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Thomson River Trip August 2003
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Visitors to the Koala Research Centre / Centre for Environmental Management display examine the orphan koalas and other goodies for sale at CQU's August Multicultural Fair
Carmen Drake (CQ Koala Volunteer) and Dr Khorshed Alam CQU's (Centre for Environmental Management) discuss the Koala Research Centre / Centre for Environmental Management display at CQU's August Multicultural Fair. Volunteers from the CQ Koala Volunteers joined with staff of the Centre to support the display, talk to the public about koalas and research and fundraise for koala research.
Thomson River Trip
August 2003


(A continuation of Kev Rapley’s account)

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.

After smoko we went to another part of the property where we surveyed another creek. Again nothing was found with the exception of fresh possum and glider droppings. On arrival back at camp we were greeted by a pair of Red Tailed Black Cockatoos which Terry took great delight in photographing. After a late lunch it was decided to have a short rest and then to begin packing for our move to Marrinnya National Park, but the day was not yet finished, yet another surprise was in store!

Later we travelled to the homestead where Bill and his daughter in law, Jane (Brodie’s mother), guided us to an area where they keep some fascinating fossils. These are reportedly many millions of years old and have been studied by a number of universities. They included almost complete fossils of Muttaburrasaurus, platyosaurus, fish and others. The plan is for these to be preserved in a special area for public viewing in Hughenden in the future.

For dinner that night we were joined by Bill and Rhonda, their son (also called Bill) and his wife Jane and, of course, Brodie along with his brother Luke. All enjoyed a great feast. Upon completion of the main course, Bill junior and Rhonda disappeared in one of the vehicles for a short while, returning with a welcome surprise. Trifle, jelly and ice cream for desert! We really had eaten well on this trip.

Final goodbyes were said to all but Bill and Rhonda. Little Brodie left delightedly and tightly clutching his newly acquired gift of the Jews Harp, with which his new friend Terry had completely mesmerised him.

Day 9 Monday 11th We awoke to another fine morning and vigorously began to pack for our move to Marrinnya National Park. With breakfast and the packing over, we headed to the homestead to say goodbye and thank you to Bill who had been a wonderful host.

From here we left for Hughenden, with Terry and I in the lead vehicle and the ladies trailing on behind. At Hughenden we got the puncture repaired and restocked with fuel, water and provisions. We then visited Rhonda at the baker’s shop where she worked to enjoy an early lunch of pies and saying our goodbyes to our wonderful co-host. It was at this time that Terry received a small gift in return for his kindness to Brodie. One suspects that Terry will always treasure that gift.

After a brief visit to the information centre we were on the road again. We headed east to Prairie and then south to Tower Hill Gorge, which we had a little trouble finding. It should be noted that Tower Hill Gorge was the spot at which we had intended to camp on our way to Iona, but Gail’s memory and her navigational ability had proved to be no better than mine. Again along the road there had been a mixture of banter, sightings and warnings about road conditions on the radio.

On arrival at the gorge a truly beautiful sight greeted us - an oasis (typically) in the middle of nowhere. Mary had a swim, I did some fishing (no fish caught) numerous photographs where taken and a relaxing time was had by all. Of course all of this was only allowed after the mandatory survey of five trees each. All that was found was prolific possum sign.

After this brief sojourn we headed for Marrinnya National Park (Marrinnya being aboriginal for ironbark), or Shirley Station as it was originally known. On arrival we were greeted by one of the rangers, a fellow called Dean. He made us feel welcome, directed us to the camping spot, many kilometers from the homestead and promised to visit us with information on koala sightings the next morning.
On arrival at the spot we found things slightly more ‘civilised’ than at our previous camp. Some of us set up camp in an old shearing shed, others outside. There were toilets, old but effective, and an old broken water tank, which supplied an excellent spot to set up a shower. We were joined, shortly after our arrival, by a friendly couple from Victoria who had just began their retirement and were travelling the country via the National Parks. The highlight of the evening was when Gail, after deciding that one of the vehicles should be moved, jumped in to the back seat in order to drive it. Of course she then bore the brunt of a number of jokes. We were all tired so headed off to bed quite early. Thus - the end to another wonderful day.

Day 10 Tuesday 12th. On this day, a special day as it was Mary’s birthday, we awoke to witness a large and colorful moon setting over the western horizon. After a breakfast of bacon, eggs, tea and toast we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Mary and presented her with a small gift and card. A little later the ranger, Dean and his wife, Kim, who is also a ranger, along with their baby Lillie, arrived. Dean gave us a quick orientation to the park by map, explaining where previous koala sightings had been made.

