The sketchbook continues, Lava Tubes to Mission Beach

The Lava Tubes were not as I had expected – I thought they would be smaller and very smooth inside, but they are huge, maybe 30 metres in diameter and rocky, with silt floors, accumulated over millennia. In places the ‘roofs’ have collapsed leaving arches, and rainforest growing in the bottom. They were formed when lava oozed out of the volcano (I had no idea they ever did ooze, I assumed they always blew lava high in the sky) and the lava flowed down existing river beds. As the lava cooled a crust formed on the surface, but the lava kept flowing inside. When the volcano eventually stopped the lava simply flowed out, leaving tubes. An impressive experience to walk inside.

Heading north again we stopped in the beautiful but wet – constant drizzle – of the Atherton tablelands before going into Jowalbinna, near Laura. The objective here was aboriginal rock art, specifically Quinkans. We were taken on a walk to several different sites, scrambling up and down. The art was worth it, with hand prints in initiation sites and emus, dingos, jabirus and best of all massive kangaroos all along a deep overhang. There were guardian figures and small figures marking death ceremonies in a mortuary site. Some would have been made up to 30,000 years ago, and the most recent in the 1880s, when the aboriginal people were displaced by a wave of gold miners pouring into the area to seek their fortune.

From there to Cooktown, then turning south we took the road towards Cairns. The countryside is very beautiful, steep wooded hills, rich green rainforest. We decided to take the coastal 4wd road, which was beautiful, going deep into the Daintree rainforest, crossing rivers and winding sharply up the hills. In parts it was very narrow, and meeting trucks coming the other way on hairpin bends was an interesting experience, but we got through!

Mossman Gorge (beautiful), Cairns (buzzy, energetic city) and now a day off in Mission Beach, lovely long, sandy beach, the sea a deep blue and a few interesting odds and ends for me to collect on the beach!

I will include a picture here of me trying to draw encased in a fly net when I was in Innamincka. Thankfully the flies are well behind us now, just a few mosquitos and the odd green ant to do battle with!

A little postscript – if you happened to see my post about my miniature book in a box (see here) I was delighted to find I had won a prize for it at the Australian Society of Miniature Art Awards, for Most Imaginative Drawing.

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More outback sketches – from Innamincka to Porcupine Gorge

My last post ended at Birdsville, but this starts with a few pods drawn in Innamincka. Birdsville was busy and a bit impersonal, large numbers of people on their way either to or from the Simpson Desert, ready for a shower and a chance to catch up on washing. The next destination was Bedourie, but serendipity struck again – the road was dry, dusty and featureless till suddenly we came upon masses of yellow flowers, bushes, small trees and found we were at Eyre Creek. The creek was alive with birds, pelicans as usual, spoonbills striding through the shallows sweeping their bills from side to side in the water, black ibis, terns, and zebra finches in the bushes. After taking lots of photos we went a short way up the road and by chance found a rest area with a good toilet (always a bonus!) and bird hides right by the creek. We stopped for lunch, then looked at each other and said ‘bush camp?’ The answer of course was yes, and we settled in. More birds, including budgies and whistling kites, appeared for a magical evening.

The next significant stop for us was Porcupine Gorge, having been heading north then eastwards. After booking a campsite at the Hughenden information centre we were on our way again, with a short stop at the side of the road to search for fossils, in particular belemnites, cylindrical blue-brown objects between 20 and 60 or so cm long. They were part of cuttlefish like creatures that became extinct about 60 million years ago. Once we learned to recognise them we found a lot, mostly split in half horizontally but a couple of complete ones.

Porcupine Gorge was another treat, very much like Karijini in Western Australia in colour and landform, red soils and imposing red white and brown walls. A good walk down into the bottom, then an easy walk along the floor as far as we could go. Fish in the remaining pools and a stream making its way through which would become a torrent in the wet season. During the night we could hear wildlife all around, but only caught sight of a small marsupial, probably a bettong. Early in the night we heard noises close outside, rushed out just in time to catch a guilty looking bettong with its head in our water bucket, which it had tipped over, and was drinking the resultant puddle. The vegetation in the gorge was a bit different from close by, unusual low growing trees with small fruit in particular.

Next morning on the road again, towards the Undarra Lava Tubes.

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Sketches from the outback

Winter is the best time to travel in Australia’s outback – the nights are cold but the days are generally warm and sunny and not too many flies have started to hang around, looking for any living thing to bother. We have been on the road for about ten days now. First campsite was Nyngan in the west of NSW on the banks of the Bogan River. Pelicans sailing up and down, looking for the huge quantities of fish they need to survive, a spoonbill, numerous other birds making their living along the river.

Next stop was Wilcannia, a new very small caravan park on the banks of the Darling, once again full of birds. We hadn’t intended to stop here but the head winds were so strong that driving on to White Cliffs was too exhausting and the diesel consumption was ferocious. Black, black clouds gathered and rain poured through the night. The weather didn’t improve much for White Cliffs, still cold with bursts of rain but we were able to wander around fossicking for opal in the mullock heaps thrown up by the scores of miners who have sought their fortune over the last 150 years or so, and take a tour in a working mine. These are all small operations, one or two people working each claim, many with just basic tools, but this one was more sophisticated, with powered diggers and machinery for sifting and crushing the rock that was excavated.

Tibooburra was next stop, last chance at phone signal or Internet then on towards Innamincka through the Sturt National Park. We always think of how harsh the conditions must have been for those intrepid (and sometimes stupid) early explorers. It’s hard going even when you are as well equipped as we are, and with satnav and decent maps. (The satnav was pretty confused at times though, urging us to ‘turn right in 200 metres’ even when there was not even a hint of a track …) Bush camping at lovely small campsites near abandoned properties for the next couple of days, then Innamincka, on the Cooper Creek, near where Burke and Wills died. Now a couple of days in the relative civilisation of Birdsville, we can have a shower and wash the dust off our clothes before heading north.

Please leave comments, but I may not be able to respond for a few days, just depending on when we get the next Internet access!

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