Cape York 2014








Mitchell River causeway - bend that pano Paul

Getting ready- July 13 2014Budda Sutton-Williams

It's finally here. We have been wanting to return to Cape York and finish the Indigenous Communications Project which will give Internet Wi-Fi to small Outstations with Community Phones. The project changed home, the new financial year began and we had a bit of a detour to Central Australia.  So at last we can visit all our friends on Cape York in our favourite places and help people use the Internet in remote locations. It's a game changer for many people and a project we are determined to be part of, no matter what, because of its importance.

Leaving Brisbane was horrible. Poor Budda has cancer and we had an emergency operation the day before we left, so we hope we can see him when we get back later in the year. Thanks to Deb, John, Lib, Emma and Ty for the combination of efforts to keep Budda comfortable. Also Paul is recovering from falling off the back steps while painting them - such a lucky boy not to have had serious spinal injuries. It was a very nasty fall. Lots of bruised ribs and a fracture - much complaining but that is a small price to pay for him to be well. Him and Budda were able to console themselves. (Budda feeling sad.)

We began with the usual drop in to Townsville, so Paul can cuddle all the grandkids. They are growing and changing, especially the little ones who are developing language and interact with you more. We think we have finally managed to fix the wheel wobble - three wheel balances later, and so the truck is fit to go. We even cleaned it. Seems someone was too busy when I was in Bris on family business, to clean it.....  Lots of workshop prep was done before we left, though three little distractions ..... Shopping on the agenda and with the workshop prep finally completed, we are ready to go. Thanks to the people who gave us lots of toilet paper advice after my Facebook post.  It is good to be back in the truck.

Tuesday ( 29 July 2014)

It’s Vicki’s Birthday – happy birthday dear sister in law – you are the best. We are camped at Morehead River - a lovely spot between Hahn River Roadhouse and Musgrave. Bet flying John O did not even notice this beautiful river, as he sped up the cape in the last 2 weeks. Lucky for us, most tourists fly past without noticing the camps and so we have it to ourselves. Birds calling, micro bats flying about and melamies coming in to visit. Even a barra in the creek. All very relaxing. Left: Morehead River birdlife

We have not blogged much yet. We left Townsville a couple of weeks ago hoping to have our work orders from the Office of Prime Minister, but they delayed and delayed.  So we called into Sue and Ian at Ingham and then headed up to Murray Falls. I was allowed 5 minutes there last trip, because of the race to Townsville, so it was nice to go back and have a look at the falls this time. Did the walks up to the top and had a long chat to the ranger there. he knew people we knew of course.... and Paul had a lovely chat. It was cold, but wonderful. Wonderful chances for photography. Paul did some amazing night photography of the waterfalls using his new headlamp system. Did see some campers using a hand-made washing machine device, I must get Paul to make, out of a funnel and broom handle - worked a treat. Murray Falls is a nice spot - now I know why you spend so much time there, Nimmo and Nari. Was not crowded either which was a bonus. We had expected lots of folks but it was pretty empty.Lookout at Murray Falls Queensland.  

(See photo on left: From top of Murray Falls)

In the meantime, we had a wonderful few days camped in the rainforests of the Misty Mountains – recharging the human batteries, making camp oven meals and generally enjoying the pristine forests of the Tablelands.   It was pretty quiet. Had one fellow camper pair stay overnight – they did not even go down the river. They did walk to the bridge to talk to us before they left – about 10 minutes outside their van for the whole visit. Told us they believed there was so much rainforest in Australia, they should be used for commercial purposes. I wonder who they vote for - they did not pay camp fees either! Apart from realising some people don’t appreciate the little forests we have left, we had the joy of a quiet and refreshing couple of days on the river. Too lots of nice photos and Paul had fun adding tropical bird sightings to his phone app. (Photo above on right: King ferns and Misty Mts)

The South Johnson Camp sites where we go, are home to a forest of tree ferns and Gigantic King Ferns which are quite rare, so we really enjoyed walking amongst them and photographing them in the mottled light only a rainforest can give. The crystal clear waters are amazing there and although it was cold, we braved a bath, the old fashioned natural way. It's our treat when we go there. It's amazing how well you feel after a dip in the rainforest streams. (See photo above on right.)

