THOMPSON RIVER TRIP AUGUST 2003
DAY 1 SUNDAY 3rd Three vehicles departed Rockhampton at around 0930 hrs with Harry and Carmen in one, Gail, Terry (the visiting French student) and Mary in the second, and Shirley and myself in the lead vehicle, towing an off road trailer.
The trip to Longreach was an interesting one for Terry, with me calling out on the U.H.F radio periodically – “wild pig on the right” or “jabirus on the left”, “emus on the right” etc. We stopped for lunch at Emerald for around an hour, continuing on to arrive at the Gunadoo Caravan park at Longreach just before dark, and just in time for a roast meat and veggie meal, followed by bush poetry from a fellow called Mark. It was dark, cold and quite late after the entertainment, so we all just threw our swags on the ground and retired for the night.
DAY 2 MONDAY 4th The dawning of a cold second day brought with it some sorrow as Harry announced that he had suffered two consecutive sleepless nights worrying about his flourishing business, and so had decided to return to Kingaroy. After a hasty breakfast and sadly, seeing Harry off, we packed up and set out on our journey via the main street of Longreach and a brief shopping spree.
Within minutes we had left roads with which I was familiar and were off on the real bush part of our adventure. The country was flat and open with occasional low scrub, but very, very dry. We pulled up and inspected numerous creeks on our way north, reporting on fifteen canopies in each creek. A brief stop at Muttaburra Hotel allowed Terry to buy some beer (apparently comparable to its French counterpart). We lunched under a Coolabah tree on the banks of the Thompson River. Corned beef and cheese sandwiches and orange juice went down very well in a wonderful spot. The only ingredient that was missing was water in the river.
Early in the afternoon we decided that we would not make our destination that night, so went in search instead, of a spot that Gail remembered and recommended as a campsite. We were unable to locate this spot and so, after examining a few more creeks, made a mad dash for the station, where we arrived just before dark.
After brief introductions we were escorted by the owner, Bill, to a beautiful spot on a creek, at which we were to camp on a soft bed of sand surrounded by river red gums. This was to be our place of rest for around a week, a more fitting spot you simply could not discover. This was Walkers Creek, a dry creek bed with which we would become fairly familiar in the ensuing days.
Again the day had yielded quite a deal of wildlife including Emus, Kangaroos (both grey and red), Wedge Tailed Eagles, etc. A pleasant evening was spent around the campfire after a meal of Carmen’s stew, and a couple of wines. Our pleasant evening was enhanced by a visit during the evening by Bill, his wife Rhonda, and two of his grandchildren, Julia and Luke.
DAY 3 TUESDAY 5th The night had proved to be much warmer than our previous night in Longreach, and we all awoke refreshed for our first day of serious work. We had breakfast and whilst the ladies washed up, I dug a trench latrine, much to the detriment of my poor old spine.
Soon we headed out on foot in a southerly direction, following the creek upon which we were camped. We formed a line and examined the creek banks and bed for any sign of Koalas. Much possum sign and some glider sign were found. The further south we progressed, the more Koala sign we found, although this was still few and far between. Bill and his grandchildren joined us for the later part. When we reached the first fence we returned to camp for lunch, having covered, very thoroughly, between one and two kilometers of creek line. The dry creek bed had been bounded by river red gums, the odd coolabah, and some gidgee, interspersed by that dreadful menace, parkinsonia.
We had been surprised at the large number of birds, in particular the smaller varieties, including a very large and active flock of Blue Martins. One wondered where all of these birds found an adequate supply of water on a regular basis.
After a fine lunch we headed north along the creek, again plenty of sign, but no koalas. We walked from 1230 hrs to 1500 hrs. We had just turned around to walk back to camp when Bill called on the radio and offered to pick us up and give us a lift back to camp. The offer was gratefully accepted.
Back at camp Gail and I set up a shower, and we all managed to clean up whilst it was still quite warm. An interesting experience during the evening was the occasional explosion of the river rocks surrounding our campfire, thankfully not to anyone’s detriment. Dinner of sausages, bacon, and no less than seven veggies was truly magnificent. This after Bill and his family joined us for drinks.