Dean then took Gail, Terry, Shirley and I for a drive to familiarize us with some of the area. This took some time as we spiked a tyre on the Parks and Wildlife vehicle and so had to change a wheel whilst away. On arrival back at camp we enjoyed an early lunch and then set off. Our friends from Victoria, Ron and Marge decided to walk with us; they had proven to be good company so we were happy for them to do so.

Very early in the afternoon we discovered that the map of tracks within the park was quite inaccurate and soon I was christened ‘U turn Kev’ as we drove around trying to find starting points for walks. Later we dropped Mary, Terry, Ron and Marge at a point on the main creek (Bullock Creek) south of the camp. They then proceeded to search that area of the creek between that point and the camp sight.

The rest of us drove to an area called ‘Dardanelle’s’ which is on the same creek further north of the camp. We also proceeded along the creek back towards camp. This creek was thick with river Red Gums, Coolabahs, and Blood woods. These were in far better condition than the trees on Iona and there were a number of waterholes along the creek but no sign at all of koalas. The country at this park appeared to be in better condition than that at Iona. There was a little green grass, the trees did not appear to be as stressed and the presence of natural water in places made us think that the park had been a little better served with rain, although it was still very dry. The main weeds that we were to come across were Parkinsonia, Negura Burr and Current Bush, the fruit of which I was soon to learn from Carmen, is good bush tucker.

The first crew was back at camp in a little over an hour, with Marge having lost a screw out of her nearly new prescription sunglasses along the way. Our crew took around three hours to get back. Upon our return Gail and I drove back to Dardanelle’s to retrieve our other vehicle.

That night for dinner Gail cooked wonderful spaghetti bolognaise. After sparklers and chocolate as a final celebration of Mary’s birthday we all wandered off to bed.

Day 11 Wednesday 13th On this day, after breakfast, we proceeded to cover the northern area of Bullock Creek from Dardanelle’s to the northern boundary of the park. We did this in two lots - Mary, Shirley and I in the northern and longer leg and the rest in the other. Nothing much of interest was reported by either crew. After returning to camp we again headed off to the southern end of Bullock Creek and covered quite a lot more of it. Again little to report.

Back at camp Gail, Shirley, Mary and Terry had a dip in the closest water hole. After a fine dinner of Carmen’s corned meat fritters Gail decided we would go for a drive around in the dark. In doing so we covered a large area of the park using torches as spotlights, discovering little except the lay of the land and vegetation types, until we came across some fresh koala scats in a small creek near an area called Bells. This sparked our interest for the next day. We returned to camp weary and looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Day 12 Thursday 14th We arose to another fine and mild morning and after breakfast headed off for more searching. Gail and I searched Bells Creek from Dardanelle’s to the area where we had found the fresh scats the night before, whilst the others covered an area south of Dardanelle’s on Bullock creek where some older sign had been found a couple of day previously.
Not far into our walk (probably around one km) Gail became excited as she began to find fresh scats in the creek bed. Shortly afterwards she was heard to exclaim “fresh poo, so fresh that I don’t want to put it in my pocket!” This caused me to search the canopy in the area more diligently than I might otherwise have done and to our delight our reward was the discovery of a koala right up the top of, and well hidden in, a large coolabah.

The animal was so well hidden and so high in the tree that it was not possible to decide upon gender or any other detail. After taking the relevant measurements, recordings, etc. and congratulating ourselves on this wonderful find, Gail and I moved on.

A little further up the creek Gail was to make yet another rather interesting discovery. She came across no less than five echidnas in one group huddled around the base of a single gidgee tree. This is something that neither of us had ever witnessed before, as echidnas tend to be very solitary animals. After photographing this interesting phenomenon we moved on.

Coolabahs and river red gums gave way to gidgee and fewer sign was found until we met up with the others at Bells. They had little to report, but were buoyed by our discovery and insisted on being taken to the sight to have a look at our furry friend. We returned to camp for lunch and then set off back to the area near Dardanelle’s to show off our find.

On arrival at the tree the animal was still in much the same spot, making it very difficult to make a decision about gender, but it was decided that it was probably a female and that it could well have had a pouch young. This was based on the animal’s rather large abdomen, which we could not gain a good view of.