We stopped in Mareeba at Helen and Micks and then waited for Glen. Found him wandering the streets and took him to Coffee Works for a coffee and we got a nice stock of flavoured coffees to take with us and to visit Cassie. We had a great trip up to Cooktown with Glen, showing him the Lakeland coffee shop and then a camp spot on the Little Annan River. There are lots of places along the way, so it took all day. Eventually got to Cassie and Ricks. It was devastating to see the cyclone damage in Cooktown and environs. One pub still without a top floor and a few houses damaged beyond repair in the town. The farms outside of town copped it. Cassie and Rick lost a valuable Teak plantation and the passionfruit vines and infrastructure. It was “break your heart” material. Even their beautiful tree lined driveway and forests were mostly gone. It is even too hard to clean it up, but with help, they will get it sorted, bit by bit. 

While we waited for the work instructions, we were able to concentrate on ensuring Glen, a super PHD student from USQ, had all the introductions he needed. (Photo right - Glen and Dessie  B at Starcke ).  We took him to see some outstanding Indigenous corporations doing fabulous work at Archer Point, Hopevale and Shiptons Flat around Cooktown, using it as a chance to show him some of the sites that most tourists don’t bother going to see. Glen’s work on learning styles, and what can be learned in public spaces and the impact of social media and technology on modern Indigenous life (probably an understatement of the area of study) is really interesting to us. How Indigenous people learn within families, clans and communities could really help us understand how to learn in informal learning spaces, how to inform communities, capitalise on the groundswell of opinions and generally preserve what is learned and how to learn. The impact of social media on that adds an exciting twist. We are really delighted to help Glen and watch this study grow over the next couple of years. It was good to have the time, to help him while we sorted things. There is always a silver lining. (Photo below on left: Glen at Shiptons Flat - start of a new era for the team there.)

Don’t know how much he learned from watching us work, but hope it was helpful. He may have discovered our work secrets. But we soon got him earning his keep. Once we got the go ahead, he came with me to do an Internet connection while Paul helped Rick. Our job over the next few weeks is to turn on the Internet at about 30 outstations and camps and help people connect to the net, while also sharing some cybersafety tips. Talk about learning in informal spaces – at a ranger base, near a beach, under trees, at picnic tables, in a paddock and amidst the ruins of Starcke station (devastated by the cyclone).

Rick had a Lucas Mill at his place to cut up what he could salvage from the Teak Plantation. Apparently, it has been a bucket list item to play with the saw, so under the instruction of a couple of old milling guys, Paul had fun for three days learning how to use a Lucas Mill to make multiple sizes of planks. It looked like hard work. It was rather fortuitous, because a few days later we visited Billy Boil Outstation where a Bush Owner Builder Project had just been completed courtesy of a Lucas Mill. At that station last time we had been there, the family were using a Lucas Mill to cut timber for their house. Now finished it looks wonderful. This house is amazing – it is mostly an open space with one wall of windows, two pavilions for bedroom blocks and totally open at the front and both sides. Lindy and Randy would really appreciate it. I’d love to build a house like that. It’s an impressive design for tropical outstation living. Photos on right- devastation at cassie and Rick's, Paul on the saw.

So we eventually turned on all the outstations around Cooktown and had a wonderful time catching up on the news of the people in each place, Everyone is really forging ahead. It was delightful to see how some of the young leaders are going from strength to strengths and growing in confidence too. The phone and now the Internet has certainly made a huge difference to these places. Also loved the new shop for Yuka Baja Muliku – managed to NOT buy any art, but would have loved to. The girls are doing terrific work – extremely talented. The new junior ranger program out there is a terrific community service. Also impressive is the turtle rescue station – it was terrific to see two turtles being saved by the team at Archer Point.

Photo on left - new Archer Point Ranger base.


Loved hearing about the new plans for Melsonby - they have a unique resource there in the amazing cave painting collections – probably one of the best we have seen, and seen by so few, so they are in great condition. Also loved hearing how Des from Starcke continues to work on his project supporting young people, as part of a suicide prevention strategy. How that man has not got an Order of Australia, I don’t know. It was precious to have one on one time with the mayor of Wujal. – very busy man, but he made time to talk to us for the afternoon and invite to his place at Normanby. The Internet and phone really help him get away from the community while also ensuring people can get him in an emergency if they have to.

So we enjoyed three great nights on the Normanby River – I got Paul a breakfast of cherribin, a fresh water prawn. Lucky for him, I am allergic to them, so I hunt and gather and he feasts. He did cook some nice roasts with chicken Glen had left us, so it was a great camp on a beautiful spot. We even wrote some reports…… And they don’t even pay for them anymore, which is another story.