DAY 4 WEDNESDAY 6th We awoke to a beautiful
morning, wondering where the winter had gone. The weather had turned very
mild indeed. Gail was first out of bed due to a hungry tick, attempting
to attach itself to her knee, awakening her. After breakfast we headed
north along the creek line again, covering some parts of the creek that
we had not yet covered. At around 0940hrs it was announced on the hand
held U.H.F radios, to our great delight, that the ever-reliable Carmen
had sighted our first koala.
The rest of the day was spent searching creeks, with not much found. Later in the day Bill took us for a drive to his high country, supplying us with magnificent views of almost all of his property. I was surprised to find out from Bill that he was currently running only 630 head of cattle on his 33,000 acres. He said that in a ‘good’ year he could run up to 800 or 900. You could hardly call that intensive farming.
That night, after another lovely meal we headed of to bed. Mary went first, and soon her snoring became the topic of conversation. It was suggested (in jest) that perhaps she might attract a koala.
DAY 5 THURSDAY 5th We, and particularly Mary, experienced a very rude and exciting awakening on this morning before daylight, as a large male koala had actually crawled over Mary’s swag, whilst she was inside it and then headed up a nearby coolabah tree. The immediate conversation led to debate on whether this was the same animal. A quick effort, just on daylight, to flag the animal down the trunk failed. We decided to wait till full light, and also get Bill along to witness the event. After Bill arrived and it was sufficiently light we set up for the catch.
Gail went up the tree, the animal was flagged out to the end, fell, and was cleanly caught. All the tagging, sampling and measurements completed, the animal was released in a nearby tree. The old rule of release into the catch tree was wavered due to the tree’s proximity to the camp. The animal’s body condition had proved to be a nine - a strong and healthy male in its prime. This we found an encouraging sign.
What a wonderful start to the day! We all then enjoyed a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs. All that was left was conjecture about whether this was the same animal as the one found the previous day. Also much discussion about the animal coming into the camp, Mary bearing the brunt of many jokes about her snoring.
Again the day was warm, but Bill reported a forecast of cooler weather. Prior to leaving the camp after breakfast we measured the distance between the two sightings by G.P.S. It was 2.61 kilometers. It had seemed further but of course this measurement was in a straight line. A quick trip back to the tree where the first sighting had been made confirmed that the animal was not there, strengthening the argument that these were one and the same animal. An ensuing search of the creek bank for a couple of hundred meters in either direction also found nothing.
From here we proceeded to the northern most point of the creek where we had searched and continued on uphill in a northerly direction. The presence of eucalypts was receding and giving over mainly to gidgee, a type of acacia, which is good for fence posts and firewood. We walked up the creek until river red gums gave way to ghost gums and then to gidgee alone.
Wildlife seen during this walk was a mob of pigs, an emu and a large male eastern grey kangaroo, but unfortunately, no koalas. We were unable to stifle comment about the condition of the land and of the vegetation. The area was extremely dry and arid, with no grass at all on the low lands. Many of the trees were dying or looking very stressed, and the location of underground aquifers was very evident from small patches of healthy looking river red gums along the creek.
To our delight Bill drove up through the bush to where we were, and drove us back to the camp sight. We were all very tired so we were granted the remainder of the afternoon as a rest period. Later in the afternoon Gail, Mary and Terry assisted Bill with some mustering on four wheeled motorbikes, later returning to the camp hungry and very dusty.
A fine meal was prepared and Rhonda, Bill, and another one of their grandsons, Brodie, joined us for the meal and a long chat. Brodie, a six year old, was mesmerised whilst Terry played the Jews Harp. Terry tried hard to teach Brodie how to play the instrument, having little success initially, but this was to improve during ensuing evenings. Terry’s grasp of the English language was improving rapidly and he was proving to be a most pleasant fellow who fitted in very well with all of our activities.
DAY 6 FRIDAY 8th We awoke to a clear and slightly cooler morning. After breakfast we did an inspection of the creek near our camp in both directions to see if we could find where the koala had moved to during the night - to no avail.
