"Destination Unknown" Day 11 - The Plenty & Donohue to the Channel Country (Camped on the Georgina)

Tuesday, Jul 12, 2011 at 01:05


11th July, 2011
Banks of the Georgina River - Channel Country

Today was always going to be a significant road trip as we tried to get ourselves as close to the Channel Country as possible. Having travelled the Plenty and Donohue Highways a few years back, I knew what to expect so we set our sights on Boulia and headed off.

Yesterday was our last day as a group with Pete and Hugh having to depart south.John and I had a bit more flexibility and had decide to push on with the view of getting the boys to Birdsville and then down to Innamincka for a couple of days fishing on the Cooper. We could also take in some interesting sites along the way like the Birdsville Pub, Cordillo and the historic sites of the Bourke and Wills saga situated about the Cooper. The Cooper itself was to be one of the highlights with the amount of bird and wildlife that could be expected there. John was out exceptionally early and up to the local car wash to hose off the extra kilos of mud all the vehicles were carrying. That was certainly on my list of “to do” things as well. Much of the Tuck-trucks chassis was covered in cement like mud picked up from the clayflats around Dalhousie. It made it very hard to access and operate the control knobs for the Tough-Dogs. Getting things repacked and squared away early, we bade our farewells to the southbound crew and hit the road. The CP and I headed straight to the Shell Servo to top off the tanks and then up to the carwash to clean off the underside of the vehicle. After that we rendezvoused with Team Timmers at Golden Arches for a bit of breakfast.

With the Crown Prince at the wheel, we headed north the 70 odd kilometres to the start of our eastward journey on the Plenty Highway. The Plenty Highway is a 498 kilometer outback (mostly unsealed) track cutting across to north-western Queensland from the Stuart Highway. It forms part of “The Outback Way” a series of roads and dirt tracks linking Winton in Queensland and Laverton in Western Australia, a distance of 2,800 km. The track leaves the Stuart Highway 68 kilometers north of Alice Springs, follows the Sandover Highway for the first 27 kilometers and finishes at Tobermorey Homestead on the Northern Territory/Queensland border. The track then continues on to Boulia, in Queensland, as the Donohue Highway.

The first 100 kilometers from the Stuart Highway to Ongeva Creek is sealed but the remaining 178 km to Jervois Homestead is unsealed as is the rest of the track to Boulia. The road was as I expected and amply named the Plenty. Plenty of dust, plenty of rocks and plenty of corrugations. It was very much a mixed bag of conditions but overall were such that they allowed us to maintain a good clip. Not as fast as some though as we were passed by a bloke in a 100 series hell bent on getting somewhere fast. He loomed up out of our dust as if from nowhere. Thankfully he was scanning the UHF and we called him through with a minimum of fuss. Out past Harts Range and Atitjere we went and then west as the highway basically paralleled the course of the Plenty River.

The gigantic ant mound appears to have suffered a bit of degradation since my last visit with some of the upper chambers cracked and exposed. Still an impressive bit of work though by the local spinifex munchers. At 6 metres or so in height it dwarfs even my vehicle with the CP standing on top! We stopped for a bit of lunch in the shade of the gums at the Marshall River Crossing just short of Jervois. From here the nature of the country changed somewhat to more broad open plains as we moved further west.

In the vicinity of Tobermoray and the NT/Qld border, the anticipated swathes of bull dust didn’t materialise. It appears that a fair bit of rain and work has been done to rectify the deeper patches that I remembered. There were some softer areas of road surface in places indicated where the dust still lurked, it's changed form just waiting for the dry and heavy traffic of mustering season. Straddling the border, we soon moved on to the goat trail of the Donohue. While it’s evident that these western most stretches of the Donohue haven’t seen a grader cut in a long time, they were still in good condition as we moved across the broad grassy plains of the channel country. Though you would hardly call this country “rich”, the grasslands are impressive as were the numbers of fat, happy looking cattle that the area supports. The birdlife was amazing, particularly the numbers of birds of prey. Not just the ubiquitous square and fork tailed kites (the seagulls of the hawk world), but kestrels, falcons, hawks and raptors of all sizes. There is an abundance of feed for them no doubt. We saw three kites trying to lift one large snake off the ground but being startled by our passing, they dropped the reptile and appeared unable to find it again. Not recognising the type of snake, we didn’t bother going looking for it either as it was a sizeable one. (I’d never seen three birds working in concert like that either. Perhaps they were fighting over it. One lucky wriggle-stick anyway).

Later in the afternoon, low ranges and breakaways marked the depression that held the Georgina River. Where the Donohue crosses the Georgina near Glenormiston Station, the river is made up of a myriad number of streams both small and large. When dry, the whole area is a grass covered, cracked clay surface that would turn treacherous the moment a lick of water hits it. The Georgina is one of the four northern rivers that make up the Lake Eyre Drainage System which with an area of there 1,140,000 km2 is the largest Australian drainage division apart from the Western Plateau. The Lake Eyre drainage system covers 1/6th of the Australian landmass. The basin of the Georgina alone totals around 232,000 km², or about the same size as Victoria, but it is the driest of the four rivers (the Cooper Creek, Finke River, Georgina River and Diamantina River are the four main northern rivers) of the basin. During severe floods the Georgina can be as wide as 15 to 30 km and the area can remain inundated for months at a time.

For us it was a matter of finding a suitable place to pitch the swags for the evening. Reaching the main stream of the Georgina, we soon found a few dusty places to pitch camp only a short distance from the pools of the main tributary. Firewood was a bit light on the ground but we managed to harvest a bit of dead timber from the surrounding trees. For the first time on the trip we encountered rats and while they could be heard scurrying around in the bushes about camp, they didn’t present much of an issue to us. Investigating the grass and bushes around the campsite more closely, I found that the furry devils had created a vast network of tracks beneath the grass. They were that well travelled that they had worn their way into the dirt to have sides up to 15 cm high. Topped off by the sheltering grasses and shrubs, the little blighters had an intricate series of super highways to barrel down free of obstacles. A great way to travel and also a brilliant way to escape predators.

Once it was dark, the rodents became a little more adventurous around camp hunting any scraps of food carelessly dropped and having the odd blue amongst themselves. Riley amused himself with the shangii and a tin left out to attract his victims. Solid boys entertainment. JB and The CP on the other hand had immediately headed down to the sandbar with their rods and had set up a riverside camp. It was boys paradise with an opera house net for shrimp and yabbies, the rods, a fire to heat their dinner and a couple of cans of coke. It appears that they fished until midnight a time by which I had been well and truly snoring for a few hours!

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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