Week 2 Aug 2014

So with the first sector done, we headed west towards the Cape York Development road, catching it at Laura. Battlecamp Rd was in pretty good nick, given the winter holiday tourist season. We had an office afternoon, planning the next few days, making all the phone calls and ensuring we were prepped to head out for a week in the Port Stewart area. While in Laura, we saw a brand new Suncamper and had a long chat with the owner, Alan. That was terrific because it reacquainted us with the layouts and sizes, so we could continue the order process for ours. Had a long chat with Cameron and hope we are closer to an order now. Paul's wish list keeps growing - no idea on cost yet, but it is feeling scary. May have to get son in law Danny to make a few things, to help Paul get his wish list. For people who did not get what this is about – we are about to order a new truck (if we can afford it), and the new version of the camper we have now, is awful, so we are looking at alternatives. I went to the Motorhome show, and saw just what we needed…… Look up Suncamper if you are interested.

We eventually stopped for a wonderful overnight on the beautiful Morehead River – always a good standby camp spot. Such beautiful wildlife there and good water. Lucky cause Paul decided to clean the windscreen (again), and while standing on the running board, it snapped off. So he had to spend a couple of hours fixing it the next morning, while I wandered the river catching photographs. Should have put the cherabin pots in really, but I was too lazy. Would have been a good catch. The fabulously coloured rainbow bee-eaters get me amused while Paul banged his running board back into shape. Pics are at Morehead River


And so we have left the main road again, - only a bit of traffic – not too bad – maybe everyone has gone home already. We are now at Kulpa, where our connection is not working well yet. I am blogging while we wait for APN to identify what the issue is. It worked very fast for a while, but seems to be tired now. Looks like an onite here. Should have been driving to the next by now, but that’s how it goes up here. I’ll start writing the report……which we don't get paid for anymore.... another story.

And later-----Eventually got a reasonable show with good enough speeds. The family is pleased. Paul had an interesting time with an overfriendly horse who seemed to want some Internet training too. He attracts horses. Kulpa is a big property – 33,000 hectares, 1000 + head of cattle and quite a lovely place. Amazing family.  The road in is pretty long – about 30 K, but very interesting in terms of scenery with only a couple of washed out sections to navigate. The locals had already built drive-arounds so it was not too challenging. We admired all the impressive power plants put in by the Centre for Alternative Technologies (CAT) down this way. We could even charge up our laptops, which was convenient.

Next we headed into the Port Stewart region. It was so late when we managed to leave Kulpa, that we only got as far as the Stewart River. Wow – what a lovely spot. We found a nice camp between the rivers and had a wonderful campfire dinner, under the paper bark trees. The water was absolutely crystal clear, fresh and sweet. A chance to refill the water containers and get a few shirts and undies washed. It’s the little things that make me happy. It’s a terrific and pretty spot, so we marked this as a spot to come back to when it is tourist season and Coen bend is busy. Its 10 K off the main drag, so it is too far for most people.

Had a good few days down the Port Stewart region. The GPS locations for the phones were incorrect, but because we know folks down there, we soon sorted out which was which. The phones handsets are pretty faulty in a couple of places down there – the extreme weather gets to them – need to think about ways to help protect them I think. Gee the two communities of Moojeeba and Theetinji are popular with their clans. People kept popping in constantly while we were about – had lots of interested people coming over to see what we were doing and have fun with their new connections. It’s good fishing now apparently, and so folks are getting about to get the booty – and the crabs. Pity for Paul I am allergic to them and we can’t have them anywhere near us, and I can’t go near him if he had any…..

We did pop down to the Cook Shire camp ground at the end of the road. You would have to be a hardy soul to camp there – many many sandflies. We went back on invite to the ranger base and used their training hut as a base instead - even had a hot shower. We actually have hot showers every night out the back of the camper, but it was a treat to have a little space in a very nice building. Good team down there too – the Lama Lama rangers are doing a great job managing the national parks and land trusts down there – Kulla Land Trust on one side of the road and Puntimu on the other, along with some national park areas - Mc Illwraith ranges. On a bizarre note, we lost a loaf of bread while down there. Have no idea where it went and what we did with it. It either blew away in the wind on top of the ranges where we had lunch or it will rot somewhere in this truck and tell us where it is. Tim from Silver Plains gave us one out of his freezer, so we could last a few more days without having to go without – mind you – we could have baked some in the camp oven. Photo - Paul showing stuff to Tim, who gave us bread. We do , do some work.


