Three Years on the Road
Brett Davis

29. Back to Sydney

On Monday 20th November Karen and I went for a final paddle up the gorge. We would be leaving the park in a couple of days and wanted to have one last look around. At Indarri Falls we stopped for a swim - on the way up and on the way back as well. For the final two hundred metres of the paddle we battled a stiff headwind and heavy rain. The build-up to the wet season had been in full swing for a few weeks, with threatening clouds forming in the afternoon only to pass over or disappear later in the evening. The park had experienced a couple of storms, but these had been followed by long periods without rain - they did not indicate the start of the Wet. This latest storm, however, had us wondering if we had left our run too late. Had the Wet finally begun? Would we be stuck at Lawn Hill?

I checked the rain gauge as soon as we put the canoe away. It showed about four millimetres. By mid afternoon it had risen to seventeen millimetres. The rain continued all day and most of the night, with the gauge eventually showing forty three millimetres - one and three quarter inches on the old scale. The creek-bed next to the donga had been dry all year, but we kept checking it every hour or so in the hope that we would see it flowing. By the late afternoon our wish had been granted.

Karen and I walked down to the campground to see what effect the rain was having. There was water everywhere - puddles on the grass, little streams running down the roads - and the rain just kept on falling. We climbed up to Duwadarri Lookout during a break in the lightning to see if any of the gullies leading down to the cliffs around the gorge had turned into waterfalls. One had, but only just. It would take a lot more rain than this to make all of them work.

The next morning we started packing our gear and cleaning the donga, ready for a quick departure. Trish had volunteered to drive us back to Mount Isa, but the severity of yesterday's storm had caused a change of plan. Colin and Cheryl were away on annual leave, and Karen and I were going, so John and Trish would be the only rangers left at the park. With the arrival of the Wet now imminent, John did not want to risk Trish getting stuck in town if the rains arrived. Instead, he rang the Century Zinc mine to determine if they had a flight scheduled in the next couple of days. The mine had its own all-weather airstrip, and had offered the rangers free flights to and from Mount Isa if space was available. We learned that they had a full flight coming in at midday the next day - and it would be returning to the Isa almost empty an hour later. Bewdy - now all we had to do was get to the mine! If we had no more storms the roads would soon be passable.

Karen outside our donga

Karen and I spent a couple of hours cleaning the shower and toilet, and mopping out the donga floor. Just before lunch we had our last dip in Lawn Hill creek, swimming a couple of hundred metres into the gorge, our eyes taking in every detail, not wanting to forget anything. John returned from the park entrance where he been rescuing a bogged vehicle, saying the road was still basically okay as long as we had no more rain.

A big, black storm built up in the afternoon, but Karen and I ignored it, hoping it would go away. We drove out to Adel's Grove for a dinner engagement that had been postponed because of yesterday's downpour, and helped Barry out with a few problems he was having with his Excel spreadsheets and with his ink-jet printer. Our last four pieces of frozen fish were used for the main meal, with two bottles of red wine and a few games of darts helping to take our minds off the rising wind outside. The storm turned out to be a bit of a fizzer - lots of wind but only a few spots of rain. We had no trouble driving back to the park at the end of the evening, accompanied by two Lawn Hill T-shirts, a token of appreciation from Barry for the help we had given him.

Next morning, after much discussion, John decided he would take us with him to pick up the mail from Lawn Hill Station - from which the national park got its name - and drop us at the zinc mine airstrip on the way back. We said our goodbyes to Trish, then drove to Adel's Grove for goodbyes to Di and Barry. After arriving at Lawn Hill Station, Karen and I finally understood the origin of the name. The station buildings are all perched on a well-grassed mesa.

Karen and John picking up the mail

John dropped us at Century at 12:30pm and we had an hour wait for the plane. We were then bussed down to the airstrip where we watched the two pilots top up the tanks of the seventeen-seater Flightwest plane using a hand pump atop a forty four gallon drum. After boarding, we found that we were the only passengers! The flight to Mount Isa was interesting, but unspectacular.

Brad met us at Mount Isa airport and drove us back to the office via the bus station, where we picked up our tickets for the Brisbane bus leaving the following day. We again spent the night at Adrien's, having dinner with her father Stan as well as her two kids. The next morning Brad picked us up from Adrien's just before eight - almost like the sheriff escorting the bad guys out of town. We thanked him for his trouble and boarded the bus at 8:30am.

The first hour of the bus trip was quite interesting, with good hilly scenery to Cloncurry where we turned south. After that, the countryside was dead flat and as boring as hell - we thanked our lucky stars that we had chosen to stay at Lawn Hill and not ride back to Sydney through central Queensland. On our arrival at Kynuna where we were scheduled to have lunch, we were greeted at the steps of the bus by two semi-tame brolgas.

"Oh look," said Karen. "Albatrosses!" She was already suffering from bus-lag.

The "albatrosses" at Kynuna

The flatness continued after lunch. Towns drifted past the window. The bus driver put on a movie - the Never Ending Story (Part Three) - an ominous choice I thought as visions of being stuck on the bus forever flashed through my mind, eternally travelling through The Nothing with only Queensland country towns to relieve the boredom. Winton came and went, Longreach likewise, then Ilfracombe - places I had only ever known as names on a map, and all totally forgettable.

Because of the scenery out the window, the movies were riveting. The Never Ending Story finally ended, to be replaced by the Jungle Book. I could hardly contain my excitement. At our dinner stop and driver change at Barcaldine we were delayed for an hour, waiting for a connecting bus from Rockhampton. Then we were off again, for a midnight run to Morven via Blackall and Tambo and Charleville. The movie for this section was What's Eating Gilbert Grape - at least the movies were getting better as the pain in our bums was getting worse.

A good strong cup of coffee kept us awake through the wee small hours as Mitchell and Roma disappeared behind us and the aptly named Miles appeared in front of us for breakfast. The movies had stopped sometime around eleven, but we had been entertained for the rest of the night by the woman in the seat behind us who was sniffing her way through a cold and coughing her lungs up due to a chronic case of emphysema. She also suffered from flatulence.

Chinchilla happened. Dalby went by. 8:30am brought us to Toowoomba for another driver change. Lucky bastards, I thought. Two more hours went by. So did Gatton and Ipswich. Twenty six hours and eighteen hundred kilometres after it had all begun, the bus trip ended in Brisbane.

The Inlaws were coming up the coast on their way to watching Karen's cousin Alexander competing in a nippers surf carnival. We had arranged for them to pick us up and transport us back to Sydney. We rang Kevin on his mobile phone to discover they were in Brunswick Heads and would be able to meet us after lunch. By early evening we were all installed in Uncle Kevin's unit at Noosa, drinking wine, eating pizza, and having showers in water containing no calcium carbonate. Eight days later we were back in Sydney, enjoying the delights of McDonalds and cable television.

Civilisation is not necessarily better or more interesting than the outback, but it is so much more comfortable. If it was comfort we were after, however, we would not have signed on as crew on the sailing trip to Lord Howe Island.

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