panic, not so much about the consumable items in the fridge, but about the pieces of meat he had packed to roast in the camp oven over the course of the next two weeks.

Dodge called The Grand Poo-bah (Tan’s father) to discuss the problem. The Grand Poo-bah was initially just as concerned as Dodge as they discussed possible reasons for the problem and quick fixes that could made to alleviate the problem until we got to a auto electrician the following day (or hopefully not at all). Eventually, the Grand Poo-bah asked “Have you unplugged the fridge?”

“No” answered Dodge.

Dodge couldn’t believe that in his panic, he forgotten to check the battery without appliances drawing current from it. Once he repeated the test correctly, the battery was found to be operating as expected and Dodge let out a long, relaxing sigh as he realized his roast meat would be entirely safe for the time being.

The second major undertaking for the evening was preparing the evening meal. The fact that we were staying across the road from Woolworths and the fact that we had a large amount of food packed in the back of the car that we were too lazy to extract meant that we didn’t want to spend money on a pub counter meal or take away dinner. Eventually, we settled for two varieties of instant pasta and some ginger beer to add to our rum.

While Dodge was paying for our purchases at the checkout, Tan, being the sticky-beak that she is, started reading the staff notices on the bulletin board next to the cashier. She found a staff roster, which she read for no other reason that the fact that it was there, in plain view of everyone passing the counter. Each staff member had written their own name, followed by their department and then indicated their availability for shifts over the upcoming fortnight. Tan’s eyes scrolled down the list, then paused on a particular female staff member’s entry – more so because her employment department was listed as ‘penis holes’. Tan felt a bit embarrassed for the poor girl, thinking that someone was having a go at her for being the ‘girl that gets around’ or the ‘town bike’. Tan re-read the line many times, just to check she hadn’t misread it, but no, it definitely said ‘penis holes.’ The more she looked, the more the laughter swelled up inside her. She turned to Dodge to show him what was so funny, only to find that as she looked again, the girl had really bad handwriting and she actually worked in ‘perishables’.

Dodge had a good giggle at Tan.

We made our way back to our accommodation and Tan started to prepare dinner while Dodge surfed the Austar service for the evening’s quality TV viewing. Cooking dinner was a little awkward – the motel room was equipped for oil and mining exploration contractors to be comfortably accommodated for a week at a time, yet the biggest microwave dish was the size of a breakfast bowl. Tan then proceeded to divide the packets of instant pasta evenly up between four bowls in order to properly cook them (Dodge, being less pedantic than Tan, couldn’t understand why Tan didn’t mix the pasta with mushroom sauce in with the cheesy macaroni pasta dish to make the cooking time shorter and the whole event less bowl-intensive. Tan just rolled her eyes and ignored his (un)helpful suggestions).

After Tan’s obsessively prepared instant pasta meal and a few Dark n’ Stormy rums, we were ready for a good night of sleep. Tomorrow – an early morning departure to reach Longreach before dark (hopefully).

The Road to Roma

20 04 2009

The departure from Toowoomba marked the start of the long journey ahead of us. The Warrego Highway firstly took us towards Oakey, then through Jondaryn (the home of the Woolshed tourist attraction) and on to Dalby, without incident. The further west we travelled, the emptier the roads became and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves alone heading towards Roma.

One of the best things we love about travel are the names of the small towns and localities we pass through, and the proud achievements each has accomplished throughout the years that they feel you should know about as you travel through at high speed.

We can therefore tell you that Warra, a small locality west of Dalby, is the BBQ Capital of Australia. In 2008, Warra produced:

  • Beef for 79 million sausages (and a few steaks as well, we presume)
  • Wheat for 68 million loaves of bread (to wrap the sausages in)
  • Wheat for 7 million stubbies of beer (it’s just not a BBQ if there’s no beer)
  • 14 million chickens (and how many eggs?)
  • Tonnes of mung beans and chick peas (vegetarians catered for as well)

Not bad for a community that owes its continued existence to the railway siding that serves to transport the beef, grain, coal and quarried rock from the surrounding areas to the rest of Australia!

It wasn’t until we passed a picket sign in the front yard of a house as we travelled through Warra that advised us to visit the ‘Coal 4 Breakfast’ website did we realize that the reason for Warra proudly proclaiming its BBQ importance was the fact that the mining industry had been granted approval for expansion, which didn’t make the local agricultural industry very happy.