Going from Moojeeba to Silver Plains was interesting – another Paul short cut, which took 5 hours to go about 60 K. We had to adjust the road a few times, where it had washed out – it was obviously not the main road in, but it was a short cut. When you drive through Breakfast Creek and Dinner creek, you can imagine that it normally takes that long on that track. Had to dig and shovel to fill in the wash outs – better than digging the truck out of holes I suppose. Mind you I think the truck might have disappeared into one of them. Silver Plains was interesting and different to even its near neighbours, because it has huge ant hills – just amazing to see so many of them so big. Was very interesting to visit. Although we have had a fair bit to do with Tim and Gavin over the years and seen them at all sorts of places, we have actually never got a chance to go to Silver Plains. Was great to know what it looks like, at last. Impressive. Got out of there late in the afternoon and managed to get back to the Stewart River. It was nice of folks to accommodate us over their long weekend…..A little surprise to find that it was Cook Shire Holiday – what for, we don’t know – probably because the fishing is good.

After a long leisurely morning on the River we meandered into Coen to find folks who we would be connecting over the next week. This was an unsuccessful venture – the long weekend meant folks had left town a couple of days before. Coen was our first intersection with the crowds – there were so many truck and camper trailers parked in the main street, the big Tuxworth truck had to stop in the middle of the road to unload. We have never seen so many white fellas in the Coen pub ever – and none of the locals were there – felt really weird. Normally we catch up with folk we know there, but no one this year except loud folks with tribes of kids and lots of camper trailers with bikes stacked ontop. Coen Bend was packed – huge camp across the river – never seen anyone camp there – that’s how busy it has become. Town even sold out of bread…..So we will have to bake afterall, and thank goodness for Tim's little present. Had a beer at Coen pub as usual and then got out of town, seeing we could not connect with folks we needed to.

The rest of the weekend. (Week 3 )

We went up towards Merapah Station and camped in Mulkan Kanju National Park. The maps for this park are so bad, we have never worked out where Coen River camp 2 is. We found it this time – our fourth visit – on an unmarked track. Made it by sunset and decided to stay a couple of nights. Needed a day to ourselves anyway – got the washing done, baked bread, made a carrot cake and had a Sunday night roast. It was a busy day all in all. Bit weird when we camp - I catch bait, catch fish, catch cherabin and Paul cooks. He did a great job making a perfect cake and very tasty bread, Roast lamb for dinner and a hot shower. We have a couple of nice black brim in the freezer, and caught two seratoga and a huge catfish. We only kept the black brim. Breakfast in Lindy’s panco crumbs I reckon. Paul had a big feed of cherabin for breakfast – I got 7 in the pots o'night. It was a busy but pleasant day. Avoided writing the dreaded reports, but will do some tomorrow. Life is good. Cool nights, warm days and fish……

With the best plans laid out, we will be able to get from Merapah back to Rokeby tomorrow night and stay there at the ranger base. Hopefully we can find the folks we looked for on the weekend and they come back here after the long weekend. There are a few funerals happening at the moment, sadly and people are travelling between them.

There’s a bit of distance in the next two weeks crossing the cape back and forth, so it would be good to finish these two sites, and travel east by the end the week. Life is good. Pics: Paul showing folks about signal strength, the Puntimu connection and the camp oven..... though we used fire more this trip.









Another weekend

And so, after  another week, we find ourselves at Weipa. We have managed to get into town with 12 meals in tact thanks to Glen's contribution and my fishing. And for the info of those who were so worried, we did not run out of toilet paper or potatoes. Nothing else matters really.  It was nice to have a bottle of wine, though after a few dry weeks, the impact was pretty serious. It's cheap enterntainment.  We have managed to wash everything. That's a real treat. The power  was off in the laundry today, so the managers of the caravan park washed for us - they decided to wash our blankets with the sheets and so we had an entertaining hour getting blue fluff off the sheets. Thank goodness I did the clothes myself yesterday....... 

Tis nice being here - we have fond memories of Weipa and been here a few times for various reasons. Nice sunsets from the beach and a Woolworths  makes for a pleasant stay. We will restock tomorrow for a trip up into the beach communities north of Mapoon. It's tough having to go to Turtle Camp and Pennefather for the week.

Finding it quite amusing at the caravan park. The size of vans people two is amazing - and all for 2 people. Very expensive towed air, we reckon.

