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August 16, 2001

Overland Australia - Update 22

2001 August 16, 2001. Thursday. Thirty-five kilometres West of Cloncurry on the Road to Mount Isa.

Riding along a major thoroughfare again, missing our quiet, unsealed roads; we can’t help but appreciate the smooth surface and easy grades of the highway. Although we’d all prefer a blazed dirt track with a bit of character, it’s easy to see why people need the roads. The security of having even the rough tracks is taken for granted. Upon moving out of sight of the road, the surrounding country all looks alike and finding one’s way is all but impossible without a compass, stars, or the sun low on the horizon to give a clue to East and West.


The road between Cloncurry and Mount Isa crosses the route which Robert O’Hara Burke, William John Wills, and their small expeditionary team took in 1860. As the first to travel overland from Melbourne north to the Gulf of Carpentaria, they would have encountered precious little evidence of European civilisation. Any hospitality offered by indigenous people would have been foreign and uncertain, as people of the time knew little of the culture of the aborigines, and rumours of cannibalism and hostility were common.


After struggling over the mountainous southern part of the country, they would be greeted by coarse spinifex and hummock grassland, searing heat, and the vast isolation of the savannah which we are now experiencing with Expedition 360. Although the Burke and Wills expedition ended in disaster (dying of starvation on return to base-camp – abandoned by their support team that same day), what they accomplished was an astonishing achievement, perhaps unequalled in the history of this continent.

Both locals and tourers met along our way have told us that what we are attempting is anything from crazy to excruciating. However, it’s all relative, and with the achievements of pioneers such as Burke and Wills in mind, our one hundred and twenty-six kilometre day (complete with UHF radio communication. and a support truck waiting for us up ahead with scroggin and water) is somewhat humbled.
Punctures have again plagued us along the highway, after having had a respite from them while on the less travelled roads. Thorny plants seem to benefit from the road trains full of cattle to spread their seeds, and thrive along major roads and in towns.
We are again following a road train route, and have seen some absolute beasts. Mount Isa and Cloncurry are both mining centres with ores are being trucked out, while fuel and supplies are brought in. The area is rich in a number of valuable minerals, and in Cloncurry, uranium mining is active quite close to the town centre. While some of the trains are a bit scary, we have had no incidents as close as the one on the developmental highway, and we have seen some very friendly and courteous drivers who have been quite willing allow us our share of the road, and some leeway besides.

Tomorrow we can expect to reach Isa by midday, where we have running about and stocking up to do which will probably amount to a day off. Not too far beyond there, we should have our dirt back, along with corrugations, curious cattle, dirty faces, isolation, and our ‘tans’ of dust. Joy!



Posted on August 16, 2001 6:58 PM