From Warra, the highway travelled towards Brigalow, another small locality that again owes it’s continued existence to the railway line. Brigalow didn’t appear to be proud of anything, but its emblem was a sheath of wheat. Dodge quickly made the link between wheat and the name ‘Brigalow’ being a main brand of home brew beer products and declared Brigalow to be the home of home brew. Of course, this needed to be celebrated in song and Dodge devised the Brigalow Anthem – a tribute to the stouts, pale ales and lagers made from Brigalow branded products that may or may not come from Brigalow – that he continued, over and over again until Tan turned up the iPod and drowned him out.

The Warrego then took us through Chinchilla (best Queensland high school in 2002) and the localities of Cameby (no, we drove past very quickly) and Ry Wung (which Tan first thought said ‘Wy Rung’ and pondered aloud the unfortunate name and why she would ring until Dodge corrected her mistake). Then came Baking Board, which made us both drool with hunger as we imagined meadows full of freshly baked ANZAC biscuits, chocolate muffins and banana cakes begging us to eat them.

As we travelled through Chinchilla, we began to pick up the conversations of a pilot vehicle for an oversize load on the UHF radio. Halfway between Chinchilla and Miles, we caught up with the oversize load, only to learn that it was the second of two 4.5m wide loads making their way west along the highway. Not long after we’d caught up to the second of the loads, we heard the pilot vehicle for the first load once again warn a road train that a ‘2 by 4.5 looking straight at you’. It must have been a boring day for road train drivers, because despite the time (1.45pm) the truckie decided that it was a bit close to peak hour and responded quickly with ‘it’s a bit late for a 4.5, matey’ in reference to the travel time restrictions placed on oversized vehicles on major roads (which the oversize vehicles were operating well within).

And that started it. When alerted about the approaching twin 4.5 loads, every truck driver responded with ‘it’s a bit late for a 4.5, matey.’ At first, the pilot vehicles were a bit bewildered, and judging by the response they gave to one truckie, were a bit alarmed that the rules for oversize vehicle movement had been changed and they were not aware of it. However, as the message was repeated ad nauseam, the pilot drivers realised that they had become the brunt of ‘truckie humour’ and bore the brunt of the joke in good humour.

Our vehicle had been dubbed ‘little green one’ by the pilot vehicles, a tag line that we then used as we used the UHF to warn of our intentions to overtake. It got us thinking – what should we call the car? What should our UHF call sign be? (And did we really need one, if only to talk to the couple of sets of Grey Nomads with Campervans that we had passed so far?)

Suggestions included the Green Goblin, the Emu Stalker, the Gremlin and the Leprechaun. The discussion took us all the way to Roma, with no firm decision made.

We finally arrived in Roma just after 5.00pm, thoroughly exhausted and quite happy to find a motel for the night. The only problem – they all appeared to be booked out (except for the more ‘dodgey’ looking variety). After filling up at the local BP station, we made another loop around town, fully expecting to have to continue on towards Mitchell for the night. As we passed the Bottle Trees Motel, we spied a vaccancy sign and quickly pulled in. Luckily, the motel had had a cancellation whilst we filled up with fuel. The down side? It was only a twin room with two single beds. No problems – Dodge just wanted to stop driving, and Tan was excited to have a whole bed (albeit a single) entirely to herself.

As we parked the Green Goblen/Emu Stalker in front of our room, we heard the pilot vehicle for the first oversize load enter the Roma township, quickly followed by the reply “it’s a bit later for a 4.5, matey”. With a quiet chuckle (this had been going on continuously for 4 hours now) and pang of compassion for those still on the road, we turned off the engine and retired for the evening.

And We’re Off!

20 04 2009

April 20 – departure day! Scheduled departure time: O:Dark Hundred (or before sunrise (6.00am) for all you people unaccustomed to leaving your watches behind on holidays and not knowing how to tell time by sundial). This would leave plenty of time to make the 790km journey to Augathella and arrive hopefully before sunset (or before the next cycle of O:Dark Hundred time).

Of course, being MessyChambo, this meant we left at approximately 10.00am – only 4ish hours late – which is pretty good by our standards! However “Destination: Augathella” (said with a Mission Impossible type vocal emphasis) before sunset was now going to be a tough ask.

We quickly assumed the driving posture and mentally and physically prepared ourselves for the long drive ahead.

First stop: Gatton McDonalds. Why? Well, why not? After all, we’d been on the road for at least 40 minutes and the butt cheeks were starting to get a little numb (lets just ignore the fact that we had travelled approximately 75 kms of our total 4500+ km journey and things would be getting a lot worse real soon…). Plus, we were hungry. Lucky we did, because as we chewed our burgers, we began to take stock of everything we’d forgotten to pack and weren’t going to go home for.