Since last weekend, we have had a pleasant week - well it began with us waiting for a gate to be unlocked and so we stayed in Mulkan Kanju and I caught even more fish and Cherabin. It's pleasantly tough, but not necassarily very profitable when things don't go to plan. But we suffer in silence, camped on the banks of the Coen River, catching black brim. Had a great visit to some of the catttle properties round here - Merephar and Batavia, as well as a drop into Rokeby.  Its terrific to see these Indigenous Cattle properties being so sucessful. The wifi is very well received as for most of the stockmen, they rarely get to Internet signals. It is amazing. After we have activated the wi-fi, the boys pull out laptops and ipads from their quarters. I think the management did not know they had them. They love the idea  of being connected. It will make a huge difference to the visiting project teams too, especially when Indigenous leaders visit or scientific and development projects are happening. People can just work as usual. Had a nice camp on the edge of Batavia Downs, courtesy of local knowledge and saved us having to go into Weipa too early. Photos left and above right - Phone at Batavia Downs. Paul signal checking. Boys pulling out their pads and pcs.

Weipa was not all pleasure - we needed to activate two places, Peppan and Wa-Tyne. Finding the TO's proved difficult but the residents love their wi-fi. Makes living in the scrub more palatable in this modern age. gee the mining has expanded around Weipa- very much encroaching on Indigenous land. We took a couple of days to find the new way to drive into WaTyne. Most of the drive was driving around scarred land where mining is happening. Its an ugly business. No respect for country. Even revegitation, though done well here compared to other places, is not a patch on the original scrub.

And so we stock up for another week tomorrow. Woolies is closed here on Sundays which is a good thing. Just need some veges mainly and some soy milk  (just in case there is none in Lockhart). Might top up a bit of meat, but with my fishing expertise......We are living well but not going through our supplies too fast - plenty toilet paper left. So our $400 shop in Townsville is lasting well. Nothing broken to fix, which is usual for us in Weipa. Hoping to enjoy a week on the beaches.

 Weipa weekend.



 The beaches

 The west coast of the cape is quite rugged and unspoilt, and incredibly beautiful.  We have a number of outstations to visit there over the next few weeks, but this week we got to go to some of the coastal beach outstations. We first went to Mapoon and onto Camp Chivaree. It is on the end of a very soft sandy track where a turtle research station is located. Until recently you could pay to visit and help the rangers clean debris from the beach – a kind of eco-holiday. That does not happen any more but the work being done continues. It is an amazingly beautiful place, and is increasingly being discovered.

Right: Paul walking the croc beach. 

 It has a very large croc population and it was not amusing to watch a fellow fish with his very small children on the beach and watch a croc cruise towards them. Paul could not watch it and went and asked him to take his kids off the beach. We did not even camp near there cause you could see how dangerous it was going to be. We camped up near our phone site on a very high bank.
We had a wonderful couple of days and I caught a very big cod. Was a nice spot and wished I could have stayed fishing for a couple more days. Just want to come back next year and have fun in the cape. the wetlands are spectacular too and so is the sobering visit of the tragedies of Old Mapoon. The missionaries who built missions were not all good....
We then headed out to Pennefather, which is also extremely gorgeous. It too is being discovered. Still beautiful but now the locals don’t even go there much as there are many campers. Boy the rubbish has accumulated, now campers can go there. Wish people had respect for the privilege of being allowed to go there by the locals. There is a very large croc living there in the big lagoon.  Was interesting watching people walk past where he sunbakes. They only do that the first day they visit. It is wonderful and we were lucky the rangers did not meet our appointment, so we had to hang a couple of days. Very pleasant.
It was wonderful – love the west coast beaches.
Photos: Michelle in dirty shorts with a catch. Below: Old Mapoon, Paul in the Pennefather office and two of Penefather Lagoon.