After much discussion we headed off. Gail and I went back to the vehicle and then drove to Dardanelle’s proper, removing all of our flagging tape markers along the way. Meanwhile Carmen, Mary, Shirley and Terry walked back from the sighting along the creeks to Dardanelle’s in the hope of finding another koala. Some sign was found, but no animals were reported. This led us to the end of our last full day at Marrinnya, as it had been decided to move on the next day. The original plan had been to leave in the morning and check out some creeks on the way out, but with the advent of the koala finding this plan had to change a little.

Prior to nightfall Carmen commented on the amount of cloud forming on the horizon. I scoffed at the suggestion that there might be rain on the way. Little did I know that I would not be allowed to forget that comment. After dinner Gail made a brief speech, thanking us all for our efforts and presenting each of us with a small memento. All in good spirits we had a good chat and then headed off to our swags.

Day 13 Friday 15th .We awoke to a heavily overcast morning that brought with it the promise of a cooler day. Again I was told it could rain. Again I denied it. After breakfast we headed back to the location where we had found the koala. It came as no surprise, on arrival, to find that the animal had moved on. A plan was formulated and executed, bringing about a thorough search of the creek in three directions. Nothing was found.

We returned to camp for lunch and then hastily packed, heading off early in the afternoon. By now it was threatening to rain. We left via the station homestead where we left a letter of thanks to Dean, and headed out of the National Park and on to the main road from Torrens Creek to Aramac. As we travelled it began to rain lightly, a matter that was immediately brought to my attention by the ladies despite it being so obvious. The original plan was to camp at Aramac but after arriving there and fuelling up (and after a brief look at the white bull) we decided to continue on to Barcaldine where we would eat and then probably camp.

On arrival at Barcaldine, where it had begun to rain quite heavily sporadically, we enjoyed a counter dinner on the verandah of one of the many hotels. We debated what was best to do with regard to accommodation for the night and decided to move on for a couple more hours in the hope of driving out of the rain.

On arrival at Jericho no shelter was to be found and the rain continued, so we decided to go on to Alpha, but that we definitely would go no further than that, as both drivers where by now becoming quite weary. On this last leg for the day I was most grateful to Terry for keeping up a conversation about fishing in France, a subject that interested me greatly and so kept me alert. When we arrived at Alpha there still seemed to be no shelter available to sleep under so we made camp as best we could, in a small area just outside of town.
Day 14 Saturday 16th. The next morning we arose feeling a little damp, a little dirty and quite weary but still in good spirits. A few good laughs were had at sights around the camp as bedraggled people began to emerge. A pleasant breakfast in Alpha, accompanied by a good hot beverage brought us all back to the land of the living and so we set off on the final leg of our journey. The rest of the trip was uneventful, with a safe but soggy arrival of all back in Rockhampton around the middle of the day.

I would like to offer my thanks to all concerned for this trip. It was one that I will never forget. I will look back on it with very pleasant memories and in the hope that we at least made a small contribution to koala research in Central Queensland. I might add that, as medic on the trip and having been in very remote areas with plenty of potential for injury or illness due to poor hygiene, I can report that high standards of planning and management ensured that no such thing occurred. The only thing I treated was a small scratch from barbed wire. I did not dispense so much as a band-aid or a panadol. Well done, Gail and all of the team members. And finally, to Terry, thanks mate for your company. All the very best with your studies back in France and we all hope to see you again sometime in the future.

Kev Rapley


We found Teddy, whose mum was killed by dogs. We found the little bear in a small tree crying for its mother who was torn to bits. This was in the 1930s at Kungurri where we lived on a cane farm. We took him home and kept him in a wire cage and fed him fresh gum leaves. After two weeks we could take him out and give him nurses and play with him. He became really tame. Our two dogs got to know he was one of us and would chase other dogs away.

After about six weeks he stayed in the house with us and he was the best ‘baby sitter’ we ever had. As soon as he heard the baby cry, he would run to the cot and jump in and pat the baby with his front paws and there was no more crying. Sometimes when we were having lunch, Ted would start snoring and one of us would have to wake him up.

There were a lot of blue gums growing where we lived and lots of bears in the trees. Ted would join them and feed with them but as soon as we called him, he would climb down and run home with us.

We took him with us wherever we went and he had a ribbon tied in a bow around his neck. He would sit on our shoulder with one paw on our head. At the dances he would be the main attraction of the night.

He lived with us for just over ten years and died in the 1940s. He was the greatest pet and mate we ever had and we all missed him.