Second stop: Clifford Garden Shopping Centre in Toowoomba to purchase the above-mentioned stocks and supplies that had failed to make the transfer from the garage into the back of the car. Useful things like the mandatory hi-vis flag required for the ‘Desert Anti-Collision Kit’ that minimised the risk of a head-on accident when traversing desert dunes on single-lane roads. And a fire extinguisher to put out the spinifex fires – it may sound like an OH&S overkill, but for the uninformed, a spinifex fire is a highly probable experience as spinifex commonly gets caught in the very hot engine and vehicle underbelly, then catches alight. Being in a remote location, you sort of want to put out the fire before it consumes the car as it takes a long time for the fire brigade to arrive (which of course, can only occur after it’s taken a few minutes to (a) locate your precise location on the GPS, providing it’s turned on; (b) find the sat phone; and (c) set-up the sat phone for use), and it’s a long walk to the next town if in fact your vehicle does get consumed by the flames before the fire brigade can arrive).

And, last but not least, sunglasses for Dodge. The only thing we couldn’t find was a reasonably priced Hi-Vis flag for the “Desert Anti-Collision Kit” (which was going to be a MessyChambo hand-made job – after quotes in the vicinity of $250-300 for a proper flag, we decided a cheap hi-vis vest mounted to a 14” surf fishing rod should suffice).

12.50pm and at long last, we were finally ready to tackle the remaining 680-ish kms to “Destination: Augathella” (once again, with a Mission: Impossible edge to it). Except we decided to change to “Destination: Roma and we’ll see how we feel when we get there” (which didn’t sound anywhere near impressive, regardless of how much Mission: Impossible intonations were added).

Clifford Gardens

We’re Just About Ready

19 04 2009

The car is ready.  Spotlights installed and adjusted to actually be somewhat useful. Cargo barrier installed and moved into ‘fully bombed up’ position. Roof racks installed and loaded with probably more weight than recommeded but hey, what are roof racks for? UHF radio fitted and tested on Brisbane VHQ07 – an interesting chanel – listen live at if you dare.

Dual battery fitted (don’t ask Dodge about the ‘quick install’ job the salesman suggested as an excuse for the fact that they no longer performed custom installation for such units. 3 days and several ‘choice’ words later, the neighbours had moved out, the galah had learnt to swear and the temporary job was done… It’d get us through our little jaunt, but neither of us are looking forward to the ‘proper install’ job that we’ll need to do when we get home)

Rear springs adjusted. Not replaced, adjusted. Thanks to the blacksmiths at Mayne Springs in Albion, we were saved from purchasing new springs and suspension – they simply reworked the existing springs then added a new leaf to them. Dodge was impressed – his male ego had been suitably enhanced as his chariott now stood like a bucking bronco at the back end. To show his gratitiude, he’s arranged an afternoon of blacksmithing with them in their workshop. The rules are simple – if he brings the beers, he gets to have a go.

The only thing we haven’t upgraded is the nudge bar. The current nudge bar is designed primarily to protect against the most ferocious of all urban 4WD predators: the shopping trolley. In other words, it’s not really designed for repelling a kangaroo at high velocity unless you hit it directly in the centre of the vehicle.

Due to budget contraints, our OH&S strategy is to line any potential road kill up with the centre of the car. Fingers crossed that we won’t have to.

Departure day: O Dark Hundred tomorrow morning.

Women Can’t Read Road Maps

18 04 2009

Or can they? Two days before departure and Dodge & Tan finally made the time to double check that the GPS still worked (nothing like leaving it to the last minute!). Dodge, not trusting Tan’s non-Scout and non-Army background, also decided that it might be a good idea to check Tan’s navigational skills so that he could commence preparations to find a new travelling companion to sit in the navigator’s seat should Tan’s skills not be up to par.

Dodge rattled off one GPS reading after another as Tan used the 1:1 250 000 series of maps to pin point the corresponding landmarks. Not willing to relinquish her seat in the car, Tan performance was exceptional (being the perfectionist that she is, nothing under 100% was acceptable). At first, Tan found it fun, but after something like 4000 activities, the novelty began to wear off…

Eventually, Dodge decided that Tan could (a) could pinpoint a GPS reading on a map, and (b) could determine a GPS reading from a map. Whether this was because he was thoroughly satisfied with Tan’s abilities, or whether he just decided that she had the skills required in order to stop the dagger-like stare that Tan kept throwing in his direction, she will never know.