Lockhart Week

Lockhart was a nice visit. We got to have a whirlwind trip into Chuula to catch up with folks and camp in our favourite spot on the Pascoe. It actually rained which was not good as we were looking to go down to old site where we bogged very badly a couple of years ago. We caught up with Jasmine and a few of our other favourite people. It all started when a bunch of kids participated in a project called Reach In – Reach Out that I began in 2002. Those same kids are all grown up now but greet us every time we come into town. Funny going to a meeting at the community centre, to hear someone shout “It’s Paul and Michelle” and then hugs all round. Was also good having a long couple of chats with Paul P and hearing about his next venture. Dropped into the council, solved their printer problems and fixed a difficult document that would not behave. Imagine just waltzing into your local city council office, having a chat, fixing stuff and organising your own visit to town….. Love Lockhart.
We put a phone down at Old Site (the old mission site before folks were moved out after a big cyclone 50 years ago). The road there is terrible and most people go back there by boat. Since the phone is there now, the council have fixed up the road and it was quite okay to get there. Now the site gets use and the phone gets used for what it was intended for – good outcome. Unfortunately for us, the hardware for the Internet upgrade was not in place when we got there. Weeks ago, we told the feds it was not in place, to be told we were wrong and that it had been installed last year. So believing our rebuke, we headed off to find that it indeed had not been installed - the locals always know. So we headed back the next day to Lockhart and reported into the feds - to be told it would be installed later in the week. It’s a pretty long and “interesting” 70K drive each way, even with the road fix, so we were not too pleased. The good thing when you are not concentrating on the road, bogs and rivers, is that the drive is really spectacular. It is very unique and an amazing mix of landscapes and habitats that you don’t get anywhere else on the cape. We are lucky to be able to go down there when ever we go to Lockhart. The clan from there really welcome us and let us camp down there.  That’s the joy of this job. We get unique experiences and get to unique places.
The other good thing, is that while waiting, we got to spend three wonderful days at Chilli beach and the weather was pretty good – the wind had dropped a bit and it was pretty cool.  We came in after a trip to Lockhart one afternoon to find someone in our site. Lousy non payers…… and the next site had three vehicles in it – supposed to be only one. Idiots. I cant work out why you would drive thousands of kilometres to go to remote and isolated places and crowd 3 and 4 vehicles in one site – wish people like that would stay home. Same thing happened the next night. And they only stay 1 night – it’s a 4-5 hour and 300 km drive from the main road – seems expensive for such a short stay- and of course they don’t even wander the beach more than a few metres. Victorians….
We did some work of our own and I also did some volunteer work for a local family who wanted to write a submission for some $. Paul had met with folks about putting an outdoor gym in town, so we had plenty to do. I’d like to stay there a couple of weeks next year. Three days is not enough – never even had time to fish. We did unfortunately for the bank balance have time to go to the art centre and buy two nice pieces. One of our favourite artists has sadly passed away since we saw him last year, and so we got the last remaining work he did. Special. I also got some nice “failed” canvasses, that never made it into paintings for some craft projects. It’s nice to have friends in interesting places. Such a lucky break – wait till you see what I make with them. Peter says I can have some more next time I visit if I want.
Eventually we ended up back at Old Site and finally connected the Internet. Glad for Jas and the crew and nice to see her growing family. We got to enjoy the drive again and have a camp again at old site. It’s always an onight stay. There seems to be lots of sharks there – they take my bait, give me some fun and break off – I did catch one. One also took off with my hand line – yes I know – but I like handline fishing.
So we have crossed the cape from East to West – Lockhart to Pormpuraaw. The Coen Bend campsite was crowded, so we went to our new secret spot. It’s nice having spots up your sleeve. We usually have Coen bend to ourselves or maybe 1 or 2 others – now there are 20-30 there. There are more tourists on the cape than ever – all the locals are complaining. I am always disappointed at the mess people leave behind. Picking up and burning toilet paper seems to be the first job we do at camp sites and even creek beds where we often stop for lunch/coffee. Caravans are making the move up here as the road improves. Lucky we only travel the main road for 100km or so before we head down some track. Vans drive you crazy on the roads up here. Extra wheels mean extra corregates made more quickly…..They must nearly be wrecked by the time they get back home after corregates. Guess everyone tries the trip once.
This week was special to us. It was Brooke’s 18th Birthday this week. It is wonderful she is an adult at last – been one for years in her head and heart, but also scary that I can remember every one of those 18 years as if it was yesterday.  Happy birthday darling niece. You are a wonderful young woman and you will have a great life after the wonderful start your parents have given you.  Your mum is the best thing that happened to our family and I am always grateful she shares you and Ryan with me. Both Paul and  I wish you all the best for your future. Love you. Was sad to miss your 18th, but we hope it is fun for you at your party and with all the well wishers you will talk to and see at this special time.



The weekend before Jeff's bday.

