Having reached Normanton (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normanton,_Queensland), we checked into the Normanton Tourist Park (http://www.normantontouristpark.com.au/), where we will stay for three nights.
After setting up the van on the allocated site we then took a walk through the town to see what’s what.
Our first port of call was the Normanton Railway Station
as we will be travelling on the Gulflander (http://www.gulflander.com.au/Pages/Default.aspx) to Croydon on Wednesday.
We then walked back through town past the Purple Pub (https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Purple-Pub-Normanton-QLD/412043098806998)
to the Carpentaria Shire Office
and then to the Visitor Information Centre (http://www.carpentaria.qld.gov.au/normanton-library) housed in the old Burns Philp Building (http://www.carpentaria.qld.gov.au/burns-philp-building).
We returned to the caravan park for a relaxing drink before retiring for the evening.
Wednesday morning we were up bright and early and headed off to the Normanton Railway Station to take our trip on the Gulflander. As soon as we reached the exit to the caravan park we could hear the sound of a chainsaw and soon discovered some workmen attacking a dead tree which they obviously intended to fall.
They were very brave disturbing the peace at that early hour but as we stopped and watched the task the workers persisted and the large tree eventually fell.
When we reached the station we had to pay for our tickets and then attempted to find a place on the train. The train consisted of the rail motor and two carriages;
we entered the rail motor being our first choice, only to find all the seats taken up so we then tried the second carriage and found a spot right at the back of the carriage which had lots of leg room so we settled there – we found out during the journey that this carriage was the best choice of the three units as it had the best suspension system therefore providing the smoothest ride.
The trip between Normanton and Croydon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croydon,_Queensland) covers a distance of some 90 miles and takes about 5 hours (including a half hour stop for smoko); the return trip by Trans Northern Bus that afternoon takes approximately an hour and three quarters. We left the station promptly at 8:30 am and travelled slowly through the back blocks of Normanton at a sedate 15 to 20 miles per hour, it wasn’t until we had cleared the town that we reached the top speed of twenty five miles per hour and we had a rockin and rollin good time at that speed. The rail motor itself is some 65 years old and gets along very nicely for a very old piece of machinery.
The reason that the ride is not as smooth as it could be and the speed of travel is reduced is because of the construction of the rail track which is buried directly in the ground rather than above ground using ballast as a base as is normally the case in Queensland. George Phillips was a civil engineer and responsible for the design of the special steel sleepers on which the rail is laid; the use of steel sleepers not only reduced costs but also defeated the termites prevalent in the area.
“The sleepers were packed with earth when they were laid, giving extra weight and stability, and the rails were bolted to the sleepers which meant they could not move nor work loose in the same way as dog-spikes used in timber sleepers. In flood time water simply passed over the top. Except for the cost of the steel sleepers (more expensive than timber) it was an exceedingly cheap method of construction suitable for light traffic frontier lines. The railway opened in three stages with the first to Haydon being completed on May 7, 1889, then Blackbull on December 15, 1890 and finally to Croydon on July 20, 1891. Golden Gate, near Croydon, was one of the richest production centres on the Croydon gold field.” QR website.
Once underway the train rattles along stopping firstly at Haydon Station to deliver mail (it is the weekly mail train after all)
and then to Blackbull Siding (http://www.exploreaustralia.net.au/Queensland/Gulf-Savannah/Blackbull/Blackbull-Siding-Rest-Area) where morning tea is served with a specially embossed enamel mug provided to each passenger as a memento of the trip.
After smoko we trundle on to Croydon the end of our journey. During the journey passengers are provided with interesting commentary about the places of interest and the history of the district that we pass through – in all quite an entertaining journey.
In Croydon, many people joined other buses to continue their trips elsewhere while others sought out their accommodation for the evening. Those of us travelling back to Normanton by bus had an hour and a half to look around Croydon and find something to eat for lunch.
We walked from the station through the local heritage precinct to the True Blue Visitor Centre (http://www.croydon.qld.gov.au/visitor-information-centre) where the mining history of the area is detailed. Then we walked through a very leafy park to a local café and ate a light lunch before walking to the General Store to buy some souvenirs and then back to another shady park opposite the Club Hotel (http://www.croydonclubhotel.com/) where we would meet the bus. Many of the rail passengers had lunch at the Club which was being reroofed on the day of our visit.
When the Trans North bus (http://www.transnorthbus.com/) arrived, thirty-one passengers from the Gulflander train trip boarded with most disembarking in Normanton but with a few others staying aboard until the bus reached its final destination of Karumba. I am not sure what happens to passengers wishing to return to Croydon when the train returns on Thursdays as the Trans North bus departs much earlier than the train schedule provides.
