We notice a change in the climate – the mornings are warmer, it is overall milder, the breeze is gentle and no longer piercing cold.
It is another 267 clicks until the Queensland border. This part of the world is called the Eyre Basin, and it is yet another outback landscape that we encounter. The black straight highway cuts through miles and miles of grazing country. To both sides, there is a sea of sturdy yellow grass. It is entirely flat, only rarely you will find a tree or two. Blue skies, yellow grass, black asphalt.
On the one hand it is beautiful, all these colours, like the American Mid-West right before harvesting time. But truth is that the land is battered and bruised, straining under the hoofs and the large appetite of thousands of cattle.
And we do see this cattle too. Large herds of beasts gathering under the shadow of a lonely tree or near a waterhole.
With the cattle comes the machinery, complex mechanisms to round up and load cattle onto the massive roadtrains. Yes, roadtrains are aplenty here too, and they continue to throw pebbles onto our windscreen.
We also see lots and lots of termite mounds with clothes on. Yes, that’s Australian humour at its finest!
We cross the border into Queensland, finally. The first town on the other side is Camooweal, no more than a dozen houses, a petrol station/restaurant and a closed down vintage museum. At the petrol station we meet our first German in 2,000km – a backpacker who is taking the food orders. It really is remarkable, no matter where on earth you end up there always seems to be a German around. She is a nice girl, and we wonder how she ended up here in this border town of around 180 souls, and whether she liked it. But we don’t ask, she’s probably sick of telling her story. She seems content enough anyway.
We continue our trip to reach our night stop in Mount Isa. Let me tell you, after travelling the plains for hours on end, the mountains of Mount Isa make for a really nice change. The landscape suddenly is more entertaining, and it also offers more challenges for the driver. While there was always the risk of cattle, alive or dead on the road on the Barkly Highway, we are now facing the risk of running into cattle or roadkill behind every bend and every crest.
We only stop in Mount Isa for the night, although there are a number of attractions that are connected to the mine that feed thousands of families in the area. It is obvious that this is the beginning of mining country. The road that we are going to follow was build specifically for the camel caravans which transported the mined minerals and ore to the coast. Today, the railroad is taking care of this, which makes it not surprisingly much cheaper and more efficient to mine in the area.
Rather than looking at the museums and mines of Mount Isa we stop at the much smaller mining town of Cloncurry, or as locals call it “The Curry”. Cloncurry is not entirely unknown in Australia – earlier this year it was honoured with its very own weather rap by Triple J, “I think I’m Clonkers”.
We find Cloncurry to be a very sweet and friendly town. We arrive at a day when the town gathers for the markets on the lawn right in front of the little town museum. The museum is small but full of local treasures. From the pioneering days, you can see a marked tree by the explorers Burke and Wills, as well as Burke’s water bottle, their proudest item in the collection. Back in the early days these two explorers came through the area to map and explore unknown territory on an ill-fated mission which they both did not survive.
There are also some beautiful indigenous artefacts, and lots and lots of minerals. If you are a mineral collector, then Cloncurry is your place. You can easily stock up on all sorts of stones here. For only $5 we take home a piece of virgin rock that has a shimmering vein of opal in it.
We really enjoy the garden next to the museum. After having travelled through the desert for around a week, it’s refreshing to be greeted by bright greens and yellows.
So much more to see and to do in the Queensland Outback. Our next stop will be Richmond, part of the Australian Dinosaur triangle.