Dodge then turned to the 1:250 000 series of maps to check Tan’s ability to read grid references. Once again, Dodge asked Tan to calculate the grid references for around 5 million different landmarks, which she performed with 100% accuracy despite the frequent eye-rolling and deep sighs that now accompanied the harrowing dagger-like stares she continued to throw in Dodge’s direction.

Once again satisfied at Tan’s performance (Tan was now sure that he was only ceasing his never-ending tirade of questions not because she had proved to be reliable in navigation, but more to preserve the peace – sitting side-by-side for the 4500+ km journey across the state would otherwise not be a very enjoyable experience), Dodge then asked “Do you know how to plot a course using a compass from a grid reference?”

“Yes.” Tania curtly responded, hoping that her short response would signify that this conversation should not continue past this point.

“How?” Dodge tested, not picking up on the subtle vocal tones of Tan’s response.

“Simple. I give the map and the compass to you” she stated. Tan didn’t see the relevance of the question at all considering that we didn’t own a compass from which to take a reading and therefore the whole conversation was rather redundant.

Apparently this answer was not sufficient enough for Dodge as he launched himself into a rather long explanation of how to do it. Tan tuned out and diverted her attention towards the length of her toe nails. Dodge finished up and asked Tan to prove that she’d understood his explanation by getting her to paraphrase the process back to him. Dodge seemed a little disappointed when Tan said she hadn’t listened, so she sat there patiently as Dodge once again went through the process step by step.

Dodge, again, asked Tan to paraphrase. This time, Tan was ready and repeated his instructions back to him, exactly word for word.

“Well, there’s actually 3 norths. There’s true north, grid north and magnetic north. Now, we don’t give a sh1t about true north – it’s not important, so forget about it. So that leaves us with grid north and magnetic north.

“Now, the map will tell you the variation between grid north and magnetic north. So here, it says 6.6o. You see it also says that the variation changes by 0.1o in 10 years, so that’s negligible and we can forget about it.”

(Dodge seemed to be impressed with Tan’s ability to repeat all instructions, step by step and word for word, completely missing the hint of sarcasm hidden in Tan’s precise explanations)

“So now you know the variance, all you need to remember is GrandMa Sux and Machine Gun Ammo (which Tan thought sounded pretty reasonable if you didn’t like your Grandma, otherwise it was a bit dramatic). If you’re transferring a reading from grid to magnetic north, you subtract the variance (GMS). If you go transfer the reading from magnetic to grid north, you need to add the variance (MGA).

“Once you know where north is, you can begin to plot your course from the map to your compass. Align the bevel on the compass along the map grid and blah, blah blah.”

Dodge was not impressed. Tan suggested that if he was really worried about getting lost and felt that a GPS and sat phone weren’t enough to alert rescuers to our position, maybe he should hire an EPIRB rather than rely on Tan’s ability to prepare a course of travel using a non-existent compass.

Almost ready…

16 04 2009

Departure date: Monday 20 April 2009

Yep – in just 4 days. And we’ve finally agreed on a route – we’ve reversed our previous decision and are now back to going forwards. First destination – Augathella,  followed by Longreach, Bladensburg National Park, Lark Quarry Conservation Park, Diamantina National Park and then on to Birdsville.

Once in Birdsville, we’ll assess the flood and road conditions and then develop a route to get home – hopefully via QAA Line to Poeppel Corner, K1 Line to Warburton Track and then join the Birdsville Track for a return back to Birdsville. Then home via Cordillo Downs and Haddon Corner. That’s the plan and we’re keeping the fingers crossed in the faint hope we’ll be able to complete this circuit, but should the ‘fingers crossed’ manoeuvre not work, we have two other options up our sleeves…

Meanwhile, Dodge has got the vehicle ready – new spotlights, 2-way radio, roof rack, cargo barrier, dual battery, rear suspension and the good old service. Tan has never been so excited to get a vehicle service in all her life – in her experience, vehicle services are always expensive as regardless of how well the vehicle has been maintained, there is always an expensive part to be repaired or replaced. But after forking out $4500+ for the fitting of new accessories, the $259 service cost was quite a welcome surprise!

Tan has braved Woolworths and has started to stockpile the food – only a few more items to be added and it’s all done! So far, we’ll be surviving on two-minute noodles, instant pasta, tinned tuna, smoked oysters in BBQ sauce, rice crackers, rice & corn bread and BBQ Shapes. Hopefully she’ll add some fresh fruit and vegies and meat to the stockpile when Dodge decides what kind of roast he wants to cook in the camp oven.