Tis Saturday night and all is well. It’s over 3 weeks since we left Townsville, but it seems longer than that. Guess we are fitting a lot into a short time. We are camped in the Shelfo Crossing riverbed, ironically exactly where I went camping with a bunch of Kowanyama kids 10 year ago. Who would have thought I would be back in the same place?
The road here was rather tortuous. The Pormpuraaw-Kowanyama road is washed out and is largely a set of wheel tracks around various bog sites and wash outs. Took hours and was very slow and bumpy. Paul wanted video taken of how bad it is. We unfortunately have to travel it two more times, so he wanted to capture some evidence for why it takes 13 hours to get to Oriners. When we eventually got to Shelfo, the crossing had been filled in a bit and was quite easy. It’s one of the crossings that can drown you if your wheel goes into a hole, so I was pleased to see some form to the crossing. We got here quite late, so it was barely light to set up camp. Hopefully we will have a little wander in the morning. Would have been nice to have a fish and put in the pots. It’s lovely country and a real treat to be allowed to camp here. There is endless bat screeching at the moment. The melaleuca flowers are all very scented and so the bats are here in force. It smells like a honey pot. 
We had an interesting day yesterday going into Strathgorden. We had been driving towards a fire for a couple of hours, only to find that it was right in the middle of Strathgorden. As we went in, a local family was leaving, which we should have done too. The fire appeared to be burning backwards from the road in. Once there, we realised the fire had changed direction enough to be across the road out, so we were caught there. The main house was in a big clearing and we parked in a sand patch, so it was not too bad. The fire came up to the back of the house when Paul decided to put it out along a cow path. A few trees caught fire, one which eventually crashed down and just missed one of the old houses - the tree was just on the fence. In the end we had fire in all directions but it was a small low heat fire, that was easy to put out on the flats. Paul did all that. I actually lit a fire to cook dinner and heat bath water. Had to wash some smoke filled clothes and I cooked some jaffle fillings (for breaky meals) as well as dinner. Was interesting but at least nothing got burned out. I did turn on the Wi-Fi in all this and so I was reporting live on facebook. Still think we should have left, but it was easy enough to manage and the safest place to be given the amount of country burned that night.
The families came back the next morning and seemed pleased to have the place not torched and the Internet working. It was actually running terribly while they were there, but hopefully after some reboots, it is stable and staying up. Talk about a big mob, 89 year old great great grandmother had 34 grandchildren and there were 5 generations of clan. The few we met were taking her fishing for jew… and she loved hugs – Paul and I had several before she left for the creek. Nice mob.

Then the journey continued and we headed down the dreadful track from Pormpuraaw to Kowanyama. It was a dreadful drive a few year ago with Paul injured in the front seat and me having to drive under many instructions through fire, mud, rivers and dust. This time I got to give the odd instruction. The road was washed away totally and so we followed the tracks of other folks. It took hours and so it was almost dark by the time we got to Shelfo Crossing. That was always a rugged drive through the river, sand and deep holes. Its been I proved a bit and so it was not the usual stressful crossing. Quite pleasant. We went to the Old Shelfo camp site and then into the river from that side. It was the exact spot where I had camped with the Kowanyama kids 10 years before.

 Could not resist taking a photo like the one I had taken by the kids on that field trip. The same rock…. Interesting that the big old laptop I took with me to manage the photos has about the same memory as my current iphone and does not weigh 4 kg. Those were the days, lugging 5Kg of gear around the cape on a 16kg allowance, including food and clothes. I never would have though all that time ago, that I would still be visiting Shelfo, 10 years later.

 Lucky I don’t have to work so hard now and I don’t have to camp in a tent with a torch. We actually charged up stuff off a car battery in those days. The camp was part of a Virtual Field Trip project for oz-Teacher Net to show the city kids (think it was Kim Collingwood’s class) what Kowanyama kids did for Naidoc Week.   It was a nice camp, but a terrible Internet feed. Had to report that one as a fault.


For the next couple of days , we went on a wonderful  trip around Kowanyama – we went to Wonya Bore, the home of the Corpia Utai Palm, which is quite rare. It is a giant tree which lives for about 30 years and gets to over 20 m tall. It flowers once and then dies. They are amazing to see. We actually saw one with seeds. Never managed to see a flower spike which is apparently rather spectacular. Wonya Bore had a bore, and the local family had installed a shower which we had some fun with.