Bill arrived with Brodie, and we headed off by car through the neighbouring property to an other area. Here we headed up Rockhole Creek. The vegetation was a little different, gidgee was replaced by boree trees, another acacia but with lighter colored bark, narrower and shinier leaves and is also good for fence posts and firewood. The creek was also sprinkled with bauhinia and the occasional mulga and bendee (both forms of acacia), along with the usual river red gums. Further up the creek we came across narrow leaf ironbark, emu apple trees, which have wonderfully bright green foliage and another eucalypt that we were unable to identify.
A long way up the creek we came off the flats into very different country, with rocky hills and escarpments. This struck me as some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen, despite the dreadful dryness and lack of grass. I was compelled to stop and put on paper the words that came to mind. “Incredibly magnificent, awe inspiring scenery. What a wonderfully diverse and beautiful country we live in”.
At the top of the gorge we were entering, we came to an area that almost had the appearance of an oasis. This area housed an abundance of varieties of trees and shrubs. It was here that we found and admired a Burtons Legless Lizard. Young Brodie took great pleasure in holding it for a short time and then releasing it. Bill showed us to an eagle’s nest. From beneath this nest we collected quite a lot of skulls and other skeletal remains. By this time Gail had to remind us of the purpose of our being there – to look for koalas!
Next Bill escorted us up through a rocky, climbing passage, to a large cave, which housed a water hole that must be visited by a plethora of wildlife. More awe-inspiring scenery! Bill had proven to be an excellent tour guide, offering abundant information on both the local flora and fauna. Next we headed back down the creek, across some open ground and back down another branch of the creek to the vehicle. Little Brodie, who was only six years old, became very tired towards the end and Terry carried him on his shoulders for the last leg. We were all surprised that the little fellow had gone as far as he had.
After returning to camp and enjoying a late lunch we headed to the high country to see if we could find koala sign amongst the ironbarks and around the dams. Bill, Brodie, who by now had become an almost permanent attachment to Terry, Bill’s sister Mary and her husband Alan, who were visiting for the day, accompanied us. Nothing of any great interest was found, although I got quite a surprise when I almost stood on a rabbit behind one of the dam banks.
Later the family came to the campfire for drinks. After a fine dinner and a chat we all wandered off to bed.
DAY 7 SATURDAY 9th We awoke to a slightly cooler morning again, hoping that it would not warm up too much. Bill and Brodie arrived and we headed off back to the high country to check out a couple more creeks. After heading off down a creek for quite some time we reached our meeting point, but when we got there we realised that Shirley was no longer with us. After waiting for quite a while we decided on a search method and away we went, keeping in contact by hand held radio.
Whilst searching, Carmen found tracks in the creek bed that were heading in the wrong direction. From this, she and I deducted that Shirley had become detached from the group and was heading back to our starting point. The most frustrating part for me was that just at the wrong time the battery in my radio had gone flat and I was unable to contact the others to let them know. The outcome, however, was a good one. We found Shirley safe and well at our starting point and we all decided that there were a couple of lessons to be learned from this somewhat worrying experience.
After a short break, we proceeded further down the same creek to a fence line. A few old signs and a very small amount of fresh koala scats were found. The country here was mainly gidgee, with a sprinkling of river red gums along the creek. Further down there were many narrow leaf ironbarks. Not a blade of grass was to be seen anywhere, in fact the only grass we had seen on the whole property was some sick looking spinifex grass in the high country. This grass is apparently of little or no nutritional value to cattle. Soon it was time to head back to camp for a light lunch and a short break.
Off we went again, dropping Shirley, Carmen and Mary at a branch of the main creek to investigate it beyond where we had already been. Whilst they did that, Gail, Terry and I drove back to what had been our starting point and investigated the creek in the opposite direction. The eucalypts petered out very early. Nothing of note was found at either spot. We then returned to camp at around 1630 hrs. Terry reported that he was finding it hard going in the middle of the day, as he is not used to the heat. It certainly was unusually warm for winter.
Day 8 Sunday 10th We awoke to another
beautiful day and a flat tyre on one of the vehicles. Gail announced that
for us, Sunday was not to be a day of rest, so after a hearty breakfast
and a wheel change we headed off with Bill and Brodie. We did an ‘animals
only’ survey on the main creek, on which our only sighting had been,
from the southern boundary of the property to the next fence in a northerly
direction. Nothing was found.