Thursday we decided we would visit Karumba (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karumba,_Queensland) some 70 kilometres to the north of Normanton.
Along the way we passed many brolgas on the side of the road and at the Golf Course encountered these large birds in numbers.
Karumba seems to be a place of two distinct parts linked by the Normanton River; there is the town of Karumba which spreads out around the port area and the separate settlement at Sunset Point.
Both locations are popular with fisher people if the number of boat trailers parked in various locations is any guide. We had been told in Cloncurry that the fish were not biting in Karumba but either the fish have become hungry or the story was not correct. All the caravan parks (particularly those at Sunset Point) appeared busy and pedestrian and vehicle traffic in Karumba was quite prolific.
When we arrived we called in to the Karumba VIC (http://www.carpentaria.qld.gov.au/karumba-library/vic) to pick up a few brochures then called in to the Karumba Hot Bread Shop for a coffee and cake.
We drove around the town looking at various places then drove over to Sunset Point to see things there. Our lunch consisted of Barra and Chips from Ash’s at the Point (http://www.ashsholidayunits.com.au/) and huge slices of Barramundi they were and delicious too.
Not being a fisherman we drove back to Normanton and stopped to take a look at the Norman River from the fishing bridge (the former traffic bridge); the only fisherman there wasn’t having a lot of luck.
Back to “The Top Service Station” and the cheapest diesel in town, to fill the truck then preparation for our departure for Mt Surprise. On Friday morning we left the caravan park in Normanton quite early and drove east toward Croydon where we arrived in time for morning tea.
After the break we headed off for Georgetown some 150 kms to the east. Once we reached the border of the Croydon and Etheridge Shires the road quality seemed to deteriorate (it’s a main road so the condition has nothing to do with either of the Councils) with numerous sections of single lane ribbon bitumen where there is only room for one vehicle and passing another necessitates both vehicles having one set of wheels off the road.
About twenty kilometres west of Georgetown we called in to the site of the Cumberland Mine (http://maps.bonzle.com/c/a?a=p&p=265671&d=stories&story=1167765500) and the remaining chimney built by Cornish miners in late 1800’s. Today the spot is a popular camp spot for travellers and even though it was before lunch there were a number of campers already established at the site for the night.
We finally reached Georgetown (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgetown,_Queensland)
and thought about stopping for lunch but the opportunity didn’t seem to present itself and we drove through town, found a roadside rest area out of town to pull off the road and ate our sandwiches. We then drove on to Mount Surprise (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Surprise,_Queensland) where we filled the truck and stopped for the night at the Bedrock Village Caravan Park (http://www.bedrockvillage.com.au/).
We were on the road early Saturday morning with our planned destination being Fletcher’s Creek (http://www.exploreaustralia.net.au/Queensland/The-Mid-Tropics/Charters-Towers/Fletcher-Creek-Camping-Reserve), a free camping spot about forty kilometres from Charter Towers (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charters_Towers).
Our trip was relatively smooth and uneventful and we reached Greenvale (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenvale,_Queensland) in time for morning tea.
After the break we drove on and arrived at Fletcher’s Creek around lunch time; we selected a suitable spot and after being visited by the resident roosters at the camp site (they crow from about three-thirty am in the morning and everyone wants to wring their necks – but nobody does) settled down to a relatively quiet night.
Sunday morning saw us leaving Fletcher’s Creek en route to Charters Towers some forty kilometres further on and we reached the city at about 9:30 am. There were markets being staged in a park on the way into town so we stopped for a look, bought some fruit, Rosella jam and some scrumptious slice to have for morning tea.
We chose to stay at the Charters Towers Tourist Park (http://www.charterstowerstouristpark.com.au/) a different park to that where we would normally stay but the local agricultural show is this weekend (http://charterstowers.countryshows.com.au/CountryShows/PublicShowSummary.aspx?ShowID=7) and we thought this park may be more suitable as it is further away from the Showground. We set up on the site, organised some laundry, and had lunch. Tonight we are attending a function being staged by the local Lions Club here in the park where we will be provided with a three course meal for the princely sum of $15.00 each – good value. While in the Towers we will do some shopping and attend to a few minor maintenance matters before moving on.
Arriving at Charters Towers our trip through North-West Queensland has come to its logical conclusion and we will begin our return to the Sunshine Coast via central western Queensland when we leave the city.