Great drive out there, including some beautiful waterholes on the various bits of rivers. 
Next it was over to The Crossing, which is a popular spot with locals. It had the fastest Internet feed we have seen and quite strong.  There is a very large resident at the crossing and we heard him late in the afternoon having a big feed.  That kept us away from the waters edge, that’s for sure.  Was one of the nicer sunsets across the river. 
Was good to catch up with the rangers and council at Kowanyama – found out all the latest news and  got some good advice on getting to Oriners later next month. The original road is impassable (thank goodness), so we have a much longer trip up to there. - 10% contingency!…. Was good catching up with  Teddy. We met Teddy and helped him use a computer for the first time back in 2008. Now he is a community leader and councillor. That Backing Indigenous Ability Program was so successful. We still see lots of good results from that program, every trip north. Interesting talking to the new ranger leader Garth, too. Very clever Indigenous man who has mapped the Australian Curriculum to traditional curriculum.  He is a terrific mentor too. 


So, Happy Birthday Jeff. Finally made it to 50. Nice to see you relatively unscarred. Hope the second half century brings you love, happiness and health. Can’t wait to shout you a slap up dinner and a bug bottle of very good scotch when we get home.




Heading back

Tis is the leg out of the Kowanyama area and heading to Bar Barrum and Wungu, near Dimbulah via Mareeba. The old truck needs a big 300,000 k service and we need supplies for the next leg. We hope to get a new truck this year with a nice shiny new Motorhome on board. Tis quite an expensive idea, so we are taking a long time to think about which way to go. The trouble is we like our old truck so much, we just wanted to duplicate it, but the new Talvor campers have a different layout inside to ours and we hate it.  We actually saw a slide on we could live with, but that is something we did not want to do initially. We like the explorers and suncampers, but the hard top has a height disadvantage, although it has many advantages including a better airconditioning system. Bit like looking at new houses; none are perfect and so you have to decide which compromises you can live with. 
We stopped at Hughes Crossing on the Mitchel to write reports and clean up a little. The treks though Kowanyama were pretty tough and the bull dust is thick everywhere. I have had to clean to keep my hayfever under control and since we are heading into town, we thought we’d better clean up a bit. We love this spot and come here every time we go past for several days. The crossing has been raised so the fish seem to have disappeared. Paul thinks they can’t swim up the river over the causeway which would require them to jump more than a foot.  Only seen a shark and caught a catfish and one other. Even had no cherabin. Amazing what a difference interfering with the river makes. Nevertheless it is beautiful and we love just to camp here and admire the changing colours of the water and sky.  Three days is not enough.
We have washed, cooked lots in the camp oven – even baked bread, made a coffee cake and cooked for tomorrow night. We are going to Mick and Helen’s again and so want a no fuss dinner to heat up.  I have to buy a few things we have broken including the mixing bowl, sunglasses – a list of bits of pieces. Might even have to see if we can get a new table. Would like to have a sheets wash and a blanket wash to reduce my dust issues.

We are luckily on the last week or so of travel before we have to head back to Mareeba to get the car serviced – it’s a big one…. And we will restock. The stores (apart from Weipa) have been terrible this year and so we are getting low on the fresh stuff. We have 8 days meat left, so hoping I get a fish …. We will be on Potatoes, unless Kowanyama store had anything on Monday. I put the last of many going off veges in a big cookup tonight to preserve them before they really rotted. We will be okay – curry is a wonderful thing. I can bake and we seem to have too many knobs of salami. Todays lunch was a bit sad – a toasted sandwich made on just mouldy bread, some sus cheese, two almost rotten tomatoes and some left over roast beef from the last camp oven cookup at Chilli Beach. Tomorrow we will use the other bit of bread and my mince jaffle mixture. Will be an improvement. Might have to break out the rice….. We have to survive 40 days next trip, 20 of which will be in the gulf or on Mornington Island, so hopefully we get a few supplies at either Kurumba or Normanton – not a lot of options….Will need more pickled and tinned bits to add flavour to things I guess.


We have one more loop to do - the Dimbuluh  loop. Will be a nice pleasant trip. Then we write the reports and wait for the next trip up the Cape which hopefully will be in a week. - A new blog then I guess. I might try a different genre to the diariasing style. We have been everywhere on the Cape already, so it is a bit same-same for us and people who visit our blogs.



 Half a million calls

We end this blog on a celebratory note. APN who actually install the community phones tell us the 500,000th call  was made at Ilperle in Central deserts. We did not do the original installation, but did do the wi-fi. It was wonderful that it was Banjo and Christine and so excited they made the milestone call. It has been a very very important project and we are glad to have done our little bit.

There are 300 phones in total, about 80ish in Qld. We have wi-fi on 40 phones in Qld so far, 23 in the NT and about to connect the other 40 or so in Qld.  Such a nice piece of history to be part of - first big wave of wi-fi for outstations.











The Mitchell River